Vintage classics “House of Wax,” “From Here to Eternity,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Voyage of the Damned” all receive Blu-ray special-edition upgrades this week, and several other titles make their disc debuts.
“House of Wax 3D” (Warner/3D Blu-ray, 1953, $35.99, 3D Blu-ray and Blu-ray versions, new 48-minute documentary, audio commentary, newsreel, trailer, 1933 movie: “Mystery of the Wax Museum”). The best of the early ’50s 3D cycle is this horror thriller, a lavishly produced period film with startling set pieces, a compelling storyline and an excellent performance at its center from veteran character actor Vincent Price. In fact, Price was so good that his performance sent his career off into a new trajectory as a star of fright films.
Price plays a talented sculptor with an obsession over his wax museum’s Marie Antoinette, and eventually he meets a woman who is a dead ringer for his vision of her. But when a fire destroys his museum and he must rebuild, his burned hands won’t cooperate, so he takes drastic measures to create his new statues. Price gets great support from Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones and, as Price’s deaf mute assistant, Charles Bronson (billed as Charles Buchinsky).
The 3D version is fun, but you don’t need to see it that way to enjoy the movie, which holds up very well outside of the gimmick. The new documentary is mostly about this film, but it’s also a condensed history of 3D and of Price’s career (including archival interviews with Price, among others). And if you don’t have a 3D TV but want the film in Blu-ray, both versions are here on one disc.
“From Here to Eternity” (Columbia/Blu-ray, 1953, b/w, $19.99, audio commentary, featurette, excerpt from documentary “Fred Zinnemann: As I See It”; five color postcard-size lobby-card reproductions). Great adaptation of the James Jones novel built around the attack on Pearl Harbor with a stellar cast led by Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, although supporting players Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra won the acting Oscars, which in Sinatra’s case revived his faltering career. Oscars also went to the picture, the director, the screenwriter, the cinematographer, the editor and the sound engineer. Ernest Borgnine also makes an impression.
“The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition” (Disney/Blu-ray, 1989, two discs, G. $44.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; deleted character/scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, music videos, sing-along, trailers). This is the Disney cartoon feature that led to a number of classic follow-ups, including “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” “The Little Mermaid” announced an end to Disney’s slump and turned the studio’s animation department around. In addition to all previously released bonus features there are several new extras for fans. (Also on 3D combo, $49.99, and DVD combo, $39.99)
“The Wizard of Oz 3D” (Warner/3D Blu-ray, 1939, two discs, PG/G, $35.99, new feature-length documentary, audio commentary, featurettes, sing-along, song selections, radio program, trailers). After its weeklong IMAX 3D engagement, here comes a new 3D Blu-ray release of everyone’s favorite musical fantasy, with Judy Garland as Dorothy, whisked to colorful, and occasionally scary, Oz via tornado. (Also on 75th Anniversary Limited Collector’s Edition” box set, $105.43)
“Voyage of the Damned” (itv/Blu-ray, 1976, PG, $24.99, Blu-ray and DVD versions, photo gallery, trailer). Following the rise of anti-Semitism in 1939 Germany, a ship with 937 German Jews heads for Havana for sanctuary. Then it is revealed that there is no sanctuary; it’s all a Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda trick. Cuba and the United States turn them away, but they can’t bear the thought of returning to Germany. Gripping, character-driven true story with an all-star cast — Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner, Orson Welles, Malcolm McDowell, James Mason, Max von Sydow, etc.
“Two Men in Manhattan” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 1959, b/w, $39.98, in English and in French with English subtitles, featurettes, trailers; 12-page booklet). Moody film noir at its finest — but from a French filmmaker. Location shooting in New York City enhances the story of a French reporter and his photographer on the hunt for a missing United Nations delegate. Very well plotted mystery with an evocative jazz score. (Also on DVD, $29.98)
“William Powell at Warner Bros.” (Warner Archive, 1931-34, four discs, $39.95, four films, four trailers). These pre-Production Code films are quite good, highlighting Powell’s debonair demeanor early in his career. “Road to Singapore” (no relation to the Hope & Crosby comedy) is an overheated melodrama set in the tropics with Powell stealing other men’s wives; “High Pressure” is a hilarious farce with Powell trying to sell faux rubber; “Private Detective 62” (aka “Man Killer”) has Powell agreeing to frame a socialite but falling for her instead; and “The Key” casts Powell as a British officer up against the IRA in 1920 Dublin in this star-crossed romance. (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
“Bad Company” (Warner Archive, 1972, PG, $18.95). Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown are Civil War draft-dodgers who become robbers as they cross the West in this well-written and directed Western. Somewhat forgotten but very good directing debut of co-writer Robert Benton (who would later win Oscars for “Kramer vs. Kramer”). (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
“Timeless Military Film Collection” (MGM/Timeless, 1951-68, color and b/w, $6.95, four films). These B-movie wartime efforts are cheaply packaged but they’re good movies, especially “Go For Broke!” with Van Johnson as a bigot assigned to train Japanese-American soldiers. Also, “Hell Raiders,” the only one of these in color, with John Agar leading a demolition group to rescue top-secret records; “Lost Battalion,” with Diane Jergens being rescued by a guerrilla fighter in the Pacific; and “Tank Batallion,” which follows a four-man tank crew in the Korean War.
“Gallant Sons” (Warner Archive, 1940, b/w, $16.95, trailer). Juvenile mystery has a group of kids solving a murder by putting on a play. Jackie Cooper, Bonita Granville and Leo Gorcey star. (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
“The ‘Dead End Kids’ Double Feature” (Warner Archive, 1939, b/w, $18.95, two films, one trailer). “Hell’s Kitchen” (a remake of the Dead End Kids’ own “Crime School,” which was itself a remake of James Cagney’s “Mayor of Hell”) has Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and the gang in reform school, with Ronald Reagan in tow. “The ‘Dead End’ Kids ‘On Dress Parade’ ” has the boys in military school and was the last of the “Dead End Kids” cycle before they evolved into the “Little Tough Guys,” the “East Side Kids” and finally the “Bowery Boys.” (Available at www.warnerarchive.com)
“Jackie Chan Beginnings” (Timeless, 1978, $9.99, trailers, photo galleries). Two of Chan’s very early martial-arts starring roles, “Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin” and “Magnificent Bodyguards,” both period pieces with Chan battling bad guys while entrusted with a mission of mercy. Interesting for fans, though English dubbing is distracting. (This is the third in a series of “Jackie Chan Beginnings” DVDs from Timeless.)
“Day of the Dead: Collector’s Edition” (Scream/Blu-ray, 1985, not rated, $29.93, audio commentaries, new documentary, new featurette, photo galleries, trailers, TV spots). This is the third in George A. Romero’s original trilogy, not the 2007 remake, and it’s the weakest of the three, slow and talky until a rousing finale that will please patient gorehounds.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com