Category: Home Viewing with Peter

Home Viewing with Peter #805

Florence Pugh’s two high profile films of 2022, The Wonder and Don’t Worry Darling, are both available for streaming now. The Wonder, which is the better of the two, is streaming on Netflix while Don’t Worry Darling is streaming on HBO Max and is also available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Wonder is based on the 2016 novel by Emma Donoghue (The Room) with a screenplay by Donoghue, Alice Birch, and the film’s director, Sebastian Lelio (Fantastic Woman). It takes place in Western Ireland in 1862, ten years after the end of the Great Famine.

Pugh plays an English nurse who has been hired by the local town council to observe a young girl who hasn’t eaten in four months. She is not allowed to feed her against her will but may give her food if she asks for it. The girl, played by Kila Lord Cassidy, claims she is being kept alive by manna from Heaven. Although Pugh pleads with the family and the council that the girl be taken to a hospital, they refuse.

The girl’s parents believe that God takes the best young children to be his personal angels and they are blessed, having already lost their son and will be double blessed when their daughter is called as well. The council has motives of its own. The religious fanatics want to have the girl’s long pre-death survival without eating declared a miracle. The more scientific minded members of the council want to able to have her body autopsied to prove that the whole thing has been a hoax and that she had been fed small amounts of food on the long, slow road to her death.

Nominated for 12 British Independent Film Awards including Best Independent Film, Director, Lead Performance (Pugh), Breakthrough Performance (Lord Cassidy), Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Hair & Makeup, Score, Production Design, Sound, and Ensemble, the film doesn’t seem to be high on Oscar prediction lists, at least not yet.

Pugh and Lord Cassidy, the daughter of actors John Lord and Elaine Cassidy, who plays her mother in the film, are terrific together. The bond they form is reminiscent of the one formed by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker. Not to give the ending away, but good triumphs over evil thanks to the tenacity of the film’s heroine beautifully underplayed by Pugh.

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Home Viewing with Peter #804

The official start of the holiday season in the U.S. begins on Thanksgiving Day, which is just two days away. Holiday movies, almost all of them dealing with the lead-up to Christmas Day, have already been appearing with regularity on the Hallmark Channel and the various streaming services. You can spend your holiday viewing time watching them if you want to see the latest variation on successful guy or gal leaving the big city to return home for the holidays where he or she will either find or reunite with the love of their life and throw away their successful big city career for a more down-home happily-ever-after.

Those made-for-TV films are almost all filmed in Vancouver, Canada, filling in for whatever small town in the U.S. in which they’re supposed to be taking place. They’re all filmed in the summertime with fake snow. Their casts are made up mostly of actors you’ve never heard of or may never see again. Why people keep watching this stuff when there are so many other things that they could spend their time watching is beyond me.

For me, holiday viewing begins on or as near to Thanksgiving Day as I can muster with the original 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street. There have been four official remakes of this perennial as well as numerous imitations, but none hold a candle to the original starring Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus aka Kris Kringle, Maureen O’Hara as the Macy’s executive in charge of the annual parade, John Payne as the lawyer who defends the existence of Santa Claus, and Natalie Wood as the skeptical young girl who comes to believe in him.

For the record, the remakes include a 1955 TV version with Ed Wynn, Mary Healy, and Peter Lind Hayes in the Gwenn-O’Hara-Payne roles; a 1959 TV version with Thomas Mitchell, Teresa Wright, and Madonald Carey; a 1973 version with Sebastian Cabot, Jane Alexander, and David Hartman; and a 1994 theatrical remake with Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, and Dylan McDermott. I’ve never seen the 1955 version, but I have the others, of which the 1959 version is the only one that is even tolerable thanks to the always welcome participation of Oscar winners Mitchell and Wright.

Beyond the original Miracle on 34th Street, however, there are many classic films featuring the Thanksgiving holiday that are far superior to the made-for-TV dreck.

Here are ten of them:

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Home Viewing with Peter #803

The Crown: Season 5 is now streaming on Netflix.

The popular behind-the-scenes examination of Britain’s royal family during the reign of Elizabeth II (1952-2022) began in 2016, running for two years before taking a break for one, returning with different actors for two more, then taking another year off before returning yet again with a different set of actors for the final two seasons.

We were first introduced to the series with Claire Foy as Elizabeth, Matt Smith as Prince Philip from the late 1940s through the 1960s, with Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, and John Lithgow as Winston Churchill beginning in 2016. They were succeeded by Olivia Coleman, Tobias Menzies, and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth, Philip, and Margaret, respectively in the 1970s and 80s, beginning in 2019. That series was dominated by John O’Connor as Prince Charles, Emma Corrin as Princess Diana, and Emerald Fennell as Camilla Parker-Bowles with Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher making the strongest impression of a British prime minster since Lithgow’s Winston Churchill.

Imelda Staunton takes Elizabeth into the 1990s, with Jonathan Price the new Philip, Leslie Manville the new Margaret, Dominic West the new Charles, Elizabeth Debicki the new Diana, and Olivia Williams the new Camilla. Johnny Lee Miller and Bertie Carvel are prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair, respectively. Khalid Abdalla is Dodi Fayad. Senan West, who plays Prince William at 13, is Dominic West’s son.

Foy, Smith, and Kirby were a revelation in the first series holding off the larger-than-life presence of John Lithgow. Colman, Menzies, and even Bonham-Carter had a more difficult time holding their own in the presence of the charismatic O’Connor and Corrin and the enigmatic Anderson. Happily, Staunton and Pryce are more in tune with the compelling work of Foy and Smith in the original series, but acting honors go to Debicki who absolutely nails it as Diana. That wasn’t an easy task given how many portrayals of the late princess have been done in the last few years, yet DeBecki manages to keep all eyes on her in every scene she’s in.

Also making a big impression this time around are Williams, who imbues Camilla with a compassion lacking in most portrayals of her; Abdalla, who brings an unexpected sweetness to his portrayal of the doomed Fayad; and West the younger as a respectful if confused William.

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Home Viewing with Peter #802

Edward Berger’s German remake of All Quiet on the Western Front, now in theatres, is simultaneously streaming on Netflix where I viewed it.

Although it is well made, it is unlikely to have the impact of Lewis Milestone’s Oscar-winning 1930 version of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, which follows a group of seven recent high school graduates who enlist in the Kaiser’s army during World War I. That version was released at a time when veterans of the senseless 1914-1918 war were still alive and suffering through the Great Depression.

In the new version, the group of seven is reduced to four. Unlike Lew Ayres in the original version, once in the fight, the protagonist, now played by Felix Kammerer, does not go home on leave in which he is welcomed with open arms. The only scenes away from the front are the newly interjected ones of the negotiations between the Germans, led by Daniel Bruhl, and their French counterparts.

In that respect, it has more in common with G.W. Pabst’s 1930 film Westfront 1918 in which the somewhat older protagonist (Gustav Diessl) goes home on leave only to find his mother waiting in line for a loaf of bread and his wife in bed with the landlord. The film is absorbing but unrelentingly bleak as is the new version of All Quiet on the Western Front.

Other recent films about World War I such as 2011’s War Horse, 2017’s British remake of 1930’s Journey’s End, and 2019’s 1917, have also been overwhelmingly bleak and sad but offered compensation in other areas. War Horse looked at the war from a different perspective. Journey’s End provided audiences with a film version of R.C. Sherriff’s novel and oft revived play that was readily available unlike James Whale’s brilliant but difficult to find earlier version.

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Home Viewing with Peter #801

We’ve come to that time of year when the subscription streaming services start showing more of the kind of content that we signed up for in the first place – high quality films and series that either have or will go on to receive awards recognition at the Oscars, Globes, Emmys, and the like.

Streaming is now the most popular form of bringing entertainment into the home, though some of us will continue to augment our treasured DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K UHD collections with new purchases for as long as we can while still enjoying the occasional streamer.

The first notable film to stream this season is The Good Nurse on Netflix. It’s from Charles Graeber’s nonfiction book with a screenplay by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917, Last Night in Soho), directed by Tobias Lyndholm, the Danish writer of Another Round, for whom this is his first film in English.

Jessica Chastain has the title role as Amy Loughren, a single mother and nurse working night shifts at a New Jersey hospital in 2003 where sudden, unexpected deaths have occurred since the hiring of male nurse Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne) whose most recent job was at a Pennsylvania hospital.

Amy has a heart condition and is qualified to receive a transplant but can’t afford to pay for one until her hospital insurance kicks in in a few months, so she soldiers on past exhaustion. Charlie feels bad for her and helps her, ingratiating himself with her young daughters and their daytime caregiver.

When the police begin to suspect Charlie of murdering patients, they have no proof and ask Amy to help them gather evidence. At first, she is incredulous and refuses to help them, but then another patient dies. A newly energized Amy begins her own investigation, making a surprising discovery that turns her world upside down.

That Charlie would turn out to be a serial killer who murdered as many as 400 patients at 9 different hospitals over his 16-year career does not come as a surprise. What is surprising is in the way in which he is caught and what it says about hospital administrators who, while suspecting something nefarious, turned a blind eye to it and dismissed him for other reasons rather than exposing their hospital to possible lawsuits.

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The DVD Report #800

I haven’t been keeping tabs on the number of DVD reports I’ve filed in the last fifteen years and seven months, but lo and behold, this is the 800th edition.

When I started this weekly column in April 2007, DVDs had been on the market for ten years while Blu-rays, which had been available for less than a year, were still struggling for their share of the marketplace. Nine years later, the first 4K UHD Blu-ray releases entered the fray. Home video collectors couldn’t have been happier with all the available choices. Then things changed.

In the last few years, streaming overtook the physical collecting of movies. Now you can watch movies on Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+, and a myriad of other services. You can own a digital copy of some films that are available on DVD or Blu-ray, but like the films available for streaming, that availability is at the whim of the provider. Films stored in the cloud can be zapped as easily as a film on a streaming service can disappear. The only way to guarantee that you will have access to your favorite films when you want them is to own a physical copy.

If you have an existing film library, great. Hold onto it. If you want to build on it, though, gone are the days in the not so distant past when all you had to do was wait, your favorite movie will show up sooner or later.

Most film companies and even some streamers like Amazon Prime and HBO Max, regularly make their streamers available after they’ve run their course with the service. Others like Netflix and Disney+ release some, but not all. Apple TV+, as far as I can tell, has yet to release any of its streamers on DVD or Blu-ray.

Not only are many new films bypassing home video releases, DVD and Blu-ray providers are also skimping on their release of older films.

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The DVD Report #799

Universal has released a 60th anniversary 4K UHD Blu-ray edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan’s film of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress (Mary Badham), Black-and-White Cinematography, and Score, it won three for Best Actor (Gregory Peck), Adapted Screenplay (Horton Foote), and Black-and-White Art Direction.

Peck plays Atticus Finch, a small-town lawyer in the Deep South, who defends a black man (Brock Peters) falsely accused of raping a white woman (Collin Wilcox). The story is told through the eyes of his children played by 9-year-old Badham and 13-year-old Phillip Alford.

The film is narrated by Kim Stanley as the adult version of the girl based on author Lee. The children’s childhood friend, based on Lee’s friend Truman Capote, is played by John Megna, the younger brother of actress Connie Stevens.

Robert Duvall, in his film debut, delivers a stunning performance as the children’s mysterious neighbor and ultimately their savior. Exactly twenty years later, he would win an Oscar for Tender Mercies for which Horton Foote would win his second for his original screenplay.

Alford would have another iconic childhood role as James Stewart’s kidnapped son in 1965’s Shenandoah, though neither he nor Badham would have long film careers. Badham’s older brother John is a working director whose films include Saturday Night Fever and WarGames.

The release is loaded with extras, most of them focusing on Peck’s life and career.

Also receiving new 4K UHD releases are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Fright Night, and In Bruges. Releasing within the next two weeks are Tropic Thunder, Dressed to Kill, and The Usual Suspects with many more coming soon.

Criterion has released a Blu-ray of Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace with an informative full-length feature commentary by Charles Dennis, author of There’s a Body in the Window Seat: The History of Arsenic and Old Lace.

The film had an interesting history. Unofficially based on the real-life murders of old men by an old lady in Connecticut, the January 1941 Broadway play, written as a comedy, was about two old ladies who murder old men in their Brooklyn home. Josephine Hull and Jean Adair played the old ladies with Boris Karloff and John Alexander as their nutty nephews and accomplices and Allan Joslyn as their sane nephew.

The Warner Bros. film was made in 1941 with the stipulation that it could not be released until the play finished its run. It was expected to last through 1942, but it kept running until mid-1944.

Hull, Adair, and Alexander were allowed to reprise their roles on screen, but Karloff was contractually bound to stay with the stage version. Raymond Massey replaced him in the film. With Cary Grant cast in the Joslyn role and Priscilla Lane cast as his young bride, the emphasis in the film was on them instead of the sisters. Patricia Collinge and Minnie Dupree took over for the sisters on Broadway. The film was finally released in September 1944.

Although Grant’s performance has many admirers, Grant himself, who was forced to play the part broadly by Capra, considered it one of his worst.

Imprint has released a Blu-ray of Rouben Mamoulian’s 1939 film of Clifford Odets’ 1937 Broadway play, Golden Boy, the film debut of William Holden in the title role of the violinist who becomes a boxer. Barbara Stanwyck and Adolphe Menjou had top billing as the femme fatale and the boxing promotor played by Frances Farmer and Roman Bohnen on Broadway with Luther Adler in the Holden role.

Although John Garfield was brought to Hollywood on the strength of his performance in the play, he did not play the title role. He was the cabbie brother-in-law of the title character played in the film by Sam Levene. Lee J. Cobb, who played a friend of the father in the play, was promoted to the role of the father played on stage by Morris Carnovsky. Joseph Calleia was brought in to play the crooked fight promotor played on stage by Elia Kazan.

The still absorbing film made a star of Holden, whose second film was the equally successful Our Town, although it would be another ten years before the actor became a major player in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

Fight films had been a film staple since the silent days and may well be the oldest film genre. Talking films focusing on the sport of boxing have been popular from the outset and have outlasted the popularity of the sport itself.

Major films about the sport have included 1931’s The Champ, 1941’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan, 1949’s Champion and The Set-Up, 1956’s The Harder They Fall, 1962’s Requiem for a Heavyweight, 1970’s The Great White Hope, 1976’s Rocky, 1980’s Raging Bull, and 2004’s Million Dollar Baby, all of which are available on home video.

Kino has released Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema X (Flesh and Fury/The Square Jungle/World in My Corner on Blu-ray, three films about boxing made at the height of the popularity of the sport on television in the 1950s. The first two films star Tony Curtis, and the third stars Audie Murphy in his follow-up to his highly successful autobiographical To Hell and Back.

Also new from Kino Lorber is Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema IX (Lady on a Train/Tangier/Take One False Step. The first is Deanna Durbin’s only noir, the second is Maria Montez’s next to last film for Universal, and the third is one the last films made by William Powell and one of the last made by Marsha Hunt before her blacklisting by HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee).

Coming next week: a very special announcement.

The DVD Report #798

VCI Entertainment has released a 90th Anniversary Blu-ray Special Edition of Rain restored by the Mary Pickford Foundation.

Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s 1921 short story, Miss Thompson, this was the second film version of the legendary 1922 play by John Colton and Clemence Randolph retitled Rain. The play, starring Jeanne Eagels, was so popular that it was revived in 1924 and again in 1926, all starring Eagels. The 1928 film version, retitled Sadie Thompson, earned Gloria Swanson an Oscar nomination in the title role. There would be a later version in 1953 called Miss Sadie Thompson starring Rita Hayworth.

This version, directed by Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front) with a screenplay by Maxwell Anderson (Key Largo) stars Pickford’s daughter-in-law at the time, Joan Crawford, as Sadie.

Crawford, who was married to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. from 1929-1934, plays the prostitute newly arrived on the island of Pago-Pago who runs afoul of the visiting preacher played by Walter Huston. Lionel Barrymore had played the role opposite Swanson and José Ferrer would later play it opposite Hayworth. The third major character is the soldier seduced by Sadie, played in 1928 by Raoul Walsh and in 1953 by Aldo Ray. William Gargan (The Bells of St. Mary’s) has the role here.

The supporting cast in this pre-Code film includes Beulah Bondi (Make Way for Tomorrow) as Huston’s wife and Guy Kibbee (Gold Diggers of 1933) as the hotel owner.

A critical and commercial failure in its initial release, the film has developed a cult following over the years. Some have claimed that it is the best of the three film versions. Others, including Crawford herself, claimed it was the worst. Critics and audiences, as well as Crawford, have always maintained that her best 1932 performance was in that year’s Oscar winner, Grand Hotel, released six months earlier, in which her key scenes are opposite Swanson’s preacher, Lionel Barrymore.

Ten days after the release of Rain, another film about a prostitute, thinly disguised as a “floozy” in an exotic location, opened to rapturous critical and commercial response. That was Victor Fleming’s Red Dust, starring Jean Harlow opposite Crawford’s frequent co-star Clark Gable as the rubber plantation owner who falls for her and Mary Astor as the married woman who becomes her competitor for his affection.

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The DVD Report #797

Shout Select has released a Collector’s Edition 4K UHD – Blu Ray combo pack of Oliver Stone’s 1986 Oscar winner, Platoon.

Considered to be the best film about the Vietnam War by most and the best war movie of all-time by some, Platoon was at the time of its release the latest in a smattering of antiwar films that began with King Vidor’s The Big Parade in 1925.

Historically, no antiwar films are made during wartime. The Big Parade was not made until seven years after the end of World War I. It was so popular that that the silent film was in theatres until the release of the first Oscar-winning antiwar film, Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, five years later. Also released in 1930 were two other major antiwar films, James Whale’s Journey’s End and Howard Hawks’ The Dawn Patrol. G.W. Pabst’s Westfront 1918, made that same year, was not released in the U.S. until late 1931.

Significant antiwar films made from the late 1930s through the World War II years were few and far between but did include Jean Renoir’s 1937 classic, Grand Illusion, and Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 comic masterpiece, The Great Dictator.

The late 1940s and early 1950s tread softly on the subject, carefully not attacking anything about World War II, which unlike World War I was seen as a righteous war. Antiwar movies of the era carefully avoided criticizing the war but attacking war in general in such diverse films as John Ford’s Fort Apache and Joseph Losey’s The Boy with Green Hair, both released in 1948, and Robert Wise’s sci-fi masterpiece, The Day the Earth Stood Still, released in 1951.

The late 1950s gave us David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai and Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, both in 1957, and Stanley Kramer’s end-of-the-world 1959 classic, On the Beach. The subject was explored again in three 1964 films, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Sidney Lumet’s Fail-Safe, and the first significant antiwar film about World War II, Arthur Hiller’s The Americanization of Emily.

1969 gave us Richard Attenborough’s Oh! What a Lovely War, a steeped-in-irony musical take on World War I, while 1970 gave us Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, the first antiwar film about the Korean War almost twenty years after it occurred.

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The DVD Report #796

Criterion has released 4K restorations of Le Corbeau and Exotica on Blu-ray.

Made during the World War II German occupation of France, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau is both an absorbing mystery and a subtle condemnation of the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Gestapo.

The plot revolves around poison pen letters menacing a hospital and a school in a French provincial town. Heading the cast are Pierre Fresnay (Monsieur Vincent) as a doctor with a mysterious past, Ginette Leclerc (The Baker’s Wife) as a man-hungry hypochondriac, Micheline Francey (Le Petit Jacques) as an unfaithful wife, Héléna Manson (The Tenant) as a despicable head nurse, Pierre Larquey (Diabolique) as a psychiatrist who thinks he know who the culprit is, and Sylvie (The Shameless Old Lady) as the mother of a superstitious cancer patient driven to suicide by the poison pen letter he receives.

Extras include a 1975 documentary featuring Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique).

Three years before The Sweet Hereafter solidified Atom Egoyan’s reputation as one of the most influential directors of his era, his sixth film, 1994’s Exotica, brought him international acclaim at that year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The psychological thriller revolves around the denizens of a Toronto strip club. The cast is headed by Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days), Mia Kirshner The Black Dahlia), Don McKeller (eXistenZ), Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line, Victor Garber (Argo), and Sarah Polley (Away from Her).

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The DVD Report #795

Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray of Mark Robson’s Bright Victory. Previously unavailable on home video in the U.S., this 1951 film was one of the most acclaimed films of its day and one which still stands out.

Arthur Kennedy received the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor over Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, and Fredric March in Death of a Salesman. All four actors were Oscar-nominated, losing to Humphrey Bogart whose The African Queen did not open in New York until 1952 and was thus ineligible.

Kennedy was previously nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1949’s Champion and would again be nominated in that category for 1955’s Trial, 1957’s Peyton Place, and 1958’s Some Came Running. He would, however, never again be nominated in the lead category and in fact seldom got a chance to play a leading role in his long and distinguished career.

Following in the footsteps of John Garfield in 1945’s Pride of the Marines, Harold Russell in 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives, and Marlon Brando in 1950’s The Men, Kennedy plays a wounded World War II soldier adjusting to his life as a handicapped veteran. Like Garfield in Pride of the Yankees, he was blinded in action. Unlike Garfield, Russell, and Brando, he does not have the unwavering support of a strong woman like Eleanor Parker, Cathy O’Donnell, and Teresa Wright were for them. His girl Julie Adams loves him, but when faced with choosing between an uncertain future with him and the continued comfort of her wealthy father, she chooses to stay with her father.

What Kennedy does have is the camaraderie of his fellow convalescents and the friendship of a hospital volunteer that he doesn’t dare fall in love with. He bungles both relationships but finally realizes that he is in love with the volunteer, beautifully played by Peggy Dow (Harvey), who retired from acting in 1952 and is still living happily ever after at 94.

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The DVD Report #794

Sportswriter, screenwriter, and novelist Paul Gallico (1897-1976) received an Oscar nomination for the original story of 1942’s The Pride of the Yankees. He also wrote the original stories for The Clock and Lili among others. His novels included The Three Loves of Thomasina and The Poseidon Adventure, both of which made hit movies. His most enduring work, however, is his 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris about a London cleaning woman charwoman who scrimps and saves to be able to go to the House of Dior in Paris to buy an haute couture gown.

The story first surfaced on TV in 1958 with comedienne Gracie Fields (Holy Matrimony) playing the title character and Jacques Bergerac as the young Dior accountant who helps her. It has since been adapted several times for the London stage.

Angela Lansbury produced and starred in an expanded 1992 version that was faithful to the novel. In that version, the principal characters, in addition to Mrs. ‘Arris and the young Dior accountant (played by Lothaire Bluteau (Black Robe)), are a wealthy Frenchman played by Omar Sharif and a haughty, but ultimately sympathetic overseer played by Diana Rigg.

2022’s Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris takes away the character’s cockney accent and gives her back the “H” in her name.

The story is still set in the mid-1950s, but this time instead of scrimping and saving to buy a Dior gown, Mrs. Harris wins the lottery which turns her into a bit of an elderly Cinderella. It doesn’t really work but character actress Lesley Manville in her first starring role in a major film makes it an enjoyable watch, nevertheless.

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The DVD Report #793

Any time of year is a good time to revisit your favorite films on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K UHD, or whatever platform you can find them on. Autumn, however, is the time of year when I tend to watch the same twenty-five films year after year as time permits.

I break those film into six phases: early autumn, Halloween, Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and pre-Christmas.

For early autumn I like Douglas Sirk’s quintessential 1950s masterpiece All That Heaven Allows best, with Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, and Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven not far behind. All three are filled with lush autumnal colors including ever-present fallen leaves.

By the time she made All That Heaven Allows, Jane Wyman had received four Oscar nominations and one win. She probably came as close to receiving a fifth nomination for this film as she would have for any other. She is at her best as the middle-aged widow whose grown children try to distract her from falling in love with hunky gardener Rock Hudson by giving her a TV set for Christmas. It doesn’t work!

Kevin Spacey received his second Oscar and Annette Bening her second nomination for 1999’s American Beauty, which exposes the rot under the beauty of suburban America. They are both terrific as is the supporting cast in this Best Picture Oscar winner.

Todd Haynes’ 2002 Far from Heaven gives us a little of both the nostalgia of All That Heaven Allows and the rot of American Beauty as Oscar-nominated Julianne Moore traverses the local bigots as she deals with life in 1950s suburbia which takes her from confused latent homosexual husband Dennis Quaid to sensitive black lover Dennis Haysbert.

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The DVD Report #792

Dirty Dancing has probably had more home video releases than any other film over the last thirty-five years as its ownership went from Vestron to Artisan to Lionsgate among others in the U.S., 20th Century-Fox in Australia, Columbia in the U.K., and Warner Home Video in France to name just a few. It had a 20th anniversary release in 2007, a 30th anniversary in 2017, and has just been released in 4K UHD to celebrate its 35th.

The new Lionsgate release comes with exclusive 4K-only features including commentary from writer Eleanor Bergstein, a separate one with choreographer Kenny Ortega and others, and a new documentary on the making of the film. The accompanying Blu-ray features archival material include interviews with stars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.

As the liner notes say, the film remains a cultural icon. Loved by generations of fans, this cinematic treasure has inspired multiple films, a stage version, and reality dance competitions watched around the world. The film’s magic features the timeless themes of love, family, class, and perseverance.

Although Grey plays a teenager and Swayze a slightly older dancer, she was 27 and he was 35 at the time of the film’s release. Both had been around for a while and had, in fact, appeared together three years earlier in Red Dawn, but this is the film that made them household names. Swayze went on to star in other major films, notably Ghost, Point Break, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar before dying of pancreatic cancer at 57 in 2009. Grey, the daughter of Oscar-winning stage and screen legend Joel Grey, can still be seen in an occasional film or guest starring role on TV.

Co-starring in this classic tale of a girl from the right side of the tracks and a boy from the wrong side, are Jerry Orbach as Grey’s disapproving doctor father, Kelly Bishop as her mother, and Jack Weston as the owner of the resort at which Grey and Swayze meet.

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The DVD Report #791

Paramount has finally given us a U.S. Blu-ray release of Lasse Hallstrom’s 1993 film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Swedish writer-director Hallstrom scored two 1987 Oscar nominations for writing and directing My Life as a Dog, a rarity for a foreign film director. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was only his second Hollywood film.

Working from a script by Peter Hedges (a future Oscar nominee for About a Boy), Hallstrom directed Johnny Depp in this now classic coming of age story about a grocery store clerk in a small town in Iowa. Challenged by the day-to-day responsibility of caring for his morbidly obese mother and mentally challenged younger brother, Depp’s life is brightened by the appearance of a beautiful stranger played by Juliette Lewis.

Depp, coming off a string of hits including Cry-Baby and Edward Scissorhands, and Lewis, a recent Oscar nominee for Cape Fear, both of whom received over the title billing are fine, but the film belongs to Darlene Cates as Depp’s mother and Leonardo DiCaprio in a star-making performance as his brother.

DiCaprio received the first of his six acting Oscar nominations so far for his deeply moving performance. He received a seventh Oscar nod for producing the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. He won for 2015’s The Revenant, but this, to me, remains his single most brilliant piece of work.

Extras include commentary from Hallstrom and Hedges and three documentaries, The Characters of Gilbert Grape, The Voice of Gilbert Grape, and Why We Love Gilbert Grape.

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