Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Stingaree (1934) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Irene Dunne and Richard Dix star in RKO's STINGAREE (1934), available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber on March 20th.

STINGAREE, released in the waning days of the Pre-Code era, is a hybrid musical-adventure film. Its style would soon more fully flower in the MGM films of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, beginning with NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935), released less than a year after STINGAREE.

STINGAREE is a bit of an oddball film, with its main asset being its appealing lead players, reunited three years after costarring in the Oscar-winning CIMARRON (1931). Dix and Dunne, plus Dunne's singing and the energetic direction of William A. Wellman, combine to put the movie over and make it a pleasant watch. While not among the best films of either actor or the director, at the same time it's worth a look.

Dunne plays Hilda, the orphan maid to a wealthy couple, the Clarksons (Henry Stephenson and Mary Boland), on a sheep farm in Australia.

British musical impresario Sir Julian Kent (Conway Tearle) is visiting the area, and Mrs. Clarkson, who has delusions she can sing, arranges an audition. She also plans for Hilda, who possesses actual musical talent along with beauty, to stay far, far away from Sir Julian.

Stingaree (Dix), a dashing Robin Hood-esque type, kidnaps Sir Julian, with plans to impersonate him and rob the Clarksons. He doesn't count on meeting Hilda before Mrs. Clarkson has time to send her away, and he falls head over heels for her. It seems that Stingaree is also a music lover, and he's determined that Hilda will have her big break, even if he goes to prison as a result.

The couple are separated for an extended period of time, which drags on a bit too long, then builds to a rather silly ending which led me to wonder what on earth would happen to them next!  Although I would have tightened up the second half of the film, it's only 77 minutes so I can't complain too much about the length.

As one can tell from that abbreviated description, the film is somewhat goofy, with a music-loving bandit as the leading man! I think it would have helped if Dix were also a singer, in the style of the MacDonald-Eddy films. The personable Dix otherwise sells the role, however, and Dunne is so lovely as the Cinderella-esque Hilda that it's not at all hard to believe he'd do anything for her.

There are some interesting Pre-Code indicators scattered throughout the film, most notably when Stingaree kidnaps Hilda, followed by a passionate love scene which fades to black. Boland and Tearle also have some amusing dialogue which would not have been heard in a movie of the Production Code era.

There were numerous contributors to the script, which was based on a series of stories by E.W. Hornung. The movie was filmed by James Van Trees. The supporting cast includes Andy Devine, Una O'Connor, Reginald Owen, and Billy Bevan.

The disc includes a commentary track by William Wellman Jr. which I plan to listen to later this week. I've had the good fortune to hear Mr. Wellman speak in person on numerous occasions and know him to be extremely well-informed about his father's life and career, which he wrote about in WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL. Based on that his commentary track is sure to be of interest.

Trailers for four Wellman films available from Kino Lorber complete the extras.

The picture on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray is slightly soft, as is common with films of the early '30s, but it looks very good, without major scratches or defects. The sound is also quite strong, showing off Dunne's singing to good effect.

Kudos to Kino Lorber for making this lesser-known film available in such a nice presentation.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

This sounds an intriguing oddity and I love the artwork.
Sort of off topic,but I watched a high def download (which someone burned to Blu Ray)
of Wellman's THE HIGH & THE MIGHTY in stunning 2.55 widescreen with lovely WarnerColor.
I have not seen this one in ages and what a marvellous film.
Apart from the all star cast there a host of favourites in minor roles like Julie Bishop,
Karen Sharpe,William Hopper,Walter Reed,Douglas Kennedy,Regis Toomey and many others.
I thought Doe Avedon was sensational she has a sort of Felicia Farr quality-I wish she had
made more films-I understand that she married Don Siegel. I also feel that Wellman
in that film gave us one of The Duke's very best performances. I hope that it gets a Blu Ray release soon.

5:24 AM  

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