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The DVD Report #274

Quick, what role do Thelma Ritter, Cloris Leachman, Debbie Reynolds and Kathy Bates all have in common? Answer, they all played Margaret (Molly) Brown AKA The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the tile of Reynolds’ 1964 film. Leachman first played her in a 1957 episode of Telephone Time and later in the 1979 TV movie, S.O.S. Titanic. Ritter played her in Jean Nugulesco’s’s popular 1953 film, Titanic and Bates in James Cameron’s 1997 megahit, also titled Titanic.

This year being the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, films both old and new about the event are everywhere. An embarrassingly bad new TV mini-series mined the event once more with unknown actress Linda Karsh cast as “Mrs. Brown” – unsinkable Molly now barely even being given a credit. Still, she is the most prominent survivor among the passengers on the ill-fated vessel and the one character sure to pop up in every production about the sinking.

DVDs about the ship are everywhere as well. There are documentaries galore, and even the dreadful new mini-series has been released on both Blu-ray and standard DVD. Criterion has recently released the excellent 1958 film A Night to Remember with Kenneth More and Honor Blackman in a newly upgraded Blu-ray edition. British character actress Tucker McGuire plays good old Molly in that one.

The 1953 film with Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton and Ritter as Molly was promised a Blu-ray release by Fox to coincide with the anniversary, but its U.S. release was postponed and then cancelled altogether. The film is, however, available in a “region B” version released in the U.K. as well as in an old standard DVD release from Fox. This version was long ago ceded its critical reputation to the more factual A Night to Remember, but is worth seeing for its human story.

The 1953 version concerns a custody battle between Webb and Stanwyck that ends in their joining forces as the film speeds towards its inevitable conclusion in which Webb makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Warner Bros. reissued the standard DVD version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown earlier this year as well. Fans of the musical, however, are still not satisfied. They won’t rest until a Blu-ray capturing Meredith Willson’s score is released.

Debbie Reynolds, who has had a long and prosperous career, was at her pinnacle as the fiery redhead, taking the character from rags to riches and long sought respectability. The scenes aboard the Titanic and the raft make up just a small portion of the film, but the experience did give the real life Molly her enduring nickname.

The most famous film about the sinking of the ship is of course Cameron’s Oscar winning Titanic from 1997 which was re-released to theatres in 3-D in commemoration of the anniversary. I did not see it in that format, and won’t unless or until they find a way of projecting 3-D without the use of glasses. However, if that’s your thing and you have a 3-D TV, the film is now available on Blu-ray in a 3-D version as well as in the original version. It’s also available on standard DVD. The Blu-ray package contains over 6 hours of extras

What continues to draw us to it is not the spectacle, although that remains spectacular as ever, but the love story as played out by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Jack and Rose with a superb supporting performance by Gloria Stuart as the 100-year-old Rose. The film was nominated for fourteen Oscars and won eleven. It also held the record for highest grossing film of all time for twelve years until Cameron’s Avatar overtook it.

The week’s other major Blu-ray and standard DVD release is Snow White and the Huntsman, one of the year’s worst films.

Everything about this film is a bad idea, from the obscure title linking a minor character in the Grimm fairy tale to its iconic heroine, to the expanded role the character has in the film to the ridiculous story that has nowhere to go to the inept, if tricky, direction to the zombie-like performance of the film’s leading lady.

This was director Rupert Sanders’ first film after a career in TV commercials. While he may have an eye for fast-moving graphics as required to sell a product, the technique does not bode well for telling a story. The story here is a rather bizarre take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. If Mirror Mirror, which mined the same material earlier in the year was too light, this one was too dark. The only good thing most reviewers had to say about the film was that Charlize Theron gave a good account of herself as the evil queen. Not in my book. The actress’ line readings alternated between high-pitched screams and low, guttural uttterances that made her dialogue almost impossible to understand. Still, she excelled in comparison to the film’s Snow White, a completely out of her depth Kristen Stewart.

I made the mistake of reading viewers’ comments on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb.) prior to viewing the film, something I rarely do. One comment kept reverberating in my mind as I watched the awful thing – and that was that Stewart keeps her mouth open, showing her horse teeth throughout the film. Sure enough, Stewart does indeed keep her mouth open during the entire film, showing her two front teeth almost up to the gum line, which if you look at them closely do resemble a horse’s two front teeth. It’s a distraction that probably wouldn’t have been noticeable if the story had been absorbing enough to keep my attention.

Chris Hemsworth as the title character does deliver a decent performance, especially in the scene in which he talks about his dead wife to the seemingly lifeless body of Snow White. It’s he, and not the prince, who delivers the kiss which awakens her in this one.

As for the dwarfs, seeing the likes of well-known actors like Bob Hoskins and Toby Jones on the bodies of actual dwarfs through the magic of CGI is extremely off-putting. The film’s other special effects are also rather lame. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

This week’s new DVD releases include U.S. release of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the long awaited Blu-ray debut of Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures.

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