Reviews Round-Up #47 and New Announcements
Among Grapevine Video's recent releases is a 1940s mystery double feature comprising Gambler's Choice (1944, an independent production distributed by Paramount) and X Marks the Spot (1942, from Republic).
Gambler's Choice stars Chester Morris, Russell Hayden, and Nancy Kelly and tells the well-known tale of young friends who grow up to follow different paths - one a gangster, the other a policeman. The film doesn't aspire to be more than the efficient B production it is, but it is well acted by the principals, backed up by a good supporting cast that includes Lee Patrick, Sheldon Leonard, and Lyle Talbot. Anyone who's seen Angels with Dirty Faces or Manhattan Melodrama knows how this one turns out, but it's efficiently handled by reliable studio director Frank McDonald. X Marks the Spot is a routine private eye tale with an interesting plot angle involving remote-controlled jukeboxes (several of the characters work in a record centre where they receive calls from various clubs and then play the requests, routing them directly to the clubs' jukeboxes). The principal players (Damian O'Flynn and Helen Parrish) tend to be lesser-known and less interesting in this film than many of the supporting cast (Dick Purcell, Jack LaRue, Neil Hamilton, and Anne Jeffreys). Both films look quite workable on the Grapevine release although contrast is variable and scratches and speckles abound. The sound is also acceptable although hiss is quite evident. Available through grapevinevideo.com, this one's worth a look.
Dick Tracy has been a favourite for movie adaptations, ranging from serials to B mysteries in the 1930s/40s to a television series in the 1950s, and a major feature from Warren Beatty in 1990. Most fondly regarded are the four serials that Republic devoted to the character during the 1937-1940 period - Dick Tracy, Dick Tracy Returns, Dick Tracy's G-Men, and Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc.
VCI is in the process of releasing all of them, with Dick Tracy Returns and Dick Tracy's G-Men being the latest to appear on DVD, each as two-disc releases. Both serials are 15-chapter efforts directed by the well-regarded Republic combo of William Witney and John English, and their original theatrical release occurred during the period that is generally regarded as that when the best serials were made. Both of these titles are certainly superior efforts (and much the best of the four Republic Tracy serials) with a very fine blend of exciting action sequences (enhanced by Republic's top-notch stable of stunt men), good to very good cliffhanger endings, and enough variety in the plots to keep things interesting especially when one views multiple chapters at one sitting. The ample use of Los Angeles and environs for location work helps substantially too. One of these serials' most obvious assets is Ralph Byrd starring as Tracy. He has the square-jawed look and enough acting ability and gravitas to make his Tracy forceful and believable. Equally as important is the presence of two memorable villains as his chief opponents - particularly Charles Middleton as Pa Stark in Dick Tracy Returns, and to a lesser extent Irving Pichel as master spy Dr. Zarnoff in Dick Tracy's G-Men. Both serials look quite good on the DVDs - generally sharp with modest grain in evidence. G-Men is generally the better of the two, exhibiting somewhat more consistent contrast and image detail than does the other. The mono sound is quite workable; certainly the clarity is good although sound effects are hardly authoritative. The only supplements are some serial trailers and introductions by Tracy Comic strip writer Max Allan Collins. Both are recommended although if you have to choose one, make it Dick Tracy Returns.
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium is a 1969 comedy from United Artists now made available on DVD by MGM. The film has very much the feel of a TV movie-of-the-week with its many television personalities (Suzanne Pleshette, Ian McShane, Murray Hamilton, Michael Constantine, Norman Fell, etc) and its overall impact is that of an amiable comedic timepasser.
It basically follows the fortunes of a group of American tourists on a 9-country-in-18-days bus tour of Europe. We get an entirely predictable range of personalities who fall victim to an equally predictable range of misfortunes, but the cast is so polished at this type of material that they bring it off anyway. Things move along briskly especially with 9 countries to cover, so we never feel bored by the proceedings despite the familiarity. Pleshette and McShane are the featured stars in what is really an ensemble effort and they're easy to take (especially Pleshette) which is fortunate since they get somewhat the better of the group's screen time. Adding some variety to things (and a bit of big-screen flavour) are cameos by the likes of John Cassavetes, Joan Collins, Senta Berger Anita Ekberg, Ben Gazzara, Virna Lisi, and Robert Vaughn. MGM gives the film a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that is quite nice - sharp (though with a few soft sections), decent colour fidelity and good image detail overall. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no supplements. Worth a rental when you're in the mood for something quite light-weight.
Finally, a few quick words on The Pride of the Yankees: Collector's Edition and on Journey to the Far Side of the Sun.
The former of course is the delightful biography of Lou Gehrig, well played by Gary Cooper with excellent supporting work from Teresa Wright as his wife. This MGM release is a worthy upgrade to its previous bare-bones DVD version of the title. The disc has a new transfer, but as the old one was pretty decent, the improvement is minor. Sharpness is quite good overall except where soft focus was used on purpose (Cooper's scenes as the young Gehrig). The image has an appropriate amount of modest grain and speckling or other debris is minimal. The mono sound is quite clear and undistorted, with no background hiss. The supplements consist of six new featurettes which when taken collectively (about a half-hour of material) convey quite a lot of production and related information. Recommended. Journey to the Far Side of the Sun is another matter, and that's a shame given Universal's excellent image transfer - a 1.85:1 anamorphic one that's very sharp, colourful, and very clean, and a substantial upgrade from Image's original DVD release. The film itself, however, is poorly written, delivers a Barbie-doll flavour to its costume design, and spends far too much time on technical details and a drawn-out build-up to the film's central element - a trip to the opposite end of earth's orbit where a new planet has been found. The subsequent events are too muddled to allow any satisfaction in the film's ending.
As mentioned, please note that the classic announcement database has been updated to reflect the following items.
Arts Alliance America has now set October 28th as the release date for the previously anticipated The Donna Reed Show: Season One. The release will be a four-disc set containing 37 episodes.
Western fans will be glad to hear that Classic Media is releasing The Lone Ranger: 75th Anniversary Collector's Edition on November 11th. It will be a 12-disc collection of the TV series' first two seasons (1949-51, 78 episodes) with all episodes digitally remastered. Supplements will include an 88-page commemorative book and a complete episode guide, among others.
Criterion has announced its October releases including two new single classic titles, a new Eclipse set, and two titles previously only available in the John Cassavetes: Five Films box set. The latter are A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), both due on October 14th. The new single title releases, on October 7th, are two films from Jean-Pierre Melville - Le doulos (1962) and Le deuxieme souffle (1966) - each a single disc with audio commentary and some new and archival interviews as the main supplements. The Eclipse release, on October 21st, is Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi's Fallen Women which includes Osaka Elegy (1936), Sisters of the Gion (1936), Women of the Night (1948), and Street of Shame (1956).
Fox has delayed The Alice Faye Collection: Volume Two (Hollywood Cavalcade, The Great American Broadcast, Four Jills in A Jeep, Rose of Washington Square, and Hello, Frisco, Hello) to October 7th. It was previously targeted for an August 26th release. There is some speculation concerning the forthcoming September 2nd release of Boomerang and lack of pre-order capability for it at some major online retailers. It may only be available in Canada with its place in that date's film noir wave possibly being taken by Inferno (1953, with Robert Ryan) in the U.S. We may just have to wait and see on this one.
Genius Products will be releasing The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection on October 28th. The 8-disc collection will include all 80 Our Gang theatrical sound shorts produced by Hal Roach from 1929 until 1938 - all remastered, restored and uncut. The first seven discs will contain the shorts presented chronologically and introduced by original cast members. The eighth disc will be a bonus disc containing three silent Our Gang shorts and a number of featurettes on the background to the Our Gang productions and on the past and present of some of the cast members.
Grapevine Video's August plans include the usual 5 silent titles and two sound releases. The silent ones will be: The Count of Monte Cristo (1913, with James O'Neill, disc includes edited versions of the 1929 Monte Cristo and 1946 Wife of Monte Cristo), The Devil Horse (1926, with Rex and Yakima Canutt, includes the cartoon Ko-Ko the Kid), Haxan (1922), Soul of the Beast (1923, with Madge Bellamy, includes the “Out of the Inkwell” short The Fortune Teller), and A Tale of Two Worlds (1921, with Leatrice Joy, includes the Bobby Dunn short The Fast Mail-Man). The sound releases will be two double bills: a pair of Fred Scott westerns Romance Rides the Range (1936)/The Fighting Deputy (1937) and a pair of Jack Hoxie westerns Gun Law/Trouble Busters (both 1933). All are on at special prices until August 11th at grapevinevideo.com.
Infinity Entertainment has now set the dates of August 5th and October 21st for its release of Route 66: The Complete First Season and The Complete Second Season respectively.
Kino has two releases planned for September. First up, on September 16th is The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949, with Charles Laughton as Inspector Maigret), a version restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive from two nitrate projection prints - the only colour copies known to exist. Then on September 30th comes F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh which will be presented as a two-disc Deluxe Restored Edition. Included are the restored German version, the unrestored export version, and a 40-minute making-of documentary.
Lionsgate continues to dip its foot modestly into its Republic holdings with two more classic releases on October 14th. Coming are One Touch of Venus (1948, with Robert Walker and Ava Gardner) and Arch of Triumph (1948, with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer). The former was an independent production released by Universal and subsequently had a checkered control history before ending up under Republic's purview. The latter was also an independent production (by Enterprise Productions) distributed by United Artists. Enterprise later became defunct initiating the chain of changing control that eventually landed the film with Republic. Lionsgate will also have Capricorn One: Special Edition (1978) available on the 14th and two Kirk Douglas features on October 28th - the Italian-made Ulysses (1954) and Rain of Fire (1977, aka Holocaust 2000).
MGM's previously-delayed release of Casino Royale: 40th Anniversary Edition has now been rescheduled for October 21st. This is the 1968 film with David Niven. Supplements include audio commentary with James Bond historians Steven Jay Rubin and John Cork, a making-of documentary, and five featurettes.
Having already issued the individual seasons, MPI will offer both The Doris Day Show: The Complete Series and Family Affair: The Complete Series on November 25th.
Paramount, in conjunction with CBS Video, will offer Hawaii Five-0: The Fifth Season and The Odd Couple: The Final Season for release on November 18th. Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: The Final Season and The Mod Squad: The Second Season, Volume One will appear on November 25th. December offerings include Cannon: Season One, Volume Two and Perry Mason: The Third Season, Volume Two on the 2nd followed by Gunsmoke: The Third Season, Volume One and Rawhide: Season Three, Volume Two on the 9th. Great to see the westerns being continued, but if anyone from Paramount is reading this, how about finishing off the Have Gun, Will Travel seasons. Fans have been left hanging too long!
After a lengthy hiatus, Roan Group seems to be returning to the classic fold with an August 26th release of Apache Rose (1947, starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans). This is certainly good news for classic fans if it presages more output from the usually reliable label.
S'More Entertainment will release A Shari Lewis Christmas on October 14th. The single-disc release will feature the three Christmas specials broadcast during The Shari Lewis Show's 1960-1962 run. Included as a bonus is a Christmas special from Lewis's other series Hi Mom. The shows are based on restoration work done at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. In 2009, S'More and UCLA will again team up to release a multi-DVD box set of other episodes from The Shari Lewis Show.
According to Sony's Mike Schlesinger (responding to queries from interested collectors as a result of his interview at HK and Cult Film DVD News), other classic plans for Columbia titles from Sony include: a box set of Grace Moore films (including The King Steps Out - the set is still a few years away, however); John Ford's Gideon's Day should be on its way within two years; a box set of the four Frank Capra/Barbara Stanwyck films out this holiday season or early next year (Ladies of Leisure/Forbidden/The Bitter Tea of General Yen/The Miracle Woman); and a screwball comedy set sometime next year (possible titles include Theodora Goes Wild/My Sister Eileen/The Doctor Takes a Wife/some Jean Arthur). A reader has also reported on information passed on to him from Mike that suggests that Two Rode Together is a high priority and hopefully will appear before the end of 2009. Night of the Generals and Heroes of Telemark are also likely. Young Winston and Genghis Khan are both low on the priority list but not impossible. In separate correspondence with me, Schlesinger also suggested the possibility of a set of the nine Lone Wolf movies appearing in 2009 with subsequent sales to determine the release of other Columbia B series films. He noted, however, that Sony no longer has the rights to the Blondie or Ellery Queen films. The studio has also confirmed the first wave of Martini Movies for September 23rd, including the previously revealed titles: The Anderson Tapes (1971), The Garment Jungle (1957), and The New Centurions (1972). Nickelodeon was not confirmed, but instead Affair in Trinidad (1952, with Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford) will be released as will $ (Dollars) (1971, with Warren Beatty). The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Four - 1943-1945 is set for release on October 7th. It will contain 21 shorts on two discs, including: They Stooge to Conga, Busy Buddies, Dizzy Detectives, The Yoke's on Me, Spook Louder, Idle Roomers, Back From the Front, Gents Without Cents, Three Little Twirps, No Dough Boys, Higher Than a Kite, Three Pests in a Mess, I Can Hardly Wait, Booby Dupes, Dizzy Pilots, Idiots Deluxe, Phoney Express, If a Body Meets a Body, A Gem of a Jam, Micro-Phonies, and Crash Goes the Hash. Also coming on the 7th is The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: 50th Anniversary Edition and a Ray Harryhausen Collectible Gift Set which contains the previously issued two-disc editions (both B&W and colourized versions) of It Came from Beneath the Sea, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, and 20 Million Miles to Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition. The Sinbad release will be a single disc featuring audio commentary by Harryhausen and others, a documentary, five featurettes, and more. Though not yet officially confirmed by the studio, the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott western set looks to have a November 4th release date. It will contain The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, and Comanche Station.
Timeless Media, according to tvshowsondvd.com, plans a September 23rd release of Lee Marvin's 1957-60 M Squad - The Very Best Of. It's a 14-disc set that contains 100 episodes, all of the show's 117 episodes that Timeless has been able to get a hold of. The company is still trying to find viable copies of the missing 17 episodes and they will be included if possible. Similarly, Timeless is also interested in a release of The Texan (the Rory Calhoun series from 1958-60). No specific release plans have been finalized, but the company is actively looking for 5 missing episodes from the 80-episode two-season run. See the tvshowsondvd website for more information. August 19th will see the release of The Buccaneers - The Best Of. The three-disc set will contain 30 episodes of the mid-50s British series that starred Robert Shaw.
Coming on October 7th from Universal are four two-disc releases, all in the studio's Legacy series: Psycho: Special Edition, Rear Window: Special Edition, Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition, and Vertigo: Special Edition. All offer anamorphic widescreen transfers, one or more audio commentaries, and a generous selection of other extras including documentaries, interviews, production info, and trailers. The Touch of Evil release will include three versions of the film (96-minutre theatrical, 111-minute restored, 109-minute preview versions). Rumours abound on various internet fora that a re-release of some or all of the Universal Abbott and Costello features is in the offing, possibly including the previously unavailable It Ain't Hay (1943). And in late news, the studio takes a third kick at the Holiday Inn can on October 14th with a new 3-Disc Collector's Set whose first two discs will include B&W and colourized versions as well as a number of supplements highlighted by an audio commentary by film historian Ken Barnes. The third disc will be a soundtrack CD. The Munsters: The Complete Series is set for October 7th and Night Gallery: The Complete Second Season will be released on November 18th.
VCI plans three releases for September 16th. Stranger on Horseback (1955) is a Joel McCrea western mastered and digitally restored from a 35mm print found at the British Film Archives. Surrender - Hell! (1959) will be presented in anamorphic widescreen, supplemented by three vintage WW2 documentaries. Finally, the British Cinema Classic “B” Film Collection: Volume 1 will be a three-disc collection from the 1940-1963 period containing Siege of Sidney Street, Frightened Man, Crimes at the Dark House, The Hooded Terror, Girl in the News, and Tread Softly Stranger.
Warner Bros. has just announced the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six for release on October 21st. This is going to be the last entry in the current format, but rest assured more Looney Tunes will be coming in the future. The 4-disc set will comprise the following:
Disc One (Looney Tunes All Stars) - Hare Trigger, To Duck... or Not to Duck, Birth of a Notion, My Little Duckaroo, Crowing Pains, Raw! Raw! Rooster, Heaven Scent, My Favorite Duck, Jumpin' Jupiter, Satan's Waitin', Hook, Line and Sinker, Bear Feat, Dog Gone South, A Ham in a Role, Often an Orphan
Disc Two (Patriotic Pals) - Herr Meets Hare, Russian Rhapsody, Daffy - The Commando, Bosko the Doughboy, Rookie Revue, The Draft Horse, Wacky Blackout, The Ducktators, The Weakly Reporter, Fifth Column Mouse, Meet John Doughboy, Hollywood Canine Canteen, By Word of Mouse, Heir-Conditioned, Yankee Dood It
Disc Three (Bosko, Buddy & Merrie Melodies) - Congo Jazz, Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!, The Booze Hangs High, One More Time, Bosko's Picture Show, You Don't Know What You're Doin'!, We're in the Money, Ride Him, Bosko, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, Bosko in Person, The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon, Buddy's Day Out, Buddy's Beer Garden, Buddy's Circus, A Cartoonist's Nightmare
Disc Four (Most Requested "Assorted Nuts") - Horton Hatches the Egg, Lights Fantastic, Fresh Airedale, Chow Hound, The Oily American, It's Hummer Time, Rocket-Bye Baby, Goo Goo Goliath, Wild Wife, Much Ado About Nutting, The Hole Idea, Now Hear This, Martian Through Georgia, Page Miss Glory, Norman Normal
Also coming the same day is the Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection: Volume Six - a truncated two-disc version of the Golden Collection. Coming on November 11th is the Warner Bros. Holiday Collection Volume 2 which will include All Mine to Give, Blossoms in the Dust, Holiday Affair, and It Happened on 5th Avenue. The Singing Nun (1966) will also be made available, but only as part of a re-release of the Warner Bros. Holiday Collection Volume 1 (it previously contained Boys Town, Men of Boys Town, A Christmas Carol, and Christmas in Connecticut). On the same date, the long-awaited Quo Vadis? (1951) will make its appearance in a two-disc SE. The restored and remastered film (aspect ratio 1.37:1 with mono sound, as originally produced) will be spread over the two discs with audio commentary by filmmaker and writer F.X. Feeney. There will also be a new documentary tracing the production's extensive history. Not content with a paltry two releases on the 11th, the studio also will give us Warner Bros. and the Homefront Collection, containing the three WW2 flag-wavers This Is the Army (rescued from public domain hell and presented in its original roadshow version), Thank Your Lucky Stars, and Hollywood Canteen (all titles only available in the set). Each title will get what sounds like the “Warner Night at the Movies” treatment of shorts, cartoons, newsreels, and trailers, with additional supplements in the set including a new Warner at War documentary and a Joan Leslie/Drew Casper audio commentary on This Is the Army. In other Warner news, the company is making World Without End and Satellite in the Sky (both 1956) available as a double bill on July 29th, but only as a Best Buy exclusive for now. The studio also has The Flintstones Complete Series set for October 28th. And finally, the studio will release Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition on December 2nd. It will include the previously-issued two-disc special edition and the 1993 documentary - Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul - all boxed in an intricate laser-cut Moroccan design. Other additions are reproductions of executive memos and props, a branded passport holder, luggage tag, photo book, and mail-in poster offer.
In high definition news, Warner Bros. has announced that August 26th will see the Blu-ray release of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Content will be the same as on the previous HD-DVD version, including three Looney Tunes in HD. The Quo Vadis? November standard DVD released mentioned above will make its debut on Blu-ray for Easter 2009. On October 7th, Sony will release a four-disc Ray Harryhausen Collectible Gift Set containing It Came from Beneath the Sea, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers, 20 Million Miles to Earth: 50th Anniversary Edition, and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: 50th Anniversary Edition - all in Blu-ray editions. The latter title will also be available separately as a Blu-ray release. Also in Sony's plans is Dr. Strangelove (1964) due on December 9th; content has not yet been announced. Blu-ray Only's release of the public domain titles Beat the Devil and The Last Time I Saw Paris has been delayed from August 12th to October 28th. And finally, after seemingly taking forever to come to standard DVD, Becket (1964) will surprisingly be offered on Blu-ray by MPI on November 25th. Also, Warners will issue its new Casablanca: Ultimate Collector's Edition on Blu-ray on December 2nd. Content details are the same as those mentioned above for the standard DVD release.
Well, once again that's it for now. I'll return again soon.