|Classic Coming Attractions #103
After a brief dalliance with thinking of the idea of separate columns for MOD discs and pressed DVD and BD releases, I have decided to continue with a single column format for covering all releases of classic titles on either pressed discs or MOD discs. I think that having all such information available in one source is preferable in terms of presentation and also easier for me to manage. I hope you'll all agree.
Formal classic reviews include the Blu-rays of Criterion's Island of Lost Souls and Paramount's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the following pressed DVDs: Twilight Time's Stagecoach and The Left Hand of God, TCM/Universal's Back Street double bill, and Paramount's Gunsmoke: The Fifth Season, Volume 1; Rawhide: The Fourth Season, Volume 2; and Bonanza: The Official Second Season, Volume 2. Coverage of very-recently-released MOD titles includes the Warner Archive's Housewife and Juarez.
This time out, I also offer a catch-up effort on the MOD review front. Quite a few MOD discs have accumulated over the summer as a result of my health-induced inability to keep up my normal pace. As a result, instead of longer reviews, I've decided to do a quick and dirty summary of selected titles in order to clear the decks for the late fall's new offerings. Hopefully the results provide a satisfactory survey of the last 4 or 5 months' MOD product. Titles covered include, from the Warner Archive - Across the Wide Missouri, Advance to the Rear, Adventure, Athena, The Black Zoo, Bombardier, The Catered Affair, Confidential Agent, Cowboy from Brooklyn, Cry Terror!, Garden of the Moon, The Great Caruso, House of Women, The Hucksters, I Love Melvin, Julie, The Phantom of Hollywood, The Prizefighter and the Lady, The Rack, Rio Rita, Seven Sweethearts, So Goes My Love, Sporting Blood, Stars in My Crown, Tortilla Flat, The Two Mrs. Carrolls, and The Vanishing Virginian; and from MGM - The 7th Dawn, The Big Boodle, The Brass Legend, Cloudburst, Geronimo, Gun Brothers, and The Spikes Gang.
Note that I have also updated the new announcements database as usual.
DVD Reviews (DVD-R/MOD)
So here's my quick summary of comments on some 34 MOD titles. The best bets overall are highlighted in yellow.
7th Dawn, The (1964, UA, William Holden, Susannah York) - MGM ***½
William Holden delivers a typically strong performance in this engrossing postwar tale of Malayan independence. Well directed by Lewis Gilbert, with good Malaysian location work.
The 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer is quite good. Colour fidelity is notable and edge effects generally unobtrusive. The mono sound is clear. There are no extras. Recommended.
Across the Wide Missouri (1951, MGM, Clark Gable, Ricardo Montalban) - Warner Archive **
The pedigree is very good - Clark Gable starring with Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, and particularly Adolphe Menjou supporting; direction by William Wellman; solid location shooting, and the use of Technicolor - but the script is a tiresome amalgam of mountain men and an expedition into Indian territory that depends more on cliche than compelling drama.
The full frame image offers very good colour fidelity and a clean, crisp image. The mono sound is very good. The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Advance to the Rear (1963, MGM, Glenn Ford, Stella Stevens) - Warner Archive *½
There are few western satires that truly succeed, Support Your Local Sheriff and Destry Rides Again being two notable exceptions. Advance to the Rear is one of the many failures despite the best efforts of a talented cast that includes Glenn Ford, Stella Stevens, Melvyn Douglas, and Joan Blondell. The tiresome plot about cavalry misfits given a western assignment offers plenty of slapstick opportunity but little real wit.
Not a failure, however, is the impressive, remastered, black and white, 2.4:1 anamorphic image. The image is quite crisp and sports a nicely graduated gray scale. There are intermittent stretches of speckles that are not detrimental to one's enjoyment. The mono sound is in good shape. The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Adventure (1945, MGM, Clark Gable, Greer Garson) - Warner Archive ***½
Saddled with the tagline "Gable's back and Garson's got him" that signalled Clark Gable's return to MGM after wartime service, Adventure faced almost impossible expectations. But it's a more satisfying entertainment than sometimes given credit for. Aside from Gable and Greer Garson who are in mid-career form as a late WW2 couple with an unlikely future together, solid support comes from reliables such as Thomas Mitchell, Joan Blondell, John Qualen, Richard Haydn, and Tom Tully.
The remastered full frame image looks quite good. It's crisp throughout with solid contrast and deep blacks. Speckling and debris is minimal indeed. The mono sound is clean and free of distortion. The theatrical trailer is the only extra. Recommended.
Athena (1954, MGM, Jane Powell, Edmund Purdom) - Warner Archive ***
A better piece of musical entertainment than often given credit for, Athena features a typically energetic Jane Powell performance and good singing opportunities for Vic Damone. They make up for the otherwise wooden contributions of Edmund Purdom and Steve Reeves. Debbie Reynolds and Louis Calhern are also positives in this tale of a health-food-advocating family and the aspiring beaux of the family daughters.
The remastered offering from the WB Archive delivers a solid 1.85:1 bright anamorphic image that features great colour fidelity. Though listed as mono on the package, the sound has some good stereo-like separation. Extras include three outtake musical numbers and the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Big Boodle, The (1957, UA, Errol Flynn, Pedro Armendariz) - MGM **
Havana is the real star of this rather tiresome Flynn vehicle in which he's inadvertently involved in a counterfeit money tale. Not a great film, but Flynn does appear reasonably engaged though far from looking his best. After The Big Boodle, Flynn would return to the U.S. for his final films of any distinction (The Sun Also Rises, Too Much Too Soon, The Roots of Heaven).
Though rather dirty and sporting speckles and scratches, the full screen transfer looks properly framed, is bright, and features a generally sharp image with a good gray scale evident. The mono sound is fine and the only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Black Zoo (1963, AA, Michael Gough, Jeanne Cooper) - Warner Archive *
Michael Gough's ham-and-cheese-on-rye performance doesn't help this minor horror film. He plays a private zoo owner and participant in an animal-worship cult who uses his animals to deal with people that get in his way. Nice to see classic supporting players Jerome Cowan, Edward Platt, and Elisha Cook Jr. in action though.
Fans of the film should be pleased with the Archive's colourful, crisp version that is correctly framed with a 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer. The mono sound is fine. There are no extras.
Bombardier (1943, RKO, Pat O'Brien, Randolph Scott) - Warner Archive ***
One of three war films made by Randolph Scott in 1943 (the others were Corvette K-225 and Gung Ho!), Bombardier is a fine entertainment revolving around the training of pilots for bombing raids on Japan. Pat O'Brien and Anne Shirley co-star and the solid work of Robert Ryan is also in the mix.
The full frame image is in good shape except for some loss of shadow detail in darker scenes. Some minor speckling and flicker is evident. The mono sound is clear. There are no extras. Recommended.
Brass Legend, The (1956, UA, Hugh O'Brian, Raymond Burr) - MGM **
Raymond Burr's villainous turn as outlaw Tris Hatten is the best thing about this otherwise routine western. Hugh O'Brian (TV's Wyatt Earp at the time) stars as a nifty sharpshooter of a sheriff Wade Addams who is in no hurry to marry Linda (Nancy Gates) despite her father's desire to have him live at their ranch. Linda's young brother Clay becomes a focal point for the story when his tip helps Wade capture Hatten, but puts himself in mortal danger. Limited locations and uninventive direction by Gerd Oswald make it all look like a padded TV show of the time.
The full frame image looks like it was protected for widescreen showings of the time. It's fairly clean and offers decent contrast. The mono sound is fine. There are no extras.
Catered Affair, The (1956, MGM, Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine) - Warner Archive ***½
Aggie Hurley (Bette Davis) is determined her daughter (Debbie Reynolds) and husband-to-be (Rod Taylor) will have the lavish wedding she never had, even though the end of her husband (Borgnine) Tom's dream of owning his own taxi will be the cost. The stars (including Barry Fitzgerald as Uncle Jack) are in grand form in this MGM production originally written for TV by Paddy Chayefsky.
The remastered 1.85:1 anamorphic image is very satisfying. It offers a very detailed gray scale bookended by deep blacks and clean whites. There's film grain modestly evident throughout. Some minor speckling is present, but it's not a significant issue. The mono sound is strong and the only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Cloudburst (1952, UA, Robert Preston, Elizabeth Sellars) - MGM ***
Robert Preston is the major reason to see this earnest British film about a postwar intelligence agent who seeks to solve and avenge his wife's death. A common approach in some British entries of the time - importing an American star and using an otherwise domestic cast.
The full frame image is a little inconsistent in sharpness, but contrast is generally good. Some speckles and scratches. Modest grain is evident. The mono sound is in good shape. The only extra is a trailer.
Confidential Agent (1945, WB, Charles Boyer, Lauren Bacall) - Warner Archive ***½
The originally-planned stars - Bogart and Eleanor Parker - might have been better, but Boyer does well in this anti-fascist melodrama based on the Graham Greene novel of the same title. Bacall is less persuasive as an English woman. Peter Lorre is very good as one of Boyer's adversaries.
The full frame transfer sports a fine, bright image that looks reasonably crisp. Shadow detail is a little lacking at times though. Some speckling is evident. The mono sound is very good. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938, WB, Pat O'Brien, Dick Powell) - Warner Archive **½
Dick Powell plays a cowboy who becomes a singing cowboy at a dude ranch and then a radio star through the efforts of promoter O'Brien. The film is a thin musical comedy and is best considered a satire on the whole singing cowboy concept. "Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride" is the best song. Look for Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan in supporting roles.
The full frame image offered by the remastered transfer is sharp and clear throughout. Some shadow detail is a bit lacking, but not a major concern. The mono sound is very good. The theatrical trailer is the only extra.
Cry Terror! (1958, MGM, James Mason, Rod Steiger) - Warner Archive ***½
A terrific thriller with Mason's family held hostage by demented terrorist Steiger who threatens to detonate a bomb on a domestic airliner. The principals have good support from the likes of Angie Dickinson, Neville Brand, and Inger Stevens. Suspensefully directed by Andrew Stone.
Warner's remastered 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is very good. A bright, sharp image with minimal speckling or debris. The mono sound is equally good. The theatrical trailer is the only extra. Recommended.
Garden of the Moon (1938, WB, Pat O'Brien, John Payne) - Warner Archive ***
Busby Berkeley's goodbye to Warner Bros. is a typically breezy effort. It uses the Hollywood nightspot (Garden of the Moon) as inspiration for a raft of fine music from the likes of Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer and Al Dubin. The cast (O'Brien, Payne in his debut, Margaret Lindsay, Melville Cooper) isn't exactly what one associates with musicals, but it's more than serviceable.
The full frame transfer has a few speckles and scratches, but they're minor fare on what is otherwise a sharp, well-contrasted image. The mono sound handles the brisk dialogue and music equally well. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Geronimo (1962, UA, Chuck Connors, Adam West) - MGM ***
Connors actually fares rather well playing Geronimo, but too many of the supporting players are less persuasive (Pat Conway, Ross Martin, Kamala Davi, Adam West). The rather melodramatic approach to the material belies the otherwise lush production values to be found in the cinematography, musical score, and location choices (Durango, Mexico). Better overall than it has a right to be, though.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is strong, offering a sharp, colourful image. Shadow detail is good and there's no sign of edge enhancement. The mono sound is clear and free of any hiss or distortion. The theatrical trailer is the only supplement. Recommended.
Great Caruso, The (1951, MGM, Mario Lanza, Ann Blyth) - Warner Archive ***
As with most Hollywood, biographies, The Great Caruso abounds with cliche and inaccuracy, but accepting the latter, it is an entertaining and colourful outing. Mario Lanza is in top form as the legendary singer and the music is a highlight. Direction is by MGM stalwart Richard Thorpe.
Good source material yields a very clean and crisp transfer on this Warner Archive release. Colour fidelity is notable, particularly the accurate fleshtones. The mono sound is in good shape and the various musical selections are well rendered. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Gun Brothers (1956, UA, Neville Brand, Michael Ansara) - MGM ***
Unpretentious and generally entertaining, if familiar, tale of two brothers. One is a rancher (Buster Crabbe in one of his last starring roles) while the other is an outlaw trying to go straight (Neville Brand). Good support also from Michael Ansara as a one-time partner .
of Brand's. Well-staged action.
The full frame image is bright and sharp with only a number of speckles to mar an otherwise very decent presentation. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no extras. Recommended.
House of Women (1961, WB, Shirley Knight, Andrew Duggan) - Warner Archive **
This remake of Caged (1950) about conditions in a women's prison doesn't have the same impact, likely due to familiarity of the material. This despite the good main performances and the running time shortened by 10%.
A strong remastered 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer from Warners. The image sports a nicely graduated gray scale with very good contrast. The mono sound is in good shape. There are no extras.
Hucksters, The (1947, MGM, Clark Gable, Deborah Kerr, Sydney Greenstreet) - Warner Archive ***
Frederic Wakeman's novel "The Hucksters" was a postwar best-seller and it received a strong filmization by MGM. Gable stars as an advertising exec who has to make his way through the turbulent waters filled with bullying advertisers Sydney Greenstreet), brow-beaten bosses (Adolph Menjou), and attractive women (Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr). The casting is spot-on throughout and the film still has an impact some 64 years later.
Warners' full frame, remastered transfer looks quite good, sporting a generally bright, sharp image with good contrast. Blacks are deep and shadow detail is good. The mono sound is free of distortion and all but some isolated hiss. The theatrical trailer has been added as the only bonus item. Recommended.
I Love Melvin (1953, MGM, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds) - Warner Archive ***
Reynolds is a hopeful dancer and O'Connor as a lowly worker at "Look" magazine promises to get her picture in the magazine. A rather thin plot, but there's plenty of enthusiasm and several good production numbers plus Manhattan location work. A lesser-known musical that moves briskly (only 76 minutes) and is easy to like. And where else can you see Debbie Reynolds portraying a football that gets run, passed, and kicked through the uprights!
The remastered full frame image looks bright and colourful with minimal damage. There is a touch of softness at times, but otherwise, it looks fairly sharp. The MGM musicals usually fare well in their DVD transfers and I Love Melvin is no exception overall. The mono sound delivers both dialogue and music quite well. Extras include the trailer and the musical outtake production number "A Lady Loves" with Reynolds and O'Connor. Recommended.
Julie (1956, MGM, Doris Day, Louis Jourdan) - Warner Archive **½
Julie seems to want to have it both ways - be a tense thriller about a woman in jeopardy and then assume the mantle of a disaster flick in the end. The latter derails the good will built up by the former. Day and Jourdan as the wife in jeopardy from her apparently murderous husband both play it well, but they have an uphill battle. Barry Sullivan and Frank Lovejoy offer strong support.
The remastered edition offers a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. The image varies in contrast and is not quite as clean as Warners' best Archive efforts. The mono sound is in good shape. The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Phantom of Hollywood, The (1973, Jack Cassidy) - Warner Archive ***
The real horror of this made-for-TV movie is the memory of the sorry sell-off of the MGM backlot that it invokes. Otherwise, it's a well-executed Phantom-of-the-Opera-like tale about murder on the backlot involving the brother of the studio's photo archivist (Cassidy in a John Barrymore-like role). Seeing many connections to classic Hollywood is another plus (Peter Lawford, Jackie Coogan, Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Billy Halop, Elisha Cook Jr.)
The full frame remastered transfer from Warners is very good. Colour fidelity is fine and the image is sharp and bright. The mono audio is equally good. There are no supplements. Recommended.
Prizefighter and the Lady, The (1933, MGM, Myrna Loy, Max Baer) - Warner Archive ***
A spirited fight film with Max Baer delivering a surprisingly accomplished acting job. Boxers Primo Carnera, Jack Dempsey, and Jim Jefferies also appear. Among the conventional acting cast, Otto Kruger and Walter Huston give Loy solid support. Briskly directed by Woody Van Dyke.
The full frame image is a little soft at times, but offers decent contrast. Speckles and scratches are evident but not a significant distraction. The mono sound is in good shape. The theatrical trailer is the only extra. Recommended.
Rack, The (1956, MGM, Paul Newman, Wendell Corey) - Warner Archive ***½
Paul Newman scores well with his emotional performance in this drama in which he plays a young officer court-martialed for supposed collaboration during the Korean War. Fine support is provided by Walter Pidgeon (as Newman's father), Anne Francis (his sister-in-law), and Edmond O'Brien (his defence attorney). A good follow-up to Newman's success with the same year's Somebody Up There Likes Me.
The remastered anamorphic 1.85:1 image offers good contrast and decent image detail. Speckles and scratches are apparent but never a significant distraction. The mono sound is clear and distortion-free. There are isolated instances of minor hiss. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Rio Rita (1942, MGM, Abbott & Costello, Kathryn Grayson) - Warner Archive ***
Bud and Lou end up working on a western ranch that, it being World War 2, is also a hotbed of Axis spies. Top-notch remake of 1929 film and stage play that starred Wheeler & Woolsey. Bud and Lou's antics are funnier and the musical numbers are better. The film was the duo's first MGM film and the studio does well by them in terms of production values. Kathryn Grayson is also well featured.
Bright crisp image that features good contrast throughout. Mono sound is clear and delivers songs nicely. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Seven Sweethearts (1942, MGM, Kathryn Grayson, Van Heflin) - Warner Archive ***
On the surface (S.Z. Sakall has 7 daughters and none can marry until the eldest first does. Is Van Heflin in love with her (wannabe actress Marsha Hunt) or younger sister Kathryn Grayson? A nice blend of romance, comedy, and music smoothly directed by Frank Borzage that draws one in relentlessly.
Sharp, crisp full frame image with excellent gray scale framed by deep blacks and clean whites. Some speckles and minor scratches. Mono sound is in great shape. Only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
So Goes My Love (1946, Myrna Loy, Don Ameche) - Warner Archive ***
Not quite in the same league as Loy's other 1946 release (The Best Years of Our Lives), but a diverting period piece about the inventor of a machine gun and the curling iron among other items. Loy exudes charm. Strong but familiar work from Ameche and good support from Bobby Driscoll and Rhys Williams is particularly notable. Reminiscent of contemporary films such as Life with Father and I Remember Mama. Originally a Universal release.
Very pleasing full frame image - sharp, well-reproduced gray scale, modest grain evident. Mono sound is strong. There are no extras. Recommended.
Spikes Gang, The (1974, UA, Lee Marvin, Ron Howard) - MGM **
Somewhat of a sequel to Bad Company (1972), Gary Grimes, Charles Martin Smith, and Ron Howard end up under the spell of wounded outlaw Lee Marvin, who leads them into a life of crime. Like too many westerns of the time, it fails to look or sound completely convincing, though Marvin tries hard.
MGM provides a 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced image that looks sharp with modest colour fidelity, though characterized by quite a bit of scratches and debris. The mono sound is clear and well balanced with the score and sound effects. Minor hiss is evident though offers no significant impediment. The theatrical trailer is the only extra.
Sporting Blood (1931, MGM, Clark Gable, Ernest Torrence) - Warner Archive **½
One of the numerous innocuous programmers that Clark Gable did in the early years at MGM, Sporting Blood is an entertaining piece about horses and gambling that rests on Gable's star power as the owner of his own gambling joint as well as some fine work from Ernest Torrence as a horse breeder. Predictable, but an amiable timepasser.
The full frame image sports plenty of speckles and some debris, plus a measure of inconsistency in sharpness, but overall delivers a passable experience that at times is quite crisp. The mono sound is acceptable. There are no extras.
Stars in My Crown (1950, MGM, Joel McCrea, Ellen Drew) - Warner Archive ***½
No, the presence of James ASrness and Amanda Blake doesn't mean you're seeing an episode of Gunsmoke. Instead, this is a superior bit of Americana. Joel McCRea is excellent as a gun-toting parson who uses both the Bible and his pistols to tame a southern town. Director Jacques Tourneur creates a lovely atmosphere of both place and people.
This remastered full-frame release is quite pleasing-looking. The black-and-white image is sharp with good contrast delineated by deep blacks. Minor speckles and scratches are present but not a significant problem. Modest grain is present. The mono sound does the job efficiently. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Tortilla Flat (1942, MGM, Spencer Tracy, John Garfield) - Warner Archive **½
Very good MGM cast (Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, Frank Morgan particularly) and fine screenplay by John Lee Mahin and Benjamin Glazer capture the Steinbeck novel's flavour as well as can be expected. Garfield in his first major film away from WB seems miscast.
Good full frame transfer could be crisper. It's a little soft at times and shadow detail is lacking. The mono sound is satisfactory. The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
Two Mrs. Carrolls, The (1947, WB, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck) - Warner Archive ***
Though Bogart is rather miscast, The Two Mrs. Carrolls is a better film than often given credit for with both stars giving it their best. The film is sort of a gothic film noir with Bogart playing a psychopathic artist who paints his wives and then kills them.
The very good full frame image sports notably good contrast with deep blacks. There are a few speckles and scratches, but their impact on viewing pleasure is minimal. The mono sound is clear and free of hiss or distortion. The only extra is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.
Vanishing Virginian, The (1941, MGM, Frank Morgan, Kathryn Grayson) - Warner Archive **½
A flavourful evocation of growing up in the early 1900s in Lynchburg, Virginia. The film conveys both a nostalgia for the South as well as a picture of women's societal concerns of the time embodied by the suffragette movement. Frank Morgan is delightful as the head of the family, with Spring Byington as his gentle wife and Kathryn Grayson as their daughter. Based on Rebecca Yancey Williams' memoir.
Acceptable full frame transfer with rather inconsistent sharpness. Shadow detail suffers somewhat. The mono sound is fine. There are no extras.