Classic foreign films from the 1980s lead an array of vintage titles in release on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
“Jean de Florette”/“Manon of the Spring” (Shout!/Blu-ray, 1986, PG, trailers, in French with English subtitles). Filmed back to back and released within months of each other, these two stunning French films make up a sort of long-form story, a theatrical miniseries if you will — and they are both captivating in their study of human nature, greed and irony.
Directed with deliberate attention to detail by Claude Berri, “Jean de Florette” stars Yves Montand as an aging wealthy farmer in rural 1920s France who plans to leave his land to his nephew (Daniel Auteuil). But when the nephew plants carnations, they need more water — and an adjoining plot of land with an unused spring seems just the ticket.
Foiling their plans is Jean de Florette (Gerard Depardieu), who inherits the land, moves in with his family and is to farm it, though he is city-bred and unskilled in growing crops. Worse, he can’t find the spring, even though he has a map. Obviously, his neighbors offer no help. “Manon of the Spring” follows up with a subtle revenge story (focusing on Jean’s daughter, played by Emmanuelle Beart), and there’s a shocking twist at the end.
If you have found yourself reluctant to see foreign movies because you don’t want to read subtitles, these two movies could convert you. When a picture is enthralling enough, you almost forget you’re reading the dialogue, and these two fit that bill.
“Henry V” (Shout!/Blu-ray, 1989, PG-13, trailer). A younger generation may know Kenneth Branagh for directing “Thor” or as the Russian villain in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” (which he also directed), but his first directing effort was this British production of the great Shakespeare play, which is a rousing and quite accessible adaptation, even for those who are not Shakespeare-philes. Yet Branagh doesn’t dilute the material either, and there are wonderful dialogue interpretations, which he elicits from a seasoned cast that includes Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Emma Thompson and Brian Blessed.
“Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle” (Icarus/DVD, 1987, not rated, featurette, in French with English subtitles). Eric Rohmer is famous for films that are slow-going, character-driven studies in ethical behavior, and this sweet, gentle, low-key tale is no exception, save for its structure as four short stories. Rohmer follows the developing friendship between two young women, one a free-spirited country girl and the other a conservative city girl, and each story deals with an ethical dilemma. (DVD debut.)
“Kill or Cure” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1962, b/w). Terry-Thomas (“I’m All Right, Jack,” “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”) stars in this typically droll farce about a private eye investigating a trendy spa where he suffers comic indignities galore. Great cast includes Eric Sykes, Dennis Price, Lionel Jeffries and Ronnie Barker. Director George Pollock had just finished the first of Margaret Rutherford’s “Miss Marple” mysteries and would go on to do the next three as well, and this film plays like a spoof of that series. (DVD debut; available at warnerarchive.com.)
“Sinners’ Holiday” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1930, b/w, trailer). Very early “talkie” features James Cagney and Joan Blondell in their first film, reprising their Broadway roles as a brash young bootlegger and his wisecracking girlfriend (the play was titled “Penny Arcade”). Top billing, however, goes to Grant Withers and Evalynn Knapp as young lovers at a carnival who inadvertently fall prey to Cagney’s mischief. (DVD debut; available at warnerarchive.com.)
“The RKO Brown & Carney Comedy Collection” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1944-46, b/w, four movies). The comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney was a B-movie creation of the RKO studio, not a natural teaming. They were designed in the mid-1940s to cash in on the popularity of Abbott & Costello but remained a pale imitation. Still, their films reveal some comic chemistry, and both were veteran vaudevillians who knew how to milk a laugh.
The four films here include their first two as a team, “The Adventures of a Rookie” and “Rookies in Burma” (following Abbott & Costello’s military-farce hits), along with “Genius at Work” (with Bela Lugosi) and the Western spoof “Girl Rush.” Young Robert Mitchum co-stars in the latter, and at the end, he and Brown & Carney masquerade as women to deceive the bad guys. Hey, this may be your only opportunity to see tough-guy Mitchum in drag. (DVD debut; available at warnerarchive.com.)
“My Little Pony: The Movie: 30th Anniversary” (Shout! Kids/Hasbro/DVD, 1986, G, sing-alongs). Well, not quite the 30th. With voices provided by Danny DeVito, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Rhea Perlman, Nancy Cartwright and Tony Randall, among others, this spinoff of the toy franchise (which led to the first TV series) has the ponies going up against a witch. Restored film looks great, although it’s still the same limited animation that only a child could enjoy. Or these days, a Brony.