Abbott & Costello's first starring film gets a hi-def upgrade, leading these vintage titles released on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
"Buck Privates" (Universal/Blu-ray Book + DVD, 1941, b/w, $39.98). This is Bud Abbott & Lou Costello's second movie, providing them with their first starring roles as rookie soldiers in the Army. And it remains hilarious. (The Andrews Sisters are also here, singing some of their most famous tunes, including "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.")
Released theatrically in January 1941 as World War II raged in Europe, the film arrived at the perfect time to hit home with American audiences. And with the comics in their prime, doing some of their best routines, it became one of the year's biggest hits, making them top-10 box-office stars and leading to a string of military comedies — from them and everybody else. (A few years later it also led to their only sequel, "Buck Privates Come Home.")
If you're looking for "Who's on First?" that's not in this film, though it is part of a bonus feature. It comes at the end of Jerry Seinfeld's salute to the comedy team (as a clip from the film "The Naughty Nineties"). And while it's nice to have that here it wouldn't have been difficult to also include "Buck Privates Come Home" as another bonus.
Fans will also enjoy the 46-page book packaging, which includes lots of colorful art and an introduction by filmmaker John Landis ("The Blues Brothers").
Extras full frame, Blu-ray and DVD versions, TV special: "Abbott and Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld," featurettes on Universal's 100th anniversary, trailer
"Dark Crimes" (Mill Creek, 1930-64, 12 discs, b/w, $29.98). This collection of no less than 50 movies — film noirs, suspense thrillers and murder mysteries — all them in the public domain and on many other DVD labels, has some genuine classics, including "The Naked Kiss," "D.O.A.," an early British version of "Gaslight" (before the Ingmar Bergman film but just as good), "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" and many more, with such stars as Kirk Douglas, Angela Lansbury, Edward G. Robinson, Hedy Lamarr, etc. To call this a bargain is to understate.
Extras full frame, 50 movies
"Timeless Family Classics" (Mill Creek, 1921-75, color and b/w, $29.98). Another bargain, this one also has 50 public-domain movies, all family-friendly, including a number of classics ranging from such silent films as Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid," Buster Keaton's "The General" and Douglas Fairbanks' "The Iron Mask," to memorable comedies starring Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Shirley Temple, Laurel & Hardy, and Jack Benny, as well as musicals, westerns and the adaptation of Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Our Town," starring William Holden and much of the original Broadway cast.
Extras full frame, 50 movies
"While the Patient Slept" (Warner Archive, 1935, b/w, $17.95). Surprisingly lively and satisfying murder mystery has Aline MacMahon as a nurse who teams up with cop Guy Kibbee to find out who killed a wealthy elderly patient's heir. Most enjoyable.
Extras full frame, trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)Comment on this story
"Bewitched" (Warner Archive, 1945, b/w, $17.95). Phyllis Thaxter suffers from multiple-personality disorder, which directs her to murder in this Arch Obler thriller, based on his successful radio play. Psychiatrist Edmund Gwenn (Santa in "Miracle on 34th Street") tries to help.
Extras full frame, trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Beat the Band" (Warner Archive, 1947, b/w, $17.95). Francis Langford stars as an opera student who prefers swing in this musical comedy. But the real draw is a trio of numbers by Gene Krupa, including his hit "Drum Boogie." Also on hand is Ralph Edwards, who would go on to create and host TV's "This Is Your Life."
Extras full frame (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)