Review of "The Tomb of Ligeia" on Blu-Ray
Roger Corman went to England for a creative change (and cheaper filming costs) and made the terrific The Masque of the Red Death. But he really didn't advance his filming style until Tomb of Ligeia, which to these eyes and ears is his best horror film. The Robert Towne screenplay makes the difference, with its literary feel and more individualized characters. Vincent Price seems more committed than ever, the dialogue scenes have more gravity, and Corman's direction takes a big leap forward -- it actually looks as if scene effectiveness has been prioritized over shooting efficiency. He has a superb actress in Elizabeth Shepherd, a performer who also keeps Vincent on his toes. This script is more adult and complicated than any of the others. No giant pendulum or lavish Danse Macabre is needed, but Price does have to work around some cat performers that could not always be counted on to respect the Corman shooting schedule. The cat material is excellent. Every cat-oriented story has lame shots where some grip simply throws a tabby into the frame. In Ligeia Price gets a black cat tossed into his face, and it really looks like he's being attacked.
Price's antique dark glasses were the coolest thing in 1964. All the old Corman/Poe tricks are rejuvenated, except perhaps the been-there-done-that fiery finale. The new setting is a big plus. Lush English country locations give us a breather from the claustrophobic studio interiors, and a location at a crumbling abbey hits just the right note. The story is not far removed from Japanese cat-possession tales, and in this case a weird nobleman's wife #2 discovers that a black cat seems to be carrying the spirit of the dead but apparently very possessive missus #1. Towne's screenplay works up a Vertigo- like frenzy of shifting identities. The weird solution is just a little too confusing to satisfy completely, but we're genuinely moved by Shepherd and Price's performances. It's a quality experience in all respects. The source element comes from England, as it bears an Anglo-Amalgamated logo. The disc extras begin with another Iowa TV introduction and include a still gallery and an excellent trailer: "Unbelievable Terror as the Living and the Dead Become One!" Roger Corman's commentary shows him more excited than usual, explaining how much he liked filming in England. Producer Constantine Nasr provides another heavily-researched commentary, covering all bases on this great picture.
An impressive NEW extra, and perhaps the best thing in the whole disc set, is a third commentary from actress Elizabeth Shepherd, moderated by Roy Frumkes. I assume Ms. Shepherd studied up before the recording session. She provides fascinating background info on her fellow actors, such as one who was a flyer in WW1, and was shot down by the Red Baron. It's an interesting Roger Corman connection. Ms. Shepherd explains details shot-by-shot and gives the best description of Corman's working method and the atmosphere on the set I've yet heard. Even better, she explains shot-by-shot exactly what happens in the film's somewhat blurred final sequence. Elizabeth Shepherd has every right to be proud of her magnificent performance, which to me is up there with that of Deborah Kerr in The Innocents.
Reviews of "The Royal Family"
The Star-Ledger - Ronnie Reich
"Elizabeth Shepherd is indispensable as Fanny, the Cavendish matriarch, who is an incorrigible trouper who refuses to accept age or illness as a reason to stay off-stage. Shepherd gives an impassioned performance, and exudes vitality and authoritative ease, with a way of letting zingers slip nonchalantly out of her mouth without interrupting her smile or composure for a second ... From their first meeting, to a touchingly staged final scene, we see that Oscar Wolfe's affection for Fanny runs especially deep, and when Shepherd and Genest share the stage, we see both the love of theatre and the kind of skill that this regal clan represents."
New York Times - Michael Sommers
"The matriarch, Fanny Cavendish (Elizabeth Shepherd), is an ailing and feisty grande dame from the barnstorming era ... If the production remains somewhat stolid, several performances are especially appealing. Ms Shepherd brings a velvety voice and an obvious zest for living to her role as the indomitable Fanny."
Montclair Times - Gwen Orel
"The grande dame of the family, Fanny Cavendish, is played by Elizabeth Shepherd. Shepherd, so affecting in the Shakespeare Theatre's "Trelawny of the Wells" in 12 2012, inspires admiration tinged with awe for her monologue on the acting life".
Examiner.com - Richard Carter
"Elizabeth Shepherd adroitly portrayed Fanny Cavendish, the very essence of what American aristocracy would resemble, if it only had ever existed. She dispatches her often ecstatic speeches with concrete assurance, unfailingly radiant smile, and an air of genuine normalcy as if this were the way everyone spoke".
NJ Arts Maven - Ruth Ross
"As imperious matriarch, Fanny Cavendish, Elizabeth Shepherd is every inch the star, from her throaty voice to her reminiscences of her life with her late husband Aubrey, who died just two minutes after taking his fourth curtain call! Evidently, Fanny managed to meld family and career very well, something her children don't seem able to do. But when you come down to it, for Fanny "acting is everything', and "marriage is not career, it is an incident". Shepherd is perfect as the start who cannot give up the lure of the stage, despite old age and failing health".
Curtain Up - Simon Saltzman
"This production has a lot going for it, particularly graced by a notably regal Elizabeth Shepherd as Fanny ... Fanny Cavendish, the reigning queen mother of the Cavendishes, valiant;ly ignores the fact that she is cued for her final exit speech. But Fanny is a matriarch in control to the last, Feigning in a manner that could be seen as winningly imperious, Fanny makes sure she retains her star-status even among the scene-stealing assortment of her offspring".
"Fanny, the matriarch who, with her husband Aubrey, ruled Broadway and the hinterland for decades, is played by the courtly Elizabeth Shepherd ... It is Fanny Cavendish, however, who faces the most serious problem; she may be too frail and ill to do the national tour Oscar has set up fopr her. The prospect of getting back on stage is what is keeping the elderly actress alive".
Stage on Stage - Philip Dorian
"Seventy-year Fanny (Elizabeth Shepherd) widow of the premier actor of his day, is planning to tour in a play, despite serious health issues - personifies glamor, character and actor alike".
History News Network - Bruce Chadwick
"Shepherd builds up the character of Fanny nicely, as the loveable entertainment legend, aging matriarch of the clan. She is sick and fading, and that serves to the backdrop[ to the story, that is at times sad, and at times funny".
Ashbury Park Press - C.W. Walker
"Presiding over the scene is legendary player and grandma extraordinaire Fanny (Elizabeth Shepherd) who is planning a comeback even as her health is failing ... There are several lovely and touching moments when Julie, Fanny, and Oscar pause to share what the theatre truly means to them. Theatre is in their blood - literally, it is coded in their DNA".
Reviews of "Trelawney of the Wells"
Elizabeth Shepherd not only "projects majesty whenever she speaks" and "wonderfully imperious" and "resourceful flair" but also:
".... in the scenes with his wife Mrs. Violet Telfer, both John Fitzgibbon and Elizabeth Shepherd can be funny, but they are also very touching at the end as they are being pushed aside to minor roles
alongside the younger actors who are replacing them in their once-held lead roles" (Morris Beats)
"The Telfers' devotion to the world of drama - in whatever capacity they can serve it - should resonate with fans and performers alike, not to mention critics". (The Star Ledger)
"... many instances of art affecting life, as when an older couple, whose florid style of acting does not fit into Tom's play, resign themselves to minor roles. "And so this new fangled stuff, and these dandified people, are to push us, and such as us, off our stools?". "Yes, James" his wife wisely responds, 'just as some other new fashion will, in course of time, push them from their stools." John Fitzgibbon and Elizabeth Shepherd are touching as the gallant Telfers". (NY Times)
It was for that last scene I took the role - Pinero was so wise and sympathetic to show what happens in the life cycle of an actor (as I well know from my own experience - and gave my character great courage and soul. When I hear I am to be the wardrobe mistress I am distressed, but end up declaring " If we are set to scrub a stage, and we may come to that yet, let us make up our minds to scrub it legitimately, with dignity" and I leave, with dignity ... I was glad to share that with an audience, and received sounds of response and recognition of truth and inspiration from them too.