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 2

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 1930 and 1931 that have been released together on disc in The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2.

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. Pups Is Pups (1930) (Length: 18 minutes, 39 seconds)
    • Farina (Allen Hoskins) gets a job as a page at a pet show, and the rest of the Gang get their pets ready to enter in the show.
  2. Teacher’s Pet (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 54 seconds)
    • The Gang have a new teacher, and, since they don’t think they will like her as much as their previous one, Jackie (Jackie Cooper) makes plans to play some pranks on her.
  3. School’s Out (1930) (Length: 20 minutes, 51 seconds)
    • When a man (Creighton Hale) shows up to meet Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe), the Gang try to dissuade him from marrying her (not knowing that he is actually her brother).
  4. Helping Grandma (1931) (Length: 21 minutes, 4 seconds)
    • Mrs. Margaret Mack, A.K.A. “Grandma” (Margaret Mann) is considering selling her store to a chain store or to the local skinflint Mr. Pennypacker (Oscar Apfel). The Gang really don’t want her to sell out, so they try to help her out.
  5. Love Business (1931) (Length: 20 minutes, 27 seconds)
    • Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe) comes to stay at Jackie’s (Jackie Cooper) house. Meanwhile, both Jackie and Chubby (Norman Chaney) have a crush on her.
  6. Little Daddy (1931) (Length: 21 minutes, 10 seconds)
    • Farina (Allen Hoskins) has been taking care of Stymie (Matthew Beard) by himself, but the authorities are coming to put Stymie in an orphan’s home.
  7. Bargain Day (1931) (Length: 19 minutes, 1 second)
    • Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) and Stymie (Matthew Beard) take the other kids’ things, and try to sell them door-to-door. When they come to the home of a poor little rich girl (Shirley Jean Rickert), they come in and get into trouble.
  8. Fly My Kite (1931) (Length: 21 minutes, 4 seconds)
    • Grandma (Margaret Mann) faces eviction by her former son-in-law, but the Gang do their part to help stop his plans.
  9. Big Ears (1931) (Length: 21 minutes, 8 seconds)
    • Wheezer’s (Bobby Hutchins) parents fight constantly, and the word “divorce” is thrown around. When he finds out what “divorce” means, Wheezer turns to Stymie (Matthew Beard) and Dorothy (Dorothy DeBorba) for help in getting sick to keep them together.
  10. Shiver My Timbers (1931) (Length: 21 minutes, 2 seconds)
    • The kids all play hooky from school to listen to the tales of a sea captain (Billy Gilbert) and dream of being pirates themselves. When Miss Crabtree (June Marlowe) complains to the captain, he offers to help cure them of their dreams of going to sea.
  11. Dogs Is Dogs (1931) (Length: 20 minutes, 53 seconds)
    • Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) and Dorothy (Dorothy DeBorba) are stuck with the unkind Spud (Sherwood Bailey) and his mother (Blanche Payson) when their father doesn’t return.

Continuing on from where we left off with Volume 1 (which contained the shorts Small Talk up through A Tough Winter), Jackie Cooper had become the Our Gang series’ newest star. However, his performances in several shorts resulted in him getting the lead for the 1931 film Skippy, and he soon left the series. Several others, including longtime Our Gang star Allen “Farina” Hoskins, plus Norman “Chubby” Chaney and Mary Ann Jackson aged out of the series. Newcomers during this group include Dorothy DeBorba and Matthew “Stymie” Beard (who was broken in as Farina’s replacement before he left). While those older kids were still around, we were introduced to their new teacher, Miss Crabtree (as played by June Marlowe), who captivated the hearts of some of the kids (and viewers as well). This group of shorts also introduced what would become the theme song for the Our Gang shorts, “Good Old Days” by Leroy Shield (starting with Teacher’s Pet).

As I indicated when reviewing the first volume, I’m essentially being introduced to these shorts as I go through these sets. Like those in the first set, I also found these next eleven to be quite entertaining! In particular, those featuring June Marlowe as Miss Crabtree were some of the best (and I can certainly see the attraction). Admittedly, I think she worked best with the older group (like Jackie Cooper, Norman “Chubby” Chaney, etc.) before they left, as she awakened their desire to be in school. By the time the series moved on to Wheezer, Stymie, and the younger group being her students, they didn’t care so much and were willing to play hooky (like in Shiver My Timbers), so I can understand why she wasn’t around for a huge number of shorts. Personally, amongst the new kids, I only really found Matthew “Stymie” Beard to be that much fun. As an actor, he doesn’t seem to be that good, as he delivers his lines with a straight face and then grins. Still, even with that, he manages to be funny and entertaining! I do think that the short Shiver My Timbers is the best one in the set (followed closely by the likes of Teacher’s Pet and Love Business). Honestly, the only one that wasn’t as fun was Big Ears, due as much as anything to Wheezer’s parents and their borderline abusive relationship. Other than that, I’m still a fan of these shorts, and look forward to seeing more of them when I get the chance!

As I mentioned in my review of the first volume, ClassicFlix announced (in late 2020) 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, much like the first set, these shorts look fantastic (some minor damage is still present, but is BARELY noticeable)! This set doesn’t necessarily give any hints as to what film elements were used like the first one did (beyond the comment on the disc case about scanning from original Hal Roach 35mm film elements), but the results speak for themselves (and if you don’t believe me, I included some of the YouTube clips posted by ClassicFlix at the bottom of the post so that you can get a better idea)! Once again, the team at ClassicFlix have put a lot of hard work into restoring these, and I would certainly recommend the second volume (and the first as well, if you haven’t gotten it already)! The third set (with the next eleven shorts) has already been released (and from what I’ve heard, it looks at least as good, if not better than this one), and the fourth is on the schedule for release in early 2022! It’ll be a little while before I continue on with more, but I certainly hope to get around to them when I get my hands on some copies!

The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2 is available on Blu-ray from ClassicFlix. The whole set has a runtime of three hours, forty-five minutes.

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