We’re in the heart of a very busy spy season for DVDs right now. In the coming weeks we have The Bourne Ultimatum, Hot Fuzz 3-Disc Collector’s Edition (with Timothy Dalton commentary) and, of course, TimeLife’s mammoth The Man From U.N.C.L.E. complete series. But this week, we’re getting at least four big spy releases.
CBS/Paramount continues fulfilling Sixties spy fans’ insatiable desire for classic television with the third seasons of Mission: Impossible and Wild Wild West. This season of Wild Wild West gets a bad rap for departing from the fantastic and beginning the slide into more mundane Western territory, but from what I’ve watched of the set so far, while there might be fewer of the fantastical elements, there’s still spying a-plenty! Unfortunately, there are none of the wonderful extras found on Season One, such as Robert Conrad introductions or commentaries. I guess we should count ourselves lucky to have gotten one season’s worth of such treatment. Mission: Impossible keeps getting better, and there are a lot of good arguments for the third season being the best one yet. The classic team (Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus) is still in tact, and some of the episodes ("The Exchange," "Nicole") depart the rigid, established formula and take on a surprisingly personal angle. Plus we get "The Mind of Stefan Miklos," one of the series’ very best episodes, a classic to rival Season Two’s seminal faked apocalypse in "The Photographer." Here, Jim Phelps needs all of his cunning to beat an equally brilliant enemy strategist at his own game in this bluff and counter-bluff classic of the espionage genre. For those who haven't picked up any seasons yet, but want the entire Landau and Bain run, you can also buy a three-pack of the first three seasons. Click here for my full review of Season Three.
There are also a few worthwhile re-releases in stores today, from opposite sides of the spy spectrum. First up, Criterion offers a truly beautiful new transfer of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes packed with bonus features including the DVD debut of the spinoff movie, Crook's Tour, featuring Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne reprising their Lady Vanishes roles as Charters and Caldicott. Like most Criterion releases, even the packaging is outstanding (in plastic wrap that isn’t annoyingly stuck to the spine, a true mark of quality!), as is the lavish 22-page booklet inside. Second, Sony issues a long-awaited (by some) special edition of box office flop turned minor cult classic Hudson Hawk. Bruce Willis plays a very silly James Bond game as a cat burglar pressed into service for show-stealing CIA mastermind James Coburn in one of his final spy roles.