Best of ‘17

Not too long ago, I used to agonize over the last couple of weeks of the year, trying to pick the ten titles I thought best represented the DVD and Blu-Ray formats.

Very quickly, this became a ludicrous endeavor, as there were so many great movies and programs becoming available; thus, I began to group my faves by format, genre, aspect ratio…you know the deal.

Bizarrely enough, with the industry scuttlebutt that the DVD and Blu-Ray platters are increasingly spinning toward the direction of laserdisc and VHS, the smaller, independent companies (with the notable superb contribution from The Warner Archive Collection) have stepped up, offering more desirable cinematic goodies than ever before.  So, here are my top picks for 2017, a year where we should be grateful for ANY good news.

Kino-Lorber, with its apparently endless arms, reaching out to acquire more outfits under their banner, appropriately released a stunner called SPIDERS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/?s=the+spider+who+loved+me).  For those unfamiliar with this movie – a two-part odyssey running nearly three hours, it’s an early Fritz Lang masterpiece from 1919 that prefigures the James Bond movies and just about every other action franchise out there.  Plus, the most amazing female villains this side of Fantomas!

It’s Kino again for ZAZA (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/zz-tops/), a beautifully restored 1923 Paramount starring Gloria Swanson and directed by Allan Dwan.  Gloria’s simply swell as an ill-tempered hottie who uses her looks (and sex) to rise in the entertainment arena.  The remarkable thing is Swanson’s nuanced performance as she ages, becoming more mature and nurturing friendships with former enemies.  For 1920s depictions of female relationships, few can match this overlooked gem.

The Sprocket Vault/Kit Parker Films released a restored and fantastic DVD of the 1959 comedy compilation WHEN COMEDY WAS KING (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/youngson-at-heart/).  This Robert Youngston marvel has never looked better and contains primo clips of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, plus, as a supplement, a variety of rarely-seen complete comedy shorts from the slapstick era.

For the transition into the Talkie boom, nothing fits the bill better than Warners’ outstanding restoration of THE MAN AND THE MOMENT (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/soaring-dove/), a 1929 hybrid – part-talker/part silent.  Meticulously transferred from existing prints and collectors’ Vitaphone discs, this sexy pre-Code comedy/romance is a triumph for star Billie Dove (who’s gorgeous as a flappin’ aviatrix).  Don’t miss it.

While one might mourn the passing of the Warner Archive Forbidden Hollywood series, there were still (and will be more) pre-Coders to be released as singles/re-masters.  Key among these making their appearance in 2017 was 1930’s THE WIDOW FROM CHICAGO and 1931’s BROAD-MINDED (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/pre-code-sinema-four-play-1/). WIDOW stars the yummy Alice White opposite newbie Edward G. Robinson in a terrific run-through for Little Caesar (released later that year).  Its thugs ‘n’ mugs at its most fun, with loads of risqué situations, Say Girls and WTF dialog.  BROAD-MINDED, a Joe E. Brown sexy comedy that, to put it mildly, is a Depression-era exercise in youth debauchery.  It’s a pip to see girl-crazy William Collier, Jr. being ordered by his Wall Street pop to be chaperoned by meek Ossie (Brown), not realizing that he’s Womanizing Chicken Inspector of the Year.  The real highlight is a riotous turn by Bela Lugosi, who handles both dialog and sight gags with panache. And, then, there’s always Thelma Todd!

Kino swimmingly comes to the rescue with the long-thought-lost DELUGE (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/wet-n-riled/), a 1933 sci-fi disaster movie, featuring ignored climate change professors proved correct when massive tsunamis strike the Earth.  The destruction of New York, which opens the picture was state-of-the-art then, and remains quite impressive today.  The pre-Code factor, involving rape gangs and wholesale murder, add to the double-take experience.

A public domain disaster, 1932’s VAMPIRE BAT (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/roaming-atwill/), was a Poverty Row special, filmed on the Universal lot, and featuring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas and Dwight Frye.  It’s a sick, creepy delight that now looks unbelievable, struck from near-mint 35MM elements, and brilliantly utilizing the Gustav Brock hand-colored effect for an atmospheric cavern chase.  Bravo to The Film Detective for giving us the chance to own this horror flick the way it was meant to be seen.

The Warner Archive Collection has done masterful service to all animation fans with their incredible PORKY PIG 101 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/stutterly-amazing/), a 101 cartoon 5-disc set that chronicles the evolution of the famed pig from 1933-1943.  With a cache of extras, including, storyboards, audio commentary, discarded and replaced sequences, this hefty set is nothing less than a mini-symposium on the history of the American animated cartoon during Hollywood’s Golden Era.  Featuring key works by Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, PORKY 101 is sure to make you go hogwild.

Restorations ran amuck in 2017, with likely the most anticipated home-vid title being (at last) the fully-complete version of Michael Curtiz’ 1941 tour de force THE SEA WOLF (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/giving-up-the-ghost-of-the-ghost/)

Featuring Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, John Garfield and a cargo hold of famed characters actors, this movie has never looked better, and, as good as it was before in its 80-minute rendition, the 100- minute version…blows it out of the water.  A MUST-HAVE!

The 1950s were likewise well represented in 2017, via a slew of wonderful color epics and auteur favorites.

Early-on in ’17, we were treated to Olive Films’ fully-refurbished edition of 1956’s THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/caught-rhett-handed/), a lusty Clark Gable western comedy, directed by Raoul Walsh.  The by-play between the King and his four curvy stacked deck cards (Eleanor Parker, Sara Shane, Jean Willes, and particularly Barbara Nichols), plus no-bullshit mammagamma Jo Van Fleet, is what makes this underrated oater work.  The new remaster, with gorgeous color replacing the previous faded visuals AND CinemaScope, is another major incentive.

Olive did the decade proud again with STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/wingman-in-the-sac/), a 1955 flag-waving homage to the Air Force, starring Jimmy Stewart, and directed by Anthony Mann.  When watched now, the movie is a dark look at the period, with a rather sour take on patriotism seething under the rah-rah surface Technicolor visuals.  The air stuff is glorious, never looking better than in this Blu-Ray prize, replicating the VistaVision imagery in a bravura fashion.

More Olive treats came by way of (FINALLY) the complete cut of Nicholas Ray’s stupendous 1959 odyssey, THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS. (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/11/21/the-chosen-frozen-people/) With its reconstructed missing reels of footage, this Eskimo-epic is now nearly perfect, ebullient in its Technicolor glow and strikingly enhanced in the proper Technirama proportions.  ANOTHER MUST-HAVE!

Olive’s prime release of 1950s treasures is their Signature Edition of THE QUIET MAN (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/shouting-quiet-praise/). Can’t say enough about this John Ford comedy/drama, save this Blu-Ray is the way to go.  A feature documentary, JOHN FORD: DREAMING THE QUIET MAN is also available through Olive, and is additionally highly recommended.

Kino concludes my Fifties Faves with their awesome Blu-Ray of THE VIKINGS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/02/14/the-ragnars-son/)  A 1958 ancient epic (notably dubbed a Norse Opera), this ravishing-looking Technirama tapestry uses the widescreen process and the Technicolor hues and tones as you’ve never seen them before.  The lavish comic-book narrative, all shot on location, reinvented the genre, with game cast members Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine all delivering mighty screen appearances.

As any of you who have followed my columns even peripherally know, I’m a 3-D fanatic.  I absolutely love the process, and always have.  The 2010s massive revival, resulting in 3-D TV and 3-D Blu-Ray (that often came close to rivaling theater quality) was like manna from heaven.  What I DON’T understand are the attitudes of industry bigwigs, both at the studios and at the hardware manufacturing companies.  The growth of the format was continuously gaining acceptance, but apparently, not fast enough.  So, what did they do?  They bailed on it.  Well, not entirely.  Marvel, DC and Disney still support it, but the production of 3-D movies has been substantially pared down, and the release of major 3-D home-vid pics shamefully now doesn’t include every title (save overseas, particularly in Australia, China and Russia, where the format is still thriving).

That said, once again, the indie firms have stepped up to the bat, doing the process proud by making available classics and obscurities from the first Golden Age.  To this, we bow down to the exemplary efforts of the folks at Twilight Time and the 3-D Film Archive (whose work is distributed though Kino).  Not only did they populate the stereoscopic home-entertainment universe with a groovy sampling of flicks, but they promise even more throughout 2018.  Yay!  Will there ever be another surge, like the one ignited by Avatar?  Who knows?  The companies now want everyone to buy 4K Ultra equipment and discs.  Of course, should someone of the ilk of a James Cameron release another 3-D blockbuster that brings in gazillions worldwide, we could see a massive return to the Third Dimension (albeit probably requiring yet another upgrade installation of 4K Ultra 3-D.  Uuugghhh!).

Twilight Time has given many of us 3-D fans the equivalent of coming-at-ya nirvana with a wide variety of fun and fantastic releases.  THE MAD MAGICIAN (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/07/11/3-3-dz-2-die-4/) is now one of my favorite discs; this loopy Columbia 1954 attempt to cash in on House of Wax is a total Vincent Price joy as he strangles, incinerates and chops up those who stand in his way.  A superb supplement includes the two 3 Stooges 3-D shorts, SPOOKS and PARDON MY BACKFIRE.   All looking spectacular.

Holy Grail 3-D titles also came our way in 2017, thanks to Twilight Time.  The excellent 1953 suspense-survival thriller INFERNO, starring Robert Ryan and Rita Hayworth’s version of Rain, MISS SADIE THOMPSON, both arrived looking the berries.  Twilight, still having a 3-D ace up their sleeve, closed the fall season with 1953’s GUN FURY (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/12/05/the-donna-pass/), an underrated Raoul Walsh western, costarring Rock Hudson and Donna Reed.

We earlier mentioned HOUSE OF WAX (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/?s=Halloween+Blitz+17%3A+Waximum+Exposure), the first major studio 3-D title that really got the 1950s craze going.  It was with great elation that I revisited this sensational Warners release.  Not only does HOUSE include the Vincent Price 1953 horror piece de resistance, but also a new Blu-Ray transfer of the 1933 two-strip Technicolor original, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, all packaged in a dynamite set with a lenticular slipcover.

Not to be outdone, the 3-D Film Archive has bestowed a couple of doozies that deserve a place in any serious 3-D library:  a proper newly-struck 35MM master of THE MASK (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/22/halloween-blitz-17-transition-lenses/) that 1961 kooky shiver show (“Put the mask on now”), and, a movie I’ve been wanting to see in the process all my life, the 1960 treasure hunt adventure SEPTEMBER STORM https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/swimmin-at-ya/).  Like all 3-D Archive titles, each of these platters comes loaded down with wonderful extras.

We close out our 3-D homage with one final Twilight Time release, the recent internationally acclaimed Anime HARLOCK: SPACE PIRATE (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/anime-zing/).  Already considered a modern classic, this 2013 blockbuster hit is one wild adrenaline ride popping with 3-D effects that’ll have you on the edge of your seat – and possibly even out of it.

Twilight Time celebrates the great widescreen movies of the 1960s with two 1967 releases that are guaranteed to be oft-repeat platter spinners.  HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/corporations-are-people-tunes/) is one of my favorite musicals.  The score by Frank Loesser is simply brilliant – and hilariously so (ditto, the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert).  The cast is terrific, too, especially leads Robert Morse, Michelle Lee, Maureen Arthur and Sammy Smith.  And it’s finally in the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio, plus with primo stereo-surround.

THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/german-sleazles/) is a lavish WWII epic that is also a suspense thriller and murder mystery.  There’s a high-ranking German officer, systematically going Jack the Ripper on a number of prostitutes throughout the eastern European theater.  It might not be that big a secret who the culprit is, but getting there is gripping, flesh-crawling fun (thanks to director Anatole Litvak), especially with the big-name cast, including Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Donald Pleasence, Tom Courtenay, Harry Andrews, Coral Browne, Christopher Plummer, Joanna Petit, Juliette Greco and Gordon Jackson.  The shot-on-location Technicolor and Panavision imagery is gorgeous, and the Maurice Jarre score another feather in his crowded melodious cap.

MHz, the eclectic DVD company that specializes in international TV crime dramas, came through with flying colors via an extraordinary 2017 release schedule, possibly their best ever.

I was stunned by the engrossing true story of CESARE MORI (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/black-shirt-white-hat/), the 2012 series, about an honest cop, who turned fascist to exterminate the Cosa Nostra.  The series looks fantastic with a sumptuous score by Pino Donnagio, and performances by Vincent Perez, Anna Foglietta, Gabriella Pession, Maurizio Donadoni and Tano Cuccia.  The opulent production values and cinematography will certainly remind one of Bertolucci.

Another true-life story is the exceptional 2015 Scandinavian series THE HEAVY WATER WAR (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/hell-frozen-over/), the race to beat the Nazis to the development of the atomic bomb.  Can honestly say that this is some of the best television I’ve EVER seen.  The foreboding atmosphere was so tense you could cut it with a knife.  And the action sequences put many big-budget big-screen adventures to shame.

A final Scandinavian triumph was 2011’s THE BRIDGE (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/two-broken-girls/), a breathtaking thriller about the hunt for a serial killer operating between Denmark and Sweden.  I absolutely love this show for so many reasons, prime among them being the splendid acting of lead Sophia Helin as the strange, intuitive genius sleuth Saga Noren.

And it’s always a pleasure to revisit the 2011 French mini-series ANTIGONE 34 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/chick-flic/), a penetrating expose of crime and corruption in and out of a special police squad.  The lynchpin to this marvelous show’s success is its star, the unique and stunning Anne Le Nen, whose allure combines formidable acting chops with eyebrow-raising athletic ability and sleek natural beauty.  Not exaggerating by saying she gives her more well-known contemporaries Johansson, Beckensale, Jovovich and Theron a run for their francs.

Acorn Media never disappoints.  The problem was picking their best of the best, as pretty much everything they release is of collectible value.

I’ve come up with a handful of titles that permanently reside in my replay section.

The neo-noir oh-so-dark (but often sardonically funny) detective series JACK TAYLOR, SETS 2 & 3 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/06/06/grizzly-and-grisly/) just seem to get better with every episode.  The haunting Irish locales perfectly set the stage for the sinister cases taken on (occasionally reluctantly) by the disgraced Garda title character.  So perfectly played by the great Iain Glen, Taylor is a diamond-in-the-rough (very rough) rogue who never wears out his welcome.

A lighter, but just as snarky Glen pops up in the 2016 fantasy-comedy DELICIOUS (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/the-glen-jones-law/). Glen is the deceased (but ever-present narrator and occasional participant) entrepreneur of a five-star Cornwall restaurant/inn.  The combination of food and sex has never been more enticing, or, as the title tells us, delicious.  Helping Glen serve up the lip-smacking delights are Dawn French, Emilia Fox, and the smashing Tanya Reynolds.

Cornwall also plays a major role in the release of the next installment of one of the most beloved global series of the 21st-century, DOC MARTIN, SERIES 7 (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/doc-savaged/).  The characters are as fetching as ever, with Port Wenn’s stock company in fine form, particularly Caroline Catz, John Marquez, Joe Absolom, Ian McNiece, and, of course, Martin Clunes.  Series 8 is to be released in 2018, and we’re looking forward to it with more than a modicum of sadness, as it is to be the final season.

Kino helped us celebrate Halloween in grand fashion with the Blu-Ray releases of four renowned titles.  Terence Fisher’s 1959 Hammer masterpiece THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/halloween-blitz-17-time-wounds-all-heels/) and Freddie Francis’ 1965 Amicus all-star (Cushing, Lee, Gough, Wymark) fright show THE SKULL (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/halloween-blitz-17-heady-bizarre/) led the pack.   But that was merely tip of the Kino blood-chilling iceberg.  I was further drawn to two Italian black-and-white goths starring genre goddess Barbara Steele, Mario Bava’s iconic 1960 classic BLACK SUNDAY and Antonio Margheriti’s vastly underrated THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/halloween-blitz-17-steele-magnolias/).  In both, Barbara delivers the goods in various incarnations and reincarnations.  Be prepared for horror mixed with eroticism at its finest.

Comedies are an essential part of life at Casa Neuhaus (or Casa-New-Casa), and the Warner Archive Collection came through like gangbusters with the Blu-Ray remaster of the 1982 Steve Martin hoot THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS  (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/?s=Halloween+Blitz+17%3A+Killer+Comedies…that+kill).  For the first time on home-video in its proper aspect ratio, this Carl Reiner-directed (and coscripted) laff riot is a quintessential Eighties addition to any comedy collection.  A Martin epoch, with immense support from David Warner, (the voice of) Sissy Spacek, George Furth, and last but certainly not least, Kathleen Turner.  “Into the mud, scum queen!”

Kino wraps up the Blu-Ray funny business with their package of Bob Hope entries, at last restored to look the way they should.  The guffaw meter ratchets up big-time with my picks for the best in the lot, 1947’s noir parody MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE and Frank Tashlin’s 1952 Technicolor western knee-slapper SON OF PALEFACE  (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/i-wanna-sell-ya/). Each takes on their respective target genres magnificently, seamless matching the verbal bon mots with inspired sight gags.  I wanna tell ya!

2017LOGOS

 

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