Here’s a look at a pair of classic films now on Blu-ray and part of the Kino Lorber collection.
Fortune Cookie (not rated, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, 126 minutes, $24.95). The first pairing of legendary actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau returns to the Blu-ray format with a small group of new extras for cinema connoisseurs.
The Billy Wilder directed and co-written 16-act comedy from 1966 finds TV cameraman Harry Hinkle (Lemmon) taking a shot on the sidelines by Cleveland Browns’ star punt returner Luthor “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich).
Out cold in the hospital, enter his ambulance-chasing brother-in-law William “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich (Matthau won the academy award for his performance) waiting for his awakening and the orchestration of a potential big pay day.
Believe it or not, the simple satirical story on human greed ends up as a two-hour opus as Harry gets badgered by Whiplash Willie to fake injuries for the cash and he eventually agrees to the scam in hopes of rekindling a romance with his less than noble ex-wife Sandy (Judi West).
However, Harry might still have a level of decency after wanting to help a distraught Boom Boom who is paying an emotional price for his deception.
Matthau is a vintage fast-talking curmudgeon while Lemmon thrives as hopeless lovable schmuck indignant at his insane circumstances.
Keep an eye out for future pop stars Howard McNear (Floyd the barber on the “The Andy Griffith Show”) and William Christopher (Father Mulcahy on “M*A*S*H”) as well as legendary boxer Archie Moore as a bartender who gets to throw a few punches.
The high definition transfer does a great job with the Panavision source material and showcases, with only the occasional speck of dirt, the black and white cinematography of Joseph LaShelle.
Best extras: Viewers get an optional commentary track with film historian and Billy Wilder aficionado Joseph McBride.
The rather dry but informative and continuous track covers Mr. Wilder’s life and films including the sex comedy “Kiss Me Stupid,” the pervasive theme of corruption shown at every level in the film, specifics on the production such as Matthau’s heart attack during the shooting.
He often goes off on tangents such as reading from his and fellow critics essays about the director or discussing Jim Brown’s emergence as an actor and asking what if he was cast as Boom Boom.
Next, viewers get an amusing, minute-long, message from Lemmon asking the citizens of Cleveland to show up at Municipal Stadium to be part of a movie.
Finally, the disc offers a two-minute tribute from Wilder to his co-screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond and a four-minute, Wilder-directed, sketch of two writers at work (Lemmon and Matthau) from a script originally created by Diamond.
Thoroughly Modern Millie (rated G, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 92 minutes, $29.96). Director George Roy Hill’s 1967 Academy Award-winning quirky musical comedy gets a new 4K restoration and finally debuts in the Blu-ray format.
Spoofing the Roaring Twenties, the story takes place in New York City and stars Julie Andrews as small-town girl Millie Dillmount in search of a rich husband while befriending naïve Californian Dorothy Brown (Mary Tyler Moore) and a fearless socialite (Carol Channing), up for near everything including getting shot out of a cannon.
Life gets unnecessarily complicated when viewers learn that the house mother (Beatrice Lillie) of the hotel where Millie and Dorothy are staying is selling some of the new female tenants to a Chinese white slavery ring (I am not making this up) and targets Dorothy as her next victim.
That plot thread adds a bizarre and slightly uncomfortable twist to the rather long but crazy story that includes a frantic chase conclusion and even an intermission.
However, moments such as an elevator that only works if the occupants tap dance (that allowed Tyler Moore and Miss Andrews to show off some hoofing skills), an ensemble performing the latest dance craze the Tapioca, a Harold Lloyd slapstick rescue and songs including “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Baby Face,” “Jazz Baby,” “Sweet Mystery of Life” “Do It Again,” make for a nostalgic evening of entertainment.
Pop culture fans will also notice a pair of future television icons playing the two Asian henchmen. Why it’s Jack Soo (Detective Nick Yemana in “Barney Miller”) and Pat Morita (Arnold Takahashi in “Happy Days”).
The restoration of the Technicolor source material looks fantastic, especially for an over 50-year-old movie even if only delivered in screen-filling high definition.
For example, Millie driving a bright red roadster on a night with a dark blue sky looks incredibly vivid and sharp while the flapper costuming is colorful throughout.
Also, the excessive amount of closeups and mugging for the camera shows off some impeccable make-up enhanced skin tones and facial perfections of the legendary stars.
Reference quality moments include a faux dog fight between a black-and-white-checkered and red-striped biplane, and a nighttime kiss set behind a starry dark blue sky that looks so crisp that one can imagine feeling the cool air.
Best extras: Viewers get an optional commentary track with film historian Lee Gambin and art historian Ian McAnally.
The pair tend to enjoy listening to each other talk, sometimes meandering off-topic, but certainly are equally knowledgeable about ancillary minutiae as well as film history and the movie’s loftier themes.
That keeps the pair in nonstop talking mode to the point of even reading other’s thoughts on the original release of the movie.