Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
FAREWELL TO ARMS (BFI). An American ambulance driver has an affair with an English nurse during World War 1. Nurses who got pregnant were sent home immediately. Ernest Hemingway did not like it; and not surprisingly. The film, too romantic and not nearly cynical enough, is not his novel. The way to enjoy it is to forget Hemingway. The 1932 film is worth watching for Gary Cooper’s sensitive, vulnerable performance (Cooper literally towers above Helen Hayes) and the superb war montage sequence. The DVD offers two endings: the one the director Frank Borzage wanted and the one cinemagoers wanted
OF HORSES AND MEN (Axiom) is a film for horse lovers. “I don’t mind what they do,” the actress Mrs Patrick Campbell used to say, “as long as they don’t frighten the horses.” These Icelandic horses (through who eyes the action is filmed) are noble and beautiful and they behave magnificently in this rugged landscape. It is the local community whose Behaviour is called in question in a series of events, which end in tragedy. Any houyhnhnm, who sees Benedikt Erlingsson’s film, will, no doubt, cheer the stallion, only to be immediately outraged by the punishment he receives.
MADAME DUBARRY (Eureka). Ernest Lubitsch’s international fame came from this historical nonsense. DuBarry (Pola Negri) has to choose between King Louis XV (Emil Jannings) and a commoner and she, wait for it, chooses the commoner! Negri behaves as if DuBarry is a soubrette in an operetta. You will long no doubt, as I did, for the storming of the Bastille and the Reign of Terror to begin; and when they finally arrive you will not be disappointed by the spectacle. The film, released in 1919, is notable for its sumptuous tableaux, its lavish expensive sets and the massive seething crowds, deployed in Lubitsch’s usual masterly fashion.
THE SUSPICIONS OF MR WHICHER COMPLETE BOX SET (Acorn) contains four stories: The Murder at Road Hill House, The Murder in Angel Lane, Beyond the Pale and The Ties that Bind. The strength of the TV series is the performance by Paddy Considine as Jack Whicher, formerly a detective who, when he is sacked, turns private inquiry agent. The first story is the most interesting, partly because it is based on a true murder case which took place in Wiltshire in 1860. A three-year-old boy is murdered and dumped in the privy. Whicher fails to solve the case conclusively; and it his sense of failure which gives the characterisation that something extra. The other three stories are fiction and much nearer to melodrama, which the first avoids. But they all benefit from the Victorian setting. The real Whicher is said to have been the inspiration for Detective Bucket in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.