Ladd, Lombard, Wayne and More in New Universal Vault DVD Releases


Every month, it seems, the good folk at Universal Pictures Home Video come up with another selection of vintage movies from their Universal and pre-1950 Paramount roster to release on home video, and every month classic film fans get a chance to own some of their favorite flicks. Many of the titles are new to DVD, while some have only been available in collections or boxed sets, but there’s always sure to be something for all tastes and interests. From screwball laughs with Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and James Stewart to exotic romance with Marlene Dietrich and Jeanette MacDonald; from a timeless frontier drama with John Wayne to the Duke’s…shall we say, unique portrayal of Genghis Khan; and from Boris Karloff as a bald-headed executioner to Burl Ives as a genie who grants Tony Randall’s wishes, it’s a veritable cinematic cornucopia (and just in time for Fall!). We’re shining the MovieFanFare spotlight on 20 of the most requested and most interesting titles, but you can click here to see all the week’s new releases.

AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY BOXThe Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943) –  In a change-of-pace from her usual “feisty teen” roles, Deanna Durbin plays an American schoolteacher working in China who pretends to be a shipping magnate’s widow so she can get a group of war orphans into the United States. Durbin still manages to sing some songs (including two in Chinese). The WWII seriocomedy also stars Edmond O’Brien, Barry Fitzgerald and Arthur Treacher.

ANGEL 1937 BOXAngel (1937) – This lavish tale of marital strife and desire from Ernst Lubitsch starring Marlene Dietrich as the bored wife of a British nobleman who meets a handsome American (Melvyn Douglas) while vacationing on her own in Paris. Sparks fly between the two, but they’re shocked to discover that Dietrich’s husband and her new paramour were friends during World War I. Herbert Marshall, Laura Hope Crews and Edward Everett Horton also star.

BELLE OF THE NINETIES BOXBelle of the Nineties (1934) – Gay ’90s New Orleans singer Mae West heats up “The Big Easy” as Ruby Carter, “the most talked about woman in America,” in this racy romp. Mae juggles romances with a boxer and a millionaire while avoiding her flirtatious boss. There’s lots of wild West one-liners and music by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, including the song “My Old Flame.” With Roger Pryor and Johnny Mack Brown.

BIG BROWN EYESBig Brown Eyes (1936) – Determined to prove to her plainclothesman boyfriend (Cary Grant) that she’s just as capable a sleuth, a manicurist (Joan Bennett) finagles a press job with the promise she can get the goods on an insurance fraud racket. When she uncovers the real mastermind, will she be the one who winds up polished off? Comedy-thriller co-stars Walter Pidgeon, Lloyd Nolan, Douglas Fowley, Isabell Jewell; Raoul Walsh directs.

BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH BOXThe Black Shield of Falworth (1954) – Exciting medieval adventure saga stars Tony Curtis as the son of a disgraced English earl who trains to become a knight. Along the way Curtis also manages to defeat a conspiracy to dethrone King Henry IV, reclaim his family’s honor, and win the hand of fair Janet Leigh (this was the then-couple’s second film together). Herbert Marshall, David Farrar and Barbara Rush also star.

BRASS BOTTLE BOXThe Brass Bottle (1964) – Architect Harold Ventimore (Tony Randall) should’ve kept the receipt for the antique bottle he acquired, as it turned out to contain a very overaccomodating genie (Burl Ives)! The amiable djinn’s magical efforts to make life easier for his new master only cause havoc for Harold and his flustered fiancee (TV-genie-to-be Barbara Eden). Fun fantasy-comedy co-stars Edward Andrews, Ann Doran, Kamala Devi.

CONQUEROR 1956 BOXThe Conqueror (1956) – A sweeping historical spectacle that became notorious for its unique casting (John Wayne as famed Mongol leader Genghis Khan, Susan Hayward as theTartar princess he abducts to become his bride) as well as its on-location shooting near atomic test sites in Utah (many of the nearby townspeople and the film’s stars later suffered health problems). The supporting cast includes Pedro Armendariz, Agnes Moorehead and William Conrad; Dick Powell directs.

GLASS KEY BOXThe Glass Key (1942) – Dashiell Hammett’s tale of political corruption, blackmail and murder stars Alan Ladd as an aide to political boss Brian Donlevy who must clear his boss’ name when Donlevy’s accused of killing a candidate’s son. Veronica Lake supplies the love interest and William Bendix plays a mob muscleman; look for one fight scene where Bendix actually knocked out Ladd!

HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE BOXHands Across the Table (1935) – Snappy screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard as a manicurist about to wed wealthy Ralph Bellamy for his fortune when penniless playboy Fred MacMurray walks into her life. Will Lombard and MacMurray, who’s also about to marry for money, ditch their prospective spouses for true love? With Astrid Allwyn, Marie Prevost and William Demarest.

LADY IN A JAM BOXLady in a Jam (1942) – Having frittered away her inheritance, an incorrigible socialite (Irene Dunne) seeks professional help, and her therapist (Patric Knowles) opts to accompany her west as she seeks a handout from her grandmother. Granny tells her she can try her luck in the family’s played-out gold mine, but will her putterings wind up sparking a stampede of prospectors? Fun farce co-stars Ralph Bellamy, Eugene Pallette.

LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST BOXLove Before Breakfast (1936) – Kay Colby (Carole Lombard) was saddened when her boyfriend (Cesar Romero) got a two-year stint in Japan to go along with his promotion. The tears turned to anger when she learned the whole thing was engineered by his covetous boss (Preston Foster), who’s used to getting what he wants…and what he wants is her! She proves to have some dirty tricks of her own in this crisp comedy; Janet Beecher, Joyce Compton also star.

LOVE ME TONIGHT BOXLove Me Tonight (1932) – Marvelously inventive musical romance with Maurice Chevalier as Maurice Courtelin, a charming Parisian tailor whose efforts to help a shady nobleman (Charlie Ruggles) out of a jam magically lead him to Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald). Maurice and Jeanette fall in love, but how will the she react when she discovers his humble heritage? Myrna Loy, Charles Butterworth co-star. The Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart score includes the title tune and “Isn’t It Romantic.”

MISSISSIPPI 1935 BOXMississippi (1935) – Classic musical comedy, set in the late 1800s South, finds pacifist Bing Crosby rejected by his fiancee’s family after refusing to take part in a duel. Riverboat captain W.C. Fields hires Crosby as a performer and, after an altercation with a man who accidentally shoots himself–bills the crooner as “the Singing Killer” to boost business. Songs by Rodgers and Hart include “Down by the River,” “Soon” and “Easy to Remember.” With Joan Bennett, Gail Patrick.

NOW AND FOREVER 1934 BOXNow and Forever (1934) – Con man Gary Cooper is reunited with young daughter Shirley Temple, who was sent to live with relatives after her mother’s death, and takes the tyke with him on his scams while trying to get to know her better. For the sake of the child, girlfriend Carole Lombard tries to talk Cooper into going straight, but can this crook say goodbye to crime for good? With Charlotte Granville.

PRINCESS COMES ACROSS BOX COVERThe Princess Comes Across (1936) – Wacky romantic comedy showcases Carole Lombard as a wannabe actress from New York posing as a Swedish socialite while on a transatlantic cruise. After falling for bandleader Fred MacMurray (who performs “My Concertina”), Lombard and her new flame become prime suspects in a passenger’s murder. William Frawley, Sig Rumann co-star.

SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS BOXThe Shepherd of the Hills (1941) – John Wayne excels in this oft-filmed story, playing a young Ozark Mountain moonshiner who seeks vengeance on his father for abandoning him and his mother years earlier. When a kindly old man moves to the area, Wayne befriends him, but soon learns he is, in fact, his father, and attempts to even the score. Betty Field, Harry Carey, James Barton also star.

TILLIE AND GUS BOXTillie and Gus (1933) – Hilarious comedy stars W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth as husband-and-wife con artists Augustus and Tillie Winterbottom. When their niece’s father dies, the duo arrives to visit her with hopes of inheriting a fortune. After learning that the dead man’s property consists of one run-down ferry, they fix up the boat and get involved in a race against a scheming lawyer. With Baby LeRoy, Jacqueline Wells.

TOWER OF LONDON 1939 BOXTower of London (1939) – The bloody reign of King Richard III was the basis for this atmospheric Universal thriller. Basil Rathbone stars as the crippled monarch who eliminates all rivals to his throne with the help of bald, clubfooted executioner Boris Karloff. A young Vincent Price appears as a prince drowned by the scheming Rathbone in a vat of wine; with Nan Grey, Barbara O’Neill.

VIRGINIAN 1946 BOXThe Virginian (1946) – Joel McCrea stars as the wandering gunslinger of few words (among them, “When you call me that, smile”) who must go against old friend Sonny Tufts, a member of Brian Donlevy’s gang of rustlers, in this colorful remake of the classic Owen Wister frontier drama. Barbara Britton and William Frawley also star.

YOU GOTTA STAY HAPPY BOXYou Gotta Stay Happy (1948) – When wealthy bride Joan Fontaine decides–on her wedding night–that she’s made a mistake, she runs away and wrangles a ride with pilot James Stewart, who owns a near-bankrupt air cargo company, on a wacky cross-country flight that also includes an escaped criminal, a honeymooning couple, a shipment of lobsters and a cigar-smoking chimp! Wild romantic comedy also stars Eddie Albert, Roland Young.