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The DVD Report #267

Terrence Davies’ film of Terrence Rattigan 1952 play, The Deep Blue Sea, gets the post-war era of still struggling bombed out London right. The story itself about the bored middle-aged wife of a British Judge who leaves him for a Royal Air Force pilot is somewhat less compelling due to the film’s structure.

The film opens with an attempted suicide by the woman and ends after the airman leaves her after a second attempt. In the meantime we get a mix of present day action and flashbacks which can be a bit confusing. It’s all held together, though, by the strong performances of Rachel Weisz as the woman; Tom Hiddleston as the pilot and Simon Russell Beale as the cast aside husband.

A hit on the London stage for Peggy Ashcroft and on Broadway for Margaret Sullavan in the early 1950s, it was briefly revived on Broadway in the late 1980s with Blythe Danner. The previously filmed 1955 version starring Vivien Leigh was not a success.

The Deep Blue Sea is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

The true story of Britain’s decades of systematic deportation of children as young as four years old to Australia and other countries gets the cinematic treatment in Jim Loach’s Oranges and Sunshine. Based on Margaret Humphreys’ autobiographical book about the social worker from Nottingham who uncovered the scandal, Emily Watson has one of her best roles as Humphries who stumbles innocently into the shameless discovery and then spends twenty-three years engaged in finding relatives for thousands of lost children before the government issues a formal apology.

Taken from their mothers, most of them unmarried and destitute, government officials tell the children their mother is dead and promise them a life of “sunshine and oranges” when what they get is twenty years of hard labor and abuse at the hands of institutions who are supposed to be taking care of them.

Oranges and Sunshine is available on Blu-ray and standard DVD.

One of Gary Cooper’s last films, as well as one of his best, 1959’s The Hanging Tree has finally been given a long sought after DVD release by the Warner Archive.

Based on an award-winning novel by Dorothy M. Johnson, who later wrote The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and A Man Called Horse, the film is essentially a character study about an unconventional doctor in a harsh Montana mining town. Directed by Delmer Daves (3:10 to Yuma; Cowboy), Cooper plays “Doc” Frail who saves young Ben Piazza from the hangman’s noose only to turn him into an indentured servant. Maria Schell, in a rare Hollywood role, also appears prominently as a determined immigrant with a secret. Karl Malden as a shifty-eyed miner and George C. Scott as a hellfire and brimstone preacher are the film’s chief villains. Brief synopses do not do the film justice. This is one of the great westerns – but more than that, it’s one of the great unsung films of its era.

In addition to Warner Bros., Columbia and Fox continue to release classics of yesteryear through their MOD DVD programs as well.

Although not really a classic, Columbia’s The Mad Magician is an excellent Great B horror film from 1954 that is infused with a great deal of macabre humor.

Released at the end of the 1950s brief 3-D craze, though not exhibited in that process in most venues, the black-and-white film features an excellent performance by Vincent Price on the heels of his classic turn in House of Wax.

Set in New York of the 1890s, Price plays a master designer of magical illusions sold by his employer, who is also a master of disguises and realistic mask design. The thrust of the plot has Price killing his enemies and then impersonating them while detective Patrick O’Neal uses the newly minted technique of fingerprinting to figure out what is going on. Mary Murphy co-stars as Price’s assistant and O’Neal’s fiancé while Eva Gabor gets co-star billing for two scenes as Price’s money grubbing ex-wife.

The special effects are excellent.

Among the earliest of Hollywood’s anti-Nazi films, Fox’s The Man I Married, directed by Irving Pichel in 1940, stars Joan Bennett as a successful American businesswoman on vacation in 1938 Germany with her German born husband (Francis Lederer). Ostensibly there to sell his ailing father’s business, he slowly comes under the spell of a female Nazi (Anna Sten) and stays to run his father’s business instead, all the while sinking further and further into the depraved lifestyle of the Nazis. It’s up to his father (Otto Kruger) to put an end to his temporary insanity and give Bennett the support she needs to leave both her husband and his country with her young son. Lloyd Nolan co-stars as an American journalist stationed in Berlin.

The American home-front is the locale for Fox’s 1944 film, Sunday Dinner for a Soldier, directed by Lloyd Bacon, in which a Florida family scrimps and saves to invite a soldier to dinner before being shipped overseas. Through a series of mishaps the invitation never gets delivered, but a lonely soldier shows up in his stead.

The film stars Anne Baxter and John Hodiak, who have a palpable chemistry that legend has it wasn’t immediately apparent to either them. It wasn’t until they met at a party two years later that romance blossomed and they were married. Charles Winninger, Bobby Driscoll, Anne Revere and Jane Darwell co-star.

In one of her rare starring roles, the recently deceased Celeste Holm is a joy to watch in Fox’s 1949 film, Chicken Every Sunday, directed by George Seaton.

The film is a rather gimmicky, even obvious, tale of a wife who struggles all her married life to get her husband (Dan Dailey) to settle down, only to realize once she decides to leave him how poorer her world would be without him. Colleen Townsend, Alan Young, William Frawley and Connie Gilchrist turn in impressive supporting performances, but Natalie Wood is totally wasted as one of Holm’s kids.

This week’s new releases include the Blu-ray debuts of Grand Illusion; Body and Soul and Force of Evil.

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