Videodrone's best of 2012 MOD and special home video mentions
The top disc releases of the year, part 4
The last of the lists, with the best debuts from the manufacture-on-demand mode and a few assorted special prizes for stand-out achievements and dubious honors.
1. "Red Dust" (Warner Archive), the 1932 jungle melodrama starring Clark Gable as a rubber plantation foreman in East Asia and Jean Harlow as the street smart showgirl who lands upriver in his primitive plantation manor, is as sexy, frank, and grown-up as pre-code cinema gets. The star power made this a classic of late-night TV and early VHS release, but the lack of high-quality archival elements made it MIA when other star-powered Hollywood classics rolled out on DVD. Disc release was delayed until a satisfactory master could be created, and this is far more than satisfactory. It looks great and marks one of the biggest releases of the format. (Full review here)
2. "Three Strangers" (Warner Archive), "Nobody Lives Forever" (Warner Archive), and "The Conspirators" (Warner Archive), three of the four features that elevated Jean Negulesco from studio contract man cranking out theatrical shorts to A-list Warner director, are the first films from the Warner Archive to carry the brand "Film Noir." "The Conspirators" (1944) is basically a "Casablanca" knock-off in Portugal, a standard studio thriller pulled off with style, but the other two are superb: "Three Strangers" (1946) a shadowy film of fate and greed and obsession from a John Huston screenplay and "Nobody Lives Forever" (1946) a street-smart film noir of con men and double crosses with John Garfield in the lead. (Full review here)
3. "Crime Does Not Pay" (Warner Archive) – The MGM series numbered 50 dramatic short films between from 1935 to 1947, all running about 20 minutes, most serving as a training ground for up and coming directors (including Jacques Tourneur, Joseph Losey, and future Oscar winner Fred Zinneman). They're a mix of procedural, with detectives doing proto-CSI work to solve the crimes, and morality tale with terrible ends for the criminals, and they are all collected in this six-disc set, most of them is better shape than I expected for such a forgotten series. (Full review here)
4. "Safe in Hell" (Warner Archive), a kind of B-movie riff on "Sadie Thompson" directed by William Wellman, and its star Dorothy Mackaill are two of most exciting discoveries I made this year, thanks to the creative curatory drive of Warner Archive. In fact, you could toss in any number of thirties films, from audacious pre-code dramas to rapid fire comedies, that made their home video debut this years thanks to Warner Archive, from "The Last Flight" (1931) and "Thirteen Women" (1932) to the eight films on "Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 4" and "Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 5." (Full review here)
5. "Having a Wild Weekend" (Warner Archive), the Dave Clark Five's answer to "A Hard Day's Night," has a title that suggests the knock-about fun and goofy banter of The Beatles on film, but it's more like a mop top exploitation version of the social drama cinema that was all the rage in the mid-sixties. Playwright Peter Nichols brings an edge of social satire and a shadow of existential emptiness to the runaway road movie story and John Boorman (making his feature debut) adds a kind of mod realism to the romp. In fact, leading man Dave Clark is the film's only real weakness. (Full review here)