DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
(Warners) (1932/1941)
Warner Brothers has been justifiably proud of, and received a great
deal of deservedly positive press about its painstakingly perfect
restorations of such popular classics as SINGIN' IN THE RAIN ,
CASABLANCA, and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, but I'm
continually amazed that the almost equally dazzling quality of the
transfers for some of their "lesser" classics (ARSENIC AND OLD
LACE, MILDRED PIERCE, NOW VOYAGER, SHE WORE A YELLOW
RIBBON etc.) goes comparatively unheralded. Such is the case with
their release of the 1941 version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE,
which manages to squander the prodigious talents of my favorite
actor, Spencer Tracy, in two roles for
which he is laughably unsuited, but does contain a breath-taking turn
by Ingrid Bergman (her fourth U.S. film) that alone more than justifies
the purchase of this dvd. (The fact that the far superior '32 pre-code
version is included on side B, and in the best, and most complete
shape I've ever seen it in, is a major added plus.) And again, the full
screen transfer of the '41 version is perfection personified.


ADAM HAD FOUR SONS
(Columbia)
Miss Bergman again, as a young governess who keeps a family from
destroying itself, (her third U.S. release) effortlessly turns what could
have been a maudlin soap-fest into a rich and absorbing dramatic
experience, aided considerably by the tastefully understated
performance of the sadly forgotten Warner Baxter, in what
would be his last leading role in a major film. The full screen
transfer is good, and hats off to Columbia for releasing such lesser
known golden age classics to video.
 


IT SHOULD HAPPEN TO YOU
(Columbia)
Columbia strikes again with this charming film, the fourth
collaboration of star Judy Holliday and director George Cukor.
This time Holliday plays a young model who devises a unique
solution to the problem that she's unable to find steady work as a
model: she uses all of her savings to rent a large billboard overlooking
Columbus Circle featuring her name in the hopes that the publicity will
find her work. The story is paper thin, but Holliday's comic timing and
charm, combined with the effortlessness and naturalism of Jack Lemmon's
film debut (qualities which Lemmon gradually lost as his status ascended)
make this forgotten trifle an extremely pleasurable experience. The
anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is every bit the equal of Columbia's most
recent Holliday release THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC.

BONJOUR TRISTESSE

(Columbia Home Video)

Columbia Pictures seems to be the only major studio willing to release, on a consistent level, golden-age films from their massive backlog that aren't necessarily the most famous, nor the biggest box-office hits of their day, but practically all of which are discoveries , that perhaps because of their relative obscurity, provide endlessly fascinating viewing in this day and age. among the most interesting is Otto Preminger's 1958 adaptation of Francois Sagan's then controversial novel about an amoral French girl (luscious Jean Seberg) who's obsessed with ending her father's (David Niven) affair with a comparatively straight-laced Deborah Kerr. Nothing much really happens , but the shallow, pleasure-seeking existence of these denizens of the beautiful French Riviera is show-cased to perfection, in both black-and-white and color, by an absolutely gorgeous 2.35:1 (16X9) transfer. the mono soundtrack is crisp and free of defect.

 CYRANO de BERGERAC

(M-G-M Home Video)

 

I know, I know--we're only supposed to review films from the cinema's "golden age." why then are we reviewing this French 1990 adaptation of Edmund Rostand's famous novel? simply because this is one of the rare cases when the "contemporary" version far outshines the thread-bare, hammy and hack-neyed version of the early 50's, for which Jose Ferrer  unaccountably won the best actor Oscar.  every aspect of this production, including Gerard Depardieu's flawless performance in the title role, puts the previous and best-forgotten rendition in the shade. the 1.66:1 widescreen transfer is unfortunately not anamorphic, but is reasonably good given that limitation, and the clear stereo surround track has very little rear channel activity, but adds a modest dimensionality to this, the finest CYRANO ever committed to film. 

GASLIGHT

(Warner Bros. Home Video)

 

Everything that was terrific about Warner's recent double bill of the 1932 and 1941  DR.JEKYLL & MR.HYDE is duplicated to perfection on this dvd, as both the British 1940 version and the far more sumptious, and somewhat less effective, 1944 versions are included. to be able to compare both version's of Patrick Hamilton's play about a murderous Victorian-era husband 's attempts to drive his wife mad is cinemaddict heaven. while the full-screen transfer of the '44 version has some hair-line scratches, it's generally very good, as is the '40 version , which is, understandably, in slightly rougher shape.   

THE HONEYMOONERS "CLASSIC 39"  COLLECTION

 (Paramount Home Video)

Any fans of these classic episodes who've seen them on television repeats, and even in their laserdisc incarnations, are simply going to be bowled over by the stunningly improved visual quality of every episode on this terrific five dvd set. How did they do it? I haven't a clue, but they did it, and even though this is only February, I find it hard to believe that this won't be on my end of the year list as the best classic t.v. release of 2004.   

HUD

(Paramount Home Video)

 

Because I'd only seen HUD in murky, grainy pan-and-scan versions on television, I always had a problem staying with this story of a rebellious son (Paul Newman) of a respectable rancher (Melvyn Douglas) who's continually at odds with his aging father. That is, until I saw this immaculate widescreen 16:9 enhanced Paramount dvd!  This transfer makes it abundantly clear why James Wong Howe won the Oscar for best black & white cinematography (Newman was nominated for best actor, and both Patricia Neal and Douglas won for best actress and supporting actor.) Additionally, this excellent dvd includes a restored version of the original mono soundtrack, as well as an excellent new 5.1 surround track which is vastly preferable. This dvd is the only way to experience this great film.   

PLANET OF THE APES--35TH ANNIVERSARY WIDESCREEN EDITION

(20th Century Fox Home Video)

 

The last laserdisc release of APES was really very good (the less said about the original non-anamorphic dvd the better!) But the wonders of modern dvd technology have now given us the best APES we are likely to see for a long, long time. The anamorphic 2:35.1 image is absolutely pristine, and, in fact, looks vastly superior to any theatrical showing I've ever seen, and the 5.1 soundtrack is very good indeed, though the laserdiscs low-end was somewhat superior, due to the lack of compression. The film still works its magic, and I have to say a great deal of credit must go to Charlton Heston, whose larger-than-life sincerity validates this fantastic tale much in the same way that Gregory Peck did in THE OMEN. 

THE WIND and the LION

(Warner Bros. Home Video)

 

This highly fictionalized account of an actual event, in which an Arab chieftain (Sean Connery) kidnaps an American widow (Candice Bergen) and her children, thereby igniting a chain of events that include President Theodore Roosevelt (an uncommonly excellent Brian Keith) shouldn't be as entertaining as it is, due to some regrettable casting (terminally dull Darrell Fetty and laughably awful Geoffrey Lewis) and an occasionally inconsistent screenplay, but it is, to put it bluntly, a real hoot, primarily because Sean Connery, (his Scottish brogue in full flower!) strides through this fanciful tale like a good-humored Collossus, aided by, in my opinion, the best score Jerry Goldsmith ever composed, and some really terrifically staged action scenes. Warner's anamorphic widescreen transfer is aces, and the 5.1 Dolby soundtrack, though it favors the front channels, is fine.-

THE "BEST" OF 1932, '35 '36, '39, and '42

Lovers of  Golden Age Classic releases on d.v.d. should worship at the Warner Bros Home Video altar, for while all other studios dole out their respective classics in frustratingly irregular dribs and drabs, Warners has been consistently sharing their bounty in increasingly  generous portions.

A case in point is the simultaneous release of four classics that were recognized by the Academy as "best picture" (GRAND HOTEL, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, MRS. MINIVER) and a fifth (GOODBYE MR. CHIPS) that took home the trophy for "best actor."

GRAND HOTEL (1932)

My personal favorite of the group. Here is a film that crams more stars (Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore), more glamour, more wit, more suspense, more drama into its swiftly moving 112 minute running time than anything before or since. The full-screen transfer is surprisingly good for a film of this age, and Warner's inclusion of footage from the premiere is a welcome addition to this superlative release.

 

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935)

I've read a great deal of criticism lately about Clark Gable's performance as Fletcher Christian in this legendary sea-faring epic, and I couldn't disagree more. True, he doesn't attempt a British accent and his demeanor is decidedly Yank, but that seems completely immaterial to me, especially when compared with the ludicrously self-indulgent Marlon Brando, and the deadly dull and preening posturings of non-actor Mel Gibson in the two deservedly disastrous BOUNTY remakes. Gable, possessor of the most forthright and least "fancy" acting style of any superstar, is the perfect complement to Charles Laughton's brilliant, but heavily embroidered interpretation of Captain Bligh. The full-screen transfer has a certain amount of grain, but is an entirely reasonable rendering of this terrific film.

 

THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936)

This stupendous 185 minute (!!) super-production which details the life and career of the legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld (smoothly and stunningly enacted by the great William Powell) in a sporadically entertaining but highly inaccurate fashion, punctuated by some absolutely terrific musical numbers (one watches Ray Bolger's solo in rapt disbelief!) is, of all the releases reviewed in this article, the one that dates the most, due, primarily, to its marathon length, and the artificially fluttery and mannered performance of Luise Rainer as Ziegfeld's first wife Anna Held, for which she won one of her two successive best actress Oscars. At the time, and long afterward, Ms. Rainer's tearful telephone monoloque was considered the essence of High Art, but,especially in contrast to the incomparably easy and natural style of the perpetually delightful Powell, everything that Rainer does here seems jarringly false. Warner's has gratifyingly included the roadshow overture and intermission music which add to the "event" feel of this massive production , and the fullscreen transfer is very good at times, and, particularly in a shipboard scene which is rife with copious amounts of grain, less so. However, taking into consideration the exemplary quality of the Warner classic transfers as a whole, it seems obvious that this is the best source material available.

 

GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (1939)

It's hardly a revolutionary theory, but I've always maintained that the true test of a great performance is how well it holds up over the years, and here, sixty-five years later, to absolutely validate that statement, is Robert Donat's Oscar-winning Mr. Chips, the kind of role, and acting tour-de-force, that defies the passage of time, and, if anything, actually improves with age. Donat brilliantly plays a stiff, unpopular schoolmaster who is converted by the love of a woman (Greer Garson's film debut) into an inspirational molder of lives. GOODBYE MR.CHIPS grows on you as few films do, and Warner's has provided a much better than average full-screen transfer of this truly touching, and timeless, gem.

 

MRS. MINIVER (1942)

A flawless full-screen transfer, easily the best of the bunch, shows off MRS. MINIVER at her very best, and, in fact, I refuse to believe it looked any better during its initial record-breaking ten week run at Radio City Music Hall. As for the film itself, it must be viewed within the context of its times. For the fact is, this highly influential film (Winston Churchill christened MRS. MINIVER as being more vital to the nation than a fleet of destroyers) is a highly idealized M-G-M (mis)conception of war-time England, a fact which doesn't diminish its prodigious entertainment value one iota. Both Greer Garson and Teresa Wright richly deserved their Oscars for best actress and best supporting actress, respectively, but I continue to marvel at the fact that in virtually all the d.v.d. reviews I've seen of MRS. MINIVER and HOW GREEN IS MY VALLEY the wonderful Walter Pidgeon is barely, if ever mentioned. I suppose that's what happens when a fine actor hones and refines his craft to such an extent that the work, and considerable effort behind it, become invisible.

 

-DICK DINMAN   

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Promotional still from "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"

Opening frame from "Adam Had Four Sons"

 

 

Closing frame from "It Should Happen to You"

 

Sterling Hayden

Jean Seberg and David Niven

Gerard Depardieu as Cyrano

Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman

Ralph Cramden emotes

The hunk of Hud, Paul Newman

Going ape

Connery, a good-humored colossus