Kevin’s Digital Week #6

Blu-ray of the Week
The Mel Brooks Collection
Although his comedies grew increasingly spotty in their laughs over the years, at his best in the mid to late ‘70s, Mel Brooks made audience-pleasing farces combining crude belly laughs with sophisticated movie-buff humor. This deluxe boxed set houses eight Brooks-directed films and a mediocre remake of To Be or Not to Be (1983) starring Brooks and wife Anne Bancroft that was directed by Alan Johnson.

The Twelve Chairs
(1970), History of the World—Part I (1981), Spaceballs (1987) and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) alternate gutbusters with desperately unfunny segments, while the big four—Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (both 1974), Silent Movie (1976) and High Anxiety (1977)—can be watched again and again without sacrificing hilarity. Brooks was never a primarily visual director, so aside from sharper clarity, the Blu-ray transfers aren’t that much better than the original DVDs: with the stunning exception of Young Frankenstein, whose lustrous B&W photography looks so beautiful that you might find yourself admiring it at the expense of the comedy.

No matter: just watch it again. The discs are housed in an impressive coffee-table box which includes a full-color 120-page book about Brooks’ career. Extras include commentaries, interviews and deleted scenes, including six new making-of featurettes.

DVD of the Week
The Golden Age of Television
Even for a company like the Criterion Collection, which releases classic films every month, The Golden Age of Television is a big deal. This three-disc set collects eight full-length plays originally shown live on television in the ‘50s, then shown on PBS in the ‘80s with introductions and recollections from various principals.

The plays include Rod Serling’s biting drama Patterns, Paddy Chayefsky’s groundbreaking Marty, and three other hard-hitting works, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Days of Wine and Roses and Bang the Drum Slowly, the last of which stars a dynamic young actor named Paul Newman.

Watching these old kinescopes (the audio and visual quality is substandard, but since that’s all that survives of these live performances, we should be grateful for what we have) is an evocative experience, especially when watching such splendid performers as Rod Steiger, Richard Kiley, Ed Begley, Jack Palance, Kim Hunter, Piper Laurie and Cliff Robertson play meaty roles in dramatic plays that would never be shown on TV today. Extras include commentaries by directors John Frankenheimer, Delbert Mann, Ralph Nelson and Daniel Petrie, and cast and crew interviews.