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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #35 and New Announcements

Well, here's the reviews half of the column that I promised you a week ago. Mind you, the intervening time has been a busy one on the new announcements front (a revealing Warner Bros. chat on the Home Theater Forum), so you'll find a healthy section on that included here too. The reviews this time out total some 19 releases including four box sets. The titles are: from Cheezy Flicks (King of the Rocket Men); from Fox (The Mr. Moto Collection: Volume Two, The Alice Faye Collection, Move Over Darling, Do Not Disturb, Caprice, and The Ernest Hemingway Film Collection); from Hermitage Hill (Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery); from MGM (Fiddler on the Roof: Collector's Edition); from Universal (All Quiet on the Western Front, Going My Way, The Heiress); from VCI (Red Ryder Double Feature: Volume 11); from Warner Bros. (The Clock, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Miracle in the Rain, Operation Crossbow, Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection, and There Was a Crooked Man...).


Reviews

Fox has now completed its release of the Mr. Moto films with The Mr. Moto Collection: Volume Two which contains the third, sixth, seventh and eighth films in the eight film series made during 1937-1939. (Each title is presented on a separate disc and all are only available in the set.)

The Mr. Moto Collection: Volume Two

The set, which exhibits the same winning combination of films and features that made the first volume a success, once again features Peter Lorre as Moto in all four films with Fox surrounding him with strong supporting casts in each instance. In Mr. Moto's Gamble, Moto is a professor of criminology who manages to enlist his students' help in solving a case about a boxer who dies during a fight. The film has a fine cast that includes the likes of Lynn Bari, Douglas Fowley, Maxie Rosenbloom, Ward Bond, Lon Chaney Jr., and Keye Luke. Luke's appearance reflects the film's interesting history. It actually began as a Charlie Chan film that was suspended when star Warner Oland became ill. When it became apparent that Oland would not return soon, the film was rejigged as a Mr. Moto adventure with Chan's Number One Son (Luke) worked into the new story line. The Chan background likely accounts for the more cerebral and less physical tone that the film has compared to other Moto films. Mr. Moto's Last Warning finds Moto involved in attempting to thwart plans to blow up the French fleet, in what is probably the best of the Moto films in this set. The plot is an intriguing one and features a great cast including Ricardo Cortez, John Carradine, george Sanders, Virginia Field, and Robert Coote. Mr. Moto in Danger Island is set in Puerto Rico where Moto is on the trail of diamond smugglers. The film is a remake of 1934's Murder in Trinidad which featured a seemingly innocuous detective played by Nigel Bruce. There's another fine supporting cast of Jean Hersholt, Douglas Dumbrille, Warren Hymer, and Leon Ames. Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation is marginally the least interesting of the set's four films as Moto attempts to unmask a criminal trying to steal the priceless crown of the Queen of Sheba. Joseph Schildkraut and Lionel Atwill are pleasingly on hand, but annoying comic relief character played by George P. Huntley Jr. detracts from the tale. Despite the film being slightly below its predecessors in entertainment value, the overall standard remained high for this type of film and the series could undoubtedly have continued for a long time. War tensions and brewing anti-Japanese sentiment, however, shut down the series in its prime. Fox set a fairly high standard with its first Moto DVD set and it continues that level of quality here. The film transfers are all very nice, offering bright, sharp images with a modest amount of grain that overall delivers pleasing film-like experiences. The original mono sound is in good shape with just a hint of background hiss at times. Artificial stereo tracks add nothing of significance. Each title has a featurette and the four of them collectively provide good background on the Chan connection with Mr. Moto's Gamble, on the world situation at the time of the films being made, on the character 's creator John Marquand, and on the background to the Moto character in print and on film. Additionally, the complete 1965 film The Return of Mr. Moto (1965) is included on the Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation disc (along with audio commentary by star Henry Silva). Restoration comparisons and trailers round out the set. Highly recommended.

The Alice Faye Collection

I wish I could offer the same unqualified recommendation for The Alice Faye Collection, but unfortunately, serious concerns with the presentation of its centerpiece The Gang's All Here prevent that. Although saddled with a lackluster plot even for a musical, the film is justly renowned for its Busby Berkeley production numbers particularly the "Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat" number with its giant bananas. Fox released the film on laserdisc back in that medium's waning days and captured the film's vibrant Technicolor images very well. The new DVD version, however, while noticeably sharper than the laserdisc, is much darker and has lost the vibrant hues that characterized the laserdisc version. Gains have been made in terms of improved blue colour, but it has been at the expense of oranges and yellows which are now washed out to the point where the giant bananas look a sickly yellow at best and a pale tan colour at worst. One presumes that Fox felt it had to prepare a new transfer rather than revert to the old laserdisc master, but in doing so, something has gone terribly wrong and a film that many have long looked forward to on DVD is decidedly not at its best. That's a shame because Fox obviously made quite an effort on its disc content with supplements such as a typically information-packed audio commentary from film professor Drew Casper, a featurette on Busby Berkeley, Alice Faye's last film We Still Are! (a promotional film that includes generous clips from her film career), excerpts from the "Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show", a deleted scene, restoration comparison, still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. Setting aside the concerns with The Gang's All Here, the rest of the set is a winner. The best two items in the set are the Technicolor That Night in Rio and On the Avenue (the latter only available in the set while the other titles are also available individually). While the plot of That Night in Rio is a fairly standard mistaken identity one, it's put across with enthusiasm by Faye and her co-stars Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda supported by the likes of S.Z. Sakall, J. Carrol Naish and Leonid Kinskey. The musical numbers are lavish, particularly the opening "Chica, Chica, Boom, Chic" and Faye does a nice job with the romantic ballad "They Met in Rio". The film is a remake of the 1935 Folies Bergere which had Maurice Chevalier in the Ameche part, Ann Sothern in the Miranda one, and Merle Oberon in the Faye part. The DVD Technicolor image is everything The Gang's All Here should have been - bright, vibrant, and faithful to the original. The mono sound is quite acceptable and the supplements are good (Alice Faye: A Life off Screen featurette, a deleted musical number with Faye and Ameche, the restoration comparison, photo gallery, and trailer). Even more invigorating is On the Avenue - an amusing and briskly presented musical comedy that pits a Broadway star and producer (Dick Powell) against a New York socialite (Madeleine Carroll) whose family is satirized in the star's latest revue. Powell is very appealing in the role and he gets strong support from Alice Faye as his chief co-star in the revue and from the antics of the multi-talented Ritz Brothers. It doesn't hurt that the music is by Irving Berlin. The film is in black and white and looks reasonably sharp on DVD although there are some sections that appear to suffer from damage to the source material. The supplements are highlighted by a fine audio commentary by musical historian Miles Kreuger, the Alice Faye: A Life on Screen featurette, a deleted Ritz Brothers number, a restoration comparison, and a stills gallery. Lillian Russell rounds out the set and while its overall entertainment value lies behind any of the other three in the set, it's a film I've always found to be more enjoyable than its many critics would have you believe. Fox lavished a lot of money on the production in terms of costumes and set decoration, and made quite an effort to photograph Alice Faye to best advantage. It's only unfortunate that they didn't go the final mile and use Technicolor as well. Faye really shines in the lead role as the famous stage performer and gains good support from players such as Edward Arnold (as Diamond Jim Brady) and the vaudeville team of Weber and Fields (brought out of retirement to play themselves). This more than compensates for the characters of Don Ameche and Henry Fonda who as two of Russell's husbands are either irritating or boring, which along with the film's over two-hour running time, does tend to make the proceedings drag at times. Fox provides a warning that the DVD has been prepared using the best surviving elements and there is a degree of variability in the sharpness and brightness of the image as the film progresses, but overall, the result (both sight and sound) is quite acceptable. The supplements include a featurette on the real Lillian Russell, a restoration comparison, a stills gallery , and the trailer. Fox has made quite an effort to put its best foot forward on this Alice Faye set and the results are recommended. Only the disappointment in the caliber of the transfer of The Gang's All Here prevent the set from being a home run.

There Was a Crooked Man

I mentioned the presence of Henry Fonda in 1940's Lillian Russell. Well, Fonda fans can also see him at work in a more recent film, 1970's There Was a Crooked Man.... Kirk Douglas stars as the title character, a convict in a desert prison as a result of being caught for a robbery of $500,000, money which he has hidden away for later retrieval. He along with six other assorted inmates (Burgess Meredith, Warren Oates, and Hume Cronyn among them) plan and execute an elaborate escape that takes advantage of the progressive ideas of prison warden Henry Fonda. The film is a western with so much cynicism that it eventually outweighs the film's merits - elaborate set design (Warners built a massive walled prison in the desert country of Joshua Tree National Monument in California) and a collection of very nice individual performances by all the principals. The level of cynicism is more in tune with the tone of the time in which the film was made rather than when it was set, not surprising perhaps when one learns that the screenplay is by Bonnie and Clyde screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton. Douglas provides a bravura performance, but his character is unrelentingly bad, so much so that the film's attempts at humour are frequently undermined. One hopes for some form of balance from Fonda's character, but his flaws are evident early on in the film so that the ending (which focuses on him) is pretty much as expected. The film is well directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (it would be his second-last time at the helm), with a number of memorable set-pieces effectively staged, but the whole is less than the sum of such parts. Warner Bros. provides a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that certainly shows the film off to advantage anyway. It's bright with accurate colour and good image detail, and also characterized by quite a clean-looking image. The mono sound is quite adequate. The supplements include a vintage 10-minute on-location featurette that gives a reasonable feel for production activities and the theatrical trailer.

Operation Crossbow

Operation Crossbow (1965) is much in the same vein as many exciting wartime action films of its era - The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, The Great Escape, Von Ryan's Express, 633 Squadron, The Dirty Dozen, and The Train. In George Peppard as its lead, it lacks the driving star power of the others, but the story and its execution are fully up to the mark most of the time and the result is diverting, if not quite on the same entertainment level as the other titles mentioned above.. The plot revolves around the rocket technology that the Nazis were developing and beginning to use for bombing London in the waning days of World War II. The Allies decide to send in a team of saboteurs to destroy the rocket launching sites, but almost before the operation can begin, its secrecy may have been compromised. As mentioned, Peppard is rather anemic as the lead, but at least there is compensation in a large supporting cast that includes modest roles for the likes of Sophia Loren (badly miscast), Trevor Howard (he plays an annoying academic), John Mills, Lili Palmer, Tom Courtenay, Jeremy Kemp, and Anthony Quayle. Although the film drags quite a bit in the middle, the initial German rocket testing and Allied operation planning is nicely developed by director Michael Anderson and the climactic action sequence is excitingly staged. Despite the latter's technical proficiency, the sequence is a little overblown, as the film seems to be trying to one-up the James Bond films then becoming popular. Warners' 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer offers a sharp, colourful image with good detail and only a few stray speckles while the audio (remastered in Dolby 5.1) provides a reasonable degree of presence to the action sequences. The extras comprise a short vintage making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer. Recommended as a rental.

All Quiet on the Western Front

War of a different sort is immortalized in Universal's 1930 Best Picture winner, All Quiet on the Western Front. It, and Going My Way, are two of the four films that were chosen by Universal to kick off its new Cinema Classics line. I mention both in the same vein because each has been previously made available on DVD by Universal, so the real issue is the degree of improvement offered by the new editions. All Quiet on the Western Front is the justly acclaimed filming of the anti-war novel of the same title by Erich Maria Remarque, with a strong performance by Lew Ayres as the story's protagonist, the young German soldier Paul Balmer. Those who have never seen this film may be surprised by its message and its grim depiction of the horrors of war, given its vintage. But the pre-Code years allowed much more freedom, here capitalized on effectively by director Lewis Milestone, than would be possible just five years later. Compared to the previous DVD version, this new one is a revelation. For most of its running time, the image is very sharp and well-defined reflecting a considerable restoration effort by the Library of Congress. There are a few weak sequences when the image looks soft, but these constitute a very small minority. Also cleaned up substantially is the blizzard of scratches and speckles that characterized the original DVD release. Inevitably some still exist, but their impact is reduced considerably. The sound also has been spruced up so that the consistent hiss and crackle of the original has been muted to a large extent. Unfortunately, Universal has missed out on an ideal opportunity to do the film really proud. The only supplements are an introduction by TCM's Robert Osborne and the theatrical trailer (its condition is more akin to the look of the film's first DVD version). Recommended.

Going My Way

Going My Way, also a Best Picture winner for Paramount in 1944, is sometimes looked down upon these days for its sentimentality, but the story is still an expertly crafted (direction by Leo McCarey) and acted piece of work with beguiling performances by Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. A more pleasing blend of comedy, drama, music and even romance is hard to find. Unfortunately, Universal couldn't find a way to improve substantially on the previously available release when it was teamed with Holiday Inn on a double feature single disc. The image is a little less dark with slightly more shadow detail, but edge effects are still apparent though less obvious than before. The sound, however, is not as good, as background hiss is louder virtually throughout. The supplements consist of only an introduction by TCM host Robert Osborne and the theatrical trailer, again a disappointing package for the second release of a film that won seven Academy Awards. If you have the original version (now out of print I believe), there's no compelling reason to upgrade.

The Heiress

The Heiress (1949, Paramount) is another title in Universal's new Cinema Classics line and one that has been long requested by classics fans. The film stars Olivia De Havilland as Catherine Sloper, a young woman living under the watchful eye of her disapproving father. A handsome but penniless young man (Montgomery Clift) expresses his interest in her and proposes marriage, but her father is adamant that the suitor is only after her money as she has a substantial annual allowance already with more expected when her father dies. Catherine is unconvinced and prepares to defy her doctor father and run away with her intended. Based on a stage version of the Henry James novel "Washington Square", The Heiress is an engrossing period drama that features three superb performances by De Havilland (Best Actress Academy Award), Clift, and Ralph Richardson as Dr. Sloper. De Havilland is particularly impressive as a sort of ugly duckling who, unlike Bette Davis in Now Voyager, never does really metamorphose into a beguiling creature. The unobtrusive style of director William Wyler isolates the excellence of the three principals with a masterful mixture of long and medium shots as well as close-ups, while the set decoration of John Meehan and costumes by Edith Head contribute strongly to the film's impressive sense of atmosphere underscored by Aaron Copland's lovely but brief score (all three received Academy Awards too). The story is an effective tale of payback with a high repeat-viewing potential. Universal doesn't really do the film justice. Its full frame presentation may be cropped somewhat but the image has not really been compromised at least. The image looks quite good with reasonable detail but seems to suffer in terms of sharpness at times. The mono sound is fine, but again the supplement package (Robert Osborne introduction, theatrical trailer) is a disappointment for a film that was nominated for eight and won four Academy Awards. The film is so good that I grudgingly recommend the DVD release. I just don't understand why Universal won't try to go the extra mile when Warner Bros. and Fox have clearly shown the right path.

The ClockMiracle in the Rain

The nineteenth century New York of The Heiress gives way to the New York of World War II in two films of wartime romance - The Clock (1945, MGM) and Miracle in the Rain (1955, WB). On the face of it, neither of these films should work, but both are acted with such sincerity and involve the city itself so effectively in their stories that we're easily won over and prepared to accept improbable events in one case and supernatural ones in the other. The Clock stars Judy Garland (in one of her few non-musical roles) as a young woman who falls in love with a soldier (Robert Walker) on a 48-hour pass. The development of their romance is handled with considerable finesse by director Vincente Minnelli so that although the whole situation is quite contrived, the movie really endears itself to the viewer. There is no location shooting whatsoever, but MGM manages to invoke the spirit of the city very effectively through accurate reconstructions of familiar New York places and the use of back projection. Both Garland and Walker are appealing in their roles, but the wealth of entertaining supporting performances (Keenan Wynn, James Gleason, and Marshall Thompson, for example) adds considerable warmth and humour as well. Much of the latter relates to the young couple's efforts to surmount the red tape involved in actually getting married once they decide to go ahead. Miracle in the Rain has a similar premise in that a young woman (Jane Wyman) working at an office in the city meets a soldier (Van Johnson) on leave one evening and a romance gradually begins to develop. As a couple, the pair is somewhat less appealing than their counterparts in The Clock, mainly because Van Johnson just doesn't project the same sincerity that Robert Walker manages. (No matter how hard he tries, he just can't quite make you forgot the many snappy, fast-talking guys he's seemingly portrayed in the past.) On the other hand, the film's plot has a much more tortuous journey to its uplifting ending than does The Clock and that provides more than adequate compensation. Wyman's performance as the drab young woman with the annoying mother at home is quite affecting, while the film incorporates some effective location shooting in such places as Central Park and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Warner Bros. has released both titles on DVD, both full frame as originally presented. The Clock, though still quite watchable, is not really up to Warners' usual standard as the image frequently seems softer than one might expect with more in the way of scratches and speckles than we've gotten used to. I'm not sure what happened here, but obviously the studio had difficult source material with which to deal. Miracle in the Rain looks better with an image that's generally sharp and well contrasted. There's less damage evident as well. The mono sound on both films is clear. Miracle in the Rain adds two short vintage "Behind the Camera" segments from the "Warner Bros. Presents" TV series and the theatrical trailer while The Clock gives us the Pete Smith specialty Hollywood Scout, a classic cartoon The Screwy Truant, a radio-show adaptation with Garland and John Hodiak, and the theatrical trailer. Miracle in the Rain is recommended while The Clock rates a rental.

Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection

Warner Bros. made a lot of people happy with its recent release of Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection. The set contains six films (all also available individually) ranging from film noir (Angel Face, Macao) to family sagas (Home from the Hill, The Sundowners) to action (The Yakuza, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys). Quibblers (concerning The Good Guys and the Bad Guys) to the contrary, there's not really a bad one in the bunch. The two film noir titles are middle-of-the-road entries for that genre. Macao is as much style as substance, as one might expect from a film directed by Josef von Sternberg, though much of his footage was reshot by Nicholas Ray. The film portrays Mitchum as a man in the middle between a Macao gambler (Brad Dexter) wanted for murder in the U.S. and a detective (William Bendix) sent to capture the gambler. Mitchum is his usual sleepy, seemingly indifferent self until his life becomes in jeopardy and then he reacts aggressively. Muddying the waters are Jane Russell as a singer hired to perform in the gambler's club and Gloria Grahame as the gambler's jealous girlfriend. Angel Face is one of director Otto Preminger's many forays into film noir, this time dealing with ambulance driver Mitchum who gets entangled with the beautiful and wealthy Jean Simmons who is intent on murdering her step-mother. The interplay between Mitchum and Simmons is interesting to watch given Mitchum's laidback almost fatalistic response to Simmons predatory character (one that is much against type for Simmons). The film's denouement is quite effective. The Sundowners is Fred Zinnemann's film of the Jon Cleary novel of the same title (not to be confused with the 1950 film The Sundowners with Robert Preston - a different story entirely). Mitchum and Deborah Kerr play an Australian couple that lives from day to day as Mitchum plies his trade as an itinerant sheep drover. Mitchum is content to live unencumbered by property, but his wife (and their son) increasingly seeks the security and comfort of a permanent home. The situation comes to a head after Mitchum wins a large sum of money and a racehorse while gambling. The story is leisurely told and benefits greatly from the Australian location shooting. Mitchum and Kerr work well together and combined with a winning performance by Michael Anderson Jr. as the son, a real sense of family is created. Peter Ustinov and Glynis Johns provide memorable support and there are a number of entertaining character vignettes during the sheep-shearing portion of the film. Home from the Hill creates a moderately interesting four-cornered test of wills between a Texas family patriarch (Mitchum), his much-cheated-on wife (Eleanor Parker), their young son (George Hamilton) whom Mitchum seeks to dominate, and the son's half-brother (George Peppard). All four main players provide strong characterizations although Peppard's illegitimate son seems almost too good to be true - an issue that is amplified by MGM's typically glossy production values. The film is about half an hour too long and needs to wallow more in the details of its sometimes-dark story than the MGM gloss allows. Juicy memories of superior films of the same ilk such as The Long Hot Summer and Written on the Wind are to Home from the Hill's detriment. As I implied above, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys doesn't deserve the criticism that some give it. It's a diverting western with a whimsical bent that features some terrific sequences with a narrow gauge steam train. (Any western with a steam locomotive gets my vote.) Mitchum stars as an aging marshal pensioned off by the town who has to be recalled to duty when a train robbery is imminent. George Kennedy and Martin Balsam provide good support while the Carradine family is well represented by father John as a railway conductor and son David as the leader of the outlaws. (And does anyone else not recognize Douglas Fowley as the old timer who gets shot?) Filming was carried out in the picturesque Chama area of New Mexico. The Yakuza finds Mitchum in Japan as a former soldier and now detective there to rescue a friend's daughter from a local organized crime gang. The film was directed by Sydney Pollack following Mitchum's rejection of Robert Aldrich and he makes good use of location shooting, principally in Tokyo and Kyoto. Mitchum as usual looks the part of the world-weary detective, but there's an air of sadness about him that gives the characterization considerable depth. Japanese actor Takakura Ken (as Mitchum's local comrade) complements Mitchum's character very nicely. With an enticing blend of moments of calm and others of extreme though not graphic violence, the film is an under-appreciated action gem. Calling it film noir as the packaging does is quite a stretch, however. Warners' box set gives each of the six films its own thincase. The image transfers are all presented in the correct aspect ratio (full frame for Macao and Angel Face, anamorphic widescreen for the rest) and all are superior in terms of sharpness, image detail, and colour fidelity (where appropriate). The sound (mono on all except Home from the Hill which is stereo) is clear and free of significant hiss or distortion on all but Macao which I found to be slightly muffled at times. Three of the titles offer audio commentaries (The Yakuza with Sydney Pollack, Angel Face with Eddie Muller, Macao with Eddie Muller, screenwriter Stanley Rubin, and Jane Russell); three include vintage featurettes (The Yakuza, The Sundowners, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys); and one offers an edition of "TCM Private Screenings" with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell (Macao). Highly recommended.

Red Ryder Double Feature: Volume 11

We turn now to a few B-western and serial offerings. VCI's Red Ryder Double Feature: Volume 11 includes two 1944 Republic Red Ryder films starring Wild Bill Elliott - Sheriff of Las Vegas and Vigilantes of Dodge City. The two films, which total about 110 minutes in length, are presented on one side of a dual-layer disc. Supplements include a photo gallery of poster and comic book art, chapter 11 of 1940's The Adventures of Red Ryder serial as well as that serial's trailer, and some actor bios. The two films are unexceptional entries in the Red Ryder series. In Vigilantes of Dodge City, Red helps unmask a gang that's trying to drive the local freight company out of business (look for Linda Stirling as part of the freight company staff) while in Sheriff of Las Vegas, Red tries to prove the innocence of a young man accused of murdering his own father, the town judge. Alice Fleming and Robert Blake appear respectively as the Duchess and Little Beaver, both continuing characters in the Ryder stories. As A-westerns at Republic and a series of superior B-westerns for Allied Artists would later demonstrate, Bill Elliott was a much better actor than the Ryder films allowed him to be. Saddled with having to interact with the Little Beaver character's "me-catchum" level of dialogue, Elliott always gave a professional effort, but there must have been plenty of frustration brewing below the surface at least after the first half dozen films or so. (Elliott would do 16 Ryder films in all.) VCI's disc is workable despite considerable scratches and speckles, the odd splice, and some soft sequences. The sound has some hiss, but again it's tolerable. For Red Ryder or Bill Elliott fans only.

Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery

Hermitage Hill Media has just released the 12-chapter 1935 Universal serial Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery. The film transfer and DVD authoring was done by the Serial Squadron in 2005 and the latter has combined with Hermitage to distribute the DVD through more conventional retail avenues. Further joint ventures between Hermitage and the Squadron are anticipated. (See the New Announcements section of this column for the next title.) In Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery, Clark Williams, Noah Beery Jr., and Jean Rogers star as Tommy and his buddies Skeeter and Betty-Lou, who try to outwit a gang of thieves intent on stealing some valuable oil reserves located on a Pacific Ocean island. They receive assistance from an undercover reporter and a mystery pilot called The Eagle. With a story that's pretty faithful to comic strips of the time, this is quite an entertaining serial spiced up with some decent aerial footage. It gets off with a real bang with the zeppelin sequences of the first chapter. Some of the later situations are a bit more prosaic (the firing of antiaircraft shells, volcanos belching flames and debris, and hand-thrown bombs and grenades), but one generally remains engrossed by the proceedings. The lead performers are somewhat constrained by the juvenile dialogue (more so than most serials, it seemed to me), but they're generally a likable bunch whose difficulties you care about. The serial is presented on a two-sided disc with an image transfer that's somewhat above average for serial releases in general. Sharpness is variable, but for the most part is quite acceptable. Image detail is decent and although there are plenty of scratches and speckles, I think serial fans will be quite pleased. The mono sound has some low-grade hiss, but is quite legible. Supplements consist of several serial trailers (Rustlers of Red Dog, Lost City of the Jungle, The Master Key, Gang Busters, The Masked Rider). Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery is not in the top tier of serials, but it is above average and this release is recommended.

King of the Rocket Men

Last fall, I reviewed the AC Comics DVD-R release of the 1949 Republic serial King of the Rocket Men. As I noted then, it was an acceptable release providing some improvement on the VHS version with which I was able to compare it. Cheezy Flicks Entertainment has also released the title in a two-disc mastered DVD version. The image transfer appears virtually identical to the AC Comics version, but the sound is not as strong, attention to detail is not as good (an incorrectly-spelled chapter title on the menu and at least one chapter missing the introductory Republic logo), and the supplements not as relevant (no serial trailers, just very poor-looking ones for half a dozen feature films, most of which are forgettable). If you like this serial, the AC Comics version is preferable to the Cheezy Flicks one.


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