More Wellman on DVD

William Wellman and Dorothy Coonan on the set of 'Wild Boys of the Road '

It’s been a while since I did any full reviews of William A Wellman movies here, but I have been watching more of his work in the meantime and have updated my Wellman page with brief details of all the films of his I’ve seen so far (40-plus.) I do also have a couple more of his films which I haven’t got round to watching yet, and there are a few more available which I haven’t bought yet, so I will carry on updating, and hopefully review some more of them too.

Anyway, I’m delighted to say that my page is already getting out of date, because Warner Archive has just announced that it is releasing three more of his titles on DVD. I’m especially excited at the release of his great pre-Code Safe In Hell (1931), starring Dorothy Mackaill in a brilliant performance as an ex-prostitute who runs away to a Caribbean island after killing an ex-boyfriend.

The other two are later titles, which I haven’t seen as yet. One is My Man and I (1953), starring Shelley Winters as an alcoholic bar girl befriended by Mexican farmhand Ricardo Montalban. The other is Wellman’s very last film, Lafayette Escadrille (1958), starring Tab Hunter and David Janssen, and with a small part for Clint Eastwood. This returns to the theme of the director’s first big success, Wings, by focusing on First World War flyers. I have seen an interview with Wellman where he talks about this film and about how upset he was by the studio changing his ending and also imposing a title –  he had already had a lot of interference with many other films, but you get the impression this one broke his heart. (He himself  didn’t fly with the Lafayette Escadrille, as usually stated, but with the Lafayette Flying Corps.) Anyway, this film is already available on a French DVD from Warner, but this is said to be a remastered edition, so I’m not sure which would be the better buy. The French DVD is probably a pressed one rather than a DVR, but maybe this is a better print?

It’s also good to hear that classic screwball comedy Nothing Sacred (1937), starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March, is being released by Kino on both DVD and Blu-ray on December 20 in a new “authorised edition from the estate of David O Selznick and the collection of George Eastman House). Should be much better than all the faded public domain copies on the market!

Love Affair (1932)

I’ve been meaning to post briefly about an early Humphrey Bogart movie I saw recently. The pre-Code romantic drama Love Affair is in fact his first lead role, although he gets second billing to Dorothy Mackaill. Bogart is one of my all-time favourites, and I’d also count myself as a fan of Mackaill after being impressed by her in Wellman’s Safe In Hell, although I still need to catch up on her silent roles. I quite enjoyed this film,  because I love the period, but, although it is only just over an hour long, it feels quite slow and stilted, as with many early 1930s movies. Watching films made by lesser-known directors such as Thornton Freeland, who was at the helm for this one, makes me realise once again  just how good the likes of William Wellman, John Ford, William Dieterle and Howard Hawks really were.

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Safe in Hell (1931)

It seems to me as if 1931 was a great year for William Wellman. He made five films that year, four of which I have now seen and loved – including his masterpiece The Public Enemy. (I hope to write about that one in due course, but am slightly daunted by its fame and the amount which has been written, so thought I’d watch and write about a lot of his other 1930s movies first to see if they give me any different perspective on the film.)

The others I’ve seen from that year are Other Men’s Women, Night Nurse and now the melodrama Safe In Hell, starring Dorothy Mackaill and Donald Cook, which is one of the best yet. It’s a pity Warner didn’t find room for it in their Forbidden Hollywood 3 set, but I suppose the fact that it doesn’t have a big-name star worked against it. Perhaps it will turn up in their Archive series. At present it is only available via the “grey market” and by downloading, though I gather it is sometimes shown on TCM in the US.

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