B&W, 1946, 102 mins. 51 secs.
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Vincent Price, Glenn Langan, Anna Revere
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US RA HD),
Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Carlotta (DVD) (France R2 PAL), Optimum (DVD) (UK R2 PAL)
The Hollywood craze for gothic-flavored melodramas with a tinge of terror that began during World War II, largely thanks to the Oscar-winning Rebecca, resulted in a number of popular favorites including My Cousin Rachel, The Lodger, Gaslight, and Jane Eyre, among others. One of the most opulent of these was Dragonwyck, a 1946 vehicle for 20th Century Fox star Gene Tierney and a major debut for writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who would excel at Fox with classics like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, All About Eve, and A Letter to Three Wives. In later years, Dragonwyck would fall into comparative obscurity thanks to its lack of repertory revivals and unavailability on home video in any format until the current millennium.
Brought up on a repressive Connecticut farm, young Miranda (Tierney) dreams of a faraway life of romance and danger. She soon gets an opportunity when an offer comes from her distant cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn (Price, in his third film with Tierney after Laura and the spectacular Leave Her to Heaven), who needs a governess for his young daughter. Miranda convinces her parents (Huston and Revere) to let her go to the Van Ryn estate, Dragonwyck. However, the Van Ryn family turns out to be more than a bit eccentric itself and rules the local peasantry with an iron fist. Miranda strikes up a potential romance with a nearby doctor, Jeff (Langan), but also has an attraction to the married Nicholas despite a slew of warning bells. A mysterious death, irate locals, and a very dramatic marriage soon come into play before Miranda realizes her destiny.
Based on a novel by Anya Seton, Dragonwyck hit a few bumps on its way to the screen including the departure of intended director Ernst Lubitsch (which would have been quite a different film). However, the end result is an enjoyable mood piece thanks to an atmospheric score by Fox heavy hitter Alfred Newman and a faultless cast, with Tierney radiant as always and Price sinking his teeth into an early leading role. The film's relative lack of love over the years may be due to its refusal to fall into a clear genre; for all the dark misdeeds throughout, there's also a fair amount of romantic ups and downs and chat about the rights of tenants versus landowners. Luckily the film is a visual feast throughout and a strong showcase for Mankiewicz, who would remain a major talent for another three decades.
As mentioned above, Dragonwyck remained inexplicably absent on U.S. home video (and only appeared sporadically on TV) until its DVD release in 2008 as part of the misleadingly named Fox Horror Classics Vol. 2 along with Chandu the Magician and Dr. Renault's Secret. (That was preceded by a French DVD in 2005.) The DVD was surprisingly stacked including a thorough audio commentary by Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr, an isolated music and effects track, a 1946 Lux Radio Theatre production with Price and Tierney, a restoration comparison, trailer, still galleries, and "A House of Secrets: Exploring Dragonwyck" featurette (16m12s) with Tom Mankiewicz and genre experts like Stephen Jones and Kim Newman analyzing the film's genre-shifting approach. All of those extras were ported over for the film's U.S. Blu-ray debut in 2018 from Twilight Time, taken from what appears to be the HD master used for the DVD. Added to that release are episodes of A&E Biography, "Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait" (44m23s) and "Vincent Price: The Versatile Villain" (44m16s), which have yet to turn up on any other release; it also adds a second radio dramatization for The Screen Guild Theater with Price and Theresa Wright, running half the time at 24 minutes versus the earlier one's hour.
In 2019, U.K. label Indicator gave the film an expanded special edition Blu-ray release as a 3,000-unit limited edition including an insert booklet with liner notes by Neil Sinyard, a rundown of the film's history with the Production Code, highlights from a Tierney interview, and excerpted critical reactions from its release. Intriguingly, it contains both the earlier transfer (referred to on the release as the "legacy high definition master," looking identical to the Twilight Time) and a newer 2017 4K restoration with a finer grain appearance; it's also a bit brighter and slicker looking, so it's nice to have both to compare and let personal taste rule out. The commentary, isolated music track, "A House of Secrets," trailer, both radio versions, and trailer are included here, along with a new, extensive HD image gallery of stills and promotional art. The LPCM English mono audio is in immaculate shape as always, with optional English SDH subtitles. The big new extra here is an extra audio option for the film, the audio recording of "The John Player Lecture" with Vincent Price from 1969. Running just over 75 minutes, it's a great conversation with the witty, urbane legend as he chats about the joys of the theater, his ins and outs in Hollywood (including the much-mocked Wilson), his affinity for acting in all its guises from TV to film, and his transition to horror icon including the then-recent Cry of the Banshee. Essential listening.
2017 4K Restoration
Legacy High Definition Master
Reviewed on May 1, 2019.