Blu-ray: Four by Otto Preminger
'Bonjour Tristesse' debuts along with a box set of three late films by the director
Otto Preminger is one of the most fascinating directors of his time, a quiet moralist, an austere, understated stylist, and a director who maintained his independence by operating with the savvy and bottom-line awareness of a producer. This week, four films from the second half of his career debut on Blu-ray.
"Bonjour Tristesse" (Twilight Time) is one of the director's most understated films: cool, introspective, sleek, and removed. Adapted from the novel by Francoise Sagan by playwright Arthur Laurents, the 1958 film explores the repercussions in a rift between gadabout bachelor playboy David Niven and his partner in party-going daughter Jean Seberg when smart, sensible, and mature Deborah Kerr enters their lives. Told in flashback from a sleek but shadowy B&W Paris, the film erupts in vivid Technicolor to explore the gorgeous French Riviera but the film is anything but sunny.
Seberg flatly drones her narration but her impish, often petulant performance is perfect for the spoiled teenager and Kerr’s middle-aged working woman seems puritanical compared to the irrepressible jet setters but is never less than honest, true and forthright. Preminger’s camera prowls through the drama just removed enough to be respectful, and intimate enough to get under their skin. The Twilight Time release has limited run of 3000 copies and features its usual isolated score track and a booklet with notes by Julie Kirgo. Available exclusively from Screen Archives.
"The Otto Preminger Collection" (Olive) presents the respective Blu-ray debuts of three more films recently released on DVD. "Hurry Sundown" (1967), starring Michael Caine and Jane Fonda as the children of privileged Southern aristocracy trying to parlay the only thing of value they have left—the family land of a former plantation—into a new fortune, is a soap opera wrapped around a culture of racism and white superiority, with the post-war era standing in as an exaggerated mirror of the sixties south embroiled in Civil Rights violence.
There's overwrought melodrama to spare in the torn allegiances, communal loyalties and marital strife, notably between Caine and Fonda (their relationship is a constant state of interruptus, thanks to a handicapped son she babies every time he cries) but also between Law and Faye Dunaway, unsure about her husband's partnership with a black neighbor. For all the stereotypes in the hothouse atmosphere (which was exaggerated in 1967 and almost cartoonish now), it's also awfully entertaining (Fonda's act with Caine's saxophone is classic Preminger pushing the envelope of the ratings code) and full of eccentric color (Burgess Meredith as a corrupt judge whose show of jurisprudence and objectivity is so contrived it's as if he's flaunting his corruption).
"Skidoo" (1968) is a truly strange time capsule of Hollywood trying to bring social satire and counterculture hipness to garish comedy, starring Jackie Gleason as a former mob hitman named Tough Tony ordered to whack an informer in protective custody in prison. Forget "The Sopranos," this is more like Keystone Mobsters, with career criminals and fun-loving hippies colliding in a comedy of flower power, slapstick and psychedelia, the latter courtesy of a mass LSD trip in a maximum security prison. Groucho Marx is the wiseguy mob boss named God who has a germ phobia while Carol Channing bridges the cultural gap with a go-go dance and a strip-tease.
It does entertain if only by virtue of its misguided portrait of the drug culture and the counterculture, garish slapstick and bizarre plot, all of which has made it a minor cult item. The cast also includes Frankie Avalon, John Phillip Law, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Cesar Romero and Mickey Rooney. Harry Nilsson provides the original songs, a mix of sixties pop and bouncy tin pan alley style, and sings the closing credits. I can't say it's good but it surely is unique.
"Such Good Friends" (1971) stars Dyan Cannon as a woman who discovers that her husband, who has just slipped in to a coma thanks to a medical mishap, had affairs with most of her friends. She wants payback.
These three films are available solely in a three-disc set, at least for the time being.