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OLD MOVIES MADE NEW ON BLU-RAY AND DVD



REPEAT PERFORMANCE (Flicker Alley)

Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward and newcomer Richard Basehart top the cast of this intriguing drama that takes place on New Year’s Eve and enables its leading character to relive a painful and upsetting year. It marked a promising start for the newly-christened Eagle-Lion Films, which just months earlier had been known as PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Now, with an infusion of money and prestige from Great Britain’s J. Arthur Rank and the moviemaking knowhow of producer Bryan Foy, Eagle-Lion was out to bring some class to the ranks of B movies. This saga is well told in a concise documentary by Stephen C. Smith and narrated by Alan K. Rode (both of whom are well-versed in this field). Eddie Muller, familiar to TCM viewers as the host of Noir Alley and founder of the Film Noir Foundation, appears on camera to introduce the movie, while contemporary critic and essayist Farran Smith Nehme provides a summary of Joan Leslie’s screen career. I encourage you to try the commentary track where Nora Fiore, The Nitrate Diva, adds pungent thoughts and fun facts. An accompanying booklet includes a book-to-film comparison essay by Brian Light. You can tell that for each of these contributors this endeavor was a labor of love, and that’s what makes the project so appealing.



EDWARD EVERETT HORTON (Undercrank Productions)

Edward Everett Horton made such a vivid impression in the talkie era that it may come as a surprise to some folks that he had a thriving career in silent films, starring in a handful of features and headlining a series of two-reel comedies produced by none other than Harold Lloyd. These eight short subjects were well cared for even before the Library of Congress made digital scans in recent years, removing scratches and steadying the image while restoring original tints. Crafted by Lloyd’s production team, there is nothing especially distinctive about these breezy comedies—one can easily picture another performer in the lead—but they are efficiently made and fun to watch. What’s more, it’s rare to see any silent comedy shorts looking this good. The disc includes a summary of Horton’s silent career by Steve Massa and peppy piano and organ scores by Ben Model, whose Undercrank Productions is responsible for bringing these films to home video.


THE LITTLE RASCALS Volume 4 (ClassicFlix)

I grew up watching these Hal Roach comedies every single day on local New York television, and while they are burned into my consciousness I’m having a ball revisiting them—and seeing them as I never have before, thanks to ClassicFlix’s restorations. The before-and-after demonstrations are truly impressive, especially in the early-talkie era where dialogue-free scenes used to feature a low-key hiss. Volume 2 also features a short-lived Hal Roach innovation: “talking” title credits. Cute blonde twins (Beverly and Betty Mae Crane) appear in front of a stage curtain and proclaim, in unison, “Dear ladies and gentlemen… Hal Roach presents His Rascals in their latest Our Gang comedy, entitled Love Business.” After reciting the credits they conclude by making a bow and saying, “We thank you.” Love Business is one of my boyhood favorites of the series for a variety of reasons, not the least because it’s a great vehicle for Norman “Chubby” Chaney and features a wonderfully silly call-and-response piece of dialogue featuring him and Dorothy DeBorba. What I didn’t realize when I was a kid was that Chubby is reciting words of love to a cardboard cutout of Greta Garbo. What’s more, just behind him in the movie theater entryway is a lovemaking pose featuring Charley Chase and Thelma Todd! If you already own a set of Our Gang comedies on DVD and are debating whether or not to spend the money to repurchase them, my answer is YES! If you love The Little Rascals as I do and plan to show them to your kids and grandkids, you will be repaid many times over. Your purchase will also confirm to ClassicFlix that its investment in restoring these comedies was well worthwhile.



GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (Warner Archive)

I defy you to find a 1933 film that looks better than this. And what an opening: a gigantic closeup of Ginger Rogers singing “We’re in the Money,” in both English and Pig Latin. This tune-filled Busby Berkeley musical may not rate high for credibility but when it comes to production numbers it’s hard to top. Add the energetic James Cagney, showing off his singing and dancing prowess, the Warner Bros. players (Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Guy Kibbee, and Ned Sparks) and a brace of Al Dubin-Harry Warren songs and you’ve got an absolute knockout. The movie even dares to punctuate its escapist mandate with a striking and sobering number called “Remember My Forgotten Man.”

Along with the feature come four appropriate cartoons, each highlighting a song from the film. (Remember, Warners only started making animated shorts to promote those songs.) There are also three live-action Vitaphone shorts: The 42nd Street Special, promoting the private railroad train that carried a carload of celebrities (including a very young Bette Davis, Lyle Talbot, Jack L. Warner and Darryl F. Zanuck) on a whistle-stop tour to tout the movie… and a 1933 two-reeler starring Lita Grey Chaplin called Seasoned Greetings and briefly spotlighting Sammy Davis (billed just that way) but making no use of his musical talent! 



THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW – SEASON 1 (ClassicFlix)

Here is the result of another ambitious restoration project. It was supported by a Kickstarter campaign funded by a legion of Abbott and Costello fans. Their two-season TV series has been released, and rereleased as many times as any property I can think of on home video. I asked Bob Furmanek, the Big Kahuna of the 3D Film Archive, why he took on this task and what it entailed: “We scanned 120,000 feet of 35mm film from 175 reels of archival master elements. The incredible survival rate of camera original material for a TV show of this vintage is VERY unusual and the ‘Saving the Negatives’ featurette on the third disc tells the story. Of the 26 episodes, all but 4 reels of picture (2 are lost and 2 are deteriorated) and 2 reels of push-pull variable density optical tracks were scanned from original 35mm negatives. Fans have never before experienced the show in this quality and I’ve been wanting to tackle this restoration/preservation project for decades. The entire 3DFA restoration team is very proud of the final product.

“We have restored the original ending MCA logo, present on the show from October 1951 until 1959 when Sterling Television picked up the syndication. WPIX in New York first aired the show on Sept 18, 1955 on Sunday afternoons at 5:00 between Life with Father and Clubhouse Gang Comedies. It ran in heavy rotation in NY for decades.

“There are two complete episodes (and six partial shows) with the original non-audience tracks. When the shows were edited, they were screened for a small studio audience. Their response, which includes Bud’s sister Olive and her VERY distinctive laugh, were recorded and mixed onto the final track master. The shows have never before been heard without an audience and it’s a most interesting experience.

“If you need more information on the production history and restoration, please check out the Kickstarter campaign. There’s a LOT of wrong information online and I’ve corrected many long-standing myths in the various project updates: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/3dfilmarchive/pre-order-the-abbott-and-costello-show-season-one-restored/

Everything that Bob says is true and the results speak for themselves. This is the definitive home video release of an enduringly popular TV series.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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