Frances "Frankie" Addams, the lanky and reckless 12 year-old tomboy at the heart of Fred Zinnemann's The Member of the Wedding (1952). is uncomfortable in her own skin. She's not afraid to let everyone know it, either: her patient housekeeper Berenice Brown (Ethel Waters), her sickly but precocious young cousin John Henry (Brandon de Wilde), her "friends" from school and the neighborhood, her all-but absentee father (William Hansen) and, most recently, her dear older brother Jarvis (Arthur Franz) and his lovely fiancée Janice (Nancy Gates), who will be married within the week. It's this latest event that's gotten Frankie (Julie Harris) especially worked up: there's nothing for her in this small Southern town---at least nothing she wants, apparently---and one of her last remaining remnants of a happy childhood is leaving for his honeymoon in a matter of days. For Frankie, The Member of the Wedding is a turbulent coming-of-age story; for the audience, it's a litmus test for anyone who thinks they're ready to raise a teenager.
Based on Carson McCullers' highly successful 1946 novel (and in turn, the popular 1950 Broadway production that also starred Harris, Waters, and de Wilde), The Member of the Wedding remains a spirited slice of Southern drama that, despite a number of nagging faults, does a decent job of adapting the source material. It's impossible to get through any write-up of the film without mentioning that the 12 year-old Frankie was portrayed by Harris at age 26---and to her credit, it's a well-meaning and memorable performance that's more genuine than distracting. Still, there are issues here: Harris---and to a lesser extent, her two returning co-stars--seem so comfortable with the material in its stage format that they often aim for the back seats: this is never more evident than Frankie's violent outbursts, which eventually wear thin on the ears of all but the most patient viewers. I soon found myself far more interested in Berenice (along with her foster brother "Honey", played by James Edwards), John Henry, and the newlyweds.
Still, The Member of the Wedding has more than its fair share of great moments: the lead trio often impresses when they're in the same room, and the downward spiral of Frankie's emotional balance as the wedding approaches is fascinating in its raw, unfiltered presentation. It's the kind of film that's easy to get wrapped up in; engaging enough the first time, but one whose bleak backdrop and steady, unsettling momentum isn't especially high on replay value. It's recommended to mature viewers who went through a similar experience during young adulthood...but for everyone else, The Member of the Wedding will likely keep you at too much of a distance to make a lasting impact.
Luckily, Twilight Time's sparkling new Blu-ray package tips the scales in its favor, serving up a pristine A/V presentation and a well-rounded collection of old and new bonus features that dissect the film and its source material in relatively strong detail. It's at least worth a rental for anyone halfway interested in this production...but considering its last home video release was a 2008 DVD (part of a boxed set highlighting the career of producer Stanley Kramer), this belated but welcome bump to high definition will make Twilight Time's disc a must-have for die-hard fans of the film.
Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this crisp 1080p transfer is a fine effort that eclipses Sony's 2008 DVD in every department, even though it appears to be taken from the same source elements. Image detail and texture are quite impressive with strong black levels (especially during the outdoor scenes), good contrast, and no glaring amounts of dirt and debris along the way. Digital imperfections are kept to a minimum, with no excessive noise reduction, contrast boosting, or compression issues to speak of. Either way, this is top-tier work that represents The Member of the Wedding's best home video presentation to date; for that alone, long-time fans should be thrilled.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and promotional photos on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The main option (aside from an Isolated Music Track, presented in lossless 2.0) is a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix that preserves the film's one-channel roots. This is a relatively strong effort with crisp dialogue and occasional moments of depth, while background effects and Alex North's music cues rarely fight for attention. Volume levels and dynamic range are steady from start to finish; though it's obviously less rich in comparison to larger-budget films, The Member of the Wedding sounds younger than its age implies. Optional English SDH subtitles are included during the film.
The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with striking black-and-white artwork and a nice little Booklet featuring production stills, vintage promotional artwork, and the usual essay penned by TT regular Julie Kirgo. .
Aside from the Isolated Score mentioned above and a new Audio Commentary with Suzanne Vega, Derek Botelho, and David Del Valle, everything of interest from the 2008 DVD is also on board (with the exception of a short Julie Harris video clip, but it didn't add much). These recycled extras include an older Audio Commentary---this time with Virginia Spencer Carr, author of Carson McCullers' biography---as well as two mid-length Featurettes ("The Journey from Stage to Film" and "The World of Carson McCullers", 25 minutes total), a brief Introduction by Stanley Kramer's widow Karen, and the film's original Trailer. Overall, it's a well-rounded collection of bonus features that fans should enjoy from start to finish; they look and sound quite good too, although the lack of optional subtitles is disappointing.
Fred Zinnemann's The Member of the Wedding examines a number of universal themes that still carry weight today, making this turbulent drama a serviceable adaptation of the original Broadway play...and porting over the three lead performers seems like a logical fit. Yet its stage roots are all too evident in some respects: Julie Harris aims for the back seats, while many moments feel overly rehearsed instead of natural. Due to the intensity of its central character, The Member of the Wedding should appeal more to those who went through a similar situation during young adulthood; I didn't, so Frankie's plight didn't resonate as deeply as it might for someone else (it's also why I found myself much more interested in the mostly neglected supporting characters). Still, it's aged well enough for a 64 year-old period drama, and Twilight Time's Blu-ray is a perfectly well-rounded effort with strong A/V marks and a handful of fine supplements. Firmly Recommended to established fans, but newcomers may want to rent it first.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.