My 2019 movie resolutions were quite ambitious. Two of those resolutions involved watching at least one box set of movies and one season of TV shows that I already owned. I didn’t quite make it, but I ended up with 11 completed box sets and 10 completed seasons of TV shows. I’ll tackle the box sets today; the TV shows next time.
The Dekalog (Jan) Arrow Blu-ray and DVD set (Region B)
I discussed this set briefly during the 1980s edition of my 2019 discoveries. Anyone seriously interested in film should certainly purchase this set, but which one? The US release from Criterion or the UK release from Arrow? You can read my thoughts on the comparison of the two and decide which is best for you, but I went with the Arrow and have no regrets.
Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood (Feb) Criterion Blu-ray set
Includes Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), The Devil is a Woman (1935)
Here’s a crazy reason to buy a box set of films you’ve never seen before... I’d never really understood why Marlene Dietrich was such a big deal. I’d seen her in a few of her later films when I was in college and she just never did anything for me. Oddly enough, the first time I saw her in a movie was when I watched Touch of Evil in college. Of course, Dietrich plays a brunette in that movie, but this was how I initially saw her. First impressions, I guess... So I bought this box set and now understand Dietrich’s attraction and screen presence. You just can’t look away from her in any of these films. You don’t even want to.
Although I bought the Criterion box set, you can also purchase the same films from the UK company Indicator, which contains more extras than the Criterion in the form of more commentaries, interviews, and video essays. (Note that the Indicator is a Region B release.)
Samuel Fuller at Columbia 1937-1961 (March) Indicator Blu-ray set, Region free
Includes It Happened in Hollywood (1937), Adventure in Sahara (1938), Power of the Press (1943), Shockproof (1949), Scandal Sheet (1952), The Crimson Kimono (1958), Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
I knew going into this set that I was really buying it for the last four films. It Happened in Hollywood was co-written by Fuller and Adventure in Sahara and Power of the Press were based on stories written by Fuller. The first two are nothing to write home about, but Power of the Press isn’t bad, especially if you love newspaper movies like I do. Of the first three, it’s the only one I’ll rewatch. Everything else in the collection is pure film noir gold: Shockproof, co-written by Fuller and Helen Deutsch; Scandal Sheet, based on a Fuller story; and both The Crimson Kimono and Underworld U.S.A. were written and directed by Fuller. I haven’t even begun to explore the extras on this set which includes nearly seven hours of unedited interview footage of Fuller in conversation with actor Tim Robbins. Unlike the Indicator Dietrich/Von Sternberg set, Samuel Fuller at Columbia 1937-1961 is region free.
Warner Gangsters Collection - Vol. 3 (April) Warner DVD set
Includes Smart Money (1931), Picture Snatcher (1933), Lady Killer (1933), Mayor of Hell (1933), Brother Orchid (1940), Black Legion (1937)
When a company releases more than one volume of a certain genre or sub-genre of movies, you expect the quality to greatly diminish. That didn’t happen with the Warner Bros. Gangsters collections. These mostly pre-code films are all impressive, offering excellent films from James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, and others. I explored some of these in my recent 1920s and ‘30s post.
Alec Guinness Collection (June) Lions Gate DVD set
Includes Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Captain’s Paradise (1953), The Ladykillers (1955)
Many younger moviegoers (and some older ones) don’t realize that Alec Guinness did have a career before playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, quite a career, in fact. This collection of films barely scratches the surface of Sir Alec’s film work, but if you haven’t seen them, this is a great place to start. Most of these titles (three of them discussed here) are now available on individual Blu-ray releases, but this set makes a great introduction to Guinness.
The Paul Newman Collection (June) Warner Bros. DVD box set
Includes Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), The Left-Handed Gun (1957), The Young Philadelphians (1959), Harper (1966), Pocket Money (1972), The Mackintosh Man (1973), The Drowning Pool (1975)
You have to admire Paul Newman, a guy who was never content to limit himself to playing any one type of character or sticking to any one genre. This collection, which covers nearly 20 years of his career, contains a little bit of everything from his second feature film (Somebody Up There Likes Me) to his second and final appearance as the PI Lew Harper (The Drowning Pool). The directors and styles of each film vary wildly as do Newman’s characters, and even the films that don’t quite work for me (the modern-day western Pocket Money, and the espionage film The Mackintosh Man) are still interesting, usually due to Newman's performances. So far, Warner Bros. has only released two of these titles (Harper and The Drowning Pool) on Blu-ray, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see the first three in this set receive an upgrade someday.
Eclipse Series 17: Nikkatsu Noir (July) Criterion Eclipse DVD set
I briefly discussed some of the films in this set in my film noir post. I highly recommend this collection, especially for those interested in film noir.
Wim Wenders: The Road Trilogy (August) Criterion Blu-ray set
Includes Alice in the Cities (1974), Wrong Move (1975), Kings of the Road (1976)
I have a strange relationship with Wim Wenders. No, I’ve never met the man, but I seem to run hot or cold with his films. Like many, the first Wenders movie I saw was Paris, Texas (1984), which has always been a personal favorite. A few years later, I saw Until the End of the World (1991) and thought it was a complete mess. (But perhaps I will give it another try with the new Criterion release.) Yet I very much enjoy Wings of Desire (1987) and The American Friend (1977). I hoped I would enjoy this box set, three films starring Rüdiger Vogler.
I loved Alice in the Cities, probably the most accessible film in the set, in which Vogler plays a German journalist traveling in America, who unexpectedly finds a young girl named Alice (Yella Rottländer) in his care after the girl’s mother disappears. Wrong Move, with Vogler playing an unfocused writer who wanders with a group of other unfocused people, and Kings of the Road, with the actor as a traveling film projector repairman, are far less plot-driven stories that (at least for me) will require additional viewings. Regardless of my initial reactions to these last two films, Wenders always gives you plenty to contemplate.
William Castle at Columbia, Vol. 1 (September) Indicator Blu-ray set, Region free
Includes The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Homicidal (1961), Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
This set is largely responsible for William Castle being my most-watched director in 2019. You really can’t have a bad time with this set and the extras will leave you gobsmacked. I refer you to this excellent review of the set by Charlie Largent at Trailers From Hell.
Noir Archive, Vol. 1: 1944-1954 (September) Mill Creek Blu-ray set
Mill Creek surprised just about everyone this year with three sets of film noir from the Columbia Pictures vaults, 27 titles in all. All three sets are something of a mixed bag, but all are worth getting. I reviewed a few of these films for my new releases post back in April. (Click on the link for the individual titles.) The price on these sets (retailing for $50 each) has dropped significantly, so you should really take a chance on these collections. You won’t find any supplements on either of the three volumes, but the films generally look quite good.
Universal Monsters: Dracula (October) Universal
Includes Dracula (1931), Drácula (Spanish version, 1931), Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
One might expect that a journey through the Universal Monsters collection may result in the law of diminishing returns, and while that holds true at times, there’s always fun to be had in discovering or rediscovering these classic horror pictures. I actually found that Dracula’s Daughter, while not the best of the films, may soon become my favorite. You just never know. And if you’ve never seen the Spanish version of Drácula, you’re really missing out. I decided to get the entire 30-film set (which inevitably includes several duplicated films) and am looking forward to experiencing each monster on its own merits.
Those are the sets I completed in 2019. I almost completed one per month, so I guess I'd have to give myself an A- or a B+. I’d love to hear what sets you encountered this year.
Next time: TV