Two best-picture Oscar-winning musicals and a bevy of cartoon classics get Blu-ray upgrades, and seven Jean Harlow movies land on DVD for the first time, as a wide array of golden oldies are released on home video this week.
"West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition" (MGM/Blu-ray + DVD, 1961, three discs, $29.99). This flashy musical adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet" is loaded with great songs and exciting choreography as it tells the tragic love story of a teenage couple (Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer) caught in the middle of New York gang rivalry in the early 1960s.
Wood and Beymer suffer from a lack of chemistry but the location staging (given a visual boost by this high-def version) and the unforgettable music more than make up for it, with such classic songs as "Tonight," "Maria," "America," "I Feel Pretty," "Somewhere" and many more. Also great are the supporting players, Oscar-winners Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn. (Wood's warblings are, of course, dubbed by the wonderful Marni Nixon.)
This Blu-ray reboot is great most of the way. There are a few minor (and well-publicized online) visual problems that most viewers will probably not even notice.
Extras: widescreen, featurettes (including two that are new), song-specific audio commentary (by lyricist Stephen Sondheim), storyboards, trailers (also available in a four-disc collectible box set that includes a tribute/cover CD of eight songs, a hardback photo book and 10 postcard reproductions of international posters, $69.99)
"My Fair Lady" (CBS/Paramount/Blu-ray, 1964, G, $32.99). Audrey Hepburn (with her singing dubbed by the lilting Marni Nixon) is luminous in this adaptation of "Pygmalion," and Rex Harrison won an Oscar for the performance he honed on the Broadway stage.
The familiar story has guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle receiving diction lessons from pompous Henry Higgins and, as unlikely as it seems, they fall in love. More great songs we all know: "The Rain in Spain," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time," etc. Solid Blu-ray upgrade nicely highlights all the lush visuals and gorgeous music.
Extras: widescreen, featurettes (both recent and vintage), alternate Hepburn vocals, trailers
"Looney Tunes Platinum Collection, Volume One" (Warner/Blu-ray, 1944-80, three discs, $79.98). There are some cartoons here that have never been on DVD but most can be found on other sets. But in Blu-ray, these high-definition versions really sparkle.
And that's the reason to invest in this set, to see classic cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies gang looking better than ever. Many of the classics are here: "Duck Amuck," "What's Opera, Doc?" "One Froggy Evening," "Duck Dodgers," "The Dot and the Line," etc. As well as some of the best documentaries from previous sets, such as "Chuck Jones: Extremes & In-Betweens."
Extras: full frame/widescreen, 50 cartoons, audio commentaries, documentaries, featurettes; 56-page booklet, Bugs Bunny shot glass, litho cel, magnet tin (also in a scaled-back set without collectibles, $59.96)
"Jean Harlow: 100th Anniversary Collection" (Warner Archive, 1933-37, seven discs, b/w, $49.95). Some of Harlow's most familiar titles have been released previously on DVD — both individually and in other star sets. But these seven films, once available on VHS, have never been on DVD before.
Some are certainly better than others but Harlow shines in each, and now the vast majority of her best work is at last attainable for fans. Included are "Bombshell," "Reckless," "Suzy," "The Girl From Missouri," "Riffraff," "Personal Property" and the film she was making when she died, "Saratoga" (completed with her stand-in).
Harlow was, of course, the blonde bombshell prototype for Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, etc., and like those stars, Harlow also died too young.. But she was also an excellent actress, excelling in both drama and comedy.. And watching her in these pictures playing opposite Cary Grant, William Powell, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Robert Taylor and other MGM stars is a nice reminder of just how talented she was.
Extras: full frame, seven movies, trailers, audio-only radio promos (on "Reckless" and "Suzy"), Lux Radio Theater audio-only production of "Madame Sans-Gene" with Harlow and Tayor (on "Personal Property"); seven postcard-size studio portraits of Harlow (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Start the Revolution Without Me" (Warner Archive, 1970, PG, $14.95). Gene Wilder is especially funny but everyone is good in this hysterical door-slamming bedroom farce set during the French Revolution with Wilder and Donald Sutherland each playing twins mismatched at birth, one pair growing up as peasants and the other as snobbish aristocrats. Orson Welles is the on-camera narrator.
Extras: widescreen, audio commentary (with Wilder, Sutherland and director Bud Yorkin), trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Honolulu" (Warner Archive, 1939, b/w, $19.95). Robert Young plays lookalike characters in this one, a famous movie star and the shy Hawaiian plantation owner with whom he trades places. Eleanor Powell has several enjoyable dance numbers but the show is handily stolen by George Burns & Gracie Allen in their final film together.
Extras: full frame, trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)Comment on this story
"The Affairs of Dobie Gillis" (Warner Archive, 1953, b/w, $19.95). Though this film has little in common with the later TV series, it holds up nicely as a formula campus musical comedy with Bobby Van in the title role of Max Shulman's adaptation of his own short stories, and Debbie Reynolds as the object of his affection. Watch for Bob Fosse who gets a knockout dance number.
Extras: full frame, trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"The Lost Stooges" (Warner Archive, 1990, b/w and color, $19.95). Leonard Maltin wrote and narrated this affectionate look at the Three Stooges with an emphasis on their early years and lots of excerpts from 1930s feature films in which they appeared. Stooge-philes should be more than pleased.
Extras: full frame (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)