After squandering a chance at film stardom in the early 1930s with a succession of flop films, Tallulah Bankhead went back to the stage for a decade where she scored several big hits. When her return to movies in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat brought her the best set of notices in her career and the Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle, Fox signed her immediately for another movie. The resulting A Royal Scandal, a remake of a silent film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, was not well received and once again Bankhead left Hollywood for work in the theater. But the film now plays rather well, and it’s hard to understand why it garnered such a rough reception all those decades ago. Perhaps the subject, a royal bedroom farce revolving around the affairs of Russia’s Catherine the Great, was too fluffy a bit of high-handed foolishness for audiences emerging from the seriousness of a world war.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 33 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 04/16/2013
When he hears scuttlebutt of a planned revolt against Queen Catherine of Russia (Tallulah Bankhead), Lieutenant Alexei Chernoff (Willian Eythe) rushes to her palace to inform her of the danger. Charmed by the eager young lieutenant, Catherine takes him to her bed and actively promotes him within the ranks to become Commander of the Palace Guard. Things go swimmingly for the couple until Catherine learns that Alexei had been engaged to her own lady-in-waiting Countess Anna Jaschikoff (Anne Baxter) at which time her eyes become open to Alexei’s youthful naiveté and too serious commitment to his duties which bores her. When he’s dismissed from her favor, he quickly falls in with the soldiers planning her overthrow led by General Ronsky (Sig Ruman). Only the sly Chancellor Nicolai Iiyitch (Charles Coburn) seems able to put things right.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Ernst Lubitsch had been slated to direct this talking remake of his silent film (based on a play by Lajos Biro and Melchior Lengyel) and legend has it that he did direct some of what is on the screen, but illness forced him out, and the film was completed by Otto Preminger. Though the quick pacing certainly smacks of Lubitsch, and the stylish sets, costumes, and wordplay are right in his wheelhouse, Preminger’s direction allows perhaps a bit too forced a performing style from his two stars which makes the comedy more brittle and less effervescent than was probably intended. But this is one lush film with an astounding array of costumes for Tallulah Bankhead (each of Catherine’s gowns by René Hubert is more ornate and flamboyant than the next, and Eythe’s uniforms are no less form-fitting and extravagant) and the elaborate palace sets are the kind of lavish bows to the royalty of old that one found in 1930s pictures like The Merry Widow (directed by Lubitsch) and Marie Antoinette.
Tallulah Bankhead has never looked more radiant nor performed with more confidence than she does here, perhaps her greatest screen performance. If some of her sharpness may come off as a bit brusque, she certainly plays the comedy and romance in the grand old style and deserved a more notable film career than she achieved. Though he had only a moderate screen career, there’s no reason here to think that William Eythe’s performance in his fourth movie wouldn’t lead to bigger and even better things: he’s completely in command as the youthful soldier whose regard for Catherine wipes away every vestige of common sense. He handles pages of dialogue beautifully and clearly seems to be a star on the rise. Anne Baxter has some fine moments as the jilted fiancé, and a confrontation with Catherine late in the film suggests some of the calculated face-offs she’d have with co-stars in All About Eve in a few years. Charles Coburn is his usual reliable self as the watchful, ever-ready chancellor, and Sig Ruman plots delightfully as Ronsky. Among the principals only Vincent Price attempts an accent as a French diplomat, and it’s a regrettable mistake on his part. (On the other hand, Grady Sutton in a small role early in the movie gives out with his usual Southern drawl that seems quite misplaced in the Imperial Russian court.)
The film is presented in its theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality of the elements used for this transfer fluctuates throughout with most of the film, despite rather consistent dust specks and a little damage, looking pretty good and usually quite sharp but with the grayscale alternating sometimes reel by reel with occasional too bright reels followed by reels of better quality. At their best, black levels are excellent, and whites are under control and don’t bloom even when the timing is too bright. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 10 chapters present here.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Once again, volume levels for the encode are excessive and will require manual adjustment on the part of the listener to prevent distortion. There is fairly constant hiss present, and there are moments where crackle and pops can also be heard. Most of the time, however, the dialogue is clear and concisely recorded and is never overpowered by sound effects. Curiously, Alfred Newman’s music score is mostly confined to the beginning and end of the film with very little music in between.
Audio Rating: 2.5/5
There are no bonus features with the Fox made-on-demand program, not even a trailer.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
A Royal Scandal is a treat for fans of the stars and the producer and director. The Fox Archive presentation is marginally acceptable even if one laments that such stylish material isn’t shown more respect with greater attention to making this lush project look and sound its best.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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