Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

By now, I think it’s safe to say that most of you know that I enjoy watching classic movies via physical media like Blu-ray and DVD (I’m not trying to knock streaming necessarily, it’s just that most of what I like is more readily available on disc).  2021 has been another really good year for seeing fantastic movies given the bump up to Blu-ray, so here’s my list of what I personally think are the best releases of the year!  As usual, I must remind everyone that I do NOT receive screeners of any kind (nor, quite frankly, would I want to, as I prefer to support the movies I like in the hopes of more of them being made available), so I can only work with what I have seen.  I am making this list from all the 2021 releases I have seen as of 12/1/2021.  Much like my list for 2020, I am working mainly from movies released on disc through October 2021 (due to my own constraints of budget and time, plus the fact that, without being given screeners, I have no way to comment on December releases ahead of time). So, this list is what it is (but, I will give a shout-out to some other releases afterwards).  I’m experimenting by changing the format a little this year, so if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie on the left side to use my affiliate links to go to Amazon and buy them (or, if you want to read the reviews, click on the movie titles to go there)!!

  1. Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy star in this last entry of the Broadway Melody series. A case of mistaken identity results in the wrong member of a dance team getting his big chance on the Broadway stage (but, when the team is two men and Fred Astaire was the other partner, you KNOW that he’ll get his chance as well). Working from a 4K scan of nitrate preservation elements, the good people at Warner Archive have given us a new and improved transfer that shows off this film’s detail and really allows us to enjoy these spectacular dancers looking better than they have in a long time! Great movie, great transfer!
  1. San Francisco (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In this film that teams up Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy, we have a nightclub owner (Gable) who runs for town supervisor to help the people on the Barbary Coast, while falling for his new singer (MacDonald) (and all ahead of the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake). Another Warner Archive release, making use of a French-dubbed nitrate fine grain second generation element (and some domestic elements as well), which amounts to this movie looking better than it has in a long time! Throw in the original 1936 ending (with the 1948 reissue ending as an extra), and this is one release that is well worth it!
  1. Show Boat (1951) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In 2020, we got the 1936 version of Show Boat (from Criterion Collection). For 2021, we got the 1951 version with Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner and Howard Keel. Kathryn Grayson stars as the daughter of showboat owner Cap’n Andy (Joe E. Brown), who falls for riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel). Long in need of restoration (as much as the film relies on its Technicolor imagery), Warner Archive created a new 4K master from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives, and it looks SUPERB!! Compared to how it has looked before, I still think this is the restoration of the year, making the Blu-ray well worth it for fans of the film!
  1. Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly star in this classic musical! The returning baseball champs find themselves with a new owner (Williams), with two of the players falling for her. Warner Archive has given this movie a new restoration, and it looks to be one of the best-looking examples of the three-strip Technicolor process, as the color just pops, revealing all the wonderful details of the picture!
  1. A Night At The Opera (1935) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In the first Marx Brothers film from MGM, the trio find themselves helping a couple of operatic singers to make it big in America. The film was cut for re-release during World War II (removing references to Italy), with the deleted scenes supposedly destroyed. Warner Archive haven’t located any of those deleted scenes, but they’ve given us a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements, and this film looks great! Until any of the deleted scenes are found in any usable form (if that ever happens), this is the best release one can hope for on this film!
  1. In The Good Old Summertime (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Judy Garland and Van Johnson star in this musical remake of The Shop Around The Corner. They play the bickering co-workers who are unknowingly falling for each other as pen pals. Another Yuletide classic featuring Judy singing the holiday tune “Merry Christmas!” Working from 4K scans of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives and preservation separations, this film looks great, and is a wonderful movie to watch around the holidays (or during the summer, too, I suppose 😉 )!
  1. Annie Get Your Gun (1950) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Betty Hutton and Howard Keel star in this film version of the Broadway show (with music by Irving Berlin)! In this movie, Annie Oakley (Hutton) rises from a nobody to being an internationally renowned sharpshooter! This release features a 4K scan of most of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives (with two reels’ worth coming from positive safety separations due to those reels being burned in the infamous Eastman house fire), which brings out the color and detail!
  1. Bringing Up Baby (1938) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In 2021, one of the biggest and best-known screwball comedies FINALLY made it to Blu-ray! In this movie, Cary Grant is an engaged paleontologist who accidentally gets mixed up with a flighty young woman (Katharine Hepburn). Madcap adventures ensue, including panthers, buried dinosaur bones, and jail time! The original camera negative may be long gone, but this transfer came from 4K scans of a 35 mm nitrate duplicate negative (from the British Film Institute) and a 35 mm safety fine-grain positive, resulting in a better transfer than what’s been available for a long time (and is certainly worth recommending)!
  1. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Screen legends Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are paired up for the third and final time, with Melvyn Douglas joining. Grant plays an advertising executive who wants a full-sized house for his family (instead of a cramped apartment), but when he remodels his new place, the costs start to skyrocket! Working from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, Warner Archive has another superlative release on their hands with a fantastic transfer!
  1. After The Thin Man (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • After releasing the first film in the Thin Man series on Blu-ray in 2019, Warner Archive has finally continued the series, starting with that film’s (kinda-sorta) direct sequel! William Powell and Myrna Loy return as Nick and Nora Charles, who have arrived in San Francisco, only to find themselves trying to solve the murder of Nora’s cousin’s husband! Warner Archive made use of a 4K scan of safety fine grain film elements for this transfer, and it looks quite good! Certainly a worthy follow-up release after the first film was treated so well on Blu-ray!

Special Honorable Mention:

  • The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3
    • For the most part, my list tends towards movie releases, as those are the vast majority of what I buy. However, as you may have seen, I also enjoy looking into various theatrical short collections. In 2020, ClassicFlix announced (via crowdfunding campaign) their desire to restore the Hal Roach-owned Little Rascals shorts. While their campaign fell short, they went through with their plans anyway. They now have three volumes of Little Rascals shorts available on Blu-ray, uncut and fully restored. I’ve seen the first two volumes, which each contain eleven shorts starting with their first talkie, and continuing on from there. The shorts in these first two volumes look absolutely fantastic, and while I haven’t gotten around to the third volume yet, I’ve heard it looks just as good (if not even better)! With more on the way, I have a hard time not wanting to call these sets the releases of the year!

Honorable Mentions: Another Thin Man (1939) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), Dinner At Eight (1933) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), (tie) Mad About Music (1938) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray), (tie) Nice Girl? (1941) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray)

While the pandemic has still been raging on in places throughout 2021, physical media enthusiasts have had quite a good year! I would have to say that, once again, Warner Archive has won the year amongst the various labels. They continued to release a slew of musicals (with actress Doris Day getting well-represented), three-strip Technicolor films and various other classics, finally digging into more of Errol Flynn’s filmography (including the public domain Santa Fe Trail from 1940) and continuing the Thin Man series! Like I already said, I haven’t gotten any farther than their October releases, but November releases include the second-to-last film in the Thin Man series (The Thin Man Goes Home), another Doris Day musical (Lullaby Of Broadway), a Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code (Ladies They Talk About), a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin film (Some Came Running), National Velvet and several others, with December seeing the long-awaited Angels With Dirty Faces (previously held back from being released because of right issues that popped up within the last decade) and Ivanhoe. Personally, I’m thrilled with their musical output for the year (especially with TWO Fred Astaire musicals represented). Honestly, the only complaint I have is that there was a rumor that at least one of the Astaire-Rogers films would be coming (but nothing showed up). I know, I know, internet rumors and all that, but when the source of that rumor claimed that there would be some Arthur Freed musicals (there were), some Val Lewtons (again, there were) and some Marx Brothers (and we got one), it’s disappointing that what I wanted most of the bunch was what DIDN’T come out (but, hopefully 2022 will bring at least one of them out on Blu-ray). Like last year, I want to throw in a plug for a film that, while I personally am not interested in it due to its genre, certainly is appealing for others: the 1932 horror film Dr. X, which, like 2020’s release of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum, was filmed in the Two-Color Technicolor process, with those elements nearly gone. But, in collaboration with UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Foundation, the film has been restored in the process (and the black-and-white version is included as well) for the Blu-ray release, which, from what I have heard, is highly recommended for those interested in that aspect of film history!

Personally, I would say that, apart from Warner Archives, I have mixed feelings about this year. Kino Lorber has been continuing to make deals with Universal and MGM, bringing out a lot of films (some of which they have remastered/restored themselves). I’m thrilled to see more W. C. Fields movies (four this year) that came from them (especially after having seen their Insider talking on multiple forums in the past about how their previous W. C. Field releases weren’t great sellers), with three more being worked on for next year (plus a few other non-W. C. Fields titles that were announced but are getting new 2K or 4K remasters that have pushed them into next year). We also got more Bob Hope from Kino, although I’m disappointed that their release of Nothing But The Truth was missing some of the film’s footage that had previously been included on Universal’s DVD, and the missing stereo sound on Thoroughly Modern Millie (for its overture, entr’acte and exit music) is also disappointing (and there have been a handful of other releases from them with a few mistakes this year as far as I’ve heard). And while I’m disappointed that Kino’s three-film set of Deanna Durbin films from the previous year was a poor seller (enough so that they dropped the other six films of hers that they had licensed, which I can’t say as I blame them for doing), I was thrilled to see Universal step up with their own MOD Blu-ray releases and release all six of those films (plus one more that I didn’t see coming!), along with the likes of State Of The Union and a Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection in what was their most appealing lineup (to me) since their first year of releasing anything on Blu-ray via that line! Criterion has finally gotten into the UHD game, but (since I haven’t upgraded to that technology yet), they’ve really only had two releases this year that appealed to me (Bringing Up Baby and High Sierra). To be fair, with their higher prices, I don’t mind, given how much Warner Archive and others have been releasing. ClassicFlix has mainly been focusing a lot of their time, money and effort in their restorations of the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts, but they’ve also finished out their DVD-only run of Hal Roach streamliners, along with a few other DVD-only films (due to lack of decent film elements), along with their Blu-ray and DVD of International Lady (they also announced a Blu-ray and DVD release for the 1949 Black Magic that was originally scheduled to come out this fall, but has since been delayed into next year). Overall, I think that 2021 has been filled with a great many releases on disc (too many in my book, both in terms of budget and time to watch everything), and what I’m hearing/seeing coming in 2022 looks to be just as good (if not better)!

Previous years:

2020

2019

2018

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1

Welcome back for another full post of Coming Up Shorts! This time, I’m going with the Hal Roach theatrical shorts featuring The Little Rascals, and some of their shorts from 1929 and 1930 that have been released together on disc in The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1.

Here’s a list and quick plot description for each of the shorts included in this set (for my comments on the individual shorts, click on the title to go to my previous reviews):

  1. Small Talk (1929) (Length: 25 minutes, 4 seconds)
    • Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) is adopted, and the rest of the Little Rascals run away from the orphanage to come see him.
  2. Railroadin’ (1929) (Length: 18 minutes, 53 seconds)
    • The kids are all hanging out at the train yard where Joe’s (Joe Cobb) father works, when a bum starts the train and the kids find themselves unable to stop it.
  3. Lazy Days (1929) (Length: 20 minutes, 30 seconds)
    • Farina (Allen Hoskins) is just too lazy and tired to do much of anything, but when Joe (Joe Cobb) reads a paper for a baby contest (with monetary prizes), the whole gang decides to get their younger siblings ready for it (even the “lazy and tired” Farina).
  4. Boxing Gloves (1929) (Length: 17 minutes, 28 seconds)
    • Harry (Harry Spear) and Farina (Allen Hoskins) are fight promoters, and decide to pit Joe (Joe Cobb) and Chubby (Norman Chaney) against each other.
  5. Bouncing Babies (1929) (Length: 20 minutes, 45 seconds)
    • Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) is sore because his baby brother is getting all the attention, and wants to send the baby “back to heaven.”
  6. Moan & Groan, Inc. (1929) (Length: 20 minutes, 41 seconds)
    • The kids ignore the warning of Officer Kennedy (Edgar Kennedy), and go dig for treasure in a haunted house.
  7. Shivering Shakespeare (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 26 seconds)
    • The kids all take part in a production of Quo Vadis for the Golden Age Dramatic League.
  8. The First Seven Years (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 10 seconds)
    • Jackie (Jackie Cooper) wants Mary Ann (Mary Ann Jackson) to be his “wife,” but has to fight Speck (Donald Haines) for her affections.
  9. When The Wind Blows (1930) (Length: 19 minutes, 47 seconds)
    • On a windy night, Jackie (Jackie Cooper) accidentally locks himself out of his house, and is mistaken for a burglar as he attempts to get into the homes of the various Rascals.
  10. Bear Shooters (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 29 seconds)
    • The gang all go camping to hunt bears, but they unknowingly come across a pair of bootleggers who try to scare them off.
  11. A Tough Winter (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 35 seconds)
    • On a cold winter’s day, the gang spend some time inside with handyman Stepin Fetchit before getting together for a taffy pull.

In 1921, producer Hal Roach came up with the idea for a series of shorts featuring young kids being themselves (as opposed to being over-rehearsed like some kids were when auditioning for parts in other productions). Long story short (as I hope to talk about them more if and when the silent shorts get restored for Blu-ray), nearly 88 silent shorts were produced in this series. Of course, with the success of Warner Brothers’ 1927 movie The Jazz Singer, everybody started making the transition to sound, and the Our Gang comedies were no exception. While they started making adjustments behind the scenes to accommodate sound for the shorts, the cast started to change a little as well, as some of them outgrew the series. Joe Cobb, Harry Spear and Jean Darling made a few appearances in the talkies before quickly being phased out, with the group joined by the likes of Norman “Chubby” Chaney and Jackie Cooper, plus Donald Haines, who made a few appearances as other characters before becoming a member of the Gang himself.

Up until watching this set, I had very little experience with the Rascals. Obviously, I had heard of them, but I hadn’t really seen much of the series, just the movie from the 1990s (and it has been some time since the one time I saw that) and some appearances by former Rascals in various movies, like George “Spanky” McFarland’s appearance in Kentucky Kernels or Dickie Moore’s appearances in films like Miss Annie Rooney or Out Of The Past (or, much to my surprise when I recently found out, Jackie Cooper’s appearances as Perry White in the Christopher Reeve Superman films I’ve been watching since I was a kid). So this set was pretty much my big introduction to the Rascals, and I found it quite worthwhile! From the very first short, I was enjoying myself quite heartily! Just based on how Small Talk starts off, it’s not hard to believe that it was the first sound short, as it starts off silently, only to blast us with the sounds of all the kids making noise (and what a natural “kid” thing to do)! Granted, the acting is a little stiff in the first few as everybody tried to get used to acting with sound, but they quickly settle in to the routine, and everything gets much better! I know I enjoyed watching the “fight” in Boxing Gloves, with Joe and Chubby squaring off against each other! Shivering Shakespeare has been listed as one of the better ones from this group, and I heartily agree with that, from watching the kids’ antics as they try to remember their lines in the play (with some assistance from their teacher, I think) to the slow-motion pie fight that ends it! When The Wind Blows is another fun classic, with Jackie Cooper getting into trouble on a windy night when he accidentally gets locked out of his house! There are some aspects on these shorts that are dated, but overall, there is a timeless appeal to them, and I now count myself a fan as I look forward to seeing the remaining sets as they come out!

In late 2020, ClassicFlix announced that they had licensed the Little Rascals shorts, and planned to restore the talkies (and the silents as well if the talkies do well enough). The film elements for many films and shorts originally produced by Hal Roach’s studio have changed hands a number of times over the years, and haven’t been as well preserved as most would hope. ClassicFlix tried a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the restorations for the Little Rascals series, but that ended up falling short. Still, they went through with their plans to restore the shorts, and, as this first set proves, they’re off to a good start! According to the restoration featurette on the disc, they worked with original nitrate elements for seven of these first eleven shorts, fine grain and safety elements on three shorts (due to lack of existing nitrate elements or film elements too far gone) and a mixture of safety and nitrate on Railroadin’. For the most part, these shorts look great (again, this is my first experience with them, so, for the most part, I don’t know how they have looked previously). There is some minor damage here and there on some of the shorts, and some shots don’t look quite as good, but that’s the result of available film elements (and available restoration budget). If you don’t believe me about how good everything looks, I’ve included some of the YouTube clips posted by ClassicFlix at the bottom of this post. Seriously, though, the restoration team at ClassicFlix have poured their hearts and souls into restoring this series (and it looks it), so I would very heartily recommend this first volume (especially if you want them to not only finish out the talkies, but also restore the silent shorts as well). From what I’ve heard, the second volume of the next eleven shorts (already available at the time of this writing) looks even better, and the third set is already scheduled (and I hope to get around to both of them when I can get that far)!

The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 is available on Blu-ray from ClassicFlix. The whole set has a runtime of three hours, forty-three minutes.