In The Balcony
Welcome to the new, improved IN THE BALCONY
We're exclusively devoted to vintage movies & TV shows on DVD/Blu-ray, from screen classics to B-movie gems to cheesy sci-fi and obscure weirdities scraped up from the viewing room floor.
Peruse our pages for news of upcoming DVD/Blu-ray releases, our weekly local Friday Night Films schedule, and this week's reviews.
OUR FAVORITE BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASES OF 2014
Gosh, we sure wish we could see EVERYTHING that comes out in a calendar year, but we can't. And while we appreciate the various "best" releases from our favorite companies: Olive Films, Criterion, VCI Entertainment, Kino, Warner Archive, and others, we have such eclectic taste in movies that rather than list the highest quality releases, we like to list our FAVORITE releases of the year. These are the discs that gave us the most enjoyment...
OUR FAVORITE BLU-RAY
The Complete Jacques Tati (Criterion BD or DVD) Our favorite BD of the year is a gorgeous set of the comic genius who gave us M. Hulot and a million laughs. Includes all of Tati's surviving short subjects, plus three versions of his first feature, Jour de Fête (1949); Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953); Mon Oncle (1958); Play Time (1967), which is probably our particular favorite; Trafic (1971); and the seldom-seen Parade (1974). Tati mixed images and sound to create hilarious works of comic ingenuity; every rich film is horizon-deep in comic treasures. A set for the ages, and for all ages. We'll open this again and again as the years go by.
OUR FAVORITE DVD
Show Boat (Warner Archive DVD) The Warner Archive, which manufactures and sells on-demand discs, incorporates thousands of titles from the Warners, MGM, RKO, and Monogram studios history, and every week we all look forward to see what’s going to be new. This was the gem of the year, the wonderful James Whale-directed 1936 Universal version of Edna Ferber’s classic story; unseen for decades, because MGM bought it outright when they decided to remake it (in a horrid version) in the 1950s. A classic piece of Americana, one of the screen's all-time greatest musicals, and our favorite DVD release of the year. Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Charles Winninger, and Paul Robeson star.
OTHER DISCS WE LOVED
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad / Fun and Fancy Free (Disney BD/DVD combo) I know, I know, the films are no great shakes in the grand scheme of things, but you not only get a couple of pretty good 1940s Disney features (which are made up of some pretty good featurettes, including Mickey and the Beanstalk and The Wind in the Willows) but as a bonus, they threw in the complete, uncut The Reluctant Dragon with Robert Benchley visiting the Disney studios! Now THAT’S an impressive package of minor Disney treats in one box.
Armored Attack! / The North Star (Olive BD and DVD) Lewis Milestone directed The North Star in 1943 when the Russkies were our allies; it’s the effects of the Nazis in a small Ukrainian village, starring Dean Jagger, Farley Granger, and Walter Brennan. The film’s politics became problematical in the Cold War era, so it was heavily edited (and narration added to make the Russkies seem like the villains) reissued as Armored Attack! in 1957. A terrific pairing of the two versions, a real eye-opener.
Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vols. 3 & 4 (Olive Films BD and DVD) A total of 25 more classic Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1930s, making a total of 49 on all four volumes (these are the last two planned releases). In the 29 years we’ve been airing Friday night movie parties, she’s been a regular offering, and has never looked better than on these four discs.
Cartoon Roots (Cartoons on Film BD/DVD combo) This was a delightful surprise; it was supposed to be, we thought, a capsule history of the early work (1907-1932) of such renowned animators as Paul Terry, Otto Messmer, Walter Lantz, and others. Funny thing happened on the way to the history lesson, however: a bunch of HIGHLY entertaining cartoons broke out. Enjoy such cartoons as Fireman Save My Child (1919), Scents and Nonsense (1926) and Felix Comes Back (1922) as history if you want, but the darn things are also clever and hilarious.
Double Indemnity (Universal BD) Bonus-packed edition of what we consider the greatest of all films noir. Barbara Stanwyck is the spider that lures fly Fred MacMurray to his doom in Billy Wilder’s 1944 gem.
The Freshman (Criterion DVD/BD) One of comic Harold Lloyd’s funniest and most appealing features (1925), plus a handful of bonus shorts. All of Buster Keaton’s major work is on BD from Kino, and Criterion is filling in the silent comedy cracks with a steady (but slow) program of Lloyd and Chaplin offerings. Much appreciated.
Ray Harryhausen Creature Double Feature (Mill Creek BD) This pairing of 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) and It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) is no great shakes, quality-wise; you’ll never use it to demonstrate how good HD looks on your TV. That said, it’s the same transfer as on the way more expensive Sony/Columbia BDs of a few years ago, and they dispensed with the much-loathed colorized versions, giving us only the B&W originals in a very low-cost budget package, so kudos to Mill Creek. Keep ‘em comin’!
1950s monster movies are grossly underrepresented in HD.
High School Confidential (Olive Films BD and DVD) A Balcony cult favorite; Russ Tamblyn is the new kid at the High School (and do we mean “High”) looking to score some heroin from narcotics pusher Jackie Coogan while he dodges passes made by sexy aunt Mamie Van Doren as the kids rock to Jerry Lee Lewis. Wow! A 1958 classic, if you define “classic” the same way WE do.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Criterion) Quick, name some OTHER movie that has Buster Keaton, Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Rochester, Zasu Pitts, Leo Gorcey, Peter Falk and Allen Jenkins in it? Right, you can’t.
Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Vol. 3 (Warner Bros.) Well, we’re told that this is the final planned HD release of classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies; fifty cartoons and a handful of bonuses. So long, Bugs ‘n’ Daffy ‘n’ friends. See you in the Warner Archive.
The Marx Brothers TV Collection (Shout! Factory) This is not great comedy nor great Marxian work, but it’s a gem nonetheless, more than four dozen full shows and clips from the ‘50s with Groucho, Harpo, Chico and never Zeppo. Some of it’s very funny (check out Groucho with Jack Benny) and a lot of it is simply odd (who even SAVED episodes of Celebrity Bridge, anyway?) but it’s fascinating. Sadly, the two most famous Marxist offerings of the 1950s, You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx (on a separate set) and I Love Lucy with Harpo’s unforgettable guest appearance aren’t here.
The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection (Shout! Factory DVD) More than six hours of cartoons starring Jim Backus as the nearsighted fellow, including the feature film 1001 Arabian Nights. Yeah, this was a GREAT year for cartoon releases, and that's not even counting Loopy DeLoop (don't ask).
Out of the Past (Warner Archive BD) In addition to manufactured-on-demand discs, the Archive has offered up a handful of HD remasters that have been uniformly stunning, including this quintessential 1947 film noir with Bob Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas.
The Quatermass Xperiment (Kino Lorber BD) Speaking of 1950s monsters, here's the first monster picture from legendary Hammer Studios (1955), as a creeping unknown terror from outer space attacks England. One of the best pictures the studio would ever do; the BD has several nice featurettes on the film, too.
Red River (Criterion BD/DVD combo) Howard Hawks directs John Wayne in this 1948 western classic; this edition looks especially nice, and comes with Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, the Borden Chase book on which the film was based. Includes two cuts of the film.
Riot in Cell Block 11 (Criterion BD/DVD combo) Well, Olive Films can’t get ALL the gritty 1950s crime/prison pictures, can they? Don Siegel directed this taut, low-budget thriller with a terrific “minor” cast, including Whit Bissell, Leo Gordon, and Neville Brand. Shot on location at Folsom Prison, one of our favorite places to be incarcerated.
Sands of Iwo Jima (Olive Films BD and DVD) Alan Dwan’s 1949 classic, nominated for four Academy Awards, has been much maligned on home video: one of John Wayne’s most popular films, Republic/Lions Gate kept re-releasing it from poor materials. It’s really nice to see it in HD glory.
Sunrise (Fox BD) It’s always a good thing when the major studios go deep, deep into the vaults to give us worthy vintage titles such as this one, F.W. Murneau’s 1927 masterpiece (subtitled A Tale of Two Humans) with George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor; winner of one of the first Academy Awards. Packed with extras, too.
[Thanks to Balconeer Sidney Keywood, PE, for the correction as to the director of this film. You win today's Balconeer of the Day Award. Print this page out and take it to the nearest Starbucks with a five dollar bill to receive a small coffee.]
Technicolor Dreams (Thunderbean BD/DVD combo) Simply stunning edition of rare cartoons, mostly from the 1930s, few of which any of us have ever seen. There are a handful of once-popular characters like Mutt & Jeff and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, but mostly just breath-takingly beautiful random cartoons from such lesser-known studios as Ted Eshbaugh’s. Our favorite cartoon release of the year.
Touch of Evil (Universal BD) Some people, including us, think of this as the last true film noir. Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Orson Welles star in a war of wills set in a seamy Mexican town. Includes three cuts of the film: the preview version, the theatrical cut, and a reconstructed version based on director Welles’ legendary 58 page plea from Welles to the studio not to mess with his movie. A copy of the memo is included, too, in fact.
Vincent Price Collection II (Scream! Factory BD) With the absence of any Universal monster classics on BD this year, this was easily the best release for fans of horror. This set includes the Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe films The Raven and Tomb of Ligeia, the faux-Poe film Comedy of Terrors, Price favorites House on Haunted Hill and The Last Man on Earth, and beloved sequels Return of the Fly and Dr. Phibes Rises Again. We're hopeful for a Vincent Price III set this year.
DISCS WE HATED
Any discs that included a "colorized" version of a B&W film get no mention (except our scorn) here In The Balcony and no shekels from our purse, and we don't care if a B&W version is included. Leave colorization in the grave where it belongs, video companies!
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