Ealing, 1949, B&W,106 mins.- Alec Guinness Collection DVD

Dennis Price: “It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.”

Well, we all have our problems. Price’s mother, spurned by her upper-crust family after marrying below her station, has instilled in him a sense of entitlement, as he is technically in line for the family Dukedom. All that stands in his way are a number of pesky relatives- and after his mother suffers a final snub from them, Price vows revenge.

His plan is slow, methodical- and deadly. It’s also the meat of one of the most entertaining black comedies ever made, filled with a dry wit that embraces the main character’s twisted sense of justice. We first see Price in a prison cell on the eve of his execution for a crime that he did not commit- but while he’s waiting, he writes out the story of the crimes that he did commit, narrating the story for our amusement.

His plan involves insinuating himself into his mother’s family and helping the ones who are in his way to shuffle off this mortal coil. That’s where Alec Guinness comes in, playing all eight of the offending relatives- including the female one. But that isn’t the only female trouble faced by Price, as he courts the widow of one of his victims while dallying with a married girlfriend- a situation which ironically makes more trouble for him than his campaign of vengeance. Everything in this movie, from the script to the acting and direction, is impeccable, and a key virtue is that it doesn’t compromise- while not completely evil, Price is a murderous, self-serving cad, and he stays one until the delicious final twist. The disc comes with the trailer and a Guinness bio. Highly recommended for fans of dark, sophisticated humor.

MGM, 1952, Color,103 mins.- Special Ed. DVD

Jean Hagen: “If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothing.”

Indeed, and rarely has so much hard work had such a payoff as in this, one of the glossiest and best-loved of all movie musicals. Even those who think that there is a special circle of Dante’s Inferno reserved for this sort of thing may find themselves charmed by this picture. It trades on our fascination with the magic of filmmaking as it simultaneously makes full use of that magic, in a deft mixing of fantasy and reality that remains fresh some 50 years after it was made.

Set during the “Good old days” in Hollywood, the story shows us how Vaudevillian Gene Kelly breaks into the movies, accompanied by pal Donald O’Connor, and eventually finding success with co-star Jean Hagen. Kelly “Meets cute” with and falls for young Debbie Reynolds, to Hagen’s displeasure, but Hagen’s got a bigger problem- the newfangled “Talkies” which will reveal her hilariously squeaky voice. That problem is just part of the film’s funny and insightful look at the movie business, which is one thing that makes it so entertaining- it’s not just about the musical numbers. But those numbers are the driving force, and they are all classics, from Kelly’s titular ode to precipitation, to O’Connor’s running up the walls in “Make ‘em laugh,” to the balletic, impressionistic “Broadway melody” sequence.

Co-directors Stanley Donen and Kelly, along with O’Connor and Reynolds and the rest of the cast, are at the height of their game here, infusing the film with the energy output of a small power plant. The two-disc set’s extras include an audio commentary, documentaries and music cues. If you can watch it without smiling once, you’re probably deceased.

Les Artistes Associes, 1975, Color, 98 mins.- MGM DVD

Bruce Robinson: “Miss Hugo is a highly strung young lady.”

And how! The woman in question, played by Isabelle Adjani, is the daughter of exiled literary great Victor Hugo, so it’s no surprise that she has a romantic streak. But her notoriously wild emotions lead her into real trouble when she follows military man Robinson to Nova Scotia after their brief fling in Europe.

She is obsessed with the man, who is a womanizer and wants nothing more to do with her. She throws herself at him, threatens him, spies on him, lies to her parents (and everybody else) about him, and generally makes a fool of herself. But she doesn’t care- her head tells her one thing, but her heart is calling the shots. So she flings herself into a downward spiral of obsession, illness, and madness, all of it passionately detailed by director and co-writer Francois Truffaut.

The story, based on actual events, mines a vein of doomed romance that evokes a distant era (the 1860s), a feeling bolstered by nice period details and lush photography. Adjani was nominated for an Oscar for her role as the tormented, conflicted young lass who just can’t help herself, and as you watch you’ll alternately feel sorry for her and want to give her a good slap- surely the sign of a good performance! The story isn’t what you’d call uplifting- in fact, it all seems somewhat pointless and sad when you get to the end of other words, it’s very French. Just keep in mind that it’s not a popcorn picture if you decide to check it out. The disc is a bare-bones affair but the film itself is nicely presented.


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© Melt Magazine 2002