Not ‘One of’ but THE greatest entertainer in showbiz history. A child prodigy who could sing, dance, act in comedy as easily as drama. Now Judy Garland is being re-introduced on multiple platforms as singer, actress, icon on the centenary of her birth, 10 June 1922. Warner Archives, now the owners of MGM’s Golden Age catalogu where Garland was based from 1935 to 1950, offer Blu-rays on 3 of her key ‘40s pictures, all initially tremendous box-office hits. The 1941 ‘Ziegfeld Girl’ (all Blu-ray, Warner Archive, Not Rated) teams Garland, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and James Stewart – that’s the kind of A-list cast in one movie no other studio could match. It’s a behind the scenes look at 3 women who dream of becoming a star in 1920s Broadway’s Ziegfeld Follies. As their wishes are granted, reality offers each woman very different outcomes. Blond Turner, oozing come hither sensuality, rejects decent but regular guy Stewart. Instead she’s the cautionary ‘bad girl,’ given to drink and loving the wrong men for the wrong reasons. Hedy Lamarr was then billed as The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. She’d been discovered in her native Czechoslovakia in an artistic film ‘Ecstasy’ where she scandalized the world by swimming nude. Here she’s romantically troubled but commonsensical. Garland completes the trio as a showbiz baby ready for her spotlight. Bonus Features: Garland biographer and cheerleader John Fricke’s introduction, 2 shorts and 2 audio-only audio outtakes.
A year later Garland scored her first role not as a teenage pal of Mickey Rooney but as a young woman in the musical ‘For Me and My Gal’ which marks the film debut of future ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ legend Gene Kelly. Made as the US was just months into the war against Hitler, ‘My Gal’ oozes nostalgia, beginning in early 20th century vaudeville and singing and dancing its way up to WWI. Busby Berkeley, whom Garland hated, is the directing maestro. Busby remains revered for his elaborate eye-popping 1930s Warner Bros. kaleidoscopic dance sequences where the camera is above, below and always moving. John Fricke’s highly detailed 2004 audio commentary outlines the elaborate revisions and reshoots required after preview audiences disliked Kelly’s draft-dodging anti-hero. He seemed especially inappropriate as the country girded for wartime. This is the first time Garland really got to dance in a film and Kelly is thought to be the uncredited choreographer of their duets. Beyond the title song, Garland’s ‘After You’ve Gone’ became an essential part of her later live performances. Bonus: Two 2 vintage musical shorts, a deleted finale and an audio-only listen to the 1943 radio version with Garland, Kelly and Dick Powell. The 1935 short ‘Everybody Sing’ famously teams Garland and Deanna Durbin, both in their early teens who both became the era’s major musical stars. Durbin with her classical soprano went to Universal Pictures and Garland, as we know, stayed at MGM.
The 3rd Blu-ray, the 1945 ‘The Clock,’ is notable because Garland is being directed by her imminent husband Vincente Minnelli (‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’ ‘Home from the Hill,’ ‘Gigi’) and has her first wholly dramatic, non-singing role. It’s a sweet wartime romance where the clock in Grand Central Station is a WWII meeting place for lovers. Robert Walker, who would attain lasting cinematic sainthood for his demented Bruno in Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train,’ is the GI on a 2-day pass who falls passionately, immediately in love. Bonus: A Pete Smith vintage short, classic cartoon and ‘The Clock’ radio broadcast, audio-only, with Garland and John Hodiak (Hitchcock’s ‘Lifeboat’).
CHRIS PINE’S ACTION THRILLER ‘The Contractor’ (4K UltraHD + Digital Code, Paramount, R) opens with what seems like a clear case of a trumped-up charge as Chris Pine’s Special Forces sergeant is drummed out of the service with his benefits cancelled. Yes, he was on illegal drugs. But they were necessary if was to function as a soldier with his badly damaged, always painful knee. In desperate need of money, he signs up for an overseas black op at the urging of his best bud (Ben Foster). The money man (Kiefer Sutherland) with his private underground military force suggests ‘shifty’ from first sight. So it’s not exactly surprising that Pine is soon on the run for his life, trying to solve the mystery of who betrayed him. And why! Handsomely mounted, this action-packed $50 million vehicle is an ideal Pine showcase.
CHART TOPPING TOM ‘Uncharted’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital, Columbia, PG-13) marks the official standing when Tom Holland attained the Number One ranking of Box-Office Stars. ‘Uncharted’ rates as a workmanlike, unsurprising action vehicle that benefits from solid support by Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas. Holland’s standing is undoubtedly buoyed by his female fan base, loyal since he first flew thru the air as Spider-Man. Here, he’s a man of the people, at least a low-level street thief recruited by Wahlberg’s deep seas fortune hunter in a race for treasure against moneybags rival Banderas. Blu-ray Bonus: Deleted/extended scenes, director Ruben Fleischer’s audio commentary, featurettes on the stunts & cast.
PTA’S LOOK BACK AT HIS ‘70S YOUTH Paul Thomas Anderson’s unexpectedly comedically charming semi-autobiographical look back at his San Fernando Valley 1970s youth in ‘Licorice Pizza’ (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Code, MGM/Universal, R) introduces 2 newcomers with star wattage. At 16 Gary Valentine is a wise beyond his years money-making hustler. As played by Cooper Hoffman, the teenage son of the late Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gary is besotted with the ‘older woman’ Alana Kane (Alana Haim of the singing sisters rock trio Haim) who is all of 26. As a romantic comedy, ‘Pizza’ manages to be both familiar and surprising. Anderson adds his own star power by having ‘70s celebrity hairdresser Jon Peters, at the time Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend and producer of her ‘A Star is Born’ remake, meet and pursue every woman he sees, including Alana. It’s unabashedly, outrageously funny as played by a bearded Bradley Cooper. Not quite as successful is Sean Penn’s ‘Jack Holden,’ a sendup of the Oscar-winning Bill Holden (‘Stalag 17,’ ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai,’ ‘Network’). ‘Pizza’ was nominated for 3 Oscars: Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Best Director. Bonus: Camera tests (Haim had never acted previously), Behind the Scenes, Fat Bernie’s Commercial and the Handmade scene.
STARRY EXTREME ACTION Nick Nolte triumphed in writer-director Walter Hill’s 1987 ‘Extreme Prejudice’ (Blu-ray + Digital, Vestron Video, R). A contemporary Western with a complicated production history, ‘Prejudice’ has Nolte’s Texas Ranger heading for the ultimate showdown with an old friend turned drug kingpin (Powers Boothe). No surprise that Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso), the only woman we see – and the only woman to go topless – is loved by both men. Nolte went Method to make his lawman real, working out, shedding weight. Hill is celebrated as an auteur of screen violence (‘The Warriors,’ ‘Southern Comfort,’ ‘The Long Riders’ and ‘Streets of Fire’) and that’s the inescapable appeal here, a guns blazing final showdown. Special Features: Audio commentary by 2 film historians, an audio interview with music historian John Takis, interviews with Hill, actors Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown and cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti. There’s also a stills gallery, TV spots and 2 trailers.
FIELDS IN CLOVER, TWICE The 1935 WC Fields ‘Man on the Flying Trapeze’ and ‘You’re Telling Me’ (‘34) have both been given superlative brand new 2K Masters. ‘Trapeze’ finds hen-pecked hubby Fields eager to go to an afternoon wrestling match – his first afternoon off in 25 years!! To get out, he lies and says it’s a funeral he must attend. The world and everything else then conspires to prevent him from watching the wrestling. ‘Telling’ has the advantage of being a pre-Code comedy. It involves Fields as an inventor befriended by an incognito foreign princess who wants to give him a makeover suitable for membership in the tony country club. Olympic swimming champion Buster ‘Flash Gordon’ Crabbe co-stars. Bonus: the vintage documentary ‘Wayne & Shuster Take an Affectionate Look at WC Fields.’
CRAZY? A fascinating, truly unique and ambitious example of American independent cinema, ‘Dementia’ (Blu-ray, Cohen Collection, Not Rated) is a 1953 black-and-white horror film produced, written and directed by John J. Parker that has no dialogue. It unfolds as a young woman’s weird journey visiting LA’s Skid Row and was to have been a short film inspired, Parker has said, by a dream his secretary Adrienne Barrett had. Parker put Barrett in the film as a young woman who becomes a stiletto-carrying, man-hating beatnik (!). He decided to expand it into feature length but in ’53 the NY State Film Board banned this psycho-sexual noir! It was finally released in ’55. Then in ’57 the complete feature was acquired by American producer Jack H. Harris who would attain recognition for producing ‘The Blob.’ Harris recut and added voice-over narration by Ed McMahon (he would become famous as an announcer and Johnny Carson’s sidekick). Harris then re-released ‘Dementia’ as ‘Daughter of Horror’! Both versions are included in this Blu-ray. Both versions of the film are now digitally remastered.
DE PALMA’S GANGSTER CLASSIC ‘The Untouchables’ (4K Ultra HD + Digital Code, steel case, Paramount, R), Brian De Palma’s hit resuscitation of the ‘50s TV series, looks as good today as it did 35 years ago when it premiered. With a semi-mythological vision of its David & Goliath story, its horrors laden with comforting fairy tale/bedtime storytelling, De Palma knowingly delighted in using film history as a reference point. It’s the 1930s and incorruptible Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), a Federal agent newly assigned to the city, knows Chicago is ruled by vicious gangster Al Capone’s crime syndicate that has intimidated cops, politicians, the mayor. So he forms an elite unit – The Untouchables! — that includes Sean Connery, Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith (‘American Graffiti,’ ‘Never Cry Wolf’). With lavish period reconstructions and clothes, ‘Untouchables’ delights in Robert De Niro’s coarse villainy as Scarface. Who can ever forget his dinner speech, accented as it was with a baseball bat? Or De Palma’s spectacularly staged assault on Ness in the train station that mimics the Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’? Oscar nominated for its Score, Costumes and Art Direction, ‘Untouchables’ won Connery his only Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor. Special Features: Production Stories, a featurette ‘Hit Men,’ Reinventing the Genre and the script & cast.
FRENCH DELIGHT The French ‘Sibyl’ (Blu-ray, Music Box Films, Not Rated) is not really naughty as much as it is mischievous fun. A shrink named Sybil decides to use her patients’ stories and sessions for a fictionalized book. That’s naughty and really against the rules. And it becomes truly complicated when a film in progress gives her amazing true-life material. A young actress Margot contacts Sybil because she’s having an affair with her co-star (the late Gaspard Ulliel who died tragically last year skiing in the Alps) who just happens to be married to the director (Germany’s great Sandra Huller). Bonus: Audio commentary by a film critic, interviews with the filmmaker Justine Triet, and 4 other actors. Also a photo gallery. In French with English subtitles.
DEADLY FAMILY The Irish gangster series ‘Kin: Season 1’ (Blu-ray, 2 discs, AMC+, Not Rated) stars Aidan Gillen and Ciaran Hinds. A boy’s murdered, prompting the Kinsellas (Gillen) to wage a gangland war against Hinds’ international drug cartel. Yes! the Kinsellas are out-numbered, out-financed, out-gunned. Yet they go ahead in this Dublin set standoff where family, particularly Charlie Cox (Daredevil in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) as Gillen’s son, matters much. S2 is coming.
242 MINUTE SILENT EPIC ‘The Indian Tomb’ (Blu-ray, Kino Classics, Not Rated) is a 2-part, 4-hour 1921 silent German epic notable for its special effects and, especially, its scriptwriters: the mighty Fritz Lang whose silent ‘Metropolis’ continues a century later to inspire and who fled the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 to work in Hollywood (‘Ministry of Fear,’ ‘The Big Heat,’ ‘Man Hunt’) and Thea von Harbou who would become Lang’s wife and constant collaborator. Until she decided to stay in Germany and work for Hitler when he opted to leave. Restored in 2016 with the original color tinting, ‘Indian Tomb’ boasts a new score added in 2018 by The Havels. ‘The Indian Tomb’ stars Conrad Veidt (‘Casablanca’s imperious Nazi). This silent’s intertitles offer optional English subtitles for its 242 minutes. For the Blu-ray there is a new 45-minute visual essay written by David Cairns and Fiona Watson.
‘OBSCURE’ THOMAS HARDY Thomas Hardy, England’s brooding, some might say depressing bard of the downtrodden, hasn’t had spectacularly good luck with cinematic adaptations (‘Far from the Madding Crowd,’ ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’). Except for Roman Polanski’s critically praised and popular take on ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ with Nastassja Kinski. ‘‘Jude’ (Blu-ray, Scorpion Releasing, R) offers Michael Winterbottom’s 1996 version of Hardy’s most famous novel ‘Jude the Obscure.’ Christopher Eccleston is a magnificent Jude who falls in love (with Kate Winslet, this is one year before ‘Titanic’ changed everything) but can never achieve happiness amidst the hypocrisies and cruelties of class-conscious Victorian England. Costarring Liam Cunningham (‘Game of Thrones’) and Rachel Griffiths (‘Six Feet Under’). Bonus: A revealing audio commentary, reversible artwork.