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Image Entertainment presents
Mourning Becomes Electra (1947) (1947)

"Don't cry. The damned don't cry."
- Orin Mannon (Michael Redgrave)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: December 20, 2004

Stars: Rosalind Russell, Michael Redgrave, Raymond Massey, Katina Paxinou
Other Stars: Leo Genn, Kirk Douglas, Nancy Coleman, Henry Hull, Sara Allgood
Director: Dudley Nichols

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (implied violence, suicide, thematic material)
Run Time: 02h:38m:42s
Release Date: December 21, 2004
UPC: 014381278224
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-C-C D-

DVD Review

The only surviving trilogy of ancient Greek tragedies is the Oresteia, by Aeschuylus. Those three plays told of the return of Agamemnon to his home after the Trojan War, only to be faced by betrayal and murder, with his death to be avenged by his children in a legendarily dysfunctional family. The trilogy was updated to the American Civil War by Eugene O'Neill in 1931 with the trilogy of plays under the blanket title of Mourning Becomes Electra. This film adaptation of the massive play telescopes the marathon drama from nine hours and thirteen acts into a little under three hours' duration, without doing it significant violence.

General Ezra Mannon (Raymond Massey) and son Orin (Michael Redgrave) are on their way home to New England at the close of the Civil War. At the Mannon home, which was built on blood and hatred, Ezra's daughter, Lavinia (Rosalind Russell), has fallen in love with sea captain Adam Brant (Leo Genn), but is horrified to learn that her mother Christine (Katina Paxinou) is carrying on an affair with Brant, and to top it all off, he is revealed to actually be the illegitimate son of Ezra's brother (i.e., Lavinia's own cousin). The passionate rivalry between mother and daughter erupts into a destructive cataclysm of murder, poisoning, suicide, and incestuous longings.

Where Aeschuylus' drama can be read as an allegory of the movement of justice from the province of religion to the state, O'Neill doesn't have much interest in the political subtext. Instead, he's focused on the psychosexual obsessions of the Mannon family and their simultaneous Freudian longings and hatreds for one another: father and daughter, mother and son, brother and sister. No sooner is one rift patched over than another, usually triggered by sexual jealousies, erupts and casts the family into doom. Instead of winged Furies pursuing Orestes, the last segment, The Haunted, focuses on the guilty consciences of Orin and Lavinia as they at once struggle to be free of each other and to accept their inexorable fates together.

The main cast is an all-star assemblage that doesn't disappoint in the least. Rosalind Russell, who was Oscar-nominated for her part as Lavinia, is incredibly powerful and bitter as she evolves through her competition with her mother until she finally echoes Christina in dress, appearance, and actions. Michael Redgrave is also excellent as the guilt-ridden Orin who hates and desires his sister and openly longs for his mother's arms. Massey doesn't get a lot of screen time before he's offed, but he gives the General a well-rounded character that is both military in bearing and emphasis, and also sick of war and longing to be away from the cursed Mannon home. A young Kirk Douglas has an important role as a suitor for Lavinia's hand and Henry Hull (the Werewolf of London himself) is memorable as the hired hand who sets the family disaster in motion and fittingly puts the final nail into the coffin.

Director Dudley Nichols also prepared the script from O'Neill's original text, and did an admirable job of it. Where other O'Neill adaptations such as Desire Under the Elms make something of a hash of the original, Nichols produces an efficient condensation that rearranges a bit of the dialogue to cover his cuts, but keeps the central story intact while trimming away most of the commentary of the hired help. It's an excellent adaption that is almost entirely composed of O'Neill's dialogue and never feels at all stagebound. The 173-minute roadshow version was trimmed in general release by hacking off the entire last section, cutting it down to 105 minutes. The print used here is the 159-minute UK version, but the missing 14 minutes aren't terribly gaping holes. It is unfortunate that the entire original version wasn't used for this DVD, which detracts a little from the substance grade.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture generally looks a bit soft and dupey; on a few occasions compression ringing is visible but there doesn't appear to be significant added edge enhancement. The picture is a shade contrasty, with no shadow detail, but there's an acceptable range of greyscale. Speckling is present throughout, and is quite bad around the reel changes. On a few occasions warping of the film is evident also. One hopes this isn't the best surviving print of this classic.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono English track sounds acceptable for its age. There's moderate hiss but nothing too distracting. Dialogue is quite clear throughout, though it does tend to be quiet and a near-reference listening level will probably be required. The incidental music score by Richard Hageman has the expected shrillness and lack of range for a soundtrack from the 1940s.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:41m:24s

Extras Review: There are absolutely no extras. Chaptering is a shade thin.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A powerful O'Neill adaptation with an impeccable cast gets its first video incarnation in a partial (but somewhat incomplete) restoration. The source print isn't in the best condition, and there are no extras.


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