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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

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Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #28 and New Announcements
(Continued)


Westerns of a slightly different nature in format are two 15-chapter Universal serials from the late 1930s starring Johnny Mack Brown - Flaming Frontiers and The Oregon Trail. Both are now available on two-disc DVDs from VCI (who I wish would correct their covers on such discs by removing the credit for Nat Levine - it was correct for the Mascot serials but is not for the Universal ones). After Rustlers of Red Dog and Wild West Days, two earlier Mack Brown serials for Universal, I'm not surprised that Johnny's beginning to look a little discouraged fighting off the same Indians once again. But he handles it in a typically manly fashion. At least in Flaming Frontiers, he has the added diversion of a young woman and her brother whose gold claim is threatened by a gang of outlaws masterminded by Bart Eaton (James Blaine). For a western serial, the plot has some good twists and for its latter chapters the welcome presence of top serial villain Charles Middleton as Ace Daggett. Familiar serial faces such as Charles King, Roy Barcroft, Chief Thundercloud, Iron Eyes Cody, and Richard Alexander are around in small supporting roles.

The Oregon Trail is a more straight-ahead cowboys and Indians tale as a gang interested in controlling the fur trade tries to derail wagon trains headed to the Northwest. The serial relies even more heavily than Flaming Frontiers on Universal's stock western footage from the silents, but setting that aside, the serial never really takes off. The cliffhangers seemed stale (although it was hard to find novel chapter-ending situations in western serials at the best of times) and Johnny Mack Brown's supporting cast lacks a really strong chief villain. Again, though, many familiar faces are present including most of those listed above (no Charles Middleton, however). The Oregon Trail was the last of four western serials that Mack Brown did for Universal. Thereafter, he concentrated on series B westerns for Universal and later Monogram. VCI's DVD releases of the two serials are both quite acceptable image-wise, although Flaming Frontiers looks a little sharper and freer of debris than does The Oregon Trail. Supplements on both are restricted to brief poster galleries and biographies, and some serial trailers. Flaming Frontiers is recommended.

Flaming FrontiersThe Oregon Trail

While we're talking about serials, VCI's release of The Master Key, a 1945 Universal 13-chapter outing, is worth your attention. Even more so is 1937's 12-chapter Tim Tyler's Luck. By 1945, Universal was starting to think of winding up its serial production and there would be only five more serials from the studio after The Master Key. In the meantime, the war was still on and the Nazis were still good grist for the serial mill. The serial's plot thus found a gang of Nazi agents operating in the United States in 1938 and trying to undermine the country's potential to be major world force by creating a financial panic in the country. Key to the gang's plans is control of Professor Henderson's Oretron Machine, which allows gold to be extracted from the ocean. The gang's leader is known as "The Master Key", while hot on the gang's trail is federal investigator Tom Brant (Milburn Stone), assisted by detective Jack Ryan (Dennis Moore) and reporter Janet Lowe (Jan Wiley). The serial starts off well as it introduces its basic plot lines, but then becomes bogged down for a couple of chapters before the plot starts to become more expansive. Thereafter, it maintains its interest well and the various cliffhanger endings are effectively handled. The cast is quite good and it's a pleasure to see a youthful Milburn Stone as the chief protaganist (compared to his later work as Doc Adams on TV's Gunsmoke). The identity of the Master Key is pretty well disguised. Look for Alfred LaRue in the cast - the same LaRue later known as Lash LaRue with his trademark bullwhip in a series of B westerns for PRC. As always, for maximum enjoyment, it's advisable to watch the serial in single chapter doses as it was intended to be seen originally. VCI's presentation is quite decent, offering a fairly sharp image although there are sections that are somewhat soft. There are the usual scratches and speckles, but nothing that detracts from one's viewing enjoyment.

Tim Tyler's Luck comes from early in what would generally be the golden age of serials from the late 1930s through early 1940s. The plot mines a popular subject for the serial - intrigue in a jungle setting. Tim Tyler (Frankie Thomas, who later made a number of Nancy Drew films as well as the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet TV series) is in Africa searching for his scientist-father who has gone missing while researching gorillas. At the same time Lora Lacey (Frances Robinson) is trying to find a notorious ivory robber and diamond thief. Tim and Lora team up in an effort to improve their chances of resolving both issues. I've never been a big fan of the jungle serial, but I must admit this one could make me rethink that position. In many ways it's a typical Universal serial with a convoluted plot, passable cliffhanger resolutions, and plenty of stock footage, but the exuberance of the very winning duo of Frankie Thomas and Frances Robinson (who by the way plays a heroine with little of the shrinking violet about her), plenty of action, and a good supporting cast elevates the product to one of the better serials. VCI's DVD presentation is workable. The image does look soft and there are plenty of speckles and scratches. The supplements include a number of serial trailers but more importantly a very recent 18-minute video interview with star Frankie Thomas (who unfortunately has since passed away). Both The Master Key and Tim Tyler's Luck are recommended.

VCI continues to mine its relationship with Kit Parker films with its release of a double feature disc advertised as Forgotten Noir: Volume 1. The term "film noir" has quite a cachet nowadays so it seems fashionable to classify anything vaguely shadowy, low budget, or smacking of exposé as noir. Neither of the films on the disc really fit the bill. They're simply minor crime melodramas designed to fill the lower half of a theatrical double bill. Portland Exposé (1957) uses the reality of Teamsters-controlled corruption in Portland in the mid-1950s as the inspiration for its story of a family whose livelihood and lives are threatened when their business begins to fall under the control of organized crime. The film is crisply shot and generally well-acted by a cast that includes Ed Binns, Russ Conway, Larry Dobkin, and Frank Gorshin (the latter is involved in a rape sequence that's noticeably brutal for the time period). Unfortunately the film's resolution is rather pat and some fighting scenes associated with it are poorly executed, as if flailing away like in an early 30s western before John Wayne and Yakima Canutt showed how realistic fights should be done. They Were So Young (1954), a tale of European models arriving in Rio de Janeiro and becoming trapped in a white slavery ring, is somewhat more satisfying. Made in Germany, but starring Americans Scott Brady and Raymond Burr (in a typically good heavy role), the film is well paced and holds interest throughout. At just under 80 minutes in length, the film was apparently truncated from its longer German running time by Lippert Productions who imported it originally for the North American market. VCI gives a superior treatment to two such minor films with correctly framed 1.85:1 anamorphic transfers which both look quite acceptable although certainly no benchmarks of excellence (images are clear but soft at times and moderate print debris is evident). The mono sound does the job satisfactorily. An unexpected and very worthwhile audio commentary by assistant director Lindsley Parsons Jr. accompanies Portland Exposé. The price ($10-12 on-line) is certainly right. Recommended, even if it's not film noir!

The Master KeyTim Tyler's LuckForgotten Noir: Volume 1


New Announcements

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, inthebalcony.com, and The Home Theater Forum. The Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated accordingly.

According to inthebalcony.com, AC Comics expects to release the 1938 Republic serial Dick Tracy Returns as a two-disk set (DVD-R) in the early summer.

Some of Fox’s May western releases include trailers for The Tall Men (with Clark Gable) and Robert Wise’s Two Flags West (1950, with Joseph Cotten, Linda Darnell and Jeff Chandler). With The Tall Men already announced for an August release, that likely means that Two Flags West is destined for DVD in the not-too-distant future also. Coming on September 5th are Jesse James (1939, with Tyrone Power), The Return of Frank James (1940, with Henry Fonda), and The True Story of Jesse James (1957, with Robert Wagner). September 12th will bring The Laurel & Hardy Collection: Volume Two, packaged similarly to the first volume and this time including the features A-Haunting We Will Go, The Dancing Masters, and The Bullfighters. Also coming soon is a Hemingway Classics Collection. Possible Fox productions that would fit in the latter are Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms (previously released), and Under My Skin, although Fox has said nothing about content so far. Film noir fans should also note that Boomerang, originally planned for a June 6th release, has been delayed due to rights issues although some copies have slipped into the market place. The title may appear officially later in the fall. Thus, the June wave of film noir will only have two titles this time (House of Strangers and I Wake Up Screaming). Finally, next year will see Fox issue The Michael Shayne Collection: Volume One, following up on its one-off release of Dressed to Kill last September.

Genius Entertainment will release a new special edition of Edward Wood Jr.'s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) on June 27th. It will feature a restored full-screen transfer of the original black-and-white version as well as a newly colorized version, each in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround. Supplements will include an audio commentary with Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a pop-up trivia track, a Plans 1-8 featurette, never-before-seen Ed Wood home movies, and rare television commercials.

Grapevine Video has announced seven new DVD-R releases for May, including Snooky the Chimp (1920-21, 3 rare comedies featuring Snooky); Hoosier Schoolmaster (1924, with Henry Hull and Jane Thomas); The Scarlet Car (1917, rare early Lon Chaney); D. W. Griffith Director - Volume #3 (10 Griffith-directed short subjects from 1909); Moulin Rouge (1929, directed by E. A. Dupont); Hotel Imperial (1927, with Pola Negri and directed by Mauritz Stiller); and Mystery Mountain (1934, 12-chapter Mascot serial on 2 discs, starring Ken Maynard.

Image will have Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope (1969) available on August 1st. It will include audio commentary by the director and an interview with him.

The TV series Mission Impossible: Season One appears set for a September 12th release from Paramount. According to tvshowsondvd,com, the studio has put considerable effort into restoring the series for DVD although no details on specific content are yet available. Other Paramount news includes an August 15th date for Hogan's Heroes: Season 4 and an August 29th release for The Andy Griffith Show: Season 7 (the second last season of the show). By the way, the planned June 13th release of the Martin & Lewis Collection, Volume 1 seems to have suffered the same fate as Paramount's Republic titles. It's been delayed indefinitely.

Passport Video/Koch Entertainment will release The Abbott & Costello Show: The 100th Anniversary Collection - Season One on September 5th in celebration of what would have been Lou Costello's 100th birthday anniversary. It will be a five-disc set including all twenty-six episodes from the 1951 TV season presented uncut and digitally remastered with new fullscreen transfers. Bonus materials will include the restored 1948 short film 10,000 Kids and a Cop, rare home movies of Lou Costello and his family, and new interviews with daughters Chris and Paddy Costello. The second season should follow in October. Interested collectors are probably aware that these episodes were previously released by Shanachie in pretty decent versions, but not chronologically and at a rate of only four episodes to a disc.

Sony will release Hazel: The Complete First Season on August 1st. From 1961, this is the first of five seasons of the popular sitcom starring Shirley Booth. This first offering contains all 35 episodes of the series' inaugural season on four discs. There are no supplements. Much further down the line but welcome news finally is Sony's plans to release a series of Three Stooges sets of sequential B&W shorts encompassing two-year periods. The first set would potentially appear in the summer or fall of 2007 and would include supplementary material. Could it be that there's finally someone in charge at Sony who knows what they're doing when it comes to classic material?

On August 22nd, Universal offers up Frank Capra’s State of the Union (1948) and This Island Earth (1955). Both are full screen presentations in accord with the original aspect ratios and apparently with no extras. The release of the special edition of Double Indemnity has been advanced to coincide with the above releases. The Universal September Lon Chaney release mentioned in the last column will appear on September 19th and is entitled Inner Sanctum Mysteries: The Complete Movie Collection. It will consist of six titles from the 1943-1945 period: Calling Dr. Death, Dead Man's Eyes, The Frozen Ghost, Pillow of Death, Strange Confession, and Weird Woman. Appearing the same day will be The Boris Karloff Collection, a three-disc set containing The Black Castle (1952), The Climax (1944), Night Key (1937), The Strange Door (1951), and Tower of London (1939).

Warner Bros. will release a repackaging (same transfers, same content) of four already-available Henry Fonda titles as Henry Fonda: The Signature Collection on September 19th. The four-disc set will contain Advise and Consent, Battle of the Bulge, Mister Roberts and The Wrong Man, each of which will continue to be available separately. In a similar vein, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, Dark Passage, and Key Largo have been repackaged (same transfers, same content) as Bogie & Bacall: The Signature Collection. This will receive general release on July 25th although amazon.com already has it available on an exclusive basis. Warner has also announced Humphrey Bogart: The Signature Collection - Volume 2 for release on 10/3 (SRP $59.92), which will include the DVD debut of Across the Pacific, Action in the North Atlantic, All Through the Night and Passage to Marseille (all of which are exclusive to this box set), as well as The Maltese Falcon: 3-Disc Special Edition (which will also be available separately for SRP $29.92). The Maltese Falcon will include a new digital transfer of the film from restored elements, audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax, a Warner Night at the Movies 1941 short subjects gallery, 2 previous movie versions of the story (including the 1931 The Maltese Falcon with Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez and the 1936 Satan Met a Lady with Bette Davis and Warren William), the new The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird documentary, the Robert Osborne hosted Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart, the Breakdowns of 1941 blooper reel, a trio of radio adaptations (audio-only) and theatrical trailers.

Warners and Amazon.com have also teamed up to bring you another of those DVD Decision efforts that allow us to vote on what titles get released on DVD. DVD Decision 2006 presents 30 titles in three categories and the 10 with the most votes as registered with Amazon.com during June will get a DVD release during this coming December and January. In looking over the titles below, one hopes that the many, many obvious classic titles missing from the categories are already definitely in Warners plans and thus not subject to the vagaries of such a contest. Anyway, here are the titles:

Action and Adventure - Al Capone, Cimarron (1960), Gymkata, The Hand, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, Operation Crossbow, Up Periscope

Comedy and Musicals - Angels in the Outfield (1951), April in Paris, Best Foot Forward, Blume in Love, The Eddie Cantor Story, Get to Know Your Rabbit, Not with My Wife You Don't, Presenting Lily Mars, You're a Big Boy Now

Drama - All Fall Down, The Arrangement, Band of Angels, Bhowani Junction, Carny, The Illustrated Man, Looker, Madame Curie, Made in Heaven, Mike's Murder, One Trick Pony, Sphinx, Sunrise at Campobello, There Was a Crooked Man...

Finally, Warners has just participated in another live chat at the Home Theater Forum, this time focusing on the animated and television products that Warner Bros. controls. News of interest to classic fans includes the following:

The entire original theatrical group of Popeye cartoons from 1933 to 1957 as well as all made-for-TV Popeye cartoons from the 60s, 70s and 80s will start to appear on DVD in 2007. They will be released chronologically and staggered with the Looney Tunes sets.

Official replacement programs for the first two volumes of the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collections are planned. For Volume 2, there will be a replacement program for disc #4 of the set as some of the cartoons were provided in an interlaced rather than progressive format. An official announcement on plans for dealing with Volume 1 should be out soon. More details to follow from Warner Bros.

The Tex Avery cartoons all require considerable restoration and Warners is currently investigating financing possibilities within the company.

Warner Bros. does own the rights to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and it will be released on DVD, but not in 2006.

Season releases of Maverick and The FBI are being considered, but there's nothing definite yet.

All 17 Max Fleischer Superman cartoons have been remastered and will be released later in 2006 in the Ultimate Superman Collection.

Some of the more sensitive Looney Tunes titles (Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, Coal Black, etc.) are still in Warners' radar and they hope to have good news for enthusiasts soon.

Well, once again that's it for now. I'll be back to talk classics again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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