PIC of the Week: Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection
Article series by Ray Schillaci
This is a tough week for my PIC. On one hand, us George Romero fans finally get three rarely seen films that he made between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, and on the other, one of the most revered comics, Bob Hope, stars in probably one of the best comedy collections ever. My heart says it’s a toss up, but my mind says…how can anyone compete with the entertainment value that Universal Home Entertainment’s Bob Hope: The Ultimate Movie Collection has to offer. So, good ol’ George’s entry will be a corpse hair short of being my PIC.
Now, for those of you that struggle with the appreciation of black & white films and older comics that keep it clean, you owe it to yourself to check Bob Hope out. After all, there would be no Seth McFarlane if it wasn’t for Bob Hope. Watch just about any Hope movie and you will see the influence and inspiration the master had on McFarlane, especially in his acting. Contained in this collection is the prime example, the 1948 movie The Paleface. Bob Hope plays the hapless coward with big laughs (as he usually does), and McFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West comes across like a dirty, pale version of the Hope classic.
Bob Hope was not only a great comedian, but he worked well whether as a duo or in an ensemble piece, working with such legendary greats from Lucille Ball to Bing Crosby. Sadly, some of these names are unknown to many Millennials and Generation Xers, but give them a glimpse of Bob Hope’s antics from one or two of his classic movies, and they will find the entertainment value. Even when Hope’s movies are dated, most of his humor and timing is not.
Universal has compiled twenty-one of his “greatest” movies to make up this “Ultimate Collection”. But, I have to disagree on that “Ultimate” label with the omission of Bob Hope’s classic telling of soft shoe entertainer Eddie Foy’s life in Bci/Eclipse’s The Seven Little Foys. That film displays Hope’s range as an actor and dancer. It’s remarkably funny, touching, and great family entertainment. One of Hope’s best. Also, Hope’s hilarious turn as a bad actor turned pirate in Warner Brother’s The Princess and the Pirate is the film that inspired Johnny Depp’s performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Actually, when The Big U announces an “Ultimate Collection”, it’s a set of movies they own the rights to. They do have a canon of his hits in this collection, including one of my favorites, The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers, Sorrowful Jones and his Road movies with legendary crooner, Bing Crosby. There are also classic star turns by George Burns, Gracie Allen, Lucille Ball, W.C. Fields, Dorothy Lamour, Jane Russell, and so many others. Plus, there is a new documentary, American Masters: This is Bob Hope that includes interviews with Chevy Chase (SNL), Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I.), Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan), and clips from his film, TV, and radio career, with a special dip into his personal archives. This is a must-have PIC even if you have many of his films, since the documentary has so much to offer including his stint as an entertainer for the troops.
Sadly, The Big U is only offering this set on DVD, and has no plans for an upgrade in the near future. Somebody needs to shake things up at Universal Home Entertainment and have them realize this set is well worth a restored Blu. After all, they’ve managed to put some of their Abbott and Costello titles on Blu. I’ve also noticed with the release of this Bob Hope set, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu do not have any of the Hope movies available. Perhaps UHE is withholding their treasure trove to boost sales.
Amazon – $41.99
For the curious, check out Bci/Eclipse’s The Seven Little Foys.
Plus Warner Brothers’ The Princess and the Pirate
As mentioned before, that corpse hair contender is near and dear to many a geek heart – Arrow Video’s Blu of George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn. For Romero fans and film enthusiasts all over, this is like nearly finding the Lost Ark of Blu. Arrow Video has blessed us with a long sought after Blu collection of the films George A. Romero did between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Some of these movies have either been out of print, prints were poor or never available until now.
After NOTLD, Romero wanted to demonstrate that he was more than a horror writer/director. He went the extreme opposite route with his romantic comedy/drama, There’s Always Vanilla. This film has always been considered the oddity of the Romero films, and George himself has denounced it. First off, there was a lot of bad blood going down, and Romero was not involved in the writing, although it did have his political slant against the establishment.
It’s interesting to see the way Romero handles this tale of anti-establishment in the early ’70s. A young non-conformist drifter meets up with a gorgeous commercial model, and it’s a clear case of opposites attract. But opposite sides of the spectrum means they can also can destroy one another. The two leads ended up from two different Romero movies. Judith Ridley (Night of the Living Dead) plays Lynn Harris, the beautiful model. And, Raymond Laine as Chris Bradley, the drifter, would go onto play in Romero’s third film, and second movie to dabble in horror, Hungry Wives, later to be retitled as Season of the Witch.
There’s Always Vanilla is not the kind of film we associate George Romero with, but it is a fascinating footnote in a legendary career. The film is terribly outdated, politically incorrect, steeped in trying to be hip and addressing the young audience at the time it was made for. But, this is also part of its charm. We can see why George had no love for it, but we can also be thankful that it’s now available for all to see as an integral part of his roots as a filmmaker.
Season of the Witch (formerly titled Hungry Wives, and before that, Jack’s Wife) was George taking the reins as writer and director. Once again, Romero explores the darkness of the soul with a tale of the supernatural. A bored suburban housewife dabbles in the black arts.
You can tell immediately that Romero is back to a form that he’s comfortable with. He settles in nicely with the creepiness of it all. This is not the blatant horror show that NOTLD was. This film was more of a character study, and Romero working on delivering a more artistic approach as to what could have been a simple seedy “B” picture. The writer/director elevated his material beyond its boundaries, making Season of the Witch what many have classified as one of Romero’s most overlooked films.
The Crazies has Romero returning to his paranoid roots with a biological weapon out of control. Instead of the lumbering cannibalistic dead, we get frenzied homicidal maniacs, and end up fearing them as much as we do our own government. Here, the writer/director’s vision is as stark as it was in his first film. Steeped in violence, conspiracy, and the government/military enacting Martial Law, Romero’s fourth film proves to be his most powerful before Dawn of the Dead. The Crazies also inspired many other outbreak films including 28 Days Later, and ended up with an excellent reboot in 2010 starring Rahda Mitchell (Silent Hill, Pitch Black) and Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood, Justified).
George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn comes in a handsome box set, a separate case with original artwork for each movie and a limited edition sixty page booklet whose cover mimics the original Dawn of the Dead poster. The presentations, depending on the film, come as anamorphic and widescreen with reversible sleeve covers for each film. There are a multitude of extras for each film as well, including:
¥ New 2K restoration for There’s Always Vanilla
¥ New 4K restorations for Season of the Witch and The Crazies
¥ An alternate extended version (104 mins) for Season of the Witch
¥ Blu-ray and DVD versions of all three films
¥ Brand new audio commentaries for all three films
¥ Archive interview with Romero talking about his 2nd and 3rd film on There’s Always Vanilla
¥ Guillermo Del Toro talking with George Romero on Season of the Witch disc
¥ Cult star Lynn Lowry discussing her early career and role in The Crazies
…and far too much more to mention. This set from Arrow Video is a definite find for Romero fans, and is limited in the number of copies available. Unfortunately, the price has already gone up after its release date. This set has been seen for as much as $100, and was selling on Amazon for $68.86 with a hike up to now $72.62 with (believe it or not) Target being the lowest price out there at $62.89 + FREE shipping & handling for orders before December 23rd.