In the last installment of this series, I covered the first three titles from Twentieth Century Fox’s inaugural wave of “VOICE YOUR CHOICE”-winning home video releases, a wave featuring eight titles chosen by viewers from the Fox archives to make their Blu-ray debut. In that review, we explored Call of the Wild (1935), Jesse James (1939) and The Black Swan (1942). This time around we’ll be looking at the remaining VOICE YOUR CHOICE selection from the 1940s and the pair of pictures chosen from the studio’s output in the 1950s: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Carmen Jones (1954) and Desk Set (1957). So let’s to it!
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
By far my favorite of the eight films chosen as part of this wave is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The film follows a respectable widowed woman (Gene Tierney, Laura) in turn-of-the-century England who moves with her daughter (Natalie Wood, West Side Story) into a seaside cabin, which happens to be haunted by the ghost of a foul-mouthed sailor (Rex Harrison, My Fair Lady). You’d swear it was a sitcom (which it eventually became in 1968) were it not for the cynicism that keeps the characters apart. But that’s what makes the experience of it so rewarding. Early on, the film relies heavily on the exchanges between the titular ghost and Mrs. Muir, who alternatingly bicker and flirt, and even collaborate on a book. What follows is painful and all together beautiful as Mrs. Muir begins to seek out a “real” relationship to the dismay of her ethereal lover. After all, what she shares with Rex Harrison’s Captain Gregg is a romance to be sure, but it’s one hampered significantly by the fact that Gregg has been dead four years. In this, it becomes a love story about the pressures and expectations of society, but without the discomfort of bringing such issues as class or race into the mix. Conceptually fantastic though it may be, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is one of the most touching and honest romances I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in ages!
Special features: a commentary with Greg Kimble and Christopher Husted, a commentary with Jeanine Basinger and Kenneth Geist, and the original theatrical trailer.
Carmen Jones (1954)
I should confess before delving into Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones that I have always found it difficult to really get into the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein or even Hammerstein’s Show Boat. I confess this here because the lyrics to the musical numbers in Carmen Jones were penned by Oscar Hammerstein II, and my reaction to this film was much the same as my reaction to other works by Hammerstein. (This is not to say I haven’t sat through or even enjoyed those other works when my wife has urged me to watch one. I simply wouldn’t seek them out, even after having enjoyed them once. The reasons why would needlessly drag this review out another 800 or so words, I’m sure)
Hammerstein adapted Carmen Jones from the opera, Carmen, by Georges Bizet, but set his version during World War II and focused on a cast of African American characters. For Carmen Jones, Hammerstein retained the music originally composed by Bizet but wrote his own lyrics over it, which I find to be interesting in theory but awkward in practice. The film stars Harry Belafonte, who’s a treat to watch here, alongside Dorothy Dandridge in her breakout performance as the film’s title character. While my son and I enjoyed watching it together, to be sure, it’ll be far more palatable to those with a taste for classic American musicals.
Special features: the original theatrical trailer.
Desk Set (1957)
In their next to last picture together, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy star as a couple thrust together by corporate machinations, when television network FBC determines to computerize their research department. Spencer Tracy plays the computer’s creator and Hepburn, the head of the research department. Adapted for the screen by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (yes, Nora Ephron’s parents) from the play of the same name, Desk Set’s central romance between Hepburn and Tracy develops so naturally that you could almost miss it if you weren’t paying attention. After all, the chemistry between the two was obviously there—I don’t think I need to go into the story of the actors’ affair here—so why not let their natural chemistry carry the film? The two come together slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the course of the movie, and before you know it, they’re in love. Unfortunately, their tenuous professional relationship, along with her seven-year-long courtship with a supervisor, threatens to keep them apart, and the film climaxes as the computers are installed and Hepburn’s character, Bunny, believes herself to be out of the job.
Along with The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Desk Set is an absolute must-own! Special features: a clip from Fox Movietone News featuring a fashion show at which Hepburn’s costumes from the film were modeled, commentary by actors Dina Merrill and John Lee, and the original theatrical trailer.
Tomorrow, we look at the final pair of VOICE YOUR CHOICE winners, North to Alaska (1960) and The Undefeated (1969), both of which star perhaps the most recognizable icon of the American western, John Wayne.