Monday, February 25, 2008

AWAY FROM HER (The Film Farm/Foundry Films) Mongrel Media

Based on a short story by famed Canadian author Alice Monroe, director Sarah Polley’s Away From Her (2007) is a bittersweet portrait of self-sacrificing in the face of great personal tragedy. Few movies in recent years have chosen to explore the reality of life altering illness with such focus on impact and aftermath.

The film stars legendary actress Julie Christie as Fiona Anderson, a woman plagued by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. We first meet Fiona at the beginning of her struggle to maintain clarity within the glimmering twilight of her fading self.

Living in rural elegance with her devoted husband, Grant (Gordon Pinsent), Fiona misplaces regular household items, forgets how to read common labels and gets lost while cross country skiing outside their home. To be certain, there are moments of clarity, but the frequency and clairvoyance in these moments is becoming fewer and far between. Recognizing that life as she has come to treasure it with her husband is fast approaching an end neither wants to face, Fiona convinces Grant to have her committed to a nearby care facility.

The very thought is repugnant to Grant. His concerns are not quelled with a tour of the facility either. It appears quite foreign and remote to him. Staff administrator, Madeleine Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) takes a rather nonchalant and factual approach to both the patients and the care they receive. One of the nurses, Betty (Grace Lynn Kung) advises Grant that he would do better to simply accept Fiona’s mental deterioration and move on. However, Betty also forces Grant to come to terms with his extramarital affairs.

Reluctantly, but with Fiona’s insistence, Grant leaves his wife in professional care with the understanding that he will not visit her for the first thirty days. However, when he finally returns to the facility for a visit, Grant quickly discovers that Fiona’s condition has worsened to the extent where she does not even recognize him as her husband. Worse, Grant is stirred to quiet jealousy when Fiona begins to bond with another patient, Aubrey (Michael Murphy).

Sensing this innocent – though nevertheless romantic - attachment Aubrey’s wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis) returns her husband to her own care, sending Fiona’s already fragile emotional state into a tailspin. His compassion restored, Grant approaches Marian with the possibility of reinstating Aubrey to professional care. An unlikely and flawed romance between Grant and Marian follows.

Director Polley, who also wrote the adapted screenplay, has made the most out of author Monroe’s brief tale of gloomy isolation. The story opens on a decidedly relaxed and sustained cadence that gradually slows to an almost complete halt as Fiona’s condition worsens. Christie is in top form, capturing the fragile complexities of the illness without overplaying her hand. Pinsent is remarkable in the role of the husband, conveying so much with sparse dialogue and a dwindling twinkle of reminiscence for the better times made heart-breaking and unfortunate through his sad old eyes.

Mongrel Media’s anamorphic DVD delivers a beautifully sharp and solid visual presentation. Colors are fully saturated. Fine details are evident throughout. Contrast levels are nicely realized with deep velvety blacks and crisp whites. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers a very sublime sonic spread. This is primarily a dialogue driven story and voices always sound natural. Away from Her is available in both a bare bones movie only disc with audio commentary and a special collector’s 2-disc. Only the former was screened for this review. Highly recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
1

Sunday, February 24, 2008

MICHAEL CLAYTON (Warner Bros. 2007) Warner Home Video

Difficult to assess what Academy voters were thinking when they Oscar-nominated Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton (2007) as Best Picture. A more pedestrian would-be thriller without so much as an ounce of originality has not been made by Hollywood in some time. The film, a run-of-the-mill 'corrupt corporation vs. the law' melodrama, stars George Clooney as the infamous title character; a self professed legal ‘janitor’ who is assigned to clean up bureaucratic messes as they occur.

Relegated as a legal hack, Michael’s personal life is also something of a mess. Divorced with a son and bankrupted by a failed attempt at a bar and restaurant venture, Michael’s running on empty. His one redemptive quality is that he is an honest man who truly believes in his friend, Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson).

That friendship is put to the test after Arthur suddenly has a mental breakdown in the middle of contract negotiations on a fifteen year lawsuit with 450 litigants. Arthur begins spouting diatribes and platitudes during a deposition, then gets naked, then follows the plaintiffs and their attorney into the parking lot. Thankfully, we only get to see Wilkinson’s top half sans shirt. Not to sound petty, but the actor’s talents lay elsewhere.

Michael’s boss, Marty Bach (Sydney Pollack) attempts to do damage control after the incident by sending Michael to straighten out the wrinkles with barracuda lawyer, Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton). Unimpressed by Michael’s glib moral attitude toward the whole debacle, Karen decides to take matters into her own hands. She hires a pair of high priced techno-thugs, Mr. Verne (Robert Prescott) and Mr. Iker (Terry Serpico) to do a frame-up suicide/murder after Arthur informs everyone by phone that he has secret access to an action memorandum from their client that clearly reveals the corporation had implicit knowledge that their ‘undisclosed farm product’ possessed all the harmful fallout of a known carcinogen.

The story is told in flashback with a foiled car bomb attempt on Michael’s life leading to a series of regressive memories that trigger the rest of the narrative to unravel. Working from his own script, director Gilroy makes the least out of suspense-less elements. Evidently attempting to pull a Pulp Fiction of sorts, the first fifteen minutes of his film are a series of confusing snippets taken out of context from the rest of the story. The audience only gains insight into their relevancy during the last fifteen of the film’s running time.

Aside: Part of the thrill in any thriller is usually to keep the audience at least one jump ahead of the central characters in the story – thus, ensuring that nail-biting ‘don’t go in there’ quality that has everyone on the edge of their seats. Michael Clayton is void of such tension. As example; Arthur’s murder occurs quite suddenly and out of no where without any build up or even purpose. After all, why kill him when the whole world thinks he’s nuttier than a fruitcake?

Quite inexplicably, the center of Gilroy’s narrative regresses into an exculpatory and pointless glimpse into Michael’s extended family, and, the very brief reveal of a girl (Katherine Waterston) who was to have been Arthur’s star witness before he met with an untimely end. The girl contains no shocking evidence to pass along, although her very appearance seems enough to get Michael thinking about his friend’s staged death.

Clooney is as Clooney does; never quite assimilating into any role he’s ever played but rather adding himself to the repertory company as a stock character. Ditto for Pollack, whose forte is clearly directing – not acting! Wilkinson steals ever scene he’s in, though as an actor this isn’t his finest hour. Swinton has precious little to do but look emotionally disheveled and gawky. She does both rather nicely.

In the final analysis, Michael Clayton is as dull an entertainment as it is unworthy of its Best Picture nomination. True, 2007 was hardly a year populated by inspired cinema – but on the whole there is nothing extraordinary about this film. Period!

Warner Home Video’s anamorphic widescreen DVD (there is also a full frame edition) delivers a sharp and nicely contrasted image in keeping with the highly stylized low lighting of the original theatrical exhibition. Flesh tones appear just a tad too pink for this reviewer’s liking. The theatrical experience had more desaturation with flesh appearing a ghostly dull mauve-ish blue. Fine details are evident even during the darkest scenes. There is however more than a hint of edge enhancement during several scenes.

The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and quite potent, with a very subtle spread. This is essentially a dialogue driven movie. Apart from the car bomb explosion, there is precious little to exercise one’s surround sound to its fullest potential. Extras are limited to four individual audio commentary tracks – at least two saying pretty much the same thing. After enduring a litany of previews we don’t even get the original theatrical trailer for our feature presentation as a supplement. Ho-hum.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
1

Friday, February 22, 2008

THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (Walter Wanger 1940) Warner Home Video

Based on Eugene O’Neill’s stage play, John Ford’s The Long Voyage Home (1940) is a sentimental yet robust send up to the harrowing, isolated and often lonely lives of men in peril on the sea. Scripted by long time collaborator Dudley Nichols, the film is both an evocative and colorful celebration of that rogue’s existence and a vivid condemnation of the cruel circumstances that render men as homeless nomads. Nichols updates the material ever so slightly for the more immediate tone of WWII – adding several well paced scenes of conflict into what is essential an introspective melodrama with real heart and tough guts.

Ford stocks his fictional vessel, the freighter S.S. Glencairn, with a stellar roster of some of Hollywood’s finest character actors; including Thomas Mitchell as the fiery Aloysius Driscoll, Ward Bond (Yank), Barry Fitzgerald (gregarious Cocky), Ian Hunter (aloof, Smitty) and Arthur Shields (Donkeyman). As his star, Ford alumni John Wayne headlines as newbie, Ole Olson in an understated performance.
Meticulously crafted with evocative deep focus camera work by cinematographer Gregg Toland, the stark gutsy beauty of the open water takes center stage.

The tale opens with the Glencairn, helmed by its benevolent captain (Wilfred Lawson). The ship is docked off the coast of a tropical island where native women sell themselves in trade for a bit of sailor’s pay. Driscoll smuggles a small armada of babes and booze aboard. But the night’s festivities turn into a brawl and the Captain ejects his visitors without remuneration.


At port, the Glencairn is loaded down with dynamite en route to England to help with the war effort. On its second night out to sea, a terrible storm threatens to tousle the entire shipment overboard. Yank does his best to protect the cargo, is swamped by mammoth swells and suffers a punctured lung; dying the next evening.

Later, Driscoll and another crew member, Axel (John Quelan) – through unfounded principles of misguided deduction - begin to suspect Smitty as a Nazi spy. Brought to heel at the will of the crew, Driscoll discovers love letters written to Smitty (whose actual name is Thomas Fenwick) by his wife, Elizabeth (Mary Carewe). The ship is attacked by Nazi bombers off the coast of England and Smitty is riddled in a hailstorm of bullets. His body is returned to Elizabeth once the ship docks at port.

On land, Axel is determined to see that Ole goes home to his aged mother back in Sweden. To this end, the men chip in and buy Ole his passage on a steamer. However, the group is thwarted in their attempt to see Ole off by Limehouse Crimp, Nick (J.M Kerrigan) who leads everyone into a night of drunken revelry inside a pub/brothel. Bar wench, Freda (Mildred Natwick) baits the naïve Ole with small talk while his drink is drugged and, after he is unconscious, two thugs from the Amera, a rival freighter come to carry him off to their ship as slave labor.

In the nick of time, Driscoll smells a rat and saves the day but not before he is knocked unconscious by one of the crew members and taken below as Ole’s replacement. The Amera sails off into the night with Driscoll on board. Ole is packed off to Sweden and the remaining crew – having squandered their hard earnings on women and drink - returns to the Glencairn the following day for their next voyage where they discover that the Amera has been sunk by German torpedoes.

Richard Hageman’s poignant score has just the right touch of syrup to offset and augments Toland’s starkly haunted images. Ford’s direction – arguably always on point – is particularly masterful on this outing. Mildly criticized as being ‘stage bound,’ the film scores big in delivering genuine weight to each of its characterizations. True, Wayne’s performance is perhaps the weakest in the bunch – but Ford surrounds his young star with such a rich tapestry of immediately identifiable old hams that its easy to forget his shortcomings and bask in the culmination of the exercise; all the more heartrending and real.

Warner Home Video delivers an average DVD presentation. Though the B&W image can be nicely contrasted with a refined gray scale, at times the image seems a bit thick – with a sudden loss of fine detail and more than a hint of grain that is distracting from the stark beauty of Toland’s cinematography. On the whole, the image will not disappoint, but it is hardly as pristine as one might have hoped for. The audio is mono and adequately represented. Extras are limited to a theatrical trailer and a rather engaging short featurette on Ford and his fascination with the sea. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
1

Friday, February 15, 2008

BECOMING JANE (Miramax 2007) Alliance Home Entertainment

Falling somewhere between a quaint pastoral comedy of manners and legitimate bio-pic, Julian Jarrold’s Becoming Jane (2007) – the supposed ‘true to life story’ of famous English author, Jane Austen has its work cut out, if for no other reason than much of Austen’s brief life remains an enigma. The real Austen was born in Steventon Hampshire and was one of eight children. By age 16, she had already produced her first literary work, History of England and was on her first draft of the novel that would eventually become Pride and Prejudice (published in 1813).

In 1802, Austen declined the only marriage proposal she would receive; from family friend Harris Bigg-Wither. Austen would thereafter remain in the company of her sister Cassandra until her own untimely death at the age of 41 from Addison’s disease. Although Austen produced 6 literary masterworks in her lifetime she was to enjoy only the fruits of her labors on the first four; Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were posthumously published. A final and unfinished novel, Sandition exists only in fragmented form. It has been suggested by literary critics that in its complexity and wit, Sandition is a work on par – if not, in fact exceeding – the prowess of Austen’s other novels. In a nutshell, that is the life of Jane Austen.

Julian Jarrold’s film is something entirely different; largely eschewing the exploration of Austen as author – ergo, her creative toil and personal sacrifice and suffrage for her art. Instead, the screenplay by Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams favors a largely fictional love story between pert pragmatist, Austen (Ann Hathaway) and aspiring attorney Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) whose drunken revelry is the cause of much consternation from his uncle, Judge Langlois (Ian Richardson). Exiled to the country by Langlois, Lefroy meets Austen at a social gathering in the country. He is boorish and easily bored by her. She is discontented with his snap analysis of a public reading she has just given in honor of her sister Cassandra’s pending marriage.

As is the case with most clichéd film couples who take an instant dislike to one another, Jane and Tom’s fiery mutual contempt is eventually distilled into the great romance of their lives. Jane’s father, Rev Austen (James Cromwell) encourages the match. He is of the notion that, in matters of love, everyone should follow their own hearts. Jane’s mother (Julie Walters) however, emphatically does not favor Tom; she having orchestrated a forced ‘love match’ between Mr. Wisley (Lawrence Fox), the amiable – if not terribly outspoken – nephew of grand dame, Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) and Jane. Prodded by his aunt, Wisley proposes marriage to Jane. He is humbly denied.

Tom and Jane journey to London to meet Tom’s uncle and secure his blessing for their marriage. However, the meeting is an utter catastrophe with Langlois threatening to deny his nephew his considerable fortune. Tom next plans to run off with Jane – an elopement that would ruin them both socially and financially. Instead, Jane recognizes the futility in their escaping the convention of their times - a disease of the age as well as of the mind. After a bittersweet parting, the film fast tracks to some undisclosed later date with Jane and Tom accidentally meeting in a concert hall. Neither looks all that much older, though they are clearly denoted as more mature adults by the introduction of Tom’s grown daughter, Jane (Sophie Vavassuer) whom Austen takes into her confidence for a final public reading.

As pure fiction, the story isn’t lacking. But it rarely sparks the sort of inspired romance one generally associates with like-minded fare such as Sense and Sensibility (1995) or Emma (1996). The screenplay rather awkwardly develops a strained romance between its two ill-fated protagonists but relies much too heavily on the scenic backdrop and English settings to procure and sustain our interest. There is, as example, no time allotted for the arch of the romance between Jane and Tom. They appear as adversaries in one scene and locked in a passionate embrace in the next; the latter beautifully photographed in a moonlit garden.

To be certain, Eigil Bryld’s cinematography is lush and lovely, extolling the gorgeous textures of the English countryside. But his close-ups on actors leaves something to be desired. The entire cast; certainly Hathaway and most particularly, McAvoy appear quite sickly – pasty flesh and unflattering shadows exaggerating facial lines and bags under their eyes and around their cheeks.

As photographed, there is no bloom of youth to contrast with the aforementioned later scenes where age and time have withered such physical robustness to mere memory. While this sort of ‘naturalist’ approach might be in keeping with the times (certainly the 1800s knew nothing of key lighting and spectral highlights) it is out of touch with audience’s expectations for romantic melodrama between two impossibly beautiful human beings.

If, as the movie’s publicity suggest “Jane Austen’s most extraordinary romance was her own life” than in the final analysis Becoming Jane is not Jane Austen’s life, but a rather sloppy remix of her own historical truth and snippets of social complexities derived from Austen’s novels. While many of the film’s scenes provide for a stunningly beautiful backdrop, the overall arch of its foreground narrative is static, not satisfying – less of a good time than a postcard of a life not even Austen would recognize or be willing to embrace as her own.

Alliance Home Entertainment delivers a beautifully rendered, near reference quality anamorphic DVD, capturing all of the essential beauty from the original theatrical experience. Colors, particularly greens found in foliage and the blue of the ocean are vibrantly depicted. Flesh tones are accurately a pasty pink as in the original release. Contrast levels are bang on with very deep solid blacks and pristine whites. Fine detail is evident even during the darkest scenes. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and delivers a very pronounced and special sonic experience. Extras include two brief featurettes, several deleted scenes and an informative audio commentary from the director and his writers.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3

Friday, February 8, 2008

EL CID (Samuel Bronston 1961) The Weinstein Company


With its impressive scope, mammouth production values, incredible assemblage of extras and magnificent orchestral score by Miklos Rosza, Anthony Mann’s El Cid (1961) is one of the finest screen achievements ever realized; the rich amalgam of blended talents in front of and behind the camera that sadly, are as much of that bygone era in film-making as the fabled fortress walls of Moorish Spain. In size and spectacle, this is an epic that easily puts most others to shame.

There was little in producer Samuel Bronston’s past to suggest he would become the purveyor of such spectacular entertainment. Part loveable con artist/part beguiling showman, Bronston’s great gift to the entertainment world lay in the art of his persuasion. With financial investment from the DuPont Corporation and the full cooperation of the Spanish government (unprecedented access to its legion or extras and army reserves), Bronston’s movie empire achieved a level of independence and sophistication that must have generated sizable envy even from MGM.

The original idea for the film came from Bronston who, after two prior successes shot in Spain, felt the time had come to ground one of his projects with a uniquely Spanish story. While Bronston agreed upon the Cid as his topic, reportedly the original script by Frederic M. Frank was so bad that Sophia Loren refused to accept the assignment.

Asked to revise, writers Ben Barzman and Philip Yordan instead began anew and from scratch a scant four days before principle photography was set to commence. Whether the stress of this insurmountable deadline had anything to do with the brilliance of their final draft is difficult to say. As the pair wrote in a frenzy, a private messenger was delivering script pages daily to the set.

The story of Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar – a.k.a. El Cid - had already been immortalized by French playwright, Pierre Comeille. In truth, Barzman and Yordan pilfered their entire first act for the film from Comeille. However, whereas the rest of Comeille’s work is prone to fanciful speculation, the final script is more faithful to the chronology of actual events.

Rodrigo (Charlton Heston) is a Castilian nobleman in the military service of King Ferdinand (Ralph Truman). After his political conquest of Valencia, Roderigo is deified by the people as a god-like warrior. But his victory is sullied when Ferdinand dies and one of his heirs, Prince Sancho (Gary Raymond) is murdered by accomplices loyal to his scheming sister, Princess Urraca (Genevieve Page). The surviving heir, Prince Alfonso (John Fraser) publicly releases Rodrigo of any wrong doing. However, Count Gormaz (Andrew Cruickshank) defiles Rodrigo’s reputation with a charge of high treason.

Rodrigo’s undoing materializes in the form of a woman, the sultry Lady Jimena Chimene (Sophia Loren) who is tormented by conflicting loyalties and her emotions for the Cid after the Cid murders her father - Gormaz in a tragic duel. To avenge Gormaz’s death, Jimena accepts a crude plan of murder/revenge by the enterprising Count Ordonez (Raf Vallone) who rightfully perceives the purity in Rodrigo’s motives as dangerous to his own scheme against the monarchy. In service to the murder plot, Don Martin of Aragon (Christopher Rhodes) challenges Rodrigo to a duel – actually a fixed bout – that fortunately does not end in Don’s favor.

Meanwhile, another of Urraca’s assassins, Dolfos (Fausto Tozzi) goes about the business of dismantling Rodrigo’s loyalty to Prince Alfonso. After refusing to swear an oath of loyalty to the crown unless Alfonso publicly declares that he had no part in his brother’s death, Rodrigo is exiled from the kingdom. Humiliated, though not defeated, Rodrigo becomes a mercenary for other rulers around the world of both the Christian and Muslim faiths. He is successful beyond all ambition and is given the title ‘El Cid’ (loosely translated to ‘lord’). Jimena, realizing the error of her ways, reverts to her true love for Rodrigo and joins him in exile.

The climax of the film is bizarre yet fitting. Declaring war against Alfonso, Rodrigo is mortally wounded in battle but orders his guards to conceal the severity of his condition from all except his immediate council. They prepare for the siege on Valencia the following day. However, that night with Jimena at his side Rodrigo expires. His body is bolted into his armor and strapped onto his saddle the next morning; his corpse leading the valiant charge against the Moors with an ever-loyal following of armed forces riding proudly at his side.


Reportedly, Heston and Loren did not get on during the shoot. Known for being particularly rough on his leading ladies, Heston’s immediate displeasure with his co-star is rumored to have stemmed from a costume change that made Loren late to the set on the first day. It is also speculated that Loren’s formidable $1 million dollar salary – that dwarfed Heston’s payment for the film – also became a bone of contention between the two as filming progressed. Whatever the reasons, the tension behind the scenes added depth and spark to the tragic romantic sparring on film.

Over the years, due in large part to revolving rights issues, this Bronston classic – along with his three others (55 Days In Peking 1963, The Fall of the Roman Empire 1964, Circus World 1964) has remained largely hidden from public view. It is such a blessing for film lovers everywhere to have this engrossing masterwork has at long last make its debut on DVD.

The first release from The Miriam Collection; El Cid sparkles majestically in its anamorphic widescreen splendor. Colors are slightly dated, but for the most part spectacularly realized. The image overall is bright and crisp with a slight smattering of film grain. Edge effects are rare but present. Contrast levels have been superbly rendered. Flesh tones are more naturally realized than ever before. A stunning amount of fine detail is visible for a thoroughly satisfying image. The audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. Though dialogue sounds slightly strident, the formidable orchestral score by Miklos Rosza has been regally reproduced.

It is rare that a DVD’s extra features equal the filmic content. El Cid’s extras are an exception to the rule. A thoroughly engrossing audio commentary is just the beginning. On disc 2 we get a poignant 50 min. biography on producer Samuel Bronston, an equally moving 35 min. biography on Miklos Rosza, an 18 tribute to director Anthony Mann and a rather convoluted and confusing 7½ minute featurette on the film’s restoration. There’s also two theatrical trailers for El Cid, another for The Fall of the Roman Empire (presumably the next film to be released to DVD shortly) and two more trailers.

It should be pointed out that regardless of whether you purchase the 2-disc Edition or Limited Collector’s Edition the extra features included on both are identical. The Limited Collector’s Edition adds handsome beige and gold ‘box’ packaging, plus a beautifully reproduced original full color program, five lobby cards and the serialized comic of the film from Dell Publications. Bottom line: El Cid is a filmic experience like no other. In any language it is a masterpiece. This DVD comes highly recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
4.5

Thursday, February 7, 2008

RAIN (United Artists 1932) Alpha Video

In her early career, Joan Crawford relished the opportunity to expand her acting horizons. As a star, she had yet to develop what is now coined ‘her face’: the trademark large lips and descriptive eyes augmented by perfect bone structure. Furthermore, in this formative period Crawford felt that her bosses, L.B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg were not paying enough attention to her career – certainly, not as much as they had on advancing the career of Thalberg’s wife, actress Norma Shearer.

Hence, Crawford openly championed her loan out to United Artists for Rain (1932); a low budget, unrelenting and unglamorous tale of Sadie Thompson – a prostitute. When asked by Mayer why she should desire to play such a bitch, Crawford reportedly replied “I’d play Wally Beery’s mother if the part were right!” Indeed, from the start of her career one aspect about Crawford remained resolute: her striving/driving ambition to be America’s top actress.

Based on W. Somerset Maugham’s steamy novel, the screenplay by Maxwell Anderson retains much of the sultry sin in the original text. The story opens with a group of steamer passengers forced into quarantine at Pago Pago in the Samoans; a tropical oasis that proves more deadly than pleasant. Chronically plagued by intense heat and rain the passengers find themselves in a tropic hell hole with no escape.

With nothing to do but indulge her past time, resident whore Sadie Thompson (Crawford) takes up with various military officers stationed on the island. Sadie’s wild carrying on eventually incurs the wrath of husband and wife missionaries, Reverend Alfred (Walter Huston) and Mrs. Davidson (Beulah Bondi). Alfred in particular is bent on restoring Sadie to the side of virtue.


Eventually, Alfred’s heckling leads to Sadie's outburst of contempt for not only him but the whole human race she regards as spiteful hypocrites. “Suffered?” she declares to Alfred at one point in their confrontation, “How do you know what I’ve suffered? You don’t know and don’t care!”

The one man who eludes Sadie’s labeling as a hypocrite is Sergeant Tim O’Hara (William Gargan); a handsome officer that would also like to see Sadie repent, if only to fall into his loving arms and become his wife.

Gradually, Sadie learns to trust another human being. But then Alfred reveals his true colors; that he has lusted after her from the moment she arrived in town. He further proves his own fallibility by attempting to rape Sadie before committing suicide in a fit of impassioned rage.

Director Lewis Milestone delivers an engrossing hot-blooded melodrama that captivates from start to finish. Crawford does the best work of her early years as the heartless, soul-less vixen eventually stirred to purity by genuine love over lust. Tragically, it was all for not. Rain was an abysmal failure at the box office – perhaps because carnal lust was perceived as taboo and best confined to the bedroom, not the cinema.

The DVD from Alpha Video is appallingly bad; delivering a hazy, non-progressively mastered B&W image that is softly focused. A barrage of age related artefacts plague from the start and are distracting throughout. It appears that the film has been sourced from a second or third generation print. The image is blurry. Grain is heavy. Contrast levels are much too low. The audio is mono and slightly muffled. There are no extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
0

EXTRAS
0

DANCING LADY (MGM 1933) Warner Home Video

Difficult to assess the importance or merit of Robert Z. Leonard’s Dancing Lady (1933), a misguidedly opulent extravaganza that squanders much of MGM’s illustrious talent on a preposterous and predictable ‘shop girl makes good’ story. Based on James Warner Bellah’s novel, the screenplay by Allen Rivkin is threadbare at best. MGM’s throws its most promising talent into the mix. Joan Crawford and Clark Gable headline. She’s Janie Barlow, a no account hoofer at a popular house of Burlesque. He’s Patch Gallagher, a Broadway sensation with director’s nerves over his latest sumptuously mounted stage spectacle.

During a performance at her place of employ Janie is spotted by wealthy playboy, Tod Newton (Franchot Tone). The police raid the Burlesque and Janie is imprisoned. However, she is sprung by Newton who takes a fancy and introduces Janie to the finer things in life; moonlight swims, carousing aboard his fashionable yacht and late night parties at Manhattan’s most swinging night spots. For Tod, the passion play is aimed at a genuine romance. In fact, Tod even tells his grandmother, Dolly (May Robson) that he is going to marry Janie. For Janie however, her sights are set a tad lower.

In fact, after having been introduced to Patch by Tod, Janie’s affections begin to focus on rising through the ranks as a dancer in Patch’s new show. She garners Patch’s respect and then, much later, something more – leaving Tod without love. Eventually, the star of the show bows out, forcing Janie to assume the lead in a convoluted claptrap of musical offerings that round out Dancing Lady on a bizarre eclecticism of oddities.

We have, as example, The Three Stooges (on the cusp of their illustrious tenure with Columbia Studios), as a trio of clueless backstage hands, mugging for the cameras briefly. When asked by Patch to musically accompany Janie during rehearsal, Moe declares, “Oh, boy! Will we? We’re the best in the country!” to which Larry replies, “Ah, but how are you in the city?”

Fred Astaire (on the verge of being united with Ginger Rogers at RKO) appears briefly in musical support with ‘Heigh Ho’ a rather incongruous 'hoofing' number where he and Crawford are whisked from an art deco ballroom aboard a magic carpet to a German beer garden. There, Astaire looks much too uncomfortable in lederhosen and his painted moustache.

Finally, there’s MGM’s resident crooner, Nelson Eddy delivering the curious ‘Rhythm of the Day.’ The number begins in Louie XIV France, migrates to contemporary Manhattan, and concludes aboard an art deco carousel drapped in ‘Busby Berkeley wanna-be’s.

In all, MGM spares nothing in mounting this super-production that sadly debuts as more of a mutt than a masterpiece. Ironically, given that Crawford and Tone were real life husband and wife their on screen chemistry is largely antiseptic. Crawford gets better vibes off her costar, Gable – not so remarkable when one considers the two were having an off camera affair. The rest of the cast is really just a lot of background scenery with little to say or do. Dancing Lady is kitsch and can be fun. But as a whole, it tends to fall short of expectations.

Warner Home Video’s DVD has obviously been the benefactor of some restoration efforts. Though the image continues to suffer occasionally from age related artifacts, dirt and scratches, for the most part it is sharply focused and much cleaned up over previous incarnations on laserdisc and VHS. The grayscale contains some rather impressive tonality, given that the elements are more than 70 years old. The audio is mono but well preserved. Extras are confined to vintage shorts and the film’s original trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
1

SADIE MCKEE (MGM 1934) Warner Home Video

Clarence Brown’s Sadie McKee (1934) is a maudlin, highly predictable and totally improbable mélange of clichés and caricatures extolling the virtues and vices of America's classicist society. The film’s one saving grace is Joan Crawford, cast as the title character – a lowly maid aspiring to be so much more. Alas, Crawford’s performance proves to be everything; a variation on her ‘shop girl makes good’ formula that built the first half of her career – particularly her early tenure at MGM.

The screenplay by John Meehan is elegant tripe at best. Sadie’s mother (Helen Ware) encourages a love match between her daughter and Michael Alderson (Franchot Tone); the young buck of the household Sadie serves. The two share an unrequited affection, but Sadie’s heart is drawn to arrogant man about town, Tommy Wallace (Gene Raymond) instead.

Tommy is a factory worker and thus, more on par with Sadie at least insofar as their social status goes. When Tommy is fired from his job for dishonesty, he runs off to New York with Sadie in tow – the two in search of high adventure.

Misguidedly believing that Tommy will eventually marry her, Sadie’s heart is broken when Tommy takes up with girl of easy virtue, Dolly Merrick (Esther Ralston) instead.
Determined to make a life for herself rather than go sulking home to mama, Sadie embarks upon a career. Her trajectory is anything but smooth or sure-footed. However, after her share of lumps, Sadie ends up singing for her supper at a fashionable night club. There, she meets millionaire Jack Brennan (Edward Arnold); a dark horse lush, more tragic than romantic and quite possessive of Sadie once his obsession with the bottle takes hold.

After numerous thwarted attempts at dragging her to the altar, Jack marries Sadie; she out of pity rather than love, creating a downward spiral into marital chaos. Running true to form for a Crawford flick of this vintage, a reprieve materializes when Michael reenters Sadie’s life. Sadie realizes that she has loved Michael from the start and the two go off – presumably into the sunset of bliss that otherwise would have eluded anyone else who attempted to chart such an implausible course.

Director Brown, usually a master of this sort of subterfuge, delivers a particularly stilted offering this time around. The opening scenes on the Alderson estate ramble aimlessly with too much dialogue and not enough ‘proof’ as it were that Michael and Sadie are actually in love. Hence, Michael’s reappearance near the end of the story seems more contrived and rushed.

Despite the fact that Crawford and Tone were husband and wife, their on screen chemistry is wooden and unconvincing. Still, Crawford makes the most of each scene, her large hard-boiled eyes capturing the pang of longing for a better life, her pouty lips telling their own tale of misery.

Warner Home Video's DVD is generally weak. Age related artefacts are present throughout and, at times, quite distracting. True, the film elements are almost 80 years old, but that’s only more reason for the film to have received a much needed digital restoration. Fine details disappear during darker scenes. The audio is mono but presented at an adequate listening level. Extras include short subjects and a theatrical trailer. This disc is available only as part of Joan Crawford Vol. 2.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
1

STRANGE CARGO (MGM 1940) Warner Home Video

Frank Borzage’s Strange Cargo (1940) is a very strange movie; a sort of jail break romantic melodrama salvaged from complete absurdity by the palpable sparks playing off Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. Indeed, the two were in the middle of a heated romance while the picture was being shot.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Joan had already begun to slip in her box office appeal. Staving off being fired from the studio by renegotiating her contract for less money proved only a temporary reprieve. L.B. Mayer would let Crawford go in 1943.

In Strange Cargo, Crawford is Julie, a café entertainer working her heart out near a French penal colony. She sweats and saves, but Julie’s life is an empty mess of rough neck Johnnies and dirty dishes. Not far off, the prison population sweats their own frustrations out behind closed doors. The inmates consist of ruthless Moll (Albert Dekker), the bizarrely Christ-like Cambreau (Ian Hunter), prerequisite loveable foreigner, Telez (Eduardo Cianelli), scholarly Hessler (Paul Lukas), Dufond (John Arledge), Flaubert (J. Edward Bromberg), oafish M’sieu Pig (Peter Lorre) and roguishly devil-may-care, Verne (Clark Gable).

After Moll instigates a prison break, Verne comes looking for Julie who is more than happy to escape her hum-drum nine to five for an adventurous life on the run. But the excitement quickly turns dark and ugly as one by one the inmates meet with untimely ends. As they die Cambreau administers his own version of solace and last rights – a sort of creepy farewell that suggests more than a hint of prior experience with life after death. Even Moll – the most brooding and heartless of the bunch – is eventually swayed to the divine by Cambreau; but not Verne.

Although Julie tries to persuade Verne of God’s understanding, Verne assuages commitment to anything but his own self preservation. Eventually, the motley crew is picked off to just Cambreau, Verne and Julie. Cambreau tries to convince Verne that the only way he will ever win Julie is to return to prison first and serve out the rest of his term. But Verne may die before he trusts God.

Based on Richard Sale’s novel ‘Not Too Narrow, Not too Deep’, the screenplay by Lawrence Hazard treads rather heavily on the religious aspect. Ian Hunter is poignant as Cambreau. But his performance is one-dimensional, merely serving as the catalyst for Julie and Verne’s ultimate happiness by removing each and every obstacle set in their path.

Given their passionate back story behind the scenes, it's no surprise to find that Gable and Crawford have genuine on screen chemistry – full-blooded animalistic and often raw passion is more like it. Borzage’s direction moves the story along at a breakneck pace so as not to allow us the opportunity to consider the improbabilities in the narrative. In all, Strange Cargo is amusing entertainment – hard-hitting with restrained glamour and a very dark underbelly.

Warner Home Video gives us a very sharp and pleasing B&W image with solid contrast. Age related artefacts are present but do not distract. Fine details are evident even during the darkest scenes. A slight bit of edge enhancement and some minor instances of film grain looking more digital than grain-like make for a less than smooth image overall. The audio is mono but presented at an adequate listening level. Extras include short subjects and a theatrical trailer. This disc is available separately or as part of Joan Crawford Vol. 2. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
1

A WOMAN'S FACE (MGM 1941) Warner Home Video

One of Joan Crawford’s best movies, George Cukor’s A Woman’s Face (1941) is a powerful emotional cocktail. Crawford stars as Anna Holm, a lonely recluse living in Stockholm with a hideous scar on her left cheek. To avenge herself on a world that considers her a freak, Anna headlines a ring of blackmailers from her outpost inside a fashionable country inn nestled in the Black Forest that caters to the idle rich. There, she wages nonstop extortion on her unsuspecting clientele who have past secrets they would like to remain hidden.

At the inn Anna meets Torsten Barring (Conrad Veidt), an ambitious cutthroat masquerading as an aristocrat. Sensing Anna’s desire to be loved, Torsten exploits Anna’s insecurities about her face, breaks down her defenses, then sets about plotting the murder of his nephew, Lars-Erik (Richard Nichols) so that he can gain control of the fortune bequeathed to Lars by his late father, Consul Magnus Barring (Albert Bassermann).

At first, Anna agrees to Torsten’s plan. But then she accidentally meets Dr. Gustav Segert (Melvyn Douglas); a sympathetic plastic surgeon with a simpering wife draped on his shoulder. Gustav convinces Anna that he can reverse the effects of her disfigurement and does just that. Anna is remade into a ravenously beautiful woman – but one whose dark demons continue to possess the inner tabernacle of her mind.

Furthering Torsten’s plan to murder Lars, Anna assumes the post of Lars’ governess, but becomes so attached to the child that she is unable to carry out Torsten’s plan. Instead, in defense of the child, Anna accidentally kills Torsten. Exonerated at trial by the discovery of a letter she wrote much earlier explaining the plot to kill Lars, Anna and Gustav are reunited, he leaving his wife to pursue Anna instead.

Reportedly, director Cukor was unimpressed by what he perceived to be Crawford’s rehearsed mannerisms. In order to deconstruct these for the climactic moment when Anna regales Gustav with the explanation behind her wound, Cukor made Crawford run through the scene over 90 times. In a state of exhaustion, Crawford performed the scene for the cameras almost dead pan. Even today, this moment of revelation is remarkably stirring – showcasing Crawford at her most vulnerable and tragic; qualities rarely associated with the diva.

A superior film such as this deserves a superior transfer. Unfortunately, that isn't what we get from Warner Home Video’s DVD treatment. All begins well enough with a superbly rendered B&W image. The mastering of the gray scale is truly impressive. Age related artefacts are rarely present for an image that is remarkable smooth yet sharp. Fine details are evident even during the darkest scenes.

However, midway through this transfer excessive aliasing and shimmering of fine details begin to occur. It's bizarre - as though someone fell asleep at the mastering controls shortly after the sequence where Crawford's restored face is revealed for the first time. Certain scenes remain virtually free of these distracting anomalies while others - like the scene where Crawford contemplates pushing her young charge off a sky tram into the swirling waters below - are completely ruined by an excessive instability of the image. What a disappointment!

The audio is mono but presented at an adequate listening level. Extras include short subjects and a theatrical trailer. This disc is available only as part of Joan Crawford Vol. 2. Recommended for content - not presentation!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
1

REUNION IN FRANCE (MGM 1942) Warner Home Video

Jules Dassin’s Reunion in France (1942) is a rather clueless bit of tripe, peppering light comedy, heavy melodrama and a dash of Joan Crawford (looking absurdly scrumptious in a cavalcade of fashionable accoutrements by Adrian) with the likes of all-American bo-hunk, John Wayne – miscast as R.A.F. flyboy, Pat Talbot.

Crawford is out of sorts as French woman (minus French accent), Michelle de la Beque – a fashion plate trophy gal belonging to industrialist, Robert Cortot (Philip Dorn). After attending a rather lack luster political benefit, Michelle is all set to commit to Robert. Only he fears that Hitler’s divisions will soon invade Paris. As a precaution, Robert sends Michelle away to the country. Days later, bombing attacks on the city begin.

Forced to schlep it on foot with the rest of the fleeing refugees, Michelle makes her way back to Paris only to discover that her boyfriend has become an ex-patriot and the driving industrial force for mobilizing the Nazi military machine. So what’s a disillusioned gal to do?

Well, if you’re Michelle, you immediately set up shop with the next best thing – in her case, strapping pilot Pat Talbot. Rescuing Pat from certain Nazi capture, the two quickly become a romantic pair; he masquerading as her chauffeur as they plot how best to get him back to Britain so he can fly again for the Allied Forces.

Sandwiched somewhere between a war-time weepy and a legitimate Crawford melodrama, the screenplay by Jan Lustig meanders aimlessly from one implausible vignette to the next – the most comical: Crawford getting a job as a model at a fashion house that’s far more art deco Hollywood than gay Paris, and the same place she once frequented for her own haute couture when Robert was footing her bills.

MGM – the studio known for surface sheen - musters up absurd ultra high gloss. But these weighty trappings add more superficiality than suspense to the mix and echo a tinny ring to the melodrama. I mean, at a time when people were struggling to keep body and soul together, Crawford looks and acts as though she is about to attend a Hollywood premiere. There's no attempt to comment or even respect the plight of refugees. Even when Crawford's fleeing Nazis she's more worried about her hair and nails than the future of world events!


Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits a rather fine B&W image that occasionally seems slightly soft and blurry. The gray scale exhibits fine tonality throughout and fine details are usually nicely realized. Age related artifacts are present but kept to a bare minimum, as is film grain. The audio is mono but adequately balanced. Extras are limited to two vintage featurettes and the film’s theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
1

MILDRED PIERCE (Warner Bros. 1945) Warner Home Video

It must have seemed foolhardy folly on Jack Warner’s part to hire Joan Crawford for Mildred Pierce (1945). By 1940, Crawford’s appeal at the box office had slipped to the extent that Daily Variety had labeled her ‘box office poison.’ Evidently, former boss, MGM’s L.B. Mayer agreed. Crawford could no longer command a starring role at his studio.

Though Mayer would sneer that “the millions I made off of Joan built the writer’s building” he afforded one of his top glamour queens no luxury on the day Crawford was informed would be her last at the studio. Instead, she left MGM without fanfare, escort or even so much as a polite ‘thank you’ for all the years and millions her star power had helped pour into the studio.

Jack Warner, however, had ulterior motives for hiring Crawford. His studio’s grand dame, Bette Davis had created many an executive headache during her illustrious tenure. So long as Davis’ public appeal remained solidly reflected in her own earnings for the studio, Warner quietly endured her temperament and frequent outbursts. However, to keep Davis in check Warner wisely assessed that he needed another big female star to compete at her level. Crawford fit that bill.

Ironically, Mildred Pierce was first offered to Davis and then Rosalind Russell; both turning it down. Crawford, however, was no fool. It took her nearly two years to decide on this project but when she finally did the results were frightfully good to great. As the title character, a harried matriarch whose singular ambition remains to provide her deliciously evil daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) with every imaginable luxury, Crawford excelled as nobody – least of all Mayer – could have anticipated.

Aspects of lesbianism and family incest depicted in James M. Cain’s novel were expunged from the film, leaving the lover’s triangle between Mildred (Crawford), Veda and Mildred’s new boyfriend, the vial but elegant sponge Monty (Zachary Scott) a tad emasculated, though nevertheless loaded with plenty of unconventional noir twists and turns.

The film opens with Monty’s murder inside Mildred’s fashionable beach house…only who was it that did the deed? ‘Mildred’, the last name Monty utters before collapsing in a heap on the plush shag seems the obvious choice. Monty’s regular skimming off the top of their joint bank account has all but bankrupted Mildred’s lucrative restaurant business. Revenge, money, deceit – all solid motives for Mildred popping her second husband. But did she?

There’s also Wally Fay (Jack Carson) an oily ‘best friend’ of Mildred’s former husband, Albert (Bruce Bennett) who has been lusting after Mildred ever since her first divorce? Come to think of it…maybe it was Mildred’s first husband who took care of Monty. And what about Ida Corwin (Eve Arden), Mildred’s fast talking gal pal who knew that Monty’s out of control gambling debts were threatening to push Mildred’s business balance sheet into the red?

The sprightly concocted screenplay by Randall MacDougall provides ample fodder for this 'who done it' guessing game – as potent and irresistible as any Warner ever produced. Director Michael Curtiz delivers a brooding, purposeful and mysterious excursion that delivered galvanic box office returns from wartime audiences. For her efforts, Crawford earned her one and only Best Actress Oscar.

Warner Home Video has provided a reference quality DVD transfer on this classic film noir. The image is, in a word, superb. Contrast levels are perfectly realized. The B&W elements are very smooth. Age related artifacts are nowhere to be seen. The audio is mono but impeccably remastered.Those who will recall the deplorable condition of this film on VHS and even in its latter day laserdisc incarnation have much reason to rejoice here.

The disc is a flipper. On the backside is TCM’s spectacular feature-length documentary on Joan Crawford – filled with an impressive array of archival footage, stock and new interviews and recollections from the people who knew Crawford best. This documentary is a must have/must see experience. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
3.5

POSSESSED (Warner Bros. 1947) Warner Home Video

A superior psychological thriller effectively nestled in the trappings of a classy film noir, director Curtis Bernhardt’s Possessed (1947) – not to be confused with Clarence Brown’s Possessed (1931) (they are both Joan Crawford films with dissimilar plots) stars Crawford as obsessive love slave, Louise Howell. Louise desperately wants to marry her lover; playboy/architect David Sutton (Van Heflin). Unfortunately, David’s just not that into her. More to the point, he senses Louise’s mental imbalance – a condition flickers as unhinged confusion before blossoming into full blown murderous insanity.

Given Louise’s anguish, David is rather heartless in his dismissal of her affections. After a passionate moonlight rendezvous, David discards Louise – leaving her entirely at the mercy of her work.

Louise keeps hours as a private nurse for the invalid wife of wealthy businessman, Dean Graham (Raymond Massey) who lives in a secluded – slightly spooky – country estate. However, when the wife’s body washes ashore Dean quickly turns his affections to Louise. He offers her everything; marriage, money and social status. What more could any girl ask for? Perhaps, love.

Dean’s daughter, Carol (Geraldine Brooks) is dead set against the match. To ease Carol’s insecurity, Louise travels to Carol’s college to confront and comfort her, but the meeting turns bitter and ugly. Instead, Carol begins to speculate that Louise may have murdered her mother to get closer to Dean. The truth is hardly as melodramatic or as compelling. Although Louise marries Dean, she is not quite ready to surrender her fantasies about David – particularly after he begins a coy flirtation with Carol.

Told primarily in flashback from Louise’s bed inside the psych’ ward at county hospital, Possessed teems with Freudian psycho-mumbo-jumbo; exercising its textbook case with stark condemnation of obsessive personalities and their destructive nature. Director Bernhardt manages a lot of mileage from the Randal McDougall/Sylvia Richards/Rita Weiman screenplay – particularly in its’ stark noir opening, where Crawford (usually insistent on ultra glamour and high gloss) is daringly photographed without make up as Louise aimlessly wanders the streets of San Francisco in a haze of delusion, in search of the man she may have already killed.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is below par for their usual efforts. The B&W image exhibits a very dated quality with slightly greenish tint and low contrast levels. Footage shot on location is excessively grainy and suffers from fading and light bleeding around the edges. There is a considerable amount of dirt, scratches and other age related anomalies preserved in the image.

Roughly a third into the narrative – in a scene where David is briefly reunited with Louise - there is also considerable water damage that registers as speckling across the entire film frame; obvious and lasting for several long minutes. The audio is mono but well preserved. Extras include an audio commentary and theatrical trailer. The film is worthy of a second glance. This transfer however, is not!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
1

DAISY KENYON (20th Century Fox 1947) Fox Home Video

Director Otto Preminger’s Daisy Kenyon (1947) is a preposterously painful faux film noir that presents Joan Crawford with the quandary of loving two men, but with only one final fade out at her disposal. Part psychological torture for the female martyr/part soap opera, the film bounces through variables of tragic ineptitude with Crawford doing her best to remain above it all, though oddly enough, rarely succeeding on this outing. This critic says ‘oddly’ because Crawford’s fortitude as an actress usually excels even in substandard tripe. Perhaps the treacle in David Hertz’s sopping wet screenplay is laid a little too thick even for Crawford’s valiant talents on this outing.

Crawford is Daisy, a commercial artist living in Greenwich Village. She’s moderately successful but unhappy. In short, Daisy needs love. Unfortunately, Daisy is put upon by slippery lady’s man, Dan O’Mara (Dana Andrews); a high profile lawyer who does not let his marriage to Lucille (Ruth Warrick) interfere with his philandering on the side. Winning Daisy over before telling her the truth, Dan forces her into a back room love affair that she finds distasteful and awkward. Still, Daisy cannot seem to get enough of Dan and so the stolen kisses and meetings in hotel rooms continue.

That is, until Daisy meets upstanding forthright citizen, Peter Lapham (Henry Fonda). Peter offers Daisy the sort of unfettered, idyllic romance that can actually lead to marriage. Furthermore, his proposal comes with no strings attached. Eventually, Daisy decides for herself that Peter’s love is true and the two are married. Unfortunately, at roughly this same junction, Lucille learns about Daisy’s affair with Dan. Lucille divorces Dan, sending him right into the arms of Daisy who must suddenly choose between waning affections for an old flame and growing desires with a new husband.

Preminger is working with superior talent but a terrible script. Alas, the latter proves the very torpedo to sink his ship. The dialogue throughout is contrived and insurmountably fragile. Crawford plays every scene to the hilt, though she frequently seems to be internally contemplating just how it is that she could have accepted such a bad role in the first place.

Dana Andrews is only somewhat convincing as the heel. Though he had played bad guys before, here Andrews seems to be struggling to remain true to his character – wanting instead to repent on the side of the amiable romantic suitor with only genuine love in his heart. Fonda is rather ill at ease in this role. Clearly, he has recognized the unimportance of the part and has decided to stroll through his lines with about as much conviction as a midget who has just been informed that he is the tallest man in the world.

In the final analysis, Daisy Kenyon is a film for die hard Crawford fans, though even then, it does not command respect for an actress with so much more to offer them than this.

The DVD transfer from Fox is adequate though not impressive. The B&W image retains a fairly clean patina with sufficiently balanced contrast levels. Film grain and a slight haze of digital grit intrude on an otherwise solid visual presentation. Dirt and other age related artifacts are also present. The audio is mono as expected, adequate for this presentation. An audio commentary and theatrical trailer are the extra features.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
1

FLAMINGO ROAD (Warner Bros. 1949) Warner Home Video

An utterly nonsensical claptrap of absurdity, Michael Curtiz’s Flamingo Road (1949) rounds out Joan Crawford’s tenure at Warner Bros. on a decidedly sour note. She stars as carnival belly dancer, Lane Bellamy – a victim of the vial machinations of southern caricature, Sheriff Titus Semple (Sidney Greenstreet – at his most menacing). Semple’s deputy, Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott) is also his reluctant protégée. After an unrequited affection develops between Fielding and Lane, Semple sets about to destroy Lane's morale and then run her out of town.

Fielding gets Lane a job at a greasy spoon – a step just barely up from the carnival. But Semple has her fired and then trumps up a charge of prostitution. The charge sticks and Lane is sent to prison. Now, Semple throws socialite, Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston) at Fielding’s head; forcing a marriage between the two. But Lane is not about to be discounted just yet.

Determined to exact her revenge on Semple after her prison stay, Lane gets a fresh start and a job at a bawdy roadhouse run by hard-knock madam, Lute Mae Sanders (Gladys George). One of Lute Mae’s frequent clients is fast-rising politico, Dan Reynolds (David Brian); a man caught in a power-struggle with Semple over control of the town. Dan suits Lane’s purpose and the two begin dating. Eventually, they marry and Lane, invigorated with revenge, confronts Semple who has set out to destroy Dan by whatever means he can.

In the meantime, Fielding’s marriage to Annabelle crumbles. Distraught and with nowhere else to turn, Fielding shows up at the Reynolds' home. Consumed with self pity and takes his own life. The suicide generates a public scandal that Semple exploits to his advantage. However, Lane has had enough. She returns to Semple’s country estate with a gun and accidentally kills him after a struggle ensues. While his wife waits for her sentence, Dan realizes how much Lane loved him and vows to remain true and at her side, whatever the verdict.

Flamingo Road is an overly self-indulgent soap opera that takes itself much too seriously. Max Steiner’s overwrought score is ideally suited for the soppy froth of this bizarre and often gritty garage full of oddities. But the narrative is largely forgettable. The frivolities in Robert Wilder’s screenplay have little merit except to act as dubious distractions that allow Crawford to run amuck on her all too familiar road to martyrdom yet again.

Warner Home Video’s B&W transfer is impressive with refined image quality, a good spread of tonality and limited age related artifacts. There is some minor digital noise but nothing that will distract. Contrast levels are bang on. Blacks are very deep. Whites are almost pristine. Overall, the image is smooth and sharp without appearing digitally harsh. The audio is mono and adequately represented for this dialogue driven melodrama. Extras include Warner’s usual smattering of cartoons, short subjects and a theatrical trailer. This disc is available ONLY as part of Joan Crawford: Vol. 2.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
1

THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (Warner Bros. 1950) Warner Home Video

In many ways, Vincent Sherman’s The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) is an amalgamation of every Joan Crawford movie you’ve ever seen. By 1950, Crawford’s tenure at Warner Bros. had run its course with a string of memorable film noir melodramas. The screenplay by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman (from a story by Gertrude Walker), is loosely based on gangster moll Virginia Hill’s flawed romance with Bugsy Siegel.

Crawford is Ethel Whitehead, a common frump living her dead-end existence with husband Roy (Richard Egan) and their young son, Tommy. Roy is constantly badgering Ethel to curtail her spending where Tommy is concerned. After the child’s untimely death (he is struck by a car while driving the bicycle Ethel bought him) Ethel makes up her mind once and for all – no more poverty for her.

She leaves Roy, contacts an employment agency and begins to climb the ladder of success; one rusty rung at a time. Becoming a model for women’s clothing, Ethel is first spotted by accountant, Martin Blackford (Kent Smith) in the back room. Martin is a congenial enough fellow, but he has no guts or gumption to transform himself into the sort of money Ethel craves.

So, Ethel rechristens herself Lorna Hansen Forbes, a faux socialite who takes up with racketeer George Castleman (David Brian). Castleman’s ties to organized crime bring Ethel into direct contact with Vegas playboy/mobster, Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran) and the two begin a torrid liaison. So, how long will it be before George discovers their affair?

The blood stain on the carpet inside the fashionable home Ethel/Lorna shares with friend, Patricia Longworth (Selena Royale) seems to suggest that George has already exacted his revenge. But then a mysterious body turns up in the desert and the police begin to suspect that perhaps the elegant Ms. Forbes is more the culprit than the patsy.

Once again, Crawford is at the top of her game. Although the screenplay runs the gamut of plot devices and scenarios borrowed from nearly every Crawford hit of the 40s, there’s enough original snappy dialogue to fuel interest in the project as a stand alone. In hindsight, it’s quite amusing to watch Crawford morph from martyr to matriarch to femme fatale, and finally, to repentant shop girl, desiring nothing more than to return to that dead-end existence she left behind in the first place.

Director Vincent Sherman is a master with this sort of woman’s picture - but with a twist. His handling of Crawford briefly resulted in a flawed off camera love affair that ended when he admittedly socked the outspoken actress in the mouth and knocked her down. On set, these backstage sparks seem to have spurred Crawford on to greatness. Her performance drives the story – a note of control best exemplified early on when Ethel’s father coldly tells her mother, “Let her go. She’ll find out what its like out there” to which Crawford, as Ethel, frostily replies, “Whatever it’s like, it’s better than here!”

Warner Home Video’s DVD transfer is below par for their usual offerings. The B&W image has a low contrast and slightly greenish tint. While few scenes appear free of age related artifacts, most exhibit a considerable amount of film grain and dirt that is, on occasion, distracting. Fine details are lost during darker scenes. Whites appear more soft gray than true white. The image is also occasionally ‘thick’ with the matte process work appearing more obvious than it should. The audio is mono, but adequately represented.

Extras include a brief featurette on Crawford, another on the making of the film and a running commentary by Vincent Sherman that is well worth the price of admission.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
1

SUDDEN FEAR (RKO 1952) Kino Video

David Miller’s Sudden Fear (1952) is a rarity in the Joan Crawford canon; a superior thriller produced at a time when RKO Studios was in a state of inferiorly funded steady decline. The film provides Crawford with one of her best roles; that of playwright Myra Hudson. Seems Myra deems it necessary to fire actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) from her show during New York rehearsals. He’s unprofessional and keeps flubbing his lines. Myra, a perfectionist, will not brook his insubordination. After all, who does he think he is?

However, this showdown does not last for long. In fact, after accidentally bumping into Lester on the train ride home, Myra has second thoughts about her hasty dismissal. Lester seems an entirely different person to her now. He’s congenial, flirtatious, fun to be with and a very amiable romantic interest. Before the trip is over, Lester has finagled his way into a dinner invitation. He becomes Myra’s steady and then, her husband.

Caught up in her own whirlwind of romantic fancy, Myra believes she is living the idyllic marriage and decides, in a moment of stupidity, to confide to Lester that her new Will makes him sole executor of her formidable estate should anything happen to her.

Myra continues to find beauty and joy in everything her husband does until she accidentally overhears a recorded conversation between Lester and his old flame, Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame). Turns out, Irene wants Lester back. More to the point, Lester seems to have married Myra expressly for her money and, now that he knows he holds the key to her riches once she is 'out of the way' he really has no problem conspiring with Irene to bump Myra off.

Moving swiftly against her conspirators, Myra decides to kill Lester and set Irene up for the crime. She continues to refine this plan while playing the part of the dutiful spouse in Lester’s presence. However, she has no concrete plans on how best to carry out her revenge scenario. At one point, Myra hides in Lester’s closet, holding her breath as she observes his discovery of her knowledge about their murder plot.

Eventually, fate steps in. Wearing a coat and scarf that is reminiscent of one Myra wore the last time he saw her, Lester mistakes Irene for his wife and runs her down in his car, losing control and killing himself in the process. Myra learns of their deaths and returns home – purged of, and liberated from, her ‘sudden fear.’


By the time of Sudden Fear Crawford's career had crested into mediocrity for the third and last time; her best work seemingly behind her from both her MGM and later, Warner Bros. tenures. Crawford's star would rise again in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? She would also do a few more solid acting turns for Columbia throughout the 1950s. But for the most part, Sudden Fear marks the occasion between the luminous first two/thirds and the ever deteriorating last act of her weighty film career.


Joan Crawford must be given her due. She was and remains a consummate professional. Her craftsmanship and subtly nuanced performance elevates her rather conventional role in Sudden Fear to high art. And she's surrounded by actors who know and respect her talent and are doing their utmost to keep up with her on camera zeitgeist. As Myra, Crawford juggles fear, confidence, insecurity, elation and fright with not a false emotion among them registering on the big screen. She's a diva, a tyrannt, a tower of strength and a terrorized female all at once.


I don't know of another actress except Bette Davis who could do this sort of pantomine so well and sell it to an audience with such strength of conviction. Like most movies in which she starred, Sudden Fear is all Joan, all the time. We don't have actresses of her magnitude these days and our movie going experience is poorer in her absence. La Crawford - I salute you!


Despite its RKO pedigree (which should have made Sudden Fear the property of Warner Home Video today) this film has been in public domain for many years. This DVD release by Kino is lousy, lacking in overall clarity and sharpness. Generally speaking, the contrast levels are solidly rendered, but fine detail is lost in darkly lit scenes.

Film grain is rather heavy and occasionally digitally harsh looking. Age related artefacts are everywhere. The audio is mono and adequately represented. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
0

TORCH SONG (MGM 1953) Warner Home Video

After a ten year absence from MGM, L.B. Mayer felt that Joan Crawford’s resurrection at Warner Brothers warranted her brief return to his studio. Indeed, the decade that followed Crawford’s departure from MGM’s backlot had seen her career rise to heights that not even Mayer could have predicted – capped off by her one and only Oscar win for Mildred Pierce (1945). But Mayer needn’t have bothered convincing Jack Warner for a loan out. The film vehicle he supplied, Charles Walters’ Torch Song (1953) was as misguided and unimpressive as any that the star ever appeared in at MGM or elsewhere.

In fact, in many ways, this melodramatic musical menagerie went all the way back to Crawford’s Dancing Lady (1933); its screenplay by John Michael Hayes and Jan Lustig so syrupy and shallow that even the most die hard of fan must have been embarrassed for Crawford as she valiantly trudged through the mire and mess of it all.

The story – semi-autobiographical – concerns Jenny Stewart (Crawford), an unrelenting perfectionist whose ruthless ambition and need to be loved outweigh all other commitments in life. Jenny’s nature is both exacting and straining on her fellow musical comedy stars. There are few amongst the troop who regards her as their friend. Only pianist Tye Graham (Michael Wilding) seems unaffected by the fear Jenny is capable of instilling on set. He can afford the luxury – having lost his eye sight many years before and therefore not privy to Jenny’s wildly leering grimaces, her angry eyes bulging from their sockets when a tantrum ensues.

To soften Jenny up, the Hayes/Lustig screenplay provides the grand diva with an Achilles heel – an insecurity and need to be loved – the traditional lost little girl syndrome trapped within the outwardly flailing façade of an actress hell-bent on remaining a star. Jenny rebounds from one fleeting and superficial romantic entanglement to the next – her latest involving parasitic Broadway straggler, Cliff Willard (Gig Young).

Meanwhile, in rehearsal on her new show, Jenny frequently clashes with Tye about the arrangements for her songs. But beneath her outward contempt for Tye is a growing affection that Jenny finds impossible to set aside. Why, but why is Tye so patient with her?

The answer is most cliché, deriving from a discovery made by Jenny within the yellowing pages of a scrapbook. While visiting her mother (Marjorie Rambeau), Jenny learns that Tye idolized her as a drama critic before losing his sight during WWII; that he has always loved and adored her and has never had any great ambitions other than to be at her side. Her resistance to Tye dismantled, Jenny returns to him with open arms, just in time for the prerequisite happy ending that all MGM musicals eventually succumb to.

Given that Torch Song was Crawford’s ‘comeback’ movie for the studio, its remarkable how little expense the studio lavished on this production. The sets and costumes are all obviously borrowed from other MGM product of this vintage. The script is a hodge-podge of stolen moments from every film Crawford ever made. Even one of Crawford’s big songs, ‘Two-Faced Woman’ is a toss away from Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon (1953) with the original India Adams vocal used by Crawford in an obvious lyp-sync.

At this point in her career Crawford’s physical appearance had begun to grow increasingly severe – her over-exaggerated lips and eyebrows adopting a warrior-like make-up. The ‘Two-Faced Woman’ number - staged in blackface with Crawford in blazing Technicolor, - is fairly frightening. Crawford cavorts like a willowy gargoyle amidst a sea of Latin lotharios; her limbs almost spider-like and threatening. At the end, she tears off her heavy black wig to reveal startling shocks of orangey-auburn hair tussled beneath.

In the final analysis, Torch Song is a film of little redemption. It tanked at the box office on its initial run and there is some curiosity in Warner Home Video releasing it now (along with Trog (another Crawford clunker), when so much of the great lady’s formidable catalogue of masterworks (including Possessed 1931, Letty Linton 1932, Chained 1933, Forsaking All Others 1934, No More Ladies 1935, I Live My Life 1935, The Gorgeous Hussy 1936, Love on the Run 1936, The Last Mrs. Cheney 1937, The Bride Wore Red 1937, Mannequin 1938, The Shining Hour 1938, Ice Follies of 1939, Susan and God 1940 and, When Ladies Meet 1941) remains unseen and absent from DVD.

Warner Home Video’s transfer quality on Torch Song is below par. Though, at times, the anamorphic widescreen Technicolor can exhibit a level of saturation that is probably close to what the original print looked like, on the whole, the color palette is palid. Flesh tones are always too pink or too orange. Contrast levels are lower than expected. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. The audio is mono but adequate for this presentation. Extras include Warner’s prerequisite offering of vintage short subjects and a theatrical trailer. This disc is sold only as part of Joan Crawford: Vol. 2.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
1

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (20th Century-Fox 1959) Fox Home Video

Jean Negulesco’s The Best of Everything (1959) hardly lives up to its title. The film headlines Joan Crawford and Louis Jourdan even though neither star appears in anything but brief cameo in the film; clearly a cheap publicity attempt to use ‘big’ names that at this point in their respective careers were not quite as ‘big’ as they had once been. The screenplay by Edith Sommer and Mann Rubin tells the rather generic story of four girls working in a steno pool at Fabian's Publishing Company.

Caroline Bender (Hope Lange) wants a career. Her role model is Amanda Farrow (Crawford) – a hard-nosed ‘bitch’ boss whose affair with a married man is on the rocks. Early on, Amanda senses that Caroline will eventually become her competition – a discovery that first leads to blind animosity, then eventual and mutual respect between the two as Caroline proves herself more than professionally savvy and equal to the task. Caroline’s commitment to her job makes her desirable to Mike Rice (Stephen Boyd) a wealthy executive whose intentions toward her are only sometimes honorable.

On the other end of the spectrum is fashion plate, Gregg Adams (Suzy Parker). Dropping out of her career on occasion to pursue auditions for Broadway shows, Gregg aspires to playgirl status and is merely biding her time at Fabians. Though Gregg’s eyes are set on the stage, her heart is quivering over vapid Broadway producer, David Savage (Jourdan). David, however, cares for Gregg only superficially, and much later discards her in favor of another innocuous fling.

The central narrative is largely focused on Caroline and Gregg’s plight, though it inserts two more aspiring ingénues into the mix: Barbara Lemont (Martha Hyer), working because she is divorced and with child; and April Morrison (Diane Baker), a good-time-gal who gets the short end of the stick – no pun intended. She winds up pregnant.

This ‘man’s world’ corporate commodity is further stirred by the inclusion of randy exec’, Mr. Shalimar (Brian Aherne) to whom today’s bevy of steno-pool lovelies would have a class action sexual harassment lawsuit pending. The story only gets more conventional from here, with alcoholism, death and abortion making this melancholy melodrama largely forgettable.The screenplay is infamous for its clichéd sexual politics, tossing about one liners like, "Find yourself another man...I'm throwing you out...and leave the key" or "I had the ideal husband...too bad he wasn't mine" flippantly out of touch with changing attitudes in the battle of the sexes.

In keeping with Fox’s very strange choices in films deemed worthy of inclusion in their Studio Classic Series – The Best of Everything doesn’t really live up to either the ‘studio classic’ status or even its own title. Recall, that Fox has included movies like Return to Peyton Place (1961) – an abysmal little nothing of a sequel to Peyton Place (1957) as part of this series while quietly excluding such worthy titles as Hello Dolly! (1969) and Call Me Madam (1953) from the roster – and even more to the point – while film titles like Wilson (1944) and Margie (1946) remain MIA.

Fox Home Video’s The Best of Everything does come with a rather impressive anamorphic transfer. Colors are rich, bold and vibrant. After years of viewing various discolored incarnations on VHS and television, seeing this film restored is rather like a completely new experience. Fine details are masterfully realized. Contrast levels are solid. A minimal amount of grain and fading is detected. The audio is lush and lovely in stereo. An audio commentary is the only extra. Forgivable, considering there’s not much here to recommend a deluxe handling.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2