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STUDIO Warner Home Video
RATED Various Ratings
RUNNING TIME Various
Those ladies at the WB let their lesser-known work shine. I took the past week and some change going through each of these films trying to figure out a way that these titles could possibly be connected. There’s no common theme and they all seemed to be dumped to DVD for the sake of getting them released. That doesn’t mean that I’m not glad to see some classic underrated titles finally get a proper release. It’s just that I’m puzzled as to why these films were selected.
Warner Brothers puts together the best DVD collections of classic films. Today, we’re looking at A Big Hand for the Little Lady, Up the Down Staircase, Rich and Famous, Shoot the Moon and I’ll Cry Tomorrow. One of them was classic film director George Cukor’s last film. The others were melodramatic efforts that have some great camp factor. Does that necessarily make these films horrible? Let’s find out together.
A BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY (1966)
RUNNING TIME: 95 min
• Not a damn thing
Joanne Woodward, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Burgess Meredith, Charles Bickford, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Middleton and John Qualen
The wealthiest men in Laredo have gathered together to throw their cash down in an annual high-stakes poker game.
Meredith and his wife Mary have checked into a hotel where one of the country’s biggest saloon throw downs is about to take place. The wealthiest men in the area have dropped thousands of dollars, before Meredith finds himself pulled into the game. His son Jackie runs off to get his mother involved. But, it’s too late…Meredith has put up the family’s live savings on the table.
Henry Fonda spent years trying to win back the Klopman Diamond. A dream unfulfilled, it haunted this days until the end of his life.
Will Joanne Woodward snap her husband out of his gambling problem or will she have to step up to the table? Fonda and Woodward deliver top-notch performances as a younger Kevin McCarthy gets to mug for the cameras and be a cad. Still, the film is overdrawn and it feels like the last reel is a coda cut from a pulp novel that didn’t know when to end. The DVD sports no special features and only offers up the rarely seen film to satiate the consumer’s appetite.
I’ll CRY TOMORROW (1955)
RUNNING TIME: 117 min
• Vintage Lillian Roth musical short Story Conference
• Three excerpts from The MGM Parade TV series
• Vintage newsreel excerpts covering the movie’s premiere and accolades
• Theatrical trailer
Susan Hayward, Patty Duke, Eddie Albert, Jo Van Fleet, Don Taylor and Ray Danton
The biopic has been to death. But, we promise that this one will be different.
Susan Hayworth brings the life story of Lillian Roth to the big screen. Roth starred in such films as Animal Crackers while dominating Broadway during the Depression. Her mother Katie controlled her life, while Lillian buried herself with men or booze. Eventually, Roth winds up in the gutter as she pines for her big comeback. Given the era, she gets it and her special guest-spot on This is Your Life.
Isn’t it great that we live in age where I can put my cigarette out on your face and you have no legal recourse, darling? Now, go out to the toolshed and await the coming darkness.
What makes this film so freaking awesome is how campy it is to modern viewers! 1950s Cadillacs and Studebakers stroll down the avenue while newspapers tell us that it’s the Depression. Nobody bothers to dress up in the fashion of past decades, as everyone seems to have rolled out of the studio and just been filmed wherever they walked to on the backlot. Watching this film after Walk Hard was probably a big mistake, as I couldn’t stop laughing at how amazingly bad it was. Hayworth takes her performance as Roth to a new level by hitting every cliché that you could imagine.
What’s surprising is that the DVD release for I’ll Cry Tomorrow is the most packed entry in this collection. The transfer has been restored and corrected to reflect the original aspect ratio. The mono track does a good job of cleaning up the dialogue, while the rest of the set sports the many special features. Most of which are MGM Parade shorts that showcase the real Lillian Roth at the height of her talents. It’s nice to have footage of the real person to place the campy story.
RICH AND FAMOUS (1981)
RUNNING TIME: 117 min
• Vintage Featurette with short interviews from Bisset and Bergen
• Theatrical Trailer
Candice Bergen, Jacqueline Bisset, David Selby, Hart Bochner and Meg Ryan
Two old friends reconnect after several years apart.
Rich and Famous is a remake of Old Acquaintance. That’s right, kids. It’s a seldom seen remake of a seldom seen film. Most film fans remember the flick for being Meg Ryan’s big-screen debut and the last work we got from George Cukor before he succumbed to being really old. The film is simple, as we follow Liz (Jacqueline Bisset) and Merry (Candice Bergen) from college on, as they try to cope with the hand that they’ve been dealt. Much is made of the subtext, as you come to believe that Liz and Merry are pining for each other.
Here’s what you’ve got to ask yourself. Is this really from a sexually ambiguous film headlined by Candice Bergen? Am I messing with you? Well, you’ve got to ask yourself something. Are you willing to watch this film to find out? Well, are you?
The Celluloid Closet worked hard to slam the notion that the film was secretly a piece about two gay lovers trying to find a world where their desires could be understood. But, I find that to be a little bit naïve. It was common knowledge for decades that Cukor was a gay man and this film feels like his final message piece to a world that was opening before him. What did he care? He was going to be dead in two years anyways.
Viewing the film through that subtext adds a mildly subversive nature, but it doesn’t save it from being a boring mess. A melodrama is a melodrama is a melodrama. Bergen and Bisset made no real effort to save it, as they seemed to spend their time chewing their dialogue and moping. The DVD doesn’t sport a lot of supplementals outside of some period interviews with the female stars. It’s so exciting that it might put you to sleep.
SHOOT THE MOON (1982)
RUNNING TIME: 124 min
• Audio Commentary track with Alan Parker and Bo Goldman
• Theatrical Trailer
Albert Finney, Diane Keaton, Karen Allen, Peter Weller, Tracey Gold, Tina Yothers and Dana Hill
A marriage falls apart for roughly two hours and you get to watch it. For those that thought Bergman and Allen wasn’t whiny enough, get ready for this rarely seen Alan Parker gem.
Shoot the Moon focuses on successful writer George (Albert Finney) as he comes to terms with wanting to end his marriage to Faith (Diane Keaton). George has that special feeling for a young Karen Allen and Faith wants to sleep with Pre-Robocop Peter Weller. The couple still likes each other; it’s just that they would rather be boning other people. Even their kids realize this and they turn on the parents. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen so much resentment in a film.
The Eyes Wide Shut style musical score only serves to underscore the long stretches of time where nothing happens. It works for and against the film, as you are brought face to face with how depressing George and Faith’s lives have become. While listening to the commentary track with the director and writer, I was frustrated to learn nothing about what they wanted to do with the film. It’s more loose talk and even longer stretches of silence about the stretches of silence shown in the film. I wanted to cockpunch this DVD.
UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE (1967)
RUNNING TIME: 124 min
• Theatrical Trailer
Sandy Dennis, Patrick Bedford, Eileen Heckart, Frances Sternhagen and Roy Poole
A young woman fresh out of Grad School heads to Calvin Coolidge High School to set some NYC High School punks straight.
Up the Down Staircase features more of the fresh out of the headlines style storytelling that hangs a lot of these films together. Melodrama abounds, as Dennis fights against the odds to buy the school chalk and clean up broken windows. She can’t talk to the faculty, because they are old maids that have given up on their dreams long ago. She spends the next few months busting her ass to get the kids to respond. Eventually, the students begin to read and show signs of sentient thought.
This film started the ball rolling towards the modern school youth conscious film that peaked at Dangerous Minds. The DVD for the film looks like warmed over ass. That is if my ass was full of scratches and digital noise. But, if my ass was made of digital noise then this would be a lot more like Tron. I loved Tron, this film was boring. Which is a shame because I’m starting to rediscover Sandy Dennis’ body of work and I wanted this to bridge that post Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? period.
The Leading Ladies Collection Vol. 2 from Warner Brothers has been bundled together seemingly as an afterthought to the special edition release of I’ll Cry Tomorrow. That headlining film gets a correct aspect ratio with this new release. There are no signs of print damage on that film or on its special features which seemed to be culled from random eras. The same can’t be said for the other titles such as Up the Down Staircase. The disc looks worse than the print that they show on Turner Classic Movies every couple of months.
The rest of the films have an impressive A/V Quality that carries films of the age before Dolby Digital Surround dominated even the quietest of relationship films. The special features play as Press Kit material designed to get bored housewives and journalists interested in weepy melodramas about such things as divorce and unrequited love. You get the audio commentary with Alan Parker and Bo Goldman on Shoot the Moon, but they don’t really say anything. That’s the problem with a lot of these films; they blew through ninety minutes to two hours of my time without doing anything. Thrill me, films of yesteryear.
Warner Brothers loses points with its Leading Ladies Collection, Vol. 2 since it didn’t even seem like they were making the effort. There is the business side of the decision to release several of the titles bare-bones. But, the way I see it is that you’ve got the consumer a reason to take a chance on the material. Otherwise, it’s dump box material for a big distributor such as Netflix. I don’t think that’s the kind of arena where a Cukor or a Parker film should be viewed.
Needless to say, this release isn’t for everyone. The sheer random nature of the films guarantees a real clunker in the set for every viewer. My clunker was Rich and Famous which for all the shocking subtext built up to be an overblown melodrama. Cukor went out like a chump and I didn’t need to be reminded of it. So, for around fifty bucks you get a couple of DVDs that normally wouldn’t see the light of day. There are hardly any special features and the studio seems to hope that you’ll connect with these pieces on some blind stroke of luck. Honestly, I’d say you’re better off picking up a copy of Gymkata and a bottle of Wild Turkey. But, that’s just how I roll.