“Something for everyone” is the theme of this latest crop of Blu-ray and DVD releases, from stunning silent-film classics and an Oscar-winning epic to one of the most beloved films of all time.
3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg
The Criterion Collection
on DVD and Blu-ray, released 10/8/19
List price: $99.95, available at
He’s best known as the influential director who made Marlene Dietrich a star, but Morocco, Shanghai Express and The Devil is a Woman in your collection, here are three earlier works of von Sternberg that deserve to be in the collection of anyone who loves great stories that are also visually beautiful.
Underworld (1927) is the story of a love triangle with three great character names: the gangster “Bull” Weed, his friend “Rolls-Royce” Wensel, and the girl who comes between them, “Feathers” McCoy. Considered von Sternberg’s breakthrough effort, Underworld is a visually stunning film, partly thanks to costume-design work by Travis Banton and an uncredited Edith Head (and yes, in case you’re wondering, “Feathers,” played by Evelyn Brent, does indeed wear them, to great effect).
For trivia fans, Emil Jannings won the first Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role in 1928’s The Last Command, which is based on the true story of a former Russian army general who fled his home country after the 1917 revolution and made his way to Hollywood, where he worked as a film extra. William Powell plays a successful Hollywood director who knew Jannings’s general in Russia, and Evelyn Brent is back as the love interest, as is Travis Banton as the costume designer.
Rounding out the trio of films in this three-disc set is The Docks of New York, also from 1928. As its name implies, this is the story of working-class folks on the waterfront, starring George Bancroft as Bill, a coal stoker on a barge, and Betty Compson as Mae, who is rescued by Bill after she plunges into the water, attempting suicide. They quickly fall in love, but there are complications. The Docks of New York is one of von Sternberg’s most beautiful films, with cinematography by Harold Rosson, whose celebrated work includes The Wizard of Oz and Singin’ in the Rain, and Travis Banton once again handles the costume-design duties.
Features include high-definition restoration for all three films and a Swedish television interview from 1968 with von Sternberg. Ultimately the beauty of black-and-white film has rarely been better.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
on Blu-ray, released 10/15/19
Starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier and Jean Simmons
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Costumes by Valles and Bill Thomas
List price: $19.98, available at
This epic story of a man who’s born a slave but rises to become a gladiator who leads a revolt against the Roman Empire has taken on a reputation over the years as a camp classic — which also makes it a perfect escapist film. Spartacus took home four Academy Awards — Best Supporting Actor for Peter Ustinov, Best Cinematography (color), Best Art and Set Decoration (color), and Best Costume Design (color) for Valles and Bill Thomas — out of six nominations, and the qualities that earned those accolades are very much in evidence, especially in the interiors, the battle scenes and every line reading from scene-stealer Ustinov. But it’s also a great example of how costumes, makeup and hairstyles in films of this era can look more than a little anachronistic — especially true of Simmons and Nina Foch — while some of the line deliveries have not aged well. Yet it’s precisely those elements that make for an entertaining, even amusing viewing.
This latest release is based on a 2015 restoration, but this extended version features 12 additional minutes, restoring even more scenes the censors had problems with back in 1960. Additional features include “I am Spartacus: A Conversation with Kirk Douglas,” an all-new interview, as well as archival interviews with Simmons and Ustinov, and a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s restoration (the original negative was almost lost to age and carelessness). For those who may not care for the epics genre, you still may find plenty to enjoy about Spartacus — even if it isn’t what Kubrick (who later disavowed his involvement in the film, incidentally) originally intended.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
on Blu-ray Combo + Digital,
Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan and Ray Bolger
Directed by Victor Fleming
Costumes by Adrian
List price: $41.99, available at
One of the most beloved movies of all time is getting a shiny new release for its 80th anniversary, in a 4K Ultra HD that should make the Technicolor land of Oz leap off the screen. This print was created from a new 8K 16bit scan of the original Technicolor camera negative, which became the basis for the 4K UHD scan; according to the Warner Archive press notes, “the process was overseen by MPI colorist Janet Wilson, who has supervised every remaster of The Wizard of Oz for the past 20 years.”
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray includes commentary by film historians John Fricke and Barbara Freed-Saltzman, as well as a host of cast members, including Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley. A 1990 CBS special, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic,” is also included among the features. A standard Blu-ray is also included in this combo pack and is loaded with features, from a sing-along track and deleted scenes to “The Wonderful World of Oz Storybook,” narrated by Angela Lansbury.
Over the past 80 years, multiple generations have marveled at that moment when Dorothy’s house crash-lands in Oz, and she opens the door to step from a sepia-toned interior to the brilliant hues of Technicolor. Just imagine what that now looks like in this latest remaster, which promises “a wider color spectrum, offering consumers brighter, deeper, more lifelike colors for a home-entertainment viewing experience like never before.” A must addition for every home library.