Friday, May 25, 2007

week of the duke, roundup pt. III


In today's part of the roundup we'll cover the rest of the great DVDs hitting the shelves this week. And trust me, there are several you'll want to add to your collection and some you at least want to add to your Netflix queue. That means that we have a rare situation this week in which we actually have a tie for Top Shelf Picks. It was too difficult to choose, so we didn't. So we present to you our other Top Shelf Picks of the Week!

DVD continued:

Top Shelf Picks of the Week II and III
Ball of Fire and Scarface
Two great classics that have long deserved to be on DVD finally arrived this week: Ball of Fire and the original Scarface. Both are directed by the unrivaled Howard Hawks, and no two films could be more different. The man had range!
Last year, we posted a comprehensive review of Ball of Fire, so you can read that by going to this link. Needless to say, we've been anticipating picking this one up the minute it hit the shelves, so The Shelf is a very happy place this week. Unfortunately the DVD is bare bones. No extras to speak of. I am not going to complain too much (last year we suggested: "It would be nice for some great extras- maybe a feature on Stanwyck or Cooper or a documentary about Screwball Comedies or on Howard Hawks."). This is one of those times where we are just glad to have the movie in an excellent DVD presentation, although more thought could have gone into a commentary or something else to inhance the experience of watching the film. That being said, the print is exquisite. The black and white print is crisp and clean, and I've seen no hint of grain or dust. The sound is equally excellent, showing that the masters must have held up extremely well over the years. It has looked great on TCM when it's been featured, it looks just as good, if not better on DVD.
Howard Hawks' Scarface has been one of the most sought after of the gangster films for classic film DVD fans. The original has been surpassed in modern culture by the Brian DePalma/Al Pacino remake. Tony Montana is, of course, more well known than Tony Camonte. That's OK, pop culture and film change and go in different direction. Now that the original is on DVD, it's my hope that it will be "re-discovered" by the same culture that pops off lines like "Let me introduce to my little friend" with great mirth. It was shocking in its day, and its power can still pack a punch today.
Paul Muni leads a steller cast, including George Raft, Boris Karloff and Ann Dvorak. Muni is a wonderful actor, and he brings an element of homicidal glee, infantile need and desire, and dangerous obsession to the character of Tony Camonte. The Ben Hecht screenplay (adapted from the novel of the same name by Armitage Trail) is wonderfully paced and excellently written. You've got to keep up, but you won't get lost. It is a stunning film, and one I have longed to have in a clear, clean print on DVD. I haven't checked it out yet, but we will soon and we'll have a review up next week. In the meantime, I can safely recommend the DVD on the merits of the film alone, because this is what we've got. And to really understand the genesis and rise of the gangster film you need to really to start by seeing two: The Public Enemy and Scarface. And now we have both on DVD.

Universal Cinema Classics
Scarface is just one of four films being released this week under the Universal Cinema Classics banner. The three other films are:
Unconquered, So Proudly We Hail, and No Man of Her Own
Universal continues to dig in their catalog to bring out some classics that deserve to be seen. Earlier this year this first wave hit and brought fans some great films. This is the next wave of releases, with more planned for the rest of the year. No Man of Her Own stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in this lightweight comedy about a card shark who falls in love while hiding out from the police in a small town. Side note: this film was made sometime before Lombard and Gable fell in love and got married. So Proudly We Hail features Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake in a the story about American Army nurses trapped behind enemy lines in the Phillippines in the beginning of World War II, after MacArthur's retreat to Australia. Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard star in Cecil B. DeMille's Unconquered, a sort of colonial America romantic pot-boiler. You've got to see it, at least to witness Boris Karloff as leader of the Native Americans gunning for our hero. All films include an introduction by film historian and Turner Classic Movies host, Robert Osbourne.

Speaking of Gary Cooper...
MGM is really putting out the Gary Cooper material this week. First off, the box set:
MGM Movie Legends Collection: Gary Cooper
This box set features for films: The Cowboy and the Lady, The Real Glory, Vera Cruz, and The Winning of Barbara Worth. Vera Cruz, a western starring Cooper and Burt Lancaster, is perhaps the best known film out of this set. The Cowboy and the Lady starts Merle Oberon as the socialite daughter of a politician who runs off to continue her social lifestyle without ruining her father's political apsirations. She doesn't count on meeting and falling in love with Rodeo cowboy, Stretch (Cooper). The Real Glory features Cooper as a doctor left behind by the American Army in the Phillippines in 1906 to try to get local leaders to defend themselves against dangerous invaders. The Winning of Barbara Worth is an interesting choice, because it is a silent film. Silent films are an unusual entry for box sets. I wish they would trust consumers enough to do it more often. Nonetheless, it looks intreguing and you can learn more about the film from Leonard Maltin here.
Three other Gary Cooper films are being individually released. They also carry the banner label of "Movie Legends Collection." Why the just weren't added to the box set, or released as a Vol. II set, I don't know. Either way, you can click the links for more info: Casanova Brown ,

Criterion:
Sansho the Baliff and The Third Man two disc Special Editon
Two films that are being released by Criterion this week include the reissue of The Third Man in a special two disc edition. The added features may be worth upgrading to this edition if you have the previous Criterion release. Check out this review over by DVD Savant for a closer look. This movie is a Shelf favorite so I think the added documentaries definitely warrent checking it out.
Sansho the Baliff is an interesting Japanese film that is often sited by critics as one of the best aside from Kurosawa's films. It is the very tragic story of two children separate from their parents and sold into slavery, and grow up amid suffering and oppression.


Westerns:
Still with me? Good! I told you this was a banner week for classic film releases. Well, hang on we've got more Westerns than you can shake a stick at! We're going to talk about a highly anticipated Jimmy Stewart western and then give a quick rounddown of the rest of the westerns on tap for this week.

Broken Arrow (Mini-Review)
James Stewart stars is this excellent, thought-provoking story that is based on the historical account of the Apache leader Cochise and the attempts to create a treaty of peace during a time of hostile and relentless war. Stewart plays Captain Tom Jeffords, former soldier and Army Scout who oversees the mail route through dangerous Apache territory. While out panning for gold, Jeffords comes across a wonded Apache boy and heals him and nourishes him back to health. They are soon come upon by a patroling Apache group of men who let Jeffords go unharmed. Jeffords begins to think that there is honor and a sense of fair play among the Apache and he decides to attempt to talk to their leader Cochise about at least letting the mail riders go through in safety. Cochise admires Jefford's courage and honesty, and the two eventually become good friends. So much so, that when a new Army General arrives in the territory with orders to make a lasting peace with the Apache, he seeks out Tom Jefford's help in talking to Cochise. The men agree to an attempt at a treaty and peace, but there are factions on both sides that believe it can never happen. The film also stars Jeff Chandler, who won an oscar for his excellent portrayal of Cochise. This film was perhaps one of the more balanced films of its time, in terms of seeking to portray both sides in a fair light. The digital transfer of the print is fantastic, as the technicolor really comes out and shines, especially during landscape scenes. The sound is as good, and there are several extras included on the DVD, including a reproduction of press material that is digitally accessible with your remote. Two Movietone news segments about the film are included, but for some reason Fox continues to just show the pertinent clips, rather than the whole Movietone reel. I know this doesn't bother many others, but I personally would rather have the entire reel. All in all, this DVD is a great presentation of a classic western. Fans of the genre and of James Stewart or Jeff Chandler in particular will definitely want to pick this up.
There are many other westerns being released this week, including a re-release of the Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brenner Sabata films. Please check the links for more details:
White Feather
Fury and Furnace Creek
Fort Courageous
Gun the Man Down
The Hills Run Red
Convict Stage
Gun Fight
Sabata
, Adios Sabata and Return of Sabata


Musicals:
Tired yet? Don't give up on me now, we're almost done. We can't finish this MEGA SUPERSIZE edition of the roundup without mentioning some 20th Century Fox musicals being released!

This is very notable for being Judy Garland's first feature film. She sings at least three songs on the film that I can recall (I haven't seen it in years). The story revolves around a married couple who are coaches for a small college. They attempt to bolster the football team's lineup when they discover a young "hillbilly" type kid who has a rocket arm. It's a typical formulaic Fox "college musical" which creates a loose story around which song and dance sequences fall into place. Still it's a fun and lightly entertaining time. Several extras make the DVD an excellent purchase: Included are three featurettes: Making the Team: The Talent of Pigskin Parade, Remebering Judy: Lorna Luft On Judy Garland and Meet the Coach: Darryl F. Zanuck. Also included is a Restoration Comparison and the nominal Still Galleries.

Can-Can:
Speaking of a fun time, Fox is also releasing an entertaining Frank Sinatra musical, Can-Can. The film also stars the legendary Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan, Juliet Prowse and a young Shirley MacLaine. Can-Can is set in France in 1896, and is the story of a night club owner, Simone, whose dancers specialize in the saucy dance known as the Can-Can. While it is forbidden, law enforcement is usually too busy looking and talking to Simone's girls to notice. Then a judge decides to rurn up the heat and come down hard on the club. Simone decides to turn up the heat in own way on the judge, which doesn't sit to well with her boyfriend. This 1960 film is based on the Broadway hit of the same name, and the film itself won several Oscars. It isn't the caliber of the musicals that you are used to, but it is light fun and it's entertaining to see the stars perform the Cole Porter tunes. The DVD includes several interesting features. Featurettes: A Leg Up: The Making of Can-Can, The Classic Cole Porter and Book By Burrows: The Man Who Wrote Can-Can. Also included are the trailers, restoration and still galleries.

I love Danny Kaye, and this is one his films that I haven't seen. It also stars the lovely Gene Tierney. Kaye plays Jack Martin, an American entertainer working cabarets on the French Riviera. When he does an impression of a wealthy businessman, Henri Duran (Kaye in a dual role), even his own wife (Tierney) is fooled. Martin finds out that this is not a good thing as Duran is a philanderer and convinces Martin to impersonate him at a party at his home when he has to go on business elsewhere. The problems increase when several of Duran's former flings decide to face off with him. Side note: from what I have read, there is an appearance of the famous painting of Gene Tierney from the film Laura, that is included in the film. It is the only time that the painting is seen in color on film. The DVD also includes some admirable extras. The effort by Fox is duly noted, and we hope it continues. Several featurettes on the DVD are: The Rivera Story: A Remarkable Impersonation, A Portrait of Danny Kaye and The Jack of Clubs: Choreographer Jack Cole. Still Galleries, restoration comparisons and the theatrical trailer round out the disc.

And... that's a wrap! That was a really MEGA SUPERSIZE edition of the roundup. I hope we've made it easier for you to separate the good stuff from out of the stacks and stacks of junk. We know this was a lot to go through, but classic film fans don't often have a bang-up week like today. Warner Brothers continues to lead the way, but after today's releases I am getting more confidence in MGM and Fox's efforts to dig out the gems in their vaults. The Fox Musical and Western DVDs are particularly note worthy for the fine prints and the thought given to the special features, including the on -disc reproduction of press and pr material. Those discs are highly recommended.

Don't go away yet, Shelfers. We've got a bang up conclusion to the Week of the Duke later today and tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Listen, Little Boy, in this business there's only one law you gotta follow to keep out of trouble: Do it first, do it yourself, and keep on doing it.

2 comments:

filmFANATIC said...

In the words of Mr. Burns: "Exxcccelllent." I read your Ball of Fire review and put that, Scarface and Broken Arrow in my Netflix account. I've never seen any of them, but one of my favorite westerns is Bend of the River with Jimmy Stewart - so I am looking forward to that for sure. Look forward to more reviews.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Broken Arrow is great but Winchester 76 is so much better. I am hoping that will be released as a special edition

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