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W.C. Fields flicks on DVD, four classic fantasies on Blu-ray this week
The great W.C. Fields stars in "The Bank Dick" (1940), one of 18 comedies pulled together for the new DVD release, "W.C. Fields Comedy Essentials Collection." - photo by Chris Hicks
Eighteen of W.C. Fields best movies have been collected in a slim DVD box set, and four black-and-white fantasy classics are on Blu-ray for the first time.

W.C. Fields Comedy Essentials Collection (Universal, 1932-41, not rated, b/w, five discs, 18 movies, featurette). No movie comedian was more successfully anarchic than W.C. Fields. Not Charlie Chaplin, not the Marx Brothers, not anyone in the contemporary comedy-film era.

Fields onscreen persona was easily the most curmudgeonly to ever achieve stardom in motion pictures. His characters were surly, snide, misanthropic and alcoholic, and he demonstrated disdain toward such unlikely targets as dogs and children. Yet Fields managed to remain sympathetic in a way that eludes comedians that pursue a similar trajectory today.

How did he get away with it? He was funny. Fields best films are consistently hilarious, loaded with great examples of his expert comic timing, both in terms of wisecracks and physical shtick, and there are moments of unparalleled brilliance in The Old-Fashioned Way (1934), Its a Gift (1934), Man On the Flying Trapeze (1935), You Cant Cheat an Honest Man (1939), The Bank Dick (1940) and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941).

Even those films credits are funny. Fields wrote all six under such pseudonyms as Mahatma Kane Jeeves and Otis Criblecoblis, and the characters he played had equally inventive, if unlikely, names, such as Larson E. Whipsnade, Cuthbert J. Twillie and Egbert Souse (pronounced Soo-SAY).

Those classics and 12 more Fields flicks are included here. Some titles were previously released individually, and others were only available in earlier box sets for Fields, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Burns & Allen. In addition there are three here that have never been on DVD before: Million Dollar Legs (1932), If I Had a Million (1932) and Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934). Plus, one has been available only as an expensive manufacture-on-demand disc, Tillie and Gus.

Special Effects Collection (Warner, 1933-54, not rated, b/w, four discs, four movies, audio commentary on Mighty Joe Young, featurettes, trailers; book packaging). The four films in this box set are on Blu-ray for the first time, black-and-white creature features primarily notable for their groundbreaking special effects, the first three using stop-motion animation.

Son of Kong (1933) is a direct sequel to the original King Kong and was released in December of the same year. Robert Armstrong reprises his role as Carl Denham, returning to Skull Island where he discovers that Kong had an offspring, also a colossal ape. The approach here is more comic and juvenile but the effects (again by Willis OBrien) are no less impressive.

Mighty Joe Young (1949) is sort of King Kong Lite, with a giant ape (albeit smaller than Kong) that has been raised as a pet on an African ranch by a young woman (Terry Moore). Along comes a Hollywood nightclub owner (Armstrong again) promising riches, so she agrees to allow Joe to become a sideshow attraction. Ben Johnson co-stars. The special effects, overseen by OBrien, with Ray Harryhausen animating Joe, won an Oscar.

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms(1953). This extrapolation of a short story by Ray Bradbury (The Fog Horn) is about a dinosaur awakened by an atom bomb, which sends it on a destructive rampage as it makes its way down the East coast, culminating in an exciting finale at New Yorks famed Coney Island amusement park. Lee Van Cleef is the military sharpshooter taking aim atop the roller coaster. This was Harryhausens first solo special-effects effort.

Them! (1954). This excellent yarn about monster ants was one of the first in a string of big bug movies about small creatures growing to gigantic proportions thanks to nuclear radiation. A sharp script and a better-than-usual cast (James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, James Arness) help this story of overgrown ants being discovered in New Mexico, with law-enforcement agencies chasing them West until the climactic confrontation in the sewers of Los Angeles. Look for Fess Parker and Leonard Nimoy in bit roles. (The effects were nominated for an Oscar.)

My Fair Lady: 50th Anniversary Edition (CBS/Paramount, 1964, G, featurettes, alternate Audrey Hepburn vocals, newsreels, Rex Harrison radio interview, test footage, sketch/photo/publicity galleries, trailers). The classic Lerner & Loewe Broadway musical received a lavish, if stagebound, adaptation for the big screen, with Harrison repeating his Tony-winning Broadway role as the pompous, self-centered professor of linguistics who trains guttersnipe Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) to speak so well she passes for a duchess at a ball.

The songs are still terrific, as are the performances (Hepburns singing dubbed by Marni Nixon), with Stanley Holloway and Wilfrid Hyde-White lending fine support and for fans of the 1990s BBC Sherlock Holmes series, yes thats Jeremy Brett as wide-eyed young Freddy. The film won eight Oscars (including best picture, George Cukor as best director and Harrison as best actor) and it has been newly restored for this Blu-ray/DVD reissue and it looks lovely.

The Fifth Element (Columbia, 1997, PG-13, featurettes). Luc Besson directed this visually stunning but hopelessly muddled sci-fi thriller/comedy featuring Bruce Willis as a flying cabbie in the future who teams up with scantily-clad Milla Jovovich to save the world from outrageous villain Gary Oldman and his alien horde. This newly restored Blu-ray release looks fabulous, and much of the way the film remains engrossing in spite of itself. But when helium-voiced comic Chris Tucker shows up and threatens to take over the film in the final reel, it wears out its welcome.

Max (MGM/Warner, 2015, PG, featurettes). This is a routine family-friendly boy-and-his-dog thriller about a military dog whose handler in Afghanistan is killed, which traumatizes the animal. The dog is sent stateside but can only connect with his handlers younger brother (Josh Wiggins), which eventually leads to their unraveling a mystery at the nearby base. Lauren Graham and Thomas Haden Church co-star as the boys parents. Directed and co-written by Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans). (On Blu-ray and DVD.)

Pixels (Columbia, 2015, PG-13, featurettes, music video). This interesting but bungled idea has alien invaders picking up messages from vintage arcade games and misinterpreting them as an act of war, then using the games as weapons to attack the planet. Its up to nerdy former game champs to save the day, led by Adam Sandler (as the U.S. president), Kevin James, Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad. Co-stars include Michelle Monaghan, Jane Krakowski and Brian Cox, with cameos by Dan Aykroyd, Lainie Kazan, Serena Williams, Daryl Hall & John Oates, and Matt Frewer (as his old Max Headroom character). (On Blu-ray and DVD.)

Leon the Professional (Columbia, 1994, R for violence and language, theatrical and extended versions, featurette, trailer). French star Jean Reno is the title character in this film, playing a middle-aged hitman in New York whose paternal side is awakened by a 12-year-old girl (played by 12-year-old Natalie Portman in her film debut) whose parents are killed. It's an odd story laced with kinetic action sequences, and the dazzling camera work by Luc Besson looks great in this new Blu-ray. Gary Oldman is an even more over the top villain here than in The Fifth Element.

Edgar Allan Poes Black Cats (Arrow, 1972/1981; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; two movies, in Italian with English subtitles, featurettes; 80-page book). This set contains two giallo adaptations of Edgar Allan Poes short story The Black Cat, both by Italian filmmakers famous for over-the-top gore. Sergio Martinos Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is about a murder suspect's wife plotting revenge. (with echoes of Diabolique), with a twist(ed) ending that involves her husbands cat, Satan. Lucio Fulcis The Black Cat has a psychic getting his cat to do his killing, until the cat turns the tables.

The Horror Network, Vol. 1 (WildEye, 2015, not rated, extended segment, image gallery, trailers). This anthology horror film (a la Creepshow, Tales From the Crypt, etc.) relates five stories, ranging from a woman being terrorized in her home to a deaf girl being followed as she walks home.