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New on Disc: 'Mildred Pierce' and more …

9 Jan, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Mildred Pierce

HBO, Drama, $39.98 two-DVD set, $49.99 four-BD set, NR.
Stars Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood, Melissa Leo, Brian F. O’Byrne, James LeGros, Mare Winningham, Morgan Turner, Hope Davis.
Despite Kate Winslet’s Emmy-winning performance (and Todd Haynes’ HBO miniseries of the James M. Cain novel got 21 nominations in all), she couldn’t have been anyone’s knee-jerk casting choice for the famed title hard-knocks restaurateur here. Yet by the time all five-and-a-half hours of this miniseries have elapsed, many or most should concede that she has met enough of the challenge to add even more heft to her filmography in the career long run. At the heart of the story is the still-true degree to which parents bust themselves for their children, often without getting thanks in return. This version has it detractors — but on the other hand, I’ve noted it on some year-end critics’ best lists devoted primarily to theatrical releases. On balance, it really kept me going for the duration without quite knocking me out, despite an explosive and then wistful wrap-up that I found extremely satisfying.
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Stars and Stripes Forever (Blu-ray)

Fox, Musical, $34.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Debra Paget, Ruth Hussey.
What Blu-ray can do to showcase real-deal Technicolor goes a long way to carry this (high-side-of) boilerplate biopic that combines patriotic music with not-exactly-obligatory shots of Debra Paget in tights and other safely suggestive dress for the Korean War 1950s. But what really lingers in my memory is the degree of fun it is to watch Clifton Webb in splashy conductor’s duds and a John Philip Sousa beard in front of what passes for the United States Marine Band and later Sousa’s traveling own — plus the zeal Webb applies to his conducting labors, which is infectious to watch. Whenever Paget isn’t dancing, this 89-minute release keeps its eye on the rah-rah ball.
Extras: According to nonpareil movie musical historian Miles Kreuger and other experts featured in the bonus section, Lamar Trotti’s script is uncommonly adherent to the facts, even though it concocts a sometimes obtrusive love story built around a pair of then-new contract players being groomed for stardom: Paget (who’s given several decidedly non-Sousa-ish musical numbers) and Robert Wagner (decades before fatal boat outings and reverse mortgages were even a glint in his eye).
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Death of a Scoundrel

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars George Sanders, Yvonne De Carlo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Victor Jory, Nancy Gates, Coleen Gray.
This late-in-the-game RKO release does a good job concealing what had to be a frugal budget, thanks in part to its Max Steiner score and James Wong Howe cinematography. Star George Sanders and fast pacing, even over a full 120 minutes, carry the day — as does some intriguingly topical stock market finagling practiced by its fact-inspired protagonist. We are talking about real-life con man Serge Rubenstein, whose real-life 1955 murder was never solved after his body was found in the kind of posh New York apartment you’d expect a wheeler-dealer/femme magnet to have. Sanders, as fictional stand-in Clementi Sabourin, is pumped full of lead to open the movie, with only the assailant’s identity (not necessarily the one you’d expect) concealed until the end. What our scoundrel does with stock manipulation gives the movie a little extra narrative oomph in these troubled times.
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