Once she got out of the pool, Esther Williams made a few negligible dramatic movies and Raw Wind in Eden is one of them. What's touted as a tale of island passion turns out to be a plodding, rather tame picture that's distinguished by its Italian locations and color photography. Jeff Chandler supplies some beefcake and a brand-new 2K master, solid audio, and a commentary track that's more entertaining than the film make Kino's Blu-ray presentation a treat for those who have long anticipated this picturesque curio's home video debut. For Fans Only.
We all remember her as the shapely swimming sensation who performed death-defying feats, smiled serenely while holding her breath underwater for minutes on end, and adorned several opulent Busby Berkeley water ballets in a string of blockbuster aqua spectaculars. But when musicals began to lose favor with the public in the mid-1950s, Esther Williams found herself strangely adrift. After turning down the lead in The Opposite Sex, MGM's musical remake of The Women, Williams left the studio in a huff and pursued more dramatic - and drier - roles. A selfish supermodel in Raw Wind in Eden was one of them, and though she manages a dip or two in the Mediterranean Sea in director Richard Wilson's not-very-exotic romance set on a remote Italian isle, she can't rescue this misguided movie from drowning.
Despite the location shooting in Italy, Raw Wind in Eden is no Roman Holiday, Three Coins in the Fountain, or even Don't Look Now. Tangled relationships, intrigue, and more gunfire than you might expect comprise this jumbled melodrama that's lovely to look at but bereft of passion. Wilson, who only directed a handful of films (the best known of which is Al Capone starring Rod Steiger), captures the unspoiled beauty of the idyllic location, Williams' allure, and co-star Jeff Chandler's rugged intensity, but a disjointed plot and bland script sabotage his efforts at every turn.
The claustrophobic drama centers around the mysterious Mark Moore (Chandler), an American yachtsman who, along with the humble Urbano (Eduardo De Filippo) and his devoted daughter Costanza (Rossana Podestà), is the only resident on a tiny, craggy isle off the Italian coast. Laura (Williams), a top international model stuck in a dead-end relationship with a married man, and rich playboy Wally Drucker (Carlos Thompson), who hopes to seduce her on the rebound, disrupt their quiet, isolated existence when their private plane crash-lands on the island during a thunderstorm.
Laura and Wally are anxious to resume their jet-set life, but must wait for who knows how long until a supply boat can pick them up and ferry them to the mainland. That leaves plenty of time for an attraction to develop between Laura and Mark (much to the chagrin of both Wally and Costanza), tensions to rise between Mark and Wally, and secrets to be revealed. Explosive confrontations and violence ensue, but it's all much ado about very little.
Williams proves she doesn't need a pool to make an impression. Though her spirited performance is an ocean away from Oscar caliber, she's a competent actress and seems to enjoy playing a sexy character with attitude and gumption. Like many Golden Age female stars pushing middle age, Williams would struggle to adapt to a changing Hollywood and make just two more features before retiring from the screen at age 42 in 1963.
Her chemistry with the always reliable but not particularly magnetic Chandler fuels the film (the two reportedly had an affair during shooting), but despite their best efforts, neither can compete with or eclipse the glorious scenery, which is the main attraction of this ho-hum flick. Raw Wind in Eden never lives up to its provocative title, but it's a feast for the eyes and guilty pleasure for fans of Williams and Chandler.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Raw Wind in Eden arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
A brand new 2K master yields a largely satisfying 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that maximizes the beauty of both Williams and the Italian locations. The schizophrenic source material alternates between pristine splendor and a scratchy mess, with many scenes featuring crystal clarity and pitch-perfect contrast, while fuzzy softness plagues others. Transitions are a bit rough, too, but most of the time this transfer earns high marks, thanks to a natural grain structure that maintains the feel of film and sumptuous color that showcases the island scenery. Bold reds grab attention (Williams' cape, pantsuit, and lipstick are fine examples), as do the deep blue sea water and cloudless sky, green foliage, and Williams' auburn hair. Rich blacks, bright whites, good shadow delineation, and natural flesh tones also enhance the picture, and sharp close-ups highlight Williams' glamor and Chandler's salt-and-pepper hair and rugged complexion. For a movie that has never before seen a home video release, this is quite a debut that will certainly thrill admirers of Williams, Chandler, and CinemaScope films.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track provides solid sound. Atmospherics like the island breezes and pounding surf nicely shade the action, while sonic accents like gunshots, thunderclaps, and fisticuffs are crisp. A wide dynamic scale and excellent fidelity lend the lush music score by six-time Oscar nominee Hans J. Salter a lovely fullness of tone and all the dialogue is clear and comprehendible. No distortion creeps into the mix and any age-related hiss, pops, or crackle have been erased.
A couple of extras enhance the disc.
Audio Commentary - Film historian David Del Valle and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer sit down for an engaging commentary that begins by revealing Raw Wind in Eden has never been released on home video before, not even on VHS. Del Valle calls the movie a "guilty pleasure," "misfire," "curiosity," and "time capsule from another time," and amusingly bemoans the fact that the film isn't trashier. He also shares some gossipy details about its production and stars, most notably that Williams and Chandler had an affair during shooting, discusses Williams' talent as a straight dramatic actress, and rebukes the actress for her scurrilous allegation in her autobiography that Chandler was a cross-dresser. Kremer examines the film's technical and stylistic aspects, talks about director Richard Wilson's work, and analyzes the story's soap opera aspects. The two go off on a few tangents, but considering the minor nature of Raw Wind in Eden, that's understandable.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The movie's original preview touts its interpersonal drama.
Raw Wind in Eden provides an exotic location, but there's not much passion in this tepid drama about a handful of disparate people who must coexist on a remote Italian island. Esther Williams and Jeff Chandler try to breathe some life into the hackneyed material, but the real appeal of this mediocre movie is its Italian flavor and color photography. A brand new 2K master, good audio, and a lively commentary track distinguish Kino's Blu-ray presentation of this little-known film that at last makes its home video debut. For Fans Only.