|Classic Reviews Round-Up #58 and New Announcements (continued)
Classic Reviews (Continued)
Warner Bros.' most recent classic box set given a proper retail release is Esther Williams: Volume 2, appearing as a TCM Spotlight entry. It contains six films spanning the period from 1945 to 1953.
People who know Esther Williams' films will for the most part know what they're in for, a combination of romance, music, and gentle comedy with Williams' trademark water spectacles. Thrill of a Romance (1945) and Fiesta (1947), the two earliest films in the set, are the most rounded and entertaining titles of the bunch. In Thrill of a Romance, Esther's marriage to stuffed shirt Carleton Young is in trouble right off the bat when he leaves for an important business meeting before the couple can even consummate the union. Fortunately for Esther, Van Johnson is waiting in the wings. The story is predictable, but it's done with enthusiasm and conviction and offers diverting entertainment throughout its 105 minutes. Spring Byington, Henry Travers, Frances Gifford, and opera star Lauritz Melchior in his film debut provide good support. Even better is Fiesta, a colourful and interesting if outrageous tale of twins (Williams and Ricardo Montalban in his screen debut), bullfighting, and music that benefits immensely from the presence of Mary Astor and Fortunio Bonanova as the twins' parents and Akim Tamaroff as Bonanova's right-hand man. The film was shot in Mexico with many difficulties stemming from confrontations between director Richard Thorpe and the actors, local issues in Puebla, and accidents involving the bulls used for the bullfighting sequences, but it turned out surprisingly well despite all that. Lesser fare is offered by the next two titles in the box set. This Time for Keeps (1947) offers Williams very weak support in the form of co-star Johnnie Johnston who plays an ex-serviceman and now opera singer in love with "aqua-capers" star Williams even though his father (Lauritz Melchior) expects him to marry a childhood friend. Fortunately Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat are around to divert our attention from the central plot thread, but it's not enough to compensate. Pagan Love Song (1950) is pretty much a dud and virtually impossible to sit through. Set in Tahiti (but filmed in Hawaii), it tells an innocuous tale of romance between half-Tahitian, half-American Mimi Bennett (Williams) and American school-teacher Hazard Endicott (Howard Keel) who has inherited a plantation on the island. The songs are completely forgettable and the staging of the musical numbers seems lackluster compared to the usual MGM precision. In Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), we see some of the elaborate water production numbers that Williams is renowned for, here choreographed by Busby Berkeley. She plays Australian long-distance swimmer Annette Kellerman who eventually becomes a star attraction at the New York Hippodrome Theater and later a star of movies in the early days of Hollywood. Victor Mature is her co-star, with Walter Pidgeon and David Brian along too. The film contains the well-known shot of Esther diving from a trapeze through billowing, coloured smoke into the water. Easy to Love (1953) reunites Esther with Van Johnson in an innocuous romantic tale set against the backdrop of a water show at Cypress Gardens in Florida. Esther's character is in love with Van's (who as the head of the water show is all business), but he doesn't reciprocate so she romances two other fellows played by John Bromfield and Tony Martin to arouse his jealousy. Busby Berkeley once again choreographs a number of impressive water numbers both with the water skiers and aqua-maids of the Cypress Gardens water show and in a new pool shaped like the state of Florida. Esther Williams later called the film her quintessential MGM musical. It's fluff, but entertaining and visually sumptuous fluff. Each film gets its own disc, all housed in a foldout digipack, and all titles are presented full frame as originally released. Easy to Love, Million Dollar Mermaid, and Thrill of a Romance are the best looking of the six films each offering vibrant colour, very good contrast and but minor evidence of mis-registration of the three-strip Technicolor elements. Fiesta also looks quite impressive although it seems a little darker at times than the latter three. This Time for Keeps and Pagan Love Song are colourful enough, but seem a little more worn by virtue of softer sequences mixed in among more vibrant ones. The mono sound on all the titles is very satisfactory with only minor hiss evident at times. The later films sound slightly cleaner than those from the 1940s. Each title is supplemented with a vintage short and cartoon and the theatrical trailer. The shorts include two of John Nesbitt's Passing Parade, three Pete Smith specialties, and one of James Fitzpatrick's traveltalks. The cartoons include three Tex Avery efforts and two Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry ones. Some outtakes appear with This Time for Keeps, Thrill of a Romance, and Pagan Love Song while Million Dollar Mermaid also includes the corresponding Lux Radio Theater broadcast. Highly recommended.
In Badman's Territory, Randolph Scott plays Texas county sheriff Mark Rowley who tracks his missing brother Johnny (James Warren) to the Oklahoma panhandle town of Quinto where numerous outlaws take refuge from the law due to the territory's status of being outside U.S jurisdiction.
Rowley's nemesis is U.S. marshal William Hampton (Morgan Conway) who was responsible for Johnny going missing and whose sole interest in justice is the glory and rewards that it might bring him. Hampton issues trumped-up charges against the brothers that are meaningless as long as the territory remains outside the Union. When that situation changes, Mark and Hampton find themselves on a collision course. Badman's Territory was one of RKO's most successful releases of 1946 and it's easy to see why. For a traditional western it has quite an intricate and character-rich plot that maintains interest throughout the 98-minute running time (provided you can accept a tale that manages to work outlaws such as Jess and Frank James [Lawrence Tierney, Tom Tyler], the Daltons [Steve Brodie, Phil Warren, William Moss], Belle Starr [Isabel Jewell], Sam Bass [Nestor Paiva], and Bill Doolin [Carl Erick Hanson] all together into the mix). Director Tim Whelan keeps the film rolling along with plenty of action sequences that are well staged. Randolph Scott is particularly effective in a western role that foreshadowed his many fine westerns of the 1950s. It's a pleasure too to see Gabby Hayes lifted out of his B-western sidekick mode (in which he was the cream of the crop) to play an outlaw called the Coyote Kid. Of course, Gabby Hayes manages to be Gabby Hayes no matter the role, so if you like him in B westerns, you'll like him here. Ann Richards plays a crusading newspaper publisher and Ray Collins is prominent as a leading town dignitary. B western players such as Kermit Maynard, Buddy Roosevelt, Bud Osborne, George Chesebro are sprinkled throughout the cast in minor roles while Ben Johnson makes his second screen appearance. The Warner Archive release (full screen as originally released) of the B&W film (the film has often been seen colourized on past home video releases) is quite presentable although littered with speckles and scratches. Contrast is good and image detail is above average at times. The mono sound is clear with just a slight hint of hiss on occasion. There are no supplements. Recommended.
Return of the Bad Men is essentially a companion piece to Badman's Territory that was released two years later. It centres on the 1889 Oklahoma territory land rush that attracted both settlers as well as outlaws looking to capitalize on the government's offer of free land.
The post-land-rush town of Guthrie is the focus of the action as ex-Texas Ranger Vance Cordell (Randolph Scott) becomes town sheriff much to his fiance's (Jacqueline White) chagrin and tries to bring a gang of outlaws to justice. This time the outlaw bunch includes the Sundance Kid (Robert Ryan), Billy the Kid (Dean White), the Younger Bros. (Steve Brodie, Richard Powers, Robert Bray), the Daltons (Lex Barker, Walter Reed, Michael Harvey), Wild Bill Yeager (Tom Tyler), and Wild Bill Doolin (Robert Armstrong). As usual, Randolph Scott brings class and conviction to his role and he has good support from Robert Ryan as the sadistic and trigger-happy Sundance Kid. Gabby Hayes once again appears, this time as the owner of the new bank in Guthrie. Anne Jeffreys also returns, this time playing a female outlaw named Cheyenne who is convinced to go straight. The story is a little more straight-forward than that of Badman's Territory and suffers somewhat from familiarity this time out, but Return of the Bad Men is still superior western entertainment in a traditional vein. RKO would take one more kick at the idea of featuring a collection of well-known western outlaws all in one tale in 1951's Best of the Badmen (with Robert Ryan, Claire Trevor, and Robert Preston). The Warner Archive release (full frame as originally presented) for the most part is quite sharp with very good contrast, and good image detail. There are a few speckles, but nothing like the amount on Badman's Territory. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no supplements. Recommended.
Note that the new announcements database has been updated to include the announcements listed below.
As mentioned above, a preliminary listing of forthcoming classic titles in Region 2 can be found at the end of this section. Information on additional classic releases outside of Region 1 is welcomed and will be added to future editions of the column and the database.
Alpha has announced its November and December releases, the vast majority of which are 1930s and 40s titles plus a few TV show compilations. Coming on November 24th will be: The Adventures of Tartu, Annie Oakley: Volume 7, Arson Racket Squad, Rex Bell Double Feature: Crashing Broadway (1933)/Fighting Pioneers (1935), Buffalo Bill Jr. Double Feature: Rawhide Romance (1934)/The Texan (1932), Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion: Volumes 3 and 4, Clearing the Range, The Drag-Net, Four Deuces, Fugitive Road, Golden Age Theater: Volumes 8 and 9, Ken Maynard Western Classics: Honor of the Range (1934)/Town Went Wild (1945)/Fargo Express (1933)/Lightning Strikes West (1940)/Two Gun Man (1931), Medic: Volume 4, Radio Ranch, Roy Rogers Double Feature: The Cowboy and the Senorita (1944)/Under Nevada Skies (1946), Shotgun Slade: Volumes 1-3, Silent Comedy Showcase (7 shorts), Silver Spurs, Son of the Renegade, and Wrecking Crew. Then on December 29th, expect: The Adventures of Fu Manchu: Volume 2, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: Volume 16, The Adventures of Robin Hood: Volume 21, Annie Oakley: Volume 8, Apache Rose, Colorado, Danger on the Air, Get That Girl, Ghost Town, Golden Age Theater: Volume 10, Lil Abner, Outside of Paradise, Overland Stagecoach, The Reckless Way, Riders of Black Mountain, Song of Nevada, Sweepstake Annie, Sword and Musclemen: Volume 1 (7 films on 5 DVDs), Tornado, Wolves of the Range, and Young Dynamite.
Criterion's January slate is highlighted by the release of Roberto Rossellini's War Trilogy on January 26th. It will be a three-disc set containing Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946, in its full original release version of six episodes), and Germany Year Zero (1948). Each title will also be available separately. Each disc will offer a video introduction by Rossellini, and a suite of new and archival features including audio commentary and a 2006 making-of documentary on the Rome, Open City disc; a new documentary on Rossellini's use of the urban landscape on the Paisan disc; and a 2001 documentary on Rossellini on the Germany Year Zero disc. Criterion will also issue Federico Fellini's 8½ (1963) on Blu-ray on January 12th. Among others, supplements will include an audio commentary featuring film critic and Fellini friend Gideon Bachmann and NYU film professor Antonio Monda; an HD digital transfer of a new restoration of Fellini: A Director's Notebook, a 52-minute film by Federico Fellini; The Last Sequence, a new 52-minute documentary on Fellini's lost alternate ending for 8½; and Nino Rota: Between Cinema and Concert, a compelling 48-minute documentary about Fellini's longtime composer. Eclipse Series 19: Chantal Akerman in the Seventies is planned for January 19th. It will contain five titles (a mix of shorts and features) on three discs: La Chambre (1972), Hotel Monterey (1972), News from Home (1976), Je Tu Il Elle (1974), and Les Rendez-Vous d'Anna (1978).
In conjunction with Blackhawk Films Collection and Turner Classic Movies, Flicker Alley will release Miss Mend on December 15th. The title is a three-part, 4 ½ hour film produced in the Soviet Union in 1926 and inspired by American movie cliffhangers of the day. Mastered in HD from superb 35mm elements, the DVD release will feature a newly-recorded large-orchestra score by Robert Israel, a new 25-minute documentary on the film, a behind-the-scenes look at the Robert Israel recording sessions, and a booklet essay.
Grapevine Video has announced its October slate of seven releases, of which four are silent offerings: Burning Daylight (1928, with Milton Sills), Eagle of the Night (1928), Mickey (1918, with Mabel Normand), and Secrets of the Night (1924, with James Kirkwood). The three sound releases are a Don "Red" Barry 1943 western double feature of California Joe and Canyon City; The Flying Serpent (1946 PRC horror film with George Zucco); and The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940, with Billy Gilbert).
Lionsgate will release A Man Called Adam (1966, starring Sammy Davis Jr. as a trumpet player) on January 12th.
MGM has announced a promotion it's calling "MGM 85 Years of Stars", for which it is releasing giftsets containing four films each starring well-known actors. They will be available on November 3rd. This appears to be a simple repackaging of films already available from MGM as separate DVDs with no new transfers involved. Just in case you may have somehow missed these titles in the past, the sets with content of interest to classic fans are: Clint Eastwood Star Collection (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Hang 'Em High); Frank Sinatra Star Collection (Guys and Dolls, Hole in the Head, The Manchurian Candidate, Sergeants 3); Gary Cooper Star Collection (The Westerner, Man of the West, Along Came Jones, Pride of the Yankees); and Jack Lemmon Star Collection (Some Like It Hot, Avanti!, The Apartment, How to Murder Your Wife).
Paramount (in conjunction with CBS) will offer Hogan's Heroes: Kommandant Kollection - The Komplete Series (28 discs in 6 digipaks) on November 24th. As reported elsewhere on The Bits, there are fresh rumours that Paramount's release of The African Queen is imminent, with appearance on both DVD and Blu-ray likely. Rest assured, once there's something concrete, we'll have the news for you.
Shout! Factory will have Merry Sitcom!: Christmas Classics from TV's Golden Age on November 3rd. Similar to recent releases from Paramount/CBS, it will contain holiday-themed episodes from seven TV series including Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, McHale's Navy, Bewitched, That Girl, The Flying Nun, and Window on Main Street.
There's still nothing official about the previously rumoured October release of the Universal Cult Horror Collection (Murders in the Zoo, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, The Strange Case of Dr. Rx, The Mad Ghoul, House of Horrors) that was to be a TCM exclusive, but further confirmation that it was definitely planned comes from the November issue of the TCM "Now Playing" guide. There, it's advertised as one of the available titles in the TCM Holiday Gift Guide pages of the publication. Even more interesting, however, is the advertisement of Remember the Night (1940, with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, a Paramount title that Universal controls) as another TCM exclusive likely planned to be out before Christmas in order to benefit from the film's seasonal theme. There's obviously no specific timing on these releases as yet, but it seems safe to assume that if they go ahead, it'll now be well into November before they're available.
VCI has announced the delay of its Buck Rogers: 70th Anniversary Edition DVD from November 3rd to the 24th, due to a longer than anticipated period required to complete the digital restoration process.
Warner Bros. has announced the DVD release of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown: Deluxe Edition for January 26th. A little beyond this column's mandate release-date wise, but of interest to those who enjoyed the 1970s TV series The Waltons, will be the January 26th release of The Waltons Movie Collection. It will include all six Walton TV movies from the 1980s and 1990s together on three double-sided-discs. The studio will also offer 4 Film Favorites: Urban Action Collection on January 19th. It will contain four films (most with Jim Kelly) from the 1970s : Black Belt Jones, Black Samson, Hot Potato, and Three the Hard Way. Warner Blu-ray plans include The Music Man (1962, with Robert Preston) on February 2nd. In other news, those interested in the wide retail release of the 2008 documentary You Must Remember This may have to wait. I say "may" because the announced October 20th release has been officially cancelled for now, yet I've seen copies newly available in stores in Toronto this last week of October.
The Warner Archive has added the following titles for October: The Badlanders (1958, with Alan Ladd), The Barbarian (1933, with Myrna Loy), Best of the Bad Men (1951, with Robert Ryan), The Bribe (1949, with Robert Taylor), City Beneath the Sea (1971, with Stuart Whitman), Comrade X (1940, with Clark Gable), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939, with Edward G. Robinson), Every Girl Should Be Married (1948, with Cary Grant), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956, with Glenn Ford), Gabriel over the White House (1933, with Walter Huston), Gun Glory (1957, with Stewart Granger), The Iron Mistress (1952, with Alan Ladd), The Master Race (1944, with George Coulouris), Mission to Moscow (1943, with Walter Huston), The Mortal Storm (1940, with Margaret Sullavan), Our Miss Brooks (1956, with Eve Arden), Penthouse (1933, with Myrna Loy), Perfect Strangers (1950, with Ginger Rogers), Pretty Baby (1950, with Betsy Drake), Rancho Notorious (1952, with Marlene Dietrich), Robert Benchley Shorts (all 30 MGM shorts), The Rounders (1965, with Henry Fonda), The Sheepman (1958, with Glenn Ford), The Subject Was Roses (1968, with Patricia Neal), Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957, with Dean Martin), They Won't Forget (1937, with Claude Rains), Top Secret Affair (1957, with Kirk Douglas), and Whipsaw (1935, with Spencer Tracy). I know the recently released Esther Williams Collection: Volume Two got a release based on the fine sales of her Volume One, but it's hard to accept that we now have 11 of her films available on properly pressed DVDs yet we can't get some of the gems on the above list in Region 1 on other than overpriced, burnt product.
Some forthcoming classic titles in Region 2 are as follows:
October 26th - The Holly and the Ivy (1952, with Ralph Richardson) from Optimum; Cimarron Strip (5 discs released separately each containing 1 episode of the western TV series - "The Beast that Walks Like a Man", "The Judgement", "The Last Wolf", "Nobody", "The Deputy" - other episodes have also been previously released) from Pegasus International; British Heroes Box Set (contains The Wild Geese with Richard Burton, Zulu Dawn with Peter O'Toole, Ashanti with Michael Caine, Jaguar Lives with Joe Lewis, Game for Vultures with Richard Harris - all 1978-1979) from Arrow Films
November 2nd - Frank Borzage: Volume 1 (Seventh Heaven, Street Angel) and Frank Borzage: Volume 2 (Lucky Star, Liliom) both from the British Film Institute
November 16th - Home Town Story (1951, with Jeffery Lynn) from Brightspark
November 23rd - The Millionairess (1960, with Sophia Loren) from Arrow Films
December 4th - Desert Fury (1947, with Burt Lancaster) and The Dark Mirror (1946, with Olivia De Havilland) both from Koch Media in Germany
January 4th, 11th, 18th - Captain America: The Serial (1944 Republic serial) on 3 DVDs (5 chapters each) released 1 disc per week from Video International
January 11th - Eagle in a Cage (1972, with John Gielgud) from Video International
January 25th - Rebel Rousers (1967, with Jack Nicholson) from Video International
February 1st - Gunfight (1971, with Kirk Douglas) from Video International
Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.