A foreign film from the 1930s leads these Blu-ray upgrades and DVD debuts of vintage favorites.
"La Grande Illusion" (StudioCanal/Lionsgate/Blu-ray, 1937, b/w, $29.99, in French with English subtitles, featurettes, trailers). Critics often cite this stirring, intelligent drama as one of the best movies of all time, the story of a group of French prisoners plotting escape from a German POW camp during World War I. This crisp Blu-ray redo will show you why.
The central focus is on a pair of aristocratic officers who are surprised to find they have much in common with a German commandant, despite their adversarial positions.
They are equally surprised to find how much they have in common with the working-class prisoners with whom they mix. Both storylines speak volumes to the crumbling European aristocracy.
A strong treatise on class distinctions and the rise of fascism in Europe prior to World War II, the film remains universal because of its approach to human relationships.
In a 1958 trailer among the bonus features, Renoir says the questions people were asking in 1937 are the same nearly 20 years later. In the 21st century, some 75 years later, they are still the same.
"Total Recall" (Lionsgate/Blu-ray, 1990; R for violence, language, sex; $14.99, audio commentary, featurettes, photo gallery, trailer). The Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi thriller is reissued in this high-definition remix just in time for the release of a remake, which opened in theaters on Friday.
Schwarzenegger is a blue-collar worker in 2084 who discovers his memories have been wiped clean and replaced with a phony life. So he vows to find out why, leaving a wake of R-rated carnage behind him.
Some good moments but pretty corny overall. It will be interesting to see what the PG-13 version will be like, especially with the lead role taken over by an actual actor, Colin Farrell.
"The Cross of Lorraine" (Warner Archive, 1943, b/w, $17.95, trailer, available at www.WarnerArchive.com). Among non-musical Gene Kelly films making their debut on home video is this gem, a rousing World War II drama of Frenchmen plotting to escape a POW camp. This one owes something to "La Grande Illusion," and it is in turn a template for such later films as "Stalag 17."
Jean-Pierre Aumont has the lead role, with Kelly as a solider in the camp who needs a morale boost. Hume Cronyn is a snitch, Cedric Hardwicke is a priest and Peter Lorre is about as nasty a Nazi as you'll find in a Hollywood movie during this period. (The other non-musical Kelly films are "Pilot No. 5," "Black Hand," "The Devil Makes Three" and "Crest of the Wave.")
"The Hanging Tree" (Warner Archive, 1959, $17.95, trailer, available at www.WarnerArchive.com). Gary Cooper is a taciturn frontier doctor with a temper who sets up practice in a rowdy Montana gold camp, making friends and enemies as his past haunts him.
Maria Schell falls in love with Cooper after he helps her regain her sight, but he tries to resist her charms. Meanwhile, he must deal with Karl Malden as a crude, troublemaking miner, and George C. Scott, in his film debut, as a fire-breathing preacher.
Nicely modulated drama takes full advantage of widescreen Technicolor.
"The Last Challenge" (Warner Archive, 1967, $17.95, trailer, available at www.WarnerArchive.com). Cliché-ridden but well-mounted Western about a young hothead gunslinger (Chad Everett) out to prove he's faster than a middle-age sheriff with a quick-draw reputation (Glenn Ford).
Angie Dickinson has the "Miss Kitty" saloon-keeper role, and veteran villains Jack Elam and Royal Dano are also on hand.
"Ten Thousand More Ways to Die: Spaghetti Western Collection" (Mill Creek, 1962-75, three discs, $9.98, 12 movies). Such American actors as Richard Crenna, Chuck Connors and Joseph Cotton turn up in these westerns, most of them Italian-funded and shot in Spain, including "3 Bullets for Ringo," "The Deserter," "Fistful of Lead," "Seven Devils on Horseback" and "Django, Kill!"
"Ultimate Rin-Tin-Tin" (Mill Creek, 1935-47, b/w and color, two discs, $9.98, eight movies). These films starring the heroic pooch include "Caryl of the Mountains," "Fangs of the Wild," "The Silver Trail" and "The Return of Rin Tin Tin."