Thursday, January 24, 2008

Laughing Gravy's Crystal Ball-Part Two

In our last suspense-soaked episode, we dodged Morlocks to visit the far future and espy what cartoons, short subjects and serial chapters we could look forward to as DVD releases in 2008. This week, we channel the spirit of the great mystic seer Criswell to predict a bevy of top-notch feature attractions, from gritty film noir thrillers to massive Technicolor spectacles. In the latter category, the 1961 favorite El Cid starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren arrives Jan. 29 in a spiffy new 2-disc edition. In the former category, look for the belated continuation of the Fox Film Noir series in March with Joan Crawford as Daisy Kenyon (1947), Ginger Rogers as the Black Widow (1953), and Jeanne Crain taking a Dangerous Crossing (1953). Also, VCI will offer three additional volumes of Forgotten Film Noir triple-features; amongst the highlights of the nine titles are Mr. District Attorney (1941, with Peter Lorre), pugilistic peril at Ringside (1949), and The Big Chase (1954, with Glenn Langan and Lon Chaney, Jr.).

Warners has two much-anticipated sets this spring including third volumes of the Warner Bros. Gangsters Collection (March) with Lady Killer, Black Legion, Brother Orchid, Smart Money, Picture Snatcher, and Mayor of Hell, and Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory (April), with Kismet, Deep in My Heart, Born to Dance, and Broadway Melody of 1936. As mentioned last week, both sets are packed with vintage short subjects. Also in March from Warner comes more early ‘30s pre-code delights with Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 2, featuring The Divorcee, A Free Soul, Night Nurse, Female, and Three on a Match.

Getting back to gangsters, wherever there’s a crime there has to be a sleuth to solve it, and the king of the movie detectives, Charlie Chan, returns with a new collection from Fox in February. Titles – all of which star Sidney Toler – include Charlie Chan in Honolulu, in Reno, at Treasure Island, and in the City in Darkness. In April, VCI offers Mr. Wong, Detective: The Complete Collection, with five films starring Boris Karloff as the screen’s most improbable Asian crimefighter, plus Keye Luke in the final film of the series. We mentioned last week that May is Dick Tracy Month at VCI; in addition to all four Tracy serials they’ll have a boxed set of the four RKO features of the 1940s starring Morgan Conway or Ralph Byrd as Chester Gould’s trench-coated rackets wrecker. Bonus materials will be provided by former Tracy scribe and award-winning author Max Allan Collins.

Like cowboy pitchers? Well, pardner, who doesn’t? VCI will be serving up another Cisco Kid triple feature starring Duncan Renaldo in March, plus a massive collection of 13 vintage Cisco Kid titles. Grapevine Video will be offering their usual eclectic lineup of outstanding silent films, including the oaters The Last Trail (1927) with Tom Mix, Pony Express (1926) with Wallace Beery, The Devil Horse (1925), with Rex and Yakima Canutt, and Sign of the Claw (1926) with Peter the Great, who is apparently a dog, and not THE Peter the Great. Other highly anticipated Grapevine releases include James W. Horne’s comedy classic Cruise of the Jasper B (1925) with Rod LaRocque, Sappho (a/k/a Mad Love, 1921) with Pola Negri, and a collection of 7 silent versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, plus an early, rare sound version starring Sheldon Lewis.

Keep that mosquito spray handy, folks, because not only is Warner planning another Tarzan boxed set in 2008, but you’ll be able to see a somewhat flabbier but no less heroic Johnny Weissmuller out of his loin cloth and into jodhpurs in a Sony collection of Jungle Jim films. The Tarzan set will introduce Lex Barker as the Ape Man in such films as Tarzan’s Magic Fountain and Tarzan’s Savage Fury, while Jungle Jim stars in Mark of the Gorilla and Jungle Moon Men. A complete list of titles and release dates will be announced as soon as we can take a little Windex to our crystal ball.

Universal continues to greatly improve its vintage release schedule, and in April will release four much-admired screwball comedies, The Major and the Minor (Ginger Rogers & Ray Milland), She Done Him Wrong (Mae West & Cary Grant), Easy Living (Jean Arthur, written by Preston Sturges) and Midnight (Don Ameche, Claudette Colbert).

As you can see, the months ahead will be stocked with entertaining great and not-so-great films on shiny little metal discs that we can enjoy over and over from the comfort of our easy chairs. Oh, by the way, within 10 years movies will be projected from satellites in space directly onto our eyeballs and popcorn will be dispensed from itty-bitty popcorn machines planted up our nostrils. Laughing Gravy predicts!

Clifford Weimer
In The Balcony

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