A few words about…™ Becky Sharp – in Blu-ray

Be aware that it's reputation as a clunker of film does not hold up - especially while viewing it in a proper color restoration. 4 Stars

I would bet that most cinephiles will know of Rouben Mamoulian’s 1935 Becky Sharp by reputation only.

A couple of decades ago, UCLA’s Master of Restoration, Robert Gitt, performed yeoman-like work to gather the extant film elements and restore the film as well as possible, within the analogue domain.

Recently, Paramount, the owner of the film via the NTA library, stepped up to the plate, with helpful funding from other sources, and did their updated digital restoration, and the results are remarkable.

Generally, with the exception of the final reel, even those with a semi-knowledgable eye, will find no problems with the colors, densities and registration of elements. Certain sequences and shots have been captured from masters, and an increases of grain and contrast, are unavoidable.

But all in all, with the exception of that final reel, Kino’s new Blu-ray, based upon Paramount’s new HD master is never less than magnificent. There’s quite a bit of digital slight of hand going on here, but most people will never be aware.

The only way for those interested, will be to view the film, a short 84 minutes, and follow up with Mr. Theakston’s entertaining and educational commentary track.

For those giving this film a first viewing, keep in mind that it was a halo project for Technicolor – the first 3-strip feature – which shows off the primary color palette.

Also, for those who know the film only by reputation, be aware that it’s reputation as a clunker of film does not hold up – especially while viewing it in a proper color restoration.

Image – 4

Audio – 5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Very Highly Recommended

RAH

Published by

Robert Harris

editor,member

37 Comments

  1. I'm thrilled my first viewing of this film will be such a magnificent presentation. Can't wait!

    I read the book two years ago and absolutely loved it. I also highly recommend the 2018 ITV/Amazon Studios mini-series.

  2. I've been waiting a LONG time for the restored BECKY SHARP. I saw the UCLA restoration many years ago
    on what … HBO? Cinemax? Anyway, as I recall there was only one showing, which I recorded on Beta and
    then had transferred to VHS. Ever since I've been wondering when this would be released. Now I'm pretty
    much counting down the days until I can see what I expect to be a brilliant restoration of the restoration!

  3. Robert Harris

    I would bet that most cinephiles will know of Rouben Mamoulian's 1935 Becky Sharp by reputation only.

    In my case no. Many years ago, I rented the VHS of this from Blockbuster. Despite my love of the novel, I thought it was a clunker. I suppose the image quality may be better this time around.

  4. Pre-ordered this after hearing the Nitrateville podcast with Mr. Theakston. I caught it on TCM years ago from a watchable master, though still looked rough. Though, if you really want to see a rough print, the version on Amazon Prime looks like it's being projected through a meat grinder.

    I've just been impressed as heck with how Kino Lorber has been mining these deep cuts with long-neglected libraries. More so that Paramount is doing incredible work with films they'd be perfectly justified in turning a blind eye on, corporately speaking.

  5. To quote Nigel Bruce, "Huzzah! I shout huzzah!!"

    I'm SO over the moon that this is good and gets the RAH stamp of approval! I've literally been waiting 35 years to see a restored version of this released commercially. I really can't believe it's almost here!

    PODER

    II saw the UCLA restoration many years ago
    on what … HBO? Cinemax? Anyway, as I recall there was only one showing, which I recorded on Beta and
    then had transferred to VHS. Ever since I've been wondering when this would be released. Now I'm pretty
    much counting down the days until I can see what I expect to be a brilliant restoration of the restoration!

    It aired on AMC's first "Film Preservation Festival" back in 1993 (and yes, only once) It was a revelation at the time.

    Jack Theakston

    There have been PD-label VHS copies of the shortened, Cinecolor print (from Film Classics) out there, but my understanding is that this is the first commercial release of the UCLA restoration.

    The Film Classics PD version, which has the distinction of being the very first VHS tape I ever bought ($19.95 thank you very much) which I GET is weird (but true nonetheless) was the full 84 minute version. The theatrical reissue prints were shortened to 67 minutes or so but the videocassette contained the full running time. It was in REALLY rough shape with replaced opening credits and had terrible color and sound.

    Patrick McCart

    I caught it on TCM years ago from a watchable master, though still looked rough.

    The version that aired on TCM was FROM the UCLA restoration but was let down by a really aggressive compression that gave it a weirdly processed look and colors that didn't pop as they had on my VHS recording of the AMC broadcast.

    Can you tell I'm excited over this? Reading all about it in Fred Basten's book back in the early 80's has made this a personal holy grail of mine!

  6. Will Krupp

    […]Can you tell I'm excited over this? Reading all about it in Fred Basten's book back in the early 80's has made this a personal holy grail of mine!

    Will Krupp, you're lookin' Sharp.:thumbs-up-smiley:
    With a backlog of desired films to purchase, a "Holy Grail" from you is worth my putting this one on the front-burner.:)

  7. PMF

    Will Krupp, you're lookin' Sharp.:thumbs-up-smiley:
    With a backlog of desired films to purchase, a "Holy Grail" from you is worth my putting this one on the front-burner.:)

    Well, thank you for the kind words!! I'm touched but also nervous now! 😮

    This one MAY not be for every taste and I don't want to give the impression I think it's a great film (or even an especially good one.) I like it and find it very watchable but the direction is very stilted and dear Miriam is always ACTING up a storm. It's not entirely a success. It's really just a sketch of the original novel so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for a satisfying adaptation of Thackery as a main draw. I love it mainly for its historical importance, its experimental use of "new" Technicolor, and its really impressive production design. Caveat emptor and all that but, as long as you're not expecting GWTW you should be fine. As I said, it's watchable and it MOVES. It manages to be quite funny at times, even if it the acting does resemble a high school production now and then. I don't expect anyone who isn't a Technicolor nut to be as bowled over by it as I am. As history, and a rare chance to see it as originally intended, it's an essential if you ARE a Technicolor nut, however!

  8. Will Krupp

    Well, thank you for the kind words!! I'm touched but also nervous now! 😮

    This one MAY not be for every taste and I don't want to give the impression I think it's a great film (or even an especially good one.) I like it and find it very watchable but the direction is very stilted and dear Miriam is always ACTING up a storm. It's not entirely a success. It's really just a sketch of the original novel so I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for a satisfying adaptation of Thackery as a main draw. I love it mainly for its historical importance, its experimental use of "new" Technicolor, and its really impressive production design. Caveat emptor and all that but, as long as you're not expecting GWTW you should be fine. As I said, it's watchable and it MOVES. It manages to be quite funny at times, even if it the acting does resemble a high school production now and then. I don't expect anyone who isn't a Technicolor nut to be as bowled over by it as I am. As history, and a rare chance to see it as originally intended, it's an essential if you ARE a Technicolor nut, however!

    You're too late, Mr. Krupp; it's been 24 hours since I read your last post – my imagination has since soared – and I am now fully well expecting "GWTW"; or, at least a "Jezebel"; and there's nothing to be done at this point. And being that "Becky Sharp" is a Thackery adapataion, I am also fully well expecting something of equal value to Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.

    [Edits: 2 paragraphs, for sake of brevity.]:roll:

    I know that this won't make me popular; but I'm a purist.;)

  9. PMF

    You're too late, Mr. Krupp; it's been 24 hours since I read your last post – my imagination has since soared – and I am now fully well expecting "GWTW"; or, at least a "Jezebel"; and there's nothing to be done at this point.

    Oh thank God! For a moment I was afraid your expectations would be unrealistic. Well THAT's sorted!! 🙁

    PMF

    I know that this won't make me popular; but I'm a purist.;)

    Now WHERE have I heard that before? Wait….it'll come to me………

  10. I really like this film for Hopkins. There’s an excellent new biography on her that has some good background on the filming. Practically everyone came down with pneumonia or a severe cold; the first director died of it. Hopkins pneumonia was so severe she set production back ten days and begged the producer not to replace her. Despite her belief in the film, she had to be forced to do publicity, but garnered great reviews for her performance.

    I have been waiting for this since it was announced and look forward to throwing the DVD and the VHS (the UCLA restoration, decent as it was at the time) out the window as quickly as Becky tossed her dictionary upon leaving school.

  11. Will Krupp

    First peek!

    http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDReviews9/becky_sharp_blu-ray.htm

    I must say, looking at those caps, it really demonstrates how different color was used with the early color processes compared to how it was used in later decades. Technicolor was meant to be a piece of art, as though it were a Van Gogh painting rather than a true reflection of life. The bold colors are down right surrealistic. By the 1970s that style of filmmaking was mostly gone as the new wave of auteur filmmakers were going for stark realism with all its grungy earth tones.
    Well, I've been prodded into pre-ordering this one as I just can't wait to see it now!

  12. Mark-P

    I must say, looking at those caps, it really demonstrates how different color was used with the early color processes compared to how it was used in later decades. Technicolor was meant to be a piece of art, as though it were a Van Gogh painting rather than a true reflection of life. The bold colors are down right surrealistic. By the 1970s that style of filmmaking was mostly gone as the new wave of auteur filmmakers were going for stark realism with all its grungy earth tones.
    Well, I've been prodded into pre-ordering this one as I just can't wait to see it now!

    It took only a couple of years before the color timing was toned down

  13. I'd always heard that Natalie Kalmus was vehemently opposed to bright colors on the films she "consulted" on. I wonder if much of that opinion was due to the surreal, oversaturated look of some of the early three-strip films or simply because she was known to be generally contrarian to, well, most things? I'm sure someone here with more knowledge than I have may have an answer for that.

  14. I had heard the opposite. I heard that she wanted to dazzle everyone with the new process, so over saturation rather than realism was her goal. I thought that directors had to fight with her until they got their way and she was “banished” to Britain.

  15. Brian Kidd

    I'd always heard that Natalie Kalmus was vehemently opposed to bright colors on the films she "consulted" on. I wonder if much of that opinion was due to the surreal, oversaturated look of some of the early three-strip films or simply because she was known to be generally contrarian to, well, most things? I'm sure someone here with more knowledge than I have may have an answer for that.

    The idea was that overtly bright colors would cause the audience to go blind or some other nonsense like that. At least that was the reason Disney gave when they chose the muted color profile for Snow White two years later.

  16. TJPC

    I had heard the opposite. I heard that she wanted to dazzle everyone with the new process, so over saturation rather than realism was her goal.

    That's what I had heard as well. The first test to her authority supposedly came early, during GARDEN OF ALLAH, when Selznick (never a man to give up control easily) wanted the look of the "old Dutch masters" for much of the movie and had to fight her tooth and nail.

  17. AnthonyClarke

    As well as being banished to England as a result of her attempt to continually subdue and mute the Technicolor palette, her husband, Herbert Kalmus, just wanted to get rid of her!

    Lol. I don't know that I completely buy that, Anthony. I think she wanted pretty Technicolor pictures and got rattled when film makers tried to make "art." Jack Cardiff tells of his troubles with her on BLACK NARCISSUS when he wanted a foggy, subdued, almost 'ugly' palette during some of of the movie. In the end she was something of a paper tiger because she rarely seems to have won any arguments. Technicolor was a product, after all, that they desperately wanted to sell (the company didn't even show a profit until 1938) so they weren't about to piss people off if they could help it.

    Poor Natalie (who was Dr. Kalmus' ex wife, by the way, they divorced in 1920 or so) always gets so much shit from Hollywood history. We always hear she was a nightmare but never get many examples other than that she was trying to do what she thought was her job. I can't help but think there's some old style Hollywood sexism mixed up in the stories we hear about her as I honestly don't think those men liked the idea of a woman attempting to exercise any authority over them.

  18. Will Krupp

    Poor Natalie (who was Dr. Kalmus' ex wife, by the way, they divorced in 1920 or so) always gets so much shit from the Hollywood history makers. We always hear she was a nightmare but never get many examples other than that she was trying to do what she thought was her job. You NEVER hear one of these "fight with Natalie Kalmus" stories end with "So….. we did it her way and didn't get what we wanted." I can't help but think there's some old style Hollywood sexism mixed up in the stories we hear about her as I honestly don't think those men liked the idea of a woman attempting to exercise any authority over them.

    That's a very astute observation. I suppose, this far removed, it's hard to say for certain that this was a primary reason why she seemed to be loathed by Hollywood. Given the social norms during that time, though, it's definitely plausible.

  19. Most of the complaints from directors I’ve read (including Mamoulian) is that she was a bit of a tyrant and quite disagreeable, which, whatever gender, is not welcome on a Hollywood set from any era. And to push the sexist narrative is somewhat disingenuous, since Mamoulian and other anti-Natalie factions (such as Vincent Minnelli) were certainly about giving talented women their due. What annoyed these guys even more is that what Kalmus was being hired to do (essentially be there as a photographic guide) was being done by folks like Ray Rennahan, making her somewhat redundant.

    Incidentally, Technicolor had no interest in Pioneer, but Pioneer certainly had an interest in Technicolor, to the tune of a 15% share in the company. Most of this was to float the company enough money to make a print run of LA CUCARACHA possible, but Whitney was smart in having some control over the company. I discuss this in depth on the commentary track.

  20. Jack Theakston

    And to push the sexist narrative is somewhat disingenuous

    I admire you greatly sir but, just to be clear, I was mulling a possible theory out loud. To claim I'm disingenuously pushing a sexist narrative implies that I'm being purposely deceitful. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  21. Jack Theakston

    Most of the complaints from directors I’ve read (including Mamoulian) is that she was a bit of a tyrant and quite disagreeable, which, whatever gender, is not welcome on a Hollywood set from any era. And to push the sexist narrative is somewhat disingenuous, since Mamoulian and other anti-Natalie factions (such as Vincent Minnelli) were certainly about giving talented women their due. What annoyed these guys even more is that what Kalmus was being hired to do (essentially be there as a photographic guide) was being done by folks like Ray Rennahan, making her somewhat redundant.

    Incidentally, Technicolor had no interest in Pioneer, but Pioneer certainly had an interest in Technicolor, to the tune of a 15% share in the company. Most of this was to float the company enough money to make a print run of LA CUCARACHA possible, but Whitney was smart in having some control over the company. I discuss this in depth on the commentary track.

    And a wonderful commentary track, it is.

  22. I'd like to give a salute to the magnificent Miriam Hopkins, an actress who is all but forgotten today except by classic film fans. Her peak was in the pre-Code era (Design for Living, Trouble in Paradise, The Story of Temple Drake) but Becky Sharp is a wonderful showcase for her as both a dramatic and comedic actress- and in early three-strip Technicolor! Both Scarlett O'Hara and Erica Kane can claim descent from Thackeray's unrepentant bitch-goddess, and Miss Hopkins scores a slam dunk in bringing Becky to life.

  23. Charles Ellis

    I'd like to give a salute to the magnificent Miriam Hopkins, an actress who is all but forgotten today except by classic film fans. Her peak was in the pre-Code era (Design for Living, Trouble in Paradise, The Story of Temple Drake) but Becky Sharp is a wonderful showcase for her as both a dramatic and comedic actress- and in early three-strip Technicolor! Both Scarlett O'Hara and Erica Kane can claim descent from Thackeray's unrepentant bitch-goddess, and Miss Hopkins scores a slam dunk in bringing Becky to life.

    Let us not forget Ivy Pearson

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