Two of Audrey Hepburn’s most beloved films have received Blu-ray upgrades this week, and several other vintage movies are on DVD for the first time. (Warner Archive titles are available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Sabrina” (Paramount/Warner/Blu-ray, 1954, b/w, $19.98, featurettes).
“Funny Face” (Paramount/Warner/Blu-ray, 1957, $19.98, featurettes, trailer). “Sabrina” is one of Hepburn’s most famous movies, coming on the heels of her first starring (and Oscar-winning) role in “Roman Holiday,” and “Funny Face,” while perhaps less well-remembered, is a vibrant musical co-starring Fred Astaire and is equally delightful.
In the title role of “Sabrina,” Hepburn shines as the daughter of a chauffeur for a wealthy family. She has long had a crush on the layabout playboy son (William Holden) though he has ignored her — but when she returns from schooling abroad, he suddenly takes notice. For business reasons, his older, workaholic brother (Humphrey Bogart) discourages the relationship by wooing her himself, and then, to his own dismay, falls in love. Bogart seems like an odd casting choice, and he’s 30 years older than Hepburn, but he makes it work. And in the hands of co-writer/director Billy Wilder, this romantic comedy remains enchanting.
Similarly, Astaire is also 30 years older than Hepburn, but he is so charming and full of energy that it’s easy to put that aside for “Funny Face,” in which he is a fashion photographer who coerces a shy bookstore clerk into becoming a model. The songs are Gershwin classics (“S’Wonderful,” “He Loves and She Loves,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?”), and the dancing, choreographed by Eugene Loring (“Silk Stockings”) is fabulous.
Both films look great on these Blu-ray discs, though the real beneficiary is “Funny Face,” in which the colorful décor and costumes really pop.
“Tim Holt: Western Classics Collection, Vol. 4” (Warner Archive, 1940-52, b/w, three discs, $40.99, nine movies). The fourth set of enjoyable Tim Holt Westerns puts on display a string of 60-minute movies primarily from his middle, most popular, period, including “Wagon Train,” “Cyclone on Horseback,” “Red River Robin Hood,” and the mistaken-identity comedy “The Fargo Kid.” Holt was an efficient actor, as he proved in “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “My Darling Clementine,” among others. But his bread-and-butter roles were these RKO “oaters,” as they were called, playing the hero in formula yarns that supported bigger features on theatrical double-bills.
“Black Jack” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 1979, $39.98, audio commentary; 12-page booklet). This English period drama is about a French convict who manipulates a young boy into helping him escape, then together they rescue a young girl from being wrongly sent to an asylum. Then the trio goes on the run, eventually connecting with a traveling fair. This is an early effort by naturalistic filmmaker Ken Loach (“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”), made on the cheap with many non-actors, and occasionally it looks that way. But generally it’s an entertaining film aimed at family viewing. (Also on DVD, $29.98.)
“King Kong vs. Godzilla” (Universal/Blu-ray, 1963, $19.98).
“King Kong Escapes” (Universal/Blu-ray, 1968, $19.98). These discs (with no extras) are the American versions (dubbed in English) of the campy-in-the-extreme King Kong/Godzilla “sequels,” Japanese productions with silly plotting and even sillier special effects. But you already know that, right? No one approaches these expecting 21st-century CGI. But if you’re looking for picture/sound upgrades, these Blu-rays are exceptional transfers and will more than please any aficionados.
“The Children Nobody Wanted” (Warner Archive, 1981, $21.99). Network television movie based on the true story of college student Tom Butterfield (Fred Lehne), who is distressed by the plight of unwanted children and attempts to become a foster parent, but because he’s single he must fight the system. He eventually founded the Butterfield Youth Ranches for kids that fall through the cracks. Well made, if typical of the genre (and today would be a Lifetime Channel effort). But the real draw is the presence of young Michelle Pfeiffer in an early role as Tom’s girlfriend.
“Death Among Friends” (Warner Archive, 1975, $21.99). Character actress Kate Reid landed the starring role in this TV mystery as an L.A.P.D. homicide detective, a widow whose matronly appearance causes people to underestimate her ability as one of the top cops solving cases (think a distaff “Columbo”). The case here is the mysterious death of an international banker at a Bel-Air mansion with no dearth of suspects. Reid is great, and this might have made a winning series, but, alas, no follow-up ever materialized.
“His Greatest Gamble” (Warner Archive, 1934, b/w, $21.99). Irresponsible gambler Richard Dix is on the run with his young daughter from her mother, his nasty ex-wife. But when he’s convicted of murdering a jilted lover, he finds himself in prison. The girl, now back with her mother, is led to believe her dad has deserted her. Years later, when the girl is grown, Dix learns just how badly she is being treated and escapes to help her out. It's an extremely contrived soap opera, but the cast is good and led by Dix at the peak of his stardom.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: hicksflicks.com