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Lady with the Torch, The (1999)
*** (out of 4)
Glenn Close hosts this documentary that celebrates the 75th Anniversary of Columbia Pictures. Hundreds of movie clips are shown from the silent era all the way up to the 1999 release date so if you're interested in the history of the studio then this is a great way to get some ideas about how the studio started and their biggest achievements. It also shows us how many of Columbia's big films still aren't on DVD as of this date. That said, I think there are a few too many clips shown and not enough information given. The silent era is pretty much jumped over and goes directly into the Frank Capra era of the studio. This Capra era gets a lot of time, which is certainly fair considering how critically loved his films are. The documentary also covers times during the 1970s when the studio almost went out of business and how they got back into the game.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Glenn Close is the hostess and narrator of this documentary that covers
Columbia from its beginnings to 1999. Glenn Close is, as usual,
appealing and intelligent, but any documentary has to be judged on its
script and on its structure.
And, in fact, it's not bad on either count. The greatest danger lurking in the shadows of this sort of endeavor is a kind of super patriotic, hagiographic bloviating. We've seen it often enough before. (See the AFI's history of American movies, in which American values are "a candle in the mind.") This narration, however, doesn't turn Harry Cohn, a notorious bonehead, into a kindly and generous avuncular figure. Audio clips from interviews with some of his subordinates -- and from Close's narrative itself -- are fairly straightforward about the kind of guy Cohn was. Nobody liked him, it seems, except a few beautiful women who thought they might be in a position to marry him.
Not to put Cohn down too much, or to put the studio down at all. The big three studios throughout the sound era were MGM, 20th-Century Fox, and Warner Brothers. Harry Cohn and his brother Jack established Columbia and although it was never as BIG as the others, confined for most of its existence to Gower Gulch, the studio did back some unimpeachable films, including a few true masterpieces like "On the Waterfront" and "Lawrence of Arabia." The studio's clunkers are briefly referred to as well -- "The Last Action Hero", for instance.
The clips from the productions are long enough to get a feel for what the films must have been like, to grasp something of the tone of the films.
It isn't a bad documentary if you have a casual interest in movies, and if you're a film buff you must see it to refresh your data base. I was surprised at the number of good movies Columbia managed to put out in its time.
A loosely structured chronological overview of the history of Columbia Pictures, upon the occasion of its 75th anniversary as a movie studio. Hosted by Glenn Close, this is on the fluffy side, but it's a decent piece of nostalgia.
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