The highly touted independent film "Daughters of the Dust" leads a variety of vintage films on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
(Cohen, 1991, not rated/probable PG-13, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer; 12-page booklet). Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the multigenerational Peazant family is living in the Gullah community on the Sea Islands off the South Carolina-Georgia coast. Most of these former West African slaves are preparing to migrate to the mainland to embrace modernity, but some worry that their ancestors' traditions and cultural heritage may be lost in the transition.
That description sounds pretty straightforward, but as written and directed by Julie Dash, this landmark independent production jumbles the timeline and moves deliberately and poetically as the various characters' rich and fulfilling stories are intertwined. This is a remastered Blu-ray/DVD upgrade for the film's 25th anniversary.
(Arrow, 1973, R for nudity, in Italian with English subtitles or dubbed in English, may be viewed as the full-length four-hour theatrical cut or in five episodes, featurettes, trailer, booklet). Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti's lush, well-acted but massive and sometimes maddening biography of King Ludwig II (Helmut Berger) of Bavaria is a love-it or hate-it affair. It has striking visuals and first-rate performances (Romy Schneider, Trevor Howard), but is slow, talky and aloof. A shorter U.S. version was rated PG, then a longer cut with nudity earned an R. (Schneider plays Empress Elizabeth of Austria, reprising the role that made her a star 20 years earlier in "Sissi" and its two sequels.)
(Warner Archive, 1928-29, 16 short films). Some of these restored early sound shorts (essentially the first music videos, six-to-nine minutes each) are better than others, but they all have historical value as a record of mostly forgotten musical acts, from opera to vaudeville, from the serious to the silly, and from novelty acts to the truly strange. The latter is led by Billy Edison and Charlie Gregory playing tunes on a saw, an inflated rubber glove and a bicycle pump. Among the best are shorts starring comic actress Molly Picon and impressionist Zelda Santley. (This manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com.)
(Warner Archive, 1956). If you can get past the primitive special effects, this is a not-bad sci-fi yarn about astronauts (led by Hugh Marlowe and Rod Taylor) on an expedition to Mars that inadvertently travels forward in time to a post-apocalyptic Earth. It owes a lot to H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine," which was made into a movie four years later, starring Taylor. This is a vivid Blu-ray upgrade for a colorful CinemaScope B-movie. (It is available at warnerarchive.com.)
(Warner Archive, 1967). During World War I, a bumbling Italian soldier (Umberto Orsini) captures a one-armed Austrian general (Rod Steiger), thinking it will earn him 1,000 lire if he can get through Austrian territory to the Italian high command. Virna Lisi co-stars as a peasant girl they pick up along the way. This is an Italian satire, dubbed in English, with a jaunty Ennio Morricone score. (The manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com.)
(Warner Archive, 1952, b/w). Groucho Marx and William Bendix are Navy lifers in this farce that has Bendix conned into buying a racehorse. This is a pretty weak B-movie vehicle for Marx's final starring role. Marie Wilson co-stars. (The manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com.)
(Film Detective, 1933, b/w, audio commentary, featurette). Before she gained "scream-queen" status with "King Kong," Fay Wray made a lot of fast-paced little B-movies like this 62-minute quickie, in which mysterious deaths are attributed to a massive loss of blood, which leads to the obvious question: Is a vampire on the loose? Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas and Dwight Frye co-star. (This is a public-domain title restored for this Blu-ray edition.)
(Warner Archive, 1935, b/w). Fay Wray is also in this light romantic comedy as the secretary/best friend of wealthy Miriam Hopkins, who wants love from someone who doesn't know she's rich. So, naturally, she and Wray switch identities. Joel McCrea is the guy who doesn't know what he's getting into. (The manufacture-on-demand DVD-R is available at warnerarchive.com.)
(Arrow, 1986/1987, R for violence, profanity, sex/PG-13, audio commentaries, featurettes, photo galleries, trailers, 60-page booklet). The House franchise is made up of four seemingly unrelated horror-comedies and the first two are here, the R-rated "House," with horror writer William Katt trying to tap out his latest novel in a haunted house, and "House II: The Second Story," rated PG-13, with Arye Gross as a young party boy in a haunted house with a zombie cowboy.
(Arrow, 1973, not rated/probable R for violence, sex, nudity, language; in Italian with English subtitles, featurettes; booklet). This is a dark Italian crime comedy about a poor, put-upon bank employee who lashes out at the inequities of the system by targeting a pompous, violent, greedy butcher, and gradually taking away everything he cherishes.