There's a great deal of ground to cover this week, so let's dive right in, shall we? Sony Pictures Choice Collection's new edition of Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959) is, to date, the fifth presentation of this Oscar-nominated legal drama on DVD and Blu-ray, but it's also reportedly the first to be offered in its correct aspect ration (1.85 widescreen standard). That may or may not affect your appreciation for this stellar picture,with James Stewart and George C. Scott as lawyers facing off over an Army officer (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering a bartender who assaulted his seductive wife (Lee Remick) and its groundbreaking jazz score by Duke Ellington.
Meanwhile, Warner Archives offers three titles starring Clark Gable that span his tenure as a leading man at MGM. Gable co-stars with Marion Davies in the light 1932 comedy-drama Polly of the Circus as a small town reverend who falls in love with Davies' circus aerialist, much to the consternation of his flock. He's then reteamed with his Call of the Wild (1935) co-star Loretta Young for the fizzy romantic comedy Key to the City (1950), which pits rough-and-tumble Gable against Young's well-heeled Maine mayor, with the expected fireworks. The Gable three-fer concludes with Never Let Me Go (1953), a sudsy Delmar Daves effort with Gene Tierney as the Russian ballerina and Gable as the American news reporter determined to get her out of the hands of the Soviets. No real classics here, but all three pics underscore Gable's magnetic screen presence and enduring popularity.
Also on the vintage Hollywood front: John Ford's Rising of the Moon (1957; Warner Archives), an
anthology of Irish stories introduced by Tyrone Power and featuring a stellar cast of Emerald Isle players, including Cyril Cusack, Jack MacGowran, Donal Donnelly and Dennis O'Day. The trio of stories, culled fromg the fiction of Frank O'Connor and a controversial one-act play from 1907, hew towards the precious at times (and apparently earned the enmity of the Northern Irish, who banned the film over alleged revolutionary overtones), but Ford aficionados will appreciate this opportunity to see one of the director's more obscure and personal projects. The Hireling (Sony) has also been out of circulation for many years, despite having shared the Grand Prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival with Scarecrow. The class drama stars Sarah Miles as a bereaved aristocrat who forms a relationship with her chauffeur (Robert Shaw); the stars are better than the material, which takes a curious and heavy-handed offramp into anarchy for its conclusion.
For those seeking lighter fare, Warner has a trio of offbeat comedies, some more successful than others, but all with something to recommend a viewing. The political comedy First Family (1980) carries an exceptional pedigree, with script and direction by Buck Henry and a cast featuring (among others) Bob
Newhart as the President of the United States, Madeleine Kahn as his wife, Gilda Radner as their hapless daughter, and a staff populated by Rip Torn, Fred Willard, Bob Dishy, Harvey Korman and Austin Pendleton. Despite this lineup, the movie is almost universally loathed, most likely for its broad slapstick tone, which wastes its cast, and a subplot involving slavery (!). Also on the nice-try front: Whiffs (1975), with Elliott Gould as a former guinea pig for Army chemical engineers who uses his first-hand knowledge of harmful gases to launch a series of bank robberies. Gould's presence was a clear indication that the filmmakers were aiming for a M*A*S*H-styled military farce, but what's delivered is a truly oddball mix of slapstick and counterculture gags. Again, it's the supporting cast that encourages a commitment to sit through the whole picture: aiding and abetting Gould is Harry Guardino, Eddie Albert, Godfrey Cambridge (as Gould's co-conspirator), Howard Hesseman, Richard Masur and Jennifer O'Neill. Eagle-eyed movie trainspotters will also note the presence of B-Western stars Don "Red" Barry and James Brown (not the Godfather of Soul). Nice one-sheet art by the prolific illustrator Robert Grossman, too.
There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around in Ralph Bakshi's Hey Good Lookin' (1982; Warner Archives), which looks at the Brooklyn of his youth and a pair of neighborhood ne'er-do-wells (voiced by Richard Romanus and David Proval) based on his childhood friends. Begun in 1975 as a mix of live action and animation that also featured the New York Dolls and Yaphet Kotto, it was held from release in the wake of the uproar following Bakshi's Coonskin and revised in 1982 as an all-animated feature at the insistence of Warner Bros. president Frank Wells. The end result is a mishmash of Bakshi's pointed satire and adult themes, as well as some striking visual elements, but probably best appreciated by the animator's diehard fans.
One wonders what Ralph Bakshi might have made of Help!... it's the Hair Bear Bunch (Warner), a short-lived Saturday morning animated series from Hanna-Barbera circa 1971 about a trio of ursine semi-hippies and their constant attempts to escape the Wonderland Zoo and its uptight director Mr. Peevly (voiced by John Stephenson). As it stands, the series, which features voice work by cartoon vets Daws Butler, Paul Winchell, Don Messick and Joe E. Ross, doing his ooh-ooh bit as Peevly's assistant, has the not-unpleasant patina of weird that clings to most Nixon-era H-B efforts (see also The Funky Phantom, the recently released Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids and CB Bears) that also manages to be curiously comforting, especially for those who remember wolfing down their Quake and Quisp in front of such shows. Can Where's Huddles? be far behind?