Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection is a handsomely packaged hard box with raised lettering that includes the witty writer's unique movies The Great McGinty, Hail the Conquering Hero, The Great Moment, Christmas in July, the hilarious Sullivan's Travels, The Lady Eve—one of Barbara Stanwyck's best pictures—and The Palm Beach Story starring Claudette Colbert and Sturges regular Joel McCrea. This discs-only collection offers terrific screenwriting and glimmering performances in light, American comedies. Perfect for the classic movie fan or anyone who says "they don't make 'em like they used to."
HarveyToons: The Complete Collection features cartoon characters Baby Huey, Little Audrey, Herman and Katnip and, of course, Casper the Friendly Ghost on a four double-sided disc set with 52 original cartoon episodes. The hard-boxed set does not come with a booklet or information about the shorts, which were popular during the 1940s and 1950s and rerun during kids' morning TV shows for decades. In one 1952 gem, Casper is rejected by the scary ghosts and winds up on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Another animated work, the 1974 musical sequel, Journey Back to Oz, featuring Liza Minnelli as Dorothy Gale, the role originated by her mother, Judy Garland in MGM's The Wizard of Oz, is now available on a colorful, slip-cased DVD. Featuring the voices of Milton Berle, Mel Blanc, Margaret Hamilton (the wicked witch in the original), Paul Lynde, Mickey Rooney, Danny Thomas and Ethel Merman as Mombi the witch, this rarely seen movie is 88 minutes long with new songs and original Frank Baum characters. The DVD includes audio commentary, interviews, an image gallery, trailers, a sing-a-long feature and a DVD-ROM with a first draft script and music sheets. Kids and Wizard fans are likely to enjoy this for what it is.
The same goes for Lassie, this year's unnoticed remake, which premieres on DVD with an Animal Planet feature, cast and crew interviews, a behind-the-scenes bit, animal auditions, deleted scenes and outtakes. The movie starring Peter O'Toole appears in widescreen, with a chapter selection card inside the double latch plastic case. (Gift tip: this disc and Frank Marshall's Eight Below make for a generous double feature DVD set for dog lovers.)
A bright, hardboiled lawyer defending the seemingly indefensible is the title character in Perry Mason: Season 1, Volume 1 and Perry Mason: Season 1, Volume 2. The classic TV series stars Raymond Burr as the brilliant, fact-based defense attorney, Barbara Hale as his loyal secretary Della Street and William Hopper as dogged detective Paul Drake. The second volume includes five discs in three thin cases for a total of 20 episodes (17 hours, 23 minutes). Volumes one and two are available together or separately. These early Perry Mason episodes depict a particular type of crime drama—a teleplay with the hero on a deadline to solve the case and defend his client using only his reasoning mind in pursuit of relevant facts—that's rarely seen these days.
A sampler of one of television's longest-running programs, Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection (the law and order Western that ran from 1955 to 1975), should satisfy the casual fan and whet the appetite for the uninitiated. The boxed set contains 15 episodes created by those who would go on to direct Mary Poppins, Love Story, On Golden Pond and McLintock! Features include CBS Radio broadcasts, audio commentary and an interview with star Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty) on The Mike Douglas Show. Total running time is 9 hours, 45 minutes, with episodes both in black and white and in color.
Mission: Impossible: The Complete First TV Season, all 28 first season episodes on seven discs, proves that there is virtually no relation between the loud, vapid action movies and the original 1967 series. With Steven Hill as leader, Greg Morris as technology genius, Peter Lupus as strongman, Martin Landau as master of disguise and Barbara Bain as cool, beautiful Cinnamon, the token female, the strength of the ABC series was the unity of its uniquely skilled team of individuals who use their brains to take down dictators and communist spies—set to Lalo Schifrin's insistent theme music.
Classic movies are usually a welcome gift and this year offers The Marlon Brando Collection with the brooding actor in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), a two-disc special edition about the 1787 voyage of Captain Bligh (Trevor Howard) with Brando as Fletcher Christian. The set includes the 1953 historical epic Julius Caesar with James Mason, the sexuality-themed Reflections in a Golden Eye with Elizabeth Taylor, Brando's geisha girl comedy, The Teahouse of the August Moon with Glenn Ford, and conspiracy theory drama The Formula with George C. Scott. It's a must for the Brando fan. Each title, except for Julius Caesar and Mutiny on the Bounty, both available under separate cover, are exclusive to this collection.
Marlon Brando is one of several famous persons interviewed on the archival CBS set, Edward R. Murrow: The Best of Person to Person. Besides Brando and Bette Davis, the journalist profiled in Good Night, and Good Luck interviewed rock-n-roll host Dick Clark, entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., Christian preacher Billy Graham, composer Oscar Hammerstein, pianist Liberace and singer Frank Sinatra. A highlight is the 13-minute piece about American painter Norman Rockwell, from the February 26, 1959, broadcast, in which the spindly Saturday Evening Post artist tours his rural Massachusetts house (where he says Aaron Burr may have lived), plugs his forthcoming Doubleday biography (written by his son, appearing here), and describes the artistic process, with the original of his iconic "Freedom of Speech" painting on prominent display. Others include Charlton Heston, Gene Kelly, Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe. The three discs add up to seven hours and seven minutes from the 1953-1959 broadcasts, which featured two guests per week. Housed in a protective case.
On the lighter side, Fox's boxed set of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection is filled with outstanding musicals (in anniversary and collector's editions) State Fair (both the Pat Boone and Dana Andrews versions), The King and I, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music and Carousel. The gorgeous set comes with a handy and informative history booklet in glossy color. Newly available separately from Universal is another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Flower Drum Song.
The Walt Disney Studios vault opens for another wave of host Leonard Maltin's limited edition series, Walt Disney Treasures. This batch of four two-disc, thick-cased DVD sets is available for purchase separately. Each is packaged in a metal tin, which includes a collectible lithograph, information booklet and a numbered certificate of authenticity. This year's series includes The Complete Pluto, Volume 2 (three hours, 47 minutes), More Silly Symphonies, 1929-1938 (five hours, 16 minutes), Your Host, Walt Disney TV Memories 1956-1965 (seven hours, 38 minutes) and The Mickey Mouse Club featuring The Hardy Boys (four hours, 29 minutes). Each product is limited to 65,000 tins. Disney fans of all stripes will be thrilled to open one of these for Christmas, depending on one's personal preferences, with rare material and a top-notch presentation.
Disney introduces a new series hosted by Roy E. Disney and it is also good, especially as a gift for families. Dubbed Walt Disney's Legacy Collection, the first wave includes Disney's True Life Adventures movies in four two-disc tins, packaged like an old filmstrip tin for the classroom, which is where older readers may remember watching these marvelously educational documentaries about natural science. Among the four volumes are: Wonders of the World, Lands of Exploration, Creatures of the Wild and Nature's Mysteries. The photography and narrative are often breathtaking—and humorous—and everyone in the family will be delighted and spellbound.
For that unexpected Christmas visit, there's nothing like a classic DVD for a host and hostess. This year features new editions of old Christmas movies—and a hugely popular Fox hit. The two-disc Miracle on 34th Street (original black and white version or colorized) features an audio commentary by the 1947 picture's Maureen O'Hara, an episode on the movie from American Movie Classics' Backstory, Fox Movietone news footage, a made-for-television version and a bit on Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
That other Christmas classic, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life is also out on a new, 60th anniversary edition DVD, which repeats the features from the previous edition and upgrades the picture quality. The movie, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, has legions of fans and they watch this movie every Christmas, which isn't quite the case with 1990 megahit Home Alone, released on a double-dipped Family Fun Edition, with audio commentary by director Chris Columbus and star Macaulay Culkin, seven mini-features, 15 deleted scenes, a gag reel and games. Cheerful, silly fun that is stocked with Christmas music and good will, this charming family movie still makes for a merry Christmas present.
RELATED DVD LINKS
• Preston Sturges - The Filmmaker Collection
• HarveyToons: The Complete Collection
• Journey Back to Oz
• Lassie (2006)
• Eight Below
• Perry Mason: Season 1, Volumes 1 & 2
• Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection
• Mission: Impossible: The Complete First TV Season
• The Marlon Brando Collection
• Edward R. Murrow: The Best of Person to Person
• The Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection
• Flower Drum Song
• Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto, Volume 2, More Silly Symphonies, 1928-1938, Your Host, Walt Disney TV Memories, The Mickey Mouse Club featuring the Hardy Boys
• Walt Disney's Legacy Collection: Wonders of the World, Lands of Exploration, Creatures of the Wild, Nature's Mysteries
• Miracle on 34th Street
• It's a Wonderful Life 60th Anniversary Edition
• Home Alone: Family Fun Edition