He specialized in seething, sultry South

Critics' Picks : New Dvds

April 30, 2006

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS FILM COLLECTION / / Warner Home Entertainment / $79.95

No, Tennessee Williams wasn't the author behind every significant movie made between 1950 and 1964. But the Tennessee Williams Film Collection offers a convincing explanation for why one might think that.

Few playwrights have enjoyed a string of successes to rival Williams', and throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, it was rare that a movie adapted from one of his plays wasn't making waves at the box office. His Deep South morality plays, always accompanied by generous helpings of wit, brutality and (usually suppressed) sexuality, gave audiences what they craved and set the standard by which his peers would be judged. Few came close to his level of consistency.

The seven-title Collection includes six films based on his work (the seventh is an 80-minute documentary, Tennessee Williams' South, featuring interviews with Williams and appearances by actors who helped make his work famous, including Jessica Tandy, Burl Ives and Colleen Dewhurst).

The standout, of course, is 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire, with Vivien Leigh as fading Southern belle Blanche DuBois and Marlon Brando as the brutish Stanley Kowalski. The movie, restored to what director Elia Kazan had in mind before the censors trimmed several minutes and altered parts of the soundtrack, remains an undiminished force of nature, just as powerful today in its juxtaposition of old niceties and modern brutalities as ever.

Also included are 1956's Baby Doll, a film so salacious in its time that it was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency (mostly because of the film's ad campaign, according to the surviving stars who are interviewed in an accompanying documentary); 1958's simmering Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, a turning point in the careers of stars Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman; 1961's The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, an inverted May-December romance that was Vivien Leigh's final film, and one of Warren Beatty's first; 1962's Sweet Bird of Youth, for which Ed Begley won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as a corrupt Southern politico; and 1964's Night of the Iguana, directed by John Huston and starring Richard Burton as a former Episcopal priest with some serious women issues.

l Special features: Each of the six films is accompanied by at least one documentary look at its making, impact and legacy. Streetcar, a two-disc set, includes all sorts of enlightening extras, including Marlon Brando screen-testing for the lead in Rebel Without a Cause (a part that would make a legend of James Dean) and a scene-by-scene comparison of the Streetcar released in theaters in 1951 and the version director Kazan originally submitted to the censors (which was restored about 10 years ago and is the version presented here).

ALSO ANTICIPATED

I LOVE LUCY -- SIXTH SEASON / / Paramount Home Video / $39.95

For its sixth and final season, I Love Lucy counted on guest stars and trips out of New York to maintain interest in the comings-and-goings of the Ricardos and the Mertzes; eventually, Lucy and Ricky left the city altogether, moving to a farm in Connecticut (Fred and Ethel soon followed). The strain of keeping the series fresh shows occasionally; but the high spots are still joys to behold. Among the season's best: "Lucy and Superman," in which Lucy, not wanting to disappoint Little Ricky on his birthday, dresses up as Superman, only to have the real Man of Steel (George Reeves) show up.

Special features: Audio commentary on selected episodes, including "Country Club Dance," the series' third-to-last, in which a 26-year-old Barbara Eden plays a beguiling potential home-wrecker. The commentary track offers Eden a rare chance to reminisce about something other than I Dream of Jeannie.

[CHRIS KALTENBACH]

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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