#021

An Affair to Remember
20th Century Fox DVD

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Sleepless in Seattle was responsible for selling two million VHS copies of An Affair to Remember; if even half of the people who bought it then replace their copy, this DVD reissue will be a sure bestseller.

The 1957 film is a mishmash of styles. It begins as a sly romantic comedy, with Cary Grant as a world-famous Lothario off to meet his heiress fiancé when he meets beautiful kept woman Deborah Kerr on the slow boat to New York. It becomes a melodrama when the two fall in love, a tragedy when she’s hit by a car on her way to their rendezvous at the top of the Empire State Building, as the film constantly skids to a halt for a musical number. (She goes back to nightclub singing after she leaves her sugar daddy, and becomes a music teacher to support herself after her accident.)

It probably wouldn’t work half as well if not for the impeccable chemistry between Grant and Kerr, whose interplay, as amicable as it is passionate, is a wonder. The decisiveness with which they discard their lives for love and relative poverty - you have to see Kerr’s poor music teacher’s apartment - would be laughable if they didn’t seem so obviously meant for each other.

They don’t make them like this anymore, and that might be a good thing, but it’s hard to deny real screen chemistry when you see it. Comes with a “Backstory” feature on the film, and commentary with film historian Joseph McBride and singer Marni Nixon, who dubbed Kerr’s singing.

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Sweet Home Alabama
Touchstone DVD

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It’s hard to imagine what Hollywood would do without the South. Without it, there’s almost no other way to talk about class in a movie without employing urban ethnic stereotypes that have become unacceptable.

Reese Witherspoon plays a promising New York designer who’s covered up her trailer trash past as well as a not-quite-ex husband (Josh Lucas), two skeletons she has to chase from her closet if she wants to marry the mayor’s son. As the brass-balled, control-freak mayor, Candice Bergen steals scenes from Witherspoon with contemptuous ease, but that isn’t all that’s wrong with this lightheaded star vehicle.

The South in this picture is a picturesque po’ folks’ paradise, complete with enlightened rednecks, quaint civil war re-enactors, and a cemetery for beloved coon dogs. It’s supposed to tempt Witherspoon back to her true self, without cheating her of class mobility in the big city, in a frankly absurd set-up for a happy ending that the film has a hard time selling. An alternate ending included as a bonus gives some idea of how negligent a handle the filmmakers had on their story.

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Mildred Pierce
Warner Bros. DVD

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When Joan Crawford flares her nostrils in this gold-plated brass knuckle of a “woman’s picture”, she looks like she’s about to engulf the whole film, set, actors and all. Michael Curtiz’ film is famous for giving Crawford a second comeback and an Oscar, and it’s still a marvel today.

Crawford is Mildred, a driven woman who reserves her only tenderness for a nightmare tramp of a daughter, a juggernaut of pride and ambition homing in on tragedy like a torpedo. A long-form documentary on Crawford included in this bargain of a package gives some hint of the unhappy life story of the tortured and not particularly appealing woman behind the flaring nostrils and the whip-arched eyebrows.

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The Harder They Fall
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Humphrey Bogart’s last film is often overlooked, coming as it does after so many truly great films, but this brisk, grim boxing picture is hardly a letdown. With a supporting cast including Rod Steiger as a crooked promoter, reeling his lines off like machine gun rounds, and a gallery of mugs from the world of the ring, The Harder They Fall oozes cynicism. It seethes with a painfully watchable post-war sourness that also runs through films like Sweet Smell of Success and On the Waterfront. As a sports writer hooked into a scheme to sell a bum fighter as champ material, Bogart winces his way to a fall, a compellingly pained performance enhanced by the awful fact that he was dying at the time.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.