The Postman Always Rings Twice (MGM/Warner, 1946) D: Tay Garnett, w/ John Garfield, Lana Turner. Rating: NNN
My Darling Clementine (Fox Studio Classics, 1946) D: John Ford, w/ Henry Fonda, Victor Mature, Linda Darnell. Rating: NNNNN
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (Paramount/Warner, 1931) D: Rouben Mamoulian w/ Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins. (MGM/Warner, 1941) D: Victor Fleming w/ Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman. Rating: NNNN
since warner home video dove into its vaults at the beginning of last year, it's jumped to the head of the line in the classics-on-DVD department. Fox comes in second; its Studio Classics series is a model of how to do single-disc releases. Columbia seems to have no rhyme or reason to its releases - a superbit of From Here To Eternity? What the hell is that? MGM brings out bunches of stuff, probably hoping to see if anything sticks, but this did give us Lord Love A Duck, Darling and Gerd Oswald's astonishing and underrated domestic noir, Crime Of Passion, in the last couple of months. To be fair, MGM's greatest treasures are held by Warner due to Ted Turner's acquisition of the MGM archives for TMC.
Paramount and Universal bring up the rear. Universal prefers releasing multiple versions of the American Pie movies over keeping their classic 30s horror films (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) in print. To be fair, though, the studio did well by Hitchcock and finally got its Anthony Mann westerns into the market last year.
But where are the Douglas Sirk melodramas? And Universal has the rights to the pre-1950 Paramount catalogue but keeps Lubitsch and Preston Sturges locked in the vaults except when it sells to a specialty distributor like Kino or Criterion. Put it this way: the French label Editions Montparnasse is doing a better job with the RKO catalogue than Universal is doing with its own material.
So Paramount's 1931 Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde turns up improbably on a Warner DVD paired with the 1941 MGM remake, not because Warner bought the rights from Universal but because MGM bought the rights and all the prints from Paramount in 1941. Warner does no favours to the 1941 remake by putting both films on a single disc. MGM's production values are too glossy, and Spencer Tracy is an actor far too grounded to be a convincing Hyde - he does use the least makeup of any actor to play the character.
Fredric March, still the only actor to win an Oscar for a horror movie, undergoes an elaborate time-lapse transformation, and his startling performance is backed by the febrile intensity of Miriam Hopkins's Ivy. (Ingrid Bergman, taking the role in the remake, is the best thing about the film, despite being the only Swedish Cockney in film history.)
John Ford worked at most of the Hollywood studios. Fox was his home for "official classics" like The Grapes Of Wrath, How Green Was My Valley and his first post-war western, the beautiful and elegiac My Darling Clementine, with Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp and Victor Mature as Doc Holliday.
Clementine comes with an unusual bonus - the little-seen Ford preview version, which Fox Studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck recut into the version we know. Some scenes are different, a couple of the most famous ones turn out to be reshoots by contract director Lloyd Bacon, and there's a lot more music in the Zanuck version.
In all, film geek heaven, with a good scholarly commentary and a scene-by-scene comparison of the two films. Now where are those long-promised Studio Classics issues of The Grapes Of Wrath and Laura?
The Postman Always Rings twice is one of the most bizarre mismatches of material. MGM was always the most prestigious and glossy of the studios, and somehow it got its hands on James M. Cain's low-rent tale of adultery and murder. The major studios generally tried to tidy up their seamiest properties, but this one is almost surreal. Just check the window treatments in what's supposedly a highway greasy spoon/gas station.
The dream version of Postman would include John Garfield from this film, Jessica Lange from the remake, direction by someone like Raoul Walsh in his They Drive By Night mood or Jean Negulesco in his Road House period, made at any studio but MGM. (That's the Ida Lupino Road House, a gritty late-40s noir, not the Patrick Swayze Road House.)
I know Postman has its fans - it was a huge hit in 1946 - but I've never quite grasped Lana Turner as a big sex symbol. She's no Ava Gardner. Lovely transfer, though.
EXTRAS Postman: TMC documentary The John Garfield Story, on-set photo archive, theatrical trailers from 1946 and the 1981 remake. English and French versions; English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Clementine: Release and preview cuts of the film, scholarly commentary, detailed comparison of the two versions. English, French and Spanish versions; English and Spanish subtitles.
Jekyll: Critical commentary on 1931 version, Bugs Bunny cartoon Hyde And Hare, theatrical trailer for 1941 version.
Out Of Time (MGM, 2003) D: Carl Franklin, w/ Denzel Washington, Eva Mendes, Sanaa Lathan. Rating: NNN
Though Carl Franklin's second outing with Denzel Washington is, sadly, not in the class of Devil In A Blue Dress, it does have a certain Florida noir flair. Washington plays a small-town police chief who's having the worst day of his life. His girlfriend's been murdered, there's $200K in evidence cash missing from his safe, and his ex-wife (Eva Mendes) is leading the investigation. The script starts to swallow its own tail about the time of the third extravagant plot twist, but it's fun to watch Washington as a man who's hanging at the end of a 50-foot rope while rappelling down a 100-foot cliff. And Mendes, definitely this year's girl, with appearances in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Stuck On You and a host-flattening guest spot on The Daily Show, is fun to watch, period. Carl Franklin is a director who gives nuts-and-bolts commentaries and has the grace to shut up when he doesn't have anything to say. Two interesting revelations in this commentary: Washington's part wasn't written for a black actor, and Franklin has never listened to a DVD commentary track.
EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical trailer, short making-of, outtakes, Sanaa Lathan and Dean Cain screen tests. English, French and Spanish versions and subtitles.
The Wind And The Lion (MGM/Warner, 1975) D: John Milius, w/ Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith. Rating: NNNN
somewhat out of place with the black-and-white studio pictures in this package of Warner releases is The Wind And The Lion, wherein John Milius can't decide which he likes better, the desert brigands led by Sean Connery or the American imperialists led by Brian Keith's Teddy Roosevelt. Yes, Connery plays an Arab with a Scots accent. He's actually good, once you get past that. He kidnaps an American played by Candice Bergen (arguably her best performance) and Roosevelt decides to send in the Marines.
Self-consciously under the sway of Lawrence Of Arabia - Milius says as much in his commentary - The Wind And The Lion is a rousing adventure film shot in Spain and an interesting choice for release at a moment when America is again throwing its weight around in Arab countries. Beautiful transfer - the colour is striking - and Milius's commentary is interesting and entertainingly grouchy.
EXTRAS Director commentary, theatrical trailer, contemporary making-of featurette. English and French versions; English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, January 13
Swimming Pool (Seville) Metaphysical mystery from François Ozon, the director of 8 Women, with Charlotte Rampling as an English mystery writer in the south of France and Ludivine Sagnier as the annoying French girl who takes off her clothes. A lot.
Buffalo Soldiers (Alliance Atlantis) Satiric comedy about the peacetime U.S. Army that Miramax decided to sit on because they didn't want to dis the army in wartime.
Quatermass 2/Quatermass And The Pit (Anchor Bay) Classic Brit horror from the 50s and 60s. Stephen King made a careful study of Quatermass And The Pit before writing The Tommyknockers.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Complete First Season (HBO/Warner) The world according to Seinfeld creator Larry David. Would you like some dyspepsia with those fries?
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb