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New on Disc: 'Letter From an Unknown Woman' and more …

29 Oct, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Letter From an Unknown Woman

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joan Fontaine, Louis Jourdan.
An independent production put into theaters by Universal-International and produced by Joan Fontaine’s then-husband William Dozier (much later of TV’s “Batman”) with John Houseman, Letter is pure class from an alternate galaxy (that is, compared to today’s mall culture) all the way. Any doubter on this count should note an uncommonly succinct script by Casablanca’s Howard Koch (note how crisply Louis Jourdan’s character is established in a few opening brush strokes), direction by the elegantly camera-happy Max Ophuls (then on a brief Hollywood “roll” in all ways, save commercially) and cinematography by the great Franz Planer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Big Country and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to name three). I don’t think Jourdan ever quite made the screen impression that he does in this case, playing a wastrel-ish concert pianist in old-school Vienna whose early promise is destroyed by womanizing and the sauce. Fontaine’s character’s infatuation and subsequent deeper feelings continue, but fate intervenes before we can gauge the full degree of how precipitously her limits have been reached. Hence, the fate-inspired “letter” — which when read in a voiceover manages to excuse one of those screen narrations that can sometimes come off as a screenwriting crutch. Letter would make a good half of an Ophuls double bill with Criterion’s The Earrings of Madame de.
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The Ernie Kovacs Collection Vol. 2

Shout! Factory, Comedy, $29.93 three-DVD set, NR.
The ’50s can’t have been quite as repressed as reported when morning TV viewers could enjoy the unconventional musings of host Kovacs on his NBC-TV show — punctuated by frequent openings from those Nairobi Trio simians as well as those martini-whacked recitations by vision-challenged poet-laureate Percy Dovetonsils. P.D.’s highly representative “Ode to a Housefly” is included as a bonus on disc No. 2 of this three-disc set — a sequel to the mammoth box that came out in April 2011 and became a key player on critics’ lists devoted to last year’s most golden home releases. This more modest collection is its own ode to rescued work, starting with eight of the 1956 morning shows (topical jokes touch on President Eisenhower, Grace Kelly’s wedding to Monaco’s Prince Rainier and more) plus three half-hours of ABC’s unclassifiable “Take a Good Look” — which employed twisted Kovacs sketches to offer hints to guest panelists charged with guessing the identities of some mystery guest, celebrity or otherwise. Breaking out from the earlier set are selections that border on the unexpected. These include a serious Canadian-TV interview on “The Lively Arts” program less than three months before Kovacs’ death.
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Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD-R, NR.
Stars Susan Hayward, Dean Martin, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Martin Balsam.
Ada is another MGM potboiler of the day based on one of those lurid-looking paperbacks (Ada Dallas by Wirt Williams). Dean Martin plays a guitar-strumming gubernatorial candidate in another of those screen-familiar “unnamed Southern states” whose campaign song is not what you’d call bedrock Dino material. Apparently feeling blessed himself, Martin’s Bo Gillis does what any other gubernatorial candidate in a trashy ’60s melodrama would do: meet onetime prostitute Ada (Susan Hayward) in what looks like something fairly close to a brothel itself — and marry her.
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About the Author: Mike Clark

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