FOUR FROM FOX:

THE GRAPES OF WRATH   

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN   

BELLES ON THEIR TOES 

THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES 

 (20TH CENTURY FOX HOME VIDEO)

THE GRAPES OF WRATH.              What a quandary!  How is it possible to review a cinematic masterpiece such as this, which has been the justifiable recipient of volumes of  worldwide praise for decades, without repeating what has been said again and again? It almost seems there's nothing left to say. 

One thing did occur to me while watching this superlative full screen 20th Century Fox "studio classics" transfer . Virtually every great film ever made has one scene, one line, one performance, one shot, one music cue, one isolated moment  etc. which somehow stands out because it is not quite consistent with the excellence of the enterprise as a whole. And why not? Film is, after all, a collaborative effort comprised of thousands of different contributions and pieces. Certainly complete perfection is not a possibility in such a medium, is it?

It is. There is not even one minor misstep in Darryl F. Zanuck's production of John Steinbeck's monumental novel. Certainly not in any of the performances, from Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell on down, nor in Nunnally Johnson's flawlessly sensitive adaptation, or Gregg Toland's incredible deep focus black and white photography, and, especially, John Ford's restrained and empathetic direction. Indeed, this is one of the two Ford films I would show some poor unfortunate soul who has never seen a Ford film. (The other being HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, which is also available in an equally terrific transfer from Fox.)

You cannot consider yourself a true movie fan if you allow yourself to miss this towering achievement, and this excellent Fox restoration is the very best way to see it. 

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN was one of the two or three biggest hits of 1950, and it's not difficult to see why. This alternately funny and touching film tells the true story of a turn-of-the-century efficiency expert (Clifton Webb) who tries to apply his exacting work standards to raise his children - all twelve of them! Webb,  whose well-known homosexuality made him a controversial casting choice at the time is, as usual, brilliant, and he's aided and abetted by the always wonderful Myrna Loy and an attractive and enthusiastic cast. Family entertainment doesn't get any better, or more charming than this.

So successful was CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN that Fox lost no time in planning a sequel , BELLES ON THEIR TOES, which was released two years later, in 1952, and is, unfortunately, a shapeless and formless shadow of its predecessor. For reasons I won't divulge, Clifton Webb isn't in it, which is the single biggest problem, as he was the heart and soul centerpiece of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN. Also, they had no story. In fact , this film, amiable though it is,  is virtually without incident. Anyone who hasn't seen CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN won't be able to fathom why this film was ever made.  

As for the transfers of these full screen Technicolor films, it is ironic that the inferior  BELLES ON THEIR TOES uses as its source  a  3-strip Technicolor print that isn't perfect but is infinitely preferable to the washed-out, grainy and brownish skin-toned Eastmancolor dupe that is a pallid mockery of what the superior CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN once looked like. Clearly, this dirty DOZEN was rushed out without a great deal of care to coincide with the home video release of the current Steve Martin version. Too bad.

The transfer of THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, on the other hand, is so stunning that the fact that this variation of the earlier (and much worse) IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD isn't really all that funny is beside the point. What a joy it is to look at this breathtakingly restored demo quality 2.20:1 anamorphic transfer with its very good 5.0 Dolby Surround audio track. Indeed, so stupendous is this transfer that it singlehandedly makes watching this light and frothy account of the historic 1910 London-to-Paris air race a singularly exhilarating yet relaxing experience. In fact, I'm ready to watch it again. I think I will. Now. 

--DICK DINMAN  

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