Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 127 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Non-Anamorphic Widescreen (1.66:1)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, and French
Audio: English – Monaural
The year 1965 sure was a banner year for the lovely Julie Christie, who starred in the beloved classic Doctor Zhivago and also took home the best-actress Oscar® for John Schlesinger’sDarling. Among other things, Darling, a satire of snobbish, jet-setting aristocrats, is quick to point out the upper class’ racist tendencies, homophobic nature, and lack of compassion for individuals leading less privileged lives. The real core of the film though, is the exploration of Julie Christie’s character, Diana Scott, who is perfectly willing to exploit her sexuality and beauty to reach the pinnacle of socialite success, no matter who she hurts in the process.
In the film’s opening scene, we are introduced to Ms. Scott via a billboard featuring her picture, which is ironically being replaced by a poster about the need to help feed famine-stricken people in Africa. Simultaneously, a narration by Julie Christie briefly describes Diana’s life, and informs the audience that she is an aspiring model. Shortly into the film, Diana meets a reporter named Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), whose intelligence, wry humor, and social connections excite her greatly. In spite of the fact that both are married, Diana decides Robert has more to offer, and since he is willing to leave his family for her, they both cast aside their spouses and move in together.
Robert soon reaps what he has sown though, in that he falls victim to the same routine he put his former wife through, as Diana’s affection proves fleeting once the life he offers fails to live up to her lofty expectations. As their relationship becomes rocky, Diana begins modeling for a large cosmetics manufacturer, and encounters a snooty but good-looking man whose seeming indifference to her charms intrigues her. It does not take long for Robert to discover that she has being fooling around, and once he leaves the picture, Diana gives herself completely to her new boy toy, in hopes of enhancing her career prospects.
The process of people being used and cast aside (either men using Diana or her using them) is repeated several more times, and in the end, Diana is completely miserable, despite being very successful (in terms of wealth and stature). With this in mind, it can be argued that Schlesinger’s Darling endeavors to do two things, and is largely successful on both counts. First, the film tries to show how such a beautiful and talented woman could end up so sad and empty. Secondly, Darling attempts to impart the message that there is a price to be paid for walking all over other people’s feelings in a selfish quest for personal gain. As they say, the people that are stepped on during a rapid climb up the ladder of success may very well be the ones needed to break a fall from the higher rungs later on.
Another of Darling’s strengths lies in it writing. Frederic Raphael’s precise, subtle (with the exception of some heavy-handed visual messages) employment of satire is used to great effect in the script, which examines the psyche and behavior of fashion magnates, over-zealous journalists, bored socialites detached from real human problems and experiences, and of course, an immoral woman who is willing to exploit her “assets” to attain in the misguided pursuit of happiness.
As I mentioned, some of the humor is a little forceful. In particular, the sight of old, fat society matrons pigging out at a charity ball for those affected by famine, or winning a trip to the Bahamas, only to lament “But I just got back!” made a bit much, but the bulk of Darling’s satirical elements are far more subdued. The wonderful acting and writing are not the only good things Darling has going for it though, as John Schlesinger’s direction is generally excellent, although there are a couple of sections that seem to a little bit “slow”.
With all of that being said, this movie’s warm reception in 1965, and whatever endearing qualities it retains today, are due in large part to the incredible, magnetic performance by Julie Christie. Frederic Raphael wrote this part specifically for Ms. Christie, and there is no doubt that her breathtaking beauty and formidable acting ability lend a great deal of credibility to her ascent into the most prominent social circles. Her abilities also aided Director John Schlesinger’s effort to criticize the morally compromised society that rewards the behavior exhibited by Ms. Scott. Schlesinger also does a good job of illustrating how Diana’s actions burn bridges she later wants to travel down once she discovers that the level of personal fulfillment her supposed “success” offers is much different than she had envisioned.
Although I liked the film as a whole, I could see how some people might feel that Darling, which Schlesinger himself no longer enjoyed in his later years, has not aged very well. I have to say that I do appreciate how shocking this film must have been in 1965, it fails to generate the same response in the modern era, in which almost half of all marriages fail and Jerry Springer “graces” our airwaves. Also, as I mentioned earlier, some sections of the film seem to drag a little bit.
Still, Julie Christie’s riveting performance, and a supporting cast laden with top-flight actors like Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Harvey, Darling remains (at least to me) an entertaining film that powerfully conveys the message that having is often less pleasing a thing than wanting. I think the brilliance of Christie’s performance lies in its ability to make one not care that the movie has not aged quite so well, or that despite Diana Scott’s shallow and selfish nature, it is difficult to resist liking her.
So, How Does It Look?
MGM has prepared a sparkling transfer of Darling, which is offered in black and white, non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1). Again, note that this is a black and white film, and do not be fooled by the colorized photos on the keepcase (including the especially yummy one of a bikini-clad Julie Christie on the front )! After only a few scenes, I was more than impressed by how clean and detailed this print is. Indeed, during this film’s 2 hour and 7 minute running time I doubt if I saw more than a handful of specks or spots, and there was also no overt edge enhancement apparent.
Contrast and fine detail were also well above average, and certainly impressive for a picture that is nearly four decades old. Better still, whites are crisp and blacks are generally black without becoming murky. As a result, there is plenty of detail in the shadows, although the bulk of the scenes in the film appear to have been shot in well-lit environments.
The night before popping Darling into my trusty Panny CP72, I just happened to have watched the fabulous Night of the Living Dead: Millennium Edition, which is one of the better black and white transfers I have ever seen. This may be apples and oranges, but in comparing the two, I think that MGM’s efforts on Darling are about as good as what is offered on the NOTLD disc. Really, I found very little not to like about the video quality on this release, and I can’t imagine that anyone with an affinity for this film would be anything but thoroughly pleased.
What Is That Noise?
Darling’s audio, offered in its original mono, is good but unspectacular. The soundfield is not quite wide open and airy, but on the other hand, it also does not show its true age. Dialogue is reproduced effectively, generally ringing through loud and clear, although I detected a slight hiss every so often, as well as some sibilance, particularly when Diana is speaking.
I do have to point out that the film’s score, when there is any, comes across very nicely, despite being “only” in mono. Unfortunately, during a few sequences when the score is louder in the mix, the audio becomes slightly distorted. Not a real big deal, but it is there, and proved to be a (very) minor annoyance for me.
It almost goes without saying that a dialogue heavy drama, especially one recorded in mono, will have precious little in the way of rear channel activity and low frequency response. The audio track for Darling, released in 1965, certainly doesn’t surprise in either of these areas. Then again, if it did, I would probably be disappointed, because that information is just not in the source material. Overall, when you consider the source material they probably had to work with, MGM has done a respectable job with this audio track.
Original Theatrical Trailer
The original theatrical trailer for Darling has been included. I can’t help but be disappointed that there are no other extras though. After all, this film walked home with no less than 3 Oscars, and was probably quite controversial in its day. At the very least, it would have been nice to hear what any of the remaining participants had to say about its creation, and the response Darling received from movie-goers. Oh well…
The Score Card
The Last Word
Though dated, Darling is a well-written, skillfully directed, and wonderfully acted film. In terms of its release on DVD, MGM Home Video has endowed Darling with good looks and an adequate monaural audio track. The only real disappointment is in the extras (or lack thereof) department! For an Oscar-winning film that also made Julie Christie an international movie star, I would have liked to have been provided with a little more than the original theatrical trailer.
In any case, Darling paints a fascinating portrait of swinging London in the 1960s, and is worth the price of admission for Julie Christie’s performance alone. In all honesty, this is not my normal cup of tea, but even so I found it more than worth watching. Due to its subject matter (broken relationships and the difficulty Diana has in finding real happiness), this is probably not a film you will want to watch if you need a pick-me-up. However, if you are in the mood for a little something different, I suggest giving Darling a shot, especially if you find it for under $15. Recommended!!!
December 2nd, 2003