Set includes five films (The Hunchback of Notre Dame / Dark Victory / Dodge City / Ninotchka / Gone With the Wind).
What do 'Gone With the Wind,' 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' 'Stagecoach,' 'Wuthering Heights,' 'Gunga Din,' 'Ninotchka,' 'Love Affair,' 'The Women,' 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips,' 'Destry Rides Again,' 'Dark Victory,' 'Dodge City,' 'Only Angels Have Wings,' 'Drums Along the Mohawk,' and 'Young Mr. Lincoln' all have in common? Each and every one of these cinematic masterpieces was released in 1939, a year many have called Hollywood's greatest. And it's tough to argue otherwise. Spanning multiple genres, directed by some of the industry's finest craftsmen, and starring a host of legendary actors, these incredible films have made an indelible impression on audiences over many generations and continue to endure more than 75 years after their initial release.
Selecting a few titles to represent that fabled year is no easy task, but Warner Home Video has put together a five-movie collection that cuts across several categories as it celebrates these jewels in Hollywood's Golden Age crown. There's an historical epic ('Gone With the Wind'), rousing western ('Dodge City'), romantic weepie ('Dark Victory'), sophisticated comedy ('Ninotchka'), and literary classic ('The Hunchback of Notre Dame'). Two of the films are in Technicolor, three are in glorious black-and-white, and four are making their Blu-ray debut. All five provide superb entertainment, flaunt a unique artistry, and stimulate the senses. And there's enough star wattage on display to light up any home theater environment. (Note: All of these films also can be purchased individually.)
Before 'Dark Victory,' Hollywood treated terminal illness like the plague, steering clear of any script that even remotely addressed the topic. But Bette Davis changed all that. As Judith Traherne, a young, irresponsible socialite who succumbs to a brain tumor (but not before she fully appreciates life's simple pleasures and experiences true love), Davis paved the way for all those trite disease-of-the-week TV movies that flooded the airwaves in the 1980s. There's nothing trite, however, about 'Dark Victory.' This beautifully appointed production, directed by Edmund Goulding ('Grand Hotel,' 'The Razor's Edge') and co-starring George Brent and Geraldine Fitzgerald, depicts with dignity and honesty one woman's valiant struggle to come to terms with the bad hand she's been dealt. Judith has everything - money, glamour, friends galore, and an enviable self-assurance. What she lacks is time, and Davis, in one of her finest and most beloved portrayals, projects the confusion, disillusionment, and desperation that follow her devastating diagnosis. ("We're all going to die someday," her doctor tells her. "The only difference is you know when and we don't.") With a deft touch, Davis crafts a believable, human performance that's largely devoid of the trademark mannerisms that would dominate her later work. Her final scenes, as she confronts and embraces her final hours on Earth, are perfectly pitched, and transform what could have been a maudlin tale into an inspirational study of courage in the face of tragedy.
Before production began, studio chief Jack Warner couldn't imagine anyone wanting to see a movie about a girl who dies, but he indulged Davis, whose passion for the project knew no bounds. And much to his amazement, 'Dark Victory' became one of Warner's biggest hits of the year, earning Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Original Score (Max Steiner). Though it's a classic woman's film in style and construction, the universal subject matter touches us all, and Casey Robinson's straightforward script never wallows in emotional excess. Brent, as the sympathetic surgeon who falls in love with Judith but can do nothing to save her, radiates warmth and quiet strength, and Fitzgerald, in her film debut, files a luminous performance as Judith's stalwart and devoted best friend. Humphrey Bogart is miscast as an Irish horse trainer, but does what he can with the role, and Ronald Reagan makes a charming, if brief, impression as a perennially drunk playboy with whom Judith dallies. Davis, however, dominates the picture and effortlessly carries its weight. 'Dark Victory' may be an unqualified downer, but its life-affirming qualities overshadow its depressing elements, and the excellent work of its cast and crew make it worth revisiting time and again. Rating: 4 stars
1939 also saw the revitalization of the western genre, with such classics as 'Stagecoach,' 'Jesse James,' 'Destry Rides Again,' 'Union Pacific,' and 'Dodge City' captivating audiences with action, spectacle, and rugged scenery galore. Directed by Michael Curtiz ('Casablanca') and starring Errol Flynn in his first western role, 'Dodge City' packs a cattle stampede, barroom brawl, blazing train fire, a couple of saloon numbers, and a handful of gunfights into its 104-minute running time, all of which keep viewers from focusing too intently on the pedestrian plot. Flynn plays Wade Hatton, a jaded Irish cattle rover (the Irish connection is a feeble attempt to explain away Flynn's out-of-place British accent) who can't stomach the rampant corruption, violence, and immoral attitudes pervading the burgeoning Kansas town "that knew no ethics but cash and killing" in the years following the Civil War. After a young boy is needlessly killed, Wade steps up and agrees to become sheriff of Dodge City, but his efforts to clean up the town and free it from the evil grip of Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) and his marauding gang of thugs are met with surprising resistance by the fed-up frontiersmen who would rather take the law into their own hands. Olivia de Havilland (in her fifth of nine films with Flynn) portrays Wade's feisty love interest, while "Oomph Girl" Ann Sheridan impresses in a small part as a sultry saloon singer, and stalwart Warner character actors Alan Hale and Frank McHugh add plenty of personality as Wade's loyal sidekick and a zealous newspaper editor, respectively.
The sweeping Technicolor photography by Sol Polito lends 'Dodge City' an expansive, outdoorsy feel and Max Steiner's rousing music perfectly underscores all the action and romance. Curtiz's straightforward direction also suits the material (the quick edits in the opening sequence - a race between a train and stagecoach - ramp up excitement well), and the lively performances keep us engaged. Reportedly, Flynn always felt a tad uncomfortable in western roles due to his foreign heritage, but you'd never know it, and though De Havilland later admitted she was in such a "depressed state" during shooting she had trouble remembering her lines ("It was an awful experience," she recalled), she handles her largely decorative chores with customary aplomb. 'Dodge City' never will be regarded as one of the all-time great westerns, but it's a solid genre entry, full of atmosphere, energy, good humor, and enough action to keep its engine effortlessly humming until the closing credits roll. Rating: 3-1/2 stars
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Victor Hugo's classic tale of intolerance, perseverance, corruption, integrity, and humanity has taken many cinematic forms over the years, from a silent horror film starring Lon Chaney to an animated Disney musical featuring the voice talents of Tom Hulce, Kevin Kline, and Demi Moore, but the definitive version of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' was mounted in 1939 on an epic scale, dazzling moviegoers and reaping more box office returns than almost any other picture in RKO's history. Yet despite the massive crowd scenes and magnificent spectre of the imposing Parisian cathedral that distinguish William Dieterle's impressive production, a great deal of intimacy pervades this adaptation, which may not be particularly faithful to Hugo's book, but nevertheless captures the potent motifs pulsing through the dark and disturbing story. Social issues, cultural evolution, personal infirmities, and perception versus reality are all explored with surprising acuity in Sonya Levien's screenplay, which alters several key plot points to make the deeply depressing yarn more uplifting, but keeps its thematic guts intact.
Charles Laughton stars in his most identifiable role as the horrifically deformed and ceaselessly ridiculed Quasimodo, the notorious bell ringer of Notre Dame, who becomes infatuated with the beautiful Esmeralda (Maureen O'Hara), an outspoken gypsy who hopes to gain equality for her persecuted people. Yet Esmeralda also stokes the dormant passions of the ever-suspicious Frollo (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Quasimodo's adopted father and Notre Dame's respected archdeacon. Esmeralda - who marries the destitute poet Gringoire (Edmond O'Brien in his film debut) to help him escape the wrath of Clopin (Thomas Mitchell), leader of the gypsies - rejects Frollo's advances, which incites a jealous rage in the repressed holy man that leads to murder, a cover-up, and a rash of moral and civil injustices that threaten to upset the societal balance of medieval Paris.
With a budget of almost $2 million and more than 3,500 extras flooding the enormous outdoor sets, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' is an eye-filling spectacle, but it also exudes great sensitivity and respects viewer intelligence. Though Laughton's portrayal occasionally flirts with caricature, he attacks the difficult role with gusto and crafts several heartbreaking moments that engender tremendous sympathy for Quasimodo's desperate plight. O'Hara makes a fiery impression at the tender age of 19, infusing her Esmeralda with an untamed youthful fervor, and Hardwicke is magnificent as the fearsome Frollo. Mitchell, O'Brien, Harry Davenport, Walter Hampden, and Alan Marshal also shine in this reverent telling of a literary classic that deserves far more praise than it has received over the years. Why it wasn't nominated for Best Picture remains a mystery, but once seen, this remarkable production won't be soon forgotten. Rating: 4-1/2 stars
Just as the catchline "Garbo Talks!" heralded the screen legend's introduction to sound films in 1930, the equally effective "Garbo Laughs!" announced the actress' much publicized transition into the comedic realm nine years later. And laugh she does in this sparkling socio-political romp directed by the sophisticated Ernst Lubitsch. After years of portraying tragic heroines like Queen Christina of Sweden, Anna Karenina, and the doomed courtesan Camille, MGM decided to revamp Garbo's somber image in an attempt to make her more appealing to American audiences. Defrosting the icy Garbo, whose Sphinx-like face epitomized mystery and allure, proved to be a formidable challenge, but 'Ninotchka' effortlessly does the job, blurring the lines between actress and role as it transforms its dour leading lady into a captivating comedienne. As bubbly and intoxicating as a champagne cocktail, this topical comedy, written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Walter Reisch, bursts with subtle wit as it satirizes Communist Russia and the philosophies that define it.
When three bumbling Russian emissaries (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart, and Alexander Granach) come to Paris to sell a cadre of crown jewels that once belonged to the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire), but become seduced by the City of Light instead, Moscow dispatches a higher ranking official to clean up the mess. That special envoy is Ninotchka (Garbo), a humorless, no-nonsense Communist puppet who spouts Marxian doctrine at the drop of a hat. Factories and industry are her passion, but Count Leon (Melvyn Douglas), who hopes to help the duchess reclaim her property, finds Ninotchka irresistible, and bit by bit he cracks her hard shell and introduces her to the pleasures of capitalism and sins of indulgence. The two fall in love, but can their affection weather the vagaries of international relations and differing ideologies?
Garbo is adorable, both as the deadpan Soviet automaton and her insecure, feminine alter ego. Her impeccable timing and pitch-perfect line deliveries ensure the maximum comic impact for each clever remark, and her lack of guile and carefree attitude (who knew Garbo could play drunk with such delicious abandon?) make this one of her most natural and engaging performances. (She received her third and final Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role.) The urbane Douglas makes a debonair foil and the excellent supporting cast, which includes Bela Lugosi as a stern Russian commissar and George Tobias as a persnickety passport official, milks additional laughs from the Oscar-nominated story and screenplay. 'Ninotchka' also gained a coveted nod for Best Picture, but like 'Dark Victory,' it lost to that unstoppable cinematic juggernaut 'Gone With the Wind.' Though it now ridicules an outmoded way of life, 'Ninotchka' hasn't lost its edge. It remains as effervescent and amusing as it ever was, and a testament to the talents of Lubitsch, Wilder, Brackett, Reisch, and, most importantly, Garbo. Rating: 4-1/2 stars
GONE WITH THE WIND
For a complete review of 'Gone With the Wind,' click here. Rating: 5 stars
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Golden Year: 5 Classic Films from 1939' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a handsome and sturdy cardboard box. Inside, a book-like digipack houses the five Blu-ray discs and bonus DVD in sheaths on separate pages, each of which is bedecked with photos from the corresponding film and supplemental listings. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 for 'Dark Victory,' 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' 'Dodge City,' and 'Ninotchka,' and 1080p/VC-1 for 'Gone With the Wind.' Default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 for 'Dark Victory,' 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' 'Dodge City,' and 'Ninotchka,' and Dolby TrueHD 1.0 for 'Gone With the Wind.' Once the discs are inserted into the player, the static menus with music immediately pop up; no previews or promos precede them.
The four films new to Blu-ray all sport high-quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfers that are a decided step up from their DVD counterparts. ('The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and 'Dodge City' both received new remastering for this release, while 'Dark Victory' and 'Ninotchka' were sourced from existing material.) Noticeable - but not overpowering - grain maintains a film-like appearance, and excellent contrast and clarity provide a pleasing sense of depth. (The crowd scenes in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' are especially vibrant and crisp, allowing us to see the individual faces dotting the sea of humanity in the church plaza.) Terrific gray scale variance distinguishes the black-and-white films, with strong blacks and well-defined whites heightening the impact of various sequences. Some isolated softness remains, and a few stray marks occasionally intrude, but the print quality of all the films is a definite cut above previous home video versions. The prevalent murky shadows in 'Hunchback' pose sporadic challenges, but instances of crush are rare, and close-ups highlight fine facial features well. (Some of the close-ups in 'Dark Victory' are a bit fuzzy, and Davis is photographed in a more diffused manner than Fitzgerald, but such stylings are typical of Golden Age cinematography.)
'Dodge City' looks splendid in Technicolor, with bold primaries dominating the frame. Unlike many color films of the period, this one flaunts a more natural appearance that nicely suits the rugged landscapes. The blue sky and rolling green hills and foliage are well timed, as are the pastel costumes of the female characters. Patterns are rock solid and fleshtones look as lifelike as Technicolor will allow. No banding, noise, or other digital anomalies afflict the images of any of the films, and no enhancements seem to have been applied.
As far as ratings go, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' ranks a cut above the other video transfers in this collection, earning 4-1/2 stars. 'Dodge City' comes in a close second, garnering 4 stars. Both 'Dark Victory' and 'Ninotchka' rate 3-1/2 stars. For a complete review of the 'Gone With the Wind' video transfer, click here.
DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 tracks grace the 'Dark Victory,' 'Ninotchka,' 'Dodge City,' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' discs, and considering the age of these vintage films, the overall sound quality is quite good. (Each rates a solid 4 stars.) Though some pronounced surface noise and hiss are audible on the 'Hunchback' track, the other mixes are generally clean and free from noticeable imperfections. Dialogue across the board is always clear and easy to comprehend, and the robust music scores by Max Steiner ('Dark Victory,' 'Dodge City') and Alfred Newman ('Hunchback') possess wonderful depth and presence. The ringing of the church bells in 'Hunchback' are powerfully dissonant, and the gunfight and stampede sequences in 'Dodge City' benefit from strong tonal accents and hearty bass frequencies. While none of these tracks will knock anyone's socks off, they've been nicely spruced up and render both subtleties and broad spectrums well. For a complete audio review of 'Gone With the Wind,' click here.
Each disc in 'The Golden Year' set includes a few noteworthy supplements that relate to the film itself and the year 1939, providing a wonderful overview of the motion picture industry at that time. Only 'Gone With the Wind' skimps on extras, but that's due to the massive length of the movie and resulting lack of disc space.
Audio Commentary - Film historian James Ursini and critic Paul Clinton sit down for a decidedly mediocre commentary that doesn't shed much light on the film, its stars, or the studio that produced it. The duo talks about Davis' appeal to women and the evolution of the actress' persona and performing style, while also ceaselessly comparing her to her rival Joan Crawford. A cursory examination of women's melodrama and its components is presented, along with an allusion to an alternate ending that was never filmed. A bit more preparation and less plot analysis surely would have improved this lackluster effort that even diehard fans should skip.
Warner Night at the Movies (SD, 30 minutes) - This compendium of 1939 pre-movie entertainment begins with a three-minute trailer for the classic James Cagney-Humphrey Bogart gangster film 'The Roaring Twenties,' followed by two newsreel clips (one celebrates the World of Tomorrow exhibitions in San Francisco and New York City, the other the visit of England's King and Queen to the U.S. and Canada), a 17-minute Technicolor short, 'Old Hickory,' which depicts a few noteworthy incidents in the life of President Andrew Jackson (among them, the Battle of New Orleans, the death of his wife, and his efforts to preserve a splintering union), and the eight-minute cartoon 'Robin Hood Makes Good,' which charts the escapades of three squirrels as they play a game of Robin Hood and try to evade the clutches of a hungry wolf, who masquerades as Maid Marian to try and trap them.
Featurette: "1939: Tough Competition for 'Dark Victory'" (SD, 10 minutes) - In this 2005 featurette, film historians, including TCM host Robert Osborne and Rudy Behlmer, talk about how 'Dark Victory' slightly pales when compared to other great films of 1939, but remains Bette Davis' favorite picture of her Warner Bros period. In addition, they discuss the appeal of medical movies and examine the contributions of supporting actors Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart, and Ronald Reagan, cinematographer Ernest Haller, and composer Max Steiner.
Vintage Radio Adaptation (59 minutes) - On January 8, 1940, Davis recreated the role of Judith Traherne for a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of 'Dark Victory.' The broadcast is most notable for teaming the actress with Spencer Tracy, who fills George Brent's shoes as the brain surgeon with whom Judith falls in love. Davis and Tracy appeared together early in their respective careers in the 1933 crime drama '20,000 Years in Sing Sing,' but never worked together on screen again, so this rare pairing is a special delight. The two legendary stars work well together (Tracy is a far better actor than Brent), and the condensed script still plays quite well.
Theatrical Trailer (3 minutes) - This lengthy preview showcases several aspects of Bette Davis' bravura portrayal.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Featurette: "Interview with Maureen O'Hara" (SD, 12 minutes) - The title of this piece is a bit of a misnomer. While comments from the flaming-haired Irish actress are indeed sprinkled throughout this piece, it's really a straightforward retrospective featurette in which interesting facts are offset by bland narration. O'Hara praises the work of Laughton and director William Dieterle, but also recalls her stressful audition for the role of Esmeralda, the magnificent sets built on the RKO Ranch that meticulously recreated medieval Paris, and how she performed her own stunts in the film, a few of which were quite dangerous. We also learn how Laughton transformed himself into Quasimodo and how Dieterle managed hundreds of extras in this informative look back at an epic production.
Vintage Short: 'Drunk Driving' (SD, 21 minutes) - Part of MGM's 'Crime Does Not Pay' series, this sober (pardon the pun) look at the dangers of driving while intoxicated proves just how little our society has changed in the 75 years since this short was made. The story of a happy-go-lucky businessman who believes he can handle his liquor, but ends up killing three people in an alcohol-induced accident, packs a punch, largely because it depicts scenarios that still transpire all too frequently today. David Miller, who would go on to helm such acclaimed features as 'Lonely Are the Brave,' 'Sudden Fear,' and 'Midnight Lace,' directs this taut, moralistic tale that stars Dick Purcell, who would soon become the movies' first Captain America.
Vintage Animated Short: 'The Lone Stranger and Porky' (SD, 7 minutes) - Though he's mentioned in the title of this 1939 Merrie Melodies cartoon, the eponymous stuttering pig is but a mere supporting player (who never speaks) in this drab take-off on the masked anti-crime crusader.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - Snippets from all of the film's action highlights crop up in this re-release trailer.
Warner Night at the Movies (SD, 37 minutes) - This recreation of a typical evening at the local bijou circa 1939 includes a three-minute introduction by film historian Leonard Maltin, followed by a three-minute trailer for the James Cagney-Humphrey Bogart western 'The Oklahoma Kid,' and a trio of brief Movietone News clips (totaling two minutes) relating to Hitler's aggression at the start of World War II. Up next is the lavish Warner Technicolor short, 'Sons of Liberty' (20 minutes), which chronicles the clandestine efforts of Haym Salomon to help the colonial rebels during the Revolutionary War. Directed by Michael Curtiz ('Casablanca') and featuring such esteemed actors as Claude Rains (as Salomon), Gale Sondergaard, and Donald Crisp, this patriotic short with a Polish Jew at its center was designed to shed light on the current European conflict and honor studio chief Jack Warner's roots. Finally, the vintage Tex Avery cartoon 'Dangerous Dan McFoo' (7 minutes) depicts an honest-to-goodness dogfight between two canines vying for the attentions of a comely female dog who speaks like Katharine Hepburn but has Bette Davis eyes.
Featurette: "'Dodge City': Go West, Errol Flynn" (SD, 9 minutes) - Several film critics and historians weigh in on the significance of 'Dodge City,' citing its top-notch production values, massive scope, and how it helped elevate the western genre. They also discuss the unlikely casting of Flynn, his on-screen relationship with co-star Olivia de Havilland, the massive premiere of 'Dodge City' in - where else? - Dodge City, and single out a few of the supporting actors who enhance the film. As featurettes go, this one is a bit ho-hum, but enjoyable enough.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 minutes) - This preview focuses on the film's gala premiere, which brought 150,000 people into Dodge City (population 10,000), including more than 200 stars and the governors of three states. Errol Flynn, Ann Sheridan, Rosemary and Priscilla Lane, Allan Jones, and Humphrey Bogart are only a few of the notables taking part in the festivities, which included a parade and rodeo.
Vintage Short: 'Prophet Without Honor' (SD, 11 minutes) - This 1939 Academy Award-nominated short chronicles the little-known life of Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), who was the first man to chart and map ocean currents to ensure safe transatlantic crossings of military and commercial vessels. He also became "the father of the U.S. weather bureau," discovered the Northwest Passage, and advocated the building of the Panama Canal decades before its construction. There's no dialogue in this film, only voice-over narration, but director Felix E. Feist nevertheless fashions an affecting portrait of this unsung hero who was forced to flee the country during the Civil War due to his political beliefs.
Vintage Animated Short: 'The Blue Danube' (SD, 7 minutes) - A year before Walt Disney's 'Fantasia,' MGM produced this artistic cartoon set to the recognizable strains of Johann Strauss's famous melody.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The "Garbo Laughs!" angle is exploited in this vintage preview.
GONE WITH THE WIND
Audio Commentary – Respected film historian Rudy Behlmer sits down for another of his stellar, well-researched commentaries. It's tough enough to sustain a monologue for almost four hours, let alone make sure your audience stays engaged, but Behlmer manages both difficult tasks with his patented lively delivery and by sprinkling in an abundance of anecdotes and fascinating trivia. He quotes from various memos and books, provides brief bios of the cast and notable crew, discusses the life of Margaret Mitchell, notes differences between the novel and screenplay, even delves into Civil War history. He also addresses censorship issues and even points out a couple of scenes shot by other directors that remain in the finished film. This is an essential commentary that any true fan of 'Gone With the Wind' will find enriching and entertaining.
Documentary: '1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year' (SD, 68 minutes) - This slick, clip-filled 2009 documentary, narrated by actor Kenneth Branagh, examines what many call "the summit of Hollywood's Golden Age." Segments on the distinct contributions of individual studios, how Hollywood tackled various social issues and opened moviegoers' eyes to such trending topics as the Nazi threat, international conflict, and the tenets of Communism, and the production and impact of the year's two iconic films, 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'Gone With the Wind,' distinguish this celebratory tribute to a year that spawned some of the finest motion pictures in Hollywood history. Archival interviews with such lofty figures as George Cukor, Howard Hawks, Maureen O'Hara, Claire Trevor, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., as well as contemporary analysis from several critics and scholars add welcome perspective and help capture the spirit of the era.
Vintage Shorts (SD, 77 minutes) - Three shorts that appear on other discs in this collection are reprised here, but two noteworthy additions are worth checking out. (All can be accessed either individually or en masse via the "play all" function.) First up is the amusing 'Breakdowns of 1939,' a rare 15-minute compilation of bloopers and outtakes that Warner Bros compiled on an annual basis and exhibited to its employees. Stars such as Joan Blondell, Glenda Farrell, Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson, Pat O'Brien, John Garfield, Kay Francis, Errol Flynn, and Humphrey Bogart are shown flubbing lines, stumbling, and breaking character in a series of on-set mishaps. Also included is the 10-minute 1939 short 'Sword Fishing,' which profiles the pinpoint talents of Howard Hill, "the world's greatest archer," who, for the first time, hunts the massive blue marlin with a bow and arrow. Ronald Reagan narrates this absorbing one-reeler that really shows off Hill's awe-inspiring skill.
Vintage Animated Short: 'Detouring America' (SD, 8 minutes) - This daffy cartoon takes pointed jabs at the idiosyncrasies and scenic landmarks of various states, including the California Redwoods, Wyoming's Old Faithful geyser, the cliff dwellings of the Southwest, and Manhattan's skyscrapers.
Vintage Animated Short: 'Peace on Earth' (SD, 9 minutes) - This 1939 Oscar-nominated Technicolor cartoon presents a surprisingly sober and effective anti-war message in — of all places — a post-apocalyptic setting. Chipmunks have constructed a comfy-cozy city amid military debris, and on Christmas Eve, an elderly chipmunk tells his grandkids the story of how the human race became extinct. The cautionary tale, which thankfully ends on an uplifting note, still resonates today, and reminds us to respect and embrace our fellow man and pursue that most clichéd yet vital holiday theme, peace on earth.
Theatrical Trailers (SD, 14 minutes) - In addition to trailers for 'Dark Victory' and 'Ninotchka' that are included on their respective discs, this collection also features an early teaser for 'Gone With the Wind,' a black-and-white preview heralding the Technicolor splendor of 'The Wizard of Oz,' and trailers for 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips' (hosted by columnist Alexander Woolcott) and 'Wuthering Heights.'
If ever there was a golden year in the movie industry, it was 1939, and Warner's five-film collection of standouts from that noteworthy period aptly represents the talent, craftsmanship, and variety that distinguished it. 'Dark Victory,' 'Ninotchka,' 'Dodge City,' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' all remain timeless classics, and though I would have preferred a film other than 'Gone With the Wind' (doesn't everyone already own that?) to cap off this set, it's the poster child for that magnificent year. Warner's Blu-ray presentation is handsomely packaged, with strong video and audio transfers and a fantastic array of supplements sure to please vintage film aficionados. No, they don't make 'em like this anymore, but thankfully Warner has preserved these beloved gems, all of which come highly recommended.