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The Premiere Frank Capra Collection: American Madness, It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1932-1939) 1.33:1 (Full Frame) Dolby Digital Monaural Sony Home Entertainment, $59.95
When Joseph Walker, ASC worked with Frank Capra for the first time, on That Certain Thing in 1928, the director tested Walker’s patience to the point that the cinematographer asked Columbia executive Sam Briskin not to assign him to any more Capra pictures. Walker changed his mind after he saw the completed film, however, and the cinematographer and director eventually collaborated on 20 pictures, five of which are included in the recently released, indispensable boxed set The Premiere Frank Capra Collection. The first film in the set is American Madness, which is new to DVD. This smart and funny tale of a bank in crisis reflects New Deal thinking and addresses issues both political and personal; the movie has a lot to say about class, and it’s equally insightful in its exploration of male-female relationships. Most of the story takes place in an elaborate bank set, which Walker often lit in a chiaroscuro style that foreshad16 February 2007
owed the film noir movement of the next decade. Walker shifted to a completely different style for the romantic comedy It Happened One Night, the film that put Capra on the map. The movie fulfills the most important requirement of any love story: two characters that the audience wants to end up together. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert’s iconic performances are enhanced by Walker’s gloriously romantic lighting, which makes both characters look gorgeous. After the success of It Happened One Night, Capra was in a position to do whatever he wanted, and he eventually used his new clout to make the social satire Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. In this story of a decent man who inherits a fortune, Capra developed themes that he would focus on for the rest of his career: the role of the individual in American society, the intersection between money and power, and the conflicts between institutions and communities. The movie features a terrific performance by Capra favorite Jean Arthur, whose work is greatly aided by Walker’s use of lighting and composition to illustrate her character’s changing feelings toward hero Gary Cooper. The early scenes in which Arthur views Cooper with condescension are lit in a flat, slightly harsh manner that underscores the methodical way in which she means to destroy him. But as Arthur’s character grows to love and respect Deeds, Walker frames the heroine in close-ups in which subtle gradations of light convey her softening feelings. Capra and his collaborators experimented on Deeds, eschewing conventional coverage for longer takes and opting for editing that prioritizes emotional continuity over spatial continuity. This approach was further devel-
oped in You Can’t Take It with You, a hilarious farce that marked Capra’s first collaboration with actor James Stewart. One year later, they reteamed on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, one of Capra’s best and most personal films. This story of a principled young senator fighting corruption is both an inspirational tale and a prescient examination of the media’s power to bring out the worst in human nature. The complexity of the piece is echoed in Walker’s visuals, which balance documentary-style realism and stylized Hollywood romanticism. Overall, Walker’s luminous images have been beautifully captured in these excellent DVD transfers, although the Deeds pressing exhibits some picture flaws. Each film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Frank Capra Jr., who proves to be an astute commentator on his father’s work. His recollections of his father’s relationships with studio executives and collaborators are a delight for anyone interested in Hollywood’s golden age. On American Madness and You Can’t Take It with You, Capra shares the commentary track with film scholar Catherine Kellison. Supplemental material also includes four featurettes totaling 70 minutes; these feature interviews with Capra Jr., Kellison, and film historians Jeanine Basinger and Richard Peña. The featurettes cover Capra’s family life, his collaborations with other artists, his golden period at Columbia, and his later years as a mentor to young filmmakers. There is some overlap among the interviews, documentaries and commentary tracks, but this is understandable given the massive amount of supplementary material here. The highlight of the bonus mate-
and are all cleverly character-specific — Penderton’s riding is shot tightly and fragmented. — Kenneth Sweeney Lady Vengeance (2005) 2. Langdon. this 16mm black-andwhite footage is fascinating to watch and is backed by Mayuzumi’s score. Langdon (Brian Keith). $22. John Milius and Allen Daviau. — Jim Hemphill Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) 2. Penderton is an officer and teacher at a base in the American South. Leonora is fiercely engaged in a sexual affair with a neighboring officer. with his ferocious 2003 thriller Oldboy. against Huston’s wishes. Reflections in a Golden Eye remains an enigmatic and worthwhile dramatic piece. As reported in AC in December 1967. $19. behind-thescenes footage of the principal performers and creative team shooting the film. Conflicted by his closeted desires. particularly Taylor and Brando. Lt.S. The DVD also features a 23minute segment of silent. The exterior sequences especially highlight the various characters’ penchant for horseback riding.95 After making a splash in the U.” Full of self-loathing. Warner Home Video recently released Reflections in a Golden Eye as a stand-alone DVD and as part of the Marlon Brando Collection boxed set.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced) Dolby Digital and DTS 5. it’s difficult to deny the powerful dramatic tension that lies at the heart of it. a feature-length overview of the director’s work that contains interviews with key collaborators and admirers such as Oliver Stone.98 “Any fulfillment at the expense of normality is wrong and should not be allowed to bring happiness. The supplements include an array of trailers for the Brando vehicles featured in the boxed set. unhappily married to the frigid and emotionally disturbed Alison (Julie Harris). Warner Bros. well-balanced transfer is very good and features exceptional detail. All of this adds up to a feast for Capra fans. After assessing the polarized responses of audiences and critics during the first week of release. The crisp. Presented full frame. and his work on the picture has two distinct traits: wide-open exteriors of fields and forests that surround the base. and the picture looks the way Huston originally intended. with standard color prints that featured a more pedestrian palette. Passionately made by an excellent director who was trying to etch something new into commercial cinema. and tight. the complicated and deceitful relationships between these two homes erupt with cataclysmic results. but the film’s frank depiction of marital despair and self loathing was certainly ahead of its time for American cinema. The most controversial aspect of the film’s look was Huston’s decision to use a special lab process to desaturate the colors and leave a sepia. tensions rise when the mysterious Pvt. The anamorphically enhanced presentation restores the picture’s widescreen aspect ratio. dramatically lit interiors of the homes in which the main characters fester. where he lives with and largely ignores his equally frustrated and occasionally abusive wife. Whether you’re a first-time viewer or a fan of the film. occasionally jarring score. Army Maj. Before the season ends. adultery and mood disorders might have been offputting to audiences in 1967.” observes frustrated U.S. recalled all the “gold” prints and replaced them. It’s easy to understand why the taboo topics of homosexuality.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced) Dolby Digital Monaural Warner Home Video. “In short. Italy’s Technicolor lab worked for several months to create a process of desaturation that would meld Tonti’s images into Huston’s vision. the movie features outstanding work by its four principal performers.” he continues. ASC. but it soon becomes painfully clear that Wilson has designs on Leonora. which offers a glimpse of the picture’s original color balances.1 Tartan Video. John Huston’s peculiar and absorbing adaptation of Carson McCuller’s Reflections in a Golden Eye has long been an obscure cult title. tension-filled narrative. Wilson (Robert Forster) begins to pay clandestine visits to the Penderton household in the night. “it’s better. Also included are theatrical trailers and radio promotions. golden sheen. The monaural sound is clean and solid. because it’s morally honorable for the square peg to keep scraping about in a round hole rather than to discover and use the unorthodox one that would fit it. 18 February 2007 Penderton assumes that Wilson has come for him. is torn between his feelings of responsibility for his fragile wife’s condition and the growing passion he holds for Leonora. Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor). Col. available only in an out-of-print VHS edition and through rare showings on cable television. and Wilson brazenly rides naked through the forest. The movie was shot in Italy by cinematographer Aldo Tonti. Forty years after its theatrical release. with emphasis on composer Toshio Mayuzumi’s fluid. South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park . and Warner Home Video has seen fit to add the golden sheen back to the image — a disquieting visual detail that only adds to the film’s strange. including the bizarre trailer for Reflections in a Golden Eye. As the days go by during an unusually warm autumn. Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando) in Reflections in a Golden Eye.02_07 dvd playback 12/21/06 1:49 PM Page 18 rials is Kenneth Bowser’s 1997 documentary Frank Capra’s American Dream. Leonora and Langdon are passionate and competitive as they jump hurdles.