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Featured DVD Review: The Dead

December 26th, 2009

The Dead - Buy from Amazon

John Huston made some of the best movies ever, including Key Largo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, Prizzi's Honor, and many others. This was his last film and that alone is enough to make it of interest for fans of his work. However, that is not the only reason, as this adaptation of the James Joyce short story of the same name earned stunning reviews and picked up two Oscar nominations, as well as other awards. It has all the ingredients for the perfect swan song for the director.

Set in early 20th century Ireland, the film takes place at an annual dinner hosted by two elderly sisters, Kate and Julia Morkan, who every year have a dance and dinner for friends and family. It's quite a wintry night and a few of the guests are running late. Freddy Malins is always late, but they fear he will also arrive drunk. On the other hand, why Gabriel and Gretta Conroy are late is of a little more concern. Gabriel is highly concerned about making a good impression, which could be quite as task, as he managed to offend Lily, the housemaid, immediately upon arriving. Twice. He's quite worried about the speech he is to give for dinner and fears if he might sound pretentious, but also worries that his speech will go over the heads of the people there. His lack of self-awareness is a major issue in this movie.

Throughout the movie we watch as the cast of characters talk about a number of topics, although the Morkan sisters are quick to turn the conversation around should the topic of religion or politics come into play. There's dancing and singing and good cheer, while some slowly get too drunk to be out in public. (At least one started out that way. Apparently Freddie took less than a week to break his vow of sobriety, which was his New Year's resolution.) Early in the evening, a Mr. Grace was to give a comedic recitation, but instead recites an 18th century poem, Broken Vows, which has a deep effect on Gretta for reasons her husband is unaware. The movie ends with him learning about someone from his wife's past and through this comes to the type of epiphany that tends to play such an important part in James Joyce's short stories, especially those that were part of his Dubliners series.

This film was made when John Huston was very ill; in fact, he passed away before it was released. It was a true swan song, as the filmmaker knew this would most likely be his last film. That affected a lot of what went into making this movie, including the choice of the source material, which was outside his norm and deals more with the intimate emotional connections. It is elegantly crafted with amazing performances throughout, including an Independent Spirit Award-winning performance from Anjelica Huston. It is absolutely worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of John Huston, or of James Joyce.

Sadly, there are no extras on the DVD, but at least the mistake that occurred in its first pressing has been corrected. When the DVD originally came out at the beginning of November there was an error in the authoring which led to roughly 10 minutes of the film being left out. This error has been corrected and if you have a defective DVD, you can get it replaced by Lionsgate.

The Verdict

The Dead was the final movie made by director John Huston and as such it is a must see for his fans. As a swan song, it delivers in every regard and my only complaint is that the DVD is devoid of extras. This is an even bigger problem, given the film's place in Huston's career.

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