THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS (Fox Studio Classics, 1958) D: Mark Robson w/ Ingrid Bergman, Curt Jürgens. Rating: NNN
as fox wanders through its archives for this Studio Classics series, you look at the list, from Sunrise (1927) to All About Eve and from How Green Was My Valley to the forthcoming Laura, and see Oscar winners, acknowledged classics and genre favourites. Then you hit this picture and say, "Huh?" It was a considerable hit in its day, with exotic settings and Ingrid Bergman, after her comeback Oscar for Anastasia, playing a real-life missionary in China in the 1930s. Does The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness have some cult status that no one told me about?
It's one of the oddities of Hollywood in the 50s that it seemed perfectly normal to cast the middle-aged Bergman as a 30-year-old Englishwoman, and that Curt Jürgens and Robert Donat would play Chinese characters.
It's a romantic potboiler with a real historical basis and a tinge of religious sincerity, but who wants to see it? Bergman completists? The DVD offers a gorgeous transfer of the Cinemascope film, with full restoration of Freddie Young's magnificent cinematography. Young would also shoot Lawrence Of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.
DVD EXTRAS One of Fox's scholarly three-headed commentaries of the sort used on Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, Fox Movietone newsreel on the premiere, restoration demonstration, theatrical trailer. English, French and Spanish versions, English and Spanish subtitles
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD: SUPERBIT EDITION (Columbia Tri-Star, 1995) D: Sam Raimi, w/ Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio. Rating: NNNN
JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES: SUPERBIT EDITION (Columbia TriStar, 1998) D: John Carpenter w/ James Woods, Sheryl Lee. Rating: NNN
columbia's "superbit" series in- cludes a fair number of loud, cheesy genre films - usually with pre-existing DTS soundtracks - and here are a couple more. But these are pretty good cheesy genre films. Sam Raimi's baroque western The Quick And The Dead stood out at the time for Sharon Stone's role as a pistol-packing variant on Charles Bronson's vengeance-driven drifter in Once Upon A Time In The West.
What wasn't noticed was that Raimi directs a series of gunfights as an exercise in stylistic delirium. He's always had an unusual sense of space - or just how big is that cabin in Evil Dead 2? - and treats the open vistas of the western not as moral landscape so much as a place to try out as many different lenses as possible. Also, the supporting cast, including a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio and a pre-L.A. Confidential Russell Crowe, looks stronger in retrospect.
Vampires is one of those half-assed genre exercises Carpenter apparently tosses off when he's not paying attention. But I'm quite fond of it, mostly because of James Woods's wonderfully grim performance as a fearless vampire killer on the hunt for a 700-year-old "master" vampire who's crossing the New Mexico desert in search of a mystical doodad.
People often think Carpenter's joking when he says he'd have been happy cranking out pictures in the old studio days. He's not, and here's the proof. Great-looking transfer, though.
DVD EXTRAS None. Superbit uses the whole disc for the movie.
LOVING (Columbia TriStar, 1970) D: Irvin Kershner w/ George Segal, Eva Marie Saint. Rating: NNNN
this cheeveresque tale of new York exurban adultery is a strikingly good film, worth seeing less for its realistic performances than because it was Gordon Willis's first major credit as a cinematographer, just before he spent a decade shooting The Godfathers, Klute, All The President's Men and Manhattan. Willis uses natural light strikingly; the opening scene startlingly captures the horizontal late afternoon light of New York in autumn. And the transfer is ravishing. Loving is a 1970 film (the foreground/background focus shifting is almost a trademark) to an almost anthropological degree. When did a Hollywood movie last have a central character who chain-smoked through the picture? The extravagantly attractive brunette is the young Sherry Lansing, before she became a producer and CEO of Paramount.
DVD EXTRAS Theatrical trailer. Columbia tends to overprice these barebones catalogue issues.
A SCANDAL IN PARIS (Kino, 1946) D: Douglas Sirk, w/ George Sanders, Carole Landis. Rating: NNNN
when douglas sirk arrived in Hollywood from Germany, he didn't jump immediately into the melodramas he's best remembered for (Written On The Wind, All That Heaven Allows). Scandal In Paris is based on the autobiography of Eugene Vidocq, a jewel thief who became the police chief of Paris, and is a frothy period comedy. We forget that in second-level period pictures, George Sanders (All About Eve) was often a romantic lead and is always fun to watch. Carole Landis, unfortunately, was not Sanders's match. While he's a master of articulate malice, she comes off as brittle.
Kino's gotten its hands on a very fine black-and-white print. Universal's given us Imitation Of Life this year, and now we have Scandal In Paris. Can Sirk's The Tarnished Angels and his Chekhov adaptation, Summer Storm, be far behind?
DVD EXTRAS None
Also this week
WILL & GRACE: SEASON ONE (Lions Gate) Groundbreaking sitcom about a gay man and his female roommate who measures all men against him.
HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (Lions Gate) Faithful homage to the redneck horror films of the 70s. And what other soundtrack offers a Rob Zombie-Lionel Ritchie duet on Brick House?
TARGETS/PAPER MOON/DAISY MILLER (Paramount) These Bogdanovich issues are an unusual combination. Inexpensively priced, each has a director's commentary, and while Bogdanovich is a bit dry, he's usually interesting.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb