Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Reviews

Blu-ray: ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’

There’s an admirable modernity amidst the old-fashioned elegance of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), a romantic ghost story with a strong-willed young widow and the salty but gentlemanly spirit of a sea captain. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, a veteran screenwriter and producer whose wit and way with strong, striking characters guided his direction, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was his fifth directorial effort but the first to pull all of his strengths together in such a charming and evocative way.

Gene Tierney is Lucy Muir, a beautiful young widow with a little girl (played by Natalie Wood) living in the oppressive home of her nervous, clingy mother-in-law and disapproving sister-in-law, a severe spinster whose every comment carries a critical judgment. Lucy is as independent-minded as a woman can be in turn-of-the-century England, an era when horse-drawn carriages still outnumber buggy-like motorcars, and this single mother chooses to leave London for the quaint little town of Whitecliff-on-the-Sea and Gull Cottage, a handsome old home perched on a cliff overlooking the coast. Tierney was more movie star than nuanced performer but she musters a quiet strength for this character. “Haunted. How perfectly fascinating,” she smiles as she makes her mind up, and soon she makes the acquaintance of its former owner Captain Daniel Gregg, played with a gruff, flinty manner by Rex Harrison.

Their first meeting is magnificent. On a stormy night, Lucy wanders downstairs into the kitchen with a single candle casting long shadows across the wall and highlighting those famous Tierney cheekbones that helped make her a glamorous leading lady in Laura and Leave Her to Heaven.

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Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

The “Blu” Leopard, New York Confidential and Night Train to Munich: Blu-ray/DVDs of the Week

The Leopard (Criterion)

This is what Blu-ray was made for.

I know that the special effect-laden sci-fi extravaganzas and action epics are what really drive home theater sales, with fans wanting to get theatrical presentation muscle into their home. But that’s all about showmanship (not that there’s anything wrong with that). What really sends me to heaven is watching a presentation of a cinema masterwork with the clarity, richness and integrity of a perfect 35mm presentation. Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963), quite simply one of my all time favorite films, is one of those masterworks and Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition (freshly mastered from a stunning print with unparalleled color and crispness) is as perfect a home video incarnation as anyone could hope for and better than any theatrical screening I’ve have the pleasure to experience.

Burt Lancaster leads the dance
Burt Lancaster leads the dance

I believe that Visconti’s 1963 adaptation of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel is his masterpiece. Burt Lancaster (his voice is dubbed by a deep-voiced Italian) may seem an unusual choice to play Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, an idealistic 19th century Sicilian prince (Visconti favored Laurence Olivier, a much more conventionally regal choice), but his confidence, his gravitas, and his understated cat-like grace as he walks through the world as if he owned it, creates a character of great authority and even greater melancholy. With the impoverished island nation of Sicily on the verge of revolutionary change and reform, Salina places his hope in this revolution to wipe away the corrupt ruling aristocracy (of which he is himself a member) and his upstart nephew Tancredi Falconeri (Alain Delon), who fights for a unified Italy with Garibaldi’s Red Shirts. “For things to remain the same, everything must change,” proclaims Tancredi as he sets off to join the revolution. Salina is publicly against the war but privately sympathetic and he sees Tancredi as the future of this country, or at least of his family, which is mired in a sinkhole of decadence and irrelevance.

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