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DVD Review The Foxes of Harrow/A Flea in Her Ear/Staircase DVD Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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The Foxes of Harrow/A Flea in Her Ear/Staircase DVD Review

After World War II, Rex Harrison became a highly sought after British actor on both sides of the Atlantic, and he finally accepted a seven-year contract from Twentieth Century Fox for a quite handsome salary. Though he didn’t end up serving out that contract when the grosses of his films began disintegrating, he nevertheless ended up making quite a few films for the studio over the course of his several decade film career. This Fox Cinema Archive three-film release contains one movie he made under that initial contract plus two others made as a free-lance artist some twenty years later: The Foxes of Harrow, A Flea in Her Ear, and Staircase.



Studio: Fox

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1, 1.37:1, 2.35:1

Audio: English 2.0 DD

Subtitles: None

Rating: Not Rated, PG, R

Run Time: 1 Hr. 58 Min./1 Hr. 32 Min./I Hr. 38 Min.

Package Includes: DVD

Amaray case with leaf

Disc Type: DVD-R

Region: 1

Release Date: 01/14/2015

MSRP: $37.95




The Production Rating: 2.5/5

The Foxes of Harrow – 3/5


Born on the wrong side of the blanket in Ireland in 1795 and knowing he would never be recognized in his own land as a legitimate heir, Stephen Fox (Rex Harrison) travels to New Orleans in 1827 to make his own fortune and establish his own dynasty. On the boat over, he meets the gorgeous, flirtatious Odalie “Lilli” D'Arceneaux (Maureen O’Hara) who finds his looks appealing but is put off by his reputation as a card sharp and scalawag. Once in New Orleans, however, he quickly uses his skills to begin accumulating money, land, property, and shares in cotton and tobacco futures becoming fabulously wealthy and building a plantation named after his father’s estates in Ireland – Harrow. Though initially resistant and continuing to find him not of her social stature, Lilli eventually agrees to marry him and does give birth to a son on whom both parents dote. But Lilli’s cold demeanor to her husband makes him seek comforts elsewhere much to his wife’s disgust.

Based on the novel by Frank Yerby, Wanda Tuchock’s screenplay will remind you quite often of the contentious relationship between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, another historical romance with combative protagonists in the Old South bound by a beloved child. This film doesn’t have the sweep or depth of characterization of the David O. Selznick classic, and the petulant, stubborn, and willful Lilli D'Arceneaux is a much less appealing heroine in the story who brings much of the misery present in the movie on herself. Both leading actors are fine in their roles, as restrictive as such stereotypical characters as a rake and an icily starchy wife can be, and director John M. Stahl squeezes every inch of local color from the fantastic Oscar-nominated production design showing us a lengthy gambling sequence where Stephen earns his first bankroll, a duel with pistols, a voodoo ceremony, a birthday fireworks celebration, the bank panic, and a climactic cane field sequence. Abetting the two stars with flavorful supporting performances are Richard Haydn as Stephen’s best friend, Gene Lockhart as Lilli’s understanding father, Victor McLaglen as a barge captain who becomes Stephen’s pal, and Patricia Medina as Stephen’s kept woman.


A Flea in Her Ear – 2.5/5


After nine years of marriage, Gabrielle Chandebisse (Rosemary Harris) has noticed that her attorney husband Victor (Rex Harrison) has suddenly lost sexual interest in her. When she suspects that he might be having an affair with some unknown woman at the notorious Hotel Coq D’or, she and her best friend Suzanne (Rachel Roberts) plot a scheme to lure him to the hotel so she can catch him in the act of cheating. But complications soon arise. Victor’s best friend Henri (Louis Jourdan) thinks the amorous letter asking for his presence at the hotel is meant for him, and Suzanne’s insanely jealous husband Don Carlos (Georges Descrieres) believes it’s his wife and not Gabrielle who’s planning on a romantic assignation with Victor, so all of them arrive at the hotel at around the same time and find things even more complicated since the hotel’s drunken porter Poshe (Rex Harrison) is the spitting image of Victor and more than eager to participate in romantic tomfoolery with any of them, even Henri.

George Feydeau’s 1907 French farce has been ported over quite faithfully to the period in John Mortimer’s frantic screenplay. This is one of those farces where otherwise intelligent people suddenly lose all common sense and behave completely irrationally over the least little thing in order to help the comic engine gain and maintain momentum. The show remains faithful to the particulars of farce with its slamming doors, wild chases through a limited area, and multiple instances of mistaken identity, even if under Jacques Charon’s direction the movie runs out of steam a good quarter hour before it’s finally exhausted itself and comes to an end. Rex Harrison tries his best to play two very different characters who are instrumental for the farce to work properly, but he’s completely terrible as the drunken, lower class Poshe which pretty much throws a wrench in the gears of the farcical mechanism. Rosemary Harris manages to keep her dignity more than the other members of the cast, and Rachel Roberts (married to Harrison at the time but not for much longer) plays a role that doesn’t have a lot to do with Harrison’s character. Stalwarts Louis Jourdan, John Williams, and a very young Edward Hardwicke (who must act a most unfunny role of a chap with a speech impediment) do what they can with the strained material.


Staircase – 2/5


Having lived together for twenty years, only moderately successful hair stylists Charles Dyer (Rex Harrison) and Harry Leeds (Richard Burton) are dependent on each other emotionally while each is dealing with a particularly trying problem: Charles is facing an upcoming court appearance for being caught by a rookie policeman while dressed in women’s attire in public while Harry’s premature balding is a source of constant pain and embarrassment. But the two men tend to minimize their need for one another by viciously putting down the other’s affectations and finding ways to one-up one another as the needier of the pair.

Bringing his stage play to the screen, writer Charles Dyer retains a very stagy, ineffectual method of presenting dialogue (the characters repeating the names of the people to whom they’re talking numerous times in a speech) which gives the offering the sense of its still being a play. The comedy-drama is more a moody character piece than a narrative saga (not much happens during the film’s 98-minute running time) and what humor is present is very sour and uncomfortable, dragged down by the consistent barbed verbal attacks the two unleash upon one another. With the constant use of feminine pronouns as the two hack away at one another (particularly Harrison’s Charlie with his incessant invective against Burton’s more sensitive, eternally turbaned Harry), the dialogue seems quite dated and almost from another galaxy. It was cheeky of producer-director Stanley Donen to cast two of the world’s most notorious heterosexuals as this pathetic pair of homosexual misfits (though straight actors played the roles in the show's two-month Broadway run as well), but neither man is able to pull off his character convincingly, and the film’s theme that the two lonely, vicious old poofs (their words) need one another for strength and security doesn’t actually ring true when, in actuality, one should rather live alone than with the constant haranguing and criticisms they’re subjected to on a daily basis. Is that supposed to be the price they pay for their sexual orientation or the pitiful substitute for lovemaking? Apart from the musty theme, one must take a minute to praise Cathleen Nesbitt as Harry’s feeble, demanding mother giving the most genuine and affecting performance in the piece.



Video Rating: 2.5/5  3D Rating: NA

The Foxes of Harrow – 2.5/5


Presented in its theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio, the image is quite sharp with effective grayscale which boasts especially good black levels, but it suffers from a mass of age-related anomalies and mediocre mastering likely from an old videotape-level source. Dirt and dust specks are rampant, especially in the film’s first half, and there are combing artifacts, aliasing, reel change markers, and some light scratches that also impede complete enjoyment of the imagery. The disc has chapters placed every ten minutes so there are 12 chapters present on this disc.

A Flea in Her Ear – 2/5


The film’s Panavision 2.35:1 aspect ratio is present non-anamorphically in a brief pre-credit and main title sequence, after which we get one of Fox’s infuriating pan-and-scan abominations which should have been put out to pasture twenty years ago. With the film frame cropped and blown up for the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, it’s no surprise that the image is never as sharp as it might have been, and naturally there are problems with aliasing and moiré patterns fairly frequently. Color is on the dull side though it’s saturated well enough, and flesh tones aren’t unreasonable. But the film’s comedy is naturally going to be compromised when we can’t see everything going on in the original widescreen frame. The movie has been divided into 10 chapters.

Staircase – 3.5/5


The film’s Panavision 2.35:1 aspect ratio is presented in a non-anamorphic, letterbox presentation. Lacking anamorphic enhancement, the image remains reasonably sharp, and the color is fairly realistic if possibly a trifle faded. There are occasional aliasing artifacts, but the image is clean and free from age-related artifacts apart from an occasional reel change marker. If only Fox had cared enough about its customers to push a button and make the transfer an anamorphic one enhanced for widescreen televisions! The movie has been divided into 10 chapters.



Audio Rating: 3.5/5

The Foxes of Harrow – 3/5


All of the discs offer a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix which Dolby Prologic decodes into the center channel. Though most of the disc offers the expected comfortable placement of dialogue, sound effects, and David Buttolph’s score in the same mono track, there are some instances where hiss and crackle are quite noticeable though that isn’t the rule with this transfer. The volume level of the encode is also higher than necessary and necessitated manual adjustment to prevent distortion.

A Flea in Her Ear – 4/5


The mono sound mix is typical of its era with well recorded dialogue which has been mixed well with the sound effects and the delightfully effervescent score by Bronislaw Kaper. There are no age-related problems like hiss or crackle to contend with though once again the volume level is too loud and will require adjustment.

Staircase – 3.5/5


Though there is a bit of noticeable hiss present, it doesn’t interfere with the well recorded dialogue (though the British gay slang of the era may require one to rewind to understand certain speeches), the sound effects, or Dudley Moore’s background music score. The movie begins with a title song stating the film’s theme performed by drag queens Michael Rogers and Royston Starr with only average fidelity. Volume levels will require the listener to adjust the controls downward to prevent distortion.



Special Features Rating: 0.5/5

Theatrical Trailer (3:01) offered for A Flea in Her Ear.



Overall Rating: 2.5/5

Certainly not the finest performances ever given by stage and screen star Rex Harrison, the three films represented in this Cinema Archive selection certainly run the gamut of subject matter and tone. If only Fox would abandon these ancient pan and scan or non-anamorphic transfers of modern widescreen films and offer their customers something decent for their hard-earned dollars. Since The Foxes of Harrow is available in a single MOD disc release (and is the best of the three films in this set), fans of it would do better to skip these other two lackluster video efforts and concentrate solely on it for their collections.


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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Virgoan

Supporting Actor
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Ron Pulliam
Heartbreaking! I wonder if the Fox MOD folks appreciate your efforts. Given the lack of effort in their product, I rather doubt it!
 

Nick*Z

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Fox's archive program isn't the only bad joke being perpetrated on collectors. A goodly number of their legitimately pressed Blu-rays of catalog titles are a mess as well: The Longest Day among them. Could someone please tell these folks excessive DNR compression is an outmoded and undesirable commodity NOT to be used except under extreme circumstances. And can Fox finally admit that they've boo-booed on a lot of catalog releases of their color Cinemascope titles on Blu-ray - sporting excessively wan colors and a tone of teal boosting. I can't watch The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, or Desk Set or even The Blue (very blue) Max. Ugly, unnecessary, abysmal work, people!!! A worse batch of unattractive looking deep catalog titles I have not seen in consistently BAD quality from any other major studio.


Gold standard bearer remains Sony. Every deep catalog release they've done is a royal affair. Fox has proven it knows - and can do - much better when pushed to do so. (Look at their transfers for Criterion's All That Jazz or The Innocents as proof! I just wish the push from collectors would grow to the extent Fox would rethink its current marketing strategy - if, indeed, they actually have one for their physical media mastering and distribution!!! Badly done is badly done...period!
 

theonemacduff

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the wet coast
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I always liked Staircase, I guess because I accept the Andy Capp & Flo type relationship, that some couples are only happy if they have someone to carp at; to me that seems realistic, at least for some people. My favourite actor in the piece though is the guy whom Rex brings home one night who says not one word, but pretty much laughs through his whole scene. But yes, Ms Nesbitt gives an affecting and occasionally harrowing performance. And disgustingly annoying about the transfer. Fox still seems to be living in the mid-1990s (when nobody had a high def widescreen monitor and people who thought themselves rather hi-tech had a Sony Trinitron), rather than 2015, when Trinitron monitors, if people still have them at all, are in the basement, behind the boxes of old National Geographics.
 

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