Did 20th Century Fox really make a comedy about bigamy, and that’s real bigamy and not a mere misunderstanding, in 1959 while the administration of the MPAA Production Code was still in full force and actually get away with it? Indeed they did: Henry Levin’s The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker is the movie in question, and while the comedy is rather slight and the resolution is rather a cheat, the movie still deserves marks for even going into heretofore uncharted waters.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 27 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 04/16/2013
Mr. Horace Pennypacker, Jr. (Clifton Webb) lives a comfortable life in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with wife Emily (Dorothy McGuire) and his eight children. With sausage manufacturing plants in both Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Mr. Pennypacker has for the last twenty years spent alternating months in each city attending to his business affairs. But when a Philadelphia sheriff (Richard Deacon) comes looking for Mr. Pennypacker to serve a warrant for libeling a citizen about Darwinism, a young man (Ray Stricklyn) comes to Harrisburg to warn Mr. Pennypacker about the sheriff only to find that Mr. Pennypacker has a family in Harrisburg. You see, the young man’s name is Horace Pennypacker III, and he’s part of a family of nine Pennypacker children who live in Philadelphia where the business tycoon has established a second family. When the truth comes out, Horace Sr. (Charles Coburn) disowns his son, Horace’s sister Jane (Dorothy Stickney) keeps fainting, and the rest of the Harrisburg family is instructed by Horace to examine what he’s done and decide if they want him around any more as their father.
The Production Rating: 2.5/5
Based on a successful Broadway farce by Liam O’Brien, the screenplay by Walter Reisch downplays farcical elements in stressing the free thinking nature of the story’s protagonist (the narrative occurs around the turn of the century with Mr. Pennypacker one of the first to embrace the new horseless carriage) and making the discovery more serious and less comical in nature. But the screenplay is a cheat in some ways by allowing the bigamist’s other wife to have been dead for eight years, beyond the scope of legal proceedings against him due to the statute of limitations, and the notions of his nonconformity being all completely understandable and reasonable to his own way of thinking but his being afraid enough to have kept his two lives separate and secret don’t get discussed nearly enough and with no sound explanation for his silence from him. The subplots with the outraged grandfather and Pennypacker’s Harrisburg daughter (Jill St. John) on the brink of an engagement take up time without really going anywhere, and while the ending is sweet and sincere, it never really addresses real questions of betrayal, hurt, and deception. Director Henry Levin uses the widescreen to stretch this huge family across the screen in a pre-credit sequence and later finds numerous opportunities to sprawl them horizontally filling in so much of the wide space. There are also some fun shenanigans with the steamer as Pennpacker rolls his way along dirt roads from Philadelphia to Harrisburg.
Clifton Webb offers a much less acerbic presence here than in many of his comedies, and he proves an effectively loving father and husband (though one suspects Charles Coburn wasn’t actually old enough to have been his father). Dorothy McGuire is lovely and poised as the mother though the script doesn’t really provide her juicy dramatic material covering her shock and disappointment once the secret comes out. Dorothy Stickney has a couple of funny fainting scenes and then rises to the occasion at the film’s conclusion. Philadelphia oldest son Ray Stricklyn is more impressive than Harrisburg oldest son David Nelson. Ron Ely and Jill St. John make a beautiful pair of young lovers while Larry Gates as Ely’s minister-father gets a few effective moments in the spotlight as the cleric arguing for the sanctity of traditional marriages of the one-at-a-time variety.
The film’s Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully presented but in a letterboxed non-anamorphic presentation. Sharpness is excellent, and color levels are strong with very good flesh tones that remain consistently realistic. Black levels are also just fine. But without anamorphic enhancement, there is rampant aliasing and moiré patterns in tight line structures and patterned designs in clothes, curtains, and furnishings. Of course, there has been no digital clean-up either so there are dust specks throughout and a occasional piece of debris that makes its presence known. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 9 chapters here.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix has been encoded at excessive volume levels, so the user will have to adjust the sound to avoid distortion. However, the recording is a strong one with discernible dialogue that’s often directionalized and a nice stereo treatment of composer Leigh Harline’s jaunty score. Hiss, pops, and other age-related artifacts are of no concern in this mix.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The Fox made-on-demand discs contain no bonus material, not even trailers.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker in terms of presentation is one of the less objectionable widescreen entries in Fox’s Archive series (with anamorphic enhancement it would have been an outstanding entry in terms of quality of presentation), but the film itself is more appealing due to its star power than to the basic story or its development.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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