Michelle Kung
March 02, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

Film adaptations rarely surpass their original source, but the six (new-to-DVD) epics that make up Warner’s Literary Classics Collection (Unrated, 677 mins., 1937-62) prove exceptions to the rule. The best is the Prisoner of Zenda double feature: Based on Anthony Hope’s 1894 palace intrigue, the ’37 version stars the dashing Ronald Colman as a royal stand-in who falls for the real king’s fiancée 1952’s Technicolor take (essentially a word-for-word, shot-for-shot remake) features costume-drama fop Stewart Granger as the look-alikes. The set also boasts Gregory Peck’s commanding turn as C.S. Forester’s Captain Horatio Hornblower, Jennifer Jones’ melodramatic pouting as Flaubert’s adulterous Madame Bovary, and Gene Kelly as cinematic history’s campiest D’Artagnan in a slapstick spin on Dumas’ Three Musketeers. But only director Peter Ustinov’s adaptation of Herman Melville’s good-vs.-evil allegory Billy Budd offers any extras beyond vintage shorts and newsreels: Star Terence Stamp and Steven Soderbergh (in full historian mode) deliver a fascinating commentary detailing the naval epic’s production.

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