Chris Hicks: Oft-requested 1936 'Show Boat' leads bevy of vintage titles new to DVD
“The Vitaphone Comedy Collection, Volume Two: Shemp Howard (1933-1937)” (Warner Archive, 1933-37, b/w, two discs, $24.95, 21 shorts). This second collection of early-sound Vitaphone films is comprised of 21 two-reel shorts (roughly 20 minutes each) starring Shemp Howard, who, before and after this period, was one of the Three Stooges (brother of Moe and Curly Howard). Silly skit-driven shorts are products of their era and some work better than others. But Stooges fans in particular will be interested in seeing the evolution of Shemp’s comedy style as he rises from bit parts to starring roles. Included are his “Joe Palooka” shorts.
“The First Time” (Sony Choice, 1952, b/w, $18.95). This domestic comedy stars Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale, who would both find greater stardom on television than in movies (he had several popular sitcoms, she was Della Street on “Perry Mason”). They make an appealing couple as harried first-time parents, with good support from a cast of familiar character players, led by Jeff Donnell and Bill Goodwin.
“Samson and Delilah” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1949, $22.98, trailer). One year after its DVD debut, this Cecil B. DeMille epic that kicked off the biblical-movie craze of the 1950s gets a Blu-ray upgrade, and it does look gorgeous. The movie itself is a bit hokey, a warm-up for DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” still six years away. But Victor Mature is well cast as Samson, and though a bit too old, Hedy Lamarr is a fetching Delilah. Angela Lansbury co-stars. And these days you are not likely to see anything like this respectful credit: “Based upon the history of Samson and Delilah in the Holy Bible, Judges 13-16."
“Rings Around the World” (Sony Choice, 1966, $18.95). Here’s one for circus buffs. Don Ameche hosts this spinoff of his TV documentary series “International Showcase,” which had him touring the world to film unique performances, many episodes focusing on the great circus acts of Europe. Included here are trapeze, juggling, balancing, sword, archery and high-wire artists, along with lions, horses, elephants, tigers and yes, clowns.
“The Crimson Blade” (aka “The Scarlet Blade,” Sony Choice, 1964, $18.95). The British Hammer Studios, which specialized in horror, also produced a number of swashbucklers, including this one, set during the English Civil War. It’s action-packed with an interesting story but is hampered by lead performers who are never as charismatic as the villains, especially young Oliver Reed.
“The Visitor” (Drafthouse/Blu-ray, 1979, R for language and violence, $29.95, featurette, trailer; 16-page booklet). Calling this metaphysical sci-fi/horror fantasy “bizarre” doesn’t begin to cover it. A gender-reversed riff on the second “Omen” film, an 8-year-old girl with supernatural powers plots to destroy the world while a mystical alien (John Huston) tries to stop her, though he takes his time. Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters and Sam Peckinpah co-star, with Lance Henricksen as a sinister figure romancing the girl’s mother. In a framing device, Franco Nero is a blonde, blue-eyed Jesus telling the story to bald children. (Also on DVD, $27.95)