Jane Eyre (1943) / Oliver! (1968) / The Way We Were (1973) Blu-rays Review: Growing Up Again

If I were asked to pick two things the folks at Twilight Time certainly don’t believe in, I would have to shoot for both biasness and uniformity. Every month, the niche (and now exclusively Blu-ray) label releases an assortment of movies from its two current licensors – Fox and Sony – never showing any particular favoritism to either studio, but releasing equal amounts of titles from both companies. What’s more, Twilight Time has a wonderful knack of redefining the very world “eclectic” nearly every month. And November 2013 was certainly no exception for what has become a favorite label for Blu-ray aficionados; one only need take a quick glance at this High-Def assortment – wherein the term “growing up” seems to be the only theme in similarity.

First off, we have the 1943 20th Century Fox adaptation of the immortal Charlotte Brontë bildungsroman drama, Jane Eyre – which pitted a then-fresh Academy Award winner Joan Fontaine (RIP) with the one and only Orson Welles, who himself had recently split an Oscar win for Citizen Kane with co-screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz. For those of you who, for some bizarre reason, never read the novel in school or missed any of the countless film adaptations made along the way (the finest, of course, being the SCTV spoof, “Jane Eyrehead”), the story here begins with orphaned girl Jane Eyre transitioning from a rough life of contempt under the roof of her cruel auntie (Agnes Moorehead) to a just-as-pitiless boarding school.

Growing up with such burdens as having her best friend (a young, uncredited Elizabeth Taylor) die of pneumonia on account of being left out in the rain as punishment, adult Jane (Fontaine) nevertheless turns out to be a fine governess for a lonely young girl (Margaret O’Brien) at a gloomy, eerie old mansion out in the middle of the decidedly inhospitable Yorkshire Moors. There, she becomes intrigued and develops an unhealthy fondness for her employer (Welles) – who harbors several deep secrets within the confines of his dark home. Robert Stevenson directs this timeless tale in a decidedly appropriate film noir manner, casting John Sutton, Henry Daniell, Edith Barrett, and future Abbott & Costello regular Hillary Brooke in supporting roles.

Jumping ahead a good quarter of a century, we find ourselves with a horse of a different color. Actually, when compared to the dreary black-and-white photography of Jane Eyre, 1968’s Oliver! – a Technicolor Lionel Bart/Vernon Harris musical odyssey – is a horse of many, many different colors. One of many big-budgeted song-and-dance movies that invaded cinemas during the ’60s and ’70s, this loosely based adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist from those darned Brits finds our titular hero going from a poor starving lad in an orphanage to a pickpocket on the streets of London – a fate that most assuredly would have been more amusing to see befall Jane Eyre instead. Oliver! runs in excess of two-and-a-half hours in length, and is filled to the brim with catchy musical numbers and prolonged dancing segments. Needless to say, I was in hell most of that time.

Child stars Mark Lester and Jack Wild take on the roles of Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger, respectfully, with Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, and Oliver Reed (who, luckily, does not sing at all here like he later tried to do in Ken Russell’s version of The Who’s Tommy) playing the adult parts of Fagin, Nancy, and Bill Sikes. Reed’s own uncle, Sir Carol Reed, directed the multiple award-winning hit, which was distributed in the U.S. by Columbia Pictures. (Of course, nothing beats the recital by some traveling performers stopped in my hometown one night when I was a lad; when the man playing the part of Fagin sang the line “Will someone change the scene for me?”, everything came to a complete stop so a hired hand could walk out onstage, pick up a chair, and walk away with it.)

Lastly, we take a look at 1973’s The Way We Were, an exercise in schmaltz from director Sydney Pollack that paired Barbra Streisand with Robert Redford. The story here haphazardly centers on a headstrong Jewish Marxist lass (Streisand, naturally) and a happy-go-lucky apolitical feller (Redford, of course) who aspires to be a writer. We watch the two go from polar opposites in college during the ’30s to a troubled couple amid the McCarthy Era. Sadly, the movie’s primary motif – that of politics – was excised before release, leaving us instead with an overly sentimental love story.

How sentimental is it? Well, there’s a specific segment of the movie wherein everyone goes to a party dressed like one of the Marx Brothers. Naturally, a majority of them choose to be Groucho, and joyously blurt out some of his famous witticisms. Upon viewing this particular scene, I was inspired to appropriately assess just how melodramatic The Way We Were really is with one of Groucho’s own queries: “Why don’t you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?” Ta-dum. Marvin Hamlisch composed the score, as well as the popular Streisand-sang theme song that always prompts you to scream “Stop it!” at the top of your lungs any time it is played, much like Tom Atkins does at the finale of Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

As always, Twilight Time presents us with commendable 1080p HD transfers of these classic films, which are presented in their original aspect ratios (1.33:1 for Jane Eyre, 2.35:1 for those other two). DTS-HD Master Audio lossless soundtracks accompany the main features (5.1 for Oliver! and The Way We Were, 1.0 for the other), along with optional English (SDH) subtitles. While special features are usually on the more sparse side of things for most Twilight Time releases, these three titles bear with them bonus goodies aplenty, including two separate audio commentaries for Jane Eyre and The Way We Were, isolated scores, featurettes, and original theatrical trailers for all three movies. Additionally, each Blu-ray comes with a booklet containing liner notes by the marvelous Julie Kirgo (who also participates in two of the commentary tracks).

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Luigi Bastardo

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