Brando, Sturges, Samurai; Don’t Miss Pre-Code, Old Bond

“Using every threat, contract, and influence I could muster”: That’s John Huston in his 1980 autobiography, An Open Book, on how he fought Warner Bros. to release his 1967 adaptation of Carson McCullers’ novella, Reflections in a Golden Eye, in a diffuse amber wash that would give the film a golden tint. Warner agreed to make 50 prints in that process and use them for initial engagements in American cities. They’ve almost never been seen since. (The rest of the prints were in straight Technicolor.)

Luckily, Warner Bros. home video has shown substantially more sensitivity to the catalog of films it controls. On Nov. 7, they honor Huston’s long-stated wish that the film, which he considered one of his best, be seen in its original color. The story of life on a Southern Army base in the years after World War II will be released as part of The Marlon Brando Collection (which, among other films, also includes Brando’s turn as Fletcher Christian in the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty). It’s a baroque, fascinating picture with uniformly fine performances from Elizabeth Taylor, Brian Keith and Julie Harris. And as the closeted homosexual major married to Taylor, Brando is fearless. But then, when wasn’t he?

The release of Reflections highlights one of the paradoxes of DVD’s: If we believe in seeing movies in the form they were intended, is a ragged repertory print better than a restored DVD? (It’s an open question depending on the movie, I’d say.) There’s no doubt, though, that DVD releases are returning larger and larger chunks of our movie heritage. Among the most significant of the fall releases is the Nov. 21 Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection (Universal). The set includes Christmas in July, The Great McGinty, Sturges’ little-seen (and studio-butchered) dramatic film The Great Moment, the astonishing home-front war satire Hail the Conquering Hero, his Hollywood comedy Sullivan’s Travels, the fractured romantic comedy The Palm Beach Story, and his masterpiece—or one of them—The Lady Eve.

Along with Buster Keaton, Chuck Jones and Ernst Lubitsch, Sturges remains the greatest comic filmmaker—and no one better understood the deep eccentricities of the people we think of as ordinary. Add the already available DVD of The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek to this set and you’ve got one of the seminal bodies of work in American movies.

Sturges’ Lady Eve—Barbara Stanwyck—turns up in Turner Classic Movies’ Forbidden Hollywood Collection #1, a gathering of pre-Code movies that includes one of Stanwyck’s greatest moments, Baby Face, as well as Jean Harlow in Red-Headed Woman.

Also coming out are a second volume of Astaire-Rogers musicals (from Warner Bros., on Oct. 24); a first volume of the comedies of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (from Paramount, on Oct. 31)—we’ll have to wait for their swan song, and best picture, the 1956 Hollywood or Bust; a newly remastered DVD of The Maltese Falcon (Warner Bros., Oct. 3, and also part of volume two of “The Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection”); “Cary Grant: Screen Legend Collection” (Universal, Nov. 14), which includes some of his little-seen 30’s comedies.

The Criterion Collection, the gold standard for all DVD releases, continues its seemingly never-ending release of treasures. The Sept. 5 upgrading of Akira Kurosawa’s epic The Seven Samurai will be followed in early December by newly remastered versions of Kurosawa’s wonderful collaborations with Toshiro Mifune, Yojimbo and its sequel, Sanjuro. And though various versions have come out on DVD, on Nov. 21 Criterion releases Louise Brooks in her indelible performance as Lulu in G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box, the most powerful of all the screen’s erotic presences.

One of the biggest catalog overhauls comes by way of MGM, who have remastered the James Bond films, added new bonus features and will be releasing them as four separate box sets, two on Nov. 7 and two on Dec. 12. Though it will probably change, the films will not be available individually, and you can’t help but wonder if part of that is a way to boost the sales of some of the lesser films by including them in sets with the ones everyone wants.

The franchise’s future with Daniel Craig remains to be seen. But the best entries of its past—at the top of the class, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, George Lazenby’s sole Bond outing, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and The Spy Who Loved Me—remain some of the yummiest pop entertainments ever put on film.

And since movies go through theaters so fast these days that their runs often feel like previews for their DVD release, DVD’s have become a sort of instant repertory. Several of the year’s terrific movies that you probably missed include André Téchiné’s masterful romantic drama Changing Times (Oct. 3), starring Gérard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve (always at her best working with Mr. Téchiné), and the great Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times (Sept. 26), with an incandescent performance from Qi Shu.

And finally, though it’s finally too sweet-tempered for its own good, Paul Weitz’s American Dreamz (Oct. 17) reminds you that satire shouldn’t be anybody’s friend. It features Dennis Quaid doing a befuddled President Bush, but the show is stolen by Hugh Grant as the Simon Cowell–like host of a TV talent competition, and Mandy Moore as the show’s idol-in-the-making. They’re flabbergasting together—so thoroughly self-centered and opportunistic and insincere that they’re practically pure. They’re so rotten that you’d have to be a complete cynic not to love them.

Brando, Sturges, Samurai;  Don’t Miss Pre-Code, Old Bond