Armchair Cinephile

Racist stereotype or Mexican freedom fighter? Either way, Speedy Gonzales gets a disc of his own on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Four.

A  few very appealing box sets have slipped through this column’s fingers during the year, and, of course, quite a few more have been released this month. For the record, here are sets worth a spot on any obsessive film-buff’s shelves:

Preston Sturges: The Filmmaker Collection (Universal): Surely the most welcome arrival of the year for fans of vintage Hollywood comedy, this set boasts an impressive masterpiece-to-dollar ratio. Some of the films were previously available, but Hail the Conquering Hero and The Great McGinty are among the four titles here that fans of Sturges — the writer/director whose streak of hits in the ‘40s was freakishly brilliant — have pined for since the dawn of DVD.

The Premiere Frank Capra Collection (Sony): Those who find Sturges’s festivals of cynicism too sharp for a Christmas stocking can fall back on the warm and fuzzy oeuvre of Mr. Capra, whose most beloved pieces of unabashedly corny Americana (except for It’s A Wonderful Life, which you know by heart anyway) are to be found here. Many of these were already available, but new features and docs and the 1932 American Madness round out a set that, let’s face it, had me at It Happened One Night.

The Wim Wenders Collection, Volume 2 (Anchor Bay): Ignore the name. This second box from Anchor Bay actually contains everything from their first along with five additional films — all told, a hodgepodge ranging from good but obscure docs to such career highlights as The American Friend. Wenders’s representation on disc still isn’t where it should be (see the home-brew releases at for DVD-Rs of his landmark early work, which has yet to see official release), but this is a step in the right direction, and features director commentary on all the films to boot.

James Bond Ultimate Collection, Volumes 1 through 4 (MGM): By scrambling up the Bond series into four variety-pack box sets, MGM is shamelessly manipulating fans who want, say, all of Sean Connery’s incarnation but can’t stand the sight of Roger Moore. To the studio’s credit, though, they have done a major spruce-up campaign on the films’ presentation, improving the picture substantially, and have put together new bonus features.

Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales (Criterion): Something for the highbrow crowd: The folks at Criterion turned their attention this year to the most-famous films of French New Waver Rohmer — six loosely connected, verbose works that, in his words, deal “less with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they are doing it,” making those kinds of philosophical concerns more important than whatever plots serve to introduce them.

Martin & Lewis Collection: Volume 1 (Paramount): This case study in silver-screen chemistry catches the boozer and the bozo at the start of their movie career, after a blockbuster run on the nightclub circuit and before their growing fame led to inevitable friction. Seeing them together before their respective shticks have calcified and grown unfunny, newcomers to the act will rue the day they split up.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Four (Warner Brothers): Warner knows what it’s doing, rationing out these classic cartoons in lavishly produced box sets that arrive each year just as wish lists are being drawn up. Bugs, Daffy, and company are all on hand, but Volume Four devotes one whole disc to Speedy Gonzales and another to Frank Tashlin, the director who made dozens of Looney Tunes before graduating to direct Martin & Lewis comedies, solo Lewis outings, and the Jayne Mansfield favorite Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

La Dolce Vita: Deluxe Collector’s Edition (Koch): OK — the oversize fake-leather box is silly, unneccessary except to hold a small nothing-special reproduction of the film poster. But fans who don’t already have Koch’s previous edition should take a look at this, which adds a third disc of nifty extras (like a doc on soundtrack genius Nino Rota) to an already nice two-disc regular edition.