A Star Is Born (1937, Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, NR, 111 min.). This is the first movie version of this classic Hollywood tale, with Janet Gaynor as movie-struck farmgirl, Esther Blodgett, who becomes star Vicki Lester, just as the man who gave Esther her break, Fredric March, as box-office star Norman Maine — and becomes her husband — has his career crash due to excessive drinking. March also starred in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “The Best Years of Our Lives,” winning Best Actor Oscars for both. Gaynor won her only Oscar for a trio of films in 1927-28.

The restored film, which earned Academy Awards for color photography and Best Original Story (William A. Wellman and Robert Carson), while being nominated for five others, including Best Picture, both leads, Wellman as Best Director and Best Screenplay, has been remade four times. These are the 1951 TV version with Kathleen Crowley and Conrad Nagel; the 1954 film with Judy Garland and James Mason; the 1976 film with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson; and the 2018 film with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. The latter two versions moved the setting from movies to music. The 1954 version did not win any Oscars, but was nominated for six, including both leads, music score, song, art direction and art-set direction. The 1975 version won Streisand and Paul Williams an Oscar for Best Song, while also being nominated for score, cinematography, and sound. The 2018 version also won an Oscar for Best Song and had seven other nominations, including both leads, Sam Elliott as supporting actor, Best Picture, sound mixing, cinematography, and adapted screenplay.

Three of the four films excel for different reasons, with the Streisand take being too one-sided. This film gets bonus points for being first and gives March several highlights, including when he drunkenly interrupts Esther’s Oscar acceptance speech with a bitter rant. Also, the ending still brings tears. Significant supporting roles are played by Andy Devine (TV’s “Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok”) as Esther’s friend Danny McGuire and May Robson as Grandma Lettie Blodgett. The fine score is by Max Steiner.

The film comes with two Lux Radio Theater audio broadcasts. The 1937 one stars Gaynor and Robert Montgomery, while the 1942 foreshadows the 1954 film as it stars Garland and Walter Pidgeon. There also are three short films and a cartoon. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

For the Love of Money (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or DVD, R, 99 min.). What starts out as a potentially interesting family drama soon turns to the dark side of drug dealing and money laundering. Keri Hilson plays Gigi Davis, who works sales for a gymnasium by day and waitresses in the Symphony club at night so she can afford to send her teenage daughter Ashley (Jazzy Jade) to an elite school. When faced with raising tuition, a legal crisis for Ashley, and her ex-husband (Jason Mitchell as Greg) balking at helping out, Gigi turns to darker means to find the necessary cash.

We see early that Ashley has a talent for writing songs and sings well at church, but that thread is quickly dropped, as is any expansion of Gigi once wanting a music career. Hilson does a duet on one of the four live songs in the film, which also features a lot of soundtrack songs.
In some of the film’s many coincidences, Gigi susses out that her Symphony co-workers Brian (Cedric Pendleton) and dumb Bobby (D.C. Young Fly) are dealing drugs and laundering the proceeds. Gigi says she can quadruple their profits if allowed to handle the money laundering and meets with their connection, Tre (Rotimi), whose advances she had recently scorned at the gym. It turns out that Gigi’s father (Katt Williams as Pastor G) is a former gangster, now using his church to launder money.

All is very profitable until Bobby breaks rules and deposits $2 million into one account, causing the feds to freeze the account. The biggest coincidence is Greg is a federal agent investigating Brian for money laundering. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2.5 stars

Dexter: New Blood (CBS/Showtime, 4 Blu-rays or DVDs, NR, 8 hours 47 min.). One of the joys this past winter was the return of “Dexter,” starring Michael C. Hall as everyone’s favorite serial killer, Dexter Morgan. It has been almost 10 years since Dexter’s last kill — he famously mostly killed serial killers who escaped the attention of the Miami Metro Police, for whom he worked as a blood splatter/forensic analyst — and he has reinvented himself as everyman Jim Lindsay in the (fictional) upstate New York town of Iron Lake. Jim works in a hunting goods store and even dates Police Chief Angela Bishop (Julia Jones), the single mom of teenager Audrey (Johnny Sequoyah).

As Dexter was haunted by the specter of his father, who taught him the code to his kills, in the original eight-season series, now his dead sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) serves as his conscious/sense of doubt. Dexter’s world gets rocked when he first kills a spoiled young man for killing a white deer, and then the son he abandoned 10 years ago shows up in his cabin. The son, Harrison, is played by Jack Alcott, who is a welcome addition. Dexter learns that Harrison, who eventually begins dating Audrey, has a “dark passenger,” much like himself, as he witnessed the murder of his mother. Dexter’s dilemma is how much to tell Harrison and should be actually train him in the art of killing?

Chief Bishop has been investigating a growing number of missing young women from the town and nearby reservation. Dexter soon realizes the women are being killed by Kurt Caldwell (Clancy Brown), the father of the deer killer. Their cat-and-mouse game includes Kurt becoming friendly with Harrison, as he becomes disillusioned with his father. The season brings back two original cast members as important cameos.
There are three short extras, the content of which is repeated in the longer Making-Of (30:04), which is a decent look at the season. Grade: season 3.75 stars; extras 2 stars

Drive-In Retro Classics: Science Fiction Triple Feature (Corinth Films, DVD, NR, 222 min.). Of the three films here, two are pretty good and the other, “The Hideous Sun Demon,” is a dud.

“The Brain from Planet Arous” (1958, 71 min.) has alien criminal Gor land in the California desert. Gor wants to enslave humanity so he can become ruler of the universe. He has a radiation-emitting ability that can destroy buildings and crash airplanes. Nearby scientist Steve Marsh (John Agar of “The Mole People”) detects some higher radiation and goes to investigate, along with eye-candy Dan Murphy (Robert Fuller, TV’s “Emergency!”), who does not last 15 minutes. Gor takes over Marsh’s body and the hilarious tip-off is that he kisses girlfriend Sally (Jayne Meadows) more aggressively. The dog no longer likes him as well. Grade: 2.75 stars

“The Hideous Sun Demon” (1959, 74 min.). Dr. Gilbert McKenna (Robert Clarke, who also directs; “Beyond the Time Barrier”) is exposed to an irradiated isotope that causes him to resemble a lizard when exposed to the sun. Luckily, his female assistant was shielded by a sheet (haha). If out of the sun, he returns to normal. He hides away in a remote cabin, but cannot resist going to a bar, where he seduces the singer and gets in trouble with her friends, one of whom he kills. The film is very talky at times and is padded with numerous driving scenes. Reportedly, Clarke envisioned the film as a sendup of Fredric March in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Grade: ½ star

“Rocketship X-M” (1950, 77 min.). The best of the three, the opening launch of the five-person spaceship — nicely designed, by the way — is science-based and plausible. However, after a silly-looking, noisy meteorite shower, the rocket ship is knocked off-course at excessive speed, with all onboard knocked unconscious. When awake, they find themselves near Mars — the moon was their destination — and they land and find the remains of an advanced civilization blasted back to the stone age by nuclear destruction, a clear warning based on the nuclear fears of the time.

Here, Mars still has an atmosphere, and the Mars section is tinted red. Among the crew are three familiar TV faces: Lloyd Bridges (“Sea Hunt”); Hugh O’Brian (“The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”); and Noah Beery Jr. (“The Rockford Files”). The film was written by blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (“The Brave One,” “Roman Holiday”). Grade: 3 stars

Tom Von Malder of Owls Head has reviewed music since 1972, just after graduation from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has reviewed videos/DVDs since 1988.

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