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2012 Holiday Gift Guide

Happy Holidays from The Fence!

 

It’s never been a better time to be a classic film fan. With numerous theatre screenings across the country, the TCM Film Festival, never before released and remastered films on DVD/Blu-ray– there’s an abundance of goodies for every fan. With only two weeks until Christmas, I have put together a gift guide for the classic film fans on your list. Already done with your shopping or don’t celebrate Christmas? Then pick something out for yourself! Make sure to scroll through the entire post for some fantastic deals and enter the giveaway.

 

Books

I love reviewing books here at The Fence. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a review, but I’ve been keeping an eye on new releases. There are a few must-haves for classic film fans:

 

Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capitol, 1928-1937

by Darrell Rooney and Mark A. Viera
Angel City Press
MSRP $50.00

Released in March 2011, Harlow in Hollywood is quite possibly the best classic film related book in my collection. With a well-researched biography and stunning photos of Harlow all throughout her career, this is an absolute must for Jean Harlow fans. You can find my detailed review of the book here.

You can order Harlow in Hollywood directly through Angel City Press or for bit cheaper on Amazon.com

 

Silhouettes From Popular Culture
by Olly Moss
Titan Books
MSRP $16.95

Titan Books has released a collection of Olly Moss silhouettes from the hugely popular Paper Cuts exhibition. This is a fun book for not just film fans, but pop culture buffs too! Look for a review coming soon.

You can order Silhouettes From Popular Culture from Amazon.

 

Marilyn in Fashion
by Christopher Nickens and George Zeno
Running Press
MSRP $30.00

There are countless books on Marilyn Monroe. Let’s face it: most of them are complete garbage. There are gems scattered throughout the trash, and Marilyn in Fashion is one of those beautiful gems. The photos alone are worth the price, but the book is so much more. With anecdotes of Monroe’s working relationship with designers and her fashion transformation throughout her career, Marilyn in Fashion is a lovely book to add to your collection. Order on Amazon.com

 

Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies
by Christel Schmidt
University Press of Kentucky
MSRP $45.00

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this book. I just won a copy from TCM’s monthly Book Corner giveaway. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and read it yet, but have thumbed through it a bit. It is absolutely stunning.

You can order Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies from the TCM Shop or on Amazon

 

DVD/Blu-ray

Here is a collection of some of my favorite DVD/Blu-ray releases along with some can’t miss deals:

 

Criterion Collection

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) on DVD and Blu-ray
MSRP: $49.95

 

 

 

 

 

Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947) on DVD/Blu
MSRP: $39.95

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) on DVD/Blu
MSRP: $39.95

 

 

 

 

 

Ernst Lubitsch’s Design for Living (1933) on DVD/Blu
MSRP: $39.95

 

 

 

 

* All of these Criterion titles and others are on sale at Amazon.com.

 

Kino Classics

The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection on Blu-ray
MSRP: $299.95

 

 

 

 

 

William A. Wellman’s A Star is Born (1937) on DVD and Blu
MSRP: $29.95

 

 

 

 

 

Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930): Remastered Standard Edition on DVD and Blu
MSRP: $29.95

 

 

 

 

 

Warner Archive

W.S. Van Dyke’s Rage in Heaven (1941)
MSRP: $19.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Harlow Collection
MSRP: $64.99

 

 

 

 

Conflict (1945)
MSRP: $26.99

 

 

 

 

 

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume 4
MSRP $49.99

 

 

 

 

Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Volume 5
MSRP $49.99

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Home Entertainment

Bond 50: The Complete 22 Film Collection DVD/Blu-ray
MSRP $299.99

 

 

 

 

Princess Bride: 25th Anniversary Edition DVD/Blu-ray
MSRP: $19.99

 

 

 

 

Patton (1970) Blu-ray

MSRP: $24.99

 

 

 

 

Can’t miss bargains

The Complete Thin Man Collection
This retails for $60.00. Right now on Amazon it is only $17.99! If you don’t have this set, it’s a must!

 

 

 

 

Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection
Another great deal for Powell/Loy fans (and really, who isn’t a fan of theirs?) at only $18.49. This is a great set. My personal favorites are Manhattan Melodrama and I Love You Again.

 

 

 

 

Tracy & Hepburn: The Definitive Collection
This set includes every single film Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn made together. It’s under $25.00. Need I say more?

 

 

 

 

Christmas in Connecticut
One of the greatest Christmas films ever is only $4.00! You can find it at Amazon and at your local Target.

 

 

 

 

For those of you with a Costco membership, you might want to take a trip to check out their movie section. Recent finds include The Joan Crawford Collection, Warner Gangsters Collections, The Premiere Frank Capra Collection, Busby Berkeley, The Marx Bros Collection– all for under $15.00. Also in stores are numerous “Signature Collection” sets including: Bogie/Bacall, Tracy/Hepburn, James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. Of course there are no guarantees on what is in stock, but I always find lots of goodies! I’m still kicking myself for passing on the Preston Sturges set…

 

Other classic film goodies

  • Love Charlie Chaplin? Then you definitely need to check out this lovely canvas print of The Little Tramp over at Ikea. There’s an Audrey Hepburn version, too.
  • Fans of TCM are all too familiar with Robert Osborne’s signature TCM bistro mug. I own two and drink my coffee out of them every single day. A must have!
  • If you’re a big spender, you can always go for a pass to the TCM Classic Film Festival. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. Money well spent!

Last, but certainly not least…

  • My pal Cliff over at Immortal Ephemera has an amazing deal right now: Free shipping on all orders over $25.00 with additional discounts depending on your total. Cliff sells classic film related photos, postcards, tobacco cards, and other ephemera. Great selection and fantastic customer service.

 


It’s giveaway time!

The lovely folks over at Fox Home Entertainment are providing a copy of Patton (1970) on Blu-ray.

To enter the giveaway there are two requirements:

1) In an effort to curb spam entries, I’m requiring all entrants to subscribe to this website via email. You can do so at the very bottom of the page. Don’t worry– your email will remain private.

2) You must send an email to Contests (at) sittinonabackyardfence (dot) com. Please include “PATTON GIVEAWAY” in the subject line.

 

You have until Monday, December 17th at Midnight EST to enter. The winner will be chosen via random drawing and contacted during the day on the 18th.

This contest is only available to U.S. residents.

 

 

Full disclosure: Some of the links to Amazon are linked to this site’s affiliates page.

 

Heidi’s Song (1982) from Warner Archive

I love cartoons. I grew up on animated shorts and feature-length films from Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., and MGM. Most were made before 1979, the year I was born. Thanks to re-runs on Saturday mornings, I received an education in mouse chasing from Tom, wisecracking from Bugs Bunny, and mystery solving from Scooby and the Gang. I have fond memories of new prime-time animated specials that you simply couldn’t miss. Remember, this was before VCR’s were affordable and DVR was something right out of The Jetsons. One of my strongest memories was seeing the premiere of the 1987 Rankin and Bass production of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. But for every clear memory there are a hundred fuzzy ones. There are TV shows and movies I have vague recollections of, but can’t remember specific details or when I saw them.

Enter Hanna-Barbera’s Heidi’s Song.

Released theatrically nationwide in 1982, Heidi’s Song didn’t do well at the box office, but has maintained a loyal following over the past 30 years. I can’t remember when I first saw it, but when I discovered Heidi’s Song was coming to DVD via Warner Archive, I had to watch it again.

Heidi’s Song is an animated musical based on the beloved children’s story Heidi, written by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. Orphaned since a baby, Heidi (voiced by Margery Gray) is under the care of her maternal Aunt Dete (Virginia Gregg). After 4 years, Aunt Dete begins to grow tired of caring for Heidi, and decides to take her to live with her paternal grandfather. Heidi’s grandfather (voiced by Lorne Greene) lives high up in the mountains and is known to be grumpy and reclusive. At first he is cold to Heidi, but she starts to wear down his gruff exterior. Before long, Grandfather is completely smitten with the sweet little girl. To Heidi and Grandfather’s dismay, Aunt Dete returns and insists that Heidi go to live with a wealthy family as a companion to their disabled daughter. Grandfather objects, but eventually decides to send Heidi away thinking it will be best for her. When Heidi arrives at her new home, she is greeted with open arms by Klara, who is confined to a wheelchair. Klara’s governess Fraulein Rottenmeier (what a name for a villian!) is displeased with Heidi’s appearance and uncultured upbringing. Klara manages to convince Rottenmeier to let Heidi stay. After several mishaps, Rottenmeier confines Heidi to a dark basement filled with rats. Although Heidi befriends many of the rats, their leader King Ratte (Sammy Davis, Jr.) turns them against her with a song and dance number. Heidi escapes King Ratte’s tiny rat-paw clutches and convinces Klara to travel with her back to the mountains to live with Grandfather.

The animation in Heidi’s Song is outstanding. As impressive as today’s computer generated animation is, it cannot compare to the high quality hand-drawn images found in so many animated classics. The “Nightmare Ballet” sequence is spectacular with its bright colored monsters, swirling shadows, and demonic creatures. Animation aside, the story is a significantly watered-down version of Spyri’s classic. Sammy Cahn and Burton Lane composed 16 original songs for the film, including the toe-tapping jazz number “Ode to a Rat”, sung by none other than Sammy Davis, Jr. The musical numbers are enjoyable, but feel as if they were tacked on as an afterthought. The Davis number is one of the best scenes, but it’s inconsistent with the rest of the film. Oh well, it’s Sammy Davis, Jr. He’s allowed to come and go as he damn well pleases, thank you very much. Although not Hanna-Barbera’s best, Heidi’s Song is enjoyable, especially to this child of the ’80s. When my daughter is a bit older, I’m sure she will enjoy it too.

Heidi’s Song is a manufactured on demand (MOD) disc with no special features. The film is struck from the best available source material. The video transfer is crisp, as it should be with an animated feature. The audio track is equally good.

 

Full disclosure: Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence received a copy of Heidi’s Song directly from Warner Archive.

 

Rage in Heaven (1941) from Warner Archive

One of the reasons I love classic film is the extensive number of “deep tracks”– those little hidden gems waiting to be discovered and shared. Alright, so maybe not all deep tracks are “gems”, but it’s still loads of fun to discover new-to-me old movies. A few years ago during a Robert Montgomery marathon on TCM, I managed to catch the strange psychological thriller Rage in Heaven. Released by MGM in 1941, and directed by W.S. “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke, Rage in Heaven stars Montgomery, the charming George Sanders, and the young, delightfully fresh-faced Ingrid Bergman. Discovered by David O. Selznick after seeing her performance in the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936), Bergman was immediately signed to a contract. She made her Hollywood debut in 1939 with the remake Intermezzo: A Love Story, with Leslie Howard. Bergman instantly won the affections of American moviegoers. And although her iconic role in the romantic classic Casablanca was three years away, Bergman quickly established herself as a Hollywood mainstay.

Robert Montgomery is Philip Monrell, heir to a British steel magnate. He’s also completely insane. After escaping a mental institution in France, Philip reunites with his best friend, or more accurately his best “frenemy”, Ward Andrews (George Sanders). Ward is unaware of Philip’s mental illness and led to believe that Philip has been on holiday in “the wilds of Africa” (imagine that line in Sanders’ distinctive voice, paired with an endearing “old boy” for good measure). The two friends travel to Philip’s home to visit his mother, who has been ill. While her son was away, Mrs. Monrell (Lucile Watson) employed Stella Bergen (Ingrid Bergman) to act as a secretary and companion. Upon their arrival, Philip and Ward are greeted by the luminous Stella. Both men are immediately struck by her beauty and innocence. There is an instant connection between Ward and Stella, causing Philip’s deeply rooted jealousy of Ward to slowly rear its head.

While Ward is called away for work, Philip aggressively courts Stella in an attempt to win her affections, and ultimately her hand in marriage. Although he succeeds in both, Philip’s growing paranoia that Ward will take Stella away from him begins to manifest into full-blown psychotic obsession. Once Ward returns to England, Philip concocts a series of elaborate situations where Ward and Stella are alone, in an attempt to catch them in an adulterous act. All of Ward and Stella’s interactions are entirely innocent, but Philip’s psychosis seriously impedes his judgment. Obviously. His perpetual mistrust torments Stella, and she seeks comfort with Ward. This only fuels Philip’s neurotic belief that Stella has been unfaithful from the start. Philip’s obsession reaches a disturbing climax, and Ward and Stella fear for their love of one another…and their lives.

Rage in Heaven is not a top-notch film, but I place some of the blame on the confinements of the Production Code, low budget, and troubled production. Although the story suffers, the performances from Montgomery, Bergman, and Sanders make up for the inadequacies. According to the esteemed Kim Morgan at Sunset Gun, Montgomery unintentionally gives a brilliantly nuanced performance as the psychotic Philip Monrell:

Reportedly, Montgomery didn’t want to make the movie, he wanted a break or vacation from his MGM contract but was forced into the role. In retaliation he delivered his lines as flat as possible within this super melodramatic milieu. Well, his angry decision worked, and he’s just so strange that we utterly believe this millionaire is a suicidal madman, one step away from the loony bin he left at the beginning of the movie.

George Sanders is superb as the kind-hearted Ward Andrews. Known more for playing a cad in films like Rebecca and All About Eve, Sanders is delightful as romantic lead. Ingrid Bergman’s seemingly effortless and natural acting style, which we all know and love, was apparent even in those early performances. Although their pairing seems odd, Bergman and Sanders make a wonderful on-screen couple.

As with other Warner Archive titles, Rage in Heaven is a manufactured on demand (MOD) disc with limited special features. The film is remastered from the best available source material. The video transfer and audio track are quite good. Rage in Heaven is a nice addition to your home library, if only to round out your “George Sanders as a lover” film collection.

Full disclosure: Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence received a copy of Rage in Heaven directly from Warner Archive.

This review is part of the 2012 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon co-hosted by my friend and fellow blogger Michael Nazarewycz of ScribeHard on Film.

 

William Powell in Rendezvous (1935) from Warner Archive

William Powell is one of the most lovable, charming actors from the Golden Age of Hollywood. His dry wit, distinct voice, and gentlemanly disposition truly make him one of a kind. Like most of the stars of the Studio Era, Powell had to deal with his share of recycled scrips and grueling production schedules. Sometimes the result was a rough-hewn gem. Other times it was an easily forgotten misuse of an incredible talent. But when it comes to Bill Powell, just give me what you’ve got. I’ll take it all.

One year after delivering what would become an iconic performance in W.S. Van Dyke’s hugely popular The Thin Man (1934), Powell appeared in the WWI drama Rendezvous (1935), alongside Rosalind Russell and Binnie Barnes. I generally dislike typecasting, but I do prefer Powell in light comedies and sleuthing roles like Philo Vance and Nick Charles. Powell in a WWI Army officer’s uniform threw me for a bit of a loop, especially since he is most often seen sporting a tuxedo with martini(s) in hand(s).

Powell is Bill Gordon, lieutenant in the United States Army. He is days away from a deployment to the front lines overseas, which is something he is more than happy to participate in. At a dinner party before his departure, he becomes acquainted with Joel Carter, a young and spunky woman played by Rosalind Russell. Joel pretends to be annoyed by Bill’s teasing and flattery, but it’s apparent she’s smitten. The pair are virtually inseparable, and in an intimate moment on the eve of his deployment, Bill confides that he is an expert in cryptography. Unbeknownst to Bill, Joel’s uncle is a top official in the War Department. As he is about to board his train at the station, Bill receives orders to report for desk duty. Before long, Bill discovers that Joel had a hand in his change of orders.

Samuel Hinds as John Carter and William Powell as Bill Gordon
Samuel Hinds as John Carter and William Powell as Bill Gordon

Frustrated that he can’t join the fight, Bill soon realizes his experience in cracking code is desperately needed to insure the safety of his fellow servicemen. While working alongside Maj. William Brennan (Lionel Atwill) and relying on the lab research of Professor Martin (Charley Grapewin), Bill uncovers an elaborate plan by the Germans to intercept American military communications. Unaware of the location of the espionage ring or the identity of the mole, Powell fights the clock to prevent the destruction of American Naval vessels.

Binnie Barnes as Olivia Karloff and Cesar Romero as Capt. Nicholas Nieterstein
Binnie Barnes as Olivia Karloff and Cesar Romero as Capt. Nicholas Nieterstein

I wanted to like Rendezvous more than I did. Unfortunately, the film presents a confusing mix of comedy and suspense, but does neither particularly well. Russell is oddly miscast as the aggressive, flighty love interest – meddling to protect Bill, but doing more harm than good. Russell’s character is slightly reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn’s Susan Vance in Howard Hawks Bringing Up Baby (1937). However, Hepburn’s Susan is adorable and her meddling only affects David (Cary Grant), never putting him in harm’s way. Joel’s interference is destructive and places him, and others, in grave danger. Russell’s character aside, I really enjoyed the spy yarn plot-line, which had some surprisingly dark moments. William Powell is quite convincing as a military code expert, despite the boozy baggage he brings to any characterization.

Rendezvous is a manufacture on demand (MOD) DVD from Warner Archive. This edition does not have any special features and is struck from the best available source material. The transfer is decent, with an equally good audio track.

If you’re a William Powell completist, Rendezvous is a must. If not, take a furlough and pop in your Thin Man DVDs.

Disclaimer: Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence received a review copy of Redezvous directly from Warner Archive.