Otto Preminger’s Forever Amber offers us the mostly sanitized highlights from Kathleen Winsor’s overheated novel with the title character making some mighty societal leaps so that she’s eventually a fit consort for the King of England.
The Production: 3.5/5
It takes a character with a tremendous amount of pluck and resolve to be able to outmaneuver Scarlett O’Hara at her scheming best, but Amber St. Clair is one such character: the eternal predatory female who’ll stop at nothing to attain the riches and position that will get her the man she so desperately wants. Otto Preminger’s Forever Amber offers us the mostly sanitized highlights from Kathleen Winsor’s overheated novel with the title character making some mighty societal leaps so that she’s eventually a fit consort for the King of England.
Tired of the puritanical demands of her guardian (Leo G. Carroll), Amber St. Clair (Linda Darnell) runs away from home at sixteen in a desperate attempt to live life to the fullest. She almost immediately meets the man of her dreams Bruce Carlton (Cornel Wilde), but he’s too busy with his buccaneering to worry about being tied down to any female, even one with the ample charms that Amber has to offer. Even though he gives her some gold to live on and establish herself while he’s away, she quickly loses it and is eventually thrown in debtor’s prison while pregnant with Carlton’s child. With her looks and wiles, it isn’t long before she secures a release from prison to appear on the stage and work off her debt. After that, she’s seen by a succession of men: a highwayman (John Russell). a captain of the guard (Glenn Langan), and the Earl of Radcliffe (Richard Haydn), each of them offering a greater and more lucrative stepping stone to the wealth and position to which she aspires, all the while she’s pining for Carlton who happens to drift into and out of her life on several occasions but never long enough to make her his wife.
$4 million was poured into the making of this at-one-time scandalous best seller, and though most of the bodice-ripping and sexual peccadilloes have been excised from the Philip Dunne-Ring Lardner Jr. screenplay, the illegitimate child and the lengthy succession of lovers from all walks of life offer strong suggestions to the title character’s off-screen endeavors. The money shows up on screen, too, in an eye-popping succession of gowns (this was one year before the Academy instituted the costume design award; surely this film’s wardrobe designer Rene Hubert would have carried off that prize had it been in effect in 1947), the elaborate staging of the Great Fire of London and the outbreak of plague (the extended sequence of Amber tending to her lover suffering from plague and protecting Carlton from the murder plans of a wicked nurse played by Margaret Wycherly is the film’s best single sequence), and of splendid castle sets and extensive grounds and manses where the various plot machinations occur. Preminger also directs a nicely staged duel in the early morning English mists and overall establishes a believable portrait of 17th century England while probably not straying far from the Fox soundstages and backlot.
Linda Darnell is a fine Amber with lots of colors to her personality while playing a woman whose brain wheels are always turning. Cornel Wilde’s British accent seems a bit studied and ill-fitting as Bruce Carlton, and one seldom sees what Amber finds in him so fascinating to jump through all of the hoops she maneuvers to land him (but then, that question has always been pondered with Leslie Howard’s Ashley Wilkes, too). George Sanders manages to walk away with most of his scenes as King Charles II (with his doggie “children” always trailing behind him, one of the film’s most delightful affectations), and Richard Haydn plays superbly against his usual milquetoast type as the forceful, scheming Earl of Radcliffe. Also excellent are Amber’s two other men-used-as-stepping stones: Glenn Langan as Captain Rex Morgan and John Russell as Black Jack Mallard, the highwayman. Richard Greene gives it a good effort and certainly has some spark on screen but seems a bit ill-used by Preminger as Carlton’s dear friend Lord Harry Almsbury (though for my money he’d have been a finer match for Amber than Carlton), but great actress Jessica Tandy is fairly colorless and unimpressive as Amber’s maid Nan. Anne Revere likewise doesn’t have enough to do as the head of the street thieves’ gang.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced here in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s obvious Fox has performed major clean-up on this title as there are no stray dust specks and debris or reel change markers at any point in the presentation. Still, with compromised Eastmancolor elements rather than the original three-strip Technicolor elements to work off of, image quality varies throughout. In scenes in brightly lit rooms or in the sunny outdoors (as on Amber’s wedding day to the Earl), the image quality is splendid with excellent sharpness, very good color, and close-to-accurate skin tones. But much of this film takes place in darkened rooms, in alleyways, or at night (the entire first fifteen minutes is at night and in darkened environments), and the black levels are severely compromised here being milky gray rather than true black and crushing details in the shadows on a regular basis. Skin tones sometimes take on an orangey tone in these moments. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is quite rich and solid. There are no age-related problems with hiss, crackle, flutter, or humming. Dialogue has been excellently recorded even though in certain moments post dubbing is evident. The speech has been mixed expertly with the gorgeous and impressive Oscar-nominated David Raksin background score and the powerful sound effects (especially notable in the fire sequence).
Special Features: 2.5/5
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.
Linda Darnell: Hollywood’s Fallen Angel (44:16, SD): the episode of A&E’s Biography series narrated by Peter Graves chronicling the sad life of Linda Darnell.
Six-Page Booklet: contains color tinted stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s enthusiastic essay on the film.
Forever Amber was one of Fox’s most lavishly expensive costume melodramas of the 1940s, and that fact is perfectly clear on this Twilight Time Blu-ray release: one can see that little expense was spared in bringing this best-seller to the screen. Compromised picture elements have left us with an image that’s merely good rather than great, but the audio is quite pleasing and the bonuses worth investigating. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.