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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic News, Reviews Round-Up #53 and New Announcements

Welcome to the latest edition of Classic Coming Attractions. I begin this column with some further words and information on the recently announced Warner Bros. Archive Collection, including a review resource for the Archive’s titles. Then I have reviews of Warner Archive titles Westbound, Three Comrades, and Strange Interlude, as well as Reelclassicdvd’s The Phantom of the Opera: The Supreme Collector’s Edition, Paramount’s To Catch a Thief: Centennial Collection and The Odd Couple: Centennial Collection, and the National Film Preservation Foundation’s (via Image) Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986. The column concludes with the usual New Announcements section. The classic announcements database has been updated accordingly. I hope you’ll enjoy it all.

Warner Bros. Archive Collection

Well, I’ve had about a month now to digest the merits of Warner’s new program and I must confess to a tempering of the enthusiasm than I had upon first hearing about the initiative. That should not be interpreted as a change in my support for the effort, just the recognition that there are a number of deficiencies related to it that need to be addressed quickly and effectively by the studio if the initiative is not to wither and die. To its credit, Warner Bros. has already initiated a survey on the Archive site that allows people to comment on a number of the issues and hopefully the cumulative results from that will bring about the needed adjustments. I am sure that the studio is also monitoring feedback on the program appearing on the major internet forums and will take that into account as well.

So what are the major issues that have many interested collectors wary or upset? One of the major issues continues to be cost. $20.00 is too high for a virtually barebones DVD-R regardless of how much better manufactured it is compared to a home-burned disc. When collectors have been getting properly pressed new discs with impressive supplements on them for less than $10.00 each via box sets, it’s a significant step back given the current maturity of the DVD industry to expect those collectors to accept Archive Collection releases with less content for twice the price. The cost factor is exacerbated for non-U.S. purchasers by the excessive shipping charges. The use of UPS is the major problem here, as that company is well known for its excessive brokerage fees – ones that are often levied after the consumer already has had the disc delivered and much to his or her shock. (In late news, the announcement of the new wave of titles that’s been added to the Archive [see the New Announcements section below] comes with a “buy 2, get 1 free” offer using coupon code SPITFIRE, good until April 27th, so obviously the studio is already trying to respond to the disc-price part of the overall cost concern.)

Secondly, the quality of the transfers is quite variable depending upon the particular title. Some are derived from older video masters whose source material has received no clean-up whatsoever while others have obviously benefited from more attention and hence more superior new masters. Unfortunately, it appears that the company generating the final product from the masters (Allied Vaughn) is resorting to interlaced rather than progressive transfers, with the result being digital artifacts that should no longer be an issue on a digital product generated in 2009. Of course, the severity of the results in this case are somewhat equipment-dependent for the home consumer, but regardless it’s an issue that should be rectified at source.

I have heard it said that one should not hold these discs to the same review standard as properly-pressed ones, but given the price and the fact that Warners obviously considers the program to be an important part of its home entertainment marketing spectrum, one should look to expect quality commensurate with a DVD market now over ten years old. Hence, any of the Archive discs I receive for review will be evaluated just as I would properly-pressed titles. That said, Warners has indicated that Archive discs will not be available for review purposes to the same degree as have their normal DVD titles. Of the 150 titles introduced to begin the Archive Collection, Warners provided three to me and it appears that other DVD reviewers have received similarly small samples. My reviews of Westbound, Three Comrades, and Strange Interlude can be found below, but first I’d like to draw your attention to a thread at the Home Theater Forum (HTF) that provides comments from enthusiasts on the disc quality of many of the Archive titles that they may have purchased. While the level of detail of the comments varies by individual title and results are based on a wide variety of screen sizes used for viewing the discs, taken as a whole, the comments do provide useful snap-shots of the Archive content. With the agreement of HTF owner Ron Epstein, here is a summary of all the comments contributed to the thread to date. The summary owes much to one of the thread’s contributors (Pete York) who summarized the first 70 posts. I’ve added to his efforts from the 70-odd subsequent posts. Individual posters’ names are not included as some may not wish to be identified in a location outside HTF although the post numbers have been retained.

Summary of The Official Warner Archive Review Thread at the HTF (as of 4/20/09)

Adventures of Mark Twain, The (1944)
“same master as used for TCM. It looks good, not great, but is an improvement as far as no TCM bug in the lower right corner and no cable compression problems. It has a great trailer that looks almost as good as the film itself. The movie is 132 minutes, but everything looked fine. I hope this one sells enough to lead to an official DVD release from the nitrate negative. A great Max Steiner score.” –post #80 (103” screen)

Al Capone (1959)
“widescreen…Picture Quality..was very good---comparable to traditional DVD (pressed) releases for fifty year old films.” – post #54

All Fall Down (1962)
“a very nice sharp and clear anamorphic softness and I didn't see any signs of compression. It looks pretty much like a regular Warner DVD release.” – post #101 (40” screen)

Along the Great Divide (1951)
“not widescreen…Picture Quality..was very good---comparable to traditional DVD (pressed) releases for fifty year old films.” –#54

“a great 88-minute Western … Combing is evident” + Screen cap – post #102 (laptop)

Angel Baby (1961)
“look[s] great, with proper letterboxing and good black and white contrasts.” – post #63

Baby Maker, The (1970)
“Another interlaced, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, though with a seemingly better encode than DREAM LOVER by a wide margin, even though the print used for the transfer is also less than optimal…Dolby Digital mono encoded at 192 kbps. Flat with slight hiss, though not sounding noisy like a typical optical track from a print might, the audio was neither so good or so bad that I look exception to it…I'm grateful to have it on DVD in anamorphic widescreen even though it appears no effort was made to correct some of the color and contrast fluctuations in the print.” + screen caps – post #8

Betrayed (1954)
“shot in 1:33 x 1 and is presented in Full Screen with the audio in mono. Again I only viewed a small portion of the DVD and the video was excellent.” – post #1

“[the film] was protected for Academy, but was composed and intended for widescreen presentation.” – post #5

Bhowani Junction (1956)
“shot in widescreen 2:40 x 1 and are released in anamorphic widescreen 16 x 9. The audio is 2 channel stereo. I just viewed a small portion of each DVD and the video I saw was excellent.” – post #1

“From just glancing at the film, it looks pretty good; a little more stable than Quentin Durward. - includes a fullscreen trailer, and [presented] at 2.40:1.” + Screen caps – post #91

“I just measured the capture for [Bhowani Junction] and the ratio is 2.5:1. So I think this was transferred from the full CinemaScope aperture, not an optical soundtrack (2.35:1) element.”- post #95

“… is better looking than most Metrocolor efforts of the era, and has a nice stereo track that retains the directionality of the original. A significant improvement from the old laserdisc.” – post #111

“I found the print to be quite gorgeous. Also the screen caps posted don't do this film justice either. The stereo sound is also very good. A very satisfying presentation.” – post #124 (52” screen)

Big Circus, The (1959)
“surpised how impressive it looked and sounded (beautifully photographed by Winston C. Hoch), the CinemaScope picture is vibrant and the sound is robust.” – post #70

“…is too good a movie to have been forgotten for so many years, and Warner's disk is sharp & crisp, with surprisingly good color for late '50s Eastman, and bold sound.” – post #111

“…anamorphic, so that part is nice, but is nothing really more than average in terms of transfer quality.” – post #112

Big House, The (1930)
“By far the worst picture quality of all the movies I got. It was just downright difficult to watch. Movie was fun, but picture was more than distracting. No detail, faded. It's the one title I could say looks like what people think of when they think $1 "public domain." Make that $1 VHS "public domain". Was not worth $20.” – post #116

Brainstorm (1965)
“look[s] great, with proper letterboxing and good black and white contrasts.” – post #63

Canyon River (1956)
“widescreen enhanced in color .... It starts out okay, but over the course of the 80 minute running time, the image quality deteriorates to the point where it looks no better than your average old movie recorded from television (aside from being widescreen); and some of the stock footage of cattle stampedes looks worse yet. It's not that great a movie either, unless you're a real western buff.” – post #139

Close of My Heart (1951)
“like [The Adventures of Mark Twain], it looks very good, but not great. A charming and heartwarming story about adoption and stars Ray Milland and Gene Tierney, with a nice Max Steiner score.” – post #80 (103” screen)

Convicts 4 (1962)
“I thought the video presentation was very good except an 8 minute segment that was a little dupey and soft.” – post #64

Countdown (1968)
“… anamorphic but [it] fall[s] a little below the standards of a regular Warner catalog release from that time period. I did see signs of compression and … some softness and lack of detail in some scenes more than others. I would rate the transfer as fair in relation to a regular DVD release. But since this is what I expected, I can't say I am disappointed.” – post #101 (40” screen)

“the credits…which are red almost look like they have a unique effect to make a zebra pattern on the credits...this is not supposed to be there.” – post #122

“This [in reference to Mark Pytel’s comment above] is a very old problem. It is caused by Allied Vaughn using a very old MPEG2 encoder, and not deinterlacing the content. There is a very lengthy explanation from a long time ago here. It is sad that this is even an issue on DVDs being released in 2009, irrespective of the source material. It can and should be fixed during the encoding process, it is to WHV's discredit that it wasn't taken into account before authoring the first lot of DVDs.” – post #123

“…to my eye looked acceptable: like a typical "unrestored" movie of its vintage. I did not see any artifacts in red areas, as some have reported. The disc will be a must for Altman complete-ists!” – post #133

Crisis (1950)
“Not in the league of Casablanca, but very watchable in my 80 inch projected screen. Very happy to finally have this in my collection. It includes a trailer.” – post #119

Crowded Sky, The (1960)
“looks barely better than VHS” – post #58

“The least, visually speaking, of the 5 movies I ordered[A Lion is in the Streets, The Crowded Sky, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Made in Paris, A Dream of Kings]. The fine print at the end of the opening credits exhibited a throbbing effect (sharp/fuzzy/sharp/fuzzy) The whole movie looked a bit fuzzy. No trailer.” – post #61

D.I., The (1957)
“looks okay” – post #58

“The 16x9 b&w image quality is not remarkable, but it is commensurate with other B&W titles of the era already released by many studios. It's still a fine DVD, with more than acceptable quality, and is a testament to the strange phenomenon that was Jack Webb.” – post #111

Darby’s Rangers (1958)
“A William Wellman film starring James Garner. It looks fine and is anamorphically enhanced and fills the screen top to bottom, something you wouldn’t get on TCM.” – post #80 (103” screen)

Devil Is a Sissy, The (1936)
“Starring Freddie Bartholomew, Jackie Cooper and Mickey Rooney. The oldest film I have ordered so far. Again, it looks fine with good contrast and sound, but certainly not what you can look like with a new master.” – post #80 (103” screen)

Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
“anamorphic widescreen in [its] original 1.85:1 aspect ratio…some minor (very minor) debris in the first few minutes which shows that it might receive further restoration in the future. The picture quality of the remainder of the film seems almost pristine. A trailer for the film is included on this DVD, and if you want to see how bad this film could look, then look no further than this unrestored trailer in 1.33.1 aspect ratio.” – post #24

Dream Lover (1986)
“The image is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen from a rather grainy and speckled element. Darker scenes, of which there are many, are rather murky with ill-defined contrast and compression blockiness. Exterior daylight scenes fare quite well with decent contrast and lighter grain, though the transfer never quite reaches beyond simply average even during its best moments. The encoding, however, introduces some major problems. Aside from the disappointment of being an interlaced encode, there is some strange vertical strobing in many of the dark scenes with the infrared lights…Though the packaging states mono, DREAM LOVER is presented in 2.0 Dolby Surround, and in some scenes is quite effective!...Well, at least this disc also came with a non-anamorphic widescreen trailer. Oh, and the movie is in anamorphic widescreen. Some of it looks okay. Sorry, not a lot of good words for this DVD, or for the movie. ” + screen caps – post #7

Dream of Kings, A (1969)
“Best of the bunch visually [out of A Lion is in the Streets, The Crowded Sky, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Made in Paris and this]-I imagine the source material hasn't had much wear & tear. No trailer.” – post #61

Dusty & Sweets McGee (1971)
“… anamorphic but [it] fall[s] a little below the standards of a regular Warner catalog release from that time period. I did see signs of compression and … some softness and lack of detail in some scenes more than others. I would rate the transfer as fair in relation to a regular DVD release. But since this is what I expected, I can't say I am disappointed.” – post #101 (40” screen)

Exit Smiling (1926)
“[with Beatrice Lillie]… This is a sweet [silent] comedy, and it's interesting to see how effective such a comedienne as Lillie could be even without her trademark way with words. For a movie that is 83 years old, it looks quite good, with its only visual difficulties seemingly coming from nitrate deterioration on the source.” – post #111

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The (1962)
“shot in widescreen 2:40 x 1 and are released in anamorphic widescreen 16 x 9. The audio is 2 channel stereo. I just viewed a small portion of each DVD and the video I saw was excellent.” – post #1

“Looked very good to me, sound seemed weak, the only time I had to turn up the volume. No trailer.” – post #61

George Raft Story, The (1961)
“widescreen…Picture Quality..was very good---comparable to traditional DVD (pressed) releases for fifty year old films.” – post #54

“looks barely better than VHS.” – post #58

Goodbye, My Fancy (1951)
“the image was sharp and clear and had an excellent grayscale, but there are plenty of age related dirt specks and the reel change markers are there. There was also one instance of the disc skipping for one moment (when Lurene Tuttle enters Joan Crawford's room). I did get it to do the same thing again, but I forgot to check to see if there was a problem on the disc surface or if this was just built into master. Otherwise, an acceptable disc.” – post #110

Grasshopper, The (1970)
“Presented in an interlaced, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, THE GRASSHOPPER is quite watchable with only minor flaws consistent with the vintage of the film…There isn't much to report about this mono (DD 2.0 192 kbps) track: crisp-sounding music with low noise, lower in volume than I expected with no low end to speak of…The DVD from Warner Archive is satisfactory and better than I expected, though I do hope that progressive encoding as well as improved compression grace future releases.” + screen caps – post #18

H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)
“This is a very impressive historical drama with Hedy Lamarr and Robert Young. A solid example of fine MGM craftsmanship, I found the new DVD to be virtually flawless.” – post #111

Heart Beat (1980)
“overall very good looking, to me. The old VHS is P&S and has a yellowish tint, as though a colorist was trying to create a visual feeling of nostalgia. The new DVD has much better color and is letterboxed, showing much more of the image.” – post #63

Interrupted Melody (1955)
“One of my favorite films from the 50s. Although I have the laser, I was looking forward to the DVD release and I was not disappointed. I found the quality of this DVD to be almost flawless in Eastman Color and sound. Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker is quite superb as opera diva Marjorie Lawrence. Its hard to believe Parker is not actually singing the arias but the voice is in fact Eileen Farrell.” – post #124 (52” screen)

John Loves Mary (1949)
“The picture seemed much sharper on this new dvd [than a recorded TCM version]. But still could have been cleaned up more. My only issue is around the 56” mark the sound drops noticably. I checked my tcm version ,and it does the same.But the TCM drop doesn't seem to be as big of a drop as the new dvd. Still happy to have the film.” – post #105

Lion is in the Streets, A (1953)
“Full screen/Technicolor-Looks as good as similar Doris Day/WB DVDs of the same vintage-which means decent, unrestored condition. No trailer. Great Cagney.” – post #61

“has occasional print damage, and has "cigarette burns" (sprocket holes). The color seems a touch faded, too. It reminds me, as to quality, of some of the old pre-recorded studio-made VHS tapes that I had in my collection. But still very "watchable" “ – post #133

Made in Paris (1961)
“looks okay” – post #58

“Picture quality decent but not as good looking as 24 year old Ann-Margret. Trailer was 4x3 letterbox.” – post #61

Mating Game, The (1959)
“I can't say I am overly impressed with what I saw. Video quality is quite watchable, but I would be very disappointed if this were a major studio release. Picture looked somewhat compressed as there were visible artifacts. The fact I was using a upconverting BD player probably magnified the transfer deficiencies. I mean, overall, the transfer looked just passable…audio..sounded very clean.” – post #29

Screen Caps – post #69

Money Trap, The (1965)
“looks great in its anamorphic scope transfer.” – post #58

“look[s] great, with proper letterboxing and good black and white contrasts.” – post #63

Mrs. Parkington (1944)
“… with Garson and Pidgeon is a lavish costume picture that has been given a first-class presentation here. Very clean image with lovely grey scale, a no impairments that I could see.” – post #111

My Blood Runs Cold (1965)
“look[s] great, with proper letterboxing and good black and white contrasts.” – post #63

Oklahoman, The (1957)
“widescreen enhanced in color, looks quite good, comparable to Westbound and Wichita…” – post#139

On Borrowed Time (1939)
“This DVD opened with the old Turner logo and there seemed to be flickering on the credits. Did not see this once the film began. However this 70 year old film is showing its age. There were some scratches and the B&W image is on the softer side. But this was not enough to spoil my enjoyment of this beautiful fantasy.” – post #124 (52” screen)

One Trick Pony (1980)
“it's a 16x9 enhanced transfer, with 2.0 stereo surround (at least, that's what the packaging indicates - I can't verify if it's anything beyond 2.0 on my current setup). It did not include a trailer. Interestingly, when I hit the "info" button on my Oppo DVD player, rather than indicating that the disc was a DVD-R (as it normally does), it showed up as a regular DVD. So whatever they're doing to manufacture them, that does seem to lend some proof to WB's claim that their MOD process is a little different than standard burn-at-home stuff …As far as the packaging, the cases they came in were not shrinkwrapped and appeared to be slightly thicker than standard amarays. The discs themselves seemed securely fastened in the cases, and I had no problem removing the disc from the case. The label printed on the disc was of a pretty good, glossy quality, and the outer sleeve packaging is about what you'd expect based on the screenshots on their website …From the few minutes I watched, I was pleased with the quality. It doesn't look like it's been freshly restored or like a brand new film, but having only seen the film on cable before, it certainly looks far better than any broadcast I had previously come across.” – post #108

Purple Hearts (1984)
“I had no problems playing the DVD and thought the video presentation looked good considering this movie was low budget and filmed in 83/84 timeframe with that ugly film stock they used back in those days. The color is not vibrant at all and it's a little murky especially the night scenes, but at least, it's anamorphic widescreen and looks relatively clean. It's the best we're going to get for this little title and I'm happy to finally have it in my collection in its OAR.” – post #89

Quentin Durward (1954)
“It is fairly low bitrate, and suffers from egregious edge enhancement. The day for night scenes are very dark (at least on my set). The soundtrack was 2.0 surround. The picture was not particularly sharp, but I do not think it was "fake anamorphic". The edge enhancement caused halos and sometimes strobing. The studs on the French armor would strobe if the character was in medium to long shot. There were some speckles, but it was not an especially scratchy print, though no cleanup was done. – presented at a ratio of 2.55:1 – included a non-anamorphic widescreen trailer includes + Screen caps – posts #90 and #91

Rain People, The (1969)
“… anamorphic but [it] fall[s] a little below the standards of a regular Warner catalog release from that time period. I did see signs of compression and … some softness and lack of detail in some scenes more than others. I would rate the transfer as fair in relation to a regular DVD release. But since this is what I expected, I can't say I am disappointed.” – post #101 (40” screen)

Sergeant, The (1968)
“There were some age-related white speckles throughout and the reel change markers were there, but the color was good and the close-ups were nice and sharp. There was some smearing in long shots, and I did notice a couple of places of interlaced shimmer, but they were minor instances, not major problems. Sound had some hiss, but actually, the film looked and sounded much as I remembered it in the theater when I saw a reissue of it in a revival theater (remember those?).” – post #62

So This Is Love (1953)
“I was very impressed by the color print and sound. Colors in the film seem quite vivid and even more so towards the latter part of the movie in the musical numbers. The sound seemed almost stereo-like for the musical sequences especially in the opera finale. There are a few flaws in the print, minor scratches but nothing to get upset about. There was no trailer included on the disc.” – post #97

Sweet November (1968)
“It's just okay - quite soft - with what looks like a bit of edge ringing in some scenes. The software they are using for the compression seems to have problems with the color red…it did look quite soft and slightly fuzzy, like a dupe. Color was okay though, and the print seemed to be in good condition. I like that the original trailer was included. The compression and encoding didn't sport as many flaws as some of the other titles, but it was interlaced and lacked the fine definition of many other titles released to DVD from the same time period.” – post #36 (screen caps), #59

“looks ugly, smoggy, muddy, with no vibrance to its look at all.” – post #58

... pretty good! In fact, for the most part, it had a nice "film like" quality to it -- which is really all I ask of a transfer. Yes, there was some grain and occasional "speckles" due to print damage but the color was good and even vibrant in places. MPEG-2 compression artifacts seemed minimal. The Wide shots were a little soft (typical of DVD), but closeups looked good and sharp. I would say the resulting picture was about on average with the way good quality commercial DVDs from this era looked on this setup.’ – post #96 (32”screen)

“[using a} Toshiba HDMI XDE-500 upconverting and enhancing DVD player … in "sharp+color" 1080p/24 mode … movie immediately started out looking more like "video" than "film" when viewed with this setting. EE was visible (although not too obtrusive) on all wide shots; and most closeups had moire' artifacts around anything with a cross-hatch pattern (like Newleys' collar in a phone booth in an early scene). Turning off all XDE modes and dropping the upscaling back to 1080p/60 helped a lot -- but the transfer still never approached looking like film. The grain and print defects also looked a little worse on the projector, but I expected that that would be the case. Grain and print defects don't really bother me unless they become too intrusive. On the plus side colors looked stable (even the reds) and the resulting picture was definitely viewable. If I was assigning a grade based on comparable commercial DVDs, I would give it a C+.” – post #96 (96” screen)

This Woman is Dangerous (1952)
“This is the oldest film of the five I purchased from the Warner Archive and yet it has the best image quality! The image is framed at 1.33:1 and is impeccably clean with a grand grayscale, one that unfortunately shows up the limitations of the encoding…Presented in its original mono (Dolby Digital 2.0 - 192 kbps), the film sounds as other films from the era do: a bit shrill and sharp, but quite distinct and intelligible. Surface noise was never a problem, and I didn't detect any distortion or optical track funkiness…I'm pleased with the result, even if the fact that it is interlaced and features substandard encoding does give me pause. The theatrical trailer is also included, though not noted anywhere on the packaging or the Warner Archive website.” + screen caps – post #16

Three Sailors and a Girl (1953)
“it does not look like a standard DVD...more like a VHS tape. The sound is good but the picture is not; one or so too many distractions (some flickering, some edge enhancement...).” – post #57

“…began production on January 30, 1953 and was composed for 1:37 presentation. Warner Bros. did not switch to widescreen cinematography until May/June of 1953.” – post #87

“although the color might not have been on par with So This Is Love, I was pretty satisfied with the look of this DVD. Unlike another comment, I did not find any flickering or edge enhancement and at times the colors were quite vivid. Reds sometimes tend to be oversaturated and this does not bother me as I have seen this on many HDNET color telecasts. The screen caps don't do the film justice. Sound quality was quite good. I am wondering if inconsistencies in watching this films and maybe others have to do with what TV or DVD system one is using. BTW, the notes on this DVD are quite laughable. They state "cameos from real life Broadway legends George Abbott, Moss Hart and Ira Gershwin." These three legends are played by actors impersonating these people.” – post #124 (52” screen) Screen Caps – post #69

Westbound (1959)
“anamorphic widescreen in [its] original 1.85:1 aspect ratio…I found the video and audio quality to compare favorably with the other restored versions of the "Ranown" films on DVD...” - post #24

“looked decent, but was plagued with very minor video shifting and some minor compression artifacts…audio.sounded very clean.” – post #29

“widescreen…color…Picture Quality..was very good---comparable to traditional DVD (pressed) releases for fifty year old films.” – post #54

Wichita (1955)
“widescreen…color…Picture Quality..was very good---comparable to traditional DVD (pressed) releases for fifty year old films…quite a revelation. Aspect Ratio is 2.55x1.” – post #54

“looks..good, which is a real treat” – post #58

If readers find the above resource useful, I would consider maintaining it with updated information as I come across it. Let me have your thoughts on this, please.

Classic Reviews

Randolph Scott worked with director Budd Boetticher on seven westerns during the 1956-1960 period. Five were released by Columbia (The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station) and are available on the fine DVD box set released last autumn. The other two were originally Warner Bros. releases (Seven Men from Now, Westbound) and both of them are now available too with the appearance of Westbound in the WB Archive Collection.


In Westbound, Scott plays a Union army officer who takes on an assignment to ensure the safe regular passage by stagecoach of gold from California via Colorado to support Union operations in the east. Facing off against Scott is a former stageline franchisee (Andrew Duggan) who along with his henchmen aims to subvert Scott’s efforts. Featured in the cast are frequent Scott co-star Karen Steele (particularly good) and Virginia Mayo, along with Michael Pate as the chief henchman. B western aficionados will be able to spot several past names from the genre, including Kermit Maynard, Jack Perrin, and Buddy Roosevelt. The film itself is a cut below the Columbia Ranown westerns, with the story more cut-and-dried and plot resolutions fairly standard. Scott, of course, is a commanding presence as always and makes the film worth watching regardless. The Warner Archive DVD-R release delivers a 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced image that is for the most part sharp and nicely detailed. The Warnercolor, sometimes a source of concern in the studio’s 1950s productions, looks quite bright and accurate. The mono sound is clear and free of distortion. For those that have the earlier Columbia box set, this release conforms quite nicely with it in terms of image and audio quality. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.

Three Comrades, the fine novel by Erich Maria Remarque, was filmed by MGM in 1938 with a screenplay by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edward E. Paramore. It starred Robert Taylor, fresh from his outing in A Yank at Oxford, and the luminous Margaret Sullavan, with supporting work by Franchot Tone and Robert Young.

Three Comrades

The story is set in early post World War I Germany and focuses on the lives of three close friends (Taylor, Tone, Young), all of whom have served in the just concluded war. Their plans to open a garage together become increasingly complicated by rising turmoil in the country and the appearance of Sullavan, a young woman suffering from tuberculosis with whom Taylor falls in love. The story has the makings of a great film, but the screenplay is rather slow, focusing on drawn out sequences depicting the Taylor/Sullavan love story rather than balancing it more equally with the lives of the other two comrades. Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing for the always-superior work of Margaret Sullavan. Taylor seems somewhat out of his depth, but Young and Tone deliver strong efforts which just emphasize what could have been had their stories received greater focus. Given what he has to work with, director Frank Borzage handles the romantic scenes with some finesse. The Warner Archive DVD-R release is full frame as originally released theatrically and looks quite good. The image is somewhat variable in sharpness, but contrast is quite acceptable and natural film grain is readily apparent. The results are perhaps a very slight bit below the standard of Warners’ pressed discs for classics of the same era. The mono sound has some minor hiss, but is otherwise quite clear. An extended theatrical trailer is the only supplement. Recommended.

Strange Interlude, adapted from a play by Eugene O’Neill, is a complex story centering on Norma Shearer whose lover has been killed in action in World War I. A four-sided love situation develops amongst Shearer and three key men in her life – a timid but faithful writer (Ralph Morgan), a young man with insanity in his family (Alexander Kirkland), and a research doctor (Clark Gable).

Strange Interlude

Shearer marries Kirkland but has a son by Gable and the film details the complications that ensue as the son grows to manhood. The 1932 film tells a compelling tale, but it is one whose enjoyment is somewhat tempered by the decision to use a voice-over technique by the various characters to express their unspoken thoughts. The technique is at first intriguing, but soon grows a bit intrusive and threatens to dilute the film’s dramatic impact (though I must admit, one tends to get used to it after the first hour of the 110-minute running time). Shearer is in superb form though and Gable provides strong support, here sporting his trademark moustache on screen for the first time and culminating his 1932 MGM work after having achieved stardom the previous year. The story extends over several decades of time and character aging is well-handled with the production overall exhibiting the typical polish of a major MGM product of the time. Despite the voice-over caveat, the film definitely rates one’s attention. The Warner Bros. Archive DVD-R release is not quite up to the standards of a typical normal pressed classic release of the period as the video master seems rather dated. The image is frequently soft and well-visited by speckles and scratches. The mono sound is workable enough, but is characterized by noticeable hiss. There are no supplements. I’d say rent this one, but you can only buy it, for now anyway.

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