|Column #3 (June 11th-15th, 2012)
As things have played out over the first few weeks of this new column's appearance, only the Warner Archive MOD progam has been active regularly. Hopefully we'll see more Sony, MGM, and even Fox MOD news of classic titles coming our way soon. And when we do, rest assured we'll report all of it to you here. Meanwhile though, we've got some Universal Vault classic releases for this week listed below, near the end of the column.
The Warner Archive MOD This Week
For the June 12th, 2012 release date, the Archive is focusing on the MGM work of Red Skelton with a total of six of his starring feature releases.
If anyone can lay claim to the epithet "natural born funnyman," it's Red Skelton. Literally the son of a clown, Red was discovered by superstar clown Ed Wynn while selling newspapers to support his struggling family. In the 1940s, Red had both a hit radio series and a film career as MGM's contract clown and the films in the Warner Archive listed below come from the 1948 to 1954 period. This six-some of cinema selections would see Red at his zenith, with a gathering career on TV with his own show - a career that would see Red stay on top for another generation:
A Southern Yankee (1948). Skelton paid homage to films that inspired him as a youth, revisiting and reworking classics from the silent and early sound eras. But Skelton had a secret weapon for a number of the homages that make them a breed apart - a very special comedy consultant named Buster Keaton. Keaton delivered his meticulously engineered gags in a number of sequences for Skelton, including some jaw-dropping side-splitters in this tip of the chapeau to Keaton's silent classic, The General. Red plays the accidental Civil War spy, Arlene Dahl is the belle of the ball and Brian Donlevy is the unfortunate commanding officer saddled with Skelton's Aubrey Filmore. Frequent Keaton collaborator Edward Sedgwick directs.
Watch the Birdie (1950). Arlene Dahl re-ups with Skelton, this time for a retouching of Keaton's The Cameraman, complete with Keaton consultation. Transposing the action from the newsroom to a family camera shop, Watch the Birdie sees Skelton playing three generations of photographic purveyors. Faced with foreclosure, the youngest clan member, Rusty, tries to break into the paparazzi biz with a "borrowed" newsreel camera. Dahl plays the good girl that Rusty falls for, while Ann Miller plays the bad girl setting Rusty up for a fall. Newly Remastered.
The Yellow Cab Man (1950). Keaton collaborator Edward Sedgwick takes on gagman duties for this inventive comedy of gadgets and grift. Skelton plays Augustus ‘Red' Pirdy, who concocts a new kind of safety glass and becomes a cabman to prove its worth. Gloria DeHaven plays the claims adjuster Red falls for, while Edward Arnold and Walter Slezak play the shyster and shrink out to fleece the hapless Edison wannabe. It all comes to a climax in a bravura slapstick sequence set inside a home show expo, in which Skelton proves a match for the antics of any of his animated brethren. This is only underscored thanks to the lively score provided by MGM 'toon maestro, Scott Bradley. Newly Remastered.
The Clown (1953). Skelton draws his inspiration from a non-comedic source for this homage, the 1931 Wallace Beery classic, The Champ. In this go-round, the boxing ring has been traded for the big show ring, with Skelton playing an alcoholic, down on his luck clown and My Three Sons' Tim Considine playing the clown's eight year-old ‘caretaker' son. A chance to star on TV takes the place of The Champ's return to the ring, with Skelton's Dodo Delwyn desperate for a chance to make good for his long-suffering scion. The Clown demands a reappraisal, offering both poignant performances and a time capsule glimpse into the early days of television production.
Half a Hero (1953). Red takes on the burgeoning post-war menace of the dreaded suburbs in this rollicking fish out of water tale. Half a Hero's hero is magazine scribe Ben Dobson, lauded by his city-snob publisher for sticking to the cramped but thrifty confines of urban dwelling. But when Ben's wife (Singin' in the Rain's Jean Hagen) forces the family man to move to the suburbs, Ben has to hide it from his boss and finds himself out of his element and in over his head as his carefully concocted cover story begins to unravel. With a special appearance by Polly Bergen, performing "Love" in a torrid nightclub rendition. Newly Remastered.
The Great Diamond Robbery (1954). Skelton takes on the comedy heist caper in a film that would prove a precursor for the genre's reinvention in the 1960s. Skelton plays jewel cutter Ambrose Central Park, so named because he had been abandoned on a bench in the park as an infant. Now an adult, Ambrose has two obsessions - finding his parents and proving to his boss he has the skills to cut the priceless and legendary Blue Goddess diamond. When a team of crafty criminals comes up with a plot to exploit Ambrose's twin obsessions, the witless diamond man must discover his own hidden facets. Co-starring James Whitmore. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Newly Remastered.
To round out the Archive releases this week, a TV series spun off from the Martin Scorsese film, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and titled as simply Alice, debuted in the 1976-77 season. Alice: The Complete First Season will be a 3-disc collection.
Alice: The Complete First Season (1976-1977). 1976 saw America celebrating its bicentennial birthday and the arrival of the new girl to the world of TV sitcoms. This new girl would prove to be a keeper, sticking around for 9 hit seasons and forever altering the national lexicon (and if you doubt that, you can kiss my grits!) Spun-off from the rather more sober Scorcese picture, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Alice is the story of Alice Hyatt (Linda Lavin), a recently widowed single mom who finds herself working as a waitress at an Arizona diner while caring for her pre-teen son, Tommy (Philip McKeon). The diner's owner, carried over from the film, is Mel, played by the inimitable Vic Tayback, while Beth Howland and Polly Holliday play Alice's fellow waitstaff, the neurotic Vera and the no-nonsense Flo. This WB Archive 3-Disc MOD, 24-Episode Collection rounds up the entire first season of the break-out hit, including the rarely seen pilot episode featuring Alfred Lutter from the feature film. Guest stars include Batman's Adam West, Victor Buono, and Dark Shadows' Lara Parker.
Warner Archive MOD Pre-Orders
Here are the advance MOD pre-order classic titles listed on the Warner Bros. Archive site at wbshop.com. These possibilities should be treated with some suspicion until we get closer to the actual availability dates.
June 19th: For the First Time (1959, Maria Lanza)
July 10th: Olly Olly Oxen Free (1978, Katharine Kepburn)
July 24th: The Doctor and the Girl (1949, Glenn Ford, Charles Coburn, Gloria De Haven, Janet Leigh); Brass Target (1978, Sophia Loren, John Cassavetes, George Kennedy, Robert Vaughn).
New Universal Vault Releases
Amazon.com listed a number of Universal Vault MOD releases set for availability as of June 12th this week. Here are the classic titles, three of them John Wayne items:
Amazing Mrs. Holliday, The (1943, Deanna Durbin, Edmond O'Brien)
Conqueror, The (1956, John Wayne, Susan Hayward)
Jet Pilot (1957, John Wayne, Janet Leigh)
Killdozer (1984, Clint Walker, Carl Betz)
One Desire (1955, Anne Baxter, Rock Hudson)
Shepherd of the Hills, The (1941, John Wayne, Betty Field)
Tobruk (1967, Rock Hudson, George Peppard)
Well, once again, that's our latest edition of the Classic Hollywood MOD column for the week here on The Digital Bits. I'll be back again next Friday.