On my recent visits to local music stores I’ve seen a series of box-sets by Sony Pictures, themed around famous male stars – James Stewart, Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, Omar Sharif among them. Three films in each package, cover price Rs 999. In certain circumstances I would be okay with paying that much for a three-DVD set, but I have a couple of reservations with this lot. First, most of the discs are bereft of special features, which is a real letdown when you consider that the internationally available versions of these movies have a wealth of carefully put together interviews and supplementary documentaries.
Second, the selection of movies appears to have followed a well-thought-out formula: combine one undisputed must-have from the actor’s filmography with a couple of films that are of indifferent quality (or hold a relatively unimportant place in his career). Thus the Brando set contains the early biker-gang classic The Wild One (in which the Young Mumbler famously snarls “What’ve you got?” in response to the question “What are you rebelling against?”) but also includes Arthur Penn’s uneven The Chase and the 1990s comedy The Freshman, in which Brando played a supporting role. (Note: The Chase is interesting in its own right for being an overlooked work by Penn, who was among the most interesting American directors working in the 1960s, and as the immediate precursor to the pathbreaking Bonnie and Clyde, but I doubt it could be placed on a list of the dozen most representative Brando films.)
For the movie buff, the rub is that if the one true classic happens to be a film that isn’t easily available elsewhere, you might end up buying the whole box-set for it. My own undoing was the Jimmy Stewart set, which I simply had to pick up for the sole reason that it includes the outstanding courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder, which I’ve been trying to locate for ages. But the two other films on this set – the Western Two Rode Together and the witchcraft comedy (!) Bell, Book and Candle – are middling at best, and the experience left me feeling slightly cheated. How easily this set could have been redeemed if they had thrown in just one of Stewart’s Hitchcock thrillers, or the dark Westerns he made with Anthony Mann in the 1950s.
In this context an honorable nod to an earlier Sony Classics box-set that isn’t quite part of this series: the five-film Cary Grant Collection. What’s notable is that none of these films is less than a minor classic, and all of them are from Grant’s peak years: Howard Hawks’ breathless newspaper comedy His Girl Friday, Leo McCarey’s romp about marital mishaps The Awful Truth, George Stevens’ comedy about clashing ideologies The Talk of the Town (an earlier post on which here), the whimsical Katharine Hepburn co-starrer Holiday and the aviation drama Only Angels Have Wings.
But really, Rs 1999 is too much to pay even for these gems; a screwball-comedy/Cary Grant hound like me might fall for it (and I did), but that price tag is hardly likely to lead new viewers to discover these films. So here’s my DVD box-set wishlist for Christmas: 1) Slash prices by at least 30 per cent, 2) Throw in an extra disc with a feature-length documentary on the actor, 3) Start a similar series for female stars, with Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck at the top of the list. Someone at Sony/Columbia, please get out that Santa costume.
P.S. A bonus attraction on the three-DVD sets is a collection of autographed postcards – mostly publicity stills – but these are curios at best: there’s a distinctly smudged, photocopied look about them. No substitute for good Disc Extras.
[I hope to do a longer post on Anatomy of a Murder soon but it will depend on free time, which has been non-existent lately. This post is a version of my films/DVD column for Business Standard.]