Category Archives: MGM

DVD/Blu-Ray News #303: Elvis – That’s The Way It Is (1970/2001).

Directed by Denis Sanders
Starring Elvis Presley, James Burton, Glen D. Hardin, Charlie Hodge, Jerry Scheff, Ron Tutt, John Wilkinson, The Imperials, The Sweet Inspirations

Warner Archive is bringing back a very cool thing — the original theatrical cut of the Elvis concert movie That’s The Way It Is (1970) on DVD and the 2001 re-edited “Special Edition” on Blu-Ray. This twin-pack came out in 2014 and has been missing for quite a while.

The 1970 theatrical film plays like a documentary, covering the rehearsals and buildup to Elvis’ return to live performance at the International Hotel in Las Vegas (in August of 1970), while the 2001 cut is more of a straight-up concert movie. Both are terrific — Elvis was at the top of his game, his TCB band was incredible and it was all captured in Panavision by the great DP Lucien Ballard, in-between Sam Peckinpah movies.

Highly, highly recommended. (My wife and I named our daughter Presley, which might indicate a bit of a bias where Elvis is concerned.)

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Filed under 1970, Documentary, DVD/Blu-ray News, Elvis Presley, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1.

I discovered Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery in high school. While my classmates were spending their after-school hours at football practice, rehearsing for some school play, working at McDonald’s or God knows what else it was that they did, I was watching Tom & Jerry cartoons on one of the TV stations out of Philadelphia. Scattered in-between shorts like Texas Tom (1950) or The Flying Cat (1952) would be something from a guy named Tex Avery.

It didn’t take long to figure out that the Sony Betamax needed to be brought into play, and armed with it and a copy of Leonard Maltin’s book Of Mice And Magic, I was checking off Avery cartoons like Deputy Droopy (1955) as I captured them. Maybe this made me a bit of an obsessive shut-in loser, but I sure laughed a lot.

What makes Tex Avery’s cartoons so good, and him the widely-acknowledged King Of Cartoons, was his experimentation. How fast could a gag be and still register in the mind of the audience? How over-the-top could a reaction be and still be relatable? How many visual puns can you cram into six minutes? The pace of his pictures just got faster and faster, and if you watch the Tom & Jerry cartoons in chronological order, you can see that Avery’s experiments were rubbing off on William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. 

All that insider baseball is great, but who would care if the cartoons themselves weren’t so damn funny? There’s terrific evidence of just how funny they are in Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1.

You get —
Tex Avery Classics
Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)
Who Killed Who? (1943)
What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard? (1943)
Batty Baseball (1944)
The Hick Chick (1946)
Bad Luck Blackie (1949)
Garden Gopher (1950)
The Peachy Cobbler (1950)
Symphony In Slang (1951)

Screwy Squirrel
Screwball Squirrel (1944)
The Screwy Truant (1945)
Big Heel-Watha (1944)
Lonesome Lenny (1946)

George & Junior
Hound Hunters (1947)
Red Hot Rangers (1947)

Droopy
Dumb-Hounded (1943)
Wags To Riches (1949)
The Chump Champ (1950)
Daredevil Droopy (1951)

This red-hot helping of wonderfulness looks and sounds fabulous, better than I’ve ever seen these things look. I found myself pausing them to study the beautiful backgrounds from MGM’s incredible stable of artists. And I really appreciated the way the disc was set up — you can watch ’em straight through, one at a time, or grouped as you see them above. A tremendous amount of care went into this set, and a big fat thanks to everyone involved.

But maybe the best thing about this Blu-Ray is the “Volume 1” in its title. I’m already waiting for Volume 2.

Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 1 is absolutely essential. How’d we all make it this long without this thing?

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Filed under Cartoons, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hanna-Barbera, MGM, Tex Avery, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #288: Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations.

If you’ve gone through life without seeing a Laurel & Hardy short like Big Business (1929) or The Music Box (1932), I feel really sorry for you. Luckily, Kit Parker is ready to help you exit that world of darkness with Laurel & Hardy: The Definitive Restorations, a four-disc Blu-Ray set full of terrific shorts and features from Stan and Ollie.

Shorts
The Battle Of The Century (1927, making its video debut)
Berth Marks (1929)
Brats (1930)
Hog Wild (1930)
Come Clean (1931)
One Good Turn (1931)
Helpmates (1932)
The Music Box (1932, Oscar winner for best short)
The Chimp (1932)
County Hospital (1932)
Scram! (1932)
Their First Mistake (1932)
Towed In A Hole (1932)
Twice Two (1933)
Me And My Pal (1933)
The Midnight Patrol (1933)
Busy Bodies (1933)

Features
Sons Of The Desert (1933)
Way Out West (1937)

Restored from the best 35mm to be found on the planet (thanks to the efforts of Jeff Joseph/SabuCat, UCLA Film & Television Archive and Library of Congress), this set will also include commentaries, interviews, stills and The Tree In A Test Tube (1942), a color short produced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. It’s coming in June. Essential stuff.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, Kit Parker, Laurel & Hardy, MGM

Tex Avery Is Coming!

UPDATED 1/23/2020: In what will surely be one of the greatest Blu-Ray releases of all time, Warner Archive has announced that Tex Avery’s cartoons are making their way to Blu-Ray.

Tex Avery Screwball Classics, Volume 1 will contain —

Red Hot Riding Hood
Who Killed Who?
What’s Buzzin Buzzard?
Batty Baseball
The Hick Chick
Bad Luck Blackie
Garden Gopher
The Peachy Cobbler
Symphony In Slang

Screwy Squirrel in:
Screwball Squirrel
The Screwy Truant
Big Heel-Watha
Lonesome Lenny

George & Junior in:
Hound Hunters
Red Hot Rangers

Droopy in:
Dumb Hounded
Wags To Riches
The Chump Champ
Daredevil Droopy

Coming in February. These things are essential now, ya hear?

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Tex Avery, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: Moonfleet (1955).

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by John Houseman
Screen Play by Jan Lustig & Margaret Fitts
Based on the novel by J. Meade Falkner
Director Of Photography: Robert Planck
Film Editor: Albert Akst
Music by Miklos Rozsa

Cast: Stewart Granger (Jeremy Fox.), Jon Whiteley (John Mohune), George Sanders (Lord Greenwood), Joan Greenwood (Lady Greenwood), Viveca Lindfors (Mrs. Minton), Liliane Montevecchi (Gypsy), Jack Elam (Damen)

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Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet (1955) is a movie people seem to delight in tearing down. It helps that it’s a long way from Lang’s best work — there’s plenty to criticize. But me, I’ll take Lang’s bad over About Anybody Else’s good. And there’s a lot for movie nuts to appreciate here.

If Disney had asked Fritz Lang to direct Treasure Island (1950), you might’ve ended up with something like Moonfleet. There’s a young boy. There are smugglers instead of pirates. And there are lots and lots of opportunities for the kind of deep, dark, moody scenes Lang excelled at.

The story suits Lang so well it’s hard to believe he was brought in as a director-for-hire just a few weeks before the cameras rolled. You see, MGM hated Lang. Fury (1936), his first film for the studio — his first American film period, had been a big hit. But they hated him so much they didn’t work with him again until Moonfleet. They gave him a paltry budget, a script he wasn’t allowed to fine-tune and no approval of the final cut. Lang was not the dictatorial artist here, he was an employee, plain and simple.

Lang was never loved in Hollywood. From studio heads to actors to crew members, few people worked with him more than once.

George Sanders (far right) made three movies with Fritz Lang.

Lang: “In Moonfleet we tried to create a period film entirely in the studio; we shot everything there, even the exteriors.”

Along with being assigned a set-bound period picture with very little time to prepare for it, Lang was handed CinemaScope as part of the package. The director was not a fan of the process, and as Moonfleet shows, it threw a monkey wrench into Lang’s style. ‘Scope pictures at the time relied on longer takes and fewer closeups, giving Lang a helluva time when it came to his usual way of cutting, and types of shots, to create rhythm and suspense. He’d never make another ‘Scope picture.

John Mohune, an orphan (Jon Whitely), arrives in the village of Moonfleet looking for Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), an old flame of his deceased mother. Fox is a gentleman wrapped up with a group of smugglers (one of them is Jack Elam!) — and with little time, aptitude or interest, for caring for a young boy. But the search for a hidden diamond brings them together — and makes them the targets of pirates, soldiers and the greedy, crooked Lord and Lady Greenwood (George Sanders and Joan Greenwood). Sanders comes off like his Nazi creep in Man Hunt (1941), just with a wig.

There are some terrific scenes here and there, particularly the ones set in the church graveyard and tombs. Lang keeps the picture planted in the boy’s point of view, much in the way William Cameron Menzies did with Jimmy Hunt in Invaders From Mars (1953), and it works well. It’s probably why I liked this so much as a kid (when I didn’t know, or care, who Fritz Lang was). After all, to a young boy, what’s cooler that pirates and thieves and skeletons? Some lazy editing — the last 10 minutes must’ve been cut at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon — makes it quite obvious that Lang wasn’t able to see his movie across the finish line. But when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s not good, well, it’s still good.

Warner Archive has done Lang and DP Robert Planck a great service with their new Blu-Ray of Moonfleet. We can now appreciate the somber color palette (the Eastmancolor looks quite good), the glorious painted backdrops and the sheer enormity of some of the MGM sound stages. Maybe that makes this more of a treat for those who want to look at how the movie was made rather than just watch it. But what’s wrong with that? Lang’s movies have always appealed more to us Film Geeks anyway.

Highly recommended. (Remember, it has Jack Elam as a pirate.)

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Filed under 1955, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, MGM, Warner Archive

Happy Thanksgiving.

Not sure what you’re doing this Thanksgiving, but I hope it’s fun and delicious and safe.

I’m enjoying Warner Archive’s terrific Blu-Ray of Operation Crossbow (1965) — and I have to say, I’m quite thankful for it.

Will have a review up soon. In the meantime, here’s a maze that promoted the picture in newspapers and theatre handouts back in’65. Enjoy!

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Filed under 1965, DVD/Blu-ray News, George Peppard, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #261: Operation Crossbow (1965).

Directed by Michael Anderson
Starring Sophia Loren, George Peppard, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Richard Johnson, Tom Courtenay

Warner Archive has announced a November Blu-Ray release for Michael Anderson’s Operation Crossbow (1965), a really terrific World War II secret mission movie.

It’s funny, as I was getting ready this morning, I came across George Peppard in an episode of The A-Team on TV and thought to myself, it’d be great to get Operation Crossbow on Blu-Ray. Looking forward to seeing this one again, and it’ll really be something in high definition. Highly recommended.

I’m sure this news made my good friend Dick Vincent very happy.

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Filed under 1965, DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #258: The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967).

Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Jack McGowran, Sharon Tate, Alfie Bass, Ferdy Mayne, Roman Polanski

I first caught Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) on the CBS late show. Even though it was the butchered version (further butchered for TV), it made me laugh out loud while really creeping me out. I loved it.

This is a movie that’s been well served on video over the years. There was the letterboxed laserdisc of the original cut, then a similar presentation on DVD. I can’t wait to see the Blu-Ray, and get the chance to really study the sets, Douglas Slocombe’s camerawork, that terrific score by Krzysztof Komeda and all that fake snow. Coming in October.

Click on the Frank Frazetta poster art up top. It gets bigger.

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Filed under 1967, DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #253: Moonfleet (1955).

Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, Viveca Lindfors, John Hoyt, Jack Elam

Fritz Lang makes a pirate movie at MGM, in CinemaScope — and puts Jack Elam in it! That should be enough to sell you on Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray of Moonfleet (1955).

Shot almost entirely in the studio (and Lang’s only ‘Scope film), Moonfleet is a really incredible thing to look at. Lang and cinematographer Robert Planck use color and lighting (or lack of it) to create mood. They gypped MGM out of the big bright color pirate extravaganza they were hoping for — but made a movie perfect for Blu-Ray. I’m so excited to see this again, looking better than I’d ever imagined would be possible. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray News, Fritz Lang, George Sanders, MGM, Warner Archive

DVD News #245: Best Of Pete Smith Specialties, Vol. 1.

I haven’t seen the exact contents of this first volume of the Pete Smith Specialty shorts, but I know there’s gonna be some really funny stuff in there.

Movie Pests (1944) is hysterical — of course, people being a drag at the movies is timeless (unfortunately). Sure hope it’s in there.

No matter. For whatever cinema silliness it contains (75 shorts on four discs), I am truly grateful to the fine folks at Warner Archive — and to a Smith names Pete. Highly recommended.

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Filed under DVD/Blu-ray News, MGM, Warner Archive