|Classic Reviews Round-Up #57 and New Announcements (continued)
As mentioned above, Colorado Territory is a remake of High Sierra with Raoul Walsh repeating his work as director.
There are some minor changes in the script beyond the obvious requirements necessitated by the switch to the western genre, but the main plot angles are intact. Joel McCrea plays the Bogart role from High Sierra while Virginia Mayo stands in for Ida Lupino. McCrea is a good choice because he offers the same commanding presence that Bogart had, while providing the believability required as a western leading man. The film has the same tightly controlled action sequences, but its climactic events on the mountain lack the same power in terms of conveying a release from the clasp of civilization for the film's central character that High Sierra does. That's partly a reflection of the western time period setting, but also its more "Bonnie and Clyde" type scripting. If Colorado Territory is not quite High Sierra in its impact, it does manage to succeed as a good western in its own right. The Warner Archive DVD-R release (full frame as originally presented) looks very good. The image is crisp and nicely detailed, standing up well to projection on large screens. Black levels and overall contrast are both above average. There are a few speckles, but they're not intrusive. The mono sound is in good shape. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Paramount and CBS Video have finally provided us with an authorized release of the western TV series Bonanza in the form of The Official First Season - Volume 1 and Volume 2.
It's most welcome to have these available now as the show debuted 50 years ago this month. It started out on Saturday nights before switching to Sunday nights where it became a staple, remaining on air on NBC for 13 ½ seasons. The first season had 32 episodes in total and they are spread over 8 discs (4 discs per volume) in these two releases. I suspect most people are aware of Bonanza. It focuses on the adventures of the Cartwright family (patriarch Ben [Lorne Greene]and his three sons Adam [Pernell Roberts], Hoss [Dan Blocker] and little Joe [Michael Landon]) who own a large ranch called the Ponderosa located in the rich silver-mining and timber area of Nevada. The series was extremely popular throughout its run that ended in the early 1970s, continuing on in syndication for many years and even spawning a short-lived prequel series and three made-for-TV movies featuring the Cartwrights' offspring. The shows of the first season are quite indicative of why the series was so popular. Virtually all are engrossing tales with some even defying predictability. There is an appealing blend of action, gentle humour, and morality in every episode with one or more of the Cartwrights getting the spotlight in each. A good range of guest stars is evident, including Yvonne De Carlo, Barry Sullivan, Howard Duff, Jack Carson, Ruth Roman, Buddy Ebsen, Lloyd Nolan, and Vic Morrow among others. Production values for the series were high and NBC chose to film in colour, a decision that also boosted the program's popularity. Watching the episodes brought back fond memories for me, but even better, the stories still remain very entertaining 50 years after they first appeared. The DVD presentation is first rate, with the episodes (full frame as originally broadcast) all looking very crisp and clean. Colours are bright and fidelity is excellent for the most part. The episodes each run about 49 minutes and appear to be complete. The mono sound is clear and free of distortion or age-related hiss. The supplement package is impressive and includes archival interviews with series creator and producer David Dortort, galleries of episodic and behind-the-scenes photographs, original episodic promos on selected episodes, original NBC network peacock logo, bumpers and RCA spots on "The Avenger" and "A Rose for Lotta" episodes, and the 1953 Fireside Theatre episode" Man of the Comstock" which was David Dortort's genesis of Bonanza. Both volumes are highly recommended.
The magnificent scenic vistas of the West have always leant themselves to the big screen and CinemaScope did wonders for the representation of even the most prosaic western. When Warners finally debuted its first CinemaScope release in 1954, it seemed appropriate then that the film was a western. The Command was nothing particularly innovative or spectacular as westerns go, instead resorting to a tried and true tale of cavalry and Indians but with a slight twist to make things diverting.
The story finds Guy Madison portraying a cavalry doctor who finds himself forced to take command of his troop when the regular commanding officer is killed by Indians. He soon finds himself detailed to accompany a settlers' wagon train and its infantry support as it makes its way west besieged by Indians. Complicating matters is an apparent outbreak of smallpox amongst the settlers. The film's strength is its script, co-written by Sam Fuller, with the dilemma of Madison's character at the core of the film - as a doctor, he tries to preserve life, but once in command, he must be prepared to kill to save others. Unfortunately Fuller didn't direct the film as well, for the film (in David Butler's hands) lacks the sense of urgency and excitement that it could have had, particularly given the ample resources in horses, extras, and location shooting that Warners provided. Guy Madison was a popular young star of the time (well-known for his exploits in the Wild Bill Hickok TV series) and he's quite good as the cavalry doctor. James Whitmore's portrayal of the troop's sergeant is also memorable, but the rest of the cast tends to blend into an amorphous mass. Still it's an amiable timepasser for a rainy day; it just could have been so much better. The Warner Archive DVD-R release gives the film a 2.55:1 anamorphic presentation that's merely passable. The image does not stand up to projection on larger screens, looking muddy and lacking crispness. Colour fidelity is not bad, but brightness is an issue at times. This may be related to the film's use of Warnercolor, the WB studio's answer to Technicolor and notoriously one that has not aged well. On smaller screens (less than 45" or so), these problems are less apparent, but the sweep of the widescreen west is much diminished. The stereo sound is in good shape and offers some modestly effective directionality. There are no supplements. Recommended as a rental.
I wasn't aware of the fine British series Life on Mars until I heard about the American remake that came and went this past television season.
The premise of the series - that a modern-day police detective is involved in a car accident and wakes up three decades in the past - is an intriguing one. The problem with the American version was its tendency to continue focusing too much on "oh, do you remember that?" re-creation of the 1970s and not quite enough on good stories and interesting, well-developed characters. The original British series didn't make that mistake as is abundantly clear in Series 1 which has just been released on a 4-disc set by Acorn Media. The character at the centre of the story is Detective Inspector Sam Tyler who suffers the apparent return to police procedure in 1973, a time when high tech tools don't exist and crime scene investigation is comparatively rudimentary. Instead, he finds himself working with a homicide squad that seems to prize hard drinking and the roughing-up of suspects as state-of-the-art keys to success. The head of this squad is the other central character, Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt. Tyler and Hunt are admirably played by John Simm and Philip Glenister respectively. Despite Simm's somewhat youthful demeanor, his forceful portrayal of Tyler conveys strength and resolve that give Tyler's constant run-ins with Hunt believability. And that's very important because Glenister provides Hunt with a roughly likable but almost larger than life persona that at times threatens to take over the series. On the whole, though a careful balance is maintained between the two characters. As to the episodes themselves, eight of them are presented on the four discs. All are successful in delivering interesting crime stories as well as gradually hinting at Tyler's situation - has he really traveled back in time, is he delusional as his body tries to recover from the accident, or is it all simply a bad dream? The discs offer 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers that are quite presentable and as befits a newer show, noticeably better than older British series releases. Colour fidelity is quite good, although black levels are somewhat lacking. Both stereo and 5.1 channel mixes are offered, but there's at best only a modest difference between them. The latter does sound slightly more dynamic and helps the series' fine selection of 1970s music to shine. The supplement package is quite impressive with audio commentaries by various combinations of cast and crew on each episode and a very informative making-of documentary spread over two of the set's four discs. There are also a featurette on the composer of the series' theme and incidental music, an outtake reel, and an interview clip with Bharat Nalluri, director of the first two episodes. Recommended. (Fans of the series will be glad to know that Life on Mars: Series 2 (the final series) will be released by Acorn Media on November 24th. A follow-up series called Ashes to Ashes featuring the Gene Hunt character has so far filmed two seasons worth of shows with perhaps one more to go. None of them are yet available on Region 1 DVD.)
Doc Martin: Series 2 has just been released by Acorn Media. Those familiar with this British TV series will know from the first season that Doc Martin (short for Dr. Martin Ellingham) is a prominent London surgeon who finds himself to have developed a crippling fear of the sight of blood.
He decides to move to Portwenn, a picturesque Cornwall locale, where he becomes the town's new GP. Unfortunately his rude bedside manner offends many in the town, but as he's the only alternative, the townspeople manage to tolerate him. One who is prepared to more than tolerate him is attractive teacher Louisa Glasson, but even though the Doc is clearly interested in her, he continually manages to alienate her through his tactless behaviour. Revolving around the two main characters are an array of quirky locals who add richly to the flavour of the series. Doc Martin mines the same rural territory that many British series have done going back to the All Creatures Great and Small series of the 1970s, but the Doc Martin persona as played by Martin Clunes is a departure that gives this particular one a distinctive flavour. Clunes (who is known for Men Behaving Badly and a recent revival of the Reginald Perrin character) is particularly effective as he coldly bulldozes his way through the episodes and it seems to have taken all 15 of the episodes from the first two series to finally get a real smile out of him, even if short-lived. The stories are all effective blends of gentle comedy and drama, with continuing threads that extend over multiple episodes. They draw you in gradually and after a couple of episodes to familiarize yourself with all the characters, you're thoroughly hooked. The second series comprises 8 episodes originally broadcast in 2005 and early 2006 (all about 46 minutes in length) plus an extended Christmas special from December 2006. The episodes are presented three to a disc with 1.78:1 anamorphic images which are quite sharp and clean. Colour fidelity is very good and the Portwenn countryside looks most attractive. The stereo sound does its job effectively but is otherwise unremarkable. The supplements include some cast filmographies and a photo gallery. Recommended. (Doc Martin fans are probably aware that a third season of 7 episodes was broadcast in the fall of 2007 [not yet available on Region 1 DVD] and that the fourth season has just begun broadcasting this month.)
Note that the new announcements database has been updated to include the announcements listed below.
Alpha has 22 new releases set for October 27th. Air Maniacs - Rare Aviation Shorts, Below the Deadline (with Russell Hopton), Border Guns (with Bill Cody), Down to the Sea (with Ben Lyon), Fantastic World of William Cameron Menzies: A Collection of Historic Shorts, Flirting with Danger (with Robert Armstrong), Harlem Double Feature (Miracle in Harlem /Ten Minutes to Live ), Judge Roy Bean: Volume 4 (four TV episodes), Jungle Siren (with Buster Crabbe), La Cucaracha and Other Early Color Rareties, Robert Livingston Double Feature (Law of the Saddle /Wild Horse Rustlers ), Meet Corliss Archer: Volume 4 (four TV episodes), North of the Border (with Russell Hayden), Roy Rogers Collection: Volume 1 (ten films on 5 DVDs), Savage Fury (with Noah Beery Jr.), The Singing Cowgirl (with Dave O'Brien), Something to Sing About (with James Cagney), Strangers in the Evening (with Zasu Pitts), Streamline Express (with Victor Jory), Sweat and Blood Double Feature (Flesh and the Spur /Yellowneck ), Unforgotten Crime (with Dennis O'Keefe), and You Bet Your Life: Volumes 1&2 (8 TV episodes on 2 DVDs). Quality can be an issue with the Alpha releases, but they are available at 5 for $25 on the Alpha website (www.oldies.com).
Criterion has announced AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa for release on December 8th. This deluxe, linen-bound DVD collector's set includes each film in its own slim-case and an illustrated book with an introduction and notes on each film by Stephen Prince and a remembrance by Donald Richie (both are authors of books on the films of Kurosawa). The films included are: The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Dodes'ka-den (1970), Drunken Angel (1948), The Hidden Fortress (1958), High and Low (1963), I Live in Fear (1955), The Idiot (1951), Ikiru (1952), Kagemusha (1980), The Lower Depths (1957), Madadayo (1993), The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail* (1945), The Most Beautiful* (1944), No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), One Wonderful Sunday (1947), Rashomon (1951), Red Beard (1965), Sanjuro (1962), Sanshiro Sugata* (1943), Sanshiro Sugata, Part II* (1944), Scandal (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Stray Dog (1949), Throne of Blood (1957), and Yojimbo (1961). The titles with asterisks are new to DVD.
Disney will have a new Special Edition of Dumbo (1941) on both Blu-ray and DVD in February 2010.
Grapevine Video will have Ladies of the German Cinema available in early September. It will contain two 1921 films - Sappho (with Pola Negri) and Backstairs (with Henny Porten).
Infinity Entertainment will offer Route 66: Season 3, Volume 2 (15 episodes) on October 20th as well as The Judy Garland Holiday Special. Coming on November 17th will be The Jerry Lewis Show Collection, a two-disc set containing highlights from 13 episodes of the show's original 1967-1969 run. On November 24th, Infinity will release a three-disc set, The Best of Spike Jones, culled from the Spike Jones Show that aired on NBC and CBS from 1954-1961.
Milestone has announced the release of Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles (1961) on DVD on November 17th. It will be a two-disc set with a number of short films by Mackenzie and others forming just part of an extensive list of extras.
Paramount adds to its TV releases with Perry Mason: Season 4, Volume 2 and The Fugitive: Season 3, Volume 2 - both coming on December 8th as four-disc sets.
Sony's previously expected Columbia Film Noir: Volume 1 (Five Against the House/The Lineup/Murder by Contract/The Sniper/The Big Heat) is now confirmed for November 3rd.
Timeless Media Group plans a November 24th release for Laredo: The Complete Series. The set will offer 12 discs containing all 56 episodes from the western series that lasted for two seasons. There will also be an exclusive interview with one of the stars of the series, Peter Brown.
VCI has announced that it will be releasing 1948's No Orchids for Miss Blandish, an example of British film noir that has only recently been seen in the U.S. in its original uncut version. Details on the DVD's exact release date and supplementary features will be forthcoming soon.
Virgil Films' release of The Donna Reed Show: Season 3 has been delayed from October to December 1st to accommodate some changes in the bonus content.
Warner Bros. brings more John Wayne to Blu-ray with the release of The Green Berets (1968) on January 5th. The only supplement will be a vintage featurette, The Filmmakers: The Making of The Green Berets. Meanwhile, standard DVD releases include Get Smart: Season 5 on December 8th.
The Warner Archive has added the following titles for early September: Berlin Express (1948, with Robert Ryan), Highway 301 (1950, with Steve Cochran), I Died a Thousand Times (1955, with Jack Palance), Lightning Strikes Twice (1951, with Richard Todd), Pay or Die (1960, with Ernest Borgnine), Suspense (1946, with Barry Sullivan), and The Tall Target (1951, with Dick Powell). Also available are an Our Gang Collection (a five disc set of 52 shorts from 1938-1942 at an attractive $35 price) and a Randolph Scott Westerns 5 DVD Collection at $50, half the standard price (includes Badman's Territory, Carson City, Return of the Bad Men, Trail Street, Westbound). Mid-September has brought a further batch of titles: Crossroads (1942), Dogville Shorts (1930-31, 2-disc set), Experiment Perilous (1944), I Take This Woman (1940), Ice Palace (1960), Killer McCoy (1947), The Heavenly Body (1944), and The Search (1948). A complete set of the Joe McDoakes shorts is set for an early October release and more Archive releases of classic theatrical short subjects originally produced by both Warner Bros. and MGM can be expected in the future. The Archive is also making three new value packs available, each consisting of 6 discs (all already available in the Archive) at 50% off the regular price. The Gable & Crawford set includes Chained, Dance Fools Dance, Forsaking All Others, Laughing Sinners, Love on the Run, and Possessed. The Robert Taylor set includes Above and Beyond, Billy the Kid, Party Girl, Johnny Eager, Quentin Durward, and All the Brothers Were Valiant. The Biography set includes Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Edison the Man, Young Tom Edison, The Magnificent Yankee, Carbine Williams, and The Adventures of Mark Twain. Finally, to complement the 70th Anniversary retail releases of The Wizard of Oz, the Archive is offering a Stars of the Wizard of Oz 4-Pak that includes Everybody Sing (1938, Judy Garland, Billie Burke), Flying High (1931, Bert Lahr), George White's Scandals (1945, Jack Haley, Margaret Hamilton), and Rosalie (1937, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan). It's available at $40, half off the price of the individual discs.
Well, once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.