This week’s roundup features several movies worth seeking out while stuck indoors, both on Blu-ray (notably Their Finest Hour, a boxed set of five classic war films) and through Video On Demand (Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s tongue-in-cheek detective story, The Whistlers).
Blu-rays of the Week
Their Finest Hour—5 British WWII Classics (Film Movement Classics)
This excellent boxed set, comprising a quintet of British films set during the Second World War—Alberto Calvacanti’s memorable “what if” about a Nazi invasion of England, Went the Day Well? (1942); Guy Hamilton’s tense The Colditz Story (1955), concerning POWs trying to escape an impregnable Nazi fortress; Michael Anderson’s The Dam Busters (1955), the astonishing true story of the race to make bombs to take out crucial Nazi dams; Leslie Norman’s effective re-creation of the Allies’ retreat from the north of France, Dunkirk (1958); and J. Lee Thompson’s absorbing desert adventure, Ice Cold in Alex (1958)—is recommended for those who love old war films or simply well-made and inspiring dramas.
Not only are all five B&W features restored in superlative hi-def transfers, there’s a plethora of valuable extras on four of the discs (only Went the Day Well? has no bonues): The Colditz Story includes a documentary, Colditz Revealed; The Dam Busters includes a making-of, two documentaries about the actual men who took part, and other featurettes; Dunkirk includes newsreel footage, 1940 documentary short Young Veteran, actor Sean Barrett interview and actor John Mills’ home movies; and Ice Cold in Alex includes an excerpt from A Very British War Movie documentary, more of Mills’ home movies, interviews with scholar Melanie Williams and actress Sylvia Syms and a featurette on director J. Lee Thompson.
Dodsworth (Warner Archive)
William Wyler’s 1936 adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel (and stage version)—concerning a long-time married American couple, Sam and Fran, who find, after their opposing responses to “sophisticated” Europe, that their relationship is deteriorating—is a mature treatment of subject matter that might have seemed too much for its day (including a brief shot of what looks like the wife’s side boob). Walter Huston and Mary Chatterton are splendid as Sam and Fran, Mary Astor is irresistible as Edith, the expatriate who catches Sam’s eye, and the insights into and humor about American and European cultural differences remain pertinent and potent. The film, which has undergone a recent restoration, looks terrific in rich black and white; the lone extra is a 1937 radio version of the play/novel.
Carl Maria von Weber’s grand romantic opera suffers from a ludicrous libretto, but the contrived tale of a young woman who must prove her fidelity prior to her wedding is dominated from the start by Weber’s ravishing music. This 2018 Vienna production, staged with passionate feeling if little clarity by Christof Loy, succeeds thanks to its leading ladies: Jacquelyn Wagner as the heroine Euryanthe and Theresa Kronthaler as the antagonist Eglantine are compelling in their acting and brilliant in their singing. Constantin Trinks leads the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra and Arnold Schoenberg Choir with assurance. Both hi-def video and audio are splendid.
VOD of the Week
The Whistlers (Magnolia)
In Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s latest whimsical dramedy, a shady police inspector travels to a remote island to learn a local whistling language to try nabbing criminals more crooked than he is. If there’s chutzpah in building a shaggy-dog story around such a ludicrous concept, Porumboiu runs with it, although he takes it only so far before the seams begin to show. Luckily, the pace doesn’t lag, the film is fairly short, and there’s a fine cast, led by model turned actress Catrinel Marlon, playing a formidable femme fatale named—tongue-in-cheekly, for those who remember Rita Hayworth in the ’40s noir classic—Gilda.