New This Week
Mary Queen of Scots was one of last year’s most anticipated films. Oscar prognosticators were beside themselves predicting back-to-back nominations for Lady Bird‘s Saoirse Ronan and I, Tonya‘s Margot Robbie. Then, as they say, the movie came out. Its only Oscar nominations were for Makeup and Hairstyling and Costume Design. Ronan received no awards recognition in the title role, but Robbie did receive Best Supporting Actress nods from both SAG and BAFTA.
Directed by Josie Rourke, the British stage director making her screen debut, this was the third major production about the 16th Century Scottish Catholic queen and her rivalry with her cousin, England’s Protestant Queen Elizabeth. The highlight of all three versions was the fictionalized meeting of the two queens who never met in real life.
The first major production was 1936’s Mary of Scotland, directed by John Ford, starring Katharine Hepburn as Mary and Fredric March as her protector, the Earl of Bothwell, with March’s wife, Florence Eldredge, in support as Elizabeth. Critics of the day thought Douglas Walton as Mary’s weakling husband, Henry, Lord Darnley, gave the film’s best performance although both Ford and the film itself received awards recognition at the Venice Film Festival. Hepburn received a single vote for Best Actress at that year’s New York Film Critics Awards, which went to Luise Rainer in The Great Ziegfeld.
The title of Hal Wallis’ 1971 production, directed by Charles Jarrott, was more grammatically correct, putting a comma where it was supposed to be in Mary, Queen of Scots. It earned a whopping five Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture, Screenplay, Score, and Best Actress nods for both Vanessa Redgrave as Mary and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth. It lost in all the categories it was nominated for, a feat it repeated at the Oscars where it was also nominated for five awards, Best Actress (Redgrave), Score, Art Direction and Set Design, Costume Design, and Score. Jackson was nominated instead for Sunday Bloody Sunday. The ladies lost to Jane Fonda in Klute.
This latest version suffers from a poorly written script, wasting the talents of a gifted cast that not only includes Ronan and Robbie, but Jack Lowden (Dunkirk), Joe Alwyn (Boy Erased), Guy Pearce, Ian Hart, David Tennant, and more. The action scenes are boring and the dialogue scenes aren’t much better with Ronan’s Irish brogue out of place for the Scottish Mary who spoke English with a French accent having lived most of her early life in France.
2018’s Mary Queen of Scots is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD. 1971’s Mary, Queen of Scots and 1936’s Mary of Scotland are available on standard DVD only.
One of the most visually stunning films of all time, Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice, was nominated for seven BAFTAs including Best Film, Director, and Actor (Dirk Bogarde), winning its other four categories for Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Soundtrack. Its sole Oscar nomination was for Best Costume Design.
Adapted from Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella about a dying author, Luchino’s film changes the character’s occupation to composer suggesting Gustav Mahler whose music is featured on the soundtrack. In Venice, to live out his remaining days, Bogarde becomes infatuated with a beautiful teenage boy (Bjorn Andresen) visiting the city with his mother (Sylvana Mangano) whom he must admire at a distance. With dialogue kept to a minimum, Bogarde’s acting is done mostly with the haunting look in his eyes, rather than his voice. Marisa Berenson, in her film debut, plays his wife in flashbacks.
Criterion’s 4K digital restoration is magnificent. Blu-ray and DVD extras include Visconti’s Venice, a 1970 behind-the-scenes documentary featuring Visconti and Bogarde.
Kino Lorber has released two long unavailable Burt Lancaster films to Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Lancaster’s first film was supposed to be Paramount’s Desert Fury, but by the time the 1947 Lewis Allen film was made he had already become a star on loan-out to Universal in 1946’s The Killers and 1947’s Brute Force so it was a bit disconcerting to see him third billed as the deputy sheriff in Desert Fury behind John Hodiak as a racketeer and Lizabeth Scott as a sophisticated, if naïve, 19-year-old torn between the two men.
A lurid melodrama awash in Technicolor, this deceptive film noir was sold as a modern western, but the only thing western abut it is its location. Set in contemporary Nevada, Scott’s mother (Mary Astor) is the owner of the local gambling joint. She was also the owner of several bordellos in the novel it’s taken from. Although the screenplay omits them, Astor still plays her as though she were the local madam. The relationship between Astor, 41 at the time, and Scott, 25, not 19 in real life, is fraught with lesbian overtones. Hodiak’s relationship with housemate Wendell Corey is a thinly disguised gay one as well. Only Lancaster, among the film’s five stars, plays a clearly heterosexual character. It’s a hoot from start to finish.
Made at the other end of his career, 1974’s The Midnight Man, co-directed by Lancaster and Roland Kibbee, the actor still had plenty of mileage left, but was clearly beginning to slow down at 60.
More kinky than lurid, The Midnight Man is based on David Anthony’s novel, The Midnight Lady and the Mourning Man. It was Lancaster’s second and last film as director, his first having been The Kentuckian 19 years earlier. In it, he plays a newly paroled former Chicago cop who did time for killing his wife’s lover, having found him in bed with her. Offered a job by a former, fellow Chicago police officer (Cameron Mitchell) he comes by bus to a small town in South Carolina where he is to be a night watchman at the local university.
Sharing a house with Mitchell and his wife (Joan Lorring), Lancaster begins a relationship with his female parole officer (Susan Clark). After befriending one of the students (Catherine Bach), she is murdered after he gives her a ride home from downtown. Under suspicion himself, he finds the local sheriff (Harris Yulin) something of a dimwit even after he arrests someone else for the murder. He investigates on his own with one of the suspects played by Bill Lancaster, his real-life 27-year-old son and later Hollywood screenwriter (The Bad News Bears, The Thing). Before it’s all over there will be three murders performed by three different killers at the behest of a fourth villain and Lancaster himself will have dispatched three bad guys out to kill him. Incest, lesbianism, and other once taboo subjects are intricate parts of the plot.
This week’s new releases include The Favourite and Ben Is Back.