DVD Box Sets
Review by: Larry Thomas
With Christmas gift time just around the corner, give some thought to presenting that special film buff in your life with a DVD box set to match his or her tastes and interests.
Your shopping options are literally limitless. Go to Amazon.com, and type “DVD Box Sets” in the search engine. That location alone will offer you more than ten thousand selections. If you’re on a strict budget, you may consider some of the “public domain” packages. A public domain film is one on which the copyright has expired, so that anyone may legally copy and sell it. The drawback is that source material varies in quality by title, and may look like its been through the wringer. You can get a box of 50 titles of westerns, horror films, sci-fi, musicals, or film noir for almost next to nothing. Very few of the films in these packages are award winners, but most have some familiar faces, the quality on some of the transfers is very good, and there are always nice surprises to be found in these collections.
The most eagerly awaited set of 2008, at least in this reviewer’s eyes, is Sony’s release of five of the seven westerns released between 1956 and 1960 directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott. Boetticher and Scott were first teamed in Seven Men From Now, which is available on a separate, single disc, when John Wayne hired them to make the film for his production company, for release by Warner Brothers. It was profitable and the two men worked well together, so Scott and his producing partner, Harry Joe Brown, decided to continue the relationship. Moving to Columbia, they made The Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, and Comanche Station. All five titles have been remastered in widescreen, and feature a documentary about Budd Boetticher and his career, as well as commentaries by Taylor Hackford, Clint Eastwood, and Martin Scorsese. They are all lean, terse, and in some instances, rather grim, but they’re among the best westerns you’ll ever see. The budgets may have been comparatively low by studio standards, but superb supporting casts, location filming, and color photography make them look like they cost twice as much. Both Boetticher and Scott are well worth discovering, or re-discovering.
If classic TV is your favorite thing you may want to shell out the necessary dollars to get all 117 episodes of M Squad, a gritty 30-minute police drama which ran from 1957 to 1960 on NBC. This series bridged the gap that took Lee Marvin from supporting western bad guy to A-list movie star. Also included is a CD of the 1959 soundtrack The Music from M Squad, featuring music by John Williams, Benny Carter, and Count Basie.
Just mention the name Inspector Clouseau and people smile, or even break into outright laughter. The character created by Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers in 1964’s The Pink Panther has been a fan favorite ever since. That same year, United Artists also began production on a series of theatrical cartoons featuring the Panther and the Inspector in their own animated adventures. This massive 18-disc set contains nine of the Panther titles, including the later, bad ones, as well as the one with Alan Arkin, and the remake with Steve Martin. The only missing film is 1975’s The Return of the Pink Panther as another studio holds the video rights and refused to allow it to be included. There are nine discs of all the cartoons, including other characters created during this period by United Artists. It retails for for a hefty sum, but you can likely find a better price on-line.
Sony has sprung for a set of their entire Oscar winning titles from 1934’s It Happened One Night through 1982’s Gandhi. There are tons of special features and extras, which make the set a “must have” for serious cinephiles.
Or, if you prefer a special edition of your favorite single film with all the bells and whistles and documentaries and commentaries, there’s a new 3-disc set of Casablanca, which includes the Bugs Bunny cartoon Carrotblanca, as well as the premiere episode of the short-lived Casablanca TV series in 1955.
In anticipation of the remake’s release, Fox has issued a new special edition of The Day the earth Stood Still with commentary by director Robert Wise and several documentaries.
And the one new release that will likely be stuffed into many stockings this year is Mamma Mia. The two-disc edition of the film version of the Broadway musical based on songs by ABBA, adds deleted scenes, outtakes, and one number that was shot but not used. Put this on and you’ll be dancing around your living room until New Year's!