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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka 'Symphony Story' or Unfinished Symphony')

directed by Preston Sturges
USA 19
48

 

Yep, there's no question about it: Preston Sturges is my favorite writer/director of movie comedies. Unfaithfully Yours is his last work for the big screen. It’s less light on its feet than his certified classics: The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, and less subtle than, say, Sullivan’s Travels. But it is a cleverly twisted 90 minutes of imagination gone, if not wild, certainly amuck, and may be the best use of pre-existing music prior to Stanley Kubrick. It is also way, way better than the Dudley Moore remake 36 years later.

World famous conductor - dare we call him “Maestro”! - Sir Alfred De Carter is madly in love with his beautiful, doting wife, Daphne. The operant word here is “madly” for the maestro is nothing if not susceptible to wretches of jealousy. These are Rex Harrison and Linda Darnell, respectively, and a smarter piece of casting would be hard to find. The pair fall over each other so much we don’t know if we are supposed to weep or scream. (Please to explain the lunacy of pairing Dudley Moore and the then 23 year old Nastassja Kinski in the same roles!)

In any case, Harrison gets it into his head that Linda is stepping out with his younger and very dashing personal secretary, played by the every-hair-and-gesture-in-place Kurt Kreuger. Later, while conducting a sold out performance of Rossini’s Sermiramide Overture, Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture and Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini he imagines delicious scenarios by which he will deal with the faithless couple. After the concert, he proceeds to realize his fancies - with unpredictably hilarious results.

The cast is filled out by Rudy Vallee as Harrison’s brother-in-law, who had unwittingly put the idea into the conductor’s head when he tells him that he had Darnell followed while he was on tour. Against his saner judgment, Harrison looks into the results of the detective’s work. Sturges pairs the face-smashing Edgar Kennedy as the detective with the hysterical Julius Tannen (a Sturges regular). Gravel voiced Lionel Stander plays the maestro’s ever-helpful valet, except when it comes to fire extinguishers.

The difference between Unfaithfully Yours and his earlier work is the degree to which it is so meticulously and maliciously contrived. His earlier work is looser, as if made up as they go along, which is a big part of their charm. Unfaithfully Yours is to comedy what Murder on the Orient Express is to the mystery. Everything depends on the precise way all aspects of cinema - image and music, direction and character, story and performance, costume and sets - work to a specific end, like a finely tuned clock whose springs finally give out and its innards explode.

Leonard Norwitz
LensViews

 

 Posters

Theatrical Release: January 18th, 2003 - Tokyo

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DVD Comparison:

Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Fox Cinema Archives - Region 0 - NTSC

DVD Box Covers

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 292 - Region 1 - NTSC Fox Cinema Archives - Region 0 - NTSC
Runtime 1:45:04  One hour - 45 minutes 
Video 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.85 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s  
1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: ??? mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s  

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Criterion Bitrate:

Audio English (Dolby Digital 1.0)  English (Dolby Digital 1.0) 
Subtitles English, None None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Original aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Audio commentary by Sturges scholars James Harvey, Diane Jacobs, and Brian Henderson
• Video introduction by writer-director Terry Jones
• Video interview with Sturges’s widow Sandy Sturges
• Liner Notes essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem
• Gallery featuring rare production correspondence and stills

DVD Release Date: July 12th, 2005

Keep Case
Chapters: 23

Release Information:
Studio: Fox

Aspect Ratio:
Original aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• None

DVD Release Date: March 1st, 2013

Keep Case
Chapters: 12

 

Comments:

ADDITION: Fox Archives (March 2013):

Image: 9
The new Fox MOD makes for interesting comparison to the 2005 DVD on Criterion Collection, which is duller, if a shade more filmlike than this new entry, and not without the occasional hairline scratch, which I could not find on the Fox, one of their best efforts in this medium. The tonal range is very good, with deep blacks and properly revealed highs. The print is without blemish, or nearly so, and there are no transfer anomalies to speak of. In some ways, despite the contrast boosting (if that’s what it is), this new MOD from Fox is - heaven forfend! - better than the Criterion.

Audio & Music: 8/10 (
added!)
The audio is the moment of truth for this movie, isn’t it? Screw this up and you might as well go home. The difference between the Fox and the Criterion is not at all inconsequential. My opinion is that the Fox employs no noise reduction as, I should imagine, most DVD studios do for these older sources. Today’s software cannot remove the noise and leave the proper signal intact, as we can do with the video portion of the signal. The great majority of buyers would prefer a silent background and really have no idea what they are sacrificing to get it. A comparison of the audio on the Fox and the Criterion makes this abundantly clear. You still might prefer the Criterion, but with the Fox you will no longer be ignorant of the harm done.

The Fox has noticeably better dynamic contrast (once you dial down the output so they match). The orchestral passages have all the snap and clarity you could want from a film several decades old (along with the inevitable distortions.) You can hear the tug on the double basses, the thrill of the reeds, the plush of the brass and the sparkle as well as the crash of the cymbals, which is relative mush on the Criterion. The dialogue, as when Harrison speaks to the orchestra at rehearsal, suggests the acoustic space better. The Criterion is, by comparison, flat. I should, however, point out an error in the transfer of a sudden and fairly dramatic drop in level for ten seconds beginning at 22:00 minutes. Fortunately this affects only dialogue, and not much of it at that. Still, it is quite odd and a mistake.

Extras:
None.

Recommendation: 8
Faced with a DVD of Unfaithfully Yours from the Criterion Collection still in print, you might well ask: why buy this DVD-on-Demand from Fox, without bonus features (the Criterion has a nice commentary, among other bits) or subtitles? The answer is not so simple: The Fox offers a cleaner image, brighter and more contrasty, and is clearly better in respect to audio. The Fox saves little in the cost department: it retails at $25 as versus Criterion’s $30, and the latter can be had presently for half in the used video market (though that should change in Fox’s favor soon). As for a purchase, if you don’t already own the Criterion - and how could you not? - this new Fox, despite its being burned with an uncertain shelf life and not a true DVD, has a lot going for it. The Criterion has mostly bonus features. Unless you see a Blu-ray in its future you could do worse than having both.

Leonard Norwitz
LensViews

***

ON THE CRITERION DVD: This image is very strong. Less grain than we have seen on past Criterion older-film releases, but still commanding some excellent contrast levels. It may be a very minute tad less sharp at times than one might come to expect from the sterling Criterion. Still, it is as filmic as one could desire. Watching this you truly feel like you are at the theatre. Original audio is without a blemish. The extras again mark Criterion as the absolute best in that category - commentary, two video discussions, brilliant liner notes and the images of the correspondence surrounding pre-production. What can we say but they set the benchmark and then rise to it each time.   out of   

Gary W. Tooze


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DVD Box Cover

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 292 - Region 1 - NTSC Fox Cinema Archives - Region 0 - NTSC

 





 

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