Universal's New Vault Series
Universal has initiated a "Vault Series" of DVD-R’s to compete with Warner’s Archive Collection. So far, they’re available exclusively from Amazon. Prices started out at $20 as with the WB discs, but now I’m seeing Amazon drop to $14.99 and up, depending on the title. None of these are being heavily promoted elsewhere yet. I found out about them from reading the Home Theatre Forum, which is, to my mind, the best place to keep up with DVD news. Yesterday’s arrival of The Perfect Furlough inspires this quick dispatch to say that, based on initial sampling, it looks as though Universal/Amazon’s offering will be a good thing, assuming they keep releases coming and quality maintains. I’m not among those who disparage studio use of DVD-R as a format. For the moment at least, this is the only we’ll ever have access to something like The Perfect Furlough. To arguments that such discs will deteriorate over time, I’m safe in assuming they’ll last as long as I will. After that, who cares? None of my heirs have expressed interest in Tony Curtis comedies made fifty-two years ago. I might, in fact, be concerned for them if they did. To your question as to Universal’s transfer of The Perfect Furlough, I’ll merely convey my inexpert opinion that it looks just fine, having projected splendidly on my wide screen in anamorphic 2:35. This can’t be too old a transfer. Universal probably remastered it fairly recently for satellite broadcast leasing. A number of theirs have turned up lately on Cinemax and HD Net Movies . It'd be great knowing how much of the UNI library has been transferred to High Definition format, but it’s unlikely they’ll confide that in me. I do recall watching The List Of Adrian Messinger in HD back in March 2006 on Dish Network, so I’m pretty confident the Vault Series DVD I’ve just ordered will be good. Someone at HTF reported, however, that The Chalk Garden is straight letterbox and not anamorphic. I’d like to think that’s an oversight and Universal will correct it.
Again, I’m curious to know how many Perfect Furloughs Amazon will sell. Was mine the first? We classic shoppers are an increasingly small fraternity (so they tell us). But whoa --- The Perfect Furlough a classic? I bought it for Cinemascope, a 50’s tour of Universal’s backlot dressed up as Paris, and because it was among ones that Charlotte’s Channel 9 used to show after I’d get home from school in eighth-grade. The foregoing disqualifies me to review it sensibly. Some of us are just drawn to that time warp that was Universal in the fifties. I relish their audacity for yet again palming off faux-Euro streets for the real thing, even as rivals were flying over crews to shoot the genuine article (compare Furlough with MGM’s near-as-light confection, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, with its extensive Rome locations, shot but months before). The Perfect Furlough is notable for several firsts that led to Universal’s boxoffice ascendancy the following year. It just preceded director Blake Edwards’ breakthrough of Operation Petticoat and a decade of hits. Writer Stanley Shapiro was on the cusp of Pillow Talk and a new kind of sex comedy that ushered in UNI's Doris Day-Rock Hudson franchise. The Perfect Furlough represents quite the advance in suggestive dialogue and situations. I won’t pretend much of it is funny, but how many laughs can we reasonably expect from corseted 50’s comedies? It’s enough to look at The Perfect Furlough through eyes of its 1958 fan magazine public, those milk-shakers who idolized real-life perfect couple Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh without regard to merits of whatever vehicle starred them. But what I must know is this: How did Universal let Troy Donahue get away? It seems they built him up for several years, then turned over a near finished model to Warner Bros. His presence is fleeting in The Perfect Furlough just as it had been in The Tarnished Angels and even The Monolith Monsters. Why develop a teen idol, only to let the competition reap boxoffice spoils?
The Perfect Furlough is, for me, an auspicious beginning for Universal’s Vault Series. Its release demonstrates their willingness to put really obscure titles into the pipeline. Others from the first group bode well. There is the 1954 Dragnet feature, House Of The Seven Gables, Ruggles Of Red Gap, and The Brass Bottle (wish I’d seen that new in 1965 so I could excitedly scoop it up now). Universal surprises me for maintaining a standard DVD release schedule as well. A Cary Grant box is imminent, and the Paramount Alice In Wonderland from 1934 arrives March 2. Just this week Movies Unlimited announced another Deanna Durbin Collection with five more of hers for later in the Spring. I’d hope that Universal will explore possibilities of silents and precodes they own. A Lonesome, Broadway, or Night World are the very sorts of things a Vault Series can best accommodate. Of this beginning group, the earliest is 1934's Death Takes A Holiday. One final aspect of The Perfect Furlough worth noting is fact that it had no menu screen whatever. Not that I particularly care. It’s actually refreshing not to have to wade through FBI warnings and a raft of logos enroute to the feature you’ve paid for.