• Andy Ross

Rachel, Rachel in Illinois


Warner Archive keeps chugging right along with another pair of releases from their vaults. Both films are making their HD debuts on blu-ray. First up we have a look at the first movie directed by Paul Newman and starring his wife, Joanne Woodard, “Rachel, Rachel.” Then, we look at 1940’s “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” starring Raymond Massey reprising his role from the broadway stage show of the same name.


I somehow didn’t know that Paul Newman had directed a handful of movies during his storied career. It all began in 1968 with “Rachel, Rachel” which Newman also produced. His wife, Joanne Woodward plays the title role of Rachel. Rachel is a repressed school teacher in her late 30s still living in the town she grew up in. Rachel feels unhappy with the direction her life is going.


She’s lonely and fears she can’t break out of a rut that’s left her in a state of depression. The film doesn’t make it clear, but it’s almost hinted that Rachel is suffering from PTSD. Newman often breaks the film up into quick flashbacks into Rachel’s past—where the kid version of Rachel is played by Newman and Woodward’s daughter. When a man Rachel grew up with comes back to town for the summer they began a small romance that finally stirs feelings inside of Rachel.


The movie was a success and was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture. Under Newman’s direction, it’s a very good, moving, real, emotionally raw movie. Though the flashbacks into Rachel’s past are disjointed by design, they can make those parts of the film a bit hard to follow. The new blu-ray of “Rachel, Rachel” looks great. It’s a fine new transfer in 1080p and has a solid grain structure and good color levels. Bonus material includes the trailer and an exhibitor promo.


Actor Raymond Massey made a large impact in his career when he ported Abraham Lincoln on stage in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Abe Lincoln in Illinois.” The play was adapted for a film in 1940 by RKO and Massey reprised his part for it. Both efforts were so successful for Massey that he allegedly began to adopt Lincoln-type mannerisms so much that playwright and humorist George S Kaufman said “Massey won’t be satisfied until someone assassinates him.”


The film is good, but in today’s eyes, it’s very much typical of the kind of prestige biography films of historic figures that Hollywood made during the classic era. A young Ruth Gordon co-stars in the film, her first screen role, as Mary Todd Lincoln. All in all, it’s a very well-made film and Massey’s take on Lincoln is very indelible.


The new blu-ray, sourced from original surviving 35mm elements, looks great. The black and white image is clear and sharp. Grain is on the light side, but it doesn’t look like it’s been overly scrubbed away by technicians using Digital Noise Reduction. All in all, it was a very pleasant presentation. There is only one extra, a radio adaption of the film on Lux Radio Theater. For Lincoln fans and history buffs, this one comes highly recommended.


That’s all for this month in Warner Archive. I always look forward to seeing what they’re planning next and I hope they have a big slate of goodies in store for us well into the future. Be sure to look up both titles to add to your collection. See you next week.