ROXIE HART (20TH CENTURY FOX HOME VIDEO )

THE TIN STAR (PARAMOUNT HOME VIDEO )

DOWN TO EARTH (COLUMBIA HOME VIDEO)

HELEN OF TROY (WARNER HOME VIDEO )

PRINCE VALIANT (20TH CENTURY FOX HOME VIDEO )

ROXIE HART -- It's hard to believe that, since ROXIE HART is the original movie version of the Broadway play that was the foundation for the Broadway musical and more recent screen hit CHICAGO, those canny folks at Fox Video could have missed the obvious golden opportunity to release ROXIE in a special edition while CHICAGO, a major hit, was still in theatres. Especially since the source material for Fox's ROXIE is among the very best full screen black and white dvd transfers I've ever seen. It's impossible not to wax rhapsodic about the absolute perfection of this luminous transfer, which combines a luscious greyscale with a razor-sharp clarity that is virtually damage-free. Indeed, this comparatively unheralded bargain priced release has an image quality that rivals, and quite possibly transcends, the very best of the Fox Studio Classics releases!

William Wellman directs ROXIE as if he had to catch a train, so fast moving is this brief 74 minute distillation of the play. Everybody walks and talks very fast, scenes zip by at breakneck speed and the overall impression is that Wellman put uppers into the entire cast's coffee. I dare anyone to fall asleep while viewing this ROXIE HART. And , oh boy, that transfer!

THE TIN STAR is as good as a western (or indeed any!) film can be without being great. What a pleasure it is to savor Dudley Nichol's beautifully written and intelligent character-driven Oscar nominated screenplay, and to watch the great Henry Fonda at his warm, subtle and mesmerizing best. Indeed, Fonda's performance here should be scrutinized closely by anyone interested in becoming an actor, so seamless and multifaceted is his characterization. Here is an actor who had the ability to convey an unbelievably wide range of emotions with such economy that he at times appears to be doing nothing. What we have here is film acting at its very finest. Director Anthony Mann's best westerns are usually violently hyperactive, something this TIN STAR is not, but Mann has no trouble at all adjusting to the measured and careful pacing necessary to make this material work.

 The wonderful black and white widescreen anamorphic transfer, while exhibiting a few unobtrusive minor scratches, spectacularly spotlights Loyal Griggs' photography, and Paramount continues to showcase the best 5.1 rechanneling of what was previously a monaural film, which no other home video group does remotely as well.

DOWN TO EARTH -- Columbia Home Video has every reason to be proud of the quality of their full screen Technicolor transfer of DOWN TO EARTH, so rich and luscious are the perfectly recreated 3-Strip Technicolor hues that are so ravishingly on display here, and exhibit the charms of the silver screen's primary Love Goddess, Rita Hayworth, to such an astounding and spellbinding degree that I found myself unable to pay attention to the plot. Those closeups! That face! That figure!

You really insist on a description of the plot? O.K., O.K. Rita plays an incredibly angelic muse who's incensed at the notion that a Broadway musical is going to portray her as a modern living sexpot, and sets off to Earth to set the record straight. Now are you happy? If, while watching DOWN TO EARTH, you're even remotely concerned about the plot, I'd like to respectfully suggest that you increase your daily dose of Geritol.           

HELEN OF TROY -- Yakuma Canutt. Ever heard of him? He was the legendary second unit director/ stuntman responsible for the thrilling action scenes in hundreds of films, among them STAGECOACH and BEN-HUR. If you blink you'll miss his name in the credits, but make no mistake about it, his contribution is the most compelling thing about this massive undertaking, and reason alone to purchase this HELEN. Canutt's staging of the plentiful battle scenes (no CGI!) rivals virtually anything seen on the screen before or since, and when those armies clash and slash away at each other, with a relentlessly bombastic Max Steiner score  backing them up, it's a thrilling sight to behold, especially since the widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1 source material that's on display here, as well as a thumping new 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, enhance the proceedings to maximum effect. 

Other aspects of this HELEN OF TROY remain a mystery. Why, after the colossal failure of not one but three budget-busting mega epics (THE SILVER CHALICE, KING RICHARD AND THE CRUSADERS, LAND OF THE PHAROAHS) would Jack Warner agree to squander the then enormous sum of six million dollars on yet another mammoth costume enterprise?  Why hire two complete unknowns who couldn't speak English (!?!) and whose every word had to be dubbed? Why hire staid and stuffy director Robert Wise, who has absolutely no feel for the material? And if someone had the smarts to hire eighteen-year-old Brigitte Bardot, probably the sexiest cinematic creature ever, for the minor role of a slave girl, why not cast her as Helen, instead of the placid and stiff Rosanna Podesta? Could Bardot's face launch a thousand ships? And how! Podesta? Possibly a small rowboat. 

 If you think, however, that the above ramblings detract from the overall enjoyment of this HELEN OF TROY, you'd be wrong. Those clanging swords! Those thronging armies! That Trojan Horse! Great stuff!

PRINCE VALIANT ---- Practically all cinematic Arthurian ventures ever released suffer from a humorless, reverential, self-important staticity and heavy-handed spirituality that goes down like a heavy, indigestible meal. Not our PRINCE VALIANT, a buoyant, joyous, action-packed, refreshingly uncomplicated, and beautiful to behold (and listen to, courtesy of Franz Waxman's fantastic score) comic strip of a film that will appeal to the adventurous twelve year old boy that hopefully still resides in most of us. 

Even the riotous miscasting of Robert Wagner in the title role, with that flat Beverly Hills twang of his, and bedecked in a atrocious Beatle-type pageboy wig, and the hilariously wrong casting of the great Sterling Hayden as Sir Gawain (to hear him below " Val, you varlet!" is a precious thing indeed) contribute to the rambunctious and informal Medieval free-for-all that is this high spirited PRINCE VALIANT. Top- billed and superb James Mason picks up his paycheck as the villainous Sir Brack with that much imitated but never equalled silky elegance that was his trademark, and Janet Leigh fills out her medieval costumes in a way guaranteed to hold your attention. 

PRINCE VALIANT was one of the last Fox early CinemaScope films photographed in Technicolor, after which Fox made a budget-conscious, but ultimately disastrous decision to switch to Color by DeLuxe, and this luminous anamorphic 2.35:1 (the packaging mistakenly proclaims 2.55:1) transfer reflects with great accuracy the fairytale-like soft colors that enrich this wonderful film. That said, I have two slight reservations. First, I wish that the original early CinemaScope 2.55:1 ratio had been retained for this release, and secondly, while the 2.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack gets the job done, I wish that Waxman's score, one of the greatest ever, could have been given the 5.1 treatment.  No matter. The fact is that PRINCE VALIANT is at last on dvd, and all of us who are young in heart are better off because of it. Varlets included.     

--DICK DINMAN

 

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