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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

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Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic News, Reviews Round-Up #53 and New Announcements (continued)

Universal’s The Phantom of the Opera in its 1925 and 1930 (or 1929, sources vary) incarnations has already received quite an impressive airing in Milestone’s two-disc presentation that appeared almost 6 years ago (I reviewed it here).

The Phantom of the Opera: The Supreme Collector’s Edition

Now Reelclassicdvd (reelclassicdvd.com) has released a new three-disc edition (contained in two separate keepcases and using DVD-Rs) entitled The Phantom of the Opera: The Supreme Collector’s Edition. What could possibly be new to warrant this three-disc edition, you might ask? (Late note: a fourth disc has been added to the set containing the original full-length 1925 release version, from a 16mm print source, and featuring a new organ score by Ben Model.) The main difference with this release is its reliance upon the Essex Films/Griggs-Moviedrome version of the film. This copyrighted version of the 1930 The Phantom of the Opera comes complete with the “man with the lantern” opening (voiced by John Griggs) and a wonderful pipe organ score performed by Lee Irwin, newly remixed for stereo. Disc one contains the film in an entirely B&W edition (thus no two-colour Technicolor version of the Bal Masque sequence). The source material is 16mm (the Essex/Griggs version was never released [nor does it exist] on 35mm). While the image does not equal that of the Photoplay version contained in the above-noted Milestone release, it is very presentable given the 16mm source. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of scratches and speckles, evidence of nitrate decomposition, and some problematic contrast issues, but to recognize that for a film of this vintage and provenance, no one should be disappointed. The ‘man with the lantern” opening is very effective and adds much to the atmosphere that introduces the film. I was also particularly struck by Lee Irwin’s organ score. It’s a superb piece of work and easily outdistances its competitor on the Milestone version. In stereo, it sounds quite majestic and captures the film’s many moods very well indeed. The disc is rounded out by a newly constructed 2 ¾ minute trailer that blends material from several sources. Disc Two repeats the 1930 feature, but this time includes the colour Bal Masque sequence. It otherwise looks the same as the version on the first disc. The Bal Masque sequence colour is not as vibrant as that found on Milestone’s Photoplay version. Also included on Disc Two is the Lon Chaney feature film The Light of Faith (First National, 1922). This is actually a condensed three-reel version of The Light in the Dark, the only version of that film that apparently survives. In it, Lon Chaney plays a thief who befriends an ailing young woman and tries to restore her to health. The image presented on Disc Two is tinted and quite workable-looking despite scratches and speckles and a fair amount of softness. It features a nice piano score composed and performed by Stuart Oderman. Rounding out Disc Two is “Scream Scenes” a short (under 5 minutes) compilation of clips from The Phantom of the Opera including the boudoir scenes free of nitrate decomposition, a “lost’ scene featuring Chaney warming up at the organ before Mary Philbin’s entrance, and intertitles believed to be from an earlier cut of the film. Disc Three contains the set’s most fascinating supplement – a side-by-side comparison of the 1925 and 1930 versions of the film created by cutting the 1925 version to match the 1930 one. Created and introduced by Keith Paynter, it clearly illustrates the many subtle differences in alternate takes, camera angles, and title cards that exist. Paynter also provides a commentary on Disc Three’s second offering – a similarly illuminating side-by-side comparison of the colour and B&W versions of the Bal Masque sequence. Highly recommended.

Paramount has released numbers 6 and 7 in its Centennial Collection – To Catch a Thief and The Odd Couple. Both are two-disc sets.

To Catch a Thief: Centennial Collection

This is the third version of To Catch a Thief, the previous two having arrived in 2002 and 2007 (the latter dubbed a Special Collector’s Edition). The 2002 version had a somewhat disappointing 1.85:1 anamorphic image transfer which was improved on for the 2007 release, with audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich and Laurent Bouzereau added to the four production featurettes originally included on the 2002 release. The new Centennial Collection effort provides a further advance in image quality both in terms of colour brightness and fidelity, and overall image detail. The 2007 commentary has been replaced by a new one by Drew Casper (a typically detailed and enthusiastic one) and several more featurettes have been added. If you don’t have this title in your collection, it’s a Hitchcock title you should have and this new Centennial Collection edition is clearly the one to get. But if you already have the quite attractive 2007 version, I wouldn’t bite on this new one. Surely a Blu-ray edition can’t be too far off.

The Odd Couple: Centennial Collection represents the film’s second appearance on DVD. Late 2000 saw a decent version released that presented the film in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looked quite presentable.

The Odd Couple: Centennial Collection

There was some dirt and debris and edge effects were apparent at times. There was a fairly attractive remixed Dolby 5.1 audio track, but the theatrical trailer was the only supplement. The new edition is a distinct improvement with a virtually pristine transfer that excises all the deficiencies of the original and looks to me about as good as one can expect from DVD. The same good Dolby 5.1 track appears to be in evidence. Supplements are now expansive with there being a somewhat “let’s trade anecdotes” commentary by the stars’ sons Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon, five featurettes, a photo gallery, and the trailer. Recommended (with the usual caveat for those for whom only Blu-ray will now do).

I want to finish off this column’s review section with a few words of encouragement for you to dip into Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986.

Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986

This is the fourth collection of films presented by the National Film Preservation Foundation and drawn from such American film archives as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Pacific Film Archive, this time focusing on avant-garde contributions. Presented on two discs and supported by an informative 72-page booklet that details the 27 artists and their films featured in the set, the Image Entertainment release makes 26 avant-garde films never previously available in a quality video format available to all. For the record, the titles included, ranging in length from 3 to 36 minutes, are:

1. Bruce Baillie - Here I Am (1962)
2. Wallace Berman - Aleph (1956–66?)
3. Stan Brakhage - The Riddle of Lumen (1972)
4. Robert Breer - Eyewash (1959)
5. Shirley Clarke - Bridges-Go-Round (1958)
6. Joseph Cornell - By Night with Torch and Spear (1940s?)
7. Storm De Hirsch - Peyote Queen (1965)
8. Hollis Frampton - (nostalgia) (1971)
9. Larry Gottheim - Fog Line (1970)
10. Ken Jacobs - Little Stabs at Happiness (1959–63)
11. Lawrence Jordan - Hamfat Asar (1965)
12. George Kuchar - I, An Actress (1977)
13. Owen Land - New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops (1976)
14. Standish Lawder - Necrology (1969–70)
15. Saul Levine - Note to Pati (1969)
16. Christopher MacLaine - The End (1953)
17. Jonas Mekas - Notes on the Circus (1966)
18. Marie Menken - Go! Go! Go! (1962–64)
19. Robert Nelson & William T. Wiley - The Off-Handed Jape...& How to Pull It Off (1967)
20. Pat O’Neill - 7362 (1967)
21. Ron Rice - Chumlum (1964)
22. Paul Sharits - Bad Burns (1982)
23. Jane Conger Belson Shimane - Odds & Ends (1959)
24. Harry Smith - Film No. 3: Interwoven (1947–49)
25. Chick Strand - Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
26. Andy Warhol - Mario Banana (No. 1) (1964)

There are well-recognized names here, such as Andy Warhol and Stan Brakhage, but the set’s greatest enjoyment comes from the work of lesser-known names such as Pat O’Neill’s 7362, Marie Menken’s Go! Go! Go!, Standish Lawder’s Necrology, and Christopher MacLaine’s The End. None of the 26 films are masterpieces, but virtually all provoke thought and many delight in their inventiveness. Hollis Frampton’s (nostalgia) is particularly interesting and mind-developing as you try to keep track of the narration during a series of pictures being burned. The catch is that the narration always relates to the picture yet to be burned. The set’s image quality is not like that of a first-run current feature film, as one might expect given the varied nature of the original source material. All are full frame from 16mm negatives or prints, with variations in sharpness and image detail as well as cleanliness. The audio is similarly variable in terms of accompanying hiss or crackle, but all are clear enough not to compromise one’s enjoyment of the material. As mentioned above, the main supplement is the accompanying booklet, introduced by Martin Scorsese and providing technical notes by Jeff Lambert. Highly recommended.


New Announcements

Please note that the Classic Announcements database has been updated to reflect the following news. The Warner Archive titles listed above, however, are not included in the database at this time.

Readers will note perhaps the slimmest total of new classic announcements in a long time. We have no new indications of pressed product from Warner Bros. since last month’s introduction of its Archive Collection of manufactured-on-demand discs. Warners has indicated that their regular program of pressed discs will be unaffected by the Archive approach, but one can’t help wondering. Fox continues to be the most disappointing studio with its miniscule output compared to its aggressive efforts over the past few years. Blu-ray and the economy are taking their toll; we can but hope that the good times of classics on DVD aren’t over.

Criterion will bring out Last Holiday (the original 1950 version with Alec Guinness) on June 16th. The release will be part of the company’s Art House Essentials: Volume Three and is, I believe, the first title in that line not to have been previously released on DVD by Criterion. Other titles in the June 16th Art House Essentials release will be Ashes and Diamonds (1958), Forbidden Games (1952), The Hidden Fortress (1958), Richard III (1955), and Variety Lights (1950). For those unfamiliar with the line, the film editions included (available either individually or as six-title volumes) are essentially barebones – containing only liner notes as an extra. The July releases include Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1959, presented on four discs) on the 14th; Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in U.S.A. (1966) and 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her (1967) on the 21st; and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) on the 28th. The latter will have audio commentary with Polanski and Catharine Deneuve.

Echo Bridge will have the Hopalong Cassidy Ultimate Collector’s Edition (in a tin case with handles) on June 16th. It will contain all 66 theatrical westerns retailing for $75.00 total. All these films have previously been available on DVD from several different sources (Image and Platinum) using the restored source material from U.S. Television Inc., but I’m unaware if this new Echo Bridge offering will use the latter’s transfers.

Grapevine Video’s April slate include four silent releases and two sound ones. The latter are Country Gentlemen (1936, with Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson – plus added short Show Folks) and Films of Wanda McKay (triple bill on a double-disc set of Smart Guy [1943], What a Man! [1944], and Hollywood and Vine [1945]). The silent titles are: Desert Rider (1923, with Jack Howie – b&w plus tinted sequences); Flashing Steeds (1925, with Bill Patton – b&w with tinted sequences); Heart’s Haven (1922, melodrama with Robert McKim); and Variety (Varieté, 1925, with Emil Jannings).

Infinity Entertainment will offer Sergeant Preston of the Yukon – Complete Season 2 on June 16th. It will be a 4 disc set containing 23 colour episodes.

Kino has announced the release of The John Barrymore Collection for July 7th. It will contain four discs: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), Sherlock Holmes (1922), The Beloved Rogue (1927), and The Tempest (1928). Only Sherlock Holmes has not previously been available on DVD. It has been mastered from a 35mm restoration by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, and is accompanied by an organ score by Ben Model. All titles will also be available individually.

Paramount will bring us Petticoat Junction: Season Two on July 7th. The studio will offer The Lucy Show: The Official First Season on July 21st.

Shout! Factory returns to Father Knows Best with Season Three coming on June 9th.

Sony has set the previously anticipated Jack Lemmon Collection for June 9th. It will be a six-disc set containing Phffft! (1954), Operation Mad Ball (1957), The Notorious Landlady (1962), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1962), and Good Neighbor Sam (1963). The sixth disc will one of bonus material including a two-part documentary on Lemmon’s career and the Marriageable Male episode of the Ford Television Theater. The films will not be available individually. Coming on June 16th is The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Six (1949-1951). It will contain 24 shorts on two discs presented in their original release order and all featuring Shemp Howard. Also due out on the same date is The Strange One (1957) which features the film debuts of Ben Gazzara and George Peppard. Sony’s previously-rumoured Columbia film noir set is now reportedly set to include Five Against the House (1955), The Lineup (1958), Murder by Contract (1958), The Sniper (1952), and The Big Heat (1953) – a fine selection although The Big Heat doesn’t really need a re-release. Human Desire (1954, also with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame) would have been a more welcome inclusion. No release timing is yet available. Also in the works is a Samuel Fuller Collection that would include The Crimson Kimono, Underworld USA and Scandal Sheet (the latter based on a Fuller novel).

The second wave of the Universal Backlot Series will arrive on July 7th. The titles this time will be The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Beau Geste (1939), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), and Lonely Are the Brave (1962). Three of them are new to DVD, the exception being Beau Geste which was previously part of the Gary Cooper Franchise Collection.

VCI will have Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater: Season One on June 9th. It will contain all 29 half-hour episodes from the 1956-57 season of the western anthology series, digitally mastered and restored according to the press release. Extras include an interview with Dick Powell’s son and an audio interview with author Christine Becker on the history of Four Star Productions. Powell introduced all the episodes and also appeared in a number of them. Coming on June 30th will be the British Cinema Collection – Crime and Noir. It will be a two-disc set containing: Blackout (1954), Bond of Fear (1955), Home to Danger (1951), Meet Mr. Callaghan (1954), No Trace (1950), and Recoil (1953).

New additions to the Warner Bros. Archive Collection as of April 20th include three Randolph Scott westerns (Carson City, Return of the Bad Men, Trail Street), six Katharine Hepburn titles (A Woman Rebels, Spitfire, Quality Street, The Little Minister, Break of Hearts, Christopher Strong), as well as Thousands Cheer, Joy of Living, Luxury Liner, The Mad Miss Manton, Meet the People, and Having Wonderful Time. May 1st additions are: Badman’s Territory (1946, Randolph Scott), Breakfast for Two (1937, Barbara Stanwyck), Broadway Rhythm (1944, George Murphy), Tom, Dick and Harry (1941, Ginger Rogers), and Two Girls and a Sailor (1944, June Allyson).

Well, once again that’s it for now. I’ll return again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com
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