THE DVD SHELF: The Delightful "I Married a Witch," the Epic "From Here to Eternity" and the Charming "Before Midnight"

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20 Oct 2013

Looked at today, after 60 years, the film remains powerful and highly entertaining. It does not, however, overwhelm us in the way that certain similarly-successful films of the past do (like the seven-Oscar winner from 1946, "The Best Years of Our Lives," or the eight-Oscar winner from 1954, "On the Waterfront"). I would expect that this has to do with the shared audience experience: The sequence showing the bombing of Pearl Harbor — which seems to incorporate some documentary footage — must have been absolutely shattering to a 1953 audience that included millions of servicemen and their families who had lived through it 12 years before.

The next step for "From Here to Eternity" comes Oct. 23, when a new musical, with Tim Rice leading the creative team, opens in London at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

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Once upon a time, back in 1995, director Richard Linklater joined with stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for "Before Sunrise," the story of a twenty-something couple — an American writer and a French environmentalist — who meet on a train and spend the night walking around Vienna. The film was so successful that the trio reconvened in 2004 for "Before Sunset," in which the characters, who haven't seen each other in the interim, meet nine years later in Paris. He is on a book tour, having written a bestselling fictionalization of that magical night in Vienna, and over a magical Parisian afternoon, they realize that they are still in love.

Here we are, nine years later, and Linklater, Hawke and Delpy return with "Before Midnight" [Sony]. This time they take us to the Peloponnese peninsula of Greece (and the cinematography is enough to make you want to travel there, now). They are vacationing with their eight-year-old twin daughters and the fifteen-year-old son he lost custody of when he left his wife, just after the events in the second installment.



"The course of true love never did run smooth," as Shakespeare used to say, and that pretty much applies to these idyllic lovers. The realities that intrude on the middle-aged couple in "Before Midnight" are harsh and threatening, but true-to-life; it seems like we've sat around the dinner table and heard these conversations before. Hawke and Delpy collaborated with Linklater on the screenplay, which might be why it all seems so human. Their characters are so charming and likable and real that they draw us right in. (Hawke, meanwhile, has moved on to Lincoln Center Theater's Macbeth, which starts previews Oct. 24 at the Vivian Beaumont.)

In the writing and the assortment of characters, "Before Midnight" is not unlike a mid-period Woody Allen film. But the accomplished Allen seems to work off the cuff, assembling intriguing groups of characters/actors and dashing off another entertainment every year even when he doesn't have much to say. Linklater and his characters — Jesse and Celine — have given us three installments over 18 years, and they have plenty to say. All talk (and no, or little, action) turns out to be perfectly fine when the talk is so enchanting and true. Look for Hawke and Delpy to return in 2021, with the son running a startup and the girls in college. "Before Medicare," maybe?

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes", "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at ssuskin@aol.com.)

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