20th Century Fox Digs Deep Into the Past and Restores Eight Studio Classics for Blu-ray

By  · Published on December 5th, 2013

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too.

Before you accuse me of selling out and featuring a major studio in a column dedicated to smaller labels, please understand that they paid me very well. That’s not true. Instead let me point out that these releases come via 20th Century Fox’s Studio Classics line, which is both a small division and in this instance one very receptive to the desires of fans.

They launched a program called Voice Your Choice earlier this year where film lovers got the chance to vote on which classics from Fox’s library from the 1930’s through the 1960’s were most deserving of digital restoration and HD release on Blu-ray. The response was so overwhelming that Fox decided to double the number of “winning” titles to two from each decade, and the eight movies released this week.

The films include The Black Swan, Call of the Wild, Carmen Jones, Desk Set, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Jesse James, North to Alaska, and The Undefeated. Keep reading for a closer look at four of the selections below.

Henry King’s The Black Swan (1942)

Once a wild and carefree land, the country of Jamaica tries to clean up its act by installing a reformed pirate as governor with the intention that he’ll be best suited to wipe the seas of the pirate scourge. The plan hits a bump when one of his ex-pirate pals (Tyrone Power) loses his cool and kidnaps the feisty daughter (Maureen O’Hara) of Governor Morgan’s predecessor setting in motion an epic chase and battle.

This is a popular film so my opinion shouldn’t discourage any would be purchasers, but I’m not entirely sold. To be fair, I’m not as smitten by pirate flicks as many seem to be, but I’m also far from enthralled by Power. He’s not very impressive as an actor and lacks the charisma necessary to lead a film and woo a lady. Speaking of the lady, O’Hara is unsurprisingly fantastic, but her brilliance only makes Power look even duller. That said, Power kills it with the swordplay and helps make the final thirty minutes good fun.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) is a recently widowed mother who decides to move with her young daughter (Natalie Wood) to a remote seaside cottage, but her attempt to strike out on her own hits a bit of snag when she discovers the house is already occupied. Granted, the occupant is the ghost of a long-dead seafarer named Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison), but what starts as a haunting grows into something far more surprising.

Prior to watching the film my only experience with the story was by way of the television series that ran into the early ’70s, but the film is happily far less sitcom-like (obviously). The movie is a romance mixed with both the comedic and dramatic, but neither half feels particularly heavy or forced. It’s a sweet film unafraid to dodge convention in the directions it takes. Tierney is quite good as a strong woman who eventually capitulates to romantic pressures, and while Harrison’s role is more of a supporting one he brings a fun gravitas to it all.

Walter Lang’s Desk Set (1957)

Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) is head of a network TV research department, and she’s quite good at her job. If she doesn’t have the answer in her head she knows how and where to find it. Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) is brought on as a consultant to help phase out the department by replacing the human employees with giant computers. Uh oh! That’s going to be a sticky situation when Bunny and Dick start falling in love.

This high energy romantic comedy was Hepburn and Tracy’s eighth film together, but that doesn’t mean either of them are slacking or sleepwalking here. Both talents are at the top of their game and having fun with the decidedly light fare, but the script isn’t quite up to their level. There are some laughs, but the only real draw here remains the two leads.

Henry Hathaway’s North to Alaska (1960)

Sam (John Wayne) and his best friend/business partner George (Stewart Granger) have struck it rich mining for gold in Alaska, but the good times screech to a halt when George’s long distance fiance breaks the man’s heart. Sam sets off to find a replacement for his friend and settles on a French madame (?) named Angel (Capucine), but his efforts have an unexpected result. Love!

This two hour comedy bounces between action(ish) bar brawls and romance, but bird noises and funny faces during fight scenes are a bit too broadly played. Most of the film is more traditional, albeit light, and while it occasionally feels padded it’s entertaining enough. Wayne has always been more charismatic and imposing than truly engaging, but that’s more than enough to keep your attention here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.