Mrs. Soffel (1984) (NTSC)

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Released 17-Apr-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Romance Main Menu Audio
Biographies-Cast & Crew-3
Theatrical Trailer-2:25
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 111:31 (Case: 110)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4 Directed By Gillian Armstrong

Warner Home Video
Starring Diane Keaton
Mel Gibson
Matthew Modine
Edward Herrmann
Terry O'Quinn
Trini Alvarado
Jennie Dundas
Danny Corkill
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music Mark Isham

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes, including a paper boy
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    A True Story. I see these words at the start of a movie, and they worry me. Oh, some stories derived from truth make good movies - Breaker Morant is one - but I can't help a sense of foreboding. I've seen some really lousy films justified because they claim to be telling a true story.

    Mrs Soffel is better than I feared. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that this is the story of a woman who is married to a prison warden, who visits the prisoners and brings them Bibles, who grows very fond of two prisoners, and helps them to escape (this will all be given away on the back cover, anyway). Supposedly, this all happened in Pittsburgh in 1901. Interestingly, a similar story happened here not all that long ago - a female prison guard helped an inmate escape after she fell in love with him.

    One of the main reasons that this film is rather better than it might have been is the cast. Mrs Soffel is played by Diane Keaton, and she continues to prove that she can act without Woody Allen around. She is working off a young Mel Gibson - he's playing an intense young man, as he could do so well at that age. Matthew Modine is fine, but he is not quite up to their standard. Another reason the film rises above the mediocre is that Gillian Armstrong knows a fair bit about directing.

    For purposes of making the two young men seem more attractive, and the romance more credible, we are given to understand that they did not commit the murder of which they have been convicted. The script brushes over the fact that they have committed 90 robberies in 90 days - it is even made a positive thing: they committed so many robberies, but without injuring anyone. An interesting distinction...

    There is a lot of discussion of God and religion in this film, mostly questioning how God can allow injustice. If you are uncomfortable with that line of questioning, then I suggest you avoid this film. It's nothing deep, nothing profound - I imagine it's the sort of thing they cover in the first week of Bible study - but it fits well into the plot, and gives more depth to the character of Ed (Mel Gibson).

    Strange how Mel Gibson is always shown clean-shaven - wonder how he managed to find time to shave?

    This is not a profound work. Don't come to it expecting too much. But it is interesting, and worth a look if you like a real-life drama.

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Transfer Quality


    This NTSC-formatted DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, but the theatrical aspect ratio was 1.85:1. I'm unsure if they opened the mattes a little, or if they've cropped the sides - the framing is not significantly affected, either way.

    The picture is not sharp; it is somewhat soft and grainy. Shadow detail is rather good, surprisingly so for a film that spends so much of its time in low light conditions. There is absolutely no low-level noise - the blacks are solid black, which is very nice. The lighting for this film is difficult stuff. Lots of low, yellowish, light. I suspect that Pittsburgh may have still had a lot of gaslight in 1901, and they have reflected that in this film. Lots of light filtered through bars, too, giving alternating light and shadow. The cinematographer had lots to play with, and clearly enjoyed it.

    Colour is very deliberate in many scenes. The film is set in winter in the northern USA, with lots of snow, and industrial grime. The opening and closing scenes are most distinctly blue-tinged low light. Almost all of the colours in this film are muted tones, but that's production design - there's no muting of flesh tones. The hot whites of snow are well controlled, yielding an attractive composition.

    There are lots of tiny film artefacts, but nothing large or disturbing. The biggest mark is a blue mark on a fruit bowl at 55:17, and it is small. There are moments of background shimmer, but no other MPEG artefacts. There is lots of opportunity for aliasing (bars, striped shirts and blouses), but it is very well controlled - visible, but it could have been far worse. There are moments of moire, mostly on lace. All-in-all, a reasonable transfer, really only limited by grain and softness.

    There are subtitles in English and French. The English subtitles are easy to read, and that's a good thing, because some of the whispering is hard to hear. The subtitles are accurate and well-timed.

    The disc is single sided and single layered. Thus, there is no layer change. Once again, I fear that the desire to fit the movie into a single layer is responsible for the softness of the image, resulting in more than a touch of over-compression / reduced resolution.

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


    The soundtrack is presented in English, in Dolby Digital 2.0, surround encoded. That's what I listened to, rather than the other soundtrack (French, Dolby Digital 1.0).

    The dialogue is rather quiet, perhaps 10dB (or more) down on normal levels. To exacerbate matters, there is a considerable amount of whispering. I had trouble making out some words, and some entire lines. If you raise the volume too much, the environmental noises, and a bit of the score, become louder than desirable. If you have some hearing loss you might want to switch on the subtitles, rather than strain to catch the dialogue. There are no visible audio sync problems, though.

    The score is by Mark Isham, and a very different effort from the last film I reviewed that he scored (Save the Last Dance). It suits this film well, and is quite a nice job, considering that this was only the second film he scored. He (or was it Gillian Armstrong?) had already learnt that you don't have to put music under every scene - silence can be very effective.

    The surrounds don't get much (if anything) to do - the score may be surround encoded, but I suspect that's more for the centre channel's benefit. The subwoofer is entirely unused.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is static, with some gentle piano music. If you leave the menu playing, the movie starts.

Cast and Crew 

    Brief profiles (three pages each) for just the big names:

Theatrical Trailer (2:25

    The dialogue volume is better in this trailer than in the movie - if you turned up the volume for the movie you might want to turn it down again before watching the trailer. The picture is rather grainy, though.

R4 vs R1

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

    The R4 version of this disc is missing

    The R1 version of this disc is missing:

    Apart from the full-screen presentation on the flip side (I prefer to have a label), the two discs sound to be identical, even down to the quality of the transfer. The R1 is in a snapper case - we get a transparent Amaray - that's a definite score for the R4.


    Mrs. Soffel is a fair film, but not a masterpiece, on a DVD that could have been better.

    The video quality is reasonable.

    The audio quality is OK, but the dialogue is mixed rather too quietly.

    The extras are next to non-existent.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Monday, April 01, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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