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ANASTASIA ($20) is a wonderful classic movie that brims with romanticism and a great deal of old style Hollywood flair. Based upon the play by Marcelle Maurette and Guy Bolton, ANASTASIA stars Ingrid Bergman in her Academy Award winning turn as Anna Anderson, a woman who may or may not be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of deposed Russian Czar Nicholas II. As the film opens, Anna is an amnesiac living on the streets of Paris, when she finds herself approached by a former Russian General named Bounine (Yul Brynner) and several of his comrades. Because of her striking resemblance to the Czar’s youngest daughter, and the persistent rumors that the Grand Duchess Anastasia survived a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918, Bounine wants to use Anna as part of a plot to liberate a ten million pound inheritance from the Bank of England.

With nowhere to go and no idea of her true identity, Anna becomes a willing part of Bounine’s ploy and finds herself being tutored on every detail of Anastasia’s life, in an effort to convince exiled Russian nobility that she is indeed the Grand Duchess. When Anna gives her first "performance" as the Grand Duchess, she amazes many of the nobles, as well as Bounine, especially when she begins supplying details of Anastasia’s life that she couldn’t have possibly known. However, the true test of Bounine’s fabrication comes when Anna finally meets the Dowager Empress (Helen Hayes), Anastasia’s grandmother, who has been hardened by previous encounters with pretenders claiming to be one of her murdered grandchildren. The cast of ANASTASIA also features Akim Tamiroff, Martita Hunt, Felix Aylmer, Sacha Pitoëff, Ivan Desny and Natalie Schafer.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made ANASTASIA available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This is a truly marvelous looking transfer that benefits from the restorative work done on ANASTASIA for its inclusion in Fox’s Studio Classics series. The image is quite sharp and very nicely defined. Colors appear strong and usually rather nicely saturated- obviously some effort went into ringing this much vibrancy out of the DeLuxe film elements. All of the hues are crisp and cleanly rendered, without noise or smearing. Blacks appear right on the money, while the whites are completely stable. Contrast is good, plus the picture produces a terrific amount of shadow detail for a film of this vintage. The grain structure is somewhat noticeable during the presentation, but is never excessive. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed.

ANASTASIA features a Dolby Digital 4.0 channel soundtrack, which would appear to be a direct transcription of its original release format. The soundtrack has that big wide 50’s style sound mix, which tends to favor the musical portion of the track. Although directional dialogue was a component of many CinemaScope releases, here the dialogue tends to remain pretty much localized in the center channel. Of course, the dialogue itself is always crisp sounding and completely intelligible. Musical fidelity is at the level of an "A" production from 1956, with Alfred Newman’s rich score sounding very pleasing when amplified. I should also note that the score is the only sound component that utilizes the rear channels. French and Spanish monaural tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.

The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few supplemental features. Up first is a running audio commentary featuring screenwriter Arthur Laurents, Helen Hayes’ son James MacArthur, film historian Sylvia Stoddard and movie music historian John Burlingame. This is a rich and detailed commentary track that will appeal to movie buffs, so it is definitely worth checking out. Also included on the DVD is the A&E Biography program Anastasia: Her True Story, as well as Movietone Newsreel footage of the film’s twin movie premieres, Ingrid Bergman award clips and footage of the Romanov family, as well as separate footage of the Czar in 1907. A restoration comparison, theatrical trailer and bonus trailers close out the supplements.

ANASTASIA is another wonderful vintage movie given a first class release as part of the Fox’s Studio Classics series. The DVD looks and sounds great, plus it features a very nice supplemental section. If you are a movie buff, or a fan of either Ingrid Bergman or Yul Brynner, then ANASTASIA is a must own DVD. And, if you are discovering the film for the first time, ANASTASIA still comes very highly recommended.



Anastasia (1956)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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