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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

A Couple of Lesser-Known Discs of Interest to Classic Film Fans

This will be a shorter edition of the column, but it also comes to you sooner because I wanted to share two discs with you that you might not be aware of or inclined to pick up. Both are documentaries - one dealing with an important aspect of early film history, and the other providing an illuminating portrait of a composer best know to film enthusiasts for his fine contributions to some of Warner Brothers' best classic films. The usual classic announcements update is at the end. But first, Without Lying Down and Erich Wolfgang Korngold - and note that both are region-free discs.

Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood

Some films whet your appetite for more and this documentary focusing on the life of acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter Frances Marion is one of them. Fortunately, there's someplace you can go to satisfy yourself - the very fine biography of the same title by Cari Beauchamp. First published by the University of California Press in 1997, I strongly suggest searching it out.

As to the film itself, it's a mesmerizing portrait of a person and her times. It also sheds light on a part of film history that too few are aware of - the amazingly rich influence that women once had in the industry - and the too-sad truth that once the industry grew up and became big business, it became a male-dominated bastion from which it has never satisfactorily retreated.

Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood

Buy this DVD now at DVD Planet!

The influence of Frances Marion in the silent and early sound area was immense. For many years, she was the world's highest paid screenwriter, man or woman, writing over 200 scripts and being rewarded with two original screenplay Academy Awards - for 1930's The Big House and 1932's The Champ. She was a close confidante of Mary Pickford, writing many of her films, and later worked closely with Irving Thalberg.

In Without Lying Down, her story is narrated with authority by Uma Thurman and her words are nicely voiced by Kathy Bates. Ample use of historical footage and film clips supplemented by interviews with Kevin Brownlow, Leonard Maltin, Cari Beauchamp, and a number of contemporary women filmmakers make for an entertaining but too-brief 56-minute portrait that only touches the surface of the life of this talented and multi-faceted woman.

The film was originally produced by Chaise Lounge Productions in association with the UCLA Film and Television Archive and first aired on Turner Classic Movies. Now Milestone Film and Video (via Image Entertainment) does us all a favour by making it available on DVD in a fine-looking version. The disc also includes 1917's The Little Princess, which stars Mary Pickford and was adapted for her from the Frances Hodgson Burnett story by Frances Marion. This is not one of Pickford and Marion's best collaborations because too little time is spent relating in depth the story of the young 10-year-old Sara Crewe who has been sent to a boarding school by her father and too much on an extended sequence in which Sara recounts the Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves tale. Nevertheless, the film passes an hour in an entertaining fashion. Considering the age of the source material, the untinted image is in quite good shape. Although some scenes are rather dark, much of it is quite sharp and has very good shadow detail. Age-related speckling and scratches are rife and edge effects intrude on a couple of occasions, but none of that will detract from your enjoyment. Jon Mirsalis contributes a very pleasing piano accompaniment. A short gallery of Frances Marion pictures rounds out the disc. Recommended.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of a Wunderkind

For anyone with even a passing interest in many of the Warner Brother classics from 1935 to 1947, the name of Erich Wolfgang Korngold will surely be familiar. It was his musical compositions that gave so many of those movies their distinctive sound. With the likes of The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Prince and the Pauper now on the DVD horizon, it's a pleasure to report that a very fine portrait of Korngold is now available on DVD. Released by Arthaus Music, through Kinowelt Home Entertainment in Germany, and available in Canada through Naxos (and presumably also in the United States), Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of a Wunderkind provides a very interesting and thorough 89-minute profile of the composer's life.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Adventures of a Wunderkind

Korngold was a true child prodigy demonstrating incredible ability and ease with music from the beginning. His early successes culminated in his third opera "Die Tote Stadt" (The Dead City) which he wrote in 1916 when he was 19 years of age. While highly regarded in the classical music community, Korngold himself was not disdainful of the more popular forms of music, being quite happy to immerse himself in the world of the operetta in the late 1920s. His decision to go to Hollywood was a result of overtures from Max Reinhardt who had been given virtual carte blanche by Warner Brothers to mount the film A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), which would star James Cagney, Olivia De Havilland, and Dick Powell and feature almost the entire Warner stock company. Warners realized what they had in Korngold and gave him a contract of unusual freedom for a composer. He had his choice of films to score and had to handle no more than two per year. The titles with which he is credited evoke fond memories of Hollywood's Golden Era, including: Captain Blood (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936), The Prince and the Pauper (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Juarez (1939), The Sea Hawk (1940), The Sea Wolf (1941), King's Row (1942), Between Two Worlds (1944), and Deception (1946). Korngold retained the right to use his film themes as the basis for more fully developed concert pieces and his Violin Concerto (premiered in 1947) and Cello Concerto (premiered in 1946) were two major examples. In the late 1940s, Korngold returned to Europe and the classical music arena, but with mixed success. He died in 1957.

The Arthaus presentation's documentation of Korngold's life is an expertly organized collection of historical footage, stills, family home movies, interviews with people who knew him, and articulate comments by his biographer Brendan Carroll and conductor Hugh Wolff. Blended with all this are extensive music and film clips. The result is an intelligent and rounded profile of a composer about whom I would imagine little is known by most film enthusiasts.

The disc presents the biography in a 1.78:1 anamorphically encoded image. The newly filmed portions (interviews and music clips) look extremely sharp and colourful, with the music segments being almost 3-D like during the orchestral performances. Obviously the pre-existing footage is in rougher shape, but that's to be expected. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound is clear and dynamic. (If you're not moved to seek out the full Die Tote Stadt after this profile - opera enthusiast or not, well, I don't know.) Dialogue is in English with English, French, Spanish, and Japanese subtitles available. The main supplement on the disc is a 55-minute concert by the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff. Among the pieces played are the full Korngold Violin and Cello Concertos. There are also trailers for two Arthaus opera DVDs, including Die Tote Stadt. Recommended.

The New Classic Announcements

As it's been but a short time since the previous column, the volume of new announcements is light this time. I'll go through them alphabetically by releasing company. The classics database has been updated accordingly.

Alpha Video once again has an ambitious release program. June 24 saw the release of Buffalo Bill in Tomahawk Territory (1952, Clayton Moore), Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937, John Barrymore), Devil's Partner (1962, Richard Crane), Dick Tracy (1937 serial, Ralph Byrd), East Side Kids (1940, Dave O'Brien), Fear in the Night (1947, DeForest Kelley), He Walked by Night (1948, Richard Basehart), Hercules Against the Moonmen (1964, Alan Steel), The Hitch-Hiker (1953, Edmond O'Brien), The Joe Louis Story (1953, Coley Wallace), Made for Each Other (1939, Carole Lombard), Marihuana (1936, Harley Wood), Monsoon [aka Isle of Forgotten Sins] (1943, John Carradine), My Pal Trigger (1946, Roy Rogers), Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937, Bob Livingston), Ring of Terror (1962, George Mather), Rogues' Tavern (1936, Wallace Ford), The Sign of Four (1932, Arthur Wontner), Sound of Horror (1964, Ingrid Pitt), Spook Town (1944, Dave O'Brien), Swamp Fire (1946, Johnny Weissmuller), The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935, Arthur Wontner), Tulsa (1949, Susan Hayward), and War of the Monsters (1956, Kojiro Hongo). July 22nd offerings will include: Angel and the Badman (1947, John Wayne), The Chase (1946, Robert Cummings), Destroy All Planets (1968, Kojiro Hongo), The Ghost and the Guest (1943, James Dunn), High School Caesar (1960, John Ashley), Hot Rod Girl (1956, Chuck Connors), House of Secrets (1936, Leslie Fenton), Junior G-Men of the Air (1942 serial, Dead End Kids), Kill, Baby, Kill (1966, Erika Blanc), Lady Gangster (1942, Faye Emerson), Life Returns (1935, Onslow Stevens), Little Tough Guy (1938, Dead End Kids), Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960, Lurene Tuttle), Menace from Outer Space (1956, Richard Crane), Midnight Manhunt (1945, William Gargan), Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (1967, Tamio Kawaji), The Moonstone (1934, David Manners), Night of the Blood Beast (1958, Ed Nelson), Ramar of the Jungle, Vol. 2 (TV series, Jon Hall), Riders of the Whistling Pines (1949, Gene Autry), The Roy Rogers Show (TV series, Roy Rogers), Sherlock Holmes Vol. 2 (1954 TV series, Ronald Howard), and Terror Creatures from the Grave (1966, Walter Brandi). As mentioned in past columns, Alpha Video is a public domain specialist and no guarantee of the quality of any of the transfers on these discs can be made. The track record suggests that some will be quite acceptable while others will be very disappointing. For some the modest investment of about $6 per disc may be worth the gamble to get an obscure title that may not see the light of day from any other source.

Brentwood released a number of TV series compilations on June 24th: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (4 episodes), The Andy Griffith Show #1 (4 episodes), The Andy Griffith Show #2 (4 episodes), The Beverly Hillbillies #1 (5 episodes), The Beverly Hillbillies #2 (5 episodes), Bonanza (4 episodes), The Dick Van Dyke Show (8 episodes), The Lone Ranger (17 episodes), The Lucy Show (4 episodes), and Petticoat Junction (4 episodes).

Columbia TriStar has announced Die! Die! My Darling! (1965, with Tallulah Bankhead in her last film) for an August 12th release. See No Evil (1971, good thriller with Mia Farrow) and The Three Stooges: Stooges in History (another compilation of shorts) are scheduled for release on August 19th. The following week, Columbia will offer the Boris Karloff film The Devil Commands (1941, directed by Edward Dmytryk).

Criterion has three releases set for August 19th. The Ingmar Bergman Trilogy of Through a Glass Darkly (1961), The Silence (1963), and Winter Light (1963) will come as a three-disc box set. It will feature new HD digital transfers, discussions of the films by Bergman biographer Peter Cowie, trailers, and a poster gallery. Next is Akira Kurosawa's The Lower Depths (1957), which will have a new HD digital transfer, an audio commentary by Japanese film expert Donald Richie, an essay by Keiko McDonald and Thomas Rimer, cast biographies, and a trailer. Finally, Vittorio De Sica's Terminal Station (1953, with Montgomery Clift and Jennifer Jones) and its American version Indiscretion of an American Wife will appear on the same disc with new transfers, an audio commentary on Indiscretion, promotional materials, and a trailer.

On August 19th, Hallmark will release, via Artisan, a two-disc set of Laurel and Hardy sound films. Included will be the feature Sons of the Desert (1933) and the shorts The Music Box, Another Fine Mess, Busy Bodies, and County Hospital. There will apparently also be a number of special features, but these have not been detailed as yet. One can only hope that the transfers are better than the treatments given most of the classic titles that Artisan has so far released on DVD.

Image Entertainment will release a double bill of Curse of the Aztec Mummy (1957) and The Robot Versus the Aztec Mummy (1958) on August 12th. The films come courtesy of the Something Weird Video series. The 1970 Emmy Award winning television film The Andersonville Trial (with Cameron Mitchell, Martin Sheen, William Shatner and directed by George C. Scott) will be released on August 26th. Both releases are full frame.

Koch Lorber, a company set up earlier this year by Richard Lorber (former head of Fox Lorber, now Wellspring) and indie music distributor Koch Entertainment, will release La Dolce Vita (1960, with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg) in September. The film is being digitally remastered and will feature new sub-titles. Special features to be included are yet to be announced.

MPI's upcoming DVD release of Becket (1964, Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole) is apparently now scheduled for this coming October.

Coming soon from VCI are three collections. First up we have the Edgar Kennedy Two-Reeler Comedy Collection. This will contain ten of Kennedy's funniest shorts from the 1930-1946 period at RKO on one long-playing DVD: Baby Daze (1939), Beaux and Errors (1938), Feather Your Nest (1944), Good Housewrecking (1933), Help Wanted Female (1930, Pathé), Hold Your Temper (1943), I'll Build It Myself (1946), Rough on Rents (1942), Will Power (1936), and Wrong Direction (1934). Even better should be the Leon Errol Two-Reeler Comedy Collection. This compilation contains ten of his funniest RKO two-reelers from the 1938-1951 period on one long-playing DVD: Bested by a Beard (1940), Bet Your Life (1948), Dummy Owner (1938), Framing Father (1942), His Pest Friend (1938), Lord Epping Returns (1951), Man I Cured (1941), Oil's Well that Ends Well (1949), Pretty Dolly (1942), and Twin Husbands (1946). Finally, there'll be a TV series collection - One Step Beyond - DVD Collection #1. One Step Beyond was an anthology series dealing with supernatural subject matter that debuted on the ABC network in January, 1959 and ran for a total of 96 half-hour episodes. The two-disc DVD collection contains 12 complete episodes from season #2: Delusion (9/15/1959), Ordeal on Locust Street (9/22/1959), Brainwave (10/6/1959), Doomsday (10/13/1959), The Inheritance (10/27/1959), The Explorer (3/15/1960), The Clown (3/22/1960), Delia (5/3/1960), House of the Dead (6/7/1960), Tidal Wave (8/30/1960), Anniversary of a Murder (9/27/1960), and To Know the End (11/1/1960).

Michael Blake, the well-known Lon Chaney scholar, reports that he has completed audio commentaries for three Chaney features that will appear on DVD from Warner Brothers, possibly as early as this October. Included in the package will be The Ace of Hearts (1921), Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928), and The Unknown (1927), along with Kevin Brownlow's Chaney documentary Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces (2000) and the stills recreation of London After Midnight (1927/2002) (both of the latter have been shown on TCM). These may well be the first releases in the DVD silent series that Warners has been promising.

Well that's about it for now. I'll be back again soon, perhaps with this column's first look at some musicals.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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