ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM - THE RAZOR'S EDGE    THE BEST OF EVERYTHING - THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS  THE FROGMEN - THE DETECTIVE -  TONY ROME             LADY IN CEMENT

(20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

Fans of the classic films of Twentieth Century Fox are certain to rejoice at the fact that within the space of a few weeks the Fox Floodgates have opened to the extent that scores of their classic catalogue releases will descend on the marketplace, the first seven of which we'll cover here with the rest to follow shortly. 

ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1946) is, in every way, shape and form vastly superior to its musicalized remake THE KING AND I, which in order to accommodate the addition of numerous (admittedly wonderful) Rodgers and Hammerstein songs necessarily had to eliminate many important characters and salient plot points, all of which contribute mightily to the resounding success of this earlier version.

Irene Dunne's luminously intelligent portrayal of Anna is simply without parallel and the knowledge that this is one of three consecutive vibrant and vastly different portrayals (the other two being LIFE WITH FATHER and I REMEMBER MAMA) only serves to  increase our admiration for her consistently fine efforts during this period, and while some politically correct old poops might bristle at the casting of lanky Englishman Rex Harrison as the factually short-in-stature Siamese King, it's my fervent belief that this particular role more than any other illustrates vividly just how brilliant this actor is. Any actor who can create such a towering performance in a role that would initially appear to be all wrong for him while wearing almost comically bizarre costumes is a great one indeed. This ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM is a sumptuous and joyful testament to their talent. 

Thanks to the razor-sharp performances of Clifton Webb and Herbert Marshall THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946) which was intended to center on the life-altering spiritual experiences of a soul-searching World War 1 veteran (Tyrone Power) who finds he cannot settle back into the world of his upper class fiancee (Gene Tierney) and best friend (John Payne) becomes something else entirely, due to the inescapable fact that these two urbane, wily and witty gentlemen deliver supporting performances of
such a spectacularly insightful nature that they put the three merely decorative leads in the shade. Power (who would deliver a starkly dark and observant performance in his next film NIGHTMARE ALLEY, which we'll be reviewing shortly) is simply out of his element here as are Tierney and Payne. It's the entertainingly erudite Webb and Marshall who effortlessly illustrate the intentions of the W. Somerset Maugham novel on which this film is based that make this RAZOR'S EDGE the rewarding experience it is. 

Just as Webb and Marshall made short work of Power, Tierney and Payne in THE RAZOR'S EDGE so do old pro's Joan Crawford, Brian Aherne and Louis Jourdan wipe the floor with pallid leads Hope Lange, Suzy Parker, Diane Baker, Stephen Boyd and the ghastly Robert Evans in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959), which chronicles the lives, loves and dreams of three young career women who land jobs at a glamorous publishing company. Thanks to the easy authority of Crawford, the subtle sleekness of Aherne and the silky smoothness of Jourdan the three young women who are supposed to occupy center stage are banished to the balcony and become instant non-entities and it's Crawford, Aherne and Jourdan who singlehandedly bestow the grateful viewer with THE BEST OF EVERYTHING. 

A sublimely subdued Clifton Webb heads a mostly excellent British cast in an extremely well-made World War II espionage thriller entitled THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1955), which tells the true story of a British Lt. Commander (Webb) who, prior to the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily, plants phony letters regarding the British intention to land instead in Greece on a dead soldier outfitted to look like a British officer, knowing that the false papers will fall into the hands of the Gestapo. This undeservedly forgotten film is exceptionally involving thanks to the astute direction of Ronald Neame and an unusually  sophisticated screenplay by Nigel Balchin which falters only in the few scenes involving woefully miscast wet blanket Gloria Grahame. That caveat aside, THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS is almost in the rarefied class of Fox's own FIVE FINGERS, arguably the finest based-on-fact espionage thriller ever made. 

To the uninitiated the title THE FROGMEN (1951) might conjure up visions of half-man half-frog monsters threatening all human life on this planet but nothing could be further from the truth. What we have here is a good middle-of-the-road World War II action film about a group of Navy underwater demolition experts a.k.a. frogmen that is enlivened considerably by some of the best-staged underwater action sequences ever committed to film. That the "plot" about a new commanding officer (Richard Widmark) sent to tighten the discipline of a group of frogmen mourning the death of their Skipper is nothing ragingly new becomes immaterial thanks to the efficient direction of Lloyd Bacon and to the sensible contributions of Widmark, Dana Andrews and the entire cast. 

After his fine work in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, Frank Sinatra, one of the most dynamic and promising actors of the 50's, lost all interest in film acting. Because director-friend Gene Kelly insisted on more than one take on ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS he was fired and replaced by competent and cooperative craftsman Gordon Douglas. Because the great director Fred  Zinnemann (who had previously snatched Sinatra from obscurity in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY) insisted on more than one take on THE DETECTIVE (1968), he was fired and replaced by the same Gordon (don't make waves) Douglas who had also "directed" him in TONY ROME (1967) and would go on to hold the megaphone on its sequel, LADY IN CEMENT. 

THE DETECTIVE is by far the grittiest of the three films and contains some fine supporting work from Lee Remick, Jack Klugman, Lloyd Bochner, Tony Musante and Robert Duvall, but its effectiveness is somewhat compromised by the rather pronounced display of homophobia that it rather recklessly and tastelessly exploits in many scenes. TONY ROME and LADY IN CEMENT are glossy and improbable male fantasy private dick tales replete with the requisite roughhousing and top-heavy dames (Jill St. John and Raquel Welch, both of whom are blissfully unencumbered by the quality sometimes referred to as talent) and wisecracks that characteristically materialize in this type of film. And Frankie actually (physically if not mentally) shows up for all of his scenes. What a guy.

The full screen black-and-white transfers of two of the designated "Studio Classics," ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM and THE RAZOR'S EDGE, are nothing less than ravishing examples of monochromatic perfection and while the third "Studio Classic", THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, is an excellent 2.35:1 anamorphic Color by DeLuxe specimen, the 2.55:1 anamorphic color transfer of the general release of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS is even better. THE FROGMEN's full screen black-and-white rendering is very good as are the 2.35:1 color anamorphic transfers of TONY ROME, THE DETECTIVE and LADY IN CEMENT. Stick to the monaural soundtracks of all of the above titles with the exception of THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS and THE BEST OF EVERYTHING which sport very good original stereo tracks. 

--DICK DINMAN

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