Blu-ray upgrades for a pair of fan favorites and a wide variety of vintage titles on DVD for the first time should have film buffs in cinema heaven this week.
(All of the Warner Archive titles are available at www.WarnerArchive.com.)
“Schindler’s List: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition” (Universal/Blu-ray, 1993, b/w; R for violence, nudity, sex, profanity; $34.98; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; documentary: “Voices from the List,” featurette). Two decades later, Steven Spielberg’s multiple Oscar winner remains a stunning achievement, a tremendously moving true story of how one man’s change of heart saved more than a thousand lives during World War II.
Oskar Schindler is a Nazi businessman who manipulates the system for his own money-grubbing purposes, using Jewish prisoners as cheap labor. But he gets a wake-up call upon witnessing just how brutal Nazi treatment is and begins to use the fortune he has amassed for bribes to protect his workers.
Liam Neeson is superb as Schindler, Ben Kingsley matches him as his Jewish assistant (and conscience) and Ralph Fiennes is chilling as the corrupt, brutal SS lieutenant in charge of the nearby concentration camp. But this is Spielberg’s film and he has never been more confident or assured in his directing decisions, which is saying something. And this Blu-ray edition only enhances the crisp black-and-white cinematography. (Also on DVD, $22.98)
“Easter Parade” (Warner, 1948, not rated, $19.98, audio commentary, featurettes, outtake/dailies, audio radio promo, audio radio show: “Screen Guild Theater,” documentary: “American Masters: Judy Garland: By Myself,” trailer). One of the great Technicolor MGM musicals with a toe-tapping Irving Berlin score has Fred Astaire plucking Judy Garland out of the chorus as his new partner and they sing, dance and squabble their way to love. Some very funny comic bits and Astaire’s at the top of his game with several outstanding dance routines. Ann Miller and Peter Lawford co-star. Gorgeous on Blu-ray.
“You Can’t Take it With You” (Warner Archive, 1979, $18.95). This TV-movie adaptation of the hilarious Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman play (filmed many times, most notably as an Oscar-winning Frank Capra film with James Stewart and Jean Arthur) holds up well with Barry Bostwick engaged to Blythe Danner, the only “normal” member of a wildly eccentric family led by Art Carney and Jean Stapleton. Lots of familiar TV players round out the well-cast characters.
“Philo Vance Murder Case Collection” (Warner Archive, 1930-40, b/w, three discs, $29.95, six movies, trailers). The detective of 12 novels written in the 1920s and ’30s came to life in no less than 14 movies from 1929 to 1947. The six here are from three studios, each with a different actor as Vance, including Basil Rathbone, Warren William, Paul Lukas and future “Thin Man” sleuth William Powell in what is arguably the series’ best film, “The Kennel Murder Case.” Nice collection for fans of the vintage private eye. Co-stars include Rosalind Russell, Mary Astor, Roland Young and Virginia Bruce.
“Love On a Bet” (Warner Archive, 1936, b/w, $18.95). Crackerjack comedy has Gene Raymond seeking to finance his play by making a bet with his rich uncle that he can leave New York with no money or clothes and wind up in Los Angeles 10 days later with a new suit, money in his pocket and a beautiful fiancée! The ensuing road trip is both funny and enlightening about what America was like in the mid-1930s.
“The Dawn Patrol” (Warner Archive, 1930, b/w, $18.95). Howard Hawks directed this Oscar winner (for best original screenplay) with Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as pilots during World War I. This early sound film is often favorably compared to “Top Gun” with its still dazzling aerial stunts, some of which were re-used for the better remembered 1938 remake with Errol Flynn.
“Return of the Gunfighter” (Warner Archive, 1967, $18.95, trailer). Robert Taylor stars in his final Western (and one of his last lead roles) as an innocent ex-con seeking peace until the murder of an old friend sends him on a quest for revenge. Made for television but good enough to have been a theatrical film (which it was overseas).
“A Killer Among Friends” (Warner Archive, 1992, $18.95). Based-on-a-true-story murder mystery has Patty Duke trying to solve the murder of her daughter (Tiffani Thiessen), assisted by the the girl’s best friend, with shocking results. Well-made TV movie helped by a solid cast.
“The Third Girl From the Left” (Warner Archive, 1973, $18.95). On the downhill slide, career-wise but not talent-wise, Kim Novak and Tony Curtis make their TV-movie debuts with this soap opera about an aging chorus girl in a go-nowhere romance with a lounge lizard, which sends her into the arms of a much younger man. So-so script, supporting players are up and down, but Novak and Curtis keep it afloat.
“Confidentially Connie” (Warner Archive, 1953, b/w, $18.95). The unlikely writing team of Max Shulman (“The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”) and Herman Wouk (“The Caine Mutiny”) is responsible for this farce about a pregnant housewife (Janet Leigh) pushing her college professor husband (Van Johnson) to find a more lucrative position, leading her wealthy father to try and rope him into the family cattle business.
“Kiss in the Dark” (Warner Archive, 1949, b/w, $18.95, trailer). Romantic comedy has uptight concert pianist David Niven finding he's a landlord, and when he meets one of his tenants, perky photographer's model Jane Wyman, he starts to loosen up.