Updated: Jan 1, 2020
The latest pre-holiday releases in DVDs and Blu-rays seem tailor-made for hardcore classics fans. Here are four to consider, for yourself or as a gift for that person in your life who can’t stop talking about Alfred Hitchcock or Miriam Hopkins.
The Anne Bancroft Collection
Before you ask, yes, The Graduate is included in this collection, as it should be; this is the first time Bancroft’s work has been gathered in a Blu-ray offering, and no grouping of her work is complete without one of her best-known roles (she was Oscar-nominated for her work as Mrs. Robinson, one of five Academy Award nods she received, while she won just once, for 1962’s The Miracle Worker). That film and two other nominated roles also reside in this collection: 1964’s The Pumpkin Eater and 1985’s Agnes of God. This is indeed a wide-ranging collection, starting with 1952’s Don’t Bother to Knock, in which Marilyn Monroe steals the picture as a hotel babysitter who isn’t as mentally healthy as she initially seems. You’ll also find the remake Bancroft and husband Mel Brooks did of To Be or Not to Be in 1983, as well as the lovely film 84 Charing Cross Road, co-starring Anthony Hopkins, from 1987. Bonus features are offered in abundance, especially for fans of The Graduate, including a 2007 audio commentary between Mike Nichols and Steven Soderbergh and a making-of featurette from 1992. This is far from a comprehensive look at Bancroft’s work — including 1977’s The Turning Point and 1984’s Garbo Talks would have been very welcome — but it’s a good start, no matter whether you’re a hardcore fan or you simply desire a sampling of great films across four incredibly diverse decades of cinema.
Glorifying the American Girl (1929)
Starring Mary Eaton, Eddie Cantor, Helen Morgan and Rudy Vallee
Directed by Millard Webb
Costumes by John W. Harkrider
Mary Eaton’s name is nowhere to be found on the Blu-ray cover, but she’s the star of this pre-Code film, as a shopgirl who gets discovered by one of Florenz Ziegfeld’s talent scouts, and who of course must spend the rest of the film negotiating the dual challenges of love and fame. On the original film poster this title was billed as “Florenz Ziegfeld’s Glorifying the American Girl” — though his official credit reads a somewhat more nebulous “under the personal supervision of,” it’s clear that the great showman’s name was considered a draw during this transition era of silents to talkies. The star billing of Cantor, Morgan and Vallee is also a little deceiving: They appear as themselves as part of the climactic Ziegfeld revue, not as fictional characters in the film. Then again, if you ever wanted to be transported to the escapist fantasy of a Broadway extravaganza in 1929 New York, this production is about as close as you can get without a time machine.
The Story of Temple Drake (1933)
Starring Miriam Hopkins, William Gargan and Jack La Rue
Directed by Stephen Roberts
Costumes by Travis Banton
Based on Sanctuary, William Faulkner’s highly controversial 1931 novel, The Story of Temple Drake is one of the great pre-Code films of all time, largely due to its subject matter, the tale of a Southern belle who suffers at the hands of men. (George Raft, originally assigned the role La Rue would play, refused the part, calling it “screen suicide,” and took a suspension from Paramount Pictures as a result.) No spoilers for what happens to Hopkins, seen here as Temple Drake in one of her earliest roles, or how she’s able to exact her revenge, but suffice it to say that the film deviated in several key plot points from the novel in order to make it to the screen, though that didn’t stop critics and moralists from decrying its subject matter. Ultimately, if you’re a fan of films like 1933’s Baby Face with Barbara Stanwyck, then The Story of Temple Drake, seen here in a high-definition digital restoration, should be part of your Blu-ray library.
Hitchcock: British International Pictures Collection
The portrait of a baby-faced Alfred Hitchcock on the cover of this three-disc set is a perfect clue as to what you’ll encounter here from the man who ultimately became known as the master of suspense. This collection of five early films, dated from 1927 to 1931 and including just one talking picture, 1931’s The Skin Game, serves as an essential primer for anyone who ranks The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes or Vertigo among their favorite films. None of these are murder mysteries, it should be noted — Champagne and The Farmer’s Wife are silent comedies — but each offers an insight into both the nuance and detail Hitchcock considered essential to all his films, as well as the romantic heart that often had to do battle with the director’s more cynical impulses in his later work. Get this for the Hitchcock fan who knows every second of Rear Window or To Catch a Thief by heart.