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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

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Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #27 and New Announcements
(Continued)


Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show 50th Anniversary Edition

Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show 50th Anniversary Edition (1955-59)
(released on DVD by Paramount on May 9th, 2006)

Program Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/A


Known initially as You'll Never Get Rich, later as The Phil Silvers Show, but affectionately by most people simply as Sgt. Bilko, this TV show was a huge success throughout its four year run beginning with the 1955-56 season. Now, five decades after the end of that first season, CBS and Paramount have teamed up to release a three-disc DVD set celebrating the show's 50th anniversary.

Phil Silvers was an almost 20-year veteran of musicals and comedies often as a smooth-talking second banana by the time he assumed the Bilko role, one that seemed ideally suited to him. His effectiveness and popularity in it leant an air of the Bilko con-artist to much of his remaining career.

The show took place at the fictitious military barracks Fort Baxter where Sergeant Ernie Bilko, head of an inept army platoon, works his way through his tour of duty through various schemes and swindles designed to minimize his work and maximize his monetary intake. The Bilko character had a sympathetic side at times, however, and whenever his men got into difficulty, he was usually there to help them in the end. The show's writing was very good and combined with Silvers' charismatic performances, the series managed to garner a substantial number of Emmy awards for Best Comedy Series, Best Actor, and Best Comedy Writing. It also benefited from a fine supporting cast that included Paul Ford as the long-suffering Colonel Hall, Allan Melvin as Corporal Henshaw, and Maurice Gosfield as Private Duane Doberman.

Paramount's DVD set contains 18 episodes from the show's four-year run, including the first and last shows. The episodes appear to be complete and include opening and closing credits. The shows look very nice with bright and generally sharp images, good image detail, and minimal scratches and debris. Overall, the quality is equivalent to the fine work that CBS and Paramount have managed in the past on the I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith Show DVD releases. The mono sound is clear; there is no subtitling. The supplementary material is substantial and impressive, including audio commentaries by the likes of Dick Van Dyke, George Kennedy, Allan Melvin, Larry Storch, and Mickey Freeman; the previously-thought-lost audition show transferred from its kinescope version; various promotional segments shot for showings of the series on Nick@Nite or for the Sgt. Bilko movie with Steve Martin; guest appearances of Phil Silvers on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Dick Cavett Show; Emmy award show highlights; new episode introductions by Allan Melvin; Phil Silvers' last TV interview done in 1985, the year he died; and various other extras. Recommended.


The Story of Ruth

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Story of Ruth (1960)
(released on DVD by Fox on March 14th, 2006)

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/C


For its retelling of the Old Testament story of Ruth, 20th Century-Fox lined up a B-team of players for the lead roles and turned to the reliable directing hand of Henry Koster (The Robe and A Man Called Peter). Both were good decisions contributing to a low-key but generally entertaining film. For those unfamiliar with the story, Ruth is a Moabite woman married to the son of a Judean artisan who came to Moab from Bethlehem during a time of famine. Moab is a region of people who worship the stone idol Chemosh. When the artisan and his sons are killed, his widow Naomi returns to Bethlehem with Ruth who has since renounced idolatry. There she eventually marries one of Naomi's kinsmen, Boaz, who has to buy off another kinsman with a higher claim in order to do so. Ruth' and Boaz' descendants would eventually include King David and Jesus. The film's screenplay is fairly true to the general story although several aspects of the story line have been jazzed up for dramatic effect as one might expect.

For the role of Ruth, Fox undertook one of those talent searches which Hollywood likes to make much of and came up with Israeli actress Elana Eden who does a very fine job with the part, imparting both strength and sincerity to her character. Her efforts are nicely understated on the whole. Another plus for the film is Peggy Wood as Naomi. Nice work is also contributed by Stuart Whitman and Tom Tryon as Boaz and Ruth's first husband Mahlon, although the parts hardly require strenuous efforts. The film offers the colourful trappings of a biblical epic by utilizing some nicely decorated backlot sets and good costuming; however, it lacks the scope and scale of the more well-known epics. Still, director Koster's great experience with CinemaScope is clearly in evidence as he manages to utilize the wide screen to make everything seem more larger-than-life than the moderate scale of the production would otherwise allow. His use of colour is also very effective with the characters' bright clothing contrasting sharply with the muted colours of the buildings and outdoor terrain. Overall, though, the film entertains mainly because of the basic story and the sincerity conveyed by the principal players. Franz Waxman was responsible for the film score, but it's unmemorable.

Fox gives us a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks very nice. The colours are bright and accurate and the image looks quite sharp with no edge effects. Image detail is very good and speckles are minimal. Fans of the film should be pleased. There's a Dolby Digital 4.0 track that clear and hiss-free, offering some directionality but no discernible surround effects. Spanish and French mono tracks as well as English and Spanish subtitles are also included. The supplement package is modest comprising three newsreel segments, a disappointing preview of the film featuring its producer but mainly just repeating footage from the film, and four trailers including one for the film itself. Recommended.


New Announcements

The new announcements this month are a little light, although Fox and VCI are well-represented. Tempering that is a delay announced by Paramount for its Republic releases in May (and probably July as well). The Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated accordingly. The news is ordered by releasing studio or company and this time comes from personal contacts, releasing company press releases and websites, The Digital Bits, Davis DVD, DVD Times, TV Shows on DVD, The Home Theater Forum, and the ams newsgroup.

Alpha's latest list of releases for June 27th has 22 new offerings, but nothing particularly exciting - a lot of TV compilations and a few double bills, but no serials and only a few westerns (Return of Casey Jones with Charles Starrett, and three of John Wayne's Lone Star westerns from the mid-30s). There's a German 1920 version of The Deerslayer and Chingachgook starring Bela Lugosi, and one of William Boyd's last non-Hopalong Cassidy films (Go Get 'Em Haines, 1936). See the database for the complete list of titles.

Anchor Bay's planned release of the First Season of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on DVD in July now appears in doubt as some question over who actually owns the rights has arisen. Warner Bros. apparently believes it holds them, so Anchor Bay's plans have been suspended for now.

Criterion's plans for July include a 3-disc box set of Laurence Olivier's three Shakepearean films on July 18th and Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale (1944) on July 25th. Olivier's Shakespeare will contain Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), and Richard III (1945). Highlights include: high-definition digital transfers for all titles; audio commentaries by film historian Bruce Eder on Henry V and playwright and stage director Russell Lees on Richard III; 1966 BBC interview with Olivier, featured on Richard III; original theatrical trailers of Henry V and Richard III; and galleries of production stills and posters on Henry V and Richard III. A Canterbury Tale will be a two-disc set featuring: a new high-definition digital transfer; scenes from Michael Powell's re-edited American version; audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie; John Sweet: A Pilgrim's Return - a short documentary on actor John Sweet's 2001 return to Canterbury; Humphrey Jennings's landmark documentary Listen to Britain; and artist Victor Burgin's impressionistic video piece Listen to Britain, inspired by Jennings's film and A Canterbury Tale.

Cheezy Flicks Entertainment will release Red Planet Mars (1952, with Peter Graves), Mark of the Devil (1970, with Herbert Lom), Night of the Ghoul (1975, with Peter Cushing), and the 1947 Republic serial Jesse James Rides Again (with Clayton Moore) on May 1st.

Critic's Choice will release Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: The Complete Second Season on July12th. According to tvshowsondvd.com, this will be exclusively available through on-line seller Deep Discount DVD, as was the First Season originally. These are authorized releases through the rights holder Classic Media Inc. (who also control The Lone Ranger and Lassie).

Falcon Picture Group has been licensed by the holders of the rights to the Hopalong Cassidy films (Sagebrush Entertainment) to release the ten titles (all from 1938-1940) not yet available on DVD (Renegade Trail, Silver on the Sage, Pride of the West, Bar 20 Justice, In Old Mexico, Santa Fe Marshal, The Frontiersman, Law of the Pampas, Sunset Trail, and Range War). These will likely be packaged two titles to a disc and are expected to be ready by late summer. Despite Falcon's spotty record for quality DVD releases, these should be worth getting based on the fine quality 35mm source material that Sagebrush controls, as evidenced by how nicely the previous releases through Image and Platinum looked. The 52 Hopalong Cassidy half-hour TV programs will also be released by Falcon (again, from 35mm material), in two waves of 26 titles each. The first 26 episodes should appear on May 23rd in a four-disc set that includes the Hopalong Cassidy Public Hero #1 documentary. The second wave will follow soon thereafter.

Fox's Studio Classics line is apparently not dead yet. The previously announced The Black Swan will be part of the line as will two other releases also appearing on July 11th - The Keys of the Kingdom (1944, with Gregory Peck) and The River's Edge (1957, with Ray Milland). Supplements on each will include audio commentaries and trailers. The River's Edge will be presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen while the other two will be full frame in accord with the original aspect ratios. For its August offerings, Fox has announced The Mr. Moto Collection: Volume One (Thank You Mr. Moto, Think Fast Mr. Moto, Mr. Moto Takes a Chance, and The Mysterious Mr. Moto) for release on the 1st, The Jayne Mansfield Collection (The Girl Can't Help It, The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) for the 8th and in a very welcome move, a Clark Gable Collection that comprises the three Fox films that Gable made during his career (Call of the Wild, Soldier of Fortune, and The Tall Men) for the 15th. Fox also returns to its Film Noir series with three more releases on August 29th: Shock (1946), Fourteen Hours (1951), and Vicki (1953). All three will have audio commentary, theatrical trailers, and various photo/pressbook galleries.

Genius products will release The Shirley Temple Storybook Collection on April 25th. It's a 7-DVD set encompassing the first work and the last work Shirley Temple did in show business. It starts with The Early Years, Shirley's first films ever-seven short films from 1932 when she was three years old (all restored and colourized). The Collection also contains eleven family stories from The Shirley Temple Show in 1961 - all starring Shirley Temple. The colourization outfit, Legend Films, is apparently involved in this release, so hopefully original black and white versions will be included as well. Several of the discs in the set will also be released as stand-alone titles on June 6th.

Image kicks off July with The Femme Fatale Collection on the 11th, a title that might suggest some good film noir, but instead proves to be three low-grade science fiction/horror flicks - Devil Girl from Mars (1954), The Astounding She Monster (1958), and Mesa of Lost Women (1953). On the 18th, we'll get Bernard Vorhaus's intriguing The Amazing Mr. X (1948, with Turhan Bey), and on July 25th more goodness in the form of two 1941 Gene Autry films (Ridin' on a Rainbow and Sunset in Wyoming) and a version of the public domain Fred Astaire item Second Chorus (1940, also with Paulette Goddard).

The three Swedish silent films that Kino has been promising for a while are finally scheduled for a June 6th release (Erotikon, The Saga of Gosta Berling, and Sir Arne's Treasure). Also newly added to Kino's plans are three German silents (Asphalt, Warning Shadows, and a new German restoration of Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler), all currently set for July 18th.

Koch Releasing will release a family western double bill on June 6th headed by Brighty of the Grand Canyon (1967, with Joseph Cotten). Also included is Walking Thunder (1997).

The 14 Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes films previously released by MPI are being repackaged in a single box set of five discs (The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection) for release on June 27th. MPI will have The Rifleman DVD Collection 6 available on July 25th. It's a four-disc set containing 20 episodes of the popular TV series. On the same date, The Invisible Man Season Two DVD Collection will also appear. It's a two-disc set containing 13 episodes.

Paramount has delayed all of its Republic catalog releases previously scheduled for May (Love Happy, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Secret Beyond the Door, Body and Soul, The Dark Mirror, War of the Wildcats, Wake of the Red Witch/Night Riders, New Frontier 1935/New Frontier 1939, Red River Range/Three Texas Steers). No new release dates are available as yet. The same situation seems to have befallen the July releases of A Double Life, Force of Evil, Johnny Guitar, and Pursued. Plans for August include The Andy Griffith Show: Season 7 and Gunsmoke: Director's Edition (not sure yet exactly what this is).

On June 13th, Sony (MGM) will release The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection Volume 4: Swingin' in the Pink (27 cartoons). July 18th will bring a two-disc collector's edition of Some Like It Hot, including a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer, a new audio commentary, two new documentaries, and assorted other extras.

Universal's forthcoming release of Double Indemnity on August 29th will indeed be part of its Legacy series. The two-disc set will include two audio commentaries (one by film historian Richard Schickel, the other by film historian/screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman), the documentary Shadows of Suspense, and the 1973 Double Indemnity TV movie (with Richard Crenna and Samantha Eggar). The studio will also apparently revisit Dracula and Frankenstein this coming September as part of a 75th anniversary tribute. The original movies will be released on DVD for the third time (no indication as yet as to any further refinements of the already available transfers). Also coming supposedly are collections of various Universal Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. films (specific titles not known as yet).

VCI will have several new offerings for June. No specific dates yet, but expect Long John Silver (1954, with Robert Newton), a special collection DVD of Joe E. Brown, and two serials - Overland Mail (1942, with Lon Chaney Jr.) and Raiders of Ghost City (1944, with Dennis Moore). So Ends Our Night (1942, with Fredric March) and an independently produced Julius Caesar (1950, with Charlton Heston) are due on July 25th, as are the first three volumes in the Hammer Film Noir series. The latter comprises a series of low-budget crime films produced for Hammer by Robert Lippert. The films were made in Britain and featured a waning or rising American star along with a cast of British character actors. Hammer Film Noir: Volume One will contain Bad Blonde (aka The Flanagan Boy, 1953, with Barbara Payton) and Man Bait (1952, with Diana Dors). Hammer Film Noir: Volume Two will contain A Stolen Face (1952, with Lizabeth Scott) and Blackout (1954, with Dane Clark) while Hammer Film Noir: Volume Three will have The Gambler and the Lady (1952, with Dane Clark) and Heat Wave (aka The House Across the Lake, 1954, with Alex Nicol). The three volumes will be available individually or as a box set. VCI's final July offering is a four-disc set of the complete 26 episodes of The New Loretta Young Show from 1962-1963. The DVD title is The Loretta Young Show: Christina's Children Series.

Warner has announced a couple of great classic film collections for release on August 15th. James Stewart: The Signature Collection will include The FBI Story, The Naked Spur, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Stratton Story and a double feature disc containing a pair of films Stewart starred in with Henry Fonda: The Cheyenne Social Club and Firecreek. Also on the way is Ronald Reagan: The Signature Collection which will include Kings Row, Knute Rockne All-American, The Hasty Heart, Storm Warning and The Winning Team.

Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon, and in the meantime, happy classics watching!

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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