how green was my valley (Fox Studio Classics, 1941) D: John Ford, w/ Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowall, Maureen O'Hara. Rating: NNNN
gentleman's agreement (Fox Studio Classics, 1947) D: Elia Kazan, w/ Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire. Rating: NNN
all about eve (Fox Studio Classics, 1950) D: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, w/ Bette Davis, Anne Baxter. Rating: NNN
one of the benefits of the dvd revolution is that, as happened with the CD revolution in the 80s, the movie companies realize there's a lot of potential gold in their vaults and are getting to work on restoring it. VHS, an inherently inferior medium, never quite cut it in the restoration market.
With the current technology, the restoration of black-and-white movies of historical significance is turning into an important trend, e.g., the recent Paramount restorations of Sunset Boulevard and Roman Holiday, Kino's seven-disc box of D.W. Griffith classics, and now Fox's new Studio Classics line.
Fox never quite had the identifiable cachet that clung to Warner Brothers (gritty urban drama) or MGM (musicals), but its vaults contain some gems.
Inaugurating the Studio Classics series are How Green Was My Valley, Gentleman's Agreement and All About Eve, three of the studio's best-picture Oscar winners in the period from 1941 to 1950.
How Green Was My Valley is a fictional memoir of a childhood in a Welsh mining village. A literary minimalist, Ford relentlessly strips away dialogue, taking the edge off the story's sentimentality. The fact that this film beat out Citizen Kane for best picture has undermined its rep, but Ford was at his "official classics" peak here, winning his second consecutive directing Oscar. Let's hope The Grapes Of Wrath is in the pipeline.
Throw in an excellent commentary by Ford scholar Joseph McBride and it's a very collectible disc.
All About Eve is Mankiewicz's masterpiece, an acid love letter to the theatrical night world. It won the director his second consecutive Oscar and remains, though Titanic tied it, the most-nominated film in Oscar history: 14, including a quintet of acting nods.
The great scenes, particularly the party ("Fasten your seatbelts...") and the hotel room confrontation between George Sanders and Anne Baxter, still play magnificently, but there are times when everyone sounds as if three writers had spent the night polishing their dialogue.
There's also a revealing commentary track shared by Mankiewicz's biographer, Joseph Geist, and his son, Christopher, who is remarkably candid about how his own family life was reflected in the film.
Gentleman's Agreeement stars Gregory Peck as a crusading reporter who pretends to be Jewish to get the inside scoop on middle-class anti-Semitism. It's honest and means well, but the dull leads, Peck and McGuire, keep getting shown up by the lively supporting cast of John Garfield, Celeste Holm and June Havoc. It's worth seeing, and there's an excellent commentary by Richard Schickel of Time Magazine, who's sufficiently ambivalent about the film to engage in a running dialogue with it.
Why old movies? Why watch movies devoid of CGI explosions and colour? Well, there's the lost art argument: the high-gloss style of black-and-white cinematography is as archaic as Renaissance fresco painting, and these films have some very striking cinematography indeed. John Ford had the finest eye of any golden age director, and his work is spectacular-looking, particularly in this transfer, which allows for the true blacks required of Ford's compositional shadows and silhouettes.
And there's the way that older cultural artifacts let us look at the past. Gentleman's Agreement, for example, shot street scenes on location in New York City, so to watch it is to almost literally look through a 55-year-old window. The hyper-theatrical, high-style dialogue and acting in All About Eve were considered the most sophisticated thing in Hollywood 1950, and who among today's actors could appear half so convincing in a remake? Well, I can see Gwyneth Paltrow in the Anne Baxter role....
DVD EXTRAS: Critical commentaries, theatrical trailers, relevant episodes of AMC's Backstory series, assorted newsreels and period promotional items, stills galleries. French and Spanish versions (All About Eve in Spanish is huge fun), English, French and Spanish subtitles.
blue crush (Universal, 2002) D: John Stockwell, w/ Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez. Rating: NNN
in the commentary for blue Crush, director John Stockwell says he's really proud that he didn't do one shot in the tank. "None of the waves are synthetic."
Which is the best way to do a surfer movie, in this case a movie about women surfing the pipeline on the Hawaiian north shore. The plot is pretty conventional -- can Kate Bosworth's Anne Marie come back from a near-fatal surfing accident and surf competetively again, or will her new boyfriend just screw up her life even more? Coming of age, following your dream, that sort of thing.
Based on a magazine article by Susan Orlean, of Adaptation fame, this is a bracing summer picture loaded with totally bitchin' surfing footage, which, to hear Stockwell tell it, was often grabbed at a moment's notice with no way to know at the time where in the film it would be used, which may explain the slightly haphazard narrative and continuity. Definitely worth a rent if only to see people have an ocean fall on top of them. Very clean transfer.
DVD EXTRAS: Director commentary, star commentary, deleted scenes, making-of, excellent short doc on shooting techniques, Lenny Kravitz music video, wipeout montage. French and Spanish dubs, English sub-titles, DVD-ROM content.
about a boy (Universal 2002) D: Paul and Chris Weitz, with Hugh Grant, Nicolas Hoult. Rating: NNNN
here's a movie for people who like Hugh Grant but don't like Hugh Grant movies.
When he's out of lovable mode he has a real gift for bastards (An Awfully Big Adventure, Bridget Jones's Diary), and here he plays a man painfully aware of his own emotional inadequacy. "That's where you've always been wrong about me," he tells a friend who's asked him to be godfather to his daughter. "I really am this shallow."
His pleasant emotional isolation is jolted by the arrival in his life of Marcus (Hoult), the 12-year-old son of a single mom.
Adapted from Nick Hornby's novel by the creators of American Pie, this is one of last year's unexpected pleasures, with strong performances, an excellent score by Badly Drawn Boy and a startling emotional delicacy.
DVD EXTRAS: The usual package: filmmaker commentary, 20 minutes of deleted scenes with commentary ("We thought we'd spare you this in the film, but now you're watching it anyway"), music featurette, making-of featurette, production notes. French and Spanish dubs, English and Spanish subtitles.
Also this week
THE BOURNE IDENTITY (Universal) Matt Damon as Robert Ludlum's amnesiac assassin. With Franka Potente.
TADPOLE (Alliance-Atlantis) A preppie's in love with his stepmom (Sigourney Weaver) and diverted by her libidinous pal, Bebe Neuwirth in a classic comic performance.
SHAMPOO (Columbia Tri-Star) Warren Beatty in Robert Towne's classic comedy about the SoCal lifestyle. Unfortunately, it arrives in a bare-bones, no-extras edition.
THE PETER SELLERS COLLECTION (Anchor Bay) Five Sellers titles -- I'm
All Right Jack, Heavens Above!, Two-Way Stretch, The Smallest Show On Earth, Carlton-Browne Of The F.O. -- in a box; they're also available separately.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy