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Jesus of Nazareth gets a Blu-ray upgrade this week
Robert Powell stars in "Jesus of Nazareth." The 1977 TV miniseries is on Blu-ray and DVD this week. - photo by Chris Hicks
A number of vintage titles are on Blu-ray and DVD this week, led by the hi-def upgrade of the TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth. (The Warner Archive titles here are manufacture-on-demand discs, available at

Jesus of Nazareth (Shout!, 1977, two discs, four episodes, new interviews). A star-filled international cast bolsters this retelling of the life of Jesus Christ with a script based on the Bibles canonical gospels. This is a gorgeous Blu-ray upgrade (also on DVD) of the earnest, moving 1970s TV miniseries filmed in Tunisia and Morocco.

As with all filmed interpretations, theres plenty to quibble about, starting with a blue-eyed Jesus, but Robert Powells sensitive performance is appealing and the direction by co-screenwriter Franco Zeffirelli (the 1968 Romeo and Juliet, the 1990 Hamlet) is reverent and sensitive. Overall, this is a very enjoyable Italian-British coproduction far superior to most Hollywood versions.

The cast includes Olivia Hussey as Mary, Anne Bancroft as Mary Magdalene, James Farentino as Peter, Laurence Olivier as Nicodemus, Christopher Plummer as Herod, Rod Steiger as Pontius Pilate and Michael York as John the Baptist, along with Claudia Cardinale, James Earl Jones, Ernest Borgnine, Stacy Keach, James Mason, Anthony Quinn, Ralph Richardson and many more.

Ian McShane, who gained fame after this program on the Lovejoy and Deadwood TV series, and as Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, plays Judas, a characterization that is one of the more controversial here, giving him political motivations for his betrayal of Jesus. (The bonus features are with historian Jean-Pierre Isbouts and actor Michael York.)

These Three (Warner Archive, 1936, b/w). Lillian Hellman scripted this excellent adaptation of her dramatic play The Childrens Hour, powerfully directed by William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben-Hur). Miriam Hopkins and Merle Oberon run a private boarding school, and Joel McCrea is a local doctor courting Oberon. But when a malicious student (Bonita Granville) spreads lies about them, it threatens to ruin their lives. All give terrific performances, though Granville stands out. Margaret Hamilton and Walter Brennan appear in small roles.

I Confess (Warner Archive, 1952, b/w, featurette, newsreel, trailer). This striking Blu-ray upgrade is of Alfred Hitchcocks tale of a priest (Montgomery Clift) experiencing a crisis of conscience after he takes the confession of a killer and is then accused of the crime. Though it is never included in the same breath with Hitchcocks acknowledged classics, this thriller, filmed on location in Quebec, is stylishly constructed and nicely builds suspense. Anne Baxter and Karl Malden co-star.

My Foolish Heart (Warner Archive, 1949, b/w). An unhappily married alcoholic (Susan Hayward) flashes back to her younger days when she was romanced by another man (Dana Andrews) at the outset of World War II. It's a nicely modulated melodrama with solid performances. This is the only film ever made from a J.D. Salinger story (Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut), and he was so disappointed with the changes in the script that he refused to allow the movie industry to adapt any of his other works, even when he was offered enormous sums of money for Catcher in the Rye.

Go Naked in the World (Warner Archive, 1961, trailer). After a hitch in the Army, Anthony Franciosa returns home to his wealthy Greek family, falls in love with a woman (Gina Lollobrigida) and then learns shes a hooker and Dad (Ernest Borgnine) knows her all too well. This overly familiar story (from La Traviata to Pretty Woman) is miscast and indifferently directed, but it may be of interest as an example of how the topic was handled when Hollywood was transitioning away from the repressive Production Code.

The Whip Hand (Warner Archive, 1951, b/w). This low-budget programmer is about Commies/former Nazis taking over an abandoned lodge on a Minnesota island where their germ-warfare experiments kill off all the fish. A vacationing magazine writer (Elliott Reid) investigates. It was directed by notable production designer/filmmaker William Cameron Menzies (Things to Come, Invaders From Mars).

American Horror Project, Vol. 1 (Arrow, 1973/1976, R/PG, three Blu-rays, three DVDs, three films, audio commentary, featurettes, photo gallery, ad spots, trailers, three short films; 60-page booklet). This set includes three disparate low-budget horror films from the 1970s: the gory, unrated Malatestas Carnival of Blood, about cannibals at a carnival run by a vampire, with a pre-Fantasy Island Herve Villechaize; The Witch Who Came From the Sea, with Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank) as a delusional woman on a murder spree, rated R for very explicit sexual violence; and the PG-rated The Premonition, about a little girl who has a psychic connection with her foster mother after being kidnapped by her birth mother.

Pray for Death (Arrow, 1985; R for violence, language, sex; R-rated and unrated versions, featurettes, trailer). Sho Kosugi stars in this upgraded Blu-ray ninja flick, with the martial artist essentially remaking his own 1983 picture Revenge of the Ninja, playing a family man relocated to Los Angeles and driven to vigilante justice by mobsters and crooked cops. It's not Kosugis best, but theres enough action to please fans.
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