Robert Benton turns 83 today. As a screenwriter, he added enormously to our cultural heritage with his and David Newman’s take on Bonnie and Clyde 1967) and Superman (1968). As a writer-director, he gave us the professionalism of an ungracefully aging private eye (The Late Show (1977)) and the emotional heartbreak of divorce (Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)). But Places in the Heart (1984) was something special: a personal project inspired by his family, his hometown of Waxahachie, Texas, and basic humanism. His Academy Award®-winning screenplay, set during the hard-life Depression era, shines a light on ordinary folk dealing with extraordinary setbacks. The struggles of a suddenly-widowed woman (Oscar® winner Sally Field) to save her farm from foreclosure and family from dispersal are bracingly gifted to us with little sentiment but enormous feeling. Nowhere is that feeling more evident than in the artful work that he drew from the actors and crew, and the reciprocal affection Benton’s collaborators feel for him is no more evident than in Field’s candidremembrances on the audio commentary of Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of Places in the Heart.
Another open-hearted filmmaker was born this day 102 years ago. Stanley Kramer (1913-2005) may have made “message films,” but they always offered something worth hearing and moviemaking craft worth experiencing. TT offers three of his most diverse and impactful movies available on hi-def Blu-ray: Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969). Intense drama about the crimes of war, an enduringly timely seriocomic look at racial intermarriage and an alternately funny and suspenseful tale of a village where unlikely heroes are born in the face of tyranny. Four Academy Awards® won, with 23 nominations among them. All worth lighting candles for, although 102 might be a bit much.