A melodrama of epic scope but smaller emotional dynamics, Victor Saville’s Green Dolphin Street displays every bit of its $4 million cost on the screen but shortchanges its audience in believable human interactions and interpersonal developments.
The Production: 3/5
A melodrama of epic scope but smaller emotional dynamics, Victor Saville’s Green Dolphin Street displays every bit of its $4 million cost (in 1947 dollars!) on the screen but shortchanges its audience in believable human interactions and interpersonal developments in telling its familiar love triangle narrative set in faraway New Zealand. This MGM extravaganza was an enormous hit in its day, but the story hasn’t stood the test of time and serves now as an overlong exercise in patience while admittedly impressing the eye and ear with its multitude of indulgences.
The daughters of wealthy shipping magnate Octavius Patourel (Edmund Gwenn), headstrong Marianne (Lana Turner) and retiring Marguerite (Donna Reed), both fall for the same man, swaggering William Ozanne (Richard Hart). Though his heart belongs to Marguerite, through a series of mischances and unfortunate happenstance, Marianne is the one who shows up in Auckland, New Zealand, to marry him when his proposal is offered. His partner in the timber business Timothy Haslam (Van Heflin), who has always carried a torch for Marianne himself though he didn’t have the courage ever to declare his feelings, encourages William to go through with the marriage, and Marianne’s common business sense and uncanny knack for making money brings the partners great fortunes. But the unsettled nature of New Zealand, both in its population and its geography, brings potential ruin to Haslam and Ozanne until Marianne again comes through in a crisis and forges ahead with new plans for them, all the while back home Marguerite must deal with death and disappointment as she searches for meaning in her own life.
Elizabeth Goudge’s novel has been brought to the screen by screenwriter Samson Raphaelson whose many screenplays often made overly melodramatic narratives into something less overripe and fit for general consumption. He doesn’t quite succeed here in fixing the movie’s primary plot twist which thwarts one daughter’s romantic yearnings in favor of her more selfish sister’s whims, and the teary-eyed confessions which drive the film’s last quarter hour don’t manage to wring any tears from viewers’ eyes despite the actors’ best efforts. Worse, director Victor Saville doesn’t manage to sustain emotional interest in these relationships once his primary trump card, a magnificent combination of earthquake and tidal wave (which deservedly won the 1947 Oscar for special effects), has been played. An uprising by the Maori tribe is woefully lacking in suspense, and quite a few voyages between New Zealand and the French isle of St. Pierre take place in 1840 with nary a squall nor typhoon to build some excitement into the narrative. The production design, costumes, and photography are exemplary (witnessed by the film’s additional three Oscar nominations), and the extensive MGM backlot does yeoman service in convincing us of these many exotic locales, but it only adds up to mediocre entertainment with occasional grand flourishes.
Apart from newcomer Richard Hart, who impresses in his gamut of displayed emotions from drunken stupor to earnest adoration as he ages gracefully from madcap youth to settled middle aged, none of the principals seems to gain a pound or age a day in their faces or figures over the span of almost two decades. Lana Turner models a dizzying array of hairstyles and Walter Plunkett gowns, and film sister Donna Reed likewise traverses the disillusionments in her story with nobility and serenity. Van Heflin, second-billed, seems to inhabit the fringes of the story and fades away entirely long before the movie concludes. As usual, MGM has peppered the cast with a stalwart array of its star-laden supporting roster: Frank Morgan as William’s loving father, Gladys Cooper as the sisters’ scheming mother, Dame May Whitty as the understanding Mother Superior, Reginald Owen as a wily sea captain, Edmund Gwenn as the snobbish father of the two sisters, and Angela Lansbury’s real-life mom Moyna MacGill as the Patourel’s helpful housekeeper.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is sterling and details sublime in this transfer, and the grayscale is most handsome with rich, deep black levels and pristine whites. There are no age-related visual problems left to distract the viewer. The movie has been divided into 50 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is solid and authoritative throughout. Dialogue has been recorded superbly and has been combined with surety with Bronislau Kaper’s dynamic score and the wonderfully operational sound effects. There are no problems at all with hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 2/5
Lux Radio Theater (1:00:21): an audio condensation of the story featuring Lana Turner, Van Heflin, and Peter Lawford.
Theatrical Trailer (3:36, HD)
Even with its enormous cost, Victor Saville’s Green Dolphin Street managed to turn a profit for the company, and its enormous scale and outstanding production design is now available for all to see in Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray release. If the dramatic flow of its narrative leaves something to be desired, lovers of the stars or the film won’t be disappointed in this beautiful new disc release.
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