Vintage-movie releases this week are highlighted by a number of Blu-ray upgrades and films in widescreen for the first time since their initial theatrical releases.
“To Have and Have Not” (Warner Archive, 1944, b/w, audio-only radio version, featurette, cartoon, trailer). It’s the summer of 1940 in the French colony of Martinique, and Humphrey Bogart charters his fishing boat to tourists. When he’s approached to help the French Resistance, he balks, but we know he’ll come around — all of which plays second fiddle to the chemistry between Bogie and Lauren Bacall, and the fine comic relief from Hoagy Carmichael and Walter Brennan.
This is a great Blu-ray upgrade for a crackling wartime romance, directed by Howard Hawks and filled to the brim with witty dialogue. The film is most famous for bringing Bogart together with Bacall (in her first film). (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com)
“Silk Stockings” (Warner Archive, 1957, featurette, musical shorts “Paree Paree” and “The Poet and the Peasant Overture,” trailer). Cyd Charisse is perfectly cast as an icy Russian operative who melts under the charm of an American movie producer (Fred Astaire, in top form) in a vivid Blu-ray upgrade of this colorful widescreen musical. The remake of “Ninotchka” boasts a Cole Porter score (including the hilarious “Stereophonic Sound”) and amusing support from Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and George Tobias. (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com)
“A Dispatch from Reuters” (Warner Archive, 1940, b/w, trailer). Edward G. Robinson stars as Paul Julius Reuter, a 19th-century pioneer in international news reporting whose success is fully realized when he is the first to report the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Fairly typical Hollywood biography of the period gets a lift from Robinson and a sterling supporting cast that includes Edna Best, Eddie Albert, Otto Kruger and Nigel Bruce. (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com.)
“My Fellow Americans” (Warner Archive, 1996, PG-13, trailer). Jack Lemmon and James Garner are terrific as former presidents who loathe each other but are forced to come together when the sitting president (Dan Aykroyd) falsely implicates them in scandal. It's a silly comedy that is bolstered by two charismatic veterans who know their way around a quip — even a vulgar one. Lauren Bacall, Wilford Brimley, Sela Ward, John Heard, Marg Helgenberger and Bradley Whitford co-star. This is the film’s first widescreen release. (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com)
“In Country” (Warner Archive, 1989, R for language). Bruce Willis is the draw but Emily Lloyd is the star of this slow-to-build melodrama about a young woman trying to learn about the father she never knew, who died in Vietnam before her birth. She is a caretaker of sorts for her damaged-vet uncle (Willis), while her mother (Joan Allen) is newly remarried and finally moving on. The plot features a soul-stirring conclusion. This is the film’s first widescreen release. (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com)
“Five Days One Summer” (Warner Archive, 1982, PG, trailer). Sean Connery stars in this so-so soap opera set against mountain climbing in the Swiss Alps, circa 1932, as a middle-aged Scottish doctor having a tryst with a younger woman he passes off as his wife. A major flop at the time, it was the last film for Oscar-winning director Fred Zinnemann (“From Here to Eternity,” “A Man for all Seasons”). (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com)
“Dementia 13” (Film Detective, 1963, b/w). Francis Ford Coppola’s first film is about a young bride and her husband who are in Ireland to visit his family when he suddenly dies of a heart attack. So she disposes of the body, pretends he’s on a business trip and tries to ingratiate herself into her wealthy mother-in-law’s will. Then an ax murderer enters the scene. This inconsequential horror yarn is a curiosity for Coppola fans. It's a good widescreen Blu-ray transfer.
“Amateur Night at City Hall: The Story of Frank L. Rizzo” (MVD, 1978, not rated/probable PG). Musical documentarian Robert Mugge steps away from his usual topic to chronicle the rise of Frank L. Rizzo, a controversial figure who rose from being a tough cop on the beat in Philadelphia to police commissioner and, ultimately, mayor. He was always polarizing and there are as many naysayers as fans interviewed in this matter-of-fact look at his life. The film was completed and shown while Rizzo was still in office.
“The Return of Ruben Blades” (MVD, 1985, not rated/probable PG). Robert Mugge’s feature-length profile of Panamanian musician/activist/actor Ruben Blades was filmed when Blades was in his mid-30s, just before his film career took off, and begins with his receiving a Harvard Law degree. But the focus is his effort as a salsa singer (and aspiring actor) to reach an international audience in the hope of dispelling Latin stereotypes. Blades is a charming interviewee and his musical performances are infectious. Linda Ronstadt and writer Pete Hamill are also on hand.
“Female Prison Scorpion: The Complete Collection” (Arrow, 1972-73, two discs, not rated/probable R for violence, sex, nudity, language; in Japanese with English subtitles, four films, featurettes, trailer; booklet, poster). Meiko Kaji stars as brutalized survivor Nami Matsushima, aka “The Scorpion,” in “Female Convict 701: Scorpion,” “Jailhouse 41,” “Beast Stable” and “Grudge Song” — four women-in-prison (and sometimes escaped-from-prison) movies that provided inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films.
“Crimes of Passion” (Arrow, 1984; not rated/probable R for violence, sex, nudity, language; two versions, deleted/extended scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer; booklet). British maverick filmmaker Ken Russell directed this exploitation yarn about a fashion designer (Kathleen Turner) moonlighting as a kinky hooker, with Anthony Perkins as a crazy priest. The two versions here are the unrated European cut and the director’s cut that was previously issued on laser disc.