Thursday, January 17, 2008

Laughing Gravy's Crystal Ball-Part One

Cliff "Laughing Gravy" Weimer is back, and Bijou's got him. This week and next he'll be sharing his inside info on upcoming DVD releases.

Through the magic of the Internet, let’s take a peek into the future and see what’s in store for Matinee at the Bijou fans, shall we? Hmmm… Oh, dear. It seems we’re all going to be eaten by Morlocks! Tell you what, then, let’s set the Bijou Time Viewer to the “near future” and see what DVD releases we can look forward to in the first half of 2008, an altogether more pleasant prospect if you ask me.

At In The Balcony we always begin our show with a peppy cartoon, and Warners is releasing a 3-disc set of Oscar winners and nominated animated shorts in February, The Academy Award Animation Collection. Warners now controls the MGM and Fleischer cartoons as well as its own Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies staples, so the collection features a wide variety of stars of the silver screen cels, including Bugs Bunny, Superman, Popeye, Tom & Jerry, and many others. If you want to go the cost-cutting route, a separate 1-disc edition will include only 15 cartoons that actually won Oscars, which narrows the field and the entertainment value, says me. For more fun, furious, and furry cartoon fixes, look for a second boxed set of chronological Woody Woodpecker & Friends (Universal) in April, and Warner will return with a sixth volume of Looney Tunes and a second compilation of Popeye cartoons (dates to be announced). If your attention span is longer than mine and you enjoy feature-length cartoons (and cats and dogs), Disney is offering pumped-up special editions of The Aristocats in February and 101 Dalmations in March.

Next on our program is a chilling chapter of a sinister serial, and as always VCI Entertainment has an impressive lineup of classic cliffhangers scheduled for release. The fun begins in February with The Phantom Creeps (1939) starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Zorka, who is bent on world conquest with the aid of a giant grimacing robot, li’l exploding mechanical spiders, and a hapless sidekick in a chauffeur’s outfit. This is a serial that’s been impossible to find in good condition, but VCI’s new DVD, which we got an advance copy of, is terrific. Also in February, look for a restored version of The Phantom Empire (1935) with Gene Autry and Junior G-Men of the Air (1942) with the Dead End Kids. The DVDs feature bonus cartoons, too.

The chapterplay releases will continue through the spring from VCI, and they’re graciously allowing me to reveal the titles here as an exclusive for Bijou readers, so write this down: in March, they’re offering Tailspin Tommy (1934), its sequel, Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery (1935), and Ruth Roman as Jungle Queen (1945). May is Dick Tracy Month at VCI, with a colossal boxed set of the four much-loved Tracy Republic serials, Dick Tracy (1936), Dick Tracy Returns (1937), Dick Tracy’s G-Men (1939), and Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. (1941). All star Ralph Byrd as the stiletto-chinned crimefighter, and titles will also be available separately.

Love short subjects? Well, so do we. Once the “spice of the program”, these days the best we can hope for with a new movie is that the 30 minutes’ worth of pre-movie commercials will be at least passably entertaining as we await the start of the feature and the ringing of a cell phone in the next row. While no specific short collections have come to our attention, the various Warner releases will continue to present “Warners Night at the Movies” as DVD bonuses, allowing us to view trailers, cartoons, shorts, and newsreels from bygone years. For example, the third collection of Warner Gangster films (March) includes six feature films, nine trailers, seven cartoons, including Porky and Gabby and Slap Happy Pappy, and nine theatrical shorts, including musical Broadway Brevities like Kissing Time (1933) and Smart Set-Up (1931), Hi De Ho with Cab Calloway, The Audition with novelty dancers Larry & Larry (where’s Darryl?), and the Technicolor Civil War featurette Under Southern Stars (1937). Talk about getting your money’s worth! If they’d only put a lovely usherette in each DVD box, it’d be perfect!

Next week, he said in his best Knox Manning voice, don’t fail to see the second and concluding episode of our sneak preview, as we review upcoming feature film releases, including some rare titles not revealed anywhere else!


Clifford Weimer
In The Balcony

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