The DVD Report #696

Sunrise at Campobello was not only one of the first films released on DVD by Warner Brothers when they inaugurated their Warner Archive in March 2009, it was one of the best and best-known films that had failed to receive a regular release from Warner Home Video in the then-13-year-old medium. It was easily one of the best-looking of the initial Archive releases. It has finally received a Blu-ray release from the Archive, looking even more brilliant in the higher definition format.

Taking place from 1921 to 1924, and filmed in part on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Estate in Hyde Park, New York, the film is about the future president’s near-death battle with polio and his triumphant return to the world stage to place Alfred E. Smith’s name in contention at the 1924 Democratic National Convention.

Ralph Bellamy had the role of his career as Roosevelt in the 1958 Broadway play that won Tonys for Best Play, Actor, Supporting Actor (Henry Jones), and Director (Vincent J. Donehue).
Mary Fickett, who played Eleanor Roosevelt, was billed below the play’s title, and was thus nominated in the Featured Actress category. Fickett was best known for having taken over the role previously played by Deborah Kerr and Joan Fontaine in Tea and Sympathy. Donehue would later receive a Tony nomination for his direction of the original 1960 production of The Sound of Music.

The film was announced to star Marlon Brando as FDR, Greer Garson as Eleanor, and Hume Cronyn as Roosevelt’s assistant, Louis Howe, replacing Bellamy, Fickett, and Jones under Donehue’s direction. Brando balked, vowing never to appear in a film in a wheelchair after The Men, adding that he and Garson would be laughed off the screen as he was too young and Garson was too much of a Republican to be convincing as a Democrat. Bellamy was then invited to reprise his acclaimed stage role, and would subsequently replay FDR in the miniseries The Winds of War in 1983 and War and Remembrance. Garson, despite criticism for the dentures she wore to simulate Mrs. Roosevelt’s overbite and the mannered effort she took to duplicate the great lady’s speaking voice, won both the National Board of Review and Golden Globe awards for her performance as well as her seventh Oscar nomination. Bellamy, a 1937 Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Awful Truth, would have to wait until the 1986 Oscars to be acknowledged again when he would win an honorary award for his distinguished service to acting.

The film received a total of four Oscar nominations including those for Art Direction-Color, Costume Design-Color, and Sound.

Reversal of Fortune has also received a Blu-ray upgrade by Warner Archive. The 1990 film received Oscar nominations for Best Director (Barbet Schroeder), Adapted Screenplay (Nicholas Kazan), and Actor (Jeremy Irons), winning for the latter.

Irons plays ne’er-do-well Claus von Bulow, on trial for the murder of his wealthy wife, Sunny von Below (Glenn Close), left brain-dead, her body in a coma where it would remain until her natural death in 2008. The defense attorney in this real-life drama is Alan Dershowitz, played by Ron Silver.

Commentary by Schroeder and Kazan is imported from the previous DVD release.

Eight years ago, Twilight Time released a breathtaking Blu-ray of Joshua Logan’s 1955 film of Pulitzer Prize-winning play Picnic. Sony Pictures has now released its own Blu-ray of the out-of-print Twilight Time edition.

Nominated for six Oscars, Picnic won two, for Best Art Direction-Color and Film Editing. It had also been nominated for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Arthur O’Connell), and Scoring. Along with O’Connell, the film provided memorable characterizations for William Holden, Kim Novak, Rosalind Russell, Cliff Robertson, Susan Strasberg, Betty Field, and Verna Felton. They still talk about Russell’s legendary performance failing to get the Oscar recognition it deserved. See it and you will understand why.

Three recent Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber that seem to have fallen under the radar are 1960’s The Battle of the Sexes and two from 1978, Force 10 from Navarone and Caravans.

Taken from James Thurber’s short story The Catbird Seat, Charles Crichton’s The Battle of the Sexes is a witty comedy about a timid head of staff (Peter Sellers) who takes on the man-eating American businesswoman (Constance Cummings) hired by his boss (Robert Morley) to bring new ideas to their Scottish firm. Crichton (The Lavender Hill Mob) directs with his usual aplomb giving Cummings her best role since Blithe Spirit, Morley more scenery than he has ever chewed, and Sellers his most restrained role until Being There came along some thirty years later.

Guy Hamilton’s film of Force 10 from Navarone was a sequel to 1961’s Oscar-nominated The Guns of Navarone. The 17-year delay did not bode well for the film, nor did the casting of Robert Shaw and Edward Fox in the roles originated by Gregory Peck and David Niven, with an American flyer played by Harrison Ford as the third star, replacing Anthony Quinn whose Greek character is only alluded to in passing. It also didn’t help box-office prospects that Shaw died of a heart attack four months before the film’s release. The replacement cast does fine, but they can’t erase the memory of the original players in one of the best loved films of all time.

The film’s 2K restoration and insightful commentary by filmmaker and film historian Steve Mitchell with assist from author Steven Jay Rubin elevate the film to some extent, but not enough to boost its relevance.

Film historian Evgueni Mlodik, whose fascinating commentary on Kino’s recent release of S.O.S. Titanic elevates that film to new distinction, does his best to do the same for James Fargo’s Caravans. He does succeed in providing the film’s historical perspective, which was the last film financed by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, prior to the Islamic Revolution that resulted in his ouster in early 1979, but the film itself is a bit of a mess.

Based on a novel by James Michener (Hawaii), it is gorgeously shot by Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and costumed by Renié (Body Heat), who earned an Oscar nomination for her efforts. The story, though, never quite gels. Michener’s novel, set in Afghanistan, is moved to a fictional country. Top-billed Anthony Quinn and second-billed Jennifer O’Neill don’t show up until 45 minutes into the film, which until then is dominated by third-billed Michael Sarrazin as the American Embassy employee sent to find the missing O’Neill. What she is doing in gunrunner Quinn’s caravan is never adequately explained. Sadly, this was one of the last starring roles for Sarrazin whose career began with such promise in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but was dominated by bone-headed decisions such as turning down the lead in Midnight Cowboy.

Christopher Lee, Joseph Cotton, and Barry Sullivan are wasted in minor roles.

This week’s new releases include the Criterion Blu-ray release of Parasite and the Warner Archive Blu-ray upgrade of Waterloo Bridge.

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