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Documentaries on the Holocaust lead vintage films on DVD, Blu-ray

POSTED: April 12, 2015 1:49 p.m.
Chris Hicks/

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal is the subject and participant in Holocaust documentaries now on DVD in "The Simon Wiesenthal Collection."

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A collection of documentaries about the Holocaust has been released on DVD for the first time, along with a variety of vintage films ranging from melodramas and comedies to horror and a spaghetti Western.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Collection” (Cinedigm/DVD, 1982-2013, b/w and color, 11 discs, 11 films). Included among these documentaries are two Oscar winners: “Genocide” (1982), narrated by Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor, providing an overview of Jewish history from pre-World War II assimilation into European culture through the horrors brought on by Nazism, and “The Long Way Home” (1997), narrated by Morgan Freeman, about what happened after the war as Jews were processed through refugee camps, as well as the establishment of modern Israel.

Also here are “Echoes That Remain” (1991), “Liberation” (1994), “In Search of Peace” (2001), “Unlikely Heroes” (2003), “Ever Again” (2006), “I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal” (2007), “Winston Churchill: Walking with Destiny” (2010), “It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl” (2012) and “The Prime Ministers” (2013).

“Imitation of Life” (Universal/Blu-ray, 1934/1959, b/w and color, audio commentaries, featurette, trailers). This is a Blu-ray upgrade of the 2009 DVD set that includes both the 1934 film with Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers and the 1959 version with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore. The sentimental story is of two women, one black and one white, and the heartache endured by the former when her daughter rejects her heritage to pass for white. Dated, even condescending, but valuable as a look at race from two eras of filmmaking. Surprisingly, the earlier film fares best.

“Thunder Road” (Timeless/MGM/Blu-ray/DVD, 1958, b/w). Hi-def upgrade of a fan-favorite car-chase picture, Robert Mitchum’s vanity project about moonshiners (which provided the template for much of Burt Reynolds’ 1970s career). Mitchum carts liquor through the South in his souped-up Ford, but when the feds and the mob close in, and as his competitors take a step back, he’s determined to make one more run. In addition to starring, Mitchum produced, co-wrote the screenplay, directed some scenes (without credit), cast his son Jim as his younger brother and had a hit record with the theme song, which he co-wrote.

“Day of Anger” (aka “Guns of Anger,” “Gunlaw,” “Day of Wrath,” Arrow/Blu-ray/DVD, 1967; three versions, two in Italian with English subtitles, one edited and dubbed in English; deleted scene, featurettes, trailers). This well-made spaghetti Western was Lee Van Cleef’s follow-up to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The familiar story has him playing a veteran gunslinger who reluctantly takes on a hapless young man as an apprentice. Naturally, they will have to face each other down. Memorable theme music, top-flight Van Cleef performance. (Note: The English-dubbed version is nearly a half-hour shorter than the two Italian versions.)

“Massacre Gun” (Arrow/Blu-ray/DVD, 1967, b/w, in Japanese with English subtitles, featurettes, photo gallery, trailer). Ultra-cool yakuza flick infused with jazz musical score and boasting excellent performances about a hit man who turns on his gang after being forced to terminate his girlfriend. He soon joins forces with other disenfranchised gangsters to start a turf war. Quite violent — why fire a single shot when you can spray dozens of bullets? — although not nearly as bloody as modern fare.

“Singles” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1992, PG-13, deleted scenes, bloopers, trailer, live-music performances by Alice in Chains and Soundgarden). Cameron Crowe’s ensemble romantic comedy about the minefields of dating in 1990s Seattle is funny, sad, intelligent and a surprisingly soft PG-13 for the era. Those who fall in and out of love include an array of excellent young performers, led by Bridget Fonda, Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgwick, Sheila Kelley and Campbell Scott, with support from Bill Pullman and cameos by Eric Stoltz, Tom Skerritt, Peter Horton and filmmaker Tim Burton.

“Class of 1984” (Scream/Blu-ray/DVD, 1982; R for violence, language, nudity, sex, drugs; audio commentary, featurettes, photo gallery, trailer/TV spots). Interesting but very violent cross between “A Clockwork Orange” and “Blackboard Jungle” by way of “High Noon” (or perhaps anticipating “Three O’Clock High”). Perry King is an idealistic high school music teacher harassed by a psychopath student (Timothy Van Patten) in the ultimate undisciplined school. Roddy McDowall co-stars and Michael J. Fox has a small role in his second film.

“Empire Records” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1995, PG-13, deleted scenes, music videos, trailer). So-so comedy about a day in the lives of slackers who work in a Delaware music store. Notable for its cast of stars-to-be, including Liv Tyler, Renee Zellweger, Robin Tunney, Debi Mazar and Anthony LaPaglia.

“Detroit Rock City” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1999; R for language, sex, drugs; deleted scenes, audio commentaries, music videos, trailer). Three goofball teens try to get tickets to a Kiss concert for themselves and a fourth member of their Kiss cover band who has been banished by his ultra-conservative mother to a Catholic boarding school in this sloppy comedy.

“Carrie”/“The Rage: Carrie 2” (Scream/Blu-ray, 2002/1999, not rated/R for violence, sex, language; audio commentaries, trailers; “Rage” only: deleted scenes/alternate ending). This is an odd pairing since “Carrie” is the 2002 TV remake and “Rage” is a theatrical sequel to the 1976 film and includes Amy Irving reprising her character. This “Carrie” is OK but doesn’t come close to Brian De Palma’s original, and it reworks the ending because it was intended as a TV pilot (though the series never materialized). “Rage” is more a rehash than a sequel, with different characters (except Irving’s).

“Breathless” (MGM/Shout!/Blu-ray, 1983; R for sex, nudity, language, violence). Of all the movies to remake, why would anyone take Jean-Luc Godard’s artful French classic set in Paris about a low-life criminal who worships Humphrey Bogart and make it about an American thug (Richard Gere) in Las Vegas who worships Silver Surfer comic books? But here it is, and everything about it is wrongheaded.
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