A classic Western series came out on DVD on Tuesday, and I couldn't be happier.
Maverick: The Complete First Season (Warner, 27 episodes, $32.95 standard DVD) presents the TV series that made James Garner a star and set the tone for many later characters he would play -- roguish sorts with their own codes, starting with a man Garner has called both an anti-hero and a reluctant hero.
That would be Bret Maverick, a gambler who, though handy with a gun and his fists, preferred to outsmart his opponents either with a deck of cards or an elaborate scheme.
Although the series began simply with Garner as Bret, heavy production demands led to the addition of Bret's brother Bart, played by Jack Kelly, who first appeared in the eighth episode of the premiere season. Kelly then starred in some episodes apart from Bret's, so two crews could work at once, while other episodes found the brothers teamed.
As a young viewer of Maverick, which premiered in 1957, I always preferred the Bret episodes. People involved with the show have noted that the Bret episodes were often more comedic than Bart's, mainly because Garner was more adept with light material than Kelly. Garner left the series a few years later, and it tried to keep going with still more Maverick kin, but it was never the same without him.
And from the beginning of the series, you can see how Garner made Bret a charmer with a sense of humor. The show also set him up with engaging rivals such as Samantha Crawford (played by Diane Brewster) and Dandy Jim Buckley (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.). This was one of those DVD sets that I started watching and found very difficult to quit.
Viewers more familiar with current TV should note that these episodes are in black-and-white, and that there are signs of wear and age on some episodes. (These early episodes also include an instrumental version of the theme song, not the memorable, later vocal rendition.) Moreover, TV storytelling had a different pace in the '50s, not least because there was more time to tell a story. These episodes last about 50 minutes, eight minutes longer than many TV dramas these days. Movie buffs, meanwhile, should be aware that the first three episodes were directed by Budd Boetticher, acclaimed for his work on a series of Randolph Scott movie Westerns. (Check out the five-movie DVD collection The Films of Budd Boetticher.)
There are no on-disc extras in the Maverick set. The set does include brief printed descriptions of each episode. And I love the show as much as I did when a kid.
Also new on video
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Oscilloscope, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo) is an impressive movie but one that is so disturbing, I won't be watching it again anytime soon. Based on a novel by Lionel Shriver, it involves a mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton), who is confronted more and more by the malevolence of her son (played as a teen by Ezra Miller). That evil has led to a horrible event, and the movie shifts back and forth in time to portray the Eva/Kevin relationship. Eva is hardly an ideal parent, but the terror in the movie is that, even if she were more loving, Kevin may just have been a menace from birth.
I am not always a fan of Swinton's work, but she is very effective here, and Miller is genuinely terrifying. While Lynne Ramsay's directing is at times artier than necessary, it swiftly and unceasingly fills the movie with dread.
Extras include a behind-the-scenes piece, an interview with Shriver and a segment honoring Swinton at the Telluride Film Festival.
Oscilloscope, by the way, is part of the legacy of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who died recently. He founded the company and modeled it on independent record labels, and its DVD and Blu-ray releases have been noteworthy for their excellent packaging and bracing array of titles.
Actor Ralph Fiennes acted in and directed Coriolanus (Anchor Bay, $26.98 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo), which -- with a script by John Logan -- turns Shakespeare's tragedy into a well-paced, modern-dress, action drama. Fiennes is the title character, a Roman general who can win battles but not people's hearts; indeed, he doesn't much care for common folk. Fiennes is very watchable and has assembled a high-powered cast, including Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jessica Chastain. It's very much worth seeing. Extras include a five-minute making-of segment and commentary by Fiennes.
Down video road
The Hunger Games comes to DVD and Blu-ray on Aug. 18. The Sarah Silverman Program: The Complete Series, with 39 episodes from three seasons, hits DVD on June 19. Deliverance will be in a 40th-anniversary Blu-ray set on June 26. The same day brings The Christopher Nolan Blu-ray Collection with the writer-director's Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Memento, Insomnia," and Inception in one package.