|The Christmas Column 2009 (continued)
Classic Reviews (Continued)
In the early 1950s, young producer Walter Mirisch was trying to build up the profile of Allied Artists, which fronted for the higher end products that Monogram was investing in at the time. His approach was to utilize the combination of CinemaScope and Technicolor on a series of films whose subject matter and setting would benefit from such processes. Westerns were an obvious choice and Mirisch was able to interest Joel McCrea in starring in four such films during the 1955-1957 period. Three of them - The Oklahoman, Wichita, and The First Texan - are available in the Warner Archive, and I've had a chance to look at the latter two.
Wichita is a straight-forward telling of Wyatt Earp cleaning up the town, but it's handled stylishly by director Jacques Tourneur who proves to be equally adept with the quieter expository scenes and the ample action sequences. The script is intelligently written with familiar situations being staged with restraint or having a bit of twist that lifts them out of complete cliché. McCrea is particularly good as Earp, but he gets a lot of help from a great cast of familiar supporting players including Edgar Buchanan, Robert Wilke, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Wallace Ford. The First Texan tells the story of Sam Houston (McCrea) and his involvement in the Texas fight for independence from Mexico. The film's approach has a rather hesitant Houston character that leads to some frustration for the viewer during the first half of the film, but things kick into a higher gear thereafter so that in the end, the film leaves a good taste in the mouth. The supporting cast is not quite as interesting as in Wichita although Wallace Ford is around again and the film does introduce McCrea's son Jody. Warners provides 2.35:1 anamorphic transfers that are in pretty good shape. They both work well on large screens with image detail being nicely retained. Sharpness is a little variable in the course of both films, but overall is quite acceptable. Colour brightness and fidelity are very good on both. The mono sound is clear in each instance. Neither disc includes any supplements. Wichita is a recommended purchase, while The First Texan is a recommended rental.
Don "Red" Barry was a star in B westerns for Republic over the course of more than two dozen films during 1940-1944. Barry, who was fairly short, made up for that with his portrayal of rather truculent characters, an approach that worked to his benefit in most of his better films. His greatest success was during the first couple of years of his Republic contract when George Sherman was his director. Two of Barry's later efforts, from 1943 - California Joe and Canyon City - have recently been released on a single DVD-R by Grapevine Video.
California Joe is the more ambitious story-wise, as it finds Barry playing an undercover cavalry officer tasked with investigating a plot to take California out of the Union and declare it a sovereign country. The intricate plot holds the attention well though the film lacks, other than LeRoy Mason, a particularly strong roster of chief antagonists. Barry himself is quite commanding in the film though he's forced to share some screen time with the innocuous Wally Vernon as one of his sidekicks and also with Twinkle Potter, a child ice-skating star that Republic inexplicably felt had talent enough to merit several B western supporting roles at the time. Canyon City is a more conventional B western plot-wise, as Barry plays an investigator sent by a power company whose dam has been blown up by a couple of conspirators intent on foreclosing on local ranches dependent on water from the dam for irrigation for crops and water for their cattle. Barry is once again saddled with Vernon and Potter, but the rest of the supporting cast is more palatable, especially Roy Barcroft, Morgan Conway, LeRoy Mason, and Stanley Andrews. There's some nice model work by the Lydecker Bros. for the power dam sequences. Neither of these films is among Barry's best, but both are competently made Republic productions that B western fans will find enjoyable provided you can tolerate the presence of the Vernon and Potter characters. Both films on Grapevine's disc are presented full frame as originally shot and both look quite presentable. There are plenty of scratches and speckles, but sharpness and contrast are decent. The mono sound is workable despite some hiss and crackle. There are no supplements. Recommended as a rental.
Note that the new announcements database has been updated to include the announcements listed below.
Criterion will release Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life (1956, with James Mason) on Blu-ray and DVD on March 23rd. Supplements include: audio commentary featuring critic Geoff Andrew ("The Films of Nicholas Ray"); Profile of Nicholas Ray (1977), a half-hour television interview with the director; new video appreciation of Bigger Than Life with author Jonathan Lethem ("Chronic City"); new video interview with Susan Ray, the director's widow and editor of the book "I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies"; theatrical trailer; and an essay by film writer B. Kite. Two Akira Kurosawa films - Sanjuro (1962) and Yojimbo (1961) - are also coming on Blu-ray on the same date. Available separately or as a two-pack, each title will have audio commentary by film historian and Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince and making-of documentaries as key supplements. Marco Ferreri's Dillinger Is Dead (1969) will appear on DVD on March 16th.
Grapevine Video has seven new releases (4 silent, 3 sound) for December. The silent ones are: Films of Edwin S. Porter (1889-1905, 21 short films); That Girl Montana (1921, with Blanche Sweet); Shore Leave (1925, with Richard Barthelmess); and The Grey Vulture (1926, with Ken Maynard). The sound releases are: The Streamline Express (1935, futuristic train drama with Victor Jory); The Laramie Kid (1935)/Brothers of the West (1937 - a Tom Tyler double feature; and Triumph of the Will (1935)/March with the Fuhrer (1940) - double-disc set of Nazi propaganda films.
Image offers up the Brigitte Bardot Classic Collection on December 8th. It will contain Plucking the Daisy (1956), The Night Heaven Fell (1958), and Don Juan (1973).
Kino's release plans for 2010 include a Blu-ray edition of Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality (1923) and Sherlock Jr. (1924) together. No specific date has yet been set. Other silent titles in the works for a 2010 Blu-ray release include
Metropolis and Battleship Potemkin. Meanwhile on the standard DVD front,
the company has announced a March 16th date for The Constance Talmadge
Collection and The Norma Talmadge Collection. Each will consist of a single
disc with two features on it. The former includes Her Night of Romance (1924) and Her Sister from Paris (1925); the latter Kiki (1926) and Within the Law (1923). In other Kino news, the company has merged with Lorber and will henceforth be known as Kino Lorber. DVD and Blu-ray releases will continue to appear under the already established labels of Kino International Films and Lorber Films, however.
MGM recently announced a joint video-on-demand venture with WB Digital Distribution (the same component of WB that's ultimately responsible for the Warner Archive). Titles will be available through various sources including Amazon.com. Several classic films have so far been revealed as coming on DVD-R via this latter avenue. They are: Trapeze (1956, with Burt Lancaster) -December 15th; Return to Paradise (1953, with Gary Cooper); Two for the Seesaw (1962, with Robert Mitchum); The Group (1966, with Candice Bergen); and Between the Lines (1977, with John Heard) - all December 31st. Prices range from $18-20 per title and packaging looks to be generic. There are no details as to any supplementary content.
Mill Creek will offer Wanted Dead or Alive - Season 2 on DVD on March 9th for $15. The 4-disc set complements the previously released Complete Series and re-released Season 1 that appeared this past summer from the company.
Paramount continues to pump out the classic TV releases in conjunction with CBS. Newly announced are My Three Sons: Season Two, Volume One for release on February 23rd, and Matlock: The Fourth Season on March 2nd. And for western fans, Have Gun - Will Travel: The Fourth Season, Volume One will also appear on the latter date. Hawaii Five-0: The Eighth Season is set for March 16th.
Shout! Factory will have Father Knows Best: Season 4 available on March 23rd. It'll be a five-disc set, but there's no indication of bonus features if any so far. Coming on January 19th, but as an online exclusive via the company's website (shoutfactory.com) is the much requested Ironside: Season 3 from 1969-70.
Sony has now set February 9th as the release date for Bad Girls of Film Noir: Volume 1 (Two of a Kind, The Killer That Stalked New York, Bad for Each Other, and The Glass Wall) and Bad Girls of Film Noir: Volume 2 (Night Editor, One Girl's Confession, Over-Exposed, and Women's Prison). The original indication had been a single set of six films, but two sets with two extra films is even better! The sets are two-discs each with bonus features including two vintage television episodes (The Big Payoff with Janet Blair and Howard Duff and Remember to Live with Cleo Moore and Howard Duff), comments on Two of a Kind by cast member Terry Moore, and the original trailers.
Restored Serials Super Restoration Corporation reports that its preparation of
the 1933 John Wayne serial, The Three Musketeers, has taken much longer than
expected and its release will not be until sometime in 2010. The Lightning
Warrior (1931) and Son of Tarzan (1920) are both being worked on too. The company has finished its own version of The Green Hornet Strikes Again and that title is just now available. A review and comparison with the recent VCI version will be forthcoming in the new year. Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe is also in the company's plans. Restored Serials is also producing its releases on Blu-ray not via HD transfers but using a line doubling process on its existing DVD masters and issuing them at the correct speed of 24 fps. Previous DVD releases Houdini: The Man from Beyond and The Green Archer serial are already available on Blu-ray using this approach (restoredserials.com).
Timeless Media has announced a March 9th release date for The Virginian: Season One, Volume 1 and Season One, Volume 2. Each will be a 6-disc set in order to contain all the 90-minute episodes. Interviews with star James Drury and other principals are included as extras. The company's release of Wagon Train: The Complete First Season has been delayed a month to December 15th.
There is now a date of January 26th set for the release of Cary Grant: The Early Years, the third offering under the new TCM/Universal Vault Collection. As previously reported, this set will include The Devil and the Deep, The Eagle and the Hawk, and The Last Outpost.
Universal has announced the release of Alice in Wonderland (1933, with Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, et al.) for March 2nd. No bonus features are included.
Warner Bros. will have its recently TCM-premiered Johnny Mercer: The Dream's on Me available on DVD (2-disc set) on December 8th. It's a documentary of the celebrated lyricist and singer's life story as told in memorable words and pictures to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1909. In three 40-minute segments, iconic star Clint Eastwood is joined at the piano by John Williams, Jamie Cullum, Tony Bennett, Julie Andrews, and other stars to perform and pay tribute to the musical master. On March 9th, we'll get the Bank Robbery Collection. This is a single disc spoof double bill of The Great Bank Hoax (1978, with Richard Basehart and Burgess Meredith) and The Great Bank Robbery (1969, with Akim Tamiroff and Clint Walker). In other news, note that Warners has lost the rights to The Damned (1969) effective December 23rd. The studio had released the Dirk Bogarde title on DVD five years ago.
The latest wave of releases from the Warner Archive, with an emphasis on very early sound fare, is now available via the Archive website as of December 1st. Included are: The Boy with Green Hair (1948, Pat O'Brien), The Canterville Ghost (1944, Charles Laughton), The Easiest Way (1931, Constance Bennett), The Enchanted Cottage (1945, Dorothy McGuire), Golden Dawn (1930, Noah Beery), The Happy Years (1950, Dean Stockwell), Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929, Jack Benny), It's a Great Life (1929, Duncan Sisters), The Next Voice You Hear... (1950, James Whitmore), On with the Show (1929, Betty Compson), Peanuts Motion Comics: The First Volume (1964), Rio Rita (1929, Bebe Daniels), Sally (1929, Marilyn Miller), Show Girl in Hollywood (1930, Alice White), Smart Woman (1931, Mary Astor), Union Depot (1932, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), Untamed Youth (1957, Mamie Van Doren), and The Woman on Pier 13 (1950, Robert Ryan, aka I Married a Communist). Classic fans may also be interested in a two disc set of The Gathering (1976, with Ed Asner - the title has received a new digital remaster for this release) and The Gathering, Part II (1978, with Ed Asner) available on December 15th.
Non-Region 1 releases:
December 2: Holy Matrimony (1943, with Monty Woolley); My Gal Sal (1942, with Rita Hayworth); Pony Soldier (1952, with Tyrone Power); Destination Gobi (1953, with Richard Widmark); The Roots of Heaven (1958, with Errol Flynn); and The Gift of Love (1958, with Lauren Bacall) - from Impulso Records
December 3: Hold Back the Dawn (1941, with Olivia De Havilland); To Each His Own (1946, with Olivia De Havilland); There's Always Tomorrow (1956, with Barbara Stanwyck) - from Universal Spain
January 11: Night Boat to Dublin (1946, with Robert Newton); Nine Men (1943, with Jack Lambert); Painted Boats (1945, with Jenny Laird); Spring and Port Wine (1970, with James Mason); The World Ten Times Over (1963, with Sylvia Syms) - from Optimum (UK)
January 18: The High Command (1936, with Lionel Atwill); The Moonraker (1958, with George Baker); Fright (1971, with Honor Blackman) - from Optimum (UK)
January 25: Permissive (1970, with Maggie Stride); Privilege (1967, with Paul Jones); That Kind of Girl (1963, with Margaret Rose Keil) - from BFI (UK)
February 22: City Girl (1930, F.W. Murnau) and M (1931, with Peter Lorre) - on Blu-ray from Eureka Masters of Cinema (UK)
Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again early in the new year.