Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.



The Digital Bits logo
page created: 9/5/06




Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #31 and New Announcements

As the first days of September arrive, I'm pleased to offer another round-up of classic reviews and new announcements. Titles covered this time include Double Indemnity from Universal, Grand Prix and Film Noir Classic Collection, Volume 3 from Warner Bros., The Clark Gable Collection from Fox, Films of Bing Crosby from Grapevine Video, Perry Mason: Season 1, Volume 1 from Paramount, and Rebus: Set 1 from Acorn Media.


Reviews

The most noteworthy new release is Universal's much-anticipated two-disc Legacy Series effort for Double Indemnity, the 1944 Billy Wilder-directed film that essentially defines film noir. Veteran classic DVD enthusiasts will remember that the film received an early release by Image due to an arrangement with Universal. Unfortunately the presentation was much less than satisfactory and eventually went out of print.

Double Indemnity

After one false start (Universal announced its own release of the title over two years ago, only to cancel it without explanation), we now have a package that has been well worth the wait. Disc One contains the film conveyed in a superior transfer. It's not pristine in that some minor speckles are still in evidence, but otherwise the image brightness, sharpness, and shadow detail are all that one could hope for. The film's impressive expressionistic cinematography has been very well served. The mono sound is clear and free of distortion and hiss. Prefaced by a short but effective introduction by Turner Classic Movies' host Robert Osborne, the film is also accompanied by two audio commentaries. One by Richard Schickel provides all the production detail that one could wish for while the other by film historian/screenwriter Lem Dobbs and film historian Nick Redman is a fascinating discussion focused mainly on the film's signs and meaning. Supplementing these are a new 38-minute making-of documentary ("Shadows of Suspense") and the original theatrical trailer. The documentary is a superior one of its kind - a blend of film clips and interviews with various film historians and filmmakers. Unfortunately none of the film's original cast or crew survive to be able to participate. Disc Two contains the complete 1973 made-for-TV version of the film starring Richard Crenna, Samantha Eggar, and Lee J. Cobb in the MacMurray, Stanwyck, and Robinson roles respectively. The full frame image is nice enough, but the colour looks a little tired. Not that it really matters, as the remake (updated in time, but trying to retain much of the 1944 version's dialogue) is poor in both relative and absolute terms; it only takes about five minutes of viewing to make one wish one were elsewhere. There's little that needs to be said about the original film. It was a potent film for the time and it remains so today. As is pointed out in the disc's supplements, one need only look to Double Indemnity to see what film noir is all about - the expressionistic look and style, the dialogue, the role of the femme fatale (a quintessential noir performance by Barbara Stanwyck), the importance of fate, and the denouement (as Fred MacMurray's character Walter Neff puts it - "I didn't get the money and I didn't get the girl"). Universal's Legacy Series release is a lock to be high on the year's ten best classic DVD release list and is very highly recommended. Hopefully it will prove to be a fruitful enough release that Universal will be encouraged to make available more of the many film noir titles it controls.

Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume 3

Unlike the rather hesitant Universal, Warner Bros. already knows that there's a good market for film noir and now it has given us its third film noir box set (Film Noir Classic Collection: Volume 3). This time we get five more films supplemented by a new feature-length documentary on film noir itself. All the titles get their own thin case and are available only in the set. The jewel of the set is On Dangerous Ground, followed closely by His Kind of Woman and The Racket. Of interest is the POV camera approach to The Lady in the Lake; otherwise that film is Philip Marlowe-light. Border Incident is minor Anthony Mann. Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground, for RKO, is a stunningly effective portrayal of self-realization as an alienated New York cop gradually comes to grips with his loneliness and learns to reach out for human interaction. The film, with a fine Bernard Herrmann score, is structured so as to take the cop (a wonderful performance by Robert Ryan) from the mean urban streets that seem to allow Ryan no self-determination ("why do you punks make me do it?") to the open countryside where Ryan's character can begin to relax and react to the needs of others (particularly a blind woman [Ida Lupino] - the sister of the young man that Ryan is after). If the ending is a little pat, it's a minor blot on the superb drama of the preceding 80 minutes. The image transfer is quite pleasing although not one of the best ones in the set. There is modest grain, but the overall image is quite sharp. It is a noticeable improvement on an Edition Montparnasse Region 2 version that I have. Audio hiss is minor and the Herrmann music sounds quite dynamic. Another RKO film, The Racket, pits two noir icons (Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan as a good cop and a local crime lord respectively) against each other in a tale about organization coming to crime and the length of the tentacles that such organization breeds. The story dates back to the 1920s, but the realization is first-rate 1950s noir in that the basic story may be fairly straightforward, but the two lead characters are full of ambiguities. A superior supporting cast (Lizabeth Scott, William Talman, Ray Collins, William Conrad) is a real plus. The image transfer is about on a par with that of On Dangerous Ground. The third RKO film in the set is His Kind of Woman, featuring a world-weary Robert Mitchum as a down-on-his-luck American who gets the welcome offer of a trip to Mexico and money thrown in. Only there's no free lunch and Mitchum soon finds himself embroiled with a crime boss who wants to return to the U.S. (Raymond Burr) and a helpful film star (Vincent Price). At two hours in length and with some almost comic situations thrown in, the film stretches the stark noir envelop somewhat, but the results are so pleasingly presented that the film never loses story momentum nor flags in terms of entertainment value. Jane Russell, Tim Holt, Charles McGraw, Marjorie Reynolds, Jim Backus and John Mylong all contribute fine supporting turns. This is the best-looking of the three RKO titles in the set with image detail being superior and dirt and debris kept to a minimum. The other two titles in the set are MGM productions. Lady in the Lake is the more well known because of the camera shooting technique that was employed by actor and director Robert Montgomery. We literally see things directly through Montgomery's eyes as he plays detective Philip Marlowe in the well-known Raymond Chandler story of death and deception. Thus we never actually see the Marlowe character unless when he's reflected in a mirror. The technique is interesting and fresh, but it ultimately distracts one from a story that is difficult enough to follow as it is. One is constantly wondering what the actors forced to react to a camera and photographed head-on are thinking as they speak. Audrey Totter as the chief female protagonist is the best thing in the film. The film looks very sharp and well-detailed on disc with only a few scratches and blemishes to detract from the overall positive effect, reflecting MGM's better track record at maintaining its film library than RKO. Ironically, the least interesting film in the set, Border Incident, is the best-looking overall, with a very film-like effect featuring modest grain and a nicely detailed gray scale. The film's story is a gritty one for MGM at the time (1949) with good work by Ricardo Montalban as an undercover Mexican investigator trying to uncover a murder plot tied up with Mexican workers traveling between Mexico and the U.S. to harvest produce. The film is directed by Anthony Mann and draws on aspects of T-Men (an earlier Mann film for Eagle-Lion) for inspiration (the killing of one of the main characters, in this case that of George Murphy), but the story becomes somewhat muddled at times and suffers from some self-congratulatory (though not uncommon for the time), documentary-like narration that bookends the film. All five films in the box set benefit from audio commentaries that are each a pleasure to listen to and offer thorough background information and analysis. A sixth disc contains a new 68-minute documentary on film noir ("Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light") that is average at best. It's rather repetitive and characterized by too many talking heads who have questionable film noir credentials. Acknowledged experts like Eddie Mueller, James Orsini, and Alain Silver do contribute, but they need to be allowed to speak in depth rather than brief sound bites. The implication that people like Memento director Christopher Nolan and others who seem to get equal exposure in the documentary know as much about film noir as these experts does the latter a disservice. The final disc is not a complete loss, though, as it includes five examples of MGM's fine "Crime Does Not Pay" series of shorts (Forbidden Passage, A Gun in His Hand, The Luckiest Guy in the World, Women in Hiding, You the People). Despite my quibble with the documentary, overall this film noir set is another winner for Warner Bros. and is easily recommended.

The Clark Gable Collection

It's sure nice to see Fox boxing up several features that a particular star has appeared in for that studio over the course of his or her career. The Clark Gable Collection is a good example. Now if we could just get Fox to do the same thing for Humphrey Bogart, we'd really have something. But to return to Gable, I imagine most people know that he spent the vast majority of his career at MGM before gaining his freedom to pick and choose his roles during the last half dozen years of his life. Two of the three films in the set come from the latter period (The Tall Men, Soldier of Fortune) while the third (Call of the Wild) came about from a loan-out to Twentieth Century Pictures from MGM in 1935. None of the titles are top-notch Gable, but all offer reasonable entertainment value. Soldier of Fortune, though its story is little more than a pot-boiler, is the best of the three. Gable runs a goods transportation outfit in Hong Kong using Chinese junks and finds himself involved in helping an attractive American woman searching for her husband. The film is an early CinemaScope production and in the hands of director Edward Dmytryk, makes good use of the format, particularly the location work in Hong Kong. Gable's role is a familiar one for him and he looks more comfortable in it than in many of his other post-MGM ones. Susan Hayward plays the searching wife, but despite decent chemistry between her and Gable, there's little about her work to remember her by. More memorable are several of the character actors (Tom Tully, Leo Gordon, Anna Sten, Alex D'Arcy) who frequent Tweedie's Bar, a place that plays an important role in the story. Gable's role reminds one slightly of his Rhett Butler portrayal in Gone with the Wind and at one point he even starts to carry Susan Hayward up a staircase although with less lascivious intentions than he did Vivien Leigh in GWTW. The Tall Men is a western dating from the same early CinemaScope period, but despite an impressive pedigree (Robert Ryan and Jane Russell co-star with Gable, while Raoul Walsh directs), the film is overlong and dozy - a distinct disappointment for western fans. The film does offer some typically Raoul Walsh touches in its dialogue and male/female relationships and Fox certainly spent the money on location work and setting up a massive cattle herd for the film's cattle drive from Texas to Montana, but the script lacks narrative tension. One gets the feeling that Fox was hoping for another Red River, but the results are far from it. Robert Ryan is the best thing about the film while Gable and Russell's characters engage in a predictable and tiresome game of cat and mouse. Gable is okay in westerns (he'd appear in half a dozen during the course of his career), but he always looked more at home in a gambler's outfit than a trail rider's. Lone Star is a more entertaining Gable western from this same general period in his career. Call of the Wind lies somewhere between Soldier of Fortune and The Tall Men in its level of appeal. Based loosely on the Jack London story, the film replaces the book's focus on the dog Buck with a rather conventional Yukon gold rush love story in which Buck becomes little more than emotional support to Gable and Loretta Young. The film was a reasonably ambitious effort for Twentieth Century Pictures (before its merger with Fox) and the studio devoted a number of weeks of location shooting at Mt. Baker, Washington to it. Gable brings a fair amount of energy to his role and seems to be enjoying himself (which apparently he was, as he and Young reportedly engaged in a brief romantic liaison during shooting). The dog used to play Buck is the real star of the film, but unfortunately Buck's role diminishes as the film goes on. The film comes to an abrupt and somewhat bizarre end that may have satisfied the Production Code, but surely few in the audience. Fox has done restoration work on all three titles in the set and the results show it. All look very pleasing with scratches and speckles reduced to a minimum and offering sharp, clear images. Call of the Wild (full frame as originally shot) is marginally the weakest of the three transfers with some instances of softness in evidence, while The Tall Men (2.55:1 anamorphic) is the strongest with vibrant colour and less grain than Soldier of Fortune (also 2.55:1 anamorphic). Both Call of the Wild and Soldier of Fortune feature pleasingly detailed and consistently interesting audio commentaries (by authors Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince respectively). The Tall Men partially compensates for the commentary lack with an effective 4-channel surround mix. Trailers and photo galleries are available on all. Recommended. Note that none of the three films are available separately.

Films of Bing Crosby

A complete change of pace is Grapevine Video's recent DVD-R release Films of Bing Crosby. During the 1931-1933 period, Bing made six musical-comedy shorts for Mack Sennett: I Surrender Dear (1931), One More Chance (1931), Dream House (1932), Billboard Girl (1932), Sing Bing Sing (1933), and Blue of the Night (1933). Mainly made between the time of Bing's initial forays into feature films (1930's King of Jazz, for example) and his long-running Paramount contract (starting with 1932's The Big Broadcast), these were for the most part amiable little efforts that showed Bing's affinity for comedy work as well as his singing talent. Two of them capitalized on then current Crosby hit songs by using their titles for those of the shorts (I Surrender Dear and Blue of the Night). In the mid 1940s, independent producer-director Bud Pollard used several shorts featuring Danny Kaye to fashion a short feature publicizing Kaye's career (Birth of a Star). Its success emboldened Pollard to do the same thing for Crosby. Using the first four Sennett shorts, in 1946 he then prepared an effort entitled The Road to Hollywood (the title no doubt playing on the popular Crosby-Hope "Road" pictures) purporting to chronicle Bing's early rise in Hollywood. Pollard added in some rather wooden framing narrative by himself to tie things together. Grapevine Video has gathered together The Road to Hollywood and the last three of the Sennett shorts on its new disc. Much of this material has been available elsewhere due to its public domain status, but I've not seen any of the other presentations (three of the shorts are available on the Kino collections of Paramount shorts, for example) to be able to judge the relative quality of Grapevine's effort (available through grapevinevideo.com). The latter is worthwhile having if you're a Crosby fan and don't already have the material on other disc releases, but be prepared to accept the fact that the material is in rough shape. The quality of The Road to Hollywood is better than that of the shorts, but it still looks pretty ragged with numerous scratches, dirt, and debris. The bridging material with Pollard is a little brighter and sharper than the rest of the feature. The three shorts all suffer from jump cuts, poor contrast, numerous scratches, and soft-looking images. The sound on all the material has substantial to severe hiss with drop-outs from time to time. This is particularly annoying during Bing's songs.

Grand Prix

For car racing fans, Warner Bros. has taken its time issuing Grand Prix on DVD, but the results are superb and well worth the wait. The film has always been the finest film evocation of Formula One racing with its wonderful presentation of the races at each of the well-known European circuits tied together by an interesting if predictable back story. (Don't be discouraged by others whose quibbles in this regard just manage to allow that to spoil the immense entertainment value of the rest of the film for themselves.) For those unfamiliar with the 1966 film, director John Frankenheimer manages to blend virtually seamlessly together special racing footage shot of his principal actors doing their own driving with footage taken of nine actual Formula One races of the 1965 season. Using different photographic approaches for presenting each race and a memorable score by Maurice Jarre, the results are enthralling, frequently placing one right in the drivers seat and conveying the immense speed, excitement, and danger of Formula One racing. James Garner, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, and Antonio Sabato portray the principal drivers in the competition to determine the year's driving champion while Eva Marie Saint, Jessica Walter, Toshiro Mifune, and Francoise Hardy star with them in the framing story. Warner's two-disc 40th Anniversary DVD release provides a 2.20:1 anamorphic transfer derived from restored 65mm elements that is tremendous. Colours look spot-on and the image sharpness and detail are excellent. The image is also virtually spotless, reflecting the amount of clean-up effort that was invested in the release. Included are the film's overture and entr'acte which along with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix yield an impressive audio experience to match the visuals. Equally impressive are the disc's supplements which include a new four-part documentary that is a model of its kind. The material has a great deal of depth and provides one with a detailed appreciation for the filmmaking efforts as well as the complexity of Formula One racing itself. Surviving cast and crew participate as well as actual racing drivers of the time. The presentation concludes with a vintage making-of featurette (quite good itself) and the theatrical trailer. Very highly recommended.

Perry Mason: Season 1, Volume 1

Moving on to television releases, the classic Perry Mason series has a strong following and the announcement this past spring by Paramount of its initial season release was greeted with much enthusiasm. What we actually ended up with proved to be somewhat less than originally anticipated - only half the first season and no supplementary material, but at least what we got (Perry Mason: Season 1, Volume 1) is of sterling quality. The five-disc set contains 19 of the season's 39 episodes: The Case of the Restless Redhead, …Sleepwalker's Niece, …Nervous Accomplice, …Drowning Duck, …Sulky Girl, …Silent Partner, …Angry Mourner, …Crimson Kiss, …Vagabond Vixen, …Runaway Corpse, …Crooked Candle, …Negligent Nymph, …Moth-Eaten Mink, …Baited Hook, …Fan Dancer's Horse, …Demure Defendant, …Sun Bather's Diary, …Cautious Coquette, and …Haunted Husband - most of which were adapted from the Mason novels originally written by Erle Stanley Gardner (later seasons would increasingly use original stories as the list of Gardner novels became exhausted). Working one's way through the episodes provides terrific entertainment. The plotlines are interesting and while Mason always proves his defendant innocent (as was traditional with the Mason books), the various routes to that end are varied in terms of location (urban and rural), ratio of courtroom to non-courtroom time, and the relative size of roles for the series regulars - Barbara Hale as secretary Della Street, William Hopper as detective Paul Drake, William Talman as District Attorney Hamilton Burger, and Ray Collins as Lieutenant Tragg. Raymond Burr was a real revelation as Mason, a role that was a distinct departure from his extensive previous work as a film heavy. His portrayal is of a Mason both personable and authoritative, and one that came to be firmly linked with the character. Later efforts by the likes of Monte Markham failed miserably as a consequence. Among the pleasures of the series too are the fine weekly supporting casts. One can count on seeing familiar faces in virtually every one, whether well-known character actors of the time or newcomers who would go on to greater fame. Paramount gives us the complete 52-minute episodes free of time compression. The full frame image transfers are for the most part very pleasing, offering deep blacks, good image detail, and a modest amount of grain. They look particularly clean also. The mono sound is clear and strong, allowing one to savour the very familiar Perry Mason theme music. As mentioned, there are no supplements. Hopefully the set will sell well for Paramount ensuring follow-up releases. It deserves to. Recommended.

Rebus: Set 1

British mystery enthusiasts will be quite familiar with Inspector John Rebus of the Edinburgh police force. Featured in s series of novels by Ian Rankin, Rebus has now begun appearing in a series of British TV adaptations, two of which (from 2005) have been boxed up by Acorn Media in Rebus: Set 1. Both programs involve murder - The Falls and Fleshmarket Close. As delineated by Rankin in the novels, the Rebus character is a hard-drinking, brooding individual with complex personal relationships both within the police force (his immediate superior on the force is a former girlfriend) and without. His own human failings are numerous and often mirror the tragedies that come his way on the job. Rankin's mystery plots are complex and sometimes gruesome and he conveys a thorough appreciation of his character's Edinburgh environs. The Rebus TV mysteries capture much of the novels' plot complexity and Edinburgh atmosphere, but at 70 minutes in length can only suggest some of Rebus's personal demons. This compromise may leave some Rebus enthusiasts feeling cheated, but the resulting programs are still very entertaining. Ken Stott is suitably world-weary and rumpled as Rebus while Claire Price is effective as Rebus's young partner. A lot happens in these programs, sometimes quite quickly, so it pays to keep alert in order to know what's going on. Acorn Media's presentation gives a separate disc with its own keepcase to each program. The 1.78:1 transfers are quite decent, offering reasonably sharp images and somewhat subdued colours that are, I suspect, as originally intended. The stereo sound is sometimes difficult to interpret, partly due to the accents, but also due to background noises that sometimes drown out dialogue. Supplements include an Ian Rankin biography, cast filmographies, and a trailer. The quality of the program content warrants a recommendation, but the amount is rather niggardly compared to other TV box sets, even those of other British mystery series.


New Announcements

As the fall revelations start to come fast and furious, the new announcements this time are a much healthier collection at least in volume than was evident in my past two columns. Warner Bros. as usual leads the way. The Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated accordingly. Sources include studio press releases and websites, personal contacts, online retailers and dvd news sites (The Digital Bits, Davis DVD, the Home Theater Forum, ultimateDisney.com, DVD Times, among others). Announcements as usual are ordered alphabetically by releasing studio or company. Note that I've appended a short paragraph about high definition titles at the end.

Alpha (25 releases on each of Sept. 26 and Oct. 24.; see the database for complete listings) offers the usual blend of westerns, mysteries and collections of TV series episodes. Films have a particular emphasis on the 1930s this time with quite a few western double features featuring the likes of Bob Steele, Kermit Maynard, Ken Maynard, Tom Tyler, Bill Cody, Tom Keene, and Johnny Mack Brown. There are two serials, the ubiquitous Hurricane Express with John Wayne and the less available Tarzan the Tiger, a 1929 silent serial from Universal.

Criterion's November slate contains two classic films of note. Carol Reed's The Fallen Idol [due November 7th] will feature a new, restored high-definition digital transfer; A Sense of Carol Reed, a 2006 documentary featuring interviews with director Carol Reed's friends and collaborators Illustrated Reed filmography; the original press book; and a book featuring new essays by film critic Geoffrey O'Brien, author David Lodge, and Reed biographer Nicholas Wapsho. G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box (1929) [due November 21st] will include a new, restored high-definition digital transfer of the definitive Munich Film Museum restoration; four different musical scores, each with its own unique stylistic interpretation of the film; audio commentary by film scholars Thomas Elsaesser and Mary Ann Doane; Louise Brooks: Looking for Lulu, a 1998 documentary; Lulu in Berlin (48 minutes), a rare 1971 interview with Brooks by verite documentarian Richard Leacock; a new video interview with Leacock; a new interview with G. W. Pabst's son, Michael; a new and improved English subtitle translation; and a book including Kenneth Tynan's famous essay "The Girl in the Black Helmet," a chapter from Louise Brooks's evocative memoir discussing her relationship with Pabst, and a new essay by film critic J. Hoberman. In other Criterion news, the company has announced the October 24th release of a 50-film collector's book/DVD box set combination, entitled Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films. The set will include the Criterion DVDs of Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ashes and Diamonds (1858), L'Avventura (1960), Ballad of a Soldier (1959), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Black Orpheus (1959), Brief Encounter (1945), The Fallen Idol (1948), Fires on the Plain (1959), Fists in the Pocket (1965), Floating Weeds (1959), Forbidden Games (1952), The 400 Blows (1959), Grand Illusion (1937), Häxan (1922), Ikiru (1952), The Importance of Being Ernest (1952), Ivan the Terrible, Part II (1958), Le Jour se léve (1939), Jules and Jim (1962), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Knife in the Water (1962), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Loves of a Blonde (1965), M (1931), M. Hulot's Holiday (1953), Miss Julie (1951), Pandora's Box (1929), Pépé le Moko (1937), Il Posto (1961), Pygmalion (1938), Rashomon (1950), Richard III (1955), The Rules of the Game (1939), Seven Samurai (1954), The Seventh Seal (1957), The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), La Strada (1954), Summertime (1955), The Third Man (1949), The 39 Steps (1935), Ugetsu (1953), Umberto D. (1952), The Virgin Spring (1960), Virigiana (1961), The Wages of Fear (1953), The White Sheik (1952), Wild Strawberries (1957), The Great Chase (1962), The Love Goddess (1965) and Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist (1979). Only a handful of these are not already available individually. Also included in the box will be an illustrated hardcover book that tells the story of Janus Films through an essay by film historian Peter Cowie, a tribute from Martin Scorsese, and all new extensive notes on all 50 films, plus cast and credit listings and U.S. premiere information. The offering has a healthy price tag of $650US (averages out to $13US per disc, which is not bad if you don't already have all or most of the titles) and there's a preorder discount available through Criterion.

Critics Choice (from Falcon Picture Group) will have the Hopalong Cassidy TV Collection 2 on Sept. 5th. This comprises the second and final 26 episodes produced. The set of 10 Hopalong Cassidy feature films not yet on DVD should appear soon after that.

Disney has announced the introduction of a new Legacy Collection, the inaugural entries in which will be four volumes of Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures to be released on December 5th. Volume 1: Wonders of the World will include the Oscar-winning 1958 feature White Wilderness and a number of shorts - Seal Island (1948), Beaver Valley (1950), Nature's Half Acre (1951), Water Birds (1952), Nature's Strangest Creatures (1959) and more. Volume 2: Lands of Exploration will contain a pair of Best Documentary Oscar winners in The Living Desert (1953) and The Vanishing Prairie (1954), in addition to Prowlers of the Everglades (1953), Islands of the Sea (1960), Behind the True-Life Cameras (1955), The Crisler Story (1957) and Yellowstone Story (1957). Volume 3: Creatures of the Wild offers the feature-length The African Lion (1955) and Jungle Cat (1960), as well as 1952's Olympic Elk, 1953's Bear Country, 1955's Emperor Penguins, and the Disneyland installment Cameras in Africa (1954) and more. Finally, Volume 4: Nature's Mysteries will have 1956's feature-length Secrets of Life and the True-Life Fantasy Perri (1957), as well as Mysteries of the Deep (1959) and the anthology episodes Searching for Nature's Mysteries (1956) and Adventure in Wildwood Heart (1957). Each will be a two-disc set packaged in a tin, a la the Walt Disney Treasures line. Speaking of the latter, Wave Six of the Treasures will now appear on December 19th. Included will be The Complete Pluto: Volume Two (1947-51, 22 cartoons); More Silly Symphonies: Volume Two (1929-31, 38 cartoons); Your Host Walt Disney (1956-65); and The Hardy Boys: The Mickey Mouse Club (1956-57, the entire Mystery of the Applegate Treasure serial).

After taking a breath in early fall, Fox chimes in with a number of new classic announcements for November. November 7th brings the anticipated Rodgers and Hammerstein films: Carousel 50th Anniversary Edition, The King and I 50th Anniversary Edition, and South Pacific Collectors Edition. The three titles will also be available in the Rodgers & Hammerstein Box Set Collection which will also include the three special editions of Oklahoma!, State Fair, and The Sound of Music released last fall. Note that the Carousel release will include Liliom as a supplement. Although it's not clear which version this is - the 1930 Frank Borzage one made by Fox in the U.S. or the 1934 Fritz Lang one made by a Fox subsidiary in Europe. Hopefully it's the former as the latter is already available on DVD from Kino. Also due on November 7th are The Quiller Memorandum, The Kremlin Letter, The Chairman, and The Ultimate Flint Collection (Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, and Our Man Flint: Dead on Target - the first two with audio commentaries and the third with new featurettes and interviews). November 21st's lineup includes Miracle on 34th Street: Special Edition and O Henry's Full House.

There will be six new DVD-R releases from Grapevine Video (grapevinevideo.com) for August 2006. No exact dates are specified. Silent film releases are His Master's Voice (1925, with Thunder the Marvel Dog and George Hackathorne); His First Flame (1927, with Harry Langdon); Walking Back (1928, directed by Rupert Julian and an uncredited Cecil B. DeMille); and D.W. Griffith, Director - Volume #4 (1909, eleven shorts). Sound film releases include Trailing the Killer (1932, aka Call of the Wilderness) and the Universal serial The Adventures of Smilin' Jack (1943).

Image is releasing six volumes of The Gene Autry Collection on September 26th. Each volume will consist of four discs containing previously-released titles. For those who haven't bought any of the titles yet, this should allow significant savings over the individual title releases. The contents are as follows: Volume 1 (Cow Town/Whirlwind/The Old West/Sons of New Mexico); Volume 2 (Valley of Fire/Mule Train/Beyond the Purple Hills/Indian Territory); Volume 3 (Back in the Saddle/Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride/Rancho Grande/Melody Ranch); Volume 4 (Robin Hood of Texas/Wagon Team/Sioux City Sue/Blue Canadian Rockies); Volume 5 (Bells of Capistrano/Heart of the Rio Grande/Under Fiesta Stars/Shooting High); and Volume 6 (South of the Border/Down Mexico Way/Mexicali Rose/Gaucho Serenade).

Kino has packaged together five of its previous releases in a five-thin-case box set entitled Film Noir: The Dark Side of Hollywood for release on September 12th. Included in the set are Hangmen Also Die, The Long Night, Railroaded, Behind Locked Doors, and Sudden Fear - all from the 1943-1952 period. Kino has also scheduled the release of four Ernst Lubitsch German silents for early December. The titles are: The Oyster Princess (with the short I Don't Want to Be a Man), Sumurun (aka One Arabian Night), Anna Bolyen (aka Deception), and The Wildcat. These may well lead to further such Lubitsch releases.

Koch Vision will release the four-disc set Edward R. Morrow: The Best of Person to Person on November 7th.

Lionsgate (formerly Lion's Gate) has announced that it has regained distribution rights to a portion of the Republic library (1600 of the 3000 titles in the library) from Paramount, Among those are classics High Noon, Rio Grande and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Paramount has retained rights to It's a Wonderful Life and all of the TV titles, but it's not known if there are other film titles that Paramount has reserved for itself. This news seems to dash the hopes of many classic enthusiasts that decent versions of the many Republic B westerns and serials would finally appear. The track record shows that Lionsgate (and Artisan, which it absorbed) doesn't seem interested in making such material available in superior quality, although it's unclear how much its efforts may have been compromised by lack of access to good source material. If the latter is a consideration, Paramount must bear some of the responsibility to date. Whether that will change in the future is as yet unknown. Meanwhile in Lionsgate release news, four further releases in its Zane Grey series are forthcoming on September 19th - The Dude Ranger (1934, George O'Brien), Fighting Westerner (1935, Randolph Scott), Light of Western Stars (1940, Victor Jory), and Wanderer of the Wasteland (1945, James Warren). Note that there have been many versions of some of these Zane Grey titles in the 1930s and 1940s and the ones listed here may not be the actual versions released by Lionsgate.

MGM (with its new Fox distribution deal in hand) returns to the scene by dipping into the James Bond well once again. All 20 titles will be reissued, each as a two-disc edition, in four box sets. I can't imagine Bond fans going for these though, with HD versions presumably not that far in the future. For the record, however, the offerings are: James Bond: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 on November 7th (includes Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger, The Living Daylights, The Man With The Golden Gun, The World Is Not Enough); James Bond: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 2 on November 7th (includes Die Another Day, License To Kill, The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball, A View To A Kill); James Bond: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3 on December 12th (includes Goldeneye, Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service); and James Bond: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 4 on December 12th (includes Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, Octopussy, Tomorrow Never Dies, Moonraker).

On-line retailers are reporting that Paramount will finally release The Martin & Lewis Collection: Volume 1 on October 31st. It had been previously expected on June 13th, but was delayed. The set will include The Caddy, Jumping Jacks, Money from Home, My Friend Irma, My Friend Irma Goes West, Sailor Beware, Scared Stiff and That's My Boy. The set does not appear on Paramount's October release grid made available to its publicity representatives in Canada, however. The planned release of It's a Wonderful Life, also on the 31st, appears to contain the same supplements as Artisan's previous releases, but there's no indication whether it features a new transfer. Paramount will also pair this release with a re-release of White Christmas in a set known as the Classic Christmas Collection. November 7th will bring Oh What a Lovely War!: Special Edition featuring audio commentary by Richard Attenborough. December will bring a number of TV season releases: Mission Impossible: The Complete First Season on December 5th and The Andy Griffith Show: Season 8 and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: Complete First Season both on December 12th. In other news, Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection has had its release delayed to November 14th.

For August (no specific date available), Roan Group is releasing The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939, with Lew Ayres - delayed from June), The Broken Melody (British film from 1934, with Merle Oberon), and Where Trails Divide (1937, with Tom Keene).

Sony's release of the Boris Karloff Icons of Horror Collection (the Columbia horror titles The Black Room, The Man They Could Not Hang, Before I Hang, and The Boogie Man Will Get You) has been confirmed for October 17th.

According to DVD Review, Universal will apparently offer The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection on September 19th as a Best Buy exclusive initially. It will include: Tarantula, The Mole People, Monster on the Campus, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Monolith Monsters. A Holiday Inn: Special Edition is scheduled for release on October 10th but there's no information on content so far. On November 21st, Universal finally comes through with Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection - a seven-disc set containing The Great McGinty, Christmas in July, Sullivan's Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The Lady Eve, The Great Moment, and Hail the Conquering Hero. There's no information on any supplements, but Universal's track record would suggest that there'll be little if anything beyond some trailers.

VCI has announced two release delays: So Ends Our Night from July 25th to September 19th and The Loretta Young Show: Christina's Children Series from July 25th to September 26th.

Warner Bros. continues its attack on our wallets with the release of three collections in early November. On November 7th, the Marlon Brando Collection (a six-disc set) will contain Mutiny on the Bounty (two-disc Special Edition) and four Brando films new-to-DVD: Julius Caesar, The Formula, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Teahouse of the August Moon. Only Mutiny on the Bounty and Julius Caesar will be available separately. Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) will feature a new digital transfer from restored Ultra-Panavision 65mm elements with the soundtrack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1; alternate prologue and epilogue sequences not seen theatrically; two vintage featurettes: Marlon Brando movies trailer gallery; and a new featurette "After the Cameras Stopped Rolling: The Journey of the Bounty". Julius Caesar will have a new featurette "The Rise of Two Legends" while The Formula offers audio commentary by director John G. Avildsen and screenwriter Steve Shagan. Also appearing on the 7th will be the Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection, a six-disc set with new-to-DVD Sergeant York (two-disc Special Edition), The Fountainhead, Springfield Rifle, The Wreck of the Mary Deare, and Dallas. Sergeant York and The Fountainhead will be available separately. Sergeant York (1941) will feature audio commentary by Jeannine Basinger; the classic cartoon "Porky's Preview; vintage short "Lions for Sale"; Cooper trailer gallery; a new making-of featurette "Sergeant York: Of God and Country", and the vintage biographical profile "Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend". The Fountainhead (1949) will have a new featurette "The Making of The Fountainhead". Then on November 14th, Warner will release The Paul Newman Collection, a seven-disc set with new-to-DVD Harper, The Drowning Pool, The Left Handed Gun, Mackintosh Man, Pocket Money, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and The Young Philadelphians. Only Harper (audio commentary by screenwriter William Goldman) will be available. The Left Handed Gun will offer audio commentary by director Arthur Penn while Somebody Up There Likes Me will have audio commentary by Newman, Robert Loggia, Wise, Martin Scorsese and film historian Richard Schickel. The Young Philadelphians will feature audio commentary by director Vincent Sherman and film historian Drew Casper. A new Warner approach also arrives on November 7th in the form of triple feature discs. The offerings include new-to-DVD releases as well as re-releases of previously available titles. The new ones include two Randolph Scott discs of 1950s titles (Colt 45/Tall Man Riding/Fort Worth and The Man Behind the Gun/Thunder Over the Plains/Riding Shotgun) and two John Wayne discs of early 1930s titles (Ride Him Cowboy/The Big Stampede/Haunted Gold and The Telegraph Trail/ Somewhere in Sonora/The Man from Monterey). Discs that are composed all or partially of re-releases feature Elvis Presley (Harum Scarum/Speedway/The Trouble with Girls); Lassie (Lassie Come Home/Son of Lassie/Courage of Lassie); horses (National Velvet/The Story of Seabiscuit/Black Beauty); and war films (Objective Burma/Never So Few/Go for Broke!). On November 21st, Warner will release the Classic Comedy Teams Collection. It will consist of three double feature discs featuring The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and Abbott and Costello. Each disc will also be available separately. They are Meet the Baron/Gold Raiders (two films in which the Three Stooges have small appearances), Air Raid Wardens/Nothing But Trouble (two Laurel and Hardy later MGM films), and Lost in a Harem/Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. In its press release for these films, Warners also hints at further A&C film releases.

The Warner onslaught continues in December. December 5th will bring The Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Film Collection. It will contain a two-disc special edition of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (audio commentary by directors Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh and three new featurettes), The Sandpiper, The V.I.P.s, and The Comedians. Also on the 5th comes TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 1 - a two disc set containing Red Headed Woman and Waterloo Bridge (1931) on one disc and the standard theatrical and pre-release uncensored versions of Baby Face on the other. In other news, The Last Voyage (1960, Robert Stack) should be widely available on October 24th. It's apparently already available until then as an exclusive at Circuit City in the U.S.

This summer's Warner/Amazon DVD Decision 2006 promotion will bear fruit in December and January. The results have been announced and The Illustrated Man, Operation Crossbow, Presenting Lily Mars, There Was a Crooked Man…, and Up Periscope will appear on December 19th while The Arrangement, Band of Angels, and Madame Curie will arrive on January 30th. Two other titles in the running - Best Foot Forward and Angels in the Outfield - will be released on December 19th and January 30th respectively as Amazon exclusives initially.

In high definition DVD news, Warner Bros. will release HD-DVD versions of The Searchers on August 22nd and The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Dirty Dozen, and Grand Prix on September 26th while Universal will offer Spartacus on October 24th, also in HD-DVD. Sony will have The Professionals in Blu-ray HD on October 17th. Other pre- 1970 classic titles have been announced or suggested for high definition release over the past year, but these are the only ones with concrete dates so far. Eliciting some discussion at the alt.movies.silent newsgroup is news that the Blu-ray Group has acquired HD rights to libraries totalling 1000 B&W classic titles for possible remastering and subsequent HD release. Supposedly Laurel & Hardy and Hopalong Cassidy would be among the first of such titles to appear from a new Blu-ray Group division called BRG Classics. The lack of any news of studio involvement in this effort suggests that these are public domain titles which brings into question the quality of the source material from which BRG Classics would be working. Still, an interesting possibility.

That's it for now. I'll be back again soon.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


Barrie Maxwell - Main Page
E-mail the Bits!


Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 1024 x 768 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2002 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com