View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Anthony Quinn, Peter O’Toole, and Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia (Photo: Sony)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957). Set in the Burmese jungles during World War II, David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai depicts the battle of wills between two strong adversaries: Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), the POW camp commander who orders the prisoners to build a bridge that will be of great value to the Japanese, and Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), the British officer who refuses until he realizes that such an exercise will be a great morale booster for his men as well as an example of superior English handiwork. Of course, what the myopic Nicholson doesn’t consider is that he’s in effect aiding the enemy, thereby requiring Shears (top-billed William Holden), an American who escaped from the camp, to return as part of an outfit assigned to blow up the structure. The inclusion of the “Colonel Bogey March” (whistled by the POWs) turned the World War I-era marching tune into a stateside phenomenon (even my parents owned the soundtrack LP), and the movie’s tense climax is a perfect marriage of editing and camerawork. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, it won seven (only Best Supporting Actor nominee Hayakawa lost out), including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Guinness (although the non-nominated Holden is no less memorable).
Sony previously released The Bridge on the River Kwai on 4K for its 60th anniversary; now comes the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital Limited Edition steelbook for its 65th anniversary. Extras (all carried over from past editions) include a feature-length picture-in-graphics track offering historical tidbits, movie trivia, and more; a making-of piece; a 1957 episode of The Steve Allen Show in which Holden and Guinness discuss the film while on set; and a photo gallery. Also new from Sony is another Lean masterpiece, 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia (that review is below).
GREASE 2 (1982). If nothing else, Grease 2 ably demonstrates that any movie can become a cult favorite anytime and anywhere. A critical and commercial disaster upon its original release, this has somehow managed to pick up a decent amount of devotees over the decades, which makes me believe there must be hope for the likes of Battlefield Earth and The Hottie & the Nottie. While 1978’s Grease was a gargantuan hit that domestically has grossed $189 million to date, this lamentable follow-up only managed $15 million in its ever-so-brief stay in theaters. There are myriad reasons for the financial discrepancy, starting with the fact that the plot is a lazy retread of the one found in the original. There is one notable distinction: Instead of the boy being a rebel and the girl being a nerd, this one has the girl being a rebel and the boy being a nerd. Brilliant! As Michael Carrington, the cousin of Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy, Maxwell Caulfield is a complete dullard. As Stephanie Zinone, the leader of the Pink Ladies, Michelle Pfeiffer is OK, but the role never once allows her to show off the acting chops that would soon make her one of Hollywood’s best actresses. And as Johnny Nogerelli, the leader of the T-Birds, Adrian Zmed (whose hit TV series with William Shatner, T.J. Hooker, had premiered three months before this film’s release) makes one long for Jeff Conaway’s Kenickie (or, frankly, any of the original T-Birds). The songs are mostly new tunes written for the film, but, aside from a sex-ed song (“Reproduction”) warbled by biology teacher Mr. Stuart (Tab Hunter) and his students, I can’t recall a single, solitary one. Even those who dislike the first Grease should admit that it looks as accomplished as Amadeus when compared to this turkey.
Grease 2 has been rereleased in a 40th Anniversary Blu-ray + Digital Code steelbook edition. There are no extras.
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia has long been regarded in countless camps as one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, which sounds about right. Certainly, it gets my vote for containing (with apologies to 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s bone-into-spaceship) cinema’s best jump cut — Lawrence blows out a match and we’re instantly transported to the desert — and Peter O’Toole’s star-making performance is simply astonishing. He plays British adventurer T.E. Lawrence, a World War I officer who becomes a hero to the Arab people for leading them in battle against the Turks. He finds allies in Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif, whose first appearance is unforgettable) and Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), but over time, his status diminishes as he’s overtaken by fatigue and his own set of demons. The second half of this 226-minute epic isn’t quite as compelling as the first, but to paraphrase a comment I once read regarding another film: The first half is pure perfection, and then it devolves into one of the best movies ever made. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (O’Toole), Best Supporting Actor (Sharif), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson), it won seven, including Best Picture and Best Director (O’Toole lost to Gregory Peck’s formidable turn in To Kill a Mockingbird).
Lawrence of Arabia in the 4K format was previously only available in the box set Columbia Classics Collection: Volume 1. Now it arrives as a 4K + Blu-ray + Digital combo in a four-disc 60th Anniversary Limited Edition steelbook. Extras (all from past editions) include a feature-length picture-in-graphics track offering historical trivia, photos, and more; a making-of piece; a deleted scene; a discussion of the film with O’Toole; and conversations about the movie with Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Sydney Pollack.
THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE (1974). It may not attract the ink usually accorded Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later or even Hammer’s The Plague of the Zombies, but here’s a zombie yarn that deserves a far greater reputation. An English-language, Spanish-Italian co-production that’s set in the U.K. hinterlands, this offers a somewhat unique reason as to why corpses are coming back to life to terrorize the local population (think of it as radioactive Raid gone wrong). Urbanites George (Ray Lovelock) and Edna (Cristina Galbó), who have a meet-cute of sorts when she backs into his motorcycle at a gas station, alert the police after a zombie attacks Edna’s drug-addicted sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre) and kills Katie’s pervy husband (José Lifante). That turns out to be a mistake, since the rural chief inspector soon tags George and Edna as Manson types and pins all the gruesome slayings on them. Five-time Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy (Some Came Running, Peyton Place) is a hoot as this elderly policeman with a chip on his shoulder, perpetually grouchy while hurling lines like “You’re all the same, the lot of you, with your long hair and faggot clothes. Drugs, sex, every sort of filth!” The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don’t Open the Window) benefits from the appropriately moody direction by Barcelona-born Jorge Grau, who doesn’t rush the story but instead allows the characters and the atmospherics to firmly take root before hitting the accelerator.
Blu-ray extras include two film historian audio commentaries; the 2020 feature-length documentary Jorge Grau: Catalonia’s Cult Film King; and a pair of discussions with makeup and special effects artist Giannetto De Rossi.
THE PLACE PROMISED IN OUR EARLY DAYS (2004) / 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND (2007) / CHILDREN WHO CHASE LOST VOICES (2011). Given the global success of writer-director Makoto Shinkai’s last two pictures, 2016’s Your Name. (#3 on both the list of the highest grossing anime movies and the highest grossing Japanese films) and 2019’s Weathering With You (#6 on both lists), it’s natural that there would be great interest in his earlier achievements. To that end, Shout! Factory and GKIDS have released his first three features (accompanied by a pair of shorts) on Blu-ray. While I can’t rank his films as highly as those by Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress) or the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, there are those who believe him to be their match, so proceed accordingly.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days takes an intriguing idea and puts it through middling paces. Set in an alternate Japan in which a mysterious tower stands tall (not unlike the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey), it centers on the relationship between three middle-school friends and the events that transpire after the girl in the group suddenly disappears. 5 Centimeters Per Second plays like a toon version of last year’s Wheel of Fame and Fortune, another three-part Japanese film about the tenuous connections made by ordinary people. This one isn’t as strong, with the so-so trio of interlocked tales all revolving around two children who grow up and, against their own desires, grow apart as they find themselves following different paths. Children Who Chase Lost Voices is the best of the three, an ambitious undertaking in which a young girl and her teacher travel together to the mystical land of Agartha, she to reunite with a handsome boy who saved her life, he to bring his late wife back from the dead. The animation is dazzling, with the shadowy monsters collectively known as the Izoku particularly striking.
All three films (each sold separately) offer the option of Japanese or English audio. Extras on The Place Promised in Our Early Days include an interview with Shinkai and interviews with the Japanese voice cast. Extras on 5 Centimeters Per Second include a feature-length storyboard and Shinkai’s short films She and Her Cat (1999) and Voices of a Distant Star (2002). Extras on Children Who Chase Lost Voices include audio commentary by Shinkai and his staff and a making-of featurette.
The Place Promised in Our Early Years: ★★½
5 Centimeters Per Second: ★★½
Children Who Chase Lost Voices: ★★★
REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947). There’s ample imagination at work in Repeat Performance, a splendid fantasy-cum-noir that was believed lost for decades. Produced as a prestige film by Eagle-Lion Pictures, a lower-tier studio that created and/or distributed 133 movies over a five-year period before going belly-up (titles included American “B” flicks like T-Men and The Amazing Mr. X and acclaimed British imports like The Red Shoes and Kind Hearts and Coronets), it stars Joan Leslie as Sheila Page, a stage actress who has just fatally shot her husband Barney (Louis Hayward) on New Year’s Eve 1946. Through unexplained supernatural means, Sheila is allowed to relive the entire year, and she desperately hopes for a happier denouement in her existential do-over. Based on William O’Farrell’s novel, this works so well not only because of the cleverness of the plot (particularly during the climax) but also because of the richness of the characters: Leslie as the tormented woman hoping to escape destiny; Jourdan as her drunken and adulterous husband; Tom Conway (so memorable as Dr. Judd in the 1942 masterpiece Cat People) as her sympathetic producer; and, making his stirring film debut, show-stealing Richard Basehart as William Williams, Sheila’s best friend and a poet whose mental state comes into question. Those looking for something off the beaten path will do well to seek this one out.
Blu-ray extras in the restored edition from Flicker Alley consist of film historian audio commentary; an introduction by film historian and noir expert Eddie Muller; a profile of Leslie; a piece on Eagle-Lion Pictures; and the original pressbook in digital form. A booklet is also included.
ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941) / FOR ME AND MY GAL (1942) / THE CLOCK (1945). Judy Garland is hardly a stranger to the Warner Archive Collection’s Blu-ray catalogue — star vehicles already on the label include The Harvey Girls, The Pirate, and many more — and here she returns in three more entertaining efforts (sold separately).
The 1936 hit The Great Ziegfeld may have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and 1946’s Ziegfeld Follies might be the only place to catch the superstar likes of Garland, Lucille Ball, and Lena Horne all on one bill, but it’s Ziegfeld Girl, the middle entry in the loosely structured trilogy, that emerges as the best. Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld (played in the other two films by William Powell) doesn’t appear as a character in this one, but his shadow looms large over the proceedings, as various women dream that their gigs as showgirls in his musical spectaculars will lead them to fame and fortune. As explained to a group of young hopefuls, a few will find success, some will decide to abandon the stage for a husband and babies, and many will fail. Those three fates are neatly assigned to the trio of women at the center of this film: Susan Gallagher (Garland), raised by her pop (Charles Winninger, Cap’n Andy in the ’36 Show Boat) on the vaudeville circuit; Sandra Kolter (Hedy Lamarr), whose new job interferes with her marriage to a struggling violinist (Philip Dorn); and Sheila Regan (Lana Turner), who lets the niceties bought for her by wealthy men (including a Park Avenue penthouse) replace the love in her life. Top-billed James Stewart (no Ziegfeld girl, he) appears as Sheila’s ex-fiancé, a trucker who turns bootlegger after she rejects him (Stewart’s a great actor, but it’s amusing watching him temporarily play “surly”), and the melodramatic turns are neatly balanced by the musical numbers, including Garland’s lovely rendition of “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and the amusing vaudeville routine “Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean,” with Susan’s dad as Gallagher and Al Shean playing himself.
It’s not often that a performer lands the starring or co-starring role in his or her very first motion picture — Gregory Peck in Days of Glory, Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, and William Hurt in Altered States are some of the lucky ones — yet here’s Gene Kelly doing just that. Although his newcomer status earns him third billing under Garland and George Murphy, he’s the male lead, with Murphy often fading away both in terms of screen time and movie-star magnetism. (Or let me put it this way: The box copy on the back of the Blu-ray doesn’t even mention Murphy or his character; ditto the plot synopses on IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and Wikipedia.) Garland and Murphy play Jo Hayden and Jimmy Metcalf, vaudevillians trapped in a mediocre act. Along comes the arrogant and conceited Harry Palmer (played by Kelly and obviously no relation to Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer), and it’s immediately apparent that he and Jo share great chemistry on stage and off. With Jimmy’s blessing (and despite the fact that he’s in love with Jo), Harry and Jo create their own act, but the road to Broadway success is a long and hard one — and one that’s rudely rerouted by the appearance of World War I. With one exception, the Oscar-nominated song score is comprised of old standards, including the title tune (performed by Garland and Kelly) and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” (a Judy solo).
Seeking a break from starring (and singing) in musical after musical, Garland managed to score a rare dramatic role in The Clock, a disarmingly simple love story directed by Vincente Minnelli. She plays Alice Maybery, a New Yorker who meets a young G.I. named Joe Allen (Robert Walker) in Penn Station. Initially anxious to check out all the famous NYC sites and sights during his two-day leave, Joe quickly decides that he would rather spend his time wooing the hesitant Alice. They fall hard for each other, and when he suggests that they get married before he heads out for World War II, she seriously contemplates his offer. The Clock takes its time settling into an acceptable groove, with Walker’s aw-shucks soldier proving to be more irritating than ingratiating. But as the couple spend time together and we spend time with the couple, the film blossoms into a touching romance. The sequences in which the pair interact with a kindly milkman (James Gleason) are lovely, and the sequence in which Alice is struck by the “ugly” nature of a rushed wedding versus the beauty of a planned wedding is heartbreaking (Garland is magnificent in this moment). Less than one month after the film’s release, Garland and Minnelli would marry; less than one year after the film’s release, she would give birth to daughter Liza.
Extras on Ziegfeld Girl include an introduction by Garland biographer John Fricke; the 1941 short We Must Have Music (named after a deleted Ziegfeld Girl song); and the 1942 Our Gang short Melodies Old and New. Extras on For Me and My Gal include audio commentary by Fricke; the film’s deleted finale; and 1935’s wild La Fiesta de Santa Barbara, an Oscar-nominated short featuring over two dozen stars, among them Gary Cooper, Harpo Marx, Buster Keaton, and The Garland Sisters (including Judy). Extras on The Clock include the audio-only radio adaptation with Garland and John Hodiak; the 1945 live-action short Hollywood Scout; and the 1945 cartoon The Screwy Truant.
Ziegfeld Girl: ★★★½
For Me and My Gal: ★★★
The Clock: ★★★
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
The Amazing Mr. X
The Harvey Girls
The Ipcress File
Kind Hearts and Coronets
The Plague of the Zombies
The Red Shoes
Show Boat (1936)
Some Came Running
Weathering With You
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy