Blu-rays of the Week
Victoria—Complete 2nd Season (PBS)
In the second season of this absorbing series about Queen Victoria’s first years of her imposing 63-year reign, the English monarch has her growing family to worry about as well as her dealing with constant domestic and international crises. Led by the delightfully natural Jenna Coleman as the queen—she particularly shines in a wonderful sequence when Victoria and husband Prince Albert (a solid Tom Hughes) get lost in the Scottish countryside and spend a night in an elderly couple’s modest home—the series has grown into an interesting historical drama. The series’ 10 episodes look spectacular on Blu; extras include a Christmas episode and featurettes.
The Flight of Dragons (Warner Archive)
Although this 1982 animated feature from TV producers Rankin/Bass (best known for seasonal classics Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus Is Coming to Town) is based on a book by Peter Dickinson, its dragons, warlocks, wizards and Dark Ages setting make it seem like a Lord of the Rings rip-off. (Rankin/Bass did an animated Hobbit.) It’s an entertaining adventure with James Earl Jones, Victor Buono, Harry Morgan and James Gregory lending their dramatic voices—but hearing John Ritter as a benevolent dragon (!) is strange. The restored feature looks gorgeous; for comparison, check out the washed-out standard-def TV version, included as an extra.
The Hanging Tree (Warner Archive)
A proficient director of westerns, Delmer Daves helmed this 1959 drama with a typically laconic Gary Cooper as a doctor with a secret in his past who sets up a practice in a small mining town. With an array of colorful supporting characters played by Maria Schell, Karl Malden, Ben Piazza and George C. Scott (in a fine film debut as a fiery preacher), and picturesque Washington State locations, this downbeat melodrama is worth a look. Shot in technicolor, the film looks splendid in hi-def.
The Witches (Arrow Academy)
This 1966 omnibus film stars Silvana Mangano, then-wife of producer Dino de Laurentiis, who brought together five Italian directors for an extremely hit-or-miss showcase for his talented and beautiful spouse. Mangano is terrific throughout, but is at her voluptuous best in both the first and final sections, directed by Luchino Visconti and Vittorio de Sica respectively. The latter is also intriguing because Clint Eastwood plays her husband, dubbed into Italian of course. One of the extras—the other is a commentary by critic Tim Lucas—includes an English-dubbed version with Eastwood speaking in his own voice.