THE RIVER           HEAVEN CAN WAIT          (THE CRITERION COLLECTION) 

The indisputable fact that the three-strip Technicolor process that was utilized from the thirties to the fifties was far superior to any subsequent color photography devices since foisted on the public can be confirmed by even a cursory glance at Criterion's typically spectacular Technicolor dvd duo of Jean Renoir's THE RIVER and Ernst Lubitsch's HEAVEN CAN WAIT. 

It is impossible to categorize THE RIVER (1951) into any one genre of film simply because its imagery is of such an extraordinary nature that the fact that the plot is virtually nonexistent and the acting, such as it is, is rather primitive throughout becomes completely irrelevant from its first moment to its last. Never, to my mind, has there ever been a cinematic experience quite like this wherein the secret of its success is primarily visual.

And why not? Clearly director Jean Renoir, when confronted with the startlingly rich and sumptuous nature of Claude Renoir's fantastic photography of India correctly decided to push the story itself to the back-burner where it most assuredly belonged. So varied and incredible are the images throughout that each shot dares you not to freeze the frame repeatedly to savor each and every nuance of color, lighting and composition. 

Criterion's restoration from the original full-screen three-strip 35mm nitrate Technicolor camera negative is equal to their superlative release of THE RED SHOES --- no higher praise can be given. The monaural sound is crystal-clear.

The fact that the legendary "Lubitsch touch" isn't trounced by the unparalleled set design and eye-poppingly extravagant and rich Technicolor photography that distinguishes HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943) is graphic testimony to his genius. Somehow this wafer-thin tale of a married philanderer's escapades from youth to death manages to take center stage for three reasons: (1) a wise and witty screenplay by Samson Raphaelson; (2) the irresistibly inventive and mischievous direction of Lubitsch; and (3) a rather miraculous performance from no less than Don Ameche, who somehow manages to imbue a potentially sleazy character with an innocence that creates a tantalizing interpretive counterpoint to the actions of this spoiled and selfish ne'er-do-well. (Though I find the thought that any man could even think of cheating on the so-beautiful-it-hurts Gene Tierney to be utterly preposterous!) 

While Criterion's spotless and blemish-free high-definition digital transfer is unquestionably an extravagantly splendid feast for the eyes, it would appear that this transfer was not derived from a three-strip Technicolor original source, the first hint of which is supplied by the substitution of a seventies Fox logo for the original pink spotlight Technicolor logo. The monaural sound is vibrant and clean.

--DICK DINMAN

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