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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

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Classic Reviews Roundup #17 - April 2005 (continued)


Enchantment (1948)
(released on DVD by MGM on March 8th, 2005)

Enchantment

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The title gives the verdict on this one - an enchanting love story (actually two love stories) that switches back and forth in time. David Niven and Teresa Wright star as young couple Roland Dane and Lark Ingoldsby whose love at the turn of the century is thwarted by Niven's older sister Selina (juicily played by Jayne Meadows).

Now during the Second World War, the retired Roland returns to his childhood home where his past seems to be mirrored by the love developing between his grandniece and a young pilot. The film is based on a novel by Rumer Godden and is well crafted by director Irving Reis who skillfully interweaves the two love stories. The low-key photography by Gregg Toland adds much to the film's predominantly melancholy mood. Niven and Wright are both excellent as always, but Evelyn Keyes and Farley Granger as the more modern day young couple are both very effective as well. Leo G. Carroll, Henry Stephenson, and Melville Cooper are other familiar faces in the supporting cast. A little-known film that deserves to be better known.

MGM's correctly framed full screen presentation is a fine one indeed. The image looks very sharp and is quite clean. A few speckles and some grain are in evidence. The mono sound is in good shape and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Recommended.


Brigadoon (1954)
(released on DVD by Warner Bros. on March 15th, 2005)

Brigadoon

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I might as well be up front; I've never been a big fan of Brigadoon. Originally a 1947 Broadway musical by Lerner and Loewe, MGM adapted it for the screen in 1954 with Gene Kelly and Van Johnson playing the two New Yorkers finding the Scottish village of Brigadoon that comes to life once every 100 years for a single day.

There, Gene finds love with a village lass played by Cyd Charisse. Certainly, the dancing by Kelly and Charisse is sublime, but only "Almost Like Being in Love" and "Heather on the Hill" are really memorable musical numbers. Van Johnson seems out of place and the painted studio backdrops are jarringly obvious. As a result, the "magic" of the village of Brigadoon is but briefly translated onto the screen.

Warner Bros. offers a new anamorphic transfer of the film that preserves the original 2.55:1 aspect ratio. The results are very appealing. Deep blacks and clean whites plus vibrant and accurate-looking colour predominate and with slight grain in evidence, the transfer offers a fairly film-like experience. There is some shimmer and evidence of speckles and minor debris, but they're not distracting. The sound has been effectively remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. Free of hiss or distortion, it sounds quite vibrant with emphasis on the fronts and use of the surrounds only for occasional modest atmospheric effects. A French mono track and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. Supplements consist of three outtake musical numbers as well as an audio outtake, and the theatrical trailer. For those who know and like the film, this is a worthy upgrade from the non-anamorphic version previously available.


Teacher's Pet (1959)
(released on DVD by Paramount on April 19th, 2005)

Teacher's Pet

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The 1950s weren't always good to Clark Gable when it came to his films. Teacher's Pet is an exception. He plays a newspaper editor who has come up through the school of hard knocks and looks down on those who are entering the profession with formal education. He reacts angrily to a request to address a university journalism class, until he sees the professor played by Doris Day. He falls hard, but apparently has competition from Gig Young who plays a psychologist that Doris may also be interested in.

Teacher's Pet benefits from a warm-hearted and generally witty script by Fay and Michael Kanin, from which Gable, Day, and Young wring a succession of chuckles. Gable of course is a little old to be cavorting with Day, but the two work well together on the screen. Young is particularly good as the other man who starts off as the competition but soon becomes Gable's ally. The film's only misstep is its length. The last couple of reels are noticeably drawn out (particularly some scenes at Young's apartment) and would have benefited from judicious trimming. Overall, though, the film is diverting entertainment with good star power.

Paramount's 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of the black and white VistaVision film is very pleasing indeed. It's crisp and offers deep blacks with a very nicely detailed gray scale. There's some modest grain in evidence. The mono sound is clear. English subtitles are provided, but there are no supplements. Recommended.


Bells Are Ringing (1960)
(released on DVD by Warner Bros. on March 15th, 2005)

Bells Are Ringing

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This is the film version of the Betty Comden and Adolf Green Broadway musical in which Judy Holliday starred. She plays Ella Peterson, an operator for an answering service called Susanswerphone for which she works at home. Ella seems to get quite caught up in the lives of her clients, one of whom is a writer who loses confidence in his ability to complete a play. Falling in love with the writer's voice on the phone, Ella eventually becomes entwined in his life as she tries to help him overcome his writer's block. Dean Martin plays the writer.

Bells Are Ringing was producer Arthur Freed's last MGM musical before becoming an independent producer. Vincente Minnelli directed. The film never really conveys the magic of the best MGM musicals. Holliday (in her last film appearance - she would die in 1965) is very good as Ella, but her energy seldom seems to extend to the rest of the cast (which includes Eddie Foy Jr., Frank Gorshin, and Jean Stapleton in addition to Martin) perhaps reflecting seemingly less commitment from director Minnelli than one had come to expect. Aside from The Party's Over and Just in Time, the songs are not that memorable.

That can't be said for Warner's DVD efforts, however. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is very good with a crisp image and generally vibrant colour. Blacks are deep, whites clean, and image detail is more than acceptable. The remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 sound does a good job with both dialogue and music, with the latter exhibiting good presence and some nice but not overdone use of the surrounds. A French mono track and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. Supplements consist of a short making-of featurette (Bells Are Ringing: Just in Time), outtake musical numbers "Is It a Crime?" and "My Guiding Star", an alternate take of the song "The Midas Touch", and the theatrical trailer. For Judy Holliday fans; otherwise I suggest a rental at best.


Lady in a Cage (1964)
(released on DVD by Paramount on March 29th, 2005)

Lady in a Cage

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Olivia De Havilland plays a woman who becomes trapped in her home's personal elevator during a power failure. In what becomes effectively an open air cage suspended above the house's main floor, she is terrified by a succession of intruders who are attracted by the emergency alarm. Included are a wino and a trio of young thugs who go on a rampage of vandalism and brutality.

The film's theme is societal indifference and although it's trowelled on to excess, there's no denying the film's mesmerizing influence despite a few sequences that some may find distasteful. Olivia De Havilland is effective as the trapped woman though her performance is a little over the top. Notable in the cast are James Caan as the leader of the thugs and Jeff Corey as the wino. Ann Sothern also appears to advantage as a boozy prostitute.

Paramount presents the film on DVD with a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that looks quite sharp and clean. The image is a bit harsh-looking at times and minor edge effects are evident. There is a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track that adds some dynamicism to the proceedings, although the surround component has minimal impact. The original mono track and English subtitles are also provided. There are no supplements. Recommended.


Charly (1968)
(released on DVD by MGM on March 15th, 2005)

Daniel Keyes' highly regarded 1959 science fiction novella "Flowers for Algernon" (later turned into a full novel) was given a good film interpretation in Charly, the film that brought Cliff Robertson the Best Actor Academy Award for his work in the title role in 1968. While not a detriment to current enjoyment, the film has a 1960s feel to it with some split-screen usage and its modest resonance with the higher education benefits vs. drug-induced dropping out ethos of the era.

Charly

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The story revolves around the mentally deficient Charly who manages to survive cheerfully enough working as a janitor in a bakery. He then undergoes experimental brain surgery that allows his IQ to soar to near genius level, forcing the new Charly (now "Charlie") to experience a correspondingly rapid emotional development for which he is little prepared. A psychologist who helps to guide him soon becomes a romantic entanglement, but then Charly is faced with the prospect that his mental advance may just as soon regress. Cliff Robertson first became associated with the role in a 1961 television adaptation and later purchased the rights to the story in order to ensure appearing in the theatrical film version. The decision was a good one for Robertson as the role became a career-defining one for him. His performance as both versions of Charly is truly outstanding. Claire Bloom provides fine support as the psychologist.

The score by Ravi Shankar is a pleasant positive aspect of the film. MGM presents a 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced version of the film on DVD. The results are quite good with fine colour fidelity, a generally crisp image, and good image detail. There is some slight grain. Speckles or debris are minimal, but there is occasional image jitter evident. The mono sound delivers both dialogue and Shankar's score clearly, but predictably without much presence. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. MGM made no effort to include any supplements (Robertson's participation via an audio commentary sure would have been nice), but it did have time to include a useless pan and scan transfer on the flip side of the disc.


On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)
(released on DVD by Paramount on February 22nd, 2005)

By 1970, the golden age of film musicals was long over. The talent that had made it great was aging and the public appetite for the genre had waned, much as it was doing for the western. Barbra Streisand was one new performer capable of opening a new film musical with some success at the time. After Funny Girl in 1968, and Hello, Dolly! in 1969, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever was her third musical in as many years. For my taste, it is also the least of the three.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

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The pedigree isn't bad, with Vincente Minnelli behind the camera and Alan Jay Lerner writing the screenplay and song lyrics, but beyond Streisand, the on-screen musical talent is rather thin. Co-stars such as Yves Montand, Bob Newhart, and Jack Nicholson are fine performers in their own right, but they don't hold a musical candle to even a third-rate cast from the best of the classic MGM musical period. The story is no thinner than many another musical - chain-smoker Streisand hoping to kick the habit visits psychiatrist Montand who uses hypnosis, revealing personalities from Steisand's past life, including one named Melinda with whom Montand falls in love - but the execution seems mechanical and much too drawn out. More tellingly, while the musical numbers are well orchestrated by Minnelli and decently integrated into the plot, they're basically forgettable, other than the title song.

Paramount gives the film the bare bones treatment, but at least the disc looks and sounds very good. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer does betray some speckles and minor debris early on, but the colour fidelity is great and the image is quite sharp overall. A new Dolby Digital 5.1 track has been created and it works very well, adding substantial presence and a nice subtle surround feel to the musical numbers. English and French mono tracks and English subtitles are also provided. For Streisand fans only.


A Month of Sundays (2001)
Barn Red (2003)
(released on DVD by Questar in February 2005)

I include reviews of these two recent films because of the presence in their casts respectively of Rod Steiger and Ernest Borgnine, two stars who first rose to prominence in the 1950s. For Steiger, A Month of Sundays was one of his last films before his death at age 77 in 2002. For Borgnine, Barn Red was merely one of a continuing succession of films that keep him on the screen in his late 80s. Both films are for the most part gentle, heart-warming experiences.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever Barn Red

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In A Month of Sundays, Steiger plays an elderly grandfather who, sensing the end of his life, goes on a journey to find his missing son in the company of his granddaughter and grandson. In Barn Red, Borgnine plays a farmer whose land has been in the family for generations but now appears threatened by inheritance taxes and encroaching development. Both Steiger and Borgnine are old pros whose abilities carry these films and their presence adds to the profile of the messages that the films successfully convey - the affirmation of the benefits of family, friends, and tradition. Addressing simple truths in a relaxed fashion, neither film is earth-shattering in any sense, but they are well-crafted family entertainments that will reward the patient viewer.

Unfortunately, Questar has chosen to present both films full frame instead of the wider ratios at which they were framed (1.85:1 for A Month of Sundays, 1.78:1 for Barn Red). The images are not severely compromised, but viewers should be aware of the modification. Otherwise the images look quite crisp and clear with good colour fidelity and no edge effects. The stereo sound in both cases is clear, but otherwise unremarkable. There are no subtitles. For supplements, A Month of Sundays offers some cast biographies, a plot summary and the theatrical trailer. Barn Red offers a behind-the-scenes featurette, two minutes of bloopers, some cast biographies, and the theatrical trailer. Recommended as rentals.

Barrie Maxwell
barriemaxwell@thedigitalbits.com


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