Go Back  DVD Talk Forum > DVD Discussions > DVD Reviews and Recommendations
Reload this Page >

Review Wanted : Criterion Lean films...

DVD Reviews and Recommendations Read, Post and Request DVD Reviews.

Review Wanted : Criterion Lean films...

Old 06-14-00, 11:55 PM
  #1  
DVD Talk Gold Edition
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Posts: 2,239
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hey,
I'm looking for some comments on all aspects of the following discs. If I don't respond, thanks very much in advance for your input.

Summertime
Great Expectations
Oliver Twist

Thanks!
Old 06-15-00, 02:54 PM
  #2  
DVD Talk Hero
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Montreal, Canada
Posts: 36,168
Received 1,217 Likes on 811 Posts
Stay tuned, sykes will be here in a minute
to talk about Oliver Twist
Old 06-16-00, 02:54 AM
  #3  
DVD Talk Special Edition
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: DUD Talk
Posts: 1,841
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts

Great Expectations




Finlay Currie (Magwitch) and John Mills (Pip).


Great Expectations (1946) is the screen's definitive translation of the Dickens classic. Opening with a stunning panning shot of the Romney Marshes as Pip visits his mother's grave in the churchyard, director David Lean unleashes the first of his trademark eye-filling visionary epics. No mere "potted" version of Dickens, the famous author's material is adapted with the fullest use of cinematic technique.

From the justly-famous first appearance of Magwitch the convict, which has inspired thousands of horror films since; to the creepy enclaves of Miss Havisham's cobweb-infested mansion, which inspired Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, Lean's Great Expectations is Dickensian England brought to life. Guy Green's Oscar-winning b&w cinematography is among the most stunning ever achieved (see link below); and John Bryan's production design (also garnering an Academy statuette) is wondrously imaginative and vast. It's fresh-as-ever "look", expressionistic in appearance and epic in scope, is seamless and as glossy as the best Hollywood product (though it's an all-British production).

Equally worthy of superlatives is the splendid cast. John Mills (though too old for his part at 38) is sturdy and likable as the mature Pip, believably conveying Pip's metamorphisis from wide-eyed blacksmith's apprentice with "great expectations" to gentleman snob; Martita Hunt, as the ghostly Miss Havisham, successfully plunges the deep recesses of her character's emotional tragedy, forever to remain a relic of the past; Bernard Miles is simultaneously amusing and rather wooden as Pip's brother-in-law, Joe Gargery; and Alec Guinness makes an agreeable and promising debut as the charming Herbert Pocket. Dickens himself could not improve on the casting of two parts in particular: Francis L. Sullivan as the booming Mr. Jaggers; and veteran Scottish actor Finlay Currie, who is the absolute perfect embodiment of Magwitch (Robert DeNiro hasn't a chance). Only drawback among the cast is Valerie Hobson (who later called the film her worst experience as an actress), as the mature Estella, who fails to successfully carry on the irresistably waspish snippet that Jean Simmons (magnetic in her starring debut at 16) creates.

While Lean's version is rich in imagery, imaginative sound, soaring production values, riveting performances, suspense, drama, and romance, the film as a whole never quite measures up to the sum of it's many excellent parts. The narrative, in comparison with that of Lean's Dickens follow-up, remains something of a problem throughout the film; particularly as the film goes on longer (the early reels, with the young Pip played by Anthony Wager, are the best). In retrospect, much of the film seems rushed, the condensing at work often showing through. Lean, here in only his third solo directorial effort, is not quite at the zenith of his command of the cinematic language, not fully succeeding in taming and transmuting the massive literary structure of a voluminous classic novel into impeccable cinematic alloy, as he was to do two years later with Oliver Twist.

The DVD transfer is nearly excellent, with only a few inconspicuous telltale scratches and nicks to bely it's age. The sound, though monoaural, and dynamically limited, is very clean and crisp, and dialogue sounds natural throughout. Original British theatrical trailer is the only special feature. (This and the below film scream for a "making-of" documentary and commentary track!)

**** out of *****. Highly recommended!

Oliver Twist




Alec Guinness (Fagin), Robert Newton (Sykes), and Kay Walsh (Nancy).


Oliver Twist is the definitive specimen of Dickens on film; and also the greatest achievement in high cinema art in the all of the medium. I've seen them all--Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Passion of Joan of Arc, etc.--movies which are considered to be the last word in cinematic achievement. But no work begotten of cinematic hands is so essentially and refinedly and ultimately cinema as this 1948 masterpiece by David Lean.

Never has any studio in any country at any time produced so successful a translation of a work so reknownedly established as a masterpiece of the literary medium into something so brilliantly cinematic in essence and content. So masterful and so assured is it in it's cinematic treatment that it could achieve the impossible--a silent Dickens.



Never was there a film so narratively cinematic in sequence or in whole. It would be impossible in this brief review to detail the innumerable touches of cinematic resource permeating Oliver Twist; but a few examples: In an astonishing opening image, Oliver's turbulent path ahead is ominously portended by the most utterly persuasive studio-processed tempest ever achieved; the travail and unyielding will of Oliver's labor-wracked mother as she traverses the storm driven heath is exemplified by thorny briers which bend but do not break; the loneliness and helplessness of Oliver is seen in terms of his small, malnourished body against the cold expanses of workhouse brick; Oliver's escape from the cruel Mr. Sowerberry, where an almost lithographic image reminiscent of Atget gives way to an Eisensteinian montage as Oliver first encounters the bustling, suffocating streets of London; the unveiling of Old Sally's secret, played like an eerie mystery-detective suspenser; Bill Sykes' fearful comeuppance; and above all, Sykes' brutal murder of Nancy and it's aftermath--surely the most brilliant sequence in film history (of which Lean later admitted led him to obsess with the possibilities of filming thought). Boldly and thoroughly jettisoning all of Dickens' literary devices to tell the story, Lean even manages to explain Oliver's kinship to the kindly Mr. Brownlow using only the magical cinematic property of editing! This is montage at it's most gleamingly sophisticated and texturally brilliant.



Never was there a film so outstanding in so many different aspects of its production. The writing (like Dickens) is alive in wit, character, drama, suspense, compassion, and humor; while at once remaining so fluently cinematic that it seems conceived in word-pictures. One of the outstanding examples of inspired casting, every last part is a triumph of performance. With two, in particular, contributing among the most memorable in cinema history: Alec Guinness, in the most difficult and brilliantly portrayed (and first starring!) role of his career, bringing Fagin to villainous and complex life; and Robert Newton, who was BORN to play Bill Sykes. The breathtaking cinematography, again the art of Guy Green (view an online interview with this great artist), is the greatest ever achieved in its respective field (it tops my list of 10 Best Photographed B&W Films); prompting one critic to declare, "If any film could convince an unbeliever of the virtues of black-and-white it is Oliver Twist." The musical score--the only written for the screen in the distinguished career of Sir Arnold Bax--points up the action with stirring vivacity, wit, and emotion; and is, indeed, in the best class of opera libretti. The unparalled production design is an expressionistic triumph of imagination, detail, and studio resource (again, by a veteran Lean collaborator, John Bryan). Costuming and make-up are at once determinedly authentic and dramatically unreal. And above all, the astonishing direction by David Lean is nothing short of genius, distilling the Dickens classic into its purest cinematic essence with a unique epic vision, meticulous technique, graphic fluency, and sensitive handling. Or, in the telling words of critic Michael Sragow, "Lean elevates melodrama to poetry--and never lets it drop for the 116-minute running time." If cinema is the most immediate of our arts then surely David Lean has created its most exemplary specimen. (Sadly, accusations of anti-Semitism hurt its reputation and delayed it's release in the U.S. for four years. This, apparently due to the exaggerated proboscis given Fagin, although Lean never identifies the character as Jewish; and removes Dickens' reference to a shady Jewish peddling network.)



Like Great Expectations, the transfer is made from the 35 mm fine-grain master, created from the original negative, and not a full restoration; so a few minor nicks and scratches appear. But Oliver Twist is among the four or five best-looking transfers of all pre-1950s movies yet on DVD. Images are about as crisp and sharp as could be, and gray values "pop" with a dazzlingly luminous prescence. Sound is also a slight improvement on Great Expectations, with very clear monoaural audio. Original British theatrical trailer is included.

***** out of *****. Very highly recommended!

(For the skeptical, here is an excellent external review of Oliver Twist.)

These two Lean adaptations of the timeless Dickens stories are masterpieces of the cinematic art (French auteur Rene Clement would pay later homage to them in his masterful Gervaise), and belong in every DVD collector's library.

------------------
"Editing is the foundation of the film art." --V. Pudovkin.

[Edited by Sykes on 02-26-01 at 08:38 PM]
Old 06-16-00, 09:04 PM
  #4  
DVD Talk Special Edition
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Kennesaw, GA
Posts: 1,333
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
So you're saying you liked them.

I haven't seen the dvd but I have the Criterion laserdisc on Summertime. While it
may not be on a par with the previous two
Dickens entries it's still excellent cinema.
The trademark Lean cinematography (and in no
small part the Vienna locations) together with a beautifully nuanced performance by
Katherine Hepburn make for a classic film.
Old 06-17-00, 12:40 AM
  #5  
Banned
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: "Sitting on a beach, earning 20%"
Posts: 6,154
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
Rand:

Summertime takes place in Venice not Viena, and it is not based on Dickens work.
Old 06-20-00, 04:19 PM
  #6  
DVD Talk Special Edition
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Kennesaw, GA
Posts: 1,333
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Whoops, mistyped Venice, and I certainly
didn't mean to imply that Summertime is a
Dickens work!
Old 09-27-00, 01:02 AM
  #7  
New Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Eatontown NJ USA
Posts: 4
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I love those movies but dont have them yet.
I plan on getting them.
If you like them - you must see Brief Encounter - also by Lean. It one of the best love stories ever and an incredible soundtrack.
The criterian DVD is very good.
Old 10-06-00, 02:21 PM
  #8  
Cool New Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
Posts: 39
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I just recently watched both Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.

I think Great Expectations is a great film, but I am not sure if it is a masterpiece. There are definitely narrative problems with the film and, like Sykes pointed out, the film as a whole never quite measures up to the sum of its many excellent parts. I also cannot, for the life of me, accept John Mills as the mature Pip - although I must hasten to add that this is due to his look and age (his performance is understated and quite good).

*** SLIGHT SPOILERS ***
As for Oliver Twist, I totally concur with Sykes. It is as perfect as a film can get. The narrative problem that Great Expectations has is nowhere to be found here. In fact, I think this is the best adaptation of a book - ever. The performances of everyone in the cast are more than great - they are sublime. I'd like to single out the performance of Kay Walsh as Nancy - in addition to those that Sykes already pointed out. Her performance is very difficult because she has to convince the audience of her character's change of heart. (This reminds me of a review I once read about the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise is Rain Man. While Hoffman did a fine job, playing a character that allows him to exhibit emotions more outwardly, it is Cruise's performance that has more depths and nuances. Hoffman's character remains the same throughout the film while Cruise's character grows and changes) The Editing and Direction are superb. In addition to those scenes mentioned by Sykes, I'd like to also point out the scene near the end with Sykes, the motion blur, rope images (hopefully this does not reveal too much :-) Last, but certainly not least, I'd like to mention the fantastic sets and B/W cinematography. The set/location/background mattes were striking. You can feel the squalid conditions and the hardness of the stone floors in the beginning. You can feel the danger (with excitement and wonders rolled together) of Fagin's hideaway. In particular, the image of the bridge outside the hideaway with London in the background is breathtaking. Finally, you can feel the softness, comfort, love, and warmth of Mr. Brownlow's beautiful home. These are the kind of films that made me fall in love with B/W films. Those wonderful shades of grey! This is a great artistic and emotional film. And since it is in B/W, according my signature belows, it is definitely a masterpiece ;-)

BTW, why in the world is Oliver Twist not more well known or well regarded? I believe that it is place well below Great Expectations, Trainspotting, The Full Monty, and the Crying Game on the British Film Institute's 100 Best List. While I do happen to like all of those, they are definitely not in the same league with Oliver Twist. This should be at the very top of BFI's list.

Sykes - you do have great taste in movies. I've been lurking around the forum for awhile, and I have been very impressed with the movies you've recommended or discussed about. Thanks...

BTW, are there any chance in the world that this movie will be restored and put on DVD with features? This is a movie with historical significance (in the film domain), and it deserves nothing less. While the images in the Criterion is very, very good, there are certain frames in the film that can definitely use some restorations. Also, the DVD is pretty much barebones. Just a trailer. No different language soundtracks. No subtitles. No cast and crew biographies. :-( But please, do not let this deter you from owning this great masterpiece!

------------------
There are many great color movies, but there are only B/W masterpieces - bwfilms ;-)
Old 10-06-00, 03:26 PM
  #9  
DVD Talk Special Edition
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: DUD Talk
Posts: 1,841
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
bwfilms, thanks for your informative follow-up review! Your endorsements of Kay Walsh's performance and other examples of Lean's striking narrative imagery filled in many gaps left by my review where I felt it was becoming too long-winded. You may have less than a dozen posts or so, but you've already made me start to look for your intelligent, thoughtful posts. You have great taste in movies, too! (BTW, have you seen my updated review with new movie captures [so graciously provided by dvdsteve2000]?)

FWIW, I read something at a British DVD site a few weeks back about a new region 2 release under preparation with some added features (not sure if it will be restored, though).

Sadly, popularity plays not only a significant part in lists such as the BFI's or AFI's, but also the care and attention it gets from DVD companies. Oliver Twist was a box-office failure in this country when it was finally released in 1951, after three yeaars of banishment and 12 minutes of indiscriminate cuts. Unjust charges of anti-Semitism tarnished it's reputation before audiences had a chance to view it objectively. Further, as pointed out by Lean in later years, the extensive cuts ironically resulted in a more anti-Semitic film, instead of vice versa; as the scenes in which Fagin displayed his sympathetic side--with his wit and ingratiating sense of humor--were removed with the rest.

Unfortunately, I do not see Oliver Twist receiving it's full due on DVD for quite a while yet. That said, I do wish to emphasize that the Criterion release, even with the occasional artifacting, is still excellent for a film of this age; and can only recall It's a Wonderful Life and Casablanca looking richer image values than Oliver Twist.

Let's spread the word, brother!

------------------
"Editing is crucial. Imagine James Stewart looking at a mother nursing her child. You see the child, then cut back to him. He smiles. Now Mr. Stewart is a benign old gentleman. Take away the middle piece of film and substitute a girl in a bikini. Now he's a dirty old man." --Alfred Hitchcock.

[This message has been edited by Sykes (edited October 06, 2000).]
Old 04-02-01, 09:11 PM
  #10  
DVD Talk Special Edition
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: DUD Talk
Posts: 1,841
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I cannot bear that many of our newer members may miss out on this excellent title and DVD because this forum's lone in-depth review is swallowed by the great gulf of time.

Up, with all my heart!
Old 04-03-01, 11:33 AM
  #11  
DVD Talk Gold Edition
 
Join Date: Sep 2000
Posts: 2,429
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
My favorite of the Criterion Leans is Brief Encounter. Gorgeous transfer and an excellent commentary track.
Old 04-03-01, 06:23 PM
  #12  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Moscow-Cassiopea Transit
Posts: 900
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Sykes, can you re-post your list of 10 Best Photographed B&W Films. Your link doesn't work anymore...
Old 04-03-01, 07:28 PM
  #13  
Banned
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Posts: 780
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally posted by Richard Malloy
My favorite of the Criterion Leans is Brief Encounter. Gorgeous transfer and an excellent commentary track.
You mean TERRIBLE commentary track! Reading from notes is a HUGE no-no in my book. Besides that, he talks very little about the film, instead opting to give detailed and painfully boring histories of Noel Coward, David Lean, Rachmaninoff, and some cast members. Talk about the friggin MOVIE I'M SEEING!!!

Loved the transfer and the movie, but the commentary put me to sleep. Literally.
Old 04-03-01, 11:04 PM
  #14  
DVD Talk Special Edition
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: DUD Talk
Posts: 1,841
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally posted by Ashirg:
Sykes, can you re-post your list of 10 Best Photographed B&W Films. Your link doesn't work anymore...
Yes, I neglectfully allowed the thread to be swallowed by the black hole of server infinity. I really need to re-do the thread, in-depth, expounding the virtues I look for in assessing great cinematography.

Below is an alphabetical list of the films; year; cinematographer(s); availability on DVD; and relative quality of transfer.

Black & White:[*]Day of Wrath, 1943 (Carl Andersson) [*]The Fugitive, 1947 (Gabriel Figueroa)[*]Gervaise, 1956 (Rene Julliard)[*]The Magnificent Ambersons, 1942 (Stanley Cortez)[*]Oliver Twist, 1948 (Guy Green) Criterion - *****[*]Portrait of Jennie, 1948 (Joseph August) Anchor Bay - ****[*]Rembrandt, 1936 (Georges Perinal, Richard Angst) MGM - ?? (coming soon)[*]The Scarlett Empress, 1934 (Bert Glennon) Criterion - ?? (coming soon)[*]The Third Man, 1949 (Robert Krasker) Criterion - *****[*]Zoo in Budapest, 1933 (Lee Garmes)

FWIW, I include, in addendum, my color list below.

Color:[*]The Conformist, 1969 (Vittorio Storaro)[*]Cries and Whispers, 1972 (Sven Nykvist) Criterion - ?? (coming soon)[*]Days of Heaven, 1978 (Nestor Almendros, Haskell Wexler) Paramount - *****[*]Don't Look Now, 1973 (Anthony Richmond)[*]Gate of Hell, 1953 (Kohei Sugiyama)[*]Gone With the Wind, 1939 (Ernest Haller, Ray Rennahan, Lee Garmes) MGM - *****[*]Kwaidan, 1964 (Yoshio Miyajima) Criterion - ****[*]Lawrence of Arabia, 1962 (Frederick A. Young) Columbia - *****[*]The Red Shoes, 1948 (Jack Cardiff) Criterion - ****[*]2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 (Geoffrey Unsworth, John Alcott) Warner - ** (newly remastered edition coming soon)

These lists are, of course, always subject to change, pending opportunity for viewing or reevaluating films I come across.

[Edited by Sykes on 04-19-01 at 04:47 PM]
Old 04-04-01, 08:41 PM
  #15  
Banned
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: "Sitting on a beach, earning 20%"
Posts: 6,154
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
I would not give the transfer of Days of Heaven 5 Stars. That transfer was pretty poor.
Old 04-04-01, 11:14 PM
  #16  
DVD Talk Special Edition
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: DUD Talk
Posts: 1,841
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally posted by Pants:
I would not give the transfer of Days of Heaven 5 Stars. That transfer was pretty poor.
Admittedly, I haven't looked at this disc in years, so the transfer may, by now, pale beside today's reference quality DVD product.

*Edited post above to correct studio listed for LOA.

[Edited by Sykes on 04-04-01 at 08:16 PM]

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service -

Copyright © 2024 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.