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    Forever Amber DVD Review

    DVD Fox

    Jun 23 2014 01:38 PM | Matt Hough in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    It takes a character with a tremendous amount of pluck and resolve to be able to outmaneuver Scarlett O’Hara at her scheming best, but Amber St. Clair is one such character: the eternal predatory female who’ll stop at nothing to attain the riches and position that will get her the man she so desperately wants. Otto Preminger’s Forever Amber offers us the mostly sanitized highlights from Kathleen Winsor's overheated novel with the title character making some mighty societal leaps so that she’s eventually a fit consort for the King Of England.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Fox
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 480I/MPEG-2
    • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
    • Audio: English 2.0 DD
    • Subtitles: None
    • Rating: Not Rated
    • Run Time: 2 Hr. 18 Min.
    • Package Includes: DVD
    • Case Type: Amray case
    • Disc Type: DVD-R
    • Region: All
    • Release Date: 04/29/2014
    • MSRP: $19.95

    The Production Rating: 3.5/5

    Tired of the puritanical demands of her guardian (Leo G. Carroll), Amber St. Clair (Linda Darnell) runs away from home at sixteen in a desperate attempt to live life to the fullest. She almost immediately meets the man of her dreams Bruce Carlton (Cornel Wilde), but he’s too busy with his buccaneering to worry about being tied down to any female, even one with the ample charms that Amber has to offer. Even though he gives her some gold to live on and establish herself while he’s away, she quickly loses it and is eventually thrown in debtor’s prison while pregnant with Carlton’s child. With her looks and wiles, it isn’t long before she secures a release from prison to later appear on the stage and work off her debt. Along the way, she’s seen by a succession of men: a highwayman (John Russell), a captain of the guard (Glenn Langan), and the Earl of Radcliffe (Richard Haydn) each of them offering a greater and more lucrative stepping stone to the wealth and position to which she aspires, all the while she's pining for Carlton who happens to drift into and out of her life on several occasions but never long enough to make her his wife.

    $4 million was poured into the making of this one-time scandalous best seller, and though most of the bodice-ripping and sexual peccadilloes have been excised from the Philip Dunne-Ring Lardner Jr. screenplay, the illegitimate child and the succession of lovers from all walks of life offer strong suggestions to the title character’s off-screen endeavors. The money shows up on screen, too, in an eye-popping succession of gowns (this was one year before the Academy instituted the costume design award; surely this film and Rene Hubert would have carried off that prize had it been in effect in 1947), the elaborate staging of the Great Fire of London and the outbreak of plague (the extended sequence of Amber tending to her lover suffering from plague and protecting Carlton from the murder plans of a wicked nurse played by Margaret Wycherly is the film’s best single sequence), and of splendid castle sets and extensive grounds and manses where the various plot machinations occur. Preminger also directs a nicely staged duel in the early morning English mists and overall establishes a believable portrait of 17th century England while probably not straying far from the Fox soundstages and backlot.

    Linda Darnell is a fine Amber with lots of colors to her personality and playing a woman whose brain wheels are always turning. Cornel Wilde’s British accent seems a bit studied and ill-fitting as Bruce Carlton, and one seldom sees what Amber finds in him so fascinating to jump through all of the hoops she maneuvers to try to land him (but then, that question has always been pondered with Leslie Howard’s Ashley Wilkes, too). George Sanders manages to walk away with most of his scenes as King Charles II (with his doggie “children” always trailing behind him, one of the film’s most delightful affectations), and Richard Haydn plays superbly against his usual milquetoast type as the forceful, scheming Earl of Radcliffe. Also excellent are Amber’s two other men-used-as-stepping stones: Glenn Langan as Captain Rex Morgan and John Russell as Black Jack Mallard, the highwayman. Richard Greene gives it a good effort but seems oddly ineffectual as Carlton’s dear friend Lord Harry Almsbury and great actress Jessica Tandy is surprisingly colorless and unimpressive as Amber’s maid Nan.

    Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA

    The film’s original 4:3 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced here. It’s obvious Fox has performed major clean-up on this title as there are no stray dust specks and debris or reel change markers at any point in the presentation. Still, with compromised Eastmancolor elements rather than the original three-strip Technicolor elements to work off of, image quality varies throughout. In scenes in brightly lit rooms or in the sunny outdoors (as on Amber’s wedding day to the Earl), the image quality is splendid with excellent sharpness, very good color, and close-to-accurate skin tones. But much of this film takes place in darkened rooms, in alleyways, or at night (the entire first fifteen minutes is at night and in darkened environments), and the black levels are severely compromised here being milky gray rather than true black and crushing details in the shadows on a regular basis. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 14 chapters present.

    Audio Rating: 3.5/5

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Again, there has been clear work with the soundtrack as there are no age-related artifacts like hiss, crackle, or flutter to mar the listening experience. Once again, however, the engineers have encoded the disc with volume levels increased to the point of distortion so users will want to adjust their equipment accordingly. Dialogue has been generally well recorded though ADR is quite noticeable on occasion, and there are instances where the beautiful, Oscar-nominated David Raksin score and the powerful sound effects (especially during the Great Fire sequence) manage to overpower the dialogue and make it indecipherable. Otherwise, the dialogue, music, and sound effects occupy the track together most comfortably.

    Special Features: 0/5

    There are no bonus features on this made-on-demand disc.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5

    Forever Amber was one of Fox’s most lavishly expensive costume melodramas of the 1940s, and even on this made-on-demand DVD release, one can see that little expense was spared in bringing this best seller to the screen. Fans of the stars or the genre will likely not be happy Fox didn’t offer this obviously cleaned-up and prepared disc in high definition rather than what we have here, but whether to purchase or not will be an individual decision.

    Reviewed by: Matt Hough
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    13 Comments

    No mention of Anne Revere as Mother Red Cap?  I get the impression that most of her role, a most fascinating one, was left on the cutting-room floor.  I absolutely adore this film; whatever shortcomings it has are easily forgiven, for this is one of the most lush, extravagantly produced films of the period, and all of that effort radiates off the screen.

     

    Great review.

    No mention of Anne Revere as Mother Red Cap?

     

    Great review.

     

    Yes, she is very, very effective in her very brief moment or two on the screen.

    And I agree with you about Jessica Tandy's role as Nan.  A very interesting part - Amber of course befriends Nan  in prison and she becomes Amber's maid later on, but the part is strangely quite colourless.  A disappointment, as Ms Tandy, on paper, had so much to work with but not the screen time to show it.

    Anyone knows how this compares to the French blu ray ?

    The French Blu-ray has fixed subtitles, and I'd buy it in a heartbeat if it didn't.

    And I agree with you about Jessica Tandy's role as Nan.  A very interesting part - Amber of course befriends Nan  in prison and she becomes Amber's maid later on, but the part is strangely quite colourless.  A disappointment, as Ms Tandy, on paper, had so much to work with but not the screen time to show it.

     

    And Jessica Tandy must have completed her role in this film and gone to NYC to begin rehearsals and then star in the Broadway premiere of A Streetcar Named Desire and win a Tony Award.

    The French Blu-ray has fixed subtitles, and I'd buy it in a heartbeat if it didn't.

     I have it, and yeah, it's too bad they're fixed, but you tend to forget it--and it looks really good!

    Another great review Matt.

      I also have the French Blu Ray and can recommend it. After a while, one can ignore the subtitles. I believe the footage begun by John Stahl with Peggy Cummins and Vincent Price in the Richard Greene role was extant at Fox up until the '70's. I have the LIFE magazine in which a big to-do was made re Peggy Cummins being brought to the USA for the role. She must have been disappointed to lose this particular film (although she had other good film roles in the late '40's as compensation). I believe I have read that Zanuck felt she was not voluptuous enough, however one would think that would have been recognizable from the beginning. Perhaps her performance wasn't as good as expected or perhaps Zanuck wanted to showcase Miss Darnell, reportedly one of his mistresses at the time. It would be very interesting to see some of the first version. I believe close to half the film was shot before they started over.LInda does a great job , however.The poster art indicates to me that it was drawn while Miss Cummins was still doing the role (like the artwork for THE ROBE which displays Jeanne Crain's likeness rather than her replacement, Jean Simmons.)

    Cornel co-starred with Linda one year earlier in the now (sadly) not-to-be-released Technicolor musical CENTENNIAL SUMMER, thus we can assume that Preminger was either happy to work with them or happy to oblige the studio. I noticed the always watchable character actress Norma Varden in an early scene (as someone who exploits Amber and then lies in court about her embezzlement of her money). Fox must have liked her- she continued to work there through the '60's (eg.THE SOUND OF MUSIC, as the housekeeper who mysteriously disappears after Julie Andrews arrives-did Captain Von Trapp figure that he could exploit Maria and get her to do those tasks too? Interesting hidden subplot there of the possible victimization of a nun...).

      The IMDB reports that the Catholic Legion of Decency (an organization Billy Wilder once famously stated that he did NOT wish to co-author screenplays with!) insisted on the opening written prologue, the deletion of scenes indicating more clearly the promiscuity of Amber and the final shot (which I believe showed her at her mirror, resigned to her lifestyle of a courtesan after letting her son leave her).I saw an ad in a Laserdisc magazine for the film's release on LD which stated that the censored ending-provided by a collector- was going to be reinstated. Sadly, Laserdiscs were becoming extinct at the time and the release never happened.Pity.The released ending is abrupt and obviously truncated.

    According to the IMDB, Dolores Hart (as a child) and Ellen Corby ('Grandma Walton') make uncredited appearances in the movie.Billy Ward (little Bruce) also had roles in some other major films of the era:  THE FOXES OF HARROW, EXPERIMENT PERILOUS, TO EACH HIS OWN and THIS LOVE OF OURS. It appears that he is still with us.

      The movie was a hit but I'm guessing that the exorbitant production costs due to restarting the entire production ate into its profits.Still, good to know that the Fox MOD is one of their better ones. I always thought it came up looking pretty good- Eastman color notwithstanding- on FMC

    I cannot even begin to imagine Peggy Cummins playing Amber.  The role needed somebody like Ms Darnell to really pull it off convincingly; although it would be interesting to see any surviving (if any) material from the Cummins filming schedule.  I think she would have photographed a little too young for the part to the point that audiences might have felt a little uncomfortable.

    I had heard that they were disappointed in Cummins due to her youth and inexperience, but I can't remember the source.

     

    And WHAT? Twilight isn't releasing "Centennial Summer" after all? Boo...

    Nope, "Centennial Summer" has been pulled, apparently because of a copyright issue.  I hope the problem is resolved because I was really looking forward to seeing it finally released.

    Thanks, guys, for all of this fascinating additional information on this movie. Obviously with its history and the lush extravagance of the film, it's really worthy of much greater representation on home video than a MOD release.

    David Raksin's score is one of the most beautiful of all films (a statement I make, probably, subjectively).

     

    There is (was) a CD sound track of this score, in stereo, which, to this day, sounds wonderful (conducted by Alfred Newman). 

     

    He was a master at his craft and I'm sorry that this film couldn't have been issued in blu-ray in, at least, two-track stereo. 

     

    I was in Mr. Raksin's USC class for two years and i adored him for his truthfullness and, above all, his remarkable talent.