'70s classic 'Chinatown' gets Blu-ray upgrade

Also, several films from the 1930s and '40s arrive on DVD

Published: Saturday, April 7 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

Noah Cross (John Huston) and J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in "Chinatown" from 1974.

Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Home Entertainment

One of the best films of the 1970s gets a Blu-ray upgrade, and a bevy of 1930s and '40s musicals and thrillers arrive on DVD for the first time this week.

"Chinatown" (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1974; R for violence, nudity, sex, language; $24.99). Generally acknowledged as one of the great film noirs, this tough, tight-scripted tale is set in the 1930s and follows an investigation undertaken by a hard-nosed Los Angeles detective (Jack Nicholson), although he nearly loses that nose to a knife-wielding thug (played by director Roman Polanski).

The plot is twisty and it turns on some real L.A. history, and the story is filled with interesting characters and clues if you can spot them. But even if you figure out all of that, first-time viewers won't be prepared for the big shocker toward the end involving femme fatale Faye Dunaway.

The Oscar-winning screenplay by Robert Towne is very adult but loaded with great dialogue and vivid characterizations.

Extras: widescreen, audio commentary, featurettes

"The Sky's the Limit" (Warner Archive, 1943, b/w, $19.95). For some reason, this delightful Fred Astaire vehicle has never been on DVD (though it did have a VHS release a decade-and-a-half ago). Astaire plays a World War II flying ace on furlough in civvies when he falls for Joan Leslie, who ignores him thinking he's ducking military service. The hilarious Robert Benchley lends able support.

Extras: full frame (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)

"Panama Hattie" (Warner Archive, 1942, b/w, $19.95). Ann Sothern and Red Skelton star in this sprightly film of Cole Porter's Broadway musical set in a Panama nightclub — with all but four of Porter's songs inexplicably removed. Still enjoyable fluff, highlighted by Lena Horne's rendition of "Just One of Those Things."

Extras: full frame, trailer (available at www.Warner Archive.com)

"Hooray for Love" (Warner Archive, 1935, b/w, $19.95). Sothern also stars in this enjoyable musical as a singer pursued by Gene Raymond, who gets involved with moneymaking schemes involving her con-artist father (Thurston Hall). The film's best moments are provided by Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Fats Waller, among others.

Extras: full frame (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)

"Rage in Heaven" (Warner Archive, 1941, b/w, $19.95). Ingrid Bergman shines in one of her earliest Hollywood films (pre-"Casablanca"), marrying unstable Robert Montgomery instead of down-to-earth George Sanders, much to her regret. Montgomery and Sanders each play against type and the film suffers a bit as a result. Interesting if overly convoluted thriller.

Extras: full frame, trailer (available at www.Warner Archive.com)

"Conspiracy" (Warner Archive, 1930, b/w, $19.95). Silent star Bessie Love over-emotes a bit in this early talkie as a woman helping her district attorney brother nail a gang of crooks. But when she kills a gang member in self-defense, she takes it on the lam and is eventually aided by an unlikely and very weird pair of accomplices. Strange mystery thriller is enjoyable more as an oddity than a fulfilling film but fans of pre-Code pictures will find enjoyment.

Extras: full frame (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)

"The Matrimonial Bed" (Warner Archive, 1930, b/w, $19.95). Director Michael Curtiz, who would go on to do "Casablanca," among others, is behind this very odd pre-Code melodrama that hinges on an unlikely case of amnesia. Florence Eldridge was widowed five years earlier and is now remarried when a stranger arrives who may be her first husband. Only hypnotism can resolve this mystery, which is filled to the brim with eccentric characters.

Extras: full frame (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)

EMAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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