A forgotten John Ford film arrives on DVD for the first time and a passel of Disney animated features with Blu-ray upgrades are among new releases this week.
“Young Cassidy” (Warner Archive, 1965, $17.95, trailer, available at www.warnerarchive.com). This excellent, sprawling biography of acclaimed Irish playwright Sean O’Casey’s early life gives Rod Taylor perhaps his best role, and he gives it his all, plotting with revolutionaries to defy English rule and writing pamphlets to inspire them. With encouragement from a bookstore merchant (Maggie Smith), he begins writing plays and eventually finds himself recognized in literary circles, but at what price?
The film is bolstered by colorful-location filming in Ireland, and the supporting cast includes Julie Christie, Edith Evans, Michael Redgrave and Flora Robson. The unusual credits, “A John Ford Film” and “directed by Jack Cardiff,” reflect Ford’s mounting the production and starting the shoot before falling ill two weeks into filming, prompting the studio to call on Cardiff to take over.
“The Liquidator” (Warner Archive, 1965, $17.95, trailer, available at www.warnerarchive.com). Rod Taylor stars and Jack Cardiff directed this James Bond-style thriller adapted from John Gardner’s first Boysie Oakes novel, a failed attempt to launch a franchise. Still, this is an entertaining, offbeat double-agent satire as Boysie is a very reluctant spy who doesn’t like killing, so he hires an assassin to do his dirty work. But double- and triple-crosses conspire to push Boysie into action whether he likes it or not.
Two women Boysie romances are played by Jill St. John and Gabriella Licudi, who would go on to co-star in James Bond movies. Trevor Howard, Wilfred Hyde White, David Tomlinson and Akim Tamiroff are also on hand.
“The Chapman Report” (Warner Archive, 1962, $17.95, trailer, available at www.warnerarchive.com). This adaptation of the Irving Wallace novel, a thinly veiled fictionalizing of the Kinsey Report, has sex researchers (including Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) invading suburbia and chronicling the lives of an icy young widow (Jane Fonda), a cheating housewife (Shelley Winters), an older woman (Glynis Johns) who desires a younger man, and a repressed nymphomaniac (Claire Bloom). Glossy and superficial but bolstered by a game cast.
“Hercules, Samson and Ulysses” (Warner Archive, 1963, $17.95, dubbed in English, trailer, available at www.warnerarchive.com). During the 1960s a slew of campy muscle-bound sword-and-sandal pictures came out of Italy, following the unexpected U.S. success of Steve Reeves as “Hercules” in 1959. This one may offer some nostalgia for baby boomers as it teams three frequently used characters. (Other Warner Archive titles in this cycle are “The Slave,” “Sandokan the Great,” “The Tartars,” “Damon and Pythias” and “Gold for the Caesars.”)
“The Rescuers: 35th Anniversary Edition”/“The Rescuers Down Under” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 1977/1990, G-rated, three discs, $39.99, deleted song, featurette, short films, sing-along). “The Rescuers” is arguably the best of Disney’s 1970s animated features, a delightful tale of two mice (voiced by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor) and their aid society helping a young kidnapped girl, with many memorable characters. The sequel is nearly as good, with some stunning animation as Newhart and Gabor’s characters head for Australia to do battle with a nasty poacher (George C. Scott). (Also on DVD, $29.99.)
“The Aristocats: Special Edition” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 1970, G-rated, two discs, $39.99, deleted opening scene, deleted song, featurettes, music video, cartoon short). Amusing tale of an aristocratic cat and her kittens, heirs to their owners’ millions but threatened by the scheming butler that is next in line. Not up to the great Disney classics but still fun. (Also on DVD, $29.99.)
“The Tigger Movie: Bounce-A-Riffic Special Edition” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 2000, G-rated, two discs, $39.99, featurettes, animated shorts, interactive games, sing-along, music video). This cute theatrical film for small fry is a welcome addition to Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” franchise. (Also on DVD, $29.99.)
“Pocahontas”/“Pocahontas II: Journey to a new World” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 1995/1998, G-rated, three discs, $39.99, deleted scenes, deleted song, audio commentary, featurettes, cartoon short). Irene Bedard voices the title character and Mel Gibson is John Smith in this lushly animated, if historically misguided, retelling of the familiar folk tale. Still enjoyable for the most part. And Bedard is back for the straight-to-video sequel, which is disappointing on every front. (Also on DVD, $29.99.)
“Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure” (Disney/Blu-ray + DVD, 2001, G-rated, two discs, $39.99, audio commentary, featurettes, sing-along, trivia track, short cartoons.) Scamp, the mischievous offspring of Lady and the Tramp, falls in with a gang of junkyard dogs and needs straightening out. Can’t hold a candle to the original but it’s better than most of Disney’s straight-to-video sequels.
“The Smurfs and the Magic Flute” (Shout! 1983, G-rated, $14.93, featurettes, image gallery, glossary). Although this Belgian-animated film about the blue creatures was released there in 1976, it didn’t make its way to America with an English-dubbed version until 1983. Typical Smurf fare for kids.
“Greatest Family Classics” (Mill Creek, 1921-75, color and b/w, $44.98, 24 discs, 100 movies). This collection of vintage public-domain pictures runs the gamut from silents to comedies to dramas to musicals, and there are quite a few genuine classics in the mix: “The Kid,” with Charlie Chaplin; “The Flying Deuces,” with Laurel & Hardy; “The Inspector General,” with Danny Kaye; “Royal Wedding,” with Fred Astaire; “The General,” with Buster Keaton; “The Little Princess,” with Shirley Temple; “Our Town,” with William Holden; and many more. If you’re looking for some movies to interest your kids in golden oldies, this isn’t a bad place to start.
“Greatest Gunslinger Classics” (Mill Creek, 1931-91, color and b/w, $44.98, 24 discs, 100 movies). Included are early sound films with Hoot Gibson and Harry Carey, programmers with very young John Wayne and Roy Rogers, and some independent spaghetti Westerns with Lee Van Cleef and friends. The most recent is a TV movie, “Showdown at Williams Creek,” with Tom Burlinson (“The Man From Snowy River”) and Raymond Burr near the end of his life. These are all public-domain films, so most are B-movies but some goodies surface, such as John Wayne’s classics “McLintock!” and “The Angel and the Badman,” Jane Russell in “The Outlaw,” etc. For the indiscriminate Western buff in your house.