Thursday, October 12, 2006

Answered DVD Prayers: Home From the Hill and The Sundowners

After recently bemoaning the fact many beloved classics have yet to see the light of day on DVD, I was excited to find two of my favorite titles announced, via this just posted artwork over at DVD Times for an upcoming release of a Robert Mitchum Box Set from Warner Brothers on January 23rd. Two of Mitchum's best dramatic efforts are contained therein, in a couple of his better pictures, 1960's riveting Home From the Hill and the same year's truly exceptional comedy/drama, The Sundowners (other titles in the set include the 1952 Otto Preminger-directed film noir, Angel Face, Joseph Von Sternberg ‘s Macao, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, and The Yakuza). Although Face and Macao are worthwhile escapist fare, Hill and Sundowners represent the cream of this DVD crop.

In Home From the Hill, Vincente Minnelli's lovingly crafted screen version of the William Humphrey novel, Mitchum authoritatively anchors the movie with his strong portrayal of Wade Hunnicutt, an imposing Texas tycoon struggling with the less-than-harmonious relations he shares with his lovely-yet-unsatisfied wife, Hannah (Eleanor Parker), and his two sons, Theron and Wade's out-of-wedlock child, Rafe. Strongly supporting Mitchum and Parker (who holds her own with her leading man in their vivid confrontation scenes) are the young Georges Hamilton and Peppard. As Theron, the handsome Hamilton is effective, but Peppard makes the bigger impact in his fine, sensitive interpretation of the neglected Rafe. It's a shame Peppard seldom allowed the vulnerability he employed so skillfully here come through in his subsequent leading man roles as, after his star-making portrayal in Hill, Peppard perhaps was never again so personable on the screen (although he has some colorful moments as Jonas Cord in his biggest hit, 1964's sleazy-but-fascinating The Carpetbaggers). For his fine efforts, Peppard received the National Board of Review's Supporting Actor Award. Former Disney child star Luana Patten also scores big as Libby, the girl romanced by Theron and loved by Rafe, and she has an amazingly intense and believable breakdown/confession scene that rivals the final meeting of Parker and Peppard as the most unforgettable and touching Hill moment. Minnelli adeptly maintains the proper mood throughout the 150-minute running time in excellent fashion, resulting in one of his most entertaining films, and one of the period's more memorable melodramas.

Mitchum rises even higher in his rich, natural, and humor-filled characterization of Paddy, the aimless Australian rover of Fred Zinnemann's glorious The Sundowners. The film (based on the Jon Cleary novel) concerns the various escapades Paddy, his loving wife, Ida, and their young son, Sean, encounter as they traverse about Australia seeking adventure and fortune during the 1920’s. At the heart of the film rests Ida's discontentment with their wandering ways, and her deep desire to settle down to a more normal domesticity. As Ida, Deborah Kerr is nothing less than brilliant and, as in their previous teaming in 1957's Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, the star has beautiful chemistry with Mitchum (they bring out the very best in each other, with Kerr showing an earthy, good-natured robustness seldom seen in her many "Perfect English Lady" roles, while Mitchum appears to gain greater range as an actor, which includes his adroit adaptation of an Australian accent as if he was to the manner born). Further enriching the film's assets is a great sheep-shearing contest, as well as the wealth of colorful characters the family befriends during their travels (Peter Ustinov and Oscar-nominated Glynis Johns are the two liveliest). Shooting on location all over Australia, Zinnemann perfectly captures the essence of the hardships and joys faced by this wayward ‘life on the road,’ and his seemingly unobtrusive, straightforward directorial style appears to free his actors. Simply one of the warmest, most captivating family films ever, The Sundowners is not to be missed. Five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, and Actress, but, alas, no wins, although Kerr did receive the New York Film Critics' Best Actress prize, and Mitchum took home the National Board of Review's Best Actor Award for his work in both Hill and The Sundowners.

No details yet on the DVD specifics, but I’ll come back and post them (and they should be in the link) as soon as Warners reveals the specifics.


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