Criterion presents Alexander Korda’s That Hamilton Woman in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The picture has been window boxed.
The image isn’t up to Criterion’s usual work but I suspect it’s related to the limitations of the source materials. The image looks quite soft through a majority of the film and detail can be murky. Soft focus could be the culprit in a majority of cases but I doubt that technique was being used in the long shots which look especially blurry on occasion. The image also looks a little washed with blacks looking a dark gray. The condition of the print is okay with very little in the way of dirt and debris but there are occasional scratches and vertical lines constantly appear throughout. The image can also suddenly become very grainy and fuzzy every so often.
It does look better than the transfers found on the films included in Criterion’s Eclipse set, but not by a whole lot. 6/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion has put together a small selection of supplements for this title starting with an audio commentary featuring Ian Christie. He begins by stating he considers the film “unfairly overlooked by cinema connoisseurs” who dismiss it solely as a shameless propaganda film, though never denies the films true intentions. Christie covers the quick production, how Korda came upon doing the film, the relationship between Leigh and Olivier, gets into issues with the American production code (the film’s storyline, which involves an affair between two married people, was walking the line with censors) and also offers a mild analysis, but these aspects surprisingly take up very little of the track. A lot of the track actually focuses on the historical aspects the film depicts, describing what was happening in England and France, and Christie also points out the true aspects of the film and the artistic liberties taken. The film’s true intention was to of course help the war effort (I get the idea from this and the interview also included on the disc that Churchill, who pushed for the film and was the key reason for why the film was so rushed, hoped this film might play some small part in convincing the Americans to join the war against Germany) so a lot of the liberties taken were to make the characters more “heroic” and “patriotic” I guess you could say and tried to hide their known flaws (other than the illicit affair of course.) This also leads into Christie making comparisons between events depicted in the film and events that happened during the late 30s and early 40s involving England and Germany. I find the film, at best, an entertaining period drama and Christie’s commentary didn’t really elevate it for me, but despite this I still rather enjoyed his track; Christie keeps the momentum going and I found the historical aspects of the track rather fascinating.
From the archives Criterion has found a segment from a radio program called Alexander Korda Presents. The 14-minute segment serves as a promotional piece for the film with its narrator “reporting” from the set of the film, describing the spectacle of the sets, though I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say he’s not actually there. The last half of the clip plays audio clips from the film. Again it’s just a promotional piece and doesn’t offer anything of value on the production or the film but I still enjoyed it as a historical document.
Probably the best feature on here is the 35-minute interview with Michael Korda, Alexander’s nephew. He recalls fondly his time on the set as a young 7 year old, fascinated with the battle sequences, and his memories of Leigh and Olivier. If I understand correctly he never actually saw this film, or any of Korda’s films, until the advent of home video, but he has a high regard for this film and points out his favourite moments. There’s some amusing anecdotes (like how Korda tried to figure out which arm it was that Lord Nelson lost so he could portray it accurately in the film) but the most fascinating aspect of the interview involves his discussion about his father, Vincent Korda, who worked as production designer for the film and who also hated the movie business and regretted getting into it. It’s a charming interview and loaded with interesting tidbits from the set.
The disc then closes with a 2-minute theatrical trailer that interestingly uses the title Lady Hamilton instead of That Hamilton Woman. It sells the film as a simple period drama, and obviously aims for the women.
The included booklet then contains an essay by Molly Haskell offering more of an analysis on the film and expanding on aspects covered in the commentary (like the affair between the film’s two stars.)
I can’t say the supplements justify the higher price but overall I still found them enjoyable and informative. A decent collection. 7/10