Friday, February 9, 2018

Review: 'Dragonwyck' Blu-ray

Although he’d starred in such second-tier Universal horrors as The Invisible Man Returns and Tower of London, Vincent Price didn’t really become established as the horror star of his generation until House of Wax in 1953. Yet it was 1946’s Dragonwyck that saw the Vincent Prince archetype coalesce. His ruthless landowner Nicholas van Ryn is posh, snooty, seemingly soulless yet tortured to his soul, and more than a little campy (one might imagine 20-year-old Roger Corman sitting in the cinema, taking notes). Despite some arguments to the contrary, and a couple of spooky scenes that actually imply mental illness more than supernatural doings, Dragonwyck is not a horror movie at all but a Gothic romance in the recently-established Rebecca tradition. Like Hitchcock’s commercial breakthrough, Dragonwyck is based on a piece of neo-Gothic pulp literature and focuses on a naïve young woman (Gene Tierney) who takes up residence in the gloomy mansion of a troubled older man with some nasty secrets (Price). The payoff of Dragonwyck is not as satisfying as its more prestigious predecessor’s, the pace can be sluggish at times, and the whole affair feels a bit slight despite the grandeur of the performances, music, and sets, but it certainly is more fun to watch Vincent Price in this kind of picture than Lawrence Olivier. Gene Tierney’s Miranda Wells is also a stronger heroine than Joan Fontaine’s nameless bride, though Miranda’s pluck wilts by the end of the picture. Price makes up for that by layering on the juiciest slices of ham he can cook up at this early stage of his career.
Twilight Time’s 1080p presentation of Dragonwyck might not knock you out—there’s a little dirt here and there and detail is sometimes weak—but there is no significant damage or debris, grain is organic, and the sound is excellent, really showcasing Alfred Newman’s lush, sometimes baroque, sometimes almost poppy score, as does Twilight Time’s obligatory isolated music track. This disc also ports over some nice bonuses from the 2008 DVD: a featurette called A House of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck, which includes some talking heads making that unconvincing “Dragonwyck is a horror movie” argument, a commentary by historian Steve “Dragonwyck is a horror movie” Haberman and filmmaker Constantine Nasr, and a radio drama of the story performed by Price and Tierney in the year of the film’s release. Twilight Time adds an additional radio adaptation from 1947, this one starring Price and Teresa Wright, and best of all, a pair of full-length A&E biographies—one utterly sad, one utterly charming—spotlighting the film’s two stars.
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