Plot: Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price) owns a sizable estate known as Dragonwyck, where he oversees hundreds of tenant farmers and controls a considerable fortune in various resources. While he enjoys lavish wealth, his distant family leads a quiet, poor, but faith driven existence. He has offered a governess position to one of his cousin’s daughters however, a chance to live a much different life and young Miranda (Gene Tierney) leaps at the chance. While she is naive and inexperienced in the ways of the world, Miranda sees this as a chance to escape her strict home and find out what else the world has to offer. So she ventures off to care for Van Ryn’s daughter, unaware that the Dragonwyck estate is a much darker, more oppressive place than she could ever have imagined.
Entertainment Value: A romantic drama with some slow burn, chiller vibes, this is an interesting, if sometimes overly basic picture. The narrative is a familiar one, with a Bluebeard inspired thread, but where Dragonwyck excels is in the overall atmosphere involved. The period elements are well crafted and help conjure up the era, while the black & white visuals are stark and gothic, which bolster the tense, even eerie general atmosphere here. The narrative does delve into murderous and even supernatural aspects, but I wouldn’t call this a horror movie, though fans of Vincent Price’s genre work will still find a lot to like in this one. The ghost story element adds a nice eeriness, but isn’t a focal point nor does it manifest in the usual ways. As I said before, the movie can seem a little basic at times, as not much is done with the narrative, but I think the choice to lean on atmosphere and performances works well. Some new twists or richer looks into the characters might have been worthwhile, but I think the beautiful visuals, period details, and interesting performances more than compensate.
A good deal of the praise for Dragonwyck centers on Vincent Price, who brings to life the dark menace of Nicholas Van Ryn. His performance here is immense fun to watch, as he really runs with the role and delivers a delightful, unhinged effort. He conveys all the crazy the role needs and more, but does so with such an inherent nobility, so even as he unravels, he scoffs at those beneath him. I love his interactions with pretty much the entire cast, as he is such a bastard and radiates a kind of sociopathic menace, it is a really excellent performance. Gene Tierney is solid here as well, playing the wide eyed, naive Miranda with skill. The supporting cast is loaded with talent as well, with Jessica Tandy, Harry Morgan, Glenn Langan, Walter Huston, Connie Marshall, and Anne Revere all present, as well as even more familiar faces. But Price still steals the show, even with all of this remarkable talent involved. I do think fans of Price will be most interested here, but anyone who appreciates period dramas or atmospheric chillers should give Dragonwyck a chance.
The Disc: Twilight Time’s release delivers a much improved visual presentation, one that leaves the old DVD in the dust. That was a solid looking treatment at the time, but this new transfer is much sharper and more refined, but the natural grain remains and ensures a film-like presentation. A host of extras is also on deck, with an isolated music track, several featurettes about the cast and production, a pair of vintage radio shows of Dragonwyck, an audio commentary that features a film historian and a documentary filmmaker, and the film’s theatrical trailer.