By Robin E. Simmons
Some great movies are newly available on DVD and/or Blu-ray. These wonderful movies from another era are alive and well and awaiting your eyes to see again or for the first time.
HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948)
A mostly forgotten but still effective film noir, HOLLOW TRIUMPH (titled THE SCAR in the UK), is about John Muller (Paul Henreid), a thief on the run from the cops and, much worse, a sadistic club owner who operates a rigged gambling joint. Muller is a smart and arrogant. He thinks people don’t notice what’s happening around them. He is focused only on the big score. He recruits his old gang and robs a crooked gambling joint owned by Rocky Stanswyck (Thomas Brown Henry). Muller gets away but some members of his gang do not and they finger Muller as their leader.
When Muller is mistaken for Dr. Bartok (also Henreid), a shrink that looks like Muller, he tries to assume the man’s identity. But, as so often happens in film noir, fate in the form of a woman threatens his plans when Bartok’s secretary and lover Evelyn Nash (Joan Bennett) enters the scene. No more spoilers here, but a warning: if you are considering plastic surgery as part of a con, make sure you… Well, I’ve given enough away. I liked this cynical, tough, take on how we fail to notice what’s going on around us. Yes, the premise and plot twists require major suspension of disbelief, but so what. It all works by fade out. Steve Sekely directs from an over the top but properly cold script by Daniel Fuchs. Film Chest Media Group. DVD.
THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967)
Space does not permit a fair and full treatment of the magnificent, timeless and brilliantly executed hand-drawn animation based on Rudyard Kipling’s beloved “Jungle Book” stories. Even with sophisticated, computer assisted 3D photo-realistic animation so popular now, nothing comes close to the power of the human touch in character design and backgrounds. And then there are the fabulous voices: Sterling Holloway’s Kaa the Snake; Louis Prima’s King Louie of the Apes; Phil Harris’ Baloo the Bear; Sebastian Cabot’s Bagheera the Panther and George Sanders’ indelible Shere Khan the Tiger. But it’s Phil Harris and Louie Prima who dominate the story with their timeless swing style musical numbers that have not dimmed over the years. The fabulous ape dance remains one of animation’s great set pieces and Mowgli’s journey from the animal kingdom to the human world remains charming and engaging for kids of all ages. It may not be pure Kipling, but the spirit is there — it’s in the DNA of the piece. And as expected from Disney’s pristine vaults, the hi-def transfer is stunning as is the sound. Among the extras is an extended “animated” storyboard sequence of an alternate ending that sends Mowgli into the human world and its attending conflicts. This certified classic is one for the digital library. Disney. Blu-ray.
SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949)
Arriving just in time for Easter, the meticulously restored SAMSON AND DELILAH Blu-ray transfer looks great in 1080p high definition. The familiar Bible story stars robust Victor Mature and beautiful Hedy Lamar in the titular lead roles. This is wonderful old-school movie making that may be slower paced but still pays off in the end with the destruction of the Philistine temple and the suicide of Samson. In a violent act, Samson defeats his enemies with the blessing of his God. Not a lot has changed in the land of the Bible, has it? Angela Lansbury, George Sanders and a literal cast of thousands offer super effective over-the-top support to this melodrama that some scholars suggest is a Jewish take on the Hercules myth. But make no mistake, this sincere, violent and devout Cecil B. DeMille religious epic about the fabled strongman still works as both propaganda and myth. In a time of revived interest in Biblical epics, this is a good place to rekindle one’s interest in a dormant genre. I was surprised there is no commentary or extras. I’m sure Angela Lansbury’s recollections of the massive production would be fascinating. But even as an unadorned disc, the story of the ancient strongman, his great feats of strength and the foreign woman who seduces him make for great entertainment. Paramount. Blu-ray. (Available March 11)
FANTASTIC MR. FOX (2009)
Director Wes Anderson has brought to life Roald Dahl’s whimsical tale of a clever and exceptionally well-dressed wild animal, chicken thief and reporter to life. The terrific stop-motion production is a real work of ark. The story is subversive, clever and funny – so very Dahl. The extras are lavish and exceptionally fascinating. The 5.1 Surround Sound is a wonder. Kids love Mr. Fox because he’s a cool, confident smart ass who gets away with it. Adults appreciate the detailed, fully realized fantasy world and the fabulous human-like characters and action throughout. Too bad Dahl is not here to see his creation come fully alive. Paramount. Dual-Format Blu-ray.
NOW PLAYING — AND WORTH SEEING — ON THE BIG SCREEN:
And surprise of surprises, POMPEII is so much better than you might have guessed. Big spectacle and a love story that made me think of TITANIC more than once. At its core, it’s a love story at the end of the world. I have no idea if this is the same material to which Roman Polanski was once attached, and I don’t see novelist Robert Harris’ name anywhere in the credits. One can only wonder what Polanski would do with this big yet intimate story.