THE FANNY TRILOGY (KINO VIDEO)

THE LEOPARD (CRITERION COLLECTION)

DAS BOOT - ORIGINAL UNCUT VERSION (COLUMBIA HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

THE FANNY TRILOGY - - The gullible multitudes who for decades have bought into the constant self-serving (and laughably inaccurate) proclamations by the Actor's Studio that their perilously self-indulgent "Method" was responsible for originating a "new" honesty in the art of performance are in for a rude awakening if they are lucky enough to view Kino's stupendously entertaining       "dream-come-true" box-set of Marcel Pagnol's  THE FANNY TRILOGY.     

After just viewing the first ten minutes of the initial entry in the series, MARIUS (1931), I became aware that I was about to see an extraordinary exhibition of both individual and ensemble acting, where every word, and even the most minute gesture, provided startlingly truthful insight into each characters thoughts and needs. (Indeed, I feel guilty about using the word "acting" here, because what's on mesmerizing display in all three of these revered French classics is an immersion in character so completely without artifice that the term "acting" severely belittles the level of achievment so dazzingly and effortlessly seen here.) I'd only heard  the names of the iconic French character actors Raimu and Charpin whispered in hushed and respectful tones by discerning actors through the years (Orson Welles dubbed Raimu "the greatest actor who ever lived") but nothing and no one could have prepared me adequately for the almost supernatural brilliance so generously doled out here by  both, which is not to disparage the contributions of the other two principals Pierre Fresnay (so superb in Renoir's GRAND ILLUSION) and Orane Demazis, although both are too mature for their respective roles. Indeed everyone in the large cast, down to the smallest bit player, present uncommonly insightful portraits of their individual characters and are directed with delicacy and precision by three legendary directors, Alexander Korda (MARIUS), Marc Allegret (FANNY - 1932) and Marcel Pagnol (CESAR - 1936) who wrote all three.                                 

KinoVideo has somehow managed to come up with transfers of all three full screen black and white films that, considering the age of each, is a revelation, with good sharpness, grey scale, and surprisingly minimal damage, and the new subtitles are excellent. The monaural sound isn't noise-free but is more than sufficient.

THE LEOPARD - - When a revival theater near where I lived when I was a young boy played a double bill of THE CRIMSON PIRATE and THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, both of which starred Burt Lancaster in incredibly athletic swashbuckling roles, Lancaster instantly became one of my favorite action heroes. I could scarcely contain my anticipation when that theater announced its next attraction : Burt Lancaster in THE LEOPARD! The thought of my hero fighting his way through jungles and imperiled by all sorts of wild animals made my immature mouth water, and I counted the days until its arrival. You can imagine my shocked disappointment when, popcorn and Jordan Almonds in hand, I stared in disbelief as this slow and stately film progressed. Where's the jungle? Where's the action? Why does Burt look so old?  AND WHERE'S THE DAMN LEOPARD? So intense was the level of my disenchantment that I haven't seen the film since.                          

Happily, The Criterion Collection has just released the uncut Italian version (as well as the American version that I originally viewed) and I finally understand why so many discriminating filmgoers consider it to be a masterpiece. For one thing, this epic about the time when the Italian aristocracy lost its grip as the middle classes rose and formed a unified, democratic Italy is one of the most visually beautiful films ever made, so much so that each and every shot has the texture and richness of a great painting and the detail of a precious tapestry, a fact brought home by the incomparably flawless and stunning Super Technirama  (2.21:1 aspect ratio) color transfer which is, thankfully, enhanced for16:9 widescreen viewing. In fact, there are so many and varied visual goodies inherent in each shot, that it's possible to become hypnotized by the incredible opulence of each magnificently structured shot and lose the thread of the sweeping story told here, which would be a great pity, as the story is told with great clarity, sophistication, and sublime attention to authentic detail. How is it possible that a film that moves with trance-like slowness can whiz by with such speed? See for yourself.

DAS BOOT -- In its original theatrical form DAS BOOT was unquestionably one of the most grippingly claustrophobic submarine thrillers ever released, and now , after two previous dvd releases, one regular and one Super-Bit, Columbia Home Entertainment has elected to release a third version which consists of the complete 293 minute German miniseries. The burning question that owners of one or both of those dvds need answered is: Is this third version worth purchasing? The answer is an enthusiastic "yes" to dedicated fans of DAS BOOT,  for the addition of numerous revelatory character-driven scenes allows us the luxury of getting to know the individual personalities better, and thus to care more about their eventual fate, even if they are on a Nazi submarine. Casual viewers, though, might prefer the shorter version, which has merits of its own, and sound fanatics should definitely choose the Super-Bit version which will give their subwoofer far more of a workout, though the 5.1 stereo sound on this expanded edition is nothing to be ashamed of, and the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is reasonably crisp and precise. 

--DICK DINMAN

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