Society and a submarine constrain characters in French classics
This week, we begin en France.
The Earrings of Madame de …
Not rated, 100 minutes. Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Not rated, 105 minutes. Available
Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.
In the first of this pair of notable French classics, the Criterion Collection gives a new digital Blu-ray restoration to The Earrings of Madame de …, Max Ophuls’ 1953 treatise on society’s hypocrisy and convention.
Around the turn of last century, the unnamed Madame (Danielle Darrieux) pawns a pair of expensive earrings given to her by her husband, General Andre (Charles Boyer). The jewels make their way through various owners (much like the love passed around in Ophuls’ Le Ronde). Eventually, Madame’s new lover Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica) obtains them and then innocently gives them to her again.
The initial act sets off a chain of events geared for Ophuls’ commentary. And he smoothly delivers with the help of his trademark roving camera.
The new remastered Blu-ray DVD includes an introduction by director Paul Thomas Anderson, three interviews totaling about half an hour with three of Ophuls’ collaborators, a 17-minute analytical “visual essay” by scholar Tag Gallagher, and a five-minute interview with source novelist Louise de Vilmorin. Plus: an 80-page booklet with essays by noted historian and scholar Molly Haskell and by costume designer Georges Annenkov, and an English translation of de Vilmorin’s novel.
The Cohen Film Collection has remastered for high definition and has given a belated DVD and Blu-ray debut to The Damned (Les Maudits), an overlooked 1947 gem from renowned suspense director Rene Clement.
At the end of World War II, a motley group of Nazis of varying nationalities board a submarine in Oslo, Norway, and head to South America for refuge. On board are die-hard believers, black marketeers, spurned lovers and various other outcasts.
The U-boat makes several stops, including one to kidnap a country doctor (Henri Vidal) to tend to wounded passengers. Clement ratchets up the suspense, as colliding forces work against each other in claustrophobic settings.
The DVD also holds an excellent 54-minute documentary on Clement and his career.
Shane (****1/2) Warner Home Video brings to Blu-ray one of the great all-time Westerns. Laconic Alan Ladd stars as the title character, a quiet, mysterious drifter who finds his way onto the isolated ranch of Joe (Van Heflin) and Marian Starrett (Jean Arthur) and their impressionable young son, Joey (Brandon De Wilde).
Shane befriends the family and even settles into the community, all while a battle over area land rights escalates. Before long, hired gunslinger Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) arrives in town. Fights, gunfights and ambushes all play out in the story, from the novel by underappreciated Western writer Jack Schaefer.
Director George Stevens perfectly captures Shane’s sense of separation, made more apparent by the Starretts’ loving home. Quentin Tarantino in Django (and other directors elsewhere) borrowed from Stevens’ staging of Jack Wilson’s gunning down an innocent homesteader (Elisha Cook Jr.). Loyal Griggs won an Oscar for his evocative, mood-setting cinematography.
Not rated, 118 minutes. The DVD includes commentary from the associate producer and George Stevens Jr., the director’s son.
Three Faces East (***) This 1930 manufactured-on-demand disc from the Warner Archive Collection might look its age, but it offers much in the way of a complex plot and an interesting cast.
Veteran Roy Del Ruth directed this World War I espionage thriller, with Constance Bennett playing a German spy sent to England to ingratiate herself into the home of the head of the admiralty. There, she works with the butler, played with Teutonic rigidity by famed actor-director Eric Von Stroheim. Their code phrase is “Three Faces East.”
The stage-bound, static film betrays its roots in Anthony Paul Kelly’s source play, but it does deliver several third-act surprises that will keep viewers engaged. Not rated, 71 minutes.
On the Road (**) Sam Riley plays Jack Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise, Garrett Hedlund is Dean Moriarty, and Kristen Stewart is Marylou in this good-looking but often unfocused rendition of Kerouac’s hard-to-film novel.
When the two men meet, despite earlier romantic alliances, they decide that the three of them, including Marylou, should hit the road. They travel across the country in search of some undefinable experience. They stay in motion long enough for an impressive cast to make appearances: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Elisabeth Moss, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge and others.
Rated R, 124 minutes. The DVD includes eight minutes of deleted scenes.
And, finally, from this week’s TV arrivals:
Southland: The Complete Fifth and Final Season This cop show that was too real, too gritty to last on network TV that then found a home on cable now departs before the body count grows higher.
Ann Biderman created the ongoing story about a close-knit group of South Los Angeles police officers, played by Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Ben McKenzie and Regina King, who also directed an episode this season.
Before closing, the officers again deal with daily and deadly crises: Cooper (Cudlitz) feuds with his new partner, and later in the season they are kidnapped; rival gangs attend a drug dealer’s funeral; Sammy (Hatosy) fights divorce while losing confidence in his partner Ben (McKenzie); Lydia (King) juggles her work and her new position as mother.
Not rated, more than 7 hours. The DVD set also includes 25 total minutes of deleted scenes and the four-minute “making of” featurette “Shooting in Progress.”
The Thick of It: Seasons 1-4 Scotsman Armando Iannuci created this sublime, rapidly paced political comedy, which served as the inspiration for the Oscar-nominated film In the Loop and the current HBO series Veep.
The Thick of It’s four seasons ran on the BBC from 2005 to 2012, and the series is now available from BBC Home Entertainment. It arrives in a boxed set with all 21 episodes plus two hourlong specials on seven discs.
Iannuci set his series in the offices of the bogus British Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. Within it lies a coven of two-faced, sniveling, pandering bureaucrats.
Iannuci never assigns party labels, instead letting their actions reveal the hypocrites, as everyone comes off as hilariously self-preserving, changing opinions with the wind. Over everyone rules Malcolm Tucker — in one character’s words, “the prime minister’s enforcer.”
Peter Capaldi, recently named as the latest Dr. Who, plays the foul-mouthed, fast-talking, incredibly clever Tucker as he berates, cajoles and threatens with the weight of higher office behind him. The series’ now familiar faux-documentary use of handheld cameras, quick editing and cast improvisation help The Thick of It maintain a steady, fast rhythm — one that escalates further when Capaldi enters a scene. With series regulars Chris Addison, Joanna Scanlan and James Smith.
Not rated, 12 1/2 hours. The set includes, for every episode, commentaries, bonus (deleted) scenes and behind-the-scenes stills. Plus: a 21-minute “Script to Screen” featurette, and the series’ scripts on PDF, accessible via computer.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: The Company You Keep, Emperor, Hatchet III, Olympus Has Fallen.