“Out of the Past” is upgraded to Blu-ray this week, as are more “Looney Tunes” shorts, and a number of fan-favorite titles mark their DVD debut. (Warner Archive titles are available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Out of the Past” (Warner Archive/Blu-ray, audio commentary). Fans of the genre might debate the point, but for me, this is the best film noir thriller ever made. It's cleverly plotted, strong in character development and rich in dialogue, with smart quips galore and a central fall guy you care about. That fall guy is Robert Mitchum in one of his strongest, most affable performances. (This is the film with his famous “Baby, I don’t care” line.)
Mitchum is running a small-town service station in Northern California when he’s tracked down and told that mob boss Kirk Douglas wants to see him at his Lake Tahoe digs. On the drive to Tahoe, Mitchum confesses his past to his girlfriend, revealing in a lengthy flashback that he used to be a private eye and was hired by Douglas to track down a double-dealing girlfriend, played with icy perfection by Jane Greer. Naturally, Mitchum fell for her and was double-crossed and abandoned for his effort.
When he arrives in Tahoe, he finds Douglas is downright cheery, and Greer is there, too. Mitchum braces himself for a setup. He’s not disappointed. And as you watch this in glorious hi-def black and white, you won’t be either. (My favorite line, from Mitchum after Greer says she doesn’t want to die, is, “Neither do I, baby, but if I have to, I’m gonna die last.”)
“Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 3” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1941-1961, two discs, 50 cartoons, audio commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, storyboards; 12-page booklet). Disc 1 is all Bugs Bunny all the time, while Disc 2 has everyone else — Road Runner, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Tweety, Sylvester, Speedy Gonzalez, etc. Many classic cartoon shorts are here, and they’ve never looked so good.
But die-hard fans will be more excited about the multitude of audio commentaries, the many featurettes and the lengthier documentaries, all of which are real treats as they offer reflections by and about Mel Blanc, Stan Freberg, the directors, the animators, the characters, etc.
“Raffles” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1930/1939, b/w, two movies). Here are two early film versions of the same lighthearted yarn, both wonderfully cast and produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Raffles is a gentleman thief who decides to go straight for love, but to help someone in trouble, he sets his sights on a prize jewel during a weekend stay with some One-Percenters. Ronald Colman stars in the first, a very early “talkie,” with Kay Frances, and David Niven takes over for the second with Olivia de Havilland.
“The Winning of Barbara Worth” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1926, silent, b/w). Colman also stars in this Goldwyn production as an engineer bent on irrigating an area of the Southwest desert. Frequent co-star Vilma Banky provides the romantic interest and, in his first co-starring role, Gary Cooper impresses as a cowpoke that has long taken Banky for granted but now finds competition from sophisticated Colman.
“Queen Margot” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 1994; R for violence, sex, nudity; in French with English subtitles, audio commentary, trailer; 28-page booklet). Restored for its 20th anniversary, with 20 minutes that had been cut for the U.S. release back in place, this melodrama is famous for its very bloody depiction of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre as its centerpiece. It's jumbled and messy but benefits from strong performances by Daniel Auteuil, Virna Lisi and especially Isabelle Adjani, who is ice-cold in the title role as the queen’s daughter with canny power plays up her sleeve even as she is forced into a loveless marriage.
“The Hills Run Red”/“Apache” (Timeless/DVD, 1967/1954, two movies). These enjoyable Westerns make a nice double feature for fans of horse operas. “The Hills Run Red” is an early spaghetti Western starring Thomas Hunter (an actor who also wrote the 1980 sci-fi thriller “The Final Countdown”) as an ex-con looking for revenge, with Dan Duryea and Henry Silva in support. “Apache” stars Burt Lancaster as a fugitive warrior who has declared war on the whites, eventually kidnapping Jean Peters, with Charles Bronson and John McIntire in pursuit.
“Elmer the Great” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1933, b/w, trailer).
“You Said a Mouthful” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1932, b/w, trailer).
“Broadminded” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1931, b/w, trailer). These three ’30s farces star one of the period’s most popular comics, Joe E. Brown, known today for uttering the famous last line in “Some Like It Hot” (1959). But he was a big star in the 1930s, churning out several films a year, and these three are among his better efforts. In “Elmer,” he’s an egotistical ballplayer headed for a fall; in “Mouthful,” he’s a goofy inventor that enters a swimming contest to win Ginger Rogers, even though he can’t swim; and in “Broadminded,” he’s on a road trip and keeps running into Bela Lugosi (whose “Dracula” was released the same year).
“Gene Autry: Collection 7” (Timeless/DVD, 1935-40, two discs, four movies, featurettes, audio radio programs, photo galleries, trivia). Four of Gene Autry’s singing-cowboy Westerns are collected here, including his first (thought to be the first of this sub-genre), “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” The others are “The Old Corral,” “Prairie Moon” and “Carolina Moon,” each co-starring Smiley Burnette, and Lon Chaney Jr. shows up in one. The featurettes are 15-minute compilations of segments that Autry and Pat Buttram (his later sidekick) did in 1987, discussing each of these films.