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Lenny: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Lenny (1974) movie poster Lenny

Theatrical Release: November 10, 1974 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Bob Fosse / Writer: Julian Barry (play & screenplay)

Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Lenny Bruce), Valerie Perrine (Honey Bruce), Jan Miner (Sally Marr), Stanley Beck (Artie Silver), Gary Morton (Sherman Hart), Rashel Novikoff (Aunt Mema), Guy Rennie (Jack Goldstein), Frankie Man (Baltimore Comic), Mark Harris (Defense Attorney), Lee Sandman (2nd San Francisco Judge), Susan Malnick (Kitty - Age Twelve), Martin Begley (San Francisco Judge), Phil Philbin (New York Plainclothesman), Ted Sorel (New York Attorney), Clarence Thomas (New York Attorney), Mike Murphy (New York Prosecutor), John DiSanti (John Santi), Mickey Gatlin (San Francisco Policeman), Kathryn Witt (Girl)

Buy Lenny on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

In his more than fifty years as an actor, Dustin Hoffman has enjoyed several lifetimes' worth of great movies and juicy roles.
It is easy to determine when Hoffman's heyday began: the 1967 classic The Graduate basically ushered in modern film as we know it. You could say it's been smooth sailing for the diminutive actor ever since then, although more critical minds would point out that Hoffman's most notable recent work has either been voiceover (the Kung Fu Panda series) or in movies considered mediocre (Last Chance Harvey, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium) or worse (Little Fockers).

Where then does one set the end point for Hoffman's absurdly productive artistic peak? Certainly not before Rain Man, the 1988 Best Picture winner that earned him his second Best Actor Oscar. If you consider Hoffman's career in decline since then, you'd be underestimating his subsequent contributions to good and great movies, like Finding Neverland, Sleepers, Wag the Dog, Stranger Than Fiction, Runaway Jury, and Outbreak (yeah, I said it). There's also Hook, which most of my generation would be disappointed at me not mentioning. These films do not have the reputation of Hoffman's earlier work, and while you may be able to dismiss each individually, the lot of them is tough to ignore and marginalize.

Still, Hoffman in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s was consistently making films as good as the entire rest of the industry. He wasn't working around the clock; years could and would pass between new movies. And you can't credit one or two filmmakers for the quality of the output, for Hoffman worked with a variety of writers and directors, most of whom rarely made as big an impression without him in their cast. Looking over the stretch that included Midnight Cowboy, Little Big Man, All the President's Men, Marathon Man, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Tootsie, Hoffman is practically the only thing these films have in common. Whether in a revisionist Western comedy, a political thriller, or a divorce custody drama, Hoffman delivers a potent performance befitting the material and elevating it.

This stretch was overflowing with award recognition for Hoffman, who in the fifteen years from 1967 to 1982 drew five Oscar nominations and eight Golden Globe nominations, winning one of the former and three of the latter. Beyond Hoffman's personal accolades, the films themselves often competed for the industry's top honors, a testament to his ability to pick projects of value and then better them with his dependable versatility.

Bob Fosse's Oscar-nominated 1974 drama "Lenny" stars Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce, a controversial stand-up comedian turned free speech advocate.

Smack in the middle of that fifteen-year stretch came Lenny, a black and white biopic of controversial, ground-breaking stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce. It would draw six nominations from the Academy Awards: Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Cinematography. The Best Picture nomination placed it among such hallowed fare as The Godfather Part II, Chinatown, and The Conversation. The only nominee that now looks out of place in such company is The Towering Inferno, a big budget, star-studded disaster movie from producer Irwin Allen, whose previous effort The Poseidon Adventure was more deserving of such acknowledgement.

In Lenny, veteran stage actor and manager Julian Barry adapts his Broadway play of the same name, which ran for thirteen months at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Hoffman, lightly stage-seasoned in the 1960s, assumed the title role originated by Cliff Gorman. The director's chair was filled by Bob Fosse, the legendary choreographer who had successfully transitioned to directing theatre and film. Lenny would be Fosse's first non-musical movie credit following his highly-regarded adaptations of Sweet Charity and Cabaret, the latter of which was decorated with eight Oscars (including Best Director for Fosse) in the same year The Godfather only won three.

Lenny Bruce, born Leonard Schneider in 1925 New York, rises from a nobody emcee introducing strippers to a popular comic. His comedy tackles social issues with no self-censorship. Lenny shatters taboos with his frank, thoughtful, foul-mouthed, and witty discussions of sex, race, homosexuality, and inequality. Not everyone finds him funny, though. He is arrested for using a vulgar sexual term on stage. This, the first of a number of public arrests on obscenity charges, drives him to become a crusader for freedom of speech. Lenny becomes consumed with his legal battles, reading from court transcripts on stage and even researching the law enough to defend himself at one trial. Lenny's belief in the First Amendment and passionate fight against the suppression of words do not protect him from declines in health and showmanship.

"Lenny" assumes the form of a documentary with taped interviews of people in Lenny's life, including widow Honey Bruce (Valerie Perrine).

Not at all a conventional biopic like the ones obligatorily honored by the Academy today, Lenny gives us some insight into the man himself,
detailing his marriage to stripper Honey Harlow (Valerie Perrine), whom he struggles to work into a double act and who eventually becomes troubled with her own legal problems stemming from her dependency on illegal drugs. Honey, Lenny's mother (Jan Miner), and his longtime manager (Stanley Beck) all discuss the comic's life and career in interviews running throughout the film that give it a documentary feel.

Lenny does a lot you couldn't do on stage, most notably cross-cutting that fleshes out the man with a mix of his comedy and others' reflections. As you can guess, the highlight of the film is Hoffman. His outstanding performance honestly makes you forget you're watching an actor you've seen in dozens of movies and believe you're watching the real Lenny Bruce who died in 1966.

Lenny recently made its way to Blu-ray Disc from Twilight Time, the productive boutique label who treated it to the usual low 3,000-unit run of their Limited Edition Series.

Lenny: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Marketplace Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English), 1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (Music and Effects Track)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 10, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Also available as Comedian Double Feature DVD-R with Mr. Saturday Night ($9.99 SRP; December 11, 2012)
and on Amazon Instant Video;
Previously released as MGM DVD (April 16, 2002)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Twilight Time has repeatedly displayed as much ability as any studio to make old movies look new on Blu-ray. Lenny's 1.85:1 transfer isn't perfect, but it is satisfactory. Some minor wear does turn up on the black and white element: blink and miss specks, faint lines. There are also a couple of shots lacking focus. Still, for an over 40-year-old movie, this looks very good. The picture remains consistent, maintaining an agreeable amount of detail and clarity.

The 1.0 DTS-HD master audio mono soundtrack cannot hide the film's age as well. The recordings do sound a bit dated and flat. But you won't have any problem hearing the dialogue and shouldn't need to consult the English SDH subtitles without a hearing problem. It's not like this dialogue-driven movie demands a 5.1-channel remix or that this basic mix will disappoint anyone with reasonable expectations.

Lenny's theatrical trailer credits the film's key personnel. The Lenny Blu-ray menu, like the cover art, tries to censor Lenny Bruce.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's Special Features section holds just two short HD videos: Lenny's original theatrical trailer (2:51) and MGM's 90th Anniversary trailer (2:06). But there is quite a bit more than those to enjoy in this release.

From the Set Up menu, one finds two additional ways to experience the film. First and more significantly is an audio commentary by Twilight Time historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo.

They make sense out of Fosse's attraction to the uncharacteristic material and discuss the interesting creative choices made, most of which render the film more of a Fosse autobiography. The track flows with information about the film, its cast, their clashes with Fosse, and the real Lenny Bruce. While an insider's perspective would have been nice (perhaps writer Barry or actress Perrine, assuming Hoffman was unobtainable), these two do a fine job of filling the air with useful research and observations.

The other playback option is Twilight Time's standard isolated music and effects track. This 1.0 DTS-HD master audio presentation has even less value than usual, since the movie lacks a traditional score. What's left then are the occasional crowd response and rimshot. It's almost like the suppression of words that Lenny Bruce fought so passionately against!

A final extra is found inside the standard blue keepcase: a booklet devoting four of its eight pages to another fine, informative essay by Kirgo. It focuses largely on director Bob Fosse, noting how he made this film right after winning a Tony, an Oscar, and an Emmy and checking himself into a psychiatric hospital for depression. Kirgo sees parallels between the seedy show biz worlds occupied by both Fosse and Lenny.

Typical for the company, the silent, static menu adapts the cover art. The complete Twilight Time catalog is presented as a series of year-based galleries, though a few pages appear to be missing. The BD doesn't do bookmarks, but it does resumes unfinished playback.

Lenny Bruce (Dustin Hoffman) eschews conventional wisdom to defend himself against obscenity charges.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Lenny is but one of many great Dustin Hoffman performances. The actor disappears, allowing the real-life comedian he's playing to reappear years after his premature death. More than just a bold lead turn, this interestingly stylized film directed by Bob Fosse offers a gripping and provocative portrait of an artist tormented by societal constraints.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray satisfies with a strong feature presentation and a good handful of extras. It's a movie worth seeing, a label that could be applied to much of Hoffman's output, especially in the 1970s.

Buy Lenny on Blu-ray at Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
Dustin Hoffman: The Graduate Ishtar Dick Tracy Billy Bathgate Finding Neverland Kung Fu Panda
1970s: Chinatown The Godfather The Conversation Tomorrow Annie Hall Breaking Away

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Reviewed February 27, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1974 United Artists and 2015 Twilight Time and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
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