This week I have two Elizabeth Taylor films making their debut on blu-ray from Warner Archive. 1950’s “Father of the Bride,” and 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Taylor being the link that bonds the two films, as both are radically different from one another. Considering the pedigree that follows “Virginia Woolf” around, you might be surprised that this was the first time I actually saw the film. First, I’ll talk about the original “Father of the Bride.”
If you’re of the same age range as I am, I’m 31, then odds are good you watched a number of Steve Martin films growing up, and are familiar with the 1991 remake of “Father of the Bride,” which is a really good film in it’s own right, and one of the better remakes to have come out of Hollywood. I actually had no clue that ‘91 film was a remake till I came across the middle of the 1950 original on TCM one day, and kept thinking “Why does this look so much like ‘Father of the Bride?’”
Released by MGM, the original “Father of the Bride” stars Spencer Tracy in a role that earned him one of his nine Oscar nominations for Best Actor, he really is fantastic in the film. Tracy is Stanley Banks, whose daughter Kay (Taylor) comes home one day and informs him and his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) that she has fallen in love, causing Stanley to start a series of internal freak outs. This film and the 1991 film both share the same basic plot line, a father going crazy over his daughter’s nuptials.
I like the two films a great deal, obviously the biggest difference between the two are the eras they were made in. The 1950 film is a product of it’s time, but it’s still quite enjoyable seeing an impossibly young Liz Taylor going through the motions of true love, while Spencer Tracy is just perfect in every scene he’s in. This is one of my favorites of his films, he’s just amazing during the nightmare sequence when he imagines the horrors of how everything is going to go wrong and it will all be his fault--including the church floor swallowing his legs and destroying this pants.
Directed by one of the great MGM directors, Vincente Minnelli, “Father of The Bride” arrives on blu-ray in a really impressive full 1080p transfer that is simply magnificent. This is is doubly impressive when you realize that the original negative to the film was lost in the 1978 Eastman house fire. I’ve never seen “Father of the Bride” looking as well as it does here, there’s a depth to the film that I bet hasn’t been seen since it ran in theaters in 1950. If I didn’t know otherwise, I’d swear this HD transfer was made from the negative.
Moving ahead 16 years to 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” which is not the fun romp that “Father of the Bride” is. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a notable film for a handful of reasons. First off, it’s one of the truly landmark American films. It sparked a catalyst which led to the creation of the rating systems we have to today, and was death knell to the decades old production code. It was also the debut film by the late great Mike Nichols.
Based on Edward Albee’s 1962 play, it was immediately deemed unfilmable due to the amount of language in the play. Jack L. Warner, head of Warner Brothers didn’t care--he bought the film rights to the play shortly after it opened. Warner hired revered screenwriter Ernest Lehman--who wrote Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” to adapt the play to the screen. Lehman refused to change the impact of the dialogue, and produced to the film to help ensure that. Virtually all the original dialogue remains intact.
WB released the film with the stipulation that no one under the age of 18 would be admitted into the theater unless accompanied by an adult--essentially the R rating before the R rating. The film was a huge success, coming along at a time when audiences were ready for movies to grow up. The entire cast was nominated for the Academy Award, and to this day it’s only one of two films to have ever been nominated for every category eligible. Along with that year’s other groundbreaking hit, “Blow Up,” the MPAA led by Jack Valenti began to the develop the ratings system that is still in place to this day.
The film’s Oscar winning black and white cinematography by the great Haskell Wexler looks phenomenal on blu-ray. This a story that would be jarring in color, black and white suits it far better, and it was in the hands of one of the finest cameramen to shoot in black and white. All the bonus material from the 2006 DVD release has been ported over, including two audio commentary tracks.
The first commentary track features Nichols with fellow director Steven Soderbergh, and the second Haskell Wexler. A few mini-documentaries are including as well, and a trailer gallery for other films starring Taylor and Burton. This is a great release of one of the true landmark films. A pitch perfect example of how great black and white can look in HD. A perfect blu-ray from start to finish.
If I didn’t genuinely like what Warner Archive was doing, I wouldn’t tell you about it, in an age when I’d imagine most people think of blu-ray and 1080p as the domain for only modern action movies, it’s really quite amazing when you see how breathtaking these classics can be in the format. Such goodness just makes my little film nerd heart go pit-a-pat. I hope you’ll check at least one of these out.