The DVD Report #585

Woman Walks Ahead is a well-intentioned though historically inaccurate film of the events leading up to the assassination of Sitting Bull at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Grand River in the Dakota Territory on December 15, 1890.

Portrait painter Susanna Carolina Faesch Schlatter, called Catherine Weldon in the film, was the short, plain-looking Swiss-born wife of a fellow Swiss, a doctor, living in Brooklyn, New York who had an illegitimate child with another married man who eventually abandoned her, forcing her to live with her mother and stepfather while raising her son when her estranged husband divorced her. She became an advocate for Native Americans in the late 1880s and changed her name to Caroline (not Catherine) Weldon. In 1889, not 1890 as depicted in the film, she traveled to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation with her then-12-year-old son to act as secretary, interpreter, and advocate of Sitting Bull, the Lakota holy man and leader who had returned to the reservation after leaving Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

In the film, Weldon is portrayed as a much younger woman, a widow with no children albeit with long, lovely flowing red hair who looks and sounds like Jessica Chastain with a Brooklyn accent that comes and goes. Her purpose in coming to the Reservation is to paint Sitting Bull’s portrait, which is an odd premise since many famed earlier portraits had already been made. Although she is seen making one such portrait in the film, Weldon made four before being asked to leave the reservation by Sitting Bull with whom she had a falling out. She was not present at the time of his assassination as depicted in the film.

Written by Oscar-nominated British writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), directed by British TV director Susanna White (Bleak House), and filmed on location in New Mexico, the film does have one thing going for it and that is the performance of Michael Greyeyes as Sitting Bull. Although the Canadian actor, like Chastain, looks too young for the role, he easily conveys the towering dignity of his older, shorter character.

Sam Rockwell plays the film’s principal villain, a U.S. Army colonel named Silas Groves who seems to be a fictional character. Although the recent Oscar winner for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of our finest contemporary actors, his trademark ticks seem inappropriate for the character he is playing.

For a more accurate account of the events leading to the assassination of Sitting Bull and the massacre of hundreds of Native American men, women, and children by the 7th Cavalry later that day, check out the DVD of the 2007 HBO film Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or read the famed book on which it is based.

Woman Walks Ahead is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Jean Simmons was at the height of her popularity in 1954. In late December 1953, the London born actress won the National Board of Review for Best Actress for three of that year’s films, Young Bess, The Robe, and The Actress. She then appeared in five 1954 films including The Egyptian and Désirée. Late in the year she had the opportunity to return to London for the first time in four years to star opposite her then-husband Stewart Granger in Footsteps in the Fog when scheduled star Maureen O’Hara dropped out.

Newly upgraded to Blu-ray by Indicator, 1955’s Footsteps in the Fog is a stylish thriller in the mode of such London based thrillers as Gaslight, The Lodger, Hangover Square, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, which thrilled audiences a decade earlier.

Simmons plays the Cockney maid who blackmails her employer (Granger) who has proof that Granger murdered his wife. Granger then strangles the wife of the local constable in the fog mistaking her for Simmons. He is identified by locals as the killer and put on trial, but Simmons gives him an alibi and then the fun begins. Bill Travers, Belinda Lee, Ronald Squire, Finlay Currie, and Marjorie Rhodes co-star.

While Simmons is sublime as usual, Granger is the one who really shines in his villainous role, something of a departure for the actor who most often played stalwart heroes.

Indicator’s stunning Blu-ray release is limited to 3,000 copies.

Culled from a 1973 Swedish TV miniseries, Ingmar Bergman’s sublime 1974 film Scenes from a Marriage gave Liv Ullmann one of her greatest roles as the wife in the film, which chronicles the many changes that take place in a marriage over the course of many years. Ullmann’s superb performance is matched by Erland Josephson as her husband and Bibi Andersson as her friend.

Ullmann’s performance earned her numerous awards including Best Actress honors from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, but was deemed ineligible for Oscar consideration as the original production had first been shown on TV, albeit in Sweden, not the U.S. Nine years later, Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander was filmed under the same circumstances but because the film version was released first it was Oscar eligible, winning four out of the six Oscars it was nominated for.

Criterion, which previously released a Blu-ray upgrade of both cuts of Fanny & Alexander, has now released a Blu-ray upgrade of both cuts of Scenes from a Marriage.

Gilbert & Sullivan’s beloved operetta The Pirates of Penzance had its world premiere in New York in 1879. 101 years later it was revived in New York for the 25th time as a Public Theatre production in Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre. Joseph Papp’s production, which starred Linda Ronstadt as heroine Mabel, Rex Smith as Pirate Apprentice Frederic, Kevin Kline as the Pirate King, Patricia Routledge as the maid Ruth, George Rose as the very model of a modern Major-General, and Tony Azito as the Sergeant of the Constabulary transferred to Broadway in January 1981 with the same cast except for Routledge who was replaced by Estelle Parsons. Nominated for seven Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, Direction, Choreography, Actor (both Kline and Rose), Actress (Ronstadt), and Supporting Actor (Azito), it won three for Revival, Direction, and Actor (Kline).

The faithfully made 1983 film version, newly released on Blu-ray by Universal, had the same cast except for Parsons, who was replaced by Angela Lansbury. Ronstadt earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy, losing to Julie Walters in Educating Rita.

This week’s new releases include Ocean’s 8 and Superfly.

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