The folks behind Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s Universal Vault series are certainly making up for the lead that the Warner Archive and Sony Choice collections have on them in putting classic movies out on DVD, thanks to this week’s release of yet another star-studded roster of vintage films from the company’s vast library (which also includes pre-1950 Paramount titles). Some of these had only been available in sets before, while others are making their home video debut. From lavish costume actioners and historical dramas to zany comedies and noir thrillers, there’s something here to whet every movie buff’s appetite. We’d like to take a moment and spotlight 20 of the most intriguing pre-1960 movies now available for purchase (you can see the week’s complete new release listings here):
Artists & Models (1937) – A struggling ad man (Jack Benny) agrees to judge a debutante beauty contest in order to appease his wealthy–and last–client (Richard Arlen), and his disgruntled staffer (Ida Lupino) contrives to pose as a blueblood in order to join the competition. Musical confection helmed by Raoul Walsh co-stars Gail Patrick, Ben Blue, Judy Canova, Martha Raye, Louis Armstrong; score includes the Oscar-nominated “Whispers in the Dark.”
Cattle Drive (1951) – In this prairie-set take on “Captains Courageous,” a railroad magnate’s spoiled son (Dean Stockwell) finds himself lost in the desert until he’s found by a cattle drover (Joel McCrea) and his men. Having to earn his safe passage to San Diego, the callow kid learns hard lessons in responsibility and manhood during the course of the journey. Chill Wills, Leon Ames, Henry Brandon, Bob Steele also star.
Cobra Woman (1944) – In the South Seas, a young woman (Maria Montez) is spirited away by kidnappers to a neighboring isle, leading her betrothed (Jon Hall) and his best friend (Sabu) on a quest to get her back. It turns out that the abductee is the separated-at-birth sister of a snake cult’s high priestess (Montez)…and she doesn’t want any competition for her crown. Colorful, gloriously campy adventure co-stars Lon Chaney, Jr., Samuel S. Hinds; Robert Siodmak directs.
Flame of Araby (1951) -Understandably wanting to get out of a betrothal to either of two oafish corsair brothers, a willful Tunisian princess (Maureen O’Hara) is determined to capture a magnificent black stallion to race for her freedom. However, a Bedouin chieftain (Jeff Chandler) wants the steed for his own, and the hunt across the sands leads to rivalry and romance. Lush costume adventure co-stars Lon Chaney, Jr., Buddy Baer, Susan Cabot, Richard Egan.
Flesh and Fantasy (1943) – A trio of fantastic “twist ending” tales comprises this hauntingly memorable anthology. A plain woman (Betty Field) hopes a supposedly enchanted Mardi Gras mask can charm a handsome reveler (Robert Cummings); a socialite (Edward G. Robinson) who mocked a psychic (Thomas Mitchell) comes to rue a prediction of murder; and an aerialist (Charles Boyer) meets the woman of his dreams (Barbara Stanwyck)…but those dreams involve his death fall. Robert Benchley co-stars.
The Good Fairy (1935) – Wide-eyed Hungarian theater usherette Lu Ginglebusher (Margaret Sullavan) meets amorous meat-packing magnate Konrad (Frank Morgan) at a party. Uninterested in his romantic intentions, Lu forwards his many gifts to one poor soul, lawyer Max Sporum (Herbert Marshall), in exchange for his posing as her husband. Complications arise when Konrad hires Max, but only so he can send his competition off to South America! Romantic comedy also stars Alan Hale; directed by William Wyler.
Here Come the Waves (1944) -Terrific tuner with Bing Crosby as Johnny Cabot, a singing idol who joins pal Windy (Sonny Tufts) in the Navy during World War II. Although he’s seeking combat action, Johnny becomes the director of benefit shows and soon falls in love with a woman who has an identical twin (both played by Betty Hutton). Songs include “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” “That Old Black Magic,” and “I Promise You.”
If I Were King (1938) – Ronald Colman shines as French poet Francois Villon, champion of the poor in 15th-century Paris. When he murders an oppressive official, Villon is given a week by King Louis XI (Basil Rathbone) to improve the conditions he has condemned…or else he’ll lose his head. With Frances Dee, Ellen Drew; written by Preston Sturges.
Man in the Shadow (1957) – The death of an immigrant laborer on the property of Texas rancher Virgil Renchler (Orson Welles) brings the wealthy and powerful landowner into conflict with newly appointed sheriff Ben Sadler (Jeff Chandler), who is convinced Renchler and his henchmen were responsible for the killing, in this contemporary western drama. Colleen Miller, Ben Alexander, and James Gleason also star. AKA
Million Dollar Legs (1932) -Surreal slapstick and satire mix in director Eddie Cline’s offbeat comedy, made to coincide with (and spoof) the Los Angeles-held 1932 Olympic Games. W.C. Fields stars as the president of Klopstokia, a tiny mythical nation whose residents are all superior athletes and which intends to make a name for itself by entering the Olympics. The cast of crazies also includes Jack Oakie, Andy Clyde, Ben Turpin, Hugh Herbert, and Lyda Roberti.
Next Time We Love (1936) – Though an ambitious journalist (James Stewart) falls head over heels for an aspiring actress (Margaret Sullavan), and vice versa, their new marriage gets a severe testing with her first Broadway break and his winning of a foreign correspondent’s position. Who’ll be the one to put career second when matters reach a crisis point? Affecting drama co-stars Ray Milland, Grant Mitchell.
Phantom Lady (1944) – Crackerjack film noir concerning a secretary who joins forces with a detective to find the person who killed her boss’s wife–a crime he has been sentenced to die for. Can they find the woman with the unusual hat who was with her boss on that fateful night? Ella Raines, Thomas Gomez, Franchot Tone, Alan Curtis, and Elisha Cook, Jr. (featured in a famous drumming sequence) star.
Ride a Crooked Trail (1958) – When outlaw Joe Maybe (Audie Murphy) pulled up in Webb City, the locals mistook him for the famed marshal who was coming to bring them law and order. Joe, seeing an opportunity to case the bank, was in no hurry to correct them. Will he be able to keep up the deception, as assorted disreputable old “friends” show up in town? Comedy-tinged oater co-stars Walter Matthau, Henry Silva, Gia Scala.
Ride Clear of Diablo (1954) – Coming home to the family ranch to find his father and brother slain, surveyor Clay O’Mara (Audie Murphy) seeks a deputy’s badge so he can bring in those responsible. After forming a tenuous alliance with a wanted gunslinger (Dan Duryea), Clay finds to his shock that the guilty party might have been under his nose the whole time. Frontier thriller co-stars Susan Cabot, Abbe Lane, Russell Johnson, Paul Birch.
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) – Very proper English “gentleman’s gentleman” Marmaduke Ruggles (Charles Laughton) will have to stiffen his upper lip as never before when his dissipated nobleman employer (Roland Young) loses his services in a card game to a raucous American rancher (Charlie Ruggles), and he now has to acclimate to the Wild West. Leo McCarey’s culture clash comedy classic co-stars Mary Boland, ZaSu Pitts, Leila Hyams.
Texas Rangers Ride Again (1940) -This sequel to 1936’s “The Texas Rangers” stars Broderick Crawford and John Howard as Rangers who disguise themselves as cowboys to investigate the operations at a ranch. They uncover the foreman’s devious scheme to slaughter the ranch’s cattle and ship them off to market. Ellen Drew and Anthony Quinn also star.
Thunder Bay (1953) – Convinced that oil is plentiful in the seabed off the Gulf of Mexico, a pair of wildcatters (James Stewart, Dan Duryea) get their backers to stake them to a platform off of a Louisiana coastal town. The struggling local shrimpers, though, aren’t happy with the intrusion, and the tensions might blow sky-high well before any gusher. Anthony Mann’s thrilling adventure-drama co-stars Gilbert Roland, Joanne Dru, Marcia Henderson, Jay C. Flippen.
Variety Girl (1947) – Practically the entire talent roster of Paramount Pictures lent their services to this all-star musical, made to benefit the Variety Club children’s charity. Two young women with dreams of stardom come to Hollywood and work their way onto the studio’s lot, running into such stars as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Ray Milland, Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Godard, Dorothy Lamour, Burt Lancaster, William Holden, Pearl Bailey, Sonny Tufts, and even Cecil B. DeMille.
We’re Not Dressing (1934) – Musical precursor to “Gilligan’s Island” stars Bing Crosby as a deckhand on a ship populated by high-society types who gets to give the orders when the vessel shipwrecks on a South Seas island. Carole Lombard, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Ethel Merman, Leon Errol, and Ray Milland co-star; songs include “It’s a Lie,” “May I?,” and “She Reminds Me of You.”
Woman in Hiding (1950) – After her manufacturer father perished in a factory mishap, Deborah Chandler (Ida Lupino) was consoled, and then wooed, by plant foreman Selden Clark (Stephen McNally). On the honeymoon, she learns to her terror that her new husband had arranged her dad’s “accident”…and that he’s got another in the works. Can a drifter (Lupino’s future husband Howard Duff) get her out of this alive? Peggy Dow, John Litel co-star.