Big names populate digital re-releases

Published: Monday, June 6 2011 4:18 p.m. MDT

Fans of Lupe Velez, Steve McQueen, Glenn Ford, Susan Hayward, Michael Caine and Anthony Quinn will be pleased to see these burn-on-demand DVD titles that have newly surfaced.

The Warner Archive titles are available at www.wbshop.com (click on "Warner Archive"), which often has sales reducing prices, while the MGM manufacture-on-demand titles can be found at Amazon and other online stores for less than the list price.

"The Mexican Spitfire Collection" (Warner Archive, 1939-43, b/w, four discs, $39.95). Lupe Velez wasn't nicknamed the Mexican Spitfire for nothing. She was beautiful, talented and quite the fireball, a bundle of energy with personality and charisma that fairly pops off of the screen.

The eight films in this series represent her biggest impact in movies, beginning with "The Girl From Mexico," which was not designed as a franchise, but rather a one-shot B-movie to show off Velez's talents. But she caught on, and seven films followed using the "Mexican Spitfire" title, each, more or less, following the same formula.

In the first film, Velez is Carmelita, a Mexican singer who comes to the U.S. with an American promoter, whom she eventually marries. Comic character actor Leon Errol plays his uncle, and he and Velez are so great together that the studio relied on their comic chemistry to sustain each subsequent entry, starting with "Mexican Spitfire." Subsequent films retained that title: "Mexican Spitfire Out West," "Mexican Spitfire's Baby," etc. (Other characters were sometimes played by different actors.)

Today, the films are a bit creaky and quaint, of course, but Velez and Errol are still funny, and the better films here, especially the first two, are sometimes hilarious.

Extras: full frame, eight films

"The Honeymoon Machine" (Warner Archive, 1961, $19.95). Steve McQueen only made a couple of comedies, and this is his only flat-out farce. He's quite capable as a naval officer who teams up with a scientist (Jim Hutton) to use a computer to win at roulette in a Venice casino. Brigid Bazlen is McQueen's love interest, as the daughter of an admiral (Dean Jagger) who just happens to be staying in the same hotel.

It's a bit convoluted, but there's a fair amount of funny stuff, especially from Paula Prentiss, romantically teamed with Hutton after they demonstrated terrific chemistry in "Where the Boys Are," and Jack Weston as an inebriated sailor.

Extras: widescreen, trailer

"See Here, Private Hargrove" (Warner Archive, 1944, b/w, $19.95). This very funny World War II yarn is based on the memoirs of Marion Hargrove, a journalist who chronicled his adventures after he was drafted and came up with a best-seller. Donna Reed, Keenan Wynn and Robert Benchley co-star.

Extras: full frame, trailer

"Don't Go Near the Water" (Warner Archive, 1957, $19.95). Another military comedy, this time with Glenn Ford as a landlocked Navy publicist involvs a series of episodic hustles. The best subplot has Mickey Shaughnessy as a foul-mouthed publicity stunt whose profanity is bleeped, making it funnier than it would be today with the words just flying. Anne Francis, Keenan Wynn and Gia Scala co-star.

Extras: widescreen, trailer

"Stolen Hours" (MGM Limited Edition Collection, 1963, PG. $19.98). Susan Hayward gets her Bette Davis on, which is to say she remakes "Dark Victory," transplanting the action to the English countryside. She plays a woman with a brain tumor who decides to live it up, until she realizes just how precious life can be, even when it threatens to be cut short.

Extras: widescreen, trailer

"The Destructors" (MGM Limited Edition Collection, 1974, PG, $19.98). This British production has Anthony Quinn as an American intelligence agent who is trying to get the goods on a drug lord (James Mason), so he recruits a hit man (Michael Caine) who turns out to be an old pal. It's a bit uneven in tone but engaging and has some good action sequences.

Extras: widescreen, trailer

"Children of the Night" (Warner Archive, 1985, $19.95). Kathleen Quinlan is excellent in this TV movie that plays like a Lifetime channel thriller as she strives to rescue teen girls from lives of prostitution. It's based on a true story.

Extras: full frame

EMAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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