Features and Columns · Movies

Twilight Time Brings Maggie Smith’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and More to Blu-ray

By  · Published on January 5th, 2015

Twilight Time

Twilight Time is a boutique label known for showing love to older, occasionally but not always obscure films in the form of limited-run Blu-ray releases. Their releases are capped at 3000 copies each and sold exclusively at Screen Archives Entertainment, so check out their latest while you still can.

The label released six Blu-rays in December, and we’ve taken a look at four of them below. (The two titles we haven’t seen are Funny Lady and Yentl.) The releases include The Fortune – a Mike Nichols film you’ve probably never heard of starring Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty; Heaven & Earth – Oliver Stone’s third Vietnam-focused movie; Inherit the Wind – a classic courtroom drama concerning the Scopes “Monkey” Trial; and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – a British film starring the incomparable Maggie Smith exhibiting sharp wit and smoother skin than most of us are used to seeing on her.

The Fortune (1975)

Nicky Wilson (Warren Beatty) and Oscar Sullivan (Jack Nicholson) are a pair of small-time crooks brought together for a particularly audacious score involving Freddie Bigard (Stockard Channing), the heir to a business fortune. She’s in the mood for a bit of rebellion so when Nicky sweeps her off her feet she’s happy for the cross-country ride. It’s complicated though as Nicky’s already married and unable to get a divorce, and since transporting an unmarried woman across state lines is illegal Oscar steps in and marries Freddie in name only.

Mike Nichols’ little-seen comic farce features strong, fun work from its three leads even as the script (by Carole Eastman) struggles to keep up with them. The laughs come courtesy of their performances – all three display fantastic comic timing, but it’s Nicholson who stands out with a very funny and manic energy. This is prime Nicholson, before he became “Jack Nicholson,” and he reminds you of the acting talent hiding beneath the personality. The film itself grows funnier as their journey winds down and the players grow more desperate, and by its end you’ll be wondering why you’ve never seen (or possibly even heard of) this comedy before.

The picture and sound are both strong, but the disc is light on special features as there’s only an isolated Music/Effects track and a booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo.

Buy The Fortune from Screen Archives Entertainment

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Heaven & Earth (1993)

Le Ly Hayslip (Hiep Thi Le) lives a simple life in colonial Vietnam with her parents and siblings, but the peaceful serenity is shattered when the country fractures beneath the weight of war. Invading forces, both Vietnamese and American, run roughshod over the land and people forcing Le Ly into an ongoing struggle for her life and family. As the war winds down she finds love in the arms of a U.S. soldier named Steve Butler (Tommy Lee Jones) who eventually marries and moves her back to his home in California. The American Dream isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be though.

Oliver Stone’s third and final film in his unofficial Vietnam trilogy approaches the war from a fresh perspective by focusing on a Vietnamese national through her life before, during and after the conflict. Perhaps not surprisingly for the topic, the movie is a tough watch. It’s a true story that’s truly tragic at times, but there’s an undercurrent of hope evident too. That resilience is lifted from Le Ly’s two memoirs alongside the pains she endured, and Hiep’s performance is affecting throughout. Stone’s film is gorgeously shot, but his visual and editing styles occasionally neuter the drama with unnecessary flourishes. (And I’m not just referring to the decision to hide Joan Chen’s face behind prosthetic makeup and teeth.) The human emotion is lost in his excesses at times leaving us to rebuild them again and again. Still, the film is a rarity in American cinema for its POV alone and is a fitting finale for Stone’s three film excursion into one of our country’s darker chapters.

Twilight Time’s Blu looks good and sounds great – although Kitaro’s score helps on that front too – and it features some solid extras including a commentary track from Stone and some deleted scenes (available with or without Stone’s commentary). Also included is a long-ish alternate opening, the theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo.

Buy Heaven & Earth from Screen Archives Entertainment

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Inherit the Wind (1960)

Bertram Cates (Dick York) is a small-town biology teacher who overnight becomes a nationwide media sensation when he’s arrested and put on trial for breaking a local law forbidding the teaching of evolution. The case also puts the town of Hillsborough on the map as two courtroom heavyweights arrive to argue the case. Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) is the much-beloved defender of God’s word and the people’s will, and Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) is the sharp legal mind from the big-city hired to defend the more enlightened viewpoint. Toss in a town filled with loud, musically-inclined bible-thumpers and a reporter (Gene Kelly) fond of instigation and the stage is set for drama.

The real-life Scopes “Monkey” Trial gets a dramatic makeover here (as it did in the original play) with both positive and negative results. The courtroom drama is turned way up, and both Tracy and March do strong work as powerhouses pulling in opposite directions. Tracy in particular is fantastic and sets a rage-filled template that George C. Scott would later build a career from. The film is anything but balanced though as the religiously-fueled half of the argument is portrayed in stereotypical bombast and ignorance, and much of the script feels simplistic in its approach. Still, the movie manages to feel fresh multiple times throughout with displays of real wit (usually courtesy of Tracy).

The film’s black and white picture is given a sharp presentation and accompanied by a strong sound mix. Extras are slight and only include a trailer, an isolated Music/Effects track and a booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo.

Buy Inherit the Wind from Screen Archives Entertainment

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

Miss Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) is a proud teacher at an all-girls school in early 20th century Edinburgh, and what she lacks in a husband and family she makes up for in two frisky suitors (Robert Stephens, Gordon Jackson). More than that though, she’s riding high on her self-ascribed role as guru to a select group of girls she’s hand-selected in order to shape and mold into smaller, lesser versions of herself. Brodie’s cockiness gets the better of her though and soon she finds herself at odds not only with a vindictive headmistress (Celia Johnson) but also with an unintentionally spurned student (Pamela Franklin).

Who knew Smith was already such a sly threat over forty years ago? She looks so young, but her wit and instantly recognizable voice are on full display with a character that allows her to explore confidence, loneliness and tragedy. Alternately funny and inwardly sad, the film frequently dazzles with legitimate laughs alongside its insight into ego and desire. Smith owns it, but Franklin shows a fine balance of innocence and spite beneath a beautiful exterior. The film itself is equally attractive, and director Ronald Neame captures the streets of the city and the halls of the school with energy and an eye for life.

The Blu-ray looks and sounds great and includes the expected trailer and isolated Music/Effects track along with a scene-specific commentary by Pamela Franklin and Ronald Neame and a booklet featuring an essay from Julie Kirgo.

Buy The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie from Screen Archives Entertainment

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.