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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Roundup #19 - June 2005

Over the next little while, I'll be working towards trying to make this column a more timely effort. The intent is eventually to have it appear regularly on a two-weekly basis. Each installment will survey the current classic releases with snapshot reviews and also provide the latest new coming release announcements. As time permits, the column will occasionally include a short essay on a particular actor, genre, year, or other classic film topic - as some past columns have done. Western releases will for now be re-integrated with other classic releases as the recent experiment of having a separate Western Round-up column seems to have generated little interest, based on the minimal feedback that I received on it.

For this outing, I have the latest announcements for you as well as 16 snapshot reviews. The latter include ten Warner Bros. releases (Dark Victory, Mr. Skeffington, Humoresque, Possessed, The Damned Don't Cry, The Star, East of Eden, Rebel without a Cause, The Cincinnati Kid, and Tom Horn), two Fox releases (The Bravados and Warlock), two Sony releases (Gun Fury and The Texican), and one each from MGM (Hour of the Gun) and Paramount (Johnny Reno). The Classic Coming Attractions Database has been updated to reflect the new announcements. Note too that the Film Noir Listing, first made available last September in conjunction with a column on film noir, has also been updated.


Dark Victory

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Dark Victory (1939)

Director: Edmund Goulding

Theatrical Release: Warner Bros

Cast: Bette Davis, George Brent, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Humphrey Bogart

DVD Company and Release Date: Warner Bros. - June 14, 2005

Video: 1.37:1 Full Frame, B&W

Audio: DD English Mono, English, French and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: Commentary by film historian James Ursini and CNN film critic Paul Clinton, 1939: Tough Competition for Dark Victory new featurette, theatrical trailer

Although a popular film upon its release, Dark Victory tended to get overlooked among the wealth of great films that made 1939 arguably Hollywood's best year ever. The passing years have raised the film's profile substantially, mainly on the basis of Bette Davis's strong performance as a young woman doomed to an early death due to a cancerous growth on her brain. The Warner Bros. stock company is also put to good use with fine performances from George Brent as the doctor Davis consults and with whom she later falls in love, Ronald Reagan as one of Davis's many suitors, and Humphrey Bogart as a horse trainer (although saddled with an Irish brogue). In addition, Geraldine Fitzgerald shines as Davis's sister, a Greek-chorus sort of role. The film's direction is sensitively handled by Edmund Goulding who contrives some truly memorable scenes, particularly near the end when Davis's character starts to go blind in the garden and the final scene in her bedroom. The film was previously issued on DVD by MGM (with the same transfer then reissued by Warners), but Warners has now delivered a new transfer from restored elements. The improvement is substantial with much of the original's damage corrected. The new image is brighter and much better detailed, although black levels are not as deep as the best transfers and there are still some scratches. The mono sound is also improved in clarity and level of hiss, providing a good platform for Max Steiner's restrained music score. The supplements are highlighted by a detailed commentary by James Ursini and Paul Clinton. Available as a separate disc or as part of The Bette Davis Collection. Recommended. The Bette Davis Collection

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Mr. Skeffington

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Mr. Skeffington (1944)

Director: Vincent Sherman

Theatrical Release: Warner Bros

Cast: Bette Davis, Claude Rains, Walter Abel, Richard Waring

DVD Company and Release Date: Warner Bros. - June 14, 2005

Video: 1.37:1 Full Frame, B&W

Audio: DD English Mono, DD French Mono, English, French and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: Commentary by director Vincent Sherman, Mr. Skeffington: A Picture of Strength new featurette, theatrical trailer

Yes, Mr. Skeffington is a Bette Davis film, but it's the presence of classy actor Claude Rains in the title role that makes it really worth a second look. Of course, Davis is good as Fanny Skeffington, the prettiest woman in New York who eventually sees her looks ravaged by diphtheria, but one is never really convinced of what it is that so many men see in her. Rains on the other hand is the stoic husband whose devotion despite all sorts of provocation gains our real admiration. Rains, the quintessential supporting player, elevated every film he was in and here he underplays judiciously while benefiting from an excellent script by Philip and Julius Epstein. Although not filmed in Technicolor as originally envisaged, the film was a major Warner Bros. production of the year 1944 and received considerable acclaim despite concern about its long, for then, almost two and a half hour running time. The DVD transfer is a very fine effort with a modest amount of grain yielding a pleasing film-like appearance. The image is generally crisp with good contrast and minimal print damage. The mono sound is quite adequate, with only occasional minor background hiss evident. The most impressive supplement is 99-year-old director Vincent Sherman's commentary. Although there are some blank spots, Sherman's comments are to the point and he provides some interesting background on working with Bette Davis. What a pleasure to have his observations available to us over 60 years after the film was made. Available as a separate disc or as part of The Bette Davis Collection. Recommended. The Bette Davis Collection

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Humoresque

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Humoresque (1946)

Director: Jean Negulesco

Theatrical Release: Warner Bros

Cast: Joan Crawford, John Garfield, Oscar Levant, J. Carrol Naish

DVD Company and Release Date: Warner Bros. - June 14, 2005

Video: 1.37:1 Full Frame, B&W

Audio: DD English Mono, English, French and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: The Music of Humoresque featurette, theatrical trailer

Humoresque contains arguably Joan Crawford's best performance, in the role of a rich socialite who becomes the patron of intense violinist John Garfield. The two fall in love with tragic consequences. Crawford capitalized on the confidence arising from her Oscar win for Mildred Pierce the previous year, while Garfield delivers a strong performance that mixes anger with unhappiness. The film's music is intrinsic to both plot mood and development. The violin playing is by Isaac Stern, with fingering and bowmanship by other violinists cleverly filmed to give the impression that Garfield is actually playing. Strong Warner production values are evident throughout. The DVD transfer is correctly framed and looks pretty good. There's some speckling and strobe effects that combined with a sometimes-soft image drop this disc below the best Warner B&W efforts. The mono sound does pretty well by the film's music score by Franz Waxman. The music is also the focus of a fine featurette that along with the theatrical trailer comprise the disc's supplements - a package that's a little slim given the film's profile in the Crawford oevre and Warner's normal level of effort on disc extras. Available as a separate disc or in The Joan Crawford Collection box set. Recommended. The Joan Crawford Collection

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Possessed

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Possessed (1947)

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

Theatrical Release: Warner Bros

Cast: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks

DVD Company and Release Date: Warner Bros. - June 14, 2005

Video: 1.37:1 Full Frame, B&W

Audio: DD English Mono, English, French and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: Commentary by film historian Drew Casper, Possessed: The Quintessential Film Noir featurette, theatrical trailer

Possessed is a terrific film about a woman's obsession for a man who's not really interested in her. Joan Crawford offers a bravura performance that begins with a startling view of her unmade-up face as she makes her way on the streets of Los Angeles. Van Heflin offers excellent support as the man Joan wants, in what is effectively a femme fatale role played by a male. The film offers many of the film noir conventions, particularly the dreamlike nature of the story and the disorienting camera movements that characterize the film's opening sequences. The DVD transfer is quite pleasing although marred by a couple of short segments characterized by small spots of light. Otherwise the film's noir look is well served. The mono sound is clear although some minor background hiss is occasionally present. Drew Casper's audio commentary is the main supplement and is admirably thorough. As a consequence, a new featurette on Possessed's film noir qualities is redundant, particularly as it's a rather superficial piece anyway. Available as a separate disc or as part of The Joan Crawford Collection. Highly recommended. The Joan Crawford Collection

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The Damned Don't Cry

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The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Director: Vincent Sherman

Theatrical Release: Warner Bros

Cast: Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Kent Smith

DVD Company and Release Date: Warner Bros. - June 14, 2005

Video: 1.37:1 Full Frame, B&W

Audio: DD English Mono, DD French Mono, English, French and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: Commentary by director Vincent Sherman, The Crawford Formula: Real and Reel featurette, theatrical trailer

In this 1950 film noir, Warners apparently culled the headlines as it had so often in the 1930s - this time using the story of Bugsy Siegel and Virginia Hill as its inspiration. Crawford plays a woman who begins in lower-class drudgery, but rises to wealth through sex, deceit, and toughness as she embraces the criminal underworld. In typical Warner fashion, the story is forcefully told and Crawford's character receives a brutal comeuppance that caps the disillusionment that builds in her character throughout. Vincent Sherman's direction captures the character's drive very well. A trio of fine male supporting performances - from Kent Smith, David Brian , and Steve Cochran - is another of the film's strong points. Generally, watching this movie is a fun experience. The DVD's transfer is quite attractive with fine image detail and good contrast. A reasonable amount of grain is evident. Some of the night scenes, particularly early in the film, look rather noisy, however. The mono sound is adequate. Vincent Sherman's commentary is not as perceptive as one might hope especially in the early going. Some of his later comments about Crawford are interesting, however. A new making-of featurette is merely adequate. Available as a separate disc or as part of The Joan Crawford Collection. Recommended. The Joan Crawford Collection

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The Star

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The Star (1952)

Director: Curtis Bernhardt

Theatrical Release: Fox

Cast: Bette Davis, Sterling Hayden, Natalie Wood, Warner Anderson

DVD Company and Release Date: Warner Bros. - June 14, 2005

Video: 1.37:1 Full Frame, B&W

Audio: DD English Mono, English, French and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: How Real Is the Star? featurette, theatrical trailer

The Star is about a former Hollywood star who has fallen on hard times and hopes for one more role that will put her back on top. Reportedly inspired by aspects of Joan Crawford's life, Bette Davis jumped at the chance to play the lead role and seemingly raise the ante in her long-time supposed feud with Crawford. The film's most juicy sequence is the one in which Davis auditions for the part of an older sullen sister by playing her as a young flirt instead (something she recognized as a typical Crawford move). The film's subject matter also presages Davis's own situation a few years later when she had to place an ad in the local trade papers seeking suitable acting roles. Davis is pretty well the whole story in the film and she gives a fine performance that yielded an Academy Award nomination. Sterling Hayden plays the man who comes to her aid and Natalie Wood appears as her daughter, but neither register particularly strongly. The DVD transfer is very good, yielding a crisp image with fine shadow detail. The mono sound is quite adequate. A short making-of featurette elaborates on the reality of the film. Suggested as a rental, except for Bette Davis completists, of course.


Gun Fury

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Gun Fury (1953)

Director: Raoul Walsh

Theatrical Release: Columbia

Cast: Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Phil Carey, Leo Gordon

DVD Company and Release Date: Sony - May 31, 2005

Video: 1.37:1 Full Frame, Colour

Audio: DD English Mono, English, Japanese and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: Theatrical trailers for Silverado and The Professionals

In Gun Fury, Rock Hudson takes off after outlaw Phil Carey and his gang when they leave Hudson for dead and kidnap his wife-to-be (Donna Reed) during a stagecoach robbery. The story is an engaging one and all the supporting roles are well handled, even the slightly overblown histrionics of Philip Carey. The likes of Lee Marvin, Neville Brand and Leo Gordon are all a pleasure to see in the film. Raoul Walsh really keeps the story moving along as he normally does with action films and maintains good suspense throughout. The film was shot for projection in 3-D, as some of its effects make obvious. What lets it all down is Rock Hudson's uninvolving lead performance. Here, he plays at being a westerner, rather than giving any sense of actually being one - something he never really overcame in any of his later western roles either. The film is a good time-passer, but nothing more. Sony's DVD transfer is merely average. The image is crisp and colourful enough, but seems a little soft and is characterized by a fair degree of dirt and debris. The mono sound is quite adequate. Western fans may enjoy the film enough to warrant a rental.


East of Eden

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

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East of Eden (1955)

Director: Elia Kazan

Theatrical Release: Warner Bros

Cast: James Dean, Julie Harris, Raymond Massey, Jo Van Fleet

DVD Company and Release Date: Warner Bros - May 31, 2005

Video: 2.55:1 Anamorphic, Colour

Audio: DD 5.1 English Surround, DD 2.0 French Stereo, English, French and Spanish subtitles

Supplements: Commentary by Richard Schickel, East of Eden: Art in Search of Life new 50th anniversary documentary, Forever James Dean vintage documentary, additional scenes, screen tests, wardrobe, costume, and production design tests, New York premiere footage, theatrical trailer

The last quarter of John Steinbeck's novel of the same title is used as the focus of East of Eden, the first of James Dean's three-film movie legacy. Playing a Salinas Valley youth who struggles to gain his hardened father's affection, Dean provides a mesmerizing portrait in this version of the Cain and Abel story directed by Elia Kazan. Equally as good is the almost ethereal performance of Julie Harris as the young girl who gradually realizes she is in love with him. The film, however, is Kazan's. He had essentially carte blanche from Warners to make the movie and used it to sign the then-unknown Dean and the unheralded Harris in the key roles. He also cast Raymond Massey as Dean's father in the film and fostered the real-life dislike the two had for each other on the set to the benefit of the two characters' conflict in the film. The film captured the spirit of Steinbeck's book very accurately and remains a potent piece of film-making 50 years later, blending melodrama with historical incident and drawing small-town life and national and international events together through a skillful blend of location and studio shooting. Kazan would later look with bemusement at the Dean phenomenon - recognizing his talent, but reacting with disdain to the cult of unappreciated adolescents/insensitive parents that it bred. The widescreen transfer is excellent with nicely saturated colour and a generally crisp image. The sound has been upgraded to a 5.1 mix that is very pleasing, but typically offers little in the surrounds. The supplements are highlighted by a good commentary, two fine documentaries, and a wealth of other items that demonstrate Warners' usual fine attention to detail and value. Available as a 2-disc edition either separately or as part of The Complete James Dean Collection. Highly recommended. The Complete James Dean Collection

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On to Part Two

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