The Stanley Kramer Collection

The Stanley Kramer Collection
Stanley Kramer made the worst films masquerading as the best: bloated, arrogant, condescending message movies that dishonoured their subjects and insulted audience intelligence. Fortunately, there are only two of his directorial efforts in this five-film collection, with the rest rounded out by his more notable producer work. The most famous in the set is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, in which white Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn bickered over whether to let their daughter get married to the noticeably black Sidney Poitier (it was 1967, remember). People recall this Oscar-winner very fondly but there isn’t a single act of recognisable human behaviour in the whole self-congratulatory thing. Still, this is preferable to Ship of Fools, in which a bunch of Germans whining on a cruise boat has something to do with explaining the Holocaust. It doesn’t, but an all-star cast embarrass themselves in some painfully earnest speechifying. The thudding obviousness of these two exists in sharp contrast to The Member of the Wedding, Fred Zinneman’s adaptation of Carson McCuller’s play version of her Southern Gothic novel. Julie Harris gives a bizarre performance as a 12-year-old with a strange imagination who yearns to leave her small town. Zinneman shows the sensitivity and nuance Kramer himself lacks, and Ethel Waters shines as the black domestic who shows more sense than her white charge. There’s been much love for The Wild One, with Marlon Brando as a sensitive leather biker who terrorises a small town with his gang, but it’s one of those movies that was more sensational in its day than it could ever be now. Anyone who’s experienced the subsequent years of miscreant on-screen behaviour — all well beyond what this movie could even imagine — is left with nothing but Brando’s performance, dull direction by Laslo Benedek and maudlin liberal hand-wringing. Finally, there is The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which manages the feat of bringing together dull-as-dishwater Kramer and zippy, effervescent Dr. Seuss in telling the story of a boy trapped in a crazy piano school with a dictatorial teacher and a piano big enough for a school full of children. It is pure, frivolous entertainment of a very special sort, and so anomalous that you wonder how the producer could have been attracted to it. The collection includes the two-disc edition of Dinner, with featurettes, vintage clips and testimonials from Quincy Jones and Tom Brokaw. As well, Karen Kramer introduces every movie, there’s a smattering of featurettes for each and commentaries on Member of the Wedding and The Wild One. (Sony)