October 10, 2008

‘Dorian Gray’ Headlines Gallery of New DVDs

By Chris Hicks Deseret News

Here are some of the latest movies and TV shows to arrive on DVD, led by a classic '40s picture for which fans have been clamoring.

-- "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (Warner, 1945, two discs, b/w and color, $19.97). This is the DVD debut of this excellent adaptation of the Oscar Wilde story about a morally corrupt man in 19th century London who remains youthful over an 18-year period while his hidden portrait decays, revealing the ravages of his sins.

Hurd Hatfield is fine in the title role as a man whose good looks belie his lifestyle -- but it is top-billed George Sanders who steals the show in a supporting part, as a wealthy man of leisure whose witty observations on human nature (which he may or may not really believe) prompt Gray to become a hedonist.

And 20-year-old Angela Lansbury must be singled out for her brief but touching performance as Gray's initial victim, a naive, innocent music-hall singer who has been sheltered from her surroundings by her domineering mother. Gray loves her but coldly destroys her anyway. Lansbury earned a second Oscar-nomination for this, her third movie. (She was also nominated for her first, "Gaslight.")

Donna Reed and Peter Lawford costar, and unbilled Cedric Hardwicke narrates. The black-and-white cinematography here is especially good, and several times it switches to color for close- ups of the title painting. (That's Lansbury's own voice singing "Little Yellow Bird," but when the song is reprised later by Reed, her voice is dubbed.)

Extras: full frame, audio commentary (by Lansbury and film historian Steve Haberman), short film, cartoon, trailer

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-- "Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition" (Universal, 1958, PG- 13, two discs, b/w, $26.98). This oft-reissued classic film noir from director Orson Welles (in which he co-stars with Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Marlene Dietrich, among others) gets another release as part of Universal's two-disc "Legacy" series.

There are the expected new bonus features, but the real treat for film students is three different versions of the picture. We're used to seeing this kind of thing for newer movies, but it's rare for vintage titles. These three versions offer insight into both Welles' genius and the way in which studios interfere with the vision of moviemakers they don't understand.

"Touch of Evil," the story of a Mexican narcotics officer (Heston) and his new wife (Leigh) who get mixed up in murder and corruption in a sleazy border town, is brilliant filmmaking -- but Welles was given the directing duties by default (a story that is almost as compelling as the film itself).

Extras: widescreen, three versions of the film, audio commentaries, featurettes, trailers; 58-page reproduction of memo by Welles

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-- "Mister Roberts" (Acorn, 1984, $24.99). This live-TV adaptation of the classic play -- performed as a play on a stage set -- features young Kevin Bacon in the key comic role of Ensign Pulver. The show aired the same year Bacon made a splash in "Footloose," and his fans will enjoy seeing him in such a plum role as a young actor.

Set during World War II aboard a cargo ship, the story has Mr. Roberts as an officer desperate to see some action but instead bumping up against a blustery captain who hasn't let his frustrated crew off the ship in more than a year.

Robert Hays ("Airplane!") has the title role, Howard Hesseman ("WKRP in Cincinnati") is his best friend, Doc, veteran character actor Charles Durning is the captain and Marilu Henner ("Taxi") is a nurse whom Pulver smuggles aboard.

This is an enjoyable version of the play -- restoring some of the bawdy language that was deleted from the 1955 film version -- but it can't hold a candle to that film, which was opened up with outdoor locations and starred a dream cast: Henry Fonda (who won a Tony for the show on Broadway), Jack Lemmon (who won an Oscar as Pulver), James Cagney and William Powell.

Extras: full frame, text essay/filmographies

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-- "Mobile" (Acorn, 2007, two discs, $39.99). This four-part miniseries has a compelling story and is filled with fine performances (led by Michael Kitchen of "Foyle's War"), exciting action, shocking murders and a double-twist ending that is most satisfying in a story about seeming terrorism to protest cell phones.

Unfortunately, the film's shifts in time and point of view cause several scenes to be repeated -- and over the course of four hours the redundancy becomes annoying.

Still, it's pretty potent stuff. (Be aware that there is some R- rated language.)

Extras: widescreen, four episodes

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-- "Midsomer Murders: Set Eleven" (Acorn, 2005, four discs, $49.99). Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby (John Nettles) and his partner Detective Constable Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) investigate four more mysteries in the Midsomer area. This British series is among the best of the genre, set apart by the happy family life led by Barnaby and the down-to-earth detective work that solves each mystery.

Extras: widescreen, four episodes

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-- "The Munsters: Family Portrait" (Universal, 1964, b/w and color, $19.98). This half-hour episode of "The Munsters" from the show's first season -- about the family being chosen by a magazine as the "average American family" -- is released solo in both the original black and white and a colored version. Harvey Korman plays the magazine's photographer.

Extras: full frame, color and b/w versions

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