New This Week
It’s time for reflection.
As we looked for entertainment in the horrible year just passed, we turned mostly to streaming, but there were many good Blu-ray releases of films from prior years to keep us busy as well.
Without delving into the 4K Blu-ray market which I have yet to explore, I still found it difficult to whittle my list of outstanding 2020 releases down to a manageable number, but I finally settled on twenty-five spread evenly throughout the year.
January brought us the recent theatrical phenomenon, Joker, the 1938 classic Holiday, and the 1967 slice-of-life drama The Whisperers. Joaquin Phoenix mesmerized in his Oscar-winning role in the first; Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant were at their charming best in the second; and Dame Edith Evans gave her greatest performance, turning 80 just before the year’s Oscar nominations were announced, in the third. Holiday included the 1930 version with Ann Harding and Mary Astor as an extra.
February brought us Ford v Ferrari, one of the last major films released for home viewing before the pandemic took hold. The film took us on the journey of an American car designer to end an Italian carmaker’s dominance of international auto racing in the 1960s, winning Oscars for film editing and sound editing at the 92nd Oscars.
March brought us the riveting new World War I movie, aptly named 1917, and two still-vibrant masterpieces from 1936, Show Boat and Dodsworth. 1917 was nominated for ten Oscars and won three for cinematography, visual effects, and sound mixing, all of which were extraordinary. Show Boat, starring Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Charles Winninger, Helen Morgan, Paul Robeson, and Hattie McDaniel, all of whom appeared in various stage versions of the first modern Broadway musical, remains fresh as ever and Dodsworth enhances Walter Huston’s great stage performance.
April brought us 1939’s Destry Rides Again, the film that gave us both Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart at their peak of perfection. The pacifist western was a darn good yarn itself with Stewart as the sheriff who refused to wear a badge and Dietrich as the saloon singer who was always interested in what the boys in the back room would have.
May brought us the early 1950s British gems Pool of London and An Inspector Calls. 1951’s Pool of London brought new acclaim for the film’s star, Earl Cameron, but it was short-lived. Just as he was beginning to be known again, he died on July 3 at 102. 1954’s An Inspector Calls reminded us once again how irreplaceable Alastair Sim was. There have been many productions of this old chestnut, but none have ever reached the acclaim of this one.
June brought us the Deanna Durbin Collection Vol. 1 and a handful of Vanessa Redgrave films, the most notable of which was the 1971 version of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Durbin collection included just three of her films with two more sets promised before the end of the year. Alas, the set undersold, and Kino Lorber dropped its plan of releasing any more. What a shame! Redgrave has given far more acclaimed performances than the one in Mary, Queen of Scots but she had real sizzle in this one playing opposite Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I.
July brought us Murdoch Mysteries Season 13 and a chance to binge watch without streaming. The latest season of the Canadian series about crime-solving and forensics in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Toronto wasn’t the only series to be released on DVD and Blu-ray this year, but its eighteen 45-minute episodes were the most generous of all of them.
August brought us Robert Duvall’s 1983 Oscar winner Tender Mercies and the long-missing 1932 classic The Sign of the Cross. The former was one of those films we thought would never get a Blu-ray release, while the latter we instinctively knew we would eventually see. Fredric March, Elissa Landi, and Charles Laughton fiddling while Rome burned, and Claudette Colbert bathing in asses’ milk were too good not to have re-emerged.
September brought us 1978’s Death on the Nile and 1981’s Evil Under the Sun but not 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express. It also brought a gloriously restored Roman Holiday from 1953. While Murder on the Orient Express remains in rights limbo, it’s good to have the other Agatha Christie-Hercule Poirot classics of the 1970s-80s available on Blu-ray. Roman Holiday had been promised for years by Paramount, who finally got around to releasing the Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck classic.
October brought us two long-awaited releases, 1964’s The Chalk Garden and 1980’s The Elephant Man.
November brought us Blu-ray upgrades of the previously released Moonstruck from 1987 and Parasite from 2019, its initial release having been just this past January. Both were from Criterion, which also provided us with a keepsake edition of 2019’s The Irishman, the three-hour-plus film previously available only on streaming.
December brought us 1955’s Mister Roberts and 1991’s Dead Again. I would like to have said it brought us The Shop Around the Corner, but whereas Warner Archive’s restoration has gotten rave reviews, most of us haven’t seen it due to the manufacturing delays of Warner’s products caused by the pandemic.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Captain Newman, M.D. and The Man Who Would Be King.