Daniel Kaluuya won an Oscar for his portrayal of Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."
Daniel Kaluuya won an Oscar for his portrayal of Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah."

Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros., Blu-ray or DVD, R, 126 min.). Daniel Kaluuya brings intensity to his portrayal of Fred Hampton, leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party, who used his fierce speechifying to create his “rainbow coalition” of peoples of all races in 1968 Chicago against a common enemy that included the FBI and police who believe murder is a proper tool. Kaluuya, as Hampton, gives more than one electrifying speech in director/co-writer Shaka King’s film, more than justifying his Academy Award victory as Best Supporting Actor, albeit some might argue he was in the wrong category. It is a shock, after Hampton is assassinated and the film ends, to learn that Hampton was only 21 when he died.

If Hampton is the supporting role, then the lead falls to the “Judas” of this tale, which would be car thief William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield, yet who, strangely enough, also was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor), who becomes an FBI informant tasked with getting close to Hampton or else go to jail for 5 1/3 years for stealing a car and impersonating an FBI agent. Yes, there is irony there. We do see O’Neal get close to Hampton by first becoming his driver and then the head of his defense squad – yet more irony, as O’Neal is the one who gave the FBI the layout of Hampton’s apartment.

The only real problem with the film is the script, which does not use Stanfield dynamically enough. Half his scenes are with his FBI handler (Jesse Plemons of TV’s “Fargo” as Roy Mitchell) and nearly all seem just about jail threats and money. The potentially best scene is when O’Neal visits Mitchell’s home, but the script skips digging into the socio-economic differences, leaving that to Hampton’s crowd-rousing speeches. There also are too many scenes of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen of TV’s “The West Wing”) railing against his men to take care of the “latest messiah” – the film opens with news footage of Martin Luther King’s assassination and the rioting/protests that erupted afterwards – which mainly serve to show how bigoted and mean Hoover was, but we already knew that.

The cinematography by Sean Bobbitt is excellent and earned him an Oscar nomination. The film also earned Academy Award nominations as Best Picture and Best Script, but its only other win was for “Fight for You,” the closing song performed and co-written by H.E.R.

There are only two extras: a look at “Fred Hampton for the People” (9:19), a look at Hampton’s legacy with comments by cast and crew; and “Unexpected Betrayal” (7:47), a look at O’Neal. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 1.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, Paramount Presents, Blu-ray, NR, 152 min.). Keeping with a loose theme of Oscar winners, this Cecil B. DeMille spectacular, based on and using more than 60 performers and the animals of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Writing, Motion Picture Story. It also earned nominations for DeMille as Best Director, Anne Bauchens for Best Editing and Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins and Miles White for Best Costumer Designs. It was the second feature film for legendary Charlton Heston, who would go on to win a Best Actor Oscar for “Ben-Hur” in 1960.

Heston plays Brad Braden, the on-the-road manager of the circus, who becomes involved in a sort-of love triangle when his girlfriend Holly, an aerialist played by Betty Hutton (see “Annie Get Your Gun” below), starts to fall for the new main act, aerialist The Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde of “Sword of Lancelot”), a noted womanizer who previously had had an affair with the circus’ Angel (Gloria Grahame, who would win her Oscar for “The Bad and the Beautiful, released the same year). Amazingly, both Hutton and Wilde trained and performed all the aerial stunts themselves … and quite well.

More than the melodrama, and the handful of songs, what makes the film so worthwhile is its documentary-style portions that show what the great traveling circuses used to be like, including the 1,400 people who would set up the show in the morning and strip in down at night so it could move by train to the next town. DeMille also gives much time to the actual circus acts, including clowns, dancers and animals, including some magnificent performances by horses and elephants. There also are two full-on circus parades, depicting different eras in each portion of the parade.

Speaking of clowns, Buttons the Clown is played by James Stewart (a five-time Oscar nominee who won his statuette for “The Philadelphia Story”), who only is recognizable by his voice, as he wears his clown makeup constantly, for reasons revealed in the film. Another clown, Emmett Kelly, plays himself, as does John Ringling North as one of the circus’ owners.

Another of the film’s plots deals with elephant handler Klaus (Lyle Bettger of “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Destry”), the jealous boyfriend of Angel, teaming up with Harry (John Kellogg of “Twelve O’Clock High,” “Young Tom Edison”), angry because Brad broke up his crooked betting games, in a plot to steal the day’s receipts, only to have things go terribly wrong and cause the film’s spectacular train wreck, which involved great use of miniatures.

Dorothy Lamour (“Donovan’s Reef”) plays circus performer Phyliss. That same year, Lamour starred in “Road to Bali” with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, both of whom have a quick cameo as part of the circus audience in one scene. Bob Crosby, Bing’s brother, also plays a spectator. Also, William Boyd recreates his Hopalong Cassidy as a special parade guest in another scene.

The film is newly restored from a 4K film transfer of the original negative. The sole bonus feature is Leonard Maltin’s informative Filmmaker Focus (7:40), Maltin points out that Wilde had been afraid of heights before making the film. Grade: film 4 stars; extra 1.25 stars

Annie Get Your Gun (1950, Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, NR, 107 min.). This is one terrific musical film, with arguably the best Irving Berlin score and songs ever – nearly every one of the 10 songs is a classic. I’d say only “Holiday Inn” is its rival. And while Betty Hutton (see “The Greatest Show on Earth” above) is not Ethel Merman, who played Annie Oakley in the 1946 Broadway smash that ran 1,347 performances, she gives a sparkling, fun-filled performance here. The film won an Oscar for Best Music, Scoring, and was nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Film Editing.

Those songs, each of which can be accessed directly, are topped by “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “They Say It’s Wonderful” and “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better).” Not quite as famous – maybe – are “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “The Girl That I Marry,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning.” Then, there is the fun “I’m an Indian, Too.”

Hutton’s Oakley is an unsophisticated, backwoods sure shot, whom hotel owner Foster Wilson (Clinton Sundberg) puts up against Col. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show sharpshooter Frank Butler (Howard Keel of “Show Boat,” “Calamity Jane,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in only his second film) to win the $100 bet Buffalo Bill Cody (Louis Calhern of “Duck Soup,” “Notorious”) makes in each town when the show arrives by train. Oakley, future-husband Butler and Cody all were real people, and their story is loosely adapted for the Broadway show and film.

As Oakley becomes more famous, Butler gets more upset, eventually leaving for the rival Pawnee Bill show. Pawnee Bill is played by Edward Arnold (“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with James Stewart). So, it is only Oakley who goes with Cody on the European tour (a fun montage). Before the tour though, Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carrol Naish, who was nominated for two Oscars in the mid-1940s; nowadays there probably would be a stink raised about casting an Irishman as a Sioux Indian) adopts Annie as his daughter.

While the film worked out wonderfully, its beginnings were rocky. Judy Garland was cast as Annie, but she not only did not get along with original director Busby Berkeley – they had a rough go of it making “Babes on Broadway” – but Garland also was overworked, tired and became ill. She was replaced by Hutton after filming only two production numbers – “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” and “I’m an Indian, Too” – both of which are included as bonus features. Garland’s version of “I’m an Indian, Too” is much more elaborately staged than the final film version. Also, Frank Morgan had been cast as Buffalo Bill, but he died while the search went on for Garland’s replacement. Another extra shows Morgan in the “Colonel Buffalo Bill” segment. Speaking of the opening train arrival and the company bursting into “Colonel Buffalo Bill,” it very much reminded me of the opening of “Show Boat,” when the performers’ boat arrives at town. “Show Boat,” the film, was released a year later, but the musical play dated back to 1927 and was filmed twice before. “Show Boat” and “Annie Get Your Gun” both were directed by George Sydney, however.

There also is a deleted song, “Let’s Go West Again,” sung by Hutton, that actually was cut out of the Broadway show as well. Stereo audio outtakes include a version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” sung by Garland, Morgan and Keenan Wynn, with Garland making several false starts. The other extra is an introduction by Susan Lucci from the 2000 DVD release. Amazingly, the film had been unavailable from 1973 until 2000. Here, it is presented in a digital transfer from restored elements. Grade: film 5 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Broadway Melody of 1940 (1940, Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, NR, 102 min.). This was the fourth and last of MGM’s “Broadway Melody” films, following the original in 1929 and “Broadway Melody of 1936” and “Broadway Melody of 1938.” The film is notable for the first, and only, pairing of the two best tap dancers in the business: Fred Astaire, after having spent the past seven years mostly dancing with Ginger Rogers in films; and Eleanor Powell, MGM’s top tap star. Norman Taurog directs, the same year he helmed “Young Tom Edison” and two years after “Boys Town.”

The slight plot involves mixed identity, a performing partner’s jealousy and trying to break into a highly competitive business. The dancing, though, is wonderful, as are Cole Porter’s songs, and it all culminates in a sublime Astaire-Powell dance to Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” performed on an over-sized set with mirrors for the floor.

Astaire plays Johnny Brett, part of a specialty dance act with roommate King Shaw (George Murphy of “Broadway Rhythm,” “Broadway Melody of 1938”). They perform as taxi dancers (paid dance partners on a dance-by-dance basis) and occasionally do their specialty act for free, hoping to draw the attention of a talent agent or show producer. Ironically, on the one night it works, Johnny thinks producer Bob Casey (Frank Morgan, who was to have played Wild Bill Cody in “Annie Get Your Gun,” see above) is a bill collector, so he pretends to be King. What Casey really wants is for Johnny to try out to be Broadway star Clare Bennett’s (Powell) new dance partner. Johnny, be the way, is very enamored of Clare and rushes out each night to catch her performance in the “All Ashore” number. Roger Edens wrote “All Ashore.”

King gets the job as Clare’s new dance partner because Casey’s assistant (Ian Hunter of “Ziegfeld Girl,” “The Adventures of Robin Hood” as Bert C. Matthews) sees his audition instead. The problem is that King is not as innovative a dancer as Johnny, although Johnny does try to coach him up. Luckily, one day Clare overhears the coaching and then sees Johnny’s wonderful solo dance to “I’ve Got My Eyes on You,” which starts with him at the piano.

Other musical and dance highlights include Astaire and Murphy’s semi-comic routine to Porter’s “Please Don’t Monkey with Broadway”; Porter’s “Between You and Me,” sung by Murphy and danced by Murphy and Powell in an elaborate number that uses steps and slides; and Porter’s “I Concentrate on You,” sung by Douglas McPhail and danced by Powell and Astaire. Powell and Astaire also dance to Walter Ruick’s “Jukebox Dance,” which Powell later said was her favorite of all her filmed dances. By the way, “Begin the Beguine” was originally written for “Jubilee on Broadway.”

Comic bits include a juggler waiting to audition to works Astaire into her act, a comic opera singer and an out-of-control unicyclist.

Extras include “Cole Porter in Hollywood: Begin the Beguine,” a 2003 mini-documentary hosted by Ann Miller, who starred in “Easter Parade” with Astaire (9:35). There also are the Our Gang comedy “The Big Premier,” the MGM cartoon “The Milky Way” and the ability to go directly to the 13 musical numbers. Grade: film 4 stars; extras 2 stars

Another Thin Man (1939, Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, NR, 102 min.). The third film, of six, in the series, “Another Thin Man” takes its title from the arrival of baby Nick Jr., presumedly standing in for Mrs. Asta, as dog Asta’s “wife” is nowhere to be seen this time. The baby, nanny Dorothy Waters (Ruth Hussey of “The Philadelphia Story”) and Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) all go to visit the Long Island home of arms manufacturer Col. MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith of “Rebecca,” “The Prisoner of Zenda,” “Tarzan the Ape Man”), who says his life has been threatened. MacFay also is the man who handles Nora’s investment accounts she inherited from her father.

As they arrive, there is a fake dead body lying on the driveway, but soon enough a real murder is committed, and it will not be the first. The prime suspect is Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard, veteran TV performer and films “Guys and Dolls,” “It’s a Wonderful Life”), who has just gotten out of jail and blames MacFay for that as well as for cheating him out of a deal. Present in the house are MacFay’s daughter Lois (Virginia Grey of “Airport,” “Unknown Island”), her fiancé Dudley Horn (Patric Knowles of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “The Wolf Man,” “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”) and her would-be suitor Freddie (Tom Neal of “Bruce Gentry,” “The Great Jesse James Raid”).

As usual, a nightclub number is worked in and Nora gets a humorous sequence within the West Indies Club. W.S. Van Dyke directed and the story is based on Dashiell Hammett’s “The Farewell Murder.”

Extras include the musical short “Love on Tap” with the Merriel Abbott Dancers (10:47) and the classical cartoon “The Bookworm” (8:24). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars

A Ghost Waits (Arrow Video, Blu-ray, NR, 79 min.). In this black-and-white film, a house cleaner for a real estate firm arrives at his next assignment to find the people left all their possessions behind, which makes his job more difficult. As he waits for the movers to show up in a few days, he learns what the audience already knows that the house is haunted. We know that because we see the ghost (Natalie Walker as Muriel) scare off the family in the opening scene, and then give a smirk as she straightens her hair afterwards.

We also know that cleaner/handyman Jack (MacLeod Andrews, who also produced, co-wrote and handled the sound design) is a loner, currently without a place to stay, and who is either dismissed or ignored by his “friends.” So, it probably is no surprise that when Jack finally encounters Muriel 31 minutes in that he starts to fall in love with her. It leads the film to an obvious, but what I found to be distasteful, conclusion.

The film’s humor comes in showing the “behind the scenes” of being a ghost, which entails having a boss (Amanda Miller as Ms. Henry) and filling out a timecard. I don’t buy that Muriel has been haunting that house for a couple hundred years; it is much too suburban. The plot thickens a little bit when, after Muriel fails to roust Jack, Ms. Henry assigns younger, more aggressive ghost Rosie (Sydney Vollmer) to pinch hit.

The film has its interesting points and is entertaining enough, although I do not know why most of the songs in it had to have swear words. Adam Stovall directed and co-wrote the film and he does one of the three audio commentaries alone and another with Andrews. The third commentary is by the cast and crew. There also is a visual essay by Isabel Custodio (14:40) about the film and other ghost films in history.

For interviews, the disc comes with an interview and post-screening Q&A from the 2020 Fright Fest in Glasgow, plus weight individual interviews with Andrews, Stovall, executive producer Deborah Parag (also Stovall’s mother), executive producer M.F. Thomas, director of photography Michael C. Potter, actress Vollmer, composer/co-lyricist Margaret Darling and composer Mitch Bain. Additionally, there are some amusing outtakes (12:15) and an image gallery. Grade: film and extras 3 stars