|Classic Coming Attractions #104 - The Christmas Column, 2011
Welcome to the last edition of Classic Coming Attractions for this year. I have the usual mix of new announcements and of classic releases and reviews. The latter are confined to the Warner Archive release of The Andy Hardy Collection: Volume 1 and Warner Bros.' Blu-ray release of the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty. I've taken author's prerogative to include a review that would normally appear in my The British Beat column. It's for the BBC Holiday Comedy & Drama Gift Set. So let's get to it all, but first may I wish every one of you, my faithful readers, a very Merry Christmas and all the best for a happy and healthy 2012! For myself, I look especially for the latter given my health challenges this year. I'm glad to report that they're nicely in check now, however, and I do look forward to the coming year with confidence in that respect. Thanks to all of you who so kindly contacted me during 2011 with your much-appreciated messages of support. I can't adequately convey how much they meant.
Note that I have also updated the new announcements database as usual.
Classic DVD Review
Well, it's been a long time coming, but we finally have the start of the whole Andy Hardy series on disc. Except, not completely. The Warner Archive's MOD release of The Andy Hardy Collection, Volume 1 doesn't include the first Andy Hardy film, A Family Affair (1937).
The six titles it does contain are as follows [with the theatrical release order shown in square brackets after the release year]: You're Only Young Once (1938) , Out West with the Hardys (1938) , Judge Hardy and Son (1939) , Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940) , Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941) , and Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941) . Presumably the missing titles will appear in future Archive volumes, but it would have made more sense to work through the titles in order without gaps. In addition to A Family Affair, the early releases not included in the Archive's Andy Hardy Collection Volume 1 are: Judge Hardy's Children (1938) , Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)  (admittedly already available on DVD), The Hardys Ride High (1939) , and Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (1939) .
The summary for the Andy Hardy series to be found in Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide is a good, precise snapshot of the series and its intent, and I repeat it here for simplicity:
"One of the most popular series of all time, the Hardy family first appeared in A Family Affair (1937) with Lionel Barrymore and Mickey Rooney as father and son. In 1938, You're Only Young Once began the official series in the town of Carvel, with Rooney as Andy Hardy, typical American teenager, interested in cars and girls, Lewis Stone as Judge James Hardy, a stern but understanding father, Fay Holden as his "swell" mother, Cecilia Parker as Marian, his older sister striving to be a young lady, Sara Holden as Aunt Millie, and Ann Rutherford as Polly, the girlfriend who was often neglected for other prospects but to whom Andy always returned. George B. Seitz directed most entries in the series. Testament to the series' appeal was the special 1942 Oscar "for its achievement in representing the "American Way of Life". MGM used the films to springboard young starlets such as Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Esther Williams, Kathryn Grayson, and Donna Reed. The Andy Hardy films do not always wear well; they serve mainly as reminders of an era that is long gone..."
Indeed, The Andy Hardy Collection, Volume 1 reflects these sentiments rather well. The three later films, beginning with an increasingly grown-up Andy Hardy in Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, are much the stronger of the titles in the set. The earlier films serve well in introducing the characters and the nature of their inter-relationships for those viewers who may not be familiar with them already, but the films themselves are rather slow-moving and cutesy at times. Mickey Rooney is always fascinating to watch in his role, though, no matter the quality of the film trappings around him. Aside from the frequently-present Ann Rutherford, Andy has Judy Garland to deal with in Andy Hardy Meets Debutante and Life Begins for Andy Hardy while Kathryn Grayson gets in on the action in Andy Hardy's Private Secretary.
The Archive presents the films each on its own disc and housed in a standard Amaray case. The resulting six cases are fitted into a reasonably sturdy cardboard slipcase. The full frame transfers all look quite presentable with sharp images, good contrast, and a good blend of fairly deep blacks and clean whites. The two earliest titles are characterized by more evident speckling, but it doesn't detract from one's viewing. The mono sound on all the titles does the job satisfactorily, with only some very minor hiss occasionally present. Each title sports the trailer as the only supplement. Highly recommended. Each title is also available separately from the box set, but going the latter way is the economical choice if you want at least three of the titles.
Classic Blu-ray Disc Review
The Nordhoff and Hall novel "Mutiny on the Bounty" was previously filmed by MGM in 1935, yielding a widely praised version starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable that later won that year's Best Picture Academy Award. The story has drama, action, and an exotic locale that made the film a favorite then and an obvious candidate for a remounted version during the widescreen era. Unfortunately, the remake suffered from numerous delays in its production (building the Bounty, completing the script, changing directors from Carol Reed to Lewis Milestone, filming in Tahiti delayed by the rainy season) and questionable casting choices, more than doubling its initial budget to in excess of a then-exorbitant $18 million.
The film's most obvious misstep is the selection of Marlon Brando to play Fletcher Christian (the Clark Gable role). Brando's Christian is a foppish aristocrat with an affected English accent, a presentation that is interesting, but ultimately just proves to be a continual distraction from the story throughout. The choice of Trevor Howard to play Captain Bligh (the Charles Laughton role) is less of an issue as Howard remains true to the spirit of the part while giving it his own spin (less demonstrative, but equally as demanding and vicious). MGM chose to commission a new script (partly to secure Brando's participation) and the result was one that expanded the Tahitian scenes (already the weakest part of the story, as evidenced by the 1935 version) to the point of boredom while doing away with the much more dramatically interesting events of Bligh's captaining of an open lifeboat safely to port after the mutiny. Despite all these issues, there is no doubt that the resulting film is wonderful to look at. The production values are impeccable, from the specially commissioned and built Bounty which served as the filming platform as it was actually sailed to Tahiti, to the south Pacific location shooting, and to the adherence to detail in set decoration and costuming. The film's greatest difficulty is the 1935 version. A viewer who sees the new version after having already seen the older one is likely to be disappointed. A viewer without the experience of the 1935 one will likely be more tolerant.
Whether you're a fan of this version of the Bounty story or not, you should be very pleased with how it looks and sounds on HD. That's what I said in regard to the film's release on HD-DVD some 4 years ago. Nothing significant has changed with its Blu-ray incarnation. The 2.76:1 widescreen imagery, drawing on restored 65mm elements, continues to look sumptuous whether it be shots of the Bounty at anchor or in sail, the stormy ocean, or the tropical paradise of Tahiti. Sharpness and image detail is very good except for a few soft sequences. The image looks very clean and replicates the minor level of film grain very nicely.
The Blu-ray audio, however, is a step up as the HD-DVD's Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio track has been upgraded to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio, with the film's score thundering around one even more vividly at times. The surround work is modest but effective, and some very fine LFE are achieved. The issue on the HD-DVD of a short shipboard sequence that seemed to be slightly out of sync has been addressed and corrected on the Blu-ray.
For a film of such an epic nature, the supplement package is a bit of a letdown. It's essentially the same as that included on the HD-DVD and the previous standard DVD two-disc SE. The presentation of alternative prologue and epilogue sequences not seen theatrically is of interest, but the rest of the material is too focused on one aspect of the film - the Bounty itself. Thus we get a new featurette on the building of the ship specifically for the film and its eventual fate. Accompanying this are four vintage featurettes from the 1960s which also focus on the building of the ship and its promotional use. It's all interesting stuff, but really provides little insight into the making of the film itself - the production issues, its crew and the casting - or the film's subsequent reception. The supplement package concludes with the film's theatrical trailer, but inexplicably lacks the Marlon Brando trailer gallery (3 other titles) found on the HD-DVD.
Overall, though, Mutiny on the Bounty is another example of epic 1960s film-making that has been accorded careful Warner treatment on the video and audio side and the Blu-ray release is recommended.
British TV DVD Review
The British, like Canadians and Americans, do like their Christmas and most of their TV series have regular Christmas-themed shows either integrated into their runs or presented as stand-alone shows during the Christmas season. The BBC has now collected over 10 hours of its Christmas special shows (from the years 1975 to 2008) into a new 4-disc DVD collection called the BBC Holiday Comedy & Drama Gift Set.
The various series represented are as follows - on the drama side: All Creatures Great and Small ("Merry Gentlemen"), Ballykissangel ("Happy as a Turkey on Boxing Day"), Monarch of the Glen ("Hogmanay Special"), Lovejoy ("The Prague Sun"), and Lark Rise to Candleford ("Lark Rise to Candleford Christmas") and on the comedy side: Are You Being Served? ("Christmas Crackers"), Good Neighbors ("Silly But It's Fun"), To the Manor Born ("Christmas Special"), 'Allo 'Allo! ("A Bun in the Oven"), Last of the Summer Wine ("Whoops"), Keeping Up Appearances ("A Very Merry Hyacinth"), Blackadder ("Blackadder's Chistmas Carol"), and The Vicar of Dibley ("Winter"). The Christmas shows are without exception all done within the spirit of the individual series, with the added bonus that the pageantry, festivities, and holiday cheer of the season are highlighted in such a way as "to make even the biggest Scrooge excited for this year's holiday season" (to quote the disc packaging). For example, if you like Hyacinth Bouquet's (not Bucket's) social-climbing antics on Keeping Up Appearances in general (as I certainly do), there's nothing about the show's Christmas special you won't enjoy. Conversely, if you find them wearing indeed, the Christmas show will have you looking at your watch hopefully. Similarly, one of my very favorite drama programs, All Creatures Great and Small with its memorable cast of beautifully drawn characters in James and Helen Herriot, Mrs. Pumphrey, Mrs. Hall, and Siegfried and Tristan Farnon is beautifully represented by the gentle humour and genuine warmth of its obvious affection for the traditions of Christmas in "Merry Gentlemen". For my taste, the other highlights of the package are the Ballykissangel, Lark Rise to Candleford, Are You Being Served, and The Vicar of Dibley episodes.
The various episodes are presented in their original broadcast aspect ratios, which means mainly full frame but 1.78:1 anamorphic in the case of the Lark Rise to Candleford episode for example. The images are consistent with past incarnations of the various series on DVD. For the most part they're quite sharp with decent colour fidelity. Some passages are soft and less well-defined however. The more-recently produced episodes (such as that from Lark Rise to Candleford) fare best in general. The mono and stereo sound (depending upon the episode vintage) is quite adequate for the task. There are no supplements but the English subtitles (SDH) will be welcome to some viewers. Recommended, particularly as a Christmas stocking-stuffer.
New Announcements - Pressed DVD and Blu-ray
Criterion's classic releases for March will appear on the 27th. First up is David Lean Directs Noel Coward available on both Blu-ray and DVD. Each version will be a 4-disc set including In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944), Blithe Spirit (1945), and Brief Encounter (1945). Supplements will comprise: new high-definition digital transfers of the BFI National Archive's 2008 restorations, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray editions; audio commentary on Brief Encounter by film historian Bruce Eder; new interviews with NoŽl Coward scholar Barry Day on all of the films; interview with cinematographer-screenwriter-producer Ronald Neame from 2010; short documentaries from 2000 on the making of In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter; David Lean: A Self Portrait, a 1971 television documentary on Lean's career; episode of the British television series The Southbank Show from 1992 on the life and career of Coward; audio recording of a 1969 conversation between Richard Attenborough and Coward at London's National Film Theatre; trailers; plus a booklet featuring essays by Ian Christie, Terrence Rafferty, Farran Nehne, Geoffrey O'Brien, and Kevin Brownlow. Also available on the same date on both Blu-ray and DVD will be A Night to Remember (1958, Kenneth More). Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent (1959) will be released on March 20th on Blu-ray and DVD.
Hen's Tooth Video has The Count of Monte Cristo (1934, Robert Donat) set for a February 14th release, the same date that they also have The Man in the Iron Mask (1939, Louis Hayward) on tap. Both are apparently officially licensed releases and will have new transfers from fine grain elements as well as English subtitles.
Inception Media Group will release on February 7th on DVD The Jazz Singer, a rare dramatic performance by Jerry Lewis - produced as a special for NBC's Lincoln Mercury Startime TV series in 1959. The hour-long show has apparently never been rebroadcast or distributed in any home video format since its original airing and the DVD has been sourced from Lewis's personal archives.
Kino has a Blu-ray edition of the 1937 Janet Gaynor version of A Star Is Born set for a February 7th release. It will also be available on DVD. Coming on February 28th will be Scarlet Street (1945, Edward G. Robinson) on Blu-ray and Spiders (1919, Fritz Lang) on DVD. Finally, Kino's Blu-ray of the Giorgio Moroder version of Metropolis (1927) was actually released in mid-November. My new classic release database had listed it as a late 2011-early 2012 release. My thanks to RB Brittain for the heads-up.
MGM has announced Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940, Laurence Olivier), Spellbound (1945, Gregory Peck), and Notorious (1946, Cary Grant) for Blu-ray on January 24th, as well as Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) and Annie Hall (1977). Then the studio will have Casino Royale (1967, David Niven) on Blu-ray on February 7th. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963, Spencer Tracy) will also see wide release on Blu-ray on the same date. It had previously been exclusive to Walmart.
The MGM MOD program has announced the following titles for a December 6th release: Hostile Witness (1968, Ray Milland) and House of 1000 Dolls (1967, Vincent Price), and for December 20th: Jennifer on My Mind (1971, Michael Brandon), Jungle Heat (1957, Lex Barker), One Summer Love (1976, Beau Bridges), Something Wild (1961, Carroll Baker), and You Have to Run Fast (1961, Craig Hill). January 3rd releases will include: The Big Caper (1957, Rory Calhoun), Busting (1974, Elliott Gould), Diary of a Bachelor (1964, Joe Silver), The Magnetic Monster (1953, Richard Carlson), The Savage Wild (1970, Gordon Eastman), A Small Town in Texas (1976, Timothy Bottoms), and Vice Squad (1953, Edward G. Robinson).
Milestone Film & Video has announced the Blu-ray and DVD release of Lionel Rogosin's On the Bowery (1957, a mix of documentary and scripted footage) on February 7th. The film has been mastered in 2K from the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna restoration. Extras will include an introduction by Martin Scorsese, the 45-minute The Perfect Team: The Making of On the Bowery documentary, additional restored films by Rogosin - Out and Good Times, Wonderful Times, 4 featurettes and short features (A Walk Through the Bowery, Street of Forgotten Men, Bowery Men's Shelter and Man's Peril: The Making of Good Times, Wonderful Times), and the trailer for On the Bowery.
Olive Films have arranged to license 32 more Paramount titles and they will be released on DVD (with some on Blu-ray) in waves during 2012. The first wave, on February 14th, will consist of three Jerry Lewis films on both DVD and Blu-ray: The Geisha Boy (1958), Rock-a-Bye-Baby (1958) and Boeing Boeing (1965). On February 28th, we'll get the 1958 version of The Buccaneer (Yul Brynner) on both Blu-ray and DVD. The other titles forthcoming in 2012 include: Assault on the Queen (1966, Frank Sinatra), The Buccaneer (1938, Fredric March), Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950, Alan Ladd), Come Blow Your Horn (1963, Frank Sinatra), Denver and the Rio Grande (1952, Edmond O'Brien), The Hangman (1959, Robert Taylor), It's Only Money (1962, Jerry Lewis), The Jayhawkers (1959, Jeff Chandler), The Lawless (1950, Macdonald Carey), Man-Trap (1961, Jeffrey Hunter), My Son John (1952, Helen Hayes), The Night of the Grizzly (1966, Clint Walker), No Man of Her Own (1950, Barbara Stanwyck), Pony Express (1953, Charlton Heston), The Proud and the Profane (1956, William Holden), Run for Cover (1955, James Cagney), The Savage (1952, Charlton Heston), The Savage Innocents (1960, Anthony Quinn), Silver City (1951, Edmond O'Brien), The Slender Thread (1965, Sidney Poitier), Something to Live For (1952, Joan Fontaine), The Spirit is Willing (1967, Sid Caesar), Too Late Blues (1961, Bobby Darin), The Trap (1959, Richard Widmark), The Turning Point (1952, William Holden), Warpath (1951, Edmond O'Brien), Who's Minding the Store? (1963, Jerry Lewis), and Who's Got the Action? (1962, Dean Martin).
Paramount will release Hawaii Five-0: The Final Season on January 10th (1979-80, 5 disc set, extras include a featurette called "Crime Wave"). Mannix: The Sixth Season (1972-73, six disc set) is set for January 24th. Both releases are in association with CBS Home Entertainment. Coming on February 7th on Blu-ray will be Love Story (1970, Ali McGraw). The disc will include audio commentary by director Arthur Hiller, the Love Story: A Classic Remembered featurette, and the film's trailer. Then on March 6th, Paramount will offer Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955, Cary Grant) on Blu-ray. Supplements will include: audio commentary by Dr. Drew Casper, Hitchcock Film Historian; seven featurettes (A Night with the Hitchcocks; Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America; Writing and Casting To Catch A Thief; The Making of To Catch A Thief; Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch A Thief: and An Appreciation; Edith Head: The Paramount Years); an interactive travelogue; the theatrical trailer, and 4 galleries.
Sony's MOD program has announced the following titles for January 3rd: Before Winter Comes (1969, David Niven), The Black Book (1949, Robert Cummings, aka Reign of Terror), Carolina Blues (1944, Ann Miller), The Child Stealer (1979, Beau Bridges), Luv (1967, Jack Lemmon), Paradise Lagoon (1957, Kenneth More, aka The Admirable Crichton), Take a Girl Like You (1970, Hayley Mills), There's Something About a Soldier (1943, Tom Neal), and Zarak (1956, Victor Mature).
Additions to the TCM/Vault Collection in association with Universal include a Marlene Dietrich Double Feature of Shanghai Express (1932) and Dishonored (1931) - on February 6th. Sony's next Vault Collection collaboration will come in the form of January 16th's Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics III. It will be a five disc set comprising My Name Is Julia Ross (1945, Nina Foch), The Mob (1951, Broderick Crawford), Tight Spot (1955, Ginger Rogers), Drive a Crooked Road (1964, Mickey Rooney), and The Burglar (1957, Dan Duryea).
Terror Inc. Films'/Shadowland Productions' release of The Phantom of the Opera (1925): Angel of Music Edition (dubbed, 3D) has been delayed until mid-December.
Twilight Time will release two films on Blu-ray on January 17th: Picnic (1955, William Holden) and The Roots of Heaven (1958, Errol Flynn).
In honour of its 100th Anniversary, Universal will be releasing a series of catalogue films on Blu-ray. Among the first titles will be To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Gregory Peck) on January 31st and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, Lew Ayres) on February 14th. To Kill a Mockingbird will include audio commentary with director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, plus 7 featurettes (A Conversation with Gregory Peck, Fearful Symmetry: The Making of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Remembers, Academy Award Best Actor Acceptance Speech, American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, Excerpt from Tribute to Gregory Peck, and 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics). All Quiet on the Western Front will include an introduction by TCM host Robert Osborne, the silent version of All Quiet on the Western Front, and 2 featurettes (100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics and 100 Years of Universal: Academy Award Winners).
Warner Bros. has announced A Streetcar Named Desire: The Original Restored Version for a Blu-ray Book release on April 10th. This version of the 1951 Elia Kazan classic (staring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh) is the "uncensored" version, which includes 3 additional minutes of footage that was cut by the "Legion of Decency" just prior to the film's original theatrical release. The set will also include an audio commentary (featuring Karl Malden, film historian Rudy Behlmer and Jeff Young), 6 documentaries (A Streetcar on Broadway, A Streetcar in Hollywood, Desire and Censorship, North and the South, An Actor Named Brando and Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey), Marlon Brando's screen test, film and audio outtakes, a Kazan trailer gallery, and a 40-page book filled with photos and text notes.
New Announcements - MOD
One further addition to MGM's November 22nd slate of MOD releases was House of 1000 Dolls (1967, Vincent Price).
For November 22nd, the Warner Archive has added a remastered version of the long-unavailable The Constant Nymph (1943, Joan Fontaine) to its lengthy library of classic titles. Other releases include three Spencer Tracy titles - Northwest Passage (1940), The Seventh Cross (1944), The People Against O'Hara (1951) - and the Monogram Cowboy Collection: Volume One. The latter 3-disc collection includes: Jimmy Wakely in Oklahoma Blues (1948), Partners of the Sunset (1948), Cowboy Cavalier (1948), and Gun Law Justice (1949); Johnny Mack Brown in: Outlaw Gold (1950), Man from Sonora (1950), Oklahoma Justice (1951), and Texas Lawmen (1951); and Rod Cameron in Cavalry Scout (1951). Also coming on the same date are Jeanette Macdonald in Bitter Sweet (1940, with Nelson Eddy) and Smilin' Through (1941); The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1968, MGM documentary narrated by Richard Basehart); and the 1978 TV miniseries about Pearl Harbor - Pearl (Angie Dickinson and Robert Wagner). November 29th brought The Andy Hardy Collection: Volume One. It contains six Mickey Rooney titles: You're Only Young Once (1937), Out West with the Hardys (1938), Judge Hardy and Son (1939), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), Andy Hardy's Private Secretary (1941), and Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941). December 6th's offerings include Serenade (1956, Mario Lanza), Green Dolphin Street (1947, Lana Turner, remastered), and The Robert Montgomery Collection. The latter includes: Shipmates (1931), The Man in Possession (1931), Faithless (1932), Lovers Courageous (1932), But the Flesh Is Weak (1932), Made on Broadway (1933), Live, Love and Learn (1937) and The Earl of Chicago (1940). December 13's releases from the Archive include five Pre-Code double bills: Loose Ankles (1929, Loretta Young)/The Naughty Flirt (1930, Myrna Loy); The Office Wife (1930, Dorothy Mackaill)/Party Husband (1931, Dorothy Mackaill); The Right of Way (1930, Loretta Young)/The Truth About Youth (1931, Loretta Young); Road to Paradise (1930, Loretta Young)/Week-End Marriage (1932, Loretta Young); and I've Got Your Number (1934, Joan Blondell)/Havana Widows (1933, Joan Blondell). Other titles on the December 13th docket are: The Brothers Karamazov (1958, Yul Brynner), Edward My Son (1949, Spencer Tracy), The Great Sinner (1949, Gregory Peck), and The Green Years (1946, Tom Drake).
Well once again, that's it for this outing. I'll return again soon.