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Film review: Warner Brothers opens archives

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 5:24 p.m. MDT

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Warner Archive's burn-on-demand DVD business is so brisk that the online service is issuing new titles nearly every week, mostly long sought-after movies from the 1920s through the 1980s, including many that have never been released on home video. And now, some vintage TV episodes as well.

All of these discs and collections can be ordered at www.wbshop.com (click on "Archives" — and remember to watch for sales, when discs are reduced from the retail prices listed here).

"Classic TV Christmas Collection" (Warner Archive, 1964-96, four discs, b/w and color, $34.95). Taking a page from other studios that have had success with such compilations, Warner has pulled together 11 holiday episodes from a bevy of beloved TV series, including some that have never been on DVD.

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There are 10 TV series represented here. "CHiPs," "Welcome Back, Kotter," "Perfect Strangers" and "Mama's Family" all have first-season sets in release. "Alice" has only a few episodes on a best-of disc. And "Dr. Kildare," "Eight Is Enough" (represented by a two-episode story), "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," "Suddenly Susan" and "Veronica's Closet" have never been on home video, which makes these Christmas-themed shows all the more desirable to fans.

Some are undeniably corny (the "CHiPs" and "Eight Is Enough" episodes in particular), and the earlier sitcoms have a lot more laughs per half-hour than the later ones. But it's an enjoyable set — and at the risk of showing my age, I have to admit it was a kick to watch Richard Chamberlain's black-and-white "Dr. Kildare" series, which I've not seen since I was in high school.

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Look for Oscar winners Jodie Foster (as a child) and Myoshi Umeki on "Eddie's Father," along with Rip Torn on "Kildare," and on "CHiPs," a young mustachioed Michael Dorn as a highway patrol officer (better known to "Star Trek" fans as Worf on both "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine"). And, of course, John Travolta was one of "Kotter's" regular sweathogs.

Extras: full frame, 10 episodes

"Bachelor Mother" (Warner Archive, 1939, b/w, $19.95). Ginger Rogers shines in this sprightly comedy about a single woman who impulsively takes in a baby left on the steps of an orphanage at Christmas. Mistaken complications ensue, chiefly with playboy David Niven and his befuddled father, the great Charles Coburn.

Extras: full frame

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"The Outfit" (Warner Archive, 1975, PG, $19.95). The always reliable Robert Duvall has the lead in this revenge yarn as a thief who goes after the mobsters who killed his brother. Standard action picture gets a boost from superior acting, solid stuntwork. Karen Black, Robert Ryan, Joe Don Baker, Jane Greer and Utahn Marie Windsor co-star.

Extras: widescreen

"Plymouth Adventure" (Warner Archive, 1952, $19.95). Spencer Tracy is the hardened captain and Gene Tierney is the prim married woman he loves in this big Technicolor adventure of Pilgrims making their way to the New World. It ain't history but it's fun, most of it taking place aboard the ship. With Van Johnson as John Alden and Lloyd Bridges as Tracy's roughneck first mate.

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Extras: full frame, trailer

"The Swan" (Warner Archive, 1958, $24.95). This lush comedy-drama (based on the Ferenc Molnar play) had already been filmed twice when it became a vehicle for Grace Kelly. It would become her penultimate film and was released on the day of her wedding to Prince Rainier. Ironically, she plays a princess. The plot has her pursued by Louis Jourdan, though she's promised to Alec Gunness, whose performance makes the movie. A bit slow but also rather enchanting.

Extras: widescreen

"Hotel" (Warner, 1967, $19.95). Melvyn Douglas is the owner and Rod Taylor is the beleaguered manager of a posh New Orleans hotel, where an all-star cast gathers as guests, including a thief (Karl Malden), a tycoon who wants to buy the hotel (Kevin McCarthy), an arrogant duchess (Merle Oberon) and her wimpy husband (Michael Rennie), etc. Based on an Arthur Hailey novel. Think of it as an earthbound "Airport."

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Extras: widescreen

"Madam Satan" (Warner Archive, 1930, b/w, $24.95). This early talkie has to be seen to be believed. A married sap (Reginald Denny) is cheating on his wife (Kay Johnson), so to win him back she masquerades as a vamp at a masked ball aboard a moored blimp over New York City. Plenty of weird costumes and out-there sets, along with wacky song-and-dance sequences, until the dirigible is hit by lightning and everyone parachutes into Central Park. Directed, believe it or not, by Cecil B. DeMille!

Extras: full frame

"Warner Bros. Horror/Mystery Double Features" (Warner Archive, 1937-42, b/w, three discs, $24.95). As the title suggests, each of the three discs in this set has two B-movie whodunits: "Find the Blackmailer" has peppy dialogue but a convoluted plot about the blackmailing of a mayoral candidate. "The Smiling Ghost" is fun and funny, an "Old Dark House" variation and as much a comedy as a mystery, about heiress Alexis Smith's fiance's meeting with bad luck.

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"Sh! The Octopus" makes a comedy team of Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins with mixed results as they run into scary goings-on in a lighthouse. "The Hidden Hand" is the least of these with a mad brother and sister scheming to kill off relatives so they can keep their fortune.

"Mystery House" and "The Patient in Room 18" both feature Ann Sheridan before she became one of Warners' top stars. Though billed second here, "Patient" actually came first, with Sheridan as a feisty nurse named Sarah Keate, who helps bring in her detective boyfriend, Lance O'Leary, played by Patric Knowles, to solve murders at the hospital. More murders bring them back for "Mystery House," with Sheridan again as Sarah and Dick Purcell this time as Lance. Both pictures are fun thanks to Sheridan's presence.

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Extras: full frame, six movies

"Eye of the Devil" (Warner Archive, 1966, $24.95). This is a predictable horror yarn about occult doings in a remote area of France, but it gets a genuine boost from a pair of A-list British stars, David Niven, leaving his family behind as he mysteriously heads to the family estate, and Deborah Kerr as his curious wife who follows, with kids in tow. Spooky support is offered by Donald Pleasence, David Hemmings and, in her first credited film appearance, Sharon Tate. (Note similarities to the later "Wicker Man.")

Extras: widescreen

"The Green Slime" (Warner Archive, 1969, G, $24.95). Silly Japanese monster movie stars several American actors (led by Robert Horton) and Italian starlet Luciana Paluzzi, along with cheesy special effects. Astronauts accidentally infect their space station with the title substance, which morphs into bloodshot one-eyed, tentacled creatures.

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Extras: widescreen

e-mail: hicks@desnews.com

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