Movies Get Classic DVD Treatment
By Jim Bray
Thanks to the DVD
format, great movies have a chance to be great again.
Not only can a DVD
offer the best picture and sound ever seen on home video, but the discs'
high storage capacity also allows for extra goodies to be included, giving
even more incentive to add the title to your collection.
Warner Brothers' "The
Music Man" and "My Fair Lady," along with Republic Pictures'
"Rio Grande" and "Sands of Iwo Jima" are perfect examples
of how the medium can and should be exploited.
1962's "The Music
Man" is the brassy and exuberant movie version of Meredith Willson's
classic Broadway musical about a "flim flammer" of a travelling
salesman who cons an entire town into believing he's going to set up and
train a boys' band. Robert
Preston shines as "Professor" Harold Hill, and Shirley Jones
brings grace, spunk, and wit to "Marian the Librarian," while
the supporting cast (including Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Ron Howard, and
"The Buffalo Bills" barbershop quartet) perfectly complement
It's hard to watch
"The Music Man" without a smile crossing your face. The story,
the songs, the performances, all make this one of the most enjoyable movie
One thing missing
from the home video version - until now - was widescreen. This caused
about half of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio picture to be cut off, leaving the
Buffalo Bills as a barbershop trio and the big, widescreen production
numbers looking like a made for TV movie (except that you just knew
there was more to the shot if only you could see it).
Warner Brothers really
pulled out all the stops with this new release, however. Not only is the
movie restored to its widescreen glory, it's completely remastered as
well. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that this looks
like a 1960's-era movie, you could almost swear it was made today. There
are a few shots in which some flesh tones seem a bit pasty, but they're
by far in the minority, and on the whole, Warners has done a terrific
job of bringing the picture into the 1990's.
Kudos for the audio,
as well. While I'm not always a big fan of making changes to an original
(which can be like painting a moustache onto the Mona Lisa), Warners has
done an excellent job of having the soundtrack remixed into 5.1 Dolby
Digital (from the original two channel stereo) - and it works. The change
has the orchestra still filling the room as it always did, but now the
voices emanate from the area of the TV screen (where they should) - unless
they're singing multiple parts (in which case the people on the left come
from the left, etc.) Bravo!
The restoration alone
would be enough reason to jump for joy at this reissue, but there's more.
Not only do you get such typical extras as chapter stops and fairly detailed
cast/crew information, there's a half hour documentary on the making of
the film, featuring Shirley Jones as narrator and including behind the
scenes shots and commentaries from cast and crew members.
One rather strange
occurrence is the appearance of Shirley Jones at the beginning of the
film, before the movie actually starts. She gives a quick introduction
to the film, which makes you think you've accessed the documentary instead
of the film. You haven't, though, and after a couple of minutes the opening
widescreen image appears and the stop motion animated credits begin.
I would rather have
seen the movie begin by itself, with Jones moved back to the documentary,
but it's easy to get around the introduction by going to the main menu.
And, really - if that's the only thing about which I can complain regarding
this most welcome special edition, then it's still a marvelous DVD achievement.
Pan and scan fans
will be disappointed by this widescreen-only release, and Warners could
easily have included both versions, one on each side (as they often do).
Still, if they're only going to choose one version to release, they definitely
chose the right one.
So sit down and get
ready to be captivated all over again with this classic example of "Hollywoodized"
The Music Man, from
Warner Brothers Home Video
151 minutes, widescreen (2.35:1)
starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, with Ronnie Howard, Pert Kelton,
Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold
Screenplay by Marian Hargrove, from the musical by Meredith Willson
Produced and Directed by Morton DaCosta
Fair Lady a Fair Restoration
Wouldn't it be "loverly"
to see Lerner and Loewe's classic retelling of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalian"
transferred to DVD in its original cinematic glory? Well, "Just You
Wait" until you see the job Warner Brothers did!
Seriously, this is
actually a fairly straightforward transfer of the film as it was restored
for a 1994 theatrical reissue. It isn't as good a restoration as The Music
Man, but on the whole it's extremely satisfying.
My Fair Lady tells
the tale of Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle, who becomes the subject
of a bet between pompous "phoeneticist" Professor 'Enry 'Iggins
(Rex Harrison's Oscar-winning recreation of his stage role) and fellow
linguist Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White). The bet: to transform
Liza's ugly duckling into a swan fit to mingle with the upper crust of
Along the way, Liza
(luminously played by Audrey Hepburn) who's treated like dirt by the haughty
Higgins, blossoms like one of the flowers she used to sell, eventually
falling in love with the hard-driving - and oblivious - professor.
For his part, Higgins
considers Liza as merely a bet, a project, until late in the film when
the transformed and confident Liza leaves him to his books and recordings
- and he discovers to his chagrin that he's "Become accustomed to
her face." This is about as close to a declaration of love this "ordinary
man" who refuses to let a woman in his life can make, but it turns
out to be enough. In an ending guaranteed to have feminists picketing
the video store, Liza returns to Higgins who, in "gratitude,"
orders her to get him his slippers.
Okay, so this isn't
a '90's movie...
My Fair Lady won eight
Academy Awards in 1964, including Best Picture and Best Director, and
it probably deserved most of them - though I'd have picked Mary Poppins
as Best Picture if I'd been asked. It's lavish and lush in the best Hollywood
tradition, with a terrific cast and great songs.
The dual layer, widescreen
DVD looks great for the most part, though I noticed some rippling of colors
- mostly the browns of wood panelling and dark clothing. It's something
only a video snob would notice, however, and didn't detract from my enjoyment
of the film. The audio has been remixed into 5.1 Dolby Digital, and it
sounds very good. As mentioned above, however, I think that Warners did
a better all around job on The Music Man than with this film - but this
is still a great disc!
DVD extras abound,
including a fascinating duo of songs ("Wouldn't it be Loverly"
and "Show Me") with Audrey Hepburn's un-redubbed voice (the
final release used Marni Nixon to replace Hepburn's vocals). This left
me in a real quandary: while Nixon's voice is clearly superior (she used
to "dubble" for a variety of "non-singing" stars -
including Natalie Wood in "West Side Story"), Hepburn does a
pretty credible job on her own and I would have loved to see the whole
film with her voice untouched.
Still, producer Jack
Warner had his reasons and far be it for me to paint a moustache on the
Other DVD extras include
audio play-by-play from art director Gene Allen, Nixon, and the film's
restoration team, and their insights are, shall we say, insightful. There's
also a "behind the scenes" documentary "The Fairest Fair
Lady," and the standard cast/crew bios/filmographies, interactive
menus, trailers, subtitles, and chapter stops. In all, it's another package
that exploits DVD technology beautifully.
With a little bit
of luck, you'll enjoy it, too.
My Fair Lady, from
Warner Brothers Home Video
173 minutes, widescreeen (2.35:1, enhanced for widescreen TV's)
starring Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Wilfred Hyde-White, Stanley Holloway,
Screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner, based on his and Frederick Loewe's musical,
which is based on Pygmalion by G. Bernard Shaw
Produced by Jack L. Warner, Directed by George Cukor
Oliver! won six 1968 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it deserved
The musical is a bouncy
and likable story "freely adapted" from Charles Dickens' "Oliver
Twist," and features wonderful performances, sets, production numbers,
The DVD has been gloriously
restored and mixed into Dolby Surround (not, alas, the Dolby Digital promised
on the package and the menu - but that's okay) and it looks and sounds
The only real problem
with the sound is the dubbed singing voice of Oliver himself, which was
actually sung by Kathy Green, the musical director's daughter. It's a
case of nepotism that should have been condemned, because it sticks out
like a sore thumb and even threatens to spoil a marvelous production number
like "Who Will Buy?"
that voice can't destoy that number, which positively shines. Ditto, too,
for "Consider Yourself;" both production numbers are energetic
and beautifully staged with Onna White's choreography.
Ron Moody is outstanding
as Fagin, the loveable felon and dubious mentor of the band of children.
Oliver Reed is appropriately menacing as bad guy Bill Sikes, Shani Wallace
is a very likable Nancy - and Jack Wild plays The Artful Dodger to the
The film deserves
its place in movie history as one of the great movie musicals, and the
DVD definitely does it justice. It's only in widescreen, our preferred
version if we have to choose, and as mentioned Sony Pictures' restoration
is first rate. You're even given the Overture, Entr'acte, and Exit Music,
which is as it should be.
In a bizarre choice,
Columbia chose to split the movie onto both sides of the DVD, which would
have really rubbed us the wrong way if they hadn't done it at the most
logical time: Intermission. As it stands, it makes a certain sense and
also gives one the opportunity for a pee break without missing anything.
Then again, that's
why there are "pause" controls....
Extras include a decent
liner essay that includes a list of the film's awards, chapter stops,
a photo gallery and a short (but pleasant) feature on the making of the
It's nice to see Oliver!
receiving the loving treatment it deserves for this DVD release and, like
the other musicals reviewed here, it's a film that belongs in the collections
of Hollywood musical fans.
Oliver!, from Columbia
Tristar Home Video
approx 153 minutes, widescreeen (2.35:1), Dolby Surround
starring Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Shani Wallis, Jack Wild,
and Mark Lester
Screenplay by Vernon Harris, from the musical by Lionel Bart
Produced by John Woolf, Directed by Carol Reed
DVD Duo Dynamite
and "Sands of Iwo Jima" have also received loving treatment
in their transfer to DVD. Both have razor sharp black and white images
and the packages say they're both in Dolby Digital audio.
The latter point
seems rather pointless with monaural movies, however. This is okay, though;
these movies remain in mono (as they should, and despite the AC-3 logo)
- and the overall sound quality is fine for movies of this vintage.
Rio Grande is the
third in director John Ford's "Cavalry trilogy," and is a terrific
western yarn. John Wayne stars with Maureen O'Hara and both turn in credible
performances. There's great chemistry between the two, who made this movie
because John Ford wanted them for "The Quiet Man" and the studio
forced him to do "Rio Grande" first.
shows that there's a lot more to him than just being a big lunk. Sure,
he's tough, but he's also very human. O'Hara, for her part, is strong
and sexy in her role as Wayne's ex-wife. The supporting cast is a who's
who of actors well known to westerns, including Chill Wills, Ben Johnson,
and Harry Carey Jr.
You may think you've
seen this story a hundred times, but there's a lot more to this film than
just your average formulaic western. And if you've seen this story a hundred
times, it's because other, lesser entries ripped off John Ford.
Liner notes are reasonably
generous, and there's a twenty minute or so documentary on the making
of the film included on the disc as well. It's written and hosted by film
critic/historian Leonard Maltin, and features insights and interviews
by surviving cast and crew members along with John Wayne's son Michael.
You also get the theatrical
trailer, and the disc also includes French and Spanish language tracks
and captioning in English (with subtitles for French and Spanish).
"Rio Grande" is to dusters, "Sands of Iwo Jima" is
to WWII movies. The makers of "Starship
Troopers" and "Saving Private Ryan," two of the best
war movies of the 1990's, were obviously inspired by its gritty look at
both the camaraderie and horrors of war.
Wayne plays Sergeant
John Stryker, who's about as tough as nails as you'd expect John Wayne
to be - except that here, too, Wayne takes the character beyond that stereotype.
Over the course of the film, Stryker molds his squad of recruits into
a fighting machine and takes them into action on two separate Pacific
island assaults. As they are bloodied and bonded, the Marines grow as
people and as soldiers - but perhaps no one grows more than Stryker himself.
Wayne was nominated
for an Oscar for his turn as Stryker, though I must admit I thought he
was better in Rio Grande. His supporting cast, which includes Forrest
Tucker and John Agar, are well placed in "Sands."
The battle scenes
are spectacular, not only for their special effects and staging, but for
the great job the filmmakers did of including actual footage shot during
the real Marines' assaults on the two islands. If you look closely, however,
you can tell which shots are real: they're grainier than the studio-produced
footage. The high resolution of DVD undoubtedly makes the differences
more noticeable than usual, but it doesn't detract from the story.
Leonard Maltin is
around again for a documentary on making "Sands of Iwo Jima,"
and as with Rio Grande's featurette, it's worth seeing. There's also the
trailer, though liner notes are sparse. Language tracks are available
in English and Spanish, and there's English captioning and French/Spanish
If you want to see
a couple of the best examples of the western and war movie genres the
way Hollywood used to make them in its heyday, "Rio Grande"
and "Sands of Iwo Jima," respectively, are excellent examples
of the species.
They're also terrific
examples of the DVD medium, released in all their full screen glory.
Rio Grande, from Republic
Approx. 100 minutes, Full Screen
Starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.
Screenplay by James Kevin McGuinness, produced by John Ford and Merian
C. Cooper Directed by John Ford
Sands of Iwo Jima,
from Republic Pictures
Approx. 105 minutes, Full Screen
Starring John Wayne, Forrest Tucker, John Agar
Screenplay by Harry Brown and James Edward Grant, Story by Harry Brown
Produced by Merian C. Cooper,
Directed by Allan Dwan
Noon High Drama
Stanley Kramer's dusty
masterpiece has been given its DVD due, with a nice "making of"
documentary and a digital remastering that conforms to the high THX standard
High Noon was groundbreaking
in that it told a more "adult" tale than the average oater of
the time, and in how it unfolds in almost real time: the 90-odd minute
running time is set over a 90-odd minute period of time ending just after
Gary Cooper stars
as our reluctant hero, free to leave town on his honeymoon but bound by
his own sense of honor and duty to stick around, waiting to become a sitting
duck for a baddie he sent up the river five years before - and who's comin'
on the noon train, lookin' for his brand of justice. Cooper won the Oscar
for his performance.
Grace Kelly plays
his Quaker wife, married for about five minutes when he chooses duty over
love. She's bound and determined to leave him on that same noon train
but, well, you'll have to see for yourself how things turn out.
is a masterpiece in many ways, from its script and its performances to
its overall mood and feel. As directed by Fred Zinnemann, it's the quintessential
morality play, as the one decent man in town repeated turns to his friends
and neighbors for help, only to have their backs turned on him - sometimes
for what may seem to the "back turners" very good reasons. In
fact, most of the townspeople aren't really bad; but they're weak, busy,
or otherwise occupied.
Also in the outstanding
cast are Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon
Chaney Jr. Henry Morgan, and Lee van Cleef.
The fullscreen, black
and white DVD release looks and sounds as good as possible for a 1952
movie, and Leonard Maltin's 22 minute documentary does a nice job of putting
the movie into its place in Hollywood history. Other extras include a
special chapter stop that access the Oscar-winning song "Do Not Forsake
Me Oh My Darlin'," sung by Tex Ritter, English, French and Spanish
subtitles, and English, French and Spanish language tracks.
High Noon, from Republic
Approx. 85 minutes, Full Screen, black and white
Starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Thomas Mitchell, Katy
Jurado, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr. Henry Morgan, and Lee van Cleef
Screenplay by Carl Foreman, Produced by Stanley Kramer
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
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