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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Humphrey Bogart on DVD

The recent confirmation from Columbia that it will release In a Lonely Place on DVD in mid-March comes as a welcome topper to the list of Humphrey Bogart's other films for Columbia that were already announced for release during the first two months of 2003. In fact, with the exception of the minor Love Affair (1932), the interesting Knock on Any Door (1949), and Tokyo Joe (1949), it means that we'll have all of Bogart's Columbia films available to us before Easter. Would that we could say the same for his Warner Brothers titles.

Anyway, Columbia's activity got me leafing through Bogart's filmography just to refresh my memory on where we stand with Bogart on DVD now in Region 1 and also to provide WB (and a couple of other companies) with some helpful suggestions as to Bogart titles they should be giving priority to.

Humphrey Bogart actually had a false start in Hollywood before really making an impact. His success on Broadway in the late 1920s led to a contract with Fox which began in 1930 with his first feature-length film A Devil with Women. More interesting, however, was his second film - the enjoyable Up the River - a prison comedy of sorts that was directed by John Ford and also starred Spencer Tracy in his screen debut. Things went generally downhill from there, however, with three lesser entries for Fox in 1931 (including Bogart's first western, A Holy Terror) and a loan-out to Universal for Bad Sister (also an early Bette Davis film). A short contract with Columbia in 1932 resulted in three more film credits, one for that company and a couple of loan-outs to Warner Brothers. The first half of the 1930s saw one more film - Midnight (also known as Call It Murder) for Universal in 1934 - before Bogart would take on a stage role that would turn things around for him. Perhaps surprisingly, one of these first ten Bogart films - Midnight - is actually available on DVD. Although frequently found among the offerings of the bargain basement video specialists, the film is not actually in the public domain. Image issued a reasonably respectable if bare-bones DVD over a year ago. Among the other nine titles, Fox could do worse than issue Up the River. The film has been shown on the Fox Movie Channel and doesn't look to be in bad condition. The combination of Ford, Bogart, and Tracy should attract many classic enthusiasts. And if WB wants a Bogart suggestion from this period, it should consider 1932's Three on a Match, which features him in a supporting role to Bette Davis, Warren William, and Joan Blondell.

Bogart's fortunes changed when playwright Robert Sherwood suggested Bogart for a part in his new play, The Petrified Forest. When it opened on Broadway early in 1935, Bogart won rave reviews for his compelling portrayal of gangster Duke Mantee. It opened new doors for him in Hollywood after Warner Brothers purchased the film rights to the play, but it also pigeon-holed him in film gangster roles for half a decade. Still he was on his way and many of the films were very good. From 1936 through 1940, Bogart would appear in 29 films, 27 of which were WB productions and the other two, United Artists. Only one of these titles has been made available on DVD (Dark Victory [1939, WB, a Bette Davis film in which Bogart has a questionable role as an Irish horse-trainer]). Although not in the same league as WB's recent restorations, Dark Victory looks pretty good and is worth picking up for Davis's efforts if nothing else. A second title - Stand-In (1937, UA, starring Leslie Howard with Bogart in a non-gangster role for a change) has been announced as a late-January release from Image.

It's shocking to me that no other Bogart titles from this period have been released on DVD. If one can't make the case on the basis of Bogart's supporting roles in these films, then one can certainly make it on the basis of the actual stars of many of them - such as James Cagney (Angels with Dirty Faces [1938, WB], The Oklahoma Kid [1939, WB], The Roaring Twenties [1939, WB]); Edward G. Robinson (Bullets or Ballots [1936, WB], Kid Galahad [1937, WB], The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse [1938, WB], Brother Orchid [1940, WB]); Bette Davis (The Petrified Forest [1936, WB], Marked Woman [1937, WB]); George Raft (Invisible Stripes [1939, WB], They Drive by Night [1940, WB]); or even Errol Flynn (Virginia City [1940, WB]). Several of the more minor films of the period in which Bogart starred are also worthy of release - titles such as Black Legion (1937, WB, a little gem harking back to WB's socially-conscious films of the early 1930s), Crime School (1938, WB, with the Dead End Kids), King of the Underworld (1939, WB, with the often unfairly maligned Kay Francis), and even It All Came True (1940, WB). Warner Brothers need look no further than these 16 films to provide a nice DVD present to Bogart fans. And if MGM wants a Bogart winner from this period, why not release Dead End (1937, UA), a Samuel Goldwyn production to which it owns the home video rights as far as I know?

By the end of the 1930s, Bogart was becoming pretty frustrated with the sameness of the roles he was being given by Warner Brothers. The situation changed in 1941 when he was cast in two WB films that elevated him to star status for the rest of his career. Both contained defining roles - the tough veteran gangster Roy Earle in Raoul Walsh's High Sierra and detective Sam Spade in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon. The next seven years would be the highpoint of Bogart's career at Warners with a string of 21 mostly successful films (including two loan-outs to Columbia). To quote a familiar line, many of the films were "the stuff that dreams are made of" - All Through the Night (1942, WB), Across the Pacific (1942, WB, directed by John Huston), Casablanca (1942, WB, enough said), Action in the North Atlantic (1943, WB, one of the better war propaganda films with Raymond Massey), Sahara (1943, Columbia), To Have and Have Not (1944, WB, directed by Howard Hawks and the first Bogart teaming with Lauren Bacall), Passage to Marseille (1944, WB, many of the Casablanca cast reunited), Conflict (1945, WB), The Big Sleep (1946, WB, directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Lauren Bacall), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947, WB, with Barbara Stanwyck), Dead Reckoning (1947, Columbia, film noir with Lizabeth Scott), Dark Passage (1947, WB, with Bacall again), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, WB, directed by John Huston and co-starring his father Water Huston), and Key Largo (1948, WB, again directed by John Huston and co-starring Edward G. Robinson and Lauren Bacall).

Five of these films are available on DVD - Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Key Largo, and Sahara. A sixth - Columbia's Dead Reckoning - has been announced for mid-January. Casablanca is the best looking of the bunch. Considerable restorative work has been done over the past dozen years on Casablanca, reflected by the incredibly sharp image that characterizes virtually all of the DVD that was first released by MGM/UA in 1998 and then reissued unchanged by WB. This is the best that the film has ever looked (and sounded) on home video. The DVD includes a documentary, You Must Remember This hosted by Lauren Bacall, and nine trailers for Humphrey Bogart films. That's it for the basic DVD release. There is a Collector's Edition available from Creative Design (licensed by WB) in which you get the basic DVD release plus a CD, some lobby cards, a poster and a movie frame cell. Fifty-five dollars more, but no further information on the movie itself? I don't think so - not recommended (unless you've got money to burn)! Therein lies the problem with Casablanca on DVD. The basic release is great in terms of image and sound quality, but when virtually every other run-of-the-mill film is loaded with commentaries, lengthy special documentaries, interviews and the like, Casablanca has been short-changed. If WB were going to license anyone to do a collector's edition, why didn't they approach Criterion? Then we might have had something special, perhaps similar to Criterion's prized CAV laserdisc version of the film. The basic DVD from WB is highly recommended, but only grudgingly so. (It should be noted though that a new special edition DVD is rumored for later this year.)

The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and Key Largo are essential Bogart and their DVDs were all released together in the winter of 1999-2000. Each is highly recommended but for slightly different reasons. Key Largo is the best looking of the discs overall with a sharp, clean image free from virtually any scratches or other distractions. A short essay on the film and the theatrical trailer are the only significant supplements. The main attraction of The Big Sleep DVD is the inclusion of 2 versions of the film - the 1946 theatrical release and the original 1944 cut which was later modified to the 1946 version by reducing some explanatory material which had clarified the plot better and adding further interplay between Bogart and Bacall. Both versions are acceptable with the 1946 one being somewhat sharper. A very interesting documentary (hosted by Robert Gitt, Preservation Officer at the UCLA Film and Television Archives) illuminating the changes made to the 1944 pre-release version is included, as is the theatrical trailer. The Maltese Falcon contains arguably Bogart's finest performance on film. Too bad then that its DVD image quality is perhaps the least of these three titles. That's not to say it's unacceptable, just that it's visited by more scratches and blemishes than the others and that's a shame when with a modest effort, Warner Brothers should have been able to clean up the more distracting ones. Some compensation is offered by one of the DVD's supplementary features - a rather interesting survey of Bogart's WB career as seen through trailers of his films. The survey is hosted by Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. There are also a History of Mystery essay and theatrical trailers for this film as well as a 1936 version entitled Satan Met a Lady.

The entertaining wartime tank drama Sahara was released on DVD just over a year ago. The transfer is fairly good, but the disc has little added content of significance. The forthcoming Dead Reckoning disc is likely to be of about the same standard.

Once again, Warners has plenty of scope for additional DVD releases from Bogart's prime period with the company. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is believed to be in WB's plans for later in 2003 (the film's 55th anniversary), but priority should also be given to To Have and Have Not, Dark Passage, Across the Pacific, Action in the North Atlantic, and All Through the Night. Several modern sources have stated that Bogart had a cameo in a bar scene in 1942's In This Our Life, but I've never been able to find him in it. Nevertheless, the suggestion is enough for me to recommend that WB issue that estimable Bette Davis film on DVD too.

In 1948, Humphrey Bogart was among the many actors and directors who were increasingly interested in forming their own production companies in the postwar years. He named his company Santana Productions, after his much-loved boat, and a distribution arrangement was negotiated with Columbia. This heralded the final phase of Bogart's career, which would see him star in a diverse group of 19 films released by an equally wide range of studios. Columbia handled six of them, mainly by virtue of the Santana deal. Paramount released four; United Artists three; and WB two. Eight of the films are now or soon will be available on DVD. In a Lonely Place (1950) - one of Bogart's best films - will be released by Columbia in mid-March. No details have been officially released yet, but if other recent classic announcements by Columbia are any indication, it'll be light on supplements. Sirocco (1951) - somewhat derivative of Casablanca - is likely to receive the same level of treatment in its late January Columbia release. The Road to Bali (1952, Paramount) is one of the Crosby-Hope road pictures and contains a short Bogart cameo. It appears to be in the public domain since just about every public domain DVD specialist offers it. The Front Row Entertainment version is passable; I can't vouch for the efforts from the likes of Brentwood, Passport, United American, or Madacy. Beat the Devil (1954, UA) takes a satirical approach to a Maltese-Falcon-like plot and is not to everyone's taste. It appears to have the same copyright status as The Road to Bali. I can't say that any DVD version I've seen is very good. The Caine Mutiny (1954, Columbia) is a potent naval drama with a top-notch performance from Bogart as Captain Queeg. Columbia's DVD was one of its earliest classic releases, but the transfer (both anamorphic widescreen and full frame) is very good with the only quibble being the flesh-tones which look a little orange at times. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Sabrina (1954, Paramount) is a delightful romantic comedy from director Billy Wilder with Bogart as the older of two brothers vying for the chauffeur's daughter. Paramount's DVD contains a very pleasing transfer supplemented by a short featurette and a small photo gallery. The Barefoot Contessa (1954, UA) from director Joseph Mankiewicz completed a very fine year for Bogart, who starred in the film along with Ava Gardner. MGM's DVD release contains a somewhat above-average transfer supplemented by only the theatrical trailer. Both of the last two films are presented full frame in accord with the OAR. The Harder They Fall (1956, Columbia) - Bogart's last film and a tough yarn about the boxing racket - is scheduled for release on DVD by Columbia in late January and appears to be another bare-bones effort.

Despite the fact that almost half of the films from this last phase of Bogart's career are available on DVD, there are some glaring omissions. The principal one is The African Queen (1952, UA, with Katharine Hepburn), the film for which Bogart won his lone Academy Award. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that MGM holds the DVD rights. It's all a little murky though because in the past, Fox issued a very nice laserdisc box and both CBS-Fox and Paramount have issued VHS versions. If I'm right about MGM being the rights holder, far better had they put their efforts into The African Queen than an unnecessary upcoming re-release of West Side Story (see below). The best of the other 1950s Bogart titles that still need a DVD airing include Knock on Any Door (1949, Columbia), The Enforcer (1951, WB), Deadline U.S.A. (1952, Fox), The Left Hand of God (1955, Fox), and The Desperate Hours (1955, Paramount). Columbia, WB, Fox and Paramount - take note!

New Classic Announcements

Since my pre-Christmas report which comprised the inaugural edition of this column, we've had a few further announcements of classic releases for Region 1 and some additional information about titles already announced.

WB's release of Mildred Pierce in early March will be a two-sided disc with the film on one and on the other, the Turner Classic Movies documentary, Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, along with a number of trailers for Crawford films. At the same time, Warners will also repackage some of its previous releases as three-disc collections. The Epic Dramas Collection will include Ben-Hur, Casablanca and Gone with the Wind. The Classic Musicals Collection will include An American in Paris, Gigi and My Fair Lady. Looking into early June (and stretching our classics definition just because all are westerns and John Wayne is involved in two of them), WB will release Chisum (1970), Cahill: U.S. Marshall (1973) and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972).

The first of the new Fox Studio Classics are starting to show up (All About Eve, Gentleman's Agreement, How Green Was My Valley) and the disc inserts provide details about how to obtain a copy of Sunrise. Basically you have to buy three of the Studio Classics that Fox will be issuing and send in the proofs-of-purchase. The list of Studio Classics for the remainder of the year consists of: February - An Affair to Remember, March - The Day the Earth Stood Still, April - The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, May - Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, June - The Grapes of Wrath, July - Anastasia, August - The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, September - Titanic, October - The Mark of Zorro, November - Laura, December - The Ox-Bow Incident. All releases will be on the first Tuesday of each month.

VCI expects to release Roy Rogers Double Feature #1 in late January. It will include two Republic westerns: Under California Stars (1948) and The Bells of San Angelo (1947). Late February will bring RKO Adventure Classics Double Feature which will feature a couple of entertaining time-passers - 1953's Appointment in Honduras (Glenn Ford and Ann Sheridan) and 1955's Escape to Burma (Robert Ryan and Barbara Stanwyck). Also confirmed for late February are the serials - Secret Agent X-9 (1945, Universal) and Drums of Fu Manchu (Republic, 1940); two western double features Johnny Mack Brown Vol. 1 and Red Ryder Vol. 2; and Horrors of the Black Museum (1959, Britain, in widescreen with audio commentary). For late March, VCI has indicated that the Tom Mix serial The Miracle Rider (1935, Mascot) and 1954's Target Earth (in widescreen) will be released.

In late March, Columbia will add the 1940 Cary Grant film The Howards of Virginia to its slate of Grant releases for this winter. The other classic Grant titles already announced include Talk of the Town (1942) and Once Upon a Time (1944), scheduled for a late February release. The DVDs will have trailers as the sole supplement. This is also the case with the late February release of 1938's You Can't Take It with You, and that's very disappointing given that Frank Capra's other Columbia releases were given the special edition treatment. The film was 1938's Best Picture Academy Award winner and Columbia can't do better than a few trailers?

MGM has announced a limited release two-disc SE of West Side Story for April 1st. One disc will contain the film sporting a new anamorphic transfer based on a two-year restoration of the picture and sound. It will include the original intermission as an option. The second disc will contain a new hour-long documentary, West Side Memories, and an archive of rare footage. The SE will also contain a scrapbook featuring the original script and an original lobby-card reproduction. Given that there's a nice transfer of the film already out on DVD, couldn't MGM have spend its restoration money on something not already available? As part of its Midnite Movies series, MGM will release a double bill of Invisible Invaders (1959, UA) and Journey to the Seventh Planet (1961, UA) in mid-April.

Image's March slate includes a very fine recent documentary on early Hollywood screenwriter Frances Marion entitled Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Power of Women in Hollywood. Even better, the disc includes A Little Princess (1917, starring Mary Pickford and Zasu Pitts). The release date is March 11. Towards the end of the month, Image will release The Beginning of the End (1957, science fiction with Peter Graves and giant insects threatening Chicago) and the first two discs in The Gene Autry Collection - Rovin' Tumbleweeds (1939, Republic) and South of the Border (1939, Republic).

In early February, Wellspring Media will release Movies of Color: Black Southern Cinema, a recent documentary about African-American film-making in the southern U.S. prior to World War II. The disc will include two bonus films written and directed by Spencer Williams, The Blood of Jesus (1941) and Go Down, Death (1944).

MPI will release the oft-requested Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole film Becket (1964) on DVD in late May. Reportedly, however, this is not likely to be the version fans are looking for as the planned DVD may not have access to preservation work currently underway on the existing best elements.

Other news tidbits include: Lowry Digital is apparently doing its magic on Mary Poppins (1964) and Pinocchio (1940) for Disney, but no DVD release date has been set; Criterion has announced Robert Bresson's Les Dames du Bois de Bologne (1945) for a March release; Universal's April releases include Fahrenheit 451 (1966); The Enemy Below (1957, submarine warfare with Robert Mitchum) will be part of Fox's wave of war classics in May; Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (also known as The Big Carnival) [1951] is being considered for restoration by Paramount à la Sunset Boulevard, but no decision has yet been made; and finally, Artisan appears to have had second thoughts and now plans to release some Republic serials starting in 2004.

That's about it for now. I'll be back again soon. In the meantime, your comments, questions, and (gasp!) corrections are always welcome. And please feel free to contact me with any relevant news on classic releases that should be included in future columns.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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