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 dot com, and type “DVD Box Sets” in the search engine. That location alone will offer you more than fifteen 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.
And it’s no real trick to find the latest all-inclusive editions of classics like Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of OZ, or gatherings of Hitchcock, John Wayne, or even Charlie Brown. But what intrigues me most are the box sets that offer something new that, in the past, has been hard to see, either on video or cable.
The most eagerly awaited set of 2009, at least at least for the top line on my Christmas list, is Sony’s release of the first set of their film noir titles from the 1950s. Of the five titles, only one, Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat has been previously available on DVD. This hard-boiled yarn stars Glenn Ford as a revenge-driven cop and the underappreciated Gloria Grahame as the gangster’s girl. It’s full of pungent dialogue, and for 1953, strong violence. Phil Karlson’s Five Against the House is a “let’s-stick-up-a-casino” caper film that predates the original Ocean's Eleven by half a decade. It’s good to see Brian Keith and Kim Novak early in their career, doing some of their best work before stardom came knocking. Don Siegel, director of Dirty Harry, made a film version of the television series The Lineup. But it’s not a copycat film. Siegel makes the hit men the focus, and moves the TV cops to the background, all shot on location in 1958 San Francisco. This is one terrific film, starring Robert Keith… Brian’s father…and Eli Wallach as the assassins. Murder by Contract features Vince Edwards as a contract killer who is great at his job, until he balks about killing a woman. And the set concludes with 1952’s The Sniper, about an unstable young man who is compelled to kill with a high-powered rifle. This is one of the first to tackle both the subject and the psychology behind it, with Arthur Franz, Adolphe Menjou, and the legendary Marie Windsor starring.
If classic TV is your favorite thing, consider the complete set of all three seasons of Gilligan's Island. These are the original, unedited versions, with season one in black-and-white, just like on TV. This compilation was released a couple of years ago for more than a hundred bucks, but is now available on-line at a substantial discount. The antics of Gilligan and Company may not be everyone’s cup of coconut milk, but I find them funnier and more interesting than, say, The Andy Griffith Show.
For the hard-core foreign film buff on your list, Criterion has just released AK 100, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of director Akira Kurosawa. This is as complete a retrospective you’ll find in a box set for now, featuring twenty-five titles, including four early rarities never before on video, and a book with essays, notes, and reviews. The whole shebang is done up in a deluxe linen-bound cover, and as you might guess is rather pricey. But for the right person, this could be the gift to remember.
As the studios open their vaults, even with DVD sales sliding of late, it seems like more archive material than ever before is finding its way into the hands of movie and TV fans. The best way to ensure the flow continues is to support their efforts by buying what appeals to you. If you do the proper research on the Internet, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to find a great collection of movies for anyone, and usually at a reasonable price. And the great thing about giving the gift of movies is that there’s no worry about getting the right size, color, or style.