New DVD sets feature vintage Colbert, ‘50s noir

Good news for fans of classic Hollywood. Two film collections -- one featuring a screen legend from the 1930s and the other offering some prime film noirs from the 1950s -- have recently been released on DVD.

Claudette Colbert was one of the top female stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood, winning an Oscar for 1934’s romantic comedy “It Happened One Night.” But she was more than just a comic performer. Colbert also was a deft dramatic actress who earned two more best actress nominations -- 1935’s “Private Worlds” and 1944’s “Since You Went Away” -- for complex, serious roles. She seemed incapable of giving a bad performance, and she doesn’t in any of the six films on Universal’s recently released “The Claudette Colbert Collection.”

Colbert is the best thing about 1933’s “Three-Corner Moon,” a Depression-era comedy about a selfish, rich eccentric family that loses everything because of the stock market crash and whose members are forced to get jobs.

“Maid of Salem,” from 1937, is the only drama in the collection. It’s sort of a cut-rate “The Crucible” with Puritan Colbert put on trial for being a witch. Fred MacMurray is totally out of place as the roguishly handsome Virginian who defends Colbert against the charges. The two also appear in “The Egg and I,” part of the collection.


The 1937 romantic comedy “I Met Him in Paris” is pretty standard fare, but Colbert and her love interests -- Robert Young and Melvyn Douglas -- made this lightweight farce watchable.

It seems like sacrilege to criticize an Ernst Lubitsch comedy, especially one written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, but 1938’s “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” fizzles instead of sizzles. Again, Colbert rises above the dullness, but Gary Cooper seems uncomfortable playing a sophisticated millionaire who has seven failed marriage to his name.

Colbert and MacMurray, though, have a field day in 1943’s witty “No Time For Love.” Colbert plays a photographer; MacMurray is a sandhog. They bicker. But love finds a way.

In “Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics Vol. 1,” Arthur Franz gives his strongest performance in 1952’s taut “The Sniper,” directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Stanley Kramer. Extras include commentary from Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller and discussion with Martin Scorsese.


Fritz Lang’s explosive 1953 noir “The Big Heat” stars Glenn Ford as an earnest cop intent on stopping the mob in his town. Both Scorsese and Michael Mann discuss the film.

Don Siegel directed 1958’s riveting “The Lineup,” which was shot on location in San Francisco. Extras include commentary from Muller and novelist James Ellroy, and a discussion on noir with Christopher Nolan.

Brian Keith steals 1955’s “Five Against the House,” directed by Phil Karlson. Keith, Guy Madison, Kerwin Matthews and Alvy Moore play college buddies who decide they will rob a Reno casino to prove it can be done.

Vince Edwards gives a chilling turn in 1958’s “Murder by Contract,” as a calm, well-mannered young man who decides to make his living as a hit man. Scorsese is on hand to talk about how this low-budget film influenced his 1976 classic “Taxi Driver.”