Irene Dunne: 1898-1990
For moviegoers of the 1930s and '40s, Irene Dunne, who passed away on Sept. 4, was the actress who had it all. Unfailingly poised and elegant, she projected wit and sophistication in such screwball comedies as The Awful Truth (RCA/ Columbia videocassette, 1937) and My Favorite Wife (Turner, 1940), jerked tears in the multi-hankie melodramas Penny Serenade (Republic, 1941) and I Remember Mama (Turner, 1948), and sang charmingly in a voice molded by her early ambition to star at the Metropolitan Opera (she never did).
Yet today, Dunne is perhaps the least-known major actress of her day. Quiet, gracious living is partly responsible. Her decorous offscreen conduct, happy marriage, and aversion to publicity left her mostly absent from tabloids both before and after her retirement from movies in 1952.
More importantly, as Hollywood Reporter columnist Robert Osborne notes, ''She was kept out of circulation precisely because she'd made so many wonderful films. Whenever a studio bought rights for a new version, the originals were totally removed from TV and revival houses.'' Her 1936 Show Boat (MCA/Universal) sank in the wake of MGM's 1952 version and was only recently raised again on videocassette. Anna and the King of Siam (1946) bowed to the 1955 film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I. And Dunne's rave-winning performance in the consummate weepie Love Affair (1939), for which she received one of five Oscar nominations (she never won) virtually disappeared with the 1956 remake An Affair to Remember. A step toward redressing this neglect will come on Dec. 20, when TNT broadcasts a day-long birthday salute. But don't look for Love Affair on the bill: Ted Turner's TNT won't regain video or broadcast rights to it until 1993.
Video retailers are pleasantly surprised by LIVE's decision to release the blockbuster Total Recall on Nov. 1 at $24.99, instead of the $90 that is / traditional for most big hits. Some analysts doubt the ultraviolent Arnold Schwarzenegger flick has enough family appeal to become a major sales hit on video. Still, the low price on Recall should allow stores to stock plenty of extra copies for those who just want to rent.