Director: Roy Ward Baker
Anchor Bay Entertainment

After the Oscar-lauded success of 1962’s WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, screen legend Bette Davis reached a point in her career as a much-in-demand character actress, mostly cast in dark, sinister roles. Hammer Films, England’s primary purveyors of all things macabre, got Bette to star in THE NANNY, a critically acclaimed psychological thriller released by 20th Century-Fox in 1965. Several years later, the actress made her second and final feature for Hammer/Seven Arts with THE ANNIVERSARY, a black comedy based on the stage play by Bill MacIlwraith which originally featured Mona Washbourne as the lead.

Although her husband has been dead for years, Mrs. Taggart (Davis), the one-eyed matriarch of a family who runs a construction business, gathers her children together to celebrate what would be her 40th wedding anniversary. The middle son Terry (Jack Hedley, later the star of Lucio Fulci’s NEW YORK RIPPER) is married to Karen (Sheila Hancock) and has a small army of children, eldest unmarried son Henry is a self proclaimed pervert who collects women’s undergarments to try on for himself, and youngest son Tom (Christian Roberts) arrives home with his new fiancée Shirley (Elaine Taylor), much to the surprise of everyone. Mrs. Taggart’s manipulates her sons as if they were puppets, but on a night filled with her malicious practical jokes and the abusive, blackmailing nature in which she keeps the strings attached, this may be the culmination of just how much the dysfunctional folks can stand.

Sporting two different rose pedal eye patches (red and black) throughout the course of the film, Davis is in top form as the totally domineering nasty and heartless bitch of a mother. Just as her character dominates the family around her, Davis expertly dominates the film, making it hard to visualize any one else in the role, or believe that the film would actually work without her grand presence. The supporting actors play off her excellently, with Cossins (a familiar face in other Hammer films like THE LOST CONTINENT and HORROR OF FRANENSTEIN) standing out as the oddball son who swipes ladies’ garments from an outdoor clothesline, clipping on Pound Notes in exchange. Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is faithful to the original play, and allows for some truly biting dialogue and a well-developed small circle of vulnerable characters all emotionally affected by the wicked entity which is Mrs. Taggart. The film takes place almost entirely in one house during the course of one evening, and the proficient direction of veteran Roy Ward Baker (in his second of a string of mostly great films for Hammer) prevents the film from becoming too stagy, setting up the impromptu shocks and slight sardonic humor with his usual flair. A flop when it was initially released, THE ANNIVERSARY is an unconventional yet witty entry in the Hammer film roster starring one of best actresses who ever lived in one of her meatiest roles.

Continuing its “Hammer Collection” after a long absence from any releases, Anchor Bay Entertainment presents THE ANNIVERSARY for the first time ever on DVD. Letterboxed in its original 1.85:1 ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the company maintains the quality transfers it had adhered to other Hammer entries, as the film looks great. Obviously going back to the original vault materials, there are no blemishes to be witnessed, and the original DeLuxe colors shine through in a nicely-detailed and clean presentation. The mono English audio also comes though flawlessly, and although there are no subtitle options, close captioning is on hand.

The primary supplement on the disc is an audio commentary with director Baker and screenwriter/producer Sangster, moderated by Perry Martin. This is no doubt one of the best commentaries conducted for a Hammer film with two true cinema legends in top-form conversation, recalling a generous amount of tidbits about making the film. Baker (who turns 90 this year) replaced fired director Alvin Rakoff who was on the film for a week, and he explains how he re-shot those initial scenes and changed scenery as to start fresh and make it his own film. Sangster starts by saying that he only wanted to write the screenplay and not produce, but was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Both gentlemen remember a lot about working with Davis (whom they describe as completely professional), and you really get a sense of what went into making a film for Hammer in those days. Baker and Sangster always have a lot of informative things to say about this particular film and their careers in general, and unlike a lot of other commentaries, it never boggles down to quiet stretches or just narrating what’s going down on the screen, and this is also assured by Martin who does an excellent job of asking all the right questions. The other extras are the original theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a still and poster gallery and bios on Davis, Baker and Sangster. This highly recommended release is an absolute must for Hammer and Davis fans alike! (George R. Reis)