Video Dispatches: L’INNOCENTE, THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS, John Ford & Tex Avery

Video Dispatches is a regular column covering recent home video releases.

Video Dispatches: L’INNOCENTE, THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS, John Ford & Tex Avery
L’Innocente (1976) – studio: Film Movement

L’Innocente (1976) – Film Movement

L’Innocente, Luchino Visconti’s film based on Gabriele D’Annuzio’s novel, became the Italian filmmaker’s last film, released after he died after a lengthy illness. Though the plot is rather simple — a failing marriage of symmetrical infidelity tries to suture itself back together at the news of pregnancy — Visconti’s film becomes intricately involved in the emotional chess played between the husband (Giancarlo Giannini) and wife (Laura Antonelli), particularly the former through Giannini’s incredible facial expressions.

This was my inaugural Visconti film and I was quite taken (unsurprisingly) with the luscious, imposing set design, particularly with the number of lovely flowers — something Ivo Blom points to as a narrative device in his very good video essay included on the disc — as well as the pace, led entirely by emotions. 

In the included booklet essay, Dan Callahan says, after mentioning the film is “dense with crosscurrents and allusions and contradictory thoughts and emotions,” congratulates the film for “how little it gives itself over to definite conclusions about anything; just when we have figured out one of the characters, they do or say something to confound our earlier judgments of them.” All of this, Callahan says, is enriched during multiple viewings and once I get a few more Visconti films under my belt, I look forward to returning to Film Movement’s stunning (and all-region) Blu-ray.

Video Dispatches: L’INNOCENTE, THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS, John Ford & Tex Avery
The Whole Towns Talking (1935) – studio: Indicator

John Ford at Columbia (1938-1958) – Indicator

For many, Indicator’s John Ford at Columbia box set was one of the most exciting home video releases on the 2020 docket — four films by one of cinema’s masters getting treatment from perhaps the most home video company in business. Those four films are The Whole Town’s Talking, The Long Gray Line, Gideon’s Day and The Last Hurrah, and Indicator’s set does not disappoint, even if some of the films are better than others.

As a whole, this set, while it has clear parameters — Ford at Columbia — also works to bolster some of the filmmaker’s lesser-known, less prototypical works, shining a light on one masterpiece and giving thoughtful praise to three others that deserve it. This is best scene on the Gideon’s Day disc, the film that I think is the weakest but was convinced to afford it another go-round after viewing the supplements.

When I reviewed Twilight Time’s release of The Whole Town’s Talking, I remember being critical of that label’s constant lack of supplements, highlighted by a film that could use some expertise, or at least discussion, surrounding its incredible technical achievements. I got that here on Indicator’s release when Leonard Maltin points out one delightful moment when Edgar G. Robinson’s cigar smoke crosses the split-screen line over to his double’s sphere.

Tag Gallagher contributes a couple of video essays across the set, which are always welcome, and another standout has to be the commentary on the box’s lone masterpiece, The Long Gray Line, which is done by Glenn Kenny, Diana Drumm, and Farran Smith Nehme. They do a wonderful job of balancing info and textual analysis.

All this praise and I didn’t even mention the many pages of booklets included. If I were to highlight something there, I’ll hasten to point buyers to Nick Pinkerton’s essay on The Long Gray Line. Not only is it very thorough, but it’s clearly on a subject very close to the writer’s heart. And, like Glenn Kenny in the commentary, he mentions Ford’s ambivalence or reluctance to the Technicolor CinemaScope, which is quite surprising given the not infrequently stunning compositions running throughout the film.

Video Dispatches: L’INNOCENTE, THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS, John Ford & Tex Avery
The World in His Arms (1952) – Kino Lorber

The World in His Arms (1952) – Kino Lorber

The critic Nick Pinkerton is also involved in Kino Lorber’s new release of Raoul Walsh’s 1952 film The World in His Arms, a film about a captain (Gregory Peck) leading the purchase of Alaska from Russians … when he’s not hitting it off with a Russian countess (Ann Blyth), unbeknownst to him. More than the purchase logistics and ins and outs of the seal fur trade, The World in His Arms is about roughhousing men — among which is Anthony Quinn as a Portuguese sailor who Bosley Crowther referred to as “animated by hotfeet and rum” in his contemporaneous review — who drinks too much and arm wrestle, the spectacle of their high-seas adventure and the beauty of the central romance. Walsh’s film really is an archetypal Technicolor Hollywood studio film — so much fun and gorgeous to look at. 

Pinkerton’s involvement is on the commentary track, where he unleashes an encyclopedic, well-researched clip of monologue, occasionally breaking for fun editorializations or to recite a great snippet from a biography, such as a bit about Peck and Walsh’s daily steak-and-bourbon lunches that nearly put Peck out of commission on set. One wishes the critic would break from the facts more often to insert personal appreciation, especially with such rowdy, but gorgeous material, but so be it.

 

Video Dispatches: L’INNOCENTE, THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS, John Ford & Tex Avery
Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1 (1942-1957) – studio: Warner Archive

Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1 (1942-1957) – Warner Archive

Lastly, I want to put in a short plug for Warner Archive’s recent release of Tex Avery cartoons from 1942 to 1957. Avery, the Golden Age trailblazer who created some of the most famous cartoon characters put to paper, doesn’t need extra fawning — you know you’re getting the work of a genius in this collection.

However, I will say two things: 1) Warner’s new remasters are gorgeous, and 2) to hit “play all” on 138 minutes of Avery’s work, as opposed to watching a cartoon in isolation, is like turning on a special faucet of rare creativity that made me appreciate the animator in new ways.

Here’s hoping Volume 2 comes sooner than later.

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