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Film review: Warner Archive releases 5 'Maisie' movies on DVD

Other films making their debut star Lon Chaney, Raquel Welch

Published: Sunday, May 27 2012 3:41 p.m. MDT

The popular "Maisie" movie series, along with films starring everyone from Lon Chaney to Raquel Welch, land on DVD for the first time as Warner Archive's prolific manufacture-on-demand label continues to churn out long-unavailable fan favorites.

"Maisie" is a five-film set priced at $49.95 but all the others here are $17.95 each, available at www.WarnerArchive.com (and watch for prices to drop when the site has sales, which occur with some frequency).

"The Maisie Collection, Volume 1" (1931-41, b/w, five discs). Ann Sothern is chipper, winsome and often the whole show in these World War II-era comedies from the MGM B-unit, low-budget efforts with little imagination put into their development, each a variation on the same predictable story — hard-luck but big-hearted showgirl Maisie gets in and out of a jam with help from a romantic interest, sometimes in exotic settings (despite being filmed entirely on MGM's back lot).

Think of them as a sort of big-screen, 10-film sitcom played out over eight years in the 1940s. Each is a star vehicle for contract player Sothern (who also did a "Maisie" radio program during the same period), and she gives her all, resulting in a string of beloved charmers with a loyal fan base that has been anxiously awaiting this release for decades.

The first five films are here: "Maisie," "Congo Maisie," "Gold Rush Maisie," "Maisie Was a Lady" and "Ringside Maisie," with such costars as Robert Young (who gets top billing over Sothern in the first film), Maureen O'Sullivan, Lew Ayres and Robert Sterling (two years before he married Sothern).

Extras: full frame, trailers

"The Blackbird" (1926, b/w).

"West of Zanzibar" (1928, b/w).

"Where East Is East" (1929, b/w). Silent-movie fans will be excited to see the site's second collection of Lon Chaney films, these three directed by frequent collaborator Tod Browning, and all of them first-rate, very dark thrillers.

"Blackbird" stars Chaney as the title thief with an extremely twisted alter ego; "Zanzibar" features Chaney as a partially paralyzed former magician who rules a jungle kingdom while concocting a lengthy, convoluted revenge plot on an enemy (Lionel Barrymore); and "East" has Chaney as a big-game hunter whose psycho ex-wife tries to steal the fiancé of her own daughter (Lupe Velez), much to her regret. (Another Chaney film, "Tell It to the Marines" is also part of this collection.)

Extras: full frame

"Bridge to the Sun" (1961, b/w). James Shigeta is superb and Carroll Baker gives one of her best performances in this true story of a Japanese diplomat and his American wife whose lives are turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Fascinating culture-clash melodrama wrapped up in political turmoil, all the more resonant for being a true story. A sympathetic look at the Japanese lifestyle during the war, with a point of view that rarely if ever showed up in Hollywood movies.

Extras: full frame, trailer

"Star of Midnight" (1935, b/w). One year after "The Thin Man," William Powell starred in this comedy-mystery that echoes his earlier triumph with wisecracks and martinis. Here he's a high-rolling Manhattan attorney framed for murder and trying to prove his innocence, with assistance from sassy Ginger Rogers. No "Thin Man" but still fun.

Extras: full frame

"Navy Blue and Gold" (1937, b/w). Sentimental patriotism is the order of the day for this mildly enjoyable yarn about three new recruits in the Naval Academy, each embracing a stereotype — the sweet-natured, pampered kid (Tom Brown) who gives up his wealth to join up; the self-centered football star (Robert Young); and the close-to-the-vest guy with a deep, dark secret (James Stewart). Costars include Lionel Barrymore, Billie Burke and Florence Rice.

Extras: full frame, trailer

"Flareup" (1969; PG-13, re-rated from original M rating). Raquel Welch stars as a showgirl stalked by a killer that follows her from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, where she hopes to elude him in the densely populated city. Fat chance! Campy in the extreme, though location filming helps, showcasing both Vegas and L.A., including the old Griffith Park Zoo. James Stacy costars, with Ron Rifkin and Gordon Jump in small roles.

Extras: widescreen, trailer

EMAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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