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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Back to Part Two

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #38 and New Announcements (continued)

Two lesser releases are The Mystery of the Riverboat and The Royal Mounted Rides Again. The former is a 1944 13-chapter Universal effort being made available by Hermitage Hill Media on behalf of The Serial Squadron, while the latter is a 1945 13-chapter Universal serial released on DVD by VCI.

The Mystery of the RiverboatThe Royal Mounted Rides Again

The Mystery of the Riverboat revolves around three families who jointly own swampland in the bayou country. They are considering selling it, unaware that it contains valuable oil deposits. When members of all three families board a riverboat heading for the property, events are set in motion that lead to various murders and intrigues as the various family members struggle for control. The story and setting especially are a little different from the serial norm at least for the first half dozen episodes, but the execution lacks much imagination overall. The serial is saddled too with the stolid Robert Lowery as the lead, although his efforts are countered by a good villain in Lyle Talbot and the usual appealing supporting work by Mantan Moreland. The serial transfer, provided on a single double-sided disc, is not quite up to the work exhibited on Hermitage's first release, Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery. It's all clear enough and sports pretty good shadow detail, but there's an abundance of scratches and speckles that is distracting at times. The mono sound is in good shape and the theatrical trailer is provided as a supplement. The Royal Mounted Rides Again is pretty dreary stuff. It should have been better with the cast it sports - the likes of Bill Kennedy, Milburn Stone, Robert Armstrong, and Addison Richards, but the script is so mundane that they're totally defeated. And my god, Corporal Frenchy for a sidekick - talk about clichés. At least the disc transfer looks quite decent and the mono sound is fine. Extras include four cast and crew biographies, a photo gallery, and a promotional trailer for other VCI serial releases. Those who like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their serials should pass up this Universal effort and seek out Republic's King of the Royal Mounted to get a proper fix.

The Cisco Kid CollectionGang Busters

Finally, I've had but a brief opportunity to dip into three other releases, but because two of them have been sitting on my shelf for a while (VCI's The Cisco Kid Collection and The Serial Squadron's Gang Busters serial) and another quite recent release will have much interest for many western fans (The Sergio Leone Anthology) and as I also may not have a chance to get to them further in the near future, I have a few words of recommendation for all three. The Cisco Kid Collection is a two-disc set comprising the six Cisco Kid westerns that Gilbert Roland starred in at Monogram in 1946-1947. Of course there have been other Cisco Kid portrayers - Warner Baxter and Cesar Romero at Fox and Duncan Renaldo at Monogram and on TV - but Roland is the most persuasive of the lot in the role. He plays it in a generally adult fashion (a welcome occurrence compared to Renaldo's later "Hey Cisco! Hey Pancho!" juvenile TV shows) and is surrounded with decent production values at least for Monogram. Roland's Cisco uses guile instead of resorting to physical action all the time, so the films sometimes seem a little slow-moving, but usually there's enough else going on (lovely senoritas or Pancho's comical torturing of the English language) to compensate. I've only looked at the first and last title of the set (which includes The Gay Cavalier, Beauty and the Bandit, South of Monterey, Riding the California Trail, Robin Hood of Monterey, King of the Bandits), but both look quite acceptable - reasonably sharp with good shadow detail and only occasional contrast issues. Supplements include biographies and trailers. Gang Busters is a real gangbuster of a serial. With driving theme music, a good cast that includes Kent Taylor, Robert Armstrong, and Ralph Morgan, and an interesting plot premise (a professor is able to revive apparently dead criminals and employ them as his own gang members to create a reign of terror in the city), the 1942 Universal serial has all the trappings of the best Republic outings. It looks very good indeed on its two-disc DVD-R release although I've only been able to watch the first four episodes so far. Assuming that image quality level is maintained throughout, my past recollections of the consistently high quality level of the plot execution is enough to commend it to all serial fans and even as the sort of serial worth using as an introduction to the format for serial novitiates.

The Sergio Leone Anthology

Finally, The Sergio Leone Anthology at long last gives fans of the Man-with-No-Name films (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) a set of generally uniformly high quality transfers, each in two-disc sets that provide a wealth of strong supplements (particularly the Christopher Frayling audio commentaries and new comments from Clint Eastwood). And for good measure, a comparable release of Duck, You Sucker (aka A Fistful of Dynamite) is also included. Previously, only The Good, the Bad and the Ugly had received its due with a superb two-disc set that appeared three years ago. That is the same release that is included in this new set. The new two-disc releases of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and Duck, You Sucker are the same ones previously only available outside Region 1 although the original mono tracks are now also provided. The eight-disc release is packaged in a sturdy slipcase as a fold-out digipak with the discs packed as four lapped sets of two. A quick comparison of the image transfers for the four films would suggest that For a Few Dollars More is the best looking of the bunch, with A Fistful of Dollars perhaps the least impressive, though still very nice indeed. Each title is also available separately. Those interested in this release but also into High Definition may want to hold off as a Blu-ray Disc release of the Leone Anthology is rumoured (though timing is unclear).


New Announcements

The release news is more substantial than was the case for the previous column, with Warner Bros. once more being active. 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.com among others).

Criterion has unveiled its September lineup and it includes the long-awaited Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), The Threepenny Opera (1931), and Martha Graham: Dance on Film (1957, 1958, 1960). All are due out on the 18th. Features on Robinson Crusoe on Mars include: a new, restored high-definition digital transfer; audio commentary featuring screenwriter Ib Melchior, actors Paul Mantee and Victor Lundin, production designer Al Nozaki, Oscar-winning special effects designer and Robinson Crusoe on Mars historian Robert Skotak, and excerpts from a 1979 audio interview with director Byron Haskin; Destination: Mars, a new video featurette by Michael Lennick detailing the science behind Robinson Crusoe on Mars; excerpts from Melchior's original screenplay; new music video for Victor Lundin's song "Robinson Crusoe on Mars"; stills gallery of behind-the-scenes photos, production designs, and promotional material; theatrical trailer; and a booklet featuring a new essay by filmmaker and space historian Michael Lennick, a "Brief Yargorian Dictionary" of Melchior's original alien dialect, and a list of facts about Mars included with his original screenplay. Features on The Threepenny Opera (which will be a two-disc set) include: a new, restored high-definition digital transfer (taken from a new film restoration element from the Bundesarchiv in Germany); audio commentary by scholars David Bathrick, author of "The Dialectic and the Early Brecht", and Eric Rentschler, author of "The Films of G. W. Pabst"; L'opera de quat'sous, Pabst's French-language version of The Threepenny Opera, starring Albert Préjean and Florelle; a video interview with film scholar Charles O'Brien on the differences between the English and French versions; new exclusive documentary on Threepenny's controversial journey from stage to screen to lawsuits; gallery of production photos by Hans Casparius; production sketches by art director Andre Andrejew; new and improved English subtitle translation; and a new essay by film critic Tony Rayns. Finally, the features on Martha Graham (also a two-disc set) include: a new, restored high-definition digital transfers of three films: A Dancer's World, Appalachian Spring, Night Journey; Martha Graham: The Dancer Revealed, an "American Masters" documentary following Graham's career; side-by-side comparison, by dance critic Deborah Jowitt, of excerpts from a 1940s performance of "Appalachian Spring", featuring Graham, Eric Hawkins, and Merce Cunningham, with the 1958 film; Aaron Copland: Art in America, a short documentary by Nathan Kroll, featuring composer Aaron Copland discussing "Appalachian Spring" with artist Paul Jenkins; a visual essay narrated by Kroll; new interview with Museum of Television and Radio curator Ron Simon discussing Kroll's work and legacy; interviews with film editors Eleanor Hamerow and Miriam Arsham discussing their work on the three films; new interviews with Graham company dancers Mimi Cole, Mary Hinkson, Linda Hodes, Stuart Hodes, Yuriko Kikuchi, and Ethel Winter; excerpts from The Martha Graham Technique, a 1975 filmed demonstration featuring company members and narrated by Graham; 16mm home-movie footage of Graham's company from their 1954 European tour; and a booklet featuring an essay by writer Joan Acocella.

Fox's Hallowe'en plans include a number of horror or mystery double feature discs for release on September 11th. They include: Tales from the Crypt (1973)/Vault of Horror (1972); Chosen Survivors (1974)/The Earth Dies Screaming (1964); Devils of Darkness (1965)/Witchcraft (1964); Blueprint for Murder (1953)/Man in the Attic (1954); Gorilla at Large (1954)/Mystery on Monster Island (1981); The House on Skull Mountain (1974)/The Mephisto Waltz (1971); and The Fly Classic Collection (The Fly [1958]/Return of the Fly [1959]/Curse of the Fly [1965]). The Lost World (1960) is also reportedly on the way from Fox, but it's unclear if it will also materialize on the 11th. According to Dave Kehr of the New York Times, a Fox publicist has confirmed to him that Fox plans a December 2007 release of a massive box set entitled Ford at Fox, to retail for $300 and contain a new documentary on Ford by Nick Redman, a book of photographs featuring an essay by Joseph McBride, and a reproduction of the program book for The Iron Horse. The film content would comprise 25 titles that John Ford directed for Fox, five of which would be silents. Eighteen of the 25 films would also be new to DVD. Let the speculation begin. How about Bogart and Tracy's first film, Up the River, for one?

According to tvshowsondvd.com, Goldhil will release Daniel Boone: Season 5 on August 7th, with Daniel Boone: Season 6 (the last season) currently set for October 9th.

Grapevine Video has seven new releases scheduled for June. Five are silent ones, including: Anthony and Cleopatra (1913), Just Travelin' (1927, with Bob Burn), The Man from Oklahoma (1926, with Jack Perrin), Norma Talmadge at Vitagraph (1911-14, seven Talmadge shorts), and Hands Up (1926, with Raymond Griffith). There will be two sound era releases: Veiled Aristocrats (1932) and Escape to Paradise/Frolics on Ice (both 1939 musicals).

Two Gene Autry westerns are in Image's plans for September 11th: The Strawberry Roan (1948, Autry's first colour western) and The Big Sombrero (1949).

Looser Than Loose Video (looserthanloose.com) has announced the availability now of Roach, Volume 1; The Brothers Parrott - a four-disc set of 26 one- and two-reel comedies featuring Paul Parrott or Charley Chase, both of whom were prominent players at the Hal Roach Studios in the 1920s. Also available is the 1946 Spanish language version of Buster Keaton's El Moderno Barba Azul (aka A Modern Bluebeard). The English-dubbed version familiar to Keaton fans is not included with this Spanish version.

The Home Video components of both MGM and Fox are combining on what they are referring to as "Cliffs Notes Ultimate Study Guides". Offered on July 24th, each of these releases will combine an already available DVD version of a film based on a classic work along with the corresponding Cliffs Notes guide. Titles that will be available as part of the promotion include Les Miserables (1935, 1952), Jane Eyre (1944), Anna Karenina (1948), Moby Dick (1956), Inherit the Wind (1960), and Wuthering Heights (1970). As no new DVD versions are involved, these titles have not been added to the classic new release database. MGM returns to the well for The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition, with the release planned for September 11th. Features will include commentary by Actors Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross, commentary by Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh, screen tests with video, Coming of Age: The Making of The Graduate, Would You Like Me to Seduce You?: The Seduction Scene Revisited, one on one with Dustin Hoffman. Behind the Scenes Documentary, original theatrical trailer, and a Simon and Garfunkel CD. Dolby 5.1 and mono tracks are included. Also coming on the 11th are a clutch of Midnite Movies. Single releases will be Witchfinder General (1968, with Vincent Price, disc feature an audio commentary and will be the director's cut) and Food of the Gods (1976, directed by Bert Gordon). Double feature releases include: The Return of Dracula (1958, with Francis Lederer)/The Vampire (1957, with John Beal); The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955)/Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955); The Pharaoh's Curse (1957)/Curse of the Faceless Man (1958); and Konga (1961)/Yongary, Monster from the Deep (1967). Box sets of previously-released titles focused on Roger Corman and Vincent Price will also be released the same day.

Paramount continues with its pattern of re-releasing classic titles in new collector's editions rather than giving us some of its many classics unreleased at all so far. This time it's the Funny Face: 50th Anniversary Edition, due on October 2nd. The film stars Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire and will feature a new anamorphic widescreen transfer of the restored VistaVision print. Supplements will include the featurettes "The Fashion Designer and His Muse", "Parisian Dreams", "Paramount in the 1950s"; a photo gallery; and the theatrical trailer. On the same date, there will also be an Audrey Hepburn Five-Pack containing the above plus Breakfast at Tiffany's, Paris When It Sizzles, Roman Holiday, and Sabrina, as well as a release of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973, with the voices of Dorothy McGuire, James Franciscus, and Juliet Mills). The Streets of San Francisco: Season One, Volume Two arrives on September 25th.

VCI's Budget Line will include the George Montgomery Action Adventure Collection, to be released on July 31st. It will contain four films: Steel Claw (1961), Samar (1962), Guerillas in Pink Lace (1964), and Satan's Harvest (1970). Unfortunately all will be presented full frame.

Warner Bros. is back in play with several September announcements. The previously anticipated Deliverance: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is set for release on September 18th in DVD, Blu-ray, and HD-DVD versions. Extras on all three versions will include audio commentary by director John Boorman, a five-part documentary, and the film's theatrical trailer. On the 25th, we'll get The Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection: Ultimate Collector's Edition 5-disc box set, which will include Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway, Strike Up the Band, and Girl Crazy, along with an exclusive bonus disc that offers nearly three hours of material, including the Private Screenings with Mickey Rooney interview (hosted by TCM's Robert Osborne), the Judy Garland Songbook ("a collection of 21 Garland movie musical numbers, both famous and rare, spanning nearly 20 years of her amazing screen career, with all songs presented in complete form"), and an extensive Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland trailer gallery. Girl Crazy and Babes in Arms will offer audio commentary by John Fricke and all will have the usual blend of vintage shorts and cartoons. The individual titles will only be available as part of the box set - a set that will also include a portfolio of 20 behind-the-scenes photographs and a collectible guide. Warners also announced the TCM original documentary Brando for release on DVD on October 9th, but have since postponed the release indefinitely. Expected on a two-disc set, the documentary pieces together decades of Brando's performances with rare, never-before-seen footage and a series of original, in-depth interviews with family members, childhood friends and a host of his Hollywood peers and co-stars, including Johnny Depp, Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Edward Norton, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Martin Scorsese, John Travolta and Jon Voight. It should be well worth waiting for.

The Weinstein Company has confirmed that it will be releasing the four long-desired Samuel Bronston films on DVD as part of its new "Miriam Collection" of past and current classic titles presented in new special editions. El Cid will be the first to appear with 55 Days at Peking, Circus World, and Fall of the Roman Empire following. There are still no specific dates, but it sounds as though El Cid at least will appear this year.

Well, that's all for now. I'll return again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com
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