|Classic Reviews Round-Up #49 and New Announcements
Welcome to the latest edition of Classic Coming Attractions. I've managed to get back in gear as far as reviews are concerned and have coverage of some 21 releases comprising 27 classic titles. They are: from Universal - Vertigo: 2-Disc Special Edition, Psycho: 2-Disc Special Edition, Rear Window: 2-Disc Special Edition, The Mummy: 2-Disc Special Edition, Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition, Holiday Inn: 3-Disc Collector's Edition; from MGM - Casino Royale: Collector's Edition; from Lionsgate - Capricorn One: Special Edition, Arch of Triumph; from Criterion - The Thief of Bagdad, The Earrings of Madame De…; from Warner Bros. - An American in Paris: 2-Disc Special Edition, Gigi: 2-Disc Special Edition, Warner Bros. Pictures Gangsters Collection: Volume 4; from Fox - Road House, Boomerang, Fox Horror Classics: Volume 2; from Sony - The Garment Jungle, Affair in Trinidad, The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Four; and from Restored Serials Super Restoration Corporation - The Man from Beyond. As usual I also run down the latest new classic announcements and have updated the classic announcements database accordingly. So let's get to it.
New Reviews - New Editions of Previous Releases
We begin this time with a number of new editions of titles previously released on DVD. Among them are three Hitchcock thrillers - Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), and Rear Window (1954); The Mummy (1932); Touch of Evil (1958); Casino Royale (1967); Capricorn One (1978); Holiday Inn (1942); The Thief of Bagdad (1940); An American in Paris (1951); Gigi (1958); and The Man from Beyond (1922). My comments on each are restricted to the disc content as these titles should be well known to classic enthusiasts. The exception is likely The Man from Beyond, for which I refer you to my previous review for some background information.
Vertigo (1958) has been released by Universal as a 50th anniversary 2-disc Special Edition and is packaged as an entry in the studio's Legacy Series. Since the film's 1996 restoration by Robert Harris and James Katz and the special edition laserdisc presentation that appeared soon thereafter, Vertigo has since been accorded two DVD releases previous to this new Legacy Series entry.
The first DVD version came out over 10 years ago and ported over the supplementary content of the laserdisc, but did not provide an anamorphic transfer nor the original mono soundtrack. (It contained only the 1996 reconstructed 5.1 track and a 2.0 downmix.) These deficiencies were corrected with a new transfer that characterized the film's second DVD release as part of the Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection of 2005. Now we have the Legacy release that provides a very slightly sharper and brighter image, but has dropped the ball on the original mono track. It's gone, and has been replaced by the reconstructed 1996 two-channel track (listed as mono, though it sounds like stereo) that was on the first DVD release. The supplementary content has been beefed up with such things as an extra audio commentary (by director William Friedkin); various short featurettes on the likes of Saul Bass (titles), Edith Head (Costumes), Bernard Herrmann (music); excerpts from the interviews of Hitchcock by French director Francois Truffaut; and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (The Case of Mr. Pelham). This Legacy Series release should have been the definitive DVD version of Vertigo. The fact that it's not by virtue of the missing original mono (and also continuing issues with the opening title tints) is perhaps just retribution for Universal's failure to accord such a high profile title a Blu-ray release at this time. But then, when you've got such luminaries as The Mummy 3 and Hellboy 2 to get out on Blu-ray, it's easy to understand how a minor item such as Vertigo gets shunted aside! Anyway, this latest DVD release of Vertigo is not recommended. The Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection version remains the one to have of the three that are available.
As with Vertigo, Rear Window (1954) has received its third DVD release in a new 2-disc Legacy Series edition from Universal. A Special Edition was previously released five years ago and followed up with another version included in the Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection of 2005. These two previous releases are essentially identical; both offered a good 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer, the original mono sound, and a good collection of supplements. The new Legacy release is a marked improvement over both the previous versions. The Legacy 1.66 anamorphic transfer is brighter, sharper, and cleaner. Film grain is nicely retained for a fine film-like image. All the supplements of the earlier versions have been retained, and substantial new material has been added, including audio commentary by John Fawell (author of "Hitchcock's Rear Window: The Well-Made Film"), extensive featurettes/appreciations of Hitchcock's use of sound and vision, excerpts from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews, and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Mr. Blanchard's Secret). The lament about the lack of a Blu-ray version at this time remains, but otherwise this Legacy release of Rear Window is highly recommended as the version to buy if you don't already have the film on disc. If you do, I'd wait for the inevitable though not apparently imminent Blu-ray.
Psycho (1960) has followed the same path as Vertigo in its DVD history. Almost 10 years ago, there was a Special Edition release from Universal that ported over the previous laserdisc version and featured a 1.85:1 widescreen but non-anamorphic transfer, a mono sound track, and a good suite of supplements including the excellent 95-minute making-of Psycho documentary. The 2005 Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection accorded the film a new release with an anamorphic transfer that provided a much-improved visual presentation along with the same sound and suite of supplements. The new 2-disc Universal Legacy Series release improves but marginally on the visual side of the already good 2005 version - very nicely detailed gray scale, sharp, clean, mild grain. The mono sound is in good shape. The suite of supplements has been upgraded substantially. All the old ones are retained, but added are audio commentary by Stephen Rebello (author of "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho"); a good appreciation piece concerning Hitchcock's legacy; excerpts from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews; and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Lamb to the Slaughter). Again with a caveat about the lack of a Blu-ray release, this Legacy release of Psycho is highly recommended as the version to buy if you don't already have the Masterpiece Collection version.
This past summer, Universal issued a 2-disc Legacy Series version of The Mummy (1932). This is the third release of the film on DVD. It was first released about 7 years ago in a Special Edition and that version was reissued in 2004 as part of a Legacy Collection of the five classic Mummy films. The film has been remastered for the new Legacy Series release, but there's merely minor obvious improvement. The title already looked quite sharp and fairly clean in its previous versions. There's a fair amount of grain retained as the older versions did and if anything the image now looks a little brighter. The sound also has been addressed with hiss, though still present, reduced somewhat. Some additional supplements have been added, including a second audio commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steve Haberman, Bob Burns, and Brent Armstrong; a featurette on make-up artist Jack Pierce; and the Universal Horror documentary (also available on last year's Legacy Series releases of Frankenstein and Dracula). Recommended only if you don't have either of the previous The Mummy releases.
Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) was previously released on DVD in 2000, but not with the extensive supplementary content that had been initially planned. The film had been restored (actually re-edited) by Rick Schmidlin in 1998 to as close to Welles' original intent as was possible (based on a 58-page memo Welles wrote upon seeing Universal's original rough cut of the film). It had been intended to include this restored version along with the original theatrical version and commentary/featurettes involving the participation of cast and crew on the 2000 DVD release but legal issues prevented that. Instead, only the restored version was given a 1.85:1 anamorphic release that looked quite sharp and detailed and supplements were restricted to a copy of the Welles memo and some other minor items. Now, Universal has revisited the film as originally intended and released a 2-disc Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition. It contains the restored version of the film (111 minutes) in a new transfer that looks very impressive, improving clearly upon the sharpness, shadow detail, and overall grayscale of the first DVD release. The release now also includes as well the original theatrical version (96 minutes) and a preview version (109 minutes) discovered by Universal in 1976 and that had been created prior to the theatrical version with some of Welles' requested changes included. Both of these versions have been accorded 1.85:1 anamorphic transfers that look very presentable though not quite on the same level as the restored version. The mono track on all three versions sounds clear. For supplements we get four audio commentaries that combined really give you in-depth coverage of both the film and Welles himself - two for the restored version (one with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Rick Schmidlin; the other by Schmidlin alone), and one each for the others (Welles historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore on the preview version, writer/filmmaker F.X. Feeney on the theatrical version). Also included are the Welles memo, the film's trailer, and two retrospective documentaries (totaling about 40 minutes) on the film featuring Heston, Leigh and other cast and crew. Highly recommended whether you have the first DVD release or not.
Casino Royale has been much in the news of late because of the Daniel Craig version's soon-to-appear Blu-ray SE and the general interest mounting over the forthcoming theatrical release of Quantum of Solace. Before the 2006 film appeared, however, there was a 1967 version that was a curious farcical amalgamation of the efforts of an all-star cast (none of them named Connery) and multiple directors and writers. That Casino Royale film appeared on DVD in 2002 from MGM and featured a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that was bright, colourful, and reasonably detailed. The disc sported both the original mono track as well as a 5.1 updating that was really only noticeable in and beneficial to the music sequences. The supplements were highlighted by the 1954 TV version of the story made for Climax Theater and a making-of documentary featuring director Val Guest. The same release was reissued as part of the Peter Sellers: MGM Movie Legends Collection in 2007. MGM has now released a new single-disc Collector's Edition of Casino Royale. It delivers a new 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that only slightly improves (in sharpness and cleanliness) on the already fine previous version. The same audio tracks are carried over. The supplement package is different. There is now an entertaining and informative audio commentary by historians Steven Jay Rubin and John Cork and a 40-minute, 5-part making-of documentary. Unfortunately the 1954 Climax TV version and Val Guest's making-of documentary have been jettisoned. This one's a tough call. If you're looking for a copy of Casino Royale, the new one is not so far ahead of the original in its video presentation as to be a deal breaker so it really depends on which of the two fine supplement packages appeal most.
The 1978 science fiction thriller Capricorn One was first issued on DVD in 2001 by Live. It sported a 2.35:1 non-anamorphic transfer that was quite inconsistent in both picture sharpness and image cleanliness. A Dolby 5.1 audio mix was similarly consistency-challenged - it worked well with Jerry Goldsmith's music, but less so with the dialogue which seemed muffled at times. Now Lionsgate has released a new Special Edition that fixes a great deal of the video issues of the original. The new 2.35:1 transfer is anamorphic and looks much sharper and more colourful. Image cleanliness has been improved too, although the whole thing still has a somewhat tired look to it. The 5.1 audio track is still featured on the new disc, but dialogue is somewhat clearer than before. A stereo track is also included. While the original essentially had no supplements (just a few cast/crew profiles and a trailer), this new version provides an informative audio commentary by director Peter Hyams and a thoughtful featurette on the film and its relation to the times and conspiracy theorists who don't believe man ever landed on the Moon. This new DVD version is an easy recommend.
The delightful and perennial Christmas favorite Holiday Inn (1942) has received its third release on DVD in the form of Universal's Holiday Inn: 3-Disc Collector's Edition. The film previously appeared in 2000 on a double feature disc, paired with Going My Way, and on that disc appeared in a decent if unspectacular transfer. In 2006, Universal revisited the title with a single-disc Special Edition that offered an improved full screen transfer that was bright and crisp with some modest grain nicely in evidence. Extras included a very good audio commentary (both informative and entertaining) by film historian Ken Barnes, a meaty biography of Astaire and Crosby featuring interview footage with Barnes and Astaire's daughter Ava Astaire MacKenzie, a short featurette on the making of musicals, and the film's original theatrical trailer. The difference between the 2006 release and the version on the new 3-Disc Collector's Edition is non-existent since both are exactly the same. So why three discs, you ask? Well, one disc is taken up with a colourized version of the film, courtesy of Legend Films, and the other disc is a CD of musical numbers from the film. The CD which comes in a cardboard sleeve inside the disc case is a nice addition, but the colourized version is the usual pallid concoction created to assuage the younger current generation who won't apparently watch anything in B&W - or so Legend Films would have you believe. The 2006 Special Edition remains the one to buy for Holiday Inn.
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) has been given a 2-disc treatment by Criterion. The film was first released on DVD by MGM in a bare-bones version, but at least offering quite a good image transfer of the Technicolor film. Criterion's effort is superior, however. The colour is bright and vibrant, almost looking like a brand new film at times. Visible grain is quite evident at times. There are a few instances of mis-registration (as there were on the MGM version), but the image has been excised of much dirt and debris. The mono sound is quite legible despite some remaining hiss, but again improved over the MGM release. The list of supplements is impressive and includes two audio commentaries, the best of which is one by British film scholar Bruce Eder. (The other features Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.) Other extras include a documentary about the technical achievements of the film and excerpts from co-director Michael Powell's audio dictations for his autobiography and from a 1976 interview with composer Miklos Rozsa. Also notable is the inclusion of the complete feature film, The Lion Has Wings - the 1940 war propaganda film made by producer Alexander Korda when The Thief of Bagdad went on production hiatus. Very highly recommended.
The 1951 Best Picture winner, An American in Paris, has finally received the DVD release it deserves. It was first released by MGM in 1999 sporting a fairly nice image but one that suffered from inconsistent sharpness probably partially due to parts of the original negative no longer being in existence. The only supplements were the theatrical trailer and an 8-page booklet. When the MGM catalogue was taken over by Warner Bros. soon thereafter, Warners' reissued the DVD under its own imprint in 2000, the only difference being the lack of the booklet. (Warners subsequently issued the same release again as part of at least two different box sets.) Now we have a new 2-Disc Special Edition that sports a new transfer using the Warner Ultra Resolution process. The results are outstanding; the image is sharp, bright, vibrantly colourful, and corrects almost completely the inconsistencies of the earlier release. There is some mild grain in evidence and I detected no mis-registration issues. The mono sound is in very good shape with only a few hints of background hiss noticeable. The supplement package is impressive and is highlighted by a very informative audio commentary hosted by Patricia Ward Kelly and utilizing vintage interviews with Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli, Arthur Freed, Alan Jay Lerner, Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin, and others, as well as new observations by Leslie Caron and Nina Foch. Also of note are a new and very thorough making-of documentary and the complete American Masters profile Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer (previously available as a stand-alone DVD). A FitzPatrick Traveltalk short (Paris on Parade), the cartoon Symphony in Slang, the theatrical trailer and radio promos, and several musical outtakes round out the appealing package. Very highly recommended, with the only caveat being that if you're into Blu-ray, you may wish to wait for the high definition version that Warners has promised for release in early 2009.