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Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day's Journey Into Night
Lion's Gate
1962 / B&W / 1:37 flat full frame (suspect slight pan-scan) / 174 min. / Street Date May 11, 2004 / 14.98
Starring Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, Dean Stockwell, Jeanne Barr
Cinematography Boris Kaufman
Production Designer Richard Sylbert
Film Editor Ralph Rosenblum
Original Music André Previn
Written by Eugene O'Neill
Produced by Jack J. Dreyfus Jr., Ely A. Landau, Joseph E. Levine
Directed by Sidney Lumet

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Eugene O'Neill's play gets the regal treatment, with top stars and a director who knows how present intimate drama on screen. This very uncommercial movie is the filmic equivalent of the great television plays of the 50s and 60s. The four main actors are superb, and do a fine job of making good entertainment out of what is basically one long miserable day in the life of a family where every member is dysfunctional.


The early 1900s. Summer with the Tyrones is a hellish psychodrama. Ex-actor James Tyrone Sr. (Ralph Richardson) is an alcoholic miser who has spent a lifetime treading on the spirit of his wife Mary (Katharine Hepburn). Because of some bad doctoring she's now a longtime dope addict, defiantly denying both her condition and that of her youngest son Edmund (Dean Stockwell). Edmund has returned from a few years on the seas but has contracted tuberculosis. Mary wants to pretend there's no problem and isn't much use; older son James Jr. (Jason Robards Jr.) accuses his father of being too cheap to send Edmund to a good sanitorium. James Jr. is a failed actor and wastrel who criticizes his father but spends his money getting drunk in town. With all of these emotional cripples, solving the family problems is hopeless.

Although a commercially impossible project, this version of Long Day's Journey Into Night was hailed as an artistic triumph in 1962 and won several acting awards at the Cannes film festival. It was only nominated for one Oscar (for Hepburn) but the general consensus was that director Lumet was a remarkable, high-class talent.

The film is ... very long. It is an ordeal but the characters are fascinating; their thorny problems and tangled relationships unfold at a pace that keeps us wanting to know more. They are stylized theatrical performances - Hepburn's Mary wrings her hands and repeatedly worries aloud about the fog and the fog horn in ways that scream symbolic meanings - but Lumet's direction skews the environment into an appropriate funereal mood. His camera has the ability to change point of view and move around much more than the live television epics like The Iceman Cometh but we're never all that much aware of it - it's only there to facilitate the actors.

The play itself is an experiment in emotional stasis, reportedly based on O'Neill's personal family experience. The actors all take turns being passive and aggressive to each other, but none can make a dent in the gridlock of opinions. Dad wants the boys to humor Mom, but humoring Mom threatens both her and Edmund's health. Dad criticizes his sons but won't listen to complaints that he's a tightwad. Mom is fast becoming a madwoman, retreating into emotional fantasies to avoid reality. Most scenes have a circular structure where characters start out on an even basis, move into an argument and then retreat with apologies. Nothing is solved and nobody is moved to action that might solve anything.

It does go on and can't be recommended to casual film fans, but those who can appreciate great acting should be greatly pleased. The ending scene starts with a ghostly Hepburn dragging her precious wedding dress (that represents her lost happiness) through the house. Her final speech is strong, dark poetry.

Lion's Gate's DVD of Long Day's Journey Into Night is okay but could be a lot better. The transfer is indifferent - full frame but probably cropping the sides slightly - it surely was at least 1:66 or 1:78 in the theaters and there's almost no head room here. The gray tones are drab and the picture slightly soft, perhaps an encoding issue. There's no evidence that this is even a recent transfer. The audio also does not sound as if it has been remastered, and several speeches are spoken so softly that they're hard to make out.

The DVD certainly plays okay and the film itself will intrigue drama students, but it's no showpiece. Although they aren't named on the package jacket, Artisan's logo is on the transfer; perhaps this is their master from an earlier VHS release. Long Day's Journey Into Night is not the kind of picture that's going to get a second chance on DVD, so this release is a mild disappointment.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Long Day's Journey Into Night rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Fair ++
Sound: Good - -
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 26, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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