This Week's Review: From the DVD Collection

I don’t know if any theatres were open during Hurricane Harvey’s most unwelcome sojourn in Texas, but my enthusiasm for an expedition was thoroughly dampened. I was, however, fortunate enough to have electricity during the crisis and caught up on several DVDs. I won’t go so far as to say that they were outstanding examples of cinematic art.

It had been six decades since I saw the Barrymore family in Rasputin and the Empress, but I had never forgotten it. Many of the characters are fictional, but the gist of the story is close to the historical record. For a 1932 film, the visual effects are very good. The cast is good, but Lionel Barrymore steals the show with his depiction of the evil Rasputin. Nicholas and Alexandra covers the same material but is more visually attractive. (And we won’t even mention Christopher Lee’s 1960s film, Rasputin the Mad Monk.

I saw, for the first time, Spencer Tracy in the 1935 film, Dante’s Inferno. Since I teach Dante every semester, I wanted to see if the film had anything to do with the original story. It did. Tracy, as always, is good, but the story seems rather quaint by contemporary standards. A weak man almost destroys his family because of his moral failings; at one point he has a vision of the punishments awaiting him in Hell; much of that passage is derived from the etchings of Gustave Dore. The script suffers from a dose of clichés, but Tracy justifies taking the time to watch the film.

In 1947, my parents took me to Oklahoma City to see a medical specialist. I have blotted out the memories of the visits to the doctor, but I do remember their taking me to see Green Dolphin Street. I would have been five years old at the time, but I still remember being terrified by the earthquake scenes. A few years later, I found Elizabeth Goudge’s original novel and devoured it. I was not impressed with Lana Turner; she was seriously miscast as the suffering heroine. Van Heflin had one of his better roles. The film is still interesting, but the book is better.

A film I saw during my sophomore year, 1960-61, was The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. My parents quizzed me thoroughly as to whether that version compared favorably with the Rudolph Valentino silent version, but I could not answer that. I have never seen that version, but I am curious about it. Glenn Ford is fairly good, but he was too old to be effective as an Argentine playboy trying to survive the National Socialist occupation of Paris. Lee J. Cobb is “over the top” as his gaucho grandfather. I would still like to see the original version of Vicente Blasco-Ibanez’s original novel, which I had to read in a course on modern Spanish fiction.

The final item is a 2012 Australian film, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Fergus Hume’s 1886 novel was an international hit and was probably his best work. It is often described as the first detective novel and is still in print; of course, Edgar Allan Poe, Emile Gaboriau and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are still considered the founders of the detective genre.. The cast was unfamiliar to me, but they were good. It’s not too hard to figure out who the murderer is, but the plot holds up fairly well.

I really hope the theaters are up and running by September 9.