New This Week
It was announced on December 3 that Warner Bros. will release all their 2021 films simultaneously in theatres and on their streaming service, HBO Max. That led to speculation that this could be the end of theatrical distribution as we know it as well as the end of DVD and Blu-ray releases from Warner Bros. The reason for the latter being that other streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime seldom release Blu-rays and DVDs of their streaming products. This remains to be seen.
Warner Bros. does not have any new feature films prepped for video sales, but they have released several recent TV films and series through the Warner Archive including the HBO-shown film Bad Education with Hugh Jackman and the first three years of the CBS series Young Sheldon.
Warner Archive was the pioneer in the MOD (manufactured-on-demand) business of releasing their library of films on DVD in 2009, adding pressed Blu-ray releases in 2012. Their vast library consists of pre-1986 MGM and RKO films, post-1946 Allied Artists and Monogram films, as well as those made by Warner Bros. and its subsidiaries including New Line and HBO. They remain one of the premier providers of DVD and Blu-ray releases to this day. If anything, their output has been on the increase this year with seven major Blu-releases in December and another five planned for January.
Unfortunately, the current pandemic has affected the Archive’s release schedule. While Blu-rays of The Curse of Frankenstein, Holiday Affair, and Mister Roberts, expected earlier in the month, were finally in buyers’ hands in the days before Christmas, the remaining four, including Young Man with a Horn, The Harvey Girls, and two Christmas films, The Shop Around the Corner and It Happened on 5th Avenue, are still held up.
The Archive’s two-disc special edition of Terence Fisher’s 1957 film of The Curse of Frankenstein is from Mary Shelley’s immortal novel by way of writer Jimmy Sangster who added a few touches of his own to the classic horror tale. Peter Cushing starred as Dr. Frankenstein and Christopher Lee co-starred as his monster. Cushing is superb, but Lee is hampered by his character’s lack of dialogue. The two fared much better together as the good Dr. Van Helsing and the evil Count Dracula in 1958’s Horror of Dracula, a previous Warner Archive Blu-ray release, also directed from a screenplay by Sangster based on the Bram Stoker novel.
Warner has provided a superb upgrade of The Curse of Frankenstein from badly faded previous release prints. The 4K restoration was used for the three versions on the two discs. It’s the same film presented in three different ratios. The film was made and released in a ratio of 1:85 to 1 but was shown in some theatres in Great Britain in a 1:66 to 1 ration, both of which are provided on Disc 1. Disc 2 features the film in an open matte 1:33 to 1 TV ratio that many of the film’s fans are used to. This is extreme overkill. There is no reason to view the film in anything other than 1:85 to 1 ratio.
1949’s Holiday Affair, directed by Dan Hartman from a screenplay by Isobel Lennart (Love Me or Leave Me), looks fine on Blu-ray, but this is at best a poor man’s Miracle on 34th Street, complete with one of its adult characters being an employee of a toy department in a major New York City retail store, a cute kid with a single mother, and an ending you can see coming a mile away. Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh are the couple, Wendell Corey the other man, and Gordon Gebert, who later played Audie Murphy as a boy in 1955’s To Hell and Back, is the kid. The film could have used a Santa Claus like Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street, but sadly there is no Santa Claus in this one.
I reviewed Mister Roberts based on memory of the film two weeks ago. The 4K restoration does the film proud.
Due for Blu-ray release by Warner Archive in January are The Man Who Would Be King, Good News, After the Thin Man, Room for One More, and The Pajama Game.
Warner Bros. released Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and a handful of other classic films on Blu-ray before the Archive came along, but it’s worth remembering that without the Archive we wouldn’t have the likes of Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame; Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Boyer, and Horst Buccholz in Fanny; Rosalind Russell and Natalie Wood in Gypsy; Gary Cooper and Maria Schell in The Hanging Tree; Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker, George Peppard, and George Hamilton in Home form the Hill; Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, Henry Travers, and Dame May Whitty in Mrs. Miniver; Jane Powell, Howard Keel, Russ Tamblyn, Tommy Rall, and Marc Platt in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden in A Streetcar Named Desire; or Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Mary Boland in The Women on Blu-ray.
Among the many classic Warner Archive releases available on DVD are many that are crying out for Blu-ray releases. Among them are such gems as Annie Get Your Gun with Betty Hutton and Howard Keel; Damn Yankees with Gwen Verdon, Tab Hunter, and Ray Walston; Dinner at Eight with Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, and Billie Burke; Executive Suite with William Holden, June Allyson, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Shelley Winters, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, and Dean Jagger; Goodbye, Mr. Chips with Robert Donat and Greer Garson; The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans, and Peggy Ashcroft; Random Harvest with Greer Garson and Ronald Colman; The Student Prince with Ann Blyth and Edmund Purdom; The Sundowners with Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum, Glynis Johns, and Peter Ustinov; and The Valley of Decision with Greer Garson, Gregory Peck, Gladys Cooper, Donald Crisp, and Lionel Barrymore.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Dead Again and At Close Range.