The folks over at Universal Home Video have dug deep into their film vault and come up with a great Technicolor classic for release on DVD. As the market matures, more and more publishers will decide to release more of the material that is suited for broader audiences as opposed to true early adopter material. "Reap The Wild Wind" is an Academy-Award-winning adventure film from director Cecil B. DeMille. At this point in time, the DVD catalog is still mostly dominated by rather new action films, thrillers, horror movies, and a rather small number of classics. Family entertainment is still a mostly untapped domain, and when "Reap The Wild Wind" landed on my desk for review, I gladly accepted, knowing that this is one of those great and adventurous films, I loved to watch on TV on rainy Sunday afternoons when I was a kid.
The treacherous reefs off the coast of the Florida Keys were instrumental in causing a huge number of shipwrecks in the early 1800s. The riches to be made from looting these shipwrecks and selling the trades back to the owners create a thriving trade of "wreckers", people trying to gather the wealth of these ships before it is forever lost to the grasp of the sea. Loxi Claiborne (Paulette Goddard) is one of these tough people and one of the few women who commands a ship of her own but she’s down on her luck. Every time she arrives at the scene of a wreck, King Cutler has already taken command of the wrecked vessel. It almost seems as if he knows the ships are running into the reefs.
Captain Jack Stuart (John Wayne) is the captain of one of the unfortunate ships, and after he wrecks his company’s vessel, his dream to command their latest steam vessel to fades into thin air. Loxi saves the seaman during the accident, falls in love with the charming captain, and is determined to do whatever it takes to help Stuart achieve his dream. She uses her charm to make the company’s official, Stephen Tolliver (Ray Milland) return his faith to Captain Stuart, but by that time, he seems to have made a treacherous deal with King Cutler.
DeMille’s adventurous film stars an all-star cast, assembling John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Ray Milland, and Paulette Goddard. Interestingly, the film marked Goddard’s early steps in the realm of dramatic roles, and although director DeMille reportedly had a number of problems with her performance in the part of Loxi Claiborne, her final portrayal in the film is charming, steadfast, and determined. It certainly gives us an idea what Scarlett O’Hara could have looked like in her interpretation of "Gone With The Wind" the character of Loxi is not far removed from Scarlett’s, and actress Paulette Goddard was originally slated to play the part of the headstrong Miss Scarlett in the all-time classic film.
Of course, all the acting in the film is somewhat over the top, almost burlesque at times, but it was a time when traditional theater actors entered the film stages in their colorful costumes and filmmakers struggled to make the best out of color film. It gives the films of that era an unmistakable charm that cannot be reproduced, just as the vivid hues in the Technicolor process cannot be imitated.
The colors are without a doubt one of the most striking aspects of this film, as they help show the world of the movie in a romanticized, slightly transfigured way that makes the people and events appear larger than life and even more adventurous. It makes the locations appear more exotic and removed from the real world. The Technicolor process and the resulting strong, vibrant colors, with their exaggerated reproduction, are a significant part of what made the movies of the period so memorable in appearance. "Reap The Wild Wind" is one of those great examples where the color scheme adds enormously to the melodrama played off on screen. Since the colors are such an important aspect of this film, it is great to see that they are vividly reproduced on this DVD from Universal Home Video without any smearing, bleeding or noise that is inherent in other video formats. Even the subtlest nuances in the lush decoration and costumes is reproduced in its full glory, making this disc a striking example of how the DVD technology can help enhance these classic movies. It allows us to watch these films exactly the way they were originally produced, without the faded transfers you might have gotten used to over the years on video or broadcast. Sadly, the film transfer of this classic movie shows quite a number of signs of damage and wear. Speckles and serious film scratches are present in a vast number of scenes and the overall image transfer is a bit soft. Nevertheless, it is a great experience to see this film come to life in its original full frame aspect ratio on this great DVD without digital artifacts.
The disc contains a monaural soundtrack that is presented in a 2.0 channel Dolby Digital mix. Audio technologies weren’t nearly as sophisticated back in 1942 when this film was shot as they are these days, so it is hardly surprising that a good part of the soundtrack sounds extremely thin and undistinguishable. Although clearly dated, the film’s soundtrack oozes the same charm as the film, and the musical score builds a very strong support for the dramatic action DeMille staged for the viewer. "Reap The Wild Wind" comes with an English soundtrack, and is fully dubbed in Spanish. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish are selectable from the disc’s menu.
DeMille’s movies do not have a great deal of depth and they never try to take themselves too seriously. "Reap The Wild Wind" is no different, and it offers two hours of pure, classic entertainment, packaged in a colorful, stylish movie. It stands as a reminder of the times when filmmaking was completely geared towards sheer entertainment and taking people out of their day-to-day lives, not to mention the tragic pain of World War II. I greatly enjoyed watching this film. It still makes a great and exciting movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon.