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USA 1956

This charming, gentle and perfectly crafted William Wyler film ( produced with older brother Robert ), based on the Jessamyn West novel, revolves around the activities of a family of Indiana Quakers circa 1860. How the Mother ( Dorothy McGuire ), Father ( Gary Cooper ), son, Josh Birdwell ( Anthony Perkins ) , sister and younger brother deal with their traditional beliefs and way of life being challenged over the course of a few crucial weeks in their lives is the crux of this 1957 Palme D'or winning picture (which, to be fair, should have gone to Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria").

Wyler subtly captures characterizations and sentimentality with humorous vignettes following the family through its daily activities. An excursion to the local fair, exposes the family to dancing, gambling, music, and violence, attending and traveling to church as well as congenial interaction with neighbors all substantiate the innocence of both the religious sect and the time period.

The film’s cinematography translates well to Widescreen DVD and is beautifully photographed on location with some scenery that elicits awe inspiring pauses and the over all feeling of Norman Rockwell-like Americana. The countryside atmosphere is yet another subtle device that helps Wyler establish the historical aspects of the film.

In an extremely benign and passive way, ( mimicking the Birdwell family themselves ) the film touches on a number of relevant inter-personal and political issues such as:

Slavery - the black stable hand must flee for sanctuary from the invaders.

The Civil War - in the films most poignant moments Anthony Perkins, in his only Academy award nomination, is brilliant as the son, Josh who opposes his family's "turn the other cheek" philosophy and strives to build the courage he needs to face and fire his gun at the encroaching guerilla band of Confederates. His inner turmoil as he wrestles out both the decision and the foreign acts of violence is one of his greatest performances. This mounting quite resistance is felt to a lesser degree by the family patriarch, played by Gary Cooper, who is outstanding as he brings his unique subtlety and nobility to this sensitive role.

Religion - The various extents that each family member follows the often stringent edicts of the Quaker religion. It deals with family issues as simple as the purchase of an organ, and as complex as fighting in the civil war. Their farm and lifestyle are threatened by Confederate raiders and they make difficult choices to defend their farm using force or resist the call to arms.

 Totally innocent and wholesome on the exterior, the film does suffer slightly when put under the microscope. The non-violence pretension seems to be forgotten in many scenes. The violence at the Fair is stopped with further violence, even the Mother, Eliza's protection of the family pet brings her to violence. They all believe harming their fellow man is wrong, but that doesn't stop them to varying degrees. They never seem to suffer any consequences for their behavior. Dimitri Tiomkin produced a wonderful soundtrack that extensively helps the atmosphere although the choice of song and singer ( Pat Boone ) for the opening and closing credits show glimpses of the formulaic Hollywood machine striving for mediocrity. The same holds true for the titles, which like the Pat Boone cloying ditties do not do this grand film justice. Aside from that I give it a strong  out of

Gary W. Tooze

 

Posters

Theatrical Release: November 25th, 1956

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DVD Review: Warner - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution Warner Home Video - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 2:17:35 
Video 1.66:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.82 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.

Bitrate:

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0), DUB: French (Dolby Digital 2.0)  
Subtitles English, French, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Warner Home Video

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1

Edition Details:

• Featurette "Wide Wide World" from Nov 27th, 1955 (10:23)
• Behind the Scenes (text screen)
• Awards (text screen)
• Theatrical Trailer(1:51)

DVD Release Date: December 5th, 2000

Snapper Case
Chapters: 37

 

Comments:

A very strong image considering this DVD came out in 2000. The major failing seems to be some ingrained dirt in the negative, which can be removed with a future restoration. It almost looks like digital noise but I think the grain is just very prevalent (which I prefer). Colors are excellent and don't appear manipulated. What is amazing to see is that even back then Warner was able to anamorphize a 1.66 ratio film that so many (including recent Criterion) don't seem able to do to this day without cropping to 1.78. There are some extras which appear to be filler, but the early attempt with a featurette is a applaud-able effort. There is a French dub optional and the removable subtitles (English and French) are quite good but in a fairly small type. I like this DVD and I love this film. out of    

Gary W. Tooze

 





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CLICK to order from:

Distribution Warner Home Video - Region 1 - NTSC

 





 

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