DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Li'l Abner

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Scott Kimball, Apr 18, 2005.

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  1. Scott Kimball

    Scott Kimball Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    Li'l Abner



    Studio: Paramount

    Year: 1959

    Rated: NR

    Length: 113 Minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1, Anamorphic

    Audio: Dolby Digital English Mono

    English Subtitles

    Closed Captioned

    Special Features: None

    S.R.P..: $14.99, USD


    Release Date: April 19, 2005

    It’s been many years since Al Capp’s “Li’l Abner” comic strip was a feature in local newspapers across America. I remember reading this strip in the Seventies, shortly before it ceased publication. As a youngster, most of the satire went right over my head, and I’m sure I was under appreciative of the humor.

    I do remember the look of the strip, though - and the movie Li’l Abner recreates it nicely. The production design is wonderfully eccentric. Though stagey, it represents Dogpatch well. The costumes and characterizations seem dead on, as well.

    While the story is corny and dated, the design, characterizations, and musical lyrics by Johnny Mercer are what make this film work. My favorite production numbers, “Jubilation T. Cornpone” and “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands” are worth the price of the disc, alone. You’ve got to listen to the lyrics on these!

    The residents of Dogpatch are distraught when their beloved town is deemed the most useless community in America, and is chosen by the government as a test site for the A-bomb. This not only means the end of Dogpatch... it also means the end of tradition - the end of Sadie Hawkins Day!

    Them’s fightin’ words! The residents of Dogpatch rise to the challenge, searching for something to call the community useful and get the government to call off the bombing.

    The film features wonderful performances by Stubby Kaye (Marryin Sam), Peter Palmer (Abner Yokum), Leslie Parrish (Daisey Mae), Howard St. John (Gen. Bullmoose), Stella Stevens (Apassionata von Climax), Billie Hayes (Mammy Yokum), Joe E. Marks (Pappy Yokum), Bern Hoffman (Earthquake McGoon), Al Nesor (Evil Eye Fleagle), William Lanteau (Available Jones), and of course, Julie Newmar as Stupefyin’ Jones.


    Video

    Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the print is very clean for a film of its age - only an occasional speck can be seen. Very good sharpness and detail prevail for most of the film, with an occasional scene that exhibits a touch of softness.

    Contrast is excellent, with solid black levels and bright, restrained whites. Detail remains in both shadows and highlights. Colors are beautifully saturated, if a touch inconsistent. At times, skin tones seem on the cool side - at other times, skin tones are more accurate.

    The transfer does a wonderful job of showing off the eccentric color and texture of the production design. Aside from some mild inconsistency in color, I have no complaints.


    Audio

    The audio is brought to you in a Dolby Digital mono track on two channels. Frequency response is excellent. Dialog is consistently clean, clear and intelligible. Music is well represented in mono, with acceptable detail throughout the range of frequencies. A mild background hiss can be heard, but even at its most noticeable, it is hardly worth complaining about.

    Special Features
    None.

    Final Thoughts
    While not one of the classics of Broadway, Li’l Abner is an imaginative recreation of the comic. Great production design and some excellent Johnny Mercer lyrics are the highlight of the film, which is well represented in this DVD release.
     
  2. BarryR

    BarryR Supporting Actor

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    I'm extremely pleased this is now on DVD, though of course I'd have wished for some sort of special edition; many of the movie's participants are still with us and it would've made a nice touch.
     
  3. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    I love this DVD - I've watched it three times in the last three weeks. As I posted elsewhere, the softness seems to be some sort of out-of-registration thing on a handful of shots. Why this happens is something I have no clue about - I mean, why it would happens so sporadically. For instance, in the opening number, everything is incredibly sharp except of the first shot of Leslie Parrish - which simply looks out-of-registration to my eye. Then it goes back to being fine.

    I do think it's a classic, and some of it is more timely today than it was then. Plus, you get most of the Broadway cast recreating their roles.

    Look closely and you'll see two future TV stars in the chorus: Valerie Harper and Beth Howland.
     
  4. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    It's possible that they would have to go to dupe elements for certain specific shots where there would be damage to the negative or best surviving element. If the shot involved opticals (titles, fades, wipes, effects, etc.) you could be down a couple of generations with different film stocks as well. I won't see the disc until tomorrow, so I'm just listing the usual suspects at this point.

    Regards,
     
  5. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    No, the shots I'm speaking of don't involve opticals.
     
  6. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Well, that probably narrows it down to damaged sections of film replaced by dupes. I have no idea what elements Paramount used for the transfer and if anything better could have been done. This was a VistaVision production, right?

    I had forgotten how funny some of the lines in this film were. I almost spit out my Pepsi during the following exchange:[​IMG]

    Regards,
     
  7. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    Some of the best dialogue ever.

    "My income depends on the outcome."

    Panama and Frank were great and wrote great repeatable dialogue for every film they worked on, especially The Court Jester.

    Li'l Abner was a VistaVision film, but I don't have any idea what elements were used. It's a great DVD, and the handful of soft shots don't bother me at all, because the rest is so good and the color is so vivid.
     
  8. Aaron_Brez

    Aaron_Brez Supporting Actor

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    Bullmoose: She also lives in my house.
    Abner: Does that mean you get bed'n board, ma'am?
    Appassionata: Extremely.
     
  9. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    I love the dialogue and the songs and the cast and the overall look of this movie, and I'll pounce on the DVD, but the staginess always bothers me (particularly the fact that the numbers are mostly staged exactly as they would have been onstage, with the characters standing still and making broad gestures to the "back of the house"). With no disrespect to Panama and Frank, I really wish Paramount had put Frank Tashlin in charge of this one. Oh, well. What we got is plenty good enough.
     
  10. Greg_M

    Greg_M Screenwriter

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    Daisy Mae: Yes, but they’s from a disgusting side of the family we never socializes with!
     
  11. William Miller

    William Miller Stunt Coordinator

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    There's no Jack S. like our Jack S.!
     
  12. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    "What's in it for me?"
     
  13. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    Remind me to fire that chauffeur.
     
  14. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    Yeah, there is fringing in places, which contributes to the soft appearance. In spots you can see the blue layer and the red layer peeking out. Other places look fine.
     
  15. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    Yes, Mark, that's exactly what I was talking about - thank you for verbalizing what I couldn't. It doesn't happen often but when it does you really notice it because everything else looks so great.
     
  16. Everett Stallings

    Everett Stallings Supporting Actor

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    I'am guessiing that this is another late 50's early 60's film missing it's stereo track's? Why is it that the early 50's to mid 50's films seem to still have all the tracks for a stereo mix ?
     
  17. ArthurMy

    ArthurMy Supporting Actor

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    You are guessing incorrectly, Everett. Completely. Li'l Abner has never had stereo tracks and was always a mono film. So, you'll have to direct your post at some other film.
     
  18. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    VistaVision films were normally mono (or Perspecta, I guess), and Li'l Abner is no exception. That being said, the DVD has a very nice mono track, although critics of the film's "stagebound" visual presentation probably wouldn't like the fact that you can sometimes hear the soundtsage reverb during dialog passages. [​IMG]

    One of the reasons Warner was able to do such a nice 5.1 mix for the music passages in High Society is that when they recorded the songs, they were doing so with a stereo Cinemascope release in mind. The decision to go with VistaVision did not get made until after most of the music tracks had been recorded.

    Regards,
     
  19. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

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    Ken, have to disagree with you here. Even the early ads in Boxoffice magazine announcing the start of filming for High Society mentionb Vistavision.
    Also, MGM normally recorded all of their music tracks in stereo starting around late 1953, so High Society was nothing new.
    Paramount also recorded a lot of their tracks in stereo for later mono mix, but they never kept the voacl tracks, only the underscore.
    Another strange thing about Lil Abner - most of the soundtrack album doesn't match the film - much of the album being different tempos and different orchestrations.
     
  20. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    I'll try and dig up my reference for the "High Society" Cinemascope/VistaVision stereo recording comments. There was something either in a book or documentary I saw about the VistaVision attachment to Crosby's involvement coming late to the process (or perhaps being resisted by Charles Walters). MGM only released two films in VistaVision, IIRC, and had stereo score recordings for both, so you are probably right that it didn't matter.

    Update: I found it. It was from neither a book nor a documentary. It was from one of Robert Harris' columns over at the Digital Bits. Here's the link, and here's the quote:Clearly, I didn't remember it quite right, but I guess the real point to take away is that High Society was recorded as if it were going to be released in stereo like other MGM films while many of the Paramount VV releases were not (except for the score).

    Regards,
     

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