|Classic Reviews Round-Up #56 and New Announcements (continued)
The Warner Archive release of The Man I Love is about on a par with Juke Girl quality-wise, and suffers from the same occasional brief break-up and one instance of freeze-up.
The mono sound is fine and the theatrical trailer has been added as the only supplement. Ida Lupino stars as a nightclub singer who travels to California to visit her sister and brother at Christmas time, and becomes involved with their and their neighbor's lives. A sleazy local nightclub owner (Robert Alda) tries to interest her, but she only has eyes for a piano player from her past. The plot doesn't sound like much and in fact it isn't, but the tone is set by a terrific opening number by Lupino's character and one is completely drawn in by the atmospheric feel of the film as created by director Raoul Walsh. It helps that Ida Lupino's performance is stellar, as is Bruce Bennett as the piano player. Bennett (who died only two years ago at age 100) is an often-overlooked WB player of the 1940s, but as in this 1947 release, he was a definite asset to virtually every film he appeared in (such as Mildred Pierce, Nora Prentiss, A Stolen Life, Dark Passage, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). It pains me not to be able to recommend this disc beyond a rental, but once again the transfer quality being offered for the price is not acceptable.
One of Ida Lupino's best films at Warner Bros. - The Hard Way - is now available in the Warner Archive. It's hard to believe that a proper pressed release of this title could not be justified given some of the films released on DVD, but there you are.
(For those with a laserdisc capability, try to get hold of the double feature LD that combines this film with The Man I Love - an outstanding release from the final days of that esteemed medium.) The Hard Way is Ida Lupino's film from start to finish as she plays an ambitious woman intent on show business success for her younger sister (Joan Leslie). She will step on anyone in the way - agents, producers, writers, and even her sister's husband and his partner (Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan respectively, in a pair of fine performances too). The 1943 film is melodrama of the highest order with the typical WB bite and polish of the era. Lupino's portrait of an uncompromising woman is one of that decade's best acting efforts, but was completely overlooked by the Academy, although she did win the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. Even Lupino at the time of shooting thought little of her performance, often clashing with director Vincent Sherman over how she was being portrayed in the early part of the film. Those familiar with the film will be aware that it has a framing sequence that results in the film's story being told as a flashback. According to Sherman, this was added to the film in order to placate Jack Warner's concerns that the film would be a failure because viewers would be put off by its early sequences of tired unattractive-looking people in a grimy coal mining town. The Warner Archive presentation is quite good. The image is fairly clean and crisper-looking than any of the others in the current batch reviewed here. Black levels are quite deep and shadow detail is above average. Best of all, the disc was not characterized by break-up or freeze-up either. The mono sound is in good shape and the theatrical trailer has been included. Recommended.
Flicker Alley's latest DVD release in association with David Shepard's Film Preservation Associates, The Lost Films of John Gilbert, is a two-disc set containing Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) and Monte Cristo (1922).
Both are entertaining efforts although I found myself most drawn to Monte Cristo's effective telling of the well-known Alexander Dumas tale. Gilbert plays the Edmund Dantes role of a man imprisoned unjustly in the infamous Chateau d'If who eventually escapes to take his revenge on those responsible for his incarceration. At 107 minutes, the film is long enough to capture the main points of the Dumas tale well and it is bolstered by energetic and convincing work by Gilbert. Monte Cristo was made at Fox with a careful eye to set construction and decoration, and the generous investment in the production conveys effectiveness on both the prison scenes and the subsequent ones that track Monte Cristo's revenge in the circles of French high society. The film is one of the only 2 of the 19 films Gilbert made at Fox that are known to survive (the other is Cameo Kirby ). Bardelys the Magnificent was produced by MGM and was one of three important swashbucklers to be released in 1926. The others were Douglas Fairbanks' The Black Pirate and John Barrymore's Don Juan, which benefited from Technicolor and Vitaphone respectively. Bardelys had no such advantages, but adapted from an early novel by Rafael Sabatini (of “The Sea Hawk” and “Captain Blood” fame), it did offer superb direction by King Vidor and an excellent supporting cast in its slight but satirically amusing tale of a philandering French nobleman (Gilbert) who finally meets his true love (Eleanor Boardman). The film is justly famous for Vidor's romantic scene of the two lovers in a rowboat, drifting among hanging willow branches, but it is also bolstered by its concluding swordfight between Bardelys and his nemesis in the film (a juicily villainous portrayal by Roy D'Arcy). Its energetic and entertaining ending obviously offers a tongue-in-cheek nod to the climaxes of the Fairbanks swashbucklers with its many variants on swordsmanship (at one point Gilbert uses only the shaft of a sword with a handkerchief wrapped around one end of it to serve as a hilt). The Bardelys transfer available to us on Flicker Alley's DVD is derived from a nitrate print found in France in 2006. The film's third reel was missing but it has been effectively bridged with stills, footage from the original trailer, and intertitles. Aside from minor contrast issues and the usual speckles and scratches, the DVD image is always more than acceptable and at times luminous. Monte Cristo's DVD image is derived from a worn and choppy print found in the Czech Republic. It is quite acceptable too, but not quite as sharp-looking as Bardelys. The accompanying stereo music on both films (by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra on Bardelys and pianist Neal Kurz on Monte Cristo) is quite appropriate. Supplements on the discs include an audio essay on Bardelys by Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta, who also wrote the discs' enclosed booklet and produced a 32-minute on-camera interview with John Gilbert's daughter and biographer, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain. Photo galleries and a copy of Gilbert's 1921 Fox contract round out the set. Recommended.
Howard Hughes' 1943 film The Outlaw has long been grist for the public domain DVD mill. The latest offering is a release from Legend Films that provides the company's typical treatment - a colourized version and a “restored and enhanced” B&W version.
The film tells an interesting though fabricated story of the relationship between Billy the Kid (Jack Beutel), Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell), and Doc Holliday (Walter Huston). Complicating things is Jane Russell as the girlfriend of both Doc and later Billy. Despite the plot (which even has Pat Garrett killing Doc, although the two supposedly never met in real life), the film might have been more successful had original director Howard Hawks been allowed to complete the film. He quit the project, however, (either due to interference from producer Howard Hughes, or a desire to direct Sergeant York, or perhaps both - sources vary) and Hughes took over the direction. Hughes was a bit obsessive over getting exactly what he wanted, resulting in numerous takes on some scenes. His sense of pacing is rather lacking so that the completed film at almost 2 hours in length too often meanders when it should canter. The film's performances are its strongest point with Walter Huston's the main one to keep an eye on. He plays Doc Holiday with a wink and a nudge, obviously realizing the messy filming he's gotten himself involved in, but enjoying himself nonetheless. Thomas Mitchell and Jack Beutel are both quite good too. The resulting film was notorious for its run-ins with the Production Code office due to excessive exposure of Jane Russell's breasts and a number of lesser transgressions. Although completed in 1941, it didn't receive its first theatrical showing until 1943 and widespread release until 1946 (through United Artists). Nowadays of course, it appears to be a rather tame affair in respect to the aspects that raised the ire of the wartime censors. Legend's presentation is on two discs with the first containing both the original B&W and a colourized version of the film. Of the DVDs of The Outlaw already available, that of the Roan Group is the best I've seen. In comparison with it, this new Legend version offers no effective improvement. There are some scenes where contrast and sharpness are slightly better, but equally others where the opposite is true. There's nothing much to choose between the two when it comes to the amount of speckles and scratches on view. The colourized version looks fairly realistic in the interior scenes, but exterior ones appear bland. Colour selection for fabrics seems appropriate although it doesn't always conform to that of the original clothing according to Jane Russell. Legend Films set up a screening of the B&W version of the film for Russell and Terry Moore with Moore interviewing Russell as they watched. The results are presented on disc two where the colourized film and video of the interview are presented in a picture-in-picture format with the screen varying between which of the two is the main image. The commentary provides an interesting experience just to see the two actresses together. Russell's memory of the original filming is about as good as you could expect although she's not great on detail. Moore does try to draw her out, but I must admit that most of the commentary is more of an admiring than analytical nature. If it's the film alone that interests you and you already have the Roan version, there's little reason to get this new version. But if you don't have the Roan, the Legend Films release is the one to get and on that basis is recommended. Legend is also to be congratulated for arranging the Russell and Moore commentary.
Please note that the Classic Announcements database has been updated to include the announcements listed below.
Available now from AC Comics is the 1951 Columbia serial Mysterious Island. Its presentation is on two DVD-R discs. The company has also recently released Republic's Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe on two DVD-Rs. The release contains the first 6 half-hour episodes of the 12-episode TV series of the same name that appeared in 1955. This is not a serial although it reflects Republic's serial capability via the extensive use of stock serial footage.
Alpha has released 41 titles this summer with 22 appearing on July 28th and the rest on August 25th. Most are from the 1930s and 1940s with a few familiar silents included. The offerings are quite top-heavy in westerns this time out with a number of double bills for the likes of Roy Rogers, Bob Steele, and Tom Keene along with single titles for Johnny Mack Brown, Ken Maynard, William S. Hart, and Reb Russell. Larger collections of Buster Crabbe (12 films) and Kermit Maynard (6 films) are also featured. A further 22 titles are set for September 29th. See the new announcements database for the complete list of titles.
In somewhat of a departure for Criterion, the company will release The Golden Age of Television on November 24th. The 3-disc set will include 8 live TV dramas from the 1950s - Marty (1953), Patterns (1955), No Time for Sergeants (1955), A Wind from the South (1955), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), Bang the Drum Slowly (1956), The Comedian (1957), and Days of Wine and Roses (1958). Supplements will include commentaries by at least four of the original directors, interviews with various cast and crew, and a booklet of extensive liner notes. Downhill Racer (1969, with Robert Redford) will also be a November release, coming on the 17th. New interviews with several original crew members are to be included, as will be an AFI archival piece with the director. In other Criterion news, Stagecoach (1939, from the UCLA restoration) is indeed the title that was hinted at earlier this summer in an edition of the Criterion newsletter. It's likely coming in December. Another newsletter hint is for a 25-disc set of Akira Kurosawa titles coming in early 2010 on honour of the 100th anniversary of Kurosawa's birth. The Josef von Sternberg silents Underworld and Docks of New York are coming sometime in 2010 too. Criterion is apparently also in discussions to acquire rights to the Charlie Chaplin library.
On October 6th, Fox will be issuing The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Season Five as a three-DVD set containing all 24 episodes.
The Judy Garland Show: Volume 2 is set for a September 22nd release. These are single disc releases from Infinity Entertainment, each containing two shows from the Garland TV series. A total of 13 volumes are planned, with the first having come out at the end of July.
Kino will release the 1984 Marlene Dietrich documentary by Maximilian Schell - Marlene - on October 6th. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature at the time. Kino will also release a Blu-ray edition of Buster Keaton's The General on November 10th. It will contain the same bonus features included on last year's two-disc DVD release (three choices of musical score; a video tour of the authentic General, presented in association with The Southern Museum; a tour of the filming locations, presented by John Bengtson, author of “Silent Echoes”; behind-the-scenes home movie footage; filmed introduction by Gloria Swanson; filmed introduction by Orson Welles; and a montage of train gags from throughout Keaton's career).
Lionsgate will re-release The Men (1950, with Marlon Brando) on November 3rd. Only the packaging will be new.
MPI will have Here's Lucy: Season Two on November 3rd.
Paramount will have Chinatown: Centennial Collection on October 6th, Hawaii Five-0: The Seventh Season on October 20th, followed by Mannix: The Third Season and The Fugitive: Season Three, Volume One on the 27th. Mission Impossible: The Final TV Season is set for November 3rd. That date also will bring White Christmas: 55th Anniversary Edition. There's no indication that there will be a new transfer, although one is needed. The 2-disc release will have 6 new featurettes plus the previously released bonus material (including commentary by Rosemary Clooney). November 10th will bring The Untouchables: Season Three, Volume Two. It's nice to see progress continuing on making this series available, and the imminent arrival of the first seasons of One Step Beyond and Bonanza, but how about first speeding up completion of two western series that appear to be languishing - Rawhide, and particularly Have Gun, Will Travel!
Sony's William Castle Film Collection is now set for an October 20th release. As expected, it will be an 8-film, 5-disc set containing three titles new to DVD - 13 Frightened Girls, The Old Dark House, and Zotz! The other 5 films are: 13 Ghosts, Homicidal, Strait-Jacket, Mr. Sardonicus, and The Tingler. All titles are from the 1959-1964 period and also included is the documentary Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story. The Samuel Fuller Collection (the 3rd release in Sony's partnership with the Film Foundation) has also been confirmed with a release date of October 27th. It will contain It Happened in Hollywood (1937), Adventure in Sahara (1938), Power of the Press (1943), Shockproof (1949), The Crimson Kimono (1959), Underworld U.S.A. (1961), and Scandal Sheet (1952). Special features in the seven-disc set include four new featurettes with contributions from Martin Scorsese, Curtis Hanson, and Tim Robbins among others. The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 7 (1952-54) is coming on November 10th. It will be a two-disc set containing 22 shorts. Included are two that will be presented in both 3D and 2D (Spooks, Pardon My Backfire) and others in widescreen as originally shown. The two 5-title film noir sets previously mentioned in past editions of this column are now planned for a November release by Sony, exact date yet to be announced although the 3rd seems likely. The expected Rita Hayworth Collection is set for an early-2010 release. Also of interest to Columbia fans will be a planned release of The Bad Girls of Noir in early 2010. It will contain 6 titles: Over-Exposed (1956, with Cleo Moore), The Glass Wall (1953, with Gloria Grahame), One Girl's Confession (1953, with Cleo Moore), Two of a Kind (1951, with Lizabeth Scott), Bad for Each Other (1953, with Lizabeth Scott), and The Killer That Stalked New York (1950, with Evelyn Keyes). Another of Sony's planned 2010 releases will be Icons of Suspense, to include Stop Me Before I Kill (1961), Cash on Demand (1961), Never Take Candy from a Stranger (1960), Maniac (1962), The Snorkel (1958), and the great Joseph Losey-directed These Are the Damned (1962) - all with the longest, most original restored versions possible.
Timeless Media will be releasing Wagon Train: The Complete First Season on November 17th. It will contain all 39 one-hour episodes in a special limited edition 10-DVD tin.
As part of its otherwise un-noteworthy promotion of a multitude of already-available horror titles for the coming Hallowe'en season, Universal will give a wide release to the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive on September 15th. Previously only available as a Best Buy exclusive, the set includes five titles: The Black Cat (1941), Man Made Monster (1941), Horror Island (1941), Night Monster (1942), and Captive Wild Woman (1943). Interesting as some of these may be, most don't compare to the frustratingly un-released Island of Lost Souls, The Uninvited, or Murders in the Zoo. What is Universal waiting for? Who knows, perhaps their 100th anniversaries. The Legacy Collection edition of The Wolf Man, previously set for a mid-September release, has also been delayed until the new year. This is presumably related to the delay of the release of the new theatrical remake. Much better news is the forthcoming release on November 3rd of The Claudette Colbert Legacy Collection as part of the Universal Backlot Series. It will be a three-disc set containing six films: Three-Cornered Moon (1933), Maid of Salem (1937), I Met Him in Paris (1937), Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938), No Time for Love (1943), and The Egg and I (1947). Supplements will include the Colbert featurette previously contained on this spring's Cleopatra anniversary disc and trailers, and based on the track record, The Egg and I (the only title in the set previously available on DVD) will likely sport a new transfer. Universal also plans a November 24th release date for Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season 4, including all 36 episodes. A bonus featurette Fasten Your Seatbelt: The Thrilling Art of Alfred Hitchcock will also be included.
VCI's release of its restored version of A Walk in the Sun (1945) has been delayed from August 25th to November 24th. Increased time for the restoration work and the inclusion of a new featurette are the stated reasons. Meanwhile, VCI will release Summer Storm on October 20th. Originally a 1944 UA release, the film stars Linda Darnell and George Sanders. It was directed by Douglas Sirk and an interview of author Bernard Dick concerning Sirk will be included as a supplement. Also coming on the 20th is Darn Good Westerns: Volume 2, containing Deputy Marshal (1949, with Jon Hall), Outlaw Women (1951, with Marie Windsor), Three Desperate Men (1951, with Preston Foster), Shotgun (1955, with Sterling Hayden), Massacre (1956, with Dane Clark), and Four Fast Guns (1959, with James Craig). Coming on November 3rd is Buck Rogers: 70th Anniversary Edition - a restored and remastered version of the 1939 serial. There are no details on supplementary content as yet.
Virgil Films has announced an October 20th release for The Donna Reed Show: Season Three. The set will contain 38 half-hour episodes on four discs.
The Looney Tunes Golden Collections are no more, but there will be a Volume 7 of the Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection, coming from Warner Bros. on October 13th. This two-disc set will contain 26 cartoons, but all have been previously released on the first three volumes of the Golden Collections. The studio will offer a wide release to the 2008 documentary series You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story on October 20th. Until then, it is only available as an Amazon exclusive. Warner Blu-ray plans not already reported in previous editions of this column include Logan's Run (1976) on November 10th. And there are apparently Blu-ray releases of Doctor Zhivago (1965) and The Exorcist (1973) in the works for 2010 (celebrating the 45th anniversary of the former), in anticipation of which, Warners is instituting a moratorium on existing versions of the titles for the last four months of this year. In other news, Warners has lost the rights to Foreign Correspondent and The Long Voyage Home, effective August 27th. Film noir fans will be glad to know that the previously-promised fifth volume of titles is definitely a go for a pressed DVD release. The format will be 10 films on 5 DVDs with commentaries and other extras included. Titles have not yet been revealed and exact release timing has not been finalized either.
In Warner Archive news, August is bringing 28 new classic releases in several categories. No specific date seems to be associated with them. Silent Classics will include 8 MGM classics: Across to Singapore (1928, with Joan Crawford), The Boob (1926, with Joan Crawford), West Point (1927, with Joan Crawford), Speedway (1929, with William Haines), A Lady of Chance (1928, with Norma Shearer), The Patsy (1928, with Marion Davies), Desert Nights (1929, with John Gilbert), and The Viking (1928, with Donald Crisp). Westerns include 6 titles from the 1950s and 1960s: Return of the Frontiersman (1950, with Gordon MacRae), The First Texan (1956, with Joel McCrea), Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1964, with Audie Murphy), King of the Wild Stallions (1959, with George Montgomery), The Plunderers (1960, with Jeff Chandler), and Quantrill's Raiders (1958, with Steve Cochran). TV Movies of the Week will be represented by Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973, with Jim Hutton), Bad Ronald (1974, with Scott Jacoby), and The Bermuda Depths (1978, with Connie Sellecca). Cult Classics include From Hell It Came (1957), The Terminal Man (1974, with George Segal)), and Dealing … or The Berkeley-to-Boston Forty Brick Blues (1972, with Barbara Hershey). 60s Comedies include Mary, Mary (1963, with Debbie Reynolds), Never Too Late (1965, with Maureen O'Sullivan), A Majority of One (1962, with Alec Guinness), Any Wednesday (1966, with Jane Fonda), Not with My Wife You Don't (1966, with Tony Curtis), Kisses for My President (1964, with Fred MacMurray), Hot Millions (1968, with Peter Ustinov), and How Sweet It Is! (1968, with James Garner). Reports have also surfaced of two collections of shorts being available - a 5-disc set of Our Gang (1938-1942, 52 shorts) and a 6-disc set of Joe MacDoakes (63 shorts), and each at $20 - but as is common with the Archive site, titles unofficially announced seem frequently to appear and then disappear until the official announcement arrives. These two releases may be intended as official September releases that have mistakenly been allowed to appear early.
Once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.