Rank,1952, Color, 95mins.- Criterion DVD

Michael Denison: "The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married I shall certainly try and forget the fact."

Denison and friend Michael Redgrave discover that they have something in common, having created imaginary individuals who require their attention, and thus giving them an excuse to shun their Victorian responsibilities and go pleasure-seeking. Redgrave has set his sights on Joan Greenwood, to the displeasure of her formidable mother, Edith Evans, who is also Denison's aunt. Denison in his turn employs underhanded methods to hook up with Redgrave's young ward, Dorothy Tutin, whose spinsterish tutor, Margaret Rutherford, once mislaid an infant at Victoria Station. When all of these characters get together, things become a bit complicated.

This story works in the best tradition of romantic comedy, where true love is gained through deceit, treachery, mistaken identity, and blackmail, all of it shot through with author Oscar Wilde's epigrammatic potshots at "Polite" society. This sterling example of a stage-to-screen adaptation takes place in a vanished world of manners and morals, where silly women have their waists cinched and conniving men write notes on starched shirt cuffs, and the basest motivations are cloaked in propriety- not at all like our modern world, thank goodness! Worth viewing for its wit and polish, presented by Criterion in a bright new transfer. Extras are minimal but include an informative still gallery.

NFTC, 1974, Color, 89 mins.- Special Edition DVD

Michael Palin: “Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”

So much for Excalibur and the Arthurian myth! Now, with that nonsense out of the way, we can concentrate on the good stuff, like castle improvement, misguided chivalry, violent conflict and dismemberment, sexual frustration, killer rabbits, and mud and filth- lots of mud and filth. Welcome to the Middle Ages as envisioned by a group almost as legendary as the Knights Of The Round Table themselves- the Pythons.

This film exemplifies their brand of silly yet intelligent comedy, a satire of medieval epics which pokes fun at the very notion of doing such a thing on a small budget- sort of a joke within a joke that breaches the barrier between the characters and the “Real world.” As for the plot- well, King Arthur quests after the Holy Grail, trashing all sorts of romantic notions along the way. That’s all you need to know. The extras on this terrific two-disc set include audio commentaries, documentaries, and some truly inspired moments with coconuts and Legos. This is not only a very funny movie, it is an example of what a dedicated bunch of filmmakers can pull off with little time and less money- and that’s a romantic notion worth maintaining.

Fox, 1961, B&W, 135 mins.- Special Edition DVD

Paul Newman: “It’s not enough that you just have talent, you gotta have character too.”

Newman starts this story with the talent, and gains the character- but there’s a price to pay, because he’s so obsessed with winning that he can’t help losing. This film plunges the viewer into the seedy world of the pool hustler, where the games aren’t just contests of physical skill but of psychological domination as well, all of it fueled by money and a desire for glory. Newman pursues his own personal White Whale in the plus-sized form of legendary player Jackie Gleason, and their battles with ball and cue bookend the film.

In between those games, Newman does some hard personal time, the only bright spot being his affair with the troubled but essentially decent Piper Laurie. Their relationship has its ups and downs, but when Newman hooks up with reptilian sharpster George C. Scott, a tug-of-war ensues between Laurie and Scott over Newman- and it ain’t pretty.

This picture has the feel of one of those classic Fifties “Social dramas,” with great acting in a realistic milieu that eschews old-style Hollywood conventions. It’s a little long but worth watching- particularly if you’ve seen the sequel, “The Color Of Money,” and wondered where it came from. Extras include an audio commentary which includes comments by star Newman, a documentary, an examination of various trick pool shots seen in the movie, and a still gallery.


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© Melt Magazine 2002