Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Tony Curtis, Errol Flynn, Bob Hope, Rock Hudson, Mae West…these are just a few of the Hollywood icons featured in this week’s roster of vintage Universal and Paramount movies new on DVD as part of the Universal Vault series. Some were available only in collections, but now are out as singles, while many much-requested titles are making their home video debut. From swashbuckling pirate adventure (and comedy) and frontier action to patriotic musicals and dramas guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings, it’s a selection that no film fan can afford to miss:
Against All Flags (1952) – With rapier in one hand and rope in the other, Errol Flynn swings back into action as Brian Hawke, a 1700s British naval officer charged with stopping pirate Anthony Quinn from looting ships around the island of Madagascar. Maureen O’Hara provides the romance as a feisty female freebooter who sets her sights on Flynn in this lively adventure saga. With Mildred Natwick, Robert Warwick.
Buccaneer’s Girl (1950) – While plundering a rival’s cargo, Captain Frederic Baptiste (Philip Friend) finds an unexpected treasure amongst the booty…beauteous stowaway Deborah McCoy (Yvonne De Carlo), who manages to charm her way into an escape. Making her way to New Orleans, she carves a career as an entertainer, eventually meeting the good captain again, in his pose as a local aristocrat. Will love keep her from blowing his cover? Robert Douglas, Elsa Lanchester, Lloyd Nolan co-star.
Calamity Jane and Sam Bass (1949) – Let go of the fact that these notorious contemporaries of the American West never actually met, and you’ll enjoy this rip-roaring oater chronicling the rapid rise of Sam Bass (Howard Duff) from scuffling stage guard to dreaded outlaw, as he juggled the affections of a pretty shopkeeper (Dorothy Hart) and the sharp-shooting, saddle-busting Calamity Jane (Yvonne De Carlo). Norman Lloyd, Lloyd Bridges, Marc Lawrence co-star.
Desire (1936) – Glamorous jewel thief Madeleine de Beaupre (Marlene Dietrich) uses an American car designer (Gary Cooper) she meets on a train to carry the pearls she lifted in Paris past Spanish customs agents. Romance ensues between the two strangers, but can Madeleine give up her criminal ways for the promise of a life happily ever after…in Detroit? This sparkling tale was produced by Ernst Lubitsch and co-stars John Halliday, William Frawley and Ernest Cossart.
Double Crossbones (1951) – Made a patsy on trumped-up piracy charges by a corrupt governor, hapless shopkeeper’s assistant Davy Crandall (Donald O’Connor) books escape passage with a dreaded privateer…and is left alone onboard when the crew abandons ship! Docking in Tortuga, a rogues’ gallery of history’s most notorious pirates readily take him into their ranks, in this swashbuckling satire. Helena Carter, Will Geer, Charles McGraw, and Hope Emerson co-star.
Frenchman’s Creek (1944) – Seventeenth-century Europe is the setting for this swashbuckling high seas romance based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel. Joan Fontaine stars as Dona St. Columb, an English noblewoman, fed up with a failing marriage, who falls in love with charismatic French pirate Jean Benoit Aubrey (Arturo de Córdova). Poor Dona has to deal not only with her new love’s occupation, but also his British “business partner” Lord Rockingham (Basil Rathbone), who is quite the backstabber. Ralph Forbes and Nigel Bruce also star.
Frontier Gal (1945) – When stranger in town Jonathan Hart (Rod Cameron) strode into the saloon owned by Lorena Dumont (Yvonne De Carlo), it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, the law dragged him away shortly after the wedding night. Released after seven years, he finds a marriage he’s not sure he wants…a 6-year-old daughter…and an old enemy (Sheldon Leonard) out to kidnap the girl for revenge. Unusual sagebrusher co-stars Andy Devine, Fuzzy Knight and Clara Blandick.
The General Died at Dawn (1936) -An American-born soldier of fortune (Gary Cooper) agrees to undertake a perilous journey across China, carrying money in order to purchase guns for a “peasants’ rebellion” against a tyrannical warlord (Akim Tamiroff), but is the beautiful woman (Madeline Carroll) Cooper meets on his journey friend or foe? Grand adventure saga from writer Clifford Odets and director Lewis Milestone also stars Porter Hall and William Frawley.
The Golden Blade (1953) – In ancient Persia, young Basran Haroun (Rock Hudson) sojourns to Baghdad in search of those who killed his father. His adventures bring him into contact with a disguised princess (Piper Laurie), a treacherous vizier (George Macready) and a miraculous golden sword prophesied to unite the caliphate–and that can only be wielded by the righteous. Colorful costumer co-stars Gene Evans, Stephen Geray; keep an eye out for Anita Ekberg, Dennis Weaver, Guy Williams.
The Great Impostor (1961) – Tony Curtis is “great” indeed in the title role of Ferdinand Waldo Demara, the colorful New England-born, self-educated hoaxer who roamed the globe and pulled off impersonating a school teacher, a prison warden, a surgeon in the Canadian Navy, and a Trappist monk. This amazing true-life drama also stars Edmond O’Brien, Karl Malden and Arthur O’Connell.
Gypsy Wildcat (1944) – In Renaissance Europe, a devious baron (Douglas Dumbrille) engineers the murder of a count, and arranges for the blame to be placed upon a recently-decamped Gypsy band. The baron’s messenger (Jon Hall), however, can’t countenance the injustice…and pledges his aid to a lovely Gypsy woman (Maria Montez) who bears a stunning secret. Intriguing change of locale for the Montez-Hall team co-stars Nigel Bruce, Leo Carrillo, Gale Sondergaard, and Peter Coe.
Klondike Annie (1936) – After killing her lover in self-defense, late 1800s Barbary Coast madam Mae West hops an Alaska-bound freighter and soon winds up impersonating an evangelist in order to elude the law. Offbeat West entry mixes comedy, drama and music; songs include “It’s Better to Give Than to Receive” and “I’m an Occidental Woman in an Oriental Mood.” With Victor McLaglen, Phillip Reed.
Louisiana Purchase (1941) – Zesty comedy with music finds Bob Hope as a naïve Louisiana state assemblyman who gets set up by his crooked colleagues to take the fall in a scandal involving misappropriated federal money. When a visiting U.S. senator from New England arrives to get to the bottom of things, a beautiful New Orleans restaurant owner (Irene Bordoni) tries to help out Bob. Vera Zorina and Victor Moore also star in this engaging political satire with such Irving Berlin tunes as “It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow.”
Madame Sousatzka (1988) -Shirley MacLaine brings her considerable charisma to bear as Madame Sousatzka, a stuffy, intractable Russian émigré living in London and working as a demanding piano teacher. It’s a battle of wills and a joining of destinies when Sousatzka finds herself at odds with her most promising disciple, a teenage Indian boy. Navin Chowdhry, Peggy Ashcroft and Twiggy co-star under the direction of John Schlesinger.
River Lady (1948) – Yvonne De Carlo shines in this rousing adventure as the operator of a profitable gambling riverboat on the Mississippi. After falling for a handsome logger who doesn’t return her affections, she tries to buy his love by purchasing a local sawmill and hiring him as its manager. As if she didn’t have enough to contend with, De Carlo must also deal with the amorous feelings of her business partner. With Dan Duryea, Rod Cameron and Helena Carter.
Romanoff and Juliet (1961) – Weary of the pressure and lobbying from both sides of the Iron Curtain for support on a critical U.N. vote, a dignitary (Peter Ustinov, who wrote and directed) from a postage-stamp nation decides to tweak his tormentors by sparking a love connection between a Soviet ambassador’s son (John Gavin) and an American delegate’s daughter (Sandra Dee). Cheeky blend of romantic comedy and geopolitical satire co-stars Akim Tamiroff and Alix Talton.
Skylark (1941) – Furious that her fifth-anniversary present was picked out by his secretary, Lydia Kenyon (Claudette Colbert) storms out on her oblivious adman husband Tony (Ray Milland). Though she starts out enjoying the focused attentions of lawyer Jim Blake (Brian Aherne), will his fast-paced lifestyle make Lydia realize where the grass was greener? Romantic charmer co-stars Binnie Barnes, Walter Abel and Grant Mitchell.
Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) – A parade of Hollywood’s biggest stars was enlisted for this tuneful and comedic WWII morale booster. Eddie Bracken stars as a sailor who brings his pals to Paramount Studios to meet his father, a guard and one-time cowboy star who pretends to be a movie honcho. Bing Crosby, Betty Hutton, Bob Hope, Alan Ladd, Mary Martin, Dick Powell and Victor Moore lead the stellar cast; songs include “Hit the Road to Dreamland,” “Old Glory” and “A Sweater, A Sarong and a Peek-a-Boo Bang.”
The Truth About Spring (1965) – In the Caribbean, a carefree charter skipper (John Mills) and his tomboyish daughter (Hayley Mills) make the acquaintance of a young lawyer (James MacArthur) come to visit his rich yachtsman uncle (David Tomlinson). While the old seadog fills the attorney’s head with notions of sunken treasure, is he just trying to dredge up a love match for his little girl? Colorful family adventure co-stars Lionel Jefferies, Harry Andrews, Niall MacGinnis.
Yankee Buccaneer (1952) – Hoping to give his sea-weary crew a break, 19th-century U.S. Naval commander David Porter (Jeff Chandler) suddenly finds himself saddled with a headstrong new second officer–David Farragut (Scott Brady)–and a new mandate: Disguise his frigate as a pirate vessel and root out the real freebooters plundering American merchant ships. Effective marine saga co-stars Joseph Calleia, Suzan Ball, David Janssen, and Michael Ansara.