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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #30 and New Announcements

Summer activities have curtailed my viewing opportunities somewhat, but I am able to provide some guidance on a few of the recent or forthcoming releases including Fox's The Will Rogers Collection: Volume 1, The Black Swan, The Keys of the Kingdom, The River's Edge, and The Mr. Moto Collection: Volume 1; Unknown Video's The Silent Comedy Mafia, Volume 1; and Milestone's Beyond the Rocks. New release announcements have also been struck by the usual summer slowdown so you will find that section also somewhat abbreviated.

Before turning to this column's review section, readers of the last edition may remember that in my Cecil B. DeMille Collection review, I alluded to The Buccaneers (1938) as a potential future Universal release. That of course (and as several readers pointed out) would not be possible since the film is one of only a handful of pre-1949 films that Paramount retained the rights to when its catalog was sold. Hopefully, Paramount is busily worked on DVDs of both The Buccaneers and another DeMille film - Samson and Delilah - as we speak.


Reviews of New and Current Releases

As mentioned above, my comments this time out will be brief and are restricted to a few titles that I especially wanted to bring to your attention. I'll return to my more-detailed efforts at the end of the summer.

Will Rogers Collection: Volume 1

Fox's Will Rogers Collection: Volume 1 is a delightful release. Comprising his last four films before his untimely death in a plane crash, it clearly demonstrates why Rogers was such a well-loved figure of the time. Rogers is the centre of attraction in each film and his easy-going manner and homespun humour come across effectively and entertainingly some seven decades later. At the time of the original productions, Fox recognized the Rogers appeal and wisely chose to showcase his character in the films, surrounding him with an impressive cast of supporting players in each instance rather than providing competition with another major star of the time. Steamboat Round the Bend (directed by John Ford and including a nice steamboat race at the end) and Life Begins at 40 (in which Rogers plays what seems like a quintessential character for him - a small-town newspaper editor) are the best of the four titles on display, but Doubting Thomas and In Old Kentucky also have their moments. Fox has carried out considerable restoration work on the titles and all look very nice. The images are generally sharp with some modest grain and minimal speckling. There are still some instances of softness, but I can't imagine anyone being disappointed in the results. Each title offers an audio commentary by either film historian Anthony Slide or author Scott Ehman and among the other supplements are the A&E Biography on Rogers and some nice Fox Movietone newsreel footage. Highly recommended.

The Black SwanThe Keys of the KingdomThe River's Edge

Fox's latest round of Studio Classics offers two titles that any classic fan will be quite familiar with - The Black Swan (1942) and The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) - and one that's lesser known but well worth a second look - The River's Edge (1957). The films are numbered 38, 39, and 40 in the series, which begs the question - what happened to #37? There's something for everyone in this batch. The Black Swan is a delightful pirate romp with a bit of tongue in cheek. Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara shine although George Sanders seems out of place in a red beard. As Power swashbucklers go, it's not quite in the same league as Son of Fury or The Mark of Zorro, but Technicolor makes up for a lot. Fox's transfer, reportedly based on a multi-million dollar restoration is superb. The studio has also done a fine job with The Keys of the Kingdom. It demonstrates a very nice gray scale and but minimal debris. The film was Gregory Peck's first completed film, although not the first to be actually released (Days of Glory for RKO got that honour). A gentle, compelling, and very well acted story of a catholic priest in China based upon the popular A.J. Cronin novel of the same title, it's the sort of film that rewards the viewer willing to place him- or herself in the film's setting and accept its good intentions. The River's Edge is just a fine piece of Hollywood entertainment from veteran director Allan Dwan. Eminently forgettable in the long run, but quite engrossing while it's on, the film is a modernized western involving a love triangle between Anthony Quinn, Debra Paget, and Ray Milland. Milland is particularly good as a charmer who is prepared to reveal a secret about the Paget character's past to her husband Quinn. Fox's transfer of the CinemaScope production is superior, offering very fine colour fidelity and a noticeably clean image. All the discs sport above-average audio commentaries (Maureen O'Hara's participation in the one for The Black Swan is particularly welcome). All three are recommended.

The Silent Comedy Mafia: Volume 1

Unknown Video (located in San Francisco - unknownvideo.com for the complete catalog of available releases and contact details) has initiated a series of DVD-R offerings entitled The Silent Comedy Mafia. It will focus on the silent comedians who never really received their due from the fan magazines of the day and certainly don't get the attention that the likes of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd get even today. Some of them are quite familiar to casual fans (as least they recognize the face even if they can't quite remember the name) - ones like Ben Turpin and Snub Pollard, while others are familiar only to real aficionados - ones such as Bobby Vernon or Billy Franey. Volume 1 of the series focuses on Ben Turpin (he of the crossed eyes), providing two of his shorts (Idle Eyes and The Prodigal Bridegroom) and a bonus collection of clips from other shorts of his. The rest of the disc contains five other shorts each featuring a different comedian (Stan Laurel in Just Rambling Along, Hank Mann in The Janitor, Bobby Vernon in All Jazzed Up, Billy Franey in The Bath Dub, and Snub Pollard in The Big Idea). For my taste, All Jazzed Up, The Bath Dub, and The Prodigal Bridegroom were the most entertaining of the bunch, but most hold some interest, if only because of the exteriors that were used. Most of the shorts derive from Blackhawk Films source materials, thus containing some of that company's informative background production notes at the beginning. On disc, the material suffers from variations in brightness, considerable debris, scratches, and speckles, and some evidence of nitrate decomposition, but the image is quite workable and is not generally an issue degrading one's enjoyment of the content. The musical scores are by Frederick Hodges and are generally appropriate to the material. The Silent Comedy Mafia: Volume 1 is well worth checking out for fans of silent comedy. I'm not aware that its content is available elsewhere. Volume 2 is in preparation and will focus on Billy Bevan.

Beyond the Rocks

A silent offering of a different nature is Milestone's Beyond the Rocks, a 1922 Paramount film starring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson that was recently rediscovered by the Nederlands Filmmuseum and accorded considerable restoration in order to make it available to viewers once again. The results are very pleasing. The film itself is an entertaining if predictable love story, but the real value is the ability to see the teaming of two of the great silent stars of the day. Both Swanson and Valentino ably demonstrate why they were so popular at the time and their teaming shows good chemistry. The film looks remarkably good on Milestone's DVD considering the circumstances. There are a couple of sequences badly affected by nitrate decomposition and a couple of others somewhat truncated probably due to irreversible damage, but the story's flow is not compromised. Otherwise the image looks very good - nicely detailed with a substantial reduction in dirt and debris (as the disc's accompanying restoration comparisons attest). The film has been sepia tinted except for a couple of night-time scenes in blue. A new orchestral score was prepared by Henny Vrienten, but it is only intermittently appropriate. Milestone has added an excellent package of extras including a complete Valentino feature (The Delicious Little Devil, 1919, also with Mae Murray), a couple of Valentino trailers, an 85-minute audio recording of Gloria Swanson from 1955, restoration information, and an extensive stills gallery from Gloria Swanson's personal collection. Highly recommended.

Mr. Moto Collection, Volume One

Finally, I've had a very brief opportunity to sample a couple of the discs in Fox's forthcoming Mr. Moto Collection, Volume One. Based on what I've seen, the effort here is every bit as good as that on the recent Charlie Chan Collection, Volume One. That is to say, there is modest grain in evidence for the most part, but the images are clear and fairly crisp with good black levels and a decent level of image detail. The Moto plots are as interesting as the best Chan ones but with more action, and Peter Lorre does an appealing job with the character while Fox surrounds him with familiar character performers. The discs include restoration comparisons and new featurettes on series stalwarts Lorre, executive producer Sol Wurtzel, director Norman Foster, and stunt man Harvey Parry. Recommended.


New Announcements

The news is ordered alphabetically 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, and The Home Theater Forum. The Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated accordingly.

Among Criterion's October offerings is Francesco Rosi's Hands Over the City (1963, with Rod Steiger), scheduled for October 24th. It will be a two-disc edition and include a new, restored high-definition digital transfer; Neapolitan Diary (1992), Rosi's feature-length sequel to Hands Over the City; new video interviews with director Francesco Rosi, film critic Tullio Kezich, and filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin; a video discussion with Rosi, co-writer Raffaele La Capria, and film critic Michel Ciment; a new essay by film critic Stuart Klawans; and a 2003 interview with Rosi.

There's good news and bad for fans of Disney's Zorro TV series. Two volumes have been made available (episodes 1-8 and episodes 9-16), but only through Disney's Movie Club so far.

Flicker Alley has now finalized September 12th as the release date for its DVD of F.W. Murnau's Phantom (1922). The disc features a beautiful new, speed-corrected NTSC film transfer, restored with original tints; a new, digitally recorded orchestral score by renowned silent film composer Robert Israel; a new, and an English language edition of the film prepared for and in collaboration with the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Foundation, Wiesbaden, Germany. Supplements include Invitation to Phantom - A new 15 minute examination of the artistry and production history of Phantom by UCLA film historian Janet Bergstrom; The Colors of Phantom - Film restoration experts Luciano Berriatúa and Camille Blot-Wellens discuss their process for color tint identification and restoration in a 12-page booklet essay; Cast and Crew Biographies - Over 80 pages of biographical information and unique photographs of the major performers and technicians involved with the film, and a Special Documents Gallery - An image gallery containing many rare and never-before-seen historical documents (special thanks to Werner Sudendorf, the Filmmuseum Berlin, and Deutsches Filminstitut).

Fox will offer House of the Damned (1963) on September 5th. In October, Fox will be releasing three Michael Caine films: Deadfall (1960), The Magus (1968), and Peeper (1975, also with Natalie Wood) on the 17th. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Season Two, Volume One is coming on October 24th. Not coming (for now) are the three Jesse James films originally set for a September release. The assumed tie-in with the new theatrical James film from Warners disappeared with the delay of that film. Amazon was also reporting the release of the second Charlie Chan collection for October, but that information has since been pulled from the Amazon site.

Image's September offerings include two more 4-episode compilations of Combat! on the 5th: Combat!: Best of Espionage and Combat!: Best of the Color Episodes. September 12th brings Crypt of the Vampire (1962, with Christopher Lee, in anamorphic widescreen) as well as the Teen Terror Collection, which includes Teenage Doll (1957), Teenage Monster (1958), and Teenagers from Outer Space (1959). On September 26th, two more Gene Autry films head our way - Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935) and The Sagebrush Troubadour (1948).

MGM now suggests that the Sergio Leone special editions it's been sitting on for eons (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Duck You Sucker) will appear in 2007 under its new distribution deal with Fox.

Milestone reports that its release of Cut to the Chase: The Charley Chase Classic Comedy Collection (to include 15 Chase shorts) is currently planned for November 21st.

Recent discussions on the Home Theater Forum concerning Paramount's lacklustre classic record this year have revealed disturbing news for classic fans. Apparently the new head of Paramount Home Video has no interest in classic titles and one fallout from this is a decision to leave the Republic film catalog with Lions Gate for release. This would account for the cancellation of the various classic Republic titles (the John Waynes, Johnny Guitar, A Double Life, etc.) that were previously scheduled for May and July. If any of those titles (and others) do surface on DVD in the future, it would be through Lions Gate whose past track record with the catalog (via Artisan) was abominable. The lack of Paramount interest in its remaining classic titles does also not bode well for The African Queen, Ace in the Hole, The Buccaneer, Samson and Delilah, and other Paramount properties that classic fans have been after. It should be noted, however, that this news is based on indirect evidence (he said she said) as there is nothing on record from Paramount to confirm or deny the above as yet. Tempering the above (but only mildly) is the inclusion on Paramount's October release slate of a 60th anniversary edition of It's a Wonderful Life (1946) set for October 31st.

A release that slipped under the radar was Pathfinder's June 27th two-disc release of Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (1936). I'm unfamiliar with Pathfinder's track record on DVD quality, so can't tell you what to expect from this release quality-wise. Announced content includes over 5 hours of material including Jugend Der Welt ("Youth of The World") - official documentary of the 1936 Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Die Kamera Farht Mit ("The Camera Goes Along") - 1936 Documentary by Bavaria-Filmkunst featuring footage from Leni Riefenstahl's films Olympia and Triumph of the Will, deleted scene ("Olympia Oath"), biography, still gallery, German with on/off English subtitles and English language, Dolby 2.0 audio, essays by film historian David Calvert Smith, and trailers.

On October 3rd, Sony returns to the Three Stooges with Stooges on the Run. There's no details on content and I'm not sure why we're getting this if Sony indeed has plans to release Stooges material chronologically starting in 2007. But there you are. Sony has also revealed that it will release a DVD box set in October called Icons of Horror Collection: Boris Karloff. The set will include four Karloff Columbia titles: The Black Room, The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I Hang, and The Boogie Man Will Get You. There are no other details as yet.

Time-Life apparently has an exclusive on the release of The Odd Couple: The Complete First Season. Set for August 14th, the four-disc set will include the first season's 24 episodes, introductions by Garry Marshall, appearances by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman on The Mike Douglas Show, a gag reel, and more.

As previously anticipated, Universal will offer two-disc 75th Anniversary Legacy Editions of both Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) on September 26th. The Dracula release will include a digitally remastered fullscreen transfer, Dolby Digital Mono audio, an optional new score composed by Philip Glass and performed by the Kornos Quartet, two audio commentaries (one with horror historian David J. Skal, the other with screenwriter Steve Haberman), three featurettes, the complete 104-minute Spanish-language version of Dracula also starring Lugosi, a poster montage, and the trailer. The Frankenstein release will include a digitally remastered fullscreen transfer, Dolby Digital Mono audio, two audio commentaries (one with film historian Rudy Behlmer, the other with historian Sir Christopher Frayling), three featurettes, the Frankenstein Archives, "Boo!" A Short Film, and the original trailer. In other Universal news, a special edition of Flower Drum Song (1961, with Nancy Kwan) is in the works for a November 7th release. Details have yet to be announced although for what it's worth (not much usually), the Universal website lists a 5.1 soundtrack. Universal will release Screen Legend Collections for Bing Crosby, Cary Grant and Rock Hudson arriving on November 14th. Each of these sets include five films from the careers of their respective actors spread across three discs (no DVD-18s). The Crosby and Grant releases are particularly welcome for their focus on early films (1930s Paramounts, many not before available on home video) from their subject's careers. The Bing Crosby: Screen Legend Collection includes Waikiki Wedding, Double or Nothing, East Side of Heaven, If I Had My Way, and Here Come the Waves. The Cary Grant: Screen Legend Collection includes Thirty Day Princess, Kiss and Make Up, Wings in the Dark, Big Brown Eyes, and Wedding Present. The Rock Hudson: Screen Legend Collection includes Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, A Very Special Favor, The Golden Blade, The Last Sunset, and The Spiral Road. There's no information yet on any extras, but past history suggests a few trailers at most.

VCI has announced four new double feature discs from the Kit Parker library for release on September 26th. Forgotten Noir Double Feature Volume 2 includes Loan Shark (1949, with George Raft) and Arson Inc. (1952, with Robert Lowery). Forgotten Noir Double Feature Volume 3 includes Shadow Man (1947, with Cesar Romero) and Shoot to Kill (1953, with Russell Wade). There will also be a Film Noir Collector's Set which will include both of these volumes as well as the previously-released Volume 1 (Portland Expose, They Were So Young). Western Film Noir Double Feature Volume 1 includes Little Big Horn (1949, with Lloyd Bridges) and Rimfire (1951, with James Millican). Finally, Movie Bad Girls Double Feature contains Sins of Jezebel (1951, with Paulette Goddard) and Queen of the Amazons (1953, with Patricia Morrison).

Warner Bros. has already announced some nice October plans with its Humphrey Bogart, Motion Picture Masterpieces, and Legends of Horror boxes (the latter incidentally delayed from October 3rd to the 10th). Now comes word that this fall's anticipated Astaire & Rogers Collection: Volume Two will be released on October 17th. It will include Flying Down to Rio, Gay Divorcee, Roberta, Carefree, and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. Each title (also available separately) will include newly remastered fullscreen transfers, audio commentaries, featurettes, vintage musical shorts, and cartoons. Also being offered for the first time is the Astaire and Rogers Ultimate Collector's Edition featuring all 10 of the dance duo's films along with the documentary Astaire and Rogers: Partners in Rhythm, a glorious salute that includes candid photos, behind-the-scene tidbits and sidelights about famed collaborators Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern and George Gershwin, among others. This edition includes an exclusive bonus audio CD with 10 soundtrack songs from the team's movies, a set of collectible behind-the-scenes photo cards, reproductions of the Shall We Dance and Roberta press books and a mail-in offer for four Astaire and Rogers movie posters. The 12-disc giftset is the definitive set to own. For consumers who already own Volume One, a special Ultimate Collector's Edition will be available at a price (not yet determined) which will contain empty sleeves for the five remastered and restored films released last year. Forbidden Planet (1956) is apparently set for a November 14th release (not October 3rd as previously anticipated). It will be a two-disc SE available either separately or as part of a special collector's tin that will include an action figure of Robbie the Robot and a collection of lobby card reproductions. The SE will feature a new widescreen transfer from restored film and audio elements, the soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, audio commentaries, additional scenes, three documentaries and two subsequent programs featuring the movie's celebrated Robby the Robot: the 1958 MGM feature film The Invisible Boy and the "Robot Client" episode from TV's "The Thin Man". Also coming on November 14th is The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 (as well as the usual truncated version known as the Spotlight Collection). In other Warner news, the company has announced a Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection replacement program. Full details can be found here at the Home Theater Forum. Finally, in news just released, Warner will offer The Tarzan Collection: Volume Two on October 31st. This will consist of three double feature discs containing Johnny Weissmuller's last six Tarzan films made for RKO during the 1943-1948 period. The titles (available exclusively in the set) are: Tarzan Triumphs, Tarzan's Desert Mystery, Tarzan and the Amazons, Tarzan and the Leopard Woman, Tarzan and the Huntress, and Tarzan and the Mermaids.

Once again, that's all for now. I'll be back with you soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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