Sunday, January 27, 2013

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934) On Blu-Ray

Some of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films are from his so-called "British Period"--before he went to Hollywood to work for David O. Selznick. Unfortunately for many years Hitchcock's British films were only available in lousy public domain versions featuring terrible picture & sound quality. Recently a number of the "British Period" pictures have been released on special edition DVDs including SABOTAGE, YOUNG AND INNOCENT, and THE LODGER. These versions were far and away better than previous discs. The Criterion Company also came out with outstanding editions of THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES.

Criterion does the Master of Suspense more credit with their recent issue of the original THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934). If you have any of those crappy public domain copies of TMWKTM, don't throw them away...burn them. Criterion is a bit expensive, but their TMWKTM is so vastly superior to any other version of the movie so far released, their isn't really any comparison.

The plot is simple: A British couple on holiday in Switzerland (Leslie Banks & Edna Best) inadvertently get involved in a plot to assassinate a European diplomat. Because of the couple's knowledge, their pre-teen daughter (Nova Pilbeam) is kidnapped by the conspirators.

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is sometimes referred to as the first "real" Hitchcock film. I don't agree with that, since he had already made thrillers beforehand, such as THE LODGER, BLACKMAIL, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. I do think that TMWKTM is the first Hitchcock film where all his typical elements seemed to fit together smoothly. There's the innocent protagonists involved in bizarre circumstances, the strangely polite villains, the use of a famous landmark as a background to a violent act (in this film it's the Royal Albert Hall), and one of Hitchcock's most famous trademarks, a current of dark quirky humor. Hitchcock's streak of British eccentricity would continue after he went to America, but it's never more evident than in TMWKTM. At times one wonders whether this is a James Whale movie.

The real star of TMWKTM (other than the director) is Peter Lorre, who plays the main bad guy. This was Lorre's first English-speaking role, and he's brilliant as usual. Hitchcock always planned his films to the smallest detail, but Lorre gives the impression that his character is not scripted. He never acts (or reacts) to things the way you think he should. Mention must be made of Nova Pilbeam as the kidnapped victim. Her portrayal is far more realistic than any typical Hollywood child star. Pilbeam would go on to give one of the best female performances in any Hitchcock film when she starred in the director's YOUNG AND INNOCENT.

The assassination attempt at the Royal Albert Hall is of course a well-known sequence, but the final shootout at the climax of the film is very impressive as well. Most sources claim that Hitchcock was inspired by a real-life London incident known as "The Siege of Sidney Street" when staging the shootout, but the final result bears a certain similarity to the ending of Fritz Lang's DR. MABUSE THE GAMBLER. Hitchcock surely would have been well aware of that production.

The 1934 version of TMWKTM always seems to be compared unfavorably with the 1955 remake, also directed by Hitchcock. The 1955 TMWKTM was in color, and starred James Stewart and Doris Day. The poor quality versions of the original TMWKTM may have something to do with it's being ranked behind the remake. For whatever it's worth I think the original is better. The remake obviously had more money spent on it, and overall it is a far glossier production. But the remake also seems a bit over-produced, and James Stewart and Doris Day are more a Hollywood married couple than a real one. The original "family" of Leslie Banks, Edna Best, and Nova Pilbeam have a certain believability. The 1955 version also doesn't have Peter Lorre, which is a major debit. The biggest example of the differences between the two versions is the running time of each film. The original is a compact 75 minutes, while the remake lasts two hours. One of Hitchcock's most famous quotes has the director saying that the original TMWKTM was the work of a "talented amateur", while the remake was the work of a "professional". More than likely Hitchcock felt the way most directors do (George Lucas, anyone?) in that they could always go back and make their movies better if allowed to do so.

Criterion's Blu-ray of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH features first-rate sound & picture quality, and the usual outstanding extras. They include an interview with filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who discusses his admiration of Hitchcock; a couple of 1972 interviews of Hitchcock conducted by Pia Lindstrom (Ingrid Bergman's daughter) and film historian William K. Everson; audio clips from Francois Truffaut's famous Hitchcock interviews; and an excellent commentary from Philip Kemp.

Most film buffs have probably seen the original THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH at least once. If you have, you still owe it to yourself to try to get to see Criterion's new edition. It really is like seeing the movie for the first time. I've always felt that Hitchcock's British films have more interesting facets to them than some of his more famous American ones. It's great that so many of the "British Period" entries are now available in high quality versions. Hopefully Criterion will decide in the future to add BLACKMAIL and SECRET AGENT to the list.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

THE QUIET MAN on Blu-ray

THE QUIET MAN is one of the most famous and beloved classic films of all time. This is despite the fact that whenever it is shown on television or has appeared on DVD the picture quality has always been very poor. Olive Films has just released a Blu-ray version of THE QUIET MAN which is quite simply a revelation. The film was remastered in HD from a 4K scan of the original negative (don't ask me the details on that...it sounds pretty good, though), and watching the results is like watching THE QUIET MAN for the first time. If you have an old DVD copy of THE QUIET MAN, you might as well throw it away now.

It's a tribute to the greatness of THE QUIET MAN that despite the sub par picture quality, it still held up as one of the most entertaining movies ever made. The Academy Award-winning cinematography of Winton C. Hoch can now be viewed the way it should be, making the film's stature even larger. As is typical of any John Ford directed film, just about every shot looks like a painting--but this Blu-ray brings out so much depth and perspective the "paintings" seem to leap off the screen. Maureen O'Hara always looks good, but in this presentation she's absolutely stunning--a hundred "Maxim" cover girls combined couldn't hold a candle to her.

The only extra on the Blu-ray disc is a featurette called THE MAKING OF THE QUIET MAN from Leonard Maltin....this had already appeared on earlier DVD versions of THE QUIET MAN. The Blu-ray does come with a 36-page booklet on the film's production adapted from Joseph McBride's fine John Ford biography.

There's a lot of people who think that it doesn't make any difference if you put an "old" movie on Blu-ray. THE QUIET MAN from Olive Films is a perfect example of how the technology can not only make an "old" film look better, it can also increase an audience's appreciation of it. Anyone who loves classic cinema should see how THE QUIET MAN looks now.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

DVD Review: CAROLE LOMBARD IN THE THIRTIES

The latest home video release from the Turner Classic Movies Vault Collection is CAROLE LOMBARD IN THE THIRTIES, a set of three films that the actress starred in for Columbia Pictures. None of the films could be called a true classic--in fact, most people may not have even heard of them--but it's nice to get a set of previously unreleased material, especially when it features such a famous star. It's also nice that the set is not on DVD-R, and even better, each movie gets it's own disc, instead of all three being crammed on one.

These films were made between 1932 and 1934, a time when Lombard had not really yet become a huge superstar. Two of the titles were made before Lombard's breakout performance in TWENTIETH CENTURY, and the other was made soon after. None of the three are considered highlights in Lombard's career, but she's excellent in all of them, and far more natural and appealing than any of her co-stars. The big problem is that Lombard is saddled with some very unremarkable leading men in every story--not a good thing when all three pictures basically deal with romantic relationships. While watching the set one wonders why someone as attractive and smart as Lombard would want to be with any of these guys.

Even though all these films could be considered "pre-code", there really isn't a lot of moments in them that make you take notice of the era. They're all somewhat tame, compared to several other movies made at the same time.

Like other TCM Vault Collections, all the films have still & poster galleries as extras. The set was produced by Sony Home Video, and like all their product the sound and picture quality is at a very high standard.

Here's a rundown of the films:

NO MORE ORCHIDS (1932): In this story Carole is a spoiled heiress who is arranged to marry a European prince. She falls in love with a "regular guy" lawyer (played by Lyle Talbot), but circumstances involving her father's (Walter Connolly) finances make Lombard feel she must go ahead and marry the prince. For most of the running time the movie is pretty predictable--poor rich girl torn between real love and saving the family name--but a certain act at the climax takes the story in a totally different and unusual direction. It's an act that probably wouldn't have been allowed to happen by the censors a few years later. The ending is the one thing that most viewers will probably remember about NO MORE ORCHIDS.
Leading man Talbot doesn't make much of an impression, but Lombard gets good support from C. Aubrey Smith, Louise Closser Hale, and especially Walter Connolly, who winds up stealing the film.
Director: Walter Lang.

BRIEF MOMENT (1933): Out of the three titles in the set, this one is the least. Carole is a nightclub singer who marries a rich playboy (Gene Raymond). Lombard soon finds out that her new husband is a lazy, drunken gadabout, and she spends the rest of the film in a hopeless attempt to "reform" him. One gets the feeling that the real-life Lombard would have just socked him in the jaw. Raymond (and the script) really doesn't do anything to show that his character is worthy of Lombard's efforts. His eventual "reformation" just seems contrived. There isn't a lot to recommend here, except that Lombard looks fantastic and has a incredible wardrobe (check out some of the stuff she wares just while lounging around her apartment). We do get to see Lombard perform one song (she was actually dubbed....info courtesy of Vincent Paterno). Directed by David Burton.

LADY BY CHOICE (1934): This is by far the best film in the set. Despite the title and the presence of May Robson, this is not a sequel to Frank Capra's LADY FOR A DAY. It's more like Columbia's attempt to build on Robson's success from Capra's work. Robson plays a variation on her Apple Annie--in this story she's a down-and-out elderly woman who used to be a stage performer in her younger days. As part of a publicity stunt, she's "adopted" by fan dancer Lombard. Robson starts to take her "Mother" role seriously and tries to stop Lombard from making the same mistakes that she did. Robson and Lombard make a great team--one thing that never seems to get mentioned about Carole Lombard is how smoothly she worked with all her co-stars, male AND female. This is really Robson's movie, and Lombard was wise enough to let her take the show. There's a lot more comedy in LADY BY CHOICE then in the other movies in the set, and Lombard is a lot more like "the" Carole Lombard of the latter part of the 1930s. LADY BY CHOICE was released to theaters a few months after TWENTIETH CENTURY, and while it certainly isn't on the level of that film, it's a fine entry in Lombard's career path to superstardom. Leading man Roger Pryor doesn't stand a chance going up against May Robson and Carole Lombard. Directed by David Burton.

If you are a huge fan of Carole Lombard, this set is certainly a must-buy. But it must be said that she is the only reason to purchase this collection. The three films included are not horrible, but if you take away the beauty and style of Lombard, there isn't really much to them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy Birthday To Caroline Munro

Today is the birthday of Caroline Munro, one of the most famous (and beautiful) of all the actresses associated with horror and science-fiction films. She will forever be known as a "Hammer Glamour" girl--even though she made only two movies for the famed British company. In DRACULA A.D. 1972, she was one of Christopher Lee's victims, and her other Hammer outing was CAPTAIN KRONOS--VAMPIRE HUNTER.
Caroline played Vincent Price's late wife in both DR. PHIBES films, and she sported some spectacular costumes in Ray Harryhausen's GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD. She got to co-star with Peter Cushing in Amicus' AT THE EARTH'S CORE, and later starred in the low-budget STAR WARS imitation, STARCRASH.

My favorite of her roles is Naomi in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, where she chases after Roger Moore's James Bond in a helicopter. She doesn't get much screen time, but she steals the film--one wishes she had been in the movie all the way to the end.

Caroline Munro will always have a special place in the hearts of crazed fanboys everywhere due to the rather impressive body of work (ahem) she compiled in the history of fantastic cinema.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Story Of The Blackhawks And Irene Castle

The excuse for this post is the beginning (finally) of the NHL season. But what possible connection could my favorite hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks, have with classic Hollywood cinema?

The Blackhawks were founded in 1926 by Major Frederic McLaughlin, a coffee tycoon. McLaughlin served in the 85th Division of the U.S. Army during WWI. Members of this division called themselves the "Black Hawks", after the Sauk Indian chief who fought Illinois troops in the 1830s. The Major named his new team after his war-time Division.

Irene Castle
 
Major McLaughlin's wife at the time was Irene Castle. Castle had been a huge success as a dancer on the stage with her first husband, Vernon Castle (who ironically died after serving in WWI). The couple achieved world-wide fame and even made some silent films.

The 1926-27 uniform of the Chicago Blackhawks
 
The design of the Chicago Blackhawks first uniforms--and their first logo--is credited to Irene Castle. I have to admit I have always thought that this was probably apocryphal--but Irene Castle was a fashion icon of her day, so it's certainly possible. Besides, the idea of a celebrity designing the team's duds sounds a lot better than some person whose name is lost to history.

The Blackhawks uniform and logo has changed a bit over the years, but the "Indian Head" remains the team's most recognizable symbol. It's one of the most popular and famous team images in all of sports.

 
In 1939, RKO released THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE, a biography of the famed dance team, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as the couple. Of course, the Blackhawks are not mentioned in the movie (the story ends after Vernon dies), but what if they were? The climax could have been something like this:

As Fred Astaire dances away in Heaven, and the background music swells up, we cut to a proudly determined Ginger Rogers, creating one of the most iconic looks in professional sports history.

Now THAT'S an ending.




Original Blackhawk Dick Irvin






Saturday, January 12, 2013

John Ford and Notre Dame Football

I was hoping to post this after a triumphant Notre Dame victory in the BCS National Championship football game. Well, we all know how that turned out....but there's no use in wasting a good blog idea.

In the hype leading up to the game, a number of mentions were made of films such as RUDY and KNUTE ROCKNE, ALL AMERICAN. These of course are two famous representations of the Notre Dame football program. But there happens to be another representation that very few people talk about, and most Notre Dame fans are not even aware of, even though it involves one of the most legendary moments in ND history. And not only that, it appears in a film helmed by one of the most legendary directors in Hollywood history.

The film is 1955's THE LONG GRAY LINE, directed by John Ford.

THE LONG GRAY LINE is a biopic about one Martin Maher (Tyrone Power), an Irish immigrant who starts working at the West Point Military Academy as a waiter and winds up staying there for 50 years. Maher (who really existed) is a strange choice for a biography, in that he's not famous, very successful, or involved in any "heroic" deeds. Because of his long association with West Point, he's a man who stands on the fringes of history. Every working day Marty is surrounded by fame and glory, but he's never able to partake in any of it. This gives the film an odd, bittersweet feeling.

Marty eventually becomes a West Point athletic trainer, and one of his many functions is to assist the Army football team. At about 54 minutes in the film, Marty recounts a game in 1913 in which Army played a then-little-known Catholic school from Indiana--the University of Notre Dame.

Army was a huge football powerhouse in those days, and in the beginning of the sequence, Marty and the West Pointers are pretty confident on what the outcome will be. Marty's more-Irish-than-Irish father (played by Donald Crisp) is shown sitting with a number of Generals, and making bets on the game with them. At first Marty is none too impressed with these so-called "Sons of Erin"--he remarks that Notre Dame is the name of a French Church, not a football team. But things change very quickly when ND quarterback Gus Dorais starts flinging passes to end Knute Rockne, and Army winds up being beaten 35-13. (The photo shows Tyrone Power, second from left, as Marty watching the game. The man wearing the "A" sweater is Harry Carey Jr., who plays none other than Dwight Eisenhower. Ike really was injured at the time, and did not participate in the Army-ND game.)

After the game Marty's father is shown gleefully collecting from the Generals. Marty angrily berates the ND players on the way to the locker room (he stops when the ND priest walks by). Marty then runs into his father, with whom he had placed a $25 bet. "Let that be a lesson to you, my boy," says the father. "Betting against the Holy Mother, the Church!"

Notre Dame really did beat Army 35-13 in that game in 1913. It was considered a huge upset at the time, and it gave the ND football program a huge amount of publicity, especially from East Coast sportswriters.

There's no doubt that because of his Irish Catholic heritage, Ford must have gotten a kick from shooting this sequence. On the surface this seems to be just another of Ford's humorous vignettes, but after Marty's talk with his Dad Ford shows the Army football coach (Ward Bond) telling the players that hopefully today they learned how to deal with the unexpected, since they will surely face it in battle.

THE LONG GRAY LINE is not considered one of John Ford's best films, but it certainly is of interest because of the man who directed it.....and any film which shows Maureen O'Hara in color can't be all bad. Any true Notre Dame football fan needs to see THE LONG GRAY LINE at least one to experience the dramatization of one of the most famous moments in ND sports history.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy Birthday To George Zucco

George Zucco was born in Manchester, England, on January 11, 1886. Zucco had a long career acting on the stage before he became one of the best character actors in Hollywood. (He didn't make his first film until 1931, and he didn't make his first American film until 1936.) Zucco's first real fame as an actor came from performing in the play "Journey's End", where he was directed by James Whale and he co-starred with Colin Clive. All three men would be destined to wind up being most remembered for being involved in Universal horror films.

Most classic horror film fans have a fond regard for Zucco. He was blessed with a rich, melodious voice that he used like a fine-tuned musical instrument. That voice, along with his authoritative British manner, made him perfect for several villainous roles. He was cast as a "Mad Doctor" several times in movies such as THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL, THE FLYING SERPENT, DR. RENAULT'S SECRET, and THE MAD MONSTER. He also appeared three times in Universal's Mummy series as High Priest Andoheb, perhaps his most remembered performance.

Despite the various low-budget thrillers Zucco was associated with, his reputation as an actor was such that he was able to appear in various "prestige" pictures of the era. He can be seen in RKO's 1939 version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, MGM's MARIE ANTOINETTE, THE BLACK SWAN, CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE, and THE SECRET GARDEN.

One of Zucco's more renowned bad guy roles was as Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, up against Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Zucco is considered one of the top Moriartys in the history of Sherlock Holmes films.

My personal favorite George Zucco performance is in THE MAD GHOUL, where his evil Dr. Morris turns poor David Bruce into the title monster. Zucco is the real star of the movie, and he gets a lot more screen time than usual. He even tries to put some moves on Bruce's girlfriend, Evelyn Ankers (you certainly can't blame Zucco for doing that).

Away from the camera Zucco was a mild-mannered homebody who was happily married. Unlike horror stars such as Karloff, Lugosi, Atwill, Clive, and Chaney Jr., Zucco wasn't surrounded by "monster movie gossip".....until a book by Kenneth Anger called HOLLYWOOD BABYLON II claimed that Zucco had gone insane, died in a mental asylum, and his wife and daughter had then committed suicide. The truth of the matter is that Zucco had suffered a stroke while working on the movie THE DESERT FOX. He never made another movie again, and died in a sanitarium (NOT an asylum) in 1960. His wife lived for several years afterward, but unfortunately Zucco's daughter, Frances (who appeared in a few films as an actress in the 1950s) died of cancer two years after Zucco passed.

George Zucco was certainly an excellent movie villain, but more than that, he was one of the finest character actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. If one wishes to know more about George Zucco, I highly recommend reading Gregory William Mank's magnificent HOLLYWOOD'S MADDEST DOCTORS, a triple biography of Lionel Atwill, Colin Clive, and George Zucco. Much of the information in this blog comes from that book.

DVD Review: THE THREE STOOGES--RARE TREASURES FROM THE COLUMBIA PICTURES VAULT

A few years ago, Sony/Columbia began releasing "The Three Stooges Collection", a series of DVD box sets containing all the comedy short subjects that were made by the famed slapstick team during their tenure at Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1959. The shorts were presented in chronological order, and the series ran to eight volumes. Most hardcore Stooges fans (like myself) bought every volume, so they could have the complete collection of Columbia Stooges shorts.

Eventually, Sony/Columbia decided to make a giant box set containing the entire eight volumes. The only "extra" included in the set was a collection called THE THREE STOOGES: RARE TREASURES FROM THE COLUMBIA PICTURES VAULT. Of course, all the fans who had already bought the complete collection weren't too happy--everything on RARE TREASURES had never been released on DVD before, and fans didn't want to buy the complete Stooges again just to get this material. Thankfully for Stooges fans, Sony/Columbia has now made RARE TREASURES available on it's own.

RARE TREASURES is a three-disc set. The first disc contains two feature films: ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES (1945), when Curly was with the group, and HAVE ROCKET WILL TRAVEL (1959), made after the Stooges had been "re-discovered" when their shorts had been released to television.
Disc Two features 14 shorts starring Shemp Howard, and Disc Three features 10 shorts with Joe Besser, and four shorts with Joe DeRita.

Watching the shorts starring Shemp, Besser, and DeRita is a strange experience. It's like viewing an alternate universe where Three Stooges films exist, except the Stooges aren't actually in them. Most of the shorts in this set are remakes of other Columbia comedy entries featuring Andy Clyde, Charley Chase, and yes, the actual Three Stooges. If anything, this set proves that Columbia short subject producer Jules White didn't start reworking material in the 1950s--he was doing it all along. Scripts, gags, storylines, actors, settings.....White re-used anything and everything. Whenever there is a discussion about the successors to Curly Howard, no one seems to bring up the fact that Shemp, Besser, and DeRita had all appeared in Columbia comedy shorts on their own....which means that all three of them had been through the basic Stooge format, and that they had all worked with the Stooges regular directors, writers, and co-stars.

Speaking of co-stars, this set is a nice showcase for Stooge leading lady Christine McIntyre. She appears in 11 shorts featured in this set, and she co-stars with all three of Curly's replacements. The lovely McIntyre holds her own with the future Stooges, and shows a natural comic flair. (She works especially well with Shemp.) Also playing various roles in this set are familiar Stooge supporting players Vernon Dent, Bud Jamison, and Symona Boniface.

All the well known directors and writers of Stooge material are represented here as well: Jules White, Del Lord, Edward Bernds, Elwood Ullman, and Felix Adler.

The following is a list of all the titles included on each disc:

DISC ONE contains the feature films ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES and HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL. There are also three Columbia cartoons in which caricatures of the Stooges appear: BON BON PARADE, MERRY MUTINEERS, and A HOLLYWOOD DETOUR.

Notes: ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES is one of the least-known of the few features starring Moe, Larry, and Curly. This is a "B" part-musical set on a Nevada ranch, with a number of "Western Swing" songs. In this movie Larry and Curly are their usual selves, but Moe actually plays a different role--his character is named "Shorty" and he has a normal haircut! Despite this, he still acts pretty much like the same old Moe--it seems that even when he's playing a "normal" person, Moe just can't help yelling at people and bossing them around. ROCKIN' IN THE ROCKIES is a perfect example of how the Stooges were wasted by Columbia when it came to feature films.

DISC TWO is made up entirely of Columbia shorts featuring Shemp Howard: HOME ON THE RAGE, GLOVE SLINGERS, MONEY SQUAWKS, BOOBS IN THE WOODS, PLEASED TO MITT YOU,  PICK A PECK OF PLUMBERS, OPEN SEASON FOR SAPS, OFF AGAIN ON AGAIN, WHERE THE PEST BEGINS, A HIT WITH A MISS, MR. NOISY, JIGGERS MY WIFE, SOCIETY MUGS, and BRIDE AND GLOOM.

Notes: Three of these shorts are Andy Clyde vehicles, and Shemp comes off way funnier than Andy Clyde. In PLUMBERS Shemp is teamed with El Brendel, and A HIT WITH A MISS is a remake of the classic Stooge short PUNCH DRUNKS (you can catch glimpses of Larry Fine during the story). The best short is MR. NOISY, (a remake of Charley Chase's THE HECKLER) in which Shemp plays the world's most obnoxious sports fan.

DISC THREE contains Columbia shorts starring Joe Besser & Joe DeRita. Besser is featured in WAITING IN THE LURCH, DIZZY YARDBIRD, FRAIDY CAT, AIM FIRE SCOOT, CAUGHT ON THE BOUNCE, SPIES AND GUYS, THE FIRE CHASER, G. I. DOOD IT, HOOK A CROOK, and ARMY DAZE. Joe DeRita is featured in SLAPPILY MARRIED, THE GOOD BAD EGG, WEDLOCK DEADLOCK, and JITTER BUGHOUSE.

Notes: For most Stooges fans, the sound of the name Joe Besser is akin to the sound of fingernails being scratched on a blackboard. I don't hate Besser the way some people do--he can be amusing at times. But if you watch his shorts one right after the other, Joe's "middle-aged whiny kid" routine can get pretty tiresome. While watching the Besser shorts you'll notice that by the time you get to the last of them, they're already remakes of the first few of Joe's movies!
As for Joe DeRita, his shorts are the least interesting--the most noticeable thing about them is that the future Curly Joe has a full head of hair, and he's a bit slimmer than in his official Stooge years (though not by much). Joe DeRita made his name as a Burlesque comedian, and one wonders what he must have been like on the stage, because in these shorts he's very underwhelming.

The final verdict is: if you are a hard-core Stooges fan, this is a must buy. If you only like the Stooges because of Curly, this set is not for you. Columbia should be given credit for putting this material on DVD, but there's plenty more Columbia comedy shorts that still have not seen the light of a home video release.



Friday, January 4, 2013

A 2013 DVD Wish List

You would think by now that every movie ever made would officially be on DVD, but there are still plenty of films missing in action. The following is a quick list of movies that I'd like to see officially released on DVD or Blu-ray in the coming year. I'm sure some of these are available through unlicensed means, or on YouTube. I try to stay away from the bootleg stuff when it comes to DVDs because you never know what kind of quality you are going to get. I'm also sticking to movies that are not on any official Region One DVD, because, well, I'm an American, and I don't have a region-free DVD player. (But as I've mentioned before, any of you gracious readers are more than welcome to buy me one....)

Here's the list:

1. WATERLOO
This 1970 film depicting the famous 1815 battle has always been a favorite of mine because it has the most stupendous war scenes ever filmed. Producer Dino DeLaurentiis and Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk were able to make use of the Red Army, and it shows. It really looks as if thousands of men are trying to kill one another. This movie would really be something in Blu-ray and 5.1 DTS sound.

2. THELMA TODD/ZASU PITTS/PATSY KELLY COLLECTION
Thelma Todd was one of the most beautiful women to ever appear in movies, even though she played mostly comedy roles. In the early 1930s she worked for Hal Roach Studios in a series of comedy short subjects with first Zasu Pitts and later Patsy Kelly. The idea was to try to create a sort of female Laurel & Hardy. The shorts are not as great as L & H's product, but they are certainly worth an official DVD release (there is a huge Thelma Todd cult). One would like to see a box set on the order of the fantastic Laurel & Hardy collection released a couple years ago. As a matter of fact, there's tons of movies produced by Roach that are not available on DVD (including a lot of stuff with Charley Chase).

3. SUPERNATURAL
This is a 1933 film made by Paramount starring Carole Lombard as a woman in danger of being possessed by a murderess. It's certainly one of Lombard's most unusual roles, and it has the added interest of being made by the Halperin Brothers, who had just produced WHITE ZOMBIE. The rights to this are actually owned by Universal, who have a lot of other subjects of interest that they don't seem too concerned to release to DVD.

4. ISLAND OF TERROR
Of course, I have to pick a Peter Cushing film. This one was not made by Hammer, and it's not set in Victorian times. It's a neat little thriller about a remote island community being decimated by man-made bone-devouring creatures. This is more science-fiction than horror, and it is done very well. The director was genre specialist Terence Fisher, which makes one wonder all the more why a Peter Cushing-Terence Fisher movie is not out on Region One DVD. But....it's owned by Universal (see entry above).

5. ANOTHER FRANK CAPRA BOX SET
As I mentioned in an earlier post on the FRANK CAPRA: THE EARLY COLLECTION set, there are still Capra-directed movies not out on DVD. Hopefully Sony sees fit to release a FC:TEC Volume 2, with films like FLIGHT and DIRIGIBLE.

This is just a short list...I'm sure there are plenty of other titles that I'm forgetting. And there's also the number of movies that were released on DVD but are now already out of print. It's kind of funny how people are demanding that certain films be upgraded to Blu-ray, when there are so many titles that haven't even debuted on DVD yet.