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The usual round-up of new classic release announcements is included and the classic announcements database has been updated. I've also updated the western announcements database.
I hope you'll enjoy this latest edition of the column.
Classic DVD Reviews
In the late 1940s, Errol Flynn's new contract with Warner Bros. allowed him to do one film outside the studio each year. In 1949, that film was That Forsyte Woman, made at MGM and co-starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Robert Young.
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The film was an adaptation of the first part of John Galsworthy's "The Forsyte Saga". Flynn plays Soames Forsyte, an upper middle-class Victorian whose chief interest in life seems to be what he can possess. Through persistence, he manages to convince a somewhat unconventional woman, Irene (Garson), to marry him. It is a loveless marriage and Irene soon becomes involved with a young architect (Robert Young) engaged by Soames to design a new house for him and Irene. Complicating the picture is the fact that the architect was engaged to June (Janet Leigh), the daughter of Soames' cousin Jolyon (Pidgeon) who is an artist and generally considered the black sheep of the Forsyte family. Flynn was originally cast to play the Jolyon part, but he argued successfully to undertake the Soames part. It was a fortunate outcome, for Flynn is much the best thing in the film, delivering a dignified and natural performance that captured well the strictures and controlled fury of the Soames character. Aside from Flynn, the most noteworthy aspects of the production are its effective use of Technicolor and the typical MGM classy production values. The casting of Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon together was by then becoming a matter of diminishing returns. And the script itself seems like Galsworthy-light, in comparison to later adaptations such as BBC's ambitious multi-part Forsyte Saga for TV in the late 1960s. That Forsyte Woman is available from the Warner Archive in a fairly nice full frame transfer. The colour image is in good shape with a fair degree of vibrancy and fidelity. Flesh tones look accurate. Image detail is good and the various scenes of fog-shrouded London streets are well handled. There is a fair degree of speckling, but it never interferes with one's viewing. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no subtitles and no supplements. Recommended for Errol Flynn fans; others should try a rental.
During his career, Errol Flynn invigorated many a standard or even sub-standard plot with his natural and engaging acting style. But even Flynn was unable (or perhaps unwilling) to save some films and 1947's Cry Wolf is a good example.
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Made by Warner Bros. and co-starring Barbara Stanwyck, Flynn plays Mark Caldwell, the uncle of a deceased young man of whom Stanwyck claims to be a recent bride of convenience. When Stanwyck shows up at the family home, Uncle Mark is suspicious of her and she of him. Mark's use of a laboratory in an unused wing of the house, a hint of family madness, and strange noises in the night are stirred into the plot, but it all seems contrived and unreal. Flynn affects a somewhat bookish look with pipe and glasses on occasion, and tries to conjure up a mysterious manner, but he underplays to excess at times almost as though he had other things on his mind. Stanwyck has a fair bit of physical activity in the film, but seems somewhat bemused by it all, as though she believes herself in the wrong film, and one never is convinced by her performance. Also among the cast are Richard Basehart and Warner stalwarts Geraldine Brooks, Jerome Cowan, and John Ridgely. An atmospheric score by Franz Waxman is a plus, but not nearly enough to make up for all the deficiencies. The film is available from the Warner Archive in a decent transfer. Contrast is quite good and modest grain is evident, but the source material looks to have been much less than pristine. Numerous debris, scratches, and speckles are present. The mono sound is fine, but there are no subtitles and no supplements. Strictly a rental for Flynn enthusiasts.
Greta Garbo's final film - 1941's Two-Faced Woman - is hardly the stiff of a film that many people regard it to be.
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It may have been an ill-advised effort to Americanize Garbo's image, putting her in a sort of screwball comedy where she plays two parts - a ski instructor who has a whirlwind romance and quick marriage to a New York magazine editor, and the ski instructor's twin sister whom she makes up as a means of winning her husband back after he seems to lose interest in her, but it is otherwise a generally diverting exercise. Garbo is not one of the film's problems, at least not a major one. She seems a little ill-at-ease in the early going, but her performance as the gold-digging twin sister is quite inspired. Casting Melvyn Douglas as the male star is the film's main issue. Douglas never could carry a movie and his appearance only worked to a film's advantage if he was in a supporting role. That's certainly the case here, as he seems to diminish any scene where he appears with supporting players that are otherwise boosting the film's entertainment value such as Constance Bennett, Roland Young, and Ruth Gordon. The film had certain scenes of sexual innuendo and racy dialogue that raised the hackles of The Catholic League of Decency which condemned it at first before some modifications were made. Of course, it all seems very innocuous nowadays. The film did reasonable business when released, but MGM seemed unsure of what to do with Garbo next. She had a falling out with studio boss Louis B. Mayer and gradually withdrew from the Hollywood limelight. The Warner Archive has made Two-Faced Woman available on DVD with a sharp full frame image that offers fairly deep blacks, very good contrast, and only minor speckling and the odd scratch intruding. The mono sound is strong with no distortion and only some slight hiss at times. There are no subtitles, but the theatrical trailer has been included. Recommended.
The Deputy was a TV western series that lasted for two seasons from 1959-1961, comprising 76 half-hour episodes in all. It is notable for the presence of Henry Fonda as its star, although much of his involvement was in the form of narration, with only occasional on-screen appearances.
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His role was that of U.S. Marshal Simon Fry, in charge of keeping the peace in Arizona Territory. The title role of "The Deputy" was that of a reluctant storekeeper (Allen Case) with a good facility with firearms whom Fry manages to finagle in acting as his deputy in the opening episodes. Eventually, Case assumes the job full-time, thus removing one of the twists that made the opening episodes somewhat diverting. With Case ensconced in the position full-time, and Fonda only occasionally in evidence, the series has little that is unique to raise its profile above the many other TV westerns of the time. The series was produced by Revue Studios and co-written by Norman Lear for airing on NBC. Familiar film directors such as David Butler, Tay Garnett, Sidney Lanfield, and Arthur Lubin handled over half of the episodes, but despite that expertise, the episodes have a formulaic look and are rather disappointing in their handling of action sequences. The latter show little ingenuity in their staging and frequently seem static with stationary camera placements. The jazzy background music does the show few favours either. Several familiar faces such as Read Morgan, Wallace Ford, Addison Richards, Clu Gulager, and Denver Pyle have recurring roles and there are quite a few guest performances from the likes of James Coburn, Lee Van Cleef, Alan Hale Jr., Stacy Keach, Jason Robards, Jr., Johnny Cash, Lon Chaney Jr., DeForest Kelley, Richard Chamberlain, James Franciscus, Jeff Morrow, Robert Redford, Vince Edwards, Martha Hyer, and Vivian Vance. All 76 episodes have been released on DVD by Timeless Media Group as The Deputy: The Complete Series - a 12-disc set housed in 6 thincases. The transfers are full frame as originally telecast and are workmanlike in appearance. Sharpness is not great and contrast is sometimes an issue. There is slight improvement in the second season's episodes when taken as a whole. The mono sound is also workable. Dialogue is clear with only some slight background hiss. There are no subtitles. The only supplements are trailers for 7 Henry Fonda feature films. Recommended as a rental for Henry Fonda fans.
The Warner Archive release of the Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service Mysteries Collection gathers together four B films that starred Ronald Reagan as Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft. The films were originally released in 1939 and 1940 by Warner Bros.
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It's always good to see older B series films made available on DVD, but the Brass Bancroft films are an uneven bunch at best. The series kicks off with Secret Service of the Air (1939), nominally based (as all four films were) on the memoirs of William Moran, a former chief of the Secret Service. Bancroft poses as a counterfeit money agent in order to investigate a gang smuggling aliens into the United States. For a B film, the production looks reasonably classy with some good camera work by Warner veteran Ted McCord. The action is generally well choreographed and Reagan looks comfortable in his lead role. Eddie Foy Jr. (brother of series producer Bryan Foy) plays Bancroft's semi-competent sidekick Gabby, as he would do throughout the series. Based on this film, it's easy to see why a second entry was commissioned. That entry - Code of the Secret Service (1939) - is unfortunately the poorest of the series. It has Bancroft sent off to Mexico to try to unearth the operations of a gang of American counterfeiters, but the story is tedious and the execution lacking in originality or suspense. The film also falls back on stereotypically inefficient Mexican authorities as a way of keeping the story alive at times. Reagan himself recognized the bargain basement effort for what it was and begged the studio not to release it. Warners relented somewhat and kept it out of Los Angeles, but everywhere else was fair game. Ironically, a young viewer named Jerry Parr liked the film so much that he was inspired to join the Secret Service and years later was one of the agents present when Reagan, then the U.S. president, was shot. Parr was credited with getting Reagan quickly to a hospital and thus saving his life. (My thanks to reader Bill G for passing on this story to me.) Smashing the Money Ring (1939) finds Bancroft getting himself sent to prison so that he can get the goods on a gang of counterfeiters (a bogus money angle for the third time in a row!). The film is a more coherent effort than its predecessor and can be enjoyed modestly if expectations are kept in check. Murder in the Air (1940) is marginally the best of the series. It capitalizes on the growing concern in the country over espionage activities and has Bancroft trying to get the goods on a suspected spy (James Stephenson). The film weaves the concept of a death ray into its plot and makes effective use of footage of a dirigible crashing into the sea. It also makes good use of Warners B stock company players such as John Litel, Lya Lys, Robert Warwick, Carlyle Moore Jr., and John Hamilton. Based on the quality of this film, one could have expected Warners to make additional entries in the series, but Reagan's work as George Gipp in his next film, Knute Rockne - All American, signaled a change in the young actor's fortunes and increasing assignments in A productions. The Warner Archive release of the four Brass Bancroft films delivers them on two discs. There's no evidence of any restoration, but the four films look quite decent. Blacks are reasonably deep and contrast is above average. Modest grain is apparent. There is speckling and the odd scratch, but I can't imagine anyone being upset at how the films look given their B provenance. The mono sound is in good shape with only some occasional minor hiss evident. There are no subtitles and no supplements. Recommended as a rental for Reagan fans particularly.
Hoot Gibson was a major star in silent westerns at Universal during the 1920s. He made a smooth transition to sound pictures and carried on with eight sound westerns for the studio in 1929-1930 before Universal decided to end its western production program due to diminishing profits in the early Depression years. After his Universal days, Gibson's star never shone as brightly again. He soon ended up in a succession of independently-made westerns (most now in the public domain) although some work at Monogram in the early 1940s (the Trail Blazer films) briefly reinvigorated his fortunes. One of Gibson's final Universal westerns was The Mounted Stranger, a 1930 remake of an earlier Gibson silent called Ridin' Kid from Powder River.
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The studio released the film in both sound and silent versions and both are now available on a single DVD-R disc from Grapevine Video. Gibson plays Pete Ainslee who as a boy witnessed his father being murdered by Steve Gary (Fred Burns). Now known as the Ridin' Kid, Ainslee encounters Gary once again and sets out to revenge his father's death. He initially wounds Gary and routs the rest of Gary's gang, but his involvement with a young woman later results in his being betrayed into the hands of the gang, leading to a final confrontation. The film is a somewhat slow-moving affair but it does possess the rough, unglamorous western atmosphere that characterized many of the early sound westerns. Gibson's typical boyish charm, for those who like that, is in evidence and he propels the story along with enthusiasm if not smoothness. The film's action sequences are somewhat rough looking and perfunctorily executed, but they get the job done. The sound version of the film is the preferred one as it adds about 15 minutes worth of footage to the 50-minute silent version and delivers a much smoother story line. Grapevine's DVD-R is a workmanlike effort, best watched on a small screen. The sound version looks to be in better shape with not the same degree of speckles and scratches found in the early going on the silent one (which is tinted). Daytime sequences come across decently with contrast being good, but there are a number of nighttime sequences particularly in the final reel of the film and most of them look rather murky with people and actions sometimes being hard to make out. The mono sound is workable on the sound version while the intertitles on the silent version convey the story quite adequately. There are no supplements. Recommended as a rental for Hoot Gibson fans.
Noir devotees should be delighted at the appearance of director Joseph Losey's The Prowler (1951) on DVD from VCI. The film is a superior film noir, sporting one of the sleaziest characters in the genre in the person of Van Heflin's character.
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The character's name is Webb Garwood (aptly conjuring up images of a spider's web) and he's a cop who capitalizes upon a woman's call for help when she thinks she sees a prowler to later pursue her for his own ends. The woman (Evelyn Keyes) is a lonely, repressed Los Angeles housewife who responds to Heflin's obvious advances enough to encourage him to consider killing her husband so the pair can be together. The pair's uneasy subsequent pact and a pregnancy that happens too soon lead to a marvelous denouement at an abandoned mining town in the desert (a real ghost town called Calico). Both Heflin and Keyes are superb in the tawdry tale. Heflin's performance is a masterpiece of subterfuge, sexual desire, and controlled fury, barely concealed behind his calculating eyes. Keyes delivers some of her best work on the screen in a well-written part that takes advantage of her considerable dramatic abilities as well as any entry in her filmography. The film was written by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (under the name Hugo Butler) and his script manages to skirt the Production Code throughout. The Prowler is tightly directed by Losey, with an excellent use of the L.A., Las Vegas, and desert settings. Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation collaborated with the UCLA Film and Television Archive to restore the film and VCI has given it an impressive DVD release. The full frame image is in excellent shape, sporting deep blacks, clean whites, very fine contrast and overall sharpness that is commendable. Modest grain is evident and shadow detail is well handled. The mono soundtrack provides clean dialogue free of hiss or distortion. English subtitles have been added. The supplements include one of Muller's usual informative and entertaining audio commentaries, a very good making-of documentary hosted by the Film Noir Foundation's Alan Rode (25 minutes), comments by Bertrand Tavernier on the film, a restoration featurette, a pressbook photo gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. Very highly recommended.
Usually mentioned as Kazan's favorite film, 1963's America America was inspired by the true story of Kazan's uncle, an Anatolian Greek who struggled to lead the emigration of his family from Turkey to America in the late 19th century.
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In the film, Kazan's uncle is personified by Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis), a naïve young man whose father entrusts the family's fortune in him and sends him to Constantinople. There, Stavros is to invest in his uncle's rug business and build his own fortune so that his father and mother and the rest of the family can all move to the big city too, thus escaping the oppression that has dogged their lives. Stavros, however, has an even grander vision - that of going to America. America America, despite the title, is only marginally about America per se. The title signifies Stavros's inspiration for persevering in his travels through Turkey and his travails once he gets to Constantinople. Stavros is robbed and steals from others; he is nearly killed and kills others; he is deceived and deceives others; he marries and then leaves his wife. Despite his naivite, Stavros has a survival instinct that transcends everything else in his life. Giallelis, who plays Stavros, was a complete acting novice whom Kazan discovered in the office of a Greek filmmaker. His inexperience is apparent in some of the film's scenes, but his overall impact is impressive. As was common in his films, Kazan managed to impart a tremendous feel for a particular era with Turkish Anatolia and Constantinople all magnificently brought to life in black and white. Stavros's eventual arrival in America is presented as both a triumph and tragedy and a mixture of enthusiasm and occasional deceit that was reflective of many of the real immigrant situations. It's a fitting conclusion to the difficult journey that Stavros has endured from his childhood home in Anatolia. The Warner Bros. release was previously available on DVD only as part of Fox's Elia Kazan Collection. Now Warners has released America America as a stand-alone DVD. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is quite good. There are a few soft sequences, but otherwise the image is crisp with good shadow detail. Black levels are particularly notable. There's no evidence of edge effects and moderate grain is present. The mono sound is in good shape and English SDH and French subtitling is provided. The only supplement is a good one - a low-key but very informative audio commentary by Foster Hirsch. America America is a long film at 168 minutes, but it's a very rewarding one and its DVD presentation does it justice. Recommended.
A&E seems quite intent in making sure it covers all the bases in releasing the popular TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman on DVD. After separate releases during the early 2000s of the series' six seasons from 1993-98 and two made-for-TV movies thereafter using relatively bulky keepcases for each disc, it came out with a very classy-looking, faux-leather-wrapped, photo album package entitled the Complete Series Megaset that combined all the episodes and movies together on 42 discs. That was in 2008 and the release was priced at $230 SRP. In 2009, the same content was repackaged in a more compact and prosaic fashion as The Complete Series at a more attractive price point of $150. In 2010, A&E returned to the individual seasons and released each using thincases for each disc. Pricing was $50 per season. Now, in early 2011, the same individual seasons are being released again. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season One, The Complete Season Two, and The Complete Season Three have just appeared. (Seasons Four to Six will be released in the spring.)
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This time each release retails for $30 SRP and comprises a double-thickness keepcase with hinged inserts that hold the appropriate number of discs. That's 5, 7, and 8 discs respectively for the first three seasons. Constant throughout all this has been the transfer quality and disc extras. The images are all full frame as originally telecast and they look decent. Colour fidelity is quite good, but sharpness is variable and there is occasional video noise that works to the detriment of night-time scenes particularly. None of this really compromises one's enjoyment of the series which can be substantial given the comfortable ensemble acting and strong work by Jane Seymour in the title role of a female doctor hoping to be able to practice medicine in Colorado Springs. Many of the plots are predictable but most of the characters are interesting and one develops a lasting affection for them as they age and change in their inter-relationships. Interestingly, the pilot show (which is included with Season One) is one of the weaker entries both plotwise and in terms of video quality. The shows are presented in strong stereo mixes that offer some directionality in dialogue and impart a modest sense of dynamism to the music background. There are no subtitles. All the bonus features that accompanied the previous seasonal releases are present. That includes the A&E "Biography" program on Jane Seymour and an interactive tour of 19th century Colorado Springs with Season One; a commentary by Joe Lando on one of the episodes of Season Two; and a commentary by Lando and Seymour on a double-episode of Season Three. The Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman series is one well worth watching, but at time of writing, the best value to be found is 2009's The Complete Series which can be had for under $70 online.
After four and a half seasons worth of the Perry Mason show on DVD, one pretty well knows what to expect. As with all the original Erle Stanley Gardner stories, each TV episode finds Mason with a defendant in a murder case whom he proceeds to prove innocent while determining the actual murderer. Mason is smoothly played by Raymond Burr and receives effective assistance from his trusty secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) and detective Paul Drake (William Hopper). His main adversaries are long-suffering District Attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman) and police detective Lt. Arthur Tragg (Ray Collins). The cast has been together since the beginning and operates like a well-oiled machine, noticeably apparent in the genuine comraderie that emanates from Burr, Hale, and Hopper. More and more, one gets the same vibe from Talman and Collins despite the adversarial nature of their characters to that of Mason and his associates.
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In Perry Mason: Season 5, Volume 2 which is now available on DVD from CBS via Paramount, we have the final 15 episodes from the 1961-62 season. The series maintains its high standard of entertainment in this second half of the fifth season with several episodes that particularly stand out such as "The Case of the Counterfeit Crank" (which also was included in the previous 50th Anniversary Edition set), "The Case of the Crippled Cougar", "The Case of the Promoter's Pillbox" (story set in the studios where the Mason show was actually filmed), "The Case of the Melancholy Marksman", and "The Case of the Lonely Eloper" (a strong season ending episode). As usual the series is notable for its use of guest stars (e.g. James Coburn, Burt Reynolds, Marie Windsor, Zasu Pitts, Victor Buono, Hugh Marlowe, Jeff Morrow, Jeanette Nolan) and well-known faces in numerous supporting roles. Paramount's 4-disc set offers the same strong full frame transfers that past releases in the series have demonstrated. Images are crisp with fairly deep blacks and demonstrate good contrast. The mono sound is clear and undistorted. English subtitling has been added, but there are no supplements. Recommended. One hopes that Paramount and CBS will see the series through on DVD to the end of its 9-season run.
The "Precode Hollywood" moniker on a DVD package is quite a draw these days as fans of early sound Hollywood seek out some of the racy titles that characterized the era. VCI makes a play for that audience with its recent release of the Precode Hollywood Double Feature of 1930's Hell Harbor and 1933's Jungle Bride.
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Hell Harbor is an independent production by Inspiration Pictures, released through United Artists, while Jungle Bride is a Monogram programmer. Neither film has much to offer beyond sleep induction. In Hell Harbor, we have spirited Lupe Velez cavorting on a Caribbean island as a distant descendent of the pirate Henry Morgan. She's a young woman whose unscrupulous father tries to marry her off to an equally unscrupulous pearl dealer (Jean Hersholt, in the only performance in the film that holds any interest). A handsome American trader lands on the island and Lupe appeals to him for help, and all goes down as one might expect. Beyond some interestingly scripted and designed opening sequences, the film is an exercise in tedium to sit through due to the poor performances and predictable happenings - and that's the short 64-minute version in which the film had its widest original release. Also included on the disc is an 84-minute limited release version that adds nothing of significance to the shorter one. The film's claim to Precode fame is simply Velez's low-cut blouse. Jungle Bride has an island, populated by the odd lion and hippo, where Charles Starrett and Anita Page are shipwrecked. Starrett's character is a suspected murderer who has refused to talk because the truth would reveal that Anita's brother was the real culprit. Of course the two eventually get together on the island despite complications when other survivors show up and when the island animals menace the camp. The film's credits make much of Charles Starrett being borrowed from Paramount and Anita Page from MGM, but both are so wooden that Monogram might as well have saved its money and used someone of its own already under contract. Films set in the jungle were popular fare in the early 1930s, but this one is completely uninspired. As for any Precode allure, you should look elsewhere. VCI's transfers for both films are reasonably good given the somewhat ragged source material. Interestingly, for Hell Harbor, the longer version actually looks to have better sharpness and black levels than the shorter one despite package suggestions to the contrary. Both come from 35mm nitrate prints. Jungle Bride is a little cleaner than either Hell Harbor version. The mono sound on all titles is workable. The long version of Hell Harbor sports the most pop and crackle. There are no subtitles with either film. The packaging lists a theatrical trailer for Jungle Bride, but there's no evidence of it on the disc.
Synergy Entertainment has just released John Wayne: Bigger Than Life, designating it a Special 3-DVD Collector's Edition. There's a lot of good, potentially entertaining material included but with one exception, the package is sunk by transfer quality that ranges from passable to abominable.
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Now admittedly the source material for much of the inclusions is not good, but for a Special Collector's Edition, I would expect some restoration to have been undertaken and that clearly is not the case. The first disc contains the title documentary Bigger Than Life, a 55-minute broad-brush treatment of Wayne's long career produced in 1990. There's little included than most Wayne fans don't already know though the coverage of his early career is pretty good as these things go. The image is soft and colour fidelity has suffered over the past 20 years. Also on the first disc are three Wayne TV appearances. We get a complete People Are Funny episode from 1958 that's rather tedious and contains extremely limited footage of Wayne; a sequence from a 1953 Colgate Comedy Hour show in which Jimmy Durante attempts to impress Wayne with his physical prowess using break-away props; and a complete episode of The Lucy Show from 1966 in which Lucy manages to ruin take after take for a western that Wayne is shooting. The Durante segment is the most welcome of these three supplements, for it's in very good shape image-wise and very funny too. The Lucy supplement is also good entertainment in a typical Lucy fashion with extensive Wayne footage involved. It's a bit soft-looking but quite watchable. Disc Two contains three documentaries. The first - No Substitute for Victory - is a political statement film from 1970 hosted by Wayne. It provides a pro-Vietnam War stance utilizing combat footage and interviews concerning the Communist threat of the time and the U.S military's approach to the war. The image is watchable, but rather soft with colour that has been compromised by time. Next up is a 1958 episode of the 90-minute NBC news series Wide Wide World entitled The Western. It's an extensive look at the great popularity of the western on TV and at the movies in the late 1950s with appearances from a wide array of western players including Wayne, Bronco Bill Anderson, James Arness, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Gabby Hayes, Clayton Moore, etc. Given the content, the appearance of this documentary is a huge disappointment. It's essentially unwatchable due to the washed-out fuzzy images that make many of the people appearing almost impossible to identify. Rounding out Disc Two is the 1971 documentary The American West of John Ford. Running about an hour and featuring narration from Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, it's a superior look at the great director and somewhat of a salute to his final days. The image is just passable. Disc Three contains - you guessed it - the public domain 1963 John Wayne feature McLintock!. The widescreen anamorphic image is in excellent shape and is likely a copy of the 2005 Paramount release. A promo and trailer (both in much poorer shape) are included. The sound on the first two discs is mono and characterized by hiss, crackle, and distortion at times. Disc Three is also in mono, but the sound quality is quite good. There is no subtitling available. Synergy's John Wayne: Bigger Than Life contains some really good items, but one's enjoyment of them, aside from McLintock!, is so compromised in its image quality that I can't recommend it as a purchase.
Classic Blu-ray Remarks
We now have two classic titles available on Blu-ray from Fox that have each received several previous standard DVD releases - All About Eve (1950) and An Affair to Remember (1957). Both films are very well known, so I'll focus only on the various home video incarnations All About Eve previously appeared three times on standard DVD.
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The first was a bare-bones effort in 2001, followed by an early 2003 release in Fox's Studio Classics line. That version sported a substantially improved transfer and a number of good supplements including two audio commentaries and the AMC Backstory take on the film. The third release was a two-disc edition included in the Bette Davis Collection, Fox's centenary tribute to the actress. Its new transfer improved only minimally on the Studio Classics one. New supplements were four featurettes mainly focusing on writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Now comes a Blu-ray edition from Fox that reminds us once again how much the older black and white classics can benefit from a high definition presentation. The full frame image is superb. It is a very substantial improvement over the already good-looking DVD versions, offering a crispness and level of image detail that one gets in only the very best Blu-ray transfers. Black levels are very deep indeed and contrast is highly impressive. Appropriate grain levels have been retained and the result is a very film-like experience indeed. The original mono track is retained but a new DTS-HD 5.1 mix delivers really crisp dialogue and a replication of Alfred Newman's score that sounds very dynamic. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. The supplement package is the same as on the previous two-disc DVD with the exception that the latter's restoration featurette has been dropped and two short promotional pieces on Bette Davis and Anne Baxter added. The classy digibook packaging also adds some 26 pages of useful production information and photographs. Very highly recommended. An Affair to Remember has had a similar history of three previous standard DVD releases. A passable 2000 release was followed by a much improved 2003 entry in Fox's Studio Classics line including an audio commentary and the AMC backstory. The 2007 50th anniversary release improved only modestly on the Studio Classics' transfer, but did add five new featurettes on the film's stars (Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr), its director Leo McCarey, its producer Jerry Wald, and the film's look. Fox's new Blu-ray edition delivers an excellent transfer of the film although the improvement over the previous DVD is not quite as great as that for All About Eve. Still, the difference is notable and will please fans of the film. The 2.35:1 image is clear and very clean with excellent colour fidelity. The De Luxe colour is not as saturated as the best Technicolor films, but the somewhat dreamy look suits the film perfectly and Blu-ray has captured it admirably. The image is wonderfully filmlike with modest grain and no evidence of untoward digital manipulation. The DTS-HD 5.1 track exhibits nice directionality across the front and modest use of the surrounds, mainly to expand Hugo Friedhofer's music score. The original stereo track and English and Spanish subtitles are also provided. All the supplements of the previous 50th Anniversary DVD have been carried over. The classy digibook packaging adds 26 pages of production information and photographs. Highly recommended.
Walt Disney's Bambi (1942) received one DVD release, a Platinum Edition in 2005. That two-disc version delivered a beautiful rendition of the classic animated feature and a whole raft of supplements that taken as a whole would seem hard to improve upon.
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Disney's new Blu-ray edition continues the approach the studio has taken to its classic features - a thoroughly cleaned up image and a general brightening that results in very vibrant colours although they may not correspond exactly to how the film originally looked. The resulting image, as in Bambi's case, does look very sharp and appealing, but one's acceptance depends upon where one stands on the grain issue in respect to classic animated features. Disney at least seems able to retain high frequency detail in its images at the same time that it excises the grain. One school is quite accepting of the grain removal since it reveals the grain-free original art work upon which the film was based. The other school focuses on the nature of the original filmed product with its inherent grain as what we should be seeing on our home theatre screens. I tend to fall into the latter camp though it easy to see how one can be seduced with Disney's approach given the high quality of the results. Controversy continues when one looks at the audio. Disney has chosen for some reason to go with a 7.1 DTS-HD HR (high resolution) track. That's a form of lossy audio akin to a DD+ presentation. It all sounds very good, both dialogue and music score, but one wonders at the reason for the compromise. The restored original soundtrack as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included. The supplement package is a combination of material from the previous DVD release plus special Blu-ray features that merge some older supplements with new material (such as "Inside Walt's Story Meetings: Enhanced Edition" which allows a viewer to branch off to relevant supplements as the film plays). The amount of material overall is exhaustive, but never exhausting. A DVD version is included as a separate disc in the blu-ray release. Recommended.
Film Chest in conjunction with Virgil Films appears to be undertaking a program of making new restorations of public domain titles available on Blu-ray. The first fruits of their labours are 1952's Kansas City Confidential and 1946's The Stranger.
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Kansas City Confidential pits ex-cop Timothy Foster (Preston Foster) against ex-soldier and ex-con Joe Rolfe (John Payne) innocently implicated in a heist that Foster masterminded after his forced early retirement from the Kansas City police. Rolfe's search for redemption leads him to Mexico where he encounters Foster and the three gang members actually involved in the heist. As none of the latter three know each other or Foster due to the way Foster organized the heist, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues leading to a final confrontation over the split-up of the stolen money. The film has key noir elements such as the embittered ex-cop and embittered ex-soldier/ex-con combined in a fascinating dance to the death characterized by brutality and ultimate redemption. John Payne is one of the key noir players and he's nicely complemented by as nasty a trio of thugs as you'd want to see on screen (Lee Van Cleef, Neville Brand, Jack Elam). Overall, it's a terrific little film that generates good tension throughout under the sure hand of well-known noir director Phil Karlson (99 River Street, Scandal Sheet, The Brothers Rico). The full frame transfer is based on a pretty good looking 35mm print which received a fair bit of digital clean-up to remove many scratches and speckles. Going by the restoration comparison which is included on the disc, a slight amount of detail appears to have been lost in the clean-up process although a modest but acceptable amount of film grain remains. The resulting Blu-ray image is quite good, offering a sharp image with good contrast. In comparison with the best available standard DVD source - MGM's 2007 release, the Blu-ray is brighter and cleaner but has less grain and offers no more than a comparable level of image detail. The audio consists of a Dolby mono and a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix. The latter really offers no improvement over the mono and represents an investment that Film Chest really didn't need to make, especially for a film of this nature. Better that a single lossless mono track be provided. Spanish subtitles are included. Supplements include the afore-mentioned restoration comparison, a pastiche of scenes from the movie (not a trailer as stated on the packaging), a postcard insert, and a standard DVD copy of the film. Recommended if you don't have the MGM DVD version. Otherwise try a rental to see if a purchase upgrade makes sense for you. The Stranger is a superior film noir originally made by International Pictures and subsequently allowed to fall out of copyright. It's long been one of most widely available titles from the public domain specialists. MGM released by far the best DVD version of the film and it's against that version that Film Chest's Blu-ray effort should be measured. The film stars Edward G. Robinson as Nazi hunter Mr. Wilson who is on the trail of holocaust architect Franz Kindler (Orson Welles, who also directs the film). He tracks Kindler to the town of Harper, Connecticut where Kindler has taken the name Charles Rankin and is preparing to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the naïve daughter of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. All three stars are in good form in the resulting game of cat and mouse that eventually leads to Rankin's unmasking, but it is Robinson's understated performance that carries the day. Welles's direction is fairly unobtrusive although the shadowy lighting both indoors and out is notable. Though apparently restored from "original 35mm assets", the resulting high definition image is no better looking than standard DVD. Compared to MGM's DVD, the Blu-ray does look cleaner and brighter, but contrast is poorer and virtually all sign of film grain has been excised from the image. Film detail is generally inferior as well. As with Kansas City Confidential, a mono track is provided and an unnecessary 5.1 Dolby Digital mix has been generated for the title; both sport some hiss and crackle at times and it would have been preferable to stick with the mono only and simply provide a cleaned-up, lossless track. Spanish subtitles are included. Supplements consist of a restoration comparison, a pastiche of scenes from the movie, a postcard insert, and a standard DVD copy of the movie. If you already have the MGM DVD release, stick with it; if you don't and want this title, the MGM version is still the best one to seek out.
AC Comics now has the 12-chapter Republic serial Federal Operator 99 (1945, with Marten Lamont) available as a 2-disc DVD-R release.
Anchor Bay has a couple of Alejandro Jodorowsky films on the way on Blu-ray for April 19th: the western El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973).
Criterion's May plans include Blu-ray editions of Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, directed by Ingmar Bergman) on May 3rd; Diabolique (1955, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, also on DVD) and Pale Flower (1964, directed by Masahiro Shinoda, also on DVD) on May 17th; and The Great Dictator (1940, Charlie Chaplin, also on a 2-disc DVD release) and Solaris (1972, directed by Andrei Tarkowsky, also on a 2-disc DVD release) on May 24th. The Great Dictator will have a new audio commentary by Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran.
On March 29th, Entertainment One (eOne) will be releasing the television debut of Frank Sinatra and Ethel Merman. It came in NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954 when they starred in a performance of Cole Porter's musical comedy "Anything Goes". The DVD is entitled The Archive of American Television Presents: Anything Goes.
Fox will release Twelve O'Clock High (1949, with Gregory Peck) on Blu-ray on May 3rd.
Grapevine Video has four silent titles for release in March: April Fool (1926, Baby Peggy), Oh! Doctor (1925, Reginald Denny), Which Shall It Be? (1924, a Madeline Brandeis production), and The White Sin (1924, Madge Bellamy). Sound releases are a Charles Laughton Double Feature (The Private Life of Henry VIII /Captain Kidd ), The Bob Cummings Show (4 episodes), and a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Double Feature (Song of Arizona /Roy Rogers and Dale Evans TV Show episode).
Image will have The Twilight Zone: Season 4 on Blu-ray on May 17th. Extras appear to include those on the previous DVD release plus 13 new audio commentaries and a vintage audio interview with director of Photography George Clemens,
Kino will release Gaumont Treasures: Volume 2 - 1908-1916 in a 3-disc DVD box set due April 19th. It will include classic films by Emile Cohl (Fantasmagoria, The Puppet's Nightmare, The Living Fan, Comic Mutations, The Twelve Labors of Hercules, Petit Faust, and Bebe's Masterpiece), Jean Durand (Calino Wants to Be a Cowboy, Onesime Goes to Hell, Onesime, Clockmaker, Onesime Loves Animals, Zigoto Drives a Locomotive, The Railway of Death, Burning Heart: An Indian Tale, and Under the Claw) and Jacques Feyder & The Early Masters of French Cinema (Heads... and the Women Who Use Them, The Barges, La Marseillaise, Child's Play, and Feet and Hands). Additional extras will include documentaries, additional shorts, excerpts and rare behind-the-scenes clips. Total content is over 10 hours of material. Also due on April 19th is a 3-disc Ingrid Bergman: Swedish Film Collection DVD box set that will include Intermezzo (1936), A Woman's Face (1938), and June Night (1940).
Lorber Films will release three Sophia Loren titles on Blu-ray on May 3rd: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963, a 2-disc set that includes the feature-length documentary Vittorio D.), Marriage Italian Style (1964), and Sunflower (1970). All these titles will also be available on DVD but only together as a 4-disc set - the Sophia Loren Award Collection.
MGM released Last Tango in Paris (1973, with Marlon Brando) on Blu-ray on February 15th. The studio gets active again on March 29th with a Blu-ray version of George Stevens' The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and on April 5th with a Blu-ray release of Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary Edition (1971, directed by Norman Jewison).
MGM's MOD DVD-R program has further releases set for March 15th. They include Billy Two Hats (1974, Gregory Peck), The Black Sleep (1956, Basil Rathbone), The Captive City (1952, John Forsythe), A Cold Wind in August (1961, Lola Albright), Cop Hater (1958, Robert Loggia), Daughters of Satan (1972, Tom Selleck), The Explosive Generation (1961, William Shatner), Fort Massacre (1958, Joel McCrea), The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976, Lee Marvin), Not As a Stranger (1955, Olivia de Havilland), Queen of Blood (1966, John Saxon), and Return from the Ashes (1965, Maximilian Schell).
Milestone is releasing its restoration of Araya (a film by Margot Benacerraf, and co-winner of the 1959 Cannes International Critics Prize) on DVD on April 5th. The DVD is derived from a 2K scan off of the director's original 35mm interpositive. Extras include three documentaries on Benacerraf, two commentary tracks with the director, and her first film, Reveron, on the famed Venezuelan painter.
Paramount will have The Lucy Show: The Official Fourth Season on April 26th. Coming May 24th on Blu-ray is Le Mans (1971, with Steve McQueen).
Shout! Factory released 11 Harrowhouse (1974) and Lucky Lady (1975) on February 1st and has Capone (1975, with Ben Gazzara) set for March 29th. Damnation Alley (1977, with Jan-Michael Vincent) is planned for a summer 2011 release. Television fare also coming includes Leave It to Beaver: Season Six on March 1st and Frank Sinatra - A Man and His Music: The Collection on March 8th. The latter is a two-disc set containing the four "A Man and His Music" specials from 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1981.
Sony's MOD DVD-R program has new additions as of the beginning of February: Across the Sierras (1941, Bill Elliott), Blind Alley (1939, Chester Morris), Let's Do It Again (1953, Jane Wyman), Meet the Stewarts (1942, William Holden), Rumble on the Docks (1956, James Darren), Three for the Show (1955, Betty Grable), A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970, Anthony Quinn), and You Belong to Me (1941, Barbara Stanwyck). Then on March 1st, another 10 titles are planned for release: Creatures the World Forgot (1971, Julie Ege), Destroyer (1943, Edward G. Robinson), Dirty Little Billy (1972, Michael J. Pollard), Hammerhead (1968, Vince Edwards), The Kid from Broken Gun (1952, Charles Starrett), Laramie Mountains (1952, Charles Starrett), R.P.M. (1970, Anthony Quinn), The Reckoning (1969, Nicol Williamson), The Southern Star (1969, George Segal), and Three Hours to Kill (1954, Dana Andrews). Incidentally, the Sony MOD titles are now also available through Amazon starting March 8th. Sony continues to work on a Blu-ray release of Lawrence of Arabia. An 8K scan of the negative has been completed, but there's still a year's worth of work necessary. It looks as though a 50th anniversary release in 2012 may be in the offing. And the studio also has The Caine Mutiny and The Guns of Navarone in the works for Blu-ray release in the coming months. Meanwhile, the Taxi Driver: 35th Anniversary Edition (1976, with Robert De Niro) is expected on Blu-ray on April 5th.
Timeless Media Group has two more TV western releases on the docket. Coming on May 17th are The Virginian: The Complete Fourth Season and Wagon Train: The Complete Third Season. Both will be 10-disc sets packaged in collectible tins.
Universal added further titles to its Vault Series of MOD DVD-R releases, effective January 31st. The films include: Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938, Claudette Colbert), Here Come the Waves (1944, Bing Crosby), It Ain't Hay (1943, Abbott and Costello), McHale's Navy (1964, Ernest Borgnine), The Other Side of the Mountain (1975, Marilyn Hassett), The Other Side of the Mountain: Part 2 (1978, Marilyn Hassett), The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968, Paul Newman), Sometimes a Great Notion (1971, Paul Newman), and We're Not Dressing (1934, Bing Crosby). Several of the titles were previously available as part of various DVD box sets. The studio is issuing more of its classic titles previously only available as box sets and the next such wave (on pressed DVDs) will be the five 1929-1933 Paramount Marx Brothers titles: Animal Crackers, The Cocoanuts, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, and Monkey Business. All are due June 7th. For those who may have missed them, Universal is re-releasing a bunch of its war and western titles in two compilations on March 22nd. 4 Movie Marathon: Classic Western Collection will contain Albuquerque, Whispering Smith, The Duel at Silver River, and War Arrow while 4 Movie Marathon: Classic War Collection will contain Wake Island, To Hell and Back, Battle Hymn, and Gray Lady Down. Both 2-disc sets are priced at under $10.
VCI has experienced delays in producing its March slate. Now delayed to March 29th from March 15th are Candlelight in Algeria, Thunder in the City, Child in the House, and the double feature of The 20 Questions Mystery/Tread Softly. VCI has more British offerings for April 5th. First up is a Terry Thomas Comedy Double Feature release of Too Many Crooks (1958) and Make Mine Mink (1960). We'll also get a Diana Dors Comedy Double Feature of An Alligator Named Daisy (1957) and Value for Money (1955). Coming on April 19th will be: Upstairs and Downstairs (1959, with Michael Craig); To Paris with Love (1955, with Alec Guinness); Simon and Laura (1955, with Peter Finch); and Tennessee's Partner (1955, with John Payne and Ronald Reagan). April 26th will bring Romeo and Juliet (1954, with Laurence Harvey) on both DVD and Blu-ray. May 3rd releases focus on British war films: Sea of Sand (1958, with Richard Attenborough), The Malta Story (1953, with Alec Guinness), The Way to the Stars (1945, with John Mills), and Above Us the Waves (1956, with John Mills). Also due on the same date is a Silent Discoveries double feature of Yesterday and Today (compilation of pre-1910 silent films) and After Six Days (aka La Bibbia, a 1920 version of the Old Testament).
Virgil Films has added more titles to its list of public domain films being issued on Blu-ray. Due on March 29th are: The Terror (1963, Boris Karloff), Dementia 13 (1963, William Campbell), and Poor Pretty Eddie (1975, Leslie Uggams).
Warner Bros. will bring Grand Prix (1966, James Garner) to Blu-ray on May 24th and will be returning to Stanley Kubrick on May 31st with the release of the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection, available on both Blu-ray and DVD. It will include 9 films on 10 discs: Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. Lolita and Barry Lyndon are new to Blu-ray and will be available only in the collection. The version of A Clockwork Orange will be a 2-disc 40th Anniversary Edition that will also be available individually. Its bonus features will include: Malcolm McDowell Looks Back - Malcolm McDowell reflects on his experience working with legendary director Stanley Kubrick on one of the seminal films of the 1970s; Turning Like Clockwork - considers the film's ultra-violence and its cultural impact; audio commentary by Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman; the documentary Still Tickin': The Return of Clockwork Orange; Great Bolshy Yarblockos!: Making A Clockwork Orange; and the theatrical trailer. June 7th brings Blu-ray releases of The Man Who Would Be King (1975, with Sean Connery) and The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976, with Clint Eastwood) while June 14th will offer a Blu-ray release of The Cincinnati Kid (1965, with Steve McQueen). The big news for June 7th, however, is the announcement that Warners will release 1933's Night Flight on DVD. Officially withdrawn from circulation almost 7 decades ago, Warners has cleared the rights to the film that was a major MGM release originally, starring the likes of John Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, and Myrna Loy. The DVD will include a vintage "Sports Champions" short entitled Swing High and the classic cartoon When the Cat's Away. One final Warner note - for those who may have missed them when previously released, four Randolph Scott westerns will be available on March 29th packaged as a 2-disc set - 4 Film Favorites: Randolph Scott Collection (Colt .45/Fort Worth/Tall Man Riding/Ride the High Country).
Warner Archive releases for February 1st included Intruder in the Dust (1949, with Juano Hernandez, remastered), The Learning Tree (1969, with Kyle Johnson), and two Ronald Reagan films - Stallion Road (1947) and Night Unto Night (1949). In honour of Valentine's Day, the Archive released 7 romantic comedies on February 8th: Sunday in New York (1963, with Jane Fonda, remastered), Bachelor in Paradise (1961, with Bob Hope, remastered), The Bachelor Father (1931, with C. Aubrey Smith), My Love Came Back (1940, with Olivia De Havilland), Design for Scandal (1941, with Walter Pidgeon), Bride by Mistake (1944, with Laraine Day), and Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945, with Hedy Lamarr). The Archive celebrated Ginger Rogers' 100th anniversary with six releases of hers on February 15th: Chance at Heaven (1933), Finishing School (1934), Lucky Partners (1940), Primrose Path (1940), Suicide Fleet (1931), and Upperworld (1934). Westerns and film noir highlight the Archive offerings for February 22nd. The noir titles are Destination Murder (1950, Joyce Mackenzie), Experiment Alcatraz (1950, John Howard), and The Tattooed Stranger (1950, John Miles) while the westerns include Stars in My Crown (1950, Joel McCrea, remastered), The Outriders (1950, Joel McCrea, remastered), Ambush (1950, Robert Taylor), Ride Vaquero (1953, Robert Taylor), Wild Rovers (1971, William Holden, includes original overture and exit music), and Tim Holt Western Classics: Volume 1. The latter is the first of a continuing series that will hopefully see all of Holt's more than 40 RKO westerns between 1938 and 1952 available. The titles in the first volume (10 of them on 5 discs) are: Renegade Ranger (1938), Law West of Tombstone (1938), Along the Rio Grande (1941), Bandit Trail (1941), Robbers of the Range (1941), Dude Cowboy (1941), Come On Danger (1942), Bandit Ranger (1942), Pirates of the Prairie (1942), and Fighting Frontier (1943). The first Archive additions for March arrived on March 1st - a pretty impressive half-dozen: The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947, Humphrey Bogart), The Wagons Roll at Night (1941, Humphrey Bogart), Days of Glory (1944, Gregory Peck), Confidential Agent (1945, Lauren Bacall), Devotion (1946, Ida Lupino), and Whiplash (1948, Dane Clark). Archive releases for March 8th include three silent titles: Don Juan (1926, with John Barrymore), The Merry Widow (1925, with Mae Murray), and Noah's Ark (1928, with Dolores Costello). Don Juan includes the August 6, 1926 opening night Vitaphone shorts program: Will Hays Introduction to Vitaphone, New York Philharmonic - Overture to Tannhauser, Mischa Elman - Humoresque and Gavotte, Roy Smeck in His Pastimes, Marion Talley - Caro Nome, Efrem Zimbalist and Harold Bauer - Themes and Variations from The Kreutzer Sonata, Giovanni Martinelli - Vesti La Giubba, and Anna Case - La Fiesta. Also out on March 8th is Hanna-Barbera's Space Kidettes and Young Samson Collection (1967). Finally, it looks like the Archive will have two Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald films for April 26th: Naughty Marietta (1935) and Sweethearts (1938).
Well once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.