The Spitfire Grill (1996)

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Released 19-Dec-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 111:45
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Lee David Zlotoff

Warner Home Video
Starring Alison Elliott
Ellen Burstyn
Marcia Gay Harden
Will Patton
Kieran Mulroney
Gailard Sartain
John M. Jackson
Louise De Cormier
Ida Griesemer
Lincoln Grow
Emerson Grow
Lisa Louise Langford
Forrest Murray
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $14.90 Music James Horner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     There are some films that make you think. There are some that make you angry. There are others that might even change your views or attitudes. And then there are soggy Saturday afternoon serves of syrup. And that's probably the best category for The Spitfire Grill. If you enjoyed Steel Magnolias, Ya Ya Sisterhood or Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, you're probably going to enjoy this too, as I did, up to a point.

     Our story introduces us to Perchance Talbot, otherwise known as Percy (played very well by Alison Elliott). Fresh from five years in prison on a manslaughter charge, Percy decides that she will make her new life in Gilead, Maine. As a favour to the local sheriff, she is given work and a roof over her head by the crusty, careworn and recently infirmed owner of the Spitfire Grill, Hannah (Ellen Burstyn) who has troubles of her own, and a restaurant she doesn't really want. Percy befriends Hannah's niece-in-law, Shelby (Marcia Gay Harden), whose self-esteem has never flourished under the derision of her husband, Nahum Goddard (Will Patton). The three women begin to forge a friendship, and a plan is hatched to finally get a buyer for the cafe. They agree to launch an essay writing contest and award the winning contestant the restaurant as the prize. Needless to say, all this activity in a small town is cause for great interest and comment, and Percy's past is brought sharply into question. Certainly she's a girl with a past, but how will that affect the futures of Gilead's residents? Hannah too, has her secrets, and when these echoes from the past begin to converge, the consequences are devastating to the entire community.

     Development of effective pathos is always a tricky balancing act. If there is not enough sentiment, we feel uninterested in the characters. Too much and melodrama or worse is the inevitable result. The Spitfire Grill wanders dangerously close to the barbed wire fence of maudlin sentimentality, and is only saved from diving off the cliff by the particularly excellent performances of Burstyn and Elliott. It was a shame that the generally excellent Patton had very little to really do in this film - his function was purely to resolve the plot, which left him, and in hindsight all the male performers in this piece, as one-dimensional catalysts to the denouement.

     From the perspective of script, this was somewhat patchy, wavering from trite and predictable to occasionally genuinely fresh and moving. Harden's portrayal of Shelby was at times a little irritating and saccharine, which possibly created some "pathos leakage" - but at least the story structure moved steadily to a conclusion without too many red herrings and diversionary tales.

     Alison Elliott gave a fine performance, and her interesting face capably translated an internal emotional landscape that made this story a more than adequate afternoon tissue soaker.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    Overall the transfer is a rather pedestrian offering. The sharpness leaves something to be desired, and the contrast levels are low. Grain levels are frequently quite high, but there is reasonable shadow detail. There is low level noise present throughout, resulting in very few instances where a true black could be found. At times the motion blur was quite marked and marred the print.

     The colours were more muted than I expected to see in a film which emphasised the natural beauty of a place's setting. The colour palette was generally stable, but was flat and duller than was reasonable.

     Macro-blocking affected much of the film, resulting in loss of detail in mid and backgrounds at times. There were mild incidents of halation and aliasing present, and the film to video artefacts were frequent and distracting.

    Subtitles were clean, legible and well timed.

    I detected no layer change on this disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is one audio track on this DVD - English Dolby Digital 2.0. This was recorded somewhat flatly.

    Dialogue was mostly clear and audible, although some of the pronunciations provoked this reviewer to resort to subtitles to clarify a word or two. Audio sync was fine.

   The musical score by James Horner was suitably sentimental, though at times a little heavy handed.

    The sound overall was nondirectional with little subwoofer activity. There were occasions when the soundtrack felt a little hollow, but at least it appeared to be reasonably distortion free.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras on this disc.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

     Unless you have a particular interest in the R1 options, I'd still say R4 is a winner if that's your local region.


     This film garnered a Sundance Audience Award in 1996. In some ways, this may have done it a disservice in creating expectations beyond what this film can deliver. It's a reasonably charming weepie with fine performances by Alison Elliott and Ellen Burstyn. Accepted in that light, you can get into the spirit of the film without expecting it to be a life-changing experience.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

Other Reviews NONE
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