The Little Princess (MRA) (1939) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Dec-1999

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Dora's Dunking Doughnuts
Featurette-Kid' In' Africa
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1939
Running Time 92:39 (Case: 91)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Walter Lang
Studio
Distributor

MRA Entertainment
Starring Shirley Temple
Cesar Romero
Ian Hunter
Richard Greene
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $19.95 Music Louis Silvers


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    This Shirley Temple vehicle benefits from the fact that it is taken from the well-loved book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett. As a result, it actually has some plot to it in addition to a couple of small song and dance numbers, although don't expect Shakespeare here. It is 1899 England and Temple plays Sara, the daughter of a wealthy army officer, Captain Crewe (Ian Hunter). They have just returned from service in India, and with her father being sent to fight in the Boer War, Sara is enrolled in a particularly English girls boarding school run by the harsh Mrs Minchin (Mary Nash). The story revolves around Sara's life in the school, with the ever-present undertone of war providing the backdrop. Given the events occurring in Europe during the production of this film, it could very well have been intended as a piece of morale-rousing propaganda - certainly this might help to explain the style of the film including its "call to duty" theme. It's certainly not all sugary floss, as Sara and several other principals must each cope with their own personal crises. Having said that, the producers couldn't quite resist the urge to insert a few Shirley Temple cutesy moments at the wrong time (e.g. an unmotivated song and dance number in a hospital for the seriously war wounded, during the darkest part of the film).

    To reveal any more of the plot would ruin the film for those who are yet to watch it for the first time. Suffice it to say that there are several quite moving scenes spread throughout the film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I am a great proponent of the DVD medium being used as a means of preserving older films for posterity. However, that presupposes that the transfer process is optimized at every stage. This is not the case here, as I shall relate in further detail.

    Film artefacts are virtually a fact of life in a film of this age, but the remarkable thing about this transfer is that while scratches and other marks are ever-present they were far less intrusive than I expected. It is presented in a fullscreen 1.33:1 ratio which is essentially the same as its original ratio which I believe was 1.37:1. It is recorded using the NTSC broadcast standard and hence cannot be played on a PAL-only TV.

    The film was photographed in Technicolor and, along with other such films of this vintage, it appears to have a lush colour palette. I can only guess at how lush that was because the DVD was clearly mastered from a rather poor NTSC video copy. All of the tell-tale signs of this are evident throughout the film - colour bleeding, lack of colour consistency, low level noise (this is so bad in a particularly dark scene at the 65 minute mark that it almost totally obliterates the image), poor picture resolution and, to top it all off, an analogue tape tracking error at 22:50.

    Probably as a combined result of the age of the film and the NTSC, the image is never sharp. All edges are fuzzy to one degree or another, although this has been offset by minor edge enhancement. Under the circumstances, this enhancement is probably sensible. The nature of the original film stock means that shadow detail is poor, although clearly that is not meant as a criticism of the DVD transfer itself. Most of the film was set indoors, so low level noise was not an issue except as noted above.

    Colour stability was poor, and appeared to me to be a fault in the film print. The set design typically used quite muted colours but vibrant costuming offset this. At times, skin tones were quite natural but at other times they appeared marginally oversaturated. Whether this was a feature of the film itself, the NTSC video master or a deliberate addition at the transfer stage can't be judged. I have already referred to the presence of film artefacts. The print from which the master was taken had its share of scratches and other various coloured specks, but all things considered it is relatively clean. What appears to be a liquid spill has produced a large and distinctive blotch on two successive frames at 16:14. Reel change marks are visible at 20 minute intervals, although interestingly there is only a 16 minute gap between the third and fourth such marks. I wonder if this represents a late cut to the film or whether it was standard practice at that time.

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

Audio

    The mono soundtrack is pretty much as you'd expect for a film of this vintage. Background crackles and pops are always in evidence, although they are not dominant and aren't really a nuisance. Dialogue was always clear and distinct. Other than the relatively minor staged song and dance numbers, music was not an important feature, and what there is is reproduced as well as recording technology allowed at the time. The subwoofer was not called on to do much except provide minimal support to the odd military marching scene.

    Now for the real problems, and let me tell you, I was absolutely disgusted with them. Firstly, the soundtrack dropped out completely between 1:07 and 1:15 - not a good start. However, what really got me going was an audio sync problem of Olympian magnitude - a one second delay between sight and sound that lasted for over 8 minutes from the 54 minute mark - even extending over a reel change. Taken together with the poor quality of the NTSC video master, it is clear that the makers of this disc didn't give two hoots for the film or its viewers. Didn't they even bother reviewing their efforts before it was sent off to the marketing department? There will be people who love this film, and both they and the original filmmakers have been insulted by this effort.

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

Extras

    Extras are limited to two short Shirley Temple films - Dora's Dunking Doughnuts (1940 - although Temple's age and the look of the film suggest it was made in the early 1930s) and Kid in Africa (1932). The films run consecutively, although they are separated by a chapter break. Running times are 19:43 and 8:00 minutes respectively. The film and sound quality of each are very poor, and could only be of interest to students of early film or die-hard Shirley Temple fans. The first film is saved by its moments of vaudeville-style humour, but I found myself longing for the end of the second one. Five-year-old children with absolutely zero acting ability pretending to be missionaries and black cannibals is more than I could take.

R4 vs R1

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

    Ordinarily, a Region 0 world-wide release doesn't give you all that much choice when it comes to choosing your preferred disc. However, probably given the popularity of this film and its actress, there seem to be at least 6 different versions of this film on DVD, most being Region 0 and all being NTSC. The packaging of one of these disks proudly proclaims "From Original 35mm Nitrate Technicolor Materials", so could very well have avoided the problems I found on the review disc. This other version is certainly different from the review disc in that the numbers of chapters differ between the two versions. In the absence of any other information I can't give any clear indication of which disc is preferred.

Summary

    Dramatically, this is probably one of the better Shirley Temple films, and was clearly intended to be a reasonably good interpretation of the book. The lack of effort on the part of the DVD's engineers is extremely disappointing - if a clean print of the film could have been found it could have been so much better. If you are a fan of the book, the film or the actress it is certainly worth a viewing and will reward you with some very moving moments, although you might like to try a rental before committing too much of your cash.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Murray Glase (read my bio)
Saturday, October 07, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K310, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-D906S
SpeakersRichter Wizard (front), Jamo SAT150 (rear), Yamaha YST-SW120 (subwoofer)

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