Danny Kaye's most popular movie leads these vintage films finding their way to Blu-ray and DVD this week.
"Hans Christian Andersen" (Warner/Blu-ray, 1952, $34.99, trailer; 40-page book packaging). Kaye's interpretation of the great 19th century Danish storyteller makes him a guileless, impoverished, daydreaming cobbler with a knack for spinning yarns that serve as object lessons.
But the village schoolmaster isn't happy with Andersen's Pied Piper effect on the children, all of whom skip school to hear tales of anthropomorphic animals and inanimate objects. His adopted son (Joseph Walsh) tries desperately to keep him out of trouble, eventually talking Hans into leaving for Copenhagen, where they find work with a ballet company.
The script by Moss Hart is clever and there are several delightful songs by Frank Loesser used as a means to relate many of Andersen's stories. Modern children may balk at some of the ballet material, capped by a lengthy interpretation of "The Little Mermaid," but 60 years later, this film remains a remarkably entertaining two hours for both children and adults.
At least the film is honest in its assertion that this is no attempt at biography. As stated after the opening credits, it's "a fairy tale about this great spinner of fairy tales." And as a result of the film's enormous worldwide success, Kaye's and Andersen's names will forever be linked.
"The Adventures of Mark Twain; Collector's Edition" (Magnolia, 1986, G, $14.98, audio commentary, featurettes, art gallery, trailer). Not to be confused with the Fredric March film of the same title, this is Will Vinton's marvelous Claymation feature, which, like "Hans Christian Andersen," is a fanciful yarn that allows the author to mingle with his fictional characters and relate some of his best-loved stories and most famous quips. The Claymation is quite sophisticated and the film should appeal to children and adults. (Also on Blu-ray, $19.98)
"My Forbidden Past" (Warner Archive, 1951, b/w, $18.95, trailer). Sultry Ava Gardner uses her cousin (Melvyn Douglas) in a calculated plot to win back married Robert Mitchum in this steamy melodrama set in 1890s New Orleans. Star-crossed lovers, sordid romance and murder bolstered by Golden Age Hollywood star power. (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
"The Unguarded Hour" (Warner Archive, 1936, b/w, $18.95). Twenty-three-year-old Utah native Loretta Young stars in this whodunit as a British Lady married to a prominent barrister (Franchot Tone). The plot has her torn between freeing an innocent man from the gallows and implicating her husband in a career-busting affair — but that's just the beginning of this twist-laden thriller. Fast moving and fun, if more and more implausible as it progresses. (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
"The Golden Fleecing" (Warner Archive, 1940, b/w, $18.95). This farcical spoof of 1930s gangster pictures is occasionally quite funny with its story of a hapless insurance salesman (Lew Ayres) inadvertently selling a policy to a racketeer (Lloyd Nolan). His new assignment? Keep the guy alive at all costs, which isn't easy when every other thug in town is out to get him. (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
"One Shoe Makes It Murder" (Warner Archive, 1982, $18.95). Laconic 65-year-old Robert Mitchum made his TV debut with this CBS movie-of-the-week as an over-the-hill ex-cop looking into blackmail and murder after being hired by Lake Tahoe big shot Mel Ferrer. Angie Dickinson offers a hand along with some romance. The mystery is well plotted but this attempt to recapture spirit of old-fashioned film noirs only half succeeds. Although the stars make it fun. (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
"Sometimes a Great Notion" (aka "Never Give an Inch," Shout!/Blu-ray, PG, $19.98). Paul Newman directed and stars in this so-so tale of familial conflict set against the world of logging in Oregon. Despite some gripping individual scenes and stunning location photography (nicely enhanced by this Blu-ray edition), along with a great supporting cast (led by Henry Fonda and Lee Remick), it never quite jells.
"Avenging Angel" (Warner Archive, 1995, $18.95). Tom Berenger developed and stars in this cable-TV Western as a Danite bodyguard for Brigham Young (Charlton Heston), protecting the Mormon Church "in the shadows," with help from mentor Porter Rockwell (James Coburn). As history it's ridiculous and the script steals liberally from other movies ("A Fistful of Dollars," "The Godfather"), but it is action-filled and pays attention to period detail if not historical truth. (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)