One of my favorite romantic comedies of all time finally comes to DVD:
the 1939 screwball Cinderella story “Midnight” stars Claudette Colbert as a street smart showgirl who pulls into Paris without a penny to her name and lands in the lap of luxury, thanks to a most unlikely fairy godfather (John Barrymore). She plays the part of the moneyed aristocrat in return for distracting a smooth high-society lothario (Francis Lederer) from Barrymore’s flighty young wife (a bubbly Mary Astor), but doesn’t count on persistent cabbie Don Ameche vying for her affections. One of the small gems scripted by Billy Wilder (with writing partner Charles Brackett) before he made the leap to directing, it’s polished up right by director Mitchell Leisen, Paramount’s master of light elegance.
It’s released as part of the “Universal Cinema Classics” imprint, even though the film was produced for Paramount – all those classic Paramounts are part of the Universal catalogue – and there are three other releases under that imprint coming out this week. Easy Living (1937) is a screwball delight set in the midst of the depression that sends Jean Arthur bouncing between the poles of poverty and wealth, thanks to a stray sable coat that falls from the heavens (in this case, a penthouse suite) and the assumptions that follow. Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay and Mitchell Leisen directs with his deft touch. The Major and the Minor (1942) marked the directorial debut of Billy Wilder and features a fabulous comic performance by Ginger Rogers. She Done Him Wrong (1933), written by and starring Mae West, doesn’t quite fit in the screwball genre of the rest of the films, but it’s a classic directed by the underrated Lowell Sherman and featuring a very young Car Grant.
Read the full review on my MSN DVD column here.
And from Criterion’s budget label, Eclipse, comes the three-disc set Silent Ozu: Three Silent Comedies, featuring Tokyo Chorus (1931), Passing Fancy (1933), and his first comic masterpiece, the delightful yet wistful I Was Born, But… (1932):
Yasujiro Ozu has been acclaimed as the most “Japanese” of Japanese film directors for his sedate, contemplative family dramas and subdued comedies, but he began his career as a director of lively silent films more indebted to Hollywood style than the quiet restraint and rigorous simplicity of his future films. This collection of three silent comedies from Criterion’s no-frills Eclipse label features some of his most delightful productions from the period.
Read the full review here.
Starting Out in the Evening was praised but largely overlooked when it was released in the awards season, and if you ask me Frank Langella was robbed of an Oscar nomination for his beautifully modulated performance as a quiet, emotionally closed-in author struggling with writer’s block and facing the reality that he’s been forgotten in the years since he last published.
His discreet performance, all politeness and gentlemanly manner, is a model of quiet restraint covering a lifetime of experience, and his work was unfairly overlooked at Oscar time, drowned out by the bold, brawny performances carved out of testosterone and drive and gritty assurance. The sophomore feature from director Andrew Wagner is a marvelous, nuanced work with rich characters and complicated relationships, and he embraces their faults with as much love as their generosity.
Read the full review here.
And on TV:
The second season of “Friday Night Lights” hits DVD in the wake of the good news that the acclaimed but ratings-challenged series has been saved with a third-season commitment. Think of it as another opportunity to discover one of the best shows on TV for two seasons running.
Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column.
Horror may go for the jugular in America, but in Spain the ghost story is still a vital genre…. Directed by J.A. Bayona and produced by Guillermo del Toro, the film revels in spooky scares and goose-pimply eeriness but is grounded in a human drama of loss and sacrifice.
TV: the British telefilm My Boy Jack:
David Haig plays literary legend Rudyard Kipling, and Daniel Radcliffe (famed for playing Harry Potter in the big-screen series) is his son Jack in the British telefilm about the son’s determination to join the armed forces in World War I to make his patriotic papa proud.
Silent movie historian Charles Musser directs the 1982 documentary on, director of the 1903 “ .” The Edison technician changed the face of cinema with his experiments in narrative editing and became America’s first major filmmaker. Former silent star Blanche Sweet narrates and the disc features three bonus Porter shorts.