If you have a fan of Bob Hope or Alfred Hitchcock on your Christmas list, you may want to consider a couple of new DVD sets with Hope’s movies and TV specials, or a new Blu-ray set of Hitchcock’s most popular films.
“Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection” (Universal, 1938-49, 10 discs, 21 movies, featurettes, 1944 and 1945 episodes of “Command Performance,” 2017 TV episode: “American Masters: This is Bob Hope”).
“Thanks for the Memories: The Bob Hope Specials Deluxe Edition” (Time Life, 1951-96, b/w and color, 19 discs, 39 episodes, featurettes, bloopers, 1974 episode of “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts”; four booklets, 32-page book). Bob Hope was an amazingly prolific entertainer, having conquered the stage, movies, radio and television before dying at age 100 in 2003. He was quick with a quip and although he had many writers for his movies, stage routines and radio and television monologues, he could also ad-lib with the best of them.
“The Ultimate Movie Collection” is Hope in his prime as a top box-office star, and many of his best films are here, including four of the “Road” pictures he made with Bing Crosby; Hope’s first film, “The Big Broadcast of 1938,” in which he sings “Thanks for the Memory”; and such other classics as “The Cat and the Canary,” “Nothing But the Truth” and “The Paleface.” Also excellent is the immersive two-hour PBS “American Masters” documentary.
“Thanks for the Memories” is a massive collection of TV specials spanning 45 years (including several Christmas shows). His political references are dated now, and younger viewers may find some of his jokes and skits a bit hokey. But those of a certain age will enjoy this oversized box set, comprised of three smaller sets: “Thanks for the Memories: The Bob Hope Specials,” “Bob Hope: Entertaining the Troops” and “Bob Hope: TV Legend,” plus a bonus disc of Hope being roasted by his peers.
“Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Collection” (Universal, 1942-76, 17 discs, 15 movies, deleted scene from “The Birds,” alternate endings for “Topaz,” audio commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, newsreels, storyboards, art/photo galleries, trailers, 10 TV episodes; 62-page booklet). Some of the best films by the Master of Suspense are here — “Vertigo,” “North By Northwest,” “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “The Birds,” etc. This Blu-ray set is a repackaging of “The Masterpiece Collection,” with the addition of 10 episodes of Hitchcock’s TV shows, eight of them directed by Hitch himself.
“Pulp” (Arrow, 1972, PG, featurettes, photo galleries, trailer). Mickey King (Michael Caine) is in Rome writing his latest sleazy detective novel when he’s summoned to Malta to ghostwrite the “autobiography” of a dying movie star (Mickey Rooney) for an obscene amount of money. But the actor’s reputation of rubbing up against mobsters proves to be true, and King’s not sure he’ll live to finish the assignment. Although written and directed by Mike Hodges, who collaborated with Caine on the rough mob flick “Get Carter,” this is a light, deadpan comedy and Caine is thoroughly enjoying himself. (Lizabeth Scott, who played many a femme fatale in 1950s thrillers was coaxed out of retirement for a supporting role in what became her last film.)
“Dolores Claiborne” (Warner Archive, 1995, R for language and violence, audio commentary, trailer). Kathy Bates in the title role and Jennifer Jason Leigh as her daughter act up a storm in this adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a mother fiercely protecting her daughter. But did she also murder her employer, which we see from a deceptive point of view as the film opens? And what about her late husband? There's nothing supernatural here, but it is a horrifying story in places. Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian and John C. Reilly co-star. (Blu-ray debut available at wbshop.com)
“Kind Lady Double Feature” (Warner Archive, 1935/1951, b/w). Based on a hit stage play, “Kind Lady” is a slow-to-boil thriller about a wealthy, generous spinster who takes in an indigent artist, only to discover that he is actually an art thief plotting to sell off her extensive art collection. The 1935 version is good, with Aline MacMahon and Basil Rathbone in the lead roles, both in top form. And the 1951 film is even better, with Ethel Barrymore and Maurice Evans in the leads, and Angela Lansbury and Keenan Wynn in menacing support. (Manufacture-on-demand DVD-R available at wbshop.com)
“Strictly Dishonorable Double Feature” (Warner Archive, 1931/1951, b/w). Before he began writing screenplays, and well before he began directing, farceur Preston Sturges (“The Lady Eve,” “The Palm Beach Story,” etc.) had a Broadway hit with “Strictly Dishonorable,” which was twice adapted to film by others. The 1931 version, which preceded enforcement of the Production Code, is an innuendo-filled comedy about an innocent Southern woman (Sidney Fox) falling for a womanizing opera singer (Paul Lukas). The 1951 remake removes the innuendo and expands the opera singing for star Ezio Pinza, altering the story to a marriage of convenience (to Janet Leigh). (Manufacture-on-demand DVD-R available at wbshop.com)
“George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn” (Arrow, 1971-73; R for violence, language, sex, nudity; three films, alternate credits/extended version of “The Crazies,” audio commentaries, featurettes, trailers, photo/art galleries; 60-page booklet). The title refers to three movies — “There’s Always Vanilla,” “Season of the Witch” and “The Crazies” — that Romero made between his first film, “Night of the Living Dead,” and its sequel, “Dawn of the Dead.” “Vanilla” is a sex farce, “Season” is a witchcraft yarn and “Crazies” is the closest here to Romero’s zombie flicks, as a biological weapon drives people mad in a small Pennsylvania town.
“J.D.’s Revenge” (Arrow, 1976; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; featurette, audio interview, photo gallery, trailers/radio spots; booklet). During a nightclub hypnosis act, a law student is inadvertently possessed by the spirit of a 1940s gangster bent on revenge. Blaxploitation meets horror by way of mob movie clichés, with Louis Gossett Jr. onboard as a local preacher — six years before his Oscar-winning role in “An Officer and a Gentleman.”