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Although withheld from circulation for years, the film version of CALL ME MADAM ($15) remains a rather delightful little musical frolic in the guise of a political satire. Based upon the hit Broadway show with a score by Irving Berlin, CALL ME MADAM was a showcase for the amazing pipes and comic timing of the one and only Ethel Merman. Merman recreates her stage role for the screen with all of her unique talents shining though- especially her big; brassy voice that was ideally suited to belt out tunes all the way to the back of the theater. With a larger than life stage quality shining through on the silver screen, Mermanís engaging performance definitely gives one a taste of what she must have been like on Broadway.

In CALL ME MADAM, Merman portrays Sally Adams- the Washington, DC hostess with the most-ess, whom President Truman appoints Ambassador to Lichtenburg, a small European Duchy roughly the size of Brooklyn. With her new press attachť Kenneth Gibson (Donald O'Connor) at her side, Sally sets up shop in Lichtenburg, following the governmentís strict instructions to diplomatically turn down all requests for foreign aid. Of course, Sally has no trouble saying "no," that is until she meets charming General Cosmo Constantine (George Sanders), who immediately places her in a swoon. Kenneth also finds himself in something of a romantic predicament upon his arrival in Lichtenburg, falling for Princess Maria (Vera-Ellen), who is promised to a foreign Prince, that is, if Sally can ever be talked into recommending an American aid package that will pay the princessí dowry.

For this cinematic version of CALL ME MADAM, Ethel Merman finds herself in very good company; Donald O'Connor is in top musical form, demonstrating his best dancing athleticism- both alone and with Vera-Ellen, plus O'Connor keeps up musically with Merman for their duet together. However, one of the filmís biggest delights is the very charming performance of that "Professional Cad," George Sanders, who sings with a rather nice baritone. The cast of CALL ME MADAM also features Billy De Wolfe, Helmut Dantine, Walter Slezak, Steven Geray, Ludwig StŲssel, Lilia Skala, Charles Dingle, Emory Parnell, Emory Parnell, Nestor Paiva and Fritz Feld.

20th Century Home Entertainment has made CALL ME MADAM available on DVD in a rather nice 1.37:1 presentation, which is representative of the filmís original theatrical aspect ratio. In general, the image appears sharp and offers more than respectable definition. There are occasional shots that appear a bit softer than others, but it is never too bad. Colors are strongly rendered and demonstrative of the rich hues associated with IB Technicolor (with the hues taking on that decidedly "Fox Technicolor" look). Blacks are deep, whites are clean and contrast is quite good. The film elements used for the transfer do show some signs of age, with very mild blemishes and occasional color instabilities being the worst of it. Additionally, there is a bit of a grain structure that is noticeable during much of the presentation. Digital compression artifacts are always well contained.

CALL ME MADAM comes with English Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural and stereo soundtrack options. Both soundtracks are generally good, but not as polished as they might have been. Since CALL ME MADAM has been withheld from circulation for so long, it is possible that the sound elements havenít been preserved quite as well as similar films from the same period. But then again, it may have just been Mermanís voice pushing the limits of fifties era recording technology. When given a goodly amount of amplification, the track occasionally exhibits a tiny bit of distortion; however, if the track is kept to more modest listening levels, it remains smooth and rather pleasant. Fidelity has the expected limitations that one generally associates with recordings that are over half a century old, but isnít too bad. Dialogue is fairly crisp and always completely understandable. Finally, the stereo version of the track has a bit more sonic latitude, while the monaural implementation seems flatter. No other language tracks are provided, although English and Spanish subtitles have been included. The basic interactive menus allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a couple of extras. Film scholar Miles Kreuger is on hand for an informative running audio commentary, plus the disc features a theatrical teaser, theatrical trailer and bonus trailers.

CALL ME MADAM is a genuine delight that is making its long overdue debut on DVD. The filmís presentation is generally solid and the bargain price makes it a keeper. If you are a musical fan, Irving Berlin fan or Ethel Merman fan, CALL ME MADAM is a disc you will want to add to your collection.



Call Me Madam (1953)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 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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