Tennessee Williams collection is a dramatic showcase
By Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press
By Terry Lawson
With the possible exceptions of William Shakespeare, David Mamet and maybe Neil Simon, I'm hard-pressed to think of a playwright who has been better served by the movies than Tennessee Williams.
Was much of Williams' work watered down for the screen? Of course. But the better adaptations of his Southern gothic tragedies brought characters and emotions to the screen that couldn't be found in other films of the period.
But then that assessment is colored at present by the arrival of the DVD box set "Tennessee Williams Film Collection" (Warner), which is anchored by a new two-disc version of the greatest of all Williams' plays, which became one of the great American films: 1951's "A Streetcar Named Desire," starring Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski and Vivien Leigh as Blanche.
The remastered "Streetcar" includes a new commentary by Karl Malden, who played Mitch. Disc two is devoted primarily to "A Director's Journey," an informative documentary about Elia Kazan, who directed the stage and screen versions of "Streetcar" and 1956's "Baby Doll."
"Baby Doll" won Carroll Baker an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of a sexy teenager whose marriage to the older, witless Malden is threatened by a business rival (Eli Wallach in his screen debut).
The "Collection" also includes 1958's "Cat on Hot Tin Roof," addressing the troubled marriage of alcoholic ex-sports hero Brick (Paul Newman) and his sultry wife, Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). Director Richard Brooks avoided the critical issue of the marriage — Brick's homosexuality — and the dialogue sounds absurdly melodramatic on film, but no one would ever say it was not entertaining.
Richard Burton's performance as the defrocked priest-turned-Mexican-tour-guide is the best thing about John Huston's 1964 adaptation of Williams' last real stage success, "Night of the Iguana." 1961's "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," taken from a Williams novella, features the penultimate screen appearance of Leigh as the title character, a 50-ish actress whose older husband dies on the plane to Rome. She stays and becomes involved with the handsome rent boy Paolo (Warren Beatty).
The final disc in the set is devoted to "Tennessee Williams' South," a documentary produced for the CBC in 1974, which has Williams describing his childhood and reading from his plays. It is available only in the box set.
ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK
"I Love Lucy: The Complete Sixth Season" (Paramount) contains the 27 regular episodes produced for 1956-57, the show's final season, with guest stars such as Orson Welles, Bob Hope and George Reeves.
Once again, the shows have been restored to contain the animated intros, original music and cast commercials that were so carefully inserted into the scripts — all of which were stripped when the show went into syndication.
Also included: the 1956 Christmas special, five audio episodes of the radio show that preceded the TV series "My Favorite Husband."
But true Lucy and Desi fans might be almost as excited about the first DVD release of a film they made together before the series, and two made while the series was on hiatus.
"The Lucy and Desi Collection" (Warner) collects 1940's "Too Many Girls," an adaptation of a lightweight Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical that starred Arnaz, Van Johnson and Eddie Bracken as Princeton football players hired by her protective father to chaperone rich girl Ball to New Mexico to enroll in college; 1954's "The Long, Long Trailer," a comedy about newlyweds who almost come apart during a trip in the touring vehicle of the title; and 1955's "Forever Darling," with Arnaz as an earnest chemist married to society gal Ball.
"Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons" (Disney).
The final project conceived by Jim Henson before his death was this Stone Age family sitcom that premiered in 1991. The family consists of domesticated dinosaurs, all of whom were animatronic puppets created in Henson's fabled Creature Shop.
Earl Sinclair is the henpecked patriarch, a cigar-smoking meglosaurus who clears trees for a living and whose teenage son Robbie is forever questioning the point of his job and everything else concerning dinosaur life.
The show has no shortage of subtext for grown-ups, but the kids will love the characters and the gags.