Very few writers were able to use words in the way that Tennessee Williams did. This set celebrates him well.
Some featurettes borrow too much footage from the feature length documentary on Elia Kazan (that ALSO comes with these discs).
In a set that contains such seminal films as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (among others), the Tennessee Williams Film Collection is a must own for people who have read the writer, seen his plays, are fans of American literature or want to view some of our screen legends in their finest form. While I don't know how much the gamer audience is going to appreciate something like this, I certainly don't think they would be wasting their time by watching even a few of the films that make up this collection.
The complete listing of the movies in this set are A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Sweet Bird of Youth, Baby Doll and a bonus disc called Tennessee Williams' South which is an older documentary on this icon. While my favorite films in this set were A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth, honestly, I think all of these films were decent, but there is a reason why I think the three I listed are better remembered.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Brando Screen Test
I hate to say it but as an actor this is when Marlon Brando really seemed to care. Towards the end of his career he seemed to think very little of acting and it was reflected in his roles. In a sad way, rather than build on his greatness he used his position to become a caricature of himself. This screen test is a bittersweet reminder of what was.
This is a mix of audio and movie outtakes. While the movie outtakes played as one long piece and were pretty easy to follow, I found myself just lost when it came to the audio outtakes. From a purely filmic standpoint, I really love the look of the older black and white scenes from the movie. In every take, all the actors seem to be on their A-game.
"A Streetcar on Broadway," "A Streetcar in Hollywood," "Censorship and Desire," "North and the Music of the South" and "An Actor Named Brando" are the names of all five featurettes. If cut together they would chronicle this films genesis as a stage play, how it became a piece of art that was highly censored (oftentimes cutting scenes that showed only suggestive movements) and finally to what "A Streetcar Named Desire" represents in cinema history.
Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey
By putting this feature length film of this famed director on this disc, the DVD's creators seemed to have slipped up. While I loved every moment of viewing this (Kazan has to be one of the most brilliantly flawed human beings in the history of motion pictures), I noticed that a great deal of the Kazan footage had already appeared in the five featurettes that are also on this disc. However, that doesn't detract from what an insightful piece on the director this is.
The commentary tracks are provided on the first disc by actor Karl Malden and film Historians Rudy Behlmer and Jeff Young. This is how commentary tracks should be. Filled with interesting tidbits and points of fact by the historians, Malden provides an interesting counterpoint as a man who was closer to the action than all of them. This is really great stuff and the kind of commentary tracks that make DVDs so worthwhile.
Cat on A Hot Tin Roof
Tennessee Williams' biographer Donald Spoto provides the commentary track on this disc. He starts off by explaining that this isn't going to be some academic commentary and then proceeds to intricately discuss how this film came to life. So in tune with the work of Tennessee Williams is Spoto that I am even considering picking up his book The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams.
Cat on A Hot Tin Roof: Playing Cat and Mouse
A featurette that focuses on the stars of the film Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. When you consider that Taylor's husband died during the making of this movie, and she went back to shooting only a few days later, I think one can see how she channeled her grief into her performance. Newman had his own battles going on (he was fighting for better roles) and he used this movie to show just how good he could be.
The Night of the Iguana
"Night of the Iguana: Houston's Gamble" and an older featurette "On the Trail of the Iguana" are the two supplementals on this disc. I have always respected John Houston because he seemed to take so many chances in his career. When you contrast Houston to the main character in the film, in an odd way they seem very similar simply because they are different sides of the same coin.
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Mrs. Stone: Looking for Love In All the Dark Corners Featurette
In a film that celebrates the multiple components of the human spirit, this featurette gives us a "behind the scenes" look at the moods and reasoning for how this film was made. This is a very interesting look back, even if, of all the movies in the collection, it is the one I enjoyed the least.
Sweet Bird of Youth
Sweet Bird of Youth: Chasing Time Featurette
I really loved this featuette because it dealt heavily with the theme of the film: how our lives are effected when our dreams don't come to fruition. It is an interesting look at the situations people get themselves into, or the lives they often settle for when the reality of what is, clashes with what we hope it might be. A well done featurette that also explores the making of this movie.
Rip Torn and Geraldine Page screen tests
As much as I enjoyed these, I think if I had more of a perspective on someone like Geraldine Page I would probably have appreciated it a lot more. While interesting to watch, I was able to appreciate Brando's screen test on the Streetcar DVD more, simply because I understood his place in film history better. That said, check out The Pope of Greenwich Village to see Page in fine performance in the twilight of her career.
Baby Doll: See No Evil Featurette
This featurette examines the subject matter of the film which seems sort of weird in 2006. "Condemned" by the Legion of Decency when it first came out it's easy to see how this racy subject matter bothered certain groups. While I think this is one of the weaker films in this collection, it is a comedy that can't help but stay with you.
Tennessee Williams' South
I loved this. It is a solidly put together film that documents Tennessee Williams life and gives us a lot of insights about the man. The fact that it was made in the 1970s with his help also illuminates this literary figure a little more. This disc really caps off what is a well made collection of his writings that were turned into films.
Cat on A Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, Sweet Bird of Youth and Baby Doll are all presented in the widescreen format. The only standard, 1.33:1 DVD is A Streetcar Named Desire. I love both the color and the black and white looks that these films have. The transfer of Cat on A Hot Tin Roof looks absolutely stunning. It reminds me of the solid colors that television first employed once it left the black and white age. However, in films like A Streetcar Named Desire and The Night of the Iguana, there is something about the contrast between the blacks and the whites that really enhances the moods of the stories.
Dolby - English and French Mono seem to be the order of the day on these discs. What I have always appreciated about older movies is the fact that they weren't afraid to rely heavily on dialogue. Considering that these films come to us from someone like Tennessee Williams, it stands to reason that the sound (especially for older movies) would be of paramount important. While I am sure an artificial conversion to stereo might have helped these discs in some way, I think all the audio was precisely where it needed to be.
Burgundy is the main color utilized on this front cover with iconic shots of Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and others laid out over it. The back features a listing and description of the movies that make up this set. Each disc is housed in it's own amaray case, with a cover that seems to be the one sheet that was used to promote this film when it was first released. There are technical specs and descriptions of all the movies on each individual case. All in all, a nice piece of packaging for a set that seems to have come with as many bells and whistles as possible.
I have been a Tennessee Williams fan for as long as I can remember. I have read a book that contained four of his plays and I even went and saw "The Glass Menagerie" on the stage starring Thomas Jane. So while I may not be as familiar as some fans, I can at least be in on a conversation regarding this very important writer. I feel very lucky to have been given the opportunity to review all these films. They are at once quick moving but there is a subtleness to all the performances that burns through everything. Nothing is overt or revealed until it has to be. I truly think that Williams was great at capturing moments. He didn't go out of his way to give the audiences information, yet he was giving us information about the human condition in everything he did.
The Tennessee Williams Film Collection is the kind of box set that makes me realize just how much DVD preserves great movies.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was released August 29, 1958.