National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes 11.09.2008

BY Steven D. Greydanus

November 9-15, 2008 Issue | Posted 11/4/08 at 3:48 PM


Sabrina (1954)

Roman Holiday (1953)

The General (1926)

This week, three classics come to DVD in must-have two-disc editions newly restored and loaded with extras.

Two of these, released a year apart and both starring Audrey Hepburn, are inaugural films for Paramount’s new “Centennial Collection” series: William Wyler’s delightful Roman Holiday, featuring Hepburn in her star-making role opposite Gregory Peck, and Billy Wilder’s equally charming Sabrina, with Hepburn playing opposite Humphrey Bogart and William Holden.

Ironically, both films were originally meant to co-star Cary Grant, but Grant was unavailable, and Hepburn wound up playing with male leads who felt miscast. (Hepburn and Grant finally joined forces for Stanley Donat’s 1963 thriller Charade.) The offbeat casting helps both films, heightening the tension between Hepburn and her reluctant leading men.

Roman Holiday is a kind of Cinderella-in-reverse story about a princess who becomes a commoner for a day, finding momentary happiness and love, but without the happily ever after. In Sabrina, Hepburn gets to play the fairy tale the traditional way, and, despite its complications, the story concludes the way fairy tales are meant to end.

Both films look better than ever in restored transfers. Extras for Roman Holiday include featurettes on Hepburn, her years at Paramount, and the restoration of the film, among others. Sabrina extras include more featurettes on Hepburn, Holden and more. One feature, “Paramount in the ’50s,” appears on both discs.

Finally, from Kino International comes the ultimate two-disc edition of Buster Keaton’s classic The General, one of the brightest gems of the silent era and arguably Keaton’s masterpiece. Few silents make a better introduction to the art form: The film’s appeal is virtually universal.

The General works a single, brilliantly sustained premise into an engaging story combining edge-of-your-seat excitement, stunningly conceived stunts and sight gags, spectacular set pieces, touching sentiment and a rousing finale.

Essentially a chase film, The General tells the Civil War-era tale of a stoic young Confederate railroad engineer whose precious train is stolen — and beloved Southern belle kidnapped — by Union spies. Commandeering another train to give chase, he winds up sallying deep into enemy territory, riding by the seat of his pants as he confronts obstacles and difficulties at every turn, often with only moments to act and split-second timing needed to avoid disaster.

Special features include three musical scores, behind-the-scenes features, introductions by Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles, and a montage of train-related gags throughout Keaton’s body of work.

CONTENT ADVISORY: Roman Holiday: Romantic complications; some awkward moments involving members of the opposite sex sharing a room. Teens and up. Sabrina: Romantic complications; references to a character’s serial marriages; an impulsive suicide attempt. Teens and up. The General: Wartime excitement and action; a sequence involving large-scale battlefield violence. Fine family viewing.