One of the best “angry young man” dramas of the 1960s makes its DVD debut this week, along with the oft-requested 1940s version of “The Secret Garden” and several 1930s pre-Code melodramas. (All of these titles are available at www.warnerarchive.com)
“The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” (Warner Archive, 1962, b/w, $18.95, trailer). Filmmaker Tony Richardson made his mark with stark black-and-white, anti-establishment films during what is commonly referred to as the British New Wave of the late 1950s and early ’60s. His first film, “Look Back in Anger” (1959), is credited with jump-starting the movement, and “Runner” solidified Richardson’s place as a force in the genre. (A year later he won an Oscar for “Tom Jones.”)
Tom Courtenay made his debut in “Runner” (he’s probably best known now for playing Pasha in the 1965 “Doctor Zhivago”), and he’s terrific as a disaffected youth whose petty crimes land him in a reformatory where he escapes deplorable treatment by running around the yard. When he’s assigned to compete in a long-distance run for the benefit of the prison in exchange for an early release, he must decide whether to go along or take a stand.
“The Secret Garden” (Warner Archive, 1949, b/w and color, $18.95, trailer). Margaret O’Brien stars in this mostly black-and-white fan-favorite version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic story of an orphan living with her brooding uncle in his rundown English estate. The title garden (which blooms in color) eventually helps her understand the reasons behind her uncle’s unhappiness. Wonderfully realized first sound version of the story benefits from O’Brien’s natural performance; young Dean Stockwell is also notable.
“Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 7” (Warner Archive, 1931-33, b/w, $39.95, four movies, trailers). The four films here were made in the early 1930s before Hollywood put the Production Code into force, essentially censoring all films from 1934 through the 1950s when the Code broke down.
“The Hatchet Man” (1932). Edward G. Robinson, during the same year that “Little Caesar” made him a star (and back when Caucasian actors playing Asians was the norm) is the title character, ordered to kill his childhood friend. As penance he raises the friend’s daughter (Loretta Young) but, of course, it is not a smooth road. Robinson is powerful and William A. Wellman’s direction is top-notch (after his success with “Wings” and “The Public Enemy”).
“Skyscraper Souls” (1932). Still somewhat shocking melodrama (laced with humor) follows various workers in a 100-story bank building in Manhattan where the owner (Warren William) plots, schemes, double-crosses and womanizes without remorse to hold onto his power. Maureen O’Sullivan co-stars.
“Employees Entrance” (1933). William plays a similarly ruthless character here, this time in a department store, and among his pursuits is Young. This one is more streamlined than “Skyscraper,” with a snappier script, which is also leavened with a sense of humor.
“Ex-Lady” (1933). Bette Davis is wonderfully showcased as the title character in this potboiler, in which she declares she doesn’t believe in marriage but then marries her lover anyway, only to find he’s cheating on her. Davis is the whole show, and she’s terrific.
“Loophole” (Warner Archive, 1954, b/w, $18.95). Innocent bank teller is accused of embezzlement, eventually loses his job and is hounded by a tenacious insurance investigator sure of his guilt. Modern-day (1950s) L.A. noir borrows from “Les Miserables” and benefits from sincere performances by Barry Sullivan as the patsy, Dorothy McGuire as his loving wife, and especially growly-voiced Charles McGraw, stealing every scene he’s in as the insurance cop.
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