Icons of Screwball Comedy, Volumes 1 and 2

COUP DE TORCH: At last, Sony has opened the floodgates to their library, and look what’s pouring out—all sorts of goodies for film fanatics. First and foremost are Icons Of Screwball Comedy, Vol. 1 and Icons Of Screwball Comedy, Vol. 2, two wonderful collections of wacky farces.

The first set spotlights the farcical skills of Jean Arthur and Rosalind Russell in a quartet of classics. If You Could Only Cook (1935) offers Herbert Marshall as an auto company tycoon that Arthur mistakes for a fellow member of the unemployed, and who strings along when she answers the want ad taken out by mobster Leo Carrillo for a pair of domestics. Infamous as the release that Columbia advertised abroad as a Frank Capra production (to the director’s outrage), the film was actually helmed by comedy vet William A. Seiter. Too Many Husbands (1940) stars Ms. Arthur as a woman who gets remarried to presumed-dead hubby Fred MacMurray’s business partner Melvyn Douglas. The ensuing complications when MacMurray turns up alive lead to hilarious moments.

The first screen adaptation of My Sister Eileen (1942) features Russell and Janet Blair as the small-town siblings who move to Greenwich Village to pursue their respective aspirations as journalist and actress, and get befriended by a group of oddball characters. You “soitenly” won’t want to miss the cameo at the fade-out. She Wouldn’t Say Yes (1945) bring us Roz as a psychiatrist who gets romantically involved with combat sketch artist Lee Bowman in the course of a fun-filled train ride.

The marquee on the second volume belongs to Irene Dunne and Loretta Young, commencing with Theodora Goes Wild (1936), Dunne’s first foray into comedy, as she plays a small town schoolteacher who gets a dose of big city living after she pens a scandalous best-seller. In Together Again (1944), she’s the mayor of a Vermont town, who finds unexpected romantic entanglement when she commissions sculptor Charles Boyer for a statue of her late husband.

A Night To Remember (1942) showcases Brian Aherne as a mystery writer who, at the request of wife Young, moves to a new apartment to pen romance novels—but finds the neighborhood more inspiring for thrillers; and The Doctor Takes A Wife (1940) offers quick-paced screwball fun with Loretta as a feminist novelist forced to act like she’s married to chauvinist sawbones Ray Milland.

These sets are mighty impressive, and a great sign of things to come from the lady with the torch. Promised down the line are collections of film noir, Toho sci-fi, Samuel Fuller films, Rita Hayworth gems, and “New Hollywood” films from the late 1960-early ‘70s.

LONG LIVE THE QUEEN: It was the only movie Humphrey Bogart won an Oscar for. It’s never been on DVD on our shores because of rights and quality problems. But now, John Huston’s classic 1951 adventure The African Queen will finally dock here. The African Queen (Paramount Centennial Collection) offers Bogey as the hard-drinking captain of a small, rickety boat who takes prim British missionary Katharine Hepburn through the straits of World War I-era East Africa. The film is well-known for the charismatic love-hate relationship of the two characters, the beautiful production, leeches, and, now, the gorgeously restored, print that includes some great extras.

Here’s some trivia on the film you may not have known:

*The movie was independently made by producer Sam Spiegel (Lawrence Of Arabia), which would explain why its rights have moved around from company to company.

*Real leeches were brought in to be used on Bogart, but, ultimately fake ones were used in the memorable scene.

*At various times, the film was to star Bette Davis and either David Niven or James Mason.

*This marked Kate Hepburn’s first film in color and Theodore Bikel’s screen debut.

CAPTAIN KIRK: During the 1950s, Kirk Douglas journeyed overseas to make a few films. One of them was Ulysses, an exciting version of Homer’s Odyssey, in which Kirk plays the brave warrior who encounters incredible adventures while on his way home from the Trojan War. While Penelope (Silvana Mangano) awaits his return, she is pursued by the suitor Antinous (Anthony Quinn). During the course of his excursion, leader Ulysses and his men encounter the Cyclops, the Sirens and other unusual situations. The film is a Movies Unlimited favorite and Lionsgate has finally located a print worthy of a new DVD pressing.

FORD HAD A BETTER IDEA: The life and films of the great filmmaker John Ford are memorably chronicled in Directed By John Ford, a classic 1971 documentary by Peter Bogdanovich. Narrated by Orson Welles, the film delves into the Ford mystique and allows viewers to opportunity to see why he was such a master, thanks to insights from Clint Eastwood, Katharine Hepburn and courtesy of Bogdanovich’s 2006 extended cut, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Clips from his classic movies are plentiful as well.

Speaking of Ford’s finest movies, Wagon Master comes ridin’ onto DVD for the first time. While this 1950 oater isn’t as well-noted as The Searchers or Stagecoach or The Grapes Of Wrath, it’s still a classic: a gorgeously composed study of sixty Mormons’ journey by wagon train across the rugged west to Utah. Ward Bond, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey, Jr. star, while athlete Jim Thorpe has a small part.