Category: DVD Report

The DVD Report #730

Absurdly promoted as the “greatest production since the birth of motion pictures,” Ziegfeld Follies was the first box-office hit of 1946. Its shameless promotion seems especially ridiculous in a year which would give us such truly great films as The Best Years of Our Lives, It’s a Wonderful Life, Notorious, The Razor’s Edge, and The Yearling from Hollywood, as well Brief Encounter and Henry V from the U.K., Open City from Italy, and Children of Paradise from France.

The idea of producing a film in the manner of the Ziegfeld Follies, containing musical numbers and skits but no plot, came to MGM studio heads in 1939 in the wake of the phenomenal success of the 1936 Oscar winner The Great Ziegfeld with William Powell in the title role. The idea was to have Powell playing Ziegfeld, who died in 1932, looking down from Heaven on a new production of his famed Follies. That idea was put on hold while they produced the dramatic 1941 film Ziegfeld Girl, in which Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, and Judy Garland vied for jobs in the Follies, instead. When that film proved to be a box-office success as well, ideas for Ziegfeld Follies sequences began in earnest in 1942 with Charles Walters (Easter Parade) assigned to direct.

Numerous scenes were planned, but not all were used when the film finally went into production in early 1944. Things were so hectic that Walters quit and was replaced by Vincente Minnelli on the heels of Meet Me in St. Louis. Minelli brought in his own team including vocal arranger Kay Thompson.

The film’s most famous sequence is “A Great Lady Has an Interview,” written and composed by Thompson. The sequence was planned for Greer Garson, who looked forward to spoofing her image and singing and dancing as she did in the music hall sequence in Random Harvest. Thompson came to Garson’s home to demonstrate how Garson should perform the sequence, flailing her arms about and exuberantly singing as Thompson would do on screen years later in Funny Face. Garson was aghast! The sequence was assigned to Judy Garland instead.

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The DVD Report #729

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s penultimate film, There Was a Crooked Man…, had the misfortune of coming at the end of a cycle of astute, wryly observed modern gangster films and westerns. It was very much in the mode of Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Little Big Man. Alas, a stylistic western that starts out as a comedy and turns into a melodrama with a surprise ending was not what audiences were clamoring for at the end of 1970 when the hit of the moment was the romantic tearjerker Love Story.

Mankiewicz, whose celebrated career reached its zenith with his back-to-back Oscars for writing and directing A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve two decades earlier, was in a career slump after 1963’s Cleopatra that wouldn’t recover until his last film, Sleuth, two years later.

There Was a Crooked Man… was Mankiewicz’s only western and one of the few films he directed for which he didn’t write the screenplay. That was the work of David Newman and Robert Benton who had three years earlier received an Oscar nomination for their screenplay for Bonnie and Clyde. Benton would go on to win three Oscars, two for writing (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart) and one for directing (Kramer vs. Kramer). He was also nominated for his screenplays for The Late Show and Nobody’s Fool.

The combination of the legendary Mankiewicz and his newly popular writing team were enough to attract a star-studded cast that included Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith, Hume Cronyn, John Randolph, and Michael Blodgett in an actioner set mostly in an 1880s maximum security prison in the Arizona desert.

Douglas played a charming, but duplicitous thief who hid half a million dollars in a snake-infested hole and offers to share it with anyone who will help him escape. Fonda played the prison’s reform-minded new warden. Oates was one of the prisoners who falls prey to Douglas’ duplicity. Meredith was the prison’s old coot. Cronyn and Randolph played a bickering elderly gay couple who ran a con game before getting caught. Blodgett, 31 at the time, played a naïve 17-year-old prisoner sentenced to death for killing a man who wanted to kill him. The actor was allegedly making his film debut when he had actually been in films for eight years at the time.

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The DVD Report #728

Paramount Pictures was founded on May 8, 1912, making it the second oldest U.S. film studio still in existence. Universal, which was founded eight days earlier on April 30, 1912, is the oldest.

Paramount won the first Oscar for Best Picture, 1927’s Wings, two years ahead of Universal’s first Oscar for 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Its roster of stars from the late 1920s through the late 1940s included Gary Cooper (A Farewell to Arms), Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express), Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Mae West (She Done Him Wrong, The Marx Brothers (Duck Soup), Claudette Colbert (Cleopatra), Bob Hope (The Ghost Breakers), Bing Crosby (Holiday Inn), and Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity). Its directors included Cecil B. DeMille (The Sign of the Cross), Josef von Sternberg (Morocco), Leo McCarey (Going My Way), and Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend). Universal, during this time, had its greatest successes with horror films beginning with 1931’s Frankenstein and Dracula, and later, Deanna Durbin musicals such as It Started with Eve.

Both studios grew bigger and more powerful through mergers and acquisitions that included TV shows. In 1958, Paramount, not seeing the value in its old movies, sold its pre-December 1948 library to Universal, through which many of those films have been released on home video.

In the early days of home video, Paramount did a decent job of releasing the films it still owned on VHS and later DVD, but has been slower than any other studio in upgrading its films to Blu-ray. Some highly popular Paramount films such as Shane, The Ten Commandments, The Godfather, and Ghost were given Blu-ray releases, some of them over and over, but others were still without release.

Other distributers, such as Criterion, Twilight Time, Kino Lorber, and Shout! Factory, have also been licensed to release Blu-rays of Paramount’s films on occasion. Shout! Factory has just released a Blu-ray of Dino de Laurentiis’ 1976 version of King Kong, starring Jeff Brides and Charles Grodin.

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The DVD Report #727

Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking was filmed in 2017 with reshoots taking place in 2019 and an eventual release in January 2021. Critics and audiences familiar with the series of novels it was based on were not kind. Not having read them, I found it a decent dystopian adventure, a genre I don’t usually like.

Not being familiar with the novels, I had no idea that the characters played by Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley were supposed to be young teenagers. They were played as older teenagers or young adults as befitting the actors’ actual ages, which worked just fine. Holland as the boy who grew up in a womanless world hasn’t been this intense since his breakout role in 2012’s The Impossible. Ridley, whose breakout role was in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was pretty much what you would expect a young girl off a crashed spaceship in the 25th century to be like. Yes, the story was pretty lame, but its execution was as exciting as it could have been thanks to the performances of the leads with strong support from Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round), Demian Bichir (Land), David Oyelowo (Selma), and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet). The only bad performance was from Nick Jonas (Midway) who allegedly took seven months to perfect his southern accent as Mikkelsen’s son. No one else, including Mikkelsen, had a noticeable southern accent.

I had a bigger problem with Supernova, which was touted as a possible Oscar nominee for Stanley Tucci as Best Supporting Actor. Ironically, the biggest prize the film won was the AARP Movies for Grownups Award for Best Grownup Love Story. To be fair, Tucci and Colin Firth as longtime partners are touching in their performances but their long road trip as they say goodbye to friends and family as Tucci’s dementia grows deeper is as tedious as it is depressing.

It was Tucci who brought writer-director Harry Macqueen’s film to Firth’s attention. Initially Firth was to play the dying writer and Tucci his composer lover, but they decided to switch roles during rehearsals. The roles played by Firth (A Single Man) and Tucci (Julie & Julia) are fairly even in length. Firth has a few more scenes of quiet reflection than Tucci, but it’s a stretch to consider him a lead and Tucci a supporting player even if it wouldn’t have been the first case of category fraud for Tucci to have received an Oscar nomination in support. It’s a film worth seeing once, but I can’t imagine anyone sitting down to watch it a second time.

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The DVD Report #726

Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung grew up on a small farm in rural Arkansas before attending Yale, where he majored in Ecology. Intent on Medical School, he turned to filmmaking instead in his senior year. He studied film at the University of Utah, earning his MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in 2004. His first film, 2007’s Munyurangabo premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim. Twelve years and several films later, however, he was ready to give up filmmaking and go into teaching when he had an epiphany. Thinking of novelist Willa Cather who initially wrote about city life but was not fulfilled until she went back to her roots and wrote about her own rural background in such works as O Pioneers! and My Antonia, he began to think about his own early life and wrote down eighty memories which became the basis for one more film. That film was Minari.

Minari, now available on Blu-ray and standard DVD is a film about family, failure, and rebirth. It evokes memories of films of a by-gone era, most notably 1945’s The Southerner and 1946’s The Yearling. Steven Yeun, like Zachary Scott and Gregory Peck in those films, is a dreamer as well as a hard worker, while his wife, Yeri Han, like Betty Field and Jane Wyman in those films, is supportive but wary. The kids in the film, especially Andy Kim as the 8-year-old boy with a hole in his heart, both literally and figuratively, are superb. The intergenerational relationship between the boy and his grandmother (Yuh-jung Youn) brings back memories of a young Dean Stockwell and Gladys Cooper as his great-grandmother in 1946’s The Green Years.

Nominated for six Oscars, including two for Chung for both writing and directing, as well as one for Steven Yeun who became the first Asian-American actor nominated for an Oscar, it also earned one for its score. Yuh-jung Youn became the second Asian actress to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the first having been Miyoshi Umeki for 1957’s Sayonara. She also became the first actress to win her category for a role that is largely spoken in a foreign language.

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The DVD Report #725

The Mauritanian first captured year-end 2020 awards attention with nominations for Best Film, Director (Kevin Macdonald), and Actor (Tahar Rahim) from the London Film Critics Circle. Both Rahim and Jodie Foster were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances. Foster even managed to pull off a surprise win, a feat she duplicated with a win from the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards. BAFTA followed with nominations for Best Film, Best British Film, Actor, Screenplay, and Cinematography. Oscar, however, failed to nominate it for anything.

Macdonald’s most acclaimed film since 2006’s The Last King of Scotland succeeds where 2019’s The Report failed as an interesting film about the Donald Rumsfeld approved horrors of GITMO. Less gruesome than 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, it saves most of its torture scenes until we’re so well into the film that they don’t overwhelm it.

Tahar Rahim (Gomorrah) gives one of the year’s great performances as the real life Mohamedou Ould Slahi who fought for freedom after being detained and imprisoned in Guantanamo Naval Base at the southeastern end of Cuba without charge by the U.S. Government for years. His was easily the best performance by any actor last year not nominated for an Oscar.

Based on Slahi’s N.Y. Times best-selling memoir, “Guantanamo Diary,” the alone and afraid Slahi, a Mauritanian citizen, finds allies in his appointed American defense attorney, Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), and her associate, Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), who battle the U.S. government in their commitment to the law and their client at every turn. Their controversial advocacy, along with evidence uncovered by the disgusted military prosecutor (Benedict Cumberbatch) eventually leads to his freedom, a battle that took fourteen years.

Two-time Oscar winner Foster (The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs) delivers her best performance since Lambs thirty years ago as Hollander. While she doesn’t have a bravura moment that cries out “Oscar,” she’s steady as she goes as the no-nonsense lawyer, which should have been enough to have secured her a nomination. Woodley and Cumberbatch are also good, but their roles are not as well defined.

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The DVD Report #724

Judas and the Black Messiah was nominated for six Oscars and won two. It had been nominated for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Song, and two Supporting Actors, Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. Kaluuya won as expected, and H.E.R., D’Mile, and Tiara Thomas pulled off a surprise win for the song “Fight for You.”

Directed by Shaka King, who co-wrote the screenplay with Will Berson and Kenny and Keith Lucas, the film takes place in Chicago between 1966 and 1969. It begins with 17-year-old William O’Neal, a serial car thief, agreeing to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party for the FBI in order to have the charges against him dropped.

The Chicago chapter at the time was run by the charismatic 18-year-old Fred Hampton whose radical activism FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was determined to “neutralize”.

Kaluuya, already 30 at the time of filming, and Stanfield, 28, his Get Outco-star, were both seemingly too old for their parts, but Hampton and O’Neal were larger than life characters who seemed older than their chronological ages, so there was no controversy there. What was controversial, however, was that both lead actors were nominated in the supporting Oscar category rather than in lead.

Hollywood had been playing footsie with the acting categories since the inception of the supporting awards, but this was the first time that both leads were nominated in support. The usual trick was to place one in lead and the other in support to avoid competition between the two leads.

Spencer Tracy and Luise Rainer, in 1936, the first year in which supporting performances were eligible for Oscars, were both nominated for lead Oscars for their supporting roles in San Francisco and The Great Ziegfeld, respectively. Rainer actually won. Three years later, Greer Garson was nominated in the lead category for her supporting role in Goodbye, Mr. Chips while Olivia de Havilland, whose role in Gone with the Wind was considerably longer than Garson’s, was nominated in support to avoid conflict with Vivien Leigh, the first time a starring role in a major film was treated in such a manner. Leigh won, while de Havilland lost to co-star Hattie McDaniel, who had a true supporting role in the film for which they were both nominated.

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The DVD Report #723

Nomadland is the first film since 12 Years a Slave to win the Satellite, Golden Globe – Drama, Critics Choice, BAFTA, Independent Spirit, and Oscar awards for Best Picture. The film version of Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book won just three Oscars but all three were historic ones. Chloé Zhao became the second woman and first Asian woman to win Best Directing. Frances McDormand became the first actress since Katharine Hepburn to win three lead Oscars and the first actress since Hepburn to win a total of four overall. McDormand and Zhao, as producers of the film, also shared its Best Picture win.

Released on Blu-ray and standard DVD by Disney, now the parent company of Searchlight (formerly Fox Searchlight), the film looks stunning. McDormand is simply superb as the dispossessed woman creating a new life for herself as a nomad. The actress spent more than four months driving a van she slept in across seven states. Many of the people she met along the way had no idea she was an actress. They thought she was the woman she was pretending to be.

Except for veteran actor, David Strathairn, who plays a fellow nomad, all the other actors were real-life nomads either playing themselves or variations of themselves.

The film had also been nominated for Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay (Zhao), Film Editing (again, Zhao), and Cinematography (Joshua James Richards).

Nomadland is the second of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees to be released on DVD and Blu-ray. It was preceded by Promising Young Woman and is to be followed by Judas and the Black Messiah this week with Minari and The Father due two weeks hence. Sound of Metal is due later in the year. The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank have not been announced.

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The DVD Report #722

Warner Archive has released Blu-ray upgrades of Annie Get Your Gun and Broadway Melody of 1940, two musicals of completely different styles from different eras that were only ten years apart.

Before Show Boat, which opened on Broadway in late 1927, only operas and operettas had songs that flowed naturally from the show’s narrative. Shows featuring popular music were either revues or shows in which there may have been a story, but the singing was left to appearances on stage by the characters within the story. Although there were attempts to emulate the success of Show Boat, there wasn’t another successful contemporary musical in which characters burst spontaneously into song until Oklahoma! in 1943.

Oklahoma! opened the floodgates for the modern musical, not just on stage, but on screen as well. 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis and 1945’s State Fair, with its score by Rogers & Hammerstein, the composers of Oklahoma! , led the way. At the same time, Rodgers and Hammerstein continued to write new musical productions for Broadway including Carousel in 1945 and South Pacific in 1949. Before any of those productions could be made into films, Irving Berlin’s glorious 1946 Annie Get Your Gun, produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein, was ready to go.

Filming began in 1949 with Judy Garland as sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Howard Keel as Frank Butler (her sharpshooting husband) in the leads, with Frank Morgan heading the supporting cast as Buffalo Bill, whose wild west show made legendary stars of Oakley and Butler. The casting of Garland and Morgan would have been a reunion for Dorothy and the wizard from The Wizard of Oz, but it wasn’t to be. Garland was fired from the production due to health reasons and Morgan died at the start of production.

Betty Hutton replaced Garland and Louis Calhern replaced Frank Morgan. Hutton and Keel allegedly did not get along during filming. Keel is said to have thought that Hutton was all about herself rather than the production and Hutton is said to have thought that Keel and the rest of the cast resented her for replacing the beloved Garland. Publicly, however, everyone connected with the film praised Hutton’s performance which is the best thing she ever did on the screen.

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The DVD Report #721

Another Round is another masterpiece from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, The Hunt) who has achieved the rare distinction of being nominated for a Best Directing Oscar for a film also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, or as it is now called, Best International Feature Film.

Vinterberg, who also directed the stunning 2015 remake of Far from the Madding Crowd, stuns once again with this fascinating take on the alcohol-infused culture of the Danes. A comedy with a punch, the film is about four middle aged male teachers at a Danish high school who decide to take seriously the notion that their lives could be improved by maintaining a constant level of alcohol. At first it works as their humdrum routines suddenly have a spark to them. Their teaching skills improve. Their love lives and family relationships improve. Then things spiral out of control. Their drinking escalates. Marriages break up, one of the four even dies while drunk. They stop the insanity, but only for a little while.

Mads Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larsen are long time veterans of Vinterberg’s films and are fascinating to watch, but so are Magnus Milland and Lars Ranthe as the other members of the quartet. The rest of the players are superbly cast as well.

Based on a play Vinterberg had written years earlier in Vienna, it was filmed at the urging of his daughter, Ida, who was to have played Mikkelsen’s daughter in the film but was killed in a car crash four days into the filming before her scenes could be filmed. The character was changed to a second son for Mikkelsen’s character. The classroom scenes were filmed in her school with her classmates as extras. The film is dedicated to her.

Another Round is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

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The DVD Report #720

Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio was nominated for 15 David Di Donatello awards and won 5 in Italy’s version of the Oscars. It has since been nominated for various other awards including at Oscars for achievement in Costume Design and Hair and Makeup.

While the original Italian version has been available for a while, we are only now seeing the release of the English-dubbed version that was released in select U.S. theatres last Christmas.

After several family-friendly adaptations of Carlo Collodi’s 1880 story had been produced, Garrone (Gommorah) wanted to go back to the grim atmosphere and satirical tone of the original, complete with depictions of cruelty and extreme poverty. He succeeds admirably.

Roberto Benigni, who played the title role of the puppet who wants to be a real boy in the disastrous 2002 version of Pinocchio at the age of 50, here, 67 at the time of filming, plays the more age-appropriate puppet-maker Geppetto to great effect. He is warm, paternal, and, ultimately, heartbreaking in his search for his missing “son.” Equally astonishing is the performance of young Federico Iepali in the title role. In makeup that took two hours to apply each day of filming, he looks like an actual wooden puppet come to life as do the actors playing puppets on a string that come to life before and after the carnival show.

Reportedly parents who attended test screenings with their children were mortified that the film would give their kids nightmares, but the kids themselves loved the film.

This wonderful version of the beloved classic is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.

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The DVD Report #719

Films about the afterlife have provided plenty of entertainment throughout film history. There have been too many to name them all, but for a sampling, check out 1941’sHere Comes Mr. Jordan, 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life and A Matter of Life and Death, 1947’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1990’s Ghost, 1999’s The Sixth Sense, 2001’s Spirited Away, and 2017’s Coco, all of which have long been available on Blu-ray. To add to that list, check out the newly released Blu-rays of 2020’s Soul and 1991’s Defending Your Life.

Until I saw Disney/Pixar’s latest animated feature, Soul, I mistakenly thought it was a musical about a music teacher (voiced by Jamie Foxx) and that the title referred to the “soul” in “soul music”. Well, no, it’s not a musical, but there is music in it. Foxx does voice the central character, a middle-aged, middle-school music teacher, who has just gotten the chance of a lifetime to play backup to a famous singer. He has plenty of “soul,” but the film is not about “soul music,” it’s about souls leaving the body after death and souls yet to be assigned to new life.

After Foxx’s character falls down a manhole and dies, on his way to the gig, he is on a moving stairway to heaven, but runs down the stairway in an effort to go back to his body and continue living. He lands in a training school for new souls and forms a friendship with another soul voiced by Tina Fey, an innocent who has been around for a millennium, but has yet to be assigned to a body. Eventually, the futures of both souls will be sorted out and Foxx will learn, just as James Stewart did in It’s a Wonderful Life, that it isn’t what you want in life, but what you do with what you have, that makes it worth living.

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The DVD Report #718

News of the World was the only major studio release of 2020 considered to have had much of a chance at securing major Oscar nominations. In the end, it only received four for Cinematography, Production Design, Score, and Sound, all of them well earned. It had also been considered a possible nominee for Best Picture, Actor (Tom Hanks), Supporting Actress (Helena Zengel), and Director (Paul Greengrass).

Hanks plays a Texas civil war veteran who undertakes a perilous journey through Texas to deliver a girl, who had been captured years earlier by the Kiowa people, to her aunt and uncle against her will. Hanks, who had been a newspaperman before the war, now makes his living going from town-to-town reading newspapers from around the world to the locals for ten cents a pop. Zengel, whose parents were killed by the Kiowa, had no memory of her real family, and considered herself a Kiowa when her adoptive family is slaughtered. Greengrass, the Oscar-nominated director of United 93 was keen to make the film with Hanks, his Captain Phillips star, because he wanted to finally be able to make a film with a happy ending.

News of the World eventually gets to its happy ending, but there is a great deal of turmoil that Hanks and his young charge go through before they get there. Both Hanks and Zengel turn in memorable performances, especially 12-year-old German actress, Zengel, who had to learn Kiowa as well as brush up on her English. There are good supporting performances, as well, notably those of Ray McKinnon and Mare Winningham as a kindhearted couple, Elizabeth Marvel as an old friend of Hanks who just happens to speak Kiowa, and Fred Hechinger as a young gunman who turns the tables on the bad guys.

The thing that keeps the film from achieving greatness are those bad guys, cliched villains from the get-go. To be fair, they are dispatched in novel ways, so there is that, but movie bad guys are best when they are ambivalent rather than obvious in their intent.

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The DVD Report #717

Promising Young Woman is the first of this year’s eight Oscar nominees for Best Picture to be released on DVD and Blu-ray.

Nominated for a total of five Oscars including Best Actress, Directing, Original Screenplay, and Film Editing, first-time writer-director-producer Emerald Fennell has her name on three of them.

Best known for her portrayal of Camilla Parker Bowles in seasons three and four of The Crown, Fennell has said that she intended her film as a dark comedy carefully balancing the horrific with the hilarious. It does just that with Carey Mulligan in fine form as the title character, a highly skilled medical school dropout seeking vengeance on those responsible for her friend and fellow student’s suicide following a campus rape seven years earlier.

Although some find the film to be anti-male, it really isn’t. Two of the film’s four principal villains are women, Alison Brie (The Post) as the rapist’s then-girlfriend and Connie Britton (Bombshell) as the give-him-the-benefit-of-the-doubt dean. At least they come to admit they were wrong whereas the principal male villains, Chris Lowell (The Help) as the rapist and Max Greenfield (The Big Short) as his friend who taped the rape remain unrepentant.

Bo Burnham (The Big Sick) as the one seemingly decent guy in Mulligan’s life, Laverne Cox (Charlie’s Angels) as her boss at the coffee shop, and Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption) and Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde) as her parents, turn in interesting supporting performances.

Mulligan’s second Oscar nomination for her tour-de-force performance has been a long time in coming.

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The DVD Report #716

Warner Archive has released a stunning Blu-ray upgrade of MGM’s The Great Caruso, the second highest grossing film of 1951. Beaten only by MGM’s biblical epic Quo Vadis, it outpaced two other MGM musicals, Show Boat and An American in Paris, which were the third and fourth highest-grossing films of the year. The highest-grossing non-MGM release of 1951 was Paramount’s A Place in the Sun, which came in at number 5.

While I don’t usually mention box office, I thought this was an interesting fact given that unlike the other four films in the top five for 1951, The Great Caruso does not have the same vaulted reputation that they do. It was entirely a product of its time.

Mario Lanza, who played Enrico Caruso, his idol, was an aspiring opera singer who appeared on stage in an opera only once in his life. He was singing at the Hollywood Bowl when he was discovered by Louis B. Mayer in 1947. Mayer immediately hired him and had him groomed for stardom. Two years later he made his film debut playing an aspiring opera star in That Midnight Kiss opposite Kathryn Grayson. It was a huge box office success as was their second film together, 1950’s The Toast of New Orleans, in which he again played an opera star.

Sparing no expense, The Great Caruso was a lavish production co-starring Ann Blyth (Thunder on the Hill) as Caruso’s wife. Although it followed the famed tenor’s life from his birth in 1873 to his death in 1921, it was primarily a work of fiction as were most musical biographies at the time.

The film not only gets Caruso’s personal life wrong, it gets his professional appearances wrong as well, claiming that he started out in the chorus when his first appearance in 1900 was actually in a starring role. It claimed his Metropolitan Opera debut was a disappointment when it was, in fact, a huge success. It has him going on a world tour for years when he never did any such thing. Once he got the Metropolitan Opera, he stayed, touring in Europe once a year as well as playing other New York venues. His recording career, which was legendary, began in 1902, not toward the end of his life. He was the first recording artist to sell a million records.

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