Alexander Korda's That Hamilton Woman (1941) was the first movie that this reviewer ever owned as a pre-recorded VHS tape (back in 1985); and it was the first movie we ever owned on laserdisc (in 1988). But its bow on DVD was delayed until the summer of 2009. It has finally shown up, in a Criterion Collection edition that's as handsome as the original movie and as well produced as the movie itself. The film-to-video transfer is gorgeous throughout -- in only one sequence, in fact, Alan Mowbray's last scene in the film, was there any sign of any distracting source damage, and that was kept to a minimum, in comparison to some other editions of this movie that we've seen. And for the first time in at least two decades, the film's original American title, That Hamilton Woman (as opposed to the UK Lady Hamilton) has been restored to the extant edition of the movie. The full-screen black-and-white image (1.33-to-1) is richly textured and beautifully contrasted throughout, and the audio has also been mastered at a full, high volume level, which gives proper play to both Laurence Olivier's magnificent vocal portrayal of Lord Nelson, and to Miklos Rozsa's score, a masterpiece of romantic and martial sensibilities. The latter is also richly represented in one of the bonus features, an extended radio promotion feature from 1941 for the movie, which is a strange and delightgful curio. The original UK trailer is also included, in rather rough condition, but those are the least of the bonuses. The real value of this disc, apart from the finest presentation ever of the movie in question, lies with the two major bonus features. The first is a commentary track by English film scholar Ian Christie in which he traces the evolution of the screenplay and the direct path by which Korda, who got a knighthood in the wake of this movie, came to make That Hamilton Woman; he ranges across art, history, music, politics, and cinema, in a lecture that is a model for this sort of commentary (and this comes from someone who has done 30 of those himself). One can quibble about minor aspects of some of his interpretations, but the overall thrust of Christie's work is a marvel, and by itself would make this disc worth owning. But then there is the other major bonus feature, a 30-minute-plus on-camera talk -- supported by relevant clips of the movie, and stills -- by Michael Korda, the producer/director's author
ephew, who provides what could easily have been the beginning of a book about this movie, and yet another book about the Korda family. And by itself, that interview, despite one possible chronological slip in his discussion, is just about worth the price of admission. The disc itself, though loaded with bonus features, is structured in a very compact manner, with a simple, easy-to-use menu that opens automatically on start-up. The accompanying booklet includes an extensive analytical essay by film critic Molly Haskell, which is well worth reading.