Blu-ray: Clara Bow meets Gary Cooper in ‘Children of Divorce’

Flicker Alley

Children of Divorce (1927) (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD) is one of those silent films that isn’t exactly a classic but possesses an irresistible allure. The star power and cinematic charisma of Clara Bow, the definitive flapper of the silent era, and young Gary Cooper lights up this somewhat silly melodrama of the young, beautiful and idle rich who treat marriage as a game.

It opens on a “divorce colony” in Paris, where the recently single society players goes to pair off once again in hopes of upgrading. To grease the wheels of romantic negotiations, the kids are dropped off in an orphanage filled with the inconvenient children of the newly (and temporarily) single. That’s where little Kitty Flanders is abandoned to the nuns, and where she meets her new best friends: Jean Waddington and Teddy Lambie, also abandoned by divorced parents. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

Jump ahead to “America – Years Later” and Clara Bow is the party girl spitfire Kitty Flanders, raised by an oft-divorced mother to marry into money, and Cooper is her best friend Teddy…

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Blu-ray/DVD: Olive Signature editions of ‘Johnny Guitar’ and ‘High Noon’

johnnyguitarJohnny Guitar: Olive Signature (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) – Joan Crawford’s Vienna is the most masculine of women western heroes. A former saloon girl who earned her way to owning her own gambling house, she’s a mature woman with a history and she’s not ashamed of what she did to carve out her claim for a future.

Directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge as frontier entrepreneurs in a war of wills, the 1954 Johnny Guitar is one of the most unusual westerns of its era, or any era for that matter. It’s dense with psychological thickets and political reverberations (including a not-so-veiled allegory for the McCarthy witch-hunts in Hollywood), designed with color both expressive and explosive, and directed with the grace of a symphony and the drama of an opera.

Sterling Hayden plays the title character, a lanky, affable cowboy who wanders into Vienna’s saloon in the opening minutes and serves as witness to the dramas bubbling up in this frontier community in the hills. But his acts of heroism aside, he’s the equivalent of the stalwart girlfriend watching the showdown between Vienna and the Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge). She’s the town banker and moral arbiter whose power is threatened by Vienna (her saloon is built on the site of the railway line) and whose shameful desire for a bad boy miner (Scott Brady) flares up into vengeance against Crawford, the object of his desire.

The film’s dynamic first act occurs almost entirely within the confines of the gaming room of her saloon, with characters arriving, engaging, and exiting in dramatically timely fashion, but the effect is anything but stagebound or theatrical. Ray directs the rise and fall of the drama and the interplay and evolution of stories like a symphony, a sustained piece with themes and movements that builds to the climactic kiss between Vienna and Johnny and one of the greatest lyrics ever spoken in a western: “Lie to me. Tell me you love me.”

This is a clash of wills that erupts in fire and destruction with the two players taking on roles out of a modern myth. Emma, leading a lynch mob while still in a black mourning dress, confronts Vienna, clad in a soft, white, elegant gown while playing the saloon’s piano: the dark, angry fairy tale witch taking on the innocent heroine, though Vienna is anything but innocent. And when Vienna sets the place on fire and practically dances in triumph, a black figure against the bright flames, she’s the wicked witch incarnate, but symbolism aside, the scene burns deep and hot with rage and revenge unleashed.

Jean-Luc Godard once made the claim that “Nicholas Ray is cinema.” Johnny Guitar is evidence to support his case.

Joan Crawford as Vienna in 'Johnny Guitar'
Joan Crawford as Vienna in ‘Johnny Guitar’

Olive gave the film its DVD and Blu-ray debut a few years ago. Now it gets the deluxe treatment in a new 4K restoration and it looks amazing. The saturation of the color (and this is a film where the reds and yellows of the costumes explode from the screen) is intense and the image has magnificent a sharpness and clarity. And the film finally is released in its original aspect ratio.

New to this edition is commentary by film critic and scholar Geoff Andrew, the featurettes “Johnny Guitar: A Western Like No Other” (18 minutes) and “Johnny Guitar: A Feminist Western?” (15 minutes) with critics Miriam Bale, Kent Jones, Joe McElhaney, and B. Ruby Rich, “Tell Us Was She One of You: The Hollywood Blacklist and Johnny Guitar” with historian Larry Ceplair and blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein (11 minutes), “Free Republic: Herbert J. Yates and the Story of Republic Pictures” with archivist Marc Wanamaker (6 minutes), and ” My Friend, the American Friend” with Tom Farrell and Chris Sievernich discussing Nicholas Ray (12 minutes). Carried over from the previous release is a short video introduction by Martin Scorsese, which was recorded for the film’s VHS release last century. The accompanying booklet features an essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum.

highnoonHigh Noon: Olive Signature (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) – One of the westerns considered part of the canon of American greats, High Noon (1955) has been called an old-fashioned celebration of courage and responsibility in the face of impossible odds, an ironic dissection of the western myth, and a blast of moral outrage at the silence and passivity of American citizens. Howard Hawks claimed this film inspired him to make Rio Bravo, because he couldn’t fathom a sheriff who went around begging for help. There’s so much loaded weight attached to the film (from famously right-wing lead Gary Cooper to famously liberal screenwriter Carl Foreman, who was blacklisted by Hollywood) that it can overwhelm what is essentially a lean, dusty western classic set to the real time of a ticking clock, counting down the minutes until a gang of killers ride in looking for revenge on Sheriff Cooper.

Grace Kelly plays Cooper’s Quaker bride, anxious for him to set aside all thoughts of violence on this their wedding day, and Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Henry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef, and Katy Jurardo co-star. Fred Zinneman directs for producer Stanley Kramer, and Tex Ritter sings the legendary theme song: “Do not forsake me, oh my darling.”

New to this edition are the featurettes “A Ticking Clock” with film editor Mark Goldblatt (6 minutes), “A Stanley Kramer Production” with filmmaker and film historian Michael Schlesinger (14 minutes), “Imitation of Life: The Blacklist History of High Noon” with historian Larry Ceplair and blacklisted screenwriter Walter Bernstein (10 minutes), and he visual essay “Oscars and Ulcers: The Production History of High Noon” narrated by Anton Yelchin (12 minutes). The accompanying booklet features an essay by Nick James.

More DVD and Blu-ray releases at Cinephiled

Classic: A New Edition of ‘High Noon’

High Noon (Olive), one of the best loved westerns of all time, has been called an old-fashioned celebration of courage and responsibility in the face of impossible odds, an ironic dissection of the western myth, and a blast of moral outrage at the silence and passivity of American citizens. Howard Hawks claimed this film inspired him to make “Rio Bravo,” because he couldn’t fathom a sheriff who went around begging for help. There’s so much loaded weight attached to the film (from famously right-wing lead Gary Cooper to famously liberal screenwriter Carl Foreman, who was blacklisted by Hollywood) that it can overwhelm what is essentially a lean, dusty western classic set to the real time of a ticking clock, counting down the minutes until a gang of killers ride in looking for revenge on Sheriff Cooper.

Grace Kelly plays Cooper’s Quaker bride, anxious for him to set aside all thoughts of violence on this their wedding day, and Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney, Henry Morgan, Lee Van Cleef, and Katy Jurardo co-star. Fred Zinneman directs for producer Stanley Kramer, and Tex Ritter sings the legendary theme song: “Do not forsake me, oh my darling.”

It’s been on DVD before but has been remastered in HD for this edition from a finegrain 35mm print for a new DVD edition and its Blu-ray debut. Features the 23-minute documentary “The Making of High Noon,” a 1992 featurette narrated by Leonard Maltin, but not any of the other supplements from the previous DVD special edition.

More classics on DVD and Blu-ray at Videodrone

Classic: ‘A Farewell to Arms’

The definitive edition

Gary Cooper is the young ambulance in WWI and Helen Hayes a British nurse in the 1932 A Farewell to Arms (Kino), the first film based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel and still the most sophisticated. Made in the era before enforcement of the production code, the film, directed by Frank Borzage, offers a far more adult portrait of the love affair on the battlefield than the 1957 version.

Coop is almost impossibly young and beautiful as the stalwart soldier resigned to the grind of war and Helen Hayes practically glows as Catherine, an angel of a nurse who is nonetheless down to earth when it comes to sex. Frank Borzage’s romanticism would seem a poor match for Hemingway’s stoicism but he elevates their love to a holy purity even as it takes place outside the official bounds of the church and social acceptance. A priest performs a benediction over their union, which in this film passes for marriage; the Catholic League wasn’t fooled and condemned the film. Hemingway didn’t much like it much, either, but Borzage’s vision just looks better with time. It’s gorgeous (it won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography), even as the choppiness suggests a rather violent treatment by the studio. But my, it glows.

More Classics and other releases at Videodrone

Meet Frank Capra and His Mad Tea Party

Meet John Doe: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition (VCI)

Frank Capra’s last feature before leaving Hollywood to contribute his filmmaking talents to the war effort is his most populist piece of social commentary, a cynical satire of a publicity stunt that turns into a popular political movement.

Hashing out the politics of John Doe

Barbara Stanwyck is equal parts street-smart spunk and ferocious ambition as Ann Mitchell, a newspaper columnist swept out with the rest of the staff when a new owner takes over and leaves a kiss-off piece that starts a ruckus, drives sales and puts her in a prime position to negotiate a new contract, providing she keeps delivering her voice-of-the-people. Gary Cooper is at his laconic, everyman best as former minor league pitcher Long John Willoughby, now a homeless, unemployed drifter hired to play the role of Ann’s fictional John Doe, the voice of the people whose “letters” she writes for the paper. He becomes the public voice, his lazy delivery, lanky body language and homespun spirit giving her words an authenticity that raises the depressed spirits of struggling Americans and sparks a spontaneous grass roots movement.

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DVDs for 7/7/09 – John Barrymore, Gary Cooper and Edward Woodward as a spy John Le Carre could have created

Camilla Horn and John Barrymore
Camilla Horn and John Barrymore whip up a Tempest
He was called “The Great Profile,” elevated as the great lover of the silent screen and held up as the greatest actor of his generation. In retrospect he left behind his share of hammy performances and lazy mugging, but when he was at his best, John Barrymore was a shining star of the silent screen. Kino has collected four Barrymore silents in The John Barrymore Collection, three of them new to Kino (but not necessarily new to DVD). The highlights come via the Killiam Collection, complete with the original seventies-era piano scores by William P. Perry recorded for repertory showings. The Beloved Rogue features Barrymore in swashbuckling form as François Villon, “poet, pickpocket, patriot” (as his introductory title card identifies him), a hard-drinking gadabout who satirized the King (Conrad Veidt, making his Hollywood debut in a comically gnarled performance) in his poetry but loved “France earnestly, Frenchwomen excessively, French wine exclusively.” The famed Shakespearean stage dramatist has a tendency to twist face into a clownish curl to play 15th century poet as a fun-loving fool and drunkard, parading about with his drinking buddies and playing the king of the beggars of Paris. But he also throws himself into the swashbuckling scenes, leaping across roofs less like an action hero than a child of the streets who hasn’t quite grown up, and tones himself down for romance with Marceline Day, the king’s ward. Alan Crosland previously directed Barrymore in Don Juan, one of another of his best silent films, and William Cameron Davies creates the lavish sets.

I’m even more partial to Tempest (1928), not a version of the Shakespeare play but a tale of a peasant soldier (Barrymore) in love with a princess (Camilla Horn of Faust, whose eyes burn with a mixture of haughty arrogance and guilty desire) in World War I Russia. Barrymore gives one of his most restrained performances as the tormented soldier whose hatred of the aristocracy is systematically stoked when he’s put through a living hell for his temerity at falling in love with a high-born beauty. The aristocracy systematically keeps the lowly peasant class its place until the revolution turns the tables, at which point the film tries to cast the Red Menace as the villain. It’s a hard sell given the brutality and contempt of the ruling class, but in a manner that suggests director Sam Taylor studied the works of D.W. Grifffith, he portrays the aristocrats as beautiful people tormented by the ugly peasants who take their revenge with a vengeance. In this new paradigm, Barrymore rejects class politics to save his fair aristocratic love from the grimy hands of the dark, unwashed proletariat brutes. Director Sam Taylor directed some terrific Harold Lloyd comedies before making this historical romantic drama, but he guide this gorgeous costume drama like he was a master of the epic form, and William Cameron Menzies once again contributes great sets. The box set also features the 1922 Sherlock Holmes and the previously released 1920 Dr Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, and the discs are also available separately. The films are preserved rather than restored but look fine and The Beloved Rogue is tinted.

Hollywood adventures don’t come more rousing than the 1939 Beau Geste. Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston are the boisterous Geste brothers, orphans raised by a society lady as gentlemen with a sense of playful camaraderie and undaunted chivalry. Continue reading “DVDs for 7/7/09 – John Barrymore, Gary Cooper and Edward Woodward as a spy John Le Carre could have created”