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Chris Hicks: The best of 2006: DVDs

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These days it's particularly difficult to narrow DVDs to a best-of list at the end of the year, since there are so many older titles as well as new titles being released almost every week.

Trying to address everything would only result in an unsatisfying list ... and a headache. Also, doing something on new movies released on DVD in 2006 would merely be another top-10 movie list; I'll leave that to Jeff Vice.

One of the things that DVDs offer, of course, is bonus features, which are sometimes great and sometimes lacking. I'm happy to have access to such material, but for me, bonus features are just that, a nice bonus. If they're not there, I generally don't complain.

With that in mind, I'm simply going to offer my favorite 2006 DVD releases in two categories — vintage movies and TV series.

And maybe a bonus feature.

Vintage movies

Warner Home Video (with occasional help from Turner Classic Movies) continues to lead the pack with great DVD packaging that often includes an array of thoughtful bonus features, such as the 2006 box set devoted to John Wayne and John Ford, and another to to Ford exclusively (both sets included first-time releases and reissues with bounteous supplemental material).

The Wayne-Ford set may have been the best of the year, especially with all extras about "The Searchers" — including a great deal about shooting in Monument Valley.

Other great Warner sets were devoted to Paul Newman, Humphrey Bogart, James Stewart, Sam Peckinpah, Busby Berkeley, Tennessee Williams — and even the '60s Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford.

But if you don't care so much for lavish bonus features and simply wanted affordability, Universal began offering more slender sets without extras, but with coveted films starring such fan favorites as Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Boris Karloff, Rock Hudson, Preston Sturges, Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields.

Fox got into the act with a few terrific sets (with some nice bonus features) devoted to the studio's "Charlie Chan" and "Mr. Moto" film series, as well as films of Will Rogers, Betty Grable and others.

And it should also be mentioned that George Lucas finally got around to issuing the original versions of the first "Star Wars" films on DVD ... though he also included the "special edition" in each set, which jacked up the price.

TV series

Vintage TV series that finally debuted on DVD included "Saturday Night Live," "Mr. Peepers," "Perry Mason," "Sgt. Bilko," "Police Woman," "That Girl," "The Addams Family" and "Mission: Impossible."

And though it was on TV a little later, in the 1980s, the single disc, complete six-episode series "Police Squad!" was also a welcome release.

But older TV series on DVD this year were really dominated by Westerns, with the debuts of "Gunsmoke," "Rawhide," "Cheyenne," "Wild Wild West," "Daniel Boone" — and even that wonderful '80s spoof, "Brisco County Jr."

Even the most cynical fans of early TV have to admit, this was a banner year for DVD releases ... and here's hoping they sold well enough to continue subsequent seasons — and new titles — in 2007.


Something that seems to be an emerging trend is exclusive older-title DVD releases that can only be purchased in one place.

This came to my attention in September when I stumbled upon "The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection," a five-movie set only available in Best Buy stores. Three of the titles are silly B-movie monster pictures that would appeal only to horror or nostalgia buffs, but two are genuine 1950s sci-fi classics: "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and "Tarantula."

Later in September came "The Ellen DeGeneres Show: DVD-licious!" — sold only in Target stores through the end of November, then released to other stores.

In October, the second five Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies were released, as well as a box set with all 10 of the dancing duo's pictures, along with a bonus disc. And for those of us who already had the first five films, Amazon.com offered the box set and bonus disc with five empty sleeves for the films we already had ... at a reduced price, of course.

Then in November, the TV sitcom "Get Smart" finally came to DVD in a "complete-series" box set, available only through Time-Life online. It won't be in stores until next fall.

And finally, Amazon.com is currently offering the 1943 Lucille Ball film "Best Food Forward" as an exclusive release, and at the end of January, the online store will have an exclusive release of the original 1951 "Angels in the Outfield."

E-mail: hicks@desnews.com