The Importance of Being Earnest (Roadshow) (1952)

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Released 14-Oct-2002

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Introduction
Featurette-A Profile Of The Importance Of Being Earnest
Theatrical Trailer-2:37
Gallery-Behind The Scenes
Gallery-Original Rank Material
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1952
Running Time 91:33 (Case: 95)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Anthony Asquith
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Michael Redgrave
Michael Denison
Edith Evans
Joan Greenwood
Dorothy Tutin
Margaret Rutherford
Miles Malleson
Richard Wattis
Walter Hudd
Aubrey Mather
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Benjamin Frankel


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, infrequent
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The Importance of Being Earnest is, for me, the funniest play ever written. It is extraordinary that it was the last play Oscar Wilde wrote. I've seen two or three live performances (not as many as I've seen Hamlets, but more than any other comedy), I watched the Australian performance broadcast on the ABC (with, if I remember correctly, Gordon Chater as all of the servants, and Ruth Cracknell as Lady Bracknell); I'm also quite familiar with this film version. Amusingly, I haven't seen the recent remake - it's not on DVD yet, and I tend not to visit the cinema these days - I hear tell that it isn't a patch on this performance, anyway.

    Of all the performances I have seen, this film is the best. Every role is filled by an actor easily up to the task (even Dorothy Tutin is superb in her film debut as the somewhat naive young Cecily). I fear that part of the problem is that this film predates most of the other performances, and so the actors feel they will be judged against this film and therefore try too hard. Wilde's lines must be delivered naturally for greatest impact. The wit requires no accentuation, no ornamentation (except, of course, the multi-note delivery by Edith Evans of "A handbag?!?!"...).

    If you have never seen The Importance of Being Earnest, please allow me to commend it to you, and to suggest that this film version is the ideal one to see. What's the plot? Well, the basic plot is rather simple, but it is the details that hold the delight. The play is set in England, just before the end of the 19th century (remember, it was written in 1895). For reasons that emerge as you watch, two young men-about-town choose to pretend that their name is Ernest Worthing, and both fall in love under that pseudonym. Unfortunately for them, they both fall in love with women who adore the name Ernest - neither woman is interested in men with any other name (especially our heroes real names). Matters are made more complicated by the involvement of the imposing Lady Bracknell - a woman who would intimidate any suitor, who happens to be the mother of one of the women - she is most unimpressed to discover that her daughter's suitor cannot produce a parent, let alone a family tree. Hmm, that's all a bit confusing. Look, don't worry too much about the plot - it's not the plot that's important as much as is the language. If you enjoyed Emma, or The Princess Bride, you will enjoy this - trust me!

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This film was released in 1952. It was made in Technicolor. What I cannot discover is what the original aspect ratio was. Given that it was made in England, in the early 1950s, I'd expect either 1.37:1 (Academy ratio) or possibly 1.66:1.

    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and is consequently not 16x9 enhanced. It is not harmed by being presented in this aspect ratio - I'll say more about this in the R1 vs R4 section.

    This image is a bit soft, but fairly clear. I have never seen it looking this good, even though it clearly hasn't been through serious restoration. Shadow detail is fine, but there is a tiny bit of low level noise - it's rarely a problem because all the sets are well-lit, and nothing takes place at night.

    Colour is surprisingly good for a 50 year old film, even if the colours aren't completely accurate, and even if they vary a little (even within the one scene). There are some good strong colours, but nothing is ever fully-saturated - it's not a problem, though - this film looks much better than the faded films we see from the 1970s. There are no colour-related artefacts. By the way, don't judge the colour of the film by the cover of the DVD - the cover looks like a "colorized" black-and-white photo - the film does not look like that.

    There are numerous small film artefacts (far too numerous to list), but there is nothing that stands out - once you accept that there will be film artefacts simply because of the age of the film, you won't be troubled by them - they are all small. There is some mosquito noise on backgrounds, but you'd be very fussy to complain about it.

    There is no significant aliasing, except on a couple of Algernon's jackets (strong checks). There's no real moire, and little in the way of MPEG shimmer - this has been mastered rather well.

    There are subtitles in English. They are perfectly acceptable for the film (well-timed, fairly accurate, and easy to read), but quite dreadful for the featurette - on the featurette they appear after the dialogue (the speaker finishes the line, then the subtitle appears). I spotted an error in the subtitles to the film - at 29:55 Miss Prism says "we should have been at our labours...", but the subtitle reads "we should have been at our neighbours...".

    The disc is single-sided, single layer (don't believe the back-cover claim that this disc is dual-layer!). That's OK, because the single layer is ample to contain the film and its extras.

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

Audio

    The soundtrack is English (coded as "Other"), Dolby Digital 2.0, not surround encoded - it sounds mono. It also sounds a bit quiet - I had to boost the volume by at least 5dB to get to my normal listening level. And it sounds somewhat muffled, and restricted in frequency range - if you can imagine listening to the soundtrack on a older telephone, you might get the idea of how it sounds. Fortunately, that doesn't really harm enjoyment of this film.

    The dialogue is clear (absolutely vital for this film). I was never troubled by audio sync errors, although it did look a touch out around 30:00.

    The score, from Benjamin Frankel, is fine. It knows when not to intrude. Lady Bracknell's theme is superb.

    Nothing but your centre channel speaker will get anything to do. Your surrounds and subwoofer will get the night off.

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

Extras

Menu

    The menu is static and silent after an interesting introduction. It is simple to operate.

Featurette - A profile of The Importance of Being Earnest (24:20)

    This is an interesting making-of featurette, shot in 1999 by Carlton. Most of the participants in this project have since passed on, so we get comments from Stephen Fry (I'm unsure why), from the widow of Michael Denison, and from Dorothy Tutin (the only survivor we hear from).

Trailer (2:37)

    This is a beautiful example of the art of trailer making in the late 1940s and early 1950s - lots of large titles splashed across frame, and an interesting voice-over. Quite crackly, a fair bit of hiss on the soundtrack, and with lots of light spots.

Gallery - Behind the Scenes

    19 still photos, presented in a slowly changing montage.

Gallery - Original Rank Material

    A series of still images, including posters, programme pages, and lobby cards, from the archives of the Rank organisation.

Cast and Crew Bios

    We get three pages of biographical detail for:

R4 vs R1

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

    This film is available in most regions. In Region 1 there is a Criterion Collection DVD; in Region 2 it is a Silver Collection DVD from Carlton.

    The Region 1 version was released recently. It is in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, with a trailer and what is described as "rare production stills with notes from film historian Bruce Eder". I don't have a copy of this version to compare, but it doesn't sound any better than our version.

    The Region 2 version is 16x9 enhanced, but is in a strange aspect ratio. It has black bars on either side, producing an aspect ratio that is slightly wider than 1.33:1, but well short of 1.78:1 - I guesstimate it at about 1.4:1 to 1.5:1, although I suspect that's inaccurate. The Region 2 is noticeably harsher to look at, with some nasty edge enhancement on view at times. I find it extraordinary that this disc does not include the featurette we get, given that the featurette was produced by Carlton (the makers of this disc). I would normally recommend a widescreen version, but this one isn't all that wide...

    The Region 4 version offers more extras than either of the others, and quite a good transfer (considering the age of the film). I recommend the Region 4 over the others.

Summary

    The Importance Of Being Earnest is a delightfully witty play, performed superbly, on quite a decent DVD.

    The video quality is quite reasonable for a 50-year-old film.

    The audio quality is not good, but acceptable.

    The extras are adequate - it would be unreasonable to expect a director's commentary (the director died years ago).

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Friday, September 20, 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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Comments (Add)
R2 - Paul B REPLY POSTED
Importance of Being Earnest R2 SE - Jace REPLY POSTED
Stephen Fry - Ian (my biography)