Back Street Double Feature and More Coming to DVD

Back Street’s Back, All Right: Among the most requested titles we’ve had over the years has been Back Street, the 1961 adaptation of the Fannie Hurst novel with Susan Hayward as the woman who loves and loses WWII soldier John Gavin, reconnects with him years later, and opts to become his mistress rather than disrupt his family life. Well, good news: It’s coming to DVD on a double feature with the 1941 version starring Charles Boyer and Margaret Sullavan. Any and all films with Ms. Hayward are much desired by classic film fans, but this is the one that is most desired, and the twin bill gives people an opportunity to compare the two approaches to the same story. 

Columbia, the Gem of the Promotion: The MOD wheels keep on turning with Sony continuing to crank out eclectic stuff plucked from their Columbia Studios library. The latest batch includes:

 Neighbors (1981):  Strait-laced suburbanite John Belushi finds the new couple next door (Dan Akroyd, Cathy Moriarty) to be a nightmare in this bizarre dark farce.

 Housekeeping (1987): Scottish helmsman Bill Forsyth takes a sensitive look at the lives of two abandoned young girls taken in by eccentric aunt Christine Lahti.

Berserk! (1967): Grand-dame-Guignol great with Joan Crawford as a diabolical circus owner.

 Yor: The Hunter from the Future (1983): I am?  Reb Brown stars as a post-apocalyptic primitive warrior facing dinosaurs, simian-like creatures and more.

 Mad Dog Coll (1961): Gangster yarn with Telly Savalas, Jerry Orbach and an unbilled Gene Hackman in supporting parts.

 Gidget Goes Hawaii (1961):  Deborah Walley steps into the swimsuit for this surfside saga, which also features Philly guys James Darren and Michael Callan.

 In the French Style (1963): The late, great Jean Seberg is the American gal falling for a Gallic guy while in Paris.

 The Quick Gun (1964): Audie Murphy heads back to the town he left in shame and tries to win back his dignity by battling black hats.

 Criterion Corner: Hey kids! Do you know what time it is? Well, it’s time to thank the folks at Criterion for putting out more great versions of classic, foreign and worth discovering obscure films on DVD and Blu-ray.

 First, we are thrilled to tell you that Island of Lost Souls is finally on its way. This 1933 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau is a creepy affair with Charles Laughton as the mad scientist doctor experimenting with turning animals into humans, Bela Lugosi as “the Sayer of the Law,” Richard Arlen as the shipwrecked traveler who discovers Laughton’s island lair and Kathleen Burke as Lota, the Panther Woman. All sorts of great extras have been compiled for this long-awaited release.     

From the company’s Eclipse series comes Sabu!, which features the Indian teenage actor in three of his most acclaimed films, helmed by Zoltan Korda and produced by Alexander Korda. They are Elephant Boy (1937) (co-directed by documentary great Robert Flaherty), with Sabu in his debut as the young boy longing for his pachyderm pal after it is sent away; The Drum (aka Drums) (1938) has Sabu as a prince out to save British soldiers from being killed while trying to protect his throne from his evil uncle; and The Jungle Book (1942) features Sabu as Mowgli in this version of Rudyard Kipling’s stories.

Speaking of the Kordas, Criterion also has the 1939 version of The Four Feathers galloping onto DVD and Blu-ray. Here, a British Army officer called a coward by fellow soldiers and his fiancée tries to redeem himself by tackling a dangerous mission in Africa. John Clements, Ralph Richardson star.

The otherworldly is represented by two distinctive films. The Phantom Carriage (1921), a Swedish silent film from Victor Sjostrom, influenced Ingmar Bergman to become a filmmaker. It’s about an alcoholic man who learns that he will have to drive the Grim Reaper’s chariot for a year and tries to change his ways. Kuroneko (1968), from Japan’s Kaneto Shindo, centers on a warrior’s attempts to stop a ghost from murdering Samurais in a village.      

Identification of a Woman (1982): Michelangelo Antonioni’s study of a film director (Tomas Milian) newly split from his wife, who engages in affairs with two women as he attempts to cast his next project. 

12 Angry Men (1957) gets the Criterion treatment par excellence with interviews, featurettes and even the Franklin Schaffner-helmed 1954 TV version of Reginald Rose’s riveting courtroom drama. The new transfer of the Sidney Lumet film will, in all likelihood, look great. And who doesn’t like this incredible cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Klugman, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam and Ed Begley.  

Blue, White, Red: Three Colors by Krzysztof Kieslowski presents all three of  Kieslowski’s landmark 1990s studies of women dealing with love, loss and difficult situations collected in a deluxe set. Blue (1993) stars Juliette Binoche as a woman investigating her hubby’s secret life after he dies in a car accident with their daughter. White (1993) stars Julie Delpy as a French wife of a Polish hairdresser who divorces him because of his lackluster sexual abilities. And Red (1994), the late director’s final film, tells of a judge who gets involved with a model (Irene Jacob) who he has been spying on.

Rank and File: VCI Entertainment has been steadily putting out titles from their deal to release 48 movies from the library of England’s Rank Organization. The acclaimed entries keep coming with these latest works:

Reach for the Sky (1956): Kenneth Moore (Dark of the Sun) stars as the real-life Douglas Bader, whose loss of both legs in a flying accident didn’t curtail his bravery as he became a leading fighter pilot during World War II. Lewis Gilbert (You Only Live Twice, Alfie) directed this inspirational saga of a true hero. This is the uncut 136 min. version.

The Silver Fleet (1944): A Danish shipbuilder (Ralph Richardson) allies himself with the Nazis during WWII, much to the chagrin of his workers and wife. Eventually, the ship magnate sees the error of his ways and tries to do his part to stop the spread of Germany’s power. Googie Withers also stars in this look at the human side of the war, produced by the Archers (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger).

The History of Mr. Polly (1949): John Mills delivers a tour de force performance in this fine adaptation of the H.G. Wells story. Mills plays a draper’s assistant who seeks a more fulfilling existence, then has a series of adventures while learning about life and love.

Give ‘Em The Boot: Kino’s Great Italian Directors Collection presents some much requested titles in a superb set (presented also in singles on Blu-ray) of three films (on four discs) that happens to feature a batch of Italian auteurs.  Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Story of a Love Affair (1950) is the first feature effort from the filmmaker, a look at the intricacies of a marriage as wife and hubby become suspicious of each other. Boccaccio ’70 (1962) features beauties Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg and Romy Schneider in stories about the boundaries of lust, helmed by Fellini, De Sica,Visconti and  Monnicelli in the complete 205 min. version of the film. Monicelli directs Casanova ‘70 (1965), with Marcello Mastroianni as a contemporary variation on the world’s greatest lover, who discovers he can only have sex when danger is nearby. Marissa Mell, Michele Mercier, Virna Lisi and Jolanda Modio also star.

Docu Mint: There never seems to be a shortage of terrific documentaries coming out on DVD. Some of these have made theaters, others haven’t, but all are worthwhile for their fascinating takes on their subjects.

New to the field are: 

Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune: You may have heard the name of the singer-songwriter, but what do you know about his life? This incredible documentary gives us first-hand access into what made him tick and what led to his demise. A contemporary of Dylan—as well as an ally and enemy of Mr. Zimmerman—Ochs was one of the leading voices of rebellion and protest in the 1960s and 1970s. Hear and see his story with this superb docu that makes the best of performance and archival footage, photos and great interview subjects.

Bill Cunningham New York: He has two spots in Sunday’s New York Times Style Section, but who in the world is Bill Cunningham? You’ll find out about the 80-year-old bicycle-riding photographer of fashion in this fine true-life chronicle of a man who truly loves his job. Fashion and cultural icons Anna Wintour, Tom Wolfe and Iris Apfel chip in with their insight into Cunningham’s work.        

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop: And he didn’t after getting axed by NBC as host of “the Tonight Show.” This offers an inside look at Conan taking his show on the road after the incident, at home with his kids, meeting other celebs and hobnobbing with fans which he loves and loathes at the same time.

Hot Coffee: The McDonald’s coffee spilling incident that occurred to an elderly woman two decades ago is just one of the incredible stories covered in this tale that shows how the odds are stacked in favor of big corporations in lawsuits. The facts of the cases are revealed in this smart and often infuriating effort.

The Lion Roars, the Gates Open: MGM may be fluid as a working entity these days, but they are dependable in terms of cranking out offbeat and much-desired titles for their MOD schedule.  The newest batch is equivalent to a grab bag of goodies. There is virtually something for everyone here.

The Music Lovers (1970): The life and music of Peter Tchaikovsky seen through the eye of British iconoclast Ken Russell makes for one wild and fanciful ride. Richard Chamberlain is the Russian composer whose fantasies and desires spark his—and the film’s—outrageous nature. Glenda Jackson, Christopher Gable co-star.

The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970): As did the book it is based on, this dramatization of one of the most famous cases of gender reassignment in history caused quite a stir in its day. Peter Hanson plays the before and after Christine.

Little Cigars (1973): Lovely Playboy poser Angel Tompkins plays a mob moll who leads a group of little people gangsters on a crime spree in this unique AIP film.

Top Banana (1954): Phil Silvers recreates his stage persona in this show biz farce—shot in front of an audience—about a comic dealing with the loss of his TV sponsor and the women in his life. Rose Marie also stars.

The Passage (1979): A larger than life (and largely unseen) WWII adventure yarn in which shepherd Anthony Quinn tries to help scientist James Mason escape from France to Spain. Pursuing them is Nazi officer Malcolm McDowell, who has a swastika on his athletic supporter. Kay Lenz, Patricia Neal and Christopher Lee co-star.

Beer (1985): Sharp spoof of Madison Avenue and the beverage industry with David Allen Grier, Rip Torn and Loretta Swit.

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955): Inspired by the six-part TV serial that ran in 1953, this Hammer Studios feature (that’s also known as The Creeping Unknown) tells of an astronaut who returns to Earth and finds himself affected by an alien organism which consumes him and threatens mankind. Brian Donlevy plays the scientist who must track the parasite down and stop it before it spreads.

Sugar Hill (1974): Marki Bey is the title character in this mix of voodoo and blaxploitation, as she raises a zombie army to take on the forces of the shakedown artist (Robert Quarry) who killed her boyfriend.

A Laurel and Hardy Welcome: An extensive collection of some of the best work ever done by the classic comedy team has been compiled in the impressive 10-disc set Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection. Fans of the duo will love this and novices can introduce themselves to great efforts from Stan and Ollie. Feature films include Pardon Us, Pack Up Your Troubles, Sons of the Desert, The Bohemian Girl, Our Relations, Way Out West, Swiss Miss, A Chump at Oxford and Saps at Sea. Short subjects include Brats, The Music Box, Our Wives and their 37 other sound-era shorts for Hal Roach. Talk about your fine messes!

It’s Warner, Brother: Once again, Warner proves there’s little rhyme or reason to what they are releasing Archive-style, but we’re certainly not complaining since they are putting out a diverse group of winners.

Some of the stuff that’s on the way:

The Lucille Ball RKO Comedy Collection, Vol. 1: Mindful of Lucy’s centenary celebration, Warner has trotted out a trio of early triumphs from the redhead’s resume, co-starring such radio luminaries as Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Fibber McGee and Molly, Joe Penner, and many more. Featured are Go Chase Yourself (1938), Next Time I Marry (1938) and Look Who’s Laughing (1941).

The Catered Affair (1956): Well-loved drama from Paddy Chayefsky offers Bette Davis as the Bronx housewife determined to throw a wedding feast that bride-to-be daughter Debbie Reynolds doesn’t want and that cabbie hubby Ernest Borgnine can’t afford.

The Gazebo (1958): Dark farce stars Glenn Ford as a harried TV director stalked by a blackmailer with photos that would compromise his happy marriage to Debbie Reynolds, and who scheme to fatally get rid of the threat goes awry.

Across the Wide Missouri (1951): High adventure on the frontier with Clark Gable as a trapper whose best resort for keeping the Blackfoot at bay is to take the chief’s daughter in marriage. Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak co-star under William A. Wellman’s direction.

Lone Star (1952): More period action with Gable, as he plays a cattle baron exhorted by Andrew Jackson to dissuade Sam Huston and the Texas pols from seeking independence as a republic. All-star support comes courtesy of Ava Gardner, Lionel Barrymore, Broderick Crawford and Ed Begley.

Julie (1956): One of the most off-beat efforts on Doris Day’s resume—and one of our most requested—offers Dodo as a newly-widowed stewardess caught up in a whirlwind courtship from suave Louis Jourdan—and who slowly discovers to her horror that her new love has killed to possess her.

Cry Terror! (1958): Another claustrophobic chiller from Julie director Andrew L. Stone offers James Mason as an electronics engineer who finds his family kidnapped by ex-colleague turned extortionist Rod Steiger, who dangles their lives in exchange for Mason’s skills and cooperation in an airline bomb plot.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973): Just in time for the Katie Holmes-Guy Pearce remake to hit theatres, the Archives has re-issued the original Kim Darby-Jim Hutton haunted house telefilm in a remastered edition with a new transfer and audio commentary.

As for releases down the road from the Archives, fans of a certain ‘60s TV spy series are sure to cry U.N.C.L.E. when they see this slate. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: 8-Movie Collection offers the octet of theatrically-released features that were culled from episodes and extra footage back in the high-espionage heyday of Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum).

Further forthcoming is The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series, which collects all 29 episodes of the ’66-’67 spinoff featuring Stefanie Powers as lady agent April Dancer.

Lastly, U.N.C.L.E. star Vaughn headlines The Venetian Affair (1967) as a former operative, now a journalist, investigating a bombing at a European peace conference. Elke Sommer and Boris Karloff co-star in this suspenser made when U.N.C.L.E. was king.