Fox gives some classics the royal treatment

Times Staff Writer

The best picture Oscar-winning films "How Green Was My Valley" (1941), "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947) and "All About Eve" (1950) have all long been out on DVD. But the new Fox Studio Classics editions (Fox, $20), which debuted Tuesday, feature these well-regarded films in beautifully restored transfers complete with audio commentary by historians, critics, writers and stars, rare newsreel footage, restoration comparisons and trailers.

Every Tuesday throughout the year, another Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated Fox film will be released on DVD, including "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," "An Affair to Remember" and "Zorba the Greek."

"If there was ever a film lover's medium, it is DVD," says Steve Feldstein, executive vice president of marketing and public relations. "These films have a distinctive place in the pantheon of cinematic history. We wanted to treat them specially rather than just tossing them all out there. On a monthly basis, we can treat them specially."

Perhaps the most special of the Fox Studio Classics editions isn't available in stores. In fact, one can only receive it -- for free -- after purchasing three other titles in the line. The movie is F.W. Murnau's exquisite 1927 silent drama "Sunrise," which is the only film to have won best picture for unique and artistic production. It also won Academy Awards for best actress (Janet Gaynor) and best cinematographer (Karl Struss).

"They found the original master," Feldstein says. "It was restored by the British Film Institute and then we did a high-definition transfer, which probably makes it more spectacular than it was originally. There are two scores featured on the disc, plus commentary from contemporary cinematographer John Bailey [whose credits include "As Good as It Gets" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood"] plus rare outtakes, the original scenario with annotations by the director, the trailer and the screenplay. This is such a film lovers' film."

So why not make it widely available for sale?

"There is a concern of it getting lost at retail," Feldstein says. "We treat these films with great reverence. Are they a wide distribution sort of project? No. But is there a definite interest in owning these? Absolutely."

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Three for true buffs

Cinephiles should also relish three new releases from Criterion. The boutique company hits one out of the ballpark with its lovely edition of Ernst Lubitsch's scrumptious, sophisticated 1932 comedy "Trouble in Paradise" ($40). The first great romantic comedy of the talkie era, "Trouble in Paradise" revolves around two stunning thieves (Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins) stealing from the rich in Paris and Venice. Kay Francis, a widowed owner of a perfume company, is the couple's latest target. The DVD includes an informative and often funny video introduction by Peter Bogdanovich, Lubitsch's 1917 German comedy "Das fidele Gefangnis," and written tributes to Lubitsch by Billy Wilder, Cameron Crowe and Leonard Maltin. The release also includes informative if sometimes dryly delivered commentary from Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman and the 1940 "Screen Guild Theatre" radio version of the movie with Lubitsch, Claudette Colbert, Basil Rathbone and Jack Benny.

Jean Gabin is arguably the greatest French film actor and 1936's "Pepe Le Moko" ($30) was the film that made him a superstar. In this exotic melodrama, Gabin is a perfect combination of toughness, tenderness and sexuality as a criminal hiding out in the Casbah in Algiers who makes a tragic mistake when he falls for a Parisian playgirl.

The lovely digital transfer -- save for one flawed sequence -- was made from newly restored film elements.

The disc includes a 1962 French TV interview with the film's director, Julien Duvivier, excerpts from the 1978 TV documentary "Remembering Jean Gabin," and a study of the cultural influence of "Pepe" that features a comparison between the film and the 1938 American remake "Algiers."

Rounding out the new releases from Criterion is Jean-Luc Godard's 1964 caper film "Band of Outsiders" ($30). Anna Karina, who was married to Godard, Sami Frey and Claude Brassuer star in this genre-busting gangster drama about two restless young men in love with a naive young girl in their English class. They enlist her help to steal money from her home. The disc features a terrific high-definition digital transfer supervised by cinematographer Raoul Coutard, an interview with Coutard, a fascinating interview taped last summer with Karina, excerpts from an interview with the controversial director from 1964 with behind-the-scenes footage from the film, and the innovative visual glossary that examines the cultural references and wordplay in the film.

Ronald Colman and Vincent Price weren't necessarily known for their comic prowess, but the 1950 satire "Champagne for Caesar" (Image, $25) gives them the perfect opportunity to crack wise. Colman plays an unemployed genius who becomes a contestant on a popular TV game show and sets out to win the company from its eccentric owner (Price). Art Linkletter is quite fun as the host of the game show and Celeste Holm is a kick as the pretty but brainy woman hired by Price to distract Colman. The DVD features a decent transfer and a stills gallery.

The comedy "Shampoo" (Columbia, $20) was one of the seminal films of the 1970s. Released in 1975, the comedy, directed by Hal Ashby and penned by Warren Beatty and Robert Towne, is set in Beverly Hills on the eve of the 1968 presidential election and revolves around a womanizing hairdresser (Beatty) and his demanding gal pals (Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn and Oscar winner Lee Grant). The film has been recently restored and looks great in this transfer. However, there are no extras on the disc, which hits stores on Tuesday.

Two films Humphrey Bogart made at Columbia in the 1950s make their DVD debuts on Tuesday (Columbia Tristar, $25 each). Bogey's company, Santana, even produced the 1951 potboiler "Sirocco." It's always fun to watch Bogart but this turgid adventure is a bit of a rough sit for his fans. Set in Damascus in 1925, the drama finds Bogey once again playing an American expatriate, this time selling arms to Syrian rebels. Lee J. Cobb plays the tough-minded French officer and Marta Toren is the woman they both love. Extras include poster art and a brief look at Bogart's career at Columbia, which includes "The Caine Mutiny" and "Sahara."

Far more inspiring is 1956's "The Harder They Fall," which was Bogart's last film before his death from cancer in January 1957. Directed by Mark Robson, "The Harder They Fall" is an exceptionally powerful boxing drama. Bogart plays a cynical, washed-up sportswriter hired by a crooked manager (Rod Steiger) to exploit an innocent, overrated fighter from South America (Mike Lane). Based on the book by Budd Schulberg, the film also stars Jan Sterling as Bogart's wife.

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