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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Biopic > Politics > France > Literature > Melodrama > School > Crime > British > Western > Cambodia > Life Of Emile Zola (1937*)/Little Women (1933/RKO*)/Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray)/Westward The Women (1951/MGM/*all Warner Archive Blu-ray)/White Building (2013/KimStim DVD)

Life Of Emile Zola (1937*)/Little Women (1933/RKO*)/Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971/MVD/Arrow Blu-ray)/Westward The Women (1951/MGM/*all Warner Archive Blu-ray)/White Building (2013/KimStim DVD)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Life Of Emile Zola, Little Women (1933) and Westward The Women Blu-rays are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Now for upgrades to four notable dramas and a recent one to know about....

William Dieterle's The Life Of Emile Zola (1937) delivered Warner Bros. their first best Picture Oscar and was a biopic of the title Frenchman (the amazing Paul Muni) and his role in enlightening his country as a provocative writer, especially in the face of persecution and anti-Semitism in regards to the infamous 'Dreyfus Affair' that haunts the country's history to this day. Like the trouble with most Hollywood biopics, it tends to make the man a bit too much saintly, but there is more than enough drama here that it does not skip the important points of the events.

Of course, the Hollywood Code had kicked in by this point, so they had to dance around a few things, but I remain impressed at what they pulled off here in what is still an early sound film. The supporting cast includes Joseph Schildkraut as Captain Alfred Dreyfus, which won him a Supporting actor Oscar, joined by Gale Sondergaard, Donald Crisp, Gloria Holden, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Henry O'Neill, Morris Carnovsky, Ralph Morgan, Montagu Love, Dickie Moore, Florence Roberts, Frank Sheridan, Grant Mitchell, Robert Warwick, Gilbert Emery, Walter Kingsford, and Louis Calhern, in a nice change of pace from the Westerns he made then. Richard Dreyfus did a film on this recently and they make a solid double feature. Thanks to warner Archive, another gem saved!

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer, a Lux Radio Theater radio version of the film from 5/9/39 and two classic Warner Bros. live action shorts: Mal Hallett and His Orchestra and Taking The Count.

George Cukor's Little Women (1933) was an early triumph of literary adaptation, no matter what the screenplay did or did not retain from the novel, led by Katharine Hepburn in early great form, joined by Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, Frances Dee, Paul Lukas, Henry Stephens, Douglass Montgomery and Edna Mae Oliver. If you are not familiar with the storyline, you can check out my coverage of a more recent version in the link a little down the page, but it was always a respected, effective film of the book and seeing it for the first time in eons, it remains so. Cukor knew what he was doing and with such a solid cast, it can hold its own against any adaption of the book or any similar literary storyline.

Of course, it helped establish Hepburn further as one of the greatest actresses of all time, though she would temporarily be dubbed 'box office poison' in a few years (a separate essay, but some of that was political) and after her comeback, she was back to stay and become the legend she still is today. Nice to see it get restored so well.

Extras include an audio-only Scoring Stage Suite of Recordings, Original Theatrical Trailer, two live action warner shorts with Jack Haley (Salt Water Daffy and In The Dough) and two classic black and white warner animated shorts (I Like Mountain Music and The Organ Grinder; all four with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound,) though sadly no teaser or trailer of any kind.

For one of the other, better feature film adaptions of the classic novel, try the underrated 2019 Greta Gerwig version in our Blu-ray review of it at this link:


John Mackenzie's Unman, Wittering and Zigo (1971) is a dark British film about a school where the students are a little more than out of control and in sinister ways, though on the surface, maybe not as bad at first. A new optimistic teacher (David Hemmings, who was on a roll at the time) gets his new class, but the students are acting a little more than just disobedient show-offs. Something bad has happened there at the school recently, but he has arrived after this happens. From here, he finds complacency and worse.

I will not get too much into the film, though it operates in parts like a horror film, but it is more of a drama with some sad, ugly things to say. It was also the peak of the British cinema 'Angry Young Man' cycle along with Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, issued the same year, and plays like an interesting (if non Science Fiction) flipside of the film. Douglas Wilmer, Carolyn Seymour, future star Michael Kitchen (as one of the students) and a solid cast of new young unknowns are very convincing. Though it might be hard for some to handle, it is definitely worth a look for grown-up, mature viewers and is at least a minor classic in the U.K..

Extras are many and include a solid, brand new feature length audio commentary by Sean Hogan and Kim Newman

  • Brand new appreciation by critic, broadcaster and cultural historian Matthew Sweet

  • Unman, Terhew, Lipstrob and Mrs Ebony, featurette with cast members Michael Howe, Michael Cashman, James Wardroper and Carolyn Seymour looking back at the production

  • The original 1958 recording of Giles Cooper's radio play

  • Original trailer

  • Image gallery

  • Double sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Eric Adrian Lee

  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Eric Adrian Lee

  • and an illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kevin Lyons and Oliver Wake.

William A. Wellman's Westward The Women (1951) is based on a story originally written by Frank Capra, though it landed up with a more dramatic filmmaker, who was more a journeyman than Capra's feel-good semi-autuer status. Thus, the incompatibility (despite any alterations on the set or rewrites) the film received and the fact it has more women in it than almost any western you can name form then or now to date makes this an odd film in the genre and beyond.

A guide is escorting a group of women to a settlement where they can forge a future, but with plenty of most-male competition. No Salt Of The Earth or Heaven's Gate will this be, with more humor than it needed, but it is made by the top Hollywood movie studio of the time (MGM) and that was as male-dominated as any of them.

Now they have a solid cast with the likes of Denise Darcel in a lead role that did not launch her career as it might have, joined by Robert Taylor, Hope Emerson, Beverly Dennis, Julie Bishop, Lenore Lonergan, Marilyn Erskine, Renata Vanni, Henry Nakamura (though his use as comic relief is an issue here) and John McIntyre. Yes, we did not hear from most of them in later films, but they are good here. Too bad the film cannot decide if it wants to be a comedy, drama, both or a not-so-funny comedy where the humor is at the wrong kind of expense of the characters.

The result is an oddball film you should see if you are curious and it has its fans, but only those and hardcore Western fans should bother. The humor now comes across as a bad TV sitcom and other aspects have not aged well, despite Wellman's talents. He co-wrote the original A Star Is Born and has a decent track record with women, but even he could not totally salvage what we get here. Still, it gas been saved, restored and this is (outside of a rare mint-condition or good 35mm or 16mm film print) the best way to see the film.

Extras include a feature length audio commentary track by film scholar Scott Eyman very much worth your time, Original Theatrical Trailer, live-action featurette Challenge Of The Wilderness about how heard it is to shoot films like this one, two classic MGM Technicolor Tom & Jerry cartoons (Texas Tom and The Duck Doctor, albeit with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound, they look great) and a Lux Radio Theater radio version of the film from 12/29/52 with Robert Taylor.

Finally, the one relatively new film here, Kavich Neang's White Building (2021) has a young man with dreams of being a successful singer/dancer, but a crisis in the apartment building he lives in has surfaced and an odd one indeed. Developers want to offer each resident a decent per-square-foot money amount for their places, but even at that price, many are not sure they want to go at all. They could use the money, but even if they could go somewhere else, maybe some like it the way it is and just want peace. In the background, the genocide that followed the Vietnam conflict in the 1970s does haunt this a bit, though this is not a situation exclusive to any single democratic country. Guess eminent domain is not happening in Cambodia at this time, apparently.

I won't say more, expect to say we have see some of the things here before, but it also has some good moments and those interested should definitely take a look at it.

An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers on all three Warner Archive Blu-rays can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film even when we get some unexpected softness in sections. This is as good as I have ever seen them, but never saw any of them on 35mm or even 16mm film, but there has been some serious restoration work here without compromises. Some shots look better than others and some softness is actually from style choices. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes on all three films from their original theatrical monophonic presentations actually sound better than you might expect and I cannot imagine them sounding any better than this going forward, so that makes up for some image limits. Glad these got the attention they all deserved.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Zigo can also show the age of the materials used, but is the best-looking of all the films we are covering, with solid color, though a little on the darker side being it is a drama, was shot in the U.K. and is a rare film to have its lab work done by the Humphries laboratory in the U.K. Known for developing all kinds of still film and home movie film (Ilford and Ferrania included,) they delivered a professional job that has held up nicely. Director of Photography Geoffrey Unsworth, B.S.C., of 300 Spartans, World Of Suzie Wong, Becket, Cabaret, Cromwell, Murder On The Orient Express (1974), Superman: The Movie, Superman II and 2001: A Space Odyssey fame delivers some of his most important and darkest work here. However, the PCM 1.0 Mono on the disc is a little limiting and I wish this was 2.0 Mono instead. It would also help the dialogue and for some clarify the accents, though I am more used to them than most.

Finally, the anamorphically enhanced 1.66 X 1 image on Building is a little softer than I would have liked, even though we get some nice shots with nice color, all could have worked out better if clearer. The lossy Cambodian Dolby Digital 5.1 is not too bad, though a few moments are slightly off. Wonder if a Blu-ray would have made this work better.

To order The Life Of Emile Zola, Little Women (1933) and/or Westward The Women Warner Archive Blu-rays, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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