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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Back to Part One

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #36 and New Announcements (continued)

I turn my attention now to three reissues of well-known classics in new collector's editions. Do they improve on the originals enough to warrant investment of your hard-earned cash? Let's see.

The Caine Mutiny: Collector's EditionThe Guns of Navarone: Collector's EditionTo Catch a Thief: Special Collector's Edition

The Caine Mutiny (1954) with Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Fred MacMurray, and Van Johnson was one of the earliest Columbia Classics releases, appearing on DVD nine years ago. At the time it sported a pretty nice anamorphic transfer and offered a few trailers as a supplement. The new Collector's Edition from Sony retains the Columbia Classics imprint and has a new anamorphic transfer that offers brighter colours and a slightly sharper image than the previous release. Moderate film grain was evident on the original and it looks about the same on the new one. Image detail strikes me as pretty much of a wash between the two. I can't say that I noticed much difference between the mono sound tracks either, both being quite strong. The new edition offers a substantial upgrade in the area of supplements. It begins with a two-part making-of documentary (almost ¾ hour) that is one of the better ones of its kind and continues with an audio commentary by film scholar Richard Peña and filmmaker Ken Bowser. The latter is also one of the better of its kind, offering a thorough and enthusiastic discussion of the film's production background and its various cast and crew members. Strangely, however, the new edition does not include the theatrical trailers from the original (for The Caine Mutiny and Dead Reckoning), but substitutes ones for three recent schlock action films with no relationship to The Caine Mutiny whatsoever. Overall, I'd say the new Collector's Edition of The Caine Mutiny is an upgrade worth investing in. Sony has also provided a new Collector's Edition treatment for The Guns of Navarone (1961), this time a two-disc set. The original DVD release in 2000 was already designated a Special Edition, in that instance a single disc version offering an anamorphic transfer, a director's audio commentary, a retrospective documentary, and several vintage featurettes. The new Collector's Edition retains all those supplements and adds another audio commentary by film historian Stephen Rubin, four new documentaries and featurettes, and the roadshow intermission. The new anamorphic transfer is an improvement over the original which was pretty good in its own right though a little inconsistent in color saturation and image sharpness. Colours now are brighter and more consistently so, and image sharpness is very good throughout. Shadow detail, which was somewhat of a problem on the original, has also improved. The 5.1 and mono tracks that were offered on the original also appear on the new version. If you like this film, and it's hard not to, The Guns of Navaron:e Collector's Edition is a worthy upgrade from the 2000 release. (Note that I did not have the Superbit release version available for comparison.) Finally, Paramount has returned to Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955), perhaps stung by people's unhappiness with the inaccurate colours and edge effects that marked the film's original DVD release five years ago. Well, the studio's efforts have borne fruit, for the new anamorphic transfer is noticeably better in almost every respect. Colours are even brighter and more accurate with skin tones notably show a vast improvement. Edge effects are toned down substantially and most of the dirt and debris has been excised. The original release already offered four new featurettes and these are repeated in the new edition. An audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich (whom I always enjoy) and Laurent Bouzereau has been added. The new transfer alone makes the To Catch a Thief: Special Collector's Edition a worthy upgrade.

Kill the Umpire / Safe at HomeThe Natural: Director's Cut

I'm a little late for the start of the baseball season, but it's still worth looking at two recent Sony releases of three baseball films. One is a double feature disc that pairs 1950's Kill the Umpire with 1962's Safe at Home. I have a particular soft spot for Kill the Umpire, a movie I first saw on TV many years ago and remember laughing uproariously at. On later viewings, it didn't seem quite so hilarious but it did still maintain a good entertainment level and convey a nice feel for the appeal of the game of baseball. William Bendix stars as baseball-crazed husband Bill Johnson who is constantly losing jobs because he gets sidetracked whenever there's baseball game on the radio or at the local ballpark. When things get to the point where his wife (Una Merkel) threatens to leave him, his father-in-law (Ray Collins) suggests a solution - enroll in umpire school (run by William Frawley) and make umpiring his career. The only problem is that Johnson rates umpires as about the low of the low. The film is an amiable blend of both gentle and slapstick humour climaxing in a great chase through the streets of a Texas town where Johnson (by this time, known as Two-Call Johnson, for amusing reasons) is scheduled to umpire a key game. Classic enthusiasts will recognize many of the cast members, most of them familiar and reliable supporting players. In addition to those mentioned above, Tom D'Andrea, Bob Wilke, and Alan Hale Jr. are among the many recognizable faces that appear. The film clocks in at a brisk 78 minutes and although its plot situations are quite predictable for the most part, it never outstays its welcome. Sony's full frame (as originally shot) transfer is very nice. The image has modest grain and is generally sharp with reasonable detail. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no supplements. Safe at Home is pretty much of a chore to watch. Its story concerns a small boy who plays Little League baseball and brags about a friendship with Yankee stars Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris that doesn't exist. Faced with having to persuade the two stars to attend a local team function, he travels alone to the Yankee training camp in Fort Lauderdale in order to try to make his fictional friendship with Mantle and Maris a reality. The only reason to watch this film would be to see Mantle and Maris on screen, but they're so stiff on camera, even that's a letdown. The story otherwise is completely forgettable as is most of the cast. William Frawley and Don Collier are about the only real familiar faces in evidence. Sony gives us a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that's more than adequate for this dud. The mono sound is fine and there are no supplements. The disc is worth a rental for Kill the Umpire. The other Sony baseball release is a new Director's Cut two-disc version of The Natural (1984). I really like this film. It offers the same sense of wonder and love of the game that comes through so clearly in Field of Dreams. Starring Robert Redford, whose athleticism gives his baseball sequences a strong sense of reality, the film tells the story of Roy Hobbs who returns to baseball 16 years after his early promise for playing the game was mysteriously derailed by a woman and a bullet. The period setting; the sense of supernatural forces at play; the effective use of Buffalo's War Memorial stadium for the baseball scenes - all combine to create an atmosphere of a time when baseball was 'the' American game and it wasn't all just about the money and pandering to television. It reminds one of sunny weekend afternoons in the bleachers, hot dogs and crackerjack, an impossibly green, real grass field, and the crisp crack of the bat. It's not a film to quibble about plot inconsistencies, directorial decisions, or casting choices. It's a film to immerse yourself in and just - remember. The new Director's Cut more closely represents director Barry Levinson's original intent. He has added in some 15-20 minutes of new material and removed some scenes in the theatrical version so that we are left with a film that now runs about 10 minutes longer than originally in theatres. Most of the changes are in the early part of the film, which to me, now runs more coherently than it used to. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer (supervised by Caleb Deschanel, the film's Director of Photography) is very smooth and film-like. The image is crisp and offers bright but natural colours. Shadow detail is quite good in most of the darker scenes. Edge effects are not a concern. Comparing with the film's original DVD release, the new transfer is a marked improvement in colour fidelity, sharpness, and shadow detail. Sony has also done a nice job with the new Dolby Digital 5.1 track that offers substantial subtle surround effects while maintaining clear dialogue and a strong presence to the music score throughout. The supplements include an introduction by Barry Levinson and a whole raft of very informative featurettes on the making-of the film, the realities of actually playing the game at the major-league level, the mythic nature of baseball, and a possible real-life inspiration for the Hobbs character. Highly recommended.

49th Parallel

Criterion has finally made available an edition of 49th Parallel, the 1941 British wartime film and ode to Canada long awaited by Powell and Pressburger fans. The film (originally released in the U.S. as The Invaders) is an exciting, well-paced tale that focuses on a small party of German U-Boat crewmembers that is stranded on the coast of northern Hudson Bay when their ship is sunk. The survivors set out to travel to the safety of the United States, at that time still not engaged in World War II. After ransacking a Hudson's Bay Company post at Wolstenholme, they later encounter a settlement of Hutterites, pass through Winnipeg, and nearly get apprehended in Banff - their numbers gradually decreasing as some are caught or killed. Finally only their leader (Eric Portman) is left and he makes a final attempt to cross into the U.S. at Niagara Falls. The film makes tremendous use of actual Canadian locations, features an emotionally-stirring opening theme by Ralph Vaughn Williams, and is anchored by a superb performance by Portman. Well-known British actors play important roles in each of the film's main sequences - Laurence Olivier as a French Canadian trapper, Anton Walbrook as the leader of the Hutterites, and Leslie Howard as a painter in the forests near Banff, and Canadian Raymond Massey plays a soldier at Niagara Falls. Of these four, only Walbrook does a really persuasive job; the others' portrayals are all somewhat over the top but are entertaining to watch nonetheless. The film won an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Story by Emeric Pressburger and was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Criterion's release is a two-disc set that features a beautifully crisp and bright black and white transfer, featuring a very pleasing gray scale. There are still some obvious scratches and debris in evidence, however, despite an extensive effort at removing many such blemishes. The mono sound is in fine shape with dialogue coming through clearly and Williams' music nicely conveyed. Only some very minor hiss is intermittently in evidence. The supplements are highlighted by one of film historian Bruce Eder's typically detailed and thoroughly entertaining audio commentaries. Also included are the theatrical trailer, Powell and Pressburger's 1943 recruiting short The Volunteer, a 1981 BBC documentary on Powell and Pressburger, audio extracts from the recordings for Powell's autobiography with particular relevance to 49th Parallel, essays on the film, and production stills. Highly recommended.

Hammer Film Noir Double Feature: Volume 4Hammer Film Noir Double Feature: Volume 5

Courtesy of its arrangement with Kit Parker Films, VCI has also released further volumes in its Hammer Film Noir Double Feature series, namely Volume 4 which includes Terror Street (1953, with Dan Duryea) and Wings of Danger (1952, with Zachary Scott), and Volume 5 which includes The Glass Tomb (1955, with John Ireland) and Paid to Kill (1954, with Dane Clark). As usual, these tend to be atmospheric little thrillers but with only limited film noir pedigree. Volume 4 departs from the norm of these double feature offerings, this time providing two titles that are both of interest. In Terror Street, Dan Duryea is a USAF pilot who becomes the chief suspect after his wife is shot and killed apparently with his gun. Originally known in Britain as 36 Hours, it was later released in the U.S. by Lippert Films under the title used here. The film is a tightly-plotted entry elevated by a good and sympathetic performance by Duryea. John Chandos as the sleazy villain is memorable. Wings of Danger is another British production released in the U.S. by Lippert. This time the imported American star is Zachary Scott, an under-rated performer whose star seemed to fall rather quickly after his stint with Warner Bros. in the late 1940s. In this film, Scott plays an airline pilot subject to blackouts who discovers that a fellow pilot is mixed up in a smuggling racket. The story is again well-plotted, benefiting from the novel "Dead on Course" by Elleston Trevor and Packham Webb as its source, and Zachary Scott gives a convincing performance. The rest of the cast (including Kay Kendall) is fine, but no one really stands out. Both films (presented full frame as originally shot) look quite adequate on DVD. There are certainly plenty of speckles and other debris, but contrast and image detail are good especially on Terror Street. Wings of Danger looks a little darker and has more scratches in evidence. The mono sound is reasonably clear on each and there is a good package of supplements including short commentaries on Terror Street and its director Montgomery Tully and writer Steve Fisher as well as on Dan Duryea, photo galleries, cast and crew biographies, a several trailers (including one for Terror Street). Well worth a rental. Volume 5 reverts to type with one good film and one that's mediocre. The good one is Paid to Kill in which a business deal gone sour leads Dane Clark to arrange his own death so that his wife can collect insurance money only to have to try to undo the situation when his fortunes improve. The film came out in Britain as Five Days, but was released in the U.S. by Lippert under the Paid to Kill title. Clark is fine in the lead role and he gets good support from Thea Gregory as his wife. There are several good plot twists and the 70-minute feature holds interest throughout. The Glass Tomb is much less successful. It certainly has an interesting premise in its story of an impresario who arranges for a carnival performer to undertake the world's longest fast while enclosed in a glass cage. A young woman's murder is wrapped up in the scheme, but the villain is obvious from almost the beginning and the plot fails to generate any interest in how he is brought to justice. John Ireland stars, but he seems disinterested in the whole thing. The film was known as The Glass Cage in Britain and was released in the U.S. by Lippert. The DVD presents The Glass Tomb in a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer that looks adequate at best. There's plenty of speckling and scratches, some frame jumps and a tendency to blooming whites at times. The sound has some hiss, but is clean enough on the whole. Paid to Kill (a full frame presentation as originally shot) has less dirt and debris and better contrast than The Glass Tomb, but some of the dark scenes are quite noisy. The mono sound is workable but it does exhibit some distortion and patches of severe background hiss and crackle. The disc contains an audio commentary on The Glass Tomb by Richard M. Roberts, cast and crew biographies, photo galleries, and various trailers (none for The Glass Tomb or Paid to Kill).

Classic Western Round-Up: Volume 1Classic Western Round-Up: Volume 2

Finally, two of the best releases this May are Universal's Classic Western Round-Up: Volume 1 and Volume 2. Each contains four films presented two each on two single-sided double-layer discs - The Texas Rangers, Canyon Passage, Kansas Raiders, and The Lawless Breed in the first volume, and The Texans, California, The Cimarron Kid, and The Man from the Alamo in the second. The blend of films in each set is a pleasing one - an early black and white Paramount A western, a Technicolor A western of the mid-1940s from either Paramount or Universal, and a pair of examples of Universal's deep catalog of minor A westerns from the early 1950s. Every title is at least an entertaining one, with several truly superior. Looking at Volume 1, The Texas Rangers (1936) has Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie playing ex-outlaws who join the Texas Rangers and then have to try to apprehend their old partner (Lloyd Nolan) who's still on the wrong side of the law. MacMurray and Nolan are particularly good and the film moves along efficiently under the sure hand of director King Vidor. A routine sequel (Texas Rangers Ride Again) was made in 1940, but with none of the principals returning. Canyon Passage is a 1946 Universal production that stars Dana Andrews who labours to build a freight business in early Oregon while vying with banker/gambler Brian Donlevy for Susan Hayward. The film is packed with a rich assortment of secondary characters (Ward Bond as an Indian hater, Lloyd Bridges as hot-headed youngster, Hoagy Carmichael as a wandering minstrel, Andy Devine as a farmer) and the engrossing plot is drawn from an Ernest Haycox novel. Andrews does some of his best work in a western here and even Brian Donlevy elevates what is for him a rather stock role. Jacques Tourneur's direction is understated, well in tune with the fine location Technicolor photography of Edward Cronjager. Kansas Raiders (1950) was Audie Murphy's sixth film and his third western. He was already quite comfortable in westerns and it was a genre with which he was associated almost exclusively during his 22-year film career. In this outing, Murphy plays Jesse James in a story focused on Quantrill's raiders. The familiarity of the story and a rather flat performance by Brian Donlevy as Quantrill detracts from a film that has good production values and fairly interesting action sequences (especially the attack on Lawrence, Kansas). Murphy is quite good as the uncertain Jesse James. Look for Tony Curtis as one of the young guns riding with Jesse. The Lawless Breed (1953) finds Rock Hudson playing John Wesley Hardin in a fictionalized but gripping dramatization of the outlaw's life. Director Raoul Walsh maintains considerable suspense in drawing out a plot that is told in flashback. Aside from very nice work by Hudson and the pleasing presence as Julia Adams as his wife, the film provides an excellent opportunity for familiar western face watching - John McIntyre (in a dual role), Michael Ansara, Hugh O'Brian, Dennis Weaver, Glenn Strange, and Lee Van Cleef. Turning to Volume 2, we begin with The Texans (1938), a Paramount remake of the 1924 silent North of 36. The film is set in post-Civil-War Texas where Randolph Scott ramrods a cattle drive of Texas beef north to Abilene in order to save a ranch from northern carpetbaggers. The film has plenty of action, but Scott seems ill-at-ease at times despite his background in Zane Grey westerns and there is extensive use of stock footage. Joan Bennett and Robert Cummings also star, but the most interesting aspect is watching Walter Brennan play the same sort of grizzled role he was famous for two and three decades later. California (1946) is a superior Paramount production with Ray Milland starring as an army deserter turned wagon train leader who becomes involved in the California gold rush and later struggle for statehood. Milland, despite little background in westerns, matches a typically fine performance by Barbara Stanwyck as a saloon girl with aspirations. The film is somewhat measured in its pace, but with lush Technicolor and a fine villain in George Coulouris as a former slave-trader, it holds interest throughout. Barry Fitzgerald makes a rare western appearance as an aspiring vintner turned politician and does quite nicely. The Cimarron Kid (1952) is another Audie Murphy western, one originally released about a year after Kansas Raiders. Murphy plays Bill Doolin who takes over leadership of the Dalton Gang after it is decimated during an abortive attempt to rob two banks in Coffeyville, Kansas. The film is well directed by Budd Boetticher (he and Murphy would collaborate again in Audie's last film, A Time for Dying) and with a nicely understated performance by Murphy (typical of much of his work), it's a cut above Kansas Raiders providing pleasing if undemanding entertainment. The Man from the Alamo (1953) is a superior Universal western much benefiting from the presence of Glenn Ford in the title role of a man branded a coward after leaving the Alamo in order to look after his and his friends' families. Also directed by Budd Boetticher, it shows fine examples of his ability to orchestrate exciting action sequences (notably the climactic attack on a wagon train). Julia Adams, Victor Jory, and Hugh O'Brian all provide strong support. Universal has done a superb job in bringing these titles to DVD. The image transfers (all full frame as originally shot) are all above average, with bright and for the most part accurate colours on the Technicolor films, minimal dirt and debris, and pleasing levels of grain. California, Canyon Passage, and The Cimarron Kid look particularly good. The two earlier black and white films are not quite as clean looking and there is slightly more grain, but the image detail is very respectable . The mono sound on all the colour films is in good shape. There is some hiss noticeable on the two black and white films. Trailers are provided for all the films except The Cimarron Kid and Canyon Passage. Available on-line for $20, these four-title volumes are a bargain, highly recommended to western fans.


New Announcements

There's the usual spate of news here from Warner Bros., but MGM and VCI get in on the act in a decent way as well. As usual, the Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated and sources for this edition of the column include studio press releases and websites, personal contacts, internet newsgroups, online retailers, and DVD news sites (The Digital Bits, the Home Theater Forum, DVD Times, and TVShowsonDVD among others).

Among Criterion's July releases is the long-awaited Billy Wilder film Ace in the Hole, coming on the 17th. Also being released are the four-disc set Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara (Pitfall [1962], Woman in the Dunes [1964], The Face of Another [1966]) on July 10th, as well as Andrei Tarkovsky's debut feature Ivan's Childhood (1962) and Jean-Pierre Melville's Les Enfants Terribles (1950), both on July 24th. The Ace in the Hole release features a new high definition transfer, audio commentary by film scholar Neil Sinyard, a 1980 documentary containing interviews of Billy Wilder by film critic Michel Ciment, excerpts of a 1986 appearance by Wilder at the AFI, excerpts from a Wilder audio interview, a booklet of new essays, and the theatrical trailer. Turning to Criterion's Eclipse line, the July 17th offering (4th in the series) will be Raymond Bernard, which will include Wooden Crosses (1932) and Les Miserables (1934).

BCI, a component of the Navarre Corporation, will release Wanted: Dead or Alive - Season Two on July 17th. The set will contain 32 episodes on four discs and include a supplementary featurette called "The Women of Wanted: Dead or Alive".

The Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 3 will be coming from Fox on August 14th. This time there are five titles including Charlie Chan's Secret (1936), Charlie Chan On Broadway (1937), Charlie Chan At Monte Carlo (1938), Behind That Curtain (1929), and The Black Camel (1931). The inclusion of The Black Camel is a surprise as Warners had indicated that they held the rights to that title. Fox has apparently made some sort of arrangement with Warners to allow its inclusion in this set - a welcome development. Among the extras in the set are expected to be several audio commentaries. Fox's future plans may include a 100th birthday celebration box set of Bette Davis films in 2008. Titles under Fox's control that could be possible inclusions are: Phone Call from a Stranger, The Star, and The Virgin Queen, as well as new editions of All About Eve and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte. It's possible also that some of Davis's numerous late-career made-for-TV movies may be controlled by Fox, but I've not had the time to investigate them.

Grapevine Video's May plans include five silent and two sound releases. The silent ones include: Billy Dooley (seven comedy shorts from 1925-1929); Keystone Comedies: Volume #2 (seven 1915 comedies starring the likes of Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, Al St. John, Ford Sterling, Edgar Kennedy and Mack Swain); Fairbanks Fine Arts Productions (two Douglas Fairbanks films from 1916 - The Habit of Happiness and Manhattan Madness); The Charlatan (1929, with Holmes Herbert and Margaret Livingston); and Within Our Gates (1920, directed by Oscar Micheaux). The sound releases are Lloyd Hamilton (five of his comedy shorts from 1929-1933) and Bob Steele in Cinecolor (two cinecolor westerns from 1945 - Northwest Trail and Wildfire).

As reported in TVShowsOnDVD.com, Infinity Resources (owners of the likes of online retailers such as Deep Discount and DVD Planet), in conjunction with Falcon Picture Group, will add to their classic-TV-on-DVD lineup with the release of The Real McCoys: The Complete Season One on May 22nd. This is the series that Walter Brennan starred in for six seasons beginning in 1957. The release will be a five-disc set containing all 39 shows from the series' first season. Previous TV releases by the Infinity/Falcon combination have included several season series of both Hopalong Cassidy (two seasons) and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (three seasons). The latter are also being re-released all together as Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: The Complete Collection on July 24th. Also coming on the same date is The Adventures of Jim Bowie: The Complete First Season (38 shows from 1956-57 on five discs). In between, on June 26th, there is a planned release of Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown, a four-disc set that will include 30 live-action half-hour shows and 30 cartoons, all digitally remastered from creator Larry Harmon's original film masters.

MGM's July plans feature a new film noir series that includes Kansas City Confidential (1952), The Stranger (1946), The Woman in the Window (1944), and A Bullet for Joey (1955), all for release on the 10th. The MGM Movie Legends Collection: Frankie & Annette will appear then too. It will include: Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Fireball 500, Thunder Alley, Muscle Beach Party and Ski Party (1963-1967). July 24th will bring the MGM Movie Legends Collection: Frank Sinatra (The Manchurian Candidate, Guys and Dolls, The Pride and the Passion, Hole in the Head, and Kings Go Forth) and the MGM Movie Legends Collection: Elvis Presley (Clambake, Frankie and Johnny, Follow That Dream, and Kid Galahad). There's no indication as yet whether any of the latter two collections will contain new transfers or are just reissues of the previous ones. Future MGM Movie Legends Collections will focus on John Wayne and Steve McQueen among others.

Paramount will bring us Hawaii Five-O: Season Two on July 31st. It will contain all 25 episodes - which begs the question, why can't we get The Untouchables, Perry Mason, and other classic series in full season sets rather than broken up into two volumes? Speaking of The Untouchables, Season One, Volume Two will appear on September 25th.

VCI's Budget Line (mostly priced in the $5 to $10 range) will have a number of multiple feature discs for release on May 29th. The line-up includes a heist double feature (Birds of Prey [1973, with David Janssen] plus Lady Ice [1973, with Donald Sutherland, not widescreen]); a western double feature (Cattle Queen of Montana [1954, with Ronald Reagan and Barbara Stanwyck] plus Tennessee's Partner [1955, with John Payne, not widescreen]); classic western quadruple features including Johnny Mack Brown - Crooked Trail, Boot Hill Brigade, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie, Lone Star Trail (1936-1937); Bob Steele - Border Phantom, A Demon for Trouble, Trusted Outlaw, Brand of Hate (1934-1937); Tex Ritter - Marshal of Gunsmoke, Arizona Days, Trouble in Texas, Oklahoma Raiders (first three 1937, last 1944); Buster Crabbe - Fugitive of the Plains, Western Cyclone, Sheriff of Sage Valley, Fuzzy Settles Down (1942-1944); Bob Baker - Singing Outlaw, Border Wolves, Guilty Trails, The Last Stand (1937-1938); Singing Cowboys - Colorado Sundown, The Big Show, Come On Rangers, Wild Country (1951 [Rex Allen], 1936 [Gene Autry], 1938 [Roy Rogers], 1947 [Eddie Dean]); Cisco Kid Western Triple Feature Volume One: The Gay Cavalier, Beauty and the Bandit, South of Monterey (all 1946, with Gilbert Roland); Cisco Kid Western Triple Feature Volume Two: Riding the California Trail, Robin Hood of Monterey, King of the Bandits (all 1947, with Gilbert Roland); and Hillbilly Comedy Collection: Las Vegas Hillbillies (1966), Hillbillies in a Haunted House (1967), Private Snuffy Smith (1942), L'il Abner (1940).

Warner Bros. continues in high gear with a July 31st release of the expected Film Noir Collection: Volume 4. The set will contain 10 titles packaged as five double feature discs (each disc also available individually): Act of Violence/Mystery Street, Crime Wave/Decoy, Illegal/The Big Steal, They Live By Night/Side Street, and Where Danger Lives/Tension. The only change from the initial speculation on this set is the substitution of The Big Steal for Cornered. Each title is accompanied by an audio commentary, a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer. Then on August 7th, we'll get TCM Spotlight: Myrna Loy/William Powell Collection which will contain five new-to-DVD features starring the couple. The titles, which will only be available in the set (digi-pak format), are: Manhattan Melodrama (1934, also with Clark Gable), Evelyn Prentice (1934, also the debut of Rosalind Russell), Double Wedding (1937), I Love You Again (1940), and Love Crazy (1941). Extras include vintage shorts, classic cartoons, theatrical trailers, and a radio show broadcast for Love Crazy. In conjunction with this release, Warners will also make all the Thin Man films available individually. Previously you could just get them as part of the box set. Due on August 14th is The Shakespeare Collection, a box set including A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935, with James Cagney and Olivia De Havilland), Romeo and Juliet (1936, with Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard), Othello (1965, with Laurence Olivier), and a two-disc set of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996). Hamlet includes audio commentary by Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson while A Midsummer Night's Dream will have commentary by film historian Scott MacQueen. Each of the four films will also be available individually. Also coming in August, on the 7^th , to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s passing is Elvis: The Hollywood Collection containing six titles never before on DVD: Charro, Girl Happy, Kissin’ Cousins, Stay Away, Joe, Tickle Me, and Live A Little, Love A Little. New deluxe editions of Viva Las Vegas (1964) and Jailhouse Rock (1957) will also be released. Each of the latter two will have an audio commentary, new featurette, and new anamorphic transfer with a 5.1 sound remaster. Two-disc Special Editions of Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970) and This is Elvis (1981, making its DVD debut) will also appear. Finally, during a recent Home Theater Forum chat focused on TV shows and animation, Warners passed on some information of interest to classic fans. As expected, there was confirmation that a fifth volume of Looney Tunes will appear this fall as will the third volume of Tom and Jerry. Regarding Warners' classic western and detective series of the 1950s and 1960s (items like Maverick, Bronco, Sugarfoot, 77 Sunset Strip, for example), the studio is still considering them for release but noted that making the financial aspects work was a problem. Warners also indicated that there were no plans for The Roaring Twenties, a 1960-62 series. On the plus side, work is proceeding on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and there will hopefully be an official announcement later this year.

In High Definition news, Warners has moved its Battle of the Bulge HD and BD releases from May 8th to May 15th. MGM's Blu-ray releases of Battle of Britain, A Bridge Too Far, and The Graduate on May 8th have been delayed as has Fox's Blu-ray release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. No new date has yet been set.

Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon, but please note that review coverage may continue to be sporadic for the next few months as I'm presently in the throws of house moving.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com
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