When a legendary movie name like Raoul Walsh is attached to a project as writer, producer, and director, attention must be paid, but his 1960 Esther and the King turns out to be a Biblical soap opera made up of potentially epic elements reduced to quite middling proportions. There are some famous names in the cast, and the location photography gives the film a more authentic look than the Fox backlot would have afforded, but this somewhat tepid fizzle doesn’t really do anyone’s reputation any good.
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. 49 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 03/18/2014
When Persian king Ahasuerus (Richard Egan) returns from his latest victorious war (with his sights set next on Greece and taming that impudent pup Alexander), his first order of business is to banish his faithless Queen Vashti (Daniella Rocca) who has had scores of lovers while he was away, the most prominent of which was his chief minister Haman (Sergio Fantoni) who has also been siphoning off much of the treasury for his own retirement fund. According to Persian law, the childless king must make immediate plans to remarry, and the ten most promising virgins are rounded up from around the territory for him to select from. One of them is Esther (Joan Collins) just on the brink of marrying her childhood sweetheart Simon (Rick Battaglia), one of Ahasuerus' most trusted friends despite his being Hebrew. Though Haman tries to stack the deck so his candidate will be selected, Ahasuerus picks Esther for his queen, but she’s torn between her longtime affection (if not outright passion for Simon) and her growing admiration and deepening love for the king. The king’s Jewish advisor Mordecai (Dennis O'Dea) counsels Esther to marry the king and steer him toward more just and sensible laws for their people in Persia, but Haman makes it his sworn duty to ruin Esther and her people and if necessary assassinate the king so he can become ruler.
The Production Rating: 2.5/5
Since he contributed to the writing of the script with Michael Elkins, producer-director Raoul Walsh has no one to blame but himself for the sluggish and talky first half of the film as the various power players in the palace struggle and volley for supremacy making menacing threats against each one of their adversaries. Naturally the king is the most clueless person in the palace needing to rely on word from his soldiers about his first wife’s promiscuity and failing to see the obvious (and sometimes howlingly abrupt) machinations of his minister Haman to destroy anyone who’s starting to catch on to his treachery. The second half of the film does include some action as the king is attacked by Haman’s forces out to assassinate him, and there is open armed warfare within the city’s walls when Haman’s forces try to slaughter the Jews while the king is away checking on his treasury. While the script is talky, the talk is pure puffery for the most part and almost never about the vital concerns besetting the Persian court (the antiquated laws, the king’s trusted friends battling with each other) and about Esther’s concerns over her choice of husband with the two men who are the focus of the conflict (the king doesn’t even know his dear friend Simon is his rival for Esther until very late in the story, a ridiculous occurrence since Simon had talked of almost no one but the king to her during much of their time together. It’s absurd to think Simon’s name wouldn’t have once come up before the climactic revelation.)
Richard Egan is a fine figure of a man but an awfully American incarnation of the Persian king, especially since everyone else in the court speaks with some kind of a foreign accent, and the script doesn’t give him much credit for being anything but a warrior showing him brooding like a spoiled child for part of the film and being completely ignorant of the true nature of his court almost to the end. Joan Collins is very affected and stilted in her early scenes in the film, but she seems more direct and earnest the longer the film runs (even if the clothes and especially the hair styles suggest nothing more than the latest coiffeurs of 1960). The film’s best performance is by Dennis O'Dea who underplays effectively as Mordecai out to serve both his king and his God in equal measure. Sergio Fantoni gives a stereotypically sneering and spidery performance as the evil Haman, and Rick Battaglia as the noble Simon impresses in his action scenes.
The film’s 2.35:1 Cinemascope theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a non-anamorphic letterbox presentation. Even without the anamorphic enhancement, sharpness is very good, there are next to no problems with aliasing or moiré, and color timing (processed by Technicolor) is rich and true with believable and appealing flesh tones. Black levels are also very good. There are some isolated specks, splotches, and minor damage, but there are no reel change cues here making one think the transfer could have ranked quality-wise with Beneath the 12-Mile Reef had Fox taken the opportunity to do an anamorphic transfer. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 11 chapters present.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Volume levels have been set to absurdly high levels and must be adjusted downward to prevent distortion and even potential equipment damage. There are occasional pops and crackle to be heard in quieter moments, but most of the track is admirably free from noise and distraction and offers solid fidelity. Dialogue can be easily understood and is not compromised by the accompanying music score or the sometimes thundering sound effects.
Audio Rating: 3/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:27, SD): a non-anamorphic letterbox trailer (looking much more aged and scratched) has been included.
Special Features Rating: 1/5
One of Fox’s Biblical releases in 1960 (the other was The Story of Ruth), Esther and the King has some famous names associated with it, but it emerges as only mediocre entertainment. While Fox has lazily put forth a transfer that isn’t enhanced for widescreen televisions, the resulting image is still satisfactory for fans of the stars, the director, or the film itself.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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