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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Forty, Fifty, Sixty and Seventy Years Ago at the Academy Awards

Well, the Academy Awards for 2002 are upon us and within months if not weeks, we'll have all the winners and losers available to us on DVD. Now if only we could say the same for all the contenders in 1962, 1952, 1942, and 1932. In this edition of the Classic Coming Attractions column, we're going to look at the Best Picture, Actor, and Actress categories from those years to see who won, who lost, and how they're represented on DVD so far. What we'll find is the fact that, as one might have guessed, age is a good indicator of availability with none of the nominees from 70 years ago on DVD, six out of twenty from 60 years ago, six out of fifteen from 50 years ago, and ten out of fifteen from 40 years ago. The details follow.

For those of you looking for the latest new classic release announcements, they'll be found towards the end of the column.

1932

Technically, the 1932 awards were actually for 1931/32 as the Academy Award year went from August 1 to July 31, before changing to the calendar year beginning with the 1934 awards.

Best Picture Winner - Grand Hotel (MGM, directed by Edmund Goulding)

Other Best Picture Nominees - Arrowsmith (Goldwyn, not on DVD, MGM holds rights); Bad Girl (Fox, not on DVD); The Champ (MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights); Five Star Final (WB, not on DVD); One Hour with You (Paramount, not on DVD, Universal holds rights); Shanghai Express (Paramount, not on DVD but originally announced as forthcoming from Criterion by arrangement with rights holder Universal, now appears in limbo due to source material problems); The Smiling Lieutenant (Paramount, not on DVD, Universal holds rights).

Grand Hotel is a film of star performances that was a worthy winner for the year, although arguments could be made for nominee Five Star Final and the un-nominated Scarface. With a cast including Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, John Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore all delivering fine performances, Grand Hotel is pretty hard to resist. The film is the granddaddy of the bring-a-group-of-unrelated-people-together-in-some-common-setting-and-see-how-their-lives-become-intertwined situation, later repeated on ships (Ship of Fools), airplanes (Airport and its sequels), and so on. Grand Hotel is not available on DVD. WB holds the rights. The film was released on VHS and laserdisc.

Best Actor Winner (a tie) - Wallace Beery (for The Champ [MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights]); Fredric March (for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [Paramount, not on DVD, negative was purchased by MGM when it filmed its 1941 remake, so DVD rights are now held by WB])

Other Best Actor Nominees - Alfred Lunt (for The Guardsman [MGM, not on DVD, rights held by WB])

Fredric March actually had the most votes for Best Actor, but only by one over Wallace Beery. Since the rules apparently called for nominees receiving vote totals within two votes of each other to both receive an award, a tie was declared for Best Actor. March's performance seems to me the more worthy effort of the two, however. Beery's syrupy mugging is at times excessive and his vote tally was likely more due to MGM's strong industry influence at the time than anything else (sounds familiar somehow). Overlooked entirely were Paul Muni's dynamic performance in Scarface, Edward G. Robinson forceful in Five Star Final, and Boris Karloff's sympathetic monster in Frankenstein. The latter film is already available on DVD from Universal in a very nice special edition. As for Scarface, maybe we'll get lucky and Universal will twin it with the rumoured forthcoming DVD special edition of the inferior 1983 Al Pacino remake later this year, much as they bolstered Meet Joe Black with 1934's Death Takes a Holiday.

Best Actress Winner - Helen Hayes (for The Sin of Madelon Claudet [MGM, not on DVD, rights held by WB])

Other Best Actress Nominees - Marie Dressler (for Emma [MGM, not on DVD, rights held by WB]); Lynn Fontanne (for The Guardsman [MGM, not on DVD, rights held by WB])

Neither winner Helen Hayes nor nominee Lynn Fontanne really merited the recognition, but they both appeared in MGM pictures and both were known for their stage work, factors that appeared to have carried more weight than anything else. Only Marie Dressler of the nominees really delivered an Oscar-calibre performance. As usual, many other fine efforts were completely overlooked. For my money, Barbara Stanwyck's evangelist in Frank Capra's The Miracle Woman (Columbia, not on DVD) would have been a worthy winner. One could also make a case for Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel where she outshone Greta Garbo and John Barrymore.

1942

Best Picture Winner - Mrs. Miniver (MGM, directed by William Wyler)

Other Best Picture Nominees - 49th Parallel (Columbia release of a British production, not on DVD, rights holder unknown, Criterion had the laserdisc release); King's Row (WB, not on DVD); The Magnificent Ambersons (RKO, not on DVD, WB holds rights); The Pied Piper (Fox, not on DVD); The Pride of the Yankees (Goldwyn, DVD from MGM recommended); Random Harvest (MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights); The Talk of the Town (Columbia, recently released on DVD); Wake Island (Paramount, not on DVD, Universal holds rights); and Yankee Doodle Dandy (WB, not on DVD).

Mrs. Miniver is another example of a fine film that just wasn't the finest film of the year and in 1942, it was outshone by at least half a dozen others including The Magnificent Ambersons, King's Row, Sullivan's Travels, Now Voyager, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Major and the Minor, and To Be or Not to Be. (Of these others, available on DVD are Sullivan's Travels in a highly recommended Criterion edition and Now, Voyager in a highly recommended WB disc. Rights for the rest are held by WB, except for The Major and the Minor - a Paramount release whose rights Universal holds.) Much of the appeal of Mrs. Miniver lay in the glossy MGM production design of a story depicting the spirit of the English people as their country faced Hitler's Germany alone. Director William Wyler extracted fine performances from Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, and Teresa Wright plus a host of Hollywood British actors. The film is not available on DVD. Rights are held by WB, but there are no apparently imminent plans for a DVD release. The title was released on VHS and laserdisc.

Best Actor Winner - James Cagney (for Yankee Doodle Dandy [WB, not on DVD])

Other Best Actor Nominees - Ronald Colman (for Random Harvest [MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights]); Gary Cooper (for The Pride of the Yankees [Goldwyn, DVD from MGM recommended]); Walter Pidgeon (for Mrs. Miniver [MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights]); Monty Woolley (for The Pied Piper [Fox, not on DVD]).

For once, the Academy got it right in giving its Best Actor award to James Cagney. The Yankee Doodle Dandy storyline may be a little too pat for some, but as a musical it's outstanding, mainly because of Cagney's exuberant, swaggering dancing and singing as showman George M. Cohan. He provides all the film's highpoints with his stiff-legged strutting and tap work. It's a role that Cagney wanted and his affection for the character and material is evident throughout. I can't understand why this hasn't made it to DVD yet. Last year, being the 60th anniversary, would have been the obvious time. Come on, Warners, it's time to give James Cagney his due on DVD.

Best Actress Winner - Greer Garson (for Mrs. Miniver [MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights])

Other Best Actress Nominees - Bette Davis (for Now, Voyager [WB, DVD from WB and highly recommended]); Katharine Hepburn (for Woman of the Year [MGM, DVD from WB and recommended]); Rosalind Russell (for My Sister Eileen [Columbia, not on DVD]); Teresa Wright (for The Pride of the Yankees [Goldwyn, DVD from MGM and recommended]).

I like Greer Garson and her performance in Mrs. Miniver was one of her best, but again there were more worthy efforts. Of the other nominees, you couldn't do better than Bette Davis's portrayal of the repressed ugly duckling turned into swan Charlotte Vale in the magnificent Now, Voyager. I also give Katharine Hepburn my vote over Garson in this year. But what about those overlooked by the Academy, such as Carole Lombard in Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be or Ginger Rogers in The Major and the Minor (possibly overlooked because she'd won in 1940 for Kitty Foyle (an RKO release not on DVD, rights held by WB) or even Ann Sheridan in the gem that was King's Row.

1952

Best Picture Winner - The Greatest Show on Earth (Paramount, directed by Cecil B. DeMille)

Other Best Picture Nominees - High Noon (UA, DVD from Artisan but your best bet may still be Criterion's laserdisc version); Ivanhoe (MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights); Moulin Rouge (UA, not on DVD, MGM holds rights); The Quiet Man (Republic, DVD from Artisan).

The Greatest Show on Earth was one of Cecil B. DeMille's typical spectacle-type films - a story of the excitement and behind-the-scenes life of the circus and as was commonly the case with his films, a hit with the public and a flop with the critics. It had the usual all-star cast, including in this instance, James Stewart, Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame, and Cornel Wilde. The Greatest Show on Earth is not yet available on DVD nor are there any rumours of an early appearance. Paramount issued the title on laserdisc in a reasonably pleasing version. But was it really best picture of the year? Well I'd say, not even close. Any of the other nominees were more worthy, especially The Quiet Man and High Noon, but the real travesty of the year was the failure to recognize at all the best musical ever made - Singin' in the Rain. Fortunately, we can see the latter at our leisure either in the original DVD incarnation or the more recent 50th anniversary special edition. Both are from WB and both are highly recommended.

Best Actor Winner - Gary Cooper (for High Noon [UA, DVD from Artisan])

Other Best Actor Nominees - Marlon Brando (for Viva Zapata! [Fox, not on DVD though rumoured to be in the works]); Kirk Douglas (for The Bad and the Beautiful [MGM, DVD from WB and recommended]); Jose Ferrer (for Moulin Rouge [UA, not on DVD, MGM holds rights]); Alec Guinness (for The Lavender Hill Mob [British, DVD from Anchor Bay and recommended]).

It's pretty hard to argue with Cooper's selection in 1952. He had fairly strong opposition from the other nominees, particularly Guinness and Douglas, and Gene Kelly should have been at least nominated for his work in Singin' in the Rain, but Cooper's win was well-justified. The High Noon role was tailor-made for Cooper whose worn and weary features, so characteristic of his work in the 1950's, seemed a perfect fit for sheriff Will Kane. The part was well-written and Cooper conveyed the frustrations of the character with conviction. Artisan's recent collector's edition DVD is a difficult recommendation with its intrusive edge effects.

Best Actress Winner - Shirley Booth (for Come Back, Little Sheba [Paramount, not on DVD])

Other Best Actress Nominees - Joan Crawford (for Sudden Fear [RKO, DVD from Kino]); Bette Davis (for The Star [Fox, not on DVD]); Julie Harris (for The Member of the Wedding [Columbia, not on DVD]); Susan Hayward (for With a Song in My Heart [Fox, not on DVD]).

In a year of fairly meager pickings, Shirley Booth was as worthy a selection as any among the Best Actress nominees. Crawford and Davis had both done better work before and it was Ethel Waters who should have been recognized for The Member of the Wedding rather than Julie Harris. Overlooked entirely was Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man. Booth's work in Come Back, Little Sheba was a reiteration of her Broadway role of frumpish housewife Lola Delaney who manages to drive her husband played by Burt Lancaster to distraction and she did it to perfection. "Sheba" in the film's title refers to her lost dog. I'm somewhat surprised this one hasn't made it to DVD as yet, although it's not a film you hear talked about much.

1962

Best Picture Winner - Lawrence of Arabia (Columbia, directed by David Lean)

Other Best Picture Nominees - The Longest Day (Fox, available on DVD and recommended although it's bare bones and not anamorphic); The Music Man (WB, available on DVD and highly recommended); Mutiny on the Bounty (MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights); To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal, available on DVD and recommended).

The year 1962 was one of those years when any of a dozen films could have received nominations and had a good case made for them. Of those actually nominated, only Mutiny on the Bounty, which was a bloated remake of the much superior 1935 original, didn't deserve the recognition. Worthy films that didn't make it included, among others, The Manchurian Candidate (UA, DVD from MGM recommended), Ride the High Country (MGM, not on DVD, rights held by WB), and Days of Wine and Roses (WB, not on DVD). Not that it would have made any difference, because Lawrence of Arabia was clearly the class of the year and deservedly won the Academy Award. It is surely one of the most lavish, complex, and magnificently executed spectacles put on film. A collection of potent acting performances from the likes of Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, and Claude Rains didn't hurt any either. Columbia issued the film on DVD in a very fine collector's edition that is highly recommended as far as I am concerned, although I recognize that some have issues with the image transfer.

Best Actor Winner - Gregory Peck (for To Kill a Mockingbird [Universal, available on DVD and recommended despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement])

Other Best Actor Nominees - Burt Lancaster (for Birdman of Alcatraz [UA, DVD from MGM and recommended]); Jack Lemmon (for Days of Wine and Roses [WB, not on DVD]); Marcello Mastroianni (for Divorce - Italian Style [Italian, DVD from Hen's Tooth Video]); Peter O'Toole (for Lawrence of Arabia [Columbia, available on DVD])

It's pretty hard to make a case against Gregory Peck's inspirational work in To Kill a Mockingbird. To the role of Atticus Finch, a southern lawyer defending a black man accused of rape, he brought a blend of courage, authority, open-mindedness, and warmth that fit pretty well everyone's image of the character as conjured up by reading the book. Still, one couldn't have argued had the Best Actor award gone to Peter O'Toole's mesmerizing portrayal of T.E. Lawrence or to an un-nominated worthy such as Robert Preston for The Music Man. Nor would western fans have argued had either of Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea been recognized for their work in Ride the High Country.

Best Actress Winner - Anne Bancroft (for The Miracle Worker [UA, DVD from MGM])

Other Best Actress Nominees - Bette Davis (for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? [WB, available on DVD and recommended]); Katharine Hepburn (for Long Day's Journey into Night [Independent, not on DVD, Artisan believed to hold rights]); Geraldine Page (for Sweet Bird of Youth [MGM, not on DVD, WB holds rights]); Lee Remick (for Days of Wine and Roses [WB, not on DVD]).

Despite spirited opposition from Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, Anne Bancroft won a deserved Oscar for her work as Helen Keller's teacher, Annie Sullivan, in The Miracle Worker. (She had previously won a Tony for playing the part on Broadway.) In fact, the Academy seemed to get it right all the way around in this category. It's hard to think of a worthy 1962 female leading performance that outshone any of those nominated. MGM's DVD of The Miracle Worker suffers from a somewhat ragged source material, but the transfer is quite good.

The Latest Classic Release Announcements

Let's pick up from last column's discussion of the forthcoming releases from Fox. On June 3rd, the previously announced Flight of the Phoenix, 300 Spartans, Long Hot Summer, and From the Terrace will all be released in anamorphic widescreen with trailer galleries. Terrace will also have a MovieTone newsreel while Summer will have an AMC Backstory and two MovieTone newsreels. On the same date, Fox will also release four John Wayne westerns - North to Alaska (with a bonus MovieTone newsreel), The Big Trail, The Undefeated, and The Comancheros (also with a MovieTone newsreel) - all in anamorphic widescreen, with trailers.

News continues to appear about Fox's Studio Classics line. The Song of Bernadette is confirmed as the June release (1.37:1, DD stereo and mono tracks, an audio commentary, vintage MovieTone News [Jennifer Jones receives award from American G.I.'s], a Jones biography, restoration demo, and a trailer), putting the release of The Grapes of Wrath in limbo for the present. As for the later releases, here are the disc specs:

Anastasia (July 1st) - 2.35:1 anamorphic, DD 2.0 Surround, audio commentary (by Jon Burlingame, Sylvia Stoddard, Arthur Laurents (son of Helen Hayes) and James MacArthur), Biography: Anastasia, 4 Movie Tone Newsreels, 1907 Czar of Russia footage, Romanoff footage, restoration comparison, still gallery, theatrical trailers

The Inn of Sixth Happiness (August 5th) - 2.35:1 anamorphic, DD 2.0 stereo, Sean Connery screen tests, 2 Movie Tone Newsreels, restoration comparison, still gallery, theatrical trailers

Titanic (September 2nd) - 1.37:1, DD 2.0, audio commentary, Beyond Titanic featurette, 3 Movie Tone Newsreels, still gallery, theatrical trailers

The Mark of Zorro (October 7th) - 1.37:1, DD 2.0, audio commentary, Biography: Tyrone Power, On Set Gag footage, still Gallery, theatrical trailers

Laura (November 4th) - 1.37:1, DD 2.0, audio commentary (with David Raskin & Janine Basinger), audio commentary (with Rudy Behlmer), Biography: Gene Tierney & Vincent Price, restoration comparison, Movie Tone Newsreel, still gallery, theatrical trailers

The Ox-Bow Incident (December 2nd) - 1.37:1, DD 2.0, audio commentary, Biography: Henry Fonda, still gallery, theatrical trailers

Criterion has announced Henri-Georges Clouzot's Quai des Orfevres (1947) for May 13th. It will include a newly-remastered transfer with its original French mono track, plus French television interview excerpts with the director and cast, plus the film's original theatrical trailer. At the same time, we'll also get Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood (1957) with a newly-remastered transfer with the original Japanese mono track, an audio commentary by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck, a new essay by Stephen Prince, two alternative subtitle translations, and the trailer. Criterion is also understood to have commissioned re-subtitling of six other Kurosawa films that it will eventually bring to DVD. The films are: Seven Samurai (1954), Ikiru (1952), Stray Dog (1949), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Drunken Angel (1948), and I Live in Fear (1955). This would mean a revisiting of the company's previous Seven Samurai release. It also appears likely that we will see Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962) later this year.

Warner Brothers' release of its Charlie Chaplin acquisitions will begin July 1st with four titles: The Gold Rush, The Great Dictator, Limelight and Modern Times. These are the first of 10 titles that will eventually appear. For these double-disc releases of each title (priced at $29.95), the films have been digitally restored, and extras will include never-before-seen footage, behind-the-scenes glimpses, home movie footage, interviews with Chaplin's family, and retrospective documentaries. The next wave of Chaplin releases is scheduled for the fall. Rumoured for late 2004 (the 65th anniversary) is a deluxe Gone with the Wind edition with a new transfer and supplements that might include 90 minutes of cut footage. November 2003 is rumoured to be the release date for the first of Warners' Looney Tunes to appear on DVD.

Columbia is dropping the prices on a number of catalog items. On May 27th, dropping to $19.95 are the Ray Harryhausen classics 20 Million Miles to Earth, Earth vs. Flying Saucer, First Men in the Moon, Jason and the Argonauts and Mysterious Island. All are reissues with no spec or feature changes. On June 3rd, dropping to $19.95 is Funny Girl and being lowered to $14.95 are: 3:10 to Yuma, Anzio, and Cat Ballou. All specs and features remain the same. A new release on June 10th will be Experiment in Terror (1962), from director Blake Edwards, featuring an anamorphic widescreen presentation with mono soundtrack, and bonus trailers. Disney is apparently readying a new DVD of Mary Poppins (1964), which will feature a cleaned-up transfer by Lowry Digital Images and include for the first time the blank screen Roadshow Overture and possibly the intermission music. Disney is also apparently very pleased with the success of its Walt Disney Treasures line of discs, so the line can be expected not only to continue, but also to expand into new areas.

Universal is now indicating that the James Stewart interview/commentary previously available on the Winchester '73 laserdisc will also appear on the forthcoming DVD. The film is part of a collection of westerns Universal is releasing on May 6th. Also included are Bend of the River, Destry Rides Again, The Far Country, The Rare Breed, and The Redhead from Wyoming. These will apparently each be separate discs, not double bills as originally suggested. Retailing at $14.95 each, all are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios and anamorphically encoded (as applicable), and include English mono tracks, English and French subtitles, and trailers. Universal is rumoured to also be preparing a special edition release of Scarface (1983) for this fall. The only reason I mention it is to suggest that they be smart enough to include the original version of Scarface (1932) with Paul Muni, in the same fashion as they've twinned remakes for other releases.

A couple of Sergio Leone's most-discussed films are in the news. Director Alex Cox confirms that he has contributed to an audio commentary for a Region 1 release of Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). Other commentary participants are reportedly Christopher Frayling, Claudia Cardinale, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento. The forthcoming DVD release (from Paramount) will include an almost three-hour cut of the film, but no release date has yet been announced. With financial assistance from AMC, MGM has developed a restored version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) that adds some previously cut Italian footage (newly redubbed by Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach) to the film, making it some three hours in length. While no DVD is currently planned, it seems likely that one will eventually appear, although it would be in 2004 at the earliest.

Image Entertainment release news for June includes Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, N.J.: Early Movie Making in New Jersey (1964). The disc (available June 20th) will include a number of shorts, short features, and feature abridgements of material shot in the early part of the past century at Fort Lee by the likes of D.W. Griffith and Maurice Tourneur. June 20th will also see the release of numbers 3 and 4 in the Gene Autry Collection. The films are 1939's Home on the Prairie and 1940's Melody Ranch, both originally Republic productions. Each will include still galleries.

Artisan has set the Gary Cooper spy film Cloak and Dagger (1946) for a May 21st release. It will be the standard barebones effort from Artisan.

The most recent information on VCI's serial releases indicates March 25th as the date for Drums of Fu Manchu (1940, Republic) and the 1945 version of Secret Agent X-9 (Universal), and April 25th for Mandrake the Magician (1939, Columbia).

In animation news, information from several readers confirms the Columbia House release of the Woody Woodpecker discs. Each disc contains four episodes of the old television Woody Woodpecker Show, each episode presented apparently unchanged from how it was originally broadcast. That means that you get some cartoons uncut, but some are missing beginning or end logos, or have been edited. For example, on the first disc in the series, the Andy Panda cartoon Knock Knock, with Woody's first appearance is missing some 60 seconds. On the plus side, the disc quality appears to be fairly good. In other news, Inkwell Images has released Max Fleischer's Famous Out of the Inkwell Volumes 1 & 2. It contains the earliest Koko cartoons from 1919-1922 taken from very fine prints, some of which are tinted.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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