Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Burgess Meredith, Margo, Eduardo Ciannelli, Maurice Moscovitch, Paul Guilfoyle
Director: Alfred Santell
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
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Tight melodrama of betrayal and revenge.
A. Andersen | Bellows Falls, VT USA | 07/29/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maxwell Anderson's classic play is reduced to a 77 minute playing time but is one of the tightest, tensest films to come out of the early talkie period. Acting ranges from excellent to outstanding (Meredith recreates his stage role). Although the film earned Oscar noms for Art Direction and Score - deserved, it excels most in black and white cinematography and editing. An excellent little film and one of the best of the early talkie era - it bespeaks eloquently of what was yet to come in film noir."
Steven Hellerstedt | 09/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Maxwell Anderson's WINTERSET was a popular and critically acclaimed stage play in 1935. In fact, it won the first New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. In 1936 it was made into a movie featuring the young stage actor who'd played the part on Broadway - and for whom Anderson wrote the part - Burgess Meredith. Internet sources have it that the movie was a box office dud. That the film was allowed to enter into the public domain and has been issued by Alpha/Gotham Distributing, a company that specializes in orphaned p.d. titles at a discount price, probably tells us all we need to know about WINTERSET, the movie.
Or maybe not. Drawing inspiration from the (then) current Sacco-Vanzetti murder case while employing both a social conscious approach and a mixture of high-toned verse and street slang, Anderson's play is about a young man's, Mio Romagna, search for the men responsible for the trial, conviction, and execution of his father for a crime he didn't commit. Thankfully, a lot of the high-toned stuff, along with the downbeat ending, was chucked when it came time to write the screenplay. The harsh Depression-era conditions of poverty and hunger, ratty apartments and soup lines, aren't disguised, but they aren't played up, either. Still, there's an underlying sense of a desperation born of need here that may account in part for the audiences' initial rejection. Heck, even Edgar G. Robinson got to live like a swell for a scene or two before whatever movie he was playing a gangster in flung him back into the gutter. Add to the debit side of the ledger the fact that Meredith's Broadway co-star, Margo, reprises her role here as well. Grubby realism, two good young stars who unfortunately aren't all that physically attractive (by Hollywood standards), and a non-traditional story (does Mio chase these men for vengeance sake? to vindicate his father's memory?) aren't the traditional ingredients for box office success, or even respectability.
And yet... WINTERSET is a very, very good movie. Meredith was familiar enough with the Mio character to wear it like a second skin. Perry Ferguson (Art Direction) and Nathaniel Shilkret (Music Score) were both nominated for Academy Awards. Ferguson, along with cinematographer J. Peverell Marley, use clever lighting, camera placement, and compelling set dressing to brilliantly disguise the fact that almost the whole movie takes place on two sets. Marley did win an award that year from the Venice Film Festival, but that he wasn't nominated for an Oscar is an embarrassment. I really didn't know what to expect when I popped this one into the dvd player, although I was ready for something pretty dreadful. I was wrong. Beautifully acted, unpredictable and thought provoking, WINTERSET is one of the better movies I've watched in a long time. A very strong recommendation for this one.
Early gothic/noir sets the standard for future films.
J. Kara Russell | Hollywood - the cinderblock Industrial cubicle | 07/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Despite having read the liner notes, I thought from the publicity artwork that WINTERSET would be something gothic. It is gothic, in its bleakness, but is squarely centered in the Depression era of the United States. It was completely of it's time, and considering that the film was adapted from the Broadway play, it must have been daring, with sub themes of socialism and police corruption. (The play was by Maxwell Anderson, who wrote KEY LARGO and THE BAD SEED.) Perhaps that contributed to the film receiving two Academy Award nominations.
This is the story of Mio (Bartholomio - a young, dewy Burgess Merideth) trying to clear his father's name. In the first scenes, his namesake Father, played with riveting stillness by the painfully thin John Carradine, was accused of murder he did not commit, given no defense, and put to death. Years later, his son goes to the slums of New York to try to find out the truth.
I had to remind myself that this was made in 1936, so it is still very early in the talkies. The sets are a wonderful blend of realism and expressionism (similar to the famous stage sets of Arthur Miller's A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE), giving this a gothic noir flavor. Rain is often used as a "purifier" in stage and film, but here it is effectively used to create an oppressive humidity, a torrent of sludge. It is clear that film noir, Orson Wells, and THE THIRD MAN's Director Carol Reed all owe a debt to early films like this. The set elements are all here in tight proximity, the stone, the shadowed doorways, the waterways.
In fact, one irony is that one of the lead actors does look very much like Orson Wells. He plays the brother of Mariama (played by Margot, who is probably best known as the duplicitous woman in Capra's LOST HORIZON). Margot's transition to film is not as ideal as Merideth's, her style is more of the old school careful vocal production that may be the product of overcoming an accent. But she looks luminous and innocent, and fills the screen with a simple hopefulness at odds with the dark surroundings. The villain of the piece is simply fantastic... completely believably sociopathic without any extravagant ticks or frothing at the mouth.
This is pre-method-acting, but that spare realism is all here, especially in the performances of Carradine and Merideth. This entire film holds up as a moment of history - of social themes and thought of that day that still resonate. The Broadway cast seems to have been lifted intact (which should be a lesson to modern filmmakers to use stage actors instead of vice-verse). There are one or two flowery monologues, but for the most part, the transition from stage to film goes very well, and the story and script are spare and universal enough to stand the test of time well. This is a fascinating moment of film history which has -luckily - made its way to DVD.