USA TODAY Favorite 5 DVD releases by Mike Clark
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Two-Disc Special Edition 1938, unrated -- Dashing Errol Flynn is Robin Hood in the most swashbuckling version of the legendary story. Warner Brothers reunited Michael Curtiz, their top-action director, with the winning team of Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (Maid Marian) and perennial villain Basil Rathbone as the aristocratic Sir Guy of Gisbourne. It was their costliest film to date, a Technicolor adventure set to an Oscar-winning score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The decadent Prince John (Claude Rains) takes advantage of King Richard's absence to tax the country into poverty but meets his match in Robin Hood and his Merry Men of Sherwood Forest, who rise up to "steal from the rich and give to the poor." Stocky Alan Hale Sr. plays Robin's Little John (a part he played in Douglas Fairbanks's silent version), Eugene Palette the portly Friar Tuck, and Melville Cooper the bumbling Sheriff of Nottingham. Flynn's confidence and charm makes a perfect Robin Hood, and his easygoing manner is a marvelous counterpoint to Rathbone's regal bearing and courtly diction. The film climaxes in their rousing battle-to-the-finish sword fight, a magnificently choreographed scene highlighted by Curtiz's inventive use of shadows cast upon the castle walls.
The Apu Trilogy 1955/57/59, Columbia TriStar, unrated,
Pather Panchali Made in 1955 by Satyajit Ray, is remarkable storytelling, the first in a popular trilogy of Indian films, Pather Panchali is a moving story of a rural family cursed with bad luck. The father is a dreamer, while his wife struggles to feed the family, including son Apu. When a petty thief brings tragedy to them, they must find a way to survive.Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Multiple film festival awards. Pather Panchali tells the story of a family inching slowly and irrevocably, over the course of several years, toward the edge of financial and emotional disaster. In a rural Bengali village, circa 1919, Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee) recites sacred texts and performs religious rites for a living. He dreams of being a playwright, but he must support his growing family. His wife, Sarbajaya (Karuna Bannerjee) must suffer her husband's long absences as he searches for work and the hostile pity of extended family members who are better off financially and socially. Her daughter, Durga (Uma Das Gupta), has the bad habit of stealing mangoes from the neighboring orchard, which adds to her mother's shame. When a son, Apu (Subir Bannerjee), is born, things seem to be looking up for the family. But it is only a short-lived illusion. First films don't come any better than Pather Panchali. . Ray reveals a gift for presenting stories that unfold gently, one engaging scene at time. This film delivers an amazing emotional punch that will linger in your consciousness for some time, not in spite of, but because of its simplicity. The story is based on the novel of the same title, written by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee. Shot in glorious black and white, it runs for 115 minutes. The script is by Satyajit Ray, the music by Ravi Shankar.
Aparajito -- In this, the second film in the Apu trilogy, Harihar (Kanu Bannerjee) takes his wife, Sarbajaya (Karuna Bannerjee), and his son, Apu, to live in the bustling city of Benares after the tragic death of his daughter, Durga, and the destruction of the family's home. Harihar ekes out a living reading sacred texts by the shores of the Ganges River. When he falls ill, Sarbajaya must learn to cope on her own and leaves the city to work as a cook for a wealthy family living in the country. Apu, by now an adolescent (played by Smaran Ghosal), is extremely bright and hungry for knowledge. Good fortune befalls him, and he is able to attend school, eventually going to Calcutta to attend the university. Sarbajaya is reluctant to let her son go, but she is unable to stop him. She waits patiently for his return, but at the same time is growing weak from illness. When Apu learns of his mother's illness, he must decide if he's going to sacrifice his final exams and return to her side or take the exams and risk the chance she might die before he gets there. As compelling as its predecessor, Pather Panchali, this film was made only one year later, in 1956. Karuna Bannerjee is riveting in her portrayal of a woman who has lost everything of value to her but her beloved son. The film was based on the novel Aparajito by Bibhutibhushan Banerjee, and the music was composed by Ravi Shankar.
The World of Apu -- In this final installment, Apu is forced to abandon his education. His future looks bleak until he marries an abandoned bride, beginning a new life as a husband and a father. Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Named 1960's Best Foreign Film by the National Board of Review. If you ever feel like you've got it tough, watch the Apu trilogy by Satyajit Ray. The World of Apu is the third story in Ray's magnum opus. And yes... things can get worse for our hero, Apu (Soumitra Chatterjee). By now it's the early 1930s, and Apu is a grown man. A dreamer and a writer like his long-dead father, Apu is working on a novel about his life. When his best friend Pulu (Swapan Mukherjee) asks him to his sister's wedding, Apu has no idea that he'll be the one going home with the bride. Poor Aparna (Sharmila Tagore) is betrothed to an insane man and when his illness becomes apparent, the wedding is cancelled. But Aparna will be cursed unless another bridegroom is found. Apu, in a weak moment, agrees to marry Aparna in return for a job. Then the unexpected happens. Aparna and Apu fall deeply in love. But will it last? Knowing Apu's luck in the past, the obvious answer is "no," and when Aparna dies in childbirth, Apu is left hating his son, Kajal. Finally, driven by guilt, Apu approaches his son, five years after the death of his beloved wife. Will they be able to salvage some happiness in an already too bleak life? You won't be disappointed in the outcome. This last installment will leave you wishing Ray had made Apu IV. The music is by Ravi Shankar.
The Honeymooners - Classic 39 Episodes -- This set--the Honeymoonie's Holy Grail--contains all 39 episodes from the legendary 1955-1956 season. This was the only season that The Honeymooners had a life of its own apart from the Jackie Gleason Show, and as much as we tried to welcome the "Lost Episodes" into our family, they very rarely matched the high quality of the classic 39. Eight different themes including Ralph's jealous nature, his life at the Gotham Bus Company, his friendship with Norton, domestic troubles, and financial woes. You can show them out of order. No matter what happens to the Bensonhurst foursome, Ralph will still work for the bus company, Norton in the sewer. They'll be struggling to get by, passing the time bowling, shooting pool, arguing with the wives, and dreaming of a better day. And it's in the mundanity of everyday life that The Honeymooners finds boundless humor. Even when the events were anything but mundane--bank robbers, counterfeiters, TV commercials, game shows, golf dates with The Boss--the real story and the best jokes were about the reality of their lives and the realization that, because of marriage and friendship, they didn't really have it so bad after all. The chemistry between Jackie Gleason and Art Carney still amazes after all these years. Audrey Meadows's Alice is the perfect foil for Ralph, stern but sympathetic. And Joyce Randolph's Trixie? Well, let's just call her "earnest." Still, for all of Norton's frenetic energy and Alice's wisdom, the show belongs to Ralph Kramden. Somehow, Gleason took a chauvinistic, paranoid, insensitive, scheming, bitter, loudmouth, underachieving bus driver and made him a hero to millions.
The Iceman Cometh 1973, rated PG Lee Marvin; Fredric March; Robert Ryan; Jeff Bridges; Moses Gunn; and Bradford Dillman.
Once Upon a Time in the West -- 1968, PG-13-- After a series of international hits starring Clint Eastwood (from A Fistful of Dollars to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), Leone outdid himself with this spectacular, larger-than-life, horse-operatic epic about how the West was won. (And make no mistake: this is the wide, wide West, folks--so the widescreen/letterboxed version is strongly recommended.) The unholy trinity of Italian cinema--Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento--concocted the story about a woman (Claudia Cardinale) hanging onto her land in hopes that the transcontinental railroad would reach her before a steely-eyed, black-hearted killer (Fonda) does. (The film's advertising slogan was: "There were three men in her life. One to take her ... one to love her ... and one to kill her.") Meanwhile, Leone shoots his stars' faces as if they were expansive Western landscapes, and their towering bodies as if they were looming rock formations in John Ford's Monument Valley. The powers behind the DVD of this Western masterpiece pay due respect to filmmaker Sergio Leone's style: calm, slow building, and pierced by a gun blast. The location gallery is a wonderful and unique extra consisting of images of filming locations then and 30 some years later, scored by Ennio Morricone's haunting music. The new hour-long documentary is packed with new interviews from surviving members of the cast and crew (including star Claudia Cardinale and co-writer Bernardo Bertolucci) with insight from a trio of modern film directors and Leone fans: John Carpenter, Alex Cox, and John Milius. Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling has the lion's share of the commentary track, and although he knows Leone cold, he often just narrates the action. Other voices are more engaging. The widescreen print (2.35:1) is immaculate with true colors we haven't seen in prints on TV or second-run theaters.