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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Racism > British > History > Comedy > Flame In The Streets (1961/VCI DVD)/The Help (2011/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD)

Flame In The Streets (1961/VCI DVD)/The Help (2011/Disney Blu-ray w/DVD)


Picture: C/B- & C     Sound: C+/B- & C+     Extras: C-     Films: B-/C-




If you ever wonder why Civil Rights are not progressing like they should, don’t just blame Right Wing interests who continue to stoke the problem, make it worse in some ways and find clever and obvious ways to continue the hate, also blame those on the Left who want Stalin-style Political Correctness for us to forget the problem, thereby enabling the opposition group and ignorantly throw out history in general.  It is an embarrassing situation, but some changes have taken hold for the better.  Now for two films that show us how far we have and have not come.



The great Roy Ward Baker directed the still-bold drama Flame In The Streets (1961) and its portrait of racism and racial division in England remain shocking for their language and brutal honesty of a situation that was soon to explode unbeknownst to anyone involved.  Based on the play Hot Summer Night, Ted Willis turned his work into this very solid screenplay about a white British family is about to become unsettled by their daughter (Sylvia Syms) starts dating a Jamaican teacher (Johnny Sekka) as her father (John Mills) is fighting for minority rights in his union (including a new foreman played by Earl Cameron) and mother (Brenda de Banzie) is uncomfortable about the whole thing.


Well acted and fearless in dealing with racial intolerances all around then, the Rank Studios set this up as a prestige film for the year and now more than ever deserves to be rediscovered.  Baker does a fine job here and the supporting cast is fine all around.  This was ahead of its time, even by Hollywood standards (it is often noted it was years ahead of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner) and deserves to be rediscovered.  A Photo Gallery including some poster art is the only extra, though sadly we get a terrible 1.33 X 1/4 X 3 version that butchers everything.



Fifth years later, we get a film after the social changes that is seemingly innocent, but shockingly regressive overall and amazingly manipulative: Tate Taylor’s The Help (2011).  This goofy film boasts a fine cast and is set in the south just before the Civil Rights Movement, but makes it seem “not all that bad” as it starts as a drama, then goes all over the place not knowing what it wants to do or really be about, including comedy and one moment that is supposed to be funny but ruins all credibility for this mess and it never recovers.


Viola Davis plays a maid in the opening shot telling the secret story of oppression and racism in The South in what turns out to be a risky expose for a major magazine that turns into much more.  It is being told to Skeeter (Emma Stone) who wants to be a journalist, just having taken a local newspaper advice job on cleaning and this leads to her first contact with the maids in general.  Bryce Dallas Howard is housewife who hates anyone in her way including Celia (Jessica Chastain) who is suddenly an outsider thanks to her, Octavia Spencer is the most outspoken of the maids (as Minny Jackson) who is abused and is about to misdirect that abuse in a way that would have gotten her hanged or killed at the time in real life, Allison Janney plays another oppressed 1950s/1960s housewife (ala Hairspray) that she is so good at doing and the twists and turns land up dangerously trivializing anything good here.


Yes, this could have worked and did some business during an economic box office downturn, but like the Tyler Perry film For Colored Girls (2010, reviewed elsewhere on this site) is under the false belief that throwing a bunch of good actresses together in any film that is pseudo-therapeutic is good filmmaking and storytelling, but comes across as a bad cinematic Tupperware party.  The fact that both have male directors at a time when we have so few female directors speaks volumes of the additional problems.  See it at your own risk.


Extras include a Mary J. Blige Music Video, Deleted Scenes (especially on the Blu-ray) and two Blu-ray-exclusive featurettes.  Sissy Spacek and Mary Steenburgen also star.



The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Streets comes from a good print, but the CinemaScope film with Rank Color is just too soft here throughout.  However, the cinematography by Director of Photography Christopher Challis, B.S.C., shows a solid command of the scope frame early on in ways we still do not see today lifting it from a mere stage (or staged) drama look or low-budget gritty drama.  Yet he manages to keep it gritty and that is impressive when you consider he has lensed such smooth A-level product like Arabesque, A Shot In The Dark, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, The Mirror Crack’d, Evil Under The Sun and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Help is softer than expected throughout and its anamorphically enhanced DVD is shockingly as soft as the film from 50 years earlier.


The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Help is towards the front speakers, but this is recorded well enough if not spectacularly so.  The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD version is weaker still.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Streets is the most-aged of all of course, yet it is nicely cleaned up and has some moments that put it on par with The Help DVD.  Hope VCI does a Streets Blu-ray sometime.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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