Two new Blu-ray box sets have pulled together some classic World War II dramas and documentaries for film buffs, and a number of other newly released or reissued older films are also available this week.
“World War II Collections: True Stories of WWII” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1965-2008, PG-13/R for violence, four discs).
“World War II Collections: Invasion Europe” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1967-2005, PG/R for violence, four discs).
Each of these sets includes Blu-ray upgrades of three Hollywood features on various aspects of World War II, plus documentaries about the war and the involvement of Hollywood talent in bringing flag-waving propaganda to U.S. theaters during the 1940s.
“True Stories” has the fine features “Memphis Belle” (1990, PG-13), starring Matthew Modine; “Battle of the Bulge” (1965, unrated) with Henry Fonda leading an all-star cast in a Cinerama epic, and “Defiance” (2008, R), with Daniel Craig. Also here are the original 1944 “Memphis Belle” documentary and a new documentary, “The First Motion Picture Unit: When Hollywood Went to War,” plus six shorter documentaries.
“Invasion Europe’s” excellent features are “The Big Red One” (1980, two versions, PG original, R restored), starring Lee Marvin; “The Dirty Dozen” (1967, unrated), with Marvin and an all-star cast, and “Where Eagles Dare” (1968, PG), with Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. There is also the 45-minute documentary “George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin” (2005), which relates the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s experiences in the U.S. Army Signal Corps documenting (in color) D-Day, the liberation of Paris and the Dachau concentration camp, among other significant events.
“Arthur Hailey’s The Moneychangers” (CBS/Paramount/DVD, 1976, two discs, four episodes). Kirk Douglas is an ethical Manhattan bank vice president trying to keep a low-income housing project afloat when another vice president (Christopher Plummer, who won an Emmy) blocks it by currying favor with the board of directors in favor of a dicey investment with shady Lorne Greene. Douglas and Plummer are also up for the top spot after the death of the bank’s president. A weaker secondary story about credit card counterfeiting has Timothy Bottoms going undercover for the bank.
Hailey was the author of “Airport” and “Hotel,” among other best-sellers, and several of his works were adapted for theatrical and TV movies. This one is a miniseries that aired over four nights on NBC and was strong enough to lure Douglas to the small screen. It’s longer than it needs to be and feels padded in places, but it also remains entertaining, if not quite gripping.
“Lady L” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1965, TV ad). Oscar-winning character actor Peter Ustinov wrote and directed (and has a cameo in) this gentle dark comedy filmed on location in Europe and set at the turn of the 20th century. Sophia Loren is the title character, a laundress in a bordello who marries an aristocrat (David Niven) but continues a dalliance with an anarchist (Paul Newman). This one has star power to spare and is occasionally amusing but surprisingly flat. (DVD debut, available at warnerarchive.com)
“Weekend of a Champion” (aka “Afternoon of a Champion,” MPI/DVD, 1972, trailer). Cinéma vérité documentary produced by Roman Polanski, who followed racing champ Jackie Stewart around for three days during the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. After a brief European release the film was “lost” for 40 years until it was restored for a revival at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. There is a new, present-day coda with Polanski and Stewart reminiscing in Monaco.
“The Biggest Bundle of Them All” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1968). OK caper comedy filmed in Europe about a motley gang (including Raquel Welch, Robert Wagner and Godfrey Cambridge) that kidnaps a mobster (Vittorio De Sica) but then discovers no one will pay the ransom. So the mobster instead recruits the gang to rob a train. Edward G. Robinson co-stars. (DVD debut, available at warnerarchive.com)
“Alice Adams” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1936, b/w, six-minute excerpt from “George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey,” text essay on Katharine Hepburn’s RKO oeuvre). After a trio of flops, Katharine Hepburn revived her film career in the mid-1930s with this excellent tale of a social climber trying to hide her poverty to land a rich husband, managing to charm rich but down-to-earth Fred MacMurray. (DVD reissue, available at warnerarchive.com)
“Nosferatu the Vampyre” (Scream Factory/Blu-ray, 1979, English and German versions, audio commentary, vintage featurette, trailers). This mesmerizing, deliberate retelling of the Dracula story by German filmmaker Werner Herzog receives a sterling Blu-ray upgrade and includes both the German-language version with English subtitles and the English-language version that was filmed at the same time with the same cast. Klaus Kinski is great in the title role and Isabelle Adjani is luminous as Lucy Harker, whose husband, Jonathan (Bruno Ganz), unwisely pays a call to Dracula’s castle.
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (MPI/Blu-ray, 1973, deleted scenes, featurettes, outtakes, trailer). Coincidentally, another version of Bram Stoker’s vampire tale is upgraded to Blu-ray this week, a good TV movie starring Jack Palance, who is surprisingly effective as the notorious count. The title listed here is the one on the film (later used by Francis Ford Coppola for his 1992 theatrical version), although the box reads “Dan Curtis’ Dracula,” Curtis being the film’s producer/director. Fans will be happy to know that this disc marks the home-video debut of the film’s original widescreen aspect ratio.
“The Godfather, Part III” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1990, R for violence and language, audio commentary). This third film in Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster trilogy has been on Blu-ray for a while in the “Godfather” box set, but this marks its debut as a stand-alone Blu-ray disc. The film was vilified by many critics at the time but it’s actually quite good most of the way, though not up there with Coppola’s first two “Godfather” classics. Al Pacino returns as the aging mob boss looking for redemption, as do Diane Keaton and Talia Shire. Newcomers include Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach and Joe Mantegna, with Coppola’s daughter Sofia (who later became a fine director in her own right) unfortunately cast in an important role as Pacino’s daughter, and she’s awful.
“ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee”/“ ‘Crocodile’ Dundee II” (Paramount/Blu-ray, 1986/1988, PG-13/PG, featurette). Here’s an unexpected Blu-ray upgrade, and it beautifully shows off the Australian outback. Paul Hogan’s original surprise blockbuster is still a funny film as he plays a rugged survivalist out of his element when he gets to New York City. He reversed the story for the sequel. (There was a third, less successful, effort, “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles,” some 13 years later.)
“The Wind and the Lion” (Warner Archive/Blu-ray, 1975, PG, audio commentary, featurette). The gorgeous cinematography is what benefits most from this Blu-ray upgrade of John Milius’ epic story (based loosely on a historical incident) of a renegade desert chieftain (Sean Connery) in 1904 Morocco who kidnaps a widow (Candice Bergen) and her children. Connery is great, of course, and Brian Keith impresses as President Theodore Roosevelt. (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“The Revengers” (CBS/Paramount/DVD, 1972, PG, trailer). Violent, somewhat disappointing revenge Western with William Holden recruiting convicts (led by Ernest Borgnine and Woody Strode, both very good) to enact vengeance on the killing of his family by a band of cutthroats. But the convicts are as unpredictable as their prey. Echoes of “The Wild Bunch” but it never fulfills its promise.
“Martial Arts Movie Marathon” (Shout!/DVD, 1975-75, two discs, four movies, in Mandarin with English subtitles or English dubbed, trailers). These Hong Kong action films are fairly typical of the genre during the enormous output of such pictures during the 1970s, and they’re all fun kick-’em-ups. All have goofy plots but the feet-flying kung fu is great. The films are “The Skyhawk,” which features a young Sammo Hung; “The Manchu Boxer,” also with Hung; “The Dragon Tamers,” which is the second movie directed by John Woo (who would go on to direct “Hard Boiled,” “Face/Off” and “Mission: Impossible II”), and “The Association.”
“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” (Dreamworks/Blu-ray/DVD, 2002, G, two discs, audio commentary, featurettes, storyboards). Gorgeously animated feature (with familiar southern Utah landscapes in cartoon form) narrated by Matt Damon and featuring songs by Bryan Adams follows a mustang that is captured in the wild by rustlers, then subjected to efforts to “break” him. OK for kids.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com