Well, at least, according to me. As usual, there are way too many great titles available for the serious movie and TV fan, so, I must confess, I cheated a bit. I’ve grouped some selections together that share a similarity. Still, legions have been slighted, but I’ve tried my danged best (to use the technical term).
1) Ducking Amazing! As the number of 3D B-D movies increases, the law of averages demands that the vintage selections from the classic period (1953-54) slowly but surely materialize. There have been a number of worthy contenders over the past couple of years, but two stand out (appropriately, in your face), a pair that work even as standard 2D titles (which is the viewing experience that most folks have been privy to): Warner Bros. House of Wax (1953; $34.99; http://www.examiner.com/review/waximum-exposure), directed by Andre de Toth, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial ‘M’ For Murder (1954; $34.99; http://www.examiner.com/review/3-d-triangle-cunning-with-scissors). De Toth, of course, is the acknowledged master of the format (ironic, since his loss of one eye prevented him from enjoying the fruits of his labors) and doesn’t scrimp, creating a scary, atmospheric stereoscopic chiller that shot Vincent Price into the upper echelons of horrordom. The effects are jolting, but, more importantly, are often part of the creepy narrative. In near-flawless Blu-Ray, the paddle-ball guy’s antics (at least partially) finally work
!It’s almost ludicrous to say that from the get-go, the Master of Suspense has a handle on the wonders and possibilities of third-dimensional thrills. What was an engrossing, entertaining cat-and-mouse mystery, in 3D, becomes a dazzling showcase for an often maligned process. Clues are dangled in front of viewers, a murder-gone-wrong becomes a breathtaking heart-stopper, and foreground and background pacing characters increase the visual psychological tension.
With major stars and directors from this period still to be accounted for (Sirk, Walsh, Boetticher, Wayne, Hayworth, Mitchum), the future looks bright indeed!
2) Acornucopia! It’s been a terrific year for fans of Brit mysteries (and elsewhere), thanks to the grand efforts from the folks at Acorn Media. I’m talking about splendid mini-series, on-going, long-running (by now) standards and sad finales. For me, the crème de la crème comprises the marvelous two-part dramatization of The Great Train Robbery (2013; $39.99, DVD; http://www.examiner.com/review/loco-motives), likely the most reasonable account of the real-life famed 1963 heist. As usual, the Brits are masters of the game although, in this case, truth is definitely stranger than fiction. Also wilder and funnier. The expert cast (Jim Broadbent, Luke Evans, James Fox, Tim Pigott-Smith, James Wilby) complements the writing (Broadchurch’s Chris Chibnall) and directing (Julian Jarrold, James Strong).
It’s a bittersweet duty to say “adios” to Foyle after thirteen years (and nine series), but the Final Season (2015; $49.99; http://www.examiner.com/review/foyled-again-and-curses-for-the-last-time) does prove to be one of the best. Originally, I immensely enjoyed the WWII-era veteran detective’s adventures on his suburban beat. Kinda like a Midsomer Moonlight Serenade. Post-war, Foyle (the wonderful Michael Kitchen) and his gal Friday, Sam (the equally fab Honeysuckle Weeks) moved to London and dealt with Cold War shenanigans. It was a rough transition for the characters (ditto, me), but this second and final installment had me glued to my home theater seat as the protagonists adjusted and the new regulars evolved. Fascinatingly, much of the first-rate drama comes from actual historical events. TV doesn’t get much better.
Above Suspicion 3: Silent Scream (2012; $29.99; DVD; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/dcs-sob/ ) is an addictive depiction of the brutal murder of a popular albeit skanky actress (Joanna Vanderham). The suspects and the investigators all share some rather ominous secrets that redefine the adage “nothing is what it seems.” Superb acting by all, but specifically from leads Ciaran Hinds and Kelly Reilly.
Harry (2013; $39.99; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/hard-boiled-and-scrambled/ ) is a New Zealand mini-series about a top cop, just released from the loony bin. Human damaged goods don’t always make for a smooth assimilation into his former family life (or professional one, for that matter), but it does provide an edgy, nail-biting thriller of the first order. Star/cowriter Oscar Kightley excels at both hats. And when is costar Sam Neill ever bad?
Two spectacularly remastered Midsomer Murders (Series 12 and 13; 2008-10; @$49.99; DVD; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2016/01/01/definite-high-def-stocking-stuffers/) are just the thing for weekend watching on a cold, wintry night (or anytime, I suppose). The fifteen feature-length mysteries presented on these two series, in their original broadcast order, encompass some of the best episodes in the show’s two-decade history (13 contains likely my favorite, Master Class). John Nettles, Jason Hughes, Jane Wymark and Laura Howard are all in top form, and we even get to meet cousin John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) in one entry.
Australia’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 2 (2013; $59.99) has proven to be a bona fide surprise for this snarky crime drama fan. Essie Davis shines as the smart, sexy and defiant sleuth whose collaboration with Chief of Detectives Jack Robinson (Nathan Page) is one of the most honest and genuine man/woman relationships I’ve even seen in the genre. The 1920s settings are in itself worth the trip.
3) Climate Change You Can Believe In! 1943’s Stormy Weather ($29.95; http://www.examiner.com/review/hot-and-cool), directed by Andrew L. Stone, and featuring Bill Robinson (in his only starring role) is one of the most jubilant, joyous musicals ever to come out of 20th Century-Fox. Twilight Time has presented us with a glorious 35mm limited edition Blu-Ray transfer that’ll make you think the Nicholas Brothers are about to land in your lap. In its brief (78 minutes) running time, the admittedly goofy scenario is basically a non-stop tapestry for one knockout number after another. Dooley Wilson and Miller & Lyles admirably take care of the comedic bits while Robinson admiringly shares the limelight with Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, the Katherine Dunham Dancers, Ada Brown, plus embryonic appearances by Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter…all the while romancing luscious Lena Horne, who, natch, does her trademark song.
4) Noir Voyager. Some rather unique and underrated additions to the film noir canon made their debuts during the past year, and here are the worthiest of the bunch.
1946’s Sleep, My Love (1948; $29.95; http://www.examiner.com/review/midnight-madness), directed by the great Douglas Sirk, takes the frothy lovers from 1939’s Midnight and propels them into Gaslight hell. Modern New Yorkers Don Ameche’s and Claudette Colbert’s supposed perfect marriage has cracks the size of the equator. Would-be paramour Robert Cummings suspects Colbert ain’t really going insane and uses his considerable detecting chops to unmask a gruesome and ghoulish plot. It’s a movie I often dismissed due to the lousy prints that used to surface on TV throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. Olive Films/Paramount has come up with a gorgeous 35mm transfer that instantly thrusts the title into collector’s must-have noir library. The supporting cast is aces, including George Coulouris, Queenie Smith, Keye Luke, Rita Johnson, plus (briefly) Raymond Burr as a skeptical investigator and Hazel Brooks, as perhaps the most toxic and evil femme fatale ever to grace the genre.
Rosalind Russell goes all psychopath in 1948’s The Velvet Touch ($21.99; http://www.examiner.com/review/smash-hit), on DVD-R from the Warner Archive Collection. An A-1 example of show biz noir, this surprisingly frank sexual drama tears the mask off the vipers who occupy the Great White Way. Hoisting Roz on her own petard are Claire Trevor, Leo Genn, Leon Ames, Frank McHugh and Sydney Greenstreet as a New York detective with a penchant for the theater.
1954’s Witness to Murder (Kino-Lorber Studio Classics; $29.95; http://www.examiner.com/review/watch-on-the-swine) excellently utilizes A-stars on a B-budget. Artist Barbara Stanwyck has a rear-window moment when she spies predatory neighbor George Sanders offing his slinky lover. It doesn’t help that Sanders is a master of manipulation (an ex-Nazi, no less), determined to drive Stany nuts, seduce her and dump her corpse in Griffith Park. Of course, as we movie fans know, NO ONE messes with Barbara Stanwyck, and the cat-and-mouse byplay between these two dominant personalities is nothing less than a joy to behold. Roy Rowland directs, with a fine roster of supporting thesps, including Gary Merrill, Jesse White, Harry Shannon, Juanita Moore and Claude Akins.
Star Cornel Wilde makes an impressive directorial debut in 1955’s Storm Fear (Kino-Lorber Studio Classics; $29.95; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/wilde-in-the-country/). Eschewing the usual locales (as in the above’s New York and L.A. mean streets), Wilde sets his dark noir is the white wastelands of the Idaho wilderness. Struggling asthmatic writer Dan Duryea, agonizingly trying to provide for his young wife (Jean Wallace, aka, Mrs. Wilde) and son has his world torn topsy-turvy with the arrival of his sociopathic criminal brother (Wilde) and his demented cohorts. The hours spent here have never been more desperate as the band holds the family in terror before an exciting climatic flight through the jagged, blizzard-plagued landscape. Many cinematic newbies cut their teeth on this riveting drama, including composer Elmer Bernstein and costars Dennis Weaver, Steven Hill and Lee Grant.
5) Giallo Shots. Leave it to the talented writer/director Duccio Tessari to add a new level of terror to the Italian thriller genre with his gripping 1970 entry Death Occurred Last Night (Kino-Lorber/Raro Video; $29.95; http://www.examiner.com/review/damned-if-you-do). A beautiful young woman is kidnapped and feared dead or sold into white slavery. But this is merely where the far-from-formulaic giallo begins. The 25-year-old is mentally challenged, and the pleasure she experiences from her attacker makes her think that all sexually active men are good and deserving individuals. It’s a predator’s paradise and a parent’s nightmare. The movie then divides into two parallel stories as the girl’s father (Raf Vallone) and determined police detective and his investigative reporter girlfriend (Eva Renzi) each use their powers to track down the perpetrators of this vile crime. When the parallels finally meet, the movie erupts into a violent (but sadistically gratifying) climax. All the genre’s elements are here (stunning camerawork, beautiful women, great music and flesh-crawling suspense) and then some. A truly extraordinary movie with three great performances.
6) Human Time Bombs. Anthony Mann’s blistering 1957 Korean War drama Men in War (Olive Films; $29.95; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/11/09/hell-is-war/) has everything genre fans could want: terrific characters, action, suspense, and two of the greatest actors in post-WWII cinema (or anytime): Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray. Their playing off each other throughout the insanity surrounding them is nothing less than one helluva unforgettable cinematic experience. The Philip Yordan script hits all the right notes – like a land mine, and it’s all beautifully supplemented by hand-picked supporting cast (Vic Morrow, Robert Keith, James Edwards, Nehemiah Persoff, Phillip Pine, L.Q. Jones, Scott Marlowe), the sparse music by Elmer Bernstein and the bleak landscape photography of Ernest Haller. All top line! A great movie in (at last) a fine Blu-Ray widescreen transfer.
7) Risqué Business. It’s always a treat when The Warner Archive Collection unveils a new edition of their pre-Code Forbidden Hollywood series, and Volume 8 ($47.99; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/immoral-support/ ) keeps the salacious fun on an even keel. Pre-Code masters Jimmy Cagney and Joan Blondell shine in 1931’s Blonde Crazy, finagling their unscrupulous behinds in and out of elaborate sting operations. Norma Shearer spreads it around like a truck-stop ho’ in 1931’s Strangers May Kiss (albeit, only the finest rigs, specifically Neil Hamilton with Robert Montgomery in tow). Paul Muni, a disgraced reporter relegated to a lonely hearts column (in 1934’s Hi, Nellie), finds things perk up when he uncovers a sex and murder political scandal. And Eddie Robinson crashes the dog-racing racket in 1934’s Dark Hazard, discovering that good-girl wifey (Genevieve Tobin) is more ice than nice, but old breezy flame Glenda Farrell be a-smoking. Its hours of stinging fast-talking barbs, Art Deco boudoirs and more walks of shame than a decade of Spring Breaks.
8) Expressionism Uber Alles. Fritz Lang was the director originally chosen to helm the nightmarish psychological horror experiment known as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Kino Classics; $29.95; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/germaniacs/). Lang, however, was occupied on another project and had to pass. Not to worry, the picture, under the Teutonic tutelage of Robert Weine, became an iconic landmark achievement in world cinema – and still thrills to this day. Werner Krauss, Lil Dagover and, especially Conrad Veidt, create templates for the horror film that has never been more creepy than in Kino’s new painstaking restoration – a gorgeous Blu-Ray that deserves to be in any classic buff’s collection.
Lang is on hand for his 1941 American triumph, the atmospheric spy chiller Man Hunt ($29.95; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/germaniacs/). As a big-game hunter, eluding the Nazis (he invaded Berchtesgaden to take a crack at Hitler), Walter Pidgeon is thrown into a spidery web of intrigue involving Aryan wunderkind George Sanders, slimy John Carradine and valiant hooker Joan Bennett. It’s a stunning limited edition Blu-Ray from the folks at Twilight Time that guarantees to be on your repeat viewing queue. The ending will leave you gasping.
9) Heaven and Earth. A pair of classic 1950s science-fiction pics hit Blu-Ray in 2015, and, they’re literally out (and in) of this world. 1955’s The Quatermass X-periment (Kino-Lorber Studio Classics; $29.95; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/germaniacs/) is the ghoulish concoction from Hammer Films that started their ball rolling (their first goth masterpiece, Curse of Frankenstein, would be unveiled the following year). Based on Nigel Kneale’s superb British TV serial, Quatermass became a UK smash (faring quite well here, where, shorn of its gorier moments, ended up as The Creeping Unknown). This is the complete, uncut across-the-pond version, and it’s a honey. As the determined, cold, calculating Dr. Quatermass, Brian Donlevy hits a late career peak nevertheless topped by Richard Wordsworth’s Karloff-ian turn as the only surviving astronaut undergoing a frightening change. Kino-Lorber’s widescreen Blu-Ray looks fantastic and comes with a plethora of groovy extras.
Twilight Time’s original limited edition of 1959’s crowd-pleaser Journey to the Center of the Earth sold out of its run in near-record nanoseconds. The many disappointed fans, too late to the fair, can now rejoice as not only has the title been given a second limited re-issue, but it’s a fresh 4K refurbishing as well ($29.95; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/underground-movement/). James Mason leads the 19th-century crew of intrepid (and unscrupulous) explorers (including Arlene Dahl, Pat Boone and Thayer David) 20,000 leagues under the surface of our planet in this exciting Jules Verne tale, highlighted by lavish production values (in CinemaScope and restored DeLuxe Color) and a fantastic stereo soundtrack containing one of Bernard Herrmann’s finest scores (accessible as IST). But remember: it’s a limited edition!
10) Bountiful Burbank Boxes. The gang at Warner Bros. have particularly outdone themselves with a selection of genre/star collections in 2015, three of which are no-brainer additions to Blu-Ray libraries.
Horror Classics, Volume One: 4 Chilling Movies From Hammer Films ($54.95; https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/sharp-as-a-stake/) is a Baby Boomer fright fan’s scream come true. Some of the studio’s most popular titles (spanning the years 1959-70) are in this quartet, which comprises of The Mummy, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula and the Terence Fisher masterpiece Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. The 1080p transfers are crystal clear and dripping in Technicolor. Stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee display their considerable talents, with lovely support from the beauteous presences of Veronica Carlson, Yvonne Furneaux, Linda Hayden and Barbara Ewing. And there’s always Michael Ripper.
There’s not much to say about The John Wayne Film Collection ($54.98), except Blu-Ray, The Searchers and Rio Bravo. So, what are you waiting for? The affordable package also contains Fort Apache, The Train Robbers and Cahill: U.S. Marshal.
Musicals: 4-Movie Collection ($34.99) is a song-and-dance maven’s Blu-Ray fantasy. For me, 1950s represent the Golden Era of the Movie Musical, and this box set handily proves why: MGM’s The Band Wagon (1953, my favorite musical ever), Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and 1953’s Kiss Me, Kate in 3D! Hey, we’re talkin’ Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller, Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, etc. Come on! As a chaser, there’s a WB sidebar add-on of Calamity Jane, with Doris Day delivering one of her and the decade’s standards (“Secret Love”). They look great, they sound great. No other descriptions are really necessary. Grab it!