Jul 14, 2010

New Spy DVDs Out This Week And Last: Emma Peel Remastered, George Raft Vs. Nazis

The latest Avengers Special Edition release from UK company Optimum came out last week: The Avengers: The Complete Series 4. (It's only the third set, though, because only two and a half episodes survive from the first series, and they were included with Series 2.) Anyway, Series 4 (or Season 4, as we say in the US) is the first Diana Rigg season, introducing the leather-clad character of Emma Peel.  For many, this is the beginning of the definitive era of The Avengers.  (I'm a Rigg nut, but I actually love every era of the show.)  These releases are amazing.  I could only conclude that from afar until recently, by reading about the mouthwatering extras, but I just finally picked up the first set (Series 2) this week, and I can now confirm that they are, indeed, amazing. The remastered episodes look far better than they ever have before, and are a definite improvement over the now out-of-print A&E versions that were available in America.  (I'm praying that some US company picks up the license and makes a deal with Optimum to port over their transfers and extras so that all Region 1 Avengers fans can enjoy this stuff!)  But even better than the vastly improved picture quality is the copious extras.  Foremost among them on The Complete Series 4 is an early Rigg performance on Armchair Theatre–supposedly the role that got her the Avengers gig.  Now that we've finally got her episode of The Sentimental Agent on Network's release of that series, the inclusion of "The Hothouse" from Armchair Theatre makes this a banner year for Rigg fans!  (All we need now is the ITV Play of the Week "Women Beware Women" for a complete picture of Dame Diana's early, pre-Avengers television career.)  However, that's only one of many, many special features (over six hours' worth!) on this set, including multiple audio commentaries (from the likes of Brian Clemens and Roger Marshall), an interview with the original Mrs. Peel, Elizabeth Shepherd (whose own strange show, The Corridor People, comes out from Network next week), alternate tag scenes, alternate credits sequences, various test footage, promotional pieces, trailers, newsreel footage, script PDFs and more of the Series 1 episode reconstructions that have been sprinkled throughout Optimum's output, giving fans an idea of what we're missing in the infamous wiped episodes.  That's just an overview, though!  For the full details, check out The Avengers Declassified.  The site also has some amazing screen captures clearly comparing these new Optimum digital restorations with the murkier transfers on the old DVDs.  You'll find the difference plainly visible!  This 8-disc PAL Region 2 set containing all the black and white Emma Peel episodes retails for £59.99, but can currently be found on Amazon.co.uk for £42.99.

On the homefront, meanwhile, we have a new Warner Archive title ofnote this week: Background to Danger, starring George Raft and Sydney Greenstreet.  I've never seen this rare Turkish-set wartime spy thriller (based on a novel by Eric Ambler), but here's Waners' description:
The studio that put Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca also sent fellow film tough guy George Raft to Ankara for a World War II thriller featuring intrigue, romance and Casablanca’s Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The danger starts when a beautiful brunette hands American Joe Barton (Raft) some securities for safekeeping. The brunette turns up dead, the securities turn out to be explosive intel and Joe is #1 on the Most Wanted list of both Nazi henchmen and Soviet spies. Director Raoul Walsh (High Sierra, White Heat) ratchets up the tension of a gripping screenplay by W. R. Burnett (High Sierra) based on a novel by Eric Ambler, whose other page-turner-to-screen works include Journey into Fear, The Mask of Dimitrios and Topkapi.
Sounds great!  As of now, Background to Danger is available exclusively from Warner Archive, although most Archive titles do turn up on Amazon and Deep Discount (which generally has the best prices) down the road.


Jason Whiton said...

drooling over the new Avengers releases- bonus material!

night person said...

Is there any chance of an Emma Peel Blu-Ray set?