An icon of Golden Age Hollywood, Gary Cooper has become synonymous with the Western, especially with his iconic, Oscar winning performance in High Noon (1952). He got his first big break in the Samuel Goldwyn production of The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), but it was after going over to Paramount Pictures that he had his breakthrough, first with a supporting part in Wings (1927) and then with a leading role in The Virginian (1929), which began the next nearly 20 years of association with the studio; one of his most atypical roles he had during this time was the eponymous Peter Ibbetson. Previously released on DVD as part of The Gary Cooper Collection by Universal, Kino has licensed the movie for its Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 4.5/5
In 19th Century England, architect Peter Ibbetson (Gary Cooper) is haunted by the past in the form of a childhood relationship between him and a girl he knew when he was living with his mother in Paris. When he accepts a job remodeling the stable of the Duke of Towers (John Halliday), he soon realizes that the Duchess – Mary (Ann Harding) – is the girl from his past and that they hold some kind of psychic love connection. This prompts a fatal jealously in the Duke, but nothing – not even jail – can separate Peter and Mary from each other, at least in their dreams…
One of the most underrated romantic dramas of the 1930’s, Peter Ibbetson weaves a hypnotic spell over those who see it. Paramount had previously adapted George Du Maurier’s 1891 novel as the 1921 movie Forever (starring Wallace Reid, but now – unfortunately – a lost film), but under the direction of Henry Hathaway – one of his most atypical directorial efforts – the story vividly comes to life. While the movie is supposed to be a Victorian era romance, there are touches of surrealism present throughout that makes it really stand out from other movie during this time; the fact that our two lovers can be united in their dreams can be seen as something right out of metaphysical philosophy and something that transcends this romantic drama into romantic fantasy. Rivaling this unique spin is the ethereal camerawork of Charles Lang and the sumptuous production design of Hans Dreier and Robert Usher (which takes some of the original accompanying illustrations from the novel and brings them to life); the only thing that hampered the movie was the fact that for a long time, most people were unable to see it on home video for many years until a couple of decades ago with its inclusion in the Gary Cooper Collection DVD set. However, Peter Ibbetson should be regarded as a sublime romantic drama and fantasy that’s worth reappraising as one of the best movies of the 1930’s and a hidden gem for its director.
In one of his most atypical roles – he considered himself miscast here – Gary Cooper acquits himself well as the eponymous Peter; Fredric March and Robert Donat were considered before Hathaway cast Cooper against type here. Taking up the role of Mary (which was offered to Miriam Hopkins first), Ann Harding has one of best performances of her career as the woman whom Peter loves in life and in his dreams; film appearances became more sporadic after this due to her being typecast as the doe eyed innocent in addition to tepid receptions of her later 1930’s films. As the jealous Duke of Towers, John Halliday added to his roster of performances of suave foreigners and aristocrats while Ida Lupino makes the most of what is essentially a cameo appearance as the woman Peter meets during his return to Paris as an adult; Lupino, of course, would go on to become one of most prominent female directors working Hollywood and TV during the 1950’s. Filling out the cast here are Dickie Moore and Virginia Weidler as the younger versions of Peter (Gogo) and Mary (Mimsey) respectively, Douglas Dumbrille as Peter’s guardian, Donald Meek as Peter’s blind employer in London, Christian Rub – whose voice is familiar to many generations of Disney fans as Geppetto in Pinocchio – as the French major who entertains both Gogo and Mimsey with his stories, Gilbert Emery as the Duke’s butler Wilkins, an uncredited Marguerite Namara as the opera singer Madame Ginghi and an uncredited Leonid Kinskey as a pugnacious prisoner occupying the same cell as Peter in the third act of the movie.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio for this release, taken from a 4K master created by Universal a few years ago. Film grain is organic, with fine details and gray scale faithfully represented; Charles Lang’s ethereal cinematography – especially during the dream sequences – is given full justice here. There’s minimal problems like scratches, tears, vertical lines, dirt and print damage present here, which mean that this release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video, easily surpassing the previous Gary Cooper Collection DVD release of the movie.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is both strong and clear, with the sound mix and Ernst Toch’s beautiful (and Oscar nominated) score also given a faithful representation as well. There’s minimal in terms of problems like crackling, popping, hissing or distortion present, meaning that this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film historian David Del Valle, moderated by Miles Hunter – Recorded for this release, Del Valle and Hunter share some details on the film’s production as well as a passionate argument on why the movie is a neglected classic.
Theatrical Trailer (1:56)
Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Desire, The General Died at Dawn, The Plainsman, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, Beau Geste, Unconquered, The Shepherd of the Hills, Rawhide & 23 Paces to Baker Street
While not fully appreciated by audiences – despite some strong critical notices – of the day, Peter Ibbetson has left its mark on those who have seen it, emerging as a cult favorite that’s deserving of reevaluation. Kino’s Blu-ray release should help, with a terrific HD transfer and an engaging and informative commentary track for a special feature. Very highly recommended and worth upgrading from the DVD.
Amazon.com: Peter Ibbetson [Blu-ray] : Gary Cooper, Ann Harding, John Halliday, Ida Lupino, Douglass Dumbrille, Virginia Weidler, Dickie Moore, Doris Lloyd, Gilbert Emery, Donald Meek, Christian Rub, Elsa Buchanan, Henry Hathaway: Movies & TV
Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.