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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic News, Reviews Round-Up #54 and New Announcements

Welcome to this month's edition of Classic Coming Attractions. We start with a further update on the progress of the Warner Bros. Archive with the listings of titles updated from the previous versions as well.

This time of year is usually one during which we can expect a lot of western titles to come out on DVD. For the first time in a long while, the harvest this year is much reduced. I have reviews of Paramount's Centennial Collection editions of El Dorado and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, VCI's Darn Good Westerns: Volume 1; and MGM's The King and Four Queens and Doc. The Western New Announcements database has been updated as well.

The non-western classic reviews this time out include Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas from Flicker Alley; Pre-Code Hollywood Collection and Cleopatra: 75th Anniversary Edition from Universal; Time Limit and Northwest Frontier from MGM; Man Hunt from Fox; The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin from E1 Entertainment; The Charles Bronson Collection (Telefon/St.Ives) and the TCM Spotlight Doris Day Collection from Warner Bros.; Nickelodeon/The Last Picture Show and The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Six - 1949-1951 from Sony; The Friends of Eddie Coyle from Criterion; and British Cinema: Renown Pictures - Literary Classics Collection from VCI.

As usual, I also have the latest new announcements, with Sony's efforts being very noteworthy. Warners has not only announced a number of new Archive titles, but the studio's program of pressed DVD releases is getting back on the rails with a number of welcome announcements for September and October. The new announcements database has been updated accordingly.

I hope you'll enjoy it all.

Warner Bros. Archive Collection

The past month and a half has seen some modest progress with the Warner Archive, but some aspects still remain problematic. To date, the studio has made no public statement about the issues with the Archive nor what approaches it may be considering to address them. In private, though, Warners has given assurances that it both recognizes all the difficulties that have arisen and intends to address them all. Anyone that has had any dealings with the studio in respect to DVD product knows that such an intent will be carried through on, barring unforeseen obstacles.

On the plus side, new titles continue to be added regularly to the Archive website so that a total of 204 classic films are now available to purchasers as of June 24th (the latest titles are listed in the New Announcements section below). The single disc price of $19.95 remains unchanged, but many sets of multiple discs (for example, 5 Tarzan films, 6 Gary Cooper titles, 4 or 6 Marie Dressler titles, a suite of 7 silent films and a number of other title groupings based upon particular stars or themes) can now be purchased at half price. This is an approach that will be an ongoing feature as far as Archive product is concerned.

The issue of progressive vs. interlaced transfers has also been addressed at least for the more recent releases. These are and all future releases will be progressive. The Archive's introductory 150 titles remain interlaced, but a way to redress this deficiency so that all past and future purchasers will be satisfied is being very actively pursued.

On the negative side of the ledger, the Archive website continues to be an irritant. It's slow and there have been reports of orders being apparently temporarily or permanently lost by the system. The site's support staff originally did not appear to be well-schooled in dealing with order problems. There are signs, however, that this is improving and it should be noted that the support staff generally does make an effort to be a helpful as possible given what the system allows them to do at this time.

Particularly annoying to many is the continued lack of a capability to ship to Canada or abroad. This problem is a combination of rights issues as well as legalities concerning disc presentation (piracy warnings, differences in film ratings systems). It is quite likely that these issues can be addressed for Canadian consumers so that shipping to Canada can resume (it did exist for a very brief window of time soon after the Archive started up) very shortly. Consumers abroad face a longer wait as rights issues are much more complicated than for Canada. It may be that a different vehicle than will have to be developed to deliver the Archive abroad. In the meantime, Canadian and other customers abroad can avail themselves of the fact that titles in the first wave of the Archive are also now available for purchase at $17.99 each from the Movies Unlimited and TCM websites, both of which allow for international purchasers although at incentive-killing shipping costs of $9 and $12.50 per initial disc (and $2.50 and $6.00 per additional disc) for Canadian and those abroad respectively.

There is one related development. Amazon is now listing several exclusives at $25.99 with WB Archive packaging. The titles I've noted, though there may be others too, are The Verdict, 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, The Unsuspected, Doctor Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, Crime School, The Male Animal, The Strawberry Blonde, and Colorado Territory. Amazon does not identify the titles as being from the Archive although the cover art indicates that they are. Nowhere does Amazon state that these are DVD-Rs, but one wonders how many returns Amazon is going to have to process from purchasers unhappy with barebones, un-pressed product at over $25 a pop.

Finally, there has been concern about the Archive replacing Warners' previous program of pressed DVD releases of classic titles. The virtual hiatus in announcements for releases between April and September lent some credence to such fears. There is also no doubt that the recent economic downturn has been a factor in lessening the attractiveness and economic viability of such releases. Announcements over the past few weeks concerning both DVD and Blu-ray classic titles forthcoming this fall (see the New Announcements section at the end of this column), however, should allay much concern from both points of view. When Warners announced the Archive last March, they did say that their regular DVD program would continue apace, and the latest announcements confirm that.

The following list updates all 204 classic Archive titles available at this time (includes titles newly announced, as reported in the New Announcements section of this column).

WB Archive Classic Titles (as of June 24th)

Abdication, The (1974)
Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)
Above and Beyond (1952)
Actress, The (1953)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The (1939)
Adventures of Mark Twain, The (1944)
Ah, Wilderness! (1935)
Al Capone (1959)
All Fall Down (1962)
All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953)
Along the Great Divide (1951)
Angel Baby (1961)
Baby Maker, The (1970)
Badman's Territory (1946)
Bamboo Blonde, The (1946)
Barricade (1950)
Beast of the City, The (1932)
Beau Brummell (1924)
Beggar's Opera, The (1953)
Betrayed (1954)
Better 'Ole, The (1926)
Bhowani Junction (1956)
Big Circus, The (1959)
Big House, The (1930)
Billy the Kid (1941)
Brainstorm (1965)
Break of Hearts (1935)
Breakfast for Two (1937)
Bright Leaf (1950)
Broadway Rhythm (1944)
Bye Bye Braverman (1968)
Cain and Mabel (1936)
Canyon River (1956)
Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969)
Captain Sindbad (1963)
Carbine Williams (1952)
Carson City (1952)
Castle on the Hudson (1940)
Cattle Town (1952)
Chained (1934)
Christopher Strong (1933)
Church Mouse, The (1934)
Citadel, The (1938)
Close to My Heart (1951)
Colleen (1936)
Command, The (1954)
Convicts 4 (1962)
Countdown (1968)
Crescendo (1972)
Crime & Punishment U.S.A. (1959)
Crisis (1950)
Crowded Sky, The (1960)
D.I., The (1957)
Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)
Darby's Rangers (1958)
Defector, The (1966)
Devil Is a Sissy, The (1936)
Distant Trumpet, A (1964)
Divine Lady, The (1929)
Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975)
Dream of Kings, A (1969)
Dream Wife (1953)
Drums of Africa (1963)
Dude Goes West, The (1948)
Dusty and Sweets McGee (1971)
Edison the Man (1940)
El Condor (1970)
Emma (1932)
Exit Smiling (1926)
Fallen Sparrow, The (1942)
First Auto, The (1927)
Flirtation Walk (1934)
Forsaking All Others (1934)
Four Daughters (1938)
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The (1962)
Four's a Crowd (1938)
Freebie and the Bean (1974)
George Raft Story, The (1961)
Goodbye, My Fancy (1951)
Grasshopper, The (1970)
Great Garrick, The (1937)
H.M. Pulham, Esquire (1941)
Happiness Ahead (1934)
Hard to Get (1938)
Hard Way, The (1942)
Having Wonderful Time (1938)
Homecoming (1948)
Honky Tonk (1941)
I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. (1951)
I Was an American Spy (1951)
Ice Follies of 1939 (1939)
Idiot's Delight (1939)
Interrupted Melody (1955)
Invitation, The (1952)
It's Love I'm After (1937)
John Loves Mary (1949)
Johnny Eager (1942)
Joy of Living (1938)
Kaleidoscope (1966)
Kidnapped (1948)
King of the Roaring 20s (1961)
Kiss, The (1929)
Laughing Sinners (1931)
Lepke (1975)
Let Us Be Gay (1930)
Lion Is in the Streets, A (1953)
Little Minister, The (1934)
Lost Boundaries (1949)
Love (1927)
Love on the Run (1936)
Luxury Liner (1948)
Mad Miss Manton, The (1938)
Made in Paris (1966)
Magnificent Yankee, The (1950)
Malaya (1949)
Man from Galveston, The (1963)
Man from God's Country (1958)
Man I Love, The (1946)
Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, The (1973)
Mannequin (1937)
Mating Game, The (1959)
Meet the People (1944)
Men in White (1934)
Min and Bill (1930)
Money Trap, The (1965)
Moonlighter, The (1953)
Mr. Lucky (1943)
Mrs. Parkington (1944)
My Blood Runs Cold (1965)
Nora Prentiss (1947)
Oklahoman, The (1957) Old San Francisco (1927)
On Borrowed Time (1939)
Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
One Sunday Afternoon (1933)
Operator 13 (1934)
Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951)
Party Girl (1958)
Payment on Demand (1951)
Politics (1931)
Possessed (1931)
Pride of the Marines (1945)
Princess O'Rourke (1943)
Private Lives (1931)
Quality Street (1937)
Quentin Durward (1955)
Rage (1972)
Rain People, The (1969)
Rasputin and the Empress (1932)
Ready, Willing and Able (1937)
Red Lily, The (1924)
Red Mill, The (1927)
Reducing (1931)
Return of the Bad Men (1948)
Room for One More (1952)
Roughly Speaking (1945)
Saratoga Trunk (1945)
Scaramouche (1923)
Sea Hawk, The (1924)
Sergeant, The (1968)
Shining Hour, The (1938)
Shipmates Forever (1935)
Shopworn Angel, The (1938)
Sins of Rachel Cade, The (1961)
Skin Game, The (1971)
Smart Set, The (1928)
So This Is Love (1953)
Soldier in the Rain (1963)
Somewhere I'll Find You (1942)
Souls for Sale (1923)
Spitfire (1934)
Spring Fever (1927)
Strange Interlude (1932)
Sunrise at Campobello (1960)
Sweet November (1968)
Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)
Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950)
Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949)
Tarzan's Peril (1951)
Tarzan's Savage Fury (1952)
Task Force (1949)
Temptress, The (1926)
They Only Kill Their Masters (1972)
This Woman Is Dangerous (1952)
Thousands Cheer (1943)
Three Comrades (1938)
Three Sailors and a Girl (1953)
Toast of New York, The (1937)
Today We Live (1933)
Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)
Too Hot to Handle (1938)
Trail of '98, The (1928)
Trail Street (1947)
Tugboat Annie (1933)
Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
We Were Dancing (1942)
Westbound (1959)
When a Man Loves (1927)
When Ladies Meet (1941)
Wichita (1955)
Wild Orchids (1929)
Woman Rebels, A (1936)
Young Tom Edison (1940)

Classic Reviews

MGM doesn't always treat its classic releases on DVD with the care they merit. Time Limit is a good example. The film, originally released through United Artists in 1957, is interesting for being Karl Malden's only directorial effort and for being co-produced by Richard Widmark who also starred.

Time Limit

Based on the play of the same title by Henry Denker and Ralph Berkey, Time Limit deals with the case of Major Harry Cargill (Richard Basehart) who has been charged with and confessed to collaboration with the enemy during the time he was a POW of the North Koreans. The case seems to be an easy one for the Judge Advocate General's office to recommend proceeding with a court-martial, but the officer assigned to the case (Richard Widmark) becomes increasingly suspicious that all is not as cut and dried as it seems. Malden's direction allows suspense to build very effectively as we gradually become aware of the truth of the matter, with the key facts being well hidden until almost the very end. Although the film reveals its stage origins to some extent, Malden does open up the POW camp aspects of it effectively and frames the story with some pleasing exterior waterfront shots. There's a whole raft of fine performances, from Widmark and Basehart right on through supporting work by June Lockhart, Martin Balsam, and Rip Torn. The dilemma that the film addresses, as embodied in Cargill's situation, is presented in an even-handed fashion that allows for thoughtful personal reflection by the viewer, even once the full facts are known. Unfortunately, it appears that MGM didn't inject much thoughtful reflection on its approach to presenting the film on DVD. We get a 1999-vintage effort that offers a 1.66:1 non-anamorphic transfer with no menu, no scene selections, and no supplements. Although the image looks pretty clean and presentable on a small screen, it's an increasing disappointment in terms of sharpness and contrast on any mid-size or larger one. About all one can say positively is that the mono sound is in pretty decent shape. Overall, the film deserves much better.

One of the problems with Universal's rather niggardly approach to doling out releases from its early Paramount holdings has been the relative dearth of early films on DVD from some of the most well-known classic stars, such as Fredric March, Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and Nancy Carroll. Universal's first two offerings in its new Backlot Series are a good start at addressing this deficiency. The Pre-Code Hollywood Collection gives us six Paramount films from the 1931-1934 period that offer up examples of all these stars' work.

The Pre-Code Hollywood Collection

Included are The Cheat (1931, with Tallulah Bankhead), Merrily We Go to Hell (1932, with Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney), Hot Saturday (1932, with Nancy Carroll, Cary Grant, and Randolph Scott), Torch Singer (1933, with Claudette Colbert), Murder at the Vanities (1934, with Kitty Carlisle and Victor McLaglen), and Search for Beauty (1934, with Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino). The fact that these are all pre-Code titles is a second attraction as each manages to violate the still-born Code in several ways whether it be nudity, sadism, violence, drunkiness, or pre-marital sex. Of course, compared to films nowadays, these are all relatively tame affairs as very little is truly overt. Still there is a raunchiness at times that must have been shocking to many audiences of the early 1930s and does look daring even now. On the whole, the six films all spin by in about 70-80 minutes and each is an entertaining experience. The typically impressive Paramount art direction and set design of the time provides a classy look to these films that's worth one's time in itself. Universal presents the films on three discs. The second, containing Hot Saturday and Torch Singer, is the best. Hot Saturday is an engrossing and well-acted tale of small-town young adults at play with a sophisticated and rich playboy (Cary Grant) as a fly in the ointment. Nancy Carroll provides a luminous and energetic performance and the film ends on a very satisfying note. Torch Singer is equally good, with Claudette Colbert dominating the film with a superb multi-faceted portrayal of an unwed mother who manages first to become a very successful cabaret singer and then star of a children's radio program. The good feelings generated by the film are only slightly marred by a rather pat ending. The combination of Murder at the Vanities and Search for Beauty on the set's third disc is almost as good as the second except that it lacks the star power of the latter. Murder at the Vanities offers a familiar back-stage murder plot, but the trappings are classy and there's a wealth of interesting supporting players to watch for (including a young Ann Sheridan as a chorus girl). Search for Beauty, with its tale of two Olympic medal winners (Buster Crabbe and Ida Lupino) whose reputations are taken advantage of by two unscrupulous skin magazine owners (Robert Armstrong and James Gleason) is truly a sight to behold, particularly in some of its dance production numbers featuring semi-clad young men and women prancing around the stage. The film's lighting, courtesy of director and former photographer Erle Kenton, accentuates the film's obsession with the human body. The set's first disc, containing The Cheat and Merrily We Go to Hell, again offers star power, but the stories are somewhat less inventive than the other four titles. The Cheat - at least the third incarnation of a tale first filmed in 1915 by Cecil B. DeMille - concerns an upper-class married woman who settles a gambling debt by accepting money from an unscrupulous man who demands her favours in payment. The film is mainly a vehicle to highlight Tallulah Bankhead and she delivers, while Irving Pichel as the unscrupulous money-lender provides an obvious but deliciously juicy performance. Merrily We Go to Hell is a rather predictable tale of a woman (Sylvia Sidney) who falls in love with a reporter (Fredric March) whose life revolves around the bottle and marries him, expecting to be able to reform his drinking habits in time. The best thing about the film is the work of the two stars particularly the sad-eyed Sidney, but the story hardly supports its 84-minute running time and one eventually tires of repeated scenes of March and his drunken friends at play. Universal has done fine work in its presentation of these six films. There's some obvious print damage evident on all the titles, but the mages are sharp and well detailed. The Cheat is the weakest of them with the image coming across as somewhat soft most of the time. Appropriate but modest grain is apparent on all titles. The mono sound on all is quite good - clear and virtually free of hiss. Universal adds two supplements. One is a 10-minute featurette providing some background on the introduction of the Production Code and its eventual fate. The supplement is fine as far as it goes, but one is left wanting much more detail. The other supplement is a 20-page hard-copy reproduction of the actual Code as of June 13, 1934. One hopes that this DVD release is merely the first in a series of such pre-Code sets from Universal. Highly recommended.

Universal's other entry in its new Backlot Series is Cleopatra: 75th Anniversary Edition. This is the second DVD release for the title, it having appeared as part of the Cecil B. DeMille Collection (previously reviewed here) from Universal three years ago, but was not available separately.

Cleopatra: 75th Anniversary Edition

The film already looked quite good on the original release despite a few scratches and speckles. It offered a crisp image with very good image detail and a modest level of film grain evident. The new transfer offers but a modest improvement with some of the debris cleaned up and a slightly brighter image, but the fine clarity and detail of the first release is about the same. The mono sound is fine, with little if any difference from the first release detectable. The disc's main improvement lies in its supplements. Whereas the original release had none, now we get a very good audio commentary by filmmaker F.X. Feeney, three poster/lobby-card 5x8" reproductions, two featurettes on Claudette Colbert and C.B. DeMille that are fine (at about 10 minutes each) as far as they go but only leave you wanting more, a reprise of the similarly appetite-whetting Pre-Code featurette from the Pre-Code Hollywood Collection, and the theatrical trailer. Even if you have the Cecil B. DeMille Collection, this new Cleopatra: 75th Anniversary Edition release is recommended.

Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas, a single-disc DVD issued by Flicker Alley in association with David Shepard's Film Preservation Associates, is essentially a release of 1927's The Yankee Clipper supplemented by four short subjects.

Under Full Sail: Silent Cinema on the High Seas

The feature, a film made by Cecil B. DeMille's production company, is an entertaining tale of a race between American and English sailing ships from China to Boston with the winner being awarded the contract to handle the tea trade from China to North America. William Boyd (best known for his portrayal of Hopalong Cassidy in the 1930s and 40s, but also a well-regarded star of the late 1920s) plays the captain of the American ship. His real-life wife at the time, Elinor Fair, has the romantic lead and the chief antagonist is John Miljan who attempts to sabotage the American efforts. Boyd is the most persuasive of these three leads despite not being given a lot to do, but the film is nearly stolen by 10-year old Frank "Junior" Coghlan who plays a stowaway about the American ship. The best aspect of the film is the footage aboard the American ship which was obtained by having the cast and crew film at sea for six weeks aboard an actual 1856 wooden square-rigger. Scenes of a typhoon that threatens the ship are particularly well staged. Less persuasive is the script's efforts at generating conflict. The plot angle of the English ship as adversary is under-developed and Miljan's efforts at sabotage are similarly un-compelling. At 81 minutes, however, there's enough going on that one's enjoyment is generally maintained throughout. The version presented here on DVD is apparently the most complete one available since the film's original release and it looks very good. Despite occasional lapses in focus suggesting perhaps the blending of differing source materials, the transfer for the most part is quite sharp and clear and offers pleasing colour tints. The image detail is very good, particularly for a film of this vintage. The stereo organ score (Dennis James in his solo DVD premiere, on a 1928 Wurlitzer pipe organ at Seattle's Paramount Theatre) provides an appealing and appropriate accompaniment that sounds quite robust throughout. Junior Coghlan contributes a 7-minute audio reminiscence of his time on the film. The four shorts (one actually an excerpt from a longer film) included on the disc all provide interesting views of a time and way of life now gone forever. They range in length from 9 to 16 minutes and deal with such things as the transportation of timber along the US eastern seaboard, to whale hunting, to a race from Australia to England, and to life aboard a Polish training ship. The image quality of these shorts is a cut below the feature, but still quite presentable. The Australia-to-English-race short shows some evidence of decomposition. A 16-page booklet providing details about the films and some notes on music scoring for The Yankee Clipper rounds out the supplements. Recommended.

Man Hunt, made by Fox in 1941, has finally made its way to DVD. Based on the novel "Rogue Male" by Geoffrey Household, it begins with the attempt of a British big-game hunter (Walter Pidgeon) to stalk and kill Adolph Hitler.

Man Hunt

His capture by the Germans, eventual escape, and subsequent efforts to elude his German captors (George Sanders, John Carradine) take up the bulk of the film. Having read the compelling original novel, I've always found the film entertaining, but a slight disappointment in comparison to its source material. Perhaps it's the too overt efforts to propagandize the story with a tacked-on ending and the obvious casting of Walter Pidgeon in the lead role that grate a little. It's not that Pidgeon is bad, but he is rather stiff and more of an unknown would have benefited the tale by better implying the uncertainty of the outcome that the book projected so well. George Sanders, on the other hand, was a good choice as Pidgeon's main nemesis. Joan Bennett and Roddy McDowall are also assets, both playing characters who help Pidgeon along the way. Fritz Lang's direction provides the film with good suspense and a number of interestingly composed shots (notably one that explains Pidgeon's survival when pushed off a cliff by the Germans and others showing events from his perspective while trapped in a cave). Fox's full frame presentation is very pleasing. The image is sharp with very good contrast, and accompanied by an appropriate level of grain. Image detail is also notable virtually throughout. The original mono sound is clear and free of distortion. (There's also a stereo track which sounds essentially identical.) Patrick McGilligan (who wrote the excellent Fritz Lang biography, "The Nature of the Beast") provides a thoroughly informative and listenable audio commentary. He also contributes to a making-of featurette that's quite good. Also included on the disc are a restoration comparison, the trailer, and various galleries. Recommended.

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