DVD Calling

By Stu Kobak

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The DVD release of The Mask of Zorro is a reminder of Hollywood’s classic adventure and western films. The spirit and vitality of this new Zorro is one long thrust from the thirties and forties to today. The interest sparked by the latest incarnation of the masked Mexican Robin Hood provides an opportunity to lament the absence of classic adventure films on DVD. In no particular order, here are some of the films screaming for a DVD release.

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I can’t believe The Adventures of Robin Hood has not made it to DVD yet. My only conclusion is that this wonderful adventure film did not sell well in its most recent laser versions. The beautifully photographed film, in blazing Technicolor, replete with the sequins on Robin’s costume, is a best bet for DVD. This is a core title. Every collection should have it. So, let’s do it MGM, Turner, Warner or whatever you’re called these days. Bring the splendid adventures of that regal rogue to every DVD home. Will The Adventures of Robin Hood look good on DVD? You bet. The added color stability and absence of noise will provide a glorious platform for Robin Hood, Maid Marion, The Sheriff of Nottingham and all the denizens of Sherwood Forest. Errol Flynn is the quintessential Robin Hood. Some other Flynn adventure epics that have appeared on laser would make excellent DVD releases. 

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The Sea Hawk was a fine two-disc laser set. The excellent transfer would make a beautiful DVD and there would be no need to change discs. Captain Blood, the film that made Flynn’s reputation would make another nice addition to the DVD catalog. I know what you’re thinking about now. Will DVD improve on the presentation of these old black and white films? The answer is a resounding yes! Remember that DVD is a native component format and thereby handles the separation of black and white and color information with far greater accuracy than the filtered analog signals of laser disc. With a component connection and even an S-video connection, cross color problems in black and white material is virtually eliminated on DVD. Resolution is also greater, giving a slightly more detailed image. The purity of the image and the purity of these titles make them worthy potential DVDs. And how about The Sun Also Rises, a Fox production that has never been on laser. Not only does it boast an excellent turn by an aging Flynn; it also stars fellow swashbuckler king Tyrone Power.
     Power was Twentieth Century Fox’s answer to Warner’s Errol Flynn. From the early thirties until his death on the set of Solomon and Sheba in the late fifties, the handsome Power remained a screen icon and powerhouse box office draw. Twentieth Century Fox released the black and white Mark of Zorro, starring Power on laser, but how long before this delightful film shows up on DVD? It would have been a natural for release coinciding with the current Mask of Zorro. You can still pick up a copy of the laser and enjoy comparing the two films. The gorgeous color and spectacular transfer of The Mask of Zorro are fabulous, but the spirit of that earlier Zorro outing and Power’s great screen charisma are very special. Another Tyrone Power vehicle still wanting a high-end video release is The Black Swan, this time in splendid color. The Caribbean adventure may break no new ground, but director Henry King handles the material with majestic assurance, resulting in big images and plenty of excitement. 

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Another King directed standout, Prince of Foxes is a fine historical epic set in the internecine world of Cesare Borgia. Orson Welles brings his sonorous tones to Borgia and Tyrone Power provides measures of dash and innocence to the hero. In films as varied as In Old Chicago, Alexander’s Ragtime Band and Lloyd’s of London, Power remained one of the reigning Hollywood heartthrobs.
     Here’s hoping that Universal decides to make a little gift to DVD lovers by releasing Winchester 73. The fine Western starring James Stewart is the first collaboration between the star and director Anthony Mann. The laser is very special since it includes an interview with James Stewart on a second audio.

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Speaking of the Stewart/Mann Western team, The Man from Laramie has never made it to laser, much less DVD. That was one of the most powerful Westerns I recall from childhood. There were two especially brutal scenes in the film that made me flinch from the screen. In one scene Stewart is shot through his gun hand while being held down by the bad guys. Nasty stuff back in the early fifties. I think it’s later in the film that he’s dragged by a rope in back of a horse in a fair imitation of road kill. As luck would have it while traveling in Paris I found a fabulous French poster from The Man from Laramie which now hangs in my home theater depicting Stewart being dragged by a rope. I think Columbia owns the rights to The Man from Laramie. This 1955 Cinemascope release was filmed in the old 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to get an anamorphic DVD for Christmas. Yeah, and how about that other Mann/Stewart Western, The Naked Spur: another title missing from the lexicon of high end video. Well, right, good luck!
     The long version of The Last Emperor is about to get a US theatrical release for the first time. Bertolucci’s film appeared on domestic laser in an 160 minute version. The longer 4-hour version was previously available as a Japanese laser import. The film is significantly improved by the added footage. It’s one film that plays much shorter in the longer version and infinitely longer in abbreviated form. Come on Columbia!
     Of course, there are the adventure standards of laser which DVD aficionados are still awaiting. Lawrence of Arabia must be getting special treatment; at least that’s what’s delaying DVD release of that great film. Since this is a core Columbia title, it’s almost certain that Lawrence will get anamorphic treatment. Bridge on the River Kwai is another blockbuster that should get the premium Columbia treatment. Waiting in the wings from Paramount, somewhere, must be Apocalypse Now. Too bad, it looks like Paramount has abandoned anamorphic wisdom is their releasing. Exodus, the riveting tale of Israel’s independence deserves a classy DVD treatment from MGM.
     There must be a thousand movies that missed my mention. With strong consumer support for classics, we are certain to see more vintage releases. As we are all too aware, the economics dictate the market place. When MGM releases the classic Western Red River on DVD and it doesn’t sell well, they are hesitant in releasing other classics. When they release The Philadelphia Story to lukewarm response, they will surely think twice bringing other classic comedies from their archives to DVD.


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