A pair of Hitchcock classics receive Blu-ray upgrades this week (including one in 3-D), leading a bevy of newly released vintage titles.
“Dial M For Murder 3-D” (Warner/Blu-ray 3-D + Blu-ray, 1954, PG, $35.99, featurette, trailer). Along with “Lifeboat” and “Rope,” this is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most static films, adapted from a play and not opened up much for cinema. But it works well and remains remarkably entertaining, an example of how to use the camera to enhance a tightly written, cleverly written script while maintaining the integrity of its stage origins.
It also helps to have five actors of the caliber of Grace Kelly, Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, and veteran character players John Williams and Anthony Dawson. They play off each other wonderfully, and there really are no dull spots.
I don’t have a 3-D TV, so I watched this in Blu-ray (both versions are on one disc), and it was fun to see it again, especially in this brilliant upgrade in quality. But I went back to my 1982 review, written when the film was reissued in a 3-D theatrical run: “ there are only two real attempts to jolt the 3-D audience — one during the attempted-murder sequence, another when the latch key is held out to the camera — but there is a certain depth of presence that 3-D lends, which is noticeable here.”
“Strangers On a Train” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1951, not rated, b/w, $19.98, alternate version, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer). This one is quintessential Hitchcock, a taut, exciting murder yarn that is one of the best by the Master of Suspense. The setup has two men meeting on a train and jokingly plotting the murders of people in each other’s lives — but one of them isn’t kidding.
Farley Granger is very good as the naïve tennis star set up by a charming psychopath, played so well by Robert Walker that it changed the trajectory of his career. The slightly longer alternate version of the film that is included here was shown only in early preview screenings.
“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Anniversary Edition” (Universal/Blu-ray + DVD + Digital, 1982, PG, two discs, $34.98, deleted scenes, featurettes, trailers). Steven Spielberg’s memorable ode to childhood, with a benign space alien taken in and protected by a young boy and his friends, remains one of the biggest moneymaking movies of all time, as well as a terrific piece of filmmaking, with thrills and laughs galore. Often referred to by Spielberg as his most personal effort. This is the original theatrical version and includes some new interviews. (Also on single-disc DVD, $19.98.)
“Cinderella: Diamond Edition” (Disney, 1950, G, two discs, $44.99, alternate opening sequence, featurettes, short cartoon: “Tangled Ever After,” trailers). Disney’s classic animated adaptation of the beloved fairy tale about an oppressed young woman whose fairy godmother helps her to become the belle of the Royal Ball. More vibrant than ever in this Blu-ray upgrade, and it is still one of the best from the Mouse House.
“Zig Zag” (Warner Archive, 1970, PG, $18.95, trailer). George Kennedy has a rare starring role here as a desperate man with a fatal disease who frames himself for a murder so his family can collect reward money, but, naturally, things don’t go quite as planned. Far-fetched but well played thriller with able support from Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.
“Mr. Ricco” (Warner Archive, 1975, PG, $18.95, trailer). Thriller with Dean Martin as a high-rolling criminal defense attorney in San Francisco being stalked by a killer is notable as his last starring role and for being grittier than most of his pictures. OK but could have been better. Cindy Williams (“Laverne & Shirley”) has a supporting role.
“The Scarlet Coat” (Warner Archive, 1955, not rated, $18.95, trailer). “Spyjinks” was a word coined to describe double-agent films, and it fits this one, set against the Revolutionary War as rival spies Cornel Wilde and Michael Wilding try to outwit each other. Anne Francis and George Sanders co-star. Colorful costume fun.
“The King’s Thief” (Warner Archive, 1955, not rated, $18.95, trailer). This 17th century London swashbuckler has a devious duke (David Niven) manipulating the king (George Sanders) so he can steal wealthy landowners’ property. But one of the duke’s victims (Ann Blyth) and a highwayman (Edmund Purdom) plot to take him down. Good performances, with Niven in a rare villain role. Look for Roger Moore as one of Purdom’s cohorts. (These last four titles are available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“Pet Sematary” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1989; R for violence, language; $19.99). Very popular film based on the very popular novel, but it is nonetheless a candidate for the worst Stephen King adaptation ever. A family moves into a rural home fronted by a highway with speeding trucks and with a spooky pet cemetery in the back that somehow resurrects the dead (animals and people) as murderous zombies. King scripted and has a cameo.