Quite a few rare vintage films, many made before the 1934 censorship code went into effect, are on DVD for the first time this week, led by a box set of Robert Montgomery's early work.
"The Robert Montgomery Collection" (Warner Archive, 1931-40, four discs, b/w, $44.95). Montgomery is perhaps best remembered for playing the reincarnated boxer in the classic fantasy farce "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" and as a psycho killer in "Night Must Fall."
It wasn't long after his 1929 film debut that he rose to stardom quickly, proving adept at leading-man roles in both comedies and dramas of the kind included in this set from the first decade of his filmed performances.
"Shipmates" (1931) is a bit of fluff about a brassy sailor in love with an admiral's daughter; "The Man in Possession" (1931) has Montgomery repossessing a home but falling for the owner (with racy dialogue by P.G. Wodehouse); "Faithless" and "Lovers Courageous" (both 1932) are melodramatic soap operas, the first with Tallulah Bankhead and Montgomery in an on-and-off market-crash romance, the second with Montgomery as a world traveler aspiring to be a playwright.
"But the Flesh is Weak" (1932) has C. Aubrey Smith and Montgomery as father-and-son con artists living off rich women; "Made on Broadway" (1933), arguably the best film here, has Montgomery as a press agent who gives a conniving young woman a "Pygmalion" makeover; "Live, Love and Learn" (1937) has eccentric artist Montgomery marrying wealthy Rosalind Russell; and "The Earl of Chicago" (1940) has Montgomery as a Windy City mobster who inherits an English title while his duplicitous partner plots to take him down.
Extras: full frame, eight films, one trailer (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"The Office Wife"/"Party Husband" (Warner Archive, 1930/1931, b/w, $19.95). These two early sound films, starring the largely forgotten silent star Dorothy MacKaill, are examples of how much more movies got away with before the Production Code went into effect, and also how filmmakers were struggling with bulky sound cameras and brief shooting schedules three years after "The Jazz Singer."
Both have their charms, however, especially "The Office Wife," about secretary MacKaill falling for her married boss (Lewis Stone), in which Joan Blondell makes her scene-stealing film debut as MacKaill's sister. "Party Husband" has MacKaill as a newlywed in a "modern marriage," which is sorely tested when and she and her new husband are pursued by others.
Extras: full frame, two films
"Loose Ankles"/"The Naughty Flirt" (Warner Archive, 1930/1931, b/w, $19.95). "Loose Ankles" stars 17-year-old Loretta Young as a socialite who has to keep her nose clean to inherit big bucks, but she's a rebel so she pursues scandal with straight-arrow but smitten Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
"The Naughty Flirt" has a title that tells all as a vehicle for now-forgotten flapper Alice White (so perky you'll either love or hate her; she was often compared at the time to Clara Bow, and later, to Goldie Hawn). She's a man-eater until she falls for the a guy who won't succumb to her charms. Myrna Loy appears briefly but effectively as a con woman.
Extras: full frame, two films (available at www.WarnerArchive.com)
"Youngblood Hawke" (Warner Archive, 1964, b/w, $19.94). James Franciscus, better known for his TV work, stars in this OK adaptation of the novel by Herman Wouk (best known for writing "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial" and "The Winds of War"). This is a pretty soapy melodrama set against the fickle world of publishing. Franciscus is a new novelist and Suzanne Pleshette is the editor who loves him, even when his head swells and he's swept away by women with money and influence.
Extras: widescreen, trailer
"Between the Darkness and the Dawn" (Warner Archive, 1985, $19.95).
"Black Widow Murders: The Blanche Taylor Moore Story" (Warner Archive, 1993, $19.95). These two made-for-network-TV movies star Elizabeth Montgomery (daughter of Robert Montgomery, above), two of a string of small-screen pictures she did playing characters that were often the polar opposite of nose-twitching Samantha in her hit sitcom "Betwitched."
"Dawn" has Montgomery as a woman who falls into a coma at age 17 and comes out of it 20 years later, a teen in a middle-age woman's body whom the world has passed by. She's great, as are Dorothy McGuire and Karen Grassle, but the film is a fairly typical TV movie.
"Widow" is a true story with Montgomery in the title role of a pious woman in a small town who is systematically killing the men who love her. This one's better but also embraces a lot of TV-movie cliches.
Still, fans will enjoy seeing some of Montgomery's TV-movie work finally coming to DVD.
Extras; full frame