The “Dr. Kildare” movie franchise makes its DVD debut this week, along with a collection of silent shorts, a Blu-ray upgrade of Disney’s “The Jungle Book” and two big-screen efforts spun off of the “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio program.
“Dr. Kildare: Movie Collection” (Warner Archive, 1938-42, b/w, five discs, $49.95, nine movies, nine trailers, TV pilot). Richard Chamberlain became a teen idol in “Dr. Kildare,” the 1961-66 TV series, but Lew Ayres preceded him by two decades, becoming a matinée idol in the same role for nine films released over four years during the 1930s and ’40s.
All nine movies are here, beginning with “Young Dr. Kildare,” in which he returns home after graduating from medical school to tell Dad that instead of joining his small-town practice, he’s accepted an internship at New York’s prestigious Blair General Hospital. There, he becomes the assistant to irascible Dr. Gillespie, played by scene-stealing Lionel Barrymore. Mormon actress Laraine Day joins the series in “Calling Dr. Kildare” as Nurse Mary Lamont and becomes Kildare’s love interest.
Yes, the films are dated and some of the comic relief is heavy-handed, but they’re also warm, uplifting and briskly paced, benefiting from that MGM polish and excellent performances. Look for Lana Turner, Robert Young, Red Skelton and Barry Nelson in various entries. After nine movies Ayers departed, but Barrymore as Gillespie continued the series for six more pictures (fodder for a future DVD set, perhaps).
As a bonus, there’s also a failed 30-minute TV pilot from 1960 with a 20-years-older Ayers reprising his role as Kildare, and one of his young interns is played by an unbilled Robert Redford. The next year, another pilot that took Kildare back to his roots was picked up by NBC, became a hit TV series and made Chamberlain a star. (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“Accidentally Preserved, Volume 2” (Undercrank, 1919-29, b/w, $19.95, nine short films). The second volume in this series of delightful silent-movie collections has nine more rarities on DVD for the first time, with new music by Ben Model. Most are comedies, though there is also a blasting-cap safety film and an animated promo for Christmas Seals. The entire collection runs just under two hours.
The roster is highlighted by “Charley On the Farm” (1919), a Charlie Chaplin cartoon by the future creators of Felix the Cat; “Sherlock’s Home” (1924), an episode of the “Telephone Girl” series, with charming hotel switchboard operator Alberta Vaughn being romanced by a boxer; and “Helter Skelter” (1929), a raucous boy-and-his-dog chase starring 6-year-old slapstick veteran Malcolm “Big Boy” Sebastian. (Both volumes are available exclusively at Amazon.com; for more information go to accidentallypreserved.com.)
“The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition” (Disney/Blu-ray, 1967, G, two discs, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; introduction, alternate ending, featurettes, sing-along). Bouncy, cheerful, musical animation in the jungles of India as young Mowgli is “adopted” by Baloo the Bear (voiced by Phil Harris) while on his way to a “man-village,” with diversions provided by Bagheera the Panther (Sebastian Cabot), Kaa the Snake (Sterling Holloway), King Louis of the Apes (Louis Prima) and villainous Shere Khan the Tiger (George Sanders). More Disney than Kipling, but if your children or grandchildren have missed this one, they’ll love it.
“Fibber McGee and Molly Double Feature” (Warner Archive, 1942/1944, b/w, $18.95). During World War II, it was a treat for fans to see their favorite radio stars in movies from time to time, and Jim and Marian Jordan made four as their domestic-comedy alter egos, “Fibber McGee and Molly.” They were supporting players in the 1937 Betty Grable vehicle “This Way Please,” then from 1941-44 starred in three: “Look Who’s Laughing” (available in Warner Archive’s “The Lucile Ball RKO Comedy Collection”) and the two in this set: “Here We Go Again,” co-starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, along with Harold Peary as the Great Gildersleeve, and their final big-screen effort, “Heavenly Days.” (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“Monogram Cowboy Collection, Volume 7” (Warner Archive, 1945-52, b/w, three discs, $34.95, nine movies). More enjoyable B-movies from the “poverty row” studio, with Monogram regulars Johnny Mack Brown, Jimmy Wakely and Whip Wilson each starring in three low-budget Westerns. The plots are interchangeable but fast-paced (each film runs less than an hour), bolstered by outdoor locations and familiar supporting character actors, including Noel Neill, future Lois Lane to George Reeves’ “Superman”; and comic-relief experts Andy Clyde, Fuzzy Knight and Dub Taylor (billed here as Cannonball Taylor). (Available at warnerarchive.com)Comment on this story
“Kirby Grant and Chinook Adventure Triple Feature, Volume 2” (Warner Archive, 1949-50, b/w, $18.95, three movies). Think Jack London meets Lassie while foreshadowing TV’s “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.” Actor Kirby Grant (best known as TV’s “Sky King”) is a Canadian Mountie, and Chinook is his German shepherd, a terrific stunt dog that repeatedly rescues him from bad guys. Good stunts and locations help bolster these action-packed Monogram B-pictures. Look for Milburn Stone as a doctor, anticipating his role a few years later on TV’s “Gunsmoke.” (Available at warnerarchive.com)
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings."