The Shining Hour Blu-ray Review

2.5 Stars 1930s melodrama with solid cast but a few problems.
The Shining Hour Review

Frank Borzage’s The Shining Hour offers 1930s melodrama on a lavish scale with a star-studded cast.

The Shining Hour (1938)
Released: 18 Nov 1938
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 76 min
Director: Frank Borzage
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullavan, Robert Young
Writer(s): Jane Murfin, Ogden Nash, Keith Winter
Plot: A nightclub dancer marries into high society and has to contend with her jealous sister-in-law.
IMDB rating: 6.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 26 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 06/25/2024
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 3/5

A soapy melodrama with noble intentions but a script that doesn’t explore emotions on more than a surface level, Frank Borzage’s The Shining Hour offers opportunities for some fine performances and a lavish production, but despite its happy ending, it’s unsatisfying and incomplete. Joan Crawford and Margaret Sullavan are the major focal points here, and they almost save the film despite its lapses, but they and the rest of the star-studded cast are better served in other films.

Nightclub dancer Olivia Riley (Joan Crawford) has the world at her feet, but she has tired of the hurly-burly of show business and longs for a quieter, more settled existence. Though she’s not in love with him, she marries millionaire farmer Henry Linden (Melvyn Douglas) and moves to his Wisconsin estate where she’s met with varying reactions from the rest of his family: Henry’s sister-in-law Judy (Margaret Sullavan) is a sunny, welcoming presence, but her husband David (Robert Young) is suspicious of Olivia’s intentions, and Henry’s older, dominating sister Hannah (Fay Bainter) is downright hostile in her dismissal of a mere showgirl as being acceptable marriage material for her beloved brother. As the months pass, David’s feelings toward Olivia warm considerably, and he finds her exciting and vibrant, injecting romantic emotions into his soul that his complacent marriage to Judy had rather quashed. The bitter Hannah sees what’s happening and does everything she can to drive Olivia away in order to return the farm to its former sterile status.

The screenplay by Jane Murfin with an assist by Ogden Nash (based on the play by Keith Winter) is very writery: everyone interjects each speech with the name of the person to whom he or she is speaking numerous times, sometimes to irritating effect. Feelings are discussed abundantly between the two leading ladies, and they have such wonderful chemistry together that the talk is interesting and engaging. David’s reawakened spirit renews his interest in piano where we hear several renditions of Chopin’s “Waltz in C-sharp Minor” (Joan does her nightclub ballroom routine to the same tune and shows how much finesse she’s gained in terpsichore since Dancing Lady), a melody that reflects quite well the unsettling atmosphere in the Linden home due to Hannah’s open disapproval of Olivia’s presence and David’s pursuit of Olivia once he’s decided that Judy can’t make him happy. It all culminates in a climactic disaster (well directed here and elsewhere by Frank Borzage who won his Oscars helming heavy-breathing melodramas with emotions at the forefront) that scrambles all of the character dynamics (in the case of Hannah, unbelievably and insultingly) causing the film’s narrative to fall apart and thus clamber to pull itself together for the happy ending patrons would expect.

Joan Crawford gets to show off her dancing skills and alternately play rough and tumble and a grand lady-in-training. She had seen the Broadway production and wanted the part for herself very much: it suits her skill set. Margaret Sullavan makes a most appealing and almost too-good-to-be-true Judy who loves her husband utterly despite his growing indifference and is willing to give him up to make him happy. Robert Young and Melvyn Douglas don’t look much like brothers, but they have professional know-how to make these lightly sketched men something more resembling flesh and blood human beings (Douglas is the better actor but has the least to work with). Fay Bainter’s bitchy turn as the brothers’ disapproving matriarchal sister Hannah is despicable throughout, never giving anyone else the benefit of the doubt (as Olivia puts it, “always expecting the worst of people”) and growing tiresome as she spars verbally with everyone. A most welcome presence, Hattie McDaniel is wonderful as Olivia’s maid Belvedere, and Frank Albertson has a couple of sprightly scenes as handyman Benny Collins with a taste for the trumpet and for booze. Allyn Joslyn throws off a few lewd looks as Olivia’s nightclub boss Roger Franklin.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully executed in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Black levels may not be at their utmost dark level, but the grayscale as a whole is most pleasing. Modest film grain gives the movie a nice visual appeal. There are no scratches, splices, or missing frames to interrupt one’s concentration while viewing.  The movie has been divided into 25 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is what one would expect of this era of filmmaking. Dialogue, Franz Waxman’s background score and Chopin interludes, and occasional sound effects have all been combined most professionally though there is some soft hiss present in the quieter scenes. The track is otherwise free of aural artifacts.

Special Features: 3/5

Good News of 1939 (23:00): MGM-produced radio program featuring dramatic excerpts from the film starring Joan Crawford, Robert Young, and Melvyn Douglas.

Animated Shorts (HD): 1938’s Technicolored Love and Curses (8:27), 1937’s Porky’s Five and Ten (7:05), and 1937’s Technicolored The Sneezing Weasel (6:43).

Theatrical Trailer (2:58, SD)

Overall: 3/5

Frank Borzage’s The Shining Hour offers 1930s melodrama on a lavish scale with a star-studded cast doing excellent work despite a spotty screenplay. The Warner Archive Blu-ray assuredly presents the movie in its best possible light.

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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