- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 17, 2021

Here’s a look at few classic films, remastered and ready for high definition viewing.

The Furies (Criterion, not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 109 minutes, $39.95) — Director Anthony Mann’s underappreciated Western melodrama from 1950 debuts on the Blu-ray format digitally restored and ready for a new generation of black-and-white cinema lovers to appreciate.

Viewers are taken back to an 1870’s New Mexico Territory and enter the realm of tyrannical cattle baron and widower T.C. Jeffords (Academy Award winner Walter Huston in his final role), and his overtly complicated family fueled by his ruthless favorite offspring, daughter Vance (Barbara Stanwyck).

Fortunes, ferocity and revenge intermingle as father and daughter play high-stakes games against one another through financial and romantic relationships that can determine control of the sprawling spread aptly named The Furies.

Scheming Vance bides her time to take over dad’s kingdom, even aligning with enemies of her fathers including suitor Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey) and squatter Juan Herrera (Gilbert Roland), but T.C. also finds a new wife Florence Burnett (Judith Anderson) that might ultimately threaten her future plans.

Dripping with romantic schmaltz, bravado and Shakespearian crescendos while punctuated with a shoot-out, cattle drive and Franz Waxman’s furious, thriller musical score, “The Furies” is equal groundbreaking genre, blending Western as well as television soap opera.

The digitally remastered high definition release certainly keeps cinematographer Victor Milner’s sometimes noirish visuals clear and clean, but one could only imagine what the film would have looked like in widescreen color especially in some of those moments boasting panoramic scenes of the Southwest.

Best extras: As always, Criterion offers a well-rounded look at the movie starting with an optional commentary track by film historian and Western scholar Jim Kitses, previously heard on Criterion’s 2008 DVD release.

Much like a professor reading his notes while giving a lecture, he deconstructs scenes, characters and the levels of storytelling. He explains gothic, psychological and noir themes, and beckons viewers to listen to passages of dialogue and watch the fratricidal violence, while he espouses on the director’s post-modern hybrid genre vision.

Suffice it to report, he is loaded with anecdotes and information.

Next, film historian Imogen Sara Smith offers a 30-minute dissection of “The Furies” touching on its film noir and Western roots, diving deep into comparisons to Greek tragedy and breaking down Mann’s visual storytelling, filmmaking structure and his obsession with King Lear.

The extras continue with a 17-minute, 1967 interview with Mann for the British television series “The Movies” that finds him discussing his love of the film format, importance of framing and camera angles, his thoughts on expanding the Western genre, and memories on his overall career.

Next, 17 minutes with Nina Mann, the director’s daughter, offers a quick retrospective of his early life struggles and film career, looking at the late director’s common themes, the heroes, importance of shooting on locations, use of violence and “The Furies.”

Finally, the disc offers a nine-minute staged interview with Huston from 1931 for an in-theater short called “Intimate Interviews.”

It has Dorothy West butting into his home and interrupting him as the actor tries to memorize his lines and take a swim while reluctantly deciding to talk to her. It’s as bizarre as it sounds and reminiscent of a Barbara Walters interview show segment, but Huston never cries though he does end up hitting on Dorothy.

The package includes a 36-page booklet featuring photos, an essay by critic Robin Wood and transcribed excerpts from an audio French interview with Mann.

Criterion also includes in the package, 150 pieces of paper wrapped in a cover displaying printed words on each piece of paper. I think they call it a novel.

Yes, viewers get a complete reprinted version of the source material that the movie is based on, author Niven Busch’s 1948 literary work of the same name. It will require reading and a dictionary to look up the big words.

Paramount Presents: The Greatest Show on Earth (Paramount Home Entertainment not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 152 minutes, $24.99) — Cecil B. DeMille’s Academy Award-winning, loving homage to the performers of a traveling Big Top returns with a restored high definition home theater experience culled from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative.

Playing like part reality show and part documentary, the 1952 film chronicles a season with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus covering the pageantry, triumph and tragedy overseen by the gruff general manager, Brad Braden (Charlton Heston in only his second major film role).

When not dealing with daily business and logistics, he’s saddled with a soap opera’s worth of angst by his stars, not limited to getting guff from his girlfriend, trapeze star Holly (Betty Hutton), after her demotion from the center ring; dealing with prima donna the Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde); gangsters trying to muscle in on his midway concessions; and a clown with a secret named Buttons (Jimmy Stewart).

An entertaining selection of celebrities also manages to pop up in the film including clown legend Emmett Kelly (with and without his makeup), cowboy movie star Hopalong Cassidy, and even Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as part of the audience.

Despite some impressive juggling, high wire tricks, animal acts, acrobatics and clowning during the shows, the long-winded story stuffed with unnecessary side plots, overboard performances from Heston and Hutton, and DeMille’s painfully dramatic narration (yes, he felt the need to be the narrator) makes for a sometimes cringy viewing experience.

Yet, face palm, the film still managed to win Best Picture going against classics such as “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man.” Go figure.

However, I found nothing to complain about with the new visual presentation. Originally shot in Technicolor and packed with varied costuming and production designs to showcase the performers, the movie simply explodes with color. 

Viewers will appreciate the clown makeup and garb; golden braids on the trainers costumes; sparkly purple-blue-and-pinks trapeze outfits; the bright red circus trains cars; clarity of elephants, tigers, baby apes and hippopotamus; Phyllis’ Goddess of the Moon costume (Dorothy Lamour); and an epic train crash featuring old school, miniature special effects.

Best extras: As with nearly all of the Paramount Presents titles, viewers get a filmmaker focus from film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. The too-short overview only offers eight-minutes’ worth of information on DeMille, the movie’s origins, the casting, the actors actually circus performing and the train wreck.

Suffice it to report, “The Greatest Show on Earth” really needed a full-blown and deep-dive retrospective.

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