STATE FAIR (60th ANNIVERSARY EDITION : 1945 AND 1962 VERSIONS) * OKLAHOMA! (50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION : CINEMASCOPE and TODD-AO VERSIONS) * THE SOUND OF MUSIC (40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION)
(20th CENTURY FOX HOME
One thing becomes instantly apparent when viewing the latest 20th Century Fox dvd releases of STATE FAIR, OKLAHOMA! and THE SOUND OF MUSIC : the unparalleled genius of Rodgers and Hammerstein resonates as strongly today as it ever did. I defy any viewer to watch any of those titles and not have those glorious melodies and lyrics ringing in their ears for days to come. And all but one of the new transfers brings these songfests lustrously to life. The one that doesn't , unfortunately, is an unmitigated and unnecessary visual disaster. We'll save the bad news for last.
Whoever said, "The plays the thing!" clearly was never exposed to the stunningly sumptuous 1945 version of STATE FAIR. So magnificent are the songs, settings , and truly fantastic use of 3-Strip Technicolor that they instantly cancel out any potential grumblings about the comparative sparseness of plot and allow us to revel in the look, feel and charm of this sparkling concoction. And, boy oh boy, Fox has thankfully delivered this utterly beguiling gem in the best possible way, by supplying the lucky viewer with one of the most amazingly accurate and eye-popping examples of the glory that was the original 3-Strip Technicolor process even down to including the rarely-seen original pink spotlight Fox logo that opens the film. The range and quality of the color is so thrillingly magnificent that one can freeze-frame any frame and stare at the image in rapt amazement. And the skintones are so creamily captivating that it's virtually impossible not to fall head-over-heels in love with the luminous perfection of face and figure that star Jeanne Crain possessed. STATE FAIR'S nonexistent storyline? Who cares?
Some decades ago I had the good fortune to be seated next to Alice Faye (and husband Phil Harris) at a post-exhibitor screening dinner at Disney. Our conversation touched on virtually all aspects of her screen career and she was extremely candid in expressing her dislike for Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck (an opinion later seconded to me by Fox stars John Payne and Mark Stevens) and 1962 STATE FAIR remake director Jose Ferrer. "What idiot told him he could direct a film musical?" she vehemently and repeatedly declared. What idiot indeed? I see no reason to add to Ms. Faye's comments with criticisms of my own. The lady knew what she was talking about. The anamorphic 2:35 transfer is virtually spotless and the 4.0 Surround Sound is distortion-free though not very directional.
"Sugar and spice and everything nice?" Well, not quite. Stodgy and formal director Robert Wise carefully ejected all of the elements that leaned to the caustic and spicy in the original stage version of THE SOUND OF MUSIC and left us with great gobs of sugar and very little else, all of which then record-breaking movie audiences lapped up with enough gusto to ensure the prosperity of the dental profession for ages to come. The good news for the multitudes who thrive on this syrupy-sweet cup of tea is that Fox, after two previous failed dvd attempts, has now delivered a rather good incarnation of this incredibly popular film. The anamorphic 2.20:1 image is quite pleasing and the 5.0 Surround Sound, while not very directional, delivers the musical goods satisfactorily.
Because the original thirty frames per second Todd-AO process--which was introduced with OKLAHOMA!--could only be shown in specially-equipped road show first-run theatres, it was necessary to simultaneously photograph a garden-variety CinemaScope version for all sub-run theatres. In 1981 I saw an original Todd-AO print of OKLAHOMA! in revival at the Egyptian theatre in Hollywood and was blown away by the all-encompassing brilliance of the film and the format. (I had earlier seen a revival of the much inferior CinemaScope version which made no impression on me at all.) Fox then was able to transfer the Todd-AO road show version to laserdisc as well as non-anamorphic dvd. Both (within the limitations of their respective formats) were very reasonable approximations of the original with sharp images and crisp color and depth that looked quite stunning.
And now Fox has finally released this brilliantly directed and sung film in both formats and in the process unloaded a better-than- average anamorphic rendition of the drastically inferior 2:55 CinemaScope version and simultaneously dumped a Todd-AO version into the unsuspecting marketplace that easily qualifies as one of the softest and ugliest dvd releases of a major film ever. So bad is this transfer that it is bested in every imaginable way by the earlier non-anamorphic dvd rendition when blown up to wide-screen. A comparison with Warner's earlier and spectacularly successful and visually awesome Todd-AO to dvd release of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS only magnifies the sheer awfulness of this transfer further.
--DICK DINMAN D