Max Allan Collins, who wrote the graphic novel on which Road to Perdition is based, is steeped in the hard-boiled crime fiction of the Forties. If his novels weren't enough to demonstrate his obsession, we have two new DVDs with short "audio liner notes" by the author, Anthony Mann's T-Men and Raw Deal (both from VCI). Made back-to-back not long before Mann started shooting the Westerns for which he's famous, they're not quite Double Indemnity, but they'll do.
Especially enjoyable is Raw Deal, which contains some killer photography by John Alton. The end is especially beautiful ‐ the climax begins with a couple in their darkened cabin on a ship bound for Paradise: him spouting uncharacteristically optimistic fantasies, her in a black veil, overshadowed (overlighted?) by the luminous clock on the wall. From there on, it's pea-soup fog and hellish flames and villainous Raymond Burr, who is constantly shot from below so that he looks like the barely-civilized bear he is.
Raw Deal hinges on a competing-lovers catfight waiting to happen; The Women (Warner Bros.) is the fight itself, a feature-length exposé of woman's inhumanity to woman. A couple of recent "sociology" books have purported to expose the ways in which girls are cruel to each other, and some gullible journalists have treated that like news. But playwright Clare Boothe Luce had it sewn up in the '30s, when she wrote the play that inspired this film, drawing her inspiration from real-life conversations overheard in restaurants. With an all-female cast (men are certainly important here, but they're artfully kept offscreen), director George Cukor depicts the schadenfreude of high society losers who delight in the knowledge that the woman they envy has a husband who's cheating on her. The powerhouse trio of Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell leads one of the cinema's greatest casts through the somewhat dated but always engaging soap opera.
While we're on the subject of exaggerated female characters: The most adorable pixie since Audrey Hepburn, Amélie (Buena Vista), is here on disc. I was astonished, watching it a second time, that those first 20 minutes weren't as hyperactive as I remembered. Yes, a lot of information is conveyed, and with a degree of sensory detail that could make you giddy; but the pacing is actually quite digestible, as it remains throughout. More importantly, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose City of Lost Children got a little too enamored of its art direction for the story's sake, puts every frame of film at the service of the tale (make that dozens of tales) he's telling.
Buena Vista has both Amélie and The Royal Tenenbaums (the latter in conjunction with Criterion) out in double-disc sets this month ‐ both of them sweep-you-off-your-feet flicks that were simply doomed, eventually, to seduce so many critics that a backlash was inevitable. In the case of the former, which was a bona fide sensation in France (and generated overwhelmingly positive reviews) one contrary critic actually got around to equating it with Fascism. Don't believe the hype: These two movies ‐ with their visual invention, winning performances, self-contained universes, and truckloads of charm ‐ are a big part of the reason to keep going to the theaters.