The 1943 Jane Eyre (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) stars Joan Fontaine as Jane, the heroine of Charlotte Brontë’s classic gothic romance about a meek orphan hired by a brooding aristocrat to be governess to his young ward, but it’s Orson Welles who dominates this drama with both his dark, electric presence as Edward Rochester and his influence behind the scenes of the production. He’s a bear of a Rochester, a rough, dark figure more at home with his hounds and horses than with people, and Welles drops his voice to a rumbling growl whether he’s barking orders or letting his guard down for a moment of intimacy.
The handsome production, one of the romantic classics of the ’40s, is directed by the literate British import Robert Stevenson, but Welles had a considerable hand in the production, from the visual design to script revisions, all of it uncredited. The result is a beautiful piece of Hollywood gothic, sculpting a Victorian England completely out of Hollywood artifice and sound-stage magic through magnificent set design, dramatic lighting and healthy helpings of stage fog. Just look to the cover of the disc for a sense of the visual atmosphere. This is one of the most expressionist American films of the era, and Welles had no small hand in that.
Welles’ former producer and writing partner John Houseman co-wrote the literate screenplay with Aldous Huxley and Stevenson. Longtime Welles composer Bernard Herrmann provides the dark, moody score. Agnes Moorehead (another Welles confederate) co-stars with Margaret O’Brien (as Rochester’s French ward), Peggy Ann Garner (Jane as a child) and Henry Daniell. A young Elizabeth Taylor has a small, unbilled role in the opening act as Jane’s only friend.
Like the earlier DVD, the Blu-ray is mastered from less than stellar 35mm elements. I don’t know their provenance, but you can see light emulsion scratches down the image in many scenes, and there are long sequences where the source print appears to be a generation or so away from the original print. The contrasts get a little muddy in some scenes and the video noise is apparent in the swathes of shadow. Those are imperfections in the elements, mind you, not in the transfer, and short of a full-scale restoration, it’s as good as we can hope for. The image is always sharp and the high-definition transfer brings out the detail. It’s a gloriously handsome film, and this edition does right by it.
Twilight Time doesn’t usually lavish the supplements on their discs, but this one is an exception with a wealth of supplements ported over from the earlier Fox DVD release: Along with a solid commentary track from Welles scholar Joseph McBride with actress Margaret O’Brien is a second track by Twilight Time founder Nick Redman, house essayist Julie Kirgo and film historian Steven Smith, recorded long before they teamed up for Twilight Time. (Which makes this release a kind of homecoming for the track!) The 17-minute featurette Locked in the Tower: The Men Behind Jane Eyre looks at the careers and contributions of Stevenson and Welles to the film; Know Your Ally: Britain is a 42-minute propaganda film directed by Stevenson for Frank Capra’s War Department film unit right after finishing Jane Eyre; and, of course, there is Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, it’s available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
F.W. Murnau’s silent classic, Nosferatu (Kino, Blu-ray), is the first great vampire film — an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (it was tied up by the Stoker estate for years) — which recreates the famous bloodsucker as a feral ghoul: bald, fanged, clawed, a bat-like creature whose bloodlust battles his sexual lust for the virginal Ellen. Count Orlock (played by the spindly, skull-headed Max Schreck) is a veritable force of evil, carrying disease and destruction with him, and Murnau shoots him as an eerie creature of the night, rising like a corpse from his coffin when the sun goes down and skulking in shadow. This Blu-ray debut was mastered in HD from the archival 35mm restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung foundation and features separate versions of the film, one with newly translated English intertitles and another with original German intertitles (with optional English subtitles), both color tinted and accompanied by Hans Erdmann’s original 1922 score. It also includes the supplements from the previous Kino release: 52-minute documentary The Language of Shadows: The Early Years and Nosferatu, a three-minute featurette on the digital restoration, lengthy excerpts from other eight other Murnau silent films and a photo stills gallery.
Body Bags (Shout Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) isn’t quite up to Nosferatu standards, but the made-for-cable anthology film which was designed as a pilot for a dark-humored horror series for Showtime is entertaining and fun in its own right. John Carpenter “presents” the film quite literally as he dons corpse-like makeup to play a punning host with a gallows humor well suited to the morgue setting of the framing sequence. It draws inspiration from the same EC horror comics of the ’50s that inspired Creepshow and HBO’s Tales From the Crypt series, and Carpenter is the film’s answer to the Crypt Keeper. He’s actually quite adept in the part and the interludes are as much fun as the stories themselves. Two are directed by John Carpenter (The Gas Station, a classic maniac-on-the-loose tale with Robert Carradine, and Hair, a high-concept lark with Stacy Keach and David Warner), and one is directed by Tobe Hooper (Eye, a Hands of Orloc-type story with the transplanted eye of a killer driving Mark Hamill mad). Features include Carpenter commentary on The Gas Station (with Robert Carradine) and Hair (with Stacy Keach) and producer Sandy King on Eye (with Fangoria writer Justin Beahm) and the featurette Unzipping Body Bags.
All the President’s Men: Special Edition (Warner, Blu-ray) – Here’s a film to make you miss the days when journalism was a healthy fourth estate and news was a serious business of investigative journalism and aggressive research, where facts were more important than opinion. Robert Redford and Duston Hoffman play the real-life Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the men who followed the trail of a minor burglary at the Watergate hotel to the highest levels of the U.S. government. Alan J. Pakula directs William Goldman’s sharp adaptation of the book by Woodward and Bernstein with a focus on the dogged job of reportage by two junior reporters who prove themselves by breaking a story that could blow up in their faces … or worse. Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Jane Alexander and Ned Beatty co-star, with Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat and Jason Robards as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. Winner of four Academy Awards (including Best Adapted Screenplay by William Goldman and Best Supporting Actor, Jason Robards).
Time enough to call out two more new Twilight Time Blu-ray debuts: Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in The Way We Were (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), one of the seminal date movies of a certain generation; and the musical Oliver! (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), because the squalor of 19th century London and the social commentary of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist goes down better with big musical numbers. I kid, of course. We know that everything goes down better with big musical numbers. Anyway, you would assume that these are just the kind of films that Sony would put out on Blu-ray themselves – the perfect balance of populist likability, Oscar-kissed credentials and cultural significance – yet here it takes the Twilight Time model (limited to 3000 copies and available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM) to get the HD upgrade. So if you want these, don’t dally. We don’t know when they’ll come out again. The Way We Were features two commentary tracks and a featurette, Oliver! has sing-alongs, featurettes and dance instructions (!), and both feature Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo.
City Lights (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Dual Format) gets the Criterion treatment from a new digital restoration, but did not arrive for review.
See JFK 50th Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner, Blu-ray) in this weekend’s Videophiled installment.
Shoot the Sun Down (Kino Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Message (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray)
The Lion of the Desert (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray)
Zulu Dawn (Severin, DVD)
The Films of Chester Novell Turner (Massacre Video, DVD)
Oui, Girls (1982) (Impulse, DVD)
Gameshow Models (1976) (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
The Blue Hour (1971) (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
The First Time (1978) / Oriental Babysitter (1976) (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)
The Candidate (1964) / Johnny Gunman (1957) (Vinegar Syndrome, DVD)