"Fail-Safe"

February 2020

Taut Suspense Scores on BD

The Criterion Collection 1011
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

After 1949, when the USSR began testing nuclear weapons, the US ramped up its own nuclear program. The Cold War had begun. The American public was indoctrinated with information about what would happen if an enemy exploded a nuclear bomb within the US, and about how the armed services would retaliate. Though scientists said the results would be catastrophic, government officials came up with a program, aimed at children and parents, that used an animated film starring a turtle named Bert. It gave false assurances that all would be hunky-dory if kids just ducked under their flimsy school desks and covered their heads with their hands -- the famous “duck and cover” program.

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"Now, Voyager"

January 2020

Bette Davis at Her Peak on Criterion Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 1004
Format: BD

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Olive Higgins Prouty wrote several novels that revolved around the aristocratic Vale family of Boston, Massachusetts. Most popular of these was Now, Voyager (1941), which was quickly optioned by Warner Bros. as a vehicle for Bette Davis, then at the height of her career and the reigning star of popular “women’s movies.” The film was released the following year, ably directed by Irving Rapper (Deception, The Glass Menagerie), and with Davis getting admirable support from Gladys Cooper, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, and Franklin Pangborn. Ever since, it has been considered a classic.

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"The Daytrippers"

December 2019

Stunning Ensemble Acting Makes for a Memorable Trip

The Criterion Collection 1001
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
***

Every once in a while, a low-budget picture delivers a quality of entertainment seldom achieved by well-funded studio efforts. Such is director Greg Mottola’s gem, The Daytrippers (1996), shot on a budget of $50,000 on free locations, including cast members’ apartments. It succeeds on the strength of Mottola’s wittily intelligent script, and a dream cast of palpable charisma and amazing ensemble acting. The actors also improvised some dialogue, which only serves to make a good thing better.

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"Cluny Brown"

November 2019

“Squirrels to the Nuts” -- Cluny Brown Arrives on Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 997
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
****

Extras
**1/2

A skewering of the British class system, and a paean to the joys of finding one’s place in life, Margery Sharp’s best-selling novel from 1944 seemed to cry out for a movie version, and in 1946 it got The Lubitsch Touch -- it was Ernst Lubitsch’s final completed film. Book and film are set in 1938 London, at the time of Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland. Although Sharp, writing at the height of WWII, obviously knew of the later consequences of this action, here Hitler is something of a joke, and the invasion an only potentially horrible event that takes second place to her main characters’ preservation of social decorum.

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"Fists in the Pocket"

October 2019

Lou Castel’s Memorable Portrayal of a Serial Killer in the Making

The Criterion Collection 333
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***

Dysfunctional families have always been great fodder for makers of film and television. You can scarcely watch a TV comedy show these days that doesn’t revolve around a screwed-up family. And filmmakers have found that dysfunctional families can be things of terror.

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"Magnificent Obsession" (1954)

September 2019

Douglas Sirk’s Extreme Melodrama Gets the Criterion BD Treatment

The Criterion Collection 457
Format: Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 987
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
**1/2

Picture Quality
****

Sound Quality
***

Extras
***

Magnificent Obsession was the first book written by minister Lloyd C. Douglas (1877-1951), in 1929. Douglas would go on to write many other books, including The Robe (1942), usually considered his best. Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to Magnificent Obsession, and in 1935 John M. Stahl directed a black-and-white version, starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, that received good notices. A second film version, this one in Technicolor and starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, was directed in 1954 by Douglas Sirk, king of the 1950s Hollywood “weepies.” Most people consider the later version to be the better of the two, but I’m not one of them. Fortunately, this two-disc set contains both versions.

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"Klute"

August 2019

A Mesmerizing Jane Fonda on Criterion Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection 987
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Extras
****

Jane Fonda won her first Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Klute (1971). Though she went on to win another Oscar, for Coming Home (1978), as well as many Golden Globes and other awards, we perhaps most easily remember her for the prostitute she plays here. Klute was one of the first films I remember seeing that explored the desires and vulnerabilities of a strong female character. Not long into rehearsal, Fonda wanted to quit, but director Alan J. Pakula (1928-1998) persuaded her to stay on. At the time, Fonda was heavily involved in the movement to end the war in Vietnam, but Pakula later attested that she never let that get in the way of her profession.

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"War and Peace" (1966-67)

July 2019

Sergei Bondarchuk’s Restored Masterpiece Dazzles in a New BD from Criterion

The Criterion Collection 983
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace is in the DNA of all Russians. I don’t know if it’s true any longer, but in the 1960s, when this film version was released, every Russian teenage girl wanted to be Natasha Rostova, here radiantly portrayed by Lyudmila Saveleva -- at least, that’s a view supported by one of the excellent extras Criterion includes in this Blu-ray Disc edition.

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"The Heiress"

June 2019

An Oscar-Winning Film Gets the Criterion Treatment

The Criterion Collection 974
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
****

The Heiress, released in 1949, was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four: Best Actress in a Leading Role, Oliva de Havilland; Best Art Direction/Set Direction, Black-and-White, John Meehan, Harry Horner, Emil Kuri; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, Edith Head and Gile Steele; and Best Music, Aaron Copland. Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s screenplay was based on their play, which in turn was based on the novel Washington Square, by Henry James. In addition to de Havilland, The Heiress starred Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson, and Miriam Hopkins. William Wyler, whose The Best Years of Our Lives had won no fewer than seven Oscars only three years before, directed with a sure hand.

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“A Face in the Crowd”

May 2019

A Definitive Blu-ray Edition of Elia Kazan’s Cautionary Tale

The Criterion Collection 970
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment
****

Picture Quality
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Extras
***1/2

In the summer of 1953, Andy Griffith was in Manteo, North Carolina, playing Sir Walter Raleigh in The Lost Colony, the longest-running outdoor production in the history of American theater. That same year, as Deacon Andy Griffith, he recorded the comedy monologue “What It Was, Was Football” for Colonial Records. It was only Colonial’s third recording, and when Capitol Records took it over and put their own label on it, the record became one of the most popular comedy singles of all time, with sales of almost 800,000. I was 12 years old, and Colonial was on a street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that made a T intersection with the tiny street on which I lived with my parents. My dad knew someone who had a connection, and took me down to meet Griffith. He was warm and friendly, pretty much like the character he later played on TV in The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968).I liked him a lot.

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