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Madding Crowd, Shawshank lead Blu-ray upgrades, DVD debuts
Julie Christie stars in "Far From the Madding Crowd" (1967), which is on Blu-ray for the first time this week. - photo by Chris Hicks
Several notable vintage titles are being released this week, including several Blu-ray upgrades and some golden oldies making their DVD debut.

Far From the Madding Crowd (Warner Archive/Blu-ray, 1967, PG, featurette, trailer). This faithful, three-hour epic adaptation of Thomas Hardys novel filmed once before in the silent era and twice afterward for television is considered the definitive version despite being a U.S. box-office failure in 1967. (It was, however, a hit in Great Britain.) Gorgeously photographed on location (by Nicolas Roeg before he became a director) and meticulously constructed (by director John Schlesinger), it begs to be seen on a large screen.

Filled with visually arresting sequences, the film stars Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdene (no relation to Katniss), who inherits a farm in rural Victorian England and vows to run it alone, something women just didnt do at the time. Her breathtaking beauty and atypically spirited nature attract three men: a local shepherd (Alan Bates), whose proposal she rebuffs, although she hires him; an older landowner (Peter Finch), whom she insensitively teases but also rebuffs; and an unprincipled, and rather mad, cavalry officer (Terence Stamp), whom she impulsively marries. Tragedies occur, lives are ruined and Bathsheba ultimately learns what weve known all along.

The film was originally released before the rating system, then re-released in 1971 with a GP rating, the equivalent at the time of a PG. (Available at

The Frank Darabont Collection (Warner/Blu-ray, 1994/1999/2001, R/R/PG, four discs, three movies, deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes, photo galleries, trailers). Darabont is a screenwriter-turned-filmmaker whose first three directing assignments make up this collection: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Majestic. The first two are his most beloved, excellent and hugely popular adaptations of Stephen King stories (of the non-horror variety).

The Shawshank Redemption (R for violence, language, sex, nudity) has Tim Robbins as a straight-arrow banker in 1947 Maine who is wrongly convicted of murder. He befriends other inmates (chiefly Morgan Freeman and James Whitmore) and becomes a go-to guy for fellow prisoners, the sadistic guards and the even more sadistic warden. But he is working on an evolving long-term plan, and the film cleverly carries us through those twists and turns.

The Green Mile (R for violence and language) stars Tom Hanks as a prison guard on death row in the 1930s and Michael Clarke Duncan as a shy and reserved but behemoth inmate with a misunderstood supernatural power. It's visually captivating and filled with memorable moments despite being overlong (three hours). Co-stars include Bonnie Hunt, David Morse, James Cromwell, Graham Greene, Sam Rockwell and Harry Dean Stanton.

Speaking of overlength, while The Green Mile gets away with it, The Majestic, at two and a half hours, feels way too long and slow, though it has its moments and gets a boost from a nice low-key performance from Jim Carrey and a really terrific one from Martin Landau. It's a wistful Frank Capra-ish comedy-drama about a screenwriter with amnesia mistaken in a small town for a long-lost war hero.

The First Deadly Sin (Warner Archive/DVD, 1980, R for some violence though it would easily get a PG-13 today). This low-key but gripping police procedural was Frank Sinatras last starring role, and hes fully invested, not at all flippant and quite convincing. Hes a world-weary homicide detective on the cusp of retirement, devoted to his dying wife (Faye Dunaway) and doggedly tracking down a serial killer. Sadly, Dunaway has nothing to do and her subplot is the weak link. But the film remains effective, right down to the shocking, surprising climax. This reissue marks the first time it has been released in its original widescreen version. (Available at

The Murder Man (Warner Archive/DVD, 1935, b/w, trailer). This fast-paced newspaper yarn is a murder mystery that skates on the central performance of Spencer Tracy, but the script is filled with holes and implausible twists. I couldnt help but think of Nightcrawler as Tracy always has the scoop first because he writes and submits his stories, then manipulates investigators to coincide with what hes reported. Tracy single-handedly keeps it afloat, but it also features James Stewart in his feature-film debut as a hapless reporter named Shorty. (Available at

Munich (Universal/Blu-ray, 2005; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; directors introduction, featurettes). Steven Spielberg directed this based-on-true-events thriller about Israeli agents (led by Eric Bana) assigned to hunt and kill the terrorists that murdered their nations athletes at the 1972 Olympics. There's some excellent suspense, and the characters are complicated as the agents begin to question the morality of their mission, but that also leads to a lot of talky, preachy moments that bog things down. Daniel Craig and Geoffrey Rush co-star.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: 10th Anniversary (Warner/Blu-ray, 2005, PG, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer; photo book, directors letter). This is the second adaptation of Roald Dahls book (after Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder) about children touring a mysterious candy factory, where one will become heir to the business. Tim Burtons remake is, as you might expect, visually arresting, and Danny Elfmans music is wonderful but Johnny Depps extremely eccentric take on the character of Willy Wonka is a matter of taste. Im not a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Wilders version, but I found Depps ultra-creepy.