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Non-western classic reviews include The Prize, Toward the Unknown, The Woman on the Beach (from the Warner Archive), Fate Is the Hunter (from Twilight Time), The Way to the Stars (from VCI), The Song of Songs/This Is the Night (from TCM and Universal); Night Flight (from WB); and Chicago Confidential (from the MGM MOD program). I also have a few comments on the latest incarnation of Marx Bros. releases (Animal Crackers, Cocoanuts, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, and Monkey Business - all from Universal).
As usual too, I have the latest classic release news and the new announcements database has been updated accordingly. Note that in honour of Roy Rogers, I've also updated the westerns new announcements database as well.
Roy Rogers was born Leonard Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 5, 1911. A poor farm boy as a youngster, he moved to California in 1929 seeking a better life as an entertainer based on his mainly self-taught skills as a singer, yodeler, guitar player, and square dance caller. He eventually helped form a group called The Rocky Mountaineers which in time became The Sons of the Pioneers.
Hollywood beckoned and under his original name, his first screen appearance was in a Thelma Todd/Patsy Kelly 2-reeler for Hal Roach (Slightly Static, 1935). He had parts often as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers in feature films at several studios, including Columbia, Warner Bros., Liberty, Paramount, and Republic before settling in permanently at the latter in 1936. Rogers was billed as either Leonard Slye or Dick Weston in his first films at Republic, at least a couple of which were Gene Autry westerns. It was in 1938's Under Western Stars that he first starred and was billed as Roy Rogers. Eventually he made Roy Rogers his legal name.
During the first half-dozen years that Roy was at Republic, Gene Autry was king of the studio and his films featured the bulk of the musical numbers. Roy sang a bit in his films, but most of these early efforts had plenty of action and were well orchestrated by veteran director Joe Kane. A number of them featured Roy playing a historical figure such as a young Buffalo Bill or Bill Hickok. Even more to Roy's advantage was the presence of Gabby Hayes as his sidekick. In 1940, Roy had a supporting role in one of Republic's rare big-budget A westerns - Dark Command, which starred John Wayne and was directed by Raoul Walsh.
Once Gene Autry entered military service in 1942, the Rogers westerns became the Republic singing cowboy showcases with some of the films even becoming elaborate musicals. Roy's costumes started to reflect that elaborateness too. Dale Evans teamed with Roy in The Cowboy and the Senorita (1944) and would eventually make more than two-dozen films with him. The pair married in 1947, after Roy's first wife died.
With World War II over and with Gene Autry back for only a short while before leaving Republic for Columbia in 1947, the Rogers films received above average budgets for B westerns. Beginning in 1947, most were filmed in Trucolor with running times of from 67 to 75 minutes. William Witney handled most of the direction and for the most part the action quotient was upped over that of the previous 3 or 4 years. Andy Devine was frequently co-starred in these entries.
Roy's last Republic western was Pals of the Golden West. Thereafter he concentrated on his Roy Rogers Show TV series that ran for 100 half-hour episodes from 1951 to 1957. He did a couple of films with Bob Hope (Son of Paleface in 1951 and Alias Jesse James in 1959) and his last feature film appearance was as the star of 1975's Mackintosh and T.J. Roy Rogers was living in Apple Valley, California in 1998 when he died on July 6, aged 86. Dale Evans would survive him for almost 3 years before her death in early 2001.
Roy Rogers Feature Film Filmography
Title Year Director Company DVD?
Old Homestead, The 1935 William Nigh Liberty Yes. Alpha
Tumbling Tumbleweeds 1935 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Image
Gallant Defender 1935 David Selman Columbia Yes. Comet Video
Mysterious Avenger, The 1936 David Selman Columbia No
Song of the Saddle 1936 Louis King WB Yes. Comet Video
Rhythm on the Range 1936 Norman Taurog Par Yes. Universal
California Mail 1936 Noel Smith WB Yes. Comet Video
Big Show, The 1936 Mack V. Wright Republic Yes. Multiple
Old Corral, The 1936 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Old Wyoming Trail, The 1937 Folmer Blangsted Columbia Yes. Comet Video
Wild Horse Rodeo 1937 George Sherman Republic Yes. Multiple
Old Barn Dance, The 1938 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Under Western Stars 1938 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Billy the Kid Returns 1938 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Come On, Rangers 1938 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Shine On, Harvest Moon 1938 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Rough Riders' Round-Up 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Southward Ho 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Frontier Pony Express 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
In Old Caliente 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Wall Street Cowboy 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Arizona Kid, The 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Jeepers Creepers 1939 Francis McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Saga of Death Valley 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Days of Jesse James 1939 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Dark Command 1940 Raoul Walsh Republic Yes. Lionsgate
Young Buffalo Bill 1940 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Carson City Kid, The 1940 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Ranger and the Lady, The 1940 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Colorado 1940 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Young Bill Hickok 1940 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Border Legion, The (aka West of the Badlands) 1940 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Robin Hood of the Pecos 1941 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Arkansas Judge 1941 Francis McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
In Old Cheyenne 1941 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Sheriff of Tombstone 1941 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Nevada City 1941 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Bad Man of Deadwood 1941 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Jesse James at Bay 1941 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Red River Valley 1941 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Man from Cheyenne 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
South of Santa Fe 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Sunset on the Desert 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Romance on the Range 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Sons of the Pioneers 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Sunset Serenade 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Heart of the Golden West 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Ridin' Down the Canyon 1942 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Idaho 1943 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
King of the Cowboys 1943 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Song of Texas 1943 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Silver Spurs 1943 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Man from Music Mountain, The (aka Texas Legionnaires) 1943 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Hands Across the Border 1944 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Cowboy and the Senorita 1944 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Yellow Rose of Texas, The 1944 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
Song of Nevada 1944 Joseph Kane Republic Yes. Multiple
San Fernando Valley 1944 John English Republic Yes. Multiple
Lights of Old Santa Fe 1944 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Brazil (cameo) 1944 Joseph Stanley Republic Yes. Multiple
Lake Placid Serenade 1944 Steve Szekely Republic Yes. Multiple
Hollywood Canteen (cameo) 1944 Delmer Daves WB Yes. WB
Utah 1945 John English Republic Yes. Multiple
Bells of Rosarita 1945 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Man from Oklahoma 1945 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Sunset in El Dorado 1945 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Don't Fence Me In 1945 John English Republic Yes. Multiple
Along the Navaho Trail 1945 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Song of Arizona 1946 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Rainbow Over Texas 1946 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
My Pal Trigger 1946 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Under Nevada Skies 1946 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Roll On Texas Moon 1946 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Home in Oklahoma 1946 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Out California Way (cameo) [TC*] 1946 Lesley Selander Republic Yes. Multiple
Heldorado 1946 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Apache Rose [TC] 1947 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Hit Parade of 1947 1947 Frank McDonald Republic Yes. Multiple
Bells of San Angelo [TC] 1947 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Springtime in the Sierras [TC] 1947 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
On the Old Spanish Trail [TC] 1947 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Gay Ranchero, The [TC] 1948 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Under California Stars [TC] 1948 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Eyes of Texas [TC] 1948 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Melody Time 1948 Ben Sharpsteen Disney Yes. Disney
Night Time in Nevada [TC] 1948 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Grand Canyon Trail [TC] 1948 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Far Frontier, The [TC] 1948 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Susanna Pass [TC] 1949 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Down Dakota Way [TC] 1949 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Golden Stallion, The [TC] 1949 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Bells of Coronado [TC] 1950 William Witney Republic Yes. Lionsgate
Twilight in the Sierras [TC] 1950 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Trigger Jr. [TC] 1950 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Sunset in the West [TC] 1950 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
North of the Great Divide [TC] 1950 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Trail of Robin Hood [TC] 1950 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Spoilers of the Plains 1951 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Heart of the Rockies 1951 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
In Old Amarillo 1951 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
South of Caliente 1951 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Pals of the Golden West 1951 William Witney Republic Yes. Multiple
Son of Paleface [colour] 1952 William Witney Paramount Yes. Paramount
Roy Rogers Show (100 episodes) 1951-57 Frank Tashlin TV Yes. Multiple
Alias Jesse James [colour] 1959 Norman McLeod UA Yes. MGM
Mackintosh and TJ [colour] 1975 Marvin Chomsky Indep. Yes. TVS (DVD-R)
* TC = title filmed in Trucolor
Unlike the Gene Autry films which were made available on DVD in generally impressive versions (first through Image and from now on through Timeless Media Group), the Roy Rogers westerns have a rather checkered DVD history. In the early 1950s when his westerns were made available to television by Republic, truncated versions of about 53 minutes each were created by trimming the original negatives with the trims generally not being retained. Of course prints at the original length still existed and some of those provide the source material for the DVDs that are available. One does have to be careful though as a result, for where multiple DVD versions of a given title are available from the public domain specialists, some will be in the original length while others will reflect the truncated TV versions. Also some of the Trucolor films are replicated only in black and white. Generally the best source material that exists resides with the Republic library which is currently owned by Paramount and has been licensed to Lionsgate. Unfortunately Lionsgate has lacked the inspiration to do anything with its Roy Rogers holdings and the only Lionsgate DVD releases of Rogers films are for Bells of Coronado and Dark Command, both of which are reasonably decent if rather old DVD offerings now. Back in the latter days of VHS when Republic still controlled its own catalogue, it actually issued some nice versions of the Rogers films and some of these remain the best versions out there for home video purposes. Many of the Rogers westerns were featured on TV under the umbrella of Happy Trails Theatre (HTT) which was originally broadcast in the 1980s by TNN with Roy and Dale hosting. A number of these programs were released on DVD by Good Times Video, but even though authorized by the Rogers estate, the image quality is variable, some of the films are cut, and the releases are out of print now anyway. Timeless Media Group (TMG) has reissued 20 of these Happy Trails Theatre versions in a Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys set authorized by the Rogers estate. I have not viewed this set, but purchaser reviews suggest that the Good Times Video release deficiencies remain. There is a second TMG 2-DVD set also entitled Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys but apparently not authorized by the Rogers estate. It contains 5 Roy Rogers feature films and 10 episodes of the Roy Rogers Show TV series. The 5 feature films are not the Happy Trails Theatre versions, but the image quality is not very good. The titles included are Apache Rose, The Arizona Kid, Bells of San Angelo, Song of Arizona, and Sheriff of Tombstone. See my earlier review here. The TMG releases are all noted in the table below.
Here are comments on other prolific Roy Rogers DVD sources: Roan Group, VCI, Alpha, Comet Video, and Sinister Cinema. There may be others that are major sources and I welcome additional information to improve the thoroughness of this article.
Roan Group: A popular source of superior laserdisc product, Roan Group moved confidently into the DVD era, but has become apparently moribund of late after having been taken over by Troma. Five volumes of Roy Rogers titles have been released on pressed DVD, with most now out of print. All are worth picking up though as the transfers are quite good (particularly on smaller screens but passable only on large ones), many contain the uncut versions, and have the Republic introductory logos. Volume 1 contains Days of Jesse James (cut), King of the Cowboys, and Roll On Texas Moon. Volume 2 contains Billy the Kid Returns (cut) and Hands Across the Border. Volume 3 contains Home in Oklahoma and Song of Texas (I don't have this volume so can't comment on completeness). Volume 4 contains Heldorado and In Old Cheyenne (cut). Volume 5 consists only of Apache Rose (not in colour).
VCI: This classic title specialist issues most of its releases on pressed DVD, but a number of its B western offerings are available only on DVD-R. There are 8 releases available of Roy Rogers titles, five of which are multiple feature offerings for a total of 13 Rogers titles all told. Courtesy of VCI, I have taken a look at all of them and all are quite workable, again best viewed on smaller screens, though 7 of the 13 titles will tolerate larger screens acceptably. They are the ones underlined in the following list: Come On, Rangers and The Big Show (both contained in The Legendary Singin' Cowboys Classic Westerns Collection, and delivered in cut versions on pressed DVD with the Republic logos missing); Idaho (uncut, on DVD-R and with the Republic logo); Bells of Rosarita (uncut, on DVD-R and with the Republic logo with a British print the apparent source material); Home in Oklahoma (uncut, on DVD-R and with the Republic logo); a double feature on pressed DVD of Under California Stars (uncut, in colour, with Republic logo) and Bells of San Angelo (uncut, in colour, with Republic logo); a double feature on DVD-R of The Arizona Kid (cut, Republic logo missing) and Ridin' Down the Canyon (cut, Republic logo missing); a double feature on DVD-R of Robin Hood of the Pecos (cut, Republic logo missing) and In Old Cheyenne (cut, Republic logo missing); and a double feature on DVD-R of The Far Frontier (cut , not in colour, Republic logo missing) and The Yellow Rose of Texas (cut, Republic logo missing).
Alpha: This company specializes in classic titles and issues all its releases on pressed DVD with very appealing cover art work. 69 Roy Rogers titles are available either as individual releases or as double feature discs. 64 of the 100 Roy Rogers Show TV episodes are also available on 16 releases that each contain 4 episodes (generally titled Roy Rogers and Dale Evans: Volume 1 up to Volume 16). I was not able to view any of the TV show releases, but courtesy of Alpha Video, I have taken a look at 20 of the Roy Rogers feature films they offer. It's common to see Alpha's product knocked for inferior image quality, but that's a generalization not uniformly warranted. Certainly some of their releases do look ragged, but many are quite acceptable particularly given the valuable service that Alpha renders in making many lesser and independently made (often Poverty Row) productions available on pressed DVDs and at an attractive price (frequently about $5 each via the Alpha website). Of the 20 Rogers titles I viewed, 8 were quite acceptable and though best viewed on smaller screens would tolerate watching on larger screens. The other 12 while still workable were slightly soft and scratchy at times and best restricted to small screen viewing. The 8 better ones are underlined in the following list of all 20 titles I looked at: Alpha 5865D double feature of Eyes of Texas (uncut, not in colour, with Republic logo) and Grand Canyon Trail (uncut, not in colour, with Republic logo); Alpha 5857D double feature of Sunset on the Desert (cut, no Republic logo) and Nevada City (cut, has Republic logo); Alpha 5851D double feature of South of Santa Fe (cut, no Republic logo) and In Old Cheyenne (cut, no Republic logo); Alpha 5766D Under Western Stars (uncut, with Republic logo); Alpha 5837D Wall Street Cowboy (cut, no Republic logo); Alpha 5931D double feature of The Cowboy and the Senorita (cut, no Republic logo) and Under Nevada Skies (uncut, no Republic logo but has proper title frame); Alpha 5891D double feature of Ridin' Down the Canyon (cut, no Republic logo) and On the Old Spanish Trail (cut, not in colour, no Republic logo but has proper title frame); Alpha 5874D double feature of Southward Ho! (cut, no Republic logo) and Song of Texas (cut, no Republic logo); Alpha 5873D double feature of Night Time in Nevada (cut, not in colour, no Republic logo) and Man from Cheyenne (cut, no Republic logo); Alpha 4130D King of the Cowboys (cut, no Republic logo); Alpha 4126D Young Buffalo Bill (cut, no Republic logo - marginally the best-looking image of any of the Alpha titles I looked at); Alpha 4147D Bad Man of Deadwood (cut, no Republic logo); and Alpha 4131D The Yellow Rose of Texas (cut, no Republic logo). Note that the latter four releases are all available together attractively packaged in a hinged wooden box identified as Alpha 0913D and entitled Roy Rogers Classics Collection. The table below provides details on Alpha title availability.
Comet Video: Comet is a small company specializing in B westerns and serials since 1979. It has an impressive number of Roy Rogers titles available. Comet's website refers only to DVD, but I suspect the product is DVD-R. Some 87 Rogers titles are listed as being available, many claimed as uncut. I have not been able to view any of the Comet product to assess quality or completeness nor whether the many Trucolor features listed are actually available in colour. The table below provides details on Comet title availability.
Sinister Cinema: Sinister specializes in public domain titles mainly in the area of horror/science fiction and B westerns. Film offerings are on DVD-R as well as VHS. There are 37 Roy Rogers films in the Sinister catalogue, but only 21 of them are available on DVD-R. The others are VHS only. I have not viewed any of the Sinister Cinema releases so cannot comment on completeness, image quality, and the like. The website does indicate the Under Western Stars release as being uncut.
Table Summarizing Roy Rogers Non-Major Studio DVD Sources
Title Year Alpha Comet Video Sinister Cinema Roan, VCI, TMG
Old Homestead, The 1935 * - * -
Tumbling Tumbleweeds 1935 - - - -
Gallant Defender 1935 - * - -
Mysterious Avenger, The 1936 - - - -
Song of the Saddle 1936 - * - -
Rhythm on the Range 1936 - - - -
California Mail 1936 - * - -
Big Show, The 1936 * - * VCI
Old Corral, The 1936 - - - -
Old Wyoming Trail, The 1937 - * - -
Wild Horse Rodeo 1937 * - - -
Old Barn Dance, The 1938 - - - -
Under Western Stars 1938 *Uncut *Uncut *Uncut -
Billy the Kid Returns 1938 * * - Roan
Come On, Rangers 1938 * * * VCI
Shine On, Harvest Moon 1938 * * - -
Rough Riders' Round-Up 1939 * * - -
Southward Ho 1939 * * - -
Frontier Pony Express 1939 * * - -
In Old Caliente 1939 * * - -
Wall Street Cowboy 1939 * * * -
Arizona Kid, The 1939 * * - VCI, TMG
Jeepers Creepers 1939 - - - -
Saga of Death Valley 1939 * * - -
Days of Jesse James 1939 * * - Roan
Dark Command 1940 - - - -
Young Buffalo Bill 1940 * * - -
Carson City Kid, The 1940 * * * -
Ranger and the Lady, The 1940 * * * -
Colorado 1940 * * - -
Young Bill Hickok 1940 * * - TMG
Border Legion, The (aka West of the Badlands) 1940 * * - -
Robin Hood of the Pecos 1941 * * * VCI
Arkansas Judge 1941 - - - -
In Old Cheyenne 1941 * * - Roan, VCI
Sheriff of Tombstone 1941 * * - TMG
Nevada City 1941 * * - -
Bad Man of Deadwood 1941 * * - -
Jesse James at Bay 1941 * * * -
Red River Valley 1941 - * * -
Man from Cheyenne 1942 * * * -
South of Santa Fe 1942 * * - -
Sunset on the Desert 1942 * * - -
Romance on the Range 1942 * * Uncut - -
Sons of the Pioneers 1942 - * - TMG (HTT)
Sunset Serenade 1942 * * Uncut * -
Heart of the Golden West 1942 * * - -
Ridin' Down the Canyon 1942 * * - VCI
Idaho 1943 * * Uncut * VCI (Uncut)
King of the Cowboys 1943 * * Uncut - Roan
Song of Texas 1943 * * - Roan
Silver Spurs 1943 * * * -
Man from Music Mountain, The (aka Texas Legionnaires) 1943 * * - -
Hands Across the Border 1944 * * Uncut * Roan
Cowboy and the Senorita 1944 * * Uncut - TMG
Yellow Rose of Texas, The 1944 * * Uncut - VCI
Song of Nevada 1944 * * Uncut - -
San Fernando Valley 1944 * * Uncut - -
Lights of Old Santa Fe 1944 * * Uncut * -
Brazil (cameo) 1944 - * - -
Lake Placid Serenade 1944 - - - -
Hollywood Canteen (cameo) 1944 - - - -
Utah 1945 * * Uncut * -
Bells of Rosarita 1945 * * Uncut - VCI (Uncut)
Man from Oklahoma 1945 - * - TMG (HTT)
Sunset in El Dorado 1945 * * - TMG (HTT)
Don't Fence Me In 1945 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Along the Navaho Trail 1945 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Song of Arizona 1946 * * Uncut - TMG
Rainbow Over Texas 1946 - * * TMG (HTT)
My Pal Trigger 1946 * * Uncut * -
Under Nevada Skies 1946 * Uncut * Uncut - -
Roll On Texas Moon 1946 * * Uncut * Roan
Home in Oklahoma 1946 * * Uncut * Roan, VCI (Uncut)
Out California Way (cameo) [TC*] 1946 - * - -
Heldorado 1946 * * Uncut - Roan
Apache Rose [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - Roan, TMG
Hit Parade of 1947 1947 - - - -
Bells of San Angelo [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - VCI (Uncut) TMG (Uncut)
Springtime in the Sierras [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - -
On the Old Spanish Trail [TC] 1947 * * Uncut - -
Gay Ranchero, The [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - -
Under California Stars [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - VCI (Uncut)
Eyes of Texas [TC] 1948 * Uncut * Uncut - -
Melody Time 1948 - - - -
Night Time in Nevada [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - -
Grand Canyon Trail [TC] 1948 * Uncut * Uncut - -
Far Frontier, The [TC] 1948 * * Uncut - VCI
Susanna Pass [TC] 1949 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Down Dakota Way [TC] 1949 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Golden Stallion, The [TC] 1949 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Bells of Coronado [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Twilight in the Sierras [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Trigger Jr. [TC] 1950 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Sunset in the West [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - -
North of the Great Divide [TC] 1950 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Trail of Robin Hood [TC] 1950 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Spoilers of the Plains 1951 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Heart of the Rockies 1951 - * Uncut - -
In Old Amarillo 1951 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
South of Caliente 1951 * * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Pals of the Golden West 1951 - * Uncut - TMG (HTT)
Son of Paleface [colour] 1952 - - - -
Roy Rogers Show (100 episodes) 1951-57 16 Vol. (64 ep) - - TMG (10 ep)
Alias Jesse James [colour] 1959 - - - -
Mackintosh and TJ [colour] 1975 - - - -
TMG = Timeless Media Group
HTT = Happy Trails Theatre
TC = Trucolor
So far I haven't recommended any particular Roy Rogers title in terms of western entertainment value. I haven't seen all of Roy's films, but of the 50-odd ones I have, I'm generally partial to the 1938-42 and post-1946 titles. Some specific titles I particularly recommend are: Under Western Stars, Billy the Kid Returns, Come on Rangers, In Old Caliente, The Arizona Kid, Saga of Death Valley, Dark Command, The Carson City Kid, Bad Man of Deadwood, Red River Valley, Heart of the Golden West, My Pal Trigger, Heldorado, Springtime in the Sierras, Bells of Coronado, North of the Great Divide, and Trail of Robin Hood.
As a final and hopeful note, Turner Classic Movies debuted restorations of four of Roy's films at its 2011 Classic Film Festival in Hollywood this past April. The titles were: Cowboy and the Senorita, Trigger Jr., Under Western Stars, and My Pal Trigger. All but Under Western Stars will show up on the TCM channel itself in July as apart of that month's tribute to singing cowboys. Hope springs eternal that the new restorations will make their way to DVD as well.
Classic DVD Reviews
Twilight Time continues its strong record of releases with 1964's Fate Is the Hunter. Films about plane crashes have long been grist for Hollywood, but almost 50 years after its theatrical release, Fate Is the Hunter remains an envigorating entertainment.
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The plot has a good pedigree, originating from a book by Ernest Gann who also was responsible for "The High and the Mighty", "Island in the Sky", and other aviation stories. The film focuses on the aftermath of a crash and the efforts to determine the cause. Glenn Ford delivers strong work as the chief investigator and the film weaves his efforts deftly with the stories of the plane's doomed pilot (Rod Taylor), his bereaved girlfriend (Nancy Kwan), and the flight attendant who is the only survivor (Suzanne Pleshette). Also in the cast are familiar faces such as Wally Cox, Nehemiah Persoff, and Mark Stevens with Jane Russell making a guest appearance. Director Ralph Nelson makes good use of the CinemaScope widescreen ratio and the very fine black and white cinematography by Milton Krasner (Oscar nomination) enhances the mood of the story effectively. Twilight Time's 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is very strong, offering a noticeably detailed grey scale, a generally crisp and quite clean image, and good contrast. Some modest grain is evident and the transfer is free of apparent digital manipulation. The mono audio does the job satisfactorily with clear dialogue and seems free of hiss or distortion. There are no subtitles. Supplements comprise an isolated music and effects track (standard for Twilight Time releases so far), the original theatrical trailer, and an 8-page pamphlet of production and reaction notes. Highly recommended.
Fruit of VCI's new accord with ITV/Carlton that makes many classic Rank Organization titles available to them is VCI's recent release of 1945's The Way to the Stars. The film is a superior evocation of life at a bomber airfield in England during World War II.
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The focus is on the inter-relationships between RAF and USAAF personnel sharing the field, as much from their point of view as that of the various civilians of the neighbouring town whose lives they touch. There is essentially no actual airwar footage though the effects of the crews' various forays over enemy territory is closely integrated into the story. The story relies greatly on its fine British cast and is not let down by the likes of John Mills, Michael Redgrave, Stanley Holloway, Basil Radford, Joyce Carey, and Rosamund John. American Douglass Montgomery plays one of the key USAAF roles well. The strongly dramatic story, touching but not cloying, is chiefly due to Terence Rattigan. Its central focus is a young new pilot played by John Mills who struggles with committing to a young woman he meets when he sees other relationships severely tested by war's events. VCI's full frame transfer is a very good one, offering a clear, fairly clean image. Contrast is very good and the image is generally bright and crisp. Best of all, we get the original British cut that easily exceeds 100 minutes (though at 104 minutes still a few minutes shy of the 109 listed on the disc packaging) rather than the edited American release version that came in under 90 minutes and was entitled Johnny in the Clouds. The mono sound is fine. There are no subtitles or supplements. Recommended.
I would imagine that the U.S. Air Force would have been fairly satisfied with 1956's Toward the Unknown. Filmed with its assistance and focusing on the USAF flight test centre at Edwards AFB, the film is generally interesting throughout (despite a somewhat clichéd script) due to the aerial footage and some fine performances, principally from William Holden and Lloyd Nolan.
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Nolan is the base's commanding officer, still trying to hang on in the young man's test pilot game at an age where, still competent as a pilot, his body begins to betray him under the physical stress of aerial testing. The film's nominal star is Holden, playing an officer who cracked under brainwashing in Korea but now trying to redeem his career by serving as a test pilot. He helps his case by discovering structural defects in a new plane that the air force is considering for purchase, and by rescuing Nolan from a tricky situation during a joint test flight. As a result he bolsters his chances of getting the plum job of testing the X-2 jet. The film came after a streak of pretty fine films for Holden in 1954-56 including Picnic, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, The Country Girl, and Executive Suite. Not quite as weighty as any of those fine vehicles but still worthy fare, Toward the Unknown, was Holden's entrée in the realm of independent production, made for his Toluca Productions and distributed by Warner Bros. The film also benefits from a number of familiar and strong supporting players such as Charles McGraw, Murray Hamilton, Paul Fix, and L.Q. Jones, as well as featuring a 28-year old James Garner in his first feature film. It's available on a MOD disc in a remastered edition from the Warner Archive. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks quite good. The image is quite clean, sharp, and nicely detailed, and the WarnerColor is bright though occasionally looks muted from the reds and blues that frequently dominate that process. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no subtitles and no supplements. Recommended in general and a must for Holden fans.
The Prize (1963) is no prize. Returning to MGM where he had had success a year earlier with Sweet Bird of Youth and joining director Mark Robson whom he had last worked with in 1960's From the Terrace, Paul Newman plays a Nobel Prize winner for Literature who joins his fellow winners in Stockholm for the award ceremonies.
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Among them are Edward G. Robinson, Kevin McCarthy, Sergio Fantoni, and Micheline Presle. All these winners somehow get involved in a round of international intrigue, sexual adventures, and interpersonal silliness that comes across on screen as such a hodge-podge of drama and comedy that one is left completely cold and unengaged. The film quickly takes on the sense of a grand ship on an ill-fated voyage and never recovers from that course. Based on a pot-boiler by Irving Wallace, some of the goings-on seem more suited to the awards ceremony for the Miss Nude World Pageant than the Nobel Awards, but then I guess it was easier to fit in Cold war subterfuge at a Stockholm setting. Few of the actors escape unscathed from this debacle in terms of acting credibility, but at least Elke Summer (as Newman's Swedish "handler"), Diane Baker (as the Robinson character's niece) and Micheline Presle (as the Chemistry award winner) do nothing to compromise the physical attractiveness reasons for their casting. Paul Newman never seems comfortable in his role - his efforts at comedy seem forced and his participation in the search and pursuit aspects of the film is unpersuasive in terms of portraying a character of intrigue. The film has been released on a MOD disc in a remastered edition by the Warner Archive sporting a 2.4:1 anamorphic transfer. The image looks reasonably sharp but colours seem somewhat muted at times. The image, like the film, never gives the feeling that one is watching anything very special. The mono sound is clear and free of hiss or distortion. There are no subtitles and the only supplement is the theatrical trailer.
With its focus on the Warner Archive, Warner Bros.' ambitious programme of classic releases on pressed DVD is a distant fond memory now, but here's one title that's made it to unburnt disc from the company - 1933's Night Flight.
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It's originally a major MGM production from executive producer David O. Selznick, directed by Clarence Brown and starring quite a list of acting talent - John Barrymore, Clark Gable, Helen Hayes, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy - as well as lesser lights such as William Gargan, C. Henry Gordon, Irving Pichel, and Dorothy Burgess. The film is based on a novel by French aviator Antoine de Saint Exupery which is drawn from his experiences as an airmail pilot and director of an Argentinian airline. The book's original French title was "Vol de Nuit" and it won a French literary prize called the Prix Femina. MGM apparently only had a 10-year window of exhibition for its film from the book's author and since that licence expired in the early 1940s, Night Flight has been unavailable for authorized viewing. Warners cleared that legal hurdle recently, making the film finally available for the home video market (as it has incidentally for The Constant Nymph, a 1943 WB title similarly in limbo for many years). Would that with the wait, Night Flight were a better film. With its cast implying a Grand Hotel-of-the-air type picture, expectations are high, but the film is very compartmentalized. It's a tale of trying to establish an air mail service between southern South America and Europe. Flights from the southern tip of the continent and from the west coast (Santiago, Chile) must converge in Buenos Aires, Argentina by midnight in time to have their cargos transferred to another plane bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and points north where it will meet a boat to carry the mail across the Atlantic Ocean. The only real human hook in the story is the need for polio serum to get to Rio from Santiago quickly. John Barrymore plays the director of the fledgling service much worried about meeting his timetable with little concern for his pilots. Gable and Montgomery play the pilots of the planes from the south and west respectively while Gargan pilots the plane from Buenos Aires north. Hayes, Burgess and Loy are their respective ladies. All the actors are fine, but they virtually never interact. Clark Gable spends his time looking grim in a plane while every so often scribbling out notes that he passes to his radio operator. There are certainly some well-mounted aerial sequences, particularly some in a severe storm, but the dearth of direct human interaction is disappointing and even puzzling given producer Selznick's involvement. Well at least the DVD quality doesn't disappoint. The full frame image (correctly framed) looks bright and quite sharp. Shadow detail is a bit variable, but overall quite acceptable. The mono sound is clear and free of distortion. English SDH and French subtitling is provided. The supplements consist of two MGM shorts. Swing High profiles a high wire act while When the Cat's Away is a cute Harman-Ising cartoon made in an early colour (looks like two-strip) process. A featurette on the production's history including its long-time unavailability would have been welcome. Still, a release worth your support and early sound enthusiasts should consider it a must.
The Gene Autry estate has been diligent in its presentation of Autry's screen heritage on DVD. Many of Gene's feature films were made available on DVD through Image Entertainment in above-average restored editions, though most are now out of print. Now the estate has struck a deal with Timeless Media Group (TMG) to release all of the feature films to DVD, both those previously available from Image as well as all the others that hadn't seen the light of day. Included in this package also is the complete run of Gene's 1950s TV program The Gene Autry Show and his 1935 Mascot serial, The Phantom Empire. Both the latter and The Gene Autry Show: The Complete First Season are now available from TMG as the first fruits of the new arrangement.
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Long in the public domain, the 12-chapter serial The Phantom Empire is an interesting blend of western and science fiction. Gene plays the owner of a ranch who can only retain control by living up to a radio contract that calls for him to broadcast a program from the ranch each afternoon. Complicating things is the presence of radium on the ranch which attracts unscrupulous speculators and even more importantly the discovery of the underground civilization of Murania whose queen is intent on retaining her world's secrecy and her control over it. Viewers will find some crude special effects here, particularly some recycled tin robots, but the serial's blending of genres is infectiously entertaining. In his first starring role, Gene Autry is quite adequate, his charisma showing why he would become one of the best B western heroes, even though his inexperience is evident at times here. The serial's action sequences are well-handled reflecting Mascot's and directors Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason's extensive experience in the serial field. The serial also benefits from the presence of young veteran Frankie Darro. Smiley Burnette, here billed as Lester (Smiley) Burnette, is also around for comedy support. Timeless Media Group's DVD release consists of three DVDs each in individual thincases all housed in a cardboard slipcase. The timeless release looks marginally better than the only other version I've seen, that of VCI's. As with VCI's effort, TMG's offers good image detail and sharpness, but contrast is noticeably improved for the most part. Some scratches and speckles continue to exist, but nothing that detracts from one's enjoyment. The mono sound is in good shape with hiss being minimal. There are no subtitles. The only supplement is a short gallery of images from posters and lobby cards. It is in this respect that the TMG effort falls short of VCI's for the latter included a brief featurette on the making of the serial, the theatrical trailer, a Gene Autry text biography, a photo gallery, a 7-minute musical excerpt featuring Autry and Gabby Hayes from the feature film In Old Santa Fe, and the complete 1937 Republic Autry feature Boots and Saddles. The new TMG release of The Phantom Empire is recommended, but if you already have the VCI version, I'd stick with it. The Gene Autry Show debuted on CBS in July 1950. The first season consisted of 26 half-hour episodes starring Gene along with his horse Champion and sidekick Pat Buttram. The shows were made by Gene's Flying "A" Pictures production company, many at Pioneertown, a new western shooting location in the high desert near Palm Springs. The show came at a time when William Boyd was having great success with his Hopalong Cassidy films and TV series, and was similarly a successful vehicle for Gene. Gail Davis, a flame of Gene's in real life and also a co-star of a number of his final feature films was a frequent performer in the TV series also. Guest appearances from the likes of Sheila Ryan, Alan Hale Jr., Harry Lauter ( a very familiar face in TV westerns), Chill Wills, John Doucette, Fuzzy Knight, Dick Jones, and the Cass County Boys added luster to the first season. The shows were filmed in black and white with the exception of two that were shot in Kodachrome Color for airing by CBS during a test period leading up to the FCC decision on authorizing colour television service. In the first season's programs, Gene takes on various roles though mainly he's a sheriff or investigator of some sort. The stories are briskly told and generally high in entertainment value. Gene often introduced the shows and those introductions are included in TMG's four-disc release of The Gene Autry Show: The Complete First Season. The four discs are packaged in three thincases housed in a cardboard slipcase. The full frame video is consistently good, offering clean, sharp, nicely-detailed images. The black and white shows all exhibit good gray scales and the two colour shows are bright with fairly strong, accurate-looking colour. The mono sound is in good shape with little hiss and no distortion evident. There are no subtitles. Supplements include seven trailers from Gene's feature films, a gallery of Gene Autry trading cards, and a 29-minute "Melody Ranch" radio show from December 1950. Recommended.
20th Century-Fox must have liked its 1962 film The Comancheros because only two years later it essentially remade it as Rio Conchos, even employing Stuart Whitman once again and the efforts of screenwriter Claire Huffaker. Of course, they didn't have John Wayne this time, settling instead for Richard Boone to play the main character. The story about a wayward group striving to run its own show and create a haven by using the Apaches as a smokescreen is an interesting one, but is muddied here by a plot involving an ex-Confederate officer who is offered freedom from prosecution on a stolen rifle charge if he leads a small group into Mexico. As the officer, Richard Boone provides an unlikable and irritating portrayal, not helped by Tony Franciosa's unbelievable Mexican prisoner. Jim Brown makes his film debut as an army sergeant and he's fine though not particularly memorable. Edmond O'Brian as the leader of the group involved with the Apaches is easily the film's most memorable character (though one would expect nothing less from that fine actor). Rio Conchos has not been available previously on DVD and it has now been released by Shout! Factory as one half of a Wild West Collection double feature. The other title in the one-disc set is 1975's Take a Hard Ride.
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If Rio Conchos had some of the nihilistic feel of the violent spaghetti westerns that were starting to make inroads in the early to mid 1960s, Take a Hard Ride was the real deal. The focus is Mexico once again and there's even reference to a haven in that country. Lee Van Cleef is the iconic spaghetti western villain while the good guys are portrayed by Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and even Jim Kelly. There's plenty of action, all well-orchestrated by that well-known Italian director Anthony Dawson. Throw in a good score by Jerry Goldsmith (another link to Rio Conchos) and you've got an enjoyable piece of western entertainment. A few links to classic Hollywood with the presence of Dana Andrews, Barry Sullivan, and Harry Carey Jr. don't hurt either. Both films look very good on Shout! Factory's new release. Rio Conchos, a CinemaScope film , is given a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that's quite sharp and offers good detail. Colours are bright and look accurate. There's some modest grain evident and no sign of over-zealous digital manipulation (no overt edge effects intrude). Take a Hard Ride was previously released by Anchor Bay with a pretty good anamorphic transfer. Shout! Factory's new 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks quite sharp but isn't strikingly different from the Anchor Bay one. Grain is evident and colour fidelity looks good. The mono sound on both films does an efficient job with clear dialogue, reasonably hefty gunshot sounds, and Jerry Goldsmith's scores well conveyed. Supplements include a trailer for each film and new informative interviews with Take a Hard Ride stars Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly. Recommended.
Exposé films about the mob including the word "confidential" in their title and the name of a major American city were common fare in the 1950s. We had Kansas City Confidential, New York Confidential, and of course Chicago Confidential.
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The latter, a 1957 United Artists release, has now been made available as an item in the MGM MOD program. It's a slick little programmer that stars Brian Keith as an Illinois States Attorney fighting corrupt unions in Chicago. A gambling syndicate attempts to muscle in on one particular union and when the union presdient (Dick Foran) is uncooperative, he finds himself framed for murder. When Foran and his secretary (Beverly Garland) go to Keith, Keith attempts to prove Foran's innocence and trap the union vice-president (Douglas Kennedy) who's sympathetic to the syndicate. It's all fairly predictable, but it's told briskly and features a cast of welcome familiar supporting faces (Elisha Cook Jr., Jack Lambert, Anthony George, and Jim Bannon). Keith is quite sturdy in the lead role though he seems to get his hands dirty much more than one would expect from an attorney. MGM's MOD release is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that looks quite presentable. It's reasonably sharp and shadow detail is okay. Contrast looks good. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no subtitles and no supplements. Recommended.
With film noir icon Robert Ryan playing a war-traumatized Coast Guard officer and starring along with semi-icon Joan Bennett, The Woman on the Beach (RKO, 1947) seems on the surface to fit the film noir ethos. But it never persuades as a full-blown example of that film style.
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As an evocative dissection of a marriage in the throes of decline and the role of a man unsure of himself and his future, it's an interesting exercise from director Jean Renoir even if it seems incomplete, apparently due to studio tampering. Ryan has recurring nightmares about the sinking of the ship he served on and they become increasingly imbued with images of a woman on a beach. Then while on the beach near his Coast Guard station, Ryan happens on the apparent actual woman (Bennett) gathering firewood. He helps her carry the wood home and when he arrives there, learns that she is married to a well-known painter (Charles Bickford) whom she accidentally caused to go blind. Ryan is soon convinced that Bickford is feigning blindness to keep hold of Bennett and he attempts to prove it by allowing Bickford to walk along with him unaided near the end of a cliff overlooking the beach. The rest of the film portrays a bankrupt marital relationship that Ryan tries to unravel, his obsession leading him to turn his back on a promising relationship of his own. The film's ending is only partially satisfying and it may have been around that that Renoir's vision was most compromised. Despite that, the film is a fine vehicle for the three principal actors who all deliver excellent work. The Woman on the Beach is available in a remastered edition on a MOD disc from the Warner Archive. The full frame image is very strong offering a crisp, nicely-detailed image that's generally bright and sporting good contrast. Speckles and scratches are minimal and modest grain is evident. The mono sound is in good shape and there are no subtitles. There are no supplements either. Recommended.
The latest offering from THE TCM Vault Collection in conjunction with Universal is a Pre-Code double feature of The Song of Songs (1933) and This Is the Night (1932). Both were originally Paramount productions.
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The Song of Songs stars Marlene Dietrich who had worked almost exclusively with director Josef von Sternberg, but here is under the guidance of Rouben Mamoulian, no slouch himself. Unfortunately the film offers little scope for inspiration for it's a dreary, humdrum story about peasant girl Lily (Dietrich)who finds herself in Berlin staying with her aunt (Alison Skipworth as a bookseller!) after the death of her father. In the big city she's entranced by a local sculptor (Brian Aherne) into posing nude. A relationship soon develops between the two, but the sculptor finds himself unable to commit to marriage and Lily, through the offices of her aunt, ends up marrying a lecherous baron (Lionel Atwill). This one's strictly for Dietrich fans, whom she rewards with a pretty good performance although she reportedly didn't care much for the film. The film is clearly Mamoulian's in the lyricism he brings to the early scenes between Lily and the Aherne character, but the later scenes revolving around Lily and the baron almost seem to have a less sympathetic director at the helm. A much more entertaining vehicle is This Is the Night which features a number of Paramount early sound favorites such as Roland Young, Charles Ruggles, and Claire Dodd as well as being Cary Grant's debut film. The story is a typical bit of Paramount nonsense with an early nod to screwball comedy. Grant plays a javelin player who risks losing his wife (Thelma Todd) to a wealthy Parisian bachelor (Young). Trying to mislead Grant into thinking the bachelor is actually married is Ruggles who hires Lily Damita to pose as Young's wife. The whole group heads off to Venice. Before we know it all the guys are in love with Damita. The film sports a funny running gag in which Thelma Todd has her skirt torn off. It starts when chauffeur Irving Bacon closes a door on her skirt and the film makes the event almost a Parisian cause celebre. The film is a pretty good effort for Grant to point to as his debut. He's good himself and his character is enhanced by the fine supporting cast. As has become common with Universal's treatment of its early Paramount holdings, both films look quite good on the pressed DVDs (each film has its own disc. Both are presented full frame as originally shot and offer crisp, nicely detailed images. This Is the Night looks a little brighter than The Song of Songs. Both are in black and white though This Is the Night has some tinted sequences. The mono sound on both is quite acceptable with hiss being a bit more noticeable on The Song of Songs. There are no subtitles. Supplements include introductions by TCM's Ben Mankiewicz, and a range of photo and poster galleries, production notes, and a program accessible as DVD-ROM content for The Song of Songs. Recommended (mainly for This Is the Night).
The five early 1929-1933 Marx Bros. titles that were all released by Paramount (Animal Crackers, The Cocoanuts, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, and Monkey Business) have been analyzed thoroughly over the years in books, magazines and at numerous on-line sites.
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There's nothing new I can add, other than to acknowledge their infinite pleasures and seemingly endless repeat viewing potential. They have now arrived at their third release on DVD and this latest one caused a flurry of anticipation that Blu-ray versions were in the offing. Now that may yet be true, but we've certainly had no concrete indication from the rights holders, Universal, nor anything in that studio's Blu-ray track record to suggest an early arrival. So back to Universal's latest DVD versions. They constitute Universal's second kick at the can, there having been a six-disc box set issued in 2004 entitled The Marx Brothers: Silver Screen Collection. Prior to that the five titles had been issued by Image as separate releases in 2000. The Image releases certainly showed their age with numerous scratches, debris, and a fuzziness at times. Universal's Silver Screen Collection was a slight improvement, looking a little cleaner and offering a pretty decent gray scale, although a few scratches and speckles were still quite evident. The mono sound was also an improvement in clarity over the Image releases. Three of the titles (Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup) had their theatrical trailers on their discs and there was a sixth disc of extras comprising some short interviews with Harpo and Groucho and William Marx (Harpo's son). As for the new releases from Universal, to my eyes, there appears to be no difference from the 2004 transfers. That's confirmed by the fact that the new releases' video and audio files bear the same 2004 creation dates as before. The same three titles mentioned above contain their theatrical trailers, but there's no sign of any of the interviews. So if you already have the Silver Screen Collection, there's no need to buy these new individual releases. And if you don't have these titles on DVD yet, you're still best off to look for the Silver Screen Collection, because a quick check indicates it is a much better deal than buying these five new versions individually. If you don't have any of these titles yet, you're missing out on some of the best comic fare out there. Yet if you've waited this long, you might as well hold on a while in case Blu-ray versions do appear, but I for one am not holding my breath for anything soon.
Classic Blu-ray Reviews
John Wayne's output was of a fairly high standard in the early 1960s with the likes of The Alamo, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Hatari, and McClintock. Well up to the mark too was his work in director Michael Curtiz's final film, The Comancheros.
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The story begins with gambler Paul Regret killing a man in a duel in New Orleans and then fleeing to Texas to avoid arrest. There he is taken into custody by Texas Ranger Jack Cutter (John Wayne) who starts to take Regret back to Louisiana. Regret manages to escape and Cutter returns to Ranger headquarters where he soon learns that an outlaw gang has ignited an Indian attack by supplying them with rifles and liquor. Cutter is assigned to infiltrate the outlaw band and in so doing he runs into Regret again, with the two of them eventually joining forces hoping to eradicate the outlaws and destroy their desert stronghold. The Comancheros is a sturdy, traditional piece of western entertainment that demonstrated that despite health problems, Michael Curtiz still seemed able to orchestrate an action film effectively, though perhaps not quite as tightly as he did back in his 1940s Warner Bros. heyday. Admittedly, Curtiz was not well during the filming and some of the direction had to be assumed by Wayne and second-unit director Cliff Lyons, but the sweep of some of the action sequences certainly appears to reflect Curtiz's grand style. Unfortunately, it proved to be his last directorial effort, as he died of cancer soon after its release. For John Wayne, then in his mid-50s, the film was one of those that reflected his transition from traditional leading man to more of a venerable figure still able to back up his wisdom with action. This image was pleasing and would carry Wayne successfully through the rest of his career. The film benefits also from a strong cast featuring Stuart Whitman as Regret, Nehemiah Persoff as the head of the outlaw band, Ina Balin as his daughter, and Lee Marvin. The latter has a somewhat curious (and truncated) role as a gun-runner that provides a link between the film's first and last thirds. Familiar character actors abound: Michael Ansara, Bruce Cabot, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan, Henry Daniell, Guinn Williams, and Bob Steele. Fine location work, mainly in Moab, Utah, adds much to the film's look. Fox's 2.35:1 Blu-ray image is a definite upgrade over the previous DVD version. Textures are very detailed and colours are bright and nicely though not overly saturated. Modest grain is intact and there's absolutely no evidence of untoward digital manipulation. The source material is very clean also. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio remix is fairly effective. Surround activity isn't pronounced and LFE are minimal, but gunshots have a suitably effective crack to them. Dialogue is clear and Elmer Bernstein's score fares well. There's also a 4.0 Dolby Digital English track and French and Spanish mono ones. English SDH and Spanish subtitling has been include. The supplement package is impressive, including an interesting actors audio commentary that goes back to laserdisc days, and two good featurettes - one on the historical background to the film's plot and another (about 40 minutes long) on John Wayne's career work at Fox. There's also an audio interview with Stuart Whitman, a reproduction of a Comancheros comic book done with HD scans, a short newsreel, and two trailers. Recommended.
1970's Rio Lobo represented director Howard Hawks' third drink at the well of a plot that had previously been effectively told with minor variations in both Rio Bravo and El Dorado.
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In this, the weakest of the three versions, the story starts off with a real bang in the form of a train robbery of some style and freshness. A group of Confederate soldiers steals a shipment of gold destined for a Union depot where Colonel Cord McNally awaits its arrival. McNally goes in pursuit, but fails to retrieve the gold although he does manage to capture two of the Confederates - Captain Pierre Cordona and Sergeant Tuscarora Phillips. The Civil War ends soon thereafter and McNally befriends Cordona and Phillips because he still wants to track down the men responsible for betraying the details of the gold shipment to the Confederacy and thus guilty of treasonable activity. The trail eventually leads to the Rio Lobo country of Texas where a town is being held under the thumb of local rancher Ketcham and his corrupt sheriff Hendricks. Besides being familiar territory story-wise for Howard Hawks, it was also his last film. Although far from his best effort, it was fitting that he go out with a western starring John Wayne, a genre and a star with whom he had become closely associated during the second half of his career. For filming, he once again returned to the friendly location of Tucson. Unfortunately Hawks' renowned ability to pace his films so meticulously deserted him here. After the train robbery sequence, which was vintage Hawks, the film dragged interminably, becoming contrived in order to fit in the good-guys-barricaded-in-the-sheriff's-office plot line from Rio Bravo. Even the somewhat more energetic climactic sequence can't rescue it completely. John Wayne is, well, John Wayne - more of a presence than anything else in most of his final westerns - but that is plenty good enough. Minor supporting characters are well played by veterans like Jack Elam, Bob Steele, Hank Worden, Jim Davis, and Bill Williams. But the main co-stars are real letdowns. Jorge Rivera, somehow second-billed as Cordona, conveys no charisma at all, and Jennifer O'Neill is disappointing as Shasta, a woman who has her own reasons for wanting to return to Rio Lobo. One can't fault Paramount's Blu-ray presentation however. The 1.85:1 image is crisp and pleasingly colourful with the natural grain well preserved. There's no evidence of untoward digital manipulation. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio remix impresses throughout, delivering nice heft to gunshots and the sounds of a steam locomotive. Jerry Goldsmith's score also fares nicely. There's also an English stereo and Spanish, French and German tracks as well as a whole raft of subtitles (English SDH, French, Spanish, German, Danish, etc.). There are no supplements. The Blu-ray is overall a modest advance on the previous DVD and I would not suggest more than a rental unless you're a real fan of the film.
After Rio Lobo, Big Jake is a distinct improvement in terms of a unified story line and a plot that veteran director George Sherman drives along briskly. (This would be Sherman's last film, capping a career in westerns extending over five decades. He had previously worked with John Wayne in the Three Mesquiteer westerns that Wayne starred in for Republic in the late 1930s.)
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The story revolves around the kidnapping of young Jacob McCandles from the ranch of his grandmother Martha who has been estranged from her husband Jacob (Big Jake of the title) McCandles for many years. The kidnapping is carried out by a gang of nine men headed by John Fain, who demands a ransom of $1 million for the young boy's return. Martha calls on Big Jake, despite their past differences, as the only man who can save their grandson. With the money in tow on the back of a donkey and gradually gathering help from his two sons and an old Indian compatriot, Big Jake heads to Mexico to pay the ransom. With a well-executed kidnap sequence to open the film, a suspenseful closing set-piece, and punctuated by bursts of action throughout, Big Jake turns out to be one of the best of John Wayne's final half dozen westerns. The film was very much a family affair for Wayne. The producer was one of his sons - Michael - while two other sons - Patrick and John Ethan - played one of his sons and his grandson respectively in the film. Wayne also gathered many of his film family around him again. Chris Mitchum who had appeared in Rio Lobo played another son, and frequent players in Wayne films such as Bruce Cabot, Harry Carey Jr., and Hank Worden were on hand too. Even better, the role of Martha was played by Maureen O'Hara appearing for the fifth time in a film with Wayne. John Fain was played with appropriate menace by the reliable Richard Boone who was also working with Wayne for the second time. Filming was based in Durango, Mexico with plenty of advantage being taken of the surrounding Sonora Desert locations. Later Wayne films such as The Train Robbers and Cahill would be filmed there too. For the most part, Big Jake is a traditional sort of western. One deviation from this is the introduction of early motorized vehicles (the story is set circa 1910) and even an early automatic pistol, both of which drive a couple of the early sequences. This foolishness is soon dispensed with after a posse using the vehicles to track Fain's gang is ambushed and a number of the posse killed. Thereafter, horse and six-gun rule, as they should in any good western. Paramount's 2.35:1 Blu-ray presentation is very good. The image is very crisp with excellent detail and beautifully saturated colour. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio remix doesn't score quite as strongly as that on Rio Lobo, but dialogue is clear thoughout. English stereo and French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese tracks are provided as are English SDH and a whole raft of various European languages subtitles. There are no supplements. A noticeable advance in video at least over the DVD version. Recommended.
It's hard to know how to take A Man Called Horse. Is it really as realistic of Indian life and rituals as it would have you believe, or is it just the usual Hollywood stretching of the truth to suit dramatic license (despite the crediting of a Sioux advisor)?
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Whatever the case, the film is a violent one with definite masochistic tendencies that eventually lead more to tedium than fascination. The story concerns English lord, John Morgan, who while hunting in the West, is captured by a band of Sioux Indians. He is taken to their village and forced to suffer degrading treatment, but gradually he wins their respect and resolves to undergo the Vow of the Sun initiation, in order to gain complete acceptance. Afterwards, he settles into the life of the village, but that is all threatened when the village is attacked by a rival tribe. The problem with the film is not that it has long stretches when we are simply placed in the position of Morgan as he struggles to understand his surroundings with no appreciation for the language whatsoever. The difficulty is that none of the Indians are really allowed to develop as rounded characters, so we develop little affinity for them or their ways. Nor is there an entirely realistic progression in Morgan's development. All of a sudden, he's to undergo this ritual that seems to be one of some sacredness to the band. Yet, he hardly seems worthy of being allowed to do so. The rest of the film is pretty predictable. There is some interest in seeing a young Richard Harris at work and one must admit that he does an earnest job with the part of Morgan. Just seeing him in an early western role reminded me of his fine turn as English Bob in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992). Standout work is turned in by Dame Judith Anderson, almost unrecognizable as the band chief's elderly mother. Veteran Hollywood Indian player Iron Eyes Cody appears to advantage as the medicine man leading the Vow of the Sun ceremony. The film inspired two sequels - Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) and Trials of a Man Called Horse (1982) - with diminishing returns. Paramount's 2.35:1 Blu-ray image is very impressive particularly in some of the panoramas in the early part of the film. Colours are particularly vivid. Image sharpness is excellent and textural detail impresses throughout. Modest grain is effectively retained. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio remix and a stereo version offer little to choose between the two. Surround activity is very limited. Dialogue is clear and the music score is quite pulsating at times. French, German, and Spanish tracks are provided as are English SDH subtitles and a whole raft of European languages ones. There are no supplements. A noticeable advance in video over the DVD version and worth a purchase if you really like the film. Otherwise I'd stick with a rental first.
Vera Cruz was the second of three westerns in a row that Burt Lancaster starred in during 1954-55. The bracketing films were Apache and The Kentuckian.
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As with the others, Vera Cruz was made by Lancaster's production company and released by United Artists. Co-starring Gary Cooper, it's essentially a fun picture about two adventurers looking to make money helping one of the sides in the post Civil War struggle in Mexico between Maximilian's occupation forces and the local people who want freedom. Attracted by offers of money from Maximilian's representative, the pair is soon wrapped up in an effort to steal a cache of gold from the French occupation forces. The film, with its games of one-upsmanship between the two principals and a somewhat morally ambiguous viewpoint, reminds one of the Italian spaghetti westerns still nearly a decade away. There's plenty of action liberally dosed with somewhat random violence rather than the straight-forward elements of the traditional western. Both Lancaster and Cooper are very good in their roles and for me it's one of Cooper's better westerns. The roles the two stars play are actually reversed from how they were first cast. Aside from the interplay between the pair, the film also benefits from a strong supporting cast that includes Cesar Romero, George Macready, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson (billed as Charles Buchinsky), Jack Elam, Henry Brandon, and Morris Ankrum. Robert Aldrich directs with efficiency and imparts an urgency to the story. The location work in Mexico is a nice touch. Originally shot in Superscope, MGM's 2.0:1 Blu-ray transfer probably makes the film look as good as is possible. There's a fair bit of film grain, but it's been nicely handled with no excessive use of digital manipulation to smooth things out. The image is not consistently sharp but it does convey textures and colours quite well. The DTS-HD Master audio mono mix is about as effective as mono will allow, with gunshots delivering a nice crack of sound. Spanish and French mono tracks and subtitles are provided as is English SDH subtitling. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. Vera Cruz was a box-office success when originally released and this Blu-ray version deserves similar success. Recommended.
Additions to the Criterion Collection in August will include: If.... (1968, Malcolm McDowell) on Blu-ray on August 2nd; a two-disc Blu-ray edition of Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers (1965) on August 9th; and Roman Polanski's Cul-de-sac (1966) and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956, Sterling Hayden) on both Blu-ray and DVD on August 16th. August 30th will bring an upgrade of the early Criterion Collection title - Jean Cocteau's Orpheus (1949, Jean Marais) - and The Complete Jean Vigo (A propos de Nice/Taris/Zero de conduite/L'Atalante all from 1930-34). Both will be available on Blu-ray and DVD. Finally on DVD only on August 23rd, we'll get Eclipse Series 28: The Warped World of Koreyoshi Kurahara (Intimidation/The Warped Ones/I Hate But Love/Black Sun/Thirst for Love - all from 1960-67). September additions include two films by Claude Chabrol, both available on Blu-ray and DVD. Le beau Serge (1958) and Les cousins (1959) both arrive on September 20th and each will include audio commentary and a new making-of documentary. On September 27th, we'll get Victor Sjostrom's The Phantom Carriage (1920), again on both Blu-ray and DVD. The film is a key inspiration for Ingmar Bergman and its release will include audio commentary, an original visual essay on the Bergman connection, and a vintage Bergman interview,
Fox is looking at 2012 as a release time for The Poseidon Adventure on Blu-ray. That would be the 1972 film's 40th anniversary. A number of classic Todd-AO films such as Cleopatra, Hello Dolly, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Doctor Dolittle, and Star are also in Fox's radar for Blu-ray, but no specific titles or release plans have been announced as yet.
Grapevine Video has four silent and three sound offerings for June (all on DVD-R): The Avenging Conscience (1914, D.W. Griffith), Marked Money (1928, Frank Coghlan Jr.), You'd Be Surprised (1926, Raymond Griffith), The Torture of Silence (1917, Abel Gance), Woman to Woman (1929, Betty Compson), The Millionaire Kid (1936, Betty Compson), and Kukla, Fran and Ollie (2 colour episodes of the TV show).
Hen's Tooth Video will release Ill Met by Moonlight (1957, Dirk Bogarde) on August 16th. This was Powell and Pressburger's final collaboration and Hen's Tooth will be offering the longer original English release version and with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The title was originally planned for an April release but delayed.
Image Entertainment and the National Film Preservation Foundation have revealed that they're releasing Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938 as a 3-disc DVD box set on September 27th. The set's 10 hours will showcase the "dynamic, gender-bending, ethnically-diverse West that flourished in early movies but has never before been seen on DVD". Among the 40 selections are Mantrap (1926 - the wilderness comedy starring Clara Bow), W.S. Van Dyke's legendary The Lady of the Dugout (1918 - featuring outlaw-turned-actor Al Jennings), Salomy Jane (1914 - with America's first Latina screen celebrity Beatriz Michelena), Gregory La Cava's Womanhandled (1925), the cross-cultural drama Last of the Line (1914 - starring Sessue Hayakawa), one-reel films with Tom Mix and Broncho Billy, Mabel Normand in The Tourists (1912) and more. You'll also get "travelogues from 10 Western states including Seeing Yosemite with David A. Curry and the Fred Harvey Company's The Indian-detour, Kodachrome home movies, newsreels about Native Americans, documentaries and industrial films about such Western subjects as cattle ranching in Santa Monica" and many others. Coming on September 20th is a 5-DVD set entitled The Dick Van Dyke Show: 50th Anniversary Edition - Fan Favorites. It will contain 20 episodes of the popular series and is presumably aimed at those who don't already have the individual season releases that were issued quite some time ago. Some of the bonus material from those releases is included in the new release, including the original pilot episode and some cast and producer interviews.
Kino brings The Romantic Englishwoman (1975, Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson) to Blu-ray and DVD on June 21st. The company has also announced a September 27th release date for a double feature of Buster Keaton's Battling Butler (1926) and Go West (1925). It would appear as both a single-disc Blu-ray edition and a two-disc DVD Ultimate Edition.
MGM offers It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) on Blu-ray on July 5th. This will not be the restored complete version that the film's fans have been hoping for. And it will only be available as a Walmart exclusive at least for now.
RHI in association with Vivendi are releasing the content of the Genius Little Rascals box set from 3 years ago on individual release discs. The Little Rascals Volume 1 and The Little Rascals Volume 2 are available as of June 14th. Each contains 10 shorts and early reports suggest that these releases correct the deficiencies on the Genius set, with original (rather than Blackhawk) titles now being used as well as uncut masters. Amazon lists at least five more volumes as being available now.
Shout Factory gives us The Wild West Collection on June 14th. It includes Rio Conchos (1965, Richard Boone) and Take a Hard Ride (1975, Fred Williamson) - both with anamorphic widescreen transfers and the latter film with new interviews with Williamson and Jim Kelly. On July 26th, Dennis the Menace: Season Two (all 38 episodes) arrives.
S'More Entertainment will release A Big Box of Cowboys, Aliens, Robots and Death Rays on July 12th. It will be a 4-disc set including Radio Ranch (1935, Gene Autry, feature version of The Phantom Empire serial), Tombstone Canyon (1932, Ken Maynard), Ghost Patrol (1936, Tim McCoy), Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937, The 3 Mesquiteers), Sky Bandits (1940, James Newell), Gun Packer (1938, Jack Randall), Vanishing Riders (1935, Bill Cody) and Saddle Mountain Round-Up (1941, The Range Busters). That's 8 B westerns, all with a touch of the bizarre to them. Then on July 26th comes A Big Box of Wood which focuses on Ed Wood, producer/director/writer of many cheap genre films in the 1950s-70s. Included in the 5-disc set will be: Jail Bait (1954), Bride of the Monster (1955), The Violent Years (1958), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958), Sinister Urge (1960), Orgy of the Dead (1965), Snow Bunnies (1972), Drop Our Wife (1972), Fugitive Girls (1974), Beach Bunnies (1976), Hot Ice (1978), and a large selection of extras including film intros, three audio commentaries, and several interviews.
Sony's MOD program has added a number of classic titles as of June 7th: White Line Fever (1975, Jan-Michael Vincent); Key Witness (1947, John Beal); Slightly French (1949, Don Ameche); Love Has Many Faces (1965, Lana Turner); Barbary Pirate (1949, Donald Woods); Snake River Desperadoes (1951, Charles Starrett); and No Sad Songs for Me (1950, Margaret Sullavan).
VCI's second round of July releases is set for July 19th. It includes: Simba (1955, Dirk Bogarde), Penny Princess (1952, Dirk Bogarde), Robbery Under Arms (1957, David McCallum), and Ferry to Hong Kong (1959, Orson Welles). The latter will be presented in widescreen at 2.35:1, but not anamorphically enhanced. On August 2nd, seven of the Richard Gordon "Doctor" films are due out: Doctor in the House (1954), Doctor at Sea (1955), Doctor at Large (1957), Doctor in Love (1960), Doctor in Distress (1963), Doctor in Clover (1966), and Doctor in Trouble (1970). All star Dirk Bogarde except for the final two in which Leslie Phillips took over. Doctor in the House will be full frame. The others will all be presented at 1.78:1 but not anamorphically enhanced. Five of the titles will feature audio commentary (not Doctor in Distress or Doctor at Sea). It appears the titles will only be available individually and not as a box set.
Warner Archive additions for May 17th include the Four Daughters Collection and three Paul Newman titles. Four Daughters Collection includes Four Daughters (1938), Daughters Courageous (1939), Four Wives (1940), and Four Mothers (1941) - all with Claude Rains and the Lane sisters. The Newman titles are The Rack (1956), Until They Sail (1957), and The Prize (1963). May 24th, as previously expected, brings The F.B.I.: The First Season, Part One. Dark of the Sun (1968, Rod Taylor) arrives on June 7th along with Kona Coast (1968, Richard Boone), A Double Man (1967, Yul Brynner), Assignment to Kill (1969, Patrick O'Neal), 24 Hours to Kill (1965, Lex Barker), Once Before I Die (1965, John Derek), Hearts of the West (1975, Jeff Bridges), Avalanche Express (1979, Lee Marvin), and The Great Caruso (1951, Mario Lanza). Additions for June 14th include two John Garfield films - The Breaking Point (1950) and Tortilla Flat (1942) as well as The Herculoids: The Complete Animated Series (1967). June 21st brings The Woman on the Beach (1947, Robert Ryan) in a newly remastered edition. Also remastered for that date is A Damsel in Distress (1937, Fred Astaire). Other June 21st additions to the Archive are: Symphony of Six Million (1932, Irene Dunne), In Name Only (1939, Cary Grant), The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection (The Saint Strikes Back/The Saint in London, The Saint's Double Trouble/The Saint Takes Over/The Saint in Palm Springs - all from RKO 1939-41), The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931, Helen Hayes), If I Were Free (1934, Irene Dunne), Day of Reckoning (1933, Richard Dix), and Vigil in the Night (1940, Carole Lombard).
Warner Bros. has now officially confirmed the arrival of Citizen Kane (1941) on Blu-ray. It will come as a 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition due on September 13th, with availability on DVD too. The film itself has been remastered in 4K resolution. The set will include more than 3 hours of bonus content along with a 48-page collector's book filled with photos and behind-the-scene details, a 20-page reproduction of the original 1941 souvenir program, lobby cards, plus reproductions of rare production memos and correspondence. Disc One of the 3-disc set (Blu-ray or DVD) will include audio commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, a second commentary by Roger Ebert, Opening: World Premier of Citizen Kane vintage featurettes, interviews with Ruth Warrick and Robert Wise, galleries (of storyboards, call sheets and still photography - the latter with commentary by Ebert and photos of the ad campaign, press book and opening night), deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer. Disc Two (DVD) will include The Battle Over Citizen Kane documentary. Disc Three (DVD) will include the excellent HBO feature film RKO 281 which dramatizes the making of Citizen Kane. Amazon.com also has an exclusive version that comes packaged with a DVD copy of Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (the film will be widely available by itself at a later date). Coming on Blu-ray on October 11th will be The Bad Seed (1956, Nancy Kelly). And in late news, Warners has confirmed their Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray and DVD box sets for release on September 27th. There's also a 2-disc special edition DVD version that contains just the film with commentary. The UCE box sets will include the film split over two discs, newly-remastered frame by frame from the original 65mm elements in stunning 8K resolution - the highest resolution restoration ever done by the studio - with audio commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher, scene specific comments from Charlton Heston and a music-only track featuring Miklos Rozsa's score. Extras on the additional discs in the set include the all-new Charlton Heston: A Personal Journey documentary (in HD on the Blu-ray), along with the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur from the Thames Television restoration with stereophonic orchestral score by composer Carl Davis (143 min), the 2005 documentary Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema (58 min), the 1994 documentary Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic (58 min), the Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures feature, screen tests, a vintage newsreels gallery, highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards and a trailer gallery. The set will also include an exacting reproduction of Heston's own personal diary kept during the filming, as well as an exclusive hardbound photo book.
Well once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon. And here's something to think on. I'm considering dividing Classic Coming Attractions into two separate editions - one focused strictly on MOD classic releases, and the other strictly on pressed DVD and BD classic releases. Each edition would appear about once a month. Your feedback is welcome.