WARNER LEGENDS COLLECTION: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (Warner, 1938, 1942, 1948) D: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, Michael Curtiz, John Huston, w/ Errol Flynn, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart. Seven discs. Each title available singly. Rating: NNNNN
Warner has always treated its crown jewels well and that tradition continues here. Three of the most-wanted titles from Warner Brothers' vast archives, each in a loaded two-disc special edition, have been issued with stunningly restored prints, period-appropriate extras and biographical and historical materials. The movie discs are structured as A Night At The Movies programs, with a trailer, a short, a newsreel and a cartoon before the main feature. (You can easily skip the Leonard Maltin introduction.) The extras discs include new making-of documentaries, pre-existing pieces like the Robert Mitchum-hosted John Huston biography that TNT ran in 1989, appropriate cartoons (Robin Hood Daffy, for example), production galleries and lots of stuff for film geeks.
Robin Hood is one of the definitive Errol Flynn roles, and the supporting cast is as perfect as those in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. The Technicolour cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous, the Erich Wolfgang Korngold score, which gets its own track, magnificent.
The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre is one of John Huston's official classics. It won him a pair of Oscars for writing and directing (Olivier's Hamlet won best picture), and it's high on the American Film Institute's top 100. It also grabbed an Oscar for Huston's father, Walter, who plays the colourful old prospector who guides Bogart and Tim Holt to their fortune.
Yankee Doodle Dandy, the biography of composer George M. Cohan, is flag-waving hokum, and the Night At The Movies program supplies wartime newsreels and a piece of wartime agitprop produced by Warner for the Department of Defense. But aside from its historical curiosity value, Cagney is astonishing. He's the most eccentric of the great movie dancers and this film gives him great material.
These discs are available separately - if you don't want Yankee Doodle Dandy, for example - but the box is cheaper and includes the clip-fest Here's Looking At You, Warner Brothers on a bonus disc.
Warner Home Video has a four-disc Looney Tunes Collection due at the end of the month and three classic Bogarts for November: To Have And Have Not, High Sierra and They Drive By Night. So, where are Public Enemy, The Roaring Twenties, White Heat, Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk? DVD EXTRAS Robin Hood: production commentary (historian Rudy Behlmer), music-only option, Errol Flynn trailer gallery, making-of feature, deleted scenes, cartoons Rabbit Hood and Robin Hood Daffy, documentary Glorious Technicolor, Cavalcade Of Archery short, radio adaptation with the film's stars and more. English, French, Spanish versions and subtitles.
Sierra Madre: production commentary (Bogart biographer Eric Lax), Bogart trailer gallery, making-of documentary, John Huston: The Man, The Director, The Rebel, cartoon 8 Ball Bunny, Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Bogart and Huston, production design gallery, production photo gallery. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Yankee Doodle: production commentary (Behlmer), Cagney trailer gallery, making-of documentary, cartoons Yankee Doodle Bugs and Yankee Doodle Daffy, James Cagney: Top Of The World biography, 1943 propaganda short You, John Jones starring Cagney, Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Cagney and Rita Hayworth (!), publicity galleries, sheet music. English, French, Spanish titles.
FASSBINDER'S BRD TRILOGY: THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN, VERONIKA VOSS, LOLA NNNNN the "brd" refers to the bundes- Republik Deutschland, or West Germany after the war, and Fassbinder's great trilogy - which no one knew was a trilogy until Lola arrived with the BRD 3 label on its titles - offers a moral history of the German "economic miracle" of the late 40s and early 50s. This sounds strangely dry, but the three films, The Marriage Of Maria Braun, The Longing Of Veronika Voss (I prefer the German title to the plain American title) and Lola, are full-blooded melodramas and function as freehand remakes of Mildred Pierce, Sunset Boulevard and The Blue Angel. Each is radically different in style and tone, from the harsh black-and-white of Veronika Voss to the lurid colour scheme of Lola (hard to believe that the same cinematographer, Xaver Schwarzenberger, shot both films), and each is driven by a very different leading actress. Hanna Schygulla, Rosel Zech and Barbara Sukowa give three of the cinema's greatest performances in these films.
Criterion, under the aegis of the Fassbinder Foundation, has loaded the discs with new half-hour interviews with Schygulla (who hasn't made a film in 18 years and is shockingly suddenly 60), Zech and Sukowa, a feature-length documentary on Fassbinder, commentaries on all the films, more interviews.... It's the DVD of the year. DVD EXTRAS Commentaries; interviews with Schygulla, Zech, Sukowa, Schwarzenberger and screenwriter Peter Marthesheimer; Dance With Death, an hour-long documentary on Sybille Schmitz, the model for the character Veronika Voss; a 50-minute interview with Fassbinder from German television; theatrical trailers; 52-page program book. German with English subtitles. THE MARK OF ZORRO (Fox Studio Classics, 1940) D: Rouben Mamoulien, w/ Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone. Rating: NNN the mark of zorro is among the great swashbucklers of Hollywood's Golden Age. The climactic confrontation between Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone is one of the best movie sword duels, and the script has real wit. This may be Power's best performance aside from Nightmare Alley. My rating applies to the DVD. The transfer is not as good as some in the Fox Studio Classics series; there are visible scratches on the print at several points. And the DVD loses a point for another commentary by Richard "What am I watching today?" Schickel. I'd rather have either a strong production history commentary or a commentary by someone who's thought about the film in the last 10 years. DVD EXTRAS Critical commentary, A&E Biography of Tyrone Power, theatrical trailer. English and Spanish versions and subtitles. HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (Columbia, 2003) D: Ron Shelton, w/ Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett. Rating: NNN i didn't understood the animos ity that met this film when it was released early this year. Shelton is the first director in years to make Harrison Ford's perpetual dyspepsia the basis of his character, and this minor cop comedy, the flip side of Shelton's cop drama Dark Blue, has some of the most inventive use of familiar L.A. locations of any film in recent years. It's not groundbreaking or great art or anything, but it's cleverly cross-plotted and quite funny. Certainly worth a rent, though Shelton's commentary is kind of grouchy and not terribly interesting, which was also true of his Dark Blue commentary. DVD EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical trailer. English and French versions and subtitles.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb