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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #36 and New Announcements

Well, here's my latest set of classic reviews - much-delayed, but I hope you'll find it's been worth the wait. Reviewed are eight box sets containing 38 films (from Warner Bros. - Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection - Volume 2, James Cagney: The Signature Collection, and the Literary Classics Collection; from Fox - Michael Shayne Mysteries: Volume 1 and the Tyrone Power Collection; and from Universal - W.C. Fields Comedy Collection: Volume Two, Classic Western Round-Up: Volume 1, and Classic Western Round-Up: Volume 2) as well as eleven single releases containing 15 films, including: Jane Eyre, Les Misérables, and Anna Karenina - from Fox; The Caine Mutiny: Collector's Edition, The Guns of Navarone: Collector's Edition, Kill the Umpire/Safe at Home, and The Natural: Director's Cut - from Sony; To Catch a Thief: Special Collector's Edition - from Paramount; 49th Parallel - from Criterion; and Hammer Film Noir Double Feature: Volume 4 and Hammer Film Noir Double Feature: Volume 5 - from VCI. I also run down the latest new announcements, following the reviews section. So let's get to it.


Reviews

Errol Flynn fans can rejoice in five more of Flynn's Warner Bros. efforts available on DVD in Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection - Volume 2. Of course, when one has favourite Flynn films, one can always quibble with the particular titles selected.

Errol Flynn: The Signature Collection - Volume 2

There are those like myself who regard Edge of Darkness, Uncertain Glory, and Silver River as three of his most interesting films and none of them are in this set. Western fans will also opine the lack of Virginia City, Santa Fe Trail, San Antonio, and Rocky Mountain, but in the end it is hard to argue with what is included. Gentleman Jim is probably the key title, with good cases to be made for The Dawn Patrol and The Charge of the Light Brigade. Dive Bomber and The Adventures of Don Juan are the lesser entries, although each does have its moments. Gentleman Jim (1942) was one of Flynn's favorite films and he had undertaken the assignment of portraying boxing champ Jim Corbett with relish. The broad strokes of Corbett's career are well conveyed by the film and the ring work is excitingly stage with considerable attention to getting the details of Corbett's boxing style correctly presented. Of course, the film finds it necessary to have a fictional romantic angle via the appearance of Alexis Smith and also includes some tiresome comedic nonsense about Corbett's combative Irish family, but these are minor quibbles in what is an immensely entertaining film. Flynn's portrayal is affecting throughout as he handles scenes both inside and outside the boxing ring equally well. The Dawn Patrol (1938) finds Flynn teamed with Basil Rathbone and David Niven in a somewhat pacifistic tale of the rigours of command during the World War I air war. The film was a remake of Howard Hawks' 1930 film also titled The Dawn Patrol (sometimes known later as Flight Commander to distinguish between the two), following it very closely and using all the same flying footage. Rathbone's portrayal of the squadron commander is a little overwrought at times, but Flynn more than makes up for it with a spirited performance of the level-may-care flyer who finds himself having to assume Rathbone's burden himself. Flynn and Niven also show considerable chemistry working together. The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) immediately followed Captain Blood, the film that had made Flynn a star overnight. It's an immensely satisfying action-adventure saga even if its history in terms of background and motivation for the actual event (during the Crimean War of the mid-nineteenth century) is lacking. The film was a relatively expensive one for the time ($1.2M) with considerable attention paid to set construction, location shooting throughout California including Lone Pine, accurate costumery, and of course the staging of the famous charge (both director Michael Curtiz and second-unit director Reeves Eason should receive credit). Flynn's portrayal as the leader of the charge was his usual charming but stern-when-necessary one in such period pieces. Olivia De Havilland worked with Flynn for the second time. Dive Bomber (1941) was Flynn's first real foray into films supporting the war effort. With the support of the U.S. Naval Air Corps, the film extolled the efforts to improve flying safety. Flynn portrays a flight surgeon working on a high altitude pressure suit intended to safeguard pilots against the deceleration forces involved in pulling out of high speed dives. Fred MacMurray is the test pilot and Alexis Smith appears as the love interest. The film benefits from excellent flight footage, but the basic plot is too flimsy to support the 132-minute running time. Still, Technicolor is a great compensator and one can find reasonable entertainment in Flynn's earnest efforts. The Adventures of Don Juan (1949) was Flynn's last real fling at a major swashbuckler. It was several years in the making, originating as an idea by Jack Warner in 1944, but only finally going before the cameras in 1947. Flynn was by now beginning to show more and more the effects of excessive drinking in both his physical appearance and in his ability to concentrate, forcing director Vincent Sherman to work hard to cobble together shots and scenes to gloss over them. The film itself was told very much tongue in cheek, making light of its main character's and Flynn's checkered romantic background. It's reasonably entertaining, but its use of stock footage as well as the constant allusions to past Flynn roles and situations make it all seem somewhat tired. A lot of money (Technicolor again) and effort was put into the film, but it fared only tolerably at the box office. None of the remaining films Flynn did for Warner Bros. were accorded anywhere near the same level of resources. Looking at the discs for each of the films (all full frame as originally presented), that for The Adventures of Don Juan is the best with Gentlemen Jim and The Dawn Patrol not far behind. The colour of The Adventures of Don Juan really sparkles and the excellent quality of the source material elevates the results to near Ultra-Resolution quality (although the film transfer was not subject to that process). The black and white Gentleman Jim and The Dawn Patrol both demonstrate a very film-like image with a modest level of grain, excellent image detail, and minimal source defects. Naturally, the flight sequences that derive from the original 1930 version of The Dawn Patrol are not quite up to the rest of the 1938 film in terms of crispness. Dive Bomber looks rather tired on DVD. It also lacks the Warner Night at the Movies feature that accompanies the other four titles in the set, all of which reflects the fact that it's been sitting on the shelf for several years before making its appearance in Region 1. Colours are subdued, to be charitable, and source material damage is more evident than on most of the other titles in the set. The Charge of the Light Brigade vies with Dive Bomber for the least-inspired image transfer in the set. Image sharpness is inconsistent and there are quite a few instances of source material inadequacies. All five films offer mono tracks that are quite serviceable although background hiss is evident on each of the four earliest films (generally the older the film, the more obvious is the hiss among these Flynn titles). As mentioned above, other than Dive Bomber (which has a making-of featurette and theatrical trailer), each DVD offers an entertaining Warner-Night-at-the-Movies supplement which includes a mix of shorts, cartoons, newsreels and trailers. Audio commentary by director Vincent Sherman and film historian Rudy Behlmer accompanies The Adventures of Don Juan. For those interested in what additional trailers are included (as they often presage future Warner DVD releases), they are for The Male Animal, Silver River, Four's A Crowd, and Anthony Adverse. Highly recommended.

James Cagney: The Signature Collection

Another major male Warner Bros. star gets his due in James Cagney: The Signature Collection. It contains five films - The Bride Came C.O.D., Captains of the Clouds, The Fighting 69th, Torrid Zone, and The West Point Story - of which Torrid Zone, Captains of the Clouds, and The Bride Came C.O.D. are the class and The West Point Story the least. None of the films are among Cagney's very best, however, as most of those have either already been released in previous Warner legends, gangsters and tough guy collections or await possible issuing as part of some future Forbidden Hollywood collection. Torrid Zone is a real pip of a film, uniting Cagney with his long-time buddy and frequent co-star Pat O'Brien. Cagney is in fine form as an overseer whose expertise with harvesting and shipping bananas is badly needed by plantation boss O'Brien. The highlight of the film is Ann Sheridan's work as a singer who's trying to make a few bucks in the local saloon, but is railroaded out of town by O'Brien. Her verbal sparring with the male protagonists but particularly the gold-digging wife of the overseer that Cagney replaces is in the best tradition of the wise-cracking dames of the 1930s and 1940s. That and the film's male-female relationships remind one strongly of a typical Howard Hawks film, even though the direction in this case is in the hands of Warner studio stalwart William Keighley. In fact, Cagney himself referred to the film as "Hildy Johnson Among the Bananas" because it was just a reworking of the The Front Page which was remade by Hawks as His Girl Friday. Captains of the Clouds finds Cagney playing a Canadian bush pilot who delights in stealing jobs out from under the noses of his competitors. The film morphs into a flag waver for the Royal Canadian Air Force, although Cagney and his fellow flyers are too old for front-line aerial combat. The plot is not exactly a strong one but the film is a pleasing concoction because of the ensemble work of Cagney and a number of familiar Warner faces (Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale, George Tobias, Reginald Gardner), fine aerial photography and good footage of actual activities in various RCAF air bases in Canada (Uplands, Trenton), a very memorable score and title tune by Max Steiner, and sumptuous use of Technicolor. In The Bride Came C.O.D., neither Cagney nor Bette Davis seem entirely at home with screwball comedy, in this case a tale of a flyer who abducts an heiress so that he can earn enough money to keep his plane from the clutches of the finance company. Still, they give a good effort and there's plenty of fine supporting work to prop the whole thing up (Eugene Pallette, George Tobias, Harry Davenport, Stuart Erwin, and Jack Carson), especially since it's wrapped up in a brisk 91 minutes. The Fighting 69th probably seemed like a good idea at the time (a World War I tale thinly disguised as backbone for strengthening U.S resolve to become involved in World War II) and the cast is a very good one with most of the Warner male stock company pressed into service. Unfortunately, too much of the story consists of preliminary Irish schtick so that when the real meat of the tale finally arrives (Cagney as a bragging recruit who turns cowardly when faced with actual action), much of our enthusiasm has been lost. Cagney is appealing as always of course and according to Cagney himself, the making of the picture was apparently a pleasure for him. The West Point Story dates from about 10 years after all the other films in the set and allowed Cagney to return to song and dance, his true love. He plays a Broadway musical director who agrees to direct a West Point cadet show in order to make some needed money. Cagney's enthusiasm for the project is apparent and he fares very well with the dance numbers he does, particularly one called "Brooklyn" (although the song itself isn't much). Virginia Mayo and Doris Day are around for the ride, which is never bad, and Gordon McCrae is in fine voice as a cadet while Gene Nelson contributes some impressive dancing work. Unfortunately the film is a bit long for the material and there's some obvious rear projection work. Combined with music that's seldom memorable, the result is a film that tends to limp more than it leaps. The video transfers for the set (all full frame as originally presented) are more than adequate overall. The best ones are for the three black and white films, The Fighting 69th, Torrid Zone, and The Bride Came C.O.D. All demonstrate modest film grain, fine image detail, and good-to-very good contrast. The Technicolor Captains of the Clouds looks to be a very nice shape with very good colour fidelity and excellent image detail. There are some source material defects and image sharpness and colour registration waver in a couple of instances (Ultra-Resolution has not been applied to this film), but the overall effect is pleasing. The West Point Story (black and white - I was actually surprised this film wasn't made in colour) offers the weakest transfer in the set. Grain level is pronounced at times and image detail is not consistently high. All five films offer a mono sound track and all are quite adequate. Very minor hiss is evident on most titles, but it's not a distraction. The mono sound does no favours for the music of The West Point Story. Each disc features a Warner Night at the Movies gallery with newsreels, vintage shorts, cartoons and trailers. I do enjoy these features (as I did with the Flynn set), but must also admit that I do miss making-of featurettes and commentaries that are more closely aligned with the individual films. The trailers for films unreleased by Warners on DVD to date are for Honeymoon for Three, Santa Fe Trail, Brother Orchid, and In This Our Life. Recommended.

Literary Classics Collection

Before leaving Warner Bros. for this column, I've also taken a look at the Literary Classics Collection which features five films from classic novels: Billy Budd, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Madame Bovary, The Three Musketeers, and The Prisoner of Zenda. The highlight of the set is the latter film, for which both the 1937 and 1952 versions are presented. The 1937 one is of course the justly renowned Ronald Colman version, produced by David O. Selznick for his own independent studio but whose rights were later acquired by MGM when it undertook its remake 15 years later. The Colman version is one of those fortunate concurrences of artistry and skill that result in an enduring film, in this case a quintessential adventure masterpiece with fine acting (Douglas Fairbanks, Madeleine Carroll, Raymond Massey, C. Aubrey Smith, Mary Astor, and David Niven co-star), superb art direction, atmospheric photography, and a fine score by Alfred Newman. The 1952 version tends to be denigrated in comparison, but if you've never seen the 1937 version and you watch the former first, you'll be pleasantly surprised. The cast is quite fine, highlighted by Stewart Granger and James Mason, and Technicolor gives the tale a boost. Granger brings a slightly more athletic approach to the title role. The 1937 version has never looked very good on home video, but Warners new DVD effort is a substantial improvement although there is still plenty of evidence of scratches and debris. There is a middling amount of grain in evidence, but image detail is good for the most part. The 1952 version (on the flip side of the disc) looks very nice with typically vibrant Technicolor hues. Grain is modest, but there is some evidence of mis-registration. The mono sound of the 1937 version has noticeable hiss throughout, but that of the 1952 version is clearer and somewhat more dynamic. Supplements include a Pete Smith specialty, a James FitzPatrick Traveltalk, two cartoons, an audio-only radio adaptation of the 1937 version (with Colman), and the trailer for the 1952 version only. The Three Musketeers is an enthusiastic Gene Kelly non-musical film (he plays D'Artagnan in the "all for one and one for all" Alexandre Dumas tale) that offers plenty of athletic action as one might expect from seeing Kelly's dancing performances. The supporting cast is top notch, including Vincent Price as Cardinal Richelieu, Lana Turner as Lady de Winter, Van Heflin as Athos, Gig Young as Portis, and Robert Coote as Aramis. MGM players such as Frank Morgan, Angela Lansbury, Keenan Wynn, Reginald Owen, and June Allyson also appear. The film looks sumptuous in Technicolor and only really can be faulted for its over-two-hour length, which results in the story being a little slow-moving at times. The DVD appears to have been mastered from fine source material as there are few visible defects and the registration of the Technicolor elements is very good. Colours are vivid and accurate. The mono sound has some hiss, but sounds quite pleasant otherwise. Supplements include a James FitzPatrick Traveltalk (on London), a cartoon, a radio promotion, and the theatrical trailer. Madame Bovary presents the Gustave Flaubert story of a young woman (Jennifer Jones) married to a country doctor (Van Heflin) who seeks glamour and possessions and hopes to find them in her pursuit of a handsome young aristocrat (Louis Jourdan). The film is beautifully directed by Vincente Minnelli, notably the climactic ballroom sequence, and benefits from a fine cast from top to bottom (we even get James Mason playing Gustave Flaubert in a framing sequence). Madame Bovary is tremendous entertainment that seems to improve with repeated viewings. The DVD has a nice film-like look with modest grain, a sharp image, and good shadow detail. The mono sound is also pleasing in tone and is virtually hiss-free. Supplements include a Pete Smith specialty, a classic cartoon, and the theatrical trailer. In Captain Horatio Hornblower, Gregory Peck stars as the title character in a highly entertaining adaptation of C.S. Forester's nautical works. As one might expect from a film directed by Raoul Walsh, there is plenty of well-staged action, highlighted by a couple of battles between opposing ships. Peck, in a role that was one of his favourites, makes for a dynamic Hornblower figure mixing decisiveness with his typically cool-mannered demeanor. Virginia Mayo offers fine support as Lady Barbara Wellesley, providing her character with rather more spark than the typical romantic lead. The DVD offers a superb representation of the Technicolor film. The image is bright and accurate, and is virtually free of registration issues. Good source material also results in a very clean-looking image. The mono sound is good shape, free of hiss and reasonably dynamic in the action sequences. Supplements include a vintage short and a cartoon, as well as the theatrical trailer and an audio-only radio show adaptation with Peck and Mayo. Billy Budd (from the Herman Melville novel) presents the story of a clash between good and evil, the former embodied by an innocent young sailor (Billy Budd, played by Terence Stamp) pressed into service on an 18th century English warship where he comes into conflict with the latter, the cruel master-at-arms (Claggart, played by Robert Ryan). Caught between the two and ultimate determiner of Billy Budd's fate is the captain played by Peter Ustinov (who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay). The film, which is a very thoughtful if sometimes symbolically obvious exploration of the nature of right and wrong as well as what is true justice versus what is the law, is beautifully photographed with extensive shooting at sea adding much to the feel of authenticity. The acting is uniformly excellent by all the principals (Stamp received an Oscar nomination for his efforts). The correctly-framed 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer (all the other films in the set are full frame as originally presented) should be pleasing to the film's many fans although there is softness apparent from time to time. Image detail is generally very good though. The mono sound is in very good condition. The chief supplement is an audio commentary by Terence Stamp and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. Stamp speaks engagingly and Soderbergh moderates the conversation fairly effectively, so this one provides a good listening experience. A theatrical trailer rounds out the disc. All the titles are available individually as well as in the box set. The latter is highly recommended.

Jane EyreLes MisÚrables Anna Karenina

Not to be outdone by Warner Bros. when it comes to literary classics, Fox has three releases of its own to show off - Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, and Anna Karenina. Despite numerous filmizations for both the big screen and television over the past century, it's pretty hard to find a better version of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" than Fox's studio-bound effort that was released in 1944. Much of its success is due to Orson Welles, who although only credited for his acting performance, had quite a bit of influence on the script as well as the film's overall look and feel. Little wonder then that one is reminded of Welles' portrayal of Kane from Citizen Kane in the person of Edward Rochester and the ominous feel of Kane's Xanadu in the Thornfield residence of Jane Eyre. Welles provides a dominant performance as the master of a house with whom a young governess (Jane Eyre played by Joan Fontaine) falls in love, only to have a secret that the house and its master conceal seemingly steal her happiness away. Joan Fontaine, well accustomed to timid roles such as in Rebecca and Suspicion, delivers a portrayal of Jane that provides a strong counterpoint to Welles' Rochester. The film's powerfully oppressive atmosphere is heightened by the shadowy photography of George Barnes and the unique music of Bernard Herrmann. The cohesive nature of the two lead performances and the production feel surely also owe much to director Robert Stevenson (who would later be responsible for many of Walt Disney's most successful live action films - Mary Poppins, etc.). Look for a juicy performance by Henry Daniell as the cruel master of the girl's school that Jane Eyre attends and for a young Elizabeth Taylor as Jane's best friend at that school. Fox's correctly framed full screen DVD presentation is a good effort though inconsistent. There are many sequences which are sharp and nicely detailed with some modest grain evident, but some of the darker ones are excessively grainy resulting in an annoying patina of video noise. To be fair to Fox, the studio does provide an on-screen warning that suggests problematic source material that was the best that Fox had available to it. The mono sound does a good job with both the dialogue and Herrmann's music. There is a rich selection of extras including a packet of lobby cards, two good audio commentaries (one by Welles biographer Joseph McBride and actress Margaret O'Brien who plays Mr. Rochester's young ward in the film, and the other by film historians Nick Redman, Steve Smith and Julie Kirgo), an isolated music score, a making-of featurette that focuses on the roles of Orson Welles and Robert Stevenson in the film, a film (Know Your Ally - Britain) directed by Robert Stevenson as an aid to the war effort, a restoration comparison, and the trailer. Recommended. Fox's Les Misérables disc gives us two versions of the Victor Hugo classic about Jean Valjean who breaks his parole after serving time in the galleys for stealing bread and rises to become a mayor, all the while the subject of police inspector Javert's fanatical desire to see him behind bars. First up is the 1935 Darryl Zanuck production made for Twentieth Century pictures before it merged with Fox. This is the story's best filmed-version with memorable performances by Fredric March and Charles Laughton as Valjean and Javert respectively. With an intelligent script that manages to retain all the main elements of the story, the film really captures the feel of 19th century France and maintains a gripping intensity throughout. The 1952 remake stars Michael Rennie and Robert Newton in the 1935 March and Laughton roles respectively and the film's situation is somewhat akin to the same year's remake of the 1937 Prisoner of Zenda. It's a very fine version of the story and can well stand on its own especially if you see it first (despite a Robert Newton performance that reminded me a little too much of Long John Silver in the wrong costume). In comparison to the original, however, it just doesn't have quite the same magic. The 1952 version looks very good on DVD. Presented full frame as originally made, the transfer is crisp and clear with only minimal debris evident. The 1935 version is in rougher shape (with Fox providing an on-screen warning before the film). Contrast is not great and some passages look soft, with image detail lacking at times. The mono sound on both is in pretty good shape. Each film has been placed on one side of a two-sided disc which comes with a packet of lobby cards enclosed in the case. The 1935 side also contains a restoration comparison and still gallery. The 1952 side has a featurette of Vidocq, a historical figure who inspired hugo's Valjean/Javert characters, as well as a theatrical trailer, still gallery, and restoration comparison. Recommended. Finally, I haven't had the opportunity to look at the Anna Karenina DVD in detail, but for me past viewings of this 1948 British version starring Vivien Leigh have always paled in comparison to the earlier MGM Greta Garbo one. Fox has done a nice job with the transfer, but the real point to note is that the 1915 silent version that had been advertised as a supplement is nowhere to be seen, even though it was still mentioned on the publicity sheet that arrived with the disc.

Michael Shayne Mysteries: Volume 1

Some time ago, in a bit of a surprise but very welcome move, Fox issued on DVD one of the Michael Shayne mysteries that it had made in the early 1940s with Lloyd Nolan (Dressed to Kill). Now it has made available four more titles in a collection known as Michael Shayne Mysteries: Volume 1. The films, presented on two double-sided discs each housed in a separate slim case, are Michael Shayne, Private Detective paired with The Man Who Wouldn't Die and Sleepers West paired with Blue, White and Perfect. Fox has only two other Shayne mysteries to make available, which would make for a rather slim second volume, unless the studio cares to acquire the rights to a further five Shayne mysteries made by PRC in the mid-1940s. As with Dressed to Kill, the four films presented here are all very entertaining little mysteries anchored by the very appealing combination of wit and toughness that Nolan gives his portrayal of Shayne. Sleepers West (in which Shayne must shepherd a surprise witness from Denver to a trial in San Francisco) is probably my favourite of the bunch because I'm a sucker for trains, but all four have interest just because they each make an effort to be different. Blue, White and Perfect has Shayne aiding the war effort by trying to foil Nazi efforts to smuggle industrial diamonds out of the country. The Man Who Wouldn't Die (with its Boris Karloff like title) finds Shayne posing as the husband of a young heiress who's involved with a body that seems to keep resurrecting itself. Finally, Michael Shayne, Private Detective (actually the first film in the Shayne series) introduces the Shayne character to us and places him smack under suspicion of murder when he gets involved helping a racetrack impresario curb his daughter's gambling habits. The film has a complicated but ultimately entertaining plot for anyone who really pays attention. As mentioned, the films owe much of their success and charm to the work of Lloyd Nolan, but each also benefits from Fox's fine production values and topnotch supporting casts. Familiar names and faces such as Walter Abel, Elisabeth Patterson, Donald MacBride, Douglas Dumbrille, Henry Wilcoxon, Marjorie Weaver, Mary Beth Hughes, Lynn Bari, Ed Brophy, Jean Louis Heydt, and George Reeves contribute throughout. The four films are presented full frame as originally shown and the transfers are all strong. They're sharp and well-detailed with minor grain. Blue, White and Perfect does briefly reflect some issues with the negative near the beginning of the second reel but otherwise the source material is in good shape. The mono sound on all is clear. Fake stereo tracks that add nothing to the experience are also provided. The supplements are very nice for a release of this nature. A newly-prepared featurette appears with three of the films, covering such subjects as the overall development of Fox's Shayne series, the comparison between the Shayne character as written by Halliday and as portrayed by Nolan, and a profile and gallery of the work of pulp cover and movie poster artist Robert McGinnis. Partial trailers (some parts having gone missing) are provided for two of the titles as are restoration comparisons for all. A six-page box set insert providing considerable historical background on the genesis and development of the Michael Shayne character and his creator Brett Halliday (a pseudonym for Davis Dresser) is also included. Highly recommended.

W.C. Fields Comedy Collection: Volume Two

Universal has followed up its first W.C. Fields collection with the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection: Volume Two. It contains You're Telling Me (1934), The Old Fashioned Way (1934), Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935), Poppy (1936), and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), all housed in a five-disc digi-pak housed in a sturdy slipcase. Universal has done its usual fine job with these classic titles (four originally Paramount productions and one Universal - Never Give a Sucker an Even Break), offering luminous-looking transfers that all have a real film-like appearance and offer relatively sharp images with very nice grayscales and modest amounts of grain evident. There is inevitably some speckling and a few scratches but they pose no real issue to one's enjoyment. The mono sound is quite adequate on all of them. The only supplement of significance is a salute to Fields by the Canadian comedy team Wayne and Shuster that really will be of interest only to novice Fields enthusiasts. It appears on the Never Give a Sucker an Even Break disc. The Old Fashioned Way disc includes a trailer. As to the films themselves, You're Telling Me is probably the first Fields sound film that really serves him well. It establishes the formula that would see him through his best later films - the put-upon, misunderstood family man with great ideas (and a healthy alcoholic appetite) who somehow triumphs against the odds despite himself. Here the great idea is a puncture-proof tire; the family consists of an adoring daughter and an unadoring wife and mother-in-law; and the "somehow" arrives in the personage of a princess whom Fields has inadvertently helped while on a train trip. For good measure we also get Fields' celebrated golf game sequence added into the plot. Another superior Fields vehicle is The Man on the Flying Trapeze. In it he plays Ambrose Wolfinger, a much put-upon husband who suffers from a shrewish second wife, her lazy lay-about son (Grady Sutton), and her mother. Fortunately he has an adoring daughter from his first marriage. He also manages to have a job because he remembers the personal details of every client his company deals with, an invaluable asset to the company president. There's hardly a plot to speak of, but the film is filled with the sort of Fields whimsy that only he could get away with and the film delivers an incredibly amiable 65 minutes of entertainment out of virtually nothing. The Old Fashioned Way is not far off the mark either. This time Fields is the Great McGonigle, head of a small-time traveling theatre troupe, and constantly just one step ahead of the law. The highlight of the film is the troupe's presentation of a vaudeville play called "The Drunkard" during which Fields has the opportunity to demonstrate his incredible juggling capabilities (which alone makes the film well worth seeing). While the film is primarily a vehicle for Fields' talents, it also perhaps inadvertently is a paean to vaudeville burlesque which it conveys with obvious fondness. Poppy is a sound version of the silent film Sally of the Sawdust that Fields had made in 1925. In it he plays drifter and general con-artist Professor McGargle. Fields, however, was not in great health at the time, so he only appears in a limited portion of the film's scenes and as a consequence, the film disappoints somewhat in comparison to the original. What there is of Fields (particularly the routine about selling a talking dog) is choice, but there's more non-Fields subplot than one would like to see. Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is a virtually plotless film that has Fields trying to sell a screenplay to Esoteric Studios. Gloria Jean appears as his niece and the film also capitalizes on an extensive part for Franklin Pangborn, but otherwise the show is all Fields, which is a welcome result for fans. Whether engaging in repartee with a hefty waitress in a diner (Jody Gilbert) or repeating a favoured sequence such as a sleeping berth routine on a plane, Fields is in fine form throughout. Unfortunately, it was essentially Fields' screen swansong, as his remaining films would be little more than cameo opportunities. Universal still has enough Fields films to make a third DVD set worthwhile, but in the meantime this second volume is highly recommended.

Tyrone Power Collection

Tyrone Power fans can now kick back with a box set tribute to their favourite by virtue of Fox's release of the Tyrone Power Collection. It contains five Power swashbuckling outings never before available on DVD: Blood and Sand, Son of Fury, Captain from Castile, The Prince of Foxes, and The Black Rose. Each title is also available individually. Let's start with the most recent and weakest of the five films - The Black Rose (1950). Made in England by Fox with location work in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, the film tells the story of a English young scholar Walter of Gurnie in 13th century England who, disenchanted with the Norman presence in his country, seeks adventure in far Cathay along with fellow countryman Tristram Griffen (Jack Hawkins). Along the way, they fall in with a Mongol warlord played by Orson Welles who is intent on waging war with the Chinese and also become involved with a young woman (the Black Rose) who is anxious to get to England and sees the two Englishmen as the means to her goal. Due to the location shooting, the film manages to catch the flavour of the far east with cinematography by Jack Cardiff, but that's the best thing it has going for it. Power does a fine job in his role, but the script ultimately betrays him with its lack of dramatic focus and its failure to deliver the action sequences needed to balance its lengthy slow passages. Orson Welles is miscast as the Mongol warlord and a petite French actress, Cecile Aubrey, never imparts the sense of maturity needed to make the Black Rose character a worthy romantic interest for Power. Look for Michael Rennie in a small but effectively-played part as the English king. The film's Technicolor work looks passable on the DVD (presented full frame as originally shot, as are all the titles in this set). The colour varies in accuracy and registration problems are evident at times. There are but a few speckles and scratches, reflecting that Fox has obviously made an effort on its restoration, but there's definite room for improvement. There's no evidence of edge effects or registration issues and image detail is superior. The mono sound is satisfactory and also available is the usual dubious fake stereo tracks that abound on Fox classic DVDs. Supplements include an appealing featurette in which three of Tyrone Power's children and his widow Linda Christian reminisce about him, as well as a still gallery, a packet of lobby card reproductions, and the theatrical trailer. Blood and Sand (1941) tells the story of Juan Gallardo (Power), a matador who rises to the top of his profession only to come under the influence of a beautiful seductress (Rita Hayworth), at which point the inevitable decline begins. Taken from a novel by Vicente Blasco Ibanez that had been the vehicle that marked Rudolph Valentino's rise to fame when filmed in 1922, this Power film is one of his best-remembered ones. Gloriously photographed in Technicolor (for which Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan won Oscars) and sporting superb art and set decoration and costumes, the film is a sumptuous delight whose visual delights easily outweigh a story that sometimes plods. Power looks great in matador costume and his acting is natural and appealing. Hayworth is a worthy match, but the female acting honours go to Alla Nazimova who plays Power's long-suffering mother. Direction is by Rouben Mamoulian who had handled the first Technicolor feature, Becky Sharp, six years before and worked with Power on The Mark of Zorro the previous year. The DVD conveys the Technicolor film very well. Colours are bright, vibrant, and accurate with skin tones well handled (note the marked improvement over the 1993 video master evident on the disc's restoration comparison). The mono sound is clear and distortion-free. There is a very informative audio commentary by cinematographer Richard Crudo who obviously focuses on the photographic aspects of the production, doing so exhaustively in some instances. A photo gallery, a lobby card packet, and the afore-mentioned restoration comparison round out the package. The other Technicolor feature in the set is Captain from Castile (1947), which finds Power playing young Spanish aristocrat Pedro De Vargas who eludes the Inquisition and joins Cortez (Cesar Romero) on an expedition to the New World. There, love and Cortez's plans to conquer the Aztecs shape De Vargas's future. This is the longest film in the set, but it doesn't seem it as it effectively blends adventure, romance and action. Power cuts a dashing figure as the title character, but also gives the role a good blend of moody intensity and enthusiasm. Less persuasive are Jean Peters as Power's love interest and Romero's Cortez portrayal. Fortunately the latter shortcomings are more than compensated for by well-staged action sequences under the sure hand of director Henry King and the sheer spectacle of the whole production. The DVD transfer offers a reasonably saturated image but there is a tendency towards unnatural skin tones at times. The image is sharp though not completely consistently so and suffers from only minor speckling. The mono sound is clear and distortion free and to me even seemed reasonably dynamic compared to other tracks in the set. Accompanying the feature is a very nice package of supplements including a lobby card packet, advertising and still galleries, the theatrical trailer, a featurette on Power's leading ladies, and two other very welcome extras. The first of these is a very entertaining and informative audio commentary by reliables such as Rudy Behlmer and Nick Redman, as well as John Burlingame. The other is an isolated track of the Alfred Newman score. Son of Fury is the first of the black and white feature films in the set. Based on the novel "Benjamin Blake" by Edison Marshall, the film concerns the illegitimate son of a 19th century British aristocrat who struggles to attain his rightful place in the world and reclaim his family's fortune from a grasping uncle (George Sanders). His efforts take him to the South Seas where he is able to make a fortune that serves as the springboard for his efforts. The story is an exciting one and a logical narrative arc allows for a satisfying conclusion. Tyrone Power is convincing in the title role and he finds an excellent foil in George Sanders and his villainy - the two eventually engaging in a well-staged fistfight. Strong support is also provided by Roddy MacDowell, Frances Farmer, and Fox stalwart John Carradine. Gene Tierney's exotic looks allow her to play effectively a South Sea islander whom Power falls in love with. Overall, the film looks strong on DVD. Shadow detail is very good and general image sharpness is compromised by a soft look on just a couple of instances. The mono sound is fine and the supplements include an isolated score, a featurette on Power and some of the background to the productions in the box set, a lobby card packet, still and advertising galleries, and the original theatrical trailer. Prince of Foxes shows Tyrone Power to advantage in an artful blend of intrigue, romance, and double-dealing that takes place during the time of the Borgias in Renaissance Italy. It's the sort of period film in which Power (probably second only to Errol Flynn) could really make one believe in his portrayal of a historical character. Here he's aided immensely by a very handsome-looking production (taking advantage of considerable location shooting in Italy and San Marino) and some juicy scene-stealing by chief villains Orson Welles (as Cesare Borgia) and Edward Everett Sloane (who later comes over to Power's side). The DVD image looks very good - crisp, excellent detail, and a very impressive gray scale. The mono sound is fine most of the time, but there is some inconsistency in the volume level and dialogue clarity. Supplements included another isolated score, a Movietone newsreel on the wedding in Rome of Tyrone Power and Linda Christian, a lobby card packet, still and advertising galleries, and an original theatrical trailer in Spanish. This set is another winner from Fox - four out of five good films, mostly fine transfers, and a thoughtful selection of supplements. Highly recommended.


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