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Thursday, January 21, 2010

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.


Anonymous East Side said...

"Death Takes a Holiday" is first rate, but as for "Alice in Wonderland"... well, you know you're in trouble when the opening credits are the best part of the movie.

And is it just my memory, or were 95% of the films broadcast on NBC's "Saturday Night at the Movies" from Universal?

12:49 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

East Side, as I remember it, the NBC "Saturday Night At The Movies" relationship with Universal really began in earnest around 1968. They were even running some of the Hammer horror films that Uni had distributed in the US. By the 1969-70 season, it seemed that every Saturday night was occasion for another Universal feature from the early sixties and up, including the occasional "World Premiere" that was also produced there.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Yes, NBC had the premium Universals on Saturday nights... and the NBC affiliate in Boston had Universal's leftovers from the '60s the next day at noon! CHARTROOSE CABOOSE, TAMMY TELL ME TRUE, and McHALE'S NAVY come to mind offhand.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

As someone who saw "The Brass Bottle" new in 1965, it's a picture that's probably best left unscooped -- except maybe for the Burl Ives completist.

6:27 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

THE PERFECT FURLOUGH had been published on DVD three years ago by Universal, in Spain.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I'll be screening the DRAGNET feature this weekend.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Griff said...

Here's another vote for LONESOME, BROADWAY and the fascinating NIGHT WORLD for Universal Vault Series entries.

There are, of course, literally hundreds of unissued worthwhile U properties waiting for video release... far too many to name here, though I keep wishing they'd bring out such diverse stuff as Whale's REMEMBER LAST NIGHT?, von Sternberg's AMERICAN TRAGEDY, Crosby & Fields in MISSISSIPPI, THE UNINVITED, Hopper's THE LAST MOVIE, TAKING OFF and all the Lubitsch movies they haven't gotten around to releasing. No studio catalogue has been so gingerly mined as this one.

I would also respectfully (and selfishly) submit requests for some of U's more interesting telefilms. Like Altman's 1964 Kraft Suspense Theatre drama NIGHTMARE IN CHICAGO, which used to air frequently in late night syndication. The acclaimed but lately little seen MY SWEET CHARLIE and THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVIK. And, for the heck of it, the uneven but somehow memorable 1970 THE MOVIE MURDERER, which features at its heart a surprisingly moving last-chance romance between arsonist Warren Oates and alcoholic motel clerk Norma Crane; both actors are in top form here. Crane's character spends much of her days soddenly watching '30s Universal and Paramount movies on TV. I'm not a drinker, but sometimes I envy her easy access to these films.

12:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff, all those titles you mention make my mouth water. I really hope that Universal will make a success of their Vault venture, and that they will not be afraid to release earlier inventory, like the silents and early talkies.

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep on posting such stories. I love to read stories like this. Just add some pics :)

12:33 AM  
Anonymous John said...

I would love to see them release some of their '40s wartime musical comedies, the early Donald O'Connor/Gloria Jean films and "She Gets Her Man" with Joan Davis and Leon Errol. Plus, some Buck Jones westerns.

6:45 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

John, I just received "The List Of Adrian Messenger" yesterday and watched it last night. I'm happy to say that it looks (and sounds) just WONDERFUL! I'm looking forward to some of Universal's more obscure films as well (some of the early 'Scope features: "Sign Of The Pagan" "Last of The Fast Guns" "Quantez", "Pillars Of The Sky" etc.) well as some of their oddities that seem to have disappeared over the years: "Night World", "Night Life of The Gods" etc. If "Messenger" is any indication then the Universal Vault Collection is off to a great start!


8:12 PM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Bring on the Olsen & Johnson and Hugh Herbert features. And the as-yet unreleased in America W.C. Fields flicks, too!

9:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

James, I'm glad to hear that "Messinger" turned out well. Mine has not arrived yet. Hope that Universal will answer the call for wartime musicals, early scope features, and B westerns. There is much to look forward to in that library.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Everyone on this thread has impeccable taste!

If anyone from Universal is reading this, I hope you'll consider issuing the Gloria Jean-Donald O'Connor-Peggy Ryan musicals (GET HEP TO LOVE and MISTER BIG were recently revived in new 35mm prints). I know for a fact that Universal has new broadcast masters on Gloria Jean's THE UNDER-PUP and DESTINY, so those tapes are ready for DVD-R right now.

And you might consider the Ritz Brothers and Olsen & Johnson, too. Universal owns four films by each team, and they'd make beautiful DVD-R sets.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

That's right Scott - I forgot about the Ritz' Universal films - good call!

5:03 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Also...the rest of the Maria Montez-Jon Hall series that has not already been released: "Gypsy Wildcat", "Sudan" and my 2 favorites of the series, "Cobra Woman" and "White Savage"

2:54 AM  
Anonymous Cladrite Radio said...

May I offer a resounding Amen to the notion that LONESOME should be made available on DVD. I'd be first in line to purchase my copy.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Paul Penna said...

Well, you know you're getting old when you're shocked to hear that in someone's memory, NBC's "Saturday Night at the Movies" = Universal. Universal?!?! Surely you mean 20th Century Fox, right? Oh, but yeah... I was there at the start, which means 1961, and Fox fare was it. I guess I imprinted.

The Universal Vault "Dragnet" looks good on my system - my screen's only 7.75 feet wide, sorry - a recent transfer of a good-quality element. Even the opticals look better than in many a similar-vintage color production. Never saw the film before, and I was a bit disappointed with the small amount of location photography - I was looking forward to more 1954 L.A. - and the fact that it tends to be a talk-fest. But it's all in rapid-fire, hardboiled Dragnet-talk, and you can't beat that. Even Richard Boone had it down pat, almost to the point of caricature. And then there's the fact that it's like a full-color glossy catalog of early-50s design, decor, fashions, cars, technology. And hats, although the fact that we're in a transition period for men's headgear both temporally as well as geographically is pointed up when some mug mentions something to the effect that the LAPD is host to the biggest collection of hats in Southern California.

9:19 PM  

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