DirectorJoseph L. Mankiewicz
Release Date(s)1946 (January 23, 2018)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
The first film in a line of successful directorial efforts from Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Dragonwyck is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Anya Seton and was released to much acclaim and box office success in 1946. The story of a young woman named Miranda (Gene Tierney) who lives a country life with her family, including her overbearing, religious father (Walter Huston), she longs to one day leave her home and see the outside world. By happenstance, she receives a telegram from a distant cousin named Nicholas (Vincent Price), a wealthy land owner who wishes her to come and live with him in his lavish manor, Dragonwyck. Once there, she soon realizes that while Nicholas is charming and may be the possible receiver of her affections, there’s also something off about him, and she’ll have to learn what it is the hard way.
Although his career as a horror icon, often portraying haunted and tortured characters, was still a couple of decades away, one could argue that portraying Nicholas Van Ryn was Vincent Price’s first foray into that king of territory. If anything, it certainly gave audiences a taste of how sinister he could be, which up to that point, wasn’t the case at all. It was also a role that he fought tooth and nail to get, even dropping 30 lbs in order to convince the powers that be that he was the right choice for it. Then there’s Walter Huston, who was more well known than either Price or Tierney at that time, even receiving top billing. He is extremely effective as Miranda’s deeply-rooted, bible-thumping father, stubborn in his own ways and giving her an obvious motivation for wanting to leave behind her simple, church-going, country life.
Tierney’s portrayal of the character, on the other hand, is the least interesting of the main cast, at least in my opinion. Her function in the story is to contrast the aristocratic life with the lower class alternative by having it all presented through her naive point of view. Unfortunately for Tierney, the film shifts its focus dramatically once Price steps into the proceedings. Whether it’s the dominance of his performance or not, Tierney is clearly overshadowed, lacking any real character traits or development. Her talents aren’t lacking by any means, but she has very little to do other than be at the center of a love triangle, or simply be reactionary.
Interestingly enough, Ernst Lubitsch was originally meant to direct the film, but being that he was having health problems at the time, he turned the project over to his friend Mankiewicz. The flavor of the film could have potentially been different, but due to its success, Mankiewicz was able to have the illustrious career that followed, directing films such as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, All About Eve, and Cleopatra, amongst others. Also featuring performances by Glenn Langan, Harry Morgan, and Jessica Tandy, as well as lush cinematography by Arthur C. Miller and a haunting score by Alfred Newman, Dragonwyck is an effective and well-made piece of suspenseful melodrama with towering performances and wonderful cinematography.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release of the film comes equipped with a new 4K transfer that’s a little problematical, but overall is quite pleasing. Detail is high and images are crisp, but grain levels are minor, lending an unwanted flatness to the overall look. Grayscale is often unbalanced, including white levels that are a bit blown out and black levels that appear more gray than deep. The presentation is also a tad too bright. However, it’s incredibly clean and stable with no leftover damage. The audio has been included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It fares much better by comparison. Although it has dated qualities and is a tad narrow, separation is good with no distortions. Dialogue is well-represented, as are sound effects and score. Hiss, pops, crackle, and dropouts are nowhere to be found.
All of the main extras on this disc are carried over from the film’s previous 20th Century Fox DVD release. They include an isolated score track in 2.0 mono DTS-HD; an excellent audio commentary with film historian Steve Haberman and documentary filmmaker Constantine Nasr; the brief but educational A House of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck 16-minute featurette; two 45-minute A&E Biography specials: Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait and Vincent Price: A Versatile Villain; 2 radio adaptations of “Dragonwyck”, one performed by Price and Tierney at the Lux Radio Theater on October 7, 1946, and the other performed by Price and Teresa Wright at the Screen Guild Theater on January 20, 1947; the film’s original theatrical trailer, presented in HD; a scroll-through of the current Twilight Time catalogue; and an excellent 8-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo.
Dragonwyck’s lasting legacy as both a well-produced thriller and Vincent Price’s first real dive into villainy is well-represented on this Blu-ray release. Although the video portion of the presentation leaves a tad bit to be desired, it’s terrific in motion. The bonus material is well-produced and supplements the film well, making this a obvious recommendation.
- Tim Salmons