Recently, Warner Brothers reached back into its extensive vault and released three classic films on Blu-ray. The jewel of this trio is Driving Miss Daisy, the memorable tale of a feisty southern woman (Jessica Tandy) and her loyal chauffeur (Morgan Freeman). The movie won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1989.
Driving Miss Daisy is a personal story, told over 25 years, about the relationship between two very different individuals, one a Jewish woman, and the other, an African-American man. They each have their own prejudices, backgrounds, and interests, but over time, become best friends. The movie is also a commentary on race relations at large, and a history lesson on the changing attitudes of the American people, especially in the South.
Tandy won a Best Actress Oscar for the role, an honor she greatly deserved. Freeman, nominated for Best Actor, is equally good, and the chemistry between the two actors feels as real as anything I’ve ever seen. Even decades after this movie came out, the experience of watching it remains as engrossing and special as ever.
Driving Miss Daisy is buoyed by a terrific supporting cast, including Supporting Actor nominee Dan Akryod as Miss Daisy’s son, Boolie, who tries to get her to overcome her pride and accept help as she ages, Patti LuPone as Boolie’s wife, and Esther Rolle (Good Times) as Miss Daisy’s beloved housekeeper, Idella, who is the catalyst for a very emotional development in the movie.
The release of the movie includes a 32-page book built into the disc case. It has some interesting information on the making of the movie, as well as the actors in it, with lots of beautiful photos. There is also a new featurette talking about discrimination in Atlanta, as well as previously released extras like an audio commentary, featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.
The movie itself has been remastered to great effect. I noticed that there is great detail in low-lit scenes, and while things may look a little grainy, that feels appropriate for the time period. There aren’t a lot of bright colors in the flick, but the ones that are present are done well. I didn’t detect major artificial contrast, and the visuals looking authentic. The sound is clear, and well mixed. There is a loud factory scene, but dialogue still comes through it. Driving Miss Daisy isn’t really designed for surround sound, but as a stereo track, the feed is detailed and rich.
At the same time as Driving Miss Daisy is released, two other pictures came out, albeit with simpler editions. The first is Mrs. Miniver, the Academy Award Best Picture winner of 1942. The title role is played by Greer Garson, who also won an Oscar for it. The second is Grand Hotel, which was named Best Picture for 1931/32, and boasts a stellar ensemble cast including Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore.
The plot of Mrs. Miniver takes place in England during World War II. Maybe Mrs. Miniver can’t personally fight in the war, but she can rally the spirits of those back at home, providing support to children and her neighbors alike, even sticking it to a face of the enemy. It’s an inspiring movie about the resolve of a nation, personalized by one brave heroine, and released at a time where it could do the most good as propaganda.
Grand Hotel, by contrast, is less heavy material. A gaggle of stars cross paths at the building mentioned in the title. Friends are made, deals are closed, and crimes are forgiven. It’s a place where lives can be changed, and they are. “Nothing ever happens” my foot, the famous line of dialogue dripping with contrary meaning.
These two older films remain in black and white, but look and sound pretty good in their new transfers, though occasionally appearing soft and lacking detail at times. Mrs. Miniver, made a decade later, is a step above Grand Hotel in picture, if not in audio.
For movies these old, one doesn’t expect total magic, but they are serviceable releases, and surely an improvement over previous versions. They also lack new extras or colorful, photo-filled books, but will still provide an entertaining way to pass an evening. The stories themselves hold up, and really, what more can you ask for in films this old? As long as the remain entertaining, they deserve to be watched again, and both of these movies fall into that category.
Driving Miss Daisy, Mrs. Miniver, and Grand Hotel are available now on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers.