|Western Reviews (Continued)
Alan Ladd is also front and centre in The Badlanders, a Warner Archive DVD-R release of a 1958 MGM production.
The film is a pale western version of The Asphalt Jungle, with Ladd and Ernest Borgnine (in the Sam Jaffe and Sterling Hayden roles) playing conspirators who try to steal gold from an abandoned mine. The film came in the latter part of Alan Ladd's career and for all its failings (rather uninspired action, a truncated feeling story), it has one of Ladd's better late-career performances. He seems quite relaxed in his role as the heist mastermind, and he retains his ability to command the screen whenever he's on it. He also receives good support from Borgnine who eschews his common bully-boy type of characterization for a more sensitive portrayal with some touching scenes with Katy Jurado as a woman he falls in love with. Some fine location work in Arizona provides good atmosphere for the tale. The film is given a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and looks presentable. Colours are a little weak and image sharpness doesn't stand up to large screen projection with the same consistency of other Archive titles of a similar vintage. Appreciable grain is evident and some night-time scenes are rather murky. The mono sound is fine. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer, which is much more washed out than the feature itself. I'd try a rental on this one unless you're an Alan Ladd enthusiast.
Four years have passed since Paramount (in conjunction with CBS DVD) released the third season of Have Gun - Will Travel, but we now finally have the Fourth Season (1960-61), if only Volume One of it.
It comprises 19 episodes on three discs and finds smooth, San Francisco-based, gunfighter and troubleshooter Paladin (Richard Boone) in western situations both classic and less so. Some of the latter find Paladin umpiring a baseball game between a professional team and some rowdy cowboys, supporting a female town sheriff, helping out Phileas Fogg in the course of his 80-day around the world trip, hitching a ride with a puppeteer, and trying to locate a missing princess. The success of the series has rested on the well-written scripts and particularly the work of Richard Boone whose portrayal of Paladin is effective for both the likeability he brings to the character as well as his intelligent and commanding presence. Both components continued to be strong in the fourth season and the series remained very high in the ratings. As was typical for such western series, ample use was made of guest stars and the Fourth Season finds the likes of Robert Blake, Ben Johnson, Denver Pyle, Ken Curtis, George Kennedy, Peter Falk, William Talman, and Warren Oates being employed (some on a couple of episodes). The programs are presented full frame as originally telecast and the image quality is very good, comparable to that on the first and second seasons (season three was a cut below the first two in terms of overall image quality). Sharpness is impressive and black levels are quite notable yielding very fine contrast. There are a few speckles, but otherwise the images are remarkably clean. The mono sound is clear with only some occasional hiss. There are no supplements. Recommended.
In these lean times for western films, it's always a pleasure to hear of new western releases - and so it was when I saw that Come Hell Or High Water (2008) and All Hell Broke Loose (2009) were coming to DVD.
Unfortunately the pleasure of anticipation was quickly dispelled by the reality of viewing. After over 100 years of the genre, it's dispiriting to see what now can pass for western film entertainment. Both films are obscurely written; poorly staged, framed, and edited; self-consciously acted; characterized by uneven lighting and sound design; and filmed in uninspiring locations - resulting in productions so uninteresting and amateurish that it's hard to imagine that they ever got backing in the first place. Obviously someone had confidence in the filmmakers in the first place and it's unfortunate that that confidence was not rewarded with professional efforts. The very poorest examples of the dying B-western series films of the 1950s look like masterpieces compared to these films. According to the DVD supplements, Come Hell or High Water is apparently former-teacher and director Wayne Shipley's Maryland retirement project, which tells you about all you need to know. All Hell Broke Loose is in many ways even more disappointing because it stars David Carradine. Director Christopher Forbes has a bit of a track record although he seems to write, direct, produce, compose, and edit every film he does which just means he spreads himself so thinly that none of the tasks get done well, if this film is any indication. As a consequence, the completed film suffers from all the same difficulties as Come Hell and High Water, except the location work is slightly more appealing. Unfortunately, Carradine's presence isn't much help as his work is competent, but completely unmemorable; doubtless he was bemused by the lack of professionalism around him (with the minor exception of Jim Hilton in one of the film's other major roles). Both films are the product of Barnholtz Entertainment and the DVD releases come from Alliance Films in Canada and North American Motion Pictures in the U.S. Due to the films' lighting and sound deficiencies, the DVDs are unappealing looking and sounding. Images (1.78:1 on Come Hell or High Water, 2.35:1 on All Hell Broke Loose) are dim and murky at times while the stereo sound volume fluctuates between and even within scenes. Edge haloes are prominent on both, but particularly so on Come Hell or High Water. Both discs feature an audio commentary and a few other minor supplements, but their films don't warrant an investment of time in them. Two releases to avoid completely!
The Fastest Gun Alive is an impressive, understated western released by MGM in 1956. It stars Glenn Ford as a storekeeper who for four years has lived quietly in the town of Cross Creek.
But the life of a tradesman is eating Ford up; he's actually the fastest gun alive, but has eschewed the life of a gunfighter. That sounds like the basis of a pretty standard western outing in which the retired gunfighter must make one last stand when challenged by someone younger and eager to make a reputation for himself, but the denouement in The Fastest Gun Alive is much different than you would expect. Well acted with quiet intensity by Ford and with effective turns by Broderick Crawford as a gunman on the run and Jeanne Crain as Ford's wife, the film is a tight little character play that builds suspense effectively and provides a very satisfying conclusion. There's a raft of character performers in the cast who add comfort and joy: Leif Ericson, Noah Berry jr., John Dehner, Allyn Joslin, and Rhys Williams, while Russ Tamblyn contributes an impressively acrobatic novelty performance during a town dance. The black and white film turned out to be one of MGM's better grossing films for 1956 and it's easy to see why. DVD availability is through the Warner Archive where it appears on a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Image sharpness and detail are quite good and the grayscale on display is notable. There are speckles and scratches to be sure, but they're never intrusive. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no supplements. Recommended.
Note that the new announcements database has been updated to include the announcements listed below.
Coming from Criterion is Night Train to Munich (1940, with Rex Harrison, Margaret Lockwood, and Paul Henreid), due on June 22nd. Supplements include a video conversation between film scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington about director Carol Reed, screenwriters Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and the social and political climate in which Night Train to Munich was made, plus a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Philip Kemp. Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert (1964, with Richard Harris) is also coming on the same date in both DVD and Blu-ray editions. Supplements will include: audio commentary by Italian film scholar David Forgacs; archival video interviews with director Antonioni and actress Monica Vitti; outtakes from the film's production; the original theatrical trailer; plus a booklet featuring an essay by film historian Mark Le Fanu, an interview with Antonioni by Jean-Luc Godard, and a reprinted essay by Antonioni on his use of colour. June 29th will see the arrival of a Blu-ray edition of Luchino Visconti's The Leopard (1963, with Burt Lancaster). The two-disc release features the 161-minute American release, with English-language dialogue, including actor Burt Lancaster's own voice; audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie; A Dying Breed: The Making of The Leopard, an hour-long documentary featuring interviews with actress Claudia Cardinale, screenwriter Suso Ceccho D'Amico, Rotunno, filmmaker Sydney Pollack, and many others; a video interview with producer Goffredo Lombardo; a video interview with film scholar Millicent Marcus on the history behind The Leopard; original theatrical trailers and newsreels; a stills gallery of rare behind-the-scenes production photos; plus a booklet featuring an essay by film historian Michael Wood.
E1 Entertainment's The Abbott & Costello Show: The Complete Series has been delayed from March 9th to April 6th.
This is the 75th anniversary of 20th Century-Fox and one would hope that more classic titles will finally be in the offing. So far though, all that's materialized are repackagings of classic titles, four to a release. Three of these Classic Quad Packs appeared in the first week of March and three more are scheduled for the first week of successive months. I haven't bothered to include them in the new release data base, but anyone interested can view them by doing a search at Amazon.com. There are hints out there though that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Cavalcade may finally be on the way this year.
MGM's MOD program in conjunction with Create Space via Amazon.com has had a second wave of titles added to it as of March 23rd. Included are: The Best Man (1964, with Henry Fonda), The Caretakers (1963, with Robert Stack), Cold Turkey (1971, with Dick Van Dyke), Eight On The Lam (1967, with Bob Hope), Fitzwilly (1967, with Dick Van Dyke), The Gallant Hours (1960, with James Cagney), The Glory Guys (1965, with Tom Tryon), The Honey Pot (1967, with Rex Harrison), The Landlord (1970, with Beau Bridges), The Offence (1973, with Sean Connery), Toys in The Attic (1963, with Dean Martin), The Whisperers (1967, with Dame Edith Evans), and The White Buffalo (1977, with Charles Bronson). Some TV series are also coming, but no date has been set for their availability as yet. They will include Flipper: Season 2 (1964) and most interestingly, Highway Patrol: Season 1 (1955). In terms of pressed DVD releases, the studio will be offering William Wyler's The Children's Hour (1961, with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine) on June 8th. There are several catches, however. It will only be available as part of The Cinema Pride Collection - a 10-disc set comprising 10 gay-themed movies spanning the past 40 years. Aside from The Children's Hour, all the films are from the 1978-2005 period. The 1978 film is La Cage aux Folles. The set will also only be available in the U.S. and there, exclusively from Amazon.com at a SRP of $50. Also coming from MGM are Blu-ray releases on May 11th of Hang 'Em High (1968, with Clint Eastwood) and The Magnificent Seven Collection. The latter includes the original film and the three sequels.
Paramount will release My Three Sons: Season Two, Volume 2 on June 15th.
Shout! Factory has set June 1st as the release date for Mr. Ed: Season Three. The company has also delayed Leave It to Beaver: The Complete Series from June 15th to the 30th.
Sony is set to release a number of Robin Hood films on May 11th. Included are Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960, Richard Greene), The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946, Cornel Wilde), The Prince of Thieves (1948, Jon Hall), and Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950, John Derek). June 1st will bring The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 8 (1955-1959), a three-disc set containing the trio's last 32 shorts.
Timeless Media Group has released Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys on March 9th. It's a six-disc set containing 20 Roy Rogers films, with the release authorized by the Roy Rogers Estate. Each title apparently has the Happy Trails Theater introduction featuring Roy and Dale Evans. This is welcome news as many of the previous Goodtimes releases of these titles were out of print. It's not clear, however, whether there will be any improvement on the earlier releases which were somewhat variable in image quality. The titles in the set are: Sons of the Pioneers (1942), Trigger, Jr. (1950), Pals of the Golden West (1951), Young Bill Hickok (1940), Don't Fence Me In (1945), Down Dakota Way (1949), Man from Oklahoma (1945), Rainbow over Texas (1946), The Golden Stallion (1949), Sunset in El Dorado (1945), Trail of Robin Hood (1950), North of the Great Divide (1950), Along the Navajo Trail (1945), Bells of Coronado (1950), South of Caliente (1951), In Old Amarillo (1951), Cowboy and the Senorita (1944), Susanna Pass (1949), Twilight in the Sierras (1950), and Spoilers of the Plains (1951). Supplements include three featurettes (Rogers bio, Roy's sidekicks, Roy Rogers Museum). Timeless Media has announced an April 13th release of The Oregon Trail: The Complete Series. The 1970s NBC series starring Rod Taylor will appear in a six-disc set containing 20 episodes (including the feature length pilot and 6 episodes which have not previously aired). April 13th will also see the release of Alias Smith and Jones: Seasons 2 & 3, an advance from the previously anticipated June 8th date. Also coming from Timeless is Whispering Smith: the Complete TV Series, the short-lived 1961 NBC western series with Audie Murphy. It will appear on April 20th in a three-disc set containing 25 episodes, 5 of which have never previously aired. There will be a bonus featurette on Murphy. Frontier Circus: The Complete TV Series is also coming on April 20th. The six-disc set will contain 26 episodes of the early 1960s western series that starred Richard Jaeckel, Chill Wills, and John Derek.
Universal has announced Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection for release on June 8th. The three-disc set will include: Thanks for the Memory (1938), The Cat and the Canary (1939), The Ghost Breakers (1940), Nothing But the Truth (1941), The Road to Morocco (1942), and The Paleface (1948).
VCI's May releases are all scheduled for the 25th. They include two westerns (Silver Lode [1954, with John Payne - remastered] and Minnesota Clay [1965, with Cameron Mitchell]); the British Cinema Collection: Old Mother Riley (Old Mother Riley in Paris/Old Mother Riley, MP/Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire/Old Mother Riley, Headmistress/Old Mother Riley's Jungle Treasure/Old Mother Riley's New Venture - from 1938-1952); and No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948, with Jack La Rue). June 29th will bring New York Confidential (1955, with Broderick Crawford), Robert Youngson's Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961), and the 1938 Buster Crabbe Universal serial Red Barry.
Warner Bros. has announced A Star is Born (1954), directed by George Cukor and starring Judy Garland, for release on a two-disc Blu-ray Deluxe Special Edition on June 22nd, including a 40-page booklet with rare photos, press materials and an essay by film historian John Fricke. Special features will include: ten additional and alternate takes; film effects reel; vintage featurettes: A Report by Jack L. Warner, Huge Premiere Hails A Star Is Born Newsreel Montage, A Star Is Born Premiere in Cinemascope, Pantages Premiere TV Special; 1956 WB cartoon: A Star is Bored; trailers: A Star Is Born (1937), A Star Is Born (1954), A Star Is Born (1976); and audio vault (various outtakes, Lux Radio Theatre version, etc.). There will also be a two-disc standard DVD SE. Unfortunately, neither DVD nor Blu-ray release will contain the 1937 version of the film as anticipated. Coming on June 29th is Tom and Jerry: Deluxe Anniversary Collection. It will contain 30 classic cartoons on two discs. In other news, the Looney Tunes Super Stars release of Bugs Bunny: Hare Extraordinaire and Daffy Duck: Frustrated Fowl have been delayed from April 27th to August 10th.
The Warner Archive has added seven classic titles for release on March 2nd: An American Dream (1966, Stuart Whitman), At Sword's Point (1952, Cornel Wilde), Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969, Carol White), Green Fire (1954, Grace Kelly), Mara Maru (1952, Errol Flynn), Rampage (1963, Robert Mitchum), and The Third Day (1965, George Peppard). March 16th brought the following nine additions: Chasing Rainbows (1930, with Charles King), Lord Byron of Broadway (1930, with Charles Kaley), Ripley's Believe It or Not (1930-32, 24 shorts on 2 discs), Midnight Alibi (1934, Richard Barthelmess), My Wild Irish Rose (1947, with Dennis Morgan), The Story of Will Rogers (1952, with Will Rogers Jr.), The Eddie Cantor Story (1953, with Keefe Brasselle), Saint Joan (1957, with Jean Seberg), and Too Much, Too Soon (1958, with Errol Flynn). April 6th releases are likely to include the restored version of Mammy, the 1930 Al Jolson musical that includes some two-strip Technicolor numbers. The restoration is derived from the original nitrate negative in the Warner vaults.
Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.