Just in time for Valentine's Day, Warner Home Video has, in one fell swoop, released two groupings of films the company has labeled as "romance." The first group -- available only individually -- have some literary distinction; the second group -- a boxed set of four films in the glossy, soap-opera vein -- is, despite the genre, not without interest.
The "All-Star Romance" bunch gives us adaptations of John Steinbeck, Thomas Hardy, James Hilton and Robert Sherwood, and an original from renowned playwright Terence Rattigan.
The so-called "Romance Classics Collection" features early 1960s idol Troy Donohue as the star of all four films, but perhaps it was felt his name meant little in today's market. And of further interest, three of the four showcase the work of underrated director Delmer Daves. Observed today from a purely cinematic and sociological perspective, the films are of rather more interest than the original disparaging reviews below would indicate.
Trailers aside, the films are presented pretty much bare-bones, but the transfers are all excellent, in the Warner custom.
None have been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, except "Cannery Row" and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips."
- - -
All-Star Romance (1940-1982; sold singly)
Cannery Row (1982)
A marine biologist with a troubled past (Nick Nolte) pursues an irascible romance with a drifter turned reluctant prostitute (Debra Winger), amid the antics of the eccentric hobos (led by M. Emmet Walsh) who populate the depressed titular district of mid-20th century Monterey, Calif. Writer-director David S. Ward's adaptation of two Steinbeck novels, narrated by John Huston, is warmly atmospheric and portrays the scientist as intent on rescuing his love from her newly chosen lifestyle, but it also sees him in an adulterous affair. Prostitution theme, adultery, obscured partial nudity, sexual references, a few crass words, and at least a dozen uses of profanity. A-III -- adults. (PG)
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)
Excellent British screen version of Thomas Hardy's romantic melodrama of early Victorian country life with Julie Christie being pursued by Peter Finch, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates. Director John Schlesinger avoids the pitfalls of the formula blockbuster and comes up with a superbly realistic, atmospheric production filmed entirely on location in Hardy's home county, Dorset. The DVD features three additional minutes only seen in the film's European release. A-III -- adults.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)
Musical version of the Hilton novel with Peter O'Toole as the distracted, unbending schoolmaster who is set upon, conquered and finally humanized by a music hall performer (Petula Clark). Director Herbert Ross shifts the focus from the academic to the happy marriage of such unlikely opposites, with pleasant songs by Leslie Bricusse pacing an old-fashioned romance. A-I -- general patronage. (G)
Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Sentimental romantic tragedy of World War I as a Scottish captain (Robert Taylor) and a London ballet student (Vivien Leigh) fall in love, but before they can wed he's sent to the front, then reported dead. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy from Robert E. Sherwood's play, the moody photography and a strong supporting cast (notably Lucile Watson and Virginia Field) are pluses. Romantic complications, veiled treatment of prostitution and suicide. A-III -- adults.
The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1965)
Slickly elegant romantic melodrama in which the automobile of the title passes from an English aristocrat (Rex Harrison) in Ascot to an American gangster (George C. Scott) in Florence and a Scandinavian heiress (Ingrid Bergman) in Yugoslavia. Written by Rattigan, and directed by Anthony Asquith, the film's third tale is the only one that has any weight. Sexual situations and some stylized violence. L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.
- - -
Warner Bros. Romance Classics Collection" (1961-1963; boxed set)
Palm Springs Weekend (1963)
Dated romantic comedy set in the title's desert resort where Easter-vacationing college students (Donahue, Jerry Van Dyke, Connie Stevens and others) team up with a movie stuntman (Ty Hardin), a troubled playboy (Robert Conrad) and the local police chief's daughter (Stefanie Powers). Directed by Norman Taurog, the formula plot has no surprises. Stylized violence with a youth gang and sexual situations. A-III -- adults.
Potboiler in which a young man (Donahue) goes to work for the Connecticut tobacco grower (Karl Malden) whom his mother (Claudette Colbert) has married, then quits the job with his unscrupulous stepfather to work for his less wealthy but more honorable rival (Dean Jagger). Directed by Daves, the soapy proceedings are awash in inept plotting, overripe acting and unconvincing situations. Sexual situations and innuendo. A-III -- adults.
Rome Adventure (1962)
Romantic clunker about a young American (Suzanne Pleshette) in Rome to see the sights while looking for a job, then finds true love with an art student (Donahue) until his former flame (Angie Dickinson) turns up to reclaim him. Writer-director Daves pours on the treacle shamelessly, but the camera loves the beautiful Italian landscapes and grand cultural monuments. Romantic complications and sexual innuendo. A-III -- adults.
Susan Slade (1961)