The Anniversary (1967/Hammer)
Sound: C+ Extras: B- Film: B-
After Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) became
a huge hit for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, both actresses though it would
revive their careers outright. Instead,
they found themselves in the Horror genre and a cycle of thrillers with Classic
Hollywood actors (especially female) resulted, including Hush, Hush Sweet
Charlotte (1965, reviewed elsewhere on this site) that had Davis but not
Crawford, as she bowed out at the last minute.
Davis also became the larger beneficiary of the hit, continuing in the
genre longer and Roy Ward Baker’s The Anniversary (1967) was one of
Davis had already made The Nanny (1965) in England
for the Hammer Studios as they tried to expand outside of the monster/creature
films that put them on the map. The
company made the first full color Frankenstein and Dracula films and both were
written by the great James Sangster, who also wrote The Nanny and once
again was back writing The Anniversary.
Released by 20th Century Fox in 1968 and based on the Bill
MacIlwriath’s play, Davis is an eyepatch-wearing mother and matriarch with
three boys who are grown men, but not as grown as they should be. Her husband has been dead for years, but she
pushes them into getting together with her for her 40th wedding
anniversary as if he were alive.
She also talks to a shrine she has made to him as if he
were either alive somewhere else or it were a gateway to another world, but the
real key to Davis’ performance is that she knows that she is doing an extremely
demented version of her work in All About Eve (1950) as if it were the
return of the repressed. That
repression extends to her in real life, her persona, her career and the
just-crumbling structure of the old studio system itself. That it resurfaces in a British film,
especially from its most famous Horror studio is all the more ironic.
Rude with class at the outset, Mrs. Taggart (Davis) is the
kind of woman who has a mind that if any kind of complement entered it, it
would die of loneliness. Besides the
usual (and even tired) Freudian complications, she is determined to challenge
all newcomers. Sangster wrote a solid
adaptation that no matter how far Davis went, this most extravagant of true
dark comedies offered more than enough to back Davis’ profound talents. Baker is one of the all-time great British
Gentleman directors and had worked with Davis before. The experience pays off as they are on the same page and this
little gem is finally out on DVD for everyone to enjoy. The message of this film, never
underestimate what a great actress Davis was.
While others were trying to imitate Baby Jane, she was going into
the next potentially interesting project.
The Anniversary is definitely worth your time.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image shows its age
somewhat, but was shot very well by the great cinematographer Harry
Waxman. Color is usually consistent,
but detail can be more of a problem in spots.
The Christopher Neame/Reece Pemberton Production Design is also
distinctive, as is expected from Hammer productions of the time. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is fine for its
age, with dialogue that is clear and distinctive enough for its age. Extras include original trailer and TV spot
to promote the film, text on the cats and crew, stills section with poster art
and stills and Perry Martin hosting another solid audio commentary by Baker and
Sangster. Anchor Bay continues its
Hammer releases with a new source and let’s hope we see more good product like
- Nicholas Sheffo