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Robin's Merry Men, restored

The Errol Flynn swashbuckler is the jewel in a Warners set that also features 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' and 'Sierra Madre.'

October 06, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Three classic films from the Warner Bros. vaults and a cult phenomenon are among the latest DVD offerings.

A definite must-have for film buffs is the "Warner Bros. Legends" set ($70 for the set; $27 each), which features beautiful digitally restored versions of 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood," 1942's "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and 1948's "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

The crown jewel of the set is "Robin Hood," one of the earliest three-strip Technicolor productions, and the restored version is a treat for the eye and ear.

There has been some media flack that the digital restoration, which even corrected flaws that were inherent in the film when it was first produced, may look too pristine. But if one were to watch a VHS copy or catch the swashbuckler on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, "Robin Hood" had lost a lot of its luster, and its soundtrack had become muddied and muddled. In short, at 65, "Robin Hood" was showing its age.

"Robin Hood," directed by William Keighley, who was replaced halfway through by Michael Curtiz, is an action-packed romantic take on the old legend about the brave outlaw who, along with his Merry Men of Sherwood Forest, stole from the rich to give to the poor. Errol Flynn brings a lot of panache, sex appeal and good humor to the role of Robin, and Olivia de Havilland, who frequently teamed with Flynn, is an independent, bright Maid Marian. As always, the villains nearly steal the show with Basil Rathbone at his oily best as Sir Guy of Gisbourne and a deliciously vile Claude Rains as the evil Prince John. The cherry on this delicious sundae is Erich Wolfgang Korngold's exhilarating score.

The two-disc "Robin Hood" is chockablock with juicy extras, including fact-filled, humorous commentary from historian Rudy Behlmer; a new documentary on the making of the film; a documentary on the Technicolor process; two shorts, 1946's "Cavalcade of Archery" and 1952's "Cruise of the Zaca," a real rarity starring Flynn; the Warners cartoons "Rabbit Hood" and "Robin Hood Daffy"; galleries of historical art, costume design, concept drawings, cast and crew photos and publicity; a featurette comparing this version of "Robin Hood" to the 1922 silent version starring Douglas Fairbanks; outtakes; and a riotous blooper reel that Warners produced for its employees.

Film historian Leonard Maltin also hosts "Warner Night at the Movies 1938," which re-creates the filmgoing experience for that year with trailers, a newsreel, a cartoon and a musical short subject.

Maltin also presents a typical night at the movies in 1942 on the two-disc set of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," the sentimental, patriotic and endlessly entertaining biopic of legendary song-and-dance man George M. Cohan. James Cagney, although known for his tough-guy roles, actually began his career as a hoofer, and he received his only Oscar for his larger-than-life portrayal of Cohan. Cagney was a remarkably flexible and graceful dancer who made all his routines, including the standout "Give My Regards to Broadway," look effortless. Walter Huston, Rosemary DeCamp, Joan Leslie and Cagney's little sister, Jeanne, also star.

Behlmer supplies the splendid commentary on the two-disc set, which also features a 1992 documentary on Cagney; a new documentary on the history of the project; a sweet tribute to Cagney from his friend John Travolta; musical outtakes and rehearsals; the radio version of the movie; galleries of Cohan sheet music, set stills, scene concept stills, publicity and posters; the Looney Tunes shorts "Yankee Doodle Daffy" and "Yankee Doodle Bugs"; and "You, John Jones," a short starring Cagney and Margaret O'Brien.

Rounding out the "Legends" is "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." Based on B. Traven's bestselling novel of greed and corruption, "Madre" stars a flawless Humphrey Bogart as the down-and-out Fred C. Dobbs, who stakes what little money he has on a gold prospecting expedition in Mexico's Sierra Madre. Joining the expedition is his much younger partner (Tim Holt) and a grizzled old prospector (Huston, in his scene-stealing Oscar-winning performance). Huston's son, John, won Oscars for his screenplay and direction.

The digital edition features compelling commentary from historian Eric Lax, a "Warner Night at the Movies 1948" hosted by Maltin, a radio dramatization of the film, a 1989 documentary on John Huston, photo galleries, a new documentary on the film's production and the cartoon "8 Ball Bunny."

"Sierra Madre" wasn't a box-office hit when it was first released. Neither was Brian De Palma's 1983 gangster flick, "Scarface," a loose remake of the 1932 Howard Hawks classic. "Scarface" was vilified by critics because of its extreme violence and star Al Pacino's less-than-subtle Cuban accent. However, the film's stature has grown, thanks to repeated exposure on television and video. The hip-hop community also has embraced the film, penned by Oliver Stone.

The film is a mess, but a fascinating mess, and Stone's screenplay is filled with numerous now classic lines like "Say hello to my little friend." Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Bauer also star.

Universal's special edition ($27) of the nearly three-hour film should have been better. It's rare that a two-disc release doesn't have any commentary from the filmmaker or cast. Included are three short "making of" documentaries, a few examples of the edited TV version, numerous deleted scenes and a documentary examining "Scarface" in the hip-hop world.

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