Blu-ray ‘A Star Is Born’ heads classic DVD releases


When it comes to DVD releases, it’s been feast or famine for vintage film fans. With the home entertainment business in decline, most of the studios have slowed or even stopped issuing classic titles, but June is shaping up to offer the hungry cineaste a veritable banquet of noteworthy movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Leading the pack is Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray release of the 1954 Judy Garland classic “A Star Is Born.” Garland made a triumphant comeback in this lavish musical- drama based the 1937 film about a star on the rise who marries a star on the decline ( James Mason). Garland and Mason have never been better under George Cukor’s direction, and the Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen score, which includes the standard “The Man That Got Away,” is joyous to the ears.

Warners recently did a major digital restoration of the film, which the late film historian Ron Haver reconstructed in 1983. The studio unveiled this gorgeous print at the TCM Film Festival in Los Angeles this year, and it looks just as good on Blu-ray. The set’s second disc is filled with extras, though a few, including the original telecast of the 1954 premiere, were previously available on DVD. Others include additional takes of “The Man That Got Away,” an alternate take of Mason’s suicide scene and several new audio takes from the rehearsal and recording session.

The Warner Archive Collection also recently released a digitally remastered edition of 1931 best picture Oscar nominee “Five Star Final,” directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The film revolves around Edward G. Robinson’s fast-talking, hard-drinking New York newspaper editor whose bosses, looking to beef up circulation, decide to revisit a tawdry tale from 20 years ago about a woman who killed her fiancé. A pre- “Frankenstein” Boris Karloff appears as a particularly odious reporter.

Warners also remastered Samuel Fuller’s 1959 World War II drama “Verboten!” ( Paul Anka sings the title tune.) Set in Germany after the war and using a lot of disturbing newsreel footage of Nazi atrocities, the film looks at how a group of young thugs called Werewolves tried to resurrect the Nazi Party and kick the American government out of the country. There’s also a love story between an ex-GI ( James Best) and his German wife (Susan Cummings).

The archive is celebrating Bette Davis with three of her early films at Warner Bros. when the then-platinum blond actress was beginning to emerge as one of the studio’s major players. Supposedly, Davis had fond memories of making 1934’s mystery “Fog Over Frisco,” directed by William Dieterle. It’s a snappy but unmemorable programmer in which she plays an out-of-control society girl who is murdered and stuffed into the trunk of her car. It’s up to her stepsister (Margaret Lindsay) to find her killer. In 1935’s pleasant “The Girl From 10th Avenue,” Davis plays an uneducated but sweet New York working girl who comes to the aid of a boozy attorney ( Ian Hunter) dumped by his longtime gal pal (Katharine Alexander). Colin Clive, best known as Dr. Frankenstein, also stars.

Davis, Pat O’Brien and Lewis Stone are among the cast of 1933’s fast-moving drama “Bureau of Missing Persons.” Davis portrays a young woman who comes to the New York bureau to say her husband is missing. O’Brien’s hot-headed but charming detective takes up her case and soon finds himself falling for her. But Davis’s character isn’t telling the entire truth about her so-called husband.

Warner Archive is revisiting the work of one of MGM’s top directors, Clarence Brown, with the release of four films, including 1929’s creaky early talkie “Navy Blues,” starring William Haines as a sailor on the town and Anita Page as the woman who falls for him.

Brown also directed and produced the predictable but engaging 1941 romantic comedy “Come Live With Me.” Hedy Lamarr plays an Austrian refugee who, despite carrying on an affair with a wealthy married man (Ian Hunter), marries James Stewart’s struggling writer to stay in the country. Of course, the two fall in love.

Other Brown films just released are 1936’s “The Gorgeous Hussy” with Joan Crawford and 1937’s “Conquest,” starring Greta Garbo and Charles Boyer in his Oscar-nominated best actor role as Napoleon.