DVD Review: Sons and Lovers (1960) (Fox Cinema Archives)

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Nominated for Best Picture in 1960, Sons and Lovers is an adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel. Directed by famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff—he won an Oscar for his work on Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus—at a time when the Motion Picture Production Code was still in place; frankness is not the order of the day. Despite that, and thanks in large part to a fine cast, the film still manages to capture the grim spirit of D.H. Lawrence’s classic novel.

Set in a Nottinghamshire, England mining town, Paul (Dean Stockwell) is the middle son of hard drinking coal miner Walter (Trevor Howard) and his wife Gertrude (Wendy Hiller). A promising artist, Paul has a patron a patron (Ernest Thesiger) eager to fund his education in London, and a sweet, devoted girlfriend Miriam (Heather Sears). Though Paul seems to have it all, his overprotective mother is bound and determined to remain the focus of his life. Though she encourages Paul to move to London in order to avoid a life in the mines, Gertrude subtly interferes with his blossoming romance and career. Gertrude’s actions don’t escape Walter, who has long been resentful of his boorish treatment even as he pays the bills with years of hard labor.

Sons and LoversRebelling against the traditional rules of loyalty and commitment presented to him by Miriam and his mother, Paul takes a lover. Clara Dawes (Mary Ure) is his supervisor at work. A suffragette, Clara is married, but separated from her jealous husband Baxter (Conrad Phillips). Mary’s status as a married woman suits Paul just fine, as he’s become an advocate of ‘free love.’ For Paul, his freedom to love Clara marks the first time his mother doesn’t have a direct impact on one of his personal decisions. However, given that Mary is much older than Paul, and his work supervisor, one wonders if she represents a mother figure to him.

Sons and Lovers is an example of a solid character driven drama. Both Wendy Hiller and Trevor Howard are excellent as Paul’s parents. The grit they bring to their roles rings true; we believe that these are people who have spent their lives living week to week, just scraping by. For Gertrude, at some point her marriage became stagnant, and the love she once had for her husband was transferred to her son Paul. If Sons and Lovers has a weakness, it’s in the performance of Dean Stockwell.  Surrounded by British actors and locations, the American Stockwell’s attempt at a proper accent sticks out like a sore thumb. While his accent isn’t horrible, it’s obvious he isn’t British. Stockwell has given some fine performances in his long career, but given the number of fine British actors around his age at the time, you have to wonder why Stockwell was chosen for the part.

Similar to other Fox Cinema Archives titles the full screen, 1.37:1 black and white transfer looks pretty sharp, with solid blacks and whites. There’s a couple of instances of flicker, but other than that, this is a nice standard definition presentation.

The Dolby Digital English split mono audio does its job, with only a slight hiss, but with no subtitles or closed captions.

No special features are included.