New This Week
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.
Universal has released a Bu-ray edition of Tap Roots, producer Walter Wanger’s 1948 film often referred to as the poor man’s Gone with the Wind. Directed by George Marshall (Destry Ridges Again), the film is set in Mississippi and revolves around a plantation owner and his family who refuse to take sides in the Civil War. Push comes to shove and they wind up in battle with the Confederate Army. The desolate ending is eerily like the ending of the first part of Gone with the Wind.
In place of Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, and Hattie McDaniel, we have Van Heflin, Susan Hayward, Whitfield Connor, Julie London, Ward Bond, and Ruby Dandridge in similar roles. We also get Boris Karloff as a Native American guide to the family and Russell Simpson, Henry Fonda’s father in Gone with the Wind, as Bond’s father whose death sets things in motion. It’s highly watchable, especially when Karloff is on screen, but it can’t hold a candle to the film it tries in vain to convince us it’s not really imitating.
Cohen Media has released a Blu-ray of two British thrillers, 1955’s Cast a Dark Shadow and 1946’s Wanted for Murder.
Cast a Dark Shadow, released in the U.S. in 1957, is a constantly surprising gem about a charming young Londoner played by Dirk Bogarde who murders his sugar mama (Mona Washbourne) when he thinks she has written a will that disinherits him when in fact she had written a new will leaving him everything while disinheriting the sister she hasn’t seen in twenty years. In the earlier will, which he was unaware of, he got the house, while the sister got the money.
Enter Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes) playing against type as a coarse, vulgar woman with money who he intends to use to make his way to Jamaica to kill Washborune’s sister. Enter Kay Walsh (The Horse’s Mouth) also playing against type as a wealthy, refined, potential buyer of the house. Murder is once again afoot, but who will die, and who will survive? Great performances by all, including Kathleen Harrison (The Ladykillers) as a dimwitted housekeeper.
Wanted for Murder revolves around a serial killer (Eric Portman) who eludes the London police as he continues to strangle young women. His latest prey is sweet Dulcie Gray, whose fiancé Derek Farr is also one step ahead of the police as he goes to her rescue. Roland Culver and Stanley Holloway are the inspector and his sergeant on the case. Barbara Everest is Portman’s mother, with secrets of her own. It’s a clever thriller with memorable location filming.
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray upgrade of Douglas Sirk’s 1957 film Battle Hymn, starring Rock Hudson as Dean Hess, the real-life World War II fighter pilot haunted by his accidental bombing of a church and school that killed 37 German orphans. Considering himself inadequate as a small-town Ohio minister, he volunteers to lead a training mission in South Korea at the start of the Korean War.
Sirk, who had already directed Hudson in the highly successful Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, and Written on the Wind, once again gets a strong performance from the actor whose career he was largely responsible for in one of the better films about the war. Anna Kashfi gets second billing on screen as the young Korean-Indian woman who runs the orphanage Hudson puts together outside of Seoul, followed by Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, Martha Hyer, and Jock Mahoney in that order. Oddly, however, all advertising for the film, including its trailer, reverse the billing of Kashfi and Hyer who plays the limited role of Hudson’s wife back home. Carl Benton Reid, Alan Hale Jr., and Philip Ahn stand out in other roles.
Warner Archive has released Bu-rays of two more 1939 films, Another Thin Man and Each Dawn I Die, two of the lesser films of the year from the studio that has already given us Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Women, and Ninotchka on Blu-ray. Why these two instead of the eagerly awaited Wuthering Heights and Goodbye, Mr. Chips?
The release of Another Thin Man is understandable as it follows the successful releases of the first two films in the William Powell-Myrna Loy comedy mystery series, 1934’s The Thin Man and 1936’s After the Thin Man, even if it is not nearly as good as those two trailblazers. Each Dawn I Die is a fine prison drama starring James Cagney and George Raft, but where is Cagney’s 1938 masterpiece Angels with Dirty Faces or, for that matter, 1940’s City for Conquest, both of which deserve the upgrade to Blu-ray even more?
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Judas and the Black Messiah and The Hot Spot.