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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Warner Archive Collection Releases For March 2020

What's new on DVD and Blu-ray, you ask? This month The Warner Archive Collection has the answer for you, and a little self patting on the back as well. It's celebrating a birthday. On March 23, 2009, The Warner Archive began with just 150 made-to-order feature films on DVD. Now, with over 4000 releases spanning over one hundred years of film and television history, the Warner Archive enters the second year of double digits much more gracefully than your average tween.

What made video on demand so successful? Demand. Pure and simple. It's thanks to the many people who love to have great cinema in their own homes right at their fingertips. The Archive has expanded to include a whole world of entertainment - shorts, made-for-TV movies, mini-series, animated shows, and full seasons of TV, many of which have previously been unavailable anywhere, including cable, or even streaming platforms. And even though it's quite possible that everything that has ever been made will someday be accessible via the remotes next to our viewing device, there are those of us who just love the idea of owning our favorite entertainment and having it in our hands.

This month the Archive truly delivers an early sound masterpiece by William Wyler. The 1936 film, Dodsworth is presented on Blu-ray from a new 1080p HD Master. The film was newly restored in 2019 by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Film Archive and The Film Foundation in association with the Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Family Trust, with restoration funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation .

Wyler directs this superb adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel about middle-aged regret and recriminations and the rebirth of long dormant passions. Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, the film features an amazing ensemble of actors including the great Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Mary Astor, Paul Lukas, and a very young David Niven.

Wyler cannily gets by the production code and delivers a decidedly adult drama

about a millionaire automobile motor magnate (think Elon Musk and billions in today's world). Sam Dodsworth (Huston) sells his small town company in the midwestern to a large conglomerate and leaves for a long-postponed honeymoon abroad. The character believes it is his (and his wife's) reward for sacrificing their youth for having built a strong life for their family and each other. We see that he has lived by the laws of what's considered the ideal American life. The reward, of course, is the long awaited "golden years" promised by conventional society.

However, wife Fran (Chatterton) has an all together different outlook on this new beginning, much like many women of the era. As an American house wife she has been by her husband's side as he grew from nothing into a giant among national businessmen, but her youth was left behind before she could enjoy it. It is clear that her character is now uncomfortable with the expectation of continuing to be the good little companion. She is portrayed as a modern women who wonders when is it her turn to live it up - a possible reflection of older women living in the shadows of WWI. The film depicts Fran as the bad guy (and she really is) presenting her character as a rebuke of the modern women. And her fate plays as a harsh warning to women, who, by today's standards, would be justified if not celebrated for taking the same road.

They say that half the battle in telling a good story is in the casting, and I think Dodsworth plays as a fine example of that wisdom. Huston as Dodsworth, portrays all of the good elements of an American success story. We are immediately on his side, identifying with his good nature and even feel comforted by his stature and solid baritone voice. He is an American leader, an American husband, and an American father. Chatterton was the poster gal for strong thoroughly modern women of the 1930s who's overt sexuality threatened men. Her roles were usually man-eaters who exude sensuality in ways that made the male species tremble. The pair balance each other's strengths beautifully, and make what could easily have slipped into dated melodrama a timely tale for all eras. Although it is considered a post-code production, the film more than comfortably sits alongside the pre-Codes of the era. And that's a good thing.

Long unavailable, Dodsworth returns to print in a stunning restoration that properly gives new life to one of the greatest pictures of the 1930s - resplendent with glorious Black and White cinematography, fabulous art direction and superb mise-en-scene in service to a truly sophisticated cast. Special Feature: Lux Radio Theater radio version with Walter Huston.


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