Year of the Comet
Director– Peter Yates
Starring – Penelope Ann Miller, Tim Daly
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - Andrew Bemis
There aren’t many good movies about wine. Sideways is the only one that comes to mind, and wine was mostly used there as a backdrop and a way of letting the characters talk around what they were really thinking. Usually, wine movies feel like a lazy pretense for everyone involved to take a vacation; Ridley Scott’s A Good Year was literally filmed in Scott’s backyard, and 1992’s Year of the Comet, written by William Goldman and directed by his then-neighbor Peter Yates, was a long-dormant script that was finally produced thanks to Goldman and Yates’s mutual love for wine and the Scottish highlands. The two men are responsible for some of the most beloved movies of their time - Goldman wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, while Yates’s credits include Breaking Away and Bullitt - but Year of the Comet is a lark that must have amused them greatly but never succeeds at letting anyone else in on the fun.
The titular year in question is 1811, the year that comet C/1811 F1 was visible for a record 260 days (thanks, Wikipedia) and the vintage of a very rare magnum of wine bearing Napoleon’s seal. It’s discovered by Margaret Harwood (Penelope Ann Miller), the daughter of a wine merchant (Ian Richardson). After the bottle is auctioned off, multiple parties attempt to steal it, and Margaret and the winning bidder’s friend, Oliver Plexico (Timothy Daly), are tasked with transporting the bottle safely across Europe. Oliver and Margaret fall for each other as, eventually, they learn that the bottle is carrying more than wine.
This all plays as arbitrarily as it reads; in his entertaining chapter on the movie in his book Which Lie Did I Tell?, Goldman admits that the movie was his failed attempt at a Charade-esque caper. A movie in that vein doesn’t need airtight narrative logic to work, just an entertaining McGuffin to hang the story on and a leading duo with enough chemistry to carry us through. But while Daly (who is rocking a serious pornstache) and Miller are individually likable, their characters are so half-baked that when they fall into bed together, it feels more like an obligation than romance. And the pursuit of the bottle of wine, which eventually involves Louis Jourdan in his last role, grows increasingly ridiculous, climaxing in a scene that’s almost worth seeing the movie to experience for oneself. Year of the Comet isn’t a poorly made movie - it’s lovely to look at, and it might be a pleasant Sunday afternoon diversion for wine connoisseurs. However, it’s generally a sign that a romantic comedy isn’t working when one’s attention keeps drifting to the backgrounds.
Twilight Time presents Year of the Comet in a 1080p transfer of the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It’s a great looking, detailed presentation of the film, and the location photography that is the best thing about the movie especially shines. The audio is DTS-HD 2.0 stereo - it’s a dialogue-heavy movie, and clear throughout, with the occasional suspense sequences sounding pretty robust. The only bonus features are an isolated score track and the theatrical trailer. A booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo is included with the disc.
The Film: 1.5/5
Director– Terence Young
Starring – Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland
Country of Origin- Italy/France
Writer - Tyler Miller
Charles Bronson plays Joseph Valachi, A real life Mafia informant who finally confessed to his involvement in organized crime in the early 1960’s. While spilling the beans on his own past, he also tells the story of the up rise of crime in America during the 1930’s and the hidden secrets of the Cosa Nostra.
THE VALACHI PAPERS (1972) was adapted from the hit book of the same name from 1969 by Peter Maas, and serves as an interesting Mob epic, that feels old fashioned and yet ahead of its time. Directed by Terence Young, who made three James Bond films (DR.NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, and THUNDERBALL) and produced by Dino De Laurentis, the film came out the same year as Francis Ford Coppla’s hit masterpiece THE GODFATHER, and marks similar territory of the rise of crime. Unlike THE GODFATHER, VALACHI is not as polished and instead uses tropes of the Warner Brother Gangster films like WHITE HEAT and THE ROARING TWENTIES. Bronson plays Valachi with the same level of intensity as James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart, while keeping a sense of humor. Though it’s often compared to THE GODFATHER, it seems Kinji Fukasaku’s BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY series takes inspiration from VALACHI in its use of narration, true crime details, Flamboyant camera work, and sudden violence.
THE VALACHI PAPERS is by far one of Terence Young’s most accomplished films, with a high sense of style. But unlike his James Bond films, it’s still grounded. With the aid of Producer De Laurentis, the production values are high with massive backlot sets and period detail. The Cinematography of Aldo Tonti (Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA and the Charles Bronson hit VIOLENT CITY) captures the scope of the sets and it makes the film feel right at home on a 1930’s movie stage. Another key element is the mild score by Riz Ortolani.
For a Gangster epic, it doesn’t disappoint in terms of cast. Bronson delivers one of his more natural performances here and shows he was always a movie star. Bronson’s time in Europe served him right, showing a wide range in productions from Italy and France. Jill Ireland does a fine job with her limited role. Since Bronson and Ireland were a happily married couple there on screen chemistry is believable and sweet. It’s one of many numerous films the two did together. Famed Italian and French actor Lino Ventura (ARMY OF SHADOWS) shows a calm shadow throughout the film with boiling intensity underneath. Two James Bond alumni of note are Joseph Wiseman and Anthony Dawson, both featured in DR.NO (1962). Wiseman is the surprise hit of the film, perfectly blending in to his wise leader of the mob role. One touching scene has him passing on a book to Bronson on the life of Julies Cesar, only for Wiseman to be betrayed in a similar fashion at the hands of lower ranking hit men.
Twilight Time delivers the goods again with a wonderful transfer. The English 1.0 DTS-HD MA audio track is well balanced and has no noticeable errors. The soundtrack is a joy for the ears, which brings up the usual Isolated music track. It is likewise in great shape with no issues. The 1080p HD transfer has a couple minor bumps here and there, but overall is a fantastic upgrade on older DVD editions. The black levels are smooth and the picture is razor sharp with its focus. English subtitles are included. Apart from the music track, the usual booklet of excellent liner notes by Julie Kirgo are included. Kirgo dives in deeper on the connections between this film and THE GODFATHER. So, it’s a highly recommended read.
Overall THE VALACHI PAPERS is a fascinating character study and testimony on Mob life. Bronson gives one of his best performances and this film should be seen by anyone that doubt’s Bronson’s star power. If you’re into Mob movies, this film is a must have. Pick up your copy before the 3000 sales out.
The Film 4.5/5
Audio/ Video 4.5/5
Director- Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cast- Michael Redgrave, Andie Murphy
Country of Origin- US
Writer - Tyler Miller
Thomas Fowler (Michael Redgrave) is a cynical British Reporter who has finally made peace with never taking a side in a political debate and being the outsider. He lives in Pre-war Indochina and is in an open affair with a local woman named Phuong (Giorgia Moll, in yellow face make-up). But this peace is soon broken up by a mysterious unnamed American (Audie Murphy). He falls in love with Phuong and the three soon start a love triangle. As tension boils over, Thomas soon discovers there may be more to this American other than his charm, when some plastic bombs start to go off.
THE QUIET AMERICAN (1958) is based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name. The source novel is known for some of its riskier anti-American themes and bleaker elements. In 2002 the story was remade with Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in a polished and underrated thriller from hit or miss director Phillip Noyce (CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER, DEAD CALM). To many viewers this is the better-known version and likewise I was one of them before finally seeing this movie. What’s most striking about the 58 version is how dark the tone can be, while still making the American character more likeable and shifting the “villain” role to Redgrave.
Like many films of the 1950’s, the movie is safe by most standards and doesn’t really question the idea of Americans stepping into other countries affairs. Audie Murphy (RED BADGE OF COURAGE) is endlessly charming and native, so it’s never in doubt that he is a good man. There’s plenty of flag waving and pro-American elements to change the tone of the novel and the 2002 film that “fixed it”. But where the film surprises are in its complex script and Michael Redgrave’s treatment of the material. His performance is layered and rich. He questions America’s involvement in Vietnam and what’s right. Yet he is shown to be a vain man who is willing to do anything to keep his affair with another woman going. The script also shows a well balance of language, culture, and complex supporting characters. The film has many characters switching from English, King’s English, and French with various Asian delicts in the background.
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who is best known for ALL ABOUT EVE and the disastrous 1963 super epic CLEOPATRA with Elizabeth Taylor, gives the movie a grand look and snappy script. Filmed mostly on Location in Vietnam, the film shows a unique time capsule into a pre-60’s Vietnam that is nearly impossible to recreate. The movie is so well produced that it would be worth re watching just for the scenery. But Mankiewicz keeps the tension high in the second half with some stand out set pieces including a night siege on a watchdog while Redgrave and Murphy limp into the swamp to hide. Dazzle and spell bounding the camerawork becomes dreamlike and poetic.
Twilight Time gives QUIET AMERICAN the grand treatment on Blu-ray. The English 1.0 DTS-HD MA audio track is a rich with detail and no hiss or pops. The score is also highlighted in their usual isolated music track, this time including some effects. English subtitles are included. The 1080p HD transfer is a real beauty with smooth black levels and low film grain. The picture is sharp and focused. The night time scenes are simply gorgeous. Extras are limited to the original theatrical trailer and a well-done booklet of liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
THE QUIET AMERICAN is an underrated gem worth seeking out. Redgrave’s performance is one of his best and the transfer by Twilight Time makes it a must see. Only downside is the lack of featurettes. Highly Recommended.
The Film 4.5/5
Audio/ Video 5/5
Director– Roy Ward Baker
Starring – Robert Ryan, Rhonda Fleming, William Lundigan
Country of Origin- USA
Writer - David Steigman
Not to be confused with other films with the same title, which includes Inferno from 1980 directed by Dario Argento or the 2016 thriller starring Tom Hanks; the movie covered in this review, Inferno, a classic thriller from 1953 and was an early Technicolor film that was filmed in 3D. In fact, Inferno was the very first film 20th Century Fox released 3D and in stereophonic sound
Starring the always terrific, legendary actor, Robert Ryan (The Set-Up, The Wild Bunch) as millionaire Donald Whitley Carson III, who is two-timed by his gold digging, cheating wife Geraldine Carson, played by veteran actress Rhonda Fleming (Slightly Scarlet, The Killer is Loose) and her lover, long-time actor Joseph Duncan (William Lundigan, The Sea Hawk, Follow Me Quietly).
Having received a broken leg during a trip to the Mojave Desert, Donald Carson is left alone to die, basically being ditched on a hill by his wife and her lover. Feeling he is stuck, will run out of food and drink, he will simply just die and the lovers will become filthy rich! While the lovers scheme over what their next plans are after his death, Carson battles for survival, such eating and drinking from cactus plants, creating a brace for his broken leg, so he can move around, and killing wild animals to eat. His determination to get revenge drives him to fight on, but as the film moves forward, this becomes less important to him. Then of course, we get the predictable but awesome climax scene which is a brutal fight scene between Carson and Duncan inside a shack which catches fire, leading to the ‘inferno’, the reason for the film’s title.
Director Roy Ward Baker (Five Million Years to Earth) directs Inferno in a no-nonsense, straight to the point tale non-complex characters. It is a very basic plot, which highly entertaining with a satisfying ending. The veteran cast, which also includes Henry Hell, The Werewolf of London himself, and Larry Keating (Daddy Long Legs) give their usual excellent performances. Robert Ryan was fantastic playing Carson, and while he had no one to speak to for most of the movie, his lines were “thoughts” to himself which wasn’t too common back then. He did have some great dialog throughout the film, including the finale, and will keep you interested in him as he progresses forward in his attempt to gain revenge on his wife. Rhonda Fleming also hands in a great performance as the very beautiful but evil Mrs. Carson. Her character is the perfect example of the saying “beauty is only skin deep”.
Twilight Time releases Inferno in both 2D and 3D versions. The review is only of the 2D version. The HD master provided by 20th Century Fox, is an excellent presentation. Shown in its original 1:33:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, Inferno is simply stunning. The daylight scenes, which there are plenty of, are just vivid; the colors are just dynamic, have excellent details and textures. The skin tones look balanced and true to form. The higher contrast really helps for both the day and evening scenes.
The audio used for this release is DTS-HD Master Audio English 2.0 and all the dialog, gunshots, car sounds all come in loud and clear with no drop-offs or pops detected.
We get a really good amount of extras for Inferno, including an audio commentary with Film Historian Alan K. Rode and Robert Ryan’s daughter, Lisa Ryan, a featurette called “A New Dimension of Noir: Filming Inferno in 3D” plus the usual Isolated Music Track, and the original theatrical trailer. Also part of the release is the always welcome eight page booklet written by Julie Kirgo. As with 99% of Twilight Time’s releases it is a limited edition of 3,000 units, and it’s also region free.
Twilight Time has thankfully given Inferno superb treatment in their release, and for those who didn’t import the Panamint release and decided to wait for this one, you have great patience. It was well worth the inevitable US release! Highly recommended!
The Film (4/5)
The Man in the Moon
Director– Robert Mulligan
Starring – Sam Waterston, Jason London, Reese Witherspoon
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - David Steigman
Taking place in 1957 The Man in the Moon is a romantic family drama that is about The Trant Family headed by very strict patriarch Matthew Trant( Sam Waterston, Journey Into Fear) pregnant mother Abigail (Tess Harper, No Country For Old Men) and three daughters. The Trants are your typical, traditional family living on a farm in Louisiana. The focal point of the film is fourteen year old Danielle “Dani” Trant (Reese Witherspoon in her first film) who is going through puberty, and has fallen head over heels for seventeen year old Court Foster (Jason London, False Arrest) who is the oldest son of the Foster family, who have returned back to the farm and are living next to The Trants.
Dani’s older sister Maureen, who has a boyfriend, Billy Sanders (Bentley Mitchum, the grandson of the great Robert Mitchum), who, unfortunately, she isn’t in love with, and during a dance party they break up after she rejects his sexual advances. Maureen, due to family circumstances, meets Court Foster. His attention then turns from having a special friendship Dani to loving Maureen. They fall in love, while at the same time, poor Court still has both a fondness and sexual tension with Dani causing Court to be conflicted. This conflict is resolved but not in the way you or anyone would expect.
This is an excellent and also tragic movie depicting the growing pains of Dani Trant, and the trials and tribulations of the Court family.
There are several from The Man in the Moon, that were unforgettable, such as a scene during an evening swim, where Dani seems to make a pass at Court, but because she is young and just starting to “feel like a woman” she seems unsure of what to do with these feelings. Court pushes her away because she is simply too young and he is not comfortable kissing a fourteen year old.
The Man in the Moon was nominated for three awards including Reese Witherspoon’s nomination for Most Promising Actress. Her role of Dani Trant is fascinating, as a young teen, who already seems to be a romantic, is maturing but going through so many emotional changes, defying her parents when it’s time to do some chores, swimming in the nude(defying the use of a bathing suit), and the growth of her sexuality. The character is so strong where I wonder where Dani could actually wind up in today’s society. And let’s not forget, she’s a huge Elvis Presley fan!
The rest of the cast also plays their roles extremely well; the characters are very strong, and along with the great direction from Robert Mulligan (his last film) keep the story moving along very well and will hold your interest
Twilight Time offers The Man in the Moon in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encode and this looks spectacular. The daylight scenes are just brilliant; the colors of the scenery such as the green trees and beautiful blue skies are just magnificent, vivid, with excellent details and textures. The skin tones look natural. The close-ups of the characters look especially detailed, such as the softness of the female faces, and the sweaty, glistening faces of the men
The audio used for this release is DTS-HD Master Audio English 2.0 and it’s very pleasant and soothing. The sounds of the dialog, birds, crickets and musical score are very clear. There were no audio drop-offs or pops detected.
Extras are minimal for this release, the original theatrical trailer and isolated music score is all there is, and we cannot forget the obligatory eight page booklet written by Julie Kirgo..
The Man in the Moon is an excellent film, now given a Blu-ray release which is just beautiful. Whatever the reasons are for the lack of extras, this shouldn’t deter from picking this one up, especially if you’re a huge fan of the film.
The Film (4/5)
Brutal Tales of Chivalry
Director– Kiyoshi Saeki
Starring – Ken Takakura, Ry˘ Ikebe, Hiroki Matsukata
Country of Origin- Japan
Writer - David Steigman
In this blend of a Yakuza/Japanese crime thriller, Brutal Tales of Chivalry, aka, Sh˘wa zanky˘-den, Ken Takakura (Golgo 13) stars as Seiji, who returns from World War II only to find that his hometown has become a shambles. He and his clan, the Kozu-gimi, which includes his brother Goro, (Tatsuo Umemiya), as well as some friends who are members of some mobs and racketeers decide that they want to rebuild the marketplace business, but they are met with a lot of opposition. There is another clan, Shinsei-Kai and other mobs who also have their own plans to rebuild in the area.
Considered to be one of Takakura’s most renowned films, Brutal Tales of Chivalry has plenty of action, with a lot of violence and some gore. It’s not a bloody or as brutal as later films, but for 1965 it was pretty gory. The acting is what one would expect, basically in the traditional Japanese style. Ken Takakura is at his best playing the grief-stricken, vengeful Seiki. The other cast members all play their parts perfectly. The fist fights, sword fights and other action packed scenes are well-staged. Director Saeki keeps the story moving along quickly, and the main characters will hold your interest. Of course the action sequences will as well.
Twilight Time releases Brutal Tales of Chivalry in its original letterboxed ratio of 2:35:, in 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encode and it’s a modest, not overwhelming transfer. Colors seem to be subdued, and rather dull looking. While not the most vibrant of colors, at least it’s not dark or murky. Skin tones look natural and blacks look fine, but the colors aren’t really cheerful. It is more than serviceable, if not spectacular.
The audio used for the film Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. The dialog and music sound perfectly fine. English subtitles are provided for this release.
There isn’t much in the way of extras for this release; we do get the usual eight page booklet essaying the film by Julie Kirgo and a featurette called ‘Brutal Tales of Filmmaking :Toei Producer Toru Toshida.’ Some films just aren’t going to loaded with extras no matter what label carries it; that’s just the way it is.
Fans of Brutal Tales of Chivalry should be thrilled Twilight Time has released this title on Blu-ray and while not the most stellar release, it is still a pleasure to watch and the viewing experience should still be a positive one
The Film (3.5/5)
How to Steal a Million
Director- William Wyler
Cast- Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - Tyler Miller
Nicole Bonnet (Audrey Hepburn) is at her wit’s end. She has put up with her father, Charles (Hugh Griffith), and his art forging ways for too long. Things start to get dicey, when the Bonnet knock-off of Cellini’s Venus statuette is placed on display in a museum, and part of insurance is testing the age of idem. Luckily for Nicole, she has recently met a charming burglar named Simon (Peter O’Toole). She convinces Simon to help her steal back the Venus and together they plan the perfect heist. The only problem is the best security team in France, and an Eccentric American businessman (Eli Wallach), who can’t help poking his nose around.
HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (1966) is one of the most entertaining and stylish movies in Audrey Hepburn’s career. No small task. The movie mixes Hepburn’s love of all things French with stylish caper and style of humor that can be seen today in the Steven Soderbergh’s OCEAN’S ELEVEN remake trilogy. Directed by the great William Wyler, who’s wildly diverse career and output of films, is still impressive. Having directed big epics like BEN-HUR, and smaller romantic comedies, like ROMAN HOLIDAY, HOW TO gets a big and yet modest look.
Filmed in France, HOW TO is endlessly stylish and gorgeous. All the locations are big and detailed. The actual heist is surprisingly simple by comparison with plenty of tongue in cheek elements, such as a magnet string to grab a key. The restaurants, houses, cars, and even parts show off incredible 60’s style. The film also shares the warmness of other 60’s crime comedies like the PINK PANTHER, expect here the plot is simpler and the chemistry by the two leads keeps the film afloat. Peter O’Toole, looking like a perfect James Bond style gentleman, delivers one of his most charming performances. Every scene he shares with Hepburn is light and enjoyable. As for Hepburn, she is just as beautiful as ever in this film and her comic timing is still spot on. The biggest highlight is her reading a French Hitchcock magazine in bed then suddenly being startled. Eli Wallach is also fantastic in his role as the art obsessed businessman, who’s over the top passion is comedy gold.
Twilight Time gives the film two main audio tracks. The English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is bold and clear. The sound mix is very dynamic and serves the film well. The English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is slightly softer. Included like usual is the isolated music track, and this one is a real winner. John Williams playful score has never sounded better. The 1080p HD transfer is fuzzy in a few spots. The picture has a razor-sharp focus and natural film grain.
Extras include an audio commentary by Actor Eli Wallach and Catherine Wyler, a Biography channel produced special called Audrey Hepburn: The Fairest Lady, and the original theatrical trailer. Also included is a booklet of liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
HOW TO STEAL A MILLION is cinematic comfort food that has held up over the years. It’s one of Hepburn’s and O’Toole’s most enjoyable films, and a caper not to be missed. Highly Recommended.
The Film 4/5
Audio/ Video 4.5/5
Director- Billy Wilder
Cast- Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - Tyler Miller
During a football game with the Cleveland Browns, CBS Cameraman Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon), gets injured by star player “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich). At the hospital, Harry is visited by his family and his brother- in – law, the crooked lawyer, William H. Whiplash Wille” Gingrich (Walter Matthau). Willie soon comes up with the brilliant idea to make it big, by using Harry as his meal ticket. His plan, use Harry’s older back injury to make it look like he was hurt, and commit insurance fraud to win a million dollars from the Cleveland Browns. But when “Boom” starts to hang around, Harry may be starting to show a change of heart.
Billy Wilder is one of Hollywood’s best writers and directors. Wilder has a witty style that mixes tragedy and comedy together. As a writer, he specialized in word play, and dry jokes. He mixed pop culture and black comedy in as well, well harsh subject matters. He also wasn’t afraid to have nasty or corrupt main characters. He also covered many different genres with films like SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and SUNSET BLVD. Here Wilder is playing with 60’s pop culture and has a good laugh at the TV generation. References to Adam West’s Batman series to commercials are spoofed and the life of a cameraman is shown as sad.
The film is also just as sharp as a noir drama with its dark cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. This was one of Wilder’s last black and white films, and the sharp photography helps point out the sinister drama boiling underneath the humor. The music by Andre Previn is also a highlight, with its mix of jazz and showtune after thoughts. Having the movie broken up into chapters is another noir touch, as each chapter foreshadows the upcoming conflict. The script is also layered with subtle and effective character bits. Harry isn’t a bad character, but his toxic relationship with his ex-wife (Judi West) keeps him going down in a dark pit.
The cast is also fantastic handling this material. Jack Lemmon (SOME LIKE IT HOT), is a likeable everyman like usual, but here his comic timing and brooding rage is spot on. Some of the best scenes are him gliding around in his wheelchair with the thoughts of his wife. Walter Matthau (LAUGHING POLICEMAN) is the perfect sleazy lawyer, he completely steals the movie. One of the biggest surprises was the comic timing of the private detective Chester, played by Cliff Osmond. Ron Rich also delivers a solid performance as Boom. It’s also neat to see Harry Holcombe in the film as one of the insurance lawyers, he will always be remembered as Dr. Johnson in the us cut of KING KONG VS GODZILLA. THE FORTUNE COOKIE is one of Wilder’s better unsung classics. Dark and witty as only Wilder could deliver.
Twilight Time delivers another solid release in terms of transfer. The English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a joy to listen to with no noticeable errors or hiss. Speaking of the excellent soundtrack, the isolated music track is a solid listen as well. English subtitles are included. The 1080p HD transfer is another winner. The black levels are smooth and clear. The picture is crystal clear with only a few moments of blur. Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer and a booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. Highly Recommended.
The Film 4/5
Audio/ Video 4.5/5
Stanley and Iris
Director: Martin Ritt
Cast: Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro
Country of Origin- U.S.
Writer - Andrew Bemis
Stanley & Iris was the final film of director Martin Ritt, whose diverse credits include Hud, Sounder and Norma Rae. A romance between two working class protagonists, the film feels very much like the work of an older filmmaker, both in its strengths and weaknesses. With a story hinging on the slightest of conflicts, Stanley & Iris unfolds at a leisurely (bordering on sleepy) pace that suggests Ritt is in no particular hurry. And yet it’s this same patience that draws out the moments in the movie that work, where we’re allowed to just enjoy these characters’ company and the stars’ nuanced performances.
The title characters both live in a New England mill town that has seen better days. Iris makes pies at a baking factory where Stanley works in the cafeteria, but they’ve never met until Stanley chases away a purse snatcher one day. As they become friends, Iris gradually realizes that Stanley is illiterate, which he’s gone to great lengths to hide from his boss and the outside world. Iris offers to teach Stanley, who is reluctant but eventually agrees; as they spend more time together, they start to fall for each other, though the widowed Iris isn’t sure if she’s ready to fall in love again.
That’s about it as far as plot or conflict go in Stanley & Iris - released in 1990, it has the sort of setup that would seem perfectly fitting for a drama 30 years older. The outcome is clear from the first 10 minutes of the movie, so what there is to enjoy in the meantime has more to do with Ritt’s steady direction and his two leads. While De Niro and Fonda don’t have sizzling chemistry, they don’t really need to. It’s a romance between two mature, middle-aged characters with bills to pay and family members to worry about, and the movie’s at its most charming when they’re simply enjoying egg rolls on a park bench.
The movie’s less successful in its tangents, such as Iris’s sister (Swoosie Kurtz) and her abusive husband (Jamey Sheridan), who are dropped almost as soon as they’re introduced. Similarly, Iris’s pregnant teenage daughter (Martha Plimpton) and Stanley’s eldery father (Feodor Chailiapin Jr.) feel peripheral, although De Niro shares his most touching scenes in the movie with Chailiapin. There’s also a bit about De Niro secretly being an inventor that comes out of nowhere to help set up a forced upbeat ending that the movie doesn’t need. Truthfully, it doesn’t even need the illiteracy plotline; the movie would probably be more successful as a low-key romance and slice-of-life character study. Stanley & Iris is too earnest to dislike, but good intentions aren’t enough to carry it for two hours. However, if the journey’s meandering and ultimately kind of pointless, Ritt and his cast are enough to make it a pleasant one.
Twilight Time presents Stanley & Iris in a 1080p presentation at the movie’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The movie’s look is as soft and muted as its storyline, but it’s a fine presentation of cinematographer Donald McAlpine’s warm palette and, especially, the gorgeous exteriors of autumn in Connecticut. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is strong throughout, especially in highlighting John Williams’s lovely score. Along with the isolated music track, the other extras are the movie’s theatrical trailer and an audio commentary by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, who discuss the movie’s strengths and weaknesses and why it might have failed to connect with audiences in 1990. A booklet featuring an essay by Kirgo is also included with the disc.
The Film: 2.5/5