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Matt Hough

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With Bette Davis at the zenith of her career, Errol Flynn in solid form, and a wondrous collection of Hollywood character actors in support, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex emerges as one of the crown jewels of that magical moviemaking year: 1939.



The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)



Released: 11 Nov 1939
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 106 min




Director: Michael Curtiz
Genre: Biography, Drama, History, Romance



Cast: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Donald Crisp
Writer(s): Norman Reilly Raine (screen play), Æneas MacKenzie (screen play), Maxwell Anderson (from the stage play by)



Plot: A depiction of the love/hate relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex.



IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: N/A...

Continue reading...


 

RobertMG

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Great review Matt, you mention the CLASSIC Warner sound - I remember Selznick wanted to know how the Warner Bros got their films to have those iconic soundtracks and he found out that their engineers recorded the music etc with the tech setting being set on full blast basically for recording levels.
 
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benbess

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Matt H. writes in his excellent review:

"....Screenwriters Norman Reilly Raine and Aeneas MacKenzie have retained some but not all of the blank verse from Maxwell Anderson’s stage play, and many will likely find the film overly talky without benefit of many scenes shot outside the principal palace grounds even if the talk is filled with witty repartee delivered by experts. To his credit, director Michael Curtiz directs these dramatic scenes with great smoothness (the huge and cumbersome Technicolor camera glides over the enormous sets of the queen’s court with amazing grace), and he does his best to imbue the battle scenes in Ireland with some tight pacing and action (though they’re shot on interior soundstages themselves). It’s the colorful court of Elizabeth, however, that most catches our eye with multi-colored pennants and tapestries on the walls and the glorious Orry-Kelly costumes dazzling from beginning to end....

....Errol Flynn was not Davis’ choice for Essex (Laurence Olivier was her selection, but he was busy with Wuthering Heights), but he acquits himself well: certainly his stunning looks and courtly manner were suitable for the role, and he handles the dialogue quite well if less theatrically than his co-star. Donald Crisp is subdued and faithful as Essex’s tutor and loyal friend Francis Bacon while Henry Daniell and Vincent Price are as entertainingly calculating as one would expect as members of the court sworn to keep Essex from the throne. Olivia de Havilland, though she plays it well, is wasted in the small role of the jealous Lady Penelope Gray (in a song she sings to defy the queen, she’s dubbed by Faith Kruger), but it’s fun to see the incredibly young Nanette Fabray as a lady in waiting pining for her love lost to the Irish wars. And though he has only one scene, Alan Hale is marvelous as the hearty Earl of Tyrone who bests the cocky Essex and yet comes to him jovially and full of good spirits."



My daughter herself picked out this movie from a stack of blu-rays that I got out for possible watching. Given that all the other movies were from the last 30 years it was impressive to me that she picked out this one from 1939. Two things probably counted in its favor—she had listened with me on car rides to and from her college parts of the autobiography that Bette Davis wrote in the early 1960s, plus I told her that the restoration was spectacular. As Matt H. writes: "From the opening credits whose clarity, sharpness, and color are mind-boggling, this is one sensational transfer."

Still, even though I've introduced the next generation in our house to classic movies from time to time, I worried how a 20-year old today who seems most interested in horror movies would respond to this movie from 1939, but somewhat to my surprise she seemed interested throughout, and praised the performance by Bette Davis, the costume designs, and the amazing clarity and vivid colors of the movie. I told her the story about the slap, which amused and horrified her.

Anyway, my third time watching this movie, and my second time with this new blu-ray, I'm liking it more and more, and I think it might even be getting into my top 5 favorite movies from 1939.

Apparently Curtiz brought in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex for just slightly more than $1 million back in 1939, and it seems like it's all up there on the screen—and in fact I was guessing it was a more expensive movie. Seems like WB was trying to equal the glamour of MGM. When I was a kid there was a TV station that ran series of old movies that they called "The Million Dollar Movie." I asked my Mom at age 8 or whatever whether movies really would cost a million dollars, thinking they'd just made that up, and I think she said something like yes, I do think they sometimes cost that, and sometimes even more. Adjusted for inflation this movie would be at least $20 million in today's money, but really the talents in front of and behind the camera were unique to that era, making this movie all the more special.

The jaw-dropping quality of this restoration does make me wonder if Warner Archive at some point is going to consider remastering some of their older blu-rays from three-strip Technicolor. Specifically I'm thinking about She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Quo Vadis, Dodge City, etc. Of course that would depend on the original negatives surviving. And I suppose first it's best to get through the worthy movies that haven't yet had a blu-ray release before considering remastering earlier titles.

In their library they do have another three-strip Technicolor movie about Queen Elizabeth, Young Bess, that seems like it would be worthy of a blu-ray, esp. if the negative survives. I've never seen it, but it sounds good. Great cast.


young bess.jpeg
 

Matt Hough

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I would love a Blu-ray of Young Bess. Historical accuracy may not reach any heights, but it's an entertaining flick for sure.
 

Robert Harris

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Matt H. writes in his excellent review:

"....Screenwriters Norman Reilly Raine and Aeneas MacKenzie have retained some but not all of the blank verse from Maxwell Anderson’s stage play, and many will likely find the film overly talky without benefit of many scenes shot outside the principal palace grounds even if the talk is filled with witty repartee delivered by experts. To his credit, director Michael Curtiz directs these dramatic scenes with great smoothness (the huge and cumbersome Technicolor camera glides over the enormous sets of the queen’s court with amazing grace), and he does his best to imbue the battle scenes in Ireland with some tight pacing and action (though they’re shot on interior soundstages themselves). It’s the colorful court of Elizabeth, however, that most catches our eye with multi-colored pennants and tapestries on the walls and the glorious Orry-Kelly costumes dazzling from beginning to end....

....Errol Flynn was not Davis’ choice for Essex (Laurence Olivier was her selection, but he was busy with Wuthering Heights), but he acquits himself well: certainly his stunning looks and courtly manner were suitable for the role, and he handles the dialogue quite well if less theatrically than his co-star. Donald Crisp is subdued and faithful as Essex’s tutor and loyal friend Francis Bacon while Henry Daniell and Vincent Price are as entertainingly calculating as one would expect as members of the court sworn to keep Essex from the throne. Olivia de Havilland, though she plays it well, is wasted in the small role of the jealous Lady Penelope Gray (in a song she sings to defy the queen, she’s dubbed by Faith Kruger), but it’s fun to see the incredibly young Nanette Fabray as a lady in waiting pining for her love lost to the Irish wars. And though he has only one scene, Alan Hale is marvelous as the hearty Earl of Tyrone who bests the cocky Essex and yet comes to him jovially and full of good spirits."



My daughter herself picked out this movie from a stack of blu-rays that I got out for possible watching. Given that all the other movies were from the last 30 years it was impressive to me that she picked out this one from 1939. Two things probably counted in its favor—she had listened with me on car rides to and from her college parts of the autobiography that Bette Davis wrote in the early 1960s, plus I told her that the restoration was spectacular. As Matt H. writes: "From the opening credits whose clarity, sharpness, and color are mind-boggling, this is one sensational transfer."

Still, even though I've introduced the next generation in our house to classic movies from time to time, I worried how a 20-year old today who seems most interested in horror movies would respond to this movie from 1939, but somewhat to my surprise she seemed interested throughout, and praised the performance by Bette Davis, the costume designs, and the amazing clarity and vivid colors of the movie. I told her the story about the slap, which amused and horrified her.

Anyway, my third time watching this movie, and my second time with this new blu-ray, I'm liking it more and more, and I think it might even be getting into my top 5 favorite movies from 1939.

Apparently Curtiz brought in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex for just slightly more than $1 million back in 1939, and it seems like it's all up there on the screen—and in fact I was guessing it was a more expensive movie. Seems like WB was trying to equal the glamour of MGM. When I was a kid there was a TV station that ran series of old movies that they called "The Million Dollar Movie." I asked my Mom at age 8 or whatever whether movies really would cost a million dollars, thinking they'd just made that up, and I think she said something like yes, I do think they sometimes cost that, and sometimes even more. Adjusted for inflation this movie would be at least $20 million in today's money, but really the talents in front of and behind the camera were unique to that era, making this movie all the more special.

The jaw-dropping quality of this restoration does make me wonder if Warner Archive at some point is going to consider remastering some of their older blu-rays from three-strip Technicolor. Specifically I'm thinking about She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Quo Vadis, Dodge City, etc. Of course that would depend on the original negatives surviving. And I suppose first it's best to get through the worthy movies that haven't yet had a blu-ray release before considering remastering earlier titles.

In their library they do have another three-strip Technicolor movie about Queen Elizabeth, Young Bess, that seems like it would be worthy of a blu-ray, esp. if the negative survives. I've never seen it, but it sounds good. Great cast.


View attachment 123948
Bess should be fine. Safety film.
 

benbess

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The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is currently $12.99 at Amazon. I think this is one of the best films of 1939. As the review here says the restoration from the three-strip Technicolor negative is spectacular.

This movie has started me on a whole binge of watching dramatizations of Queen Elizabeth I, including the Emmy-winning performance of Glenda Jackson in the BBC miniseries from 1971, Helen Mirren in the HBO miniseries from 2005, as well as a re-watch of the Cate Blanchett movies. It's been a Queen Elizabeth I OD lol! I've also been listening to an audiobook history of the era. Anyway, this movie stands up with the best of them from my pov.


e and e poster.jpeg
 
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marcco00

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same here!! i've collected every Elizabeth I drama i could find over the years, including 'Elizabeth the Queen' w Judith Anderson and Charlton Heston from 1968 (on vhs).

for some reason i'm in no rush for the 2018 'Mary Queen of Scots' film, i guess i'm so enamored with the Glenda Jackson/Vanessa Redgrave version and don't think it can be improved upon.
 

benbess

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How is the Judith Anderson version of Elizabeth I? That's very rare.

So far of the ones I've watched the Glenda Jackson one seems like it's the most historically accurate and complete.

I suppose there have been enough versions of Elizabeth I, but I wonder what the team behind The Crown could do with her story today. There's enough drama for at least three seasons, I think.
 

Matt Hough

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Probably not in my lifetime will any actress be able to surpass what Glenda Jackson accomplished in her six-episode triumph as Elizabeth I in Elizabeth R. Every one of the six programs is a masterful film on its own and collectively show the queen from her teens to her death. Amazing accomplishment! The two Emmys she won were most deserved (one as Best Actress in a Drama Series; the other for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Drama Program for "Shadow in the Sun," the third of the six episodes).
 

marcco00

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Yes that Glenda Jackson performance is beyond perfection, it got me as a kid and i followed all Tudor era movies ever since!

Elizabeth the Queen is very good, it's the same Maxwell Anderson play this Davis film is based on. Anderson is excellent of course as Elizabeth and her last line in the play is very sad, touching. Charlton though is way to old to play Essex, he looks to be the same age as Elizabeth. still, well acted all around. a Hallmark tv presentation if i remember right.
 

benbess

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Probably not in my lifetime will any actress be able to surpass what Glenda Jackson accomplished in her six-episode triumph as Elizabeth I in Elizabeth R. Every one of the six programs is a masterful film on its own and collectively show the queen from her teens to her death. Amazing accomplishment! The two Emmys she won were most deserved (one as Best Actress in a Drama Series; the other for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Drama Program for "Shadow in the Sun," the third of the six episodes).

Yes, Glenda Jackson gives a powerful and impressive performance: Mercurial and majestic, alternately kind and vindictive, and above all strangely convincing from youth to old age. I'm on episode five of six now, and each one is like a polished play or mini-movie. The production values are often modest, like other BBC productions of the era, but the screenplay and the acting pull it through.

It looks to my eyes like this 1971 BBC show was mostly recorded on videotape, which is unfortunate. Unlike The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, which has spectacular clarity and colors, this is something of a blurry mess—and with no 35mm original source to go to to make it look better.

elizabeth r.jpg
glenda jackson.jpeg
 
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Matt Hough

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Yes, the mostly studio-shot scenes are on videotape, and when they step outside, it looks to be film. It always struck me as a strange amalgamation of the two mediums.

I couldn't count how many times I've watched Elizabeth R. My favorites are "The Lion's Cub" and "Horrible Conspiracies."
 

David_B_K

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Sometimes those old BBC programmes look a smidgen better if you can get the original Region 2 PAL versions. The conversion to NTSC adds a bit of fuzziness to the proceedings (at least it did to The Shakespeare Plays).
 

benbess

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Since I was a kid, I have been so often impressed with what British writing and acting talent can do. In 1977, when I was 12, I watched enraptured as "I, Claudius" on Masterpiece Theater (also from videotape) took me away to a world of such political backstabbing and madness, and yet with flashes of humanity through Derek Jacobi's brilliant performance, as well as those of the other players (including John Hurt, Sian Philips, Brian Blessed, etc.). And before and after each episode I hung on every word from Alastair Cooke, whose brief talks had such empathy, intelligence, grace, and yet world-weariness. I haven't seen those intros and outros since then, and I can't find them online. But here's one he did for another show. I was a regular watcher of the BBC through Masterpiece theater after that, usually watching with my dear mother, and those are fond memories for me. I obviously missed Elizabeth R. back in 1971, which was before I was interested in such shows, but I'm glad I'm discovering it now.




i claudius.jpg
 
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Matt Hough

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Yes, I, Claudius was appointment television for much of the country when it aired here. I can remember talking about it for weeks at work on Monday after each Sunday airing. Another masterpiece that I've watched through many, many times.
 

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