The DVD Report #256

I tend not to read other people’s reviews of films before rendering my own opinion of them so as not to allow other people’s thoughts to influence my own. This week, however, I made an exception and checked out Rotten Tomatoes’ reviews of The Vow.

I had been under the impression that the film had received widespread critical approval, when in fact its Rotten Tomatoes rating was a decidedly rotten 29 on a scale of 100. I didn’t think it was that bad, but a few of the things others found problematic were the things that bothered me about it.

The thing that really bothered me was that I recalled the film according to several TV pundits as being “based on” a real story. Wrong! It was “inspired by” a real story, which is an entirely different matter. When a film is “based on” something, it has to have some kind of relation to the source material. When it’s “inspired by” something, it can go off in his own direction regardless of the facts. That’s what seemed to be going on here. The film doesn’t resemble real life so much as lives lived in a novel by Nicholas Sparks. That thought is underscored by the principal casting of Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum who starred, respectively, in The Notebook and Dear John, earlier films based on Sparks’ novels.

Both actors acquit themselves well, with Tatum coming off slightly better as the sensitive young man whose wife (McAdams) awakens from a coma with amnesia, her memory having lost the last five years including her entire relationship with the poor guy. He spends the rest of the film trying to win back her love. This being a formulaic film you know that he will, so what is there to keep your interest?

It would have been better had there been some real suspense or a real choice for McAdams to make weighing the life she remembers against the one she doesn’t. The decks are stacked against that, however, the minute you meet her parents, an authoritative Sam Neill and a snooty, fretting Jessica Lange. The less said about her sleazy ex- fiancé Scott Speedman, the better.

The Vow is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

It’s not that Hollywood can’t make a decent love story about amnesia if it tries. Few love stories have been as gratifying as Mervyn LeRoy’s 1942 classic, Random Harvest, based on the novel by James Hilton, whose previous works, Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr. Chips were the basis for two of the most beloved films of the previous five years.

Duplicating the run of Garson’s Mrs. Miniver which spent an unprecedented twelve weeks at Radio City Music Hall earlier in the year, the film was nominated for seven Oscars versus Miniver’s twelve, losing all seven, several of them to Miniver. Nevertheless, Garson’s performance in Random Harvest is at least the equal of her Oscar winning one in Miniver.

She plays a music hall star who helps amnesiac Ronald Colman build a new life after his loss of memory caused by an accident. Eventually they marry only to have their bliss interrupted by another accident while on another trip, this one to his native London. His previous memory restored, he’s now forgotten all about Garson.

Re-enter Garson as Colman’s no-nonsense private secretary. Colman, remaining faithful to a memory he can’t quite grasp, does not love Garson but asks her to enter into a marriage of convenience, which she agrees to. Another trip, this to the idyllic village where they met, Colman has flashes of his previous existence with Garson, but still can’t seem to connect the dots. Finding his way to their rose covered cottage, he makes the connection as Garson re-appears for the well-earned happy ending which still has the power to reduce its audiences to a blubbering mess.

Random Harvest is available on standard DVD.

If only The Vow had been half as good!

Other films of note, in which amnesia plays a major part, include Spellbound; Anastasia; Sundays and Cybele and The Fourth Man.

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, 1945’s Spellbound gave Gregory Peck an important early role as an amnesiac masquerading as a psychiatrist he may have killed. Lucky for him, Ingrid Bergman is a real shrink who believes in him.

Spellbound is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

Bergman herself has amnesia in Anatole Litvak’s 1956 film, Anastasia. Tutored by con man Yul Brynner to believe that she is youngest daughter of Nicholas, the executed last czar of Russia, she begins to believe that she is actually the Grand Duchess. Conjuring up memories that may or may not be real, she eventually has a climactic audience with Russia’s Dowager Empress Maria, played to the hilt by Helen Hayes.

Bergman won her second Oscar for her performance in Anastasia and re-established herself as one of the world’s great actresses with this performance.

Anastasia is available on standard DVD.

Hardy Kruger is only a partial amnesiac in Serge Bourguignon’s 1962 Oscar winning masterpiece, Sundays and Cybele in which his French Vietnam veteran is slowly recovering from the trauma of killing a young child during the war. His meeting with a young girl dumped by her father in a boarding school leads to his pretending to be her father and taking her on Sunday outings, which leads people to wrongly suspect the former soldier of being a child molester.

Maurice Jarre’s haunting score and the screenplay were nominated for Oscars the year after the film won its Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Sundays and Cybele is not available on DVD in the U.S.

Paul Verhoeven’s 1980s output included some outstanding fims, the best of which may well be The Fourth Man, the 1984 winner of Best Foreign Film from both the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Board of Review.

I won’t spoil the story, but suffice it to say amnesia enters into it, as do strangulation, castration and other forms of mutilation as bi-sexual mystery writer Joeren Krabbe tries to solve a murder mystery before he becomes the killer’s fourth victim. Renée Soutendijk and Thom Hoffman co-star.

The Fourth Man is available on standard DVD.

New DVD releases this week include Albert Nobbs; Rampart and the Blu-ray debut of Being John Malkovoch.

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