Updated: May 4, 2021
"Damn Yankees" enjoys a Blu-ray update, while Gloria Grahame fans can savor two of her best titles this month.
From gritty film noir to the bold and brilliant hues of Technicolor, classic films in a variety of visual styles enjoy important new releases this month—let's dig in:
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
Starring Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde, Charlton Heston, Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Grahame and Jimmy Stewart
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Costumes by Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins and Miles White
Cecil B. DeMille produced and directed 1952's Best Picture winner, and it shows in every frame of this all-star spectacle of life at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. DeMille famously wanted his actors to participate as genuine circus performers, so it's all the more impressive to see Cornel Wilde on the high wire, knowing he was afraid of heights, or watching as Gloria Grahame allows an elephant to put its foot mere inches from her face. This story of personal and professional drama behind the scenes includes the mystery of James Stewart's character, who is never seen without his clown makeup (legendary clown Emmett Kelly shares scenes with him). Betty Hutton received top billing as the partner of Wilde's character while also being in love with Charlton Heston's circus manager, Brad, who precedes Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones in turning a fedora and a leather jacket into a style statement.
Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins and Miles White share the costume-design duties on The Greatest Show on Earth, and several of the performance costumes indeed will make you glad this is a Technicolor film. This brand-new 4K restoration from the original camera negative is indeed quite beautiful, and includes a "Filmmaker Focus" featurette with Leonard Maltin.
Warner Archive Collection
Starring Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
Film-noir fans should be excited by this new release of Crossfire, for both its visual appeal and its bonus features. This Warner Archive Blu-ray highlights a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, resulting in a stunning look at a film that makes terrific use of gritty shots and shadows. Crossfire starts with a murder that the audience indeed largely sees from the images cast on a wall, and then watches as two people escape from the scene, with only the bottom halves of their bodies lit by a lamp lying on the floor. If those visuals don’t scream noir, what does?
Robert Young as the detective who must solve this crime is immediately introduced, and from there the audience is taken into a much deeper story, which explores anti-Semitism in a blatant and courageous way rarely seen for the time. Also ranking high among the stellar performances is Gloria Grahame as a dance-hall girl who knows more than she initially tells; a favorite actress among fans of the genre, Grahame would score her first Oscar nomination for this film – five years later, she took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful. This Crossfire release vaults into must-have territory because it also includes a commentary track from film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, as well as excerpts from an audio interview with director Edward Dmytryk; a featurette, "Crossfire: Hate is Like a Gun," is also included.
Damn Yankees (1958)
Warner Archive Collection
Starring Tab Hunter, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston
Costumes by Jean Eckart and William Eckart
Tab Hunter gets top billing in this 1958 musical about a hapless baseball team and a fan’s desire to win a pennant, but let’s be honest, you watch Damn Yankees to enjoy every second of Gwen Verdon’s performance, yes? “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets” remains a legendary number largely thanks to Verdon’s turn as the devilish woman who’s ready to make dreams come true for Joe, the superstar player of the Washington Senators.
The triple-threat actress/singer/dancer won a Tony Award for her star turn in the original Broadway musical, which opened in 1955 and ran for 1,019 performances; knowing what we do today about her collaborations with Bob Fosse (largely thanks to the acclaimed FX series that debuted in 2019), the fact that Fosse became Verdon’s husband two years after the release of the film version of Damn Yankees only adds additional layers both to numbers like “Who’s Got the Pain?” and the production overall. Verdon’s rare onscreen pairing with Fosse, also the choreographer on both the Broadway and film versions of Damn Yankees, doubles the delight of watching this Blu-ray, a new 4K restoration from the preservation separation masters.
Damn Yankees is the rare theatrical musical that transported much of its cast and crew from Broadway into the film version; George Abbott, who both wrote the musical’s book and directed the Broadway musical and directed the film alongside Stanley Donen, while Jean Eckart and William Eckart are the husband-and-wife team credited with crafting both scenic and costume design for the musical and the film. For Verdon fans, this Blu-ray release is ultimately a must-have as an example of a multi-hyphenate actress at the height of her powers, devilish and otherwise.