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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Best Picture Winners, a Few Reviews, and the Latest Announcements

In this edition of Classic Coming Attractions, I'm recognizing the Oscar season with a brief discussion of the merits of the existing DVD releases for the Best Picture winners during the Hollywood Golden Age, prefaced by a few comments on the current Oscar run-up and some of the nominated films. After that, I've got some reviews for you (12 in all) and the usual rundown on the latest classic announcements.


Best Picture Winners on DVD

This year's Academy Awards show being just days away as I write this prompts me to say a few words about the current nominees as well as the Best Picture winners from the Golden Age many of whose DVD editions are worth picking up if you haven't already done so.

Despite what one may think of the politics of Oscar selections and the inevitably overlooked titles, the awards presentation show has always had enough fascination for me to make wading through the pre-show blather tolerable. I must confess, however, that the idea of this year's show has left me colder than usual. The surrounding hype and build-up (starting with the Golden Globes, surely one of the most meaningless evaluations of film excellence in existence), the excessive and annoyingly repetitive attention to style rather than substance, and the continued degradation of the word "star" (Judge Judy gets a star on the Walk of Fame?) has finally gotten to the point where watching the show seems like a chore rather than a pleasure. Maybe it's time for the show to revert to its format of a more intimate awards ceremony over dinner. It'll never happen, but one can dream, can't one?

Anyway, for the first time in many years, circumstances will dictate that I won't be watching this year's edition, even though there were some truly fine films up for Best Picture as well as in various other categories. Some DVDs have started to appear for those films already or are imminent, including the following for which I received advance copies. Classic fans, please bear with me while I offer up a few comments on them.


Walk the Line

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Includes Dolby Digital & DTS Surround Sound

Walk the Line (2005)
(released on DVD by Fox on February 28th, 2006)

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B-


Walk the Line (nominated in the best actor, actress, sound, editing, and costume design categories) is a superior biopic of Johnny Cash with an impressive singing effort by Joaquin Phoenix who catches the spirit of Johnny Cash if not quite the voice, although Reese Witherspoon runs away with the acting honours in her role as June Carter. Fox's single disc version sports a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks warm and pleasing. The image is sharp and colour fidelity is excellent. Better yet, Fox's audio offerings are superior with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on display. Both do the music justice with deep, rich sound and effective surround and low frequency effects. French and Spanish Dolby surround tracks are provided as well as English and Spanish subtitles. The supplements consist of an audio commentary by director James Mangold that is informative though somewhat dry sounding. Ten deleted scenes with optional director commentary are also included.


The Squid and the Whale

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Squid and the Whale (2005)
(released on DVD by Sony on March 21st, 2006)

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B+


The Squid and the Whale (nominated for its screenplay) is a startlingly honest view of a family in disarray as husband and wife Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney separate leaving their two sons to take sides. It's unfortunate that Daniels wasn't recognized by the Academy for his work. The boys are compellingly played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline while director Noah Baumbach's script was rightly recognized with its nomination. The film looks reasonably good in its 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer although it does betray some softness and graininess perhaps attributable to its low budget origins. The disc sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that's not particularly noticeable and is supplemented by a French surround track and English and French subtitles. The supplements are good including a very intelligent commentary track by the director, a short but informative making-of featurette, an interview with the director and writer Philip Lopate, and a whole raft of trailers.


Capote

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Capote (2005)
(released on DVD by Sony on March 21st, 2006)

Film Rating: B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B+


Capote (nominated in the best picture, actor, supporting actress, directing, and screenplay categories) on the other hand is a bit of a one-trick pony, its allure resting upon a truly memorable performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote. Not a thorough biopic, it focuses instead on the events surrounding Capote's writing of "In Cold Blood". Sony's DVD release delivers the film in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks fairly sharp (although there are some minor edge effects evident) and appears to replicate the film's rather subdued colour palette accurately. The image is a little dirtier than should be expected for a film of such recent vintage. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track delivers the dialogue clearly, but the film has little need of surround capability and there's nothing of great significance that's detectable. The film also offers a French track as well as a whole raft of subtitles.

As far as supplements go, there are two audio commentaries, both of which director Bennett Miller participates in - one with Hoffman and the other with cinematographer Adam Kimmel. The commentaries are average as such things go with Miller's participation in both leading to some repetition. There are also a two-part making-of documentary, a short piece on Truman Capote himself, and a whole slew of trailers.


But, enough of the best of 2005 - let's get back to the classics and take a look at the status of things with respect to DVDs for the Best Picture winners during the first four decades of the Academy Awards.

The first 12 years of Oscar's existence (1927/28 to 1932/33 when the awards were made on the basis of the period August 1 to July 31, plus 1934 to 1939 when the awards settled on a calendar year basis) yielded the following Best Picture winners:

1927/28 - Wings (Paramount, no DVD) and Sunrise (Fox, separate award for best artistic quality, DVD from Fox)
1928/29 - The Broadway Melody (MGM, DSD from WB)
1929/30 - All Quiet on the Western Front (Universal, DVD from Universal)
1930/31 - Cimarron (RKO, DVD from WB)
1931/32 - Grand Hotel (MGM, DVD from WB)
1932/33 - Cavalcade (Fox, no DVD)
1934 - It Happened One Night (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1935 - Mutiny on the Bounty (MGM, DVD from WB)
1936 - The Great Ziegfeld (MGM, DVD from WB)
1937 - The Life of Emile Zola (Warner Bros., DVD from WB)
1938 - You Can't Take It with You (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1939 - Gone with the Wind (MGM, DVD from WB)

The only Best Picture winners that have not been made available on DVD so far come from this period - Wings and Cavalcade. Both have been rumoured for some time, but neither has any concrete information available suggesting that a release is imminent. Paramount's reluctance to issue a Wings DVD is puzzling since it is an often-requested title and the mere cachet of its being a Best Picture winner should guarantee at least moderate sales. It is understood, however, that only modest sales for Paramount's release of several classic silent titles in VHS many years ago remains a reason, if in my opinion not an applicable one in the DVD era, for Wings' lack of appearance. Cavalcade's source material is understood to be in quite rough shape, but I would suspect that its release is just a matter of time given the fact that Fox did previously make it available as part of its VHS Studio Classics series. Of the titles available on DVD, Warners' four-disc treatment of Gone with the Wind is the gold standard. Fox's Studio Classics release of Sunrise is also superior. On the other hand, the current DVD of You Can't Take It with You is probably the poorest of the bunch in terms of both image quality and supplemental content. Sony (Columbia) is in the process of revisiting the title for release later in 2006. The DVD versions of All Quiet on the Western Front and It Happened One Night have been around the longest and both could stand being revisited, at least in terms of their image transfers. All Quiet on the Western Front would be worthy of a Legacy edition treatment (à la To Kill a Mockingbird) if Universal had the inspiration to do so. It is after all the only Universal-produced film to win the company a Best Picture Oscar during the classic era (Hamlet in 1948 was a British production only distributed by the company). It Happened One Night has an acceptable array of supplements already available on its initial release and is in the process of receiving a new transfer by Sony (Columbia) for delivery later in 2006. All the other Best Picture winners from this period have had their DVD releases from Warner Bros. over the past couple of years and all are worthy releases.

The second full decade of Oscar's existence spanned the war years and resulted in the following Best Picture winners:

1940 - Rebecca (Selznick, DVDs from Anchor Bay and Criterion)
1941 - How Green Was My Valley (Fox, DVD from Fox)
1942 - Mrs. Miniver (MGM, DVD from WB)
1943 - Casablanca (Warner Bros., DVD from WB)
1944 - Going My Way (Paramount, DVD from Universal)
1945 - The Lost Weekend (Paramount, DVD from Universal)
1946 - The Best Years of Our Lives (Goldwyn, DVD from Sony [MGM])
1947 - Gentleman's Agreement (Fox, DVD from Fox)
1948 - Hamlet (Universal, DVD from Criterion)
1949 - All the King's Men (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])

All ten of the Best Picture winners from the 1940s have been available on DVD for some time. Mrs. Miniver was the last one to be made available and that was two years ago. Casablanca and Rebecca have received excellent treatments (by Warner Bros. and Criterion respectively). Both are two-disc efforts that tell you just about all there is to know about the films. Unfortunately, the Criterion version of Rebecca is now out of print, although it still can be found at some locations. The rights are currently held by Sony (MGM). How Green Was My Valley, Mrs. Miniver, and Gentleman's Agreement have all received good DVD treatments with very good transfers and good arrays of supplements (the two Fox titles are included in the Studio Classics series). Hamlet and All the King's Men offer nice-looking transfers, but both are lacking in supplementary content. The versions of Going My Way, The Lost Weekend, and The Best Years of Our Lives that are currently available are stop-gap efforts at best. All three are bare-bones discs with merely passable image transfers. The lack of a first-class effort on The Best Years of Our Lives is particularly troubling, and should be a priority for an SE treatment from Sony.

As with the 1940s, the Best Picture winners from the 1950s are all available on DVD:

1950 - All About Eve (Fox, DVD from Fox)
1951 - An American in Paris (MGM, DVD from WB)
1952 - The Greatest Show on Earth (Paramount, DVD from Paramount)
1953 - From Here to Eternity (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1954 - On the Waterfront (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1955 - Marty (United Artists, DVD from Sony [MGM])
1956 - Around the World in 80 Days (United Artists, DVD from WB)
1957 - The Bridge on the River Kwai (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1958 - Gigi (MGM, DVD from WB)
1959 - Ben-Hur (MGM, DVD from WB)

Gigi is the earliest one released on DVD from this decade with Around the World in 80 Days being the last one of the 1950s to be made available. The latter is an extremely nice edition, but Gigi needs to be revisited, for despite its anamorphic transfer, it looks very inconsistent in quality reflecting its MGM origins on disc rather than the quality one expects from a Warner (who now holds its rights) effort. An American in Paris reflects a similar MGM/WB rights history, but at least a new Ultra-Resolution transfer is being readied by Warners for a two-disc SE release in 2007. Ben-Hur's recent four-disc release is the gold standard for this decade, but the versions of The Bridge on the River Kwai and All About Eve (the Studio Classics release) are also superior. It is understood that The Bridge on the River Kwai will receive an early HD release. On the Waterfront and From Here to Eternity have received decent treatments from Sony (Columbia), but the films' high quality warrants more. The Greatest Show on Earth isn't a great film but at least Paramount has given it a very fine transfer although the lack of supplements is disappointing. Marty languishes with an old but quite passable transfer, but no supplements of consequence.

All ten of the Best Picture winners from the 1960s are available on DVD:

1960 - The Apartment (United Artists, DVD from Sony [MGM])
1961 - West Side Story (United Artists, DVD from Sony [MGM])
1962 - Lawrence of Arabia (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1963 - Tom Jones (United Artists, DVDs from HBO [now OOP] and Sony [MGM])
1964 - My Fair Lady (Warner Bros., DVD from WB)
1965 - The Sound of Music (Fox, DVD from Fox)
1966 - A Man for All Seasons (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1967 - In the Heat of the Night (United Artists, DVD from Sony [MGM])
1968 - Oliver! (Columbia, DVD from Sony [Columbia])
1969 - Midnight Cowboy (United Artists, DVD from Sony [MGM])

The 1960s is a decade dominated by DVD releases from Sony (8 of the 10) and also films that received early DVD releases and subsequent updates. Midnight Cowboy, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Lawrence of Arabia, and West Side Story are all examples of the latter and with one exception, the new multi-disc sets that now exist for each are substantial improvements over the initial releases. In the case of Lawrence of Arabia, the initial release was a superior special edition. Some questions about the accuracy of the colour led to a refined transfer that was released in a subsequent Superbit edition lacking the initial release's supplements. It is likely that this title will find itself available in HD early in the coming HD era. Oliver! and In the Heat of the Night both exist in very nice editions, although Oliver! is rather light on supplements. The bottom of the barrel for the 1960s is reserved for the existing editions of Tom Jones and particularly The Apartment. Both require new transfers and some attention to supplementary material.


Reviews

The reviews this time out include titles from Mackinac Media (Attack of the 30's Characters, Popeye: Original Classics from the Fleischer Studio, Cultoons: Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons!, Cartoons for Victory, and Operation Manhunt), Sony (Cisco Pike), VCI (The Tall Texan), and Warner Bros. (Controversial Classics Collection: Volume Two - The Power of Media, The Good Earth, and Johnny Belinda). As usual, the reviews are ordered by date of original theatrical release.


Attack of the 30's Characters (1930-1937)
Popeye: Original Classics from the Fleischer Studio (1936-1942)
(both released on DVD by Mackinac Media on December 13th, 2005)

Cultoons: Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! (1931-1971)
Cartoons for Victory (1943-1946)
(both released on DVD by Mackinac Media on April 11th, 2006)

Attack of the 30's Characters Popeye: Original Classics from the Fleischer Studio

Cultoons: Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons!Cartoons for Victory

Thunderbean Animation (with distribution by Mackinac Media) has begun producing a collection of DVDs called The Golden Age of Cartoons. It features animated films produced during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s when the medium was a handcrafted skill. Each disc contains approximately two hours of cartoons with assorted bonus material included as well. The first four titles in the series are now available.

Attack of the 30's Characters features 16 cartoons representing all the major American cartoon studios of the decade. Represented on the disc are well-known characters such as Popeye and Mickey Mouse as well as some of the lesser-known ones such as Flip the Frog and Cubby Bear. Chronologically by release year, the cartoons presented are Congo Jazz (1930, the second "Looney Tune" ever to be released and starring Bosko); Wonderland (1931, an Oswald cartoon released by Universal's cartoon studio headed by Walter Lantz); Bars and Stripes (1931, with Krazy Kat); Lady Play Your Mandolin (1931, the first Merrie Melodie title, with Foxy - a Mickey Mouse look-alike with a bushy tail); Noah's Outing (1932, a black and white Terry-Toon starring Farmer Al Falfa); In the Bag (1932, from the Van Beuren studio, with Tom and Jerry but not the T&J you're used to); Is My Palm Read (1933, a nice Betty Boop entry); Funny Face (1933, from the Iwerks Studio, with Flip the Frog); The Mad Doctor (1933, with Mickey Mouse); Jolly Good Felons (1934, from the Van Beuren studio, with The Little King); Jack Frost (1934, from the Iwerks Studio); Merry Kittens (1935, an early cinecolor release from Van Beuren); The Beachcombers (1936, with a rejuvenated Oswald Rabbit); To Spring (1936, part of The Happy Harmonies series); Porky's Railroad (1937, an uncensored version of this venerable Porky Pig cartoon); and The Paneless Window Washer (1937, a Popeye the Sailor outing).

Program Rating (Attack): B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B-


Popeye: Original Classics from the Fleischer Studio gives us exactly what the title implies - ten offerings of the original Popeye material. There are seven standard-length cartoons (Little Swee Pea [1936], I'm in the Army Now [1936], I Never Changes My Altitude [1937], The Paneless Window Washer [1937], A Date to Skate [1938], Customers Wanted [1939], Me Musical Nephews [1942]) and three extra-length colour "specials" (Popeye Meets Sinbad [1936], Popeye Meets Ali Baba [1937], Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp [1939]).

Program Rating (Popeye): A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B+


Cultoons presents a grab-bag of characters who never achieved lasting fame, and animated advertisements and educational films. Included are Mendelssohn's Spring Song (1931, rare colour cartoon by Cy Young), Monkey Doodle (1931, a strange concoction featuring Simon the Monk and definitely a pre-Code item), The Hobo Hero (1935, featuring Piccolo Pete), Kool Penquins (1935, a theatrical commercial for the Kool Cigarette Company), Wonder Bakers at the World's Fair (1939, colour animated segments for the Wonder Bread exhibit), Ford Animated Commercials (1950, early animated commercials designed by Dr. Seuss), Shell Oil/Brookfield Butter/Coca Cola (1940/41, theatrical commercials), Korn Plastered in Africa (1931, featuring Uncle Don - famous children's radio show host), PM Picnic (1948, cartoon characters sell blended whisky), Goofy Goat (1931, first animated short by Ted Eshbaugh), Toddy Commercials (1950-52, commercials for a chocolate flavoured drink), Monsters Do Have Their Place (1971, commercial designed to boost theatre business in the face of cable TV inroads), No Fare (1935, featuring Goofy Gus), and Easy Does It! (1948, lengthy animated short for Stokely/Van Camp).

Program Rating (Cultoons): B
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B+


Cartoons for Victory is a collection of World War 2 era shorts produced in the U.S. and abroad. Included are Camouflage (1943, lead animation by Disney's Frank Thomas); Flight Safety: After the Cut and Landing Accidents (both 1946, part of a series done by the newly formed United Film Productions [later UPA]); five Private Snafu films - Spies, Booby Traps, The Chow Hound, A Lecture on Camouflage, Censored - produced by Warner Bros. from 1943-45; Commandments of Health: Taking Medicine (1945, limited and full animation about medicine for malaria); Bury the Axis (1943, with Lou Bunin's stop motion puppets); The Springman and the SS (1945, life under the Nazi regime); Der Schneeman (1943, German animation during the war years); Capn' Cub (1945, produced by Ted Eshbaugh); Bugs Bunny Bond Rally (1943, with Bugs, Porky and Elmer); Revolt of the Toys (1945, stop motion from Czechoslovakia); Nimbus Libere (1943, animation from Vichy France); and four Mr. Hook (the navy's answer to the army's Private Snafu) cartoons from 1945 - Take Heed Mr. Tojo!, The Good Egg, Tokyo Woes, The Return of Mr. Hook.

Program Rating (Victory): B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/B+


As one can appreciate, there is a wealth of rare animation included in these four discs, but the best part is the quality that, although variable from title to title, is quite good overall. The material has been derived from mainly 35mm but some 16mm original prints, some of them the only surviving ones, preserved by collectors and archives around the world. The Popeye cartoons (the ones included here are titles in the public domain), for example, are all from original 35mm material and appear to improve marginally but noticeably on the quality of the same titles as presented in VCI's already available collection of Popeye cartoons on DVD. The same is true of the Private Snafu cartoons in comparison to their earlier release on an Image disc. Even better is the nice suite of supplementary material that each disc contains including a thorough set of background notes on a four-page insert inside each case. Attack of the 30s Characters also contains original animation artwork and 1930s cartoon movie posters and the original theatrical trailer for Fleischer Studio's 1939 animated classic Gulliver's Travels. Popeye: Original Classics includes rare interviews with Jack Mercer (voice of Popeye), Mae Questel (voice of Olive Oil), and Jackson Beck (voice of Bluto); still galleries of original animation art and posters; a visit to Chester, Illinois - the home of Popeye's creator; the 1933 Let's Sing with Popeye cartoon; a 1939 Paramount "Popular Science" short that explains the making of a Popeye cartoon; and several other Popeye-related items. Cultoons includes audio commentaries by the likes of Jerry Beck, Milton Knight, Stephen Worth, Mark Kausler, Steve Stanchfield, and Mike Kazelah for most of its content. Cartoons for Victory! also offers audio commentary from Jerry Beck, John Kricfalusi, Eric Goldberg and others as well as a still gallery of cartoon propaganda poster, and an original cartoon character radio broadcast. On balance, my favourite of the four discs is the Popeye one, but all are worthy additions to the libraries of animation enthusiasts, particularly at a street price of about $10. Recommended.


The Good Earth

The Good Earth (1937)
(released on DVD by Warner Bros. on January 31st, 2006)

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/B-


The Good Earth was one of the pictures left unfinished upon the sudden death of Irving Thalberg, MGM's head of production, at age 37 in September 1936. When it was released in early 1937, the film contained the dedication " To the memory of Irving Grant Thalberg we dedicate this picture, his last great achievement". It was the first of only two films on which his name would appear as a credit (the other was 1939's Goodbye, Mr. Chips).

Thalberg had purchased the film rights to Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" in 1931, soon after the book was first published. The book was a study of the devotion between a man and his wife, a woman he had never seen until the day he married her.

The man is a Chinese peasant farmer (Wang Lung, played by Paul Muni), greatly attached to the land and the opportunity for an improved life that its acquisition allows him. His new wife is O-Lan (Luise Rainer), a young woman raised as a slave, who supports Wang Lung implicitly despite the travails of famine, locusts, and even the temptations of the flesh that wealth brings. Thalberg believed that the film's emphasis on the couple's relationship would bring audience support even if the setting might be less interesting to a North American audience, and his view prevailed even though studio boss Louis Mayer felt otherwise. Filming of establishing sequences was undertaken in China by director George Hill in 1933-34, but when Hill later committed suicide, Thalberg turned to first Victor Fleming and eventually Sydney Franklin to complete the picture. Paul Muni, then riding high from his work on The Story of Louis Pasteur for Warner Bros., was borrowed in exchange for the services of Robert Montgomery. He got the job after the likes of Charles Boyer and Nils Asther had been rejected. Luise Rainer, who was already working at MGM, got her role after Kathleen Cornell, Barbara Stanwyck, Sidney Fox, and Jean Parker among others had been considered. Muni and Rainer are both quite good, with Muni managing to rein in much of the excessive flamboyance that tended to characterize his work. A mixture of Chinese and American players fills the large supporting cast effectively. The use of the actual China footage along with location shooting at the foothills of the San Fernando Valley created a believable "Chinese" setting and excellent second unit and special effects work resulted in the very successful locust sequence. The film was a profitable one for the studio and brought Luise Rainer her second Best Actress Oscar in a row. Karl Freund won the Oscar for Best Cinematography. None of that is surprising, for the film is consistently interesting and entertaining, making its 138-minute running time speed by.

Warner Bros.' DVD release is reasonably good looking. One suspects that the source material was not in great shape as frequent speckles and scratches are in evidence, but the image detail is quite good and gray levels are decent. There is some modest grain as one would expect. The mono sound is clearly understandable despite some background hiss. A French mono track as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. The supplements consist of a Technicolor musical short Hollywood Party, at times amusing at others tiresome, which gives Charley Chase a prominent part and also features appearances from Clark Gable, Constance Bennett, Elissa Landi, Joe E. Brown, Anna May Wong, and Leon Errol; a newsreel showing some of 1937's Oscars being awarded; and the film's theatrical trailer. Recommended.


Johnny Belinda

Johnny Belinda (1948)
(released on DVD by Warner Bros. on January 31st, 2006)

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/C


Johnny Belinda took a long time in coming to the screen. Originally a 1940 Broadway play written by Elmer Harris, Warners had purchased the screen rights a few years later only to leave the play languishing in the studio story files. Finally, producer Jerry Wald saw the possibilities for a successful film and after some persuasion, Jack Warner gave the go-ahead in early 1946. The story concerns a young deaf mute woman, Belinda McDonald, living with her father and aunt on a farm on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She is befriended by the local doctor who teaches her sign language. Later she is secretly raped by local townsman Lucky McCormick and becomes pregnant. When the baby is born, suspicion falls on the young doctor as being the child's father and his practice suffers to the point where he decides to leave the community.

Meanwhile, the townsfolk decide to take the child away from the young woman, believing her unfit to raise it. McCormick, and his new wife are delegated to seize the child, but a violent confrontation ensues resulting in death and a subsequent trial.

It was Wald who also saw the potential in Jane Wyman, then fresh from success outside her home Warner Bros. studio in The Yearling and The Lost Weekend, for Johnny Belinda's lead role. Up until then, Wyman had seldom been given the studio's A team on her films, but now it was different. Director Jean Negulesco was at the helm, Max Steiner was assigned the film's scoring, and Ted McCord would be the cinematographer. Shooting was done in an isolated region of northern California that resembled the Cape Breton terrain. Wyman spent considerable time and effort to catch the mannerisms of those both deaf and mute, even living in complete isolation for several weeks. Her work paid off with a beautifully crafted performance that managed to convey the character's every thought and feeling even though she never speaks. It was an effort that would be rewarded with the year's Best Actress Oscar. Also contributing substantially to the film's strong acting was Lew Ayres as the doctor, Charles Bickford as Belinda's father, Agnes Moorehead as her aunt, and Jan Sterling as McCormick's eventual wife. When filming was completed, the cast and crew all believed they had achieved something special, but Jack Warner's lack of belief in the film's box office potential placed it in limbo for nearly a year until it was finally released in autumn 1948. Public and critical reaction was quick and virtually unanimously positive. It's not hard to see why. The film is uplifting, atmospheric, and intensely dramatic, never failing to entertain upon repeated viewings.

Such viewings are made even more pleasurable by Warners' excellent DVD transfer. The film has been restored from the original nitrate and yields a crisp image that features an excellent gray scale and fine image detail throughout. Speckles and other debris are minimal. A modest level of grain adds to the transfer's film-like appearance. The mono sound is in very fine shape and does well by Max Steiner's evocative score in addition. A French mono track and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. My only disappointment lies with the supplements. We get only the theatrical trailer and a weak Technicolor short called The Little Archer, which while it may be from the same year as the feature, otherwise does nothing to complement it. An audio commentary would have been most welcome with this sometimes-overlooked film. Nevertheless, the disc is highly recommended on the basis of the film alone.


On to Part Two

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