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The American Film Theatre Complete 14 Film Collection [15 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

The Iceman Cometh
John Frankenheimer's screen version of Eugene O'Neill's 1947 Broadway play The Iceman Cometh is set in 1912 at Harry Hope's dingy waterfront saloon. On the occasion of Hope's birthday, several derelicts enter the scene to pontificate on the lives they'd planned, the lives they still dream about, and the wasted lives they wound up with. The cast features Lee Marvin as Hickey, a loser who's convinced himself that he's a winner; Robert Ryan as Larry Slade; and Fredric March (his last film role) as Harry Hope. The Iceman Cometh was one of a series of prestige productions presented by the American Film Theatre. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Homecoming
In The Homecoming, adapted from the play by Harold Pinter, Michael Jayston brings his wife Vivien Merchant home to visit his long-estranged family. Jayston's father Paul Rogers is a washout, his uncle Cyril Cusack is on the edge of senility, and his brothers Ian Holm and Terence Rigby are, respectively, a slimy pimp and a brutish boxer. The sparser the dialogue, the thicker the tension in the air. Though British in origin, The Homecoming was presented as part of the American Film Theatre series. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Three Sisters
Russian playwright Anton Chekhov's three upper-class Prozorov sisters -- Masha, Olga, and Irina -- come no closer to their dream of returning to Moscow in director Laurence Olivier's 1970 film version of Three Sisters than they did in Chekhov's original 1900 play. This melancholy classic about shattered dreams, self-delusion, and compromise was directed by Olivier for Britain's National Theatre in 1967. The film, a literal record of Olivier's stage version, was produced in order to raise money for the ever-imperiled National. Olivier, who'd just recovered from a serious illness, plays the mischievous army doctor Chebutikin, while Olivier's wife, Joan Plowright, essays the major role of Masha, the snobbish general's daughter who tries to escape the stultifying banality of her provincial marriage by having an affair. Three Sisters was released in the U.S. in 1974 as part of the American Film Theatre series. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Maids
Directed by Christopher Miles, The Maids is a 1974 film version of the play by French absurdist writer Jean Genet. Solange (Glenda Jackson) and Claire (Susannah York) are two sisters who work as servants for a strict Madame (Vivian Merchant). When Madame and Monsieur (Mark Burns) leave the house, the two women enact dramatic role playing games. To get out their sexual frustrations against their boss and each other, they alternate the parts of master and servant. They both love and hate the Madame passionately enough to plot her murder. During a particularly intense game of play, Claire accidentally drinks the poison that was meant for the Madame. The Maids is part of producer Ely Landau's American Film Theatre Series, which ran in select theaters from 1973-1975. In 2003, all 14 films in the series were given a wide release on home video from Kino International. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, Rovi

Philadelphia Here I Come
This American Film Theatre production is based on the stage play by Brian Friel. Gar, a young Irish man, prepares to leave his dull Gaelic community--and his seemingly insensitive father--to live with his aunt in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The hero has an alter ego, seen only by himself and the audience: the public Gar (Des Cave) holds back his true emotions, while the private Gar (Donal McCann) tells the brutal (and sometimes hilarious) truth. As Gar packs his bags, he and his inner self examine his relationships with his boorish dad, his former sweetheart, his frustrated schoolmaster, his shallow buddies, and his loving housekeeper. Philadelphia Here I Come works beautifully as theatre, though the cinematic possibilities of a dual hero are barely explored. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Luther
Adapted for the screen by Edward Anhalt from the play by John Osborne, Luther stars Stacy Keach as religious leader and "heretic" Martin Luther. In minimalist fashion, the film traces Luther's disillusionment with the Catholic Church, and his eventual spearheading of the Reformation movement. Over the course of the film, Keach ages from an ingenuous seminarian to a disgruntled, middle-aged firebrand. Director Guy Green does little to cinematize the material, instead favoring a theatrical approach and thus allowing the rich dialogue to be better appreciated. Luther was a production of the American Film Theatre. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

A Delicate Balance
A Delicate Balance is the 1973 film adaptation of Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield play an old married couple, Agnes and Tobias, who much prefer to be alone. Each time someone visits them, their "delicate balance" is threatened. The first intruder is Agnes' inebriated sister, Claire (Kate Reid). The next is their much-divorced daughter, Julia (Lee Remick). The limit is reached when well-meaning friends Harry (Joseph Cotten) and Edna (Betsy Blair) show up unexpectedly and threaten to stay forever. In keeping with the austerity of the other American Film Theatre presentations, director Tony Richardson eschews his usual cinematographic pyrotechnics here. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

In Celebration
One of the more cinematic entries in the mid-1970s American Film Theatre series, In Celebration is adapted from the play by David Storey. Lindsay Anderson, who directed the original stage version, reassembles his cast for this filmization. Alan Bates, James Bolam and Brian Cox play Andrew, Colin and Steven, the well-educated sons of roughhewn coal miner "Mr. Shaw" (Bill Owen) and his wife (Constance Chapman). On the occasion of their parents' wedding anniversary, the three sons return to their dank little home village. All three boys have become successful, but only Bolam is comfortable with his success. To his parents' dismay, Andrew announces that he has given up his law practice to become an artist; he also confesses to harboring homosexual inclinations. Prompted by the embittered Andrew, the other sons churn up memories of their childhood that they--and their parents--had hoped to keep buried. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Galileo
Filmed in England, Galileo is based on Charles Laughton's 1947 adaptation of the play by Bertolt Brecht, which, like this 1975 film, was directed by Joseph Losey. Israeli film-star Topol plays the 17th century Italian astronomer, whose theories run contrary to the edicts of the Catholic Church. Forced to renounce his ideas about planetary movement, Galileo nonetheless holds fast to those beliefs to the end of his days, certain that time will vindicate him. Brecht's trademarked "alienation" technique, wherein the audience is constantly reminded that it is watching a play, is muted by Losey's cerebral direction. Galileo was one of producer Ely Landau's American Film Theatre presentations. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Rhinoceros
Rhinoceros is another American Film Theatre movie recording a notable stage production. The incomparable duo of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, whose earlier work in The Producers is now a comedy classic, join forces here to make the surreal comedy of Eugene Ionesco's play come to life. Ionesco was a leading exponent of "theater of the absurd," and realism was the last thing on his mind. For that reason, many people find this comedy rough going. Stanley (Gene Wilder) seems to be the only one who notices that everyone in the world is turning into Rhinoceroses--Everyone. First, they are overcome by a certain indifference to human values, and then POOF! they are on all fours, knocking over buildings and eating vegetation. He confides his concerns to his friend John (Zero Mostel), but even he swiftly begins to develop certain "thickish" tendencies. ~ Clarke Fountain, Rovi

Lost in the Stars
Lost in the Stars was an American Film Theatre adaptation of the musical play by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill--which in turn was based on the Alain Paton novel Cry the Beloved Country. Brock Peters portrays a South African minister who goes to the Big City to locate his son Raymond St. Jacques, who is now a criminal in the eyes of the white rulers. The minister forges a curious, foredoomed friendship with a white farmer (Paul Rogers). Lost in the Stars has sometimes been accused of blunting the edge of Paton's angry study of the cruelties of Apartheid; fans of musical theatre will be more politely inclined to this loving filmization of the Broadway play. On its own, Cry the Beloved Country was previously filmed in 1951, with Canada Lee, Sidney Poitier and Charles Carson. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
This filmed version of the popular (1800 performances!) off-Broadway musical by Eric Blau and Mort Schumann incorporates 26 songs written by Belgian-entertainer Jacques Brel. Three actors--Elly Stone, Mort Schuman and Joe Masiell--interpret Brel's sometimes angry, sometimes poignant ballads with strength and compassion. In the movie, the three are brought together when they seek refuge from a rainstorm. The songs are accompanied by vignettes which highlight the imagery and story in them. Jacques Brel himself sings a melancholy composition at intermission time. It's ironic that this film was produced by the American Film Theatre; Brel disliked America and refused ever to set foot in the country. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Man in the Glass Booth
Actor/writer Robert Shaw's powerhouse stage play The Man in the Glass Booth was transferred to the screen as part of the American Film Theatre series. Maximilian Schell plays Arthur Goldman, a Jewish businessmen living in Manhattan in 1965. A group of Israeli underground agents barge into Goldman's office and kidnap him. He is brought to Israel, placed in a bulletproof glass booth, and put on trial. His accusers charge that Goldman is not a Jew, but in fact a notorious Nazi war criminal, guilty of unspeakable crimes against humanity. Robert Shaw's name does not appear in the credits of The Man in the Glass Booth; he was so displeased with Edward Anhalt's screen adaptation that he had his name removed from the project. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Butley
The American Film Theatre has made movies of a number of significant theatrical performances, including Laurence Olivier's Othello. Another of these filmed theatricals is Simon Gray's Butley, which was brought to the screen by playwright Harold Pinter, and which features an astonishing performance by Alan Bates. The story focuses on one very bad day in the life of Butley (Bates), a feisty, sharp-tongued, lazy and pathetic professor of English. His professional ascendancy is challenged by a slick, accomplished woman many years his junior; his ex-wife gives him conniptions when she announces her remarriage to someone he cannot bear; and his male lover of several years chooses this time to announce that he is leaving him for a sweeter-tempered but very ordinary man of the sort Butley despises. Bleak though this sounds, Butley's unconquerable wit and biting repartee transform this otherwise tragic tale into something of a celebration of survival. ~ Clarke Fountain, Rovi

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