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Blu-ray Review Désirée Blu-ray Review

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    History gets royally muddled amid the splendid trappings and impressive décor of a major Hollywood studio in Henry Koster’s Désirée. Despite dealing with the tempestuous rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, the film’s true focus rests with his first love, the daughter of a French silk merchant who rises to become royality in her own right, and with a lack of action and a surfeit of talk, Désirée emerges as a materially sumptuous but somewhat dramatically dowdy historical fiction.

    Désirée (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Henry Koster

    Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
    Year: 1954
    Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1   1080p   AVC codec  
    Running Time: 110 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 English
    Subtitles: none

    Region: 0
    MSRP: $ 29.95

    Release Date: April 10, 2012

    Review Date: April 7, 2012

    The Film


    In 1794, Désirée Clary (Jean Simmons) is introduced to young general Napoleon Bonaparte (Marlon Brando) by her sister Julie (Elizabeth Sellars) who is engaged to Napoleon’s brother Joseph (Cameron Mitchell). She’s immediately smitten with him and he proposes to her but before any marriage can take place, she learns he’s betrothed to the wealthy and influential Josephine Beauharnais (Merle Oberon) whom he subsequently marries. Désirée meets another of France’s generals Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (Michael Rennie) and marries him, later giving him a son. Napoleon’s driving ambition leads him to many victories in the field and eventually rising into the position as the emperor of France. But he never forgets his love of Désirée and in spite of their lives bringing them into conflict as Napoleon’s lust for power and territory leads the country into ruin, they never truly sever the ties of devotion and respect that always governed their encounters.

    Covering the years 1794-1815, Daniel Taradash’s screenplay (based on the novel by Annemarie Selinko) hops, skips, and jumps through the years of Napoleon’s rise and fall as seen through the eyes of his early love. It’s a talky picture with quite a bit of narration by Jean Simmons but devoid of any real action (director Henry Koster even manages a montage of Napoleon’s assault on Russia with only symbolic flags, drums, snow, and the color red to signal bloody defeat). The truly magisterial detail in the glorious costuming and expansive sets makes it a real visual spectacle, and Koster uses the über-wide Cinemascope screen to make the most of the film’s most impressive attributes: its production design and its superb cast which he often stretches across the screen from edge to edge. The lavish salons, palaces, dining rooms, and ballrooms all get meticulous attention from the camera (the coronation scene alone boasts a breathtaking number of actors all gowned and outfitted in a staggering display). If only the drama carried such attention to detail. Many of the scenes are dramatically flat with people talking at one another but to little real effect. It may be jumbled history, but it didn’t have to be this sedentary.

    Marlon Brando was at the height of his career when this film was made after playing a succession of different parts from the pens of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and everyone in between which suggested that he could act almost anything, but he has a rather curious and somewhat remote take on Napoleon only rarely demonstrating the fire and drive that created and then destroyed him. He does, however, in several poses and postures seem to catch uncannily the visual look of the man as we know him through artwork over the centuries. Jean Simmons does a grand job of aging from a youthfully impetuous girl to a reserved, serious, and queenly person as the title character. Merle Oberon is lovely as Empress Josephine though her role in the film is surprisingly limited to a few scenes. Michael Rennie is stalwart as always as the patriotic and loyal Bernadotte. Cameron Mitchell, Elizabeth Sellars, and Cathleen Nesbitt (as Napoleon’s mother) are given far too little to do though the always welcome Evelyn Varden makes the most of her scenes as Désirée’s maid Marie.

    Video Quality


    The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from one tiny scratch and a stray bit of dust, the picture is immaculately clean. Color is expertly saturated (the reds are especially vibrant) without any hint of blooming, and flesh tones are generally well represented. Contrast may be slightly undercranked at times, but the image overall is quite pleasing and very sharp. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 sound mix is very much a product of its era with a wide expanse of music across the front soundstage which sounds glorious when playing Alex North’s majestic score. There is a great deal of directionalized dialogue throughout though the use of ADR is occasionally rather obvious and sometimes flat sounding.

    Special Features


    The disc features an isolated score track in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo which may be selected from the set-up menu.

    The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs for 2 ½ minutes.

    The enclosed 6-page booklet features a succession of lovely color stills, the film’s poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s expansive essay on the movie’s pleasures and treasures.

    In Conclusion

    3/5 (not an average)

    Désirée is not great film art but it certainly contains elements of greatness within its confines, especially its superlative production design and an unbeatable cast. Only 3,000 copies of Désirée are available. Those interested in experiencing this 1954 historical drama with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons facing off a year before they’d repeat their romantic match-up in Guys and Dolls should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. They're also available for contact via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

  2. benbess

    benbess Producer

    Sep 8, 2009
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    Good review. Thanks. I heard from a friend that this film has an almost exact recreation of Jacques Louis David's famous painting The Coronation of Napoleon....
  3. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Cinematographer

    Dec 10, 2000
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    For the fun of trivia, I think this is the first time we see the village built for Song of Bernadette in Cinemascope.
    Desiree come to paris and runs out of a party that Napoleon is attending. She then runs outside and through the streets of the village and on to the bridge built for that film
    Fox often used this set. When Mrs. Muir moves to a seeside village, it is the same.
    When Amber runs to Paris to see what is happening with the plague, is is the Bernadette village again.
  4. lionel59

    lionel59 Supporting Actor

    Apr 29, 2009
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    Melbourne, Australia
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    Michael Robert Lionel Evans
    They must have built a lot of European villages which looked like that one in SONG OF BERNADETTE....
    Good review Matt. Just came across it.
    Another reason for adding this to one's collection is the superb Alex North score, released by Varese-Sarabande on CD a while ago.It contains a waltz written by Alfred Newman which is one of his best compositions in my opinion. There is also a melancholy theme which North reused two years later in THE BAD SEED. It is played in Merle Oberon's most effective scene in which she talks about her unhappy relationship with Napoleon. All the cast do wonders with the below-par screenplay, making it sound better than it is, but I think Miss Oberon delivers the best performance in the film due to this scene. (I do not usually expect her to do the best work in any of the movies in which she appears, so this caught me by surprise). She was also effective in the thankless role of Dorothy Donnelly in DEEP IN MY HEART, made the same year, so 1954 was quite a banner year for the ex-Mrs Alexander Korda.(born in India as Estelle Merle Thompson, though she famously fabricated her background to hide her mixed racial identity, stating she was born in Tasmania. She even visited Tasmania as a 'Guest of Honor' later in life, although the pretense of the whole situation finally got to her,from what I have heard).
    It was also a reunion movie for Jean Simmons and Michael Rennie, who had worked under Henry Koster's direction in THE ROBE one year earlier. Brando made DESIREE due to a lawsuit from Fox after he walked away from the role of Sinuhe in THE EGYPTIAN (reportedly over his dislike for Bella Darvi) .Either way, he was fated to work repeatedly with (the often underrated) Jean Simmons, who was in another historical movie with a great Alex North score- SPARTACUS.In GUYS AND DOLLS, she was apparently 3rd choice after Grace Kelly and Deborah Kerr (but gives the best performance in the movie according to some critics). Goldwyn famously went up to her after a take and exuberantly said "You were so good! I'm so happy we couldn't get Grace Kelly!! (a fact which may have been news to Miss Simmons at the time)
  5. classicmovieguy

    classicmovieguy Producer

    Aug 18, 2011
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    The entire "Merle Oberon born in Tasmania" myth has gotten completely out of hand. I saw a doco on ABC TV here in Australia, a few years ago now, which interviewed locals and others who purported to be members of Oberon's long-lost family in Tasmania. One story even depicts Oberon arriving in a small Tasmanian town in a mysterious black car, delivering medicine to her 'mother' when she couldn't afford it. Eventually the true tale emerges of Oberon's proper background in India, but still, the stories stubbornly refuse to stop swirling, of Oberon's Tasmanian origins.

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