Valerie (MGM LE Collection) Review
It's not quite a western Rashomon, but Valerie takes the idea of a series of flashbacks from multiple points of view and puts it to good use. The story, culminating in a husband who is accused of murdering his wife's parents and also shooting her in the same incident, is pieced together from three different versions, each of which puts a different slant on who these characters are. When it's the minister (Anthony Steel) who's new in town relaying things, he's kind-hearted and trying to protect the emotionally disturbed Valerie (Anita Ekberg) from her controlling husband. Sterling Hayden, as the Civil War veteran husband and interrogation expert, spins the story to make him seem like a frustrated cuckold who can't control his money-seeking wife. Only when it's Valerie telling her side, weakly relayed from the doctor's office, does the story start to make sense.
The film actually begins like we've joined something that was already in progress. Hayden's character John Garth rides up with another man to a house. They enter, gunshots are fired, and they subsequently ride away from the house. What follows is the trial that frames those flashbacks in the movie. The preacher testifies first, giving the viewer some idea as to what this is all about, and he's followed on the witness stand by Garth. How we see the events leading up to the shootings keeps changing with each teller. It's not simply the same story being related in different ways. The viewer is tasked with putting these pieces together but our opinion of the characters and just what happened among them is frequently in flux. The actors' performances, too, adapt to how they're being perceived in a given version. Hayden, particularly, gives his portrayal a tight-lipped edge that makes it difficult to decide just how sympathetic his character should be for much of the picture.
Similarly, Ekberg's Valerie comes across in a very negative light until her side of the story is revealed. It's not a terribly challenging role for the actress considering Valerie is often unconscious or hysterical, but Ekberg does at least get a couple of chances to display more than just her looks here. At one point (and in one version), she tries to seduce her brother-in-law (played by Peter Walker) while her husband looks on from afar. The sensuality that Ekberg injects is a little surprising. It's not a shock that she'd be capable of playing sexy. This is, after all, the woman who just three years later would dance around a water fountain in Fellini's La Dolce Vita in a scene that has immortalized her. But seeing the ease with which Ekberg could turn on the seduction, particularly in a 1957 Hollywood movie, is still startling. The interaction perhaps feels more explicit than it even is, and it's all because of Ekberg. Strangely enough, it's not a matter of chemistry with the other actor. And though it could be a consequence of the plot, she doesn't even offer any particular spark when with Steel, to whom she was married at the time.
If the two leads and their unexpected pairing aren't reason enough to merit a watch of Valerie, consider also the film's director, Gerd Oswald. Born in Germany to parents who were prominent in the film industry, Oswald emigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. He toiled as an assistant director on small, cheap pictures at Monogram before getting hired at Paramount, where he worked on Sunset Blvd. and A Place in the Sun, and Twentieth Century Fox. Oswald finally got the opportunity to direct with A Kiss Before Dying, released in 1956. It's that film, with its dynamic use of color and wide CinemaScope frame and featuring a young Robert Wagner to disturbing effect, that is generally acknowledged to be Oswald's finest. His other big screen work, including Valerie, a second teaming with Sterling Hayden in Crime of Passion, and another picture co-starring Anita Ekberg called Screaming Mimi, is somewhat disappointing in comparison but still interesting enough to contain a few recommended curiosities. As his feature career cooled, television beckoned and Oswald turned to the small screen, most notably directing several episodes of The Outer Limits.
While Valerie, like its director, resists any notion of being a major find ripe for rediscovery, both film and filmmaker are indeed deserving of some fringe interest from those looking to move beyond the typical required viewing. Oswald had talent and made some intriguing pictures, including this one. Its willingness to explore different sides and angles is perhaps the movie's greatest asset. The technique of using multiple flashbacks from different points of view certainly makes Valerie a more interesting film than it would have been with a straight linear narrative.
The MGM Limited Edition Collection adds Valerie to its stable with this single-layered DVD-R, burned on-demand.
The film is progressively transferred and in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. It looks passable. The black and white image shows mediocre contrast and only a modest level of detail. The lack of overall crispness and depth in the transfer is nonetheless consistent with reasonable expectations of a release such as this. For most, the quality should be sufficient and the absence of any major or nagging damage in the picture is a real plus.
English mono audio pleases with its clarity and easily understood dialogue. I heard no instances of annoying pops or bouts of hiss while viewing the film. While the inherent limitations of the track are obvious, it presents no problems in terms of functionality. As with all made-on-demand titles, subtitles are not included.
Also absent here are any supplemental materials.