Wednesday, May 30, 2007

get hep

After last week's MEGA SUPERSIZE roundup, you might be saying to yourself, "Self, that was some exhaustive work pulling all of that stuff together. I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Loophole takes off a week from the roundup." Well, not only would you look kind of strange talking to yourself, you'd also be wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why? After such a big week of releases and re-releases of great DVDs, is there more? The answer is yes, but not too much. In fact there is just really one major DVD release to worry about this week, and some excellent books to throw up on the old shelf. So what say we get started?

Top Shelf Pick of the Week!:
TCM Spotlight Collection: Katharine Hepburn
A couple of weeks ago would've been Katharine Hepburn's 100th birthday. We celebrated her 100th here at the Shelf with one of our (patent pending) Top Ten (11) lists of her best films. So if you would like to go check that out, please feel free to do so by clicking this link. We'll wait til you get back.
Back already? Good. For an example of Hepburn's lesser known work, look no further than this DVD collection. This six disc set includes the films: The Corn Is Green, Dragon Seed, Morning Glory, Sylvia Scarlett, Undercurrent and Without Love. What is so interesting about this collection, beyond the fact that these are all first timers on DVD, is that all of these films echo different parts of Kate's career.

Morning Glory is the earliest in this set, and it is the first performance that earned Hepburn an Oscar. It's the story of someone who achieves stardom all too suddenly, and the possibilities of it fading away just as quickly. Next, Sylvia Scarlett is perhaps one of her most different roles. For the time, when it was released, audiences felt is was too different. The film is about a young women and her father on the run from the police because of stolen goods. Sylvia (Hepburn) cuts her hair and disguises herself as a young man. Audiences had difficulty with this, the balance of depression era grit combined with Hollywood fantasy and supposedly one of the first on-screen kiss between two women. Sylvia Scarlett lost money for RKO and began Hepburn's brief reputation as "box-office poison". However, it was the first pairing of Cary Grant and Hepburn and is Grant's first break out role.

Dragon Seed is a follow up of sorts, of MGM's previous adaptation of a Pearl Buck novel, The Good Earth. Hepburn plays a young Chinese women standing up to the occupation of the Japanese prior to World War II. Undercurrent is small drama directed by Vincente Minnelli and was also the feature film debut of Jayne Meadows. The Corn is Green is a TV movie from very late in Hepburn's career; just a couple of years before she was in On Golden Pond. It's a film based on a 1938 play (that became a 1944 film with Bette Davis) about a Welsh schoolteacher who inspires and teaches a difficult child that others have given up on.

Lastly, Without Love is the third film Hepburn did with Spencer Tracy. It's a wartime romantic comedy, with Tracy as a scientist in WW II Washington, and Hepburn playing his assistant. Their is a housing shortage, because of the war, and the two get a marriage of convenience in order to room together and so that his assistant can continue to work for him. They figure they can marry without love, but they don't figure on falling in love after marriage. All in all, this is a strong set, and I'm glad to see that they are releasing new to DVD films, instead of repackaging others. Perhaps we'll see others in the future. The TCM Spotlight Collection: Katherine Hepburn is definitely a must have for fans of both Hepburn and classic films in general. Others who might enjoy discovering a wonderful actress will also be intrigued by the range of films in this set. It is certainly a different look at Kate's body of work than we've had on DVD in the past. Hopefully, we'll be able to get a full review up soon, so stay tuned.

A Side Note: I've had some emails and comments regarding the WB label: TCM Spotlight Collection. Some have asked if this replaces the TCM Archives or a similarly packaged Signature Collection label. I asked Turner Classic Movies about this, and they've asked us to pass this along:
The TCM spotlight series is NOT replacing the WHV [Warner Home Video] Signature series. The spotlight collections are another branded line with accessible films and stars, at a lower price point through our partnership with WHV. It should serve as a nice companion series to the TCM Archives collections.
So, classic film fans should be happy. Now there are several collection series that will becoming our way to ensure that they are able to release many of the films from the exhaustive Warner Brothers and Turner (MGM) libraries. As long as you keep supporting them and purchasing them, a strong base will justify even more library titles being released. Thanks to Sarah at TCM for answering our questions.

Ronald Reagan: The Ronald Reagan Diaries (edited by Douglas Brinkley)
The Ronald Reagan Diaries is a perfect gift for Dad this father's day. It's a great insight into the man's presidency, personal life, and spirit. Not too long ago we mourned him and watched him laid to rest. His legacy and importance may have been debated, but never questioned or doubted. Even his detractors and critics admit his influence and connection with this country and its people, except for the more hard-bitten, politically twisted among us. He was an important figure and in time, his presidency and life will become more studied and appreciated.

Often you hear talking heads discuss how the current President or other Presidents will be derided in the future. They are talking from ignorance of history and humanity. They speak out of the fork in their mouths that sticks in their political craw. A feeling that many will never escape, because they won't attempt to escape from it. There is, what I like to refer to as a "20/40" rule, when it comes to historical figures. Many are often under appreciated or over appreciated during their time. Twenty years after their deaths, many of their contemporaries will look back on things, and in order to write a memoir or two, will begin to allow some of the truth, some of the uncolored stories to appear. And historians will write with a more accurate appreciation and understanding, for good or ill, than previously thought. Then, in a generation (hence the 40 years), time will allow an even clearer picture to emerge; one not as encumbered by petty jealousies and the clutching of imagined sins. Oh, there will be many books that will emerge to discredit or make a name for an author, but much more material will be available to allow us to have a fuller portrait of the man or woman. If you would like to test this theory for yourself, just take two Presidents: Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and see if it applies.

My point is that reading and having in your library a book like this is a jump on the game. It is, of course, a redaction of the whole, but it is Reagan's own words. Discover him, like you never have before. I know some people out there are sputtering about Al Gore's sour grapes in book form release last week, but the real important book that hit the shelves last week is from someone more Presidential, influential and important. I don't carry who's on the 100 Most Influential people list. One more thing - this is from a guy who was actually President.

Don Rickels: Rickles' Book
About a month ago, I read Bob Newhart's book, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This, and loved it. I've always enjoyed Newhart (and Rickles) and to those who only have a casual familiarity with them will be surprised that the two have been long time best friends. What was even more enjoyable to me about the book, was to read about the life and work of a man who loves his wife and children, and loved them more than his work. No dirty laundry, no desperate attempt to seem relevant (he still is).
Rickles' book seems to be in a similar vein. Here is a man who has had a public face of an insulting and mean man, but according to many accounts of those who know him, nothing could be further from the truth in his private life. There aren't many comedians today that invest much in a public persona that is a character, or an extension of their act. People like Jack Benny, George Burns, even Dean Martin, invested much into it and people still love them and admire them today. I'm looking forward to reading this book precisely because some reviewers that I've read have lamented how boring it was because it doesn't discuss infidelity, drugs, rehab, black outs, terrible childhoods, etc. Wow. Imagine that. A memoir from a famous person who lived and loves the same things you and I do. That's fascinating in my book.

Well, Shelfers, that's all for today. It was a short roundup, but after last week's MEGA SUPERSIZE roundup, that's a good thing. We've still got reviews to catch up on, which we'll be bring you soon. We also have some other posts in the works coming soon, including one tomorrow about TCM (thought I forgot, didn't you? Nope- just saving it for 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.

Well, we're all fools sometimes. Only you choose such awkward times.

Monday, May 28, 2007

some gave all..........

As we fire up the grills today and enjoy family and friends I challenge us all to remember those for whom this day began. For centuries man has engaged in battle. Since time began there has always been a group somewhere who took up arms to defend their own or others who could not do so for themselves. Today we remember those who undertook this duty for our nation, but did not live to return home. I am not ashamed to say that as Americans, we live in the greatest nation on this green earth. God smiles on this country and those who feel otherwise can go jump in a lake.
The Declaration of Independence and Constitution alike are documents inspired of God and we live under the protection of their great canopy today. Lets take today to enjoy our freedoms and remember those who stand watch and hoist that canopy for us.

There is the famous phrase "All gave some and some gave all..". We hear it now and then and most of us pay little attention. Today is the day we remember those who gave all. My grandfather fought in and was wounded in the invasion of Italy in WWII. He is with us today because our family is greatly blessed. There are those who fought alongside him who never made it back to their families. I once heard him talk about the horrors of war saying that since returning home he has thought "Why did I survive? Why is it that when I was injured that I came out OK yet there were so many others who never made it past 19 or 21 years of age and returned home dead." He told me once that he had a great friend in his unit from Tennessee. He said they fought together in North Africa and into Italy. After he was wounded, he was taken to a field hospital and then to Charleston, S.C. to recover. Once he had gained his bearings in Charleston, he says he went to great lengths to check on the status of his friend who was still fighting overseas. In the process of doing so, he discovered to his horror that his unit had gone on to spearhead an attack on a city held by the Nazis and was almost completely wiped out. The list of casualties included his friend. This caused him to wonder why he survived and why he wasn't dead with his friend. I know he is grateful that he is here with us today, but I understand why he has had concern in the past.

There are those who have gone on before who died for the cause of our freedom or for the freedom of another. I don't care what your politics are. Whether it's our freedom or the freedom of some other nation, it is still freedom. People say that our soldier are dying for nothing in Iraq, but I say that disrespects the fallen who went out and put their life on the line for the freedom of another. No soldier ever died for nothing as long as they believed in the cause for which they fought. Let us put partisan views aside today and remember those who will never make it home. For the sake of their memory and the honor of their families, let us join together this day in a moment of silence to remember those who have fallen. I know we've all seen this video clip of the soldier returning from Iraq and surprising his son. As a father of two boys, I know what it is to enjoy the love of your children. In my career I have had several instances where I thought that I might not have made it home to see them again. Luckily I'm still with my family, but as we watch this clip today, let's think of what it is like for all of those little boys and girls past and present who won't get to hug mommy or daddy again. Let's think that even though our soldiers fight for freedom right now in another country, they still fight and die for freedom. Let's honor them for their courage and sacrifice and let's think about what it means when we hear "some gave all".

In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.

Please feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. ."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

John Wayne is America's hero

100 years ago, a boy was born who would change this country forever. Growing up in a small Iowa town as Marion Robert Morrison, the man we now know as John Wayne had no idea of what he would mean to this country and it's people some day. Much is said of the wonderful influence of his characters and films on the movie going world. He is an insurmountable figure in that industry and I feel that goes without saying. From "the Ringo Kid" to "Rooster Cogburn" his on-screen persona's are spoken of in fond remembrance. As we approached the week of his 100th birthday, I was thinking of his portrayals as well, but in a different light. Sure he has influenced actors and such with his attitude on screen, but what about the influence on America?

Growing up, I saw a lot of John Wayne movies thanks to my mother's father. He would get excited and jab me in the ribs with his elbow saying, "Watch this! Watch this!" with all the excitement of a school boy. (J.C. had his share of those moments as well.) I grew older and understood his excitement, but I also grew to understand something else about Mr. Wayne. As the greatest on-screen hero we've ever seen, the Duke had no super powers. He couldn't fly and he wore no special outfit. He was a man like the rest of us, but there was something special in the characters he portrayed. As a matter of fact, that's what he had: Character. We don't dwell on it too much, but it's his character that has made him a hero to many. When you watch Superman or the Hulk, you don't look at Christopher Reeve of Lou Ferrigno as super-human. They are just seen as actors. When you think of John Elder from 'The Sons of Katie Elder' you think , "He wouldn't have been such a tough character if John Wayne wouldn't have played him." This is the same for all of Mr. Wayne's characters throughout his movie career. John Wayne is the common denominator in the hero value of all of his on-screen persona's. He portrayed the best in all of us. Honesty, integrity, patriotism, toughness and tenacity among other things.

These are things that we as individuals can realistically achieve. I feel that is what draws us to his characters. He has character and we want it. Most of us are honest and patriotic, but in reality do we have all of the admirable traits? John Wayne's characters did and it endears him to us. As a country, we like to think of ourselves as being like him: tough and lasting while commanding respect. He is the greatest example of what we should be. He sets the bar for admirable persona. He inspires us to be strong. He inspires us to be true and he inspires us to be tough. John Wayne the man was just a man, but John Wayne as Ringo Kid or G.W. McLintock was who we want to be. He's true to his word and always fair. I feel that even though there are so many wonderful people in this country, we don't have enough John Wayne. He stands for what's good in this country. He stands for what's good in all of us as well as what we all want to become. That's what makes John Wayne the hero of the American people. We close with this great clip of the Duke havin' fun while singing a duet with the late great Dean Martin.

In America you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.

Please feel free to comment if the need strikes you.

Sorry doesn't cut it, dude.

Friday, May 25, 2007

week of the duke: top ten westerns

In the spirit of the Duke's 100th anniversary, Wolf and I thought we would go back over his career and give you our favorite John Wayne Westerns. Our Top Ten List is kicked up to 11 as usual, because in the best Spinal Tap tradition, 11 is one more than 10. I think it would be tough to list out top ten Wayne films, because I've enjoyed so many of his War movies and The Quiet Man, but his westerns are iconic. So we've gone through and picked 11 of his best. All of these films are among our favorites, but some in particular are important and seminal films of the western genre. So we present our Top Ten (11) list first, then with commentary from Wolf and I.

Top Ten (11) John Wayne Westerns
11. Stagecoach
It's not my favorite Wayne film, but an important one nonetheless. John Wayne's dramatic introduction in this film is one of the most important in film history. Though he had performed on film before, this was our true introduction to the Duke. America was grateful and film history still owes a debt of gratitude to that man. His legend began with this film and will continue with it as well as newer audiences find it each year.
The shot that introduced to Ringo (John Wayne) in Stagecoach is about one of the most famous in film history. Starts out wide and closes in fast on his face. Martin Scorsese once said that shot spoke volumes not only about who the character was but how important he was to the story. The same could be said for the actor. Wayne is excellent in the film and John Ford was hard on him, which made him better

10. The Sons of Katie Elder

For the longest time, this was my favorite Wayne film. Dean Martin really proved himself to me in this film. The auctioning of the glass eye is still one of my favorite scenes. I just feel George Kennedy's pain when the Duke takes him out with that ax handle at the undertaker's shop. It's still one of the most impressive strikes I've ever seen portrayed on film.
This film has always been an enjoyable, action-packed romp. The four sons come together in the beginning for their mother's funeral as distant as brothers can get. By the end, blood is truly thicker than water. These guys take on everyone who caused their mother's death and they do it in style.

9. The Cowboys

Being one of the Duke's later films I always expected this one to be a little on the stinky side. Since it's on this list, I guess you can surmise that I've since changed my opinion. Wayne did himself justice as an aging cowboy trying to drive his herd and impart some wisdom to a group of young boys. Really a great tale of knowing when one is on their last 'cattle drive' and taking that time to do for some what one was unable to do for others in the past. You can see the Duke change to a caring father figure for these boys along the way from the hard-nosed trail boss he started as.
You read my take in part II of this week's roundup. Suffice it to say this is one you can't miss.

8. Angel and the Bad Man

Being public domain, I was able to watch this for free on the Internet a couple of years ago and have since wondered why no one has bought the rights to this great film. John Wayne is wonderful as the reformed/jaded hero learning to turn the other cheek and leave blazing guns for the family life. It showed ability in the Duke to play a 'leading man' more than the action hero.
I'm still hoping that this film will be rescued from public domain hell. In the meantime, that means you should be able to find it fairly easily. The script is well written, with some wonderful lines. But watching John Wayne's character evolve from belabored renegade to a man willing to lay down his guns for love is some of his best acting. Gail Russell is wonderful.

7. Hondo

I remember watching this in 3-D with my grandfather a long time ago and it is still a favorite. On the heels of 'The Searchers', this is the second Wayne film I was able to get Mrs. Flywheel to watch with me. It was a great choice as this is a story driven film like 'Red River'. It continued to show the world that Wayne exuded toughness. He came into the film as a stranger, but you knew immediately that his character was one to be reckoned with.

6. Mclintock!

Like several others on this list, this film needs no explanation for it's place on this list. This is absolute perfection for John Wayne and his favorite costar from across the pond. This is such a great tale that stays true to the image of John Wayne and yet allows us to see him have a little fun. My favorite scene has to be the talk he has with his daughter while hunting pheasant. There's something about it that's almost poetic and touches me as a parent. Wayne pulls it off without a hitch. It's also one of the most fun of the Wayne films. "Great party! Where the whiskey!" If you don't realize why that line is funny, then you've never seen the movie.
This is still one of my all-time favorite John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara films. It's a strange, wonderful combination of western, screwball comedy and romance. I think one quote kinda sums it up for me: "I know I'm gonna use good judgement. I haven't lost my temper in 40 years, but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed... and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won't, I won't. The hell I won't!"

5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

John Wayne silences his detractors in this film where he plays opposite of one of America's other treasures, Jimmy Stewart. The Duke plays all emotions of his character with expertise from drama to devastating action scenes. Lee Marvin being ordered by John Wayne to pick up his steak gave me chills when I first saw it. There was no question who the alpha male was after that played out.
Just watching this movie makes me wish that Stewart and Wayne made more westerns together. John Wayne's character demonstrates the hero isn't always the one that takes center stage and takes down all the bad guys. Sometimes he's the one who is willing to back the right idea and the right guy. Even if that means doing it from the wings.

4. Red River
This is the first John Wayne western I was ever able to get my wife to watch all the way through. My wife is more for modern chick flicks and old musicals, but this one was so good it even held her attention. I like to take credit for introducing her to classic movies and though this is a western, it's still very much a classic.
Aside from The Searchers, this is one of the Duke's most different roles, and deep and psychological. His character isn't necessarily the hero, but he is the driving force behind the story. You just keep waiting to see what Montgomery Cliff is going to do. You may not have been half as scared if you didn't know it wasn't the Duke. You know it and I know it.

3. Rio Bravo

If there is something like western perfection it has to have several elements: John Wayne, Howard Hawks or John Ford, impossible odds, tight pacing, humor, a great leading lady and great lines. Oh, and Walter Brennen. This is as perfect as it gets. Hawks sets the scene and the whole story and even backstory in the first few minutes of the film. With no dialogue. Most the film takes place in the small jail and the interplay between all of the characters tell you everything you need to know, without exposition, monologues or flashbacks. In other hands it wouldn't work, but in the hands of Howard Hawks it's an absolute classic. Think of that and then consider this: Howard Hawks hadn't made a film in four years when he made Rio Bravo. Dean Martin turns in one of the best performances of his career. The secondary storyline of Chance (Wayne) and Dude's (Martin) friendship, and Dude's transformation is a movie in and of itself. Hawks effortlessly blends several stories into one great movie. As an added bonus, you get to hear Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson due a couple of songs. By the way, Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez who plays Carlos the owner of the Alamo Hotel, may seem familiar. He started his career as perhaps the funniest contestant on the old show You Bet Your Life. You've heard of that show, haven't you. I'd be insulted if you haven't.

2. The Calvary trilogy (Fort Apache/ She Wore a Yellow Ribbon/ Rio Grande)

Wayne holds his own amongst other stars of the day in this series and plays three different characters who strike you as different stages in the life of one man. Henry Fonda earned my respect playing alongside the Duke in Fort Apache.
This is one of the greatest trilogies, without being a trilogy. Like Wolf said, the Duke is almost playing the same character, but in different phases of his life and career. It's hard to pick my favorite. I love Fort Apache for it's story and Henry Fonda's performance. I love She Wore A Yellow Ribbon for John Wayne's performance; he's old, he's tough, and yet he is tender. ( I love the elder of the Indian tribe who calls him "Nay-tan") And I love Rio Grande for Maureen O'Hara and Wayne and their chemistry and story and all of the great supporting cast.

1. The Searchers

My favorite of all the Wayne films is, I feel, his best. John Wayne was at the top of his game in this showcase of all his talents. His portrayal of a man torn apart inside by rage and emotional distress is positively riveting. It's a masterpiece of John Ford as well and it is in this film where the stars were aligned and the gods were smiling on the movie going world. If you've seen it, then you know what I mean. If you haven't, I have three requests: Doubt me, watch it, and then come back apologize.

There is a reason why this is number one. Because it's a damn masterpiece. If Da Vinci would've made a western, this would have been it.

That's our list. Let's face it, any top ten (or eleven) list is just a list of favorites. Next year, the order might change, but the top three will still be there, in that order. You gotta sound off? Did we miss your favorite? Do you take issue with one of our picks? Then let us know in the comments section. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post celebrating the man himself, which finishes our weeklong tribute to John Wayne.

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 ,

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.

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
, Adios Sabata and Return of Sabata

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.

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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

week of the duke, pt. II

Alrighty gang, here we go with part II of our mega roundup. We've divided up the roundup into a three parter because there is just so much darn good stuff out there it just boggles the mind. If you are a classic film fan, you have a DVD player, extra time and have come into a sizable inheritance recently - well, this is your week! Realizing that most of us don't have sizable inheritances coming our way every week (we hope), The Shelf does our bit in the cause for the classic film fan, but telling you what we think is essential, what are retreads, and what is worth your hard earned dollars.

Today, in part II, we'll cover all of the John Wayne DVDs that are hitting the shelves this week. There are a lot, but there are really a few absolute must haves (after all, you need to save a little for what's coming up in part III). We've dissected ALL of them, and have layed out what's what. Is it new? Is it repackaged? Is it an upgrade from a previous release? We'll answer all those questions for all of the Duke's films hitting the shelves. We'll also link to several excellent recent reviews, so you can know more. If you don't have any of them on DVD, you've got an entirely different problem (see remark about "sizable inheritance" above). So, grab a snack and hang on 'cause here we go!

Worthy Upgrades
All of the DVDs in this section have been previously released in other DVD editions, but are definitely worth the expense in upgrading and highly recommended

Top Shelf Pick of the Week:
John Wayne Special Editions
Rio Bravo: Ultimate Collector's Edition

If you read our post about these special editions from last week, then you already now that Warner's went the extra mile in giving us some great special features and commentaries. If you haven't read it, do so for more information. Suffice it to say, this Rio Bravo: Ultimate Collector's Edition follows in the footsteps of last year's Ultimate Collector's Edition of The Searchers. This film is widely regarded as one of John Wayne's finest westerns, but it should be remembered also as one of Dean Martin's best performances and a great Howard Hawks film. Ricky Nelson makes his screen debut here, and handles himself fairly well with his co-stars.
Rio Bravo is the story of a Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne), who comes to town and arrests Joe Burdette, the brother of the area's most prominent cattleman, Nathan Burdette, for murdering an unarmed man in a bar. Nathan is none to happy and has more than enough money to hire all of the gunman in the vicinity who don't already work for him. There plan is to free Joe before Sheriff Chance is able to move him to a safer jail and court venue out of Burdette's influence. Chance enlists the help of his former deputy, Dude (Martin), who is now a mess; drunk and transfixed on the woman who left him. With Dude, and the old jail guard, Stumpy (Walter Brennan) and a young gun man (Colorado Ryan (Ricky Nelson), the men attempt to hold off Burdette and his men in the small jail.
Rio Bravo is known as Howard Hawks and John Wayne's answer to the film High Noon, which starred Gary Cooper as a lawman left alone by the cowardly townspeople and former comrades to defend against a killer he put in jail. The Duke felt that Cooper's portrayal and the storyline was much too cynically and "cowardly" and Rio Bravo is their response. Hawks and Wayne also remade this film later as El Dorado, with Robert Mitchum in the Dude part. Warner's has remastered the film and audio, packed on the extras, and added reprints of the press book and comic book from the time the film was first released. It's also available in a two disc, Special Edition, without the reprinted material and a few of the extras.

The Cowboys: Deluxe Edition
I saw this film, like I did with most of John Wayne films, with my Grandfather when I was younger. He loved it, but then again, he loves a lot of westerns. I remember seeing this and thinking it wasn't as great as some of the other films. After all, John Wayne was older in this and the bad guys were really mean. Then I watched again when I was much older and I have to say, it had an entirely different effect on me. I was awed by Wayne's performance and the power of the story. Mark Rydell's direction is spot on, and the emotional impact of this film probably resonates more when you are older and can sympathize with what the characters go through.
Warner's also put a lot of thought into the extras and added a commentary with the Rydell, which I am really looking forward to hearing. I won't go into a summary, because DVD Talk (home of Shelf Link resident, DVD Savant) has an excellent review of the film and the DVD. The only justice I can do, is direct you there, and direct you to the store to purchase it.

True Grit: Special Collector's Edition
This is another Wayne film from very late in his career, that I believe gets better with age.., that is the viewer's age. It's hard to connect with John Wayne's characters as they battle age, change in the west, and the feeling of irrelevance (The Shootist) when you are younger. You remember the lines and the shoot outs and the toughness from his earlier films. I think as you go back and revisit his films as you get older, and perhaps having viewed even more of them, you can have a greater appreciation for Wayne's acting and talent. It is unmistakable, but I think when you are younger you just love the fact that the Duke can take out the bad guys. True Grit is a classic, the film he won the Oscar for (although he deserved it for others as well). This film is so much better than I first remember. It has Wayne's comedic flair (if you don't think he had any, you didn't see McLintock!), his toughness and his wonderful portrayal of a flawed, cantankerous, yet tough hero. Paramount has included some excellent extras in the film and I will direct you to check out DVD Talk's excellent review of this DVD edition.

What's New
In this section we point you to the John Wayne films that are out this week, new to DVD.

The John Wayne Film Collection
The films in this set: Big Jim McLain
Without Reservations, Allegheny Uprising, Tycoon, Reunion in France, and Trouble Along the Way are hitting DVD for the first time in this collection. We covered most of the extras in last week's post. These films show John Wayne in some roles we may not be used to seeing. None of the films will be on many Top Ten John Wayne films, but they are interesting nonetheless. Perhaps Without Reservations is the hidden gem of the set, which pairs John Wayne with Claudette Colbert in a romantic comedy, and features cameos from other stars like Cary Grant, Louella Parsons and Jack Benny. Big Jim McClain is perhaps the most forgettable, putting John Wayne in contemporary Hawaii hunting commies. This is an interesting set and one that you should enjoy, especially if you would like to see Wayne in other roles.

What's Repackaged:
These are all the DVD's that are being re-released today, but have been (and in some cases are still) available in previous editions.

There are no extras or any new features to speak of on these DVD's , and as of this posting, we are not aware of any major remastering of film or audio. Basically, if you've got it, don't worry about it. If you don't - now is a good time to pick up a title you've been missing in the collection. We're not including any pictures of individual titles or summaries or links to most individual titles, for space considerations. So check this list against your own collection, to see what's out there:
Individual releases of the films from last year's John Wayne/John Ford Collection:
3 Godfathers
The Long Voyage Home
The Wings of Eagles
The Searchers
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
They Were Expendable
Fort Apache

Other reissues of past releases:
The Green Berets
Operation Pacific
Flying Leathernecks
The Train Robbers
Cahill US Marshall
Back to Bataan
Tall in the Saddle
Blood Alley
The Sea Chase

Double feature discs of past releases:
In Harm’s Way/Donovan’s Reef
The Sons of Katie Elder/The Shootist
El Dorado/Hatari
How the West was Won

Individual Releases of last year's Triple Feature DVDs:
The Man From Monterrey
Ride Him Cowboy
Somewhere in Sonora
The Telegraph Trail
The Big Stampede
Haunted Gold

Also many of these films are collected in several new box sets. Again, nothing new- just repackaging, but it's a great way to get an instant John Wayne collection if you are eager to start:
The John Wayne Adventure Collection
The High and Mighty
In Harms Way
Island in the Sky
Donovan’s Reef

The John Wayne Western Collection
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
True Grit
Big Jake
The Shootist
Rio Lobo
The Sons of Katie Elder
El Dorado

And The John Wayne Century Collection, which basically includes all of the films from the Adventure and Western Collections

Whew! That was a lot of work, but I hope we've dispelled much of the confusion and overwhelming nature of all of the John Wayne releases this week. But don't think this is all for this week's roundup. We've got even more great classic film releases coming your way in part III, including a film that we've been looking forward to being released on DVD for a long time. A Shelf Favorite. 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.

I've broke my back once, and my hip twice. And on my worst day I could still beat the hell out of you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

week of the duke, pt. I

It's John Wayne's 100th birthday this week and the celebration is being embodied in the many DVD releases and re-releases of many of his films on DVD. Turner Classic Movies is also celebrating with a week-long schedule of many unforgettable John Wayne classics. So to give you a heads up on all things John Wayne and to include so many great flicks coming to DVD, we've decided to break up this week's roundup in several parts. First off, our look at some of the things hitting the small screen.

Television: (as always, check local listings for times)
This is the week for several season finales. Our beloved NCIS is having it's finale, The Unit and Numb3rs each had finales last week. Mrs. Loophole is looking forward to the end of The Bachelor (and so I am I, although for a different reason) and she's excited to see who wins Dancing with the Stars. Me? I just wish they still had Circus of the Stars...

Turner Classic Movies:
Being that this is the week of the Duke, naturally we'll present the Shelf's picks for TCM with a John Wayne heavy schedule, with a couple of other great films thrown in for good measures. Here are our picks for the week:

May 22st:
Don't miss this updated documentary by Peter Bogdanovich on the maverick filmmaker, who helped make John Wayne a star: Directed By John Ford (2006). Also today are several of John Wayne westerns that have become legendary classics: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Red River (1948), El Dorado (1967) and The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).

May 23rd:
Today's schedule includes a wide range of John Wayne films. You'll see him in the kind of western you've come to expect such as with Gabby Hayes in Tall In The Saddle (1944), or with Gail Russell in the underrated Angel And The Badman (1947), or in Hondo (1954). You'll also see him from some of the better films from his own production company Batjac, like the historical drama, The Alamo (1960) or the always fun McLintock! (1963). For John Wayne in a different kind of adventure see Island In The Sky (1953) and don't miss the high drama of The High and the Mighty (1954).

May 24th:
For a change of pace don't miss the wonderful small romantic comedy/drama with James Stewart: The Shop Around The Corner (1940). Then catch the Duke as military leader and all around tough guy with In Harm's Way (1965) and The Fighting Seabees (1944).

May 25th:
Start off with a little film noir with Robert Mitchum as he tries to figure a way out of The Racket (1951). Then you'll want to see some of the best films from late in John Wayne's career (aside from True Grit). First is Big Jake (1971) then The Cowboys (1972). Finish off the night with a bit of a fright: Tod Browning's Freaks (1932).

May 26th:
The John Wayne marathon may be over, but the parade of great films continue. See Andy Griffith as you've never seen him before in A Face In The Crowd (1957). Then try a thriller double biller: King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949). Then make sure you see a film that doesn't make it around very often: a comedy starring The Ritx Brothers and Bela Bela Lugosi: The Gorilla (1939).

May 27th:
It's one of the best musicals to come out of the Dream Factory, with the unrivaled Fred Astaire and lovely Cyd Charisse: The Band Wagon (1953). Then it's Disney brand adventure and comedy: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) and The Absent Minded Professor (1961). Later, it's the classic political drama All the King's Men (1949).

May 28th:
Memorial Day Movie Marathon. Don't forget to thank a soldier and the veterans.
Here's the full day's schedule:
Command Decision (1948)
Action In The North Atlantic (1943)
From Here To Eternity (1953)
Sergeant York (1941)
The Battle Of Britain (1969)
Where Eagles Dare (1969)
A Soldier's Story (1984)
Stalag 17 (1953)
The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
Wake Island (1942)

This is only part I of the roundup, kiddies. Next in part II we'll cover the Duke's DVD releases for the week- and believe me, there is a bunch of 'em! 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.

If I felt cynical, this would be a good opportunity to observe that we're about to see a perfect example of "an eye for an eye", et cetera. Unfortunately, I can't quote chapter and verse... and I'm too tired to be cynical.


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