The DVD Report #452

KidIntroduced with the title card “a picture with a smile—and perhaps, a tear”, Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 film The Kid was the beloved comic’s first feature-length film. Personally restored by the then 83-year-old Chaplin in 1972 and now by Criterion on Blu-ray and standard DVD, The Kid is a triumph in every conceivable way. It’s both uproarious and touching in the Chaplin manner with superb performances by both Chaplin and five-year-old Jackie Coogan.

Chaplin’s restored version, which is only 53 minutes long, eliminates three scenes involving Enda Purviance as the woman who abandons her illegitimate baby who is rescued and then raised by Chaplin’s Little Tramp. The result is that the focus of the film now lies even more effectively on the relationship between Chaplin and the “kid.”

Coogan, as a result of the worldwide success of The Kid, became the movies’ first child star, quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars through 1930. The problem was that as a minor, Coogan’s earnings became the property of his spendthrift parents. Urged by first wife Betty Grable, Coogan successfully sued his parents in 1939. Although there was very little left of his earnings by that time, the result was passage of the California Child Actor’s Bill, referred to as the ‘Coogan Law,’ requiring that a child actor’s employer set aside 15% of the earnings in a trust (called a Coogan account), and specified the actor’s schooling, work hours, and time-off.

Coogan, whose career underwent numerous ups and downs throughout his life, found a second iconic role forty-three years later as Uncle Fester on TV’s The Addams Family.

I have mixed feelings about Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, the highly anticipated film that the critics liked, but audiences largely ignored.

Michael Fassbender gives a flawless performance as the egomaniacal inventor and marketing genius, but the film’s structure is awkward. It takes place entirely behind the scenes at the launches of three of Jobs’ products from 1984 to 1998. The emotional core of the film is supposed to be Jobs’ relationship or lack thereof with his illegitimate daughter. If all you knew about the man was what you got from the film you got very little. There is no mention of Jobs’ wife and other children and very little of his complicated relationships with his birth parents and his adopted family. Nor is there any mention of Pixar, which Jobs funded between his being fired from Apple and his triumphant return to the company.

Kate Winslet’s character, a highly paid executive in real life, whose role in the film functions mainly as a personal assistant or secretary to Jobs. She is supposed to be his conscience. As such, she has one very effective scene, but is otherwise there to play intermediary between Jobs and his various associates of whom Seth Rogen as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, co-inventor of the Macintosh, are the most interesting. They all engage in Aaron Sorkin’s by-now-standard rapid quick-fire exchange of tightly-scripted dialogue, which can be exhausting for the audience as well as the actors.

Steve Jobs is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Another heavily promoted screen biography that comes up lacking is Jay Roach’s Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston as famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Cranston gets Trumbo’s look and eccentricities right, but the film has the opposite problem of Steve Jobs lack of insight into its main character. It tells us too much about the man who is painted by John McNamara’s screenplay as the last honest man in America. He’s great to his friends, contemptuous of his enemies, and unintentionally mean to his wife and kids. He watches lots of movies and seems to know everyone in Hollywood.

The supporting cast is mostly made up of actors providing stereotypical portraits of well-known actors and other larger than life characters. All of them, including Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, come across as false. More real are the actors portraying his family members, especially Diane Lane as his wife and Elle Fanning as his eldest daughter.

Trumbo is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

One of last year’s best foreign language releases, Giulio Riciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies, tells the fascinating story of Germany’s 1950s Attorney General Fritz Bauer’s quest to find and prosecute Germans who committed murder in the Nazi concentration camps and bring them to justice twenty years after they committed the crimes.

Bauer is a supporting character in the film which follows the day-to-day life of a fictionalized young prosecutor (Alexander Fehling) who is a composite of three actual young prosecutors Bauer picked for the job. He only wanted men born in 1930 or later who would have been too young to have participated in the atrocities which the German public was largely unaware of at the time. In its quiet way the film packs as much of a wallop as Judgment at Nuremberg, Schindler’s List, and other Holocaust classics.

You may recognize Fehling from his role as Claire Danes’ lover in last season’s Homeland.

Labyrinth of Lies is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Montgomery Clift deservedly earned a 1953 Oscar nomination for From Here to Eternity, but he was equally effective as the young priest accused of murder in Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess that same year.

Clift hears the confession of a man who commits murder in 1950s Quebec who refuses to go to the police. Unable to reveal the murderer’s confession himself, he is himself suspected of the crime, arrested and tried as the killer who wore a priest’s cassock while committing the crime. A subplot involving Anne Baxter as a married woman who had an affair with Clift before he became a priest detracts from the main story, which is why the film is rarely ranked as one of Hitchcock’s best. See it for the performances of Clift, O.E. Hasse as the killer, and Dolly Haas (Mrs. Al Hirschfeld) as the killer’s wife, and Hitchcock’s great location filming.

I Confess has been newly upgraded to Blu-ray by Warner Archive.

Also new from Warner Archive is TV’s Forever, a well-made, if little seen 2014-2015 mystery series starring Ioan Gruffudd as an immortal functioning as a medical examiner for the city of New York and Judd Hirsch as his septuagenarian adopted son. All 22 episodes of the series are included in the DVD-only release.

This week’s new releases include Spotlight and the Criterion edition of The Graduate.

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