Jun 21, 2011

New Spy DVDs Out This Week: The Unknown Saint of Monte Carlo

I was going to lead this week's new DVD roundup with Warner Bros.' Unknown, but then the studio trumped themselves at the last minute by announcing a new collection of long-awaited Saint movies via The Warner Archive!  The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection includes all five of the RKO Saint films Sanders starred in between 1939 and '41: The Saint Strikes Back, The Saint in London, The Saint's Double Trouble, The Saint Takes Over and The Saint in Palm Springs.  The trouble with collecting Sanders' Saint outings is that it means omitting the four films starring Luis Hayward (my favorite of the RKO Saints) and Hugh Sinclair. And Hayward starred in the first of the Leslie Charteris adaptations, The Saint in New York. But hopefully those films will see release in a future collection. There's plenty of good news here to focus on!  Warner representatives promised way back in 2007 that all of the RKO Saint films would see release in 2008. That didn't happen, and it was about that time that the bottom fell out of the catalog DVD market entirely, so it seemed as if it would never happen.  Then the studio began its Warner Archive MOD program, producing DVD-Rs of classic films on demand, which started a trend and salvaged the catalog business.  It seemed inevitable that the Saint movies would pop up eventually as MODs, but even then the studio dragged its feet.  And now that these five have arrived, it seems like fans are actually better off for the delay. Instead of releasing each title individually for twenty bucks apiece, as they did with the Tarzan series, Warner are bundling five movies together for just $29.95.  That's a much better bargain!  (Very reasonable, actually.) I really hope that we see the remaining Saint titles (including the elusive final film in the RKO cycle, The Saint's Girl Friday, which was co-produced by Britain's Hammer Studios and saw Hayward return to the role he originated more than a decade later) soon in another such collection.  But for now, I'm very content to have these ones at long last!  So far The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection is available only directly through The Warner Archive, but it will assuredly pop up on Amazon and Deep Discount in a couple of months.

Also out from Warner Home Video today, in much wider release on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo, is this year's Liam Neeson neo-Eurospy romp, Unknown. I never got around to reviewing Unknown when it was in theaters, but I really enjoyed it.  It's not just Taken in Berlin, as the advertising campaign tried so hard to make us believe.  That shorthand actually did the movie a disservice, because Unknown is a bit more cerebral than Taken.  (A bit!) It's not an out-and-out action movie, so those expecting Neeson to kick as much ass as he did in Taken were in for a bit of a letdown.  It is a pretty cool thriller in its own right, though!  The wintery Berlin locations are shown to maximum advantage, as is Diane Kruger, who ably makes the case that she deserves further consideration as a future Bond Girl.  There are also some cool car chases and crashes. The script, co-written by John Le Carré's son, Stephen Cornwell, plays fair with the audience, and I was surprised by a twist that was actually earned and managed quite well to explain a pretty preposterous set-up in a satisfying manner. (I have no idea how faithful it is to the novel by Didier van Cauwelaert upon which it's based.) Extras, unfortunately, are pretty scarce on both releases. The BD includes the featurettes "Unknown: What is Known?" and "Liam Neeson: Known Action Hero" as well as a digital copy of the film; to the undoubted ire of those without Blu-ray players, the DVD includes only the first featurette.  DVD buyers shouldn't worry, though.  They're really not missing out on anything.  Both EPK featurettes are extremely brief, and despite that brevity still manage to cover some of the same ground. Still, this movie is worthwhile even without good bonus material. If you missed Unknown in theaters, definitely give it a try on disc. I'll be posting a full review shortly. Own it on Blu-ray for $35.99 (or just $22.99 currently from Amazon) or DVD for $28.99 (or just $14.99 from Amazon right now).

Finally, Olive Films, who have licensed a lot of cool catalog titles from Paramount, bring us the 1986 WWII spy miniseries Monte Carlo on DVD today. Based on the novel by Stephen Sheppard, Monte Carlo follows the rich and famous as they mingle with international spies in the glamorous titular city during the months leading up to the second World War. Joan Collins stars as a cabaret singer who moonlights for British Intelligence; Peter Vaughn plays her German rival (rival spy, that is; not rival cabaret performer), Malcolm McDowell is no doubt someone shady, and George Hamilton is the American playboy novelist mixed up in the middle of it all. I have a secret soft spot for Eighties miniseries and an even more secret (and guilty) soft spot for the ageless Joan Collins, so I'm intrigued by this one. Retail for the 2-disc set is $39.99, but of course it can be had for slightly less on Amazon.

In addition to Monte Carlo, Olive has one more Joan Collins miniseries out today that might interest spy fans, though it's not itself a spy story. Sins, based on a Judith Gould novel, is notable here because it co-stars Timothy Dalton (immediately prior to becoming Bond) as Collins' unstable brother who's spent half his life in mental institutions. Lauren Hutton (who's also in Monte Carlo) and Gene Kelly (yes, Gene Kelly) also appear. Sins is also a 2-disc set with the same SRP of $39.99.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Great to see the George Saunders "Saint" movies on DVD (and would love to see more RKO mysterys from the 30's and 40's) but you're right- the exclusion of "The Saint In New York" is disappointing. I, too, am partial to Louis Hayward's somewhat crazed take on Simon Templar and the first entry is clearly the best.

So what's coming down the pike? The "Other Saint Movie" collection with Hayward and Sinclair? Clearly, a complete box set with all 9 movies would be less problematic. But hey, I'm just a movie buff, not a corporate exec.