Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blu-ray debut: ON APPROVAL -- Brit hit from the vaults returns to tickle us anew

If you're an aficionado of old movies -- good old movies, I might add: the kind that actually hold up well in this new century of ours -- you cannot miss the return (on Blu-ray, where it looks smashing) of ON APPROVAL, the lightweight cream puff of a film that starts out well and just gets better and better as it skims along. When it first appeared in 1944, critics were calling it among the funniest British light comedies ever made. Current critics still are, and the movie still is.

Seen on this digitally restored Blu-ray disc, the black-and-white cinematography looks stunning (could it have looked this good back then?) and the costumes (by Cecil Beaton!) enchant. But it's the cast and the script, sporting dialog so much fun that you wonder where humor has gone (What -- no fart jokes? Not a one!) What probably seemed daring in its day now seems not at all old hat but simply sensible and smart.

A comedy of manners in which the two woman characters come with tidy fortunes in hand, while the two men -- one a duke, the other his good friend -- are resoundingly poor. The gals are played by Beatrice Lillie (yes, that funny British eccentric, shown center on poster, top, and above, left) and Googie Withers. (The latter, shown below, left, and only recently departed, gives a simply lovely 2011 interview as part of the disc's Special Features, telling us all about what it was like to make this movie, back in the day.)

The males are played by Roland Culver (below, left, with mustache) and Clive Brook (above, right), who doubles as director, although the movie did not start out with him at the helm (this is one of the big surprises we learn in Ms Withers interview). All four stars are to this sort of manor born, and they have a terrific old time with the great script and story by Frederick Lonsdale, based on his play of the same name.

At a breezy length of only 80 minutes, the movie wastes not a word nor scene, bouncing along and culminating in a some terrific surprises leading to one of the great last visual and verbal moments in cinema story-telling history. Ho!

On Approval, a wonderful gift from Inception Media Group, Inc., is available now on Blu-ray disc, for sale and, I would hope, rental. But as you can no longer trust Netflix to purchase a new and better restoration of an inferior disc they already have, and Blockbuster, playing its usual game, appears to have the Blu-ray (until you stick it into your queue and discover that, no, they don't actually carry it), maybe eventually, there'll be VOD or streaming. For now, get some like-minded old-movie fans/friends together and chip in on the $35 suggested retail price. It's expensive, but with several of you sharing, not so much.

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