Eclectic golden oldies newly released this week are led by Blu-ray upgrades of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s only starring movie and the musical that earned James Cagney his Oscar. (The Warner Archive films below are available at warnerarchive.com.)
“UHF: Special Edition” (MGM/Shout!/Blu-ray, 1989, PG-13, deleted scenes, audio commentary, 2014 Comic-Con panel, featurettes, music video, photo gallery, promo materials).
“The Compleat Al” (Shout!/DVD, 1985). With rock-music parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic’s career being revitalized of late, it was just a matter of time before someone would come up with the idea of reissuing his 1980s movie, “UHF,” and his Showtime cable special “The Compleat Al.” If you’re a “Weird Al” fan, your time is now.
“UHF” is a pretty funny, if inconsistent, skit film wrapped in a spoof of “Network” as Al and a pal (David Bowe) operate a failing TV station, soon learning that the more offensive the show, the better the ratings. The movie isn’t really offensive, though, except perhaps for some blood-spurting spoofery (a la Monty Python). There isn’t even a single profanity.
But as they lampoon everything from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Gandhi” it’s definitely a mix of laugh-worthy hits and groan-worthy misses. Co-stars include Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, Victoria Jackson, Fran Drescher and a pair of actors with Utah roots, Gedde Watanabe and Anthony Geary.
“The Compleat Al” is a feature-length mockumentary of Yankovic’s life, with some allusions to truth and a lot of silliness. But it also includes eight of his early videos, including the hilarious “Eat It,” “I Lost on Jeopardy,” “Like a Surgeon” and “Dare to Be Stupid.”
“Yankee Doodle Dandy” (Warner Archive/Blu-ray, 1942, b/w, audio commentary, featurettes, newsreel, two short films, two cartoons, trailers, audio-only radio show/outtakes/rehearsals). James Cagney is a dancing fool in his Oscar-winning performance as tunesmith George M. Cohan, reminiscing about his life as we see his difficulties and triumphs during a long show-business career. Old-fashioned patriotism and family loyalty dominate the film, which is filled with rousing songs and Cagney at his most dynamic — and that’s saying something. (The film won three of its eight Academy Award nominations.)
“Possessed” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1947, b/w, audio commentary, featurette, trailer). Also receiving a Blu-ray upgrade is this fine melodrama anchored by an Oscar-nominated performance from Joan Crawford as a disturbed woman with an unbalanced obsession for a former lover (Van Heflin) who rebuffed her. Her tragic story unfolds as she reveals the shocking tale to a doctor. Raymond Massey and Geraldine Brooks co-star.
“Boy Meets Girl” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1938, b/w, trailer). In this screwball comedy that lampoons Hollywood, James Cagney is paired with frequent co-star Pat O’Brien as they play a scheming pair of screenwriters who manipulate those around them to save their jobs. Not always credible, but witty dialogue and a fast pace help, along with the charismatic stars. Also on hand are Ralph Bellamy, Marie Wilson, Penny Singleton and a very young Ronald Reagan.
“The Cossacks” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1928, b/w, silent with orchestral score by Robert Israel). Thrilling adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel benefits from some eye-catching stunt riding and a lavish, atmospheric production. John Gilbert stars as the son of a chieftain labeled a coward, so he sets out to prove himself to his people and to the woman he loves, now being wooed by a rival.
“Why Be Good?” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1929, b/w, silent with original Vitaphone musical soundtrack). Vivacious Colleen Moore stars in this romantic comedy as a store clerk who is fired after dating her boss’ son, as the boss fears she’s not a “good” girl. So the son sets up a test to see how far she’ll go. Hence the title. Innocent and energetic little farce is the perfect vehicle for Moore, the silent era’s quintessential flapper. Look for Jean Harlow as a nightclub reveler.
“Wicked, Wicked” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1973, PG, trailer). Blondes are going missing at a sprawling Southern California hotel so the house detective vows to track down the psycho responsible. Gimmicky horror employs the “new film experience Duo-Vision,” which is actually just split-screen, a technique that shows two scenes on the screen simultaneously — and which dates back to the silent era, though it was popularized in the 1960s by such films as “Grand Prix” and “The Boston Strangler.”
“Gene Autry: Collection 8” (Timeless/DVD, 1947-53, b/w, four films, introductions by Autry and Pat Buttram, audio-only radio shows, photo/publicity gallery, trivia). The four Autry Westerns here are “Trail to San Antone,” “Riders of the Whistling Pines,” “Riders in the Sky” and “Saginaw Trail,” with co-stars Peggy Stewart, Sterling Holloway, Alan Hale, Smiley Burnette and Buttram.