Reviews Round-Up #46 and New Announcements
The Gunfight at Dodge City, a Mirisch Brothers production released by United Artists in 1959, was intended to be Joel McCrea's last film, but the superior property of Ride the High Country enticed both him and Randolph Scott out of retirement just a couple of years later.
As a result, The Gunfight at Dodge City is but a footnote in McCrea's career and justly so as it's a routine outing at best. In it he plays Bat Masterson who agrees to run for sheriff when his brother (played by Harry Lauter, a familiar face to western TV viewers of the late 50s) is murdered. There are a few wrinkles on the familiar town-taming theme, but McCrea looks tired of it all and the film merely limps to a conclusion. Even John McIntyre, who usually livens up the screen with his effective character roles, and Julie Adams, a frequent western female player of the 50s, look bemused. The film's chief merit is its effective use of CinemaScope. In absolute terms, the film is probably somewhat better than I've implied; it's just that it suffers in comparison to many other westerns of the time. MGM's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is fairly good. The image is generally sharp and colours are vibrant although flesh tones look a little overcooked at times. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no supplements.
I was unfamiliar with the 1950 British film Morning Departure when its DVD release was announced earlier this year. And so it is a great pleasure now to be able to report on a fine piece of film-making that belies its stage origins.
It relates the tale of a submarine on a routine peacetime operation that becomes disabled after encountering a left-over wartime mine and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Only 12 crew members survive and tension builds dramatically as efforts to free them are mounted. The film excels in its development of the individual characters and in depicting their interactions in a realistic manner. John Mills is particularly good as the ship's captain, effectively blending humanity with firmness. The film's other best-known player is Richard Attenborough playing a claustrophobic sailor in a performance that impresses increasingly as the film goes on. British stiff-upper-lip reserve is certainly in evidence, but it never threatens to unbalance the film's air of realism. The story is increasingly gripping and its resolution is completely satisfying. MGM's DVD transfer is full frame, reflecting the original theatrical release. It looks particularly sharp and quite clean virtually throughout. Only a couple of minor soft passages intrude. The mono sound is clear. There are no supplements. Recommended.
Films about escapes from prisoner-of-war camps were commonplace in the 1950s and 1960s when World War II was still relatively fresh in people's minds. The Wooden Horse, The Colditz Story, The Password Is Courage, and The Great Escape are some of the best of them from the Allied point of view. The flip side of the coin is less well-represented. One such film, however, is The One That Got Away (1957) which dramatizes the exploits of Lieutenant Franz von Werra, the only German who managed to escape from a British POW camp and return successfully to Germany.
Originally made in Britain and released by The Rank Organization, the film has now been made available on DVD by MGM. Hardy Kruger stars as the self-centred von Werra and delivers a bravura performance. The film covers all the standard bases including the cat-and-mouse interrogation efforts by the British to extract information before sending von Werra to his prison camp; the misgivings of other German inmates over von Werra's escaping efforts, and von Werra's various countryside exploits as he attempts to avoid being recaptured. This is all familiar territory, but it takes on new life when viewed from the perspective of the other side. In the film, as in real life, Von Werra is eventually sent to Canada for incarceration, but escaped in transit from a speeding train. This results in some of the film's most intriguing sequences, particularly von Werra's efforts to cross the ice-covered St. Lawrence River to the freedom of, at the time, a neutral United States. The film never descends into a boys-own sense of bravado, but imparts a good sense of reality throughout and in the hands of director Roy Ward Baker is well-paced and continuously entertaining. MGM delivers the original British release version at 111 minutes with a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer that is above-average. The image is crisp and clear, and displays very good contrast. The mono sound is in solid shape. There are no supplements. Recommended.
Carve Her Name with Pride (1958) is another British-made film with a wartime setting. It relates the true story of Violette Szabo, a young British woman (both of a British father and French mother) who becomes an Allied under-cover agent in occupied Europe after her husband, a French officer, is killed in the war.
Virginia McKenna, an excellent British actress of the time who would later be better-known internationally for Born Free, plays Szabo in a somewhat dispassionate manner thus preventing the audience from becoming very emotionally invested in the character. As a result, Szabo's tragic end lacks the emotional wallop it might otherwise have. Aside from this aspect, however, the film is a well-made drama that provides a nice balance between the background story and training leading up to Szabo's work in the field and the later sequences in occupied Europe. Enjoyable too are some interesting supporting characters played by the likes of Paul Scofield (as a fellow agent of Szabo's) and Jack Warner (as her father). Michael Caine can be spotted briefly in a sequence in a train. Direction is by the solid British director Lewis Gilbert (Reach for the Sky, Sink the Bismarck, HMS Defiant, Alfie, You Only Live Twice). As a reminder of the bad old days, MGM fails to provide the film with an anamorphic transfer, delivering merely a 1.66:1 widescreen effort. As a result, while it looks every bit as clean and well-contrasted as The One That Got Away, it's not quite as sharp. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no supplements.
Originally released by Warner Bros., the 1961 film Fanny directed by Joshua Logan has now received a DVD release from Image Entertainment.
Almost exactly four years ago in one of these columns, I had the pleasure to report on the Fanny Trilogy - three French films from 1931-1936 dramatizing Marcel Pagnol's plays about love lost, love replaced, and love renewed set in the Marseilles "old town" waterfront. Pagnol's rich dialogue and memorable characters (bar owner Cesar, his son Marius, the young woman Fanny whom Marius loves but loses because of his desire to go to sea, Cesar's friend Panisse who also loves Fanny) are wonderfully brought to life by a host of fine French actors of the time. Joshua Logan's 1961 Fanny is an equally delightful version and one in contrast to the originals that had the luxury of filming on location on the Marseilles waterfront. This gives added depth and reality to the story, as the Marseilles waterfront takes on a character of its own through Jack Cardiff's Academy-Award-nominated cinematography. The cast is superb and includes a radiant Leslie Caron as Fanny, Charles Boyer as Cesar, Maurice Chevalier as Panisse, and Horst Buchholz as Marius. The work of Boyer and Chevalier is mesmerizing, particularly their scenes together. Although the story is obviously compacted from what the original trilogy allowed, the new version does have a 134-minute running time which is almost enough to do the story justice. The only caveat is the somewhat rushed conclusion when a number of years are telescoped in order to get to the denouement. An evocative and memorable score by Harold Rome adds substantially to the film's pleasure. Image has given the film a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer (though note the opening credits are windowboxed) that looks quite nice on the whole. The colour looks accurate and appropriately bright and is characterized by a modest level of grain that imparts a nice film-like look. There are a few instances of softness, although some are intended soft focus shots of Caron typical for the era. A few speckles intrude from time to time, but barring a complete restoration, I think you'll find the overall visual results here more than satisfactory. Both 5.1 surround and mono tracks are offered but there's little difference between them. The mono conveys the dialogue clearly and Harold Rome's music is afforded some presence. Note that there appear to be some synchronization issues with the dialogue of Fanny's mother (perhaps a dubbing issue). The supplements consist of a lengthy trailer and a second disc (an enjoyable audio CD of the film's soundtrack). Recommended.
Our new classic release announcements this time are highlighted by some very welcome classic news revealed by Mike Schlesinger of Sony Pictures in an interview conducted with HK and Cult Film DVD News. The link to the full interview is here. Some of the news is further confirmation of titles previously hinted at while the rest relates to new titles. Highlights include:
- a Peter Lorre set, to contain Crime and Punishment, Island of Doomed Men, and Face Behind the Mask, probably in 2010
- the Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher films to be out this fall definitely - Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, and Taylor Hackford are participating, and the Bruce Ricker documentary, A Man Can Do That, which Eastwood produced and appeared in will be included
- Sony will be releasing several film noir box sets with the first one definitely out in 2009. A number of titles are in the mix including Knock on Any Door and Human Desire for either Volume 1 or 2
- release of some Columbia serials should happen in time
- a set of Toho Films is penciled in for 2009 - it would include dual US/Japanese versions of Mothra, H-Man, Battle in Outer Space, and Rebirth of Mothra 3
- the release of the Three Stooges shorts has shifted into high gear as the original intent was to have all of them out by the end of 2009, that being the 75th anniversary of the Stooges' signing with Columbia
With that to chew on, now here's the rest of the latest news. Please note that the classic announcement database has been updated to reflect the following news.
Alpha Video has 17 new releases set for June 24th. Included are a Rex Bell double feature of Rainbow Ranch (1933) and The Tonto Kid (1934); a Bobby Breen musical double feature of Make a Wish (1937) and Let's Sing Again (1936); the 5-disc Johnny Mack Brown Collection: Volume 1 [Bar-Z Bad Men (1937)/Boothill Brigade (1937)/Branded a Coward (1935)/Courageous Avenger (1935)/The Crooked Trail (1936)/Lawless Land (1935)/A Lawman Is Born (1937)/The Lone Star Trail (1943)/Rogue of the Range (1936)/Texas Kid (1943)]; Corruption (1933, with Preston Foster); Crossroads: Volume 2 (4 episodes of the TV series); The Devil Horse (1932 serial with Harry Carey); a sword and sandal double feature of Giants of Rome (1964) and Kindar the Invulnerable (1964); the Golden Age of Television: Volume 5 (Willow Cabin/Wintertime - two Westinghouse Studio One programs); a Harlem double feature of Underworld and Dark Manhattan (both 1937); Held for Ransom (1938, with Grant Withers); High Voltage (1929, with William Boyd); Isle of Destiny (1940, with William Gargan); the four-disc Lum & Abner Collection [Two Weeks to Live (1943)/The Bashful Bachelor (1942)/Dreaming Out Loud (1940)/So This Is Washington (1943)]; Missing Girls (1936, with Roger Pryor); Second Chance (1950, with Hugh Beaumont); You Asked for It: Volumes 1 & 2 (8 episodes of the TV series); and The Bold Caballero (1936, with Robert Livingston).
Arts Alliance America has now announced that October 28th is the release date for The Donna Reed Show: Season One. This year marks the show's 50th anniversary of its first airing on television. The second season DVD release is planned for 2009.
Several previously expected films from Max Ophuls have now been confirmed for a September release by Criterion. Coming on the 16th are The Earrings of Madame de... (1953), La ronde (1950) , and Le plaisir (1952). All feature new, restored high definition transfers and a selection of new interviews, featurettes, and essays. The Earrings of Madame de… will also have audio commentary by film scholar Susan White. In conjunction with Janus Films, Criterion is also introducing a new line of cinema classics called Essential Art House. In Volume 1 we'll find La Grand Illusion (1939, Jean Renoir), Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau), Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa), Wild Strawberries (1957, Ingmar Bergman), Knife in the Water (1962, Roman Polanski), and Lord of the Flies (1963, Peter Brook). The set, to be released on September 9th, will be available at a suggested price of $100, with individual titles priced at $20. No supplements are expected on any of these discs.
Fox's September plans feature The Charlie Chan Collection: Volume Five, due on the 16th. It will be an eight title set from 1940-1942 including: Charlie Chan in Panama, Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, Murder over New York, Dead Men Tell, Charlie Chan in Rio, Castle in the Desert, and the documentary Charlie Chan: The Fox Years. Coming on September 9th will be Fox Horror Classics: Volume Two, which will include three titles: Chandu the Magician, Dragonwyck, and Dr. Renault's Secret. An audio commentary will accompany Chandu the Magician with new making-of featurettes provided on all three titles. Fox does plan to release the fourth and final season of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea on DVD (according to TVShowsonDVD.com) and it looks like it'll be in 2009 although that's not firm yet. In late news, Fox returns to its Film Noir line on September 2nd with three more titles - the long delayed Boomerang (1947, with Dana Andrews), the much requested Road House (1948, with Ida Lupino), and Moontide (1942, with Lupino and Claude Rains).
HBO is going to release the original Get Smart: Season One (four-disc set) on August 5th.
I somehow missed the fact that Image is releasing Fanny (1961, with Leslie Caron) on June 17th. It has a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer with 5.1 sound, but the only disc supplement is an extended trailer. There is, however, a second disc of music from the sound track.
Lionsgate is making Woman Times Seven (1967, with Shirley MacLaine) available on DVD in Region 1 for the first time. It will appear on September 16th.
Looser than Loose (looserthanloose.com) has a new disc now available entitled Show-At-Home Theater: Volume 1. This is a collection of examples of how silent films (shorts, features, serials) were corrupted (abridged, truncated, bizarrely juxtaposed, etc.) for presentation in the home-use market. See the website for the complete list of contents on this disc.
MGM is apparently planning a The Night of the Hunter: Collector's Edition, but after first announcing a September 9th release date, has now backed off. No new date has been set, but the release supposedly will still happen eventually. On a more positive note, MGM has just announced the Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection for release on October 14th. It will include restored and remastered versions of Rebecca, The Lodger, The Paradine Case, Spellbound, Notorious, Young and Innocent, Sabotage, and (in an arrangement with Fox) Lifeboat. Each title will be generously supported with supplementary material including audio commentaries on all titles and some or all of various making-of and other featurettes, radio play versions, audio interviews, isolated scores, and still galleries.
Mill Creek Entertainment, in a deal with NBC/Universal, will release The Howdy Doody Show on November 4th. This will be a five-disc set containing 40 episodes from the original TV series that aired from 1947 to 1960. Further such compilations are planned over succeeding months.
Paramount has announced the release of My Three Sons: Season One, Volume One for September 30th (likely a three-disc set with 18 episodes, no supplements). October 7th will see the appearance of The Beverly Hillbillies: Season Two, with Paramount taking over from MPI who released two volumes of the series' episodes a couple of years ago.
Shout! Factory will have Father Knows Best: The Complete Second Season for release on November 11th. The company will also offer Adam-12: Season Two (26 episodes on 4 discs) on September 30th.
August 26th will bring The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 3 - 1940-1942 from Sony, an interval of only three months from the delivery of Volume 2. Include on the two-disc set will be 23 shorts. Sony is also releasing Icons of Horror: 4 Hammer Films on October 14th. The titles are: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964), The Gorgon (1964), and Scream of Fear (1961) - all but the second featuring Christopher Lee. News from one a poster on one of the internet DVD forums suggests that Sony may be launching a new line of catalog releases called Martini Movies. September 23rd would see the first wave which will include The Garment Jungle (1957, with Lee J. Cobb), The New Centurions (1972, with George C. Scott), The Anderson Tapes (1971, with Sean Connery), and Nickelodeon (1976, with Ryan O'Neal). Future waves would include the likes of Affair in Trinidad, Our Man in Havana, The Heat's On, Husbands, Five, I Never Sang for My Father, Getting Straight, The Comic, and Enter Laughing. Great news if true; I've seen no confirmation of this news from Sony, however.
VCI reports that it will release the 1939 Republic serial Dick Tracy's G-Men on July 29th. The 15 chapters will be presented on two discs. On the same date also, comes Space Angel Collection: Volume One containing 9 episodes of the animated science fiction television series produced from 1962-1964. September 2nd will see television's Honey West: The Complete Series (1965-1966, starring Anne Francis, 30 episodes on four discs) available on DVD.
On September 16th, Warners will be releasing its new two-disc SEs of An American in Paris and Gigi. An American in Paris has received the Ultra Resolution treatment and the disc supplements are highlighted by an extensive new making-of documentary and the 2002 "American Masters" documentary Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer. Gigi has been photo-chemically restored from its original camera negative and safety separations. Highlighting its supplements are a new making-of documentary and the 1948 French non-musical Gigi film. Coming on September 30th will be Popeye the Sailor: Volume 3. This two-disc set will contain all the remaining black and white cartoons (32 in total, apparently including those considered politically incorrect). Warners has remastered The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and it will be released on October 7th. The featured extra will be an audio commentary by Angela Lansbury and film historian/screenwriter Steve Haberman. Included too are the MGM short Stairway to Light, MGM cartoon Quiet Please!, and the theatrical trailer. On October 21st, Warners will make available The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series - in the same attaché case package previously (and still) available on-line from Time-Life. It includes all four seasons (105 episodes) and a raft of supplementary material.
In high definition news, A Star Is Born (1954) has been selected by Warner Bros. as the first film from its library to receive a complete 6K digital restoration. (2K is the current norm, with a 6K effort containing 8 times the picture information.) An eventual Blu-ray release is planned (2009 seems like a good possibility, it being the 55th anniversary). The just-announced new DVD SEs of An American in Paris and Gigi will make their way to Blu-ray in early 2009. And in a recent press release from EMA, Warners has confirmed that the Blu-ray version of Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition will be released this coming autumn. The forthcoming Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray disc (due October 7th from Disney) heralds the studio's first foray into BD Live. In addition to the latter's web-connected interactive features, the two-disc set will include the original Super Technirama 70 (similar to CinemaScope) 2.55:1 widescreen format for the first time since its initial theatrical release; a restored hi-def print, 7.1 HD sound sourced from the original recording tapes found in Germany; a new picture-in-picture commentary by Pixar's John Lasseter, Andreas Deja and Leonard Maltin; a customized living menu featuring a real-time virtual castle that adapts to the user's location, time, and weather; a game in which Maleficent reads your mind; and much more. A new company, Blu-ray Only, looks to be the first to offer the usual public domain titles in the high definition format. It plans on releasing The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954, with Elizabeth Taylor) and Beat the Devil (1953, with Humphrey Bogart) on August 12th. Kino has revealed that it plans a Blu-ray release of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) sometime in 2009.
[Editor's Note: It's just been revealed that the missing footage from Metropolis, which has been considered lost for over 80 years, has been discovered in a film archive in Buenos Ares, and that an effort is now underway to create a complete restoration of Lang's original full-length version of the film using this material.
Kino has confirmed with us that the new 2009 special edition Blu-ray release WILL incorporate this discovered footage, and that the title will also be released on DVD at the same time. Watch for further details in the months ahead.]
Once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.