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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > WWII > Politics > Genocide > Latvia > Child Endangerment > Coup > Nazis > Axis > Murder > Biopic > Gover > Chronicles Of Melanie (2018*)/Mellow Mud (2016*)/Mortal Storm (1940/MGM**)/The President (2014/*all Corinth DVDs)/Sunrise At Campobello (1960**)/Tennessee Johnson (1942/MGM/**all Warner Archive Blu-ra

Chronicles Of Melanie (2018*)/Mellow Mud (2016*)/Mortal Storm (1940/MGM**)/The President (2014/*all Corinth DVDs)/Sunrise At Campobello (1960**)/Tennessee Johnson (1942/MGM/**all Warner Archive Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Mortal Storm, Sunrise At Campobello and Tennessee Johnson Blu-rays are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Despite the pandemic, it is still awards season of some kind and that means more dramas on home video, even if they are all older ones in this case, they are all worth knowing about...

We start with a very interesting film, Viestur Kairish's The Chronicles Of Melanie (2018) about the title character (Sabine Tomoteo) being pushed out of her home and community in Latvia in June of 1941 as WWII escalates. You may know the many comments about the USSR/Soviet Union/Russia sending people to Siberia, with the implication that it is an extremely cold place and people are sent there for the worst possible reasons. This film actually, accurately, portrays the nightmare this really is.

The real life Melanie eventually wrote a book about this banishment, which left here there for 16 years (!!!) and this film sometimes reminded me of a Terrence Mallick film in the best way. Though some spots did not work as well as others, this was often effective, always consistent and may cover some ground we've seen before, but is good for what we get. The acting is fine and locales convincing. Those interested will not be too disappointed.

There are no extras.

Next up is a film with an odd title, but it is also not bad. Renars Vimba's Mellow Mud (2016) may remind one of Roeg's Walkabout (reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) as a 17-year-old gal and her younger brother are abandoned by their parents and have to fend for themselves. She is in school and is trying to win a trip to London, so it becomes more stark and even ironic, then another relative disappears, so this is almost a mystery of some sort.

Yet, it is really a portrait of how society makes children too disposable and how child labor laws did not stop this, nor did other laws that were intended to protect children. They do have a social worker they also deal with, but these many side events do not always lead to anything. This does not necessarily mean we get missed opportunities here, but I did not think the film added up in an even abstract way to make any points, larger points or work overall. At least it is ambitious and tries something different.

There are no extras.

Frank Borzage's The Mortal Storm (1940) is one of Hollywood's best anti-Nazi, anti-fascist, anti-Axis Powers films as a German family with a fine life is about to have it pulled out from under them and worse as Hitler starts to take power. The script pulls no punches and you even get to see some big stars and familiar faces become Nazis!

Frank Morgan (now best known for The Wizard Of Oz) is the elder of the family, a respected teacher and then everything gets dark. We have no less than Jimmy Stewart, Robert Young, Margaret Sullivan, Robert Stack, Gene Reynolds and Bonita Grandville rounding out the extensive cast. Still with shocking moments and bold criticisms by showing how ugly things got, this film crosses the Hollywood Production Code in some rare ways at the time and rightly so.

As powerful and relevant as ever, the Nazis were furious at the film and banned ALL films from MGM adding to their war on American Studio System (they spend a ton of money developing Agfacolor 35mm negative film to have all the color in one strip of film when that did not exist yet to challenge and surpass legendary U.S. dye-transfer formats like Technicolor and Kodachrome; they failed to conquer the color green before the Allied victory ended their reign of terror) and I was thrilled to see this film again. Especially restored as it is, it is as vivid and powerful as ever. Definitely recommended!

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer, Christmas-themed MGM cartoon Peace On Earth and live-action color short Meet The Fleet.

Moshen Makhmalbaf's The President (2014) is a very interesting tale of going from power and riches to rags as we visit the title character (a dictator, played well by Misha Gomiashvill) and his grandson (Dachi Orvelashvili) have fun ordering all the lights shut down in the entire country without notice late at night, no matter how irresponsible or dangerous. Soon, however, that turns out to be the tip of the iceberg as a coup attempt succeeds and they are on their own with zero resources and thousands who could care less if they die or not.

Now fugitives, the film asks (in its decent 115 minutes) should we have any sympathy for these two and their friends or do they deserve everything they get, even the child? The film is not exactly an empathy test and does not necessarily offer illicit appeals to pity, but it does ask and/or suggest all this and more. Whether it answers some or all possibilities, well.... you'll have to see the film, but it sure is timely.

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer, two Deleted Scenes and a Making Of featurette: Making Of The President.

Vincent J. Donehue's Sunrise At Campobello (1960) is the brainchild of Dory Schary, one time head of RKO Studios (gone by this time) who protected Citizen Kane from destruction, then moved to run MGM and did so very well as they transitioned out of Musicals as the genre was winding down. This was like the many dramas he green-lighted, but in this case, he wrote the play it was based on!

A biopic about the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Ralph Bellamy in a fine turn where he is well cast) how he went from a simple life to one of the most important Presidents of The United States as WWII was approaching and he was one of the best men to meet the challenge and this long 143 minutes tries to show why.

Though it still falls into some traps of the biopic (like portraying the subject as almost saintly, but not as bad as it could have here) and makes certain not-too-subtle appeals to patriotism, this is a smart film that covers the life of a very important man who helped save the free world and 60 years later, is not as well discussed or remembered as he should be. Thus, this is a great time for this restored edition to arrive on Blu-ray.

Besides the attention to period detail and there is some money in the film, it also has a fine supporting cast including Greer Garson, Hume Cronyn, Jean Hagen, Joan Shoemaker and an interesting music score by Franz Waxman. Definitely worth a look, but be sure to be awake enough because it is a long one.

The only extra is the Original Theatrical Trailer.

William Dieterle's Tennessee Johnson (1942) has the always interesting journeyman filmmaker pulling off a decent, if sometimes saintly, biopic of legendary politician Andrew Johnson, played here by Van Heflin. He was Abraham Lincoln's Vice President, then eventually succeeded him after the assassination of Lincoln, only to face impeachment by those who did not want Lincoln's ideas of law, equality and progress, yet he stood up against the worst and this film mostly portrays what happened accurately. Its just not a documentary.

Of course, Heflin was a rising star at MGM and they pulled out all the stops for what they saw as an awards film, especially since Heflin had just won a Best Actor Oscar, so the supporting cast includes Lionel Barrymore (now seen as typecast, thanks in part to the belated success of It's A Wonderful Life, which he made a few years after this film) as his biggest opponent, Ruth Hussey, Regis Toomey, Marjorie Main and other faces you might recognize. Though not a profound biopic, it has its moments and is always, eventually interesting.

Extras include the half-hour radio drama version of the film from 7/5/43 from the Screen Guild series with Gary Cooper and Ruth Hussey, the Original Theatrical Trailer, classic Technicolor Tom & Jerry cartoon Baby Puss and black and white MGM comedy/fantasy short Heavenly Music.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers on Storm and Johnson look great, have been nicely restored and have some depth and detail you might not expect, while the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Sunrise also looks fine and was originally produced and issued in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor. This can look that good much of the time, but not always, yet enough to really enjoy this restoration as well. Yes, the three films can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the films and are more enjoyable than ever. It is also because the theatrical monophonic sound in all three cases has also been restored and cleaned up, presented in all three cases in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes.

As it is the newest of the three films, Sunrise sounds the best, though the other two have their moments, they still show their age sonically.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 black & white image on the Melanie DVD, the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the Mud DVD and the anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on The President DVD are all recent HD productions and look good for their formats, though Melanie has black & white that only looks so authentic. Maybe this format is part of the problem. Save some stylizing, they could not look better in this format and all deserve Blu-ray editions at some point. All three also feature lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes, which disappoints a bit in the 5.1 and 12-track age, but Melanie and President especially suffer by sounding too lite, so be careful of high playback volumes and volume switching.

To order either of the Warner Archive Blu-rays, Mortal Storm, Sunrise At Campobello and/or Tennessee Johnson, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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