The Sound and the Fury (Blu-ray)
Directed by Martin Ritt
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 115 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo English
MSRP: $ 29.98
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Review Date: September 5, 2012
The Compson family, once the cream of the society in Jefferson, Mississippi, has degenerated over the years into a family that’s more often avoided rather than celebrated. With an alcoholic brother Howard (John Beal), a nymphomaniac sister Caddy (Margaret Leighton) and her wild child teenaged daughter Quentin (Joanne Woodward), a mute idiot brother Benjy (Jack Warden), and the entire brood under the strong-willed and near-martinet thumb of stepson Jason (Yul Brynner), the Compsons live in decaying splendor but are all equally unhappy. When Caddy returns to the homestead after years of exile, it triggers in Quentin a desire to begin having some real life experiences, and she’s particularly taken with carny Charlie Busch (Stuart Whitman). But does he love her or only want to use her for sex and money? Jason makes it his business to find out.
Though the screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. does include incidents and characters from Faulkner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (which really couldn’t have been filmed with its rambling stream of consciousness and incest and suicide which would have run right up against the Production Code which was still being enforced), the writers actually seem to have taken borrowings from the writings of Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, William Inge, and Faulkner in coming up with their characters’ personalities and storylines. And every one of them, even the ones like Jason and Quentin who receive the lion’s share of emphasis, would all have benefited from much more development. What’s here seems to only irritatingly skim the surface of their complexities. For example, the family housekeeper Dilsey (Ethel Waters) is a warm and rich creation, but she completely disappears from the middle chunk of the movie, her reasonable common sense approach to life abandoned when every one of the members of the family could most use it. Martin Ritt doesn’t milk much of the southern atmosphere inherent in the drama either: a trip to a black church should have been much more edifying than its few precious minutes, and the film just doesn’t ignite in the way that A Streetcar Named Desire, A Member of the Wedding, or even The Long Hot Summer did.
The two central roles are both miscast. Despite their exceptional talent, Yul Brynner doesn’t have an ounce of the South about him (a couple of feeble attempts at a southern accent don’t cut it even with the flimsy explanation of his coming from the “bayou” originally), and Joanne Woodward is at least a decade too old for the role she’s playing (she was 29 at the time of the film’s release). Both are powerful actors and give these underdeveloped roles their all, but one can see the wheels turning especially in Woodward’s performance. Margaret Leighton does rather a bit better holding on to her southern accent as the Blanche Dubois-lite Caddy, but she, too, falls victim to a role conceived in clichés and ill-nourished dramatically. Stuart Whitman has all the right moves and oily slickness as the circus roustabout Charlie while Françoise Rosay as Jason’s annoyingly haughty, self-pitying mother has a couple of really showy scenes as a more authentic Cajun than Brynner. The film’s best performance is by Ethel Waters whose Dilsey gives a firm but kind soulfulness to her every utterance and fashions a character who’s infinitely more interesting than any of the leading players. Jack Warden has a spotlight moment or two as the idiot Benjy, and John Beal and Albert Dekker (as a department store owner) also get a scene or two to impart some bits of character information.
The film’s 2.35:1 original Cinemascope aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is mostly excellent throughout with only an occasional long shot a trifle less accurate. Color saturation levels are very good, but there are occasional color fluctuations that make flesh tones sometimes seem a bit hotter in some scenes than in others. Black levels are good but not outstanding, and there is one big white speck that flashes by momentarily. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix makes for an involving listening experience. Alex North’s wonderfully nuanced score gets a nice spread and features excellent fidelity, and the dialogue has been well recorded even if ADR reveals itself somewhat distractingly on occasion. There are no age-related aural artifacts that stand out like pops or crackle.
The disc offers Alex North’s excellent music as an isolated score track presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo.
The enclosed six-page booklet contains the usual great array of stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian and critic Julie Kirgo’s enlightening look at the movie.
3/5 (not an average)
The Sound and the Fury is much less well known than its predecessor The Long Hot Summer, and it’s a more flawed film to be sure, but the Twilight Time release of this 1950s southern melodrama gives it its best possible chance at rediscovery. Those interested in experiencing it should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if one of its 3,000 only copies is still available. They can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.