NIXPIX - DVD & BLU-RAY Reviews

Sunday, January 14, 2018

THE PAPER: Blu-ray (Universal/Imagine, 1994) Universal Home Video

By my assessment Ron Howard has never made a movie to manipulate his audience for the sake of a good pop-u-tainment. Indeed, Howard does not make ‘puff pastry’ from popular culture; nor does he get mired in the particulars, though concentrated as he can, and usually is, on extolling the details of everyday life. Instead, Howard illustrates a startling command of complex issues, clearly seeing through to the heart and soul of each character populating his movie’s milieu. I suppose this alone is the hallmark of a truly gifted cinema story-teller. And there are far too few working in Hollywood today. So, let us set aside the Opie/Ritchie Cunningham references that, particularly at the start of his career, seemed rather condescendingly to suggest another ‘failed’ TV star was making a clumsy segue into some fairly disposable feature films. And while we are on this subject, I respectfully doff my cap to the likes of Penny (Laverne) Marshall and Rob (‘meathead’) Reiner. It seems 70’s sit-com training came in very handy for this trifecta of story-telling geniuses.
But back to Ron Howard, whose directorial career has been peppered in mega hits of varying creative merit. Virtually none are a total waste of time. But when he hits the bull seye, it’s with the telescopic range of sure-fire box office. Hence, the work is always rife for rediscovery and future appreciation.  I confess: I missed The Paper (1994) on its theatrical release; the idea of ‘another’ valediction of journalistic integrity run amok holding little interest for me then. Lest we forget, 1994 was the year of Pulp Fiction, and, Four Weddings and a Funeral; also, True Lies, The Shawshank Redemption, Forrest Gump, The Lion King, Little Women, Leon: The Professional, Legends of the Fall, Clear and Present Danger, Maverick, Speed, Reality Bites, I Love Trouble, and, The Santa Clause…to name but a handful; all of which I did see in a theater. The Paper ought to have appealed to me too. I adore Glenn Close and believe Robert Duvall to be one of the greatest actors of our time. In hindsight, I think it was the ‘coming attractions’ trailer that killed my interest in The Paper; misguidedly zeroing in on the drama while virtually dumping all of the screwball elements Howard had toiled so craftily to counterbalance, yet queerly augment these histrionics with zap-dramatic intensity and razor-biting irony feathered in for good measure. But no, the trailer for The Paper played like a wafer-thin and somewhat cartoony attempt at melodrama at best, charting the rise and fall of forgettable bitchy, socially-frustrated outcasts on the verge of plucking each other’s eyes out or suffering one collective nervous breakdown. The curiosity is, in many ways, The Paper still fits this descriptor to a tee with one crucial distinction.
It is a far more engrossing and enveloping critique of the newspaper biz than virtually anyone, apart from a handful of critics of their day, had given it credit. Billing The Paper as a ‘dramedy’ is like calling the Hoover Dam a nice little wall that holds some water. In spots, The Paper is deliciously funny and cynically dark; Howard, able to take incongruent narrative elements and weave his master stroke as unapologetic and eviscerating as a street fight between two junkyard dogs. Top cast is Michael Keaton as Henry Hackett – as his moniker suggests, part mild-mannered every guy/part-con (or ‘hack’) editor of The New York Sun; a rag tabloid teetering on the brink of extinction. Keaton infuses his role with a sort of arresting, devilish charm. He is fairly disreputable: stealing story ideas right off the desk of Paul Bladden (Spalding Grey); rival editor at The New York Sentinel (who has just offered him a cushy job, no less), repeatedly standing up his very pregnant and emotionally fragile wife, Martha (Marisa Tomei), and, engaging his managing editor, Alicia Clark (Glenn Close) in a knock-down/drag-out fist fight during the picture’s climax. 
There is nothing about Keaton’s Hackett to endear him to his colleagues or the audience for that matter. And yet, Keaton wins us over, partly by applying a quirky/gutsy and slightly goofy charisma he has always possessed in spades, able to compensate for his physical shortcomings as a leading man (he’s no George Clooney). Seemingly without effort, Keaton can pull off the proverbial ‘rabbit from the magician’s hat’ trick any time he wants to make us fall in love with such despicable behavior.  It works, time and again; Hackett, the lynch pin in a very potent grenade of opportunities; either, to save the day or screw things far beyond the point of no return. Ingeniously, Ron Howard allows his movie to sail clear over this narrative precipice, and then, as miraculously, make us believe his vessel has been tethered all along; everything pulled back into perspective, both for his oily protagonist and the audience.  Keaton is, of course, flanked on all sides by some very heavy hitters. Apart from Robert Duvall (as The Sun’s caustic and cancer-stricken editor-in-chief, Bernie White), and, Glenn Close’s beady-eyed bitch in heels, we get Randy Quaid as reporter, Michael McDougal, an accident waiting to happen; Jason Robards (The Sun’s shifty boy’s club owner, Graham Keighley), Jason Alexander (as disgraced Parking Commissioner, Marion Sandusky); finally, Jill Hennessy and Lynne Thigpen (both underused, but welcomed nonetheless) as White’s estranged/emotionally wounded daughter, Deanna and Hackett’s pert and ever-devoted secretary, Janet respectively.
We also have to tip our hats to the bit players; ‘real cards’, every last one – whether Roma Maffia’s sassy Carmen, Geoffrey Owens’ quirky Lou, Clint Howard’s Ray Blaisch, Bruce Altman’s philandering Carl, Jack McGee’s sheepish Wilder, or Edward Hibbert’s Jerry - each integral to the flavor of the piece without given very much to do, The Paper’s cast alone (most glimpsed in cameo) has it pegged for greatness. Better still, Howard has not rested on their laurels to carry the load – only, for inspiration -  already investing every second of The Paper in a sort of frenetic verisimilitude and decided verve for the newspaper biz; thanks, in part to the sure-footed – occasionally ribald (and R-rated) – writing style of David and Stephen Koepp. One of the crudest/funniest lines I think I have ever heard in the movies – period – gets uttered by Duvall’s pugnacious pit bull; informed by fellow coworker, Phil (Jack Kehoe) his excessive cigar smoke has resulted in his own urine testing positive for nicotine, Bernie bluntly tells Phil “then keep your dick out of my ash tray!”     
In retrospect, The Paper shares its most transparent influence with Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s ground-breaking stagecraft, The Front Page (to be made as a movie under its own title in 1931 and 1974, and, in the interim between, as perhaps its greatest incarnation, His Girl Friday, 1940). Howard here is also gleaning inspiration from his vast appreciation of classic films of the 1930’s and 40’s, oft-set in the behind-the-scenes world of cutthroat journalism. Indeed, the Koepps came to their writing epiphany from this well-versed background; Stephen, as senior editor at Time magazine, collaborating with brother, David – then, riding the groundswell of instant fame for having adapted Jurassic Park (1993). Together, they conspired on a project entitled, ‘A Day in the Life of a Paper’.  Likely owing to David’s success, Universal Pictures happily greenlit this project. Ironically, and unknowing of the Koepp’s efforts, director, Ron Howard – in good standing with Uni’s Imagine Entertainment division – simultaneously expressed interest in doing a movie about the behind-the-scenes chaos of running a newspaper. In an industry where everyone knows everyone, Steven Spielberg pointed Howard to David Koepp. Initially, Koepp and Howard met at something of a cross purpose; Howard, hoping to pitch his own ideas, and Koepp, using the opportunity to praise Howard’s Parenthood (1989) instead. At some point, Koepp’s flattery paid off; Howard, inquiring about his ‘next’ project and, with pricked ears, quickly to learn it was exactly his kind of picture to make. “I liked the fact that it dealt with the behind-the-scenes of headlines,” Howard would later admit, “But I also connected with the characters…desperately trying to find balance in their personal lives…”
Having agreed to work together, Howard began his research with trips to both The New York Post and Daily News; each to provide inspiration for the fictional ‘Sentinel’ and ‘Sun’ in the picture. But Howard’s real spark of brilliance was to have the Koepps change the gender of the managing editor, from ‘Alan Clark’ in their original draft, to ‘Alicia Clark’ in the final edit, without altering a single line of dialogue. As David Koepp would later reason, “Anything else would be trying to figure out, ‘How would a woman in power behave?’ And it shouldn't be about that. It should be about how a person in power behaves, and since that behavior is judged one way when it's a man, why should it be judged differently if it's a woman?” In the meantime, Howard engaged New York’s top newspapermen, including former Post editor, Pete Hamill and columnists, Jimmy Breslin and Mike McAlary (the latter, rumored as inspiration for Randy Quaid), who informed the director of a trick readily exploited to make their deadlines; using a police light to bypass traffic jams. Believing those working for tabloids shared in a sort of sheepish embarrassment, Howard was to have his eyes opened wide when virtually all of his interviewees confessed to ‘enjoying’ their particular brand of headline-grabbing shlock. In Daily News’ metro editor Richie Esposito, as example, Howard unearthed the embodiment of Henry Hackett; a ‘rumpled, mid-30’s overworked, but very articulate bundle of energy.
The Paper opens on the inner workings of an alarm clock and a radio broadcast encouraging its listeners to ‘stay tuned’ because “your whole world can change in 24 hours.” Indeed, the rest of The Paper’s tautly-written 112 min. will bear out the truth in this statement as two unsuspecting black youth (Vincent D'Arbouze and Michael Michael), departing a diner after midnight, accidentally stumble upon a crime scene: two white businessmen, brutally slain – gangland style – in their parked car. Fleeing the scene after being discovered by a passerby, the boys are apprehended and charged with homicide. Meanwhile, across town, New York Sun editor Henry Hackett is stirring next to his very pregnant wife, Martha. She is disgusted to find him still fully clothed, lying next to her. Indeed, Henry’s priorities are severely screwed up. What can we tell you? He is a news hound through and through; the front page more important than the real news going on right before his eyes. Martha is counting on Henry to land a new and better-paying position at rival publication, The Sentinel. She sternly encourages Henry not to screw this one up. They have lives to live, bills to pay, and a new mouth to feed on its way.
Henry feigns understanding. Actually, he is already sorely distracted by the news of the day; The Sun missed out on covering these murders, substituted with yet another front-page devoted to the more recent screw-ups afflicting New York’s traffic authority. The brunt of this piece is an on-going humiliation of the Parking Commissioner, Marion Sandusky, ruthlessly pursued by the Sun’s reporter, Michael McDougal.  In the back of Henry’s mind, he can clearly recognize his own obsessive workaholism fast leading him down a similar path as his editor-in-chief, Bernie White. The curmudgeonly boss is estranged from his adult daughter, Deanne because he always put the work ahead of his family. But now, Bernie has been given his wake-up call; his prostate, the size of a bagel, is cancer already spread to other parts of his body.
At work, Henry is acutely aware the balance of power is shifting; Bernie – as irritable as ever, begrudgingly forced to side with The Sun’s owner, Graham Keighley (Jason Robards), who has appointed Alicia Clark to oversee the necessary cutbacks, hopefully to keep everyone afloat. Henry and Alicia are a toxic mix; his glib disgust counteracted by her viciousness, though in fact, control tactics necessary to keep The Sun’s unwieldy core of fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants reporters from completely wrecking these budgetary constraints. On the home front, Henry’s wife, Martha is desperate for him to land a job with The New York Sentinel; presumably, the Cartier of his industry. Its managing editor, Paul Bladden is all set to give Henry the job. Whatever else he may be, Henry has proven himself one hell of a newspaper man. That is, until he rather shamelessly swipes some crucial information about the Williamsburg arrests right off Bladden’s desk during a momentary lull in the interview. Discovering this theft too late, Bladden rescinds his offer of employment. It’s probably just as well. Henry really had no interest in making the cardigan sweater and suspender sect his penultimate career move, despite the fact it would be better for his family.
Nearly nine months pregnant with their first child, Martha’s behavior is…well…typical of a woman with raging hormonal imbalances. Once a reporter for The Sun, Martha genuinely misses the work: her days now spent binge-watching forgettable TV and eating everything in sight. To assuage her guilty feelings of inadequacy, Martha meets up with a close friend, Lisa (Siobhan Fallon) for lunch. Alas, instead of quelling her fears, Lisa amplifies them by casually, and rather cruelly pointing out all the reasons a child will utterly wreck Martha’s chances of ever being a reporter again. Perhaps to prove Lisa wrong, Martha undertakes to do some groundwork on the Williamsburg murders. What she discovers is the murdered businessmen were actually caught dipping their hands in the till of a business fronted by a prominent Mafia crime family. Hence, the likelihood these guys were killed as part of a gangland-styled cover-up is far more plausible than pinning the crime on a pair of black youth walking down the street. Martha arranges for a nice quiet dinner at an upscale restaurant with Henry’s parents, Howard (William Prince) and Sarah (Augusta Dabney). Alas, this too Henry manages to ruin, arriving late, then suffering a panic attack while listening to a child’s temper tantrum at nearby table. Actually, Henry’s mind is not on dinner at all. Because several hours earlier he sent cub photographer, Robin (Amelia Campbell) – practically a newsie virgin – to get a crucial picture of the indicted brothers being hauled off to jail. Robin’s inexperience may have resulted in Henry losing out on the biggest scoop of his career and he knows it.
Mercifully, after developing the proofs, Robin discovers the perfect shot to headline tomorrow’s daily edition. Ditching Martha and his folks, Henry gets Michael to give him a lift to the local precinct where he convinces one of his police informants, Richie (Mike Sheehan) to confide the Williamsburg boys are being held not even on circumstantial evidence. The police need a scapegoat. These boys are it. Armed with this ‘anonymous tip off’ Henry and Michael hightail it to The Sun to stop the presses. Meanwhile, Bernie has arrived at his favorite watering hole, destined to have a philosophical/booze-induced conversation with the disgraced Sandusky, neither aware of the other’s identity. On the other end of town, Alicia attends a newspaper gala at Radio City, self-assured she can leverage her clout with Graham to go over Bernie’s head for a raise. The ruse fails; Graham, calling her bluff and further informing Alicia when her contract is up in eighteen months she is free to field more lucrative offers elsewhere. Spurned and out for blood, Alicia leave the party and heads back to The Sun, shocked to discover Henry rewriting tomorrow’s headline as an exoneration of the Williamsburg boys, even though the paper has already gone to press.  
Vetoing his authority, Alicia and Henry get into a ruthless brawl that ends with Henry bloodying her nose and Alicia firing him. She orders the press operator to continue without the new headline. Alicia, Henry and Michael winds up at the same bar; Henry, desperate to appeal to Bernie to stop the presses. Henry tells Alicia, despite The Sun’s notoriety for publishing ‘silly’ tabloid stories that sacrifice integrity for sensationalism hers is the first headline to have deliberately known better and still published ‘a lie’. Having suffered an acute attack of conscience, Alicia hurries to the phone booth at the back of the bar to stop the presses. Regrettably, at precisely this moment, Sandusky recognizes Michael from across the room; unleashing his full wrath in a rather pathetic drunken brawl. This ends badly when Sandusky manages to gain control of the pistol Michael carries for protection; Sandusky, firing a shot that whizzes past Michael’s head, but penetrates the phone booth. The bullet strikes Alicia; a superficial wound in the calf, it nevertheless sends her into shock.
Across town, Martha, again patiently waiting for Henry to come home, but this time contemplating leaving him for good, suddenly begins to hemorrhage. Her emergency phone call for help comes just as Henry is arriving home. The couple are reunited in the belief they may lose their unborn child and each other; the paramedics rushing Martha into emergency C-section surgery. On another gurney, Alicia makes repeated demands to use the telephone. Refusing to sign her release so the surgeon can operate on her leg, Alicia’s wish is granted and she orders The Sun to run with Henry’s story on the front page. As dawn begins to crest, Henry is informed Martha and their newly born son have survived this ordeal. Henry glances adoringly at his boy lying in an incubator, entering Martha’s room to beg for her forgiveness. They share some tearful kisses and Henry learns The Sun’s early morning edition has run his ‘front page’ story. We conclude with the local radio station proclaiming this latest bulletin, adding “…because your whole world can change in twenty-four hours!” And indeed, for Henry Hackett, it most certainly has.
The Paper typifies the Benzedrine-driven megalomania that is today’s journalism. Using the analogy of birth to illustrate the process by which tomorrow’s headlines are given life today, director Ron Howard puts his audience through the paces of this wild-eyed/wild ride, teeming in furious temperaments and ruthless conniving. Howard’s best movies are ensemble-driven; his motley crew of eager beavers, brewing their disparate temperaments, raging egos and dubious moral ethics into quicksilver intrigues of a dysfunctional ‘family unit’. Henry Hackett has printer’s ink coursing through his veins. He lives, breathes, eats and sleeps The Sun; the real world only worth its weight as a juicy headline. Too many reviews suggest Ron Howard’s finale is too ‘schmaltzy’ for what precedes it. Respectfully, I disagree. As an actor, Howard’s métier was arguably television; a medium that works best when it neatly ties its loose narratives threads together in under an hour with a sort of ‘stay tuned’ approach to next week’s story-telling. While one can debate how well this approach functions for the expanded 2-hr. format of a major motion picture, I would sincerely suggest there is nothing wrong with the proverbial ‘happy ending’. It has become something of the fashion to expect dour, dark and depressing conclusions in today’s movie culture. Personally, I live in reality. I don’t need to see it on the screen. Hence, I have had enough doom and gloom to last at least one lifetime. Besides, a good yarn is a good yarn – period; The Paper, running off one of the most entertaining facsimiles of a ‘hot-off-the-presses’ front page re-conceived for the movie screen. Extra! Extra! The Paper’s a winner.   
I am really not loving Universal Home Video’s recent spate of Blu-ray releases. The Paper has an overly processed video-esque appearance. While colors are bold and, at times breath-taking, the image has been artificially sharpened; DNR also applied liberally to background information. The result: this transfer sports an oft pixelated appearance: digitally gritty without actually exposing the organic structure of indigenous film grain.  Contrast is solid, but we get some intermittent moiré patterns in background information; fine details in plaids and wood grain sporadically to suffer from jitter and those dreaded halo effect. As John Seale’s cinematography rarely settles on any one moment where the eye can study these discrepancies, the overall effect looks like image instability and/or video-based noise; clogging up a visual presentation that ought to have been flawless and stunning. The DTS 5.1 audio is adequately rendered, with dialogue occasionally acquiring a slightly muffled characteristic. As with Uni’s other back catalog Blu-rays, we get NO main menu or chapter search options; subtitles are accessible. Honestly, I wish I could single-handedly convince Universal’s executive brain trust (and I use this term very loosely) that their skin-flint approach to parceling off the studio’s history in barebones ‘exclusive’ editions like this one is a really backwards-thinking approach to home video – period! If a new scan of an old camera negative is worth doing it is definitely worth doing right…n’est pas? Bottom line: recommended for content. The transfer is flawed. In 2018 I would hope for, and expect far better! Regrets.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
4
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

THE WHALES OF AUGUST: Blu-ray (Alive Films, 1987) Kino Lorber

Director Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987) is just one of those solidly acted movie blessings that, in hindsight, I just wish could have been done ‘that much’ better. Heavily influenced by the success of On Golden Pond (1980) and immeasurably blessed, not only by David Berry’s popular and pre-sold stage production, but monumentally to feature four living legends of the movie screen, with a combined total of 300+ years acting experience between them, not even this pedigree can salvage The Whales of August from devolving into a wordy ‘conversation piece’ the likes of which a director like David Lean would have undoubtedly classified in the ‘little gem’ category. I don’t rightly know what it is that the picture lacks – though lack, it does. Directors George Cukor and Joseph L. Mankeiwicz were famous for creating ‘talky’ masterpieces confined to a handful of sets (All About Eve 1950, and My Fair Lady 1964, immediately come to mind); the theatricality ingeniously overcome by directorial pacing and carefully contrived tricks in the editing room to move the action along. But ‘Whales’ doesn’t really have this advantage, despite being shot entirely on location.
Make no mistake, here. The Whales of August is an understated, gently acted and even more gingerly directed quality affair. But it somehow trips on its own narrative impetus, unable to carry the audience’s attention span from points ‘A’ to ‘B’ and beyond. Instead, the staging and screenplay just feel like one unending scene, intermittently interrupted by some utterly gorgeous, but arbitrary inserts of the Maine coastline. These have been impeccably lensed by cinematographer extraordinaire, Mike Fash. Whatever aesthetic quality is owed ‘Whales’ is due to Fash, who worked under inclement weather conditions and the irascible nature of Bette Davis (a force of nature in her own right) to will these images to life, using nature’s exemplary palette to offset the pallor occasionally netted in performance to lag behind each actor’s strengths. We can forgive the duller moments here, largely suspended, even mesmerized by the likes of Davis, playing blind woman, Elizabeth Mae ‘Libby’ Logan-Strong, and Lillian Gish, then aged 93, appearing remarkably spry as her devoted sister, Sarah Louise Logan-Webber.
Bringing up the rear, as Letitia ‘Tisha’ Benson-Doughty - the opinionated one, is Ann Sothern, who came to the project third best perhaps, but being the only alumni to receive a Best Actress Supporting Oscar nomination (losing out to Olympia Dukakis in Moonstruck). Sothern’s acting is hardly in a class on par with either Davis or Gish. But she nevertheless, holds her own between these two titans. Gish’s temperament, more patient and abiding to directorial influences, proved the necessary counterbalance to Davis’ generally caustic and hyper-critical assessment of the process by which ‘Whales’ came into existence. Davis hated the remoteness of the location – an island, requiring daily sojourns of 45 min. to arrive on set. She also demanded ‘top billing’ – her competitor’s spirit leaving Gish deflated and remarking to Anderson, “I just can't deal with that sort of thing. I don't care what they do with my name. If they leave it off, so much the better. It's the work I love, not the glory.”
Neither Gish nor Davis had made a movie in some time prior to ‘Whales’; each eager to work again, though arguably not with each other. Davis barely spoke to her costar between takes; her cold shoulder treatment empathized by Gish, who chalked it up to the aftereffects of Davis’ debilitating stroke. “That face,” Gish explained, “Have you ever seen such a tragic face? Poor woman. How she must be suffering. I don't think it's right to judge a person like that. We must bear and forbear.”  For her part, Davis was frustrated with Gish missing her cues, “Miss Gish was stone deaf. She couldn’t have heard the cues if I’d shouted them through a bullhorn.” Perhaps, but Gish was later to slyly admit her ‘missed cues’ were something of a passive/aggressive rebuttal to Davis’ mistreatment of her – making Davis wait for her reactions and leaving Lindsay Anderson as the ‘lion-tamer’ between them. Professionalism takes many forms, however, and no one working on ‘Whales’ was to have an unkind word about this tight-knit ensemble. Vincent Price was the most conciliatory about the honor of working with Bette Davis again. Price had appeared briefly opposite her in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939); thereafter, keeping up appearances socially. Price regarded Gish as a ‘real lady’ and Davis, an uncompromising technician in her craft. There are virtues and shortcomings to both these assessments.
Indeed, in reviewing their respective performances, Gish’s is the more restrained, confined to subtler reaction shots that Lindsay Anderson was to comment on, in dailies also screened by Davis. Rather put off by his high praise, Davis reportedly glared at Anderson, adding, “So, Miss Gish is doing a terrific job on her close-ups. No kidding…she invented them!” Reportedly, producer Mike Kaplan was responsible for Gish’s participation on the project, enamored with her performance in 1967’s The Comedians, and aspiring to work with this immortal who began her career all the way back in 1912. At the same time, Kaplan had seen the Trinity Repertory Company’s production of The Whales of August and thought there could be no finer Sarah Webber than Gish. An audience was arranged and Kaplan went to work convincing Gish to play the part.
While the stage version had employed performers much younger than their alter egos, the movie version cast pretty much to type. Stars under consideration at first included Kate Hepburn, Shirley Booth, Barbara Stanwyck, Fred Astaire, Joel McCrea, John Gielgud and Paul Henreid. For one reason or another, all turned the picture down. Indeed, age had been unkind to most; but also to Davis who, by 1987 had suffered the indignation, not only of a series of strokes, leaving her listing to one side and with a speed impediment, but also the absurd cruelty of a ‘tell-all’ hatchet job written by her daughter, B.D. Hyman. Davis never forgave B.D. her candor and, on the set of ‘Whales’ was frequently envious of the rather devoted relationship co-star, Ann Sothern had with her daughter, Tisha Sterling (cast as ‘young Tisha’ in the picture’s brief, and all but meaningless sepia-tinted prologue).
Unlike On Golden Pond, or even Driving Miss Daisy, each begun their shelf life as a play before acquiring even more emotional cache as movies, The Whales of August on film shows intermittent signs of creakiness in its stagecraft; director, Lindsay Anderson unable to keep the understated pacing fresh and invigorating. Perhaps owing to the location, there are few tracking or dolly shots; most of the action comprised of static tableau; stationary two-shots intercut with one or two establishing shots to show off Jocelyn Herbert’s production design, and, of course, a myriad of close-ups, with the actors merely talking to one another in scene after scene.  Again, Joseph Mankeiwicz used to make the same sort of picture, yet with far more imaginative use of the cinema space and camera angles. Herein, Anderson’s setups are fairly straight forward to downright pedestrian. The cutaways to Casco Bay and Cliff Island’s natural splendor do not serve any transitional narrative structure either. Instead, they recurrently divide, not between scenes (or rather, play ‘acts’) but conversations between characters.
The Whales of August begins with a sepia-tinted prologue circa 1912; young Tisha, Libby (Margaret Ladd) and Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) are seen frolicking along the desolate coast of Cliff Island. Libby and Sarah’s summer house, a stark wooden structure nestled a stone’s throw from the cliff, has been in the family for generations. The girl’s, in their white linens, delight themselves with the adventures of youth, inquiring to the strapping Mr. Randall (Mike Bush as a young man/Frank Pitkin as his elder counterpart) in his rowboat, if he has seen the annual migration of the whales. There really is no point to this prologue as we are never entirely introduced to any of these younger incarnations; the camera, remaining at a distance and dialogue, rudimentary at best. We advance to ‘the present’ – or rather, the mid-1950’s. Time has withered these beauties into remote sticks of brittle and decaying kindling.
As Libby (now played by Davis) explains to her sister, “Sarah, you and I are from such rare stock…and we’ve precious little time left.” Indeed, Libby is bitter; at some point, having been stricken with blindness from cataracts and under the care of her sister. Mercifully, Sarah (now played by Gish) does not harbor an angry bone in her body. Indeed, even as Libby chronically criticizes Sarah for her ‘conversations’ with a portrait of her dead husband, also her constant need to be doing something – “busy, busy, busy…always busy,” and further denies Sarah’s request to have a picture window put into their parlor for an unobstructed view of the ocean, Sarah is patient and compassionate. Life on the island is not without its virtues; the gorgeous vistas and sunsets, presumably depicted at the height of summer. Actually, The Whales of August shot mostly from Labor Day through October, with temperatures dipping down in the evening, to cause infrequent bouts of freezing rain and sleet, dampening everyone’s spirits.
The ladies are visited by handyman, Joseph Brackett (Harry Carey Jr.), their good friend, Tisha (Ann Sothern) and Nicholas Maranov (Vincent Price); an elegant sponge, whose latest live-in acquaintance has only just unexpectedly died. As the woman’s granddaughter intends to sell the home, Maranov, a Russian expiate, is in quiet desperation as he searches for another place to momentarily call his home. Libby wisely deduces Maranov has set his sights on Sarah’s loneliness as his easy mark. Sarah is no fool. Yet she agrees to entertain Maranov for the evening. He has been fishing all morning and will arrive later that evening to prepare them dinner from the catch of the day; a meal Libby absolutely refuses to eat. Meanwhile, Tisha confides in Sarah; perhaps, the time has come to find ‘a home’ for Libby where she can receive the care she needs without being so burdensome. Sarah loves her sister, but has to agree. Sarah’s cantankerous nature has worn her down.
Libby suffers a nightmare during her afternoon nap, incurring Sarah’s momentary wrath when listening to her jabber about death and wishing to die. That evening Sarah and Libby quarrel again over Mr. Maranov’s arrival; Sarah demanding Libby dress her best for the meal. At the last possible moment, Libby complies. For the briefest of conversations, it looks as though Libby will behave herself. But then Maranov makes a calculated move to woo Sarah with tales of his Russian past. Libby calls his bluff, informing him that while she is sympathetic to his need to find a new home, she can most assuredly concur theirs will not be offered for him to remain. Sarah is embarrassed by Libby’s forthrightness. But Maranov agrees with Libby, informing Sarah her sister has wisely found him out. He will not burden them further.
After an affectionate acknowledgement of thanks for the time they have afforded him, Maranov makes his noble exit. Their paths shall not cross again. The next day, Libby awakens reinvigorated from a good night’s rest. Hence, when Mr. Brackett arrives again to check up on them, it is Libby now who suggests they would be willing to entertain having a picture window installed in their parlor, to provide an unobstructed view of the sea. Hurrying out beyond the veranda to see if the whales have returned, Libby and Sarah make their way to the cliff’s edge; Sarah disappointed not to see the one-time plentiful whales bathing off the coast. “They’re all gone,” she sadly declares. But a hopeful Libby gingerly coaxes, “You never can tell. You never can tell.”
The Whales of August is a fond, but only occasionally poignant investigation of the ravages of age befallen the human spirit. Time has eroded youth, if not the conviction of these time-honored sisters. Nothing but death can part them now. Theirs is a bond unbreakable, and there is decidedly strength in knowing this; derived from Sarah’s ability to forgo a possible winter romance with Mr. Maranov and remain the spinster devoted to her sister’s care until life has passed one or the other by. Ironically, Bette Davis, some twenty-years Gish’s junior, though easily looking every bit as old, was cast as the eldest sister. And Gish…well…no one viewing her performance in this movie would give her 93 years. She is as unfettered in her mannerisms and bright-eyed optimism as that girl of twenty-one we briefly glimpse during the movie’s prologue. While none of the backstage animosity between Gish and Davis showed up on the screen, Lindsay Anderson would later speculate the problems he had on the set were the result of not only different temperaments, but divergent work ethics. “Lillian's first instinct is to try to give the director what he asks for. Her professional attitude comes from those days with 'D. W. Griffith'. Bette tries to dismiss the director.”
The Whales of August had a lengthy gestation period; roughly five full years before Anderson could raise sufficient funds to produce it under the ‘Alive Films’ banner; reaching a distribution deal with UA, and later to be acquired by MGM. It’s a sad state of affairs indeed, the old MGM no longer holding the rights to its one-time formidable library of classics; sadder still its subsequent asset management – mostly derived from UA and Orion catalogs – has been left to decay and molder with the past. Not exactly certain why The Whales of August merits a very fine restoration and remastering effort (while movies like The Alamo remain in limbo and in a delicate state of disrepair) but we won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. MGM’s efforts to preserve The Whales of August for future generations has yielded a superb looking 1080p transfer, easily one of their best efforts to date.
The opening credits appear slightly soft, and the brief sepia-tinted prologue suggests some curious color bleeding anomalies (the sepia tint is not uniformly distributed). But once the movie segues into full-blown color, the image is a sight to behold; rich and saturated, with gorgeous hues, accurate flesh tones, astonishing amounts of fine detail, and superb contrast. Honestly, there is nothing to complain about here! The DTS 2.0 is adequate for this primarily dialogue-driven outing; Alan Price’s underscore sounding great too.
Kino Lorber and MGM have conspired on a slew of extras to augment this 90-min. film. We get vintage interviews with Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern, Lindsay Anderson, Harry Carey Jr., Mike Fash, Jocelyn Herbert, and, even more recent interviews with actresses Mary Steenburgen, Tisha Sterling and Margaret Ladd, and producers, Shep Gordon and Mike Kaplan. There are vignettes devoted to the location, the score and finally a superb audio commentary from Kaplan, moderated by critic, Stephen Farber. If you are a fan of The Whales of August, MGM and Kino Lorber have delivered the pluperfect example of a Special Edition Blu-ray, despite it not being marketed as one. Curious, indeed…but very wonderful to see! Bottom line: highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
3.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5
EXTRAS

5+

THE YOUNG IN HEART: Blu-ray (Selznick International 1938) Kino Lorber

David O. Selznick never gave up on a dream. Nor was he willing to allow great stars to similarly molder with the past, even when the pedigree of their stature and reputation with the public had already fallen on hard times. Hollywood’s one-time golden girl, Janet Gaynor is just such an example. While some may argue the actress still had cache with movie audiences, steadily throughout the 1930’s her wholesome fresh-faced appeal was being eclipsed at the box office by the public’s insatiable desire for more exotic stars. She may not have been a has-been in 1938, but her second trip to the altar, this time with MGM’s leading couturier, Gilbert Adrian (known simply as ‘Adrian’) was, in hindsight a convenience; dubbed a ‘lavender marriage’ since Adrian was openly gay and Gaynor was rumored to be either gay or bisexual.  Hence, Richard Wallace’s The Young in Heart (1938) is really Gaynor’s farewell to the movies.
Though she would resurface to forgettable effect in the as unworthy 1957 Fox musical, Bernadine, by 1938, Janet Gaynor had witnessed the end of a rather formidable run in the picture biz, begun all the way back in 1924, having won fans and two curious Oscars in the process. She was most memorably on display as the winsome and moon-faced ingenue in 1927’s 7th Heaven, the bucolic and starry-eyed charmer opposite Will Rogers of 1932’s State Fair, and perhaps, most indelibly etched into the public consciousness as up-and-comer, Esther Blodgett transformed into superstar, Vicki Lester in the original version of A Star Is Born (1937). That Gaynor should have followed up this iconic Hollywood story with The Young in Heart, a rather silly, and at times somewhat grating performance as the eldest no-nonsense daughter of a family of cons about to be tricked into their own happiness and prosperity, was decidedly something of a letdown, perhaps not just to her fans. The role of George-Anne Carleton is a part most any second-rate starlet could sleep-walk her way through. Gaynor nearly does as much herein, apparently in a befuddled trance for most of the picture and occasionally so forthright in her critical contempt for the rest of her wayward family, one comes to suspect her motives more priggish than prudent and less honest than arrogant.
The Young in Heart is a ridiculous and overly wrought piece of sentimentality run amuck; Selznick, quite unable to invest it with the screwball corn it so desperately requires, yet eager to unearth moments of ribald comedy to counterbalance the affected tenderness. In the final analysis, this rings more tinny than true. At times awkward, and decidedly maudlin, the screenplay by Paul Osborn was adapted by Charles Bennett from the serialized novel, The Gay Banditti by I. A. R. Wylie, as it originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Never having read the serialized version, I sincerely suspect something has been lost in Osborn’s translation. At times, The Young in Heart lumbers along on the deadly decay of misdirection and clumsily strewn gags; the heartfelt earnestness of the piece browbeaten into submission by flights into dipsy-doodle one-liners and idiotically strung together vignettes.
Broadway legends, Maude Adams and Laurette Taylor originally screen tested for the part of Miss Ellen Fortune (eventually filled by Minnie Dupree), the only surviving record of either actress’ formidable stage careers captured on film. Despite its cast, the picture’s enduring legacy is a six-passenger/2-door sedan, nicknamed the Flying Wombat (actually a one-of-a-kind prototype, Phantom Corsair concept car, designed and built by Rust Heinz of the H. J. Heinz family and Maurice Schwartz of Bohman & Schwartz, coachbuilders in Pasadena, California). The ‘Wombat’ – which figures prominently in one of the picture’s subplots - is a hoot; sleek in its bizarre styling and far too ahead of its time to ever go beyond the blueprint phase. One has to admire the audacity in its engineering; also, Selznick’s conviction to feature it as a ‘real car’ in The Young in Heart. Perhaps the ole mogul had shares or other invested interests in Heinz, Bohman and Schwartz’s respective companies.
“Meet the Carleton family,” Selznick’s publicity department championed, “…charming to meet, expensive to know!” And so, we come to distinguish the clan; con artists, one and all, led by ‘Colonel’ Anthony ‘Sahib’ Carleton (Roland Young at his stumbling/mumbling best). In his younger days, Tony claims to have led a gallant brigade in the Far East as a dashing Bengal Lancer stationed in India. But actually, he is a retired actor, working the room with his scheming wife, Marmy (the ever-effervescent and chirpy, Billie Burke). Presently, the pair are scouring the French Riviera in search of wealthy prospects for their children; eldest daughter, George-Anne (Janet Gaynor) and dashing playboy, Richard (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). While Richard shrugs off the prospect of being traded like a prized bull at auction, George-Anne increasingly comes to resent the idea of selling herself to the highest bidder, simply to allow the rest of her family their lazy and ill-gotten vices. But who is George-Anne fooling? She dismisses her legitimate Scottish suitor, Duncan Macrae (Richard Carlson) after she unearths the truth…he is not rich either.
Meanwhile, Richard has ingratiated himself to wealthy wallflower, Adela Jennings (Margaret Early). Alas, Tony has cheated the girl’s American senator/father (Irving S. Cobb) at poker. Informed of their whereabouts by Mr. Jennings, the local police expose the Carleton’s sordid past and, with the senator’s compliments, provide the family with train tickets to London, ordered to leave the Riviera at once…or else. It’s no use. As adept as the Carltons are at gaining access to the hoi poloi, they are equally as inept at being able to carry off the ruse of belonging to that upper-class crust in social respectability. Once again feeling the angst of being poor, George-Anne inadvertently befriends a lonely old spinster, Miss Ellen Fortune (Minnie Dupree), who inherited her money from a former fiancé with whom she quarreled in her youth. The benevolent Miss Fortune invites George-Anne and her family to her first-class compartment on the train.  Earnestly, Tony plots to lift the purse of the dowager.
Alas, fate intervenes. The train suffers a hideous derailment. Having survived, the Carleton’s extricate a slightly battered, but otherwise unharmed Miss Fortune from the wreck. As gratitude, she invites them to stay with her in London, a decision to leave her suspicious attorney, Felix Anstruther (Henry Stephenson) bristling. To throw Felix off their scent, Tony and Richard pretend they share an interest in establishing themselves, both financially and socially. Unexpectedly, Duncan resurfaces, as in love as ever with George-Anne, despite her repeated rejections. Duncan believes one of the impediments between them is George-Anne being ashamed of her family. To remove this barrier, Duncan helps Tony get a job as a car salesman for the new ‘Flying Wombat’ prototype. Applying his con artist skills to the scheme, Tony’s salesmanship proves so deliciously devious, in no time he is given a promotion as the new manager of the London branch.
Meanwhile, Richard takes a job as a mail clerk at an engineering firm. He is introduced to the bright and vivacious, Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard). Ah me, what the love of a good woman can do for the morale! Before long, Richard is contemplating marriage and applying to night school to advance his engineering skills. As luck would have it, both Tony and Richard develop a conscience in tandem with their newfound work ethic. Each is increasingly embarrassed for having taken advantage of Miss Fortune’s kindness. On the home front, George-Anne and Marmy come to their own estimation of goodness triumphing over greed. However, none of the family is brave enough to admit they no longer crave the old woman’s inheritance. It’s good thing too, since Anstruther quietly informs the Carletons Miss Fortune’s monies have been all but depleted. Despite her appearance of wealth, she is nearly destitute and likely to be evicted from her mansion.
Miss Fortune suffers a stroke. As proof of their newfound loyalties, the Carletons rally around the old girl who, perhaps as yet fully unaware of her status, informs the family she intends to have her Will changed so they will inherit everything. Marmy makes Ellen a solemn promise: she will never want for anything as long as she lives. Assured the Carletons have only Miss Fortune’s best interests at heart, Anstruther retires. Sometime later, a fully recovered Ellen is seen driving her one-time barrister in a Flying Wombat; the old man gripped tightly to his seat as the car careers toward the Carletons’ new home where she too now lives. We see George-Anne, happily wed to Duncan and Richard engaged to Leslie.
The Young In Heart is a decidedly curious anomaly in the Selznick canon. Previously, the producer had delighted audiences with his take on the hoi polloi and scheming pretenders to the throne in MGM's star-studded, Dinner at Eight (1933). Nearly 5 years separate between this lavishly appointed ensemble comedy and The Young in Heart. Yet, despite Selznick’s verve for the project, The Young in Heart somehow lacks the strengths of its all-star predecessor, quite unable to sell its creaky wares.  Douglas Fairbanks Jr., dashing, though forever-to-be-compared as the ‘lesser successor’ to the mantle of quality vacated by his swashbuckling father, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., could never be mistaken as a star of the first magnitude, as a Clark Gable or Gary Cooper. So too had it been a relatively ‘long’ 3 years since Paulette Goddard wowed audiences in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times - a minor eternity in Hollywood terms. Fairbanks Jr. and Goddard do have a lithe on-screen chemistry. But they lack the ‘A-list’ stature to become the enviable couple du jour of this piece.  
Janet Gaynor's smashing success in Selznick’s A Star Is Born is likely the reason for her casting herein. Yet, her role is disappointingly small; the sulking and clear-eyed ingenue who cannot bring herself to be entirely disloyal to the man who desperately loves her. Paul Osborn, Charles Bennett and I.A.R. Wylie's screenplay extols the ‘money can’t buy you happiness' theme, at times, rather heavy-handed to the point of abject tedium. The story clings together, peppered in just the right amount of sensitivity and humor to prevail mostly with meager, if heart-warming results. After an unfavorable preview, The Young at Heart had its original downtrodden ending revamped. As initially scripted, Ellen died and the Carletons disbanded to pursue their own lives and careers. In the rewrite the essence of ‘family’ gets rewritten, not necessarily relating to blood ties, but reinstated as a ‘better than loneliness’ option for those who are indeed, very much ‘young in heart’ – if noble in their thought, word and deed. Nominated for two minor Academy Awards; Best Song/Score and Cinematography, The Young in Heart won neither.
Kino Lorber’s new to Blu incarnation is a definite step up from MGM’s tired DVD. The image sharpens, marginally. I suspect that like most every other deep catalog Selznick title to have emerged from this latest alliance between MGM and Kino, The Young in Heart’s Blu-ray transfer is derived from the same digital files created for the DVD. Mercifully, the DVD’s image was not bad and so the Blu-ray, by virtue of its greater compression, improves on all fronts while still retaining the shortcomings derived from these elements. How much better could it have looked from a new 1080p 2K scan? Hmmmm. The image is remarkably detailed, if occasionally suffering from some bizarre residual softness around the edges. Age-related artifacts are kept at bay.  But contrast is weaker than anticipated. We continue to have some extremely minor edge effects. Otherwise, an acceptable, if unprepossessing effort.  The audio is DTS 1.0 mono. Save a theatrical trailer, there are no extras.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRA
0

Sunday, January 7, 2018

FOR RICHER OR POORER: Blu-ray (Universal/Bubble Factory, 1997) Universal Home Video

In tone and overall mood, Bryan Spicer’s For Richer or Poorer (1997) comes closest to hitting that delightfully wacky bull’s eye in 1930’s screwball comedy, bringing together some wonderfully inept characters caught socially unaware in the most unlikely, yet fun-loving and idiotic of circumstances. Screenwriters, Jana Howington and Steve Lukanic bring nothing new, or even fresh to this largely predictable 'fish out of water' scenario.  Yeah, English…we get it. The Amish live by a more Christian-principled honest life, unfettered by the constraints of material goods. They measure their good fortune in friends they number and children, like-mindedly raised to follow in their footsteps. So, it is saying a great deal of co-stars, Tim Allen and Kristie Alley that, as the proverbial ‘English’, they manage to snag us into the sentimental vector of their improbable plot twists. Despite its evisceration from the critics, personally, I really enjoyed For Richer or Poorer when I first saw it theatrically. Let us be clear here. It’s not a great film. But it is, without apologizing for it, a competently made ‘little charmer’ with a great deal of invested interest by virtually all its cast, nimbly directed by Spicer with precisely the sort of Minnie Pearl-ish bucolic joie de vivre to offset the more superficial trappings of its largely Hollywoodized and high-key glamour.
The pairing of Kirstie Alley and Tim Allen as Brad and Caroline Sexton – feuding marries on the cusp of a nasty divorce - is perfect casting. I have long been a fan of both these talents; Allen, since he was a regular act at The Comedy Store, and Alley, since I first discovered her as the fiery Virgilia Hazard on ABC’s mini-series, North and South (1985). Allen can mug with the best Vaudevillians of yore, deriving little jabs of pleasure from seemingly the most innocuous of life’s little foibles gingerly exposed. As for Alley, she is able to emit an innate empathy that draws us closer to her, simply by entering a room, and seemingly without any effort at all. When Allen’s Brad and Alley’s Caroline venomously spar at the start of For Richer or Poorer, the sparks crackle. But when they love – or rather, fall in love with each other all over again – we believe every careworn nuance in their rediscovery of the reasons to stay married, even as their fair-weather colleagues and superficial friends urge them to separate for good. 
Far from being a conventional comedy about the woes in a marriage gone horribly awry, For Richer or Poorer is really an ensemble piece that introduces us to some fantastic character actors doing what they do best. Jay O. Sanders and Megan Cavanagh are perfectly cast as Amish marrieds, Samuel and Lavinia Yoder; the outwardly simple folk, devotedly the antithesis of the warring Sextons, who plan to hoodwink the couple for a few weeks’ hide out from the IRS for tax evasion.  We also get some stellar support from Michael Lerner (as the Sexton’s loyal attorney, Phil Kleinmann), Wayne Knight (perennially cast as the heavy…pardon the pun, as corrupt accountant, Bob Lachman), Larry Miller (at his irascible best as slightly unhinged IRS Inspector Derek Lester), Miguel A. Nuñez (his more level-headed counterpart, IRS Field Agent Frank Hall), John Pyper-Ferguson (as a somewhat gooney young love interest, Henner Lapp), Carrie Preston (his betrothed, Rebecca Yoder) and finally, Katie Moore (as the delightfully precocious, Anna, the youngest of the Yoder clan).
After a main title sequence attesting to the obscenities of wealth, set to the O’Jay’s 1973 classic, For The Love of Money, For Richer or Poorer wastes no time arriving at the front offices of Sexton Enterprises; more specifically, accountant, Bob Lachman’s private office. Bob has just been informed by IRS agent Frank Hall that the Sexton’s are seconds away from being indicted for tax fraud. Bob is nervous, and for good reason. He has been secretly cooking the accounts for nearly a decade without Brad’s knowledge. Not that Brad hasn’t been extravagant in his own right. In fact, he has just purchased a new and fairly pricey ‘massage chair’ complete with manicure options and a gel face mask. Alas, this expense pales to Bob’s personal expenditures on a private jet and lavish vacations around the world…all, written off on the company’s cash flow. Bob’s in deep and he knows it. We cut to New York’s Plaza Hotel; the Sexton’s celebrating ten glorious years of wedlock, or so it would seem, with an ostentatious spectacle. Half party/half business venture, Brad hopes to schmooze potential investors, including Judge Joan Northcutt (June Claman) for financial contributions on his latest real estate development misfire – The Holy Land; a shamelessly commercial prototype theme park for the religiously bankrupt. Think Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker’s Heritage U.S.A. and you are getting warm…very warm. The Judge, however, is not amused, even less so when Brad’s model of ‘the burning bush’ accidentally sets her treasured Balenciaga on fire, forcing Brad to use his glass of as staining red wine to put out the flames.  
Caroline is Brad’s partner in crime, making herself the belle of the ball while taking the time to mingle with her own flock of ruthlessly cold-hearted fair-weather friends (Marla Maples, as Cynthia, and Marla Sucharetza as Stacy). On the surface, Brad and Caroline have everything – wealth, power and a genuine love for each other. One problem; it’s all a lie. In fact, Brad’s about to discover just how badly he has misjudged both his marriage and his lifestyle. Returning to their fashionable penthouse for another of their presumably on-going, and celebrated arguments, Caroline asks Brad for a divorce. Believing this row, just like all the others will blow over, Brad and Caroline spend another night in separate bedrooms, contemplating how sad, alone and frustrated each has become in their marriage. The next day, Brad returns to his office to begin solidifying his plans for The Holy Land. He is more than a little put off by Bob’s lack of enthusiasm, even more so when Bob attempts to escape his company as the pair heads in an elevator, down to the bank. At some point, Bob manages to leave his employer behind to discover the fraud for himself. Indeed, the IRS agents have already put a lean on Brad’s liquid assets. He cannot even take a few bucks from the instant teller. Believing Caroline’s vindictiveness to be the cause of this embarrassment, Brad is informed by Bob that he has cooked the company accounts to the tune of $5 million. And now, with no recourse, Bob is getting out of town – fast – advising Brad to consider doing the same.
Meanwhile, across town Caroline is startled to find her unlimited line of credit has been permanently cut off. Emerging from the bank, more harried than worried, Brad is confronted by IRS agents, Derek Lester and Frank Hall. Derek is a loose cannon, perceiving danger where none exists. Trigger-happy in the extreme, he shoots Brad’s cell phone from his fingertips before pursuing him on a foot chase through lower Manhattan’s financial district. This concludes when Brad steals the cab of one Malik Ali Farquhar (Anthony Azizi). Inadvertently stalled at a red light, Brad picks up his first fare: Caroline, momentarily disgusted to find her millionaire hubby driving a Yellow Cab. Pursued in a high-speed race through the city’s downtown core, Brad manages to elude Agents Lester and Hall before heading for the country. Caroline is incensed, accusing Brad of having no genuine plan to get them out of their current dilemma, compounding their situation by adding ‘grand theft auto’ to the long list of indictments. Embroiled in yet another of their famous fights, Brad narrowly misses hitting a Holstein on the lonely country road, overcompensating in his swerve, only to drive off the edge of a grassy landing into a nearby shallow pond.
Enraged by this latest turn of events, Caroline is forced to concur with her husband. They have nowhere safe to turn. In the morning, Brad finds his way on foot to the nearby old Amish community of Intercourse, PA. He uses the telephone at a nearby trading outpost to alert his attorney, Phil Kleinman for counsel and advice. Told to remain out of sight for a few days, Brad overhears a conversation between two of the locals about the pending visit of Jacob and Emma Yoder; cousins from Missouri the family in town has never met before. Stealing a few clothes and other accoutrements for this masquerade, Brad convinces Caroline to forego her usual demands for plush accoutrements and fake being Amish, at least until Phil can come through with news of their exoneration. Caroline is resentful at first. And the couple’s initial reaction from Samuel and Lavinia Yoder is one of complete confusion. After all, Jacob and Emma were not expected for another month.
The Yoders introduce Brad and Caroline to their extended family, children, and grandpa (David Harscheid) and grandma (Rosemary Knower). The Yoder’s eldest, Rebecca is smitten with Henner Lapp; presumably an amiable – if tragically shy – suitor who desires to be wed before the natural allotment of courtship has taken place. Brad vows to help Henner out in this regard with the Council of Elders. He also promises Samuel to exercise Jacob’s formidable horse-training tactics on ‘Big John’ – an enormous and obstinate Belgian that really puts Brad through the paces while plowing the fields.  Meanwhile, Caroline begins to suffer from her own nervous insecurities. She confides in Brad that the Yoder women know how to do everything. Brad reminds Caroline how before she gave up her dreams of being a fashion designer she was quite accomplished at a lot of things. Alas, and before long the couple begins to quarrel yet again. The Yoder farmhouse has no heat and no indoor plumbing. The walls are paper thin, and Brad and Caroline’s bitter arguments are overheard by Samuel and Lavinia who are determined, secretly, to help them restore their marriage.
Life on the farm is devoted to the daily struggles of hard work and a devotion to God. After Henner proposes to Rebecca, Samuel elects to purchase an adjacent property from the local Good Guys Realty Ltd. As Brad inadvertently proves he knows a great deal more about buying, selling and bartering for property, Samuel encourages him to come along. Meanwhile, Caroline convinces Rebecca and Lavinia their ordnung should introduce ‘color’ to their clothing. The women concur. For some time, they have desired as much; their appeals to the Council of Elders always vetoed. Lavinia now encourages Caroline to become their spokeswoman on the matter. With her intelligent debate, Caroline convinces the Elders to at least entertain the idea of a fashion show to illustrate her designs. Enlisting the women of the community to her cause, everyone begins sewing to meet the week’s end deadline. In town, Brad is confronted by the arrogance of Jerry (Ethan Phillips) and Dave (John Caponera); the ‘English’ owners of Good Guys Realty. Jacking up the price on the property Henner desires to purchase, Jerry and Dave consider the Amish suckers at best. Brad asks Samuel and Henner if he may speak in private for just a moment to Jerry and Dave. But after they have left the room, Brad promptly drops the charade of being Amish, telling Jerry and Dave to take their price and blow it out their respective asses.
Exiting the realty offices with a new, and far more profitable deal for the soon to be newlyweds, Samuel and Henner are both amazed at Brad’s negotiating skills. He has managed to save them both a lot of money. The deed now in Henner’s name, he and Rebecca are free to marry and begin their lives together. Meanwhile, Agents Lester and Hall continue to tap Phil Kleinman’s phone for clues as to Brad and Caroline’s whereabouts. Eventually, they get a lead about the Amish and decide to scour the countryside with ‘wanted’ ads for the couple’s arrest. Regrettably, these do not offer up any concrete proof Lester’s hunch is correct. But then the agents stumble across the same cow having caused Brad and Caroline to veer off the road; their car landing on the roof of the half-submerged taxi in the nearby pond. Back at the farm, Caroline and Brad are slightly amused, listening in on the nightly conjugal activities of the Yoders, who seem to spare not an evening’s worth enjoying each other. Brad and Caroline recall how they too were once so very much in love.
At a local barn-raising party, Brad confides in Caroline; he has changed, and perhaps, for the better. Everything, in fact, seems different – clearer to him now. Although he still cannot wait to get back to civilization, Brad realizes he loves his wife. Caroline too has had a stunning change of heart. Deprived of her cigarettes, fine clothes and makeup has made her more contrite and respectful of how others live. Moreover, she is determined to broaden her horizons and learn from Lavinia and her lot how to be more domestic in her wifely duties. This leads to one of the film’s most hilarious vignettes; Caroline’s preparation of a beef liver, lung and kidney casserole, causing Brad to toss his cookies in the outhouse. But now, Caroline launches into her fashion show for the elders; dubbed Autumn Harvest ’97. One by one, she parades the women in a flourish of outfits sewn from colorful fabrics bought in town. The Council of Elders pause for a moment’s thought. But are they impressed or perturbed? At the last possible moment, Henner (intended to be Caroline’s male model) backs out of the show (actually, he passes out from fear), and Brad gallantly takes his place. The council is even more impressed. Unanimously, they agree to have color introduced to their attire.  
We advance to Rebecca and Henner’s outdoor wedding; idyllically set against a pastoral backdrop. Brad, who previously had confiscated his and Caroline’s wedding bands (as the Amish do not wear them), now quietly replaces Caroline’s diamond ring on her finger, and she, the plain gold band on his, solidifying the vows they took a long time ago. Alas, their moment’s serenity is shattered when police cars descend on this festive occasion; agents Lester and Hall emerging to inquire about ‘the Yoders’.  The real Jacob (Stefan Aleksander) and Emma (Johanna Cox), newly arrived, step forward, forcing Brad and Caroline to confess to all they have been living a lie all this time. The Amish turn their backs on the couple, and Brad and Caroline are taken back to New York to face indictment for tax evasion. The presiding Judge is none other than Joan Northcutt, who plans to make an example of the couple. Mercifully, Phil Kleinman, who has been absence for several weeks, suddenly bursts into the courtroom, late to trial but with the newly extradited Bob in tow. Explaining the real situation to Judge Northcutt, the charges against Brad and Caroline are immediately dropped.
Phil presses Brad to join him in a venture capital real estate project even as Caroline is already being courted by her fair-weather girlfriends to file for divorce. Instead, Brad and Caroline return to Intercourse, PA and the Yoder farm to plead their case. Brad apologizes to Samuel and Lavinia. Far from harboring lingering animosity, Samuel and Lavinia confess they knew all along the couple were not their natural relatives. As a gesture of goodwill, Brad trades his car and a pocket watch given to him by his grandfather for Big John and a beat-up 54’ Ford pickup, determined to buy the adjacent property to build their new dream house. In the end credits, Caroline confesses to Brad she is expecting their first child. Surprise!
For Richer or Poorer may not be a side-splitting comedy of errors, but it is a rather charming one besides. The keepsake quality of its adult and homespun magic is chiefly derived from four central performances, or rather, the subtly contrasted quaintness of Samuel and Lavinia, pitted against the caustic vibrations of Brad and Caroline; the former’s lasting influence on the latter, the crux of Spicer’s storytelling prowess. The perceived antiqueness of the Amish is never undermined here. They are never considered ‘the lesser’s’ in this tale. Nor are Brad and Caroline revealed as superficial beyond all hope for eventual redemption. As example: brought to tears by Lavinia’s kind-hearted words about the sanctity of marriage and what the love of a good man can mean for a woman, Caroline’s emotional fragility is deflated as Lavinia jovially suggests what they both need to do right now to feel better is to go out and beat the rugs. “Oh,” a tearful Caroline replies with silly enthusiasm, “Could we?!?”  
Budgeted at $35 million, and despite abject negativity from the critics, For Richer or Poorer went on to take in $67.2 million at the box office. Since its theatrical release, the picture has acquired something of a cult following. Personally, I do not find it quite the turkey others have suggested. With time, and consideration, a good many such critiques have tended to mellow and/or fade into obscurity. Again, it’s not a blue-ribbon comedy classic. But it does offer some badly needed ‘feel good’ vibes that continue to sustain our daydreams for better days ahead while tickling our funny bones in tandem.  As Hollywood’s present age of comedy seems grotesquely even more vacuous or nonexistent without harboring some politicized agenda, a simple little comedy like For Richer or Poorer appears even more rare, if still marginally enchanting. There are plenty of better rom/coms out there, and many more worse for the wear with the passage of time. But in hindsight, For Richer or Poorer has weathered the last twenty years rather well. Twenty years?!?! Where has the time gone?
Universal Home Video’s exclusive Blu-ray release of For Richer or Poorer appears to have hit a few snags along the way. Many will recall this catalog release was advertised for October of last year, before being repeatedly stalled, then almost canceled on Amazon.com. Aside: it hasn’t been a very good year for Amazon.com. Virtually all of my orders have either been delayed or come days, even weeks after their promised ‘expected arrival’. Not exactly sure what sort of hiccup in their alliance with Universal caused For Richer or Poorer to nearly be expunged from the ordering itinerary. But finally, and rather surprisingly, this disc arrived in my mailbox from special UPS courier; and this, a scant 48 hrs. after my Amazon notification posted that the item had, in fact, shipped! Well done, I suppose. Disc specs, however, are a mixed bag. Universal has again forgone the trouble of creating either menus or searchable chapter stops on their Blu-ray. One can advance at 10 min. intervals through fourteen arbitrarily inserted chapter stops or access a ‘subtitle’ option from one’s remote control. Honestly, can this studio just get its act together once and for all? When Uni announced its 100th anniversary spate of Blu-rays, they put their best feet forward. What’s come after this golden epoch in 2014 has been a gradually dumbing down of a class act: basic, boring and frankly well below par for the status quo in physical media being peddled even by third-party distributors today. For shame on a big operation like Universal! For shame! For shame!
For Richer or Poorer appears to be sourced from a less than perfect print master. Not sure if the original camera negative was even considered here. But colors on this Blu-ray veer between bold and bland, with age-related white specks sporadically present throughout this transfer. Color balancing seems a tad off too; particularly during Rebecca and Henner’s wedding ceremony where flesh tones suddenly adopt a yellowish cast and the spectrum of color in general registers as washed out.  On the whole, there is nothing overwhelmingly negative to say about this release. But it is hardly the sort of eye-popping and rich color spectacle originally envisioned by cinematographer, Buzz Feitshans IV. Contrast is a tad weaker than anticipated in 1080p, with blacks looking more mid to deep grey than black. The DTS 5.1 audio is less than aggressive, everything graded to a mid-register listening experience; including Randy Edelman’s underscore. There are no extras. Bottom line: recommended, but with caveats. Like the movie, this transfer is hardly perfect. Good, but not great. It could have been, though. Regrets and pity that!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS

0

THE APARTMENT: Blu-ray (Mirisch/UA, 1960) Arrow Academy

In accepting the AFI’s Lifetime Tribute in 1986, Billy Wilder jokingly hypothesized, “I’ve watched Tinsel Town vacillate between despair and fear.” However, as the ole-time film-maker continued, it became rather apparent, his was not to entirely reflect upon the past, but encourage the younger generation of aspiring writers/film makers to follow in his footsteps.  He concluded, “First it was ‘sound’ that will kill us, then it was television, then cable, then pornography, then cassettes, and now that dreaded word – microchip. They tell me pretty soon we will not need theaters anymore. They will have invented tiny little screens you can attach to your steering wheel or twenty-foot screens on your bedroom ceiling and then somebody is going to push a button…brilliant – all the hardware is there, beautifully programmed. Bravo…except for one little detail. But what about the software. Who is going to write it, act it, direct it? So, relax fellow picture-makers.  We are not expendable. The fact is, the bigger they get, the more irreplaceable we become! For theirs may be the kingdom…but ours is the power and the glory.”
In a career attesting to much of both the ‘power’ and the ‘glory’, Wilder could likely take comfort that among the trailblazers of Hollywood, his had been one of the most remarkably clairvoyant and clear-eyed voices to have been expressed – always, with insight, often through comedy, but usually with a purpose, illustrating compassion for the human spirit. Even Gloria Swanson’s faded screen-queen gargoyle, Norma Desmond in Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) is not without her moment of tragic redemption at the very end, having lost all touch with reality and destined to be ensconced for all-time in a trap of her own design. While Wilder’s early tenure in Hollywood revealed a good deal of cynicism, arguably a holdover from his being forced to flee Nazi occupation at the start of WWII, his later segue into satire revealed an uncanny verve for astute summarizations about his fellow man (and woman) without attaching any sort of a judgment call.
Just the highlights from his Hollywood tenure reads like an enviable ‘best of’ compilation of golden oldies: Ninotchka (1939), Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Witness for the Prosecution, Love in the Afternoon (both in 1957), Some Like It Hot (1959) and, incontestably, The Apartment (1960), for which Wilder won three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay – co-written with his long-time writing partner, I.A.L. Diamond). Wilder’s legendary and acerbic wit cuts both ways in The Apartment, not the least for his daring decision of Fred MacMurray to play the womanizing heavy; MacMurray’s career built upon variations on a prototype of the decent, thoughtful family man.  To be sure, MacMurray had played devious before too; most notably in Double Indemnity and later, in The Caine Mutiny (1954). Yet, in both his characters are really good guys, whose only fallibility is to be too weak, too trusting and too desperate for their own good. The vices of undiluted avarice and desire are foisted upon MacMurray’s Teflon-coated persona herein. In The Apartment, MacMurray’s Jeff D. Sheldrake is uncompromisingly the menace - cruelly manipulative and unfeeling to a fault.
As counterpoint, we get Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter – nicknamed ‘Bud’; the minion with blind-sided aspirations of garnering his own key to the executive washroom. Baxter’s not a bad egg. He is, however, a thoroughly misguided one; unsure of himself, but willing to risk his goodness on a barter system for a cushier position within his firm, not based on merit, and, the possible perks accrued from lending out his apartment to executives dilly-dallying with various tarts and social-climbing secretaries. Wilder casts Lemmon to type – the sheepish, basically moral fellow who comes to recognize he is not cut out for this shark-infested panacea of opportunity. It all makes perfect sense too; because Sheldrake does not want Baxter for his mind – even his skill; just his apartment, to be used for a little one-on-one with elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).
We give Wilder top marks here for casting MacLaine, as with MacMurray, against type. She hadn’t been in pictures all that long then; but in the relatively brief period was already billed as a sort of no-nonsense gal of spurious reputation. Herein, MacLaine lends Fran Kubelik the trappings of the sad-eyed hopeful (if not innocent), emotionally bruised in her love affair with Sheldrake. For Fran, the affair is genuine. And MacLaine offers us a rare unapologetic insight into precisely the sort of young woman who would willfully deign to fall in love knowingly, patiently, tragically with a married man. Again, Wilder makes no judgement call here. Fran is neither the wanton nor the doe-eyed ingenue. She is her own woman – confused, careworn, yet ever kind-hearted and optimistic. It’s rather obvious, almost from the moment Baxter steps into her elevator for a little light conversation on his way to work, that Fran and Bud are a match. Clearly, Wilder lets us see it. Then, ingeniously, he pulls the rug out from under his audience and Baxter. Do we hate Fran for this deception? No. Do we feel for Bud as he figures out for himself that his boss, the man he has mistakenly looked up to, and the girl he has grown to fancy are the ‘couple du jour’ the whole office has been buzzing about for some time without mentioning names? Absolutely!
The Apartment is almost subversively light in its comedy; Wilder, on the cusp of delivering a very big message besides. Reportedly, the idea for the film first came to Wilder after seeing David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945), a tale of chance-met lovers sacrificing their own happiness for the good of their respective families. Wilder wondered, what if the married man wasn’t noble, but a total cad with no intention of doing right by either his wife or the girl he had seduced? The result: The Apartment – a tale so frankly laden with illicit backroom badinage and backseat bingo it must have sent shock waves through a good deal of America’s office establishments; executives’ wives, left to wonder what was really going on at all those ‘late night meetings’ and day-long office ‘Christmas parties’. Perhaps even the most loyal were apt to dip their toes (and a lot more) in the steno pool. 
The gestation period for The Apartment proved lengthy, perhaps because Wilder knew the story he really wanted to tell could not be revealed under the stringency of the Production Code of censorship. Throughout the 1950’s Wilder toyed with numerous ideas for a screenplay with longtime collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond. But by 1960, film censorship - and indeed the studio system that had helped foster and preserve it for so many years - was in a state of decline: not so good for Hollywood in general, but very, very good for Wilder and The Apartment. According to Shirley MacLaine, the script was tweaked as filming progressed. However, Wilder has gone on record he only gave his actors several pages at a time because he did not want them to know the ending of his story in advance. In MacLaine's case, this uncertainty definitely added something to her performance; a sort of skittish effervescence to balance the world-weary woman of the world. And MacLaine proved – as though proof were required – she could give meaning and depth to an archetype that until this movie had been oft’ misrepresented as manipulative, misguided or simply playing to the cardboard cutout edicts of the proverbial shrew, albeit – with a heart of gold.
The Apartment charts the rise and inevitable fall of aspiring corporate stooge, C.C. ‘Bud’ Baxter, a bean counter toiling under the rigors of underpaid rank boredom at Consolidated Insurance Inc.; inevitably, to succumb to the allure of various vices and pitfalls in order to climb the corporate ladder. Baxter has his eye on a key to the executive washroom. But he is in a dead-end job – just another cog in a very big wheel. Baxter is so desperate for a chance to elevate himself at work, he sucks up to his boss, Mr. Vanderhoff (Willard Waterman). When the latter decides he needs a quiet little place to take his secretary for a little extramarital fun, Baxter loans him the key to his apartment for the evening – assuming the favor will be returned in kind with a leg up at work.
Instead, Vanderhoff lets it be known around the office Baxter’s apartment can be used by other execs for their private affairs. Soon, Joe Dobisch (Ray Walston) and Mr. Eichelberger (David White) take Baxter up on the offer. In no time Bud’s flat has gone from a lonely bachelor pad to a sort of portable house of ill-repute for wayward ad men who want more than dictation from their secretaries. Spending more than one night out in the freezing cold or soaking himself inside a local bar while his corporate ‘betters’ indulge themselves at his place is not exactly what Baxter had in mind. But what can he do now? Reneging on the deal would definitely put a crimp in everyone’s plans, creating trickle down resentment to relegate Baxter to the very back of the line for a possible promotion. If it seems Bud’s life is going nowhere – it is. But things begin to look up after he becomes romantically drawn to pixie-ish elevator operator, Fran Kubelik. Baxter senses Fran shares his flirtatious enthusiasm.
Having heard about Baxter’s ‘hospitality’, Sheldrake borrows the apartment. Naively, and still quite unaware Fran is the object of his boss’ desire, Bud loans out the keys yet again. Several weeks later, at the company's raucous Christmas party, Sheldrake's inebriated and fairly bitter secretary, Miss Olsen (Edie Adams), reveals to Fran she is but the latest in a long line of female employees Sheldrake has seduced. Miss Olsen counts herself among these discards. It isn’t love. Just sex. Sheldrake is merely dangling the carrot of divorcing his wife as collateral to get what he wants.  Armed with this knowledge, Fran confronts Sheldrake at Bud’s apartment. Alas, she is more disgusted and ashamed of herself for having believed his lies.  Meanwhile, and quite by accident, Bud learns the truth about Sheldrake and Fran. Disgusted by his participation, Bud cuts off access to the apartment for everyone; the sudden loss of their free rendezvous, ticking off Messer’s Vanderhoff, Dobisch and Eichelburger.
Heartbroken, Bud allows himself to be picked up by a floozy, Margie McDougall (Hope Holiday) at a local watering hole. She’s just the sort to titillate an exec. And while Bud has made minor strides climbing the corporate ladder, right now all he really wants to do is get drunk and behave badly. However, when Bud returns to his apartment hours later, he is shocked to discover an unconscious Fran lying in his bed. Surmising she has taken a near-lethal dose of barbiturates in a suicide attempt, Bud expediently enlists his neighbor, Dr. Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) to save Fran’s life. Very reluctantly, Dreyfuss agrees to keep the incident from the authorities. However, presuming that the noises he has been hearing coming from Bud’s apartment, as well as the various women witnessed coming and going at all hours of the night, are all for Bud, the good doctor cautions Bud on the ills of remaining a playboy.
Bud goes along with Dreyfuss’ belief - that he and Fran were lovers who fought and thus, she attempted to kill herself because of him. After all, it simplifies what has really been going on. For the next two days, Fran quietly recuperates in Bud’s apartment while he makes every valiant and sincere attempt to distract her from any further suicidal thoughts. Alas, Fran’s sudden disappearance has caused her brother-in-law, Karl Matuschka (Johnny Seven) to assume the worst. As Dobisch, Eichelburger and Vanderhoff are still miffed at having been denied access to the apartment, and, connecting the dots – that Bud’s absence coupled with Fran’s vanishing act likely means she is Bud’s new play thing – the men goad Matuschka into taking the appropriate action to spare his sister-in-law’s honor. Confronted by Matuschka at his apartment door, Bud claims full responsibility for Fran and is assaulted for his chivalry. Fran is grateful, however, and kisses Bud for not revealing the affair with Sheldrake.
Back at the office, Sheldrake rewards Bud with a promotion; having mistaken he has joined the first line of defense in their ‘ole boy’s club’. Sheldrake promptly discharges Miss Olsen for revealing to Fran the particulars of his notorious womanizing. With nothing left to lose, Miss Olsen retaliates by telling her story to Sheldrake's wife, who promptly throws him out. Believing he can string Fran along indefinitely, even as he enjoys his newfound bachelorhood, Sheldrake is bewildered when his request for a key to Baxter’s apartment for New Year’s Eve is denied. Instead, Bud quits the firm.  Meeting Fran at their favorite restaurant, Sheldrake reiterates how Bud refused to let him have the apartment.  Realizing Bud truly loves her, Fran waits until the lights have been dimmed in anticipation of the New Year’s Eve countdown; then, she disappears, turning up at Bud’s apartment. Mistaking the pop of a champagne cork for a gunshot, Fran momentarily believes Bud has attempted suicide. Instead, she finds him bewildered and still clutching the overflowing bottle of booze. Relieved, Fran pulls out a deck of playing cards for a game of gin rummy. During her recuperation, Bud encouraged her to play and it proved quite therapeutic to her emotional recovery. Now, Bud simply gazes at the woman he adores, confessing his love as she reciprocates with a tender reply, “Shut up, and deal.”
The Apartment is often misinterpreted as Wilder’s socialistic critique and/or a snubbing of the corporate world. Clearly, Wilder believes in the corrupt nature of corporate America. But never does he equate capitalism with the insidious underbelly of what is essentially a moral debate about men behaving badly. The crux of Wilder’s critique does not confirm the tired adage, “money is the root of all evil”, but rather illustrates how perceptions are altered by an appeal to basic human greed – corporate or otherwise. Jack Lemmon’s idea man is far less heroic than enterprising. And yet, he manages to find his own moral compass in a decidedly amoral conclave of ‘mad men’.  And Lemmon gives us his ‘everyman’ as both imperfect and fueled, if not dictated, by his feelings of inadequacy and bottled up sexual frustrations; the proverbial ‘good guy’ is search of Miss Right; having discovered her only moments before the final fade out.  Thanks to a triumvirate of stellar performances from Lemmon, MacMurray and MacLaine, The Apartment endures. It is a masterpiece, one to have broken new ground in the movies’ code of censorship then. True to Wilder's heart and his witty cynicism about the uncertainties of life in general, Fran and Baxter eventually work through their auspicious relationship with a deck of cards – a game of chance. Yet, it is their proximity to failure, or rather near missed opportunities, that continues to ring truer for all those daydreamers still stuck in the steno pool.
Before I get to my review of The Apartment from Arrow Academy I am on record here: this one has been a real ‘pain in the ass’ to acquire; not the least for Amazon.com’s unceremoniously cancelling my pre-order from October 2017 without my consent, then trying to find a third-party seller who was not price gouging upwards of $80 to $100, then, attempting a Euro-import from the U.K. (because both discs are ‘region free’ only to be confirmed, then denied this shipment too on the grounds these sellers do not ‘ship to your region’) and finally, using a bit of backdoor influence to expedite a copy that someone at Arrow first claimed, in an email reply to my query, was no longer in print. Hmmmm. Advice to Arrow: get your distribution affairs in order before you start advertising such ‘Limited Editions’. In this case, very ‘limited’ indeed. You did this collector, and countless others like him, NO favors when you dropped the proverbial ball on this one!  
Okay, breathe. MGM/Fox Home Video’s release of The Apartment on Blu-ray is now six years old.  Even when it was ‘new’ it didn’t look it; the image then, dark, thick and, at times, very dull and blurry.  Now, for the very good news, The Apartment has been given a ground-up exclusive restoration from Arrow Academy, going back to original 35mm camera negatives with a fresh 4K scan. Inexplicably, Arrow immediately discovered several sections in the original negative replaced with dup-negatives, resulting in a noticeable shift in quality. As these trims were likely discarded long ago, Arrow resorted to using 35mm fine grain positives, the best possible surviving source to reassemble the picture in its entirety. Along the way, these elements were also given the traditional digital clean-up to eradicate dirt, debris and scratches with image stabilization also applied for good measure. Finally, Arrow elected to restore both the original mono mix and preserve the 5.1 DTS remaster created by MGM/Fox six years earlier.
In a nutshell, The Apartment from Arrow has never looked better. Gone is the thick, murky darkness of MGM/Fox’s print elements, replaced by a razor-crisp, brighter image that reveals far more clarity, fine details and overall tonality in the gray scale, surely to please any videophile. Worth noting; the dupe elements falter briefly during the sequence were Bud is forced to spend the night on a chilly park bench, also, the sequence where he brings Margie McDougall home. Herein, the image suddenly appears slightly less refined with a minor amplification of grain. It’s a minor quibbling on an otherwise very organic 1080p transfer.  Arrow’s Herculean efforts have paid off rather handsomely. You won’t be disappointed. Ditto for the extras: Arrow has gained the rights to MGM/Fox’s archival documentary, Inside The Apartment – a joyous reminiscence featuring many contributing voices, including Shirley MacLaine and the late Robert Osborne. We also get, Chris Lemmon’s tender tribute to his father: Magic Time – The Art of Jack Lemmon. Regrettably, MGM/Fox never had the foresight to preserve such history in anything better than 480i. Totaling almost 50 min. the quality of these featurettes is, frankly deplorable!
Better news comes from Arrow’s exclusively produced featurettes, starting with The Key to The Apartment, barely 10 min. with critic Philip Kemp who nevertheless manages to make the most of his brief intro, further to be fleshed out in a commentary track that accompanies the movie. Better still is The Flawed Couple: a nearly half-hour long video essay by David Cairns examining the alliance between Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon. There’s also A Letter to Castro: 13 min. 2017 interview with actress, Hope Holiday, and, An Informal Conversation with Billy Wilder; a little over 20 min. of archival commentary from the master himself.  Finally, we get Arrow’s restoration show reel, used to market this upcoming release. Virtually all of Arrow’s extras, with the exception of Wilder’s interview, are in 1080p (the only surviving source for Wilder’s interview, in 1080i – still, highly watchable). Bottom line: Arrow Academy’s SE of The Apartment is a ‘must have’ for any film collector. It is light years ahead of MGM/Fox’s tired old Blu-ray release. There is no comparison in quality unless you are into comparing apples to giraffes. Very highly recommended…if you can get your hands on it!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+
VIDEO/AUDIO
5+
EXTRAS

5+