DVD - Motion Picture Masterpieces Collection
For an accurate look at how things were at MGM in the glory days, go directly to Motion Picture Masterpieces, a DVD box with five literary-minded A-list productions. MGM liked to think of itself as the studio of class, and its highbrow aspirations (mixed with plenty of old-fashioned hokum) are on lavish display in this collection.
Louis B. Mayer ran the studio, and boy wonder Irving Thalberg supervised production. However, another strong-willed producer, future Gone with the Wind CEO David O. Selznick, was responsible for guiding a pair of highly enjoyable Dickens adaptations, both released in 1935. David Copperfield is a wonderful condensation of the sprawling novel, crammed with memorable evocations of Dickens' roster of eccentrics. Freddie Bartholomew, who became a star with this role, plays the young David; equally indelible are W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber, Basil Rathbone as Murdstone, and especially Edna May Oliver as Besty Trotwood. Director George Cukor's empathy and craftsmanship keep the movie humming with Dickensian wit. A Tale of Two Cities followed shortly thereafter, with Ronald Colman in one of his signature roles as the drunken romantic Sydney Carton, whose throttled love for the beautiful Lucie Manette leads to the French Revolution's guillotine. Jack Conway directs in tight, brisk fashion, and once again the supporting cast (Oliver and Rathbone return from Copperfield) is flavorful.
The French Revolution also figures in the rather preposterous Marie Antoinette (1938), an eye-popping production about the bride of Louis XVI. The project was a pet of Thalberg and his wife Norma Shearer, and MGM proceeded with the overstuffed production even after Thalberg's early death. Marie gets an extramarital affair (with the young Tyrone Power) and an incredible parade of gowns and wigs, but not too much blame for the peasants starving. Robert Morley steals the show as Louis XVI, with John Barrymore in rascally form as his grandfather. Shearer's ordinariness somehow fits her out-of-it character.
Treasure Island (1934) casts Jackie Cooper as young Jim Hawkins and Wallace Beery as that one-legged seadog, Long John Silver (the pair had scored a huge hit in The Champ three years earlier). This is a lot of people's favorite adaptation of the marvelous Robert Louis Stevenson novel, and Victor Fleming's manly directing approach manages to take some of the sheen off the MGM house style (by the way, art director Cedric Gibbons, credited on all these films, is one of the stars of the box set).
Pride and Prejudice (1940) is a respectable take on Jane Austen's oft-filmed novel, with Greer Garson as the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as the difficult Mr. Darcy. MGM liked to corset Garson in fine-lady roles, but here she lets some of Elizabeth's sauciness come through; actually, Olivier's elaborate performance is the movie's too-theatrical weak spot. But boy, does this movie tell a good story--and that's rather the point of these (Marie excepted) solid literary adaptations. --Robert Horton
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|Release Date (USA):||2006-10-10|
|Release Date (UK):||-|
|Rating (UK) :||NA|
|Director:||George Cukor;W.S. Van Dyke;Robert Z. Leonard|
|Studio:||WindBlown Films & ThinkTank Entertainment|
Marie Antoinette (1939)