|The 2009 Outlook, Classic Reviews Round-Up #51 & New Announcements (continued)
Paramount has just given us its third release of Breakfast at Tiffany's, the 1961 delight with Audrey Hepburn. This time it's a two-disc version in the studio's Centennial Collection line.
The previous releases were the original single disc release from about 8 years ago and a 45th Anniversary Edition in 2006. The original was a passable effort, but the Anniversary Edition was very much improved with a very sharp, clean and colourful transfer and also offered audio commentary (with long silent stretches) by Richard Shepherd, one of the film's producers, along with a handful of useful featurettes. The new Centennial Collection version does have a new transfer, but the improvement over the Anniversary Edition is minimal, perhaps mainly benefiting from having one disc to itself. The supplements are all carried over from the Anniversary Edition and are topped up with four further featurettes, two of which focus on Henry Mancini's music and the Mickey Rooney characterization of the Asian landlord in the film. It all makes for a very fine package and one that is recommended if you somehow haven't yet gotten a copy in your collection or only have the original release. If you have the Anniversary Edition, there's no compelling reason to upgrade. Keep in mind too that Paramount has intimated that a Blu-ray version of this title is in the works for this year.
"It's Howdy Doody time" signaled the start of the latest episode of The Howdy Doody Show, a staple of daily viewing for kids in the early days of television. Mill Creek Entertainment has now released, under license from NBC Universal, a five disc set simply entitled Howdy Doody containing 40 episodes (including commercials) drawn from the 1949-1954 period of the series. The show, originated by Buffalo Bob Smith, lasted for 13 seasons beginning in late 1947 and had the honour of leading off the broadcast day on NBC for a number of years. It later would be the first television show to be broadcast in colour and the first show to air more than 1,000 continuous episodes. Each show usually involved some sort of moral reinforcement or positive role model emphasis for kids, utilizing a studio audience of young children and a continuing cast of characters including the puppet Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob Smith, Clarabell the Clown, Chief Thunderthud, Princess Summerfall Winterspring, and Mayor Phineas T. Bluster. The shows usually included a segment in which Little Rascals shorts were shown. I'll probably receive hate mail for saying this, but even as a kid, I didn't care for anything about the show except the Little Rascals segments. Howdy and his entourage of characters just seemed too goody-goody for my liking and then there was the kid studio audience all just lapping it up (although frequently from an entertainment standpoint, they were more worth paying attention to than Howdy and his cohorts). The passage of many years has does nothing to temper my lack of enthusiasm. As one might expect, the quality of the transfers on display in this set is passable at best. There are contrast issues and plenty of speckles and scratches. The Little Rascals segments are particularly beaten-up looking. The mono sound is tolerable. Bonus features include a booklet of photo memories of the series, interviews with the likes of Bob Keeshan (Clarabell) and Bob Smith, and three bonus episodes including the 1960 one-hour farewell episode in which Clarabell finally speaks. Howdy Doody diehards will likely revel in this set, but all others should beware.
The recent passing of Patrick McGoohan, the accomplished actor and star of the much admired TV series The Prisoner, was certainly on my mind as I viewed Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh - a title from the most recent wave of Walt Disney Treasures (packaged in the customary tin). Based on a character created by Russell Thorndike in the early 20th century, the production originated as a three-part adventure show made by Disney in the U.K. and broadcast on the Walt Disney Wonderful World of Color television series early in 1964. McGoohan plays Dr. Syn, a vicar by day, but the Scarecrow (a Robin Hood-like smuggler) by night sporting a rather scary-looking scarecrow-like mask. The plot revolves around efforts to trap and capture the Scarecrow, with a few minor sub-plots thrown in to pad things out. The production has much the family-friendly feel of most Disney adventures of the time, but the title character has a little more menace than usual and McGoohan plays him with a conviction that raises the whole thing above similar Disney efforts such as The Swamp Fox. The three-part production probably is only a bit more than 2 hours in actual length taking into account introductions, credit repetition, and summary footage. Also included in the two-disc set is the edited theatrical version shown in Europe. At about 100 minutes, it captures the essence of the story and works quite well too. Both versions are presented on DVD with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 as originally shot (and cropped slightly for TV presentations of the time). The colour is quite vibrant and accurate, and the images are generally crisp (though occasional hints of artificial sharpening are evident) with decent shadow detail (although that is pressured by the many night-time sequences shot day for night). The original mono sound is in great shape and a new 5.1 track works quite effectively. Extras include Leonard Maltin's introductions and an informative array of material documenting the production, the basis for the character and his presentation on the screen, and Disney's operations in the U.K. Recommended. (Those interested in the title should be aware of the difficulty in finding copies now. Only 39,500 were apparently pressed and the title is sold out at many sources, with the release going for enhanced prices on eBay.)
VCI has collected together six British B films from the period 1938 to 1960 and packaged them on two discs in the British Cinema Classic 'B' Film Collection: Volume 1. Typically with such collections from VCI, half of the titles provide pretty good entertainment with the others ranging from passable to poor. Here the ledger is a more on the plus side. Thumbs-up go to The Siege of Sidney Street (1960, based on the true story of pre-WW1 anarchists with good performances by Peter Wyngarde and Donald Sinden), The Girl in the News (1940, a courtroom drama directed with economy by Carol Reed and featuring Margaret Lockwood), Tread Softly Stranger (1958, a predictable but juicy Diana Dors starrer about a caper gone wrong and an intrusive love triangle), and The Frightened Man (1952, small-time family crime leads to involvement with big-time criminals in this efficient effort that showcases London location shooting well). Thumbs-down go to The Hooded Terror (1938, Sherlock Holmes wannabe Sexton Blake goes against a mysterious criminal organization but the film has little originality and no production values to compensate) and particularly Crimes at the Dark House (1940, a Tod Slaughter ultra-melodramatic starrer with a performance so ripe that it makes the 69-minute running time seem like two hours). The DVD presentations appear to have been transferred from TV prints and all at 1.33:1 aspect ratios. This is a real issue for The Siege of Sidney Street originally made at 2.35:1. Otherwise, the images are workable though subject to many abuses from speckles and scratches to dirt, some jump cuts, and occasional contrast issues. The mono sound is generally clear though subject to some hiss and crackle. Supplements are limited to some poster galleries for The Siege on Sidney Street and trailers for other British titles. If you're a fan of British film, this release is worth a try given on-line prices that work out to under $5 a title. Although some may be available from Region 2 sources (Crimes at the Dark House and Tread Softly Stranger definitely are, the latter in a somewhat better transfer than VCI's), generally you're not likely to find these available elsewhere in Region 1 or if you do looking any better.
For anyone interested in an intelligent thriller, I'm slipping in a few positive words for Tell No One (original title Ne le dis Ó personne). It's a 2006 French film that won four French Academy Awards (CÚsars) for director, actor, music, and editing.
The story revolves around Dr. Alexandre Beck who is attacked and left unconscious while his wife is brutally murdered. Eight years later, he receives an email with a video link that suggests his wife is very much alive. The unraveling of the truth takes up the bulk of the film. It's an experience that constantly offers the unexpected and does so without resorting to frenetically-edited action scenes that defy reality. You really get wrapped up in the lead character and the resolution of his predicament is well camouflaged but ultimately satisfying. The acting from top to bottom in the cast is very fine. The film is available on DVD from Canada via Seville Pictures in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that looks quite satisfactory. Colour fidelity is very good although the image could be a tad crisper than it is. The image struck me as properly framed when I viewed it, but on checking with IMDB, the film was apparently shot at 2.35:1. If true, some cropping obviously was done. The good French 5.1 track (with English subtitles) is the way to experience the film although an English dub is also provided. A lengthy making-of documentary is worth watching, although it's in French only. A film worth seeing but a disc worth renting at most given the aspect ratio issue. Note that another DVD and Blu-ray release has been announced as coming from MPI at the end of March although its aspect ratio is unclear as yet.
Please note that the Classic Announcements database has been updated to reflect the following news.
AC Comics, under its Smarty Pants Entertainment imprint, has just released six new titles. Now available are Trigger Jr. (1950, with Roy Rogers), Blackhawk (1952 Columbia serial starring Kirk Alyn), Enemy from Space (aka Quatermass II, 1957, with Brian Donlevy), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957, with Whit Bissell), The Deadly Mantis (1957, with Craig Peters), and Creature with the Atom Brain (1955, with Richard Denning). All are DVD-R presentations on single discs except Blackhawk which is a two-disc effort, and can be obtained via accomics.net.
Citing the current economic situation and slow sales of its other silent DVDs, All Day Entertainment has apparently placed its release of Becoming Charlie Chase on hold for now, according to a recent message on its website. The title had been listed as a February 10th release by some retailers.
Criterion apparently has plans to release Downhill Racer (1969, with Robert Redford and Gene Hackman) later in 2009. This derives from Criterion's relationship with Paramount. The company has also added The Wages of Fear (1952) to its upcoming Blu-ray titles, with an April 21st release date, and Akira Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den (1970) will be coming on March 17th. Criterion also brings us the 1953 Roberto Rossellini film Il Generale Della Rovere on March 31st.
Disney will have Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and its sequel Return from Witch Mountain (1978) both for release on March 10th.
Image will be offering the Hercules Collection on March 31st. It will be a four-disc set featuring the likes of Steve Reeves, Gordon Scott, and Reg Park in 8 features: Hercules, Mole Men Vs. the Son of Hercules, Hercules and the Captive Women, Hercules the Avenger, Hercules and the Black Pirate, Hercules and the Princess of Troy, Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops, and Giants of Rome. This is a repackaging of titles that were previously available from Image mainly as double feature offerings, all I believe presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Infinity Entertainment's February 10th release of Route 66 will not be Season Three, but instead an anthology entitled Producer's Picks. It will contain 11 episodes from the first four seasons, including three from Season 3 and one from Season 4 that are new to DVD. On March 17th, Infinity will release Suspense: The Lost Episodes - Collection 3. This four-disc set will contain 30 episodes of the early TV anthology series. On the same date, we'll also get Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: Season One. There's no information available as to whether this 5-disc set will represent any upgrade over the previous and fairly serviceable 2006 Critics Choice release. Several years ago, Rhino gave us a box set of a selection of episodes from the Hugh O'Brian Wyatt Earp TV series. Now Infinity is set to deliver the series in season sets with The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp: Season One coming on April 21st. Presumably, the other five seasons will follow if sales warrant it.
MGM is releasing separately, on April 7th, a couple of the musicals previously only available on its giant Hollywood Musicals Collection of last autumn. The titles are A Song Is Born (1948, with Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo) and The Goldwyn Follies (1938), giving hope that we will see the Eddie Cantor musicals on that set also soon appear on their own. It's a Pleasure (1945, with Sonya Henie) will also be released on the same date. There's no information on any supplements on these releases, but they're likely limited to theatrical trailers at most. The studio will also release Goldfinger (1964) on Blu-ray on March 24th.
The Milton Caniff estate has announced the release of The Complete Steve Canyon on TV: Volume 2 with a targeted March 3rd street date. The two-disc set will contain 12 episodes and at least two audio commentaries. The set can be ordered only through stevecanyonondvd.blogspot.com.
MPI will release The She-Beast (1966, with Barbara Steele) on April 28th.
On March 24th, Paramount adds two titles (the 6th and 7th) to its Centennial Collection. The Odd Couple (1968, with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) features audio commentary by Chris Lemmon and Charlie Matthau, four production featurettes, galleries, and the theatrical trailer. To Catch a Thief (1955, with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly) - and given a new SE by Paramount barely two years ago - offers an audio commentary by Drew Casper, eight featurettes, galleries, and the theatrical trailer. March 31st will bring The Fugitive: Season Two, Volume Two.
Shout Factory plans an April 28 release for Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun (1971).
Sony has set February 17th as the date for a Blu-ray release of In Cold Blood (1967, with Robert Blake). The offering will be a double-feature, two-disc effort with Capote (2005) also being included. Exactly one month later on March 17th, the studio will offer The Three Stooges Collection: Volume 5 (1946-1948). This two-disc set will cover the period bridging from the last Curly shorts to those with Shemp. News from CES indicates that Sony continues to work on its Blu-ray releases of such high-demand titles as Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai. These have been promised on Blu-ray for so long now that they'd better be perfect when they do eventually appear! Will that be in 2009? I've ceased to speculate. Sony also gives us lots of advance warning about a release of Dr. Strangelove (1964, with Peter Sellers) on Blu-ray on June 16th. Extras will include 6 featurettes (including An Interview with Robert McNamara, Best Sellers: Peter Sellers Remembered, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove, No Fighting in the War Room or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat, and The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove). Also included will be the BD-exclusive The Cold Facts Graphics-in-Picture/Picture-in-Picture Track.
Timeless Media will offer Laramie: Season Three for release on February 10th. This is the first season of colour episodes for the series. The release will comprise 28 episodes on six discs and include an exclusive new interview with series star Robert Fuller.
Universal is apparently starting a new line of releases called the Universal Backlot Series. First up is The Pre-Code Hollywood Collection set for April 7th. It will contain six Paramount films including The Cheat (1931, with Tallulah Bankhead and Harvey Stephens), Merrily We Go to Hell (1932, with Fredric March, Silvia Sidney, and Cary Grant), Hot Saturday (1932, with Cary Grant and Nancy Carroll), Torch Singer (1933, with Claudette Colbert and Ricardo Cortez), Murder at the Vanities (1934, with Jack Oakie and Victor McLaglen), and Search for Beauty (1934, with Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino). Supplements include the featurette Forbidden Film: The Production Code Era and a reproduction of the original Production Code document. Also being released on the same date and in the Backlot Series is 1934's Cleopatra: 75th Anniversary Edition. The title was previously only available as part of The Cecil B. DeMille Collection. The new release will feature a digitally remastered transfer with supplements including featurettes on Colbert, DeMille, and the Forbidden Film one from the Pre-Code Hollywood Collection mentioned above. There will also be audio commentary by filmmaker F.X. Feaney plus three photo/poster reproductions and the original theatrical trailer. The Pre-Code release particularly is tremendously exciting news from Universal and one can only hope that consumer support is such as to warrant further such releases.
VCI adds a couple of potentially nice releases on March 31st - both drawing on the association with Kit Parker Films. Darn Good Westerns: Volume One is apparently the first of a planned new line from the company. The two-disc set will contain six titles highlighted by Hellgate (1952, with Sterling Hayden) and Panhandle (1948, with Rod Cameron). The others are Train to Tombstone (1950, with Don Barry), Fangs of the Wild (1954, with Charles Chaplin Jr.), Operation Haylift (1950, with Bill Williams), and Wildfire: The Story of a Horse (1945, with Bob Steele). Classic Film Noir: Volume 3 is a double feature of The Amazing Mr. X (1948, with Turhan Bey and Cathy O'Donnell) and Reign of Terror (1949, with Robert Cummings). The latter was directed by Anthony Mann and was also known as The Black Book. The two titles will feature audio commentary by Jay Fenton and Alan Rode respectively.
Warner Bros. will be returning to the Pre-Code era on March 24th with the Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 3. It will be a tribute to William Wellman with six of his Warner films on three discs and a bonus disc containing two documentaries. The films are: Other Men's Women (1931, featuring James Cagney and Joan Blondell), The Purchase Price (1932, with Barbara Stanwyck), Frisco Jenny (1932, with Ruth Chatterton), Midnight Mary (1933, with Loretta Young), Heroes for Sale (1933, with Richard Barthelmess), and Wild Boys of the Road (1933, with Frankie Darro). The latter three will offer audio commentaries and all discs include a selection of contemporary shorts and cartoons. The bonus documentaries are Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick and the Wellman edition of The Men Who Made the Movies. On March 31st, the studio will bring out the promised Blu-ray versions of An American in Paris and Gigi. Bonus content will be the same as on last autumn's DVD special editions. Previously released on the Ultimate Superman Collection in 2007, Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons (1941-42) will get their own separate release from Warner Bros. on April 7th. All 17 cartoons will be presented on two discs with two retrospective featurettes also included. There's no word if this release will present any improvements over what appeared in the Ultimate Superman set. The studio will have two 1971 films - Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) and Catlow (a western with Yul Brynner) - for release on May 19th. Also coming then are two cartoon samplers - Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 1 and Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Volume 1. Each will contain about five hours of mainly Hanna-Barbera material on two discs.
Well, once again that's it for now. I'll return again soon.