DVDs for 9/8/09 – That Hamilton Woman, Model Shop and Mad Monsters

The stars lined up for Alexander Korda when he made (reportedly at the request of Winston Churchill) That Hamilton Woman (Criterion). Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier had just become Hollywood stars (she with “Gone With the Wind,” he with “Wuthering Heights”) and, after a notorious affair, become husband and wife before shooting began. It was perfect casting for a film celebrating naval hero Lord Horatio Nelson and his scandalous affair with Emma Lady Hamilton in the late 18th century. Whether the passion on screen is their private life seeping into the film or simply superb acting, the result is an impassioned romance celebrated as a triumph of love and patriotic duty just as Britain entered World War II. It’s also the most gracefully directed and dramatically engaging film from British film impresario Korda, who generally directed like a producer. This is as episodic as all of Korda’s directorial efforts, but in this film he creates an elegance and rhythm that keeps the film flowing over the temporal leaps and the evocative cinematography by Rudolph Mate and production design by Korda’s brother, Vincent, sets it off like a jewel.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier
Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier

The B&W films looks very good, with strong contrasts and only light surface scratches and scuffs from the fine-grain master print, and has been very slightly windowboxed. The crisply-delivered commentary by film historian Ian Christie is filled with background on both the historical characters and the film production in addition to his sharp observations. His theatrical delivery keeps it lively and engaging. Michael Korda, son of art director Vincent Korda and nephew of Alexander and author of a Korda family biography, adds another perspective to the production history in a newly recorded video interview.
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