Several vintage movies make their Blu-ray and DVD debuts this week
Posted July 21
A bevy of vintage titles from several genres debuts on Blu-ray and DVD this week, led by Debbie Reynolds in her only Oscar-nominated role.
“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (Warner Archive, 1964, documentary, featurette, trailer). This is one of those cases when a film role perfectly fits a star. Spunky Debbie Reynolds shows off her singing, dancing and comedy talent as real-life Margaret Brown, an uneducated backwoods tomboy who marries and then strikes it rich. But Denver’s snooty high society snubs Molly and her husband Johnny (Harve Presnell, in his film debut, reprising his Broadway role).
So they travel to Europe and bring back some classy friends to impress the Denver-ites, but Johnny’s rough-and-tumble pals foil Molly’s plans, prompting her to return to Europe alone and in a huff. On the return trip, she is aboard the Titanic, and when the ship sinks she helps rescue her fellow passengers and becomes a hero. Adapted from Meredith Willson’s Broadway musical, and, of course, highly fictionalized. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Lee Tracy: RKO 4-Film Collection” (Warner Archive, 1937-39, b/w, two discs, four films). Lee Tracy was an undistinguished TV character actor during the 1950s and ’60s, but in the 1920s he was a star on Broadway, and after the arrival of “talkies” in 1927 he segued into movie stardom. Tracy’s specialty was fast-talking hucksters, often playing reporters, and the four films here (all making their video debuts) are nifty examples of his adept handling of snappy patter.
In “Criminal Lawyer,” Tracy is a shyster lawyer-turned-district-attorney whose past catches up with him. “Behind the Headlines” has him as a sneaky radio reporter whose newspaperwoman girlfriend gets him in a jam with crooks. In “Crashing Hollywood,” screenwriter Tracy teams up with gangsters to write an accurate crime script, a bad idea. And he’s the title character in “Fixer Dugan,” working for a circus and taking a young orphan under his wing. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Roald Dahl’s The BFG” (SkipRope, 1989, documentary, featurette). Fans of author Roald Dahl (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach”) will be happy to see this one back in print: a British-TV animated adaptation of his book “The BFG” (which, of course, stands for “Big Friendly Giant”). Long before Steven Spielberg’s current theatrical film was a gleam in his eye, this feature-length cartoon was embraced by fans, critics and Dahl himself, who gave this film a ringing endorsement. (The book was initially published in 1982, and Dahl died in 1990.)
“Only Yesterday” (GKids/Universal, 1991, PG, featurettes, storyboards, trailers/TV spots). Set in 1982, this Japanese anime (based on a manga) follows a 27-year-old woman (voiced by Daisy Ridley, of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) as she escapes city life by visiting country relatives. During her trip, she flashes back to 1966, when she was just 10. Her memories intensify when she meets a distant relative by marriage (Dev Patel, “The Man Who Knew Infinity”). Gorgeous, stylishly animated and rich in detail and emotion, this dubbed-in-English tale is from the acclaimed Studio Ghibli, and this is its U.S. debut.
“Prime Target” (MGM Limited Edition, 1989). A New York homicide detective (Angie Dickinson, who was pushing 60 but doesn’t show it) investigates the killings of female officers who sued the NYPD. This TV-movie vehicle for Dickinson plays like a belated follow-up to her 1970s series “Police Woman,” helped along by Charles Durning as her father and especially by Yaphet Kotto, an energizing influence as an internal affairs cop.
“No Questions Asked” (Warner Archive, 1951, b/w, trailer). This film noir thriller casts Barry Sullivan as an insurance man who tries to win back his money-grubbing former girlfriend (Arlene Dahl) by working with thieves in a racket to retrieve stolen goods. Then he’s framed for murder. The fast pace and clever twists help, although credibility is strained. Co-stars include George Murphy, Jean Hagen and Utah native Moroni Olsen. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“You’re My Everything” (Fox Cinema Archives, 1949). This unmemorable but pleasant showbiz musical is about a successful song-and-dance man (Dan Dailey) in the 1920s who is eclipsed by his wife (Anne Baxter) when she unexpectedly becomes a silent-movie star. A 12-second highlight midway through has Buster Keaton making an amusing unbilled cameo appearance, but the film is seriously marred by now-uncomfortable blackface sequences.
“George Crumb: Voice of the Whale” (MVD, 1976). Avant-garde composer Crumb is the subject of this hourlong documentary profile, the first of many music-oriented films by Robert Mugge. He’s chosen a unique style here that befits his subject, tinting footage with green for Crumb’s life, blue for his work and full color for areas that blend the two.
“Van Gogh” (Cohen, 1991, R for sex and nudity, in French with English subtitles, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailers). Maurice Pialat wrote and directed this offbeat take on tortured artist Vincent Van Gogh (Jacques Dutronc) in the last two months of his life as he has an affair with a patron’s young daughter but finds it difficult to express love for anything but his art — and he even comes to disparage that.
“Blood and Black Lace” (Arrow, 1964, not rated but has R-level violence, in Italian with English subtitles, alternative U.S. opening titles, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer, short film: “Yellow,” TV episode: “Sinister Image”; booklet). A masked stalker kills off fashion models one by one while searching for an incriminating diary in this stylishly directed but empty horror yarn from influential giallo filmmaker Mario Bava. This one has the dubious distinction of being considered the template for slasher movies that flooded the U.S. market in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.