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Mike Clark has been writing about film for more than 20 years, starting with a weekly column in USA Today in 1985. He also served as program planner and director of the American Film Institute Theater.

Mike's Picks
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7 Jul, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Man From Laramie' and more …

The Man From Laramie (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Cathy O’Donnell, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp.
The last of five Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns (and eight collaborations overall), Man From Laramie is one of the team’s best and a longtime personal favorite, though it has never quite hit me as solidly as it does in this Twilight Time 4K transfer — which is apparently, per Julie Kirgo’s always ace liner notes, this swan song’s first 2.55:1 presentation since the original release.
Citizens of the unfriendly town to which Stewart’s character has just journeyed keep imploring him to leave and then act on those sentiments, but Stewart is on a mission that has something to do with an Indian massacre of a benign Cavalry patrol. The Philip Yordan-Frank Burt script has some snappy dialogue that flows naturally off the performers’ tongues.
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Adjust Your Tracking:The Untold Story of the VHS Collector

VHShitfest, Documentary. $19.95 DVD, NR.
It’s true, as one of the more wizened interviewees here notes, that people will collect anything, but one would have to say that VHS mania — at least at this point in home entertainment history — reflects a special breed, especially when we see what these home and apartment-based archivists are collecting VHS copies of. Still, co-directors Dan Kinem and Levi Peretic do a passionate job of profiling passionate people. Kinem and Peretic also do a nice job of tracing what the video store experience used to be and how it collapsed so relatively quickly.
This two-DVD set is packed with extras, deleted scenes and the like.
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30 Jun, 2014

New on Disc: 'All That Heaven Allows' and more …

All That Heaven Allows (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Drama, $39.95 Blu-ray/DVD, NR.
Stars Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson,
Agnes Moorehead.
The best Douglas Sirk movies are domestic social commentaries couched as visually sumptuous soap operas — and this one is among his best, to be sure. The film is a follow-up to Sirk’s 1954 remake of Magnificent Obsession, a May-December romance casting Rock Hudson opposite Jane Wyman. There are several shots on this Blu-ray that almost took my breath away.
Extras: One of the nifty extras on the Criterion set is an interview with Sirk regular William Reynolds, who talks about the hours the director spent making certain the setups and lighting were just so. The package also includes a commentary, essays, a 1982 Sirk interview for French TV and a BBC Sirk documentary with more interview material. A major bonus is the feature-length Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, a clip-heavy “essay” by Mark Rappaport that looks for the gay or closeted subtext in the actor’s films.
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James Thurber: The Life and Hard Times

First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.


Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross and the Making of ‘The New Yorker’

First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Released a year apart, these two bio-docs are obviously related in a New Yorker magazine kind of way — respectively celebrating one of the writers and the first in a small group of chief editors who made the publication what it still is. Of the two, the Thurber portrait is a little richer and more fleshed-out.
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23 Jun, 2014

New on Disc: 'Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction' and more …

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction

Adopt Films, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
At just 76 minutes, Sophie Huber’s portrait of a remarkably durable character actor features more cover vocals by its subject than you might expect, but then Stanton has an extensive background as a singer, and the entire project takes a kind of backdoor approach to emerge as a satisfying tribute, if hardly a thorough one.
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Kismet (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $18.95 Blu-ray.
Stars Howard Keel, Ann Blyth, Dolores Gray, Vic Damone.
Time hasn’t been kind to this instantly creaky musical version of Kismet based on the ’53 stage musical that had taken a Tony.
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16 Jun, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Nutty Professor' and more …

The Nutty Professor: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)

Warner/Paramount, Comedy, $49.99 four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars Jerry Lewis, Stella Stevens, Del Moore, Kathleen Freeman.
Warner has gone a couple continents’ worth of extra miles with a pricey release of Nutty Professor, maybe the greatest-looking movie Lewis ever made, that also includes standard DVDs of two more Lewis features — The Errand Boy and Cinderfella — and a CD of Phoney Phone Calls 1959-72.
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Test Pilot

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore.
A huge one in its day that has somehow never before gotten a DVD release, this exercise in muscle-flexing star power is the last project director Victor Fleming took on before earning double-barreled screen credits for The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.
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9 Jun, 2014

New on Disc: 'Red River' and more …

Red River (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Western, $39.95 Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan.
Howard Hawks’ all-timer is less about a passing of the guard than a sharing of it — so much of its greatness stems from its then old-school/new-school teaming of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift. There are two versions, and both are here: a longer pre-release one that doesn’t utilize Walter Brennan’s fine narration and a shorter Brennan-employed one that slightly truncates the final showdown sequence.
Extras: This is a thick, box-like Criterion release, even containing a soft-cover copy of Borden Chase’s source novel, Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail. In sundry supplements, there is all kinds of discussion of the film’s ending.
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Bachelor Flat

Available via Fox Cinema Archive
Fox, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Tuesday Weld, Terry-Thomas, Richard Beymer, Celeste Holm.
Based on a play — and the dialogue sometimes sounds like it — the premise springs from the fact that American females love everything British. To this end, all kinds of women have their eyes on a beach-town anthropology professor played by Terry-Thomas. Tuesday Weld is quite the sexy bundle here.
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2 Jun, 2014

New on Disc: 'Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin' To Tell You'

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ To Tell You

HBO, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Beyond its entertainment value, Whoopi Goldberg’s directorial debut fills in some valuable history about a performer all but unique to her era.
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Forever Amber

Available via Fox Cinema Archive
Fox, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Linda Darnell, Cornel Wilde, Richard Greene, George Sanders.
Otto Preminger’s sumptuously mounted adaptation of Kathleen Winsor’s once scandalous Restoration novel was something of a drag that hadn’t remotely matched the revenue-marked popularity of a book that in the 1940s had been the hottest thing around this side of the Kinsey Reports.
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26 May, 2014

New on Disc: 'Two Rode Together' and more …

Two Rode Together (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Richard
Widmark, Shirley Jones, Linda Cristal.
John Ford’s Two Rode Together doesn’t splice together too well and is something of a mess, likely a must for Ford fans but probably a much tougher sell for anyone else.
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The Public Defender

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Richard Dix, Shirley Grey.
Despite it having come out during the Hoover Administration, we could be talking about a movie from today, given the targeted heavies and the methodology used to combat them.
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19 May, 2014

New on Disc: 'Hit the Deck' and more …

Hit the Deck (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Walter Pidgeon.
Essentially a fantastic soundtrack album looking for keener scripting and direction, this is, appropriately, a shore leave musical that romantically teams Jane Powell with Vic Damone, Ann Miller with Tony Martin and then-youngsters Debbie Reynolds with Russ Tamblyn.
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Coogan’s Bluff (Blu-ray)

Koch Media, Drama, $20 All-Region Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Clint Eastwood, Lee J. Cobb, Susan Clark, Don Stroud.
This German Blu-ray release of director Don Siegel’s amusingly trashy sociopath-out-of-water melodrama starring Clint Eastwood offers Technicolor that’s a little punchier than the DVD’s, and there’s enough grain to satisfy grain fanciers but not enough to repel those not in the club.
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12 May, 2014

New on Disc: 'Up the Junction' and more …

Up the Junction

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Suzy Kendall, Dennis Waterman, Maureen Lipman.
A curiosity at best, this rather handsome color release stars Suzy Kendall as a rich girl who runs away from her privileged life.
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A Slight Case of Larceny

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Mickey Rooney, Eddie Bracken, Marilyn Erskine, Elaine Stewart.
This is a minor comedy with a short running time, and yet stars Mickey Rooney and Eddie Bracken play so professionally off one another that their nicely synchronized teaming is a pleasure to watch.
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5 May, 2014

New on Disc: 'Double Indemnity' and more …

Double Indemnity (Blu-ray)

Universal, Drama, $29.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson.

1944. The Blu-ray of this increasingly durable version of James M. Cain’s novel is the visually darkest rendering I’ve ever seen of the picture, but the image clarity is super sharp. Similarly sharp were Billy Wilder’s casting instincts over many years, and as good as the script is, it is tough to imagine the definitive insurance-fraud movie being as revered as it is were the choice of players not so distinctive. 
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Riot in Cell Block 11

Criterion, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Neville Brand, Emile Meyer, Leo Gordon.

1954. The backstory to this example of what used to be called a “shaky-A” is probably a little more interesting than the film itself, an exposé of prison abuses. Brutal for its day, Riot runs a tight 80 minutes and occasionally reflects a low budget that doesn’t give the great cinematographer Russell Harlan that much to do, though his deep-focus shots of the darkened prison corridor are not unimpressive.
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