Vividly Vivien

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English actress Vivien Leigh’s career is celebrated on the 100th anniversary of her birth with a compilation of four films from 1936 and 1937 — just before she gained acclaim for “Gone With the Wind.” She’s shown here in “That Hamilton Woman,” a 1941 film with husband Laurence Olivier.
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Collection gives view of Leigh’s budding career

This week, we begin with a lady named Vivien:

The Vivien Leigh Anniversary Collection

Fire Over England (92 minutes), Dark Journey (77 minutes), Storm in a Teacup (87 minutes) and St. Martin’s Lane (85 minutes), all unrated. Available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

This two-disc set marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of England’s greatest — if not the greatest — movie stars. Vivien Leigh won an unprecedented two Best Actress Oscars stateside, but she began her film career in England.

These four selections from 1936 and 1937 feature well-known leading men, and they provide a fair representation of Leigh’s earliest work.

Fire Over England sees the first pairing of the actress with future husband Laurence Olivier. Leigh plays a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth (Flora Robson), who reportedly resented the media attention given to her young co-star.

Leigh takes a co-starring role in Dark Journey, a World War I intrigue. She plays a French spy gathering secrets while masquerading as a Swiss dress shop owner in Stockholm. Her mission is compromised when she falls for her German counterpart (Conrad Veidt).

Leigh co-stars with Rex Harrison in the sociopolitical comedy Storm in a Teacup. Her character’s father (Cecil Parker) runs for local government, but she defies him and takes the crusading side of a visiting journalist (Harrison).

St. Martin’s Lane, later renamed Sidewalks of London, features Charles Laughton as a street performer who takes Libby (Leigh) into his act when he sees her pick the pocket of a well-heeled composer (Harrison) — who then rescues Libby and takes her to a greater stardom.

The set includes a 26-minute interview with Leigh biographer Anne Edwards and a 16-page booklet on the actress with an essay from Kendra Bean.

*

The Attack (3 stars) The wife (Reymond Amsalem) of a respected Palestinian surgeon (Ali Suliman) dies in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, Israel. His grief mixes with confusion when he learns she was the suicide bomber. Afterward, authorities believe he was involved.

When his hospital shuns him, he enters Palestinian territory in an attempt to uncover the full story and maybe even track down those responsible for influencing his wife.

Director Ziad Doueiri draws ample suspense and terror from Yasmina Khadra’s novel.

Rated R, 105 minutes. The DVD includes a five-minute interview with the director.

*

Therese (3 stars) Audrey Tautou stars as the title character in this lush melodrama based on Nobel laureate Francois Mauriac’s novel. Set in the picturesque area around Bordeaux, France, in 1928, the film follows the independent Therese.

Her family owns acres of pines and looks to increase their holdings when she marries local landowner Bernard (Gilles Lellouche). But he quickly proves too boorish for the restless Therese, who decides to do something about her building ennui yet only ends up alienating everyone and finding herself isolated.

Therese is never likable, but Mauriac’s characterization of her independence partially explains her need to rebel. Not rated, 110 minutes.

*

Women Without Men (3.5 stars) and Samson and Delilah (3.5 stars) Movie distributor IndiePix returns after an absence with two international yet overlooked films deserving of an audience.

The 2009 film Women Without Men takes place in 1953 Tehran against the backdrop of the CIA’s coup of democratically elected leader Mohammad Mossadegh. Simultaneously, four women come together around a woman and her new home when she leaves her husband.

Director Shirin Neshat uses Shahrnush Parsipur’s novel to render a succession of visually engaging, dreamlike scenes. Unrated, 105 minutes.

Samson and Delilah sneaks up on you with its charms. Set in a remote Aboriginal outpost in Australia, young Samson (Rowan McNamara) likes to do little but sniff gasoline fumes. When he befriends reluctant neighbor Delilah (Marissa Gibson), they embark on an odyssey taking them through various social circles, few of which welcome them.

The film contains little dialogue as the couple gradually turn their friendship into a protective love. Unrated, 101 minutes.

*

The Warner Archive Collection releases three notable, unrated titles. All are from Warner’s Paramount Studios inventory and are based on works by two premier American playwrights.

The Rose Tattoo (3.5 stars) The story centers on an Italian-American widow, Serafina Della Rose (Anna Magnani), beginning life again after police kill her husband. She gradually and grudgingly responds to the attentions of a romantic truck driver (Burt Lancaster).

Tennessee Williams wrote the character of Serafina specifically for Magnani, who earned the Best Actress Oscar for her earthy portrayal. The film also won Oscars for art direction and cinematography. Released in 1955, 117 minutes.

This Property Is Condemned (2.5 stars) Williams also wrote the one-act play that serves as the basis for this film, and Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote the screenplay.

Natalie Wood stars as Alva, a flirtatious young woman in 1930s Mississippi who falls for a railroad agent, Owen (Robert Redford), sent to town to lay off workers. Alva’s mother (Kate Reid) objects to the building romance that upsets the entire town. Released in 1966, 110 minutes.

The Matchmaker (3 stars) Thornton Wilder (Our Town) wrote the play that was adapted into this film, an enjoyable romp starring Shirley Booth as matchmaker Dolly Levi.

As she orchestrates a romance between a young woman, Irene (Shirley MacLaine), and a prosperous local store owner, Mr. Vandergelder (Paul Ford), Dolly entices the older man for herself, letting Irene slip away to the young man (Anthony Perkins) who loves her. Robert Morse (now Burt Cooper on Mad Men) co-stars. Released in 1958, 100 minutes.

*

A Year in Burgundy (3 stars) Wine lovers and connoisseurs and anyone wondering how all those bottles of French wine end up for sale in this country will enjoy this breezy documentary from writer-director David Kennard that takes the viewer through four seasons of winemaking.

Kennard follows wine distributor Martine Saunier as she visits Burgundy vineyards that have been passed down through generations. We watch as they plant their vines, nurture them, harvest the grapes and then market them. Even to the uninitiated, the film renders a clear portrait of the industry.

Not rated, 88 minutes. The DVD includes three brief featurettes.

*

Planes (3 stars) In this aerial takeoff on Disney’s popular animated Cars films, a quality voice cast enlivens the story about a crop-dusting airplane, Dusty (voice of Dane Cook), who aims for bigger things. He wants to compete in an around-the-world race, and is encouraged in his pursuit by wise old Skipper (Stacy Keach). But poor Dusty is also afraid of heights. Other voices include Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Sinbad and Brent Musburger as Brent Mustangburger.

Rated PG, 91 minutes. The DVD arrives in all formats and combo packs. Supplements include deleted scenes, and the featurettes “Meet the Racers,” “Klay’s Flight Plans” and “Top Ten Flyers.” Plus, a music video and more.

*

Also available on DVD: Easy Money, Hannah Arendt, Paranoia, Tank Girl: Collector’s Edition, The World’s End.


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