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New on Disc: 'The Hellstrom Chronicle' and more …

16 Jan, 2012 By: Mike Clark

The Hellstrom Chronicle

Olive, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Producer David Wolper’s rather astonishing documentary Oscar-winner — as in astonishing that it beat Marcel Ophuls’ more or less nonpareil The Sorrow and the Pity — comes close to being what you’d expect from a screen portrait of the insect world that happened to be directed by the co-screenwriter of The Wild Bunch. Any of that feel-good, Walt Disney wonder-of-nature stuff is a no-go here for Chronicle director Walon Green, whose worldview seems to be that insects almost certainly have man’s number in any survivalist battle of the fittest. Apparently, it was one shared with Chronicle scripter David Seltzer, who later penned The Omen. There’s nothing wrong with taking such a defeatist attitude when the premise is more than credible, yet the film’s frequent scenes involving humans are so transparently staged (these Green did not direct) that I’ve never felt that the film should have even qualified as a documentary. As the fully fabricated Dr. Nils Hellstrom, who handles the on-camera narration, actor Lawrence Pressman is so over the top that the effect is risible. Shaky as art but not bad as entertainment, Chronicle was so brilliantly marketed it turned into a kind of hit in the summer of ’71.
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Rapture (Blu-ray)

Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Gozzi, Dean Stockwell, Gunnel Lindblom.
Transferred from its source novel British setting to the coast of France, the picture headlines Melvyn Douglas not long after he won his Oscar for a sizable supporting performance in Hud and Hollywood was trying to figure out if he was still lead material (as he had been in younger days before a long period of screen inactivity from the early ‘50s through early ‘60s). Playing this widower’s daughter as a 15-year-old was 12-year-old Patricia Gozzi, previously a critics’ sensation in 1962’s Sundays and Cybele. Rounding out the dynamics here are a handsome escaped prisoner played by Dean Stockwell, and we also see Gunnel Lindblom playing the kind of friskily available housekeeper who’d have most traveling salesman wanting to play (quoting Preston Sturges) “Hey Hey in the Hayloft.” Embittered by his wife’s death, Douglas plays one of those guys (here, it’s a judge) who wants to do a lot of socially conscious favors for mankind in the abstract — yet is kind of a task-masterish prig at home. George Delerue’s score (isolated here on a separate track in Twilight Time fashion) is a plus, though the release’s chief selling point is the black-and-white cinematography by Marcel Grignon. Here’s a case where Twilight Time has come up with B&W of Criterion caliber.
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The Constant Nymph

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Alexis Smith, Charles Coburn.
The long-awaited unearthing of this absolute Warner Bros. treasure apparently shows how potent vintage marquee power remains even today when it comes to marketability. Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine is 25 playing a love-struck 14 over Charles Boyer, and the arithmetic shows. Otherwise, this is probably the 94-year-old actress’s all-time performance (note her dead-on adolescent body language). Boyer is just about Fontaine’s equal in what is arguably his career performance as a symphonic composer who wallows in “dissonance” instead of making music from the heart. The other selling point here is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s famous score.
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