Category: DVD Report

The DVD Report #704

The Covid-19 coronavirus has made this such a terrible year in so many ways. Beyond the sickness and death, there has been economic suffering and mental anguish for many. Everyday things like going to school or work and shopping for essentials have been affected for everyone. Complaining about the state of movies seems almost petty in the wake of what is going on in the real world, yet here I am doing just that.

I have fond memories of going out to the movies and holding VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray copies of films in my hands along with getting ready to surrender to the excitement of seeing a good movie. Although I have enjoyed films I have only seen on television or my computer, they are not the same thing. I can still recall when and where I saw films in theatres as a child, or the first time I saw them on a video I owned, but I don’t have the same warm memory of something I watched streaming across my TV or computer screen. Is it that today’s films just aren’t that good, or is it the less exciting experience that dims my appreciation? It’s probably a little of both.

The virus has also affected home video production and distribution. Warner Archive, for example, has been experiencing a delay in getting out their highly anticipated December Blu-rays. I wrote last week’s review of Mister Roberts based on the old DVD and my anticipation of the ecstatically reviewed new Blu-ray which I still don’t have. I do not wish to compound the problem by trying to review any more of Warner Archive’s new releases until I have them in hand.

I had intended to write something this week about three of those releases, The Shop Around the Corner, It Happened on 5th Avenue, and Holiday Affair in an article about ten Christmas films that don’t usually make people’s lists of the ten best Christmas films. I’ll save those reviews for a later time. Meanwhile, here are the other seven worth considering after you’ve gotten through It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Carol again this holiday season:

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #703

Mister Roberts, which has been given a sparkling 4K restoration by Warner Archive for its long overdue Blu-ray release, was a film of many firsts.

The 1955 film was Henry Fonda’s first in seven years. It was James Cagney’s first film, except for cameos, in which he was not the top-billed star in a quarter century. It provided Jack Lemmon with his first Oscar nomination and his first win. Conversely, it was William Powell’s last film. It was also the first film for which John Ford shared billing with another director

Fonda left Hollywood for the Broadway version of Mister Roberts in 1948 after co-starring with John Wayne in Ford’s 1948 film Fort Apache, the first in his cavalry trilogy, which also includes 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and 1950’s Rio Grande. For the length of the play’s run from February 1948 – January 1951, Fonda played the cargo officer on a supply ship in the Pacific toward the end of World War II who repeatedly has his requests to transfer to a combat ship turned down by his captain. The role won him a Tony as did the play and its writer-director Joshua Logan.

Fonda’s opening night Broadway supporting cast included William Harrigan as the captain, Robert Keith as the ship’s doctor, and David Wayne as a young ensign who does his best to avoid the captain as much as he avoids work. Cagney, Powell, and Lemmon had those roles, respectively, in the film.

Ford was brought in to direct the film by Fonda who had been directed by him in some of his greatest roles in Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Grapes of Wrath, My Darling Clementine, and The Fugitive, as well as Fort Apache, but the two had a falling out over the making of the film which led to Ford’s dismissal after punching Fonda in the face, covered up at the time as Ford’s having to leave for health reasons. He was replaced by Mervyn LeRoy (Quo Vadis).

Mister Roberts was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but Fonda was surprisingly left off the year’s list of Best Actor nominees. Cagney made the list albeit for Love Me or Leave Me, while rising star Lemmon, as stated, was not only nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category but won. The film had also been nominated for Best Sound.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #702

Made in Italy marks the feature writing and directing debut of actor James D’Arcy (Dunkirk). It also marks the first starring role of Micheal Richardson, the actor who legally changed his name from Neeson to that of his late mother with his father’s blessing in 2018.

Richardson plays the soon to be divorced husband of a London art gallery owner who needs money to buy the gallery that he manages from his wife. His only option is to sell a house in Tuscany that he and his father (Liam Neeson) co-own so that he can use his share of the proceeds from the sale. The house, which belonged to his mother’s family, hasn’t been lived in since the death of his mother in a car accident fifteen years earlier when he was seven. It is in severe need of repair.

With little money to pay for outside help, Richardson and his father, a once successful painter whose talent seems to have left him, must do most of the work themselves, giving them a chance to heal the rift caused by their inability to grieve for Richardson’s mother.

The Tuscany locations and the charm of the local residents, most notably Valeria Bilello as a local chef, add to the film’s enjoyment, with Lindsay Duncan on board as a British exile real estate agent.

It all goes as you might expect it to, complete with a happy ending. What makes it special is the family dynamic between Richardson and Neeson. The death of Micheal’s mother Natasha eleven years ago when Micheal was 13 going on 14, was quite different with its headline-making coverage of her accidental skiing death and the public mourning of the two men. Here, they play a father and son who never talked about the mother’s passing, never cried over it in public or private, who are now forced to confront it in the film’s climactic scene. It is obvious that Richardson and Neeson are not acting but summoning genuine familial emotion.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #701

Last week, I recommended six TV series to consider for giving as gifts to those who still prefer physical media to here today-gone tomorrow streaming services. This week I have six times six or thirty-six recommendations for you to buy for yourself or for giving to a serious cineaste who doesn’t already have them.

These recommendations are of four films per decade from the 1930s through the 2010s, all of which are available on Blu-ray and original DVD. None of these are obscure films, but I have purposely excluded those that most collectors will already have in their possession.

From the 1930s, I have selected Westfront 1918, Show Boat, Make Way for Tomorrow, and Holiday.

All four of these are Criterion Special Editions, and special they are. G.W. Pabst’s Westfront 1918, like Lewis Milestone’s Oscar-winning All Quiet on the Western Front, which was filmed at the same time, looks at the Great War from the perspective of German infantrymen, but is more somber, more austere, and ultimately more heartbreaking. James Whale’s Show Boat is still the definitive version of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical with the entire cast culled from various productions of the groundbreaking musical. Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow is a heartfelt look at old age just before the introduction of social security, and the film that should have won McCarey the Oscar over his The Awful Truth. George Cukor’s Holiday is the best pairing ever of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.

From the 1940s, I have selected The Mortal Storm, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Keys of the Kingdom, and Notorious.

Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm (Warner Archive), beautifully acted by Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Frank Morgan, was one of the first, and still one of the best, films about the Holocaust. William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident (Kino Lorber), with Henry Fonda in one of his best roles, is the best western you many never have heard of. John M. Stahl’s The Keys of the Kingdom (Twilight Time) is the antithesis of all those treacly modern religious dramas with a great cast led by Gregory Peck. Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious is still oddly not as well-known as some of the great director’s other films despite a cast lead by Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains at their finest.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #700

Inasmuch as this is my 700th DVD Report, it’s as good a time as any to take a look back at my first column which appeared on May 8, 2007 when the DVDs released that day were spiffed up re-releases of The Caine Mutiny, To Catch a Thief, The Guns of Navarone, and Dirty Dancing. All of them have, of course, since been released on Blu-ray, some of them several times over.

Noted in that initial report were twenty-one Oscar-winning performances that had not as yet been released on DVD, Since then, all but Emil Jannings’ Oscar-winning lost film The Way of All Flesh and George Arliss’ Disraeli have been released while Olivia de Havilland’s To Each His Own remains unreleased in the U.S.

Twelve and a half years ago, DVD had long since replaced VHS and Laser Discs as the pre-eminent home video platform. The DVD has since been succeeded by the even more hi-definition Blu-ray and various streaming services, with few films released nowadays on original DVD only.

The biggest advantage of streaming is that it doesn’t require physical storage space. The biggest disadvantage is that if you are a collector, your collection is as secure as the owners of the streaming platform allow. That applies to digital downloads as well as on-demand TV suppliers, which can discontinue access at whim.

Pre-pandemic, most major films were released first to theatres, then to physical media, then to streaming. Netflix upped the ante last year with three major releases, of which Marriage Story has since been released on Blu-ray, another of which (The Irishman) will be released on Blu-ray next week, and the last of which (The Two Popes) seems to be headed the way of most Netflix streamers, i.e. kept in rotation on their platform for a couple of years and then forgotten. One wonders what they will do with the plethora of year-end 2020 releases making their debut on Netflix now in lieu of previously planned theatrical releases.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #699

Australia has long produced high quality Blu-rays of Hollywood films unavailable in the U.S., but those Blu-rays were not playable on U.S. Region 1 players and available only as imports. Earlier this year, Australia’s Imprint label from ViaVision began releasing Hollywood films on region-free Blu-rays that will play on U.S. Region 1 players. While still available only as imports, they are, however, more widely distributed.

They have now released Essential Film Noir: Collection 1 consisting of four films that stretch the boundaries of what we commonly think of as film noir, all with commentary from well-known U.S. film noir experts.

Alan K. Rode handles the commentary on three of them: the classic Detective Story from 1951 as well as the lesser known Framed from 1947 and The Garment Jungle from 1957.

Detective Story was one of William Wyler’s best films. The three-time Oscar winner for Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Ben-Hur, received one of his nine other nominations for this adaptation of Sidney Kingsley’s 1949 Broadway hit. The film was also nominated for Best Actress (Eleanor Parker), Supporting Actress (Lee Grant), and Screenplay (Philip Yordan and Robert Walden), a reworking of the play that starred Ralph Bellamy and Meg Mundy in the roles played on screen by Kirk Douglas and Parker.

William Bendix shares over-the-title billing with Douglas and Parker as Douglas’ fellow detective in the story that takes place in one day in the life of a busy precinct. Lee Grant, in her film debut, reprises her role of the shoplifter from the play.

Douglas’ character is a hard-knuckled by-the-rules cop whose moral certainty is upended when his wife (Parker) is implicated in one of the cases he is investigating. The original storyline involved abortion, but that wouldn’t have been allowed at the time in which the film was made so the story is changed to a potential illegal adoption that ends in the death of the baby. Parker is devastating in this role, perhaps the finest of her career. Douglas and Bendix are riveting and the entire ensemble cast is equally strong, with Grant basically providing the film’s comic relief.

The Paramount film has never looked better.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #698

Earlier this year, Criterion released a long overdue Blu-ray upgrade of Destry Rides Again starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. Released in New York in late 1939, the film had its Los Angeles debut in early 1940, becoming eligible for the 1940 Academy Awards, the year Stewart won his Oscar for The Philadelphia Story, which Criterion had release on Blu-ray in 2017.

In the meantime, Warner Archive has been busy stepping up its Blu-ray output of classic films with a particular emphasis on 1940. Late last year, they released The Letter and earlier this year, Pride and Prejudice. They ended October with the release of Waterloo Bridge and began November with the release of The Mortal Storm.

The Mortal Storm was one of the seminal films of 1940. Released just six months after the better-known The Shop Around the Corner (coming to Blu-ray in December), this film again starred Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, supported by Frank Morgan, all in terrific performances, especially Morgan’s. Its release caused Hitler to immediately ban all MGM films in Nazi-occupied Europe.

The film has an uncanny relevance to life in the U.S. eighty years later, as it is about a family that is shattered by bitter disputes over politics. Set in 1933 as Hitler is rising to power, it centers on a German family with Morgan as a non-Aryan university professor celebrating his sixtieth birthday whose stepsons (Robert Stack, William T. Orr) leave home and join the Nazi party along with his daughter’s fiancé (Robert Young) while he is supported by his wife (Irene Rich), young son (Gene Reynolds), daughter (Sullavan), and his daughter and her fiancé’s friend (Stewart). Tensions escalate and Morgan is taken from his home and incarcerated, then sent to a concentration camp, while Sullavan and Stewart navigate a difficult terrain. Maria Ouspenskaya (Dodsworth) and Bonita Granville (These Three) are also terrific as Stewart’s mother and sister, respectively. Future singing and dancing legend Dan Dailey (There’s No Business Like Show Business) makes a chilling screen debut as a Nazi.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #697

Criterion capped off a stellar month of Blu-ray releases with a director-approved two-Blu-ray special edition of Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite from a new 4K digital master.

The first disc is the original theatrical release of the film with commentary by Bong and British critic Tony Rayns. The second disc is Bong’s black-and-white remaster of the original release which was itself given a limited theatrical release earlier this year. Both versions look absolutely stunning in this upgrade from the film’s earlier Blu-ray release.

The world-wide phenomenon capped off its incredible array of international awards at the 2019 Academy Awards earlier this year, winning four Oscars, three of them going to Bong himself. He won for Best Picture, Directing, and Original Screenplay. The fourth win was for Best International Film, which went to its country of origin, South Korea, rather than to the filmmaker himself. It was the first time a foreign language film had won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the first time that Best Picture and International Film (previously known as Foreign Language Film) were won by the same film.

The commentary track is basically an interview by Rayns in which the director responds to his questions with detailed explanations as to how things were done and why. It is one of the more entertaining, as well as informative, commentaries out there.

Also new to Blu-ray from Criterion are The Gunfighter, Claudine, and The Hit.

1950’s The Gunfighter was Henry King and Gregory Peck’s follow-up to the multi-award-winning 1949 film Twelve O’Clock High.

King was long one of Hollywood’s busiest directors. He was the man who introduced Ronald Colman to American audiences in 1923’s The White Sister and discovered both Gary Cooper and Tyrone Power among many others. Seven of his films earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture: State Fair, In Old Chicago, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, The Song of Bernadette, Wilson, the aforementioned Twelve O’Clock High, and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. He himself was nominated for two Oscars, for The Song of Bernadette and Wilson.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #696

Sunrise at Campobello was not only one of the first films released on DVD by Warner Brothers when they inaugurated their Warner Archive in March 2009, it was one of the best and best-known films that had failed to receive a regular release from Warner Home Video in the then-13-year-old medium. It was easily one of the best-looking of the initial Archive releases. It has finally received a Blu-ray release from the Archive, looking even more brilliant in the higher definition format.

Taking place from 1921 to 1924, and filmed in part on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Estate in Hyde Park, New York, the film is about the future president’s near-death battle with polio and his triumphant return to the world stage to place Alfred E. Smith’s name in contention at the 1924 Democratic National Convention.

Ralph Bellamy had the role of his career as Roosevelt in the 1958 Broadway play that won Tonys for Best Play, Actor, Supporting Actor (Henry Jones), and Director (Vincent J. Donehue).
Mary Fickett, who played Eleanor Roosevelt, was billed below the play’s title, and was thus nominated in the Featured Actress category. Fickett was best known for having taken over the role previously played by Deborah Kerr and Joan Fontaine in Tea and Sympathy. Donehue would later receive a Tony nomination for his direction of the original 1960 production of The Sound of Music.

The film was announced to star Marlon Brando as FDR, Greer Garson as Eleanor, and Hume Cronyn as Roosevelt’s assistant, Louis Howe, replacing Bellamy, Fickett, and Jones under Donehue’s direction. Brando balked, vowing never to appear in a film in a wheelchair after The Men, adding that he and Garson would be laughed off the screen as he was too young and Garson was too much of a Republican to be convincing as a Democrat. Bellamy was then invited to reprise his acclaimed stage role, and would subsequently replay FDR in the miniseries The Winds of War in 1983 and War and Remembrance. Garson, despite criticism for the dentures she wore to simulate Mrs. Roosevelt’s overbite and the mannered effort she took to duplicate the great lady’s speaking voice, won both the National Board of Review and Golden Globe awards for her performance as well as her seventh Oscar nomination. Bellamy, a 1937 Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Awful Truth, would have to wait until the 1986 Oscars to be acknowledged again when he would win an honorary award for his distinguished service to acting.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #695

Sergeant York, given a long overdue Blu-ray upgrade by Warner Archive, was the highest grossing film of 1941. Adjusted for inflation, it is still one of the biggest moneymakers of all time.

When the film was being made, public opinion in the U.S. was strongly isolationist and the producers went to great lengths to avoid marketing the film as a war movie. By the film’s release in September of 1941, however, Hitler had conquered much of Europe and public attitude toward the war had changed dramatically. There were widespread reports of young men, having seen the film, who went from the theatre directly to a recruitment center to enlist in the Army. This was even more widespread after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 while the film was still in theatres.

Alvin C. York was the most decorated hero of World War I. He was a pacifist Bible schoolteacher from Tennessee, a conscientious objector who once he was drafted put his heart and soul into his job. On October 8, 1918, he defended himself and seven subordinates against attack from six German soldiers, killing all six, and then capturing 132 men and earning the Medal of Honor.

Postwar, his fame earned him endorsement offers totaling a quarter of a million dollars. He turned them all down, refusing to exploit his newfound fame. He had been resisting Hollywood offers to tell his story from 1919 until he finally relented more than twenty years later, but only if Gary Cooper would play him. Cooper would and did, receiving the first of his eventual three Academy Awards for his performance. His second would be for 1952’s High Noon. His third would be an honorary award for his overall career at the 1960 awards held in 1961 shortly before his death.

Sergeant York was nominated for 11 Oscars, the most of any 1941 film, winning for Film Editing as well as for Cooper’s performance, losing Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley after both films had lost the New York Film Critics’ award to Citizen Kane.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #694

The Chalk Garden, newly released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, is the 1964 film version of a celebrated 1950s British play with one of the most unusual production histories of any such play.

The play about the clash between the imperious dowager Mrs. St. Maugham and Miss Madrigal, the mysterious governess she hires to attend her mentally disturbed granddaughter Laurel, was written by Enid Bagnold, then best known as the author of National Velvet, which had been made into a popular film by MGM in 1944. When the West End producer Binkie Beaumont turned down the play, Irene Selznick, daughter of MGM’s Louis B. Mayer and former wife of David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind), stepped in and cut a deal with Bagnold to produce the play on Broadway.

Bagnold wanted Edith Evans (The Whisperers) for Mrs. St. Maugham, but Selznick insisted on Gladys Cooper (Now, Voyager). She also wanted her friend Katharine Hepburn to play Miss Madrigal, but Hepburn wasn’t interested and the two settled on Wendy Hiller (Separate Tables). Hiller, however, did not want to go to America at the time. The play was then produced on Broadway with Cooper and Siobhan McKenna (King of Kings) in the leads. Both actresses as well as the play, its director (Albert Marre, who replaced George Cukor), and featured actor Fritz Weaver, who played the butler, were nominated for Tonys the same year as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Diary of Anne Frank with the latter winning.

The play was produced in London by a chagrined Beaumont the following year with Evans and Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India) in the leads, with Cooper filling in for Evans after the latter was taken ill on the night Cooper gave her last performance on Broadway.

Universal purchased the film rights and assigned the production to Ross Hunter after the enormous success of 1959’s Imitation of Life and Pillow Talk. Hunter wanted to move the locale to Carmel, shifting the focus from Mrs. St. Maugham and Miss Madrigal to Madrigal and Laurel with Joanne Woodward and Sandra Dee in those roles and Cooper repeating her stage role as Mrs. St. Maugham. Unfortunately, Woodward became pregnant and dropped out. Dee was now getting too old to be convincing as a 15-year-old. Interest shifted to Ingrid Bergman and Hayley Mills but there were issues with the casting of Mills, under contract with Disney, which had exclusive U.S. rights to their Pollyanna and The Parent Trap star. Filming finally took place in 1963 in England with Deborah Kerr as Madrigal, Hayley Mills as Laurel, her father John Mills as the butler, and Edith Evans as Mrs. St. Maugham.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #693

The Elephant Man has been given a new 4K digital restoration by the Criterion Collection.

Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, David Lynch’s 1980 film is told from the perspective of London surgeon Frederick Treves, played by Anthony Hopkins, who first encounters the severely deformed John Merrick, played by John Hurt, in a freak show where he is billed as the Elephant Man.

Treves’ initial assessment of Merrick is that his severe skeletal and soft-tissue deformities must mean that he is intellectually deformed as well. However, as Treves spends more time with him, he comes to realize that Merrick’s shocking appearance masks an intelligence, gentle nature, sophistication, and profound sense of dignity.

Nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor (Hurt), the film was a BAFTA winner for Best Film and Actor (Hurt). The supporting cast is headed by Anne Bancroft as a famous actress who becomes Merrick’s friend, John Gielgud as the head of the hospital, and Wendy Hiller as the hospital’s head matron. Ironically, Hurt is the only one of the five principal players never to have won an Oscar.

Included in the Criterion Blu-ray release are a newly recorded reading of Room to Dream by Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna from their 2018 book, as well as archival interviews with Lynch, Hurt, producers Mel Brooks and Jonathan Strange, Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis (Sons and Lovers, Glory), stills photographer Frank Connor, and makeup artist Christopher Tucker. Also included are the documentaries The Terrible Elephant Man Revealed and Joseph Merrick: The Real Elephant Man.

This version of The Elephant Man was based on two previously written books, The Elephant Man and Other Remembrances by Sir Frederick Treves and the 1951 The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity. It is not based on the 1979 Broadway play which is a work of fiction in which the title character is seen sans the type of makeup utilized in the film taken from casts of the real John Merrick’s deformed body. The 1982 TV version of the play is available on standard DVD.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #692

Never Steal Anything Small, released in 1959, is one of the most obscure films of James Cagney’s lengthy career. Released in the early days of VHS, the film was never released on DVD until now that Kino Lorber has made it available on both DVD and Blu-ray.

The third and last film directed by writer Charles Lederer, it was also the third film for which he was nominated for his screenplays by the Writers Guild of America. Previously nominated for writing 1949’s I Was a Male War Bride and 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, he would be nominated again for 1960’s Can-Can and Ocean’s 11.

Based on an even more obscure play by Maxwell Anderson and Rouben Mamoulian, called The Devil’s Hornpipe, Cagney plays a rogue longshoreman who uses all kinds of dirty, underhanded tricks to win the presidency of the local trade union. His leading lady is Shirley Jones, fresh from making April Love with Pat Boone. They are a mismatched couple on-screen as well as off, Jones being the wife of Cagney’s attorney (Roger Smith), who aspires to a singing career.

Classified as a musical, but sold as a comedy, there are five songs in the score, three of which are performed by Jones in her nightclub act. Cagney gets to sing the title song and perform a duet with Cara Williams as Smith’s secretary.

All four stars did much more interesting work at this time in their careers. Cagney was at his best in 1955’s Love Me or Leave Me opposite Doris Day, for which he received his third and final Oscar nomination; 1957’s Man of a Thousand Faces as Lon Chaney; and 1960’s One, Two, Three, filmed in Berlin as the wall was being built. Jones burst onto the screen in two Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, 1955’s Oklahoma! and 1956’s Carousel and would soon win an Oscar for her first dramatic role in 1960’s Elmer Gantry.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #691

Roman Holiday has finally been released on Blu-ray thanks to a 4K film transfer from Paramount. The 1953 classic had not previously been remastered since its 2002 DVD Special Edition which was only a slight improvement over its previous release.

Time has been kind to this Cinderella in reverse story about a princess who longs for the common life. The property had been kicking around Hollywood for years. It was originally supposed to have been made by Frank Capra, but he passed on it as the narrative was too close to his Oscar-winning It Happened One Night. It then passed to George Stevens and eventually to William Wyler who agreed to make it but only on location in Rome.

Gregory Peck was cast as the American newspaperman after Cary Grant, to whom all romantic comedies at the time were first given, passed on it. Audrey Hepburn was cast as the runaway princess after Jean Simmons proved unavailable. Hepburn at the time had only been seen in minor roles in British films. This was her breakout role as well as her only Oscar-winning one. The film was nominated for a total of ten Oscars, winning three for Dalton Trumbo’s story (originally credited to Ian McClellan Hunter) and costume design in addition to Best Actress. Widely seen by the public at the time as a thinly disguised peek into the life of Britain’s Princess Margaret, the production took great care to include a scene of Hepburn’s fictional princess visiting Britain as its way of saying that she wasn’t British.

A virtual tour of all the famous sites in Rome, the film’s only downside is that it is in black-and-white, Paramount having given Wyler a choice between making the film on their back lot in color or on location in black-and-white. They would not allow him to have both.

Blu-ray extras include an appreciation by Leonard Maltin and various previously released short documentaries including those on Hepburn and Trumbo, as well as the film’s locations and costumes.

Click here to continue reading this article

The DVD Report #690

Brute Force and The Naked City have received long overdue U.S. Blu-ray releases from Criterion. The films were the two biggest hits of American writer-director Jules Dassin’s Hollywood career which lasted from1940 through his blacklisting during the filming of 1950’s Thieves’ Highway.

After his move to France in 1952, Dassin became an international sensation with 1955’s Rififi and an even bigger one with his 1960 Greek film Never on Sunday, for which he received Oscar nominations for both his direction and original screenplay.

Dassin didn’t become a screenwriter until Rififi, but both Brute Force and The Naked City had the kind of taut, diverse screenplays that Dassin himself would later be known for. The screenplay for 1947’s Brute Force was written by writer-director Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry), the same year Brooks’ novel Crossfire, directed by Edward Dmytryk, was nominated for five Oscars including one for John Paxton’s adapted screenplay.

Brute Force was that old Hollywood staple, the prison film, that dominated gangster films of the 1930s and early 1940s, but one that shocked postwar audiences with its extreme level of violence. In only his second film, Burt Lancaster, who had made his film debut in 1946’s The Killers, became a superstar. His, however, was not the most talked about performance in the film. That was the performance of Hume Cronyn as the sadistic guard dispatched by Lancaster in the film’s most shocking scene. Also outstanding in the film’s exemplary cast are Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, Jeff Corey, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Howard Duff, and, in flashbacks, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines, and Anita Colby.

The film’s new 4Kdigital restoration is stunning. The numerous extras are imported from previous DVD releases.

Click here to continue reading this article