Warner Archive 2017 (So Far)
With a little over a month of 2017 on the books, we thought we'd catch up with the folks at the Warner Archive and Warner Home Entertainment who have been churning out classic movies and iconic television shows on Blu-ray and DVD faster than we can promote 'em. So here's a chance to get up to speed on some truly great releases from the illustrious Warner Bros. Library in the physical format (although many of these are also available digitally if you swing that way).
New to Blu
First up, there's a double-shot featuring the legendary Audrey Hepburn in two of her finest performances. From 1957 comes Love in the Afternoon, a rom/com about a May-December love affair between college student Hepburn and the suave millionaire playboy played by Gary Cooper. Maurice Chevalier also gives a memorable performance as Hepburn's father, a detective intent on tracking Cooper. Directed by Billy Wilder, and nominated for three Golden Globes ("Best Motion Picture-Comedy or Musical" as well as "Best Actress" and "Best Actor" nods for Hepburn and Chevalier), this cinematic gem is as delightful as the Parisian setting is exquisite.
On the other side of the genre spectrum, we have the 1967 suspense-thriller classic Wait Until Dark also making it's Blu-ray debut. In this nail-biter, Hepburn portrays a woman who has recently gone blind and now finds herself trapped in her apartment by three hoods in search of a drug-filled doll. Directed by Terence Young, who helmed the first two James Bond films, and featuring an impressive cast including Oscar-winner Alan Arkin, Emmy-winner Richard Crenna and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., it's no wonder this Sixties masterpiece still has a 95/91 score from critics/fans on Rotten Tomatoes.
Then we have the mysterious drama from 1955, Bad Day at Black Rock, featuring Spencer Tracy leading a stellar group of actors including Robert Ryan, Walter Brennan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin and Anne Francis. Directed by John Sturges of The Great Escape fame, the story follows Tracy's arrival in the town of Black Rock where he is made to feel most unwelcome by the town folk. Eventually, we learn why Tracy is there and exactly what secret the residents are protecting. Tracy, Sturges and Millard Kaufman's tension-filled screenplay all received Oscar noms for their work in this often overlooked masterpiece.
For those looking for some wartime intensity, the 1949 epic Battleground arrives on Blu-ray for the first time. Nominated for six Academy Awards including "Best Picture," and winner for "Best Screenplay" and "Best Cinematography," Battleground takes place during WWII's Battle of the Bulge where a company of American soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines during a brutal winter. Van Johnson, James Whitmore (who received an Oscar nomination for his performance), Ricardo Montalban and George Murphy star in this remarkable film about courageous American G.I.s caught up in battle.
In the last of our New to Blu Spotlight, we have the largely forgotten musical The Boy Friend from 1971, starring Sixties' icon Twiggy, who made her big screen debut in this Ken Russell-directed 1920s era musical. The model-turned-actress was lauded for her first acting role and picked up not one, but two Golden Globes ("Best Actress-Comedy or Musical" and "Most Promising Newcomer-Female") for her role as Polly Browne, an understudy who is thrust into the spotlight. All of this is done in Russell's trademark colorfully extravagant imagery. The result is a cult classic that was sadly overshadowed by another musical released three months later, Cabaret, but The Boy Friend has stood the test of time.
Another lost gem from the Seventies is The Yakuza from 1975. Directed by Oscar-winner Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) and written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) and Oscar-winner Robert Towne (Chinatown), The Yakuza is a modern take on the film noir genre. Robert Mitchum stars as a retired private eye who must take on the Japanese mafia in search of his friend's daughter. In the ensuing decades, the film has grown in stature and now finally gets its Blu-ray debut.
The Thin Man and a Lady
Between 1934-47, the team of William Powell and Myrna Loy were silver screen gold as Nick and Nora Charles in six Thin Man comedy/mystery films. The final two films in that mega-successful cinematic series are now available once again on DVD: 1945's The Thin Man Goes Home and 1947's Song of the Thin Man. Let the mystery and laughs begin again!
As the frontman of the self-proclaimed Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World, the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger continues to prance around concert stages the world over and the band even released their first studio album, Blue & Lonesome, in more than a decade. But back in 1968, the then-25-year-old rock superstar made his acting debut in Performance (although the film wasn't released until 1970). A gripping psychological melodrama about a criminal (James Fox) who hides out with a bizarre rock star (Jagger) and his companion (Anita Pallenberg, who was romantically involved in real-life with the Stones' Brian Jones and later Keith Richards with whom she had three children). A true cult classic that was released a few years ago on Blu-ray and is now back on DVD.
Another captivating performer of his time was Fred Astaire—he of quick feet and flawless dance moves—who teamed up with the equally alluring Cyd Charisse in 1957's Silk Stockings, the musical adaptation of Ninotchka. Set to witty Cole Porter tunes, spiked with laughs and featuring the two leads dancing the Eugene Loring-Hermes Pan choreography into timeless emotion, Silk Stockings shows why elegance and fun never go out of style.
At the outset of that same decade, screen icon James Cagney once again slipped on his dancing shoes for the 1950 hit musical The West Point Story, a spirited comedy packed with star-power and tunes by veteran songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn. With the help of Gordon MacRae, Doris Day, Virginia Mayo and Gene Nelson, Cagney is "in rare good form, singing, dancing and wisecracking in his most electrifying style," said the New York Times.
One of Hollywood's greatest female actresses to ever grace the big screen was Joan Crawford. A true cinema legend, Crawford's career spanned four decades and included a "Best Actress" Academy Award for her performance in the title role of 1945's Mildred Pierce, along with two other nominations. And now these six Crawford films that cover the breadth of her career and genres are available on DVD: 1933's Dancing Lady, 1934's Sadie McKee, 1940's Strange Cargo, 1941's A Woman's Face, 1949's Flamingo Road and 1953's Torch Song.
A rival of Crawford's back in the day was the ever-engaging Bette Davis. The feuds between Davis and Crawford kept the tabloid presses rolling 24/7 in the Golden Years of Hollywood. Returning to DVD is one of Davis' most powerful early performances for Warner Bros. in the 1937 box-office hit, Marked Woman, co-starring a new guy who was about to hit super-stardom himself, Humphrey Bogart. Based on the real-life exploits of a prostitute whose courtroom testimony put the notorious gangster Lucky Luciano behind bars.
Miss Davis also stars in 1952's The Star, which makes its way back to DVD just in time for this year's Academy Awards. What's the connection, you ask? Well, yes, Davis did receive an Oscar nomination for this performance but in an interesting little bit of trivia, her character in The Star—an aging actress trying to make her way back to stardom—takes a drunken drive through Beverly Hills with an Oscar on the dashboard. Nope, not a fake prop, but rather one of the two actual Oscars that Davis had won in her own career.
Seven years after first achieving stardom as that innocent little girl from Kansas in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland starred in the western musical The Harvey Girls, which won an Oscar for the song "On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe." At the time, Time called it "A technicolored musical celebrating the coming of chastity, clean silverware, and crumbless tablecloths to the pioneer Southwest." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Oscar-winning actress and multiple nominee Diane Keaton received a Golden Globe nomination for her title role performance in 1984's Mrs. Soffel. Based on a true story story from 1901, Keaton plays a prison warden's wife who falls in love with a death row inmate (played by Mel Gibson) and helps him to escape.
Barbra Streisand gives a powerful performance as a woman on trial who must prove she's not crazy in the 1987 drama Nuts. Richard Dreyfuss is the public defender assigned to defend his abrasive and outspoken client during her "mental competency" hearing to see if she is competent to stand trial for a murder she says she committed in self-defense. The compelling drama received Golden Globe nominations for "Best Motion Picture-Drama" and one each for both Streisand and Dreyfuss.
With only a very limited release in the United States in 2001, the British-Australian-German produced film Charlotte Gray stars two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett as the title character in this WWII-era drama. Based on the real-life missions of women in Great Britain's Special Operations Executive, who teamed with the French Resistance against the Nazis, Blanchett gives another of her powerful yet understated performances.
When pop legend Frankie Lymon died, he left behind a string of hit records...and a string of ex-wives. Heart, humor and three-part disharmony reign in 1998's Why Do Fools Fall in Love as Lymon's three wives maneuver to one-up each other and claim the estate. Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox and Lela Rochon play the very different women who discover they have something in common—the same husband (Larenz Tate). With over 30 classic tunes, this is a breezy warm-hearted drama that had to be true because no one could make it up.
Love, Life & Pacino
At the tale end of the Sixties, Elia Kazan directed Kirk Douglas in The Arrangement, an uncompromising look at a successful businessman whose life spirals out of control. Based on Kazan's best-selling novel of the same name, this tense drama surrounds Douglas with powerful support from Faye Dunaway (as his mistress), Deborah Kerr (as his wife), Richard Boone (as his father) and Hume Cronyn (as the family attorney).
Written and directed by Paul Mazursky, 1973's Blume in Love is a dram/com about a Beverly Hills lawyer (George Segal) who discovers that he's once again deeply in love with his ex-wife (Susan Anspach) and chases her around the globe to win her back a second time. Co-starring Kris Kristofferson, Marsha Mason and Shelly Winters, Blume in Love is a lost gem in Mazursky's canon of memorable relationship comedies.
The roller coaster worlds of professional sports, marriage and business come together in the 1988 drama Everybody's All-American, which follows the life of a college football star (Dennis Quaid), his college sweetheart and eventual wife (Jessica Lange) through 30 years of a topsy-turfy relationship. Taylor Hackford directs the impressive cast that also includes Timothy Hutton and John Goodman in this tale of what happens to people when the applause and accolades stop.
Two lesser known movies of screen legend Al Pacino's filmography have also returned to DVD. In 1973's Scarecrow, Pacino and Gene Hackman play two hard-luck drifters who find themselves crossing the country together in search of their own particular dreams. A moving and touching drama, the film was the co-winner of the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prize at the time of its release. Also back in print is 1985's Revolution with Pacino starring as a fur trapper caught up in America's Revolutionary War.
Last but not least, we have two classic cartoon series from the Sixties back on DVD. Great for kids (and those of us who just got taller) are Top Cat: The Complete Series and Wacky Races: The Complete Series.