New on Blu-Ray | The Clock, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, For Me and My Gal
THE CLOCK (Vincente Minnelli, 1945)
The Clock is Judy Garland's Brief Encounter, perhaps one of her most emotionally grounded films that gives the actress a chance to show off her dramatic chops in ways she hadn't really been able to previously. Vincente Minnelli directs his soon to be bride as Alice Maybery, a no-nonsense young woman who meets and falls in love with a GI on leave from the war in a train station, and has only a short time to show him the city and experience a whirlwind romance that brings her both joy and disappointment. It's a surprisingly honest film for its time, acknowledging the brevity of the couple's courtship and how it affects their longterm prospects after the thrill of the initial meeting wears off.
There's a bittersweetness to The Clock that feels indelibly of its time, released in the final year of WWII to a war-weary public, it's essentially a home front movie that highlights how lives are being interrupted by the war- moments of connection and tenderness interrupted by the global conflict going on around them. It's a rare Garland picture that isn't a musical, and Minnelli makes the most of her here, capturing her particular sense of innocence coupled with a fiery will to not be prone to flights of fancy, but finds herself swept up in the possibilities of a chance encounter, only to realize after it's too late that maybe she'd been right all along. It's one of Garland's finest films, and one of the era's most piercing romances.
GRADE -★★★½ (out of four)
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (Victor Fleming, 1941)
Victor Fleming directed this 1941 remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner at the height of their star power. The previous cinematic adaptation of Robert Lewis Stevenson's novel won Frederic March an Oscar in 1931, but Fleming's rendition is a strangely inert affair, and did not replicate its predecessors success (although it was nominated for Best Cinematography, Film Editing, and Score at the 1941 Academy Awards).
Fleming was hot off the twin successes of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, but his follow up lacks both the epic sweep and emotional heft that made those films into enduring classics. While it's difficult not to respect the attempt to ground Stevenson's novel and focus on its themes of the duality and darkness of human nature, it lacks a certain creature feature luridness that Universal was doing so well during this period. It's essentially a prestige MGM monster movie, but the final product feels almost too polished and too afraid is its own genre to be any fun. Even Spencer Tracy seems bored by the proceedings, and his transformation into Hyde (while technically impressive) just feels bland. Universal's The Wolf Man would do much more with less money and greater success the very same year.
GRADE -★★ (out of four)
FOR ME AND MY GAL (Busby Berkeley, 1942)
It may not be as dazzling as Busby Berkeley's grand-scale musicals of 1930s for Warner Brothers, but what For Me and My Gal lacks in epic razzle-dazzle it more than makes up for in heart, casting Judy Garland as a winsome small-time vaudeville actress in love with her dance partner, an ambitious and somewhat unscrupulous hoofer played by Gene Kelly. Their innocence is interrupted, however by the arrival of WWI, which forces them to make impossible decisions that could tear them apart for good.
Berkeley uses his experiences as a soldier during the war to inform his sensitive portrayal of the trials and tribulations faced not only by the soldiers, but by the men who will do anything it takes to avoid there service. Garland turns in one of her most indelible performances as a woman drawn to a man whose first love is the theater (and himself), and Berkeley uses the dance numbers as a form of communication between the two. They may be smaller scale than his greatest works, but there's a heat and a passion to them that is hard to ignore.