Jerry Lewis’ “The Nutty Professor,” in a Blu-ray upgrade, leads a bevy of vintage titles on home video for the first time. (Warner Archive titles are available at warnerarchive.com.)
“The Nutty Professor: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1963, four discs, three movies, audio CD, new featurette, 48-page storyboards book, 44-page script, 96-page book: “Being a Person”; previous DVD extras: deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, screen tests/outtakes, bloopers, trailers). If you’re a Lewis fan, you’ll love this overflowing box set filled with the bonus features described above.
Lewis’ following, along with many others, consider “The Nutty Professor” to be the comedian’s masterpiece, a reworking of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” with Lewis as a shy, nerdy, gentle science teacher who comes up with a magic brew that turns him into a slick, arrogant womanizing lounge singer. Stella Stevens co-stars and there are a lot of clever sight gags, particularly in the first half.
The other two films included here are “Cinderfella” (1960) and “The Errand Boy” (1961, b/w), both with audio commentaries and bloopers. The audio CD is a collection of prank phone calls made by Lewis over several years, including one from Steve Allen’s late-night talk/variety show.
“Test Pilot” (Warner Archive, 1938, b/w, trailer). Engaging action-filled comedy-drama about the conflicts between a reckless, daredevil pilot (stoic Clark Gable) who tests experimental aircraft, his mechanic and best friend (energetic Spencer Tracy), and the pilot’s new wife (feisty Myrna Loy) who vows to stick by him, though she fears for his safety. Sturdy, if predictable, script gets a lift from confident direction and star power. Lionel Barrymore and Marjorie Main co-star.
“Parnell” (Warner Archive, 1937, b/w). Gable and Loy are also paired in this tearjerker biography of 19th century Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell whose tenure was undone by his affair with a married woman. This is often referred to as the worst film ever made by Gable or Loy, and Gable does indeed look uncomfortable at times. Although it was a notorious flop in 1937, it’s interesting to see for MGM’s lavish production values and the earnest performances of such stalwart character players as Edna May Oliver, Edmund Gwenn, Donald Crisp and Billie Burke.
“The Girl He Left Behind” (Warner Archive, 1957, b/w). Bland military comedy about spoiled Tab Hunter flunking out of college, being drafted and refusing to get along during basic training at Ford Ord, California. Meanwhile, girl-back-home Natalie Wood isn’t sure if she really loves the arrogant oaf. The script follows a routine template, a la “See Here, Private Hargrove” or Bob Hope’s “Caught in the Draft,” but without the wit. Notable for supporting cast that includes up-and-comers James Garner (in his second film), David Janssen, Jim Backus and Alan King, among others.
“A Fever in the Blood” (Warner Archive, 1961, b/w). A judge (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) who is a pillar of integrity oversees a murder trial in which the devious prosecutor (Jack Kelly) lets his political ambitions cloud his judgment. Both are also interested in running for governor, though the state’s senior senator (Don Ameche) muddles things by throwing his own hat in the ring. And the senator’s wife (Angie Dickinson) still has a thing for the judge. Overheated potboiler boasts earnest performances but is undone by an uninspired script and flat direction.
“Wall of Noise” (Warner Archive, 1963, b/w). Racehorse melodrama has some interesting scenes on the track, but the human story is mundane and none of the characters are particularly likable. Ty Hardin (after four years as TV’s “Bronco”) is an arrogant trainer who makes a deal with the devil in the form of a land developer (Ralph Meeker) and romances the boss’ wife (Suzanne Pleshette) while ignoring the woman who’s been loyal to him (Dorothy Provine).
“Monogram Cowboy Collection: Volume 8” (Warner Archive, 1941-50, b/w, four discs, 12 movies). The majority of these hourlong B-movie Westerns are entries in the “Rough Riders” series — six with Buck Jones, Tim McCoy and Raymond Hatton as a trio of marshals who ride to the rescue, and two more with Johnny Mack Brown and Hatton. The remaining four films star Brown as a range detective, then performing more or less the same duties under his own name. Gail Davis, who would star in the “Annie Oakley” TV series a few years later, co-stars here in “West of Wyoming” and “Six Gun Mesa.”
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at email@example.com