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.
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