A new Blu-ray set of Frank Sinatra films has been released this week, along with the DVD debuts of two Rosalind Russell pictures and several vintage Westerns.
“Frank Sinatra 5-Film Collection” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1945-64, five discs, five movies, audio commentaries, featurettes, shorts, cartoons, trailers; 32-page book). The latest repackaging of Sinatra flicks is a box set, smaller and more shelf-friendly than most, the chief attraction of which is the upgraded high-definition debut of three musicals. Also here are earlier bonus features, the video debut of five cartoons and a hardback photo book.
The three films debuting on Blu-ray are the enjoyable “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), starring Sinatra and Gene Kelly as sailors on leave (highlighted by Kelly’s famous dance with Jerry the cartoon mouse); the top-of-the-line hilarious classic “On the Town” (1949), with Sinatra, Kelly and Jules Munshin as sailors on leave, and Vera-Ellen, Betty Garrett and Ann Miller as their respective romantic interests; and the amusing “Robin and the 7 Hoods” (1964), the last “Rat Pack” picture with Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as Bing Crosby, Peter Falk, Barbara Rush and Edward G. Robinson, set in Roaring ’20s Chicago.
The other two films, which have been on Blu-ray for a while, are “Guys and Dolls” (1955), starring Sinatra and Marlon Brando in a stagey but fun adaptation of the Broadway musical, with Stubby Kaye handily stealing his every scene; and the first “Rat Pack” movie, “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960), with Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Angie Dickinson, along with a terrific twist ending that was abandoned for George Clooney’s remake.
“The Stranger Collection” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1966-69, two discs, three films, one trailer). Very low-budget spaghetti Westerns starring Tony Anthony as The Stranger, a kind of dry spoof of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name (watch Anthony try, unsuccessfully, to roll a cigarette). Eastwood famously cut back his own dialogue for the “Dollars” trilogy, but the effete Anthony is almost in a silent movie. Surprisingly, the franchise improves with the second and third film.
“A Stranger in Town” (aka “A Dollar Between the Teeth”) has Anthony double-crossed after he aids a gold-shipment robbery, so he vows revenge. “The Stranger Returns” (aka “A Man, a Horse, a Gun” and “Shoot First, Laugh Last”) has him chasing outlaws in pursuit of a stagecoach secretly made of gold. And best of all is “The Silent Stranger” (aka “Stranger in Japan” and “Horseman and the Samurai”), which has Anthony returning an ancient scroll to Japan where he is caught up in a samurai war. (There’s also a fourth “Stranger” film, “Get Mean,” which followed six years later.) (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Sister Kenny” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1946, b/w). Rosalind Russell, in the second of her four Oscar-nominated roles, is excellent as Mary Kenny, a real-life Australian bush nurse who sacrificed much of her life to buck the medical establishment with polio treatments she successfully developed but which doctors dismissed. Co-stars include Alexander Knox, Dean Jagger and Beulah Bondi. (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“The Velvet Touch” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1948, b/w). Unpretentious little film noir about a Broadway actress (Rosalind Russell) killing a producer that attempts to blackmail her. She gets away with it until her conscience shows up. Cleverly plotted with a smart ending, though it’s never quite as gripping as it would like to be. Good cast includes Claire Trevor, Sydney Greenstreet, Leon Ames and Lex Barker. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“The Hired Gun” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1957, b/w, raw trailer with no text). Rory Calhoun is a gunslinger hired by a Texas rancher to hunt down his daughter-in-law (Anne Francis), who he believes murdered his son. Her ranch foreman (Chuck Connors) hides her in New Mexico, but Calhoun is on their trail, as is her brother-in-law (Vince Edwards). Snappy little B-Western uplifted by a solid cast. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Black Gold” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1947). Anthony Quinn had appeared in some 50 movies, playing a variety of ethnicities, by the time this one came along, his first above-the-title billing. This first color production for the independent Monogram studio (as it began transitioning to Allied Artists) is the nicely modulated true story of American Indian Charlie Eagle, who adopts an orphaned Chinese boy, strikes oil on his land and then trains the title horse for the Kentucky Derby. Quinn’s real-life wife Katherine DeMille co-stars, along with Utah actor Moroni Olsen. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Black Patch” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1957, b/w). George Montgomery stars in this moody Western as a stoic one-eyed sheriff whose old pal (Leo Gordon, author of the script) shows up married to Montgomery’s old flame (Diane Brewster). But when there’s a bank robbery, he knows his friend did it. And that’s just the beginning. Supporting players include Sebastian Cabot (TV’s “Family Affair”), Strother Martin (“Cool Hand Luke”) and unbilled Dan Blocker (TV’s “Bonanza”). The music is Jerry Goldsmith’s first score. (Available at warnerarchive.com.)
“GoodFellas” (Warner/Blu-ray/Digital, 1990; R for violence, language, drugs, sex; audio commentaries, featurettes, trailer; 36-page hardback photo book). One of Martin Scorsese’s best films is this rough, brutal, scary true story of mobster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who is shown growing up on New York’s mean streets, yearning for the good life of the local gangsters he observes until the reality of mob life proves to be more than he bargained for. Liotta is pitch-perfect, and the rest of the cast — Robert De Niro, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino and especially Oscar-winner Joe Pesci — is equally fine.
“Mahogany” (Paramount/DVD, 1975, PG, photo gallery; five double-sided photo cards). This Diana Ross vehicle is a feature-length fashion-show-cum-soap-opera that reunites her with her “Lady Sings the Blues” co-star Billy Dee Williams. Ross rises from secretary to fashion model to fashion designer, while Williams is the selfless Chicago activist who loves her. Anthony Perkins co-stars as a renowned but possessive fashion photographer. Lushly filmed in Chicago and Rome.
“Retaliation” (Arrow/Blu-ray/DVD, 1968, in Japanese with English subtitles, featurettes, photo gallery, trailer). Crime thriller for fans of ’60s yakuza flicks with Akira Kobayashi as Jiro, an ex-con fresh out of prison whose old gang has disbanded since the godfather, Jiro’s mentor, lies bedridden. So he strikes a deal with another mob family, only to discover he’s being set up. (Not rated but with some R-level violence, sex and nudity.)