Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Apr 9, 2006.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    The Nun's Story

    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1959
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 152 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD Mono
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English & French
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    Genre: Drama
    MSRP: $19.98 Single disc / $29.98 Collection
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase

    The Feature:
    With Easter almost upon us, Warner Bros. have recently released a boxed set in keeping with the theme of the holiday entitled The Films of Faith Collection. Included in this most recent grouping of Warner Classics are, The Miracle Of Our Lady Of Fatima (1952), The Shoes Of The Fisherman (1968) and the feature film, The Nun's Story (1959) which stars Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch, directed by Fred Zinnemann.

    The Nun's Story was a tough film to make back in 1959. The Hays Office was still a power to be reckoned with, and some passages in Kathryn C. Hulme's bestseller simply wouldn't be tolerated in a big-budget Hollywood production. Somehow, with much negotiation and smoothing of ruffled feathers, a script was worked out to satisfy the producers, the director, the Hays Office, and Warner Brothers (which proved to be one of their most successful films at the time).

    The story is rather simple, but it's guaranteed to work the tear ducts. Gabrielle van der Mal (played by Audrey Hepburn), is the attractive and intelligent elder daughter of the great scientist, Dr. van der Mal. He wants her to become a doctor to follow in his footsteps, but she's chosen another path and with his reluctant blessing, enters the convent.

    Sister Luke, as Gabrielle becomes known, is a star student in the medical training in which her Order specializes as they prepare for missionary work in the Belgian Congo. She learns interpersonal skills by helping a senior Sister who's not doing well in class and is surprised to see the unpleasant older woman respond gratefully. Not long after graduating tops in her class, she's sent to Africa where a major disappointment awaits her; she won't be caring for the natives - instead she's been assigned to work in the European hospital, caring for the whites who're in the Congo for various reasons.

    While there, serving as the chief O.R. nurse to Dr. Fortunati (played by Peter Finch), she begins to realize the importance of one of the things she's given up; male companionship. The abrasive doctor's in love with her, she's in love with him (though she denies it to her Reverend Mother), and the only thing that saves her is a bout of tuberculosis. Set aside from her problems, away from the doctor and her struggles with obedience, Sister Luke finally finds the inner peace and pleasure with her chosen life.

    Unfortunately, that peace doesn't last any longer than the boat ride back to Belgium, where she's needed to prepare for casualties caused by the Nazi advance into her country. Against the strictest orders not to engage in partisan activities, Sister Luke begins carrying messages between resistance fighters, lying to Nazi inspectors, and helping to plan terrorist activities against the invaders. Ultimately, she realizes (as she cheers the death of a Nazi nurse) that she just can't do this anymore. After much praying and a confrontation with her cold-hearted superior, she's released from her vows, and she heads out to officially join the Resistance and rejoin society.

    In between these episodes, she's beaten - nearly to death by a lunatic (played by Colleen Dewhurst), witnesses a fellow nun receive the most severe of beatings, and deals with some of the kindest and most caring women in the world. Finally defeated in her life's dream, Gabrielle van der Mal leaves with nothing but love and admiration for her Order and those women who serve.

    That ability to evoke such powerful emotions from a situation that is by definition, restrained and unemotional is one of four-time Academy Award winner, director Fred Zinnemann's strongest virtues. From the firm cheerfulness of Mother Christophe to the almost frightening kindness of Reverend Mother Emmanuel, Zinnemann focuses on their eyes, the life in which contrasts so sharply with the drabness of their clothes and sternness of their surroundings. The film is paced perfectly, with nary a lag or blip, that the audience (even those for whom might find the subject matter dull) can fade right into it, feeling what Sister Luke feels and seeing the world from her tortured point of view.

    Though Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Dame Edith Evans, Beatrice Straight, and Peter Finch all offer excellent performances, The Nun's Story ultimately relies upon Audrey Hepburn, perhaps the last actress one would have expected in this role in 1959. Here, her slight tendency toward shrillness is gone entirely, as is the naturally vain stance we see in so many of her films. All that's left is grace, a simplicity and inner searching she never displayed in any other role - before or after. Few other actresses could have pulled this one off. The Nun's Story offers one of the very best performances Audrey Hepburn ever gave.

    The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards including, Best Picture, Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Director, Cinematography, Editing, Music-Score, Sound and Writing-Screenplay. The film was shut-out in all categories as 1959's Ben-Hur would see to much of that.

    The Feature: 4/5

    The film looks good - very good, presented here in its original AR of 1.78:1 (from 1.85), enhanced widescreen. No wonder the film was nominated in the cinematography department as it is a gorgeous picture to look at. Almost every scene looks like a framed postcard. Colors were rendered beautifully - looking very real and accurate - skin tones are a testament. Contrast levels and shadow detail look excellent.

    What stands out the most, is the style in which the film was shot; namely tons of very tight and close-up shots. During these close-ups, image detail was exceptionally impressive. Beyond that, longer and wider shots are also nicely defined. There is a hint of fine film-grain present throughout resulting in a very pleasing film-like image with terrific depth and texture.

    The print is mostly clean with only occasional instances of dirt, specks or other blemishes. You'll notice video noise infrequently throughout the film, particularly during the opening credit sequence. Not a big deal, but noticeable. Same with some shimmer - slightly noticeable, but never distracting. Edge enhancement was never a factor.

    Overall, a very nice looking transfer.

    Video: 4/5

    Presented in DD Mono, this audio track does a good job at fulfilling your aural needs. The track is clean and free of any hiss or other noisy distractions and the track doesn't appear to have been altered, fidelity wise.

    Dialogue was always crystal clear and intelligible. Even during Franz Waxman's fantastic score, dialogue was never lost or found competing. Not much to talk about in terms of heft or punch as the film is mostly dialogue driven.

    Not flashy, but a monaural track that does virtually everything right.

    Audio: 4/5

    Special Features:
    Not that I was expecting much here, but the only added feature is:
    [*] A Theatrical Trailer which is included, and shows in fair condition. Duration: 3:11 minutes.

    Special Features: 1/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    When an actress identified in the public eye, known for fashion and sophistication chooses to take on a role that will require her to wear no makeup and dress in the most severe clothing, there's bound to be some skepticism, particularly if her earlier successes haven't shown her to be a performer of great depth or passion. Such is the case with Audrey Hepburn in what was undoubtedly the most curious film she ever made. The Nun's Story, astounded her critics, earned her an Academy Award nomination, and broadened her appeal to include viewers who'd always seen her as a fluffy free spirit. This is the film that afforded her respect as an actress, instead of just liked and envied as a star. And for that reason, fans of classic film as well as Hepburn, will want to look closely at this title.

    Speaking of which, even if you are only remotely interested in one of the other included titles in the Faith Collection, purchasing the set is the way to go. Through most etailers, the whole collection will cost you $5 bucks more than a single disc. And after glancing through the other two films, one might say, that would be $5 bucks well spent.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)


    Release Date: April 4th, 2006
  2. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist

    Feb 8, 1999
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    Real Name:
    Robert Harris
    The "noise" during the opening credits appears to be a dupe problem from the separation masters, which in this case are themselves created from dupes. Best case, the transfer element would be fourth generation during those sections.

    There are ways around this, but not via normal optical means.

  3. Joe Caps

    Joe Caps Screenwriter

    Dec 10, 2000
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    Sadly, Warners has slightly altered the begining of the film.
    Originally the Warner logo is seen against a black background while two bells toll, THEN the Main credits start.
    The original Warenr logo has been taken out and replaced with a NEW logo that plays as time goes by, THEN we go to the original credits, thought we can still hear the end of the second bell that leads into the opening music. This opening was correct on the old laser and on a recent widescreen transfer seen on tCM - not so here. Warners,I'm ashamed of you !!
  4. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

    Apr 23, 2002
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    I'm as sad as i was when Disney lopped off the Buena Vista signature theme from MARY POPPINS.

    This is a great film, and although not as widely known among the younger set i hang with, most worthy of a look.
    Unlike many films from the era, it is still timely,
    and the acting is subtle, and it doesn't seem dated.
  5. MatthewA

    MatthewA Lead Actor

    Apr 19, 2000
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    Salinas, CA
    Real Name:
    Warner has replaced logos before, mainly the 1970s stylized "W", but never on any pre-1970s films.
  6. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer

    May 9, 2002
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    Since 2006
    Real Name:
    Cameron Yee
    Thanks for the review. I've been vacillating on picking this up in the boxset - I'll probably still wait a bit, with the possibility of a certain sale coming up [​IMG]. My local Best Buy only had the boxset in stock too.
  7. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

    Jun 19, 2001
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    This set is a gem and a great value. THE NUN'S STORY looks and sounds wonderful, although there are some dupe stock moments for opticals and dissolves that are a bit disconcerting, but only to the most discerning eye.

    It's a masterful film, and has been given an A level treatment by WB.

    SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN looks and sounds terrific, and despite the curse of "WARNERCOLOR", THE MIRACLE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA looks amazing.Better than I ever thought possible.

    Given the very low price, this purchase is a no-brainer.

    I'm giving it as an Easter gift to several family members.
  8. BarryM

    BarryM Stunt Coordinator

    Mar 25, 2002
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    Just got the individual issue of "The Nun's Story", one of the very best films Audrey Hepburn made.

    This is such a major achievement that it's a darn shame that Warner Bros chose not to endow this DVD release with the kind of helpful commentary and back story that this film deserves.

    If you've read Fred Zimmermann excellent autobiography, there's quite a bit of back story to the making of this film and it's a pity to see DVD as a stripped-down release.

    Oh well....
  9. DeeF

    DeeF Screenwriter

    Jun 19, 2002
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    I confirmed this last night, watching my TCM copy, and then the new DVD. By lopping off those bells, they have actually cut out the first notes of the music score. It's a mistake, and should be fixed.
  10. TedD

    TedD Supporting Actor

    Jan 9, 2001
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    Except that it's an MGM film, so that would be "MetroColor". Anyhow, it doesn't matter what you call it, it's still the curese of Eastman Kodak's Eastman Color..... [​IMG]

    But yes, it does look and sound terrific.

  11. Daniel BARBIEUX

    Daniel BARBIEUX Stunt Coordinator

    May 6, 2006
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    Maybe I am wrong but I am not sure that the Nun's Story was released in widescreen. If you compare the picture of the laserdisc and the new transfer to DVD, here is what you get : [​IMG]
  12. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

    Feb 8, 2001
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    That looks open matte for the credits at least.

    If something is shot with anamorphic lens a wide field of view (2.39:1) is squeezed into the 1.33:1 field of view on the negative and the full 4 perf 4:3 area is used. another lens on the projector will unsqueeze the image back to the full field of view.

    If something is shot 1.85:1 then there are markings on the camera eye piece and or the director's monitor to show the widescreen composition, but the lens and camera will still capture to a four perf 4:3 image, if it lacks effects sequences, all that information will be printed to release prints and a matte will be introduced in the projection room to properly shape the image for the screen.

    Nowadays, some independent films modify their cameras to shoot 3 perf 1.85 at 24 fps, and save 25% on film stock, but all the savings are usually eaten up by the set up and strike fees at the printing and processing facility to adjust 3perf back to four perf for release prints.

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