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WGUC Reviews

2007 DVD Collections

2007 DVD Collections

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. 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.

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 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 about 20 bucks. Very few of the films 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 in these collections.

TV series are among the biggest sellers these days. People scarf up entire collections of The Sopranos, the various CSI and Law and Order sets, The Simpsons and I Love Lucy. But for true film buffs, the most logical selection should be a director’s collection. They tend to be a more complete representation of a given filmmakers career, which offers more entertainment bang for your buck, as well as lots of extras.

In the $100 and less category are collections by the great Billy Wilder of all of his United Artists output. The nine films include his Oscar-winning The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie and his vastly underappreciated The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

The Sergio Leone edition features his four westerns A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Duck You Sucker, now on DVD for the first time. Each film comes with a separate disc of extras, and each has been digitally remastered.

Ever hear of Preston Sturges? If yes, you already know this is a must-have set. If not, you should explore this packaging of his seven best films for Paramount in the 1940s. The satirical writer-director is most noted for Miracle of Morgan's Creek, Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story, which are included.

Although a producer, not a director, Val Lewton was a major influence on horror films of the 1940s. Working at RKO studios with minimal budgets, he was the driving force behind a series of gripping tales that were actually more film noir than horror. All that RKO required from Lewton was that he include some sort of supernatural elements and that these elements would fit whatever title and ad campaign the studio foisted on him. From this working environment came such gothic black-and-white gems as The Cat People, The Leopard Man, I Walked with a Zombie, and The Body Snatchers. The set contains ten titles, and is representative of some of the early directorial work of Mark Robson, Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise, who later directed West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

Let’s move along to the truly special “bells and whistles” sets, which will set you back anywhere from two hundred to eight hundred dollars each. Most people know the work of John Ford from his westerns, particularly those with John Wayne. John Ford’s largest body of work was for 20th Century Fox beginning with silent film, and lasting through 1952. Ford at Fox contains 24 films plus a documentary on 21 discs. In addition to remastered versions of the silent titles with new scores, you’ll find such gems as Drums Across the Mohawk with its brilliant Technicolor; Up the River, a rarely seen 1930 prison drama that was the only teaming of Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart; one of the three best westerns ever made, My Darling Clementine with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp; and yes, John Ford even directed a Shirley Temple film…Wee Willie Winkie…which is included too.

One of the most breathtaking efforts in DVD box sets is Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films. There are fifty films on fifty discs, plus a beautiful illustrated book. In this set you’ll find the definitive versions of Carol Reed’s The Third Man; Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes; Michael Powell’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; and Fritz Lang’s M, just for starters.

Last, but certainly not least, look for the release next Tuesday of the United Artists 90th Anniversary Collection. This “double whopper with cheese” of a set features 90 movies, plus extras, on 110 DVDs. The cream of the UA catalog is included, although unfortunately, they don’t give any space to the quirky low-budget or foreign films for which they were noted and appreciated. Still, considering what material is covered, this set will be a welcome addition under any film addicts’ Christmas tree.


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