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Spartacus, Liberty Valance, Witness given new Blu-ray upgrades
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Just a spoonful of sugar. New research has found that a little sugar can make a child less likely to have brain damage. - photo by Chris Hicks
A newly restored Blu-ray edition of Spartacus and Blu-ray upgrades for Witness, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Escape From Alcatraz and other vintage titles are in release this week.

Spartacus (Universal, 1960, PG-13, new interview with Kirk Douglas, new featurette about this restoration, previous bonus features: deleted scenes, archival interviews, featurette, vintage newsreels, photo/ad galleries, trailer). This is, of course, the classic epic starring Kirk Douglas in the title role of a Roman gladiatorial slave who frees other slaves to build an army against their Roman oppressors.

Star/producer Douglas essentially mounted this film single-handedly and worked hard to have Dalton Trumbo receive screen credit for the first time since he had been blacklisted. He also gave Stanley Kubrick his first big break by hiring him to direct. And the incredible cast includes Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis and Peter Ustinov.

The result is one of the best of Hollywoods expensive, cast-of-thousands sword-and-sandal epics, an exciting, enthralling three-hour ride that looks fabulous in this new Blu-ray edition, painstakingly restored from the original 35mm film elements. (A highlight among the bonus features is a new interview with 98-year-old Douglas.)

Witness (Warner, 1985; R for violence, language, partial nudity). Harrison Ford earned his only Oscar nomination for this moody culture-clash thriller as a Philadelphia cop hiding out in an Amish community to protect a mother (Kelly McGillis) and her young son (Lukas Haas) after the boy witnesses a crime.

Danny Glover, Alexander Godunov and Viggo Mortensen co-star. This is director Peter Weirs first American movie after making his name in Australia, and the gorgeous scenery benefits from this Blu-ray upgrade.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Warner, 1962, b/w). This riveting, thoughtful black-and-white Western (wonderfully enhanced in this Blu-ray) is often cited as John Fords last great film and it seems to get better with repeat viewings.

Told in flashback, the story has James Stewart as a lawyer from the East who arrives in the small frontier town of Shinbone, where he is brutalized by local bully Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). But he nonetheless opens an office to help establish law in the territory, announcing his opposition to violence, though a local rancher (John Wayne) thinks hes a fool to challenge Valance.

The film is filled with smart ideas, witty dialogue and exciting set pieces, as well as atmospheric use of shadow and light. And the terrific cast includes Vera Miles, Edmond OBrien, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Woody Strode, Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef.

Escape From Alcatraz (Warner, 1979, PG). Clint Eastwood stars in this true story of a convicted bank robber who organized an escape from the worlds most impenetrable prison. This is a methodical, entertaining re-creation of events leading up to the breakout. Co-stars include Patrick McGoohan, Roberts Blossom and, in his first film, Danny Glover.

Kiss the Girls (Paramount/Warner, 1997, R for violence and language).

Along Came a Spider (Paramount/Warner, 2001, R for violence and language). More than a decade before Tyler Perry starred in Alex Cross, based on James Pattersons novels about the detective/forensic psychiatrist, Morgan Freeman took on the role in these two thrillers. Freeman, as expected, is great, and in the first film he has nice chemistry with Ashley Judd.

Kiss the Girls has Cross trying to catch a serial killer by pairing up with a woman (Judd) who was kidnapped but managed to escape, and it is by far the best of these films. Co-stars include Cary Elwes, Bill Nunn, Jeremy Piven, Brian Cox, Tony Goldwyn and Jay O. Sanders.

Along Came a Spider teams Cross with a troubled Secret Service agent (Monica Potter) as they track down the kidnapper of a senators daughter. Co-stars include Michael Wincott, Dylan Baker, Anton Yelchin, Michael Moriarty, Penelope Ann Miller and, reprising his role as an FBI agent, Jay O. Sanders.