The Big Sleep (1946)/ Key Largo (1948) PICK

Lassie Come Home (1943) / National Velvet (1944) PICK

Two-fer box sets courtesy of Turner Classic Movies, both under $13 and from the 1940s, are true classics.

First is Lassie Come Home and National Velvet, two beloved family films about the bonds between a young protagonist and a special animal — and both starring Donald Crisp and a young Elizabeth Taylor.

In Lassie Come Home, Roddy McDowall stars as the boy whom Lassie will travel any distance to meet when he comes home from school; Taylor plays a duke’s sympathetic granddaughter.

In National Velvet, Taylor plays Velvet Brown, a young horse enthusiast who wins a gelding in a raffle and dreams of racing him in the Grand National steeplechase. The recently deceased Mickey Rooney plays an ex-jockey drifter who trains the horse for the race.

Then there’s The Big Sleep and Key Largo, both scored by Max Steiner and filmed by Robert Burks (Rear Window). The Big Sleep is one of the most riveting entertainments I’ve ever seen. Even with a score card, the labyrinthine plot is almost impossible to keep straight, but the film is less about plot than about style, atmosphere, repartee — and Humphrey "Bogey" Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s onscreen chemistry. Key Largo, directed by John Huston, is a seething exercise in cinematic claustrophobia, with Bogey playing a variation on a familiar persona — the disillusioned, cynical ex-soldier, à la Casablanca — taken out of his comfort zone and pitted against a post-war foe (gangster Edward G. Robinson), rattling his nerves and testing his limits in a way the Nazis and Vichy French never could.

 

Caveat Spectator: The Big Sleep: Menace, gunplay and brief stylized violence; innuendo; oblique depiction of illicit drug use and other sordid goings-on. Key Largo: Menace, gunplay and stylized violence; some heavy drinking. Both for teens and up. Lassie Come Home: Some mild menace and a scene of violence in which a dog is killed. National Velvet: Mild racing peril and accidents; a depiction of drunkenness. Both for kids and up.