This BFI two-disc set is quite the nifty package for the would-be Preminger completist who's not overly troubled by the varied vicissitudes of the current global economic situation. Error is the pumped-up-for-wartime 1943 adaptation of a (by all accounts lousy) 1939 Claire Booth Luce play. Preminger directed and costarred in the Broadway version, playing the slimy New-York-stationed German counsul. He agreed to reprise his role for the Fox film version, however, only in exchange for the opportunity to direct. This machination allowed him to relaunch a film career that had foundered in the wake of a feud with Fox chief Daryl F. Zanuck. For that reason alone, Error is an important film.
Other extra-diegetic points of interest include the above-pictured Preminger's pin-prick sharp performance, in which, among other things, he trades barbs with future "Uncle Miltie" Milton Berle, here playing a Jewish cop reluctantly safeguarding the German embassy. Said barbs, with Berle mouthing a lot of patriotic New-Yawkisms, were largely crafted by Preminger and young Samuel Fuller, a Preminger discovery.
Eventually a convoluted whodunnit with a wrapup that wouldn't satisfy the most perfunctory Ellery Queen reader, Error is also replete with blackmail, sexual and otherwise, and speculative trading in human life...pretty squalid stuff, were it allowed to register. But this dish is garnshed with so much wartime propaganda corn that one barely notices the manifestations of evil that we're supposed to be warring against. As Chris Fujiwara notes in his recent critical biography of Preminger, Error is "earnest and empty, surprising and eerie in its hollowness." As the screen cap above attests, the BFI disc of it looks pretty damn good.
1945's A Royal Scandal is another anomaly, a would-be Lubitsch film (indeed, its title card calls it "Ernst Lubitsch's 'A Royal Scandal'") whose direction was taken over by Lubitsch's friend and apostle Preminger after Lubitsch health disallowed him from helming the film. A comic treatment of the loves of Catherine the Great, it stars stage legend Tallulah Bankhead in one of her infrequent screen turns.
This was Preminger's first assignment after the artistic breakthrough that was Laura, but his heart's clearly not in it. (Reasons? Clashes with producer Lubitsch, for one. Fujiwara also suggests that Preminger was moving past, and rejecting, the "pleasure principle" in favor of the "reality principle," and that making such fluff would no longer do.) The fluidity of Laura is here replaced with a staginess and inertia that Preminger's moving camera would dispense with for good in his very next picture, the breathtaking Fallen Angel. Nevertheless, with the likes of Charles Coburn, a radiant Ann Baxter, Vincent Price, and Sig Ruman among the players, and given its silly but rollicking script by Edwin Justus Mayer and Bruno Frank, this is a more than watchable bit of Old Hollywood at its most ornately insubstantive.
This sharp, crisp version of Scandal automatically renders obsolete the French Columbia edition, which featured burnt-in subtitles as well as a dingy picture.
There are no extras on either of the BFI discs, but the package includes a booklet featuring stills, credits, and solid background essays by Phillip Kemp. All yours for about 25 bucks American, as of today.