THE DVD SHELF: Lubitsch's "To Be Or Not To Be," Ophuls' "Earrings of Madame de...," "The Good Wife" and "Elementary"

By Steven Suskin
25 Aug 2013

Meanwhile, be prepared for Criterion's October release of "I Married a Witch." This 1942 comedy from René Clair, starring Fredric March and Veronica Lake, has nothing to do with "To Be or Not To Be" other than its shared comic flair.

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Also from Criterion is Max Ophuls' stunning 1953 film "The Earrings of Madame de..." The movie positively swirls with passion, or perhaps you could say it waltzes with passion. (The waltzes are courtesy of Oscar Straus [1870-1954], the Viennese composer of The Chocolate Soldier and other operettas.) Said earrings are central to the story. The bored wife of a general in 19th-century France sells some expensive earrings (a wedding present from her husband) back to the jeweler to pay her debts. The diamond earrings make their way through several hands, with the general purchasing them three separate times, eventually leading to tragedy and death.

This is accompanied by a visual feast from Ophuls and his designers. The camera is always moving and the period details leap out at you. There is one especially bravura sequence: the aforementioned waltz, a collage-like ballroom scene which spans months (and multiple costumes), as the affair develops, while appearing to be filmed in one continuous stretch. Ophuls has three excellent actors at his disposal: Danielle Darrieux as the wife, screen legend Charles Boyer as the husband, and the Italian Vittorio De Sica — already an Academy Award-winning film director — as the third point in the triangle.



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August always seems to be a good month to catch up on TV. CBS — which is presently not appearing in many of our households here in Manhattan — sent box sets of two of their series, both of which I find to be highly watchable. "The Good Wife" has many things going for it, including the canny intelligence of the writing, the general excellence of the acting and a knack for enhancing it all with a parade of guest actors — many of them from the stage — who are given the chance to showcase their talents.

The fourth season finds Alicia (Julianna Margulies) — a corporate lawyer whose husband Peter (Chris Noth), a bribery-prone, prostitute-patronizing state's attorney got out of prison in the first season — up for partnership at the powerhouse Chicago firm headed by Diane (Christine Baranski) and Will (Josh Charles), while Peter runs for governor of Illinois under the direction of campaign manager Eli (Alan Cumming).

Margulies is the center of "The Good Wife," naturally enough, and she is very good. The two time Emmy winner — in 1995 for "E.R." and in 2011 for "The Good Wife" — has appeared on local stages along the way, most notably in Jon Robin Baitz's 2001 Ten Unknowns at the Newhouse (with Donald Sutherland and Denis O'Hare) and in the shortlived 2006 Festen at the Music Box.

Margulies needs to be good, as she is up against two of Broadway's top scene-stealers. Baranski is, I suppose, more or less playing Baranski here, but how delicious she is! One of those masters of the half-raised eyebrow and the sidelong glance, she is difficult to look away from. If Baranski is doing what Baranski does so well, the equally adept Cumming is giving a performance very much unlike what we've seen from him on stage. There's something exceedingly droll and Clifton Webbish about this canny political handler. The character is well-written, yes, but Cumming adds a lot to the proceedings.

The other stars are very good, especially Matt Czuchry as a young lawyer and Archie Panjabi as an in-house investigator who is the diametrical opposite of Perry Mason's Paul Drake. Both are always watchable, and Panjabi has earned an Emmy for her efforts. The fourth season, though, was all but overrun by Nathan Lane playing a bankruptcy trustee for nine episodes. Lane, like Cumming, is startlingly good.

Otherwise, "The Good Wife" — created by Robert King and Michelle King — is overrun with fine actors given the opportunity, and the lines, to act up their own storms. The recurring cast includes Stockard Channing as Alicia's trouble-making mother; Mary Beth Peil as Peter's mother; Dylan Baker as a problematic client; and Carrie Preston and Kristin Chenoweth as outside lawyers. Michael J. Fox is an opposing lawyer, too, and does some powerful acting in two episodes. A hidden weapon is Zach Grenier, as a slimy partner at the law firm. Grenier is one of those familiar character men who always do a good job; his top-notch stage work includes a Tony-nominated turn opposite Jane Fonda in 33 Variations.

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