The DVD Report #674

Dance, Girl Dance, the best-known of Dorothy Arzner’s sixteen films, has been given a Criterion Collection Blu-ray release from a new, 4K digital transfer.

Arzner was a founding member of the Directors Guild of America and the only female director during Hollywood’s Golden Age from the 1920s-1940s. She made Dance, Girl, Dance starring Maureen O’Hara immediately after O’Hara made her Hollywood debut in the 1940 remake of A Bill of Divorcement. Seven years earlier she had directed Katharine Hepburn in Christopher Strong immediately after Hepburn made her Hollywood debut in the 1932 version of A Bill of Divorcement.

As Dance, Girl, Dance begins, O’Hara, Lucille Ball, and Mary Carlisle are dancers from New York currently in a chorus line in a club in Akron, Ohio which is a front for gambling in its back room. The club is raided, and the girls must find their way back to New York. Back in Manhattan, Ball gets a job as a stripper and convinces O’Hara to perform as her stooge. Both O’Hara and Ball are in love with playboy Louis Hayward who is still in love with ex-wife Virginia Field. Ralph Bellamy as a theatrical empresario and Maria Ouspenskaya as a dance instructor and agent co-star. The film’s dramatic highlight is O’Hara’s lecture to the leering men in the burlesque theatre just before she and Ball have a knock-down, drag-out catfight that lands them in court.

A critical and commercial failure on its initial release, the film was pretty much forgotten until the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s helped give it a new lease on life.

Extras on the Blu-ray include an assessment of Arzner’s career by film critic B. Ruby Rich and a remembrance of his days as a student of Arzner’s at UCLA in the early 1960s.

Also released by the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray from a new 4K transfer is the always popular The Great Escape. This release of John Sturges’ megahit from the summer of 1963 incorporates extras from several previous releases as well as a new on-camera interview with critic Michael Sragow on the film’s lasting power. Ken Burns’ four-part documentary from 2001 on the real POWs who took part in “the great escape” from a German stalag is, however, the most fascinating of the numerous extras.

Steve McQueen (The War Lover) and James Garner (The Children’s Hour) had already had starring roles in films, but were still basically known as TV actors when this World War II drama made superstars of them both. McQueen’s attempted helicopter escape and Garner’s attempted airplane escape were two of the film’s highlights. McQueen would soon be starring opposite Natalie Wood in Love with the Proper Stranger and Garner opposite Julie Andrews in The Americanization of Emily. They would both go on to receive Oscar nominations, McQueen for The Sand Pebbles and Garner for Murphy’s Romance.

The film also helped advance the careers of future Oscar winners, Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) and James Coburn (Affliction) as well as Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Donald, and David McCallum, the now 86-year-old actor, who has been playing Dr. Donald Mallard on TV’s N.C.I.S. since 2003.

After the success of 1963’s Love with the Proper Stranger, director Robert Mulligan’s next two films were again with Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, the former in Baby the Rain Must Fall and the latter in Inside Daisy Clover, both released in 1965.

Newly released on Blu-ray by Warner Archive, Inside Daisy Clover has never looked as good. Wood, 27 at the time of filming, may have been a bit long in the tooth to be playing a 15-year-old at the start of the film and a 17-year-old at the finish, but she makes it work. Her performance, and those of Robert Redford as her one-night-only husband and Oscar-nominated Ruth Gordon as her senile mother are the film’s greatest assets.

Set between 1936 and 1938, Wood’s star-in-the-making reflects the career of the young Judy Garland with Christopher Plummer as the studio mogul who controls her life. Plummer’s co-star billing seems to me to be due to his short-lived box office clout as co-star of that year’s biggest hit by far, The Sound of Music. The film is really a showcase for Wood who should have received sole above-the-title credit. She and Redford would reunite for 1966’s This Property Is Condemned. Gordon would lose the Oscar to Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue, but would soon win one of her own for 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby.

Among the batch of recent Kino Lorber Blu-ray releases of British films are The Night My Number Came Up and The Long and the Short and the Tall.

1955’s superb The Night My Number Came Up, directed by Leslie Norman, is an edge-of-the-seat thriller about a plane filled with ten terrified passengers that is foretold to crash in a dream they have all become aware of. It was nominated for BAFTAs for Best Film, Best British Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (Michael Redgrave). Redgrave, Alexander Knox, and Denholm Elliott are outstanding as is Michael Gough in the brief role of the man who had the dream.

1961’s unsettling The Long and the Short and the Tall, also directed by Norman, is based on a morality play of the same name about man’s inhumanity to man during wartime. It was nominated for BAFTAs for Best Film and Best British Film. Laurence Harvey, Richard Todd, and Richard Harris starred. This was, however, one British film that didn’t do well in the U.S. where its title was changed to Jungle Fighters and dumped as the second feature to A Majority of One when it played in New York neighborhood theatres for a week after the main feature had been a huge success when it played Radio City Music Hall.

Mill Creek has released a dual Blu-ray package of Universal’s The Man from the Alamo from 1953 and Columbia’s They Came to Cordura from 1959. The two westerns are completely different in tone and context but linked together because they both deal with conflicts between courage and cowardice during Santa Anna’s raids on Texas.
Glenn Ford is the misunderstood hero of Budd Boetticher’s engrossing The Man from the Alamo who has been branded a coward for leaving the Alamo just before everyone in it is slaughtered by Santa Anna’s Mexican Army. He had drawn straws and lost so it was he who was forced to leave to return home to protect the women and children left behind in North Texas. He proves his worth in the end. Julie Adams, Hugh O’Brian, and Marc Cavell co-star.

Gary Cooper is the Army major tasked with selecting soldiers for the Congressional Medal of Honor on the brink of America’s entry into World War I in Robert Rossen’s absorbing They Came to Cordura and then leading them to safety so they can be alive to receive the medal. Accompanying Cooper and his five picks (Tab Hunter, Van Heflin, Richard Conte, Dick York, and Michael Callan) is Rita Hayworth as the wealthy Mexican-American landowner charged with treason for giving shelter to Santa Anna’s men in the last days of the U.S. cavalry. Three of the five picks will turn out to be less than heroic but remain Cooper’s choices for their one single act of bravery.

This week’s new releases include new Blu-ray releases of A Midnight Clear and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

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