One of the real pleasures crisp laser-disc transfers offer is a chance to see fine performers in their prime in films so well preserved they seem brand-new.
Two recent releases, one from MGM-UA Home Video, the other from the Voyager Co., showcase Katharine Hepburn in some of her most memorable performances.
Very few double features can compare with the witty "Adam's Rib" and "Pat and Mike" ($40, MGM/UA, two discs, CLV extended play, digital sound). Both star the incomparable Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, both directed by George Cukor and written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. The sharp black-and-white transfers are a pleasure to watch, especially when you realize they're now part of the Turner library and computer-colorized versions may only be a button-push away.
The 1949 "Adam's Rib" retains a smart, contemporary flavor as it follows a husband prosecuting and a wife defending a woman who shot her philandering spouse. Still funny and clever, it echoes through any number of present-day sitcoms and TV dramas, including "L.A. Law" and "Civil Wars," to say nothing of an earlier namesake TV series. Tom Ewell, David Wayne, Jean Hagen and Judy Holliday, in particular, offer excellent support.
The 1952 "Pat and Mike" provides a revealing glimpse at the emerging professional female athlete. As in "Adam's Rib," Hepburn plays an independent woman, who, unfortunately, this time around loses her sure-footedness under a boorish boyfriend's possessive gaze.
One of the delights of this film is catching sight of several legendary female athletes whose exploits weren't chronicled on videotape as doggedly as today's big tickets. Among them: Gussie Moran, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Alice Marble and Helen Dettweiler. Co-star Aldo Ray in one of his early roles, plays a prizefighter, but is much funnier anchoring the original theatrical trailer than he is in the film. Bit parts by Charles Bronson and Chuck Connors are amusing.
David Lean's 1955 "Summertime" is a sumptuous color feast in this Criterion Collection/Voyager release ($40, one CLV extended-play disc, digital sound) resurrected from a 35-millimeter separation negative.
Somehow, though, this tale of a romantic interlude between spinster-lady Hepburn and Rosanno Brazzi in Venice, Italy, seems more dated than either "Adam's Rib" or "Pat and Mike."
This is surprising because of the screenplay's impeccable credentials--Lean and H.E. Bates wrote the script based on the Arthur Laurents play "The Time of the Cuckoo." Even so, we're still treated to first-rate performances, especially from Hepburn.
Album covers for all three lasers clearly delineate key scenes, credits and trailers with chapter stops: 37 for "Pat and Mike," 33 for "Adam's Rib" and 19 for "Summertime."