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I’m glad to see that the new cinematic version of the Oscar Wilde play has brought about a DVD release of the 1952 film version of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST ($30). Although I hadn’t seen THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST in a great many years, the Criterion Collection DVD served to remind me of the delights of the film and Oscar Wilde’s work. THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is a comedy of manners that makes light of the 19th century British social strata, as well as being a much like a Shakespeare comedy in which the characters feign different guises in the pursuit of love.

Michael Redgrave stars as Jack Worthing, who uses a nonexistent brother named Earnest as an excuse to scamper back and forth between his homes in London and in the country. Jack, utilizing his nonexistent brother’s identity in London, becomes engaged as Earnest to the very beautiful Gwendolyn Fairfax (Joan Greenwood). Unfortunately "Earnest" discovers his name and the very proper Lady Bracknell (Edith Evans) to be among the many hurdles that our hero has to overcome on the road of love.

Matters become further complicated when Gwendolyn’s cousin Algernon (Michael Denison) uncovers the truth of Jack’s dual identity, and decides to pay a surprise visit to Jack’s country home under the guise of "Earnest," the no good younger brother that everyone has heard about, yet no one has ever met. Upon his arrival, "Earnest" falls madly in love with Jack’s young ward Cecily Cardew (Dorothy Tutin), who has had an imagined love affair and engagement to Jack’s scoundrel of a brother. Of course the entire house of cards comes collapsing down with the surprise arrival of Gwendolyn, which makes both women acutely aware that they both engaged to a man who does not exist. The wonderful cast of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST also includes Margaret Rutherford and Miles Malleson.

The Criterion Collection has made THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST available on DVD in its proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio. A new 35mm composite print was created for the transfer, and while it all looks very nice, the DVD is not quite demonstration quality. Film grain is quite noticeable throughout the presentation, which may be off-putting to some, but it renders THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST much more like a movie and less like a video. The image is sharp and well defined, which brings out the details in the sets and period costumes. Colors are generally vibrant and give a good impression of what a British Technicolor print might have looked like. There is some minor fading in places, as well as some other color anomalies, but for the most part the colors are satisfying. Flesh tones are not wholly natural, taking on a decidedly "made up" appearance. Blacks are accurately rendered, whites are reasonably stable and contrast is pretty smooth. There are no dark scenes, so shadow detail is impossible to judge. Digital compression artifacts are not readily detectable on the DVD.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is offered with a decent sounding Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack that has been digitally cleaned to remove most of the noticeable background hiss and surface noise. Fidelity is fairly limited, which is pretty much expected from any half-century-old soundtrack, so the music tends to be a bit tinny. Still, the dialogue remains crisp and completely intelligible, so one isn’t going to miss a single bit of Oscar Wilde’s witty discourse. One should note that this is the original British soundtrack and not the Americanized version that substituted baby carriage for the "oh so British" word perambulator. Subtitles have been provided on the DVD in English. Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features as well as a theatrical trailer plus extensive biographical information for director Anthony Asquith and the cast- highlighted by numerous production photos.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is a genuine delight of a movie and something that film buffs and fans of the works of Oscar Wilde will most assuredly want to own. The Criterion Collection has done a very nice job with the presentation, making the film look better than the beaten up version that plays on many a local public television station.


The Importance of Being Earnest - Criterion Collection (1952)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 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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