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2011 DVD Releases

2011 DVD Releases
Rated Various
Review by: Larry Thomas

Yeah, I know its only September, but before you know it it’ll be Christmas Eve and you’ll be scratching your head for just one more gift. Give some thought to presenting that special film buff in your life with a DVD box set. With the DVD explosion over the past few years, it’s possible to find box sets of just about anything that’s been committed to film. There are sets of animated works for kids; sets of TV shows from the early 1950s through just last season; and sets of films by genre, actor, or director. If you’re into the cinematic equivalent of self-flagellation, there’s even a box set of all of the Police Academy movies.

And like everything else in American culture, the DVD box set has grown from two-disc special editions, to “super size” volumes containing more than 100 DVDs… and the prices vary accordingly.

TV series are among the biggest sellers these days. People scarf up entire collections of The Sopranos, the various CSI and Law & Order sets, The Simpsons and I Love Lucy. But I have found a couple of items that will really take you back into the recesses of your memory banks. The first is a 6 disc set highlighting the television career of comic visionary Ernie Kovacs. If you only know his work from an occasional film clip, or a 30-min. TV special, then you don’t know Ernie.

These discs contain fifteen hours of material, covering his national and local morning shows, the NBC prime-time series, his award winning commercials and so much more. Although Kovacs’ career ended with his untimely death at age 43, it’s obvious from watching this archive collection that he had more than a passing effect on Monty Python, Saturday Night Live, and the like. Kovacs loved music and loved to use it whenever possible. He had a skewed sense of humor and appreciation of the absurd. You’ll sample his laundry list of Kovacs characters, like poet laureate Percy Dovetonsils; Eugene, an odd fellow who never speaks; and The Nairobi Trio, three cast members in gorilla masks performing to a clockwork tune called “Solfeggio.” Usually Kovacs and wife Edie Adams were two of the simians in the skit, while the third was always someone different… even including Frank Sinatra and Jack Lemmon. The Ernie Kovacs Collection, on the Shout! Factory label, will take your breath away with the inventiveness of this comic genius.

In 1959, John Cassavetes starred in the 27-episode series Johnny Staccato, about a jazz piano player who moonlights as a private detective. This short-lived journey into 30-minute slices of weekly film noir also featured a groundbreaking score by Elmer Bernstein, just before he became a household name for his music for the film The Magnificent Seven. In fact, Cassavetes directed several of the episodes himself, before venturing out into feature films. One of the members of the combo seen on screen includes a very young, and pre-famous, John Williams. Billed here as “Johnny.” And notable guest stars included Michael Landon, Elizabeth Montgomery, and others who were on the verge of their own television success. Long unavailable, Johnny Staccato features all 27 episodes on a three-disc set.

And for fans of movie legend Jimmy Stewart there’s James Stewart: The Western Collection. Which is partially true, as it only includes some of the westerns released by Universal. But there are some goodies here, including 1939’s Destry Rides Again with Marlene Dietrich; three of the westerns Stewart made with legendary director Anthony Mann; and a couple of lesser works, Night Passage and The Rare Breed. Night Passage was to have been another Stewart-Mann collaboration, but a heated disagreement between the two ruptured their partnership beyond repair. One of the good things about Night Passage is that it gave Audie Murphy a chance to play opposite Stewart. Long underappreciated and underused, Audie Murphy proved that he had the right stuff when he worked with the likes of directors John Huston and Joe Mankiewicz. Too bad he didn’t get the chance to add Anthony Mann to his resume. The only down side to this Jimmy Stewart set is, with the exception of Winchester ’73, none of the films have any extra material… not even trailers. But if you don’t own any of these titles, I’m sure they would be a welcome addition to your home collection.


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