THE DVD SHELF: "Studio One" Hits, Columbia Oscar Winners, "Wall-E" and "Dolly!" and Three From WWII

News   THE DVD SHELF: "Studio One" Hits, Columbia Oscar Winners, "Wall-E" and "Dolly!" and Three From WWII Christmas must be coming around. November has seen an outpouring of DVDs suitable for perusal in this column — no less than 33 discs.
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We have been hearing, for years, about the old "Studio One" programs from the days of live television. Every week for ten seasons (starting in 1948), Westinghouse presented a one-hour drama, some 466 episodes in all. Seeing as how CBS telecast the shows from New York — the center of all things theatrical at the time — Studio One showcased all sorts of up-and-coming acting and writing talent. The "Studio One" broadcasts were long thought to be lost, but a trove of materials was found in 1997 when a former Westinghouse factory in Ohio was being demolished. Now, Koch Entertainment and the Archive of American Television have joined together to bring us "Studio One" Anthology [Koch], featuring 17 episodes from the series.

Some fascinating material is included, needless to say. Heading the list is the most famous of the "Studio One" offerings — at least, the only one that won three Emmys. No. 271 in the series, Reginald Rose's "Twelve Angry Men," aired on Sept. 26, 1954. An excellent motion picture adaptation was made in 1957 by Mr. Rose, Henry Fonda, and Sidney Lumet, of course; but here, finally and fascinatingly, is the real thing. The 1954 version is not better than the film; to begin with, the movie was expanded (and profitably so) beyond the teleplay's 50-plus minutes. But those who love the remarkable film should be spellbound by the kinescope. Robert Cummings plays the lead, and won an Emmy doing so. The performance is different from the start; Cummings doesn't have the moral certainty or aura of invincibility that Fonda has in the role. But much of the tension of the film is present, under the direction of Franklin Schaffner (who also won an Emmy). Standing out among the ensemble are Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold and Walter Abel. (Martin Balsam's role of the foreman is played by a young actor named Norman Feld, who went on to become Norman Fell.) Two of the actors were to repeat their roles in the film: George Voskovec (as the European import among the jurors) and Joseph Sweeney (giving an altogether remarkable performance as the old man). Hidden away without billing, as the court officer who brings exhibits into the jury room, is none other than Vincent Gardenia.

That's only one of 17 offered in this anthology. The others include "1984" with Eddie Albert; Rod Serling's "The Arena," starring Chester Morris (and young Frances Sternhagen); "Confessions of a Nervous Man," George Axelrod's satirical account of the writing of "The Seven Year Itch," starring Art Carney; Gore Vidal's "Dark Possession," starring Geraldine Fitzgerald; "Dino," starring Sal Mineo; "June Moon," starring Jack Lemmon (circa 1949) and Eva Marie Saint; Vidal's "Summer Pavilion," starring Miriam Hopkins and a young Elizabeth Montgomery; and Charlton Heston in "Wuthering Heights." Of special interest, to me anyway: Marie Powers in Gian-Carlo Menotti's "The Medium," featuring four of the six members of the 1947 original Broadway cast. This was telecast during the show's 1948 revival at City Center, and presumably uses the stage set and Menotti's original direction. Bonus features spread across the six-DVDs include a piece on "Studio One," excerpts from an interview with director Paul Nickell, and a Paley Center seminar on the series. There is also a 52-page reference guide which is packed with information and includes an informative essay by film historian Larry James Gianakos.

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Sony Home Entertainment has put together yet another one of those Academy Award Winner boxes, but this one is especially impressive. Columbia Pictures: The Best Picture Collection [Sony] includes 11 Best Picture winners, back from the days when the Best Picture was usually pretty good. Where to start? With the five-Oscar winner from 1934, "It Happened One Night" — which remains pretty darn good, thanks to Gable, Colbert and Capra. Or how about "All the King's Men," with Broderick Crawford mopping up the screen as a populist governor-turned-monster, patterned after Huey Long. (Fortunately, we don't have governors around like that anymore.) "On the Waterfront," with Brando-Malden-Cobb-Kazan-Eva Marie Saint and even Leonard Bernstein. "Bridge Over the River Kwai" with Guiness and Holden, "From Here to Eternity" with Lancaster, Clift, Sinatra and Deborah Kerr in the foam. How about Peter O'Toole as "Lawrence of Arabia," the great Paul Scofield as that "Man for All Seasons"? Need I go on? "Kwai," "Arabia" and "Gandhi" are two-disc affairs, bringing the set to 14 DVDs with the films sharing 65 Oscars (including one to Broadway's own Onna White, who never received a Tony — going up against Robbins and Fosse time and time again — but nabbed one for the film version of "Oliver"). As best I can tell, Sony has used the existing releases for these films, so those with extensive collections might be duplicating some titles. Everything has been repackaged, though, in one well-designed and rather neat binder with heavy cardboard foldouts. Pardon me, now, while I go back to watch "It Happened One Night" again. Or should it be "River Kwai," or "Waterfront," or "All the King's Men"?

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Wall-E [Disney] is one of the very highest-rated films of the year. The animated film from Pixar — which is in the running for the mantle of the finest animated film ever — has grossed about a quarter-billion-worth of dollars so far. That's in less than five months, without any DVD money in the hopper yet. So let's call it wallopingly successful. The Disney release brings "Wall-E" to the small screen, where you can savor it repeatedly. (The three-disc special edition, one of the several choices available, contains a digital copy so that you can transfer it to an even smaller screen.) Musical theatre fans are well aware that "Wall-E" has unexpectedly put a spotlight on Jerry Herman, interpolating two numbers from the motion picture version of Hello, Dolly! Not including the "Hello, Dolly" number, mind you; rather "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" and "It Only Takes a Moment" (which is, shall we say, an unexpected candidate for such treatment). Given the popularity of "Wall-E" on film, and the to-be-expected DVD bonanza, these two songs are now — presumably — Mr. Herman's greatest hits. While Hello, Dolly! remains well known to theatre fans, I'd have to guess that the show is relatively unknown to the public-at-large today in America and across the globe. So "Wall-E" might, by the spring of next year, be what Mr. Herman is best known for.

Hello, Dolly! [Fox] itself received a problematic reception when it was first released in 1969. There were some, it seems, who didn't exactly cotton to the choice of the 27-year-old Barbra Streisand playing the role of the "look-at-the-old-girl-now" matchmaker. Fox has seized the initiative of re-releasing the film now, so all those fans of "It Only Takes a Moment" can see it in context. (This seems to be the 2003 DVD, with no alteration.) To those of us who saw Ms. Channing or one of her myriad followers in the role, Barbra Streisand's Dolly ain't quite the same thing. But there is a far greater market out there than just those of us who saw Ms. Channing or one of her myriad followers. And for "Wall-E" fans, what could be better than watching Wall-E's favorite musical numbers? *

This crowded month of films is even more crowded with the addition of the Warner Bros. Homefront Collection [Warner]. This consists of three World War II patriotic musicals, with more stars than you can shake a Victory Bond at. Toplining is Irving Berlin's "This Is the Army," starring George Murphy, Ronald Reagan (or Lt. Ronald Reagan, as billed), Kate Smith, and Mr. Berlin himself. Irving started the piece as a stage musical, opening on the Fourth of July (1942). The troupe interrupted their tour to make the 1943 film, although a Hollywood story was grafted atop what was actually a revue. "Hollywood Canteen" (1944) took Joan Leslie, from "This Is the Army," and surrounded her by all the stars Warner Bros. could round up, from Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to Roy Rogers and Trigger. All right; we left out the Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Kitty Carlisle, John Garfield, Peter Lorre, Joan McCracken, Alexis Smith, Barbara Stanwyck, and Jane Wyman. My favorite of the "Homeland" box has always been "Thank Your Lucky Stars," by virtue of some wonderful songs from Arthur Schwartz and Frank Loesser. "How's your love life?" Loesser asks in the melodious title song. "They're Either Too Young or Too Old," that self-same Ms. Davis complains in the song of the same name. "The Dreamer" and "How Sweet You Are" are immensely likable, while I've always had a soft-spot for "Ice Cold Katy." The stars in this 1943 effort are varied and many, including Humphrey Bogart, Eddie Cantor, Olivia De Havilland, Errol Flynn, Dinah Shore and more. "Army" has long been available in numerous DVD editions; the others seem to be making their DVD debuts. Warner has lavished their typical care on this release, with the three DVDs loaded with extras from the archives. These are headed by a documentary, "Warner at War," narrated by Steven Spielberg, and a passel-full of vintage shorts (including delicious cartoons like "Confusions of a Nutsy Spy," "Fallen Hare," and "Herr Meets Hare"). (Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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