Review: 'Peter Ibbetson' Gloriously Restored for Kino Lorber Blu-ray Edition

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 18, 2021

Review: 'Peter Ibbetson' Gloriously Restored for Kino Lorber Blu-ray Edition

As a growing Gary Cooper aficionado, I was intrigued by "Peter Ibbetson," a title I had only a fleeting knowledge of. Based on the novel by George du Maurier ("Trilby," featuring the character Svengali) and directed by Henry Hathaway ("The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" with Cooper, "Kiss of Death," "True Grit"), the film is a curious credit for both artists.

The early portion of the movie chronicles the very English, very sensitive, pre-pubescent Peter, known initially as Gogo (Dickie Moore) and his topsy-turvy relationship with the even younger Mary, known as Mimsey (Virginia Weidler), growing up in Paris. The two form a strong bond, and after the death of his mother the boy is given a new name and whisked off to England.

Cut to a grown-up Peter (Cooper) working as an architect and longing for his childhood friend. He soon meets a Duchess (Ann Harding) on a job who turns out to be — say it with me — Mimsey! But a tragic turn forces the two lovers apart, and the film takes a bizarre melodramatic (yes, even more so) Act Three turn that dives into surrealistic hokum or romantic tearjerker territory, depending on your mood and makeup.

Cooper's acting style is too often, and erroneously, described as either indifferent or wooden, when in fact the actor has incredible depth and nuance. He's simply understated. He doesn't arrive overdone, to borrow a lyric from Sondheim, like so many of his fellow actors of the period. Here, he is able to refine those shadings as much as the limitations of the sometimes ridiculously otherworldly screenplay will allow.

Although her career began with talkies, Harding's acting has a more silent-era feel about it. Oscar-nominated for the first version of "Holiday" in 1930, she had quite a credit-filled career, but is an acquired taste.

Considering the age of the film (it was released in 1935), it looks quite fantastic. Both the image and sound quality are top-notch on the Kino Blu-ray. Particularly noteworthy is Charles Lang's lush camerawork.

The audio commentary by film historian David Del Valle, moderated by producer Miles Hunter, discusses the film's lackluster response in the States and its virtual disappearance until recently. They also delve into the careers of two-time Oscar-winner Cooper and Hathaway.

The film did receive an Original Music Score Academy Award nomination (for Ernst Toch) and was quite popular... in Europe.

"Peter Ibbetson" is definitely worth a look for film lovers and Cooper fans. Expect the unexpected.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New audio commentary by film historian David Del Valle, moderated by producer Miles Hunter
  • Theatrical Trailer

    "Peter Ibbetson" is currently available on Blu-ray.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.