the beat of digital culture
home | archives | about us | feedback

Daily Relay

Tracking trends and development in digital culture

special section:
Mindjack Film
Fresh thinking on current and classic cinema

Mindjack T-Shirts
Only $15US
shipping included


Mindjack Release
Sign up to receive details of new issues


reviewed by Matt Hinrichs

May 30, 2005 | By now, vintage film fans know what to expect from the Fox Studio Classics DVDs: beautiful transfers, plentiful extras, and an overall presentation that oozes respectability (even when the movies themselves often don't).The series' latest batch covers two of 20th Century Fox's high-drawer productions of 1946 and a campy widescreen soap opera — released twelve years later but seeming as if it came from a different planet, much less the same studio, as the other two.

The Razor's Edge
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Buy from

Fox's 1946 film of W. Somerset Maugham's novel is like a sumptuous dessert that you wish was served in a smaller portion. The story of a young man who escapes the trappings of upper class Chicago society to "loaf" in Paris and India might have worked better if produced in the rebellious '60s, but this adaptation is a handsome looking and involving effort nevertheless. Director Edmund Goulding allows his cast to shine in long, uninterrupted takes: Tyrone Power as the restless Larry, Gene Tierney as Larry's fiancée Isabel, Herbert Marshall in the thankless role of Maugham himself, Anne Baxter as doomed family friend Sophie, and Clifton Webb as Isabel's snobby uncle Elliott. That cast of mostly Fox contract players might have given this movie an "off the shelf" feel, but the performances are generally terrific. After he returned from enlisting in WWII, Tyrone Power's onscreen image developed a nearly imperceptible haunted quality — perfect for this role. Tierney manages to give her selfish character a measure of sympathy, and Webb's delightfully fey mannerisms turn Elliott into one of the gayest onscreen characters to appear under the Code. The only sour note in the cast is Baxter, who hams it up as a young woman who seemingly changes from innocent to drug-addled floozy overnight (she won an Oscar for this?). Despite this, The Razor's Edge is a smoothly entertaining film, overlong but thankfully not too preachy.

Anna and the King of Siam
Directed by John Cromwell
Buy from

Due to the numbing familiarity of its musical remake The King and I, Anna and the King of Siam seems forever destined for marginality; something that exists solely to fill a gap in the Fox Movie Channel schedule. Taken on its own terms, however, this film's capable blend of comedy and drama manages to come off as both intimate and lavish. The story, for those few who don't already know, follows English governess Anna Owens (Irene Dunne), who journeys to 1860s Siam to teach the many children of King Mongkut (Rex Harrison) in his walled palace. Of course, most of the Asian roles are played by caucasian actors — right down to Linda Darnell as a hotsy-totsy native girl. That detail would only matter to the hyper-sensitive, however, since the cast turns in uniformly good performances. Harrison is commanding yet droll in scenes such as the one where Mongkut, with Anna's help, writes a letter to Abraham Lincoln offering elephants to assist in the Civil War. Dunne's radiant intelligence fits the character of Anna like an exquisitely made glove, and Gale Sondergaard is touching in the smallish role of the King's eldest wife. The screenplay tends toward the episodic and meandering, but that only gives the viewer time to admire the film's gorgeous sets (which won that year's Art Direction Oscar) and intricate costumes.

The Best of Everything
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Buy from

Rona Jaffe's trashy best-seller of working life at a glamorous publishing house got the full-scale, balls-out treatment in Fox's 1959 film. Certainly it's a beautiful looking film, awash in chi-chi interiors and awe-inspiring outdoor scenes filmed around New York City. Its says a lot that the stand-in for this film's high rise office was Ludwig Mies van de Rohe's monolithic Seagram Building, a sleek Industrial Style monument to postwar industrial progress. Despite the newness of the setting, though, Jaffe's storyline holds true to the old "three women take different paths in life" chestnut. The ambitious, spoken-for Caroline (Hope Lange) struggles to keep a cynical editor (Stephen Boyd) at arm's length; part time actress Gregg (model Suzy Parker) falls for a theatre director (Louis Jordan) who doesn't love her; good girl April (Diane Baker) gets knocked up by a sleazy playboy (future mogul Robert Evans) and has to suffer the consequences. As if that wasn't enough, the ladies have two formidable bosses to deal with: one a tippling lecher (Brian Aherne), the other a hard-as-nails taskmaster (Joan Crawford in her Dragon Lady period). This film doesn't present a flattering portrait of working women. In fact, Crawford's Amanda Farrow exists to tell '50s career gals what might happen if they never marry: you'll become a harridan in mannish suits, privately groveling for a date with your married lover when not barking orders or scribbling "Trash --- NO!!!" on bad manuscripts. That The Best of Everything is claptrap goes without saying, but it's supremely enjoyable claptrap. Director Jean Negulesco keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and his carefully planned widescreen compositions indicate a love of visual details—from the office's Mondrian-esque color scheme to the wild modern art in Louis Jordan's apartment. If only he paid as much attention to the humans as the set decorations

With all three DVDs, Fox has provided super-sharp picture and fine sound quality, along with original trailers and vintage premiere footage taken from Fox Movietone newsreels. The Razor's Edge also includes a dry but okay commentary by film historians Anthony Slide and Robert Birchard. The Best of Everything's commentary ropes in Rona Jaffe herself, along with film historian Sylvia Stoddard. The pair were recorded separately, but they each chime in with several fascinating anecdotes. In lieu of a commentary, the main bonus on Anna and the King of Siam is a revealing episode of A&E's Biography covering the real Anna Leonowens and the various liberties that have been taken in adapting her story for the page, screen and stage.

Matt Hinrichs is a Phoenix-based writer and designer. In addition to Mindjack Film, he blogs regularly at

advertise here
email for info

home | about us | feedback