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Peter Finch

Review: The Abdication

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

I saw a sneak preview of The Abdication on Friday, August 9; when the title, unaccompanied by any credits or similar words of explanation or orientation, hit the screen, a ripple of laughter moved through the audience as they took their reference from the day’s headlines. It wasn’t the last unintentional laugh Anthony Harvey’s colossally miscalculated chamber epic drew that evening. Admittedly a two-character play involving the self-deposed Queen Christina of Sweden and the Vatican prelate, Cardinal Azzolini, assigned to decide her worthiness to be embraced by Mother (or Father) Church didn’t sound like the most auspicious pretext for a film, and tricking up that claustrophobic core with pedantically “imaginative” cuts and dissolves to stylized memory-visions of incidents in the ex-queen’s past—itself a pretty stylized procession of events—has only undercut whatever personal and ideological majesty the confrontation might have had. Indeed, no one connected with The Abdication seems to have had a very clear grasp of the ideology involved and, worse still, of how they felt about that ideology.

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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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