Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer style, Vivien Leigh’s tragic ballerina, and that remake of The Women we all secretly love.
Whether you’re in the mood for wartime romance, Michael Caine channeling London’s Swinging Sixties as one of his most memorable characters, or the unabashed camp of a remake that never had a chance of living up to the original, this trio of Blu-ray releases has a little something for every classic-film fan this month:
Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Warner Archive Collection
Starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Costumes by Adrian, Gile Steele and Irene Lentz
Six months after she would become known to the world as Scarlett O’Hara, Vivien Leigh played a quieter and far more poignant character, Myra, a ballet dancer who falls in love with Roy, an Army captain played by Robert Taylor. While Waterloo Bridge could never achieve the epic proportions of Gone With the Wind, this Mervyn LeRoy-directed romantic drama nonetheless showcases every element of Leigh’s onscreen sparkle.
Leigh also enjoys the Adrian treatment in both day and evening looks and her Swan Lake onstage costume; Irene Lentz also did uncredited work on the film, while Giles Steele handled all the military uniforms. Waterloo Bridge is ultimately both hopeful and sad, and definitely of its time, because you can’t watch it and not hope that, just once, Myra will explain to Roy what she had to do to survive in war-torn England. He surely would have understood, yes? The ending leads us to believe that just might be true.
This release features a new 4K restoration, as well as the original theatrical trailer and the radio version of the film in a 1951 episode of Screen Director's Playhouse, with Norma Shearer taking on the role of Myra.
The Opposite Sex (1956)
Warner Archive Collection
Starring June Allyson, Joan Collins, Dolores Gray, Ann Sheridan and Ann Miller
Directed by David Miller
Costumes by Helen Rose
Comparing The Opposite Sex to 1939’s The Women is a little like comparing a Mercedes-Benz convertible with a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am: both popular when they first debuted, but only one would stand the test of time. Seventeen years after The Women premiered, MGM decided the story was ripe for a musical treatment, so they gathered a cast that included June Allyson, Joan Collins and Ann Miller, and then tossed out the best gimmick of both the Clare Boothe Luce play and the George Cukor-directed 1939 film: a total absence of men onstage or in front of the camera. In this version, Norma Shearer’s Mary becomes June Allyson’s Kay, a semi-retired Broadway star who’s married to Leslie Nielsen as Steve, who strays when he can’t resist the charms of a gold-digging showgirl, played by Joan Collins, vs. the perfume-counter salesperson played by Joan Crawford in 1939.
The changes didn’t seem to matter to audiences or critics when The Opposite Sex arrived in theaters; Bosley Crowther, the famed critic of The New York Times, pronounced the film “a treat.” While it’s widely agreed that the musical remake doesn’t stand up to the original, it’s a fun watch for pure camp value — the moment when Allyson slaps Collins so hard that one earring goes flying is especially delicious — while Helen Rose’s parade of gowns definitely merit a look for anyone who loves wow moments in 1950s costume design. (Dolores Gray’s ensembles are especially good.) Crowther agreed: “It might be added that it is this corner’s opinion that the lush wardrobes, enhanced by excellent color photography, provided for this covey of dames, is enough to drive distaff viewers to distraction,” he wrote in his 1956 review.
This release features a new restoration of the film, as well as the original trailer.
The Ipcress File (1965)
Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Starring Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman and Sue Lloyd
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
The year before he starred in 1966’s Alfie, Michael Caine created another character that likewise impacted 1960s men’s fashion: Harry Palmer, the British agent whose sketchy past makes him perfect for a dangerous assignment, to discover why several top scientists have simply disappeared. Based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Len Deighton, The Ipcress File was expected to be the first in a Harry Palmer series — and indeed, Caine appeared in five films as the character, three in books written by Deighton. While they never caught fire to the same degree as Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Caine’s Harry may have topped 007 in the style department. (The two spy series also shared the same film producer, Harry Saltzman.)
Granted, that’s a controversial statement; Bond was always crisp and exquisitely tailored, and in every film you count the moments until a tuxedo makes an appearance. Harry Palmer is a bit more rumpled, but his style — the single-breasted gray tweed jacket over the white button-down shirt and thin tie, the khaki-hued trench coat or car coat — has made an easy transition to many modern menswear collections. And then there are the glasses, which added to Harry's Everyman sex appeal and which Caine purposely wore to ensure he wouldn’t be typecast as the character; by Curry & Paxton, you can still buy those tortoiseshell frames today. (The costumes are uncredited, unless you count Muriel Dickson as wardrobe mistress; over the years it’s been speculated that Caine’s longtime personal tailor, Douglas Hayward, produced some of his suits, though that’s never been confirmed. A favorite tailor among film stars, Hayward also modernized the look of James Bond in the 1980s.)
This Blu-ray is packed with features, starting with a 2K restoration by ITV Studios; bonuses include a new audio commentary by film historians Troy Howarth and Daniel Kremer, an audio commentary featuring director Sidney J. Furie and editor Peter Hunt, an interview with Michael Caine, and an interview with production designer Ken Adam.