George Stevens’ Woman of the Year receives a new 2K restoration from the Criterion Collection, who present the film on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The new restoration comes from a scan of a fine-grain master positive taken directly from the original negative.
Like other recent Warner titles from Criterion this one delivers a remarkable looking picture. The restoration work, as expected, has been quite vigorous, and other than maybe a few thin tram lines here and there nothing in the way of damage stands out. The digital transfer is crisp, objects are rendered cleanly, film grain looks great, and I didn’t detect any digital artifacts. Object detail pops, textures look nice, and the image is consistently sharp. Contrast looks great, with rich blacks and balanced whites (no blooming) and terrific tonal shifts in the grays in between. Overall it's sharp, clean, and very filmic. 8/10
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.
Criterion releases a fairly loaded special edition for the film, packing in a few hours’ worth of material covering the film’s director and stars, while also placing it in the context of its time.
Starting the features off is a new, short 6-minute interview with the director’s George Stevens, Jr. about his father and his career in Hollywood. This is then followed with a 1967 audio excerpt from an interview with Stevens himself, where he discusses Woman of the Year and his admiration for Katherine Hepburn. It’s an interesting interview but the real meat is in the last half of the 17-minute feature where Stevens talks about the film’s original ending and how it was changed. We don’t get a sense of what the original ending was (this is covered elsewhere in the features) but he explains in great detail why the ending was altered.
Criterion then gets Marilyn Ann Moss—author of the book Giant: George Stevens, A Life on Film—to talk about Stevens, his career, and work in this 14-minute interview. She focuses a special bit of attention on his “women’s films” and work with Hepburn, and Moss uses Woman of the Year as an example to show how he would build up his comedy in his comic work. She also offers a bit more of an explanation as to why the ending of the film was changed and what initially turned off audiences at the time.
This is followed by another interview, this time with journalist Claudia Roth Pierpont talking about Katharine Hepburn’s career playing strong women and the impact she had. She also talks extensively about the film and how progressive it was in subverting the clichés around sexual politics at the time, though she admits the last little bit of the film doesn’t exactly fit the mold. In this supplement, though, Pierpont gives details about the original ending, explaining the original intent and how it played out, with the two coming off as equals. This ending sounds far more in tune with the rest of the film. Some elements from this ending did make it into the new one, particularly a line, but the audience’s (or MGM studio head’s) desire to see Hepburn’s character put in her place does take away from this, and I have no doubt the original ending would have aged far better than what we are left with. The first ending is lost, unfortunately, but some stills do exist and they are shown here. This feature runs about 20-minutes.
Criterion then includes two lengthy documentaries, both provided by Warner Bros.: George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey (by George Stevens, Jr.) and The Spencer Tracy Legacy (by Katharine Hepburn), running 111-minutes and 86-minutes respectively. Gathering together interviews with a large number of friends and colleagues, both offer exhaustive examinations of their life and work, with the added bonus of the Stevens documentary showcasing some of the footage he shot during World War II. They’re both enjoyable and well done (the Stevens documentary at times has a sort of Ken Burns quality to it), though not terribly academic and despite the amount of material packed in they both feel to really only skim the surfaces of things. Despite that they’re still both affectionately put together and work nicely as loving tributes, and will still pay off to those not well versed in either man’s career.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer (in fairly rough shape) while the included insert features an essay by Stephanie Zacharek, who writes admiringly about the chemistry of the two stars and “modernity” of the film’s story. At least until that last scene, but she doesn’t feel that ruins everything that came before, nor the spirit of Tess Harding.
It’s obvious the ending of the film will rub some modern audiences the wrong way, so no surprise Criterion’s supplements (outside of the two big documentaries) spend a lot of time addressing it while also focusing on everything that comes before it, working to show how progressive the film (and Hepburn) really was for the time. Still, it’s interesting to see through these supplements how audiences and/or studio execs were really threatened by Hepburn’s strong, independent woman, so much so that they needed her to be taken down a notch. The supplements don’t make the ending much better in the end, but they do help one appreciate the film much more, even the comic build-up during that final scene, and for that I really appreciate Criterion’s efforts. 8/10