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A trio of early ‘talkies’ lead vintage titles on video this week

POSTED: October 2, 2017 9:10 a.m.
Chris Hicks/

Loretta Young, at 18, in "Big Business Girl" (1931), making its DVD debut.

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Movies that were made before the film industry’s censorship arm, the Production Code, went into effect in 1934, tend to have material that is much more adult than those produced later, as the first three titles here demonstrate. Of course, they are still in PG territory compared to what we see today.

“Broadway Babies” (Warner Archive, 1929, b/w, trailer).

“Playing Around” (Warner Archive, 1930, b/w). “Vivacious” is a word that critics have often applied to Alice White, whose career peaked near the end of silent films and the early years of “talkies.” And that adjective certainly applies in these two early sound pictures, in which White plays characters named Delight and Sheba, respectively, two gold-diggers who learn the hard way that money isn’t everything.

In “Broadway Babies” White plays a chorus girl torn between her poor stage-manager boyfriend and a well-off gangster, whom she almost marries. In “Playing Around,” White is a stenographer pursued by the poor soda jerk in her father’s cigar store, but she instead runs off with a gangster who pretends to be rich but then robs and shoots her father. The films are routine B pictures, but White is true to her character’s name in the first film, a real delight. (Manufacture-on-demand DVD-Rs available at wbshop.com)

“Big Business Girl” (Warner Archive, 1931, trailer). An 18-year-old Loretta Young stars in this comedy about a wide-eyed innocent in a Manhattan secretarial pool with a boss who can’t keep his hands to himself. Meanwhile, her boyfriend’s band hits it big but forces him to go out on a tour. Will she succumb to her boss’ charms? Especially when he sics a femme fatale (Joan Blondell) on Loretta’s beau? Mild amusement ensues. (Manufacture-on-demand DVD-R available at wbshop.com)

“The Legend of the Holy Drinker” (Arrow, 1988, not rated/probable PG-13, featurettes, trailer; booklet). In contemporary Paris, a homeless alcoholic (Rutger Hauer) is offered 200 francs by an elderly stranger (Anthony Quayle) and told to repay it to a local church when he has the funds. He attempts to do so but is repeatedly thwarted by circumstances, some of his own making. This engaging, albeit slow and overlong, film is a dense religious parable from Italian filmmaker Ermanno Olmi.

“L.A. Confidential: 20th Anniversary Edition” (Fox, 1997; R for violence, language, sex; audio commentary, featurettes, isolated music track, trailers/TV spots, TV pilot). This remains an excellent period film noir thriller about corruption in the Los Angeles police force, with powerhouse performances from Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Danny DeVito and Kim Basinger (who won an Oscar for her supporting role). The TV pilot on the Blu-ray edition stars Kiefer Sutherland and is also quite good, but it failed to get picked up as a series.

“The Moderns” (Shout!, 1988; R for violence, sex, nudity, language, drugs; featurette). Fans of the distinctive but quirky style of filmmaker Alan Rudolph (a protégé of Robert Altman) are the target audience for this visually attractive but somewhat muddled bit of artsy mumbo-jumbo. In 1926 Paris, an art forger (Keith Carradine) longs for a woman (Linda Fiorentino) from his past who is now married to a dangerous businessman (John Lone). On the sidelines are Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and other notables. With Geneviève Bujold, Geraldine Chaplin and Wallace Shawn.

“Hype!: Collector’s Edition” (Shout Select, 1996, not rated/probable R for language and nude pictures, audio commentary, featurettes, animated short: “Hate”). The Seattle grunge scene, an underground musical movement that exploded in the mid 1990s, is the subject of this documentary as it follows local bands that go from playing for their friends to unexpected fame. Showcased bands include Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Mudhoney and many more.

“Hana-Bi” (aka “Fireworks,” Film Movement, 1997, not rated/probable R for violence, in Japanese with English subtitles, audio commentary, featurette, essay). A violent police detective who is forced to retire cares for his dying wife with money he borrows from the yakuza. When he can’t pay it back, and to get money to help others whose lives he has impaired, the cop robs a bank and then spirits his wife away. Soon both the police and yakuza are after him. Written and directed by Takeshi Kitano (aka “Beat Takeshi”), who also stars.

“Phantasm: 5 Movie Collection” (Well Go, 1979-2016; R for violence, language, sex, nudity; five films, deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers, trailers). Those who love this bizarre horror franchise, about the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) — a funeral director who controls dwarf zombies and deadly flying silver spheres — will be pleased to see this new set with all five films, not that it makes these movies any less confusing.

“Don’t Torture a Duckling” (Arrow, 1972; not rated/probable R for violence, nudity, language; in Italian with English subtitles, audio commentary, featurettes; booklet). This Italian giallo is a gruesome thriller about young boys who go missing and then turn up dead in a small village. As the police investigate, superstition and ignorance get in the way. Less gory than many films by Lucio Fulci but the plot is unsavory and disturbing.

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