Film review: Warner Brothers opens archives

Published: Saturday, Nov. 27 2010 2:00 p.m. MST

Warner Archive's burn-on-demand DVD business is so brisk that the online service is issuing new titles nearly every week, mostly long sought-after movies from the 1920s through the 1980s, including many that have never been released on home video. And now, some vintage TV episodes as well.

All of these discs and collections can be ordered at www.wbshop.com (click on "Archives" — and remember to watch for sales, when discs are reduced from the retail prices listed here).

"Classic TV Christmas Collection" (Warner Archive, 1964-96, four discs, b/w and color, $34.95). Taking a page from other studios that have had success with such compilations, Warner has pulled together 11 holiday episodes from a bevy of beloved TV series, including some that have never been on DVD.

There are 10 TV series represented here. "CHiPs," "Welcome Back, Kotter," "Perfect Strangers" and "Mama's Family" all have first-season sets in release. "Alice" has only a few episodes on a best-of disc. And "Dr. Kildare," "Eight Is Enough" (represented by a two-episode story), "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," "Suddenly Susan" and "Veronica's Closet" have never been on home video, which makes these Christmas-themed shows all the more desirable to fans.

Some are undeniably corny (the "CHiPs" and "Eight Is Enough" episodes in particular), and the earlier sitcoms have a lot more laughs per half-hour than the later ones. But it's an enjoyable set — and at the risk of showing my age, I have to admit it was a kick to watch Richard Chamberlain's black-and-white "Dr. Kildare" series, which I've not seen since I was in high school.

Look for Oscar winners Jodie Foster (as a child) and Myoshi Umeki on "Eddie's Father," along with Rip Torn on "Kildare," and on "CHiPs," a young mustachioed Michael Dorn as a highway patrol officer (better known to "Star Trek" fans as Worf on both "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine"). And, of course, John Travolta was one of "Kotter's" regular sweathogs.

Extras: full frame, 10 episodes

"Bachelor Mother" (Warner Archive, 1939, b/w, $19.95). Ginger Rogers shines in this sprightly comedy about a single woman who impulsively takes in a baby left on the steps of an orphanage at Christmas. Mistaken complications ensue, chiefly with playboy David Niven and his befuddled father, the great Charles Coburn.

Extras: full frame

"The Outfit" (Warner Archive, 1975, PG, $19.95). The always reliable Robert Duvall has the lead in this revenge yarn as a thief who goes after the mobsters who killed his brother. Standard action picture gets a boost from superior acting, solid stuntwork. Karen Black, Robert Ryan, Joe Don Baker, Jane Greer and Utahn Marie Windsor co-star.

Extras: widescreen

"Plymouth Adventure" (Warner Archive, 1952, $19.95). Spencer Tracy is the hardened captain and Gene Tierney is the prim married woman he loves in this big Technicolor adventure of Pilgrims making their way to the New World. It ain't history but it's fun, most of it taking place aboard the ship. With Van Johnson as John Alden and Lloyd Bridges as Tracy's roughneck first mate.

Extras: full frame, trailer

"The Swan" (Warner Archive, 1958, $24.95). This lush comedy-drama (based on the Ferenc Molnar play) had already been filmed twice when it became a vehicle for Grace Kelly. It would become her penultimate film and was released on the day of her wedding to Prince Rainier. Ironically, she plays a princess. The plot has her pursued by Louis Jourdan, though she's promised to Alec Gunness, whose performance makes the movie. A bit slow but also rather enchanting.

Extras: widescreen

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