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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Video interview with Sidney Lumet
  • Three Plays by Tennessee Williams, an hour-long television presentation of one-act plays, directed by Lumet in 1958, with Ben Gazzara and Lee Grant, among others
  • Video program discussing the playwright’s work in Hollywood and The Fugitive Kind
  • A booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Thomson

The Fugitive Kind

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Sidney Lumet
1959 | 122 Minutes | Licensor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #515
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: January 14, 2020
Review Date: December 22, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

Four Oscar-winning actors—Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Joanne Woodward, and Maureen Stapleton—sink their teeth into this enthralling film, which brings together the legendary talents of director Sidney Lumet and writer Tennessee Williams. A smoldering, snakeskin-jacketed Brando is Val Xavier, a drifter trying to go straight. He finds work and solace in a southern small-town variety store run by the married, sexually frustrated Lady Torrance (Magnani), who proves as much a temptation for Val as local wild child Carol Cutrere (Woodward). Lumet captures the intense, fearless performances and Williams’s hot-blooded storytelling and social critique with his customary restraint, resulting in a drama of uncommon sophistication and craft.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection upgrades its 2010 DVD edition of Sidney Lumet’s The Fugitive Kind to Blu-ray, presenting the film yet again in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. It is presented on this dual-layer disc with 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. Criterion is reusing the same master taken from a high-def restoration. The source for the restoration was a 35mm interpositive.

I still think the DVD holds up well, even upscaled, but I was rather shocked with how mediocre the full high-definition image looks here. Underwhelming may be the appropriate word. It doesn’t look as though any further restoration has taken place, with the same blemishes (specs of dirt, thin lines, small scratches, fading, frame jumps and such) still popping up. This isn’t entirely surprising (and the damage that remains isn’t that heavy in the end), but I was still rather stunned with how flat the image is. Though the textures found on Brando’s snakeskin jacket can look impressive at times throughout the film there’s not much else to give much credit to. Film grain is present but still looks to have been dialed down a bit, which probably explains the lack of texture and definition in the overall picture. Blacks are a bit heavy and some details get crushed out in the shadows, but the grayscale looks nice.

It does technically offer an improvement over the DVD in that compression is certainly better, the image looking less noisy, but I was honestly more impressed with how it looked on DVD than on here. The weaknesses of the restoration and the original master are far clearer, the compression on the DVD (mixed with low expectations for the format) obviously hiding them better from view. That's a big fat "meh" from me.

6/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Upgraded to lossless PCM mono here I can’t say I discerned much of a difference over the DVD’s Dolby Digital presentation. Brando’s mumbling is still what it is and this is not helped by the general flatness of the audio. At the very least there are still no severe issues like drops, pops, or cracks.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion ports everything over from their 2-disc DVD edition (upscaling them from standard-definition for this release), starting off with the same 28-minute interview with director Sidney Lumet, recorded in 2009. In the interview Lumet first talks about a live television production he had done based on three Tennessee Williams plays (also included as a feature elsewhere on this disc) and fondly recalls the freedom and experimentation that was common during that “golden age” of television. He then moves on to The Fugitive Kind and the play it’s based on, but spends most of the time talking about his actors, Brando and Magnani in particular, with Magnani apparently being a little difficult as she went through some personal issues (both Lumet and David Thomson, the latter of whom mentioning this in the essay found in the booklet that comes with the DVD, suspect that Magnani may have fallen for Brando and this created some sort of tension). He touches on the films lighting, focusing on a couple of scenes, talks about some of the themes of the film, and mentions a cut scene with Maureen Stapleton that has unfortunately been lost and one he regrets cutting. It’s a great interview with the director and I do hope Criterion manages to release another one of his films if only so they can include another interview segment with him.

Williams becomes the focus of this release after that interview. The next feature is a sorta documentary on Williams and his Hollywood career called Hollywood’s Tennessee and The Fugitive Kind, running 27-minutes and featuring historians Robert Bray and R. Barton Palmer, co-authors of the book Hollywood’s Tennessee. It begins with the two, recorded separately, talking about Williams’ early career, his examination of “social ills” and how his plays were accepted. They then get into his desire to have his plays filmed (so that they live on forever) and his move to Hollywood, which was easy since his name had become bankable. It wasn’t exactly all rosy at first starting with the adaptation of The Glass Menagerie, which he considered a laughable disaster, but it improved after that. They cover some of the adaptations, how the films based on his work were able to change the production code, and then focus primarily on The Fugitive Kind. From here they give a brief history of the play it’s based on, first called Battle of Angels which was eventually reworked into the play Orpheus Descending, and then the two get into the mythologies and how they’re presented (or more correctly not presented) in the film. It’s an interesting piece, certainly worth viewing, though I actually wish that they spent as much time on each of the films as they did with The Fugitive Kind, though since this is ultimately the DVD for that film, it isn’t much of a surprise that this is the case.

And finally, probably the most intriguing supplement on here (and certainly makes the edition worthwhile) is Three Films by Tennessee Williams, a live television production directed by Lumet in 1958 for the Kraft Television Theatre. The plays included here are Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry starring Ben Gazarra and Lee Grant, The Last of My Solid Gold Watches starring Thomas Chalmers, Gene Saks, and Alonso Bosan, and then This Property is Condemned starring Zina Bethune and Martin Huston. It’s an excellent inclusion and easily the best feature on here, and though I’m still not sure what to make of Gazarra’s performance in the first play (which is really “stagey”) I did enjoy them all. The presentation is so-so since the plays were recorded using the kinescope process, which consists of a film camera filming the production off of a TV monitor. Still, considering this, they do look pretty good (jaggies are more prominent in this presentation in comparison to what is on the previous DVD). Williams himself does introductions for the plays but I especially liked that Criterion kept the final bit which is an ad for Kraft, claiming that it is better to “buy by brand names.” The feature runs 55-minutes and has been divided into 5 chapters.

Criterion then ports over the booklet featuring an essay by David Thomson, which takes a brief look at Williams’ work overall, the play Orpheus Descending—which is the basis for The Fugitive Kind—but then settles on focusing on some of the more problematic aspects of the production. A decent read but not great. The middle of the booklet then includes a number of production photos.

They’re a solid set of features, though the lack of anything about Brando has always been a bit of a surprise. Everything is worth going through.

7/10

CLOSING

A disappointing upgrade, delivering a mediocre high-def presentation. But the supplements, at the very least, are still good.


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