One of the great cinematic love stories swathed in one of the most memorable theme songs ever written for the screen awaits the viewer of Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. While director Henry King doesn’t do anything remotely cinematic to augment this slow-building romantic tale based on a true story, the Hong Kong location photography casts its own kind of spell enhancing the splendid leading performances and the solid production values which the movie offers.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 07/09/2013
Having been a widow for more than a few years and determined to live out her remaining life at service to others while denying her own romantic yearnings, Dr. Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) finds herself gradually falling under the romantic spell of globetrotting foreign correspondent Mark Elliott (William Holden). In 1949 Hong Kong, such an involvement between a Eurasian woman and a Caucasian man (who also happens to be in an estranged marriage) is undoubtedly frowned upon by the tradition-oriented British residents, and Dr. Suyin finds her hospital job in jeopardy as her feelings grow stronger for Mark. But once she’s committed herself to him, she’s determined to follow her heart wherever it leads.
The Production Rating: 4/5
John Patrick’s screenplay only touches on the bigoted racial undercurrents roiling underneath the story of this love affair making it seem somehow a bit incomplete as if part of the story is being underserved (we must get the ideas about the existent caste attitudes from the comments and demeanors of a couple of the snootier Hong Kong residents played by Isobel Elsom and Virginia Gregg as well as Han’s former Chinese friend Suzanne (Jorja Curtright) who’s passing as a Caucasian so she can pursue one particular Englishman). Otherwise, director Henry King lets the love story admirably take its time to reach its apex with Jones’ Han believably trying her hardest to resist letting love into her heart and Holden’s Mark being eager but not absurdly relentless in his pursuit of her. If there is a possibly too-great emphasis on omens and fates, perhaps that’s the Eastern influences on the story that might seem a little obvious and heavy-handed to us today. Director King’s work in Cinemascope is rather disappointingly mundane; he doesn’t use his wide frame in very interesting ways but rather groups actors in clumps in the middle without much use for the areas right and left of center. True, the Cinemascope camera does capture many colorful and panoramic vistas of Hong Kong, but the action plays out rather rudimentarily and without much range. But all of those seeming lapses eventually simplify the story and focus our attention on the mating and matching of these soul mates at one particular time and in one particular place.
The two stars play together to perfection, and because the build-up to their romance is slow and adult-like, it’s all the more believable when the full flower of love finally blossoms. True, Jennifer Jones isn’t Eurasian, but she hasn’t been overly made up in any embarrassing attempt to make her look more Chinese. And she handles the role with much delicacy and élan. William Holden makes an appealing leading man and though top-billed, the story really focuses on the story of Han (not surprising since it was based on the doctor’s autobiographical A Many Splendored Thing) making him less in the spotlight throughout the movie. Isobel Elsom is the epitome of class snobbery as Adeline Palmer-Jones, and Murray Matheson as Han’s fellow doctor at the hospital lends strong support. Kam Tong is rather chilling as a Communist Chinese doctor who berates Han for not returning to China to minister to her own people rather than remaining with the spoiled and stuffy English and poor refugees jamming into Hong Kong.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is striking throughout with oodles of detail to be seen in faces, clothes, and particularly rocky and wooden landscapes. Color is rich and wonderfully under control with believable and appealing flesh tones. Contrast has been dialed in to perfection. While black levels are merely okay, you’ll look long and hard to find a cleaner, clearer Blu-ray transfer. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers a very full spread of the music and sound effects across the front soundstage with only occasional spillage into the rears. But fidelity is excellent, and Alfred Newman’s award-winning score (and the famous title tune by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster) is lovingly rendered. Dialogue is always clearly discernible and is audibly directionalized.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: three professionals offer edited-together expert commentary on their fields of expertise: Sylvia Stoddard discusses Chinese customs and makes notable comments about the film’s cast and crew, music historian Jon Burlingame talks about the marvelous Alfred Newman score, and director of photography Michael Lonzo discusses the work of Leon Shamroy from a perspective of camerawork and lighting.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Fox Movietone News Footage (2:21, SD): two award presentations are noted for the newsreel cameras including the Photoplay Awards which voted its gold medal awards to Jennifer Jones as Best Actress, William Holden as Best Actor, and the movie as Best Film.
Original Theatrical Trailer (2:22, SD)
6-Page Booklet: contains numerous black and white and color stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s extensive essay on the film’s production history and accomplishments.
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing is one of the great Hollywood love stories that doesn’t bask in any mawkish emotions or cheapen the deeply felt love story at its core with undue sentiment or melodrama. Only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray release are available. Those interested should check www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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