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Far From the Madding Crowd

More Blu-rays from the Warner Archive – ’42nd Street,’ ‘Ladyhawke,’ and more

Last year I surveyed a number of Blu-ray releases from the Warner Archive, which is predominantly a line of manufacture-on-demand DVD-Rs offering films that otherwise wouldn’t support a traditional DVD release. It also, however, releases a few choice Blu-rays each year. The difference between the formats is that the Blu-ray releases are in fact pressed discs and they feature high-quality transfers as good as any classic released through Warner’s traditionally-marketed Blu-ray line.

Because they are available only by order online (through Warner Archive, Amazon, and other outlets), they don’t get the kind of public profile that commercially released and distributed discs get. So here are some of the highlights of the past few months (or more).

42ndStreetBD42nd Street (Warner Archive, Blu-ray) – Released in 1933 by Warner Bros., which specialized in snappy, fast-paced pictures with working class heroes and street smart characters, 42nd Street launched a series of great backstage musicals that featured lavish production numbers in a Broadway culture where the depression was a reality just offstage and the dancers were one flop away from the breadlines. Lloyd Bacon directs the dramatic sequences while dance choreographer Busby Berkeley took this opportunity to completely reimagine the musical production number for the possibilities of cinema. This film is as much Berkeley’s as Bacon’s.

Warner Baxter stars as the Broadway producing legend who lost everything on the market crash and puts everything on the line to create one last hit and Bebe Daniels is the leading lady who hooks a sugar daddy (Guy Kibbee in leering old man mode) to finance the show. Ruby Keeler plays the chorus girl who takes over the leading role on opening night, a showbiz cliché that played out in real life: the film elevated Keeler and Dick Powell, who plays her boy-next-door co-star and love interest, to movie stardom.

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Film Review: ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’

Carey Mulligan

Along with a great novelist’s assumed ability to peer into the human soul and all that, Thomas Hardy added two key obsessions: land and time. Hardy knew the soil of his English countryside, knew the trees and animals, and the way a footpath connects farms and destinies. He also knew how the turning of the seasons affected people, and how those same footpaths resonated with the steps of ancestors near and distant.

Thomas Vinterberg’s new version of Far From the Madding Crowd gets just about all of that wrong. And immediately, too: The film throws away the great moment when Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan)—having assured herself that no one could be watching—leans back on her horse in an unladylike manner, a gesture surreptitiously witnessed by salt-of-the-earth farmer Gabriel Oak (Belgian rising star Matthias Schoenaerts). If a movie can’t understand how that gesture shapes the futures of these characters, it won’t get much else right.

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