A wide variety of vintage titles have arrived on DVD for the first time, featuring such beloved stars as Sophia Loren, William Holden, Walter Pidgeon, Ann Sothern, Eddie Cantor and Joan Davis, among others. (All except the westerns collection are available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
“The Key” (Sony Choice Collection, 1958, b/w, $17.95). William Holden is a Canadian sergeant in England given the perilous mission of helming a tugboat that brings in crippled ships damaged by U-Boat torpedoes. Sophia Loren is a woman whose apartment key has been passed around by several military men, all of whom have died at sea. Doomed romance is in the air.
This offbeat romantic melodrama set against the early days of World War II attempts to act as a metaphor for relationships thrown into chaos during wartime. The plot is a bit out there but is rescued to some extent by earnest performances from a first-rate cast and location filming in CinemaScope. (Look for Michael Caine in a bit part.)
“The Bowery Boys, Volume Two” (Warner Archive, 1956-55, b/w, four discs, $39.95, 12 films). This second set of low-slapstick programmers with 30-year-olds as juvenile-delinquents-with-hearts-of-gold is once again led by Leo Gorcey as the malaprop-dropping Slip and Huntz Hall as the doofus Sach. These sets are not a direct chronology, but included here are the fan favorites “Loose in London,” with Sach as heir-apparent to British royalty, and the self-explanatory “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters.”
“ ‘Fast’ Triple Feature” (Warner Archive, 1938-39, b/w, $18.95, three films, trailers). Trilogy of B-movie comedy-mysteries, each with different stars, in the “Thin Man” vein as married rare booksellers Joel and Garda Sloane solve murders. Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice star in “Fast Company,” the first and weakest of the three; “Fast and Loose” is much better, starring well-matched Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell; and best of all is “Fast and Furious,” with Ann Sothern and Franchot Tone demonstrating great comic/romantic chemistry.
“Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature” (Warner Archive, 1939-40, b/w, $18.95, three films, trailers). Laced with typical World War II propaganda and plots involving espionage, this is a short-lived B-movie series starring Walter Pidgeon as the urbane detective depicted in hundreds of short stories published in the late 19th and early 20th century.
“Kid Millions” (Warner Archive, 1934, b/w and color, $18.95). Eddie Cantor stars in this big-budget musical extravaganza, along with Ann Sothern and Ethel Merman. The inheritance plot is convoluted but various set pieces are enjoyable, especially the zany ice cream-factory finale, which seems to be a prototype for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (and was an early experiment with three-strip Technicolor). (Look for Lucille Ball in the chorus.)
“Whoopee!” (Warner Archive, 1930, $18.95). Two-strip Technicolor musical stars Eddie Cantor as the world’s worst hypochondriac and he gets to sing two of his biggest hits, “Makin’ Whoopee” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me.” Early, somewhat creaky sound picture is bolstered by Cantor’s comic energy and the kaleidoscope choreography that marked Busby Berkeley’s film debut. (Look for Betty Grable in the chorus; remade 14 years later as Danny Kaye’s film debut, “Up in Arms.”)
“Harem Girl” (Sony Choice Collection, 1952, b/w, $17.95). Wise-cracking Joan Davis headlines this B-movie farce (her final film before moving to TV for “I Married Joan”) as a secretary hired to be the personal assistant to a Middle Eastern princess (Peggie Castle), and then coaxed into impersonating her. Wackiness ensues.
“Branded” (Sony Choice Collection, 1931, b/w, $17.95). Buck Jones is a largely forgotten western star of silents and the first decade of the sound era, but he was a big star in his day. This is fairly typical programmer, light on story and heavy on action, and perhaps better-than-average as he is accused of a robbery he tried to prevent. (Jones died tragically in 1942 along with nearly 500 others in the Cocoanut Grove inferno in Boston that remains the deadliest nightclub fire in history.)
“Greatest Western Heroes” (Mill Creek, 1932-56, b/w and color, 12 discs, $29.98, 45 movies, 15 serial episodes, 33 TV episodes, two documentaries on John Ford, John Wayne). Public-domain westerns from the early sound era through the mid-1950s include a 1938 “Lone Ranger” serial, many of John Wayne and Roy Rogers’ early cowboy efforts, and episodes of several TV series, including “The Lone Ranger,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Annie Oakley,” “The Adventures of Kit Carson,” “The Gabby Hayes Show” and “The Roy Rogers Show.”