The DVD Report #693

The Elephant Man has been given a new 4K digital restoration by the Criterion Collection.

Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, David Lynch’s 1980 film is told from the perspective of London surgeon Frederick Treves, played by Anthony Hopkins, who first encounters the severely deformed John Merrick, played by John Hurt, in a freak show where he is billed as the Elephant Man.

Treves’ initial assessment of Merrick is that his severe skeletal and soft-tissue deformities must mean that he is intellectually deformed as well. However, as Treves spends more time with him, he comes to realize that Merrick’s shocking appearance masks an intelligence, gentle nature, sophistication, and profound sense of dignity.

Nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor (Hurt), the film was a BAFTA winner for Best Film and Actor (Hurt). The supporting cast is headed by Anne Bancroft as a famous actress who becomes Merrick’s friend, John Gielgud as the head of the hospital, and Wendy Hiller as the hospital’s head matron. Ironically, Hurt is the only one of the five principal players never to have won an Oscar.

Included in the Criterion Blu-ray release are a newly recorded reading of Room to Dream by Lynch and critic Kristine McKenna from their 2018 book, as well as archival interviews with Lynch, Hurt, producers Mel Brooks and Jonathan Strange, Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis (Sons and Lovers, Glory), stills photographer Frank Connor, and makeup artist Christopher Tucker. Also included are the documentaries The Terrible Elephant Man Revealed and Joseph Merrick: The Real Elephant Man.

This version of The Elephant Man was based on two previously written books, The Elephant Man and Other Remembrances by Sir Frederick Treves and the 1951 The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity. It is not based on the 1979 Broadway play which is a work of fiction in which the title character is seen sans the type of makeup utilized in the film taken from casts of the real John Merrick’s deformed body. The 1982 TV version of the play is available on standard DVD.

Kino Lorber has released Love Me Tonight and Five Graves to Cairo on Blu-ray, both from brand new 4K masters.

Generally regarded to be the greatest musical of the early sound era, Rouben Mamoulian’s innovative 1932 film Love Me Tonight was also the last of that era, superseded in 1933 by the Warner Brothers musicals 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Footlight Parade, which themselves were superseded by RKO’s Astaire-Rogers musicals beginning with 1934’s The Gay Divorcée and 1935’s Top Hat.

Mamoulian, fresh from directing Fredric March to an Oscar for 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, would later win even greater acclaim as the director of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first two Broadway musicals, 1943’s Oklahoma! and 1945’s Carousel. His last film, 1957’s Silk Stockings, was also a musical, based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 classic Ninotchka.

Love Me Tonight was the type of sophisticated charmer that Lubitsch himself was famous for. Indeed, Lubitsch himself had previously made four musicals with the stars of Love Me Tonight beginning with 1929’s The Love Parade, followed by 1930’s Monte Carlo with Jeanette McDonald, 1931’s The Smiling Lieutenant with Maurice Chevalier, and 1932’s One Hour with You with the both of them again.

The plot of Love Me Tonight is ridiculous. It features Chevalier as a Parisian tailor posing as a baron looking to collect a sizeable bill from an aristocrat who falls in love with an aloof princess played by McDonald. What saves it is Mamoulian’s innovative camerawork and Rodgers and Hart’s ebullient score which includes the immortal “Isn’t It Romantic?,” “Lover,” and “Mimi,” the latter of which became Chevalier’s signature song.

The superb supporting cast includes Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith, Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies, Blanche Friderici, and Cecil Cunningham, all of whom get to sing “The Son of a Gun Is Nothing but a Tailor”.

All extras including Miles Kreuger’s informative commentary are from Kino Lorber’s previously released standard DVD.

Five Graves to Cairo was Billy Wilder’s second film as a director, following 1942’s The Major and the Minor.

Nominated for three Oscars, including Best Black-and-White Art Direction, Black-and-White Cinematography, and Film Editing, Five Graves to Cairo is one of the best remembered espionage films of World War II. Franchot Tone stars as the sole survivor of a British tank crew who makes his way back to a desolate Egyptian town where he is given refuge by a hotel manager (Akim Tamiroff) and a French chambermaid (Anne Baxter). Posing as the hotel’s waiter, he attempts to infiltrate German general Rommel’s inner circle and report his plans to the Allies. The title refers to the five excavations across Egypt where the Germans have tons of supplies buried.

Erich Von Stroheim steals the film.

Film historian Joseph McBride provides the commentary.

Warner Archive has released a handsome looking Blu-ray of 1951’s Flying Leathernecks.

Better known for its off-screen battles between director Nicholas Ray and Robert Ryan on one side and John Wayne and character actor Jay C. Flippen on the other, than anything that appears on screen, the film is a standard war film set in the early days of World War II that could just as well have been made eight years earlier.

Ray (In a Lonely Place, Rebel Without a Cause) directed the film as a contractual obligation to RKO honcho Howard Hughes, but disagreed with the film’s politics in the midst of Hollywood’s red scare. He directed Ryan as Wayne’s second in command to overact to unnerve Wayne, then one of the most fervent supporters of Hollywood’s blacklist.

Although Ryan was appalled by Wayne’s support of the blacklist, extending the Korean War by launching strikes on Chinese cities, and using military force to drive the Soviets out of Eastern Europe, the two actors managed to get along the set. Watch it with the politics behind it in mind and you might enjoy it more than if you were watching it cold.

This week’s new releases include the Blu-ray releases of P.J. and The Groundstar Conspiracy.

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