LITERARY CLASSICS COLLECTION
THE PRISONER OF ZENDA
If you want real motion picture entertainment, then there is nothing like Warner's double feature release of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. This classic story by Anthony Hope tells the tale of a King who is kidnapped on the eve of his coronation, and the look-alike cousin who takes the throne in order to save a kingdom. The 1937 version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA stars Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., C. Aubrey Smith, David Niven, Mary Astor and Raymond Massey. Produced by master showman David O. Selznick, THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is cited as one of the best adventure/romance films ever committed to celluloid. The production is spectacular, and like most Selznick films of the period, attention is paid to even the most minuscule detail. The sets are impeccable, and the costumes are exquisite. John Cromwell's direction is spirited, romantic and fun. James Wong Howe's black and white cinematography is captivating. And like every other detail, Alfred Newman's score soars. With the above mentioned stars, this film is as close to perfection as one can get. Ronald Colman is great in the dual role, just the right combination of pomposity and humor. Madeleine Carroll is such an exquisite beauty that she could make any man wish he were king for a day. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is an absolutely charming villain. Fairbanks plays the role with boyish aplomb, but the character has no redeeming social value whatsoever (boo!!! hiss!!!).
The 1952 version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA stars Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, James Mason, Louis Calhern and Jane Greer. This version, directed by Richard Thorpe is a virtual scene by scene, shot by shot remake of the first film. Hey, they even recycled the same score. It's as if MGM felt that the first film was almost perfect and all they needed to do was add Technicolor. This robs the remake of some spontaneity, but does not bludgeon the project to death as some have alluded. There are a few action sequences in the remake that differ from the original, thanks to Granger's physical prowess. These sequences allow Granger to do a bit more swashbuckling than Colman, and are quite invigorating. The cast of the remake are equals of the original for sheer star power. Stewart Granger proves again that he can be both dashing and incredibly funny. Deborah Kerr is a wonderful actress, and another exquisite film beauty. I'm awfully partial to red haired beauties, and in Technicolor she is ravishing. James Mason, always a personal favorite, is a great villain, even more charming and oily than Fairbanks- he is perfectly evil. While it is a terrific film in itself, the remake of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is best viewed before the original, or with a break of a week or two after viewing the first. Comparisons just aren't fair to the remake.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Despite a somewhat slow middle act, the 1948 version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS proves to be rousing good fun, with Gene Kelly in one of best non-musical roles- and he is certainly up to speed for the action sequences. This take on the Alexandre Dumas classic places Kelly in the role of D'Artagnan, while Van Heflin is indeed the film’s standout Musketeer as Athos. Gig Young and Robert Coote are in good form as Musketeers Porthos and Aramis respectively, while the film’s remaining show off roles are filled by Vincent Price as the villainous Richelieu and Lana Turner viperous Lady de Winter. Set in pre-revolutionary France, the premise of THE THREE MUSKETEERS finds D'Artagnan leaving his seemingly country bumpkin origins behind to become one of the King’s Musketeers. As a Musketeer, D'Artagnan discovers numerous sword fights, court intrigue and romance to be everyday occurrences. The Musketeers are continually at odds with Prime Minister Richelieu, whose plots against Queen Anne (Angela Lansbury) will not only make King Louis XIII (Frank Morgan) look bad, but also advance Richelieu’s own political agenda. The cast of THE THREE MUSKETEERS also features June Allyson, Keenan Wynn, John Sutton, Reginald Owen, Ian Keith and Patricia Medina.
Director Vincente Minnelli's version on Gustave Flaubert MADAME BOVARY is interesting insomuch as it managed to get the immoral tale past Hollywood’s self imposed censorship of the time. However, MADAME BOVARY certainly doesn’t rank amongst the legendary filmmaker’s greatest works. Minnelli's touch is ever present in regards to the film’s visuals and art direction, which do achieve moments of greatness, but a firmer hand to guide some of the performances might have improved the end result. The basic premise of MADAME BOVARY follows a simple farm girl named Emma (Jennifer Jones), who dreams of a much more glamorous life and sees her marriage to physician Charles Bovary (Van Heflin) as a stepping stone to that dream. Of course, reality is a lot harsher than a dream and for only a brief moment Emma only comes close to achieving her dreams. That is, before she sets herself on a self-destructive course by becoming involved with French aristocrat Rodolphe Boulanger (Louis Jourdan). The cast of MADAME BOVARY also features Alf Kjellin, Gene Lockhart, Frank Allenby, Gladys Cooper, John Abbott, Harry Morgan, George Zucco, Ellen Corby and James Mason, who appears in the film’s framing sequence as author Gustave Flaubert.
CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER
CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER finds leading man Gregory Peck at his best in the title role of this swashbuckler. Based upon the works of C.S. Forester, this tale of naval intrigue is set during the Napoleonic War and finds British officer Captain Hornblower sent on a secret mission to Central America to deliver arms to the enemies of Spain. Of course, by the time he completes the mission, Spain has become allied with Britain, which certainly complicates the situation. Virginia Mayo, who always looked gorgeous in Technicolor, adds the romantic connection to the piece and acquits herself quite well as Lady Barbara Wellesley, whom our naval hero must escort back to Britain, but not before a run in with the French fleet. The cast of CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER also features Robert Beatty, Moultrie Kelsall, Terence Morgan, James Kenney, James Robertson Justice, Denis O'Dea, Richard Hearne, Michael Dolan, Stanley Baker, Alan Tilvern, Alec Mango and Christopher Lee in his pre horror icon days.
Directed by and adapted for the screen by Peter Ustinov (along with DeWitt Bodeen), BILLY BUDD proves to be one of the finest cinematic interpretations of any Herman Melville work. BILLY BUDD also marked an Oscar nominated debut for Terence Stamp, who certainly impresses in the title role. Marked with religious symbolism, BILLY BUDD tells a timeless story of good versus evil. Set at the end of the eighteenth century, the story follows merchant seaman Billy Budd, a good natured, inarticulate innocent, who finds himself serving on a fighting ship during a time of war. Thanks to his positive and fair outlook, Billy maintains favorable relationships amongst the crew- with one exception: John Claggart (Robert Ryan) the ship’s sadistic Master d'Arms, whose dislike for the young seaman gives rise to tragedy. The cast of BILLY BUDD also features Peter Ustinov, Melvyn Douglas, Paul Rogers, John Neville, David McCallum, Ronald Lewis, Lee Montague, Thomas Heathcote, Ray McAnally, Robert Brown, John Meillon, Cyril Luckham and Niall MacGinnis.
Warner Home Video has made all six films that comprise the LITERARY CLASSICS COLLECTION ($60) in their various full screen and widescreen aspect ratios, with the sole widescreen film being 16:9 enhanced. The 1937 version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA is presented in a very nice looking black and white transfer that does justice to James Wong Howe's cinematography, with deep blacks, plus fine contrast and grayscale. Grain is noticeable throughout, as are age related blemishes, but neither are particularly bothersome. 1952’s THE PRISONER OF ZENDA maintains that Glorious Technicolor look, right down to some of the minor peculiarities of the defunct three strip format. There is a bit of grain, but the image is crisp and nicely detailed. THE THREE MUSKETEERS is another very good representation of the lost Technicolor format, with vibrant colors that are dizzying in comparison to reality. Sharpness and detail are on par with other major Hollywood "A" list Technicolor productions from the late 1940s. Grain and signs of age are mild. MADAME BOVARY has been given a strong black and white presentation that features a nicely detailed image, as well as solid contrast and grayscale. Grain, as well as visible flaws tend to be minimal. CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER is offered in a fairly excellent rendering of the Technicolor original. Colors are bold and appealing, while the image appears pretty darn crisp. There is some grain. Print flaws usually fly below the radar. The 2.35:1 black and presentation for BILLY BUDD has a bit of softness and minor inconsistencies, but is otherwise quite good and certain to please fans. For the most part, sharpness and detail are just fine, as are contrast and grayscale. Digital compression artifacts are never a concern on any of the films in the collection.
All of the films featured in the LITERARY CLASSICS COLLECTION come with Dolby Digital monaural soundtracks. Each of the soundtracks have their own minor peculiarities, owing to the time at which they were made, but Warner has cleaned and polished each track to the company’s usual standards. Fidelity for music and sound effects is limited to the prevailing recording technologies of the 30s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, but are always acceptable. Across the board, dialogue seems crisp and easy to understand. No other language tracks are included, although English subtitles are provided on each, with THE THREE MUSKETEERS, MADAME BOVARY and CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER also featuring Portuguese subtitles.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features as well as the extra features offered with each film. THE PRISONER OF ZENDA comes with a Pete Smith Specialty Short: Penny Wisdom, Classic Cartoon: The Wayward Pups, a Lux Radio Theater Adaptation with Ronald Colman, a 1937 Theatrical Trailer, a Vintage Fitzpatrick Traveltalk Short: Land Of The Taj Mahal, the Oscar-winning cartoon Johann Mouse and a 1952 Theatrical Trailer. THE THREE MUSKETEERS comes with a Vintage Fitzpatrick Traveltalk Short: Looking At London, Classic MGM Tex Avery Cartoon: What Price Fleadom, MGM Radio Promo with Dick Simmons interviewing Lana Turner and a Theatrical Trailer. MADAME BOVARY comes with a Pete Smith Specialty Short: Those Good Old Days, a Classic Cartoon: Out-Foxed and a Theatrical Trailer. CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER comes with a Vintage Oscar-Nominated Short: My Country 'Tis of Thee, Classic Cartoon: Captain Hareblower, Lux Radio Theater Adaptation with Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo and a Theatrical Trailer. BILLY BUDD comes with a running Audio Commentary by Terence Stamp and filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, plus a Theatrical Trailer.
Warner’s DVD release of the LITERARY CLASSICS COLLECTION provides film buffs with another terrific box of entertainment. The presentations are up to Warner’s high standards and the collection is a must have. Recommended.
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