|Classic Blu-ray Reviews (Continued)
A Star Is Born has been made as a major motion picture three times - in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredic March, in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.
In addition the 1932 film What Price Hollywood? owes much to A Star Is Born's story about a rising star whose marriage to a film personality in decline leads to a tragic end. For me, the 1937 version remains the definitive one, but the 1954 one has its merits, not the least of which is the tour-de-force performance from Judy Garland. The 1954 version has now been accorded the Blu-ray treatment by Warner Bros. and as usual the studio has not disappointed, at least insofar as the audio and video transfer is concerned. The film was cut heavily after its original release and then received a complete reconstruction by Ron Haver in 1983. Haver's efforts yielded the entire original sound track, but several minutes of the picture could not be found so Haver inserted still images to bridge the missing footage. The resulting 176-minute version is the one that appears on the Blu-ray disc. The 2.55:1 CinemaScope image on Blu-ray is based on a 6K scan with additional digital restoration applied. The results are fantastic with the only lapses in sharpness entirely attributable to shortcomings in the early CinemaScope image. Colour saturation is very strong, yet fidelity is spot on for skin tones right on down. Reds are particularly dynamic, but completely stable. Blacks are deep and glossy. A fine patina of grain provides a nice film-like look. The audio is delivered by a 5.1 DTS Master Audio track derived from the original 4 channel stereo tracks and it offers a strong musical experience that's surprisingly dynamic. There's little use of the surrounds, but some nice directionality across the front is evident. Warners has beefed up the supplement package from its original DVD release with more outtakes, deleted scenes, and extended and rehearsal versions of the film's songs. These are all contained on a separate DVD disc. We also get a cartoon parody of the film (A Star Is Bored) and additional vintage featurettes. Basic production information is contained in the 42 pages of the Digibook that Warners has used to package the release. The only things that we don't get that I would have appreciated and that the film cries out for are an audio commentary and a comprehensive making-of documentary. Still, very highly recommended.
One TV western series that has long been missing in action on DVD is The Virginian. Now Timeless Media has begun to redress that situation with its release of The Virginian: The Complete First Season.
The 11-disc set comes attractively housed in an embossed tin with a nice picture of the series' 5 principal players on the front. Within the tin, the discs are housed in a cardboard book containing individual episode information and some stills. The series debuted on NBC in 1962 as a weekly 90-minute colour show. It starred James Drury as the title character, somewhat a man of mystery, who was the foreman on the Shiloh Ranch of Judge Garth (Lee J. Cobb), located near Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Also in the cast were Doug McClure as Trampas and Gary Clarke as Steve Hill (both ranch hands at Shiloh), and Roberta Shore as Judge Garth's niece, Betsy. Some of these characters and the setting are drawn from Owen Wister's 1902 western novel "The Virginian" - a book that was filmed four times at least, including a Gary Cooper version in 1929 and a Joel McCrea one in 1946. The Virginian TV series became quite popular and remained on TV for 9 seasons and 249 episodes - the third longest-running TV western behind only Gunsmoke and Bonanza. The first season of the series with its 30 episodes was characteristic of what The Virginian would offer over its lengthy run - well-written stories with good character development, good ensemble acting, a modest but sufficient amount of action, a focus on serious topics with outcomes frequently neither black nor white, and some comedy relief from time to time. Only very occasionally do the plots feel as though they've been padded out to fill the 90-minute time period. The use of guest stars was common and the first season is no exception. It included the likes of George C. Scott, Lee Marvin, Bette Davis, Robert Duvall, Brian Keith, Colleen Dewhurst, Hugh O'Brian, Ricardo Montalban, Eddie Albert, Michael Rennie, Ida Lupino, Vera Miles, Robert Vaughn, Carol Lynley, Charles Bickford, and more. While virtually every one of the first season's 30 episodes holds interest, many stand out. "It Tolls for Thee" stars Lee Marvin and is directed by Sam Fuller. It has all the grit and thoughtfulness of a Fuller exercise, with Marvin kidnapping Judge Garth and then taking time to debate the merits of violence with him. "Throw a Long Rope" with Jack Warden turns a lot of the western conventions on their heads in the course of its tale about an alleged cattle rustler and the Virginian's defense of him. "West" with a fine turn by Steve Cochran evokes the passage of time and the days of the "old" west with some poignancy. "The Judgment" evokes considerable suspense with Clu Gulager's performance as a vicious killer. The season is notable for its consistency, with the episodes from the second half every bit as strong as those in the first. The episodes all look very good. The full frame images are clean and bright with commendable sharpness and strong colour fidelity. There are some speckles but nothing worthy of concern. The mono sound is in good shape - clear without hiss and consistent in volume level. The set's 11th disc contains the supplements. They consist of lengthy and good interviews with series regulars Drury, Clarke, and Shore plus Robert Fuller (from Wagon Train) and Peter Brown (from Lawman). Highly recommended.
Several months ago, I had the misfortune to review a couple of recently-made films that purported to be westerns. The films in question were the abominable All Hell Broke Loose and Come Hell or High Water, and both came courtesy of Barnholtz Entertainment with the DVD via Alliance in Canada. The latest "western" effort from Barnholtz is The Showdown and unfortunately I have to report that it offers the same combination of ineptness that characterized the previous titles.
There's just nothing about The Showdown that conveys the slightest feeling of western authenticity or basic film professionalism. Acting is awkward and self-conscious. Dialogue is stilted. Stunts are amateurish. Editing is uneven. And the direction shows no inspiration whatsoever. I couldn't even tell you what the basic plot was, so distracted was I by the film's many shortcomings. The quote on the disc jacket that attempts to place this film on the same level as High Noon and Dances with Wolves would be laughable were it not so deceitful. Just to top things off, Alliance's 1.78:1 anamorphic image is less than acceptable too, riddled as it is with edge effects and poor shadow detail. The 5.1 Dolby sound delivers the dialogue reasonably clearly (although that does one no favours for this film as you can still hear the performers speak). Gunshots have all the sound heft of cap pistols. The disc includes director's commentary, a behind the camera featurette, a stills gallery, and the trailer (if I can trust the back cover listing), but I can't imagine anyone actually availing themselves of them except possibly as some sort of penance.
Three Louis L'Amour western stories previously released separately on DVD have now been packaged as the Louis L'Amour Western Collection by Warner Bros. The four-disc set contains The Sacketts, Conagher, and Catlow.
The Sacketts is the class of the set, being a two-part TV miniseries made in 1979 that effectively blended the talents of three relative newcomers to westerns - Tom Selleck, Sam Elliott, and Jeff Osterhage - with many familiar faces from earlier ones - Glenn Ford, Ben Johnson, Jack Elam, Slim Pickens, Buck Taylor, and so on. The film, based on two L'Amour novels - Sackett and Daybreakers, is a somewhat meandering tale, slightly episodic in nature about three brothers from Tennessee who eventually end up uniting in the west. Cattle drives, various threads of revenge, an attempt to purge the Mexican influence from Santa Fe, and the discovery of gold, are all interwoven into a pleasing and entertaining whole that makes the three-hour-plus running time just speed by. While Selleck, Elliott and Osterhage all impress, it is Glenn Ford ‘s nuanced portrayal of a lawyer turned ramrod that really stays in the memory. Conagher is one of a number of westerns that were made by Turner in the 1990s. Many featured Sam Elliott, as this one does. It also stars Katharine Ross in a story about a drifter whose life gradually becomes entwined with that of a widow and her two young children, with a bit of a range war in the background. The film is a little over-long at two hours, but compensation comes in the form of a thoughtful plot that avoids some of the western clichés while providing much of the familiar tropes that western fans expect. The Elliott and Ross characters mesh very well on screen, not surprising since the two actors are married in real life and cooperated in the writing of the teleplay. Look for familiar western character players such as Dub Taylor and Ken Curtis. Catlow is a 1971 MGM comedic western that stars Yul Brynner and Richard Crenna as outlaw and lawman adversaries that eventually have to cooperate against Leonard Nimoy's bounty hunter. All three stars handle themselves well and standard western action set pieces are decently handled by director Sam Wanamaker. The comedy aspects are only modestly successful, however. Those looking for western satire will be more satisfied by contemporaneous westerns such as Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter. Warners has not graced the three films with new transfers so what we get is what was previously released. Catlow sports a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that is quite good for the most part. Colour fidelity is very good and sharpness is good for the most part. There's a mild sheen of grain that seems accentuated in the darker scenes. The Sacketts offers a full frame transfer (as originally aired) that's quite satisfying. Sharpness and colour fidelity are very good and remain consistent throughout. Mild grain is evident. Conagher looks the poorest of the three. The full frame image (as originally aired) is seldom that sharp and looks murky in many of the darker scenes. Smeary reds and some edge effects are quite noticeable. The mono or stereo sound on all three films is in good shape - clear dialogue, decent gunshot effects. Extras on the set include a trailer for Catlow and a 12-minute background featurette on The Sacketts. Recommended for those that don't already have the original DVD releases.
AC Comics now has TV Classic Detectives: Volume 10 available. It's a single DVD-R that contains four private detective show episodes: Bourbon Street Beat (1960 episode "Interrupted Wedding"), Tightrope (1960 episode "Achilles and His Heels"), Markham episode (1960 episode "42 on a Rope"), and The Lone Wolf (1954 episode).
Cheezy Flicks will be offering the 15-chapter serial, The Monster and the Ape (1945), for release on July 27th.
Criterion will have Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) on Blu-ray on September 14th. It will offer a restored high-definition digital transfer approved by director of photography Raoul Coutard; archival interviews (with director Jean-Luc Godard, and actors Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg and Jean-Pierre Melville); new video interviews (with Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient and filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker); new video essays by filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum; Chambre 12, Hotel de suede (an eighty-minute French documentary about the making of Breathless, with members of the cast and crew); Charlotte et son Jules (a 1959 short film by Godard, starring Belmondo); the French theatrical trailer, a new and improved English subtitle translation; and a booklet featuring writings from Godard, film historian Dudley Andrew, François Truffaut's original film treatment and Godard's scenario. Then on September 21st, we'll get Stanley Donen's Charade (1963, with Cary Grant) on Blu-ray. Charade will include a new high-definition digital transfer with restored image and sound; an audio commentary with Stanley Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone; The Films of Stanley Donen (a selected filmography, with an introduction by Donen biographer Stephen M. Silverman); Peter Stone's career highlights; and the film's original theatrical trailer. Criterion's latest newsletter provides a visual clue that Night of the Hunter (1955, with Robert Mitchum) is in its future release plans.
Flicker Alley has announced the July 6th release of Chicago, the original silent film starring Phyllis Haver, Victor Varconi, and Eiugene Pallette. The release is mastered in high definition at 25 frames per second directly from Cecil B. DeMille's original nitrate print, through the courtesy of the DeMille Estate. Also included in the 2-DVD set are two bonus films: The Golden Twenties (1950), a compilation documentary feature produced by The March of Time from authentic footage of the era; and Oscar-winning Lauren Lazin's The Flapper Story (1985), in which several self-declared children of the roaring twenties look back across the decades on their youthful lives.
With the assistance of the Vitaphone Project, Grapevine Video is working on restoring (at least partially) the sound track to the 1929 Mascot serial King of the Congo, with a view to an eventual DVD release.
Image Entertainment will have The Twilight Zone: Season 1 available on Blu-ray on September 14th. This five-disc set will include the 36 episodes from the first season (aired in 1959-1960) of this classic TV series. All new 1080p high-definition transfers have been created from the original camera negatives, as well as uncompressed PCM audio, remastered from the original magnetic soundtracks. In addition, the set includes new and exclusive bonus features not available anywhere else, including the rarely seen, never-before-released unofficial pilot "The Time Element," written by Rod Serling and hosted by Desi Arnaz - the episode that started a cultural phenomenon - presented in high definition! Also included are 19 new audio commentaries, 34 isolated music scores, 18 radio dramas, new and archival cast/crew and scholar interviews, a "Tales of Tomorrow" episode of "What You Need," the original unaired pilot version of "Where Is Everybody?" along with Rod Serling's network pitch, Rod Serling's audio lectures from Sherwood Oaks College, syndication promos, sponsor billboards, alternate opening and closing narrations, clips from the Emmy® Awards ceremony featuring wins for the series in Writing and Cinematography categories, and more. Image also has a 5-disc DVD set of The Twilight Zone: Fan Favorites planned for October 26th. It will contain 19 episodes in all.
Infinity Entertainment will release The Real McCoys: Complete Season 4 on June 29th. It will be a 4-disc set containing all 39 half-hour episodes from the 1960-61 season.
Kino is issuing a special edition of Pandora and The Flying Dutchman (1951) on August 3rd. Both Blu-ray and DVD versions will be released. They will be mastered in high definition from the 35mm negative of the 2009 restoration, and include extras such as: a comparison of original vs. restored Technicolor footage: an alternate opening title sequence; three theatrical trailers; two galleries of documents, stills, and behind-the-scenes photos; and El Torero de Cordoba, an eighteen-minute documentary about the legendary Spanish bullfighter.
Lionsgate is issuing another classic title on Blu-ray under its Studio Canal Collection - The Third Man (1949, with Joseph Cotten). Expected after the Criterion version went out of print, the Lionsagte release date is September 21st and supplements will include a new audio commentary with assistant director Guy Hamilton, actor Simon Callow and crew member Angela Allen; a new The Third Man interactive Vienna Tour; and a 20-page collectible booklet written by film historian Charles Drazin. The disc also features "The Third Man on the Radio", audio interviews with Joseph Cotten and Graham Greene, an alternative opening with voice-over from Joseph Cotten, an interview and zither performance from Cornelia Mayer, plus a stills gallery and original trailers.
MPI will have The Mothers-In-Law: The Complete Series for release on July 27th. The 8-disc set contains all 56 episodes from the 1967-69 series that starred Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard.
Add Hannie Caulder (1971, with Raquel Welsh and Robert Culp) to the list of Paramount titles that Olive Films will be releasing on July 27th. The other titles are Appointment with Danger, Crack in the World, Dark City, and Union Station. Harlow (1965, with Carroll Baker), My Favorite Spy (1951, with Bob Hope), Knock on Wood (1954), and Where Love Has Gone (1964, with Susan Hayward) are apparently set for September 28th.
The Patty Duke Show: Season 3 is coming from Shout! Factory on August 24th. The show's final season will be issued on a 6-disc set. Supplements, if any, are unknown as yet.
Sony will be releasing The Kim Novak Collection on August 3rd. It will contain two titles previously not available on DVD - Jeanne Eagels (1957) and Middle of the Road (1959) as well as newly remastered versions of Picnic (1955), Pal Joey (1957), and Bell, Book and Candle (1958). Supplements will include four featurettes (Kim's Hollywood Picnic, Back Stage and at Home with Kim Novak, Bewitched, Bothered and Blonde, Reflections in the Middle of the Night); select scene commentary on Jeanne Eagles with Kim Novak and author Stephen Rebello; select scenes commentary on Pal Joey with Kim Novak and author Stephen Rebello; and original trailers. Coming on September 7th will be a Blu-ray edition of In Cold Blood (1967, with Robert Blake). The title was previously only available on Blu-ray as part of a double feature with Capote.
The Turner Classic Movies release of the TCM Universal Deanna Durbin Collection has slipped to July 8th. It was originally announced for April 27th. Meanwhile, another TCM/Universal collaboration via the TCM Vault Collection is scheduled for a July 30th release. It's the final two films in the Ma and Pa Kettle series, to appear as The Further Adventures of the Kettles (The Kettles in the Ozarks /The Kettles on Old MacDonald's Farm ).
Timeless Media plans a June 29th release for Checkmate: The Complete Series. The 14-disc set will contain all 70 episodes.
VCI has a number of titles for release on August 31st. First up is the 1964 Audie Murphy western Apache Rifles with several supplements relating to the film, director William Witney, and the Lone Pine area. Also on the agenda as part of VCI's British focus are Hell Is Sold Out (1951, with Herbert Lom and Richard Attenborough), Four in the Morning (1965, with Judi Dench), and the British TV drama The Capone Investment (1974, with Peter Sallis). Coming on September 28th will be the British TV mini-series Dangerous Knowledge (1976, with John Gregson) and Jane Eyre (1970, with George C. Scott).
The classic additions to the Warner Archive for May 18th included: The Bobo (1967, with Peter Sellers), Which Way to the Front? (1970, with Jerry Lewis), and Classic Musical Shorts from the Dream Factory (1928-1948, 34 shorts incl. 14 in colour on 4 discs). June 1st brings Alibi Ike (1935, with Joe E. Brown), Five Star Final (1931, with Edward G. Robinson), Going Wild (1930, with Joe E. Brown), Sit Tight (1931, with Joe E. Brown), The Tenderfoot (1932, with Joe E. Brown), Two on a Guillotine (Connie Stevens), Verboten! (1959, with James Best), and the Whistling Trilogy (Whistling in the Dark / Whistling in Dixie /Whistling in Brooklyn , all with Red Skelton). June 15th titles included four Bette Davis films: Fog Over Frisco (1934), Bureau of Missing Persons (1935), The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935), and The Golden Arrow (1936). There were also four films directed by MGM stalwart Clarence Brown: The Gorgeous Hussy (1936, with Joan Crawford), Conquest (1935, with Greta Garbo), Come Live with Me (1941, with James Stewart), and Navy Blues (1929, with William Haines). Two-disc double features of remake combinations also appeared: Hell's Heroes (1929, with Charles Bickford) paired with Three Godfathers (1936, with Chester Morris); Make Me a Star (1932, with Stuart Erwin) paired with Merton of the Movies (1947, with Red Skelton); Madame X (1929, with Ruth Chatterton) paired with Madame X (1937, with Gladys George); and Love Is on the Air (1937) paired with You Can't Escape Forever (1942). July 6th additions will include six Lana Turner films: These Glamour Girls (1939), The Dancing Co-Ed (1939), Two Girls on Broadway (1940), Slightly Dangerous (1943), Keep Your Powder Dry (1945), and Cass Timberlane (1947). Also available will be Vagabond Lady (1935, with Robert Young), Mister Cinderella (1936, with Jack Haley), Nobody's Baby (1937, with Patsy Kelly), Background to Danger (1943, with George Raft), and Brewster McCloud (1970, with Bud Cort). And courtesy of one of our readers, The Bits received a report that suggests the Archive's recent release of the jazz and big band shorts sold better than expected, so more such collections can be expected soon.
On September 28th, the original 1933 RKO classic King Kong makes its long awaited debut on Blu-ray, courtesy of Warner Bros. The newly remastered King Kong features extensive bonus content, including a collectible Blu-ray Book written by renowned film historian Rudy Behlmer; a feature length documentary on Kong creator Merian C. Cooper, directed by acclaimed filmmakers Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird; commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston with Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray; and a seven-part documentary that delves deeply into just about every aspect of the making of the film. Warner Bros. has announced an October 5th Blu-ray release for Ocean's Eleven: 50th Anniversary Edition. This is the original 1960 film with Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack. Special features will include audio commentary by Frank Sinatra Jr. and Angie Dickinson; interactive Las Vegas Then and Now Map Casino Vignettes; The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson excerpt, featuring guest host Frank Sinatra and guest Angie Dickinson; and the theatrical trailer. On the same date we'll also get The Exorcist (1973) on Blu-ray. It will include the original theatrical release as well as a director's cut. October 12th will bring The Essential Bugs Bunny - a two-disc collection of 17 Bugs Bunny cartoons, three of which are apparently new to DVD (no titles announced as yet). Extras include a new mini-documentary on Bugs' career and the original uncut version of Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers.
Now for some Bogart news. Warner Bros. has officially announced the Blu-ray release of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Maltese Falcon, both set for release on October 5th, along with the DVD only release of Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection, which includes 24 of his films on 12 discs, along with a 13th bonus disc. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre Blu-ray will include audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax, the Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre featurette, the feature-length documentary John Huston, outtakes, the classic cartoon 8 Ball Bunny, a "Warner Night at the Movies 1948" short subjects gallery (includes a newsreel, the Joe McDoakes comedy short So You Want to Be a Detective, the cartoon Hot Cross Bunny and trailers for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and 1948's Key Largo) and an audio-only bonus (a radio show adaptation featuring the movie's original stars). The Maltese Falcon Blu-ray will include audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax, the The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird featurette, the Breakdowns of 1941 studio blooper reel, makeup tests, Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart, a "Warner Night at the Movies 1941" short subjects gallery (includes a newsreel, the musical short The Gay Parisian, the classic cartoons Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt and Meet John Doughboy, and trailers for The Maltese Falcon, 1941's Sergeant York and 1936's previous Falcon movie adaptation Satan Met a Lady) and an audio-only bonus (3 radio show adaptations - 2 featuring the movie's original stars and another starring Edward G. Robinson). Meanwhile, Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection will include the films: The Petrified Forest (1936), Black Legion (1937), Kid Galahad (1937), Marked Woman (1937), San Quentin (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Roaring Twenties (1939), Invisible Stripes (1939), Brother Orchid (1940), They Drive by Night (1940), Virginia City (1940), All Through the Night (1941), High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), Across the Pacific (1942), Action in the North Atlantic (1943), Passage to Marseille (1944), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), Key Largo (1948) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). The films will appear two to a disc (with most of the supplements on the original individual DVD releases) and there'll be a bonus disc containing The Brothers Warner documentary. Also included in the package will be an all-new 48-page tribute book with an introduction by TCM host and film historian Robert Osborne and striking photography including movie stills and behind-the-scenes photos from each film. There will also be fifteen photo cards of classic one-sheets and rare archival studio correspondence, including a telegram from Humphrey Bogart to Hal Wallis requesting the lead in High Sierra.
Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.