IT'S SURPRISING how many '30s and '40s movies we admire today were flops when they were first released: Duck Soup, The Great Dictator, To Be or Not to Be, and 1937's Drame (on disc April 29). Though it's little known this side of the Atlantic, Drame emphatically belongs among that class of turkeys-turned-classics. Written by poet Jacques Pr鶥rt and directed by Marcel Carn頨Children of Paradise), starring half a dozen of the leading stars of French theater and film, Drame is a shaggy-dog comedy about a timid gentleman botanist (Michel Simon) forced to write lurid crime fiction by his money-mad gorgon of a wife (Fran篩se Rosay), thereby rousing the suspicion of his prune-faced cousin the Bishop of Bedford (Louis Jouvet) that he (the botanist) is himself a murderer. From that point, about 15 minutes in, the plot really goes wild, involving a romantic milkman (Jean-Pierre Aumont), a thick-witted Scotland Yard inspector (Pierre Alcover), and a real homicidal maniac (Jean-Louis Barrault) with a penchant for publicity and for butchering butchers.
Early adherents of the surrealist movement, Carn頡nd Pr鶥rt twist Drame's simple light-comedy frame to produce some disquieting distortions; in their faux-innocent way, Alexandre Trauner's sets are as stylized and claustrophobic as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari's. The way Pr鶥rt's plotting forces the characters to don disguise upon disguise turns what could have been a routine "French farce" into a comic critique of bourgeois identity.
This reissue provides nothing in the way of "bonus features," but merely having a clean, digitally restored print and soundtrack for this odd, darkly charming film (long available only on dreadful tape transfers) is a bonus. And you can't argue with the price. Roger Downey
YOU CAN ARGUE with the merit of some May 20 releases, including the young-Hitler flick Max, 1968's The Love Bug (will there be a New Beetle remake?), 1964's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (with Kirk Douglas, James Mason, and Peter Lorre), John Woo's three-hour cut of Windtalkers, Kevin Costner's expanded Dances With Wolves, Denzel Washington's mawkish Antwone Fisher, and Spike Lee's pointless 25th Hour. The Coen Brothers' Barton Fink and Miller's Crossing are inarguably good, but there aren't any commentary tracks. Ditto for Adaptation. Criterion is packaging five great Hitchcock thrillers, while Warner Bros. is pushing out some old John Wayne chestnuts. Eds.