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DVD Reviews for 10/17: “We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes”

by Peter Sobczynski

The Master of Suspense gets his due in a week that also sees the return of everything from Indiana Jones and Michael Myers to, of all things, “Quark.”

Thematically complex enough to inspire decades of obsessive analysis at the hands of critics and scholars and compulsively entertaining enough to entertain countless generations of ordinary moviegoers, the film of Alfred Hitchcock will continue to be studied and enjoyed by fans and cineastes alike for as long as the cinema exists. Of course, this means that for as long as they continue to exist, his film will constantly be issued and reissued on home video in an endless parade of special editions. Over the last couple of weeks, some of his best known titles, along with a couple of more obscure selections, have been reissued in newly remastered special editions filled with bonus features. As a result, this week’s column will take a brief look these new editions and see what is new this time around in the event you are considering upgrading. Of course, if you somehow have never seen the following films or have yet to purchase them on DVD, each one is, of course, recommended without question, except possibly to ask where the hell you have been all these years that you haven’t gotten around to see them.

First up is MGM Home Entertainment’s “The Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection,” an 8-disc set covering a wide variety of his films. “The Lodger” (1927), arguably the best-known of his silent features, is about a stranger who moves into a boardinghouse and begins charming the landlady’s daughter--of course, there is the little matter that he might be Jack the Ripper. “Sabotage” (1936) is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” and tells the story of a woman who gradually discovers that her husband is a saboteur responsible for a series of deadly bombing. “Young and Innocent” (1937) is a frothy comedy-thriller about an escaped fugitive trying to prove his innocence with the aid of the daughter of the police chief in charge of tracking him down. “Rebecca” (1940) is Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s best-seller about a young woman (Joan Fontaine)who marries a rich and mysterious widower (Laurence Olivier) and discovers that both he and his household staff (led by a fearsome Judith Anderson) are still obsessed with the memory of his first wife. “Lifeboat” (1944) is an intriguing drama that is set entirely within the confines of a small lifeboat containing eight survivors of a boat sunk by the Germans and deals with the conflicts that emerge when they pick up a ninth person--the captain of the U-boat that sank them in the first place. “Spellbound” is an intriguing psychological thriller (complete with a weirdo dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali) starring Gregory Peck as a mysterious man who arrives at a mental hospital claiming to be the new head and Ingrid Bergman as a psychiatrist who knows that he is an imposter and who struggles to get to the bottom of who he really is. Bergman returns in “Notorious” (1946), in which she plays the disgraced daughter of an accused spy who agrees to help the U.S. government capture one of his contacts (Claude Rains) by pretending to love him and going so far as to marry him--this becomes more complicated when it becomes clear that her seemingly cruel government handler (Cary Grant) is really in love with her. Finally, “The Paradine Case” stars Gregory Peck as a married lawyer who finds himself driven to trouble when he falls in love with his new client, a woman (Alida Valli) accused of poisoning her rich older husband.

On the bright side, the versions of “The Lodger,” “Sabotage” and “Young and Innocent,” which have only previously been available via low-budget labels with poor transfers, available here are better than anything that has been available before and the commentary tracks and audio excerpts from interviews between Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich and Francois Truffaut are welcome indeed (though it seems strange that “The Lodger” has no special features to speak of). On the other hand, while the versions of “Rebecca,” “Spellbound” and “Notorious” presented here are filled with goodies as well, the simply fail to measure up to the long-out-of-print versions issued by the Criterion Collection a few years ago--if you were lucky enough to pick those up along the way, do not get rid of them. “The Paradine Case” looks better than it has before and throws in both a commentary track and a 1949 radio adaptation of the tale featuring Joseph Cotton to boot--the only trouble is that it is one of the least interesting films of Hitchcock’s entire career. As for “Lifeboat,” it appears to be the exact same edition that was issued a couple of years ago. However, one word of warning--although handsomely packaged, the discs are apparently housed in cardboard sleeves that could well scratch the discs over time.

Combining his willingness to deliberately set himself up with enormous technical challenges to overcome (in this, telling an entire story through the eyes of a man confined to one room), a exploration of the voyeurism theme that cropped up in many of his films and two of his favorite stars (James Stewart and Grace Kelly), “Rear Window,” in which Stewart plays a temporarily crippled photographer who becomes convinced that his neighbor across the street (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. Filled with thrills, humor (mostly courtesy of Thelma Ritter as Stewart’s nurse) and not a small amount of eroticism (mostly courtesy of Grace Kelly, whose initial entrance into the story may well be the single sexiest image ever captured by a camera), this is perhaps Hitchcock’s most completely entertaining work and one perfectly suitable for viewers of all ages and tastes. This disc contains all of the bonus features included in the 2001 DVD (the fascinating one-hour documentary “Rear Window Ethics,” an interview with screenwriter John Michael Hayes and production photographs) and adds in both a remastered picture, two new featurettes, “Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master” and “Breaking Barriers: The Sound of Hitchcock,” that employ the likes of Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro to examine Hitchcock’s innovative uses of sound and visuals to tell his stories, a commentary track from author/film historian John Fawell and, as a final bonus, “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret,” a Hitchcock-directed episode of the long-running “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” series that has some thematic similarities to the film. Although the movie is itself a masterpiece, the new bonus features are strong enough to ensure that even if you own the previous edition, you pretty much have to get this one as well.

Far less charming and cuddly than “Rear Window,” 1958’s “Vertigo” remains one of the darkest and strangest films produced by Hollywood in the 1950’s and while it is now roundly regarded as a masterpiece today, this tale of a detective (James Stewart) who becomes unhealthily obsessed with a shopgirl )Kim Novak) who reminds him of a suicidal woman(Novak again) whom he was unable to save from leaping from a church tower thanks to his titular condition, not especially admired by fans or critics when it came out. Befitting a film about obsession, this disc is crammed with so many extras that explore and explain the film in every single detail with the same zealousness that Stewart’s character indulges in during the film when he takes Novak shopping for certain kinds of clothing. Once again, all the features from the original DVD have been retained--the chief ones being a commentary track from producer Herbert Coleman and film restorers Robert Harris and James C. Katz and the retrospective documentary “Obsessed with ”Vertigo”: New Life For Hitchcock’s Masterpiece.” The new stuff kicks off with a long-overdue anamorphic transfer with a remastered picture and goes on to include a second commentary from filmmaker William Friedkin (who attempted his own San Francisco-based erotic crime drama decades later with the lamentable “Jade”), “Partners In Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators,” a new documentary about some of the key personnel that Hitchcock repeatedly worked with over the years that features additional commentary from the likes of Scorsese, Carpenter and del Toro, 15 minutes of excerpts from the famous Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews dealing with the film and Hitchcock-directed TV episode “The Case of Mr. Pelham.” The only drawback here, at least if you are a purist, is that the film’s original mono soundtrack is not offered as one of the audio options.

The problem with writing even a short thing about Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece “Psycho” is that it is one of those films that has been analyzed and written about in such detail since its initial release that it is almost impossible to think of anything to say about it that hasn’t already been said. Therefore, I will only note that it is one of those films that literally changed filmmaking forever--after it came out, it changed the direction of the horror genre and the effects of its influence are still being felt today. Once again, the film has been given a new anamorphic transfer, though the low-budget nature of the project doesn’t exact benefit from the added resolution, and once again, all the bonus features from the previous editions (the best being the fascinating feature-length making-of documentary “The Making of Psycho” and a look at the lengths that Hitchcock went to in order to assure that news of the film’s considerable secrets wouldn’t leak out) have been retained. The new extras include a highly informative commentary from Stephen Rebello, the author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” a new documentary, “In the Master’s Shadow: Hitchcock’s Legacy,” in which a group of filmmakers and observers discuss, you guessed, Hitchcock’s ongoing legacy as a filmmaker (an interesting subject worthy of more time than the half-hour it is given here), more Hitchcock/Truffaut interview excerpts and the classic “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode “Lamb to the Slaughter,” which doesn’t have much to do with “Psycho” but which is so entertaining that you’ll hardly notice the lack of thematic continuity. And yet, despite all of these additions, I cannot in good conscience fully recommend this one for one simple reason--the dopes at Universal give away the fate of one of the key characters and the identity of the killer right there in the jacket copy. This may not seem like a big deal to you but anyone encountering the film for the first time and unaware of its twists is going to be mighty upset by these unnecessary reveals.

THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK PREMIERE COLLECTION: An MGM Home Entertainment release. $119.98.

REAR WINDOW SPECIAL EDITION: Written by John Michael Hayes. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr.. 1954. Rated PG. 115 minutes. A Universal Home Entertainment release. $26.98

VERTIGO SPECIAL EDITION: Written by Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock/ Starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore and Henry Jones. 1958. Rated PG. 130 minutes. A Universal Home Entertainment release. $26.98.

PSYCHO SPECIAL EDITION: Written by Joseph Stefano. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire and Janet Leigh. 1960. Rated R. 109 minutes. A Universal Home Entertainment release. $26.98


CAPRICORN ONE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $!9.98): What better way to celebrate the impending imprisonment of O.J. Simpson that to watch a film in which he finds himself relentlessly pursued by The Man? This cheesy 1978 conspiracy thriller features the Juice as one of three astronauts (the others being James Brolin and Sam Waterston) who go on the run when they agree to take part in a fake NASA landing on Mars and only belatedly realize that the only way the ruse can work is if they end up dead. It is an interesting concept, I suppose, but uber-hack Peter Hyams doesn’t quite manage to pull it off--this is the kind film that might actually be served well with a remake that hopefully ties up the loose ends and fills the plot holes.

CHAPLIN--15th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Apparently, this 1992 movie is a biopic of the legendary comedian/filmmaker Charlie Chaplin and features a stunning lead performance by Robert Downey Jr. in which he eerily replicates the persona of one of the most famous icons of 20th century history. I say “apparently” because one of the members of the all-star cast assembled by director Sir Richard Attenborough (including Kevin Kline, Anthony Hopkins, Marisa Tomei, James Woods and Diane Lane) is none other than the radiant Milla Jovovich and as soon as she came on the screen as one of Chaplin’s young conquests, I kind of lost track of the rest of the film.

CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION--THE EIGHTH SEASON (CBS DVD. $84.98): Another season of the enormously popular show that kicked off an incredibly lucrative franchise with nothing more than glittering lights, grisly crimes scenes and a glowering lead investigator. Auteurists will want to note that one of the episodes reunited star/executive producer William Petersen with his “To Live and Die in L.A.” director, William Friedkin, and the bonus features include a commentary from Friedkin on that particular episode. Other recent TV shows hitting DVD this week include the now-defunct “Back To You” (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), “Lil Bush: Resident of the United States--Season 2” (Paramount Home Video. $26.98) and “The Sarah Silverman Program: Season Two, Volume One” (Paramount Home Video. $26.98).

HALLOWEEN--30th ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE SET (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $89.97): Another Halloween, another attempt by Anchor Bay to get horror fans to buy yet another copy of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic. This time around, the inducements include the original film (complete with all the previously offered bonus features), the extended version featuring the additional scenes Carpenter shot to fill out the film for network broadcast when it came up short after the blood and breasts were removed (and also to help tie it in with the then-premiering “Halloween II”), the lousy “Halloween 4,” the even-lousier “Halloween 5,” the feature-length documentary “25 Years of Terror” that covers the entire “Halloween” phenomenon and a replica of the mask worn by Michael Myers on his kill spree. Since the hard-core fans presumably own all of the films already, the decision to purchase this version depends largely on whether you want to spend that much money for a replica of a mask--I’m betting that most of them can do better. Besides, they might want to save their money in case another version of “The Evil Dead” comes along.

HOLIDAY INN (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98): Don’t be fooled by the promise of this being a 3-disc special edition of the 1942 Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire holiday classic. The first disc is a repackaging of the Special Edition version that came out only two years ago, the second is a colorized version that no real film fan would want anything to do with and the third is a CD of the songs heard in the film, many of which are presumably already in your holiday music collection. Of course, if you don’t already own the film, feel free to get this set, play the first and third discs to your heart’s content and use the second as a coaster for your mulled wine.

ICONS OF HORROR: HAMMER FILMS (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Dipping into their vaults once again, Sony has come up with a quartet of horror-related titles that were produced by the famous British studio that became synonymous with the genre in the Fifties and Sixties. The titles here, all of which are more or less self-explanatory, include “The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb” (1959), “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” (1960), “Scream of Fear” (1961) and the 1964 Christopher Lee-Peter Cushing effort “The Gorgon.”

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): Okay, so it wasn’t nearly as good as the immortal “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (though I would argue its superiority to “Temple of Doom”), the Shia LaBeouf character was nothing more than Cousin Oliver in Marlon Brando’s clothing, the last twenty minutes were pretty much a botch (much like virtually every Spielberg movie from the last couple of decades outside of “A.I.”) and it probably won’t be turning up on the Netflix queue of the “South Park” guys anytime soon. That said, the long-awaited continuation of the Indiana Jones franchise was a good bit better than many of us feared it would be thanks to some inventive action sequences, a lot of welcome humor (the snake gag was especially amusing), the presence of Cate Blanchett as the evil Commie cutie who serves as the chief villain and the most energetic performance from Harrison Ford in a long time.

MONGOL: THE RISE OF GENGHIS KAHN (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): You would think that one word that you would have little use for in describing a biopic based on the life of Genghis Kahn would be “boring.” And yet, this inexplicably acclaimed epic from director Sergei Bodrov on the early days of the famed warrior was, to my eyes, a snooze from start to finish and not even the copious amounts of bloodshed were enough to save it. Frankly, I’ll stick with “The Conqueror,” the 1950’s Hollywood version of Kahn’s story featuring none other than John Wayne in the lead.

THE NEW WORLD: THE EXTENDED CUT (New Line Home Entertainment. $20.98): Whether it is the 150-minute cut that briefly screened at the end of 2005 for Oscar consideration, the 135-minute version that was released to theaters and later issued on DVD or this new 172-minute iteration, Terrence Malick’s recounting of the Jamestown settlement and the relationship that developed between British explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) and native beauty Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) remains one of the great films of the decade--an endlessly compelling and visually ravishing cinematic tone poem that takes one of the most familiar historical stories of our country’s history and transforms it into a work of fascinating and mystical beauty. However, those of you with the previous DVD should hang on to it since, despite suggestions to the commentary, the intriguing ten-part making-of documentary that was included there has not been ported over to her.

THE PIRATES WHO DON’T DO ANYTHING (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In the latest big-screen incarnation of the Christian-based “Veggie Tales” franchise, a trio of lowly dinner theater employees are whisked back in time and charged with aiding the beautiful Princess Eloise in rescuing her brother, the true heir to the throne, from their nefarious and power-hungry uncle. Although aimed squarely at little kids, this gleefully silly animated film also contains enough genuine laughs to keep older viewers interested and the religious themes are instilled so subtly that even Bill Maher might come away from it entertained.

QUARK--THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony Home Entertainment. 19.95): Proof positive that virtually every movie and TV show ever made will one day emerge on DVD (with the apparent exception of “Strike Force”), even this short-lived 1979 sci-fi spoof from Buck Henry featuring Richard Benjamin as the captain of an interstellar garbage ship who gets into wacky misadventures throughout the galaxy has made it to the shiny disc format. Some have hailed this show as an ahead-of-its-time masterpiece while others have dismissed it as just being dumb--I can’t add anything to the discussion since I have only the haziest memories of its original broadcasts but I am curious to see how it plays today.
Other oldies hitting DVD this week include “Nash Bridges: The First Season”(CBS DVD. $39.98) and “The Partridge Family: The Complete Third Season” (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95).

STANDARD OPERTATING PROCEDURE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): In the latest effort from acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris, he turns his cameras onto the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and tries to uncover the details of the prisoner abuse scandal that shocked the world through intimate interviews with many of the participants and meticulous examinations of the very photographs that brought what was actually happening behind its walls and doors in the name of democracy and freedom. No matter how many Iraq-themed documentaries that you may have seen in the last couple of years, this brilliantly made eye-opener of a film will both horrify you and make you very angry.

STUCK (Image Entertainment. $27.98): Having made a comeback of sorts a couple of years ago with his startling screen adaptation of David Mamet’s “Edmond,” director Stuart Gordon (the man behind the giddily gory H.P. Lovecraft adaptations “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond”) builds on it with this hilariously grotesque black comedy, loosely based on a real-life incident, about the battle of wills that erupts between an ambitious nurses aide (Mena Suvari) and the homeless man (Stephen Rea) who is gruesomely embedded in the windshield of her car and hidden in her garage following an accident that she refuses to report. Although the last few minutes, in which the story devolves into something more akin to a middling “Masters of Horror” episode, are slightly disappointing, the rest of the film is a gripping and undeniably exciting work filled with good performances, mordant wit, angry social commentary and yes, even a few icky parts.

SWEET SIXTEEN (BCI/Eclipse. $19.98): If you are still waiting to see the endlessly-delayed horror homage “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane,” you might want to take a look at this fairly underrated 1983 slasher tale involving a beautiful but shy girl (Aleisa Shirley) who begins attracting the attentions all the boys in the small town that she has just moved to and who becomes the prime suspect when her suitors start turning up dead just after being seen with her. Not a masterpiece by any means but it is better than your typical slasher film of the era and if I recall correctly, the finale is a bit of a doozy.

WAR INC. (First Look Studios. $28.98): In this bizarre, funny and angry quasi-sequel to the great “Grosse Pointe Blank,” John Cusack stars as a burned-out assassin who is hired to go to Turaqistan, a foreign country occupied by an American corporation, in order to kill a oil minister blocking a big deal and finds himself entangled with a sexy liberal journalist (Marisa Tomei) trying to get to the truth about what is going on, a sexy local pop princess (a very funny Hillary Duff) trying to get into his pants and a maniacal former boss (Ben Kingsley) trying to get him to play ball. It is a little too long and rambling for its own good but for the most part, this is a fairly savage and uncompromising political satire that will likely amuse and piss you off in equal measure.

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originally posted: 10/17/08 00:03:40
last updated: 10/17/08 00:30:47
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