Monday, January 29, 2007

THE CHAMP (MGM 1931) Warner Home Video

King Vidor’s The Champ (1931) is the ultimate ‘tragic’ boxing story. The narrative is almost entirely seen through the optimistic eyes of child Dink Purcell (Jackie Cooper) who loves his alcoholic ex-heavyweight champion Andy (Wallace Beery) despite their squalid living conditions Andy’s frequent gambling and drinking debts have created.

The plot thickens when Andy takes Dink to a race tract in Tijuana. There, Dink is introduced to the lovely, wealthy Linda Carleton (Irene Rich), a woman who obviously is more than just a friend.

The kicker comes later: that Dink is actually her and Andy’s son – conceived years before when Andy was ‘the champ’ in all things. Linda's rich husband Tony (Hale Hamilton) figures out this link before anyone else and bribes Andy – not only into seeing Dink more frequently, but as blackmail - $200 against telling Dink who his mother really is. The prospect of having his son uncover the truth sends Andy on a binge.

He loses badly at horses and gambling and ends up in prison after a drunken tirade. Realizing that Dink’s place is with his mother, Andy promises to return for Dink when he’s made his comeback as ‘the champ’ – a misguided venture that leads to his ruin, for Andy isn’t nearly as young as he used to be and the mismatch of his last bout with the reigning Mexican champion in the ring ultimately dooms him.

The Champ is syrupy melodrama a la MGM of this vintage – a would-be gritty tale, made smooth around the edges by the studio’s lavish approach to every strata of society, whether or not that strata leant itself to such glorification.

Ultimately, the tale centers around the unique and poignant father/son charisma generated between Beery and Jackie Cooper; a quality absent in their relationship off camera – but convincingly embodied in the characters they play. We believe the tears, feel the pain, and ultimately come to love a character that otherwise might not be ours to embrace. All in all then, The Champ is a winner. It was remade in the 70s with John Voight and Rick Schroeder – painfully proving my point: that when it came to fanciful make-believe, no one quite managed to suspend reality as readily or with more success than MGM.

Warner Home Video’s transfer is very solid. Occasionally, a hint of edge enhancement crops up but nothing that will distract from the otherwise near pristine black and white picture. Grain is prevalent throughout. The image is sharp with fine detail available even during the darkest sequences. Whites are generally clean. Blacks are solid and deep. The audio has been cleaned up and is presented at an adequate listening level. Extras boil down to two short subjects and a trailer. Ho-hum.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2

PIN UP GIRL (20th Century Fox 1944) Fox Home Video

H. Bruce Humberstone’s Pin-Up Girl (1944) is the film largely accredited with transforming Betty Grable into America’s #1 sweetheart for G.I.’s. However, if that’s the case, there is precious little to recommend either Grable or the film today. A decidedly dated pastiche of flag-waving, mired by a clichéd script from Libbie Block and Robert Ellis, the story concerns canteen cutie, Lorry Jones (Grable).

Lorry is off to join the USO. But not before a slight detour puts her in close proximity to her romantic ideal, naval hero Tommy Dooley (John Harvey). After finagling her way into Eddie Hall’s (Joe E. Brown) exclusive nightclub, Lorry meets Tommy and the two hit it off. Tommy gets Hall to hire Lorry – who fakes a past Broadway career as part of her résumé.

The fact that Lorry can, in fact, sing is just an added plus for the showman who eventually builds an entire review around her – much to the chagrin and fury of headliner and girlfriend, Molly McKay (Martha Raye). A wrinkle develops when Dud Miller (Dave Willcock) claims that he’s engaged to Lorry (a plot point easily explained away, as Lorry has become engaged to the entire armed forces as part of her ‘support the troops’ mentality).

It’s a telling hint that the best number in the film doesn’t feature Grable or her famous legs, but rather a novelty act – simply billed as ‘skating vanities.’ The number attempts (unsuccessfully) to emulate the geometric patterns of a Busby Berkeley musical but has some very skillful routines. If nothing else, they had to be very dangerous. The rest of the musical sequences are incongruously strung together without much thought. Grable’s dull and overly long military drill routine closes the show on a leaden note.

Fox’s DVD transfer is not very good. The Technicolor print is punctuated by an overly turquoise/blue palette that dominates and arguably overpowers all other colors. Flesh tones appear a garish orange or faded pink. Contrast levels are much too weak. The cumulative effect of these shortcomings is a generally muddy print that only occasionally appears sharp – though never detailed.

Overall, the image is much too dark to be enjoyed without viewing it in an entirely dark room. Age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum. The audio has been remixed to stereo, but the mono is more than adequate for this sonically uninspired presentation. Extras include an audio commentary by noted film historian, Richard Schickel, ONE lobby card (not several, as the packaging suggests) and a theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
2

WEEKEND IN HAVANA (20th Century Fox 1941) Fox Home Video

Walter Lang’s Weekend in Havana (1941) is atypical Fox musical fodder greatly buttressed by its lush Technicolor interpretation of Cuba. The plot begins in earnest when a ship runs aground on a reef in Florida. The owner of the line, Walter McCracken (George Barbier – who vaguely resembles the chicken hawk in the Warner Brothers cartoons) sends his son-in-law to be, Jay Williams (John Payne) to secure affidavits from all the passengers promising not to sue.

The only holdout is Nan Spencer (Alice Faye), a rather prudish department store sales girl who claims that her only vacation in ten years has been irreversibly ruined. To make a recompense for her inconvenience, and get her to sign the waver for the cruise line, Jay departs with Nan on a weekend in Havana – a lavish fairyland populated by plush nightclubs and swarthy caricatures of the roving lothario and lusty hothead.

In this former category, Nan meets Monte Blanca (Caesar Romero) – a slick and no good gambler who erroneously assumes that Nan has money…at least enough to pull him out of his debt to racketeer and club owner, Boris (Sheldon Leonard). He concocts a romantic liaison designed to extort the riches he believes Nan has, all the while under Jay’s watchful eye – growing more roving from his own fiancée, Terry (Cobina Wright).

There’s really not much to recommend the film beyond its lush settings and slick packaging. The songs are awkward and rather clumsy. In his desire to get things off to a quick tropical start – Lang opens the story with Carmen Miranda warbling the sultry title track. She is second billed – which is remarkable, considering how little she has to do in the actual film.

Fox’s DVD transfer is, for the most part, a sheer delight. The original majesty of three strip Technicolor exhibits a rich, detailed and ultra vibrant sheen that makes everything sparkle. Fine details are realized throughout. Contrast levels are bang on with deep solid blacks and very clean whites. There are several occasions where the Technicolor image momentarily falters with slight shimmering. There are also several brief occasions (mostly in stock shots of Havana) in which film grain seems quite excessive. Overall though, this is a very pleasing image that will surely NOT disappoint.

The audio has been remixed to stereo. The original mono is also included. There’s very little difference between the two except during the musical sequences. An audio commentary by Jeanine Basinger, ONE collectible lobby card (not more than one, as the packaging suggests) and the film’s original trailer round out the extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2

JOHNNY BELINDA (Warner Bros. 1948) Warner Home Video

Jean Negulesco’s Johnny Belinda (1948) is a decidedly frank little film from Warner Brothers that provides a very compelling portrait of deaf mute, Belinda MacDonald played with uncharacteristic charm and depth by Jane Wyman.

Perceived by the town’s folk as a social outcast, Belinda has lived her life in complete silence on a remote farm off the coast of Nova Scotia, along with her gruff – though understanding father, (Charles Bickford) and his sister Aggie (Agnes Moorehead). But things begin to improve for all concerned with the arrival of Dr. Robert Richardson (Lew Ayres, doing a variation on his ‘Young Dr. Kildare’ persona that made him a star).

Dr. Richardson begins to understand Belinda’s isolation, teaches her sign language, and invests himself in restoring her to the community at large. However, all his hard work is seemingly shattered when Belinda becomes pregnant. The town’s folk – already a bunch of hypocrites – assume the doctor has taken advantage and boycott the two socially. Little does anyone suspect that boorish fisherman, Locky McCormack (Stephen McNally) is the culprit – having raped Belinda one evening in the grist mill.

Unable to speak her mind, Belinda accepts her lot, bears the child and begins to raise him on the farm. But the town’s folk have already decided that she is an unfit mother, and more to the point, that Locky and his new wife, Stella (Jan Sterling) should be the one’s to adopt Belinda’s son.

Attempting to take what he feels is his, Locky murders Belinda’s father by throwing him off a cliff, before charging the house. He is killed in an act of defense by Belinda, who is shortly thereafter put on trial for his murder. However, Stella – it seems – has had a change of heart. She confesses the unholy surprise to a packed court room.

The ending is more or less a forgone conclusion – not very cathartic and rather disappointing, considering the depth of character and narrative tension that director, Negulesco has infused up until that moment. Nevertheless, the film certainly commands a second look – primarily for Wyman’s masterful rendering of the spectrum of human emotions without ever uttering a single word.

Warner Home Video’s transfer on Johnny Belinda is very solid. Occasionally, a hint of edge enhancement crops up but nothing that will distract from the otherwise near pristine black and white picture. Grain is prevalent throughout. The image is sharp with fine detail available even during the darkest sequences. Whites are generally clean. Blacks are solid and deep. The audio has been cleaned up and is presented at an adequate listening level. Extras boil down to two short subjects and a trailer. Ho-hum.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
1

CABIN IN THE SKY (MGM 1940) Warner Home Video

Any intelligent critique of Vincente Minnelli’s Cabin in the Sky (1943) must first lay to rest whatever critical, and perhaps misguided, reservations persist about the issue of racism and its ‘place’ in Americana of the period – particularly within the context of film history. To begin with, the black perspective in films had until 1943 been largely neglected to quaintness for the benevolent slave and dutiful housekeeper.

Save King Vidor’s nostalgic Hallelujah (1929) –which viewed its actors as simpletons of blind religious faith, and 1936’s Green Pastures – which wholly dissatisfied its convoluted visitation on several Biblical verses reinvented for a black audience, the non-Caucasian in Hollywood was at best an appendage to the white establishment – loyal, thoughtful, menial background fodder destined for parody in minstrel shows or merely exploited as comic relief.

Cabin In The Sky had previously been a moderate success on Broadway where tastes in entertainment tended to run more the gamut toward tolerance than outright acceptance. To be certain, Lynn Root, Vernon Duke and John La Touche’s morality play about a wayward do-gooder Joe (Eddie Rochester Anderson) and his determined and forthright spouse, Petunia (Ethel Waters) played it safe by relying heavily on the aforementioned stereotypes.

Yet, in acknowledging this misrepresentation it seems equally prudent to reinstate what is usually and largely forgotten and rarely discussed, though quite obvious when attending a retrospective of 30s/40s American musicals: that rarely are any characters of this vintage – black or white – delineated beyond childlike comedic figures of fun within the musical/ comedy genre.

It must also be stated of MGM during this period, that they could have so easily chosen to ignore Cabin in the Sky – Broadway success et al – in favor of playing it safe with their prospering corporate image as purveyors of ‘family entertainment’. There is another reason to applaud MGM for its conviction. Hollywood’s foreign market, ergo its revenue derived from European exhibition was decimated by the outbreak of WWII.

Though every studio in Hollywood continued with varying degree to experiment with properties that were almost certain not to make a profit the general edict from the dream factories was to hone in the public need for certain kinds of entertainment and provide it to them without question. With its all black cast, Cabin in the Sky was a considerable gamble. Exhibitors in the deep South were more than likely to boycott its release – and did.

It is also saying much of director Vincente Minnelli that he greatly tempered the blanket stereotype of the simple-minded ‘darkie’ into varying gradations seem more enlightened in their understanding and tend to hold up far better than most of the period.

Petunia is not simple-minded (even as film scholar Todd Boyd suggest that she is in ‘Aunt Jemima mode’), but a woman of deeply instilled faith in the power of prayer. The filmic Georgia Brown (Lena Horne) is not as a woman of easy virtue as she remains in the play, but a decisive conniver whose greatest virtue is that she is able to break free of Satin’s power and recognize the error of her ways. Even character actress, Butterfly McQueen (as Petunia’s close friend and confident, Lily), whom arguably endured a legacy in idiotic depictions of child-like slaves and servants is prevented herein from repeating that expectation.

All things considered, Cabin in the Sky is a notable and noteworthy curiosity – developed with great patience under Minnelli’s direction as one of the most unique film musicals ever made. It does not represent the very best of the genre but it does bear the hallmark of perhaps the first ambitious attempt to separate those broad misrepresentations.

Warner Home Video’s DVD of Cabin in the Sky is a disappointment. Not only is it not presented in the original sepia tone it was originally photographed in, but the B&W image is a bit ‘thick’ in texture. Whites are never entirely bright but somehow more of a slightly off-putting gray. Occasionally, edge enhancement crops up, but nothing that will distract. Age related artifacts are present and minimally distracting. The audio is mono and very nicely presented at a moderate listening level.

Special features include an audio commentary by the wife and daughter of Eddie Anderson, Lena Horne, and noted black culture scholars Todd Boyd and Drew Casper. The curiosity in the extras is that Lena Horne’s rendition of ‘Ain’t it the Truth’ is absent. Instead, we are given a short subject – Studio Visit, in which a portion of that number exists, and the audio prerecording of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of that same song, which is lengthy.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
3.5

THE GOOD EARTH (MGM 1937) Warner Home Video

Sidney Franklin’s The Good Earth (1937) is based on Pearl Buck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about Chinese peasants toiling under the hardships of famine, revolution and a thoroughly terrifying locust plague.

One of producer Irving Thalberg’s pet projects begun before – but released after – his death, the story is that of an introvert; young O-Lan (Viennese actress Luise Rainer looking and behaving remarkably convincingly as an Oriental). A slave in a ‘great house’ she is sold in marriage to farmer, Wang Lung (Paul Muni, a bit over the top and out of his depth on this occasion).

O-Lan and her husband work the land and are granted a son. But Wang’s father (Charles Grapewin) and freeloading uncle (Walter Connelly) are superstitious. Eventually their greatest fears are realized when a devastating famine wipes out all of Wang’s crops. Impoverished and forced to flee from the growing ominous shadows of revolution – O-Lan is nearly assassinated by revolutionary soldiers for stealing some jewels from the now decamped ‘great house.’

In a sequence that must rank among the finest Hollywood is ever committed to film, the estate is stormed by starving peasants, ransacked with terrifying speed, leaving O-Lan to be crushed under foot. Trampled, but alive, she awakens to watch as a firing squad shoots many of the peasants for their actions.

But before she can be shot the army is recalled to fight. The reprieve is bittersweet. Giving the jewels to Wang, he mounts a campaign to regain his land. But the plot turns sour when Wang decides to take up with a wanton loot player, Lotus (Tilly Losch), a woman who uses Wang for his money, then turns to his eldest son for affection.

Distraught, Wang banishes both his son and Lotus from the ‘great house’ while O-Lan, who has never fully recovered from her injuries sustained during the looting, looks on. However, before the harvest and exile can take place, a horrifying plague of locust descend on the crops. This sequence is one of the most viscerally disturbing.

Wang’s son comes up with the idea to set ablaze part of the fields to create a smoke barrier between the locust and the rest of the crops. The plan works and Wang’s faith in his son is restored. O-Lan, grateful for the small mercies God has shown them, lies on her deathbed, even as Wang and the rest of the family celebrate the marriage of his son to another Chinese woman. For sheer spectacle and magnificent performances The Good Earth is as fine a film as any Hollywood has ever made. It should be seen by everyone.

Warner’s DVD transfer on The Good Earth is perhaps a tad below par, but still quite viewable. The gray scale in many scenes has been rendered with care. Age related artifacts are perhaps a bit more prevalent on this occasion but still do not distract. Several scenes have an excessive amount of film grain that is just a little distracting – though still, not terribly. Contrast levels are perhaps darker than one would have expected, with fine details often lost during night scenes. The audio is mono, as it should be, and presented at a reasonable listening level. Extras amount to two short subjects and a trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

PINKY (20th Century Fox 1949) Fox Home Video

Cyd Rickett Sumner’s exploration of miscegenation in the prejudiced South was at the crux of his explosive novel, Pinky (1949). In translating the book to screen, writers Philip Dunne and Dudley Nichols lost very little of the potency achieved in Sumner’s tale. Under director, Elia Kazan’s masterful direction, Darryl F. Zanuck’s personal production emerges as a thoughtful, critical and often shocking depiction of a young woman’s desperate attempt to escape her own race.

Patricia Johnson – ‘Pinky’ for short (Jeanne Crain in a role campaigned hard for by Lena Horne), has just returned home after graduating from a nursing program in the North. There, she has fallen in love with Dr. Thomas Adams (William Lundigan) a prominent physician from an upstanding family. All seems right and good – except that Pinky has been concealing her true identity. Born to a black mother and raised by her black grandmother (Ethel Waters), no one suspects that Pinky herself is a black woman.

Determined to escape her heritage, Pinky shuns an invitation from Dr. Canady (Kenny Washington) to induct and help train his African American students. At the behest of her grandmother, Pinky reluctantly takes on the responsibilities of caring for an ailing white woman, Mrs. Em (Ethel Barrymore). For Pinky the assignment is akin to the menial and degrading servitude her grandmother has had to endure. Resenting her charge, Pinky does eventually develop a friendship with Mrs. Em that is based on mutual trust and understanding.

As repayment for her kindness she inherits Mrs. Em’s estate – a good fortune that comes with repercussions. Although Mrs. Em’s belligerent and racially motivated family contest the will, they lose their case only after Pinky decides that the land she has been given is worth fighting for. Assuming the tasks of a laundress, Pinky earns the right to be whatever she chooses – but only if she continues to pretend to be white.

Fox Home Video’s DVD is abysmal and disappointing – with an excessively grainy and rather rough looking B&W image. The gray scale fluctuates from passable to much too darkly contrasted with very dirty whites. Occasionally the image appears softly focused and/or blurry. Edge enhancement is also a problem in several scenes. The audio is presented in both mono and re-channeled stereo. An audio commentary by Kenneth Geist is the one notable extra – very informative and engaging. *IMPORTANT NOTICE: This title NOT available in Canada.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
3

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (20th Century Fox 1950) Fox Home Video

Otto Preminger’s Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950) is quintessential big city noir, yet problematic storytelling, that nevertheless manages to get top marks all around. Bizarre to say the least, it stars Dana Andrews as Detective Mark Dixon. Dixon is a wild card. His father, Sandy was a criminal of the lowest order who died when Dix’ was only seventeen – some say at the hands of new mobster-about-town, Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill, in an unusually slimy bit of ham acting).

Dixon is determined to shake down Scalise, especially after rich Texan, Will Bender (Don Appell) ends up with a knife in his gut at one of Scalise’s floating crap games. Bender and Scalise stooge, Ken Paine (Craig Stevens) got into a bit of a scuff just prior to Bender’s untimely demise. A once decorated war hero who nevertheless likes to beat the stuffing out of guys with cash, and, smack his wife, Morgan Taylor (Gene Tierney) around when she doesn’t behave, Paine is primed for a frame up.

At least that’s how Dixon sees it. Hightailing over to Paine’s apartment, Dixon accidentally slugs G.I. Joe in his steel plate, killing his witness. Rather than confess the accident, Dix’ concocts an elaborate hoax and frame up of his own. Only that plan backfires when Morgan’s father Jiggs (Tom Tully), who Dix’ also knows, gets nailed for the crime.

In the final reel Mark decides its better to die than get arrested for killing Paine. He pens a confession to be opened at the time of his death. But surprise, surprise…Mark lives to take the wrap. Seemingly untouched by the fact that the man she’s been romancing for nearly two hours has not only been a liar but the killer of her husband, Morgan vows to see Mark’s pending arrest and incarceration through. Now, ain’t love grand?

The chief problem with the narrative patched together by Ben Hecht and Robert E. Kent is that it zeros in on Dixon from the start. As the audience, we know Dix’ is guilty of murder and a cover up and we can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Scalise, even though he probably murdered the Texan. Where The Sidewalk Ends was a much anticipated reunion flick for Andrews and Tierney who had previously costarred to exemplary effect in Preminger’s Teflon-coated masterpiece of romantic noir, Laura (1944). Yet, as the story wears on Tierney’s character, Morgan, gets pushed aside in favor of a cynical and critical exploit surrounding Mark’s guilty conscience.

Fox’s DVD transfer is near perfect. The stark noir lighting is ideally captured with deep solid blacks, bright whites and a minimal amount of film grain. Fine details are evident throughout. There are no digital anomalies for an image that is smooth yet sharp and ever so easy on the eyes. Truly, there are no complaints here. The audio is mono as it should be and is presented at an adequate listening level.

By now Alfred Newman’s ‘Street Scene’ music is beginning to wear thin on my acoustic nerve. It seems that nearly every Fox noir and/or melodrama (as well as the Marilyn Monroe comedy ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’) has found a way of inserting repeated strains from this one piece of music. Yes, it’s a brilliant composition. But on the 900th listen it does tend to drive one to distraction…like having the needle on an old gramophone stick in the same spot.

Extras include a fairly informative audio commentary, stills gallery, theatrical trailers and Fox’s utterly annoying ‘downloading movies is illegal’ preview that, honestly, isn’t likely to dissuade those who are pirating DVD’s to throw in the towel any time soon. It’s just frustrating for the rest of us who want to pay for the privilege of watching movies without commercials.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
3

ISLAND IN THE SUN (20th Century Fox 1957) Fox Home Video

The career of 20th Century-Fox mogul/producer Darryl F. Zanuck had reached an impasse by 1957. Perhaps, in part, because Zanuck had left both his studio and his wife, Virginia in favor of a career as independent film maker and aging love interest to actress Bella Darvi, Zanuck’s tastes in motion picture entertainment veered toward personally supervising the Cinemascope production of Island in the Sun (1957): a critical reexamination of love deemed illicit – not on the basis of marital infidelity but on the issue of miscegenation.

Determined, as he had done in the past to advance social justice by exposing the tyranny of prejudices in American culture, Zanuck launched an impressive film with an all star cast, in which black actors Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belefonte are perceived as equal to – if not better than – their white counterparts; James Mason, John Williams and Joan Fontaine.

Belafonte is David Boyeur – a staunchly outspoken labor leader battling racial injustice on an island in the British Caribbean. He is admired from afar by Mavis Norman (Fontaine); a growing mutual admiration that blossoms into romance against this backdrop of political turmoil.
Regrettably, Zanuck was forced to tone down the passion between Boyeur and Norman more explicitly realized in Alec Waugh’s novel. As a result, the subplot involving the Fleury family – American ex-patriots living in exile with their closet full of secrets that include racism, infidelity and murder - were given more meaty attentions.

As expected, the one unrequited kiss shared between Mavis and David sparked moral outrage in the south and Zanuck regrettably omitted most any and all reference to their having been lovers – they’re just good friends. The film is atypical of Fox films of this period – employing Cinemascope for glossy locations, pristine and generally sanitized storylines and a not so unexpected plot twist or two. In retrospect, Island in the Sun does not break new ground or old social taboos but helps assure its audience that fun in the sun comes with its limitations.

Fox’s DVD is astoundingly good. Rich vibrant colors, excellently balanced and with accurate contrast levels, the anamorphic picture will surely please in all aspects. The sumptuousness of 50s Eastman stock is evident. Flesh tones tend to appear a tad on the pasty beige side. Transitions between scenes suffer from minimal degradation as was an inherent flaw of all ‘scope’ productions.

A few scenes seem to be softly focused but these are not particularly distracting either. Age related artifacts are present, but kept to a bare minimum. The audio is a lush 5.1 Dolby Digital remastering effort and it brings back the directional splendor of early stereo recording. Dialogue is perhaps overly pronounced – bearing in mind that most of it during the mid-50s was – but overall the listening experience recreates what audiences heard in 1957.
*Important Notice: this title is NOT available in Canada.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2

THE DARK CORNER (20th Century Fox 1946) Fox Home Video

How odd to find ex-MGM glamour girl and comedian extraordinaire Lucille Ball starring in a film noir; and how wonderful to discover her talents amply suited for Henry Hathaway’s razor-sharp thriller, The Dark Corner (1946). Lucy is Kathleen, the ‘faithful as a bird dog and can’t be devious’ secretary to private eye, Bradford Galt (Mark Stevens). Galt is working his usual batch of unhappy home wreckers when he decides to take a break from the fray with Kate. But the evening turns mysterious when they are tailed by Stauffer (William Bendix) – a decoy designed to put Brad in all the wrong places, starting with a frame up for the murder of his ex-friend, Anthony Jardine (Kurt Kreuger).

Meanwhile, on the more fashionable end of town, art dealer Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb) is entertaining a gala event at his glittering salon. Married to the stunning, and much too young-for-him beauty, Mari (Cathy Downs), Hardy doesn’t suspect that Jardine and his wife are lovers – that is, until the two become stupidly obvious in their love making.

As the chips begin to fall and it looks as though Brad’s going up the river for a crime he didn’t commit, he confesses to Kathleen his deep dark past – that he was framed and took the wrap for Jardine’s criminal activities several years before, a loyalty which doesn’t make much sense but that ironically makes Jardine’s untimely demise look ideally like an act of frustrated revenge.

Hathaway’s direction is rather nimble throughout, moving his characters around like ill fated chess pieces jumping toward their untimely demise. Okay, hiding a body under one’s bed and waiting for the upstairs maid to find it while vacuuming isn’t exactly sound logic or film making – but it gets the prerequisite laugh.

Constance Collier makes a welcome addition to the cast, playing one of her delightfully whacked out society dames – Mrs. Kingsley – for which the character actress was justly famous. Ditto for Clifton Webb’s run-of-the-mill, slightly homoerotic performance as Cathcart – a man who lusts after portraits that resemble his wife.

Running a scant 99 minutes, The Dark Corner gets into more than a few crevices, tipping over rocks and rare collector’s art with equal aplomb and finding the moral decay and grit of low society in some of its highest places.

Fox’s transfer on The Dark Corner isn’t ideal. Although the gray scale is relatively stark and stylized – as it should be – and fairly free of age related artifacts, there’s a considerable amount of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details that crop up sporadically throughout this DVD presentation. Watch for Kathleen’s V-stripped coat to shimmering uncontrollably, as well as background spectral highlights on telephones, chairs and most any other shiny surface. The audio is presented in original mono and a stereo remix. Both are adequate – the stereo only marginally spread across the three front channels. Extras include trailers for this and other Fox Noir titles, as well as an audio commentary by James Ursini.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
3

KITTY FOYLE (RKO 1940) Warner Home Video

I remain at a loss to explain how Ginger Rogers performance in Sam Wood’s Kitty Foyle (1940) earned a Best Actress Oscar over Joan Fontaine’s tour de force in Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

Does Ms. Rogers give a bad performance? - decidedly not.
Katherine ‘Kitty’ Foyle (Rogers) is the product of an era when working women were a novelty. The film spoofs that – even then – bygone era through rose colored glasses. Fast track to contemporary (at least for 1940) life – a woman doesn’t get any consideration or even a seat on the bus.

Kitty is a struggling working gal – albeit living in fashionable clothes in her equally fashionable apartment and with narrowly a care in the world. Hers and the film’s biggest dilemma is which man she should choose – self-centered rich beau, Wynnewood Strafford VI (Dennis Morgan) who merely toys with her affections or flirtatious doctor, Mark Eisen (James Craig) who has offered his hand in marriage and only seems to have Kitty’s best interests at heart. Well…duh? Like, who would any woman pick?

Still, Kitty’s heart goes flip and flutter-up each time Wynn bats an eye. Though she’s less of a cliché around Mark, there’s really nothing to suggest that Kitty will choose either before the final fade out. RKO Pictures spent a lot cultivating a story they thought would appeal to their primarily female audience – and to the tune of $869,000 they were surely not disappointed.

Yet the film continues to feel flat in spots – the machinations of ‘will she or won’t she’ reaching their most entertaining crescendo after Kitty confronts Wynn’s stuffy parents and family – declaring her independence. Overall, the best that can be said of this film in retrospect is that it does not expect too much of its audience. Rogers delivers a rather par for the course performance, but the rather impressively mounted film has mood, setting and atmosphere on its side – all three undoubtedly proving winners.

Warner Home Video’s transfer is another treat. Picture quality on this DVD is remarkable. The gray scale has deep solid blacks and fine tonality throughout. Whites are generally clean. Age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum. This is a wholly visually satisfying transfer. The audio has been cleaned up and is presented in its original mono at an adequate listening level. Extras are weak – two short subjects from the vintage.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
1

THE CARY GRANT BOX SET (Columbia 1937-1942) Sony Home Entertainment


After soaking the paying customer with exorbitant prices for their lackluster and bare bones DVD transfers of classic releases it appears as though Columbia/Tristar Home Video (newly christened as Sony Home Entertainment) has had a change of heart – or, at the very least, a change of marketing strategy – with their release of The Cary Grant Box Set; a five disc compendium that exemplifies the very best work done by the actor under the old Columbia Pictures banner.

The set includes the screwball classics The Awful Truth (1937), His Girl Friday (1940), The Talk of the Town (1942), the more serious Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and the never before released to DVD, Holiday (1938) – a trifle that is quaint and charming, if not up to the level of artistic standards set by the rest of the films included herein.

Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth (1937) is a truly outstanding screwball comedy. Jerry (Grant) and Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne) divorce on a whim, then spend the rest of their time trying to get back together. The reason for the split: Jerry suspects that Lucy was having an affair with her music teacher, Armand Duvall (Alexander D’Arcy), even though the film hints that it is he, Jerry who was the one being unfaithful from the start.

Lucy attempts a static romance with foppish mama’s boy, Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy again). But Dan’s mother, (Esther Dale) isn’t convinced that Lucy and Armand are ‘not’ an item. Meanwhile, Jerry tries his hand at seducing a nightclub singer Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton), a move that leads to one of the all time great burlesque comedy numbers ‘My Dreams are All Gone With The Wind.’

Failing that attempt, Jerry next becomes entangled with the stuffy socialite, Barbara Vance (Molly Lamont). However, that amour is laid to rest when Lucy appears incognito as Jerry’s marvelously tacky sister – performing an even more riotous rendition of the aforementioned ‘Dreams’ number. Ultimately, Jerry and Lucy find true love where they ought to have been looking for it all along – in each other’s arms; a forgone but nevertheless fitting end to one of the all time great comedy classics.


Director, George Cukor’s Holiday (1938) is an anti-capitalist tale of free-thinker Johnny Case (Grant) who finds himself almost accidentally betrothed to a millionaire's daughter, Julia Seton (Doris Nolan). Despite Johnny’s lack of wealth (he hasn’t the proverbial ‘pot’ to his name) Julia’s family embraces the marriage – that is, until Julie’s father desires to have Johnny assume responsibility in their family business.

The request forces Johnny to rebel and take a ‘holiday’ with the black sheep of the family, sister, Linda (Katharine Hepburn). Linda’s accomplice in this matter is her drunken brother, Ned (Lew Ayres). Both Linda and Ned have had their artistic flair beaten into the dust under the weight of familial responsibility and both sympathize with Johnny’s desire to escape. With the ‘not so subtle’ aid of friends, Nick (Edward Everett Horton) and Susan Potter (Jean Dixon), Johnny eventually makes up his mind.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939) is director Howard Hawks’ dark and brooding tale of the short shelf life affixed to South American mail plane pilots. While waiting for her embarkation to parts unknown, American ingénue Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) is detained at a small landing strip. The pilots there have almost sworn themselves to a suicide pact by delivering the mail across dangerous foggy mountains.

Geoff Carter (Grant) is the lead flyer – a rough and tumble by-the-seat-of-his-pants man’s man who is at once cold and aloof. After one of their own meets with a fiery end, the rest of the crew’s perceived lack of understanding forces Bonnie into a direct conflict with Geoff; a conflict heightened when Geoff’s old flame, Judy MacPherson (Rita Hayworth) shows up to pitch a little woo on the side – even though she has her own husband in tow. Hawks gets to the grit and adventure of the piece without getting mired in its seriousness.
Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940) - a remake of The Front Page - recasts the part of Hildy Johnson as a woman thereby creating one of the most sublime ‘battles of the sexes’ romantic comedy ever conceived for the movies. Hildy (Rosalind Russell in her best role) is the ex-wife of Walter Burns (Grant), a ravenously enthusiastic newspaper editor who still thinks he can win back Hildy’s heart. One problem: Hildy’s become engaged to Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy, in a variation on the sort of ‘long suffering’ foppish roles that made him a solid second string actor).

Not that Walter will let a little thing like love with a tax attorney stand between him, Hildy and the greatest scoop of either one of their careers. After all, when Walter aims high, he does tend to hit low…at least below the belt. Peppered in great vignettes and rapid fire overlapping dialogue that is so incendiary it’s a wonder how many of the gags got past the censors, His Girl Friday is an untouchable among screwball classics – a genuinely inspired bit that never ceases to entertain.

George Steven’s The Talk of the Town (1942) is a film of various shadings. It begins in earnest as a prison break adventure; mutates into a romantic screwball comedy; is transformed into a mystery/suspense thriller, before miraculously ending on a high note of distinct melodrama. All these elements are kept in check in a film that is quite compelling and remarkably fresh in both its deportment and accoutrements. Grant is cast as Leopold Dilg, a presumed arsonist who escapes his prison term and takes up refuge at the country estate of one Nora Shelly (Jean Arthur). The trouble is that Nora has rented the property to Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman) a law professor recently appointed to the Supreme Court.

Unaware that he is housing a fugitive, Michael and Leopold (pretending to be the estate’s gardener, Joseph) become the best of friends until realization and propriety demand of the former that he do the right thing. Unwilling to see his friend go to prison, Michael and Nora set out to hunt down the real culprits and clear Leopold’s good name.

Columbia’s commitment to DVD continues to be a mixed blessing and these transfers are no exception. Although Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday were sourced from prints given a thorough restoration effort before the studio reversed its policies on providing stellar transfers of their classic titles, the rest of the films in this box range in quality from passable to below average. The worst looking of the lot is Holiday – odd, since it is blatantly advertised on the front jacket as “first time ever on DVD!”

One would think that that moniker deserved a better looking transfer. On Holiday then, contrast levels are quite weak. There are no deep blacks or clean whites but variations of tonal gray. Film grain is intense. Often the image appears slightly blurry or out of focus. Fine details are generally lost under the haze of age related artifacts.

Since only Holiday was new to the home video market, one might expect that transfers on The Talk of the Town and The Awful Truth would have been made spiffy for this box. At least, on The Awful Truth some attention seems to have been paid between this transfer and its original release.

The original was plagued by quite a few age related artifacts (scratches, dirt and chips) that have been greatly reduced on this newer minting. Contrast levels too appear to be a tad more refined on this version with deeper blacks.
The image remains softly focused in spots – but again, compared to the first release – looks a shade better than it did before. However, The Talk of the Town has been given NO further consideration this time around. The edge enhancement and digital shimmering that plagued the original release has been directly imported here, along with the softly focused image and considerable film grain in spots.

Extras are skimpy at best. Each disc is given a featurette that boils down to a few choice comments made by various film critics, interspersed between scenes and sound bytes from the film. There’s also a short featurette on Rosalind Russell (which is a direct import from the original ‘His Girl Friday’ disc), as well as an all too short bio on Cary Grant.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
The Awful Truth 5
Holiday 5
Only Angels Have Wings 5+
His Girl Friday 5+
The Talk of the Town 5+

VIDEO/AUDIO
The Awful Truth 3.5
Holiday 3
Only Angels Have Wings 4
His Girl Friday 4.5
The Talk of the Town 3.5

EXTRAS
2

KISS OF DEATH (20th Century Fox 1947) Fox Home Video

Henry Hathaway’s Kiss of Death (1947) may be Victor Mature’s finest hour as an actor, but the tale does tend to get a bit long in the tooth long before the final credits roll. All about small time hood, Nick Bianco (Mature) who, after fowling up a jewel heist, gets a second chance at being the good guy by playing stool pigeon for the sympathetic Assistant District Attorney Louie DeAngelo (Brian Donlevy, hopelessly miscast). Arranging his bail, Nick reunites with his two young daughters after their mother sticks her head in a gas oven. No, she wasn’t baking cookies at the time.

The script by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer plays fast and loose with the character of Nick. Did he love his kids? Well, yes – but not enough to not jeopardize ever seeing them again by giving up haplessly botched robberies and going legit. Was he a faithful hubby? Well, yes…but when babysitter Nettie (Coleen Gray) inexplicably turns out, and all grown up to visit Nick in prison, the two become lovers and eventually man and wife.

But now I am leaving out the other half of this equation – the manically inspired characterization of Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark); a chilling concoction of giddy effeminate laughing-boy meets murderous cutthroat. Tommy and Nick were sent up the river together. But Tommy seems to have gotten out ahead.

Reuniting on the outside, as per the D.A’s instructions, Nick sets into motion a plan to get Tommy and his cohorts arrested. The scene where Tommy visits the invalid mother of one of his former colleagues, finds him gone, then decides to tie up and push the wheelchair bound old hag down a flight of stairs to her death is justly famous and quite sadistic. In the end, Nick gets the short end of the stick again. Smelling a rat, Tommy fills him full of bullets. The ending is benign.

Fox’s DVD transfer on Kiss of Death is, in a word – awful. I am at a loss to explain why studios (and all the studios releasing DVD’s today are guilty of this) continue to release films with so much aliasing, shimmering of fine details and edge enhancement present throughout. Honestly, there’s not one scene that is free of these disturbing and distracting digital anomalies.

The B&W image is in a constant state of motion with spectral highlights on everything from picture and door frames to curved chairs and car hubs uncontrollably bouncing about. The gray scale is reasonably clean with minimal film grain and age related artifacts, but again, the digital disturbances are distracting. Extras include audio commentary, stills gallery and theatrical trailers.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
3

Sunday, January 28, 2007

WHITE HEAT (Warner Bros. 1949) Warner Home Video

The intense character study of criminal insanity in Raoul Walsh's White Heat (1949) is most likely the other great Cagney performance that has endured the test of time. Cagney is psychotic and sadistic Arthur 'Cody' Jarrett, a ruthless gang leader with a penchant for deriving pleasure from the affliction of pain.

Plagued by torturous headaches and a mother fixation with Freud written all over it, Cody revels in murdering his wounded accomplice during a jail break. Cody's 'ma' (Margaret Wycherly) has allowed herself the luxury to forget that she's given birth to the criminal anti-Christ.

Meanwhile, Cody's wife, Verna (Virginia Mayo) flaunts her sexuality to every man she meets while enduring the brutality and neglect of her unstable husband. This, of course, ends badly for all concerned.

The plot thickens when Vic Pardo (Edmund O'Brien) an undercover cop infiltrates Cody’s gang as an informer. The finale is justly famous, as Cody - betrayed and about to die, shouts triumphantly against the backdrop of a burning chemical plant, "Made it, ma! Top of the world!" White Heat may have been a remake twice removed, but neither the 26' nor the 34' version comes close to the immediate panic and raw hysteria of this great film classic.

Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits exemplary image quality throughout. The gray scale is rich and nicely balanced with deep solid blacks and clean whites. Fine details are fully realized, even during darker scenes. Occasionally, film grain, minor dirt and scratches appear but these will certainly not distract.

The audio is mono but extremely well balanced and very nicely represented. Extras include an adequate audio commentary by noted authoritarian, Drew Casper, a newly produced featurette which is very succinct and Leonard Maltin's hosting of "Warner's Night At The Movies". Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
3

ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (Warner Bros. 1938) Warner Home Video

A couple of Hell's Kitchen hell raisers - Rocky Sullivan (James Cagney) and Jerry Connolly (Pat O'Brien) part company after being sent to reform school in Michael Curtiz's classic Angels With Dirty Faces (1938).

For Rocky, the years of meditation transform him into a hardened criminal with a bitter grudge and destiny to fulfill. For Jerry, the prospect of becoming a career criminal is enough to scare him straight into the priesthood.

The years pass and Rocky and Jerry are once more reunited; this time in their old neighborhood but on opposite sides of the law. In a sort of Father Flannigan twist, Jerry desires to have a positive impact on the lives of children who, like his former self, are on the fast track to nowhere. Rocky resurfaces as a ghetto gangster, exploiting Jerry's acquired goodness to suit his own end.

The Dead End Kids, a troop of street urchins who became model citizens through celluloid worship and pop culture are in this one to - playing themselves for either saintly salvation or sinful self-destruction. Rapid gunfire results from Warner warhorse director, Michael Curtiz, in top form.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is quite impressive. The gray scale is nicely balanced. Film grain and age related artifacts are present but do not distract. Fine details are fully realized. Whites are clean. Flickering and shimmering occurs during several key scenes. The audio is adequately balanced in mono. A featurette, commentary by historian Dana Polan and Leonard Maltin's hosting of "Warner's A Night At The Movies" are the extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
3.5

KING SOLOMON'S MINES (MGM 1950) Warner Home Video

Can a proper English lass and a reclusive game hunter find true romance amidst the backdrop of exotic Africa? Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger demonstrate in King Solomon's Mines (1950); part travelogue, part adventure, part melodrama, and quite an uneven blend, co-directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton. It stars Granger as reluctant game hunter, Allan Quartermain.

After losing his most trusted guide Khiva (Kimursi) in a needless safari accident, Quartermain resolves to take on no more expeditions. His mind, however, is changed by the staunch determination of Elizabeth Curtis (Kerr). She confronts Allan's inner demons and wins his fleeting respect.
Her reward: hiring Allan at a great expense to track down her husband.

Seems Mr. Curtis disappeared in the deepest recesses of the Dark Continent on route to a diamond mine; fortune and glory...same old story! Along the way to discovering the inevitable the safari party pick up Umbopa (Siriaque), a prince in exile who acts as their guide into the land of the Watusis.

What is particularly disappointing about King Solomon's Mines is its overall predictability. From its faux Gone With The Wind - ish main title sequence through its lumbering and uneven pacing, the film is not one cohesive narrative, but four mixed up into behaving as one.
Long before we reach the end of this story we've figured out that Elizabeth's husband is quite dead.

The romance that develops between Granger and Kerr is stoic and flawed – stemming from bitter antagonism and blind necessity. Richard Carleson, as Liz's brother, John Goode, is wasted with bits of business that lead us into discovering the real reason why Mr. Curtis would have ditched Mrs. Curtis for the wilds and unknown.

The final sequence, a laborious dance that belongs in an Arthur Freed musical but ends with a public execution is quite anti-climactic and, well...boring. There's little to no resolution for the main characters and little to suggest that this film could have won such overwhelming votes to be a DVD Decision Winner.

Of course, all of this fluff and nonsense would be slightly forgivable if Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer was something to cheer about. It is not. The Technicolor negative exhibits an inconsistently rendered image with excessive amounts of age related artifacts. Colors are on the whole, weak, softly focused and poorly contrasted and balanced.

Occasionally we are treated to stunning color photography, as with the aforementioned dance of the Watusis - but for the most part the palette is dull. The travelogue footage - obviously shot before the principle actors had arrived on location - is grossly out of focus and quite faded. There are nicks, chips and tears in the negative, making the footage appear much older than the rest of the film stock. The audio is mono but nicely balanced with limited spread but optimal audibility. A theatrical trailer is the only extra included.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
0

COVER GIRL (Columbia 1944) Sony Home Entertainment

Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl (1944) is a flashy star vehicle for Columbia’s then reigning sex symbol, Rita Hayworth. It’s quick paced and elegant good fun, book-ended by Gene Kelly's superb dancing and Eve Arden's ‘hotter than fire’ one liners.

Rita is Rusty Parker, showgirl plucked from the chorus by a slightly obsessed, aged but wealthy John Coudair (Otto Kruger). John instructs his publicist, Cornelia Jackson (Arden) to plaster Rusty’s face plastered on every fashion and society magazine in the country, and, overnight Rusty becomes the toast of Broadway, much to the chagrin of Rusty’s small time manager and secret love interest, Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly – ideal for this sort of sullen but sexy role). The sparks fly – but will they ignite a passion between Rusty and Danny or tear them apart.

Hayworth duet with Kelly to ‘Long Ago and Far Away’ became a wartime musical highlight that took audiences by storm. The film is also justly famous for Kelly’s ‘mirror’ dance, in which his own reflection suddenly develops a mind of its own to rival his own terpsichorean skills.

Sony Home Video provides a very smart looking DVD transfer. Colors are perhaps a tad less saturated than one would like, but for the most part are quite refined, bold and bright. Contrast is nicely presented. Blacks are deep and velvety. Whites are generally clean. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed. The audio is MONO but nicely balanced. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
0

THE ROARING TWENTIES (Warner Bros. 1939) Warner Home Video

Raoul Walsh's The Roaring Twenties (1939) is exemplary melodrama grafted onto the crime thriller. It stars James Cagney as Eddie Bartlett a jobless war veteran whose rags to riches story is sullied by his spurious association with George Hally (Humphrey Bogart). Eddie starts out as a cab driver but winds up in charge of his own fleet. Of course none of this is possible without the financial backing of George; whose bootlegging empire uses Eddie's cab company as his own private delivery service.

Lloyd Hart's (Jeffrey Lynn) aspirations of going legit' by practicing law go slightly awry as he takes on Eddie as a partner. As the years roll on, all flows like vintage champagne until love and rivalry over the sultry Jean Hart (Priscilla Lane) interferes. Lloyd marries Jean and turns against his old friends. Gladys George is in it too, as Eddie’s good time gal, Panama Smith.

Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer is particularly pleasing. Though there are several instances where second generation print material has been substituted for original camera negatives, the gray scale overall is nicely balanced with rich and deep blacks and generally clean whites. Some age related artifacts and film grain are present throughout, particularly in the stock footage - but nothing will distract you from this fond farewell to the gangster era.

Extras include a newly produced featurette. Film historian Lincoln Hurst does a good job of summing up the film, while Leonard Maltin delights with his summation of 1939 with "Warner Night at the Movies." Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
4

Saturday, January 27, 2007

YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (Columbia 1942) Sony Home Entertainment

After their resounding success in You’ll Never Get Rich (1941) it was kismet that Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth would reunite for another glossy film musical. The project; You Were Never Lovelier (1942) is a valiant successor and, in truth, excels beyond the expectations of their previous venture.

Astaire plays a penniless hoofer from New York, Bob Davis, who through a series of mishaps comes to the attention of wealthy South American, Senior Acuna (Adolph Menjou) while on a vacation in Buenos Aires. Acuna has just married off his oldest daughter and, as his family tradition dictates, the rest of his daughters must marry in sequential order.

The two youngest daughters are already fixed with a pair of tennis beaux, but the eldest unmarried daughter, Maria (Hayworth) is not only an ice princess of the highest order, but absolutely refuses to marry under any circumstance – but particularly on cue. That is, until she begins receiving orchids from an unknown admirer.

The score by Jerome Kern is magnificent; the poignant ‘Dearly Beloved’, the jazzy ‘Shorty George’ and the classy ‘I’m Old Fashion’; the latter two danced by Astaire and Hayworth with such finesse that it’s impossible not to marvel at their grace and style.

Sony Pictures DVD transfer is outstanding. While You’ll Never Get Rich suffered from a generally flawed image, You Were Never Lovelier appears to have been the benefactor of digital restoration. It’s B&W picture is stunning and smooth. There are brief and minor occasions where fine details slightly shimmer, but these do not distract from your visual pleasure. Fine detail is fully realized. There is a resounding absence of age related artifacts. The audio is mono but exceptionally well balanced – at times sounding very close to having a stereo spread. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
0

BOTTOM LINE: You Were Never Lovelier has certainly never looked more lovely than in its DVD incarnation. An absolute must have for your library!

A FACE IN THE CROWD (Warner Bros. 1957) Warner Home Video

If ever there was a film that spoke of the ill-advised road to fame and fortune – paved with its good, but unfortunate and corrupting intensions – Elia Kazan’s A Face In The Crowd (1957) is that film. A sort of perverse Picture of Dorian Gray for the redneck set, the film is ramped with all the slick, split and polish of an emerging media age.

The unlikely casting of wholesome and congenial Andy Griffith as Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes – an impoverished hobo whose saving grace is that he’s got something to say and is certain people are willing to listen - serves the story well. Lonesome is 'all heart' turned saccharine, then pure poison by radio promoter, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal).

With her connections and Larry’s gift for gab, the two embark upon a blitz that transforms this good ol’ boy into a crass and power mad media sensation. As his ego swells, Larry begins to realize that with fame comes the bitter and reclusive understanding life has changed – and not for the better. This self discovery is both sobering and tragic.

Based on screenwriter Budd Schulberg’s ‘The Arkansas Traveler’ the film keeps a frenetic pace with the sensationalizing media blitz. Paralytic and crippling, and quite often frightening, Griffith’s performance is simultaneously one of his most perverse and engaging. Kazan, frequently the purveyor of ‘message pictures’, on this occasion recants what Shakespeare might have coined as ‘a tale told by an idiot…full of sound and fury – signifying nothing.’

Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits solid image quality; nicely balanced gray scale, anamorphically enhanced, with solid blacks and mostly clean whites. Contrast levels are bang on. Fine detail is smartly rendered throughout. The audio has been cleaned up. A featurette, ‘Facing The Past’ takes the place of an audio commentary; at 30 min. too short – but nevertheless succinctly providing sound bytes from the principle cast.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
3

CLASH BY NIGHT (RKO 1945) Warner Home Video

Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night (1952) is a tempest in a tea storm – a uniquely understated melodrama that is not quite a full fledged film noir. The story concerns the return of Mae Doyle D’Amatto (Barbra Stanwyck), a one time party girl who, desperate to escape the dead end town she’s come crawling back to.

Unfortunately for Mae, she’s now all used up and on the skids. Her brother Joe (Keith Andes) isn’t eager to help her out, but Joe’s naïve sweetheart, Peggy (Marilyn Monroe) is. At first it appears as though Mae has given up on her reckless lifestyle. She reunites with congenial all around good guy, Jerry (Paul Douglas) who courts and eventually marries Mae. She even goes one step further towards domesticity by having Jerry’s baby.

But before long, the ol’ Mae starts to seep back into their lives; one inexplicably drawn to Jerry’s best friend, the boorish and brutish womanizer, Earl Pfeiffer (Robert Ryan). Lang’s direction is swift, sharp and hard-edged. The cast, particularly Stanwyck, move with feline stealth and virility through this often pensive jungle of dead end turns. The film is a sublime – if underrated – suspense melodrama and it deserves a second glance.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is fairly good. The B&W image suffers from slight fading. Blacks often fluctuate in the tonal gray register rather than being true black. Whites are occasionally dull but, for the most part, clean and bright. Several of the night scenes are marred by a considerable amount of pixelization and edge enhancement. Age related artifacts are present throughout but do not distract. The audio is mono. An audio commentary with inserts provided from archival Fritz Lang interviews is the only extra worth noting.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
3

THE NARROW MARGIN (RKO 1952) Warner Home Video

Richard Fleischer’s The Narrow Margin (1952) is a superbly potent, if overly short (at 71 minutes), noir classic. It stars Marie Windsor as the venomous, Mrs. Frankie Neill…or is she? Seems Frankie is a mobster with a penchant for murder and other unscrupulous crimes too numerous and unbearable to ignore.

Relying on police sergeant Walter Brown (Charles McGraw), Mrs. Neill enters a witness protection program. However, while awaiting trial she becomes the subject of elimination by a group of hit men loyal to her husband. After a harrowing escape, Brown and Neill find themselves on a train with danger stalking them at every turn. There only hope – survive being assassinated until the train comes to a stop.

Tightly scripted the tale is pensively entertaining with a sense of immediacy rarely caught on film. There is a genuine chemistry between Neill and Brown and Brown and mystery woman, Ann Sinclair (Jacqueline White). So how does she fit into this tale? That is a plot device best left absent from this review.

Aside: In 1990, director Peter Hyams remade this film as simply, Narrow Margin with Gene Hackman and Ann Archer. Although Hyam’s movie is one of those rare occasions where the remake is as good as the original, is there any point in having a remake when the original has been done so well?

Warner Home Video’s DVD is impressive. The B&W image is solid with very deep blacks, clean whites and a minimal amount of film grain. The image is nicely contrasted and very sharp throughout, beautifully capturing the evocative noir lighting. Occasionally, age related artifacts crop up but these do not distract. There are no digital anomalies. The audio is mono and well represented. An audio commentary is the only worthwhile extra. Highly recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3

BOY'S TOWN (MGM 1938) Warner Home Video

Director Norman Taurog’s Boy’s Town (1938) is the poignant tribute and inspirational story of Catholic priest, Father Edward J. Flanagan (Spencer Tracy). His inherent believe in the goodness of all boys compels him to create a hallowed place for wayward youth. As dramatically satisfying and all encompassing an entertainment as this film is, it pales in comparison to the hardships of the real Father Flanagan, though Slavko Vorkapich’s skilled use of montage helps to succinctly illustrate what some of those difficulties might have been.

The story opens with Flanagan attending an execution as the condemned’s spiritual guide. Flanagan cannot help but think how different this man might have turned out to if only his youth had been more satisfying. Flannigan’s resolve is further strengthened when he observes a small horde of boys brawling in the street. Three are apprehended by the police and sentenced to juvenile detention. But Flanagan pleads for the boys’ release into his custody.

Renting a broken down home with the aid of his friend, Dave Morris (Henry Hull), Flannigan begins developing a formula for turning demoralized youth into proud citizens. His task is not an easy one. Editor of the leading newspaper, John Hargraves (Jonathan Hale) thinks Flanagan big-hearted and empty-headed. He resolves to topple the priest’s ambitions at the first hint that the project is a failure.

That failure manifests itself in pint size roughneck, Whitey Marsh (Mickey Rooney). Having been sentence to life in prison, Whitey’s brother, Joe (Edward Norris) agrees to donate his entire life savings to Flanagan’s mission if he takes in his brother. But Whitey is defiant.

He quickly makes a nuisance of himself to everyone but the school’s youngest recruit, Pee-Wee (Bob Watson). However, when Pee-Wee is accidentally side-swiped by an automobile, Whitey blames himself and wanders away from Boy’s Town, inadvertently giving Hargraves the ammunition required to end Flannigan’s dream for a better tomorrow.

The story, maudlin in spots, is nevertheless galvanic entertainment. It succeeds in celebrating blind optimism within a world abysmally mired in its own rank cynicism.

Warner Home Entertainment gives us a fairly respectable DVD transfer. The gray scale exhibits deep blacks, excellent contrast levels and a minimal amount of age related artifacts. Grain can be excessive at times. There’s also the ever so slight hint of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details.

On the flip side of this disc is the sequel, Men of Boys Town (1941) an inconsequential, sloppy and syrupy film that reunites much of the cast. But Warner Home Video has done precious little to make this extra a welcomed one. The image quality throughout is well below Warner’s usual commitment to the classics – riddled in a barrage of distracting age related and digital artifacts that render the image virtually unwatchable. Extras also included an infomercial for the real Boy’s & Girl’s Towns of America and a vintage short subject on the real Father Flanagan.

This disc comes recommended for the original movie – not its sequel.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Boy's Town 4
Men of Boy's Town 3

VIDEO/AUDIO
Boy's Town 3.5
Men of Boy's Town 1.5

EXTRAS
2

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (MGM 1955) Warner Home Video

John Sturges’ Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) is a filmic milestone for several reasons. First, it features one of the greatest American actors, Spencer Tracy, in a seminal role that proved to be his last for alma mater, MGM. Second, it was the studio’s first foray into the grandeur of widescreen with Cinemascope. Third, the film’s plot is what must be considered one of the most gritty, hard edged and hard hitting examinations of racism ever put on film.

The plot concerns war veteran, John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy), who lost his arm in battle. Macreedy journeys to the desolate and isolated little bit of nothing known as Black Rock where he hopes to deliver a fellow soldier’s war medal to his Japanese father. But from the moment he steps off the train, Macreedy finds himself the repository of stored tensions, fear and hatred from the town’s folk.

The chief conspirator of the plot to get Macreedy out of town is Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), the guy who has the most to lose if Macreedy learns the truth. He’s aided by brute thug, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine), calculated shifty-eye, Hector David (Lee Marvin) and Liz Wirth (Anne Francis, quite effect working against her goody-goody type). There’s even a bit of sadism, when some of the town’s men plot Macreedy’s demise. The only two holdouts to this appalling murder scenario are the ineffectual law enforcer, Sheriff Tim Horn (Dean Jagger) and meager, Doc Velie (Walter Brennan). The town’s dirty little secret is best left uncovered for those who have yet to see the film.

Director, Sturges packs a lot into 81 minutes – raising the bar for bare-knuckled thrills. Rumor has it, Sturges didn’t think an actor of Tracy’s caliber would be interested in playing the part of the returning war veteran, so he gave the character a one-arm handicap to sweeten the deal. No actor can refuse the challenge of hamming it up. Tracy obviously didn’t and he delivers one of his two or three finest performances ever committed to film.

The DVD transfer for Bad Day at Black Rock is fairly good considering the limitations of both Cinemascope and Ansco color film stock. Though the picture is softly focused at times and colors are decided dated with pasty or orangy flesh tones, colors are adequately balanced and with a minimal amount of film grain present. The dark brown, beige and black palette of this isolated town is well served by Ansco/Eastman stock. The audio is stereo from the original 4-track magnetic master and, with decided limitations in fidelity factored in, is quite aggressive and pleasing to contemporary expectations.

Dana Polan’s audio commentary is informative but suffers from long portions of silence. Bottom line: Bad Day At Black Rock is a seminal work on a subject most film makers of this vintage rather chose to ignore. It is extremely well staged and performed and comes highly recommended to add to your collection.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2

CROSSFIRE (RKO 1947) Warner Home Video

Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire (1947) is a disturbing glimpse into the bigoted underbelly of American society. Based on ‘The Brick Foxhole’ the film stars a trio of Roberts; Young, Mitchum and Ryan as three gobs with their livelihood turned upside down. Capt. Findlay (Robert Young) is determined to prosecute someone for the murder of Jewish merchant, Joseph Samuels (Sam Levine, whose character in the novel was homosexual – a complication taboo in films of this vintage).

Findlay’s suspects are army sergeant Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum), brooding hate monger, Montgomery (Robert Ryan) and Cpl. Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper) – so drunk the night it happened he can’t remember a thing. But Findlay has his work cut out for him – especially when the local chanteuse of a seedy nightclub, Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame at her sultry best) surfaces to tell her own side of the story. Violent and unstable, Montgomery seems to fit the bill. Or does he? Maybe Mitchell did it while under the influence.

As a film, Crossfire is a poverty row B-movie but was quickly elevated to ‘A’ list when it received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. And although director Dmytryk gets a lot of mileage out of his tale, there’s really a bit too much heavy-handed ‘bigotry is bad’ talk (like, no kidding) going on. Caught between some generally fine acting, but occasionally terrible script writing, Crossfire emerges as more a footnote to the days of HUAC and the red scare than a quality noir classic.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is – in a word – disappointing. Obviously, the film has not been the benefactor of either proper storage or restoration efforts. It is riddled with heavy grain, dull contrast levels, softly focused blacks and an incredible amount of age related artifacts. At one point, a giant tear flashes across the screen.

The image is also highly unstable, jittering from left to right within frame – most distracting. The audio has obvious hiss and pop throughout. An audio commentary is the only extra feature of merit. Given the ‘importance’ of the film with regards to its breakout and frank subject matter, one wishes more had been done to refresh the print before importing it to DVD.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2

EXTRAS
3