Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday at the Movies: Special Attack of the Killer Criterions Edition

You know, I've said it on numerous occasions, but some days I really love my phony baloney job. And very often those days are when the Merry Mailman brings me something of a video nature from the movie mavens over at the Criterion Collection. Come to think of it, a bunch of Criterion vids have been accumulating around Casa Simels over the last month or two, so while I wait for their forthcoming version of Quadrophenia -- a film which is perhaps closer to the mission statement of the blog you're reading, and which which has been poorly served by all its previous video incarnations on other labels -- let's take a gander at some of Criterion's characteristically swell (and recent) DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Have I mentioned that some days I really love my phony baloney job?

1. The 39 Steps

Alfred Hitchcock's peerless 1935 thriller features an innocent guy (the very charming Robert Donat) on the run from both cops and bad guys, with a gorgeous blonde (in this case, Madeleine Carroll, who I have loved since first viewing her on a Million Dollar Movie airing of The Prisoner of Zenda in the mid-60s) on his arm (literally -- she's handcuffed to him). Obviously, this (and The Lady Vanishes) provided the template for a lot of Hitchcock's later stuff, but Steps -- from a similarly entertaining John Buchan novel (Hitch added the battle of the sexes subplot to the mix) -- is probably my favorite. (Although if pressed, I might go for the lesser known Young and Innocent). In any case, apart from a great looking high-def restoration, you get the usual entertaining Criterion bonus stuff, including an excellent documentary on Hitch's career before the war, a TV interview with the great man from 1966, and (this is so cool) the complete 1937 Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film, starring Ida Lupino and Robert Montgomery.

2. David Lean Directs Noël Coward

Four films from the 40s -- two wartime sort of propaganda/morale boosters (In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed), the greatest tearjerker ever made about two people who don't really commit adultery (Brief Encounter), and a swank, sophisticated supernatural themed no-sex-we're-British-please comedy (Blithe Spirit) featuring the wowser Kay Hammond (that's her on the left below)... the Ghostess with the Mostest (as used to be said about another sexy spectre, albeit on 50s TV). In any case, although you can probably guess my fave in the set, given that I've always liked Coward's famous self-assessment -- that he "had a talent to amuse" -- all four of these are more than worth your time, if only for Lean's often dazzling visuals, and all four have been gloriously transferred from the flawless 2008 BFI National Film Archive restorations (Blithe Spirit, as you can see from the pic, has Technicolor that you can eat with the proverbial spoon). Lots of interesting bonuses, as you might imagine, including a 1978 tv documentary on Lean and a 1969 audio-only interview with Coward and Dickie Attenborough. (I know he's Sir Richard Attenborough, but I just like calling him Dickie, for some reason).

3. Jean Grémillon During the Occupation

A three film box set -- from a director I'm embarrassed to say I was heretofore unaware of -- and all of the pictures (naturalist melodramas, with the exception of Lumière d'été, a tragicomic love story that's a little harder to characterize) were shot under the obviously difficult conditions involving those Nazi guys who were goosestepping around the vicinity of French film studios at the time. In any case, in his homeland Gremillion is considered a consummate humanist filmmaker from the Golden Age, and after seeing the three examples of his work here -- particularly Remorques, with the great Jean Gabin as a tugboat captain drawn to a mysterious sexpot played by (woo hoo) Michelle Morgan -- I'd have to say the reputation is deserved; comparisons to Renoir do not seem at all far-fetched. All three films look pristine in Criterion's transfers, and the set -- released under Criterion's budget Eclipse imprint -- is something of a bargain at a mere 36 bucks list.

4. The Gold Rush

Little needs to be said about Chaplin's masterpiece -- the dance of the forks! the meal of the shoe! -- at this point, but it's hard to imagine a better presentation of it then the one Criterion serves up here. Disc one has stunning restored high-def transfers of both the original 1925 silent version (with Chaplin's original score newly recorded in surround sound) and the 1942 reissue, for which Chaplin added music, narration and sound effects. Disc two, meanwhile, has about a gazillion documentaries on Chaplin and/or the making of the film, including one featuring (personal hero of mine) historian and filmmaker Kevin Browlow. Needless to say, this one is about as essential as it gets.

I should add that all of the above can -- and should -- be ordered over at Amazon, or -- and if you'd like to learn more about them -- over at the Criterion website. And tell 'em PowerPop sent you.


steve simels said...

Slow day, apparently.


buzzbabyjesus said...

I got Kevin Blownlow's, "The Parade's Gone By" for my birthday in 1973. Been a fan ever since.

Brooklyn Girl said...

David Lean's "Great Expectations" made a huge impression on me when I was a kid.

steve simels said...

Kevin Brownlow is The Man who basically got the restoration of Gance's NAPOLEON together.

For that alone, he deserves respect from all who walk upright.