Fans of MGM's classic "Andy Hardy" franchise will be happy to see six films from the series on DVD for the first time, along with many other long-requested vintage titles released this week.
"The Andy Hardy Collection, Volume 1" (Warner Archive, 1938-41, b/w, $59.95). Mickey Rooney is the title character, of course, in these wartime family comedies about young Andy Hardy growing up in small-town America with his father, Judge Hardy, offering sound advice whenever he goes astray — which is never very far.
The early films in the series focus on the entire family with serious attempts at dealing with social issues but the series quickly morphs into light romantic comedies focusing on Andy and his awkward attempts at romance. There were 16 films over 20 years, many serving to launch such MGM talent as Judy Garland (in three films), Lana Turner, Donna Reed, Kathryn Grayson and Esther Williams, among others.
For some reason this set does not include the first six films in the series, but rather has Nos. 2, 5 and 8-11. A chronological set would have been preferable, especially since Rooney literally grew up in the role. But fans won't complain; these films have been a long time coming and it's nice to at last see some of them on DVD.
Extras: full frame, six films, trailers (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Medea" (eOne/Blu-ray, 1969, $39.98). To star in his adaptation of the Greek tragedy "Medea," controversial Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini persuaded the great Maria Callas (herself no stranger to controversy) to take on the non-singing title role of what proved to be her only motion picture.
The second half of the film adapts the Euripides play, preceded by a lengthy retelling of Jason and his pursuit of the Golden Fleece, aided by Medea, who is as barbaric and primal as her tribe, demonstrated by a gory human sacrifice. This provides foreshadowing for the rage and savagery that will drive Medea's response to Jason's ultimate betrayal.
The film is slow — there are long stretches without dialogue — and was filmed primarily on raw, barren landscapes that take advantage of Pasolini's widescreen compositions. Purists may complain about certain license taken by Pasolini but no one can fault his casting.
Callas is a formidable figure, towering over the proceedings with a startling screen presence, epitomizing a famous line from another play: "Love has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." One can only wonder what kind of film career she might have had if "Medea" had found box-office success and cinema came calling.
As if this isn't enough for Callas fans, the disc includes a 90-minute documentary on the diva that is worth the price all by itself.
Extras: widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles, documentary: "Callas," trailer
"Meet Me in St. Louis" (Warner/Blu-ray, 1944, one Blu-ray disc, one audio-only CD, $35.99). Vincente Minnelli's still popular musical about a family in upheaval when the father announces they must leave their beloved St. Louis just before the 1903 World's Fair remains a heartwarming family picture with one of Judy Garland's most charming performances.
All of the 2004 double-disc DVD bonus features are here, along with a CD of four songs from the film and a 40-page photo book. But the real draw is the eye-popping Blu-ray upgrade of the gorgeous Technicolor cinematography.
Extras: full frame, introduction, audio commentary, featurettes, TV specials, TV pilot version, audio-only radio version, short films, trailer; 40-page booklet
"Northwest Passage" (Warner Archive, 1940, $19.95). With Idaho locations captured in Technicolor and still unparalleled action sequences, this adaptation of Kenneth Roberts' best-seller is a doozy, as tough Spencer Tracy leads Rogers' Rangers (including Robert Young and Walter Brennan) through uncharted Colonial territory.
Extras: full frame, vintage featurette, trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Stars and Stripes Forever" (Fox/Blu-ray + DVD, 1952, two discs, $34.98). This Hollywoodized biography of marching-band impresario John Philip Sousa makes its disc debut with this splendid Blu-ray/DVD combo (the Technicolor really pops). Three-time Oscar nominee Clifton Webb is best remembered for "Laura," "The Razor's Edge" and this strong characterization of the stiff-necked composer/band leader. The role fits like a glove, built around a fictional romance between Robert Wagner and Debra Paget. More appropriate for July 4 but fun anytime.
Extras: full frame, featurettes, photo/art galleries, trailer
"The People Against O'Hara" (Warner Archive, 1951, b/w, $19.95). Spencer Tracy also stars in this film noir courtroom thriller as an alcoholic lawyer, once a great criminal attorney, who returns to his vocation to save a young murder suspect (James Arness) but has trouble doing his job. Flawed but interesting (and resonates somewhat with Paul Newman's later "The Verdict"). Pat O'Brien co-stars, and look quick for young Charles Bronson.
Extras: full frame, trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Tora! Tora! Tora! (Warner/Blu-ray, 1970, PG, $34.98). Excellent retelling of events leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, told from both U.S. and Japanese viewpoints. Exceptionally produced and gripping film gets a terrific Blu-ray upgrade that should more than please World War II buffs as well as movie fans.
Extras: widescreen, audio commentary, documentary: "Day of Infamy," featurettes, WWII newsreels, photo/production galleries, trailer; 24-page photo booklet
"Come Have Coffee With Me (Venga a Prendere il Caffe … da Noi)" (Raro, 1970, $29.98). This broad Italian sex farce strives for social satire as it charts the sexual awakening of three older virginal sisters who are not particularly alluring but have money. Motivated primarily by the latter, Ugo Tognazzi ("La Cage aux Folles") woos and marries one sister, then beds the other two. And then there's the maid. Hit and miss farce with ample sex and a bit of nudity.
Extras: widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles, featurette; 16-page booklet
"Murder Obsession Follia Omicida)" (aka "Murder Syndrome") (Raro, 1981, $19.98). Filled with gore and nudity, this giallo yarn has a group of horror-film actors gathering at the childhood home of one of the performers, where a black-gloved killer starts knocking them off in elaborate ways. Routine, albeit with flourish, eventually succumbing to the cliché of late '70s, early '80s horror flicks, satanism.
Extras: widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles, deleted scene, featurette; eight–page booklet
"Body Puzzle" (Raro, 1992, $19.98). Gruesome, bloody English-language Italian horror thriller starring Joanna Pacula ("Gorky Park") about a woman tormented by a psycho who leaves body parts in her apartment. Ewwww.
Extras: widescreen; eight-page booklet
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