Friday, January 16, 2009

Magnificent obsession on DVD

My review of the Criterion edition of Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession is in this week's Time Out New York. The two-disc set also includes John M. Stahl's original version of the movie, which starred Irene Dunne. I'm a huge fan of Stahl's, who I think has gotten unfairly neglected because his dramas aren't as sarcasm-friendly to our sad contemporary audiences as Sirk's.

But perhaps his rehabilitation is under way. Later this month, Anthology Film Archives is going to screen both his and Sirk versions of When Tomorrow Comes, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life. In addition to testifying to Stahl's talent in the women's movie realm, fans of Irene Dunne—which means all readers of this blog, right? right?—should mark their calendars as she also stars in Tomorrow, which doesn't seem to be on DVD.

Also on the horizon, in March Film Forum is going to show Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven, from 1945, which makes great use of Gene Tierney's perverse beauty. The scene in which she rides a horse against a grandiose Western vista, dispersing her father's ashes to the wind while Alfred Newman's score swells, is one of my favorite cinematic moments ever. Like Anthony Mann's The Furies, which mixed Western and melodrama (and which I reviewed for TONY last year), Leave Her to Heaven is a genre hybrid that borrows tropes from noir and melodrama; the two movies also share the honor of being fine examples of incest sublimation, Hollywood-style.

Another incentive to see Leave Her to Heaven is that it's a particularly flamboyant example of Technicolor. I was such a film geek as a kid that when I was around 13 or 14, my enabling parents got me a hardcover coffee-table book about Natalie Kalmus, the official Technicolor consultant in the 1930s and ’40s.


R J Keefe said...

It's true — when I think of Leave Her to Heaven I think of COLOR, notwithstanding the ghastly Ellen Berent. Why have whited sepulchres when you can have them rainbowed?

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

The movie leaves such a subliminal footprint because of that. A large part of the credit goes to cinematographer Leon Shamroy.

Campaspe said...

By all means, count me as a Dunne fan. And a Stahl fan too. I hope to make it to When Tomorrow Comes since I haven't seen either version. I've seen both Magnificent Obsessions and Imitation of Lifes, though, and love all four, with perhaps a slight edge to the Sirk versions, but only slight.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

I've seen the same ones and love them all, though I have to admit I may be the only person to slightly prefer Stahl's version of Imitation of Life!

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