Constantine and the Cross (Costantino il Grande) (Warner Vision) (1962)

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Released 21-Nov-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Gallery-Photo-4
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1962
Running Time 119:24 (Case: 93)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Lionello De Felice
Studio
Distributor
Joseph E. Levine
Warner Vision
Starring Cornel Wilde
Belinda Lee
Massimo Serato
Christine Kaufmann
Elisa Cegani
Fausto Tozzi
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Mario Nascimbene


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.55:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Italian filmmakers pioneered the epic prior to the First World War, with silent movies such as Cabiria, Spartacus and The Last Days of Pompeii, all set in ancient times. These films were of a length and scale that had not been attempted before, and they inspired directors like D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. de Mille to attempt similar films, Intolerance being a notable example.

    Apart from the occasional foray into depictions of Roman decadence, such as de Mille's Cleopatra, the genre faded after the 1920s. The success of Quo Vadis in 1951 led to a spate of films with religious themes set in the early Roman empire. By the early 1960s, the ancient epic was again wearing thin. Constantine and the Cross comes near the end of the cycle, just prior to the financial disasters of the remake of Cleopatra and The Fall of the Roman Empire which effectively killed off the genre.

    This is an Italian production, made on location with some minor international stars.

    The film tells the story of the Emperor Constantine (Cornel Wilde), from the time that he was recalled to Rome by the Emperor Diocletian to become Tribune, up to the battle of the Milvian bridge.

    The two emperors, Diocletian and Maximianus, have decided to retire. Four emperors are appointed in their place, one of whom is Constantine's father Constantius. When Constantius is killed in battle, Constantine assumes his father's mantle as Emperor.

    Maximianus's son Maxentius wants to remove Constantine and become Emperor in his place. During an ambush arranged by Maxentius (Massimo Serato), Constantine's friend Hadrian (Fausto Tozzi) is injured and nursed back to health by a group of peasants, who turn out to be Christians (and who are outlawed under edicts proclaimed by Diocletian). Hadrian falls in love with one of them, Livia (Christine Kaufmann). This provides a subplot regarding the perils that Livia faces as a Christian, and Hadrian's efforts to protect and rescue her.

    Concerned about being a fair and just Emperor to all, Constantine revokes the edicts against the Christians, and allows them to worship in the open. This causes disquiet amongst the members of the Senate, and Maxentius seizes the opportunity to plan a revolt.

    Constantine is married to Maximianus's daughter Fausta (Belinda Lee). When Maximianus commits suicide after attempting to assassinate him, Constantine faces an invasion from Licinius and a revolt by the Senate, fomented by Maxentius in open rebellion.

    As Italian epics go, this is diverting and occasionally thought-provoking. Some scenes are impressive, mainly because of the widescreen framing, but the direction by Lionello De Felice can only be described as serviceable. The sets are quite spectacular, and I would not be surprised if most of them were real historical locations rather than studio creations. The staging of the battle scenes is fairly ordinary and as a result not very exciting.

    The script is relatively free of melodramatics as compared to similar American films of the time, and thankfully does not push the religious elements strongly.

    Cornel Wilde's starring career was effectively over by the time this film was made. Popular in the 1940s, the quality of his roles petered out after the following decade, and by the time of Constantine and the Cross he was more interested in direction than acting. His performance in this film is earnest but a little wooden.

    Belinda Lee was a British film star who moved to Italy in the late 1950s. Sadly this seems to have been her final film, and she would not live to see it released. In 1961 she travelled to California to visit friends and was killed in a car accident there, aged only 26.

    The lovely Christine Kaufmann was a teenage German actress whose major claim to fame would be a brief marriage to Tony Curtis, although she continues to appear in films.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Despite the case saying the film is in an aspect ratio of 4:3, it is in fact presented in an aspect ratio of 2.55:1, but it is not 16x9 enhanced. The film was originally released in Totalscope, which has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There does not appear to be any obvious matting or cropping, so I cannot account for the difference.

    This is an unrestored print that is in very poor condition.

    There are film artefacts throughout. Every frame appears to have some sort of damage, but this is mainly confined to scratch marks, reel change marks, dirt, black flecks and green blotches. There are occasional missing frames. There is a prominent piece of damage from about 92:00 which lasts for 6 minutes, and takes the form of a white spot which moves up and down the left hand edge of the frame. From 109:45 there is a blue spot in the lower centre right of the screen.

    Although the case says the film is black and white, it is in colour. The colour is a major problem with this transfer. The print was faded and the colours are not always lifelike. In low light levels, blacks become blue or even green. The sky during the climactic battle is a light shade of green. The colour is unstable, with reds and pinks being more prominent, and the print occasionally becomes saturated with red or yellow, such as at 14:10 and 17:05.

    Shadow detail is poor. Sequences shot in low light levels, such as the scenes of the Christians in the dungeons during the latter part of the film, are murky and indistinct.

    There appears to be some ghosting, for example at 21:30. Throughout much of the film there is a faint second image appearing slightly to the right of objects and people. This is not always prominent and is not especially annoying.

    There is considerable film grain present, and sharpness is not a feature of this transfer.

    It is disappointing that RBC have chosen to use such an old worn print for this transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sole English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is generally not bad, and is typical of an unrestored film of the time. The dynamic range is limited, and the mono sound is boxy at times. Dialogue is generally clear. Some effort has been made in the dubbing process to get the right acoustics, but as usual the lack of background noise makes the soundtrack too clean to be convincing.

    Italian films of this period were often dubbed. Dubbing was used for numerous reasons, not least of which was the extraneous noise that was always a problem when filming on location in or near the populous Italian cities. The use of non-Italian actors, and Italian actors with regional dialects, also motivated the frequent dubbing of films. Italian audiences also preferred dubbed versions of foreign films, which meant that dubbing facilities and voice actors were readily available. Even films intended solely for the local market were made without soundtracks, with dialogue and sound effects being post-dubbed. Often the English speaking actors would dub their own voices for the English versions.

    On this DVD we have an English language version of the film. All of the actors are dubbed, but I think Cornel Wilde did his own dubbing.

    Lip sync, as with all dubbed films, is noticeable. This one is actually a good effort, with the voices closely approximating the words the actors were mouthing. This is helped by the fact that both Wilde and Lee spoke their lines in English.

    The music score by Mario Nascimbene is quite effective, and in style is typical of this genre.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    A static main menu, with a chapter selection sub-menu.

Photo Gallery

    This features four black and white stills from the film. I suppose it is better than nothing, but not by much.

Slick

    I think it is worth mentioning the slick as an extra, due to the startling number of errors on it. Firstly, it describes the aspect ratio as 4:3 (it's 2.55:1), the print as black and white (it's in colour) and the running time as 93 minutes (it's 119:24). Then the names of several of the actors are misspelled: Christine Kaufmann becomes Christine Kaufmen on the front cover and Christine Kaufman on the back, Massimo Serato is rendered as Masssimo Sarato, and Fausto Tozzi as Fausto Tozz.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

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

     This film has been released on DVD in Region 1. Reviews of the Region 1 release suggest that it has the same transfer as the Region 4, albeit in NTSC format. One reviewer has suggested that the transfer in Region 1 is closer to an aspect ratio of 2.00:1, and that the actors appear slightly thinner than they should, as if an incorrect anamorphic lens was used for the transfer. On that basis, the Region 4 version is to be preferred.

Summary

     A reasonably interesting epic from the early 1960s, this might be worth a rental if you are not deterred by poor quality prints.

    The video quality is well below average, mainly stemming from poor source materials.

    The audio quality is acceptable.

    The extras provided are barely worth mentioning.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, January 01, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony KV-XS29M33 68cm Trinitron Wega. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
Speakers fronts-paradigm titans, centre &rear Sony - radio parts subbie

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