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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

A Little Disney

This column is somewhat different from my usual ones. I recently had the opportunity to interview director Ted Thomas who is the son of Frank Thomas - one of Disney's famous Nine Old Men, the original animation masters who defined the Disney style. Frank Thomas worked very closely with another of the Nine Old Men, Ollie Johnston, throughout his career and the two are usually linked in any discussion of each other's work. In 1995, Ted Thomas directed a fascinating documentary on the pair, entitled Frank and Ollie. Disney released the film on DVD last fall. The more recent release of Alice in Wonderland (1951) on DVD provides one example of their contributions to Disney animation. Another documentary Walt: The Man Behind the Myth (2001), also recently out on DVD, provides a detailed portrait of Walt Disney himself. I have reviews of all three discs here and for the Ted Thomas interview, click here.

Detective Series Update

Returning to the previous column on classic detective series, I'd like to thank many readers for their comments and words of affection for those series. One notable omission was that of the Michael Shayne detective series, and there are at least two other more minor series worth mentioning - Nancy Drew and Hildegarde Withers. Summaries for each of them follow. Note also that a third of the Arthur Wontner Sherlock Holmes films - Silver Blaze - is available on DVD from Alpha, but it goes under the title Murder at the Baskervilles.

Michael Shayne

The Michael Shayne private eye stories comprised a popular series of novels by Brett Halliday that began in 1939. In 1940, 20th Century-Fox purchased the rights to the character for use in what it hoped would be a new series of films to complement its existing Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan films. Fox cast supporting player Lloyd Nolan in the lead role of the first film, Michael Shayne, Private Detective. It proved to be quite a success, so Nolan was placed under contract to play Shayne on a continuing basis. The Shayne character, as depicted on the screen, was much in the Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe sort of mold, except perhaps a little more easy-going. (And of course, Shayne predated the screen appearance of either of them.)

Fox produced seven Shayne films during 1940-1942. All were entertaining and slickly produced, but then the company reduced its B-production activities and the Shayne films (along with the Chan ones) were victims of the cutback. Rights to the character were eventually taken up by independent producer Sig Neufeld in 1946 and he released five more Shayne films through PRC during 1946-1947. Compared to the Nolan films, these were pretty mediocre efforts. Hugh Beaumont (the father on Leave It to Beaver) played Shayne with an annoying habit of eating peanuts and scattering shells behind him.

None of the Michael Shayne films are available on DVD.

Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940, Fox). Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver. The only film based on a Brett Halliday story.
Sleepers West (1941, Fox). Lloyd Nolan, Lynn Bari
Dressed to Kill (1941, Fox). Lloyd Nolan, Mary Beth Hughes
Blue, White and Perfect (1941, Fox). Lloyd Nolan, Mary Beth Hughes
The Man Who Wouldn't Die (1942, Fox). Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver
Just Off Broadway (1942, Fox). Lloyd Nolan, Marjorie Weaver, Phil Silvers
Time to Kill (1942, Fox). Lloyd Nolan, Ralph Byrd. Based on a Raymond Chandler story.
Murder Is My Business (1946, PRC). Hugh Beaumont
Larceny in Her Heart (1946, PRC). Hugh Beaumont
Blonde for a Day (1946, PRC). Hugh Beaumont
Three on a Ticket (1947, PRC). Hugh Beaumont
Too Many Winners (1947, PRC). Hugh Beaumont

Nancy Drew

The popular Nancy Drew juvenile mysteries were taken up by Warner Bros. in 1938 for a series of films. Bonita Granville, best known up to that point for her role as the malicious brat in 1936's These Three, played the lead. Her father was portrayed by familiar WB stock company player John Litel. Frankie Thomas played Nancy's boyfriend Ted Nickerson (not Ned, as in the novels). The opening film was Nancy Drew, Detective and there would be three others, but the reception was lukewarm and so the series didn't survive beyond 1939. Nevertheless, all are good fun to watch (as is typical of most Warner Bs) and one is available on DVD.

Nancy Drew, Detective (1939, WB). Bonita Granville. Adapted from the Nancy Drew story "The Password to Larkspur Lane". Available on DVD from Roan Group and recommended. The disc also contains The Kennel Murder Case, a Philo Vance mystery.
Nancy Drew, Reporter (1939, WB). Bonita Granville
Nancy Drew, Trouble Shooter (1939, WB). Bonita Granville
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939, WB). Bonita Granville. Adapted from the Nancy Drew story of the same title and probably the best film of the series.

Hildegarde Withers

Stuart Palmer's 1931 novel, "The Penquin Pool Murder", featured a spinster school-teacher as a crime solver. The character's name was Hildegarde Withers and together with her accomplice in crime detection, Inspector Piper, the pair were brought to the screen by RKO in 1932. The first film was titled as Palmer's novel and starred Edna May Oliver as Hildegarde and James Gleason as Piper. The acerbic Oliver was a winner in the lead role and there was good chemistry between her and Gleason, adding to the pleasure of their on-screen romance. Two more films quickly followed, each with the same two leads, and as with the opening entry, were very successful, reflecting their intelligent scripts and sparkling dialogue. Then Edna May Oliver became ill and RKO chose to film succeeding films in the series with different actresses in the lead, including Helen Broderick and Zasu Pitts. Neither were right for the role and the series soon floundered, ending in 1937 after a total of six films. None are available on DVD.

The Penquin Pool Murder (1932, RKO). Edna May Oliver
Murder on the Blackboard (1934, RKO). Edna May Oliver
Murder on a Honeymoon (1935, RKO). Edna May Oliver
Murder on a Bridle Path (1936, RKO). Helen Broderick
The Plot Thickens (1936, RKO). Zasu Pitts
Forty Naughty Girls (1936, RKO). Zasu Pitts

New Classic Release Announcements

The studio making the biggest splash this month is Warner Bros., as seems to be becoming normal insofar as classic releases are concerned. Along with a lot of exciting official announcements, the company also participated in an online chat over at the Home Theater Forum and revealed news or confirmed rumours about a whole raft of forthcoming titles. So we'll start with Warner Bros. and then go through the other releasers alphabetically. Note that, as usual, the Classic Release Database has also been updated (zipped Word .doc).

Looking at the official announcements first, on May 18th we'll get a two-disc edition of the oft-requested Around the World in Eighty Days (1956 roadshow version presented in a 2.4:1 ratio). Extras include introductions by film historian Robert Osborne, audio commentary by BBC Radio's Brian Sibley, Georges Melies' original 1902 A Trip to the Moon, outtakes, a stills gallery, the 1956 original and 1983 reissue theatrical trailers, the 1968 Around the World of Mike Todd documentary (narrated by Orson Welles), excerpts from Playhouse 90's Around the World in 90 Minutes, 1957 Academy Awards highlights, newsreel footage from the film's Los Angeles premiere and the opening in Spain, and a DVD-ROM link to Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days Almanac. The work represents a three-year effort to come up with a complete 65mm restoration and involves a combination of several versions from other countries and uses both 65mm elements and 35mm elements. June 1st will see a 100th birthday box set honoring Cary Grant. The titles (also available separately) will include Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Destination Tokyo, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, My Favorite Wife and Night and Day. Each will be remastered in their original theatrical aspect ratios and sound formats, and include a short subject or cartoon (that either incorporates or parodies the respective title), plus newsreel footage and theatrical trailers. (There is also word that two Grant favourites, Gunga Din and Bringing Up Baby, will be out in 2005 - the latter a disappointment since it was expected to appear this year.) Coming on June 8th is a Tarzan Collection box set featuring 6 classic films, including Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan Escapes, Tarzan and His Mate, Tarzan Finds a Son, Tarzan's Secret Treasure and Tarzan's New York Adventure. The films will be arranged 2 per disc, and the set will include a 4th disc of just special features, among which you'll find a feature-length documentary on Johnny Weissmuller and the history of the Tarzan character. Thirty Seconds over Tokyo should be out this year and it appears that the three remaining Best Picture winners that Warner Bros. controls the rights to and that are not yet on DVD will arrive in 2005 (Cimarron, The Broadway Melody, and The Life of Emile Zola). Finally, those of you who remember the framing issues with last year's release of Kiss Me Kate will be glad to hear that Warners have now remastered the title. Go here for the details on how to get your replacement disc.

On the Warner Bros. TV show front, nearly 30 series are pegged for release over the next five years including such classic series as 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, and F Troop. Of most immediate interest are The Jetsons and Jonny Quest; both titles will street on May 11th. The Jetsons: The Complete First Season will feature all 24 episodes on 4 discs. Extras will include audio commentary by Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson) on 2 episodes, 3 featurettes (The Jetsons: Family of the Future, Space Age Gadgets and Rosie the Robotic Maid) and more. Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season will feature 26 episodes on 4 discs, and will include featurettes on the animators among other extras.

As mentioned, the Warner Bros. chat at the Home Theater Forum was most heartening for classic fans. Go here for the complete chat transcript. The details are too lengthy to go into here, but the 2004 highlights of most immediate interest include: a film noir box set coming in July (The Asphalt Jungle, Gun Crazy, Murder My Sweet, Out of the Past, The Set-up); a Hitchcock 7-film box set (most likely titles are Dial M for Murder, Foreign Correspondent, I Confess, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Stage Fright, Suspicion, and The Wrong Man); a gangster films collection similar to last year's Warner Legends Collection; another Looney Tunes Golden Collection and a similar Tom and Jerry collection; the trilogy of That's Entertainment films; a Hallowe'en promotion of Dead Ringer, Children of the Damned, and Village of the Damned; an Elvis Presley collection in July (It Happened at The World's Fair, Harum Scarum, Spinout, Double Trouble, Speedway, The Trouble With Girls, This Is Elvis [extended version]); Buster Keaton silent films, and an SE of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (with both Scope and flat versions). The year 2005 will bring a James Cagney box set, a Greta Garbo set including all her best loved films in honour of her 100th birthday, a 9-film Val Lewton box set, a Busby Berkeley box set, the four Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford, and such individual titles as Angels in the Outfield (1951), The Band Wagon (1953, 2-disc SE), Battle of the Bulge (1965), Brigadoon (1954), Caged (1950), East of Eden (1955, a hoped-for 50th anniversary release), Mighty Joe Young (1949), The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), It's Always Fair Weather (1955), and To Be or Not to Be (1942). Numerous other films are being worked on for release either later this year or further in the future, a few of which are: Bad Day at Black Rock, The Bells Are Ringing, The Big Parade (1925), Dinner at Eight, Freaks, Gone with the Wind, The Magnificent Ambersons, I Married a Witch, Ivanhoe, The Jazz Singer, King Kong, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Ride the High Country. Again, do check the chat transcript. There are all sorts of other tidbits of interest.

Alpha has its usual slate of some two-dozen new titles for release on April 27th. Items of potential interest include the likes of: Beau Ideal (1931, with Loretta Young), Circumstantial Evidence (1945, with Lloyd Nolan), Death Rides the Plains (1943, with Robert Livingston), The King Murder (1932, with Conway Tearle), Murder at Glen Athol (1936, with John Miljan), and The Phantom Broadcast (1933, with Ralph Forbes). Check my classic database for the complete list of titles.

Artisan returns with a new slate of classic releases from its Republic holdings, scheduled for May 11th. The titles are: Bells of Coronado (1950, Roy Rogers), Distant Drums (1951, Gary Cooper), Force of Evil (1948, John Garfield), Julius Caesar (1953, Marlon Brando), Long Day's Journey into Night (1962, Katherine Hepburn), Santa Fe Stampede (1938, John Wayne), Three Faces West (1940, John Wayne), and Westward Ho (1935, John Wayne). All are likely to be the usual bare-bones efforts.

Columbia continues to sputter along with only a few offerings this time. On May 11th, they release the Rita Hayworth starrer Down to Earth (1947, with Larry Parks), which will get a remastered 1.33:1 full screen transfer and little else. May 18th will see Sal Mineo in The Gene Krupa Story (1959), remastered in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and anamorphically encoded. Part of Columbia's problem is that they've exhausted nearly all their really good titles. Instead of giving us this familiar second-rate stuff, they'd be doing a service by digging deep into their catalogue and trying out a few never-before- released-to-video rarities from the 1930s. On the bright side, You Were Never Lovelier (1942, with Fred Astaire) is set to appear on May 25th and A Matter of Life and Death (1946) is rumoured to be appearing then also, although the company has not made an official announcement of the latter as yet.

Criterion has an ambitious May schedule planned with five offerings on tap. Coming on May 4th is The Samurai Trilogy, a box set that will include the previously released Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple, and Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island, on sale together at a reduced price. The single-disc releases of these three titles will still be available separately. For May 18th, we'll get director Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932). The two-disc set comes with a new high-definition digital transfer presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.19:1 for the first time, German Dolby Digital 1.0 audio and English subtitles. Extras include an audio commentary by author David Kalat, the complete French-language version of the film (Le Testament du Dr. Mabuse, filmed simultaneously by Lang with French actors), excerpts from For Example Fritz Lang (a 1964 interview with Lang), the 1984 film Mabuse in Mind by Thomas Honickel featuring an interview with actor Rudolf Schündler, comparison between the 1933 German version, the French version, and the edited and dubbed American version The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse, an interview with German Mabuse expert Michael Farin, rare production design drawings by art director Emil Hasler, a collection of memorabilia, press books, stills and posters. Due on May 25th are the other three titles. Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), includes a new director-approved high-definition fullscreen transfer, Swedish Dolby Digital 1.0 audio, English subtitles, video introduction to the film by director Ingmar Bergman, a new video conversation with historian Peter Cowie and writer Jörn Donner, a booklet including a new illustrated essay by renowned theater and film critic John Simon and an essay by film critic Pauline Kael, and the Swedish theatrical trailer. Luchino Visconti's The Leopard (1963) will be a three-disc set featuring a new 2.35 anamorphic transfer, Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 audio and English subtitles. Extras include the complete 161-minute American release with English-language dialogue (including Burt Lancaster's actual voice), an audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie, A Dying Breed hour-long documentary (featuring interviews with Claudia Cardinale, screenwriter Suso Ceccho D'Amico, cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, Sydney Pollack, and many others), an exclusive video interview with professor Millicent Marcus of the University of Pennsylvania on the history behind the film, still gallery, theatrical trailers and more. Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog (1949) will have a new high-definition fullscreen transfer, Japanese Dolby Digital 1.0 audio and English subtitles. Extras include an audio commentary by author Stephen Prince, Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create - a 32-minute documentary on the making of Stray Dog, and a booklet featuring essays by film critics Terrence Rafferty and Chris Fujiwara and an excerpt from Kurosawa's autobiography.

According to Criterion, its original edition of Fritz Lang's groundbreaking suspense masterwork M will be taken out of print on March 31 to make room for an all-new DVD edition of the film, slated for release late in 2004. The upcoming re-release of M will feature a pristine transfer from newly restored film elements, as well as a host of new special features. Other titles in Criterion's plans are A Woman Is a Woman (1961), Mamma Roma (1962), and an unidentified John Ford film (possibly one of his Fox films, but not The Iron Horse [1924]).

At Disney, September 7th is now firmed up as the release date for a 30th anniversary edition of The Island at the Top of the World (1974) and a 50th Anniversary Edition of the live-action Davy Crockett (1954).

Flicker Alley, which gave us a very nice edition of The Garden of Eden, will follow that up with its June 1st release of the 2 DVD set Judex (1917). It's a 12-chapter French serial by director Louis Feuillade. Included will be a featurette on Robert Israel's musical score.

Fox, which has been a little slow with its release news of late, has finally announced its April and May schedules. High Wind in Jamaica (1965) and Pirates of Tortuga (1961) are coming on April 20th. The next Studio Classics release will appear on May 4th - Desk Set (1957, with Tracy and Hepburn). Features include an anamorphic widescreen transfer, stereo sound, audio commentary by Dina Merrill and Neva Patterson, a featurette, trailers, and a stills gallery. Subsequent Studio Classics releases will include The Snake Pit (on June 1st, audio commentary), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (on July 6th, commentary by director Ronald Neame and actress Pamela Franklin), and Zorba the Greek (on August 3rd, commentary by director Michael Cacoyannis, Anthony Quinn Biography episode). The 300 Spartans (1962, Richard Egan) and Prince Valiant (1954, James Mason) will be released on May 11th. Wave Four in Fox's War Classics Collection arrives on May 25th, this time featuring Crash Dive (1943, Tyrone Power), The Enemy Below (1957, Robert Mitchum), The Hunters (1958, Robert Mitchum), Morituri (1965, Marlon Brando) and What Price Glory (1952, James Cagney). All come with new widescreen transfers (except Crash Dive and What Price Glory, which are fullscreen as originally released), Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, and trailers. The Enemy Below also comes with the vintage Movietone newsreels "The War Situation," "U-Boat Capture by Biplane," and "Inside the German U-Boat Base at Lorient, France" while The Hunters has newsreel footage from the film's premiere and "Air Cadet Treat". Finally, Cavalcade (the 1933 Best picture winner) is understood to be in the works for 2005.

Image has an interesting lineup of classic titles for May. May 4th will bring the documentary John Wayne: American Legend (2003) and the double bill Ma Barker's Killer Brood/Gangbusters (1960/1954). May 11th will see the release of two Naked City discs (each containing 4 episodes of the early 60s TV series) and the double bill The Dead Eyes of London/The Ghost (1961/1963). The latter disc will have trailers for both films and a reproduction of the original German program book for Dead Eyes of London. Cyrano de Bergerac (1950, with Jose Ferrer) appears on May 18th as does Joan of Arc (1948, with Ingrid Bergman) and Suddenly (1954, with Frank Sinatra). May 25th brings two Gene Autry westerns from 1950 - Cow Town and Sons of New Mexico - and the Lizabeth Scott film noir Too Late for Tears (1949).

Kino has now set June 15th as the release date for Marcel Pagnol's Fanny Trilogy (Marius/Fanny/Cesar - 1931/1932/1936). The Charley Chase Collection is presently set for the summer and Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon (1919) and Spies (1927) are both scheduled for early fall.

On June 15th, MGM will have Moulin Rouge (1952, with Jose Ferrer). Apparently planned for July is a box set of Charlie Chan movies entitled The Charlie Chan Chanthology. All starring Sidney Toler as the celebrated sleuth, the titles in the set are the first six Chan films that were produced by Monogram after the company took over the series from Fox in the mid 1940s. Titles in the set are: Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944), The Chinese Cat (1944), Meeting at Midnight (aka Black Magic) (1945), The Jade Mask (1945), The Scarlet Clue (1945), and The Shanghai Cobra (1945). After the success of The Best of Mr. Ed: Volume One and Green Acres: Season One, MGM is now looking at such classic TV series as Flipper, My Mother the Car, The Patty Duke Show, and Sea Hunt for possible future release.

Milestone's release schedule now suggests an August release for Piccadilly (1929, with Anna Mae Wong) and The Dragon Painter (1919, with Sessue Hayakawa) and a fall release for Hindle Wakes (1927). Five Mary Pickford discs will hopefully appear before the end of the year: Suds with Birth of a Legend, Through the Back Door with Cinderella, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Poor Little Rich Girl with America's Sweetheart, and Heart O' the Hills with M'Liss.

Paramount will release a number of westerns on May 11th: Have Gun Will Travel: The Complete First Season (1957/58, 6 discs, 39 episodes), Posse (1975, Kirk Douglas, Bruce Dern), The Tin Star (1957, Henry Fonda), and the three made-for-TV films derived from the Gunsmoke TV series: Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge (1987), Gunsmoke: The Last Apache (1990), and Gunsmoke: To the Last Man (1992). On the way for late summer are a number of anticipated classic titles: The Rose Tattoo (1955, with Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster), The Black Orchid (1959, with Anthony Quinn), Desire Under the Elms (1958, with Sophia Loren), Broadway Bill (1934, directed by Frank Capra), Riding High (1950, Capra's remake of Broadway Bill starring Bing Crosby), Come Back Little Sheba (1952, with Burt Lancaster), Danger Diabolik (1967, with John Philip Law), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965, with Richard Burton), The Counterfeit Traitor (1962, with William Holden), The Assassination Bureau (1969, with Oliver Reed), and White Dawn (1974, with Warren Oates). Expect Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One to arrive on DVD in the 3rd quarter of this year.

Finally, in Region 2 news, the French company Carlotta will release Unfaithfully Yours (1948, directed by Preston Sturges) and Cluny Brown (1946, directed by Ernst Lubitsch) on April 6th. (Note that the former is also expected to be released by Criterion in Region 1.) The BFI has confirmed March 29th as the release date for its three Otto Preminger releases: Fallen Angel (1945), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), and Whirlpool (1949). On April 26th, BFI will have several Jean-Pierre Melville films available: Le cercle rouge (1970), Le doulos (1970), and Leon Morin, pretre (1961). Paramount plans a special edition of High Noon (1952) in April. Warner Home Video will release the Tom and Jerry Classic Collection 1 (24 cartoons) on April 5th. Collection 2 will appear on May 3rd. Vision Video in Britain will release a 21-DVD Laurel and Hardy set on May 3rd. The versions will be the fine restored ones available on the previously released German Kinowelt DVDs. On June 2nd, Warner will release Battleground (1949, Van Johnson) and Dive Bomber (1943, Errol Flynn). On November 1st, Paramount will issue six Jerry Lewis films on DVD: Nutty Professor SE, The Bellboy, Cinderfella, Ladies Man, The Patsy, and Errand Boy. DVD UK Ltd. plans three five-film waves of Samuel Arkoff films in 2004 (no particular dates set as yet). Wave One will include Machine Gun Kelly, Shake Rattle and Roll, Viking Women and the Sea Serpent, The Female Jungle, and Rock All Night. Wave Two will include: The Bonnie Parker Story, Girls in Prison, Teenage Caveman, Motorcycle Gang, and Dragstrip Girl. Wave Three will include: The Cool and the Crazy, Roadracers, Sorority Girl, Daddy-O, and Runaway Daughters.

Also in Britain, Laureate and Universal are planning a 20-film tribute to John Wayne in the form of four 5-disc box sets (hopefully to be issued by the end of this year). The final choice of titles will be selected from various catalogues under Universal's umbrella in Britain, including RKO, Republic and Paramount (Universal own the entire Paramount library up to 1949) and, of course, Universal itself. It is expected that Laureate will seek the co-operation of Batjac Productions and the Wayne Estate. The set will contain numerous special features including interviews with several of Wayne's fellow actors, directors and associates, plus audio commentaries on certain key films, theatrical trailers, posters, and photo galleries.

I'll be back again soon.

Barrie Maxwell

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