Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES on Blu-ray ""

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kino Lorber Studio Classics - MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES on Blu-ray

MARTY (1955; Delbert Mann)
One of the great things about being a hardcore movie fan is "blind spots". Some take them as a point of shame and I see that side of it as well. However, there is something quite nice about getting to a highly regarded film much later in your tenure as a movie watcher. MARTY is of course a renound Oscar winner, but one that I had either avoided deliberately or subconsciously, I cannot be sure. Ernest Borgnine alone should have been enough to get me there, and the Paddy Chayevsky pedigree would normally have made it a lock (I overlooked his involvement in the film as a writer until recently for some unfashionable reason). What I'm trying to say is that I never really have this movie a fair shake. Borgnine is a guy that I've most often associated with tough guy action cinema. He's certainly more than just that. Watching this movie made me remember that. Early on in the film there's a subtly heartbreaking scene with Borgnine on the phone, calling up a girl that he had a friend had said showed some interest in him. Throughout the beginning of the movie, Borgnine's Marty shows himself to be almost disinterested in trying to find himself a girl anymore. He's been emotionally scarred over time by a parade of rejections from various ladies in his thirty-four years. So calling this girl up is clearly a reluctant thing, but it's obvious that he's still holding on to some small splinter of hope that this call might pay off. Less than :20 seconds into the call he finds himself asking her if she's free "the Saturday after that..." And it's clear that he's struck out yet again. He closes his eyes and hangs up the phone and it's obvious that this simple phone call has cut him deeply. It has re-opened an old wound and strengthened his resolve to pretty much give up. It's a great scene and it's all about Borgnine's face and his voice. So much carried off in just a short scene. It really sets up who Marty is and where he's at in his life. I myself didn't get married until I was thirty-five, but it was obviously a different time. The pressure that Marty feels to settle down is palpable and there's very much a quite desperation that's begun to set in. You really can't help but root for him right out of the gate. Borgnine plays him as a gentle, compassionate soul. He's caught in this "nice guys finish last" hamster wheel when he meets a  high school teacher (Betsy Blair) at a dancehall and they seem to connect. Marty's got some drama to deal with though in that he lives with his mother and she while she wants him to be married on one hand, she also fears that he may want to be rid of her of he does settle down. I've always gravitated towards lonely characters in movies that end up finding each other. Loneliness is one of those things that most of us can relate to pretty well. Borgnine really brings it as Marty and it's fairly easy to see why this film truck a chord with Academy voters ( it won best picture in 1955). Betsy Blair is quite wonderful too. She has one if those smiles that is quite infectious and it's as though she can hardly keep herself from smiling when she and Borgnine are together on screen. It feels real in this way that one might get when they are around someone and there's this sense of "is this really happening?" and "am I really feeling the connection to this person that I think I am?". I love to see this kind of interaction captured in a movie especially in an older one. It gives me the feeling of universality of romance over time which is very comforting. 
One bit of trivia I came across was that apparently director Delbert Mann was at a loss for any idea of who to cast in the role of Marty. He had directed MARTY on Television which led to his getting the job directing the feature version. He ended up going to director Robert Aldrich for advice and Aldrich immediately recommended Borgnine. I'm a big fan of Aldrich's films and I have to say my opinion of him went up when u heard that. Borgnine had only played bad guys to that point so he seemed an unlikely candidate. I am certainly glad that Delbert Mann was swayed. It was a smart decision.

The Blu-ray transfer here looks pretty good. The contrast is good and even though there are a few scratches on the print, overall it appears to be in good shape.
FYI, MARTY is presented in the Academy aspect ratio (1.33 to 1) on this new Blu-ray. There was some early talk of releasing it in a 1.85 to 1 ratio, but Kino Lorber Studio Classics decided against it. Their quite reasonable explanation as to why they went with the 1.33 ratio was posted on their Facebook page:
"After examining the film elements and consulting with the studio and outside experts, we've decided to release our DVD and Blu-ray of MARTY in anamorphic 1.33:1. There is not a lot of head room in the print, and at 1.85:1 too much of the image was being cropped. So we are releasing it in 1.33:1, the preferred aspect ratio of the studio, and the ratio at which The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences screens their prints of MARTY. The original negative of this film is 1.33:1, as the title was shot open aperture, some say the bottom and top parts of the original image should be cropped off to create the intended 1.85:1 and others disagree."
I am fully on board with their decision personally.


SEPARATE TABLES (1958; Delbert Mann)
Sometimes tier is nothing better than a solid melodrama. I know that Ethan & Joel Coen would certainly agree, especially in the case of this film as they listed it as part of their top ten in the most recent Sight & Sound poll:
Like MARTY, this film was also directed by Delbert Mann and it is also about lonely people. Another thing it has in common with MARTY is that it was produced by the Hecht-Lancaster team (by 1958 they'd become Hecht, Hill and Lancaster). This group had the distinction of producing some of the most notable films of the 1950s. Their resume also includes movies like THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, RUN SILENT RUN DEEP and BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. That's quite a list of great movies and there were many more. SEPARATE TABLES is the story of a disparate group of characters living at a seaside hotel (the Hotel Beauregard) in Bournemouth, England. The cast is simply astounding and includes David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Rita Hayworth, Burt Lancaster, Rod Taylor, Wendy Hiller and others. Few films with a cast as strong as this are as underseen as SEPARATE TABLES is ( in my opinion). It's just not spoken of as much as it should be as near as I can tell. Perhaps it's too "British" or something, but I just can't account for it not being more widely discussed. Hopefully this new Blu-ray stirs up some interest as it is a simply lovely film. Though I'm not much of a David Niven fan, this is among my favorite performances he's ever given. Lancaster delivers his usual dose of awesome, but that's not unexpected as I truly believe him to be one of the great actors ever. Rod Taylor is no slouch either. Have come to appreciate him much more in the past five years or so and I've become a big proponent. One neat thing that SEPARATE TABLES has is a connection to the remarkable filmmaking duo of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Deborah Kerr and Wendy Hiller were in two outstanding movies from the Archers: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP and I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING. These are two of my all-time favorite films so that alone grants SEPARATE TABLES a great deal of good will for me.

The transfer here is quite good-looking indeed. It conveys a lovely, detailed black & white image throughout.
The disc includes a commentary track from Delbert Mann himself and it is quite a treat (it's always great to hear from the film's director especially on an older movie like this). Mann discusses all manner of production history stories and covers many challenges that he faced in making the movie work. The film is based on two one-act plays by Terrence Rattigan, which he co-adapted himself. Mann talks about how the two plays were combined differently to make the film feel more cohesive. It's pretty fascinating to hear how they carried it off. He talks about the staging of the film, the sets (the film was shot entirely on Goldwyn studio soundstages), the rehearsal regiment and other production processes (such as his working relationship with Burt Lancaster), as well as throwing in various interesting anecdotes as well. He even throws in a decent amount of information about MARTY in addition to the SEPARATE TABLES stuff.  
Though Mann complains at the very beginning of the track about the title song sung by Vic Damone (Mann was told that no title song would be used), I am a fan of both the tune and it's use over the opening titles. Damone's voice has this enchanting Johnny Mathis quality about it and I guess that I'm just a sucker for that kind of sound (we listened tonMathis endlessly at my home during the Christmas season when I was a kid).

I was already quite fond of SEPARATE TABLES prior to this Blu-ray, and seeing it again this way only fanned the flames of they affection. Between the quality of the film, the cast, the transfer and the commentary, I have to say that this is my favorite of this first group of the Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-rays. Highly recommended. 


Both MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES street on July 29th. For more information go to www.klstudioclassics.com.

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