New This Week
The Heiress, given a new 4K restoration by the Criterion Collection, is a prime example of a film that improves upon both Henry James’1880 novel and the 1947 Broadway play on which it is based.
William Wyler’s 1949 film was adapted by Ruth and Augustus Goetz from their 1947 play starring Wendy Hiller as the plain title character, Basil Rathbone in a Tony award-winning performance as her heartless father, Peter Cookson as the ne’er-do-well after her fortune, and Patricia Collinge as the aunt who encourages the ne’er-do-well. Hiller’s replacement was Beatrice Straight who met and married Cookson after the run of the play. Peggy Ashcroft and Ralph Richardson played the roles originated by Hiller and Rathbone in the 1949 London production. Olivia de Havilland and Richardson then starred in the film version along with Montgomery Clift and Miriam Hopkins in the roles originated by Cookson and Collinge.
Having sued to get out of her Warner Bros. contract in 1943, a case she won in 1944, de Havilland wasted no time in going after the kinds of roles she was not given while under contract. In quick succession, she played the unwed mother reunited with her clueless grown son in 1946’s To Each His Own; twins, one good, one evil in the same year’s The Dark Mirror; the housewife suffering a nervous breakdown in 1948’s The Snake Pit; and the homely, shy, awkward, naïve, and gullible young woman in The Heiress, winning Oscars for To Each His Own and The Heiress and back-to-back New York Film Critics Circle awards for The Snake Pit and The Heiress.
The Heiress was filmed with great care by William Wyler. Wyler’s last two films, Mrs. Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives, had both won him Oscars for his direction along with a slew of other awards. He was hand-picked for The Heiress by de Havilland, but there was never any doubt as to who was in charge as evidenced by the actress’s frequent recounting of Wyler’s making her climb those two long flights of stairs in the film’s closing scene forty times until he was happy with her performance. In addition to de Havilland, the film won Oscars for its Black-and-White Art Direction, Black-and-White Costume Design, and Score and was nominated for four others including Best Picture, Directing, Supporting Actor (Richardson), and Black-and-White Cinematography.
Wyler’s direction is distinguished by his throwing out whole pages of dialogue between de Havilland and Richardson and allowing their facial expressions to speak for themselves. It’s further distinguished by his direction of Clift, who keeps you guessing as to his true intent. Even if you’ve seen the film countless times or know how it’s going to turn out from reading the novel or seeing it performed on stage or in the 1997 film of Washington Square, you can’t help but hope that his character is not as callow as he is supposed to be and you can’t help but wonder if the ending is the right one for the relationship between the de Havilland and Clift characters.
In addition to the pristine print of the film, the Criterion Edition Blu-ray features a new conversation between screenwriter Jay Cocks (The Age of Innocence) and film critic Farran Smith Nehme, and a new program about the film’s costumes as well as archival footage featuring Wyler, de Havilland, and Richardson.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray upgrade of the 1973 American Film Theatre production of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance directed by Tony Richardson (Tom Jones), starring Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield as the bickering couple played in the original 1966 Broadway production by Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn; in the 1996 revival by Rosemary Harris and George Grizzard; and in the 2014 revival by Glenn Close and John Lithgow. As Albee famously said, “of course if she were playing King Kong it would still be Katharine Hepburn” which may explain why I never really liked her performance. She is no more believable as a boorish middle-aged Connecticut matron than she would be in the title role of King Kong.
Albee, as he recounts in the candid interview provided as an extra on the release, had sold the rights to his most famous play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, to Warner Bros. in good faith, having been told that Bette Davis and James Mason would play the starring roles. When Davis and Mason morphed into Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, he was not happy. He was really upset when Ernst Lehman was hired to write the screenplay which was later thrown out. The film was made with Albee’s dialogue intact, with just two short sentences that Lehman wrote added, yet Lehman was credited with the screenplay and was even nominated for an Oscar for it.
That experience led Albee to be very cautious about allowing any of his other works to be filmed. He allowed A Delicate Balance to be filmed by Ely Landau’s American Film Theatre because he knew it would be a filmed version of his play as written rather than as an opening up of his work.
Hepburn and Scofield are an unhappily aging married couple. Kate Reid is Hepburn’s alcoholic sister, who lives with them. Lee Remick is their much-married daughter who has come home after the breakup of her latest marriage. Betsy Blair and Joseph Cotton are friends who want to move in with them for reasons that aren’t clear. They talk incessantly with nothing resolved. It’s a great cast, but they’ve all been better in other things.
2019’s The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part picks up five years after 2014’s The Lego Movie. Although not as surprisingly “awesome” as the original, this is a sequel with its heart in the right place as the kid from the first one matures, and his little sister comes into her own as a Lego lover.
Chris Pratt, the voice of the sweet Lego hero in the first, returns as Emmett and voices a new character named Rex, the tougher would-be Emmett of the future, Elizabeth Banks is back as the voice of Lucy as is Will Arnett as the voice of Batman. Jadon Sand is back as the older boy while Maya Rudolph and Will Ferrell reprise their roles as his parents in the brief live-action sequences. Brooklyn Prince joins them as the younger sister. Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Alison Brie, Bruce Willis, Tanning Chatum, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Jonah Hill, Ralph Fiennes, and Will Forte are among the other voices that can be heard.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is available on Blu Ray and standard DVD as well as in 4K and 3D.
This week’s new releases include Never Look Away and the Blu-ray upgrade of This Gun for Hire.