Vintage movies on Blu-ray and/or DVD for the first time are led by a couple of powerful Edward G. Robinson pictures.
“The Sea Wolf” (Warner Archive, 1941, b/w, audio-only 1950 radio version starring Robinson, trailer).
“Hell on Frisco Bay” (Warner Archive, 1955, trailer). These edgy thrillers cast veteran star Robinson as a couple of his more despicable characters in neglected —perhaps forgotten — films that are justly garnering new attention as they debut on both DVD and Blu-ray discs.
Directed by Michael Curtiz a year before he helmed “Casablanca” and based on the Jack London novel, “The Sea Wolf” was one of 1941’s biggest hits and remains a fine example of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Robinson’s Wolf Larsen is a well-read but cruel captain of a seal-hunting ship who tortures his crew (which includes John Garfield and Barry Fitzgerald) on par with “Mutiny on the Bounty’s” Captain Bligh. He also shows no mercy to a pair of rescued castaways (Ida Lupino, Alexander Knox), although he enjoys matching wits with the cultured Knox. This one was cut by 14 minutes for a 1947 re-release and has been shown that way ever since. But this new 100-minute restoration returns the film to its original length and splendor.
“Hell on Frisco Bay” has Robinson as a ruthless gangster running rackets at Fisherman’s Wharf, with Alan Ladd as an ex-cop, framed for a crime he didn’t commit. When Ladd gets out of prison, he tries to find out who set him up, which puts him on a trajectory for a showdown with Robinson. This one’s a taut film noir that benefits from colorful CinemaScope visuals of San Francisco locations. (Blu-ray and manufacture-on-demand DVD-R available at wbshop.com)
“Into the Night” (Shout Select, 1985; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; featurettes, 1985 short: “B.B. King Into the Night,” trailer). Jeff Goldblum is an insomniac going through a midlife crisis and Michelle Pfeiffer is a thief on the run from Iranian terrorists in this quirky, episodic and surprisingly violent comic chase-thriller. There are some funny bits, but it’s very hit and miss. Film buffs will take note of the many guest stars, including an array of prominent film directors.
“The Voice of the Moon” (Arrow, 1990, not rated/probable PG-13, in Italian with English subtitles, featurette, trailer; booklet). Federico Fellini’s final film, which was never released in the United States, is an episodic fable about a mental patient (Roberto Benigni at his most appealing) encountering eccentrics and surreal adventures while trying to win over the woman he loves. "Voice of the Moon" is visually arresting and amusing in places, but it’s also incomprehensible.
“She Had to Say Yes” (Warner Archive, 1933, b/w). This romantic melodrama, released a year before the censorship code went into effect, couldn’t be more timely as it deals in part with sexual harassment in the workplace, attempted sexual assault and the general subjugation of women. And it does so in a more frank manner than you may expect, albeit with a Hollywood-style happy ending. An 18-year-old Loretta Young is a secretary coerced into “dating” a client but is shocked when she learns what’s expected of her. Young’s blossoming talent gives the uneven proceedings a boost. (Manufacture-on-demand DVD-R available at wbshop.com)
“The Washington Masquerade” (Warner Archive, 1932, b/w). This film is also timely, a backstage political tale of an idealistic freshman senator (Lionel Barrymore) who falls for a conniving woman working for a lobbyist. The film itself is just so-so, but Barrymore delivers a bravura performance. And unbilled Hattie McDaniel plays a maid in one of her first films, some seven years before becoming the first black actress to win an Oscar for her role in “Gone With the Wind." (Manufacture-on-demand DVD-R available at wbshop.com)
“Wide Open” (Warner Archive, 1930, b/w). A tepid script hampers this early sound comedy about a timid office worker who can’t bring himself to proffer the ideas he has that could bolster his blustery boss’s business. This one is notable as a rare starring vehicle for delightful comic character actor Edward Everett Horton. (Manufacture-on-demand DVD-R available at wbshop.com)
“Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (Studio Ghibli/GKids, 1984, PG, in Japanese with English subtitles or English-dubbed, audio commentary, featurettes, trailers; booklet).
“Castle in the Sky” (Studio Ghibli/GKids, 1986, PG, in Japanese with English subtitles or English-dubbed, featurettes, trailers; booklet). These two charming Hayao Miyazaki anime features are gorgeously drawn with fanciful stories for the whole family and all-star American dubbed-voice casts that include Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Edward James Olmos, Shia LaBeouf, Cloris Leachman and Mark Hamill.
“Land of the Dead: Collector’s Edition” (Scream, 2005; R for violence, language, sex, drugs; two discs, theatrical and unrated versions, deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes).
“Dawn of the Dead: Collector’s Edition” (Scream, 2004; R for violence, language, sex; two discs, theatrical and unrated versions, deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes, photo gallery). “Land” is George A. Romero’s fourth entry in his Night of the Living Dead franchise, and “Dawn” is the remake of Romero’s 1978 film, marking the directing debut of Zack Snyder (“Man of Steel,” “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the upcoming “Justice League”). Both are very gory zombie movies with a sense of humor.