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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Round-Up #69 and New Announcements

Welcome to the latest edition of Classic Coming Attractions. This time out, I have a total of 14 disc reviews for you as well as one short review of a book on Katharine Hepburn ("I Know Where I'm Going").

DVDs covered include Keeper of the Flame, The Sea of Grass, and Moguls & Movie Stars (from Warner Bros.); While the City Sleeps, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Devotion, Whiplash, Wild Rovers, Tim Holt Western Classics: Volume 1 and The Unfinished Dance (all from the Warner Archive); Violent Saturday and The Kremlin Letter (from Twilight Time); and Goodnight for Justice (from Entertainment One). I also have a review of the Blu-ray release of King of Kings (from Warner Bros.) The usual round-up of new classic release announcements is included and the classic announcements database has been updated.

Here's a bit of a heads up on the next edition of Classic Coming Attractions. It will be the 100th column and one of the things planned is a profile on Roy Rogers and his films available on DVD, in honour of 2011 being the 100th anniversary of his birth.

In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy this latest edition of the column.

Classic DVD Reviews and One Book Review

In the 1942 MGM film Keeper of the Flame, a group of reporters gathers outside the gated home of American patriot and national hero Robert Forrest who has been killed in a car accident.

Keeper of the Flame (DVD)

The dead man's widow, Christine Forrest (Katharine Hepburn), has secluded herself in her home and is unwilling to talk to the reporters. Among the latter is Steven O'Malley (Spencer Tracy), a journalist recognized for covering the developing war in Europe. He wants to write a biography of Forrest extolling his leadership. But as questions arise about whether the great man's death was really the accident it appeared to be and O'Malley manages to get in to see Christine with help from the gatekeeper's son, it seems that Robert Forrest may not have been all he appeared. Keeper of the Flame originated as a story idea that RKO first purchased in the late 1930s and was then bought from that studio by MGM. Donald Ogden Stewart turned the idea into a script with an antifascist message. The resulting film is typical of MGM efforts such as Three Comrades and The Mortal Storm to warn of the growing fascism in Europe and its threat to North America - clearly conveyed messages without the more overt approach of similarly-intentioned Warner Bros. films (Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Watch on the Rhine). Unfortunately, Keeper of the Flame may have the best of intentions, but the film is not completely persuasive. It seems unsure of whether it wants to be a psychological thriller as it meanders along for its first two-thirds in mainly hushed tones with convenient happenings or an action film with the murder, blazing buildings, and suddenly-proclaimed treason of its final third. Spencer Tracy gives a genial performance as O'Malley, but it's never very obvious why O'Malley has the great investigative reputation attributed to him. His efforts to see Christine are uninspired and it takes a young boy to get him into the Forrest mansion. His initial confrontation with Christine is anticlimactic for O'Malley seems prepared to accept her praise of her husband without question. As Christine, Katharine Hepburn convinces us of her role as a grieving widow, but some of her delivery has artifice that can draw the viewer out of the moment. The result is an unsatisfying exercise both in execution and in the effectiveness of delivering an antifascist message. For those used to Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn's best pairings such as Woman of the Year and State of the Union, the film is a let-down. The Warner Bros. DVD release is pretty good. The full frame image captures William H. Daniels' brooding photography quite effectively. Image sharpness is a little inconsistent and detail is lost at times, but the overall impact is pleasing. Modest film grain is apparent throughout. The mono sound is in good shape with only some minor hiss occasionally apparent. English SDH subtitling is provided. In standard Warner fashion, era-appropriate supplements are provided. They include an entertaining Our Gang short Going to Press that features Darryl Hickman (who's also in Keeper of the Flame), a riotous Tex Avery cartoon Blitz Wolf that lampoons Hitler via a Three Little Pigs tale, and the theatrical trailer. Tracy and Hepburn enthusiasts will want to have this disc; others should try a rental. The disc is also available as part of Tracy and Hepburn: The Definitive Collection.

A far better Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn film is The Sea of Grass, directed for MGM by Elia Kazan in 1945 and released in 1947.

The Sea of Grass (DVD)

Based on the novel by Conrad Richter, the film begins as a love story between society belle Lutie Cameron (Hepburn) who comes from St. Louis to marry cattle rancher Col. Jim Brewton (Tracy) in Salt Fork, New Mexico. Lutie finds life on Brewton's vast and remote ranch difficult. A conflict is developing between ranchers and homesteaders over the right to live on and work the vast grasslands, and Jim's and Lutie's sentiments as to who is in the right are equally divided. The couple are torn apart as a result and their relationship is further complicated by Lutie's feelings for one of Brewton's opponents (Melvyn Douglas), feelings that are further crystallized when Lutie travels to Denver fully intending to leave Jim for good. The Sea of Grass has a western setting and possesses some of the familiar western tropes, but it is at heart a story of family relationships that develop and change during the 2-hour running time. Even if they don't look quite as dusty and rough-hewn as the real thing, Tracy and Hepburn are believable in their roles and the obvious chemistry between the pair strengthens the film's portrayal of the schism in their marriage and its impact on both their lives. There is strong back-up from Melvyn Douglas and particularly Robert Walker who plays the couple's troubled son Brock. A strong supporting cast that includes Edgar Buchanan, Harry Carey, Robert Armstrong, and Phyllis Thaxter is another significant plus. In the uniformly superior work of the cast, we see the results of Kazan's typically good rapport with actors, even though Kazan claimed that Tracy and Hepburn didn't pay much attention to his direction. We don't normally expect to see Tracy, Hepburn, Douglas and Walker in a western, but Kazan's efforts result in them looking entirely at home. Kazan's other characteristic touch is an ability to evoke a non-contemporary time and place effectively, and he manages it again here, even though there is some obvious use of back projection. The film has been described as ponderous in some quarters, but I see no hint of that, instead an engrossing drama that holds interest throughout. Warner Bros.'s DVD release is available separately or as part of Tracy and Hepburn: The Definitive Collection. The full frame image is a strong one that stands up well on large projection systems. There are some speckles and scratches, but otherwise it looks sharp and nicely detailed while displaying good contrast. The mono sound is strong and clear with very little evidence of hiss. English, French, and Spanish subtitling has been provided. Supplements consist of a mildly interesting short on how to better work the land (1947's Give Us the Earth!), the 1946 Tom & Jerry cartoon The Cat Concerto, and the film's theatrical trailer. Recommended.

I divert from the DVD reviews briefly here to pass a few comments on the paperback release of Charlotte Chandler's "I Know Where I'm Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography" published in 2011 by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books (a division of Hal Leonard Corporation).

I Know Where I'm Going (Book)

Chandler is the author of numerous biographies of film stars and directors, each of whom she has interviewed extensively to get their personal feelings on the many films and key incidents in their lives. This approach yields a very personal biography that seems almost autobiographical in nature. The results are intimate portraits of the individuals that reveal much about their characters without imparting the cheap theatricality and at times sordidness of obvious exposes or unauthorized biographies. Chandler conducts us through Hepburn's entire life, but a significant portion of the text consists of Hepburn's own words, reflecting on the different stages of her life and the people in it, both on stage and in films and off. Hepburn is particularly forthright in her remarks about the strengths and weaknesses of her performances and her relationships with other men, including Howard Hughes but particularly Spencer Tracy as one might anticipate. There are no major new revelations, but the degree of insight that one gains into Hepburn's approach to acting and life in general is constantly entertaining. The book is 349 pages in length including an index and listings of Hepburn's theatrical and television movies. There are also16 pages of photographs, some of which were new to me. Recommended. (The book is also available in a hardback edition published in 2010.)

Devotion is a somewhat curious picture to come from Warner Bros. One would expect a story based in the history of the Bronte sisters to be an MGM or even RKO effort.

Devotion (DVD)

It's not that Warners wasn't capable of such fare; it just ran counter to the studio's historically more modern-based and gritty image - though it must be admitted that that image had started to be eroded by the mid-1940s. The 1946 film (made in 1943 but unreleased for three years) stars Ida Lupino and Olivia DeHavilland as Emily and Charlotte Bronte in a story whose factual background is limited to the basics of the Bronte family dynamic. Any similarity to historical reality in the love triangle that involves the two sisters and a curate (Paul Henreid) working with their father is purely fanciful. Lupino and DeHavilland are in good form even if they seem miscast at times, particularly when we see them tripping through the moors. Henreid delivers his usual likable and forthright work as the male love interest. Also billed above the title is Sydney Greenstreet who has a small part playing William Makepeace Thackeray. Montagu Love, in his last role before his death, plays the Brontes' father. It all makes for a mildly interesting but uncompelling film. The delay in the film's release is frequently attributed to the court battle that DeHavilland had with Warner Bros. over her contract, specifically that she objected to the extension that Warners was imposing on her seven-year contract to account for suspension time when she refused several parts and loan-out situations. The film is available from the Warner Archive on a MOD disc. The full frame B&W image is quite good in terms of sharpness and contrast. Moderate grain is apparent and while there are a few speckles and the odd scratch, none is of a distracting nature. The mono sound is fine and the only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended as a rental.

A more typical Warner production is 1948's Whiplash, a boxing tale that combines melodrama with elements of film noir. Dane Clark is Michael Gordon, an aspiring artist with a punch, who's encouraged by fight promoter Rex Durant (Zachary Scott) to try out as a boxer.

Whiplash (DVD)

The proposition is attractive because Gordon's artistic career isn't making him a living, but more importantly, it will bring him closer to a mysterious woman he's interested in (Alexis Smith) who just happens also to be Rex Durant's wife, Laurie. Durant seems to have a strange hold over Laurie, one that Michael is determined to investigate. It's always a pleasure to see Zachary Scott in a film. He invariably manages a smooth, snake-like portrayal of morally-corrupt if not downright-criminal characters that enhances every film he's cast in. Fortunately for us, there was a string of such Warner films in the late 1940s, such as Mildred Pierce, Danger Signal, The Unfaithful, Flaxy Martin, Pretty Baby, and the film at hand, Whiplash. It's at the lower end of the scale among these titles, but overall a compactly made and entertaining if rather predictable time-passer. In addition to the main players, Warners has peppered the film with great examples of members of its stock company including S.Z. Sakall as a bar owner, Jeffrey Lynn as a doctor on the bottle, Alan Hale as a boxing trainer, and Eve Arden as Michael Gordon's neighbor (though Arden's talents aren't given nearly enough screen time to add the supporting luster she's capable of). Director Lewis Seiler keeps the film moving along briskly and gives it a shadowy look that fits it well within the noirish film milieu of the times. The flashback nature of the presentation fits the material well. The Warner Archive MOD release delivers the film full frame as originally presented. The image is reasonably sharp with some deep blacks. The transfer seems a little dark overall, but it's not a problem given the intended shadowy nature of the film. Speckles and the odd scratch are apparent, but don't compromise one's viewing pleasure. The mono sound is clear and free of distortion, and gunshots have the typically Warner heft of authority. There are no subtitles. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.

More typically film noir productions are While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Both were directed by Fritz Lang and comprise his final two American films.

While the City Sleeps (DVD)Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (DVD)

Producer for both films was Bert Friedlob, who had the story ideas ready to go and was an independent operator with the sort of decent studio connections that Lang himself lacked. Another connection between the two films was star Dana Andrews and a felicitous one it was, for Andrews' typically low-key approach fit the lead roles perfectly and conveyed a credibility that benefited the plots immensely. His efforts belied the fact that he apparently had significant drinking issues that compromised his readiness to work when arriving on the set each day. In While the City Sleeps, young women are being murdered by someone dubbed the lipstick killer due to his propensity to leave messages scrawled in lipstick at the crime scenes. The heir to a newspaper empire (Vincent Price) promises the position of editor-in-chief to the one of a group of rivals for the job who cracks the case. Among the competitors are George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, James Craig, and Andrews. Also on hand are Rhonda Fleming as Price's indifferent wife and real-life couple Ida Lupino and Howard Duff, she as a scheming newspaperwoman and he as a police detective. The superior cast is a good match for the solid script that benefited greatly from work by Casey Robinson. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a more compact tale of a writer (Andrews) who hatches a plot with his fiancee's father (Sidney Blackmer) to allow himself to be framed and convicted of the murder of a burlesque dancer. The objective is to reveal the setup after the conviction in an attempt to discredit the practice of capital punishment with its potential for executing innocent men - a particular crusade of Blackmer's in his role as a newspaper publisher. The writer is in fact convicted and sentenced to death, but before the publisher can reveal the proof of the elaborate setup, he's killed in a car accident. Joan Fontaine appears to good effect as Andrews' fiancée and it's left to her to try to clear Andrews as the hour of execution approaches. Both films are thoroughly entertaining and intelligent affairs, but it's interesting that Lang achieves the fatalistic feel of noir without many of its visual trappings. And at least Beyond a Reasonable Doubt doesn't resort entirely to the traditional Hollywood happy ending of the time, instead favouring a degree of consistency with the less savory (or noirish) aspects of society. Both films were originally distributed by RKO in 1956 and have now been remastered for home video release by the Warner Archive of MOD discs. The images are both presented with a 2.0:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is slightly the better-looking of the two titles, offering a more consistently crisp image with good detail evident throughout. While the City Sleeps lacks the same impressive contrast evident on the other disc, it does share the latter's capability of being viewed with comfort on large projection systems. The mono sound on both discs is quite acceptable. No subtitling is provided. Only Beyond a Reasonable Doubt has a supplement - the theatrical trailer. Both releases are recommended.

MGM's The Unfinished Dance (1947) looks good and sounds fine, but is otherwise a rather unnourishing cinematic meal. Margaret O'Brien plays young ballet student Meg Merlin who worships a performer (Cyd Charisse) at her dance school.

The Unfinished Dance (DVD)

When prima ballerina La Darina (Karin Booth) arrives to overshadow her favourite, Meg tries to sabotage La Darina's performance in Swan Lake. Unfortunately, instead of turning out the lights as planned, Meg accidentally throws a switch that opens a stage trapdoor, causing a fall that ends La Darina's career. That's the film's basic setup; the rest consists of Meg's wide-eyed yawn-inducing guilt trips (reminiscent at times of some of the traits of her character in Meet Me in St. Louis), a caricature of a performance of a clock repairer by Danny Thomas as Meg's guardian while her aunt (a popular stage dancer) is on tour, and an unbelievable redemptive ending. Ballet enthusiasts will no doubt say that any film that highlights their art is worthy, but MGM's glossy but hollow treatment of The Unfinished Dance as directed by Henry Koster belies that point of view. A French film based on the same source material (Paul Morand's novel " La mort du cygne") was released in 1937 with the same title as the novel, but later in North America as Ballerina. I haven't seen it, but it's hard to believe it isn't better than The Unfinished Dance. The film is available from the Warner Archive as a MOD disc. The image is full frame as originally shot and looks fairly sharp with only occasional mis-registration issues inherent with the Technicolor material. The colours are quite lush although skin tones look overcooked at times. The mono sound is in good shape and does convey the musical numbers with some sense of dynamism. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer.

Violent Saturday, an early Fox CinemaScope film, has been released on DVD by Twilight Time, a new company that intends to bring out classic Fox product previously unreleased on DVD in Region 1.

Violent Saturday (DVD)

The 1955 film has all the characteristics of the big budget disaster films or Grand Hotel-like epics with the slow build-up in which the lives of various people who will be affected are laid out. In this case, the focal point is a weekend bank heist in the town of Bradenville, carried out after careful planning by the likes of Stephen McNally, J. Carrol Naish, and Lee Marvin. Caught up in the event are an elderly librarian deeply in debt (Sylvia Sidney), a father whose son thinks him a coward because he didn't fight in the war but instead stayed at his job of overseeing copper mining (Victor Mature), a couple whose marriage is on the rocks - he resorting to alcohol (Richard Egan) and she to promiscuity (Margaret Hayes), a timid bank manager who's a peeping tom (Tommy Noonan), and an Amish family headed by Ernest Borgnine. The film is deeply rooted in its 1950s era via the image of a small town seemingly a bastion of normalcy - the TV sitcom-like family life, the un-environmental concern of the copper mine looming over the town, kids fighting over what their fathers did in the war, afternoons spent by well-off wives at the golf course - hiding all manner of abnormalities. The film's title and the outburst of violence it presages is all the more shocking for the placid surface it's going to disturb. And it's interesting that when it comes, the violence is more that of reaction from the citizens than that of the bank-robbers. (Except of course nervous Lee Marvin with the nose spray - you just know he's going to go off half-cocked.) Violent Saturday is nicely controlled by director Richard Fleischer, both in the methodical build-up and the more urgent action scenes surrounding the hold-up and its aftermath. It's a thoroughly engrossing film well worth your time and bears repeated viewings well. Twilight Time's DVD release is a limited edition of 3,000 units sold through Prior to release, purchasers were alerted to the fact that the transfer would preserve the 2.35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, but that an anamorphic image would not be forthcoming as Fox did not have one available. Twilight Time could have commissioned one itself, but financial considerations precluded that possibility on Violent Saturday. (As the label becomes more entrenched and financially secure, it will likely become more feasible to commission anamorphic transfers on future titles when needed.) In any event what we do have looks quite good although it is best seen on smaller screens. Colours are accurate and quite vibrant. Image sharpness is consistently good with only one slight falter during the bank hold-up interior scenes. On larger screens (>50"), the sharpness and colour vibrancy weaken slightly. The stereo sound is strong, offering clear dialogue and some presence to Hugo Friedhofer's music score. The latter is featured on the disc's only supplement, an isolated score track. No subtitling is offered. An 8-page booklet containing an expository essay on the film by Julie Kirgo is a welcome addition. Recommended.

Trying to invoke the memory of John Huston's impressive successes such as The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Asphalt Jungle, and The Man Who Would Be King as an introduction to an evaluation of The Kremlin Letter (as is done in the pamphlet accompanying the recent DVD release of the latter film) is a mistake.

The Kremlin Letter (DVD)

It only serves to remind us how big a failure was and remains The Kremlin Letter. Its script, penned by Huston from the original book by Noel Behn, makes the source material look like a masterpiece of clarity and the general air of failure and contempt it conveys makes viewing the film a dispiriting and at times mind-numbingly drawn-out experience. There are, as in almost any film, some things to applaud. An impressive international cast including Max Von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Richard Boone, Nigel Green, Lila Kedrova, Patrick O'Neal, Orson Welles, and George Sanders labours mightily on all counts. Helsinki stands in impressively as Moscow, as it frequently did in spy dramas. And a spare score by Robert Drasnin at times entrances the viewer enough to take one's mind off the on-screen happenings. The plot revolves around a CIA letter that threatens to spark an international incident whose retrieval from inside Russia draws a young intelligence officer into the orbit of a network of older spies. Huston himself later noted that the tale's qualities of sex, lurid sex, and drugs were all fashionable at the time, but their use in the film ultimately seems more for box office draw than for any integral importance to the plot. The Kremlin Letter was originally announced some half dozen years ago as a release in Fox's Cinema Classics DVD line, but never materialized. Now Twilight Time (with availability through has seized on the title as its initial offering in a line of Fox films that it will be releasing in limited edition runs of 3000 units. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer (of the original 120-minute U.S. release version of the film) is a strong one with the image looking quite sharp on large projection systems. The Deluxe colour holds up well both in terms of accuracy and vibrancy. The mono sound provides clear dialogue. There are no subtitles and the film uses the curious and distracting approach of repeating occasional dialogue spoken in Russian or other foreign languages in English right afterwards. The only supplements are an isolated score track and an 8-page pamphlet on the film's production, reception, and reappraisal. The release can be recommended only for Huston aficionados who know in advance what they're getting into with the film. Others should try a rental first.

I missed seeing Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood when it aired on TCM last fall, so it was with some anticipation that I viewed the new DVD release of the 7-hour, 7-part series.

Moguls & Movie Stars (DVD)

The series' episodes break down as follows: Peepshow Pioneers (1889-1907); The Birth of Hollywood (1907-1920); The Dream Merchants (1920-1928); Brother, Can You Spare a Dream? (1929-1941); Warriors and Peacemakers (1941-1950); The Attack of the Small Screens (1950-1960); and Fade Out, Fade In (1960-1969). Narrated by Christopher Plummer, the enterprise is an ambitious one, striving to be "the story of Hollywood power - the larger-than-life men and women whose interpersonal relationships, collaborations and conflicts created an industry and an art form" as well as "an exploration of the movies as a major influence on the image and reality of the American Dream". The reality is somewhat less. There is far too much that makes up the history and influence of Hollywood to be told in any depth in even a 7-hour series. As a result, many topics are tantalizingly introduced, only to leave us wanting much more as the documentary moves on to something else. Too often what we see and hear is material we've seen and heard before (at least for seasoned Hollywood aficionados). The episodes consist of numerous film clips and interviews with many film historians, critics and biographers as well as descendants of a number of the movie moguls (Warner, Mayer, Zanuck, Goldwyn, Zukor, Fox, Laemmle). Certainly some of the latter are new and worth hearing, particularly when skillfully interspersed with Plummer's authoritative narration. The film clips seem freshest (least familiar on the whole) for the early episodes covering the pre-history and silent days, becoming much less so from the 1930s onward. The result is a series that will work best for the casual viewer lacking a great knowledge of the Hollywood story. For those individuals, the series is an effective starting point and easily recommended. Warner Bros. has released the series on DVD with digibook packaging that includes three discs and a 40-page supporting booklet. The program is presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced image that replicates the original television presentation. The results are pretty much as expected. The new interview material looks sharp and sports natural-looking colour. The numerous film clips look their age for the most part and are mainly though not exclusively presented in their original aspect ratios. The stereo sound is clear. English and French subtitling is provided. Supplementary material consists of panel discussions supporting each episode consisting of TCM host Robert Osborne and a mix of film historians/critics David Thompson, Cari Beauchamp, and Jeanne Basinger plus Moguls & Movie Stars producer Jon Wilkman. Each discussion lasts up to about 10 minutes. Recommended for casual fans of Hollywood. More seasoned film enthusiasts should consider a rental.

As the western began to wane in its popularity as a film genre in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a preoccupation with the sometimes rigorous but often mundane life of the 30-bucks-a-month-and-board cowboy was apparent. Films such as Will Penny, The Hired Hand, Monte Walsh are good examples, but one less often remembered, perhaps because of its uneven original critical reception is MGM's Wild Rovers, available through the Warner Archive.

Wild Rovers (DVD)

Written and directed by Blake Edwards, the film was cut from its original 137-minute length to 106 minutes for its theatrical release in 1971. This apparently resulted from preview audiences' restlessness over the film's length and theme - merely illustrating than attention deficit problems are not just a current-day problem. The film stars William Holden and Ryan O'Neal as a couple of ranch-hands who opine superficially over the empty and non-lucrative nature of their existence. The pair, little given to meaningful deep reflection, determine that robbing a bank will cure all ills. A successful though unorthodox heist has them on their way to Mexico. Unfortunately, the rancher for whom they worked (Karl Malden) takes the robbery as a personal affront and tasks his sons (Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker) with pursing the pair and bringing them back for justice. Wild Rovers takes this thin story line and works wondrous magic upon it through fine cinematography by Philip Lathrop that beautifully captures the west from Montana to the southwest (actual location work was done in Utah [including Monument Valley] and Arizona [Sedona]) and an enjoyable Jerry Goldsmith score that underscores the elegiac nature of the story throughout. William Holden provides a superb characterization as the older of the two ranch-hands, merely confirming in his work of the late 1960s and 1970s how fine an actor he was. Wild Rovers was the second of a trio of westerns that Holden did at this time, the bookends being The Wild Bunch and The Revengers. Ryan O'Neal also contributes a good characterization as the younger ranch-hand. Indeed it's one of the best and most convincing portrayals he's managed in his career. Under Blake Edwards' sure hand, Wild Rovers is like fine old wine, to be sipped gradually as one appreciates its many components, all familiar yet with just a minor twist that each help to give this particular vintage its unique character. Now if Edwards had just been able to utilize some realistic-looking blood! Wild Rovers has been released through the Warner Archive with a 2.4:1 anamorphic transfer. The results are somewhat inconsistent in terms of sharpness and detail. Unfortunately, "muddy" is term that occasionally comes to mind, particularly in the early going. Colours seem a little subdued and the source material is not particularly clean. We do get the originally conceived cut at 137 minutes, with overture and intermission music included. The stereo sound is quite good, offering some directionality and doing justice to the Goldsmith score. There are no subtitles. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer in a lackluster full frame version. Wild Rovers is a film that deserved a proper pressed DVD release with some thoughtful supplements. Its MOD incarnation on the Warner Archive is grudgingly recommended.

Tim Holt Western Classics: Volume 1 delivers ten of Holt's B westerns produced by RKO.

Tim Holt Western Classics: Volume 1 (DVD)

Holt would appear in over 40 such efforts between 1938 and 1952, generally maintaining a high standard throughout the run. RKO had three main B western stars in the 1930s and 1940s, beginning with Tom Keene who gave way to George O'Brien, and then finally Holt. Harry Carey also had a short run as a B western star at RKO in the mid-to-late 1930s. Interestingly many of the plots of the westerns the Keene made got recycled for O'Brien and then Holt over the years too. The first two films in the Tim Holt Western Classics set are both ones in which he had supporting roles to the main star (George O'Brien in The Renegade Ranger [1939] and Harry Carey in The Law West of Tombstone [1938]). The remaining eight, beginning with Along the Rio Grande (1941) and all from the 1941-1942 period, have Holt as the main star. Of these eight starrers, I'd say the best are The Bandit Trail (1941, intelligent plot and features Roy Barcroft), Dude Cowboy (1941, very exciting story), and Robbers of the Range (1941, another involving plot). The lesser titles are Come On Danger (1942, remake of The Renegade Ranger included in the set and less exciting) and Fighting Frontier (1942, undercover tale seems uninvolving). That leaves Along the Rio Grande (1941), Bandit Ranger (1942), and Pirates of the Prairie (1942) - all solid entries, with Pirates of the Prairie particularly notable for Roy Barcroft's crooked turn. These Tim Holt westerns don't have the benefit of the likes of a strong sidekick such as Gabby Hayes, settling instead for Lee "Lasses" White or Cliff Edwards. That would be rectified somewhat in later years when Richard Martin would take on the sidekick role. Overall, as an example of the sorts of B western product available in the early 1940s, this Tim Holt sampling offers plenty of fine entertainment. A couple of the films on a rainy afternoon will soon make you forget any troubles. The set is available from the Warner Archive on MOD discs. It consists of five discs each containing two films. The full frame transfers are all solid with the appearance of a bit of specking and the odd scratch being the worst things you can notice on them. Sharpness and contrast are quite good and image detail equally satisfying. The mono sound is in good shape. There is no subtitling. There are no supplements, but with 10 westerns on 5 discs, you don't really need any. Highly recommended. Bring on Volumes 2 to 4!

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