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Colorful if superficial and well-acted biography of the infamous Irish playwright 3.5 Stars

For those who aren’t familiar with the story of the downfall of Irish writer Oscar Wilde at the hands of an intolerant Victorian society, Ken Hughes’ The Trials of Oscar Wilde does a good job in fleshing out the highlights of history without getting into any of the biological basics.

The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960)
Released: 01 May 1960
Rated: PG
Runtime: 123 min
Director: Ken Hughes
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Cast: Peter Finch, Yvonne Mitchell, James Mason
Writer(s): Ken Hughes, Montgomery Hyde, John Furnell
Plot: A chronicle of Oscar Wilde's libel suit against the Marquis of Queensberry and the tragic turn his life takes because of it.
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG
Run Time: 2 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/09/2022
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 4/5

The fall from grace of one of the 19th century’s most gifted writers is chronicled quite vividly in Ken Hughes’ The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Being produced in 1960 during the last decade of the Production Code’s stringent rules against on-screen portrayals of homosexuality, writer-director Hughes must walk on eggshells throughout in attempting to tell his (mostly) true story, but even within the limitations imposed upon him, the story of the Irish playwright’s catastrophic downfall at the height of his fame and popularity has dramatic heft, aided immeasurably by a clutch of outstanding performances and a script that is dotted throughout with Wilde’s most quotable and amusing epigrams.

With most of London celebrating the wit and wisdom of his plays like Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest while whispering behind his back about his notorious reputation, Oscar Wilde (Peter Finch) enjoys living a quite lavish lifestyle favoring to spend many hours away from his wife Constance (Yvonne Mitchell) and their two young boys in the company of young men who hang on his every bon mot and seek his favor in their various endeavors. Foremost among them is Lord Alfred Douglas (John Fraser), the spoiled yet most attractive son of the bullying, brawling Marquis of Queensberry (Lionel Jeffries). Queensberry is so outraged that his son has become a notorious companion of Wilde’s that he accuses Wilde of “posing as a sodomite,” an accusation that Wilde finds libelous and which subsequently leads to a court trial which Wilde hopes will rid him and Lord Alfred of the father’s harassment once and for all. But the trial which had early-on been going Oscar’s way takes an abrupt turn resulting in Wilde’s idiomatic house of cards collapsing on him in quick and successive fashion.

Writer-director Ken Hughes spends the first hour of the film establishing Wilde’s great popularity as a writer and playwright, his excessive spending and unorthodox nightlife, and the wagging tongues of London society who have heard stories of scandalous behavior but mostly tolerate it in the hopes of further amusement through his books, plays, and lectures. We are also shown in occasional scenes the dysfunctional family of the bellowing, belligerent Marquis of Queensberry who has driven his son Lord Alfred (affectionately known as “Bosie”) out of his house and into the good graces (and open pocketbook) of Oscar Wilde. Hughes’ contention seems to be that the original libel trial was as much Bosie’s attempt to get back at his father’s abuse as Wilde’s trying to clear his name. The libel trial and the subsequent “gross indecency” trials and their aftermath constitute the second half of the film. From a 21st century perspective, it’s depressing and hideously sad and one feels distinctly the rushed nature of the trials as the film runs; there isn’t even enough time to really allow the viewer to know the ultimate fates of Wilde, Bosie, Constance and his children (though with the ending already downbeat enough, further information might have been too debilitating).

Though not resembling the real Oscar Wilde in the least, Peter Finch gives a strong, effective performance, handily tossing off the Wildeian quips and heartily embracing a raft of young men. (Obviously, there isn’t the slightest physical manifestation of homosexuality here; it’s merely talked about in mostly veiled terms). He’s particularly adept in the first courtroom scene where he handles barrister Sir Edward Carson’s (James Mason) haughty accusations with verbal aplomb. And yet, Finch and Mason’s back-and-forth in court, well shot and making full use of the wide Technirama frame, show two master actors at work volleying and parrying superbly in the movie’s best sequence. John Fraser as the spoiled, petulant, and completely selfish Lord Alfred also gives a fantastic performance: despite his good looks, he’s loathsome from beginning to end. Yvonne Mitchell is a pleasant Constance, but she’s not allowed to explore the depths of the character’s likely confusion or shame. Lionel Jeffries plays the pugnacious Marquis of Queensberry all of one color, but he’s nevertheless a memorable and most offensive villain. Emrys Jones plays Wilde’s steadfast friend Robbie Ross with appealing simplicity while Nigel Patrick as Oscar’s barrister Sir Edward Clarke, Maxine Audley as another Wilde friend Ada Leverson, and James Booth as would-be blackmailer Alfred Wood all add impressive if brief portraits to the proceedings.

Video: 3.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original Technirama aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. From the opening credits and throughout the presentation, there are dust specks, digs, and occasional scratches which MGM engineers have not dealt with. Images are sharp and reliably colorful (though flesh tones vary and are occasionally a beige-like tan). There is some flicker in the image, too, often in scenes where light is excessive. Black levels are very good, however. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is strong and clear. Dialogue has been well-recorded and has been mixed nicely with Ron Goodwin’s background score and the various sound effects. There are no problems with excessive hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 1/5

Theatrical Trailer (3:45, HD)

Kino Trailers: Room at the Top, The Chalk Garden, Isadora, He Who Must Die, The Queen of Spades, Murder by Decree, among others.

Overall: 3.5/5

For those who aren’t familiar with the story of the downfall of Irish writer Oscar Wilde at the hands of an intolerant Victorian society, Ken Hughes’ The Trials of Oscar Wilde does a good job in fleshing out the highlights of history without getting into any of the biological basics. Those who want more prurient details might wish to try Brian Gilbert’s 1998 Wilde for a fuller and more explicit account.

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Published by

Matt Hough

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marcco00

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yes i will get. been waiting for many years for the sixties Wilde films to be released on home video. the whole Wilde story played out like a Shakespearean (you know i had to look up how to spell that) tragedy in real life.
and i've always been fascinated by Bosie, who seemed to be Dorian Gray appearing in the flesh in Oscar's life and contributing to his downfall. John Fraser does an excellent job here (as did Jude Law in WILDE) playing him as beautiful AND petulant, a deadly combination for anyone who was deeply in love with him, poor Oscar.
 

Robin9

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Thanks for this review. Oh dear:

From the opening credits and throughout the presentation, there are dust specks, digs, and occasional scratches which MGM engineers have not dealt with. . . . . There is some flicker in the image, too

Well, I want this film in my collection so I'm going to buy the disc, but thanks for the warning.
 

commander richardson

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This is a very good film so am not bothered by image flicker and so on. It is unavailable anywhere else and should have been released in UK where it was filmed instead of all the junk that gets released.
 

roxy1927

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I have never seen or read Lady Windermere's Fan except for two silents movies! The first from the teens and the second the Lubitsch with Ronald Coleman. I have to say I was moved at the ending both times.

This film sounds like it needed better treatment and that Kino did a slapdash get it out and sell it job. They can be a peculiar company in their sloppiness.
 

lark144

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This film sounds like it needed better treatment and that Kino did a slapdash get it out and sell it job. They can be a peculiar company in their sloppiness.
This is what they were given by MGM, who, as I'm sure you know, are not the best curators of the films in their care. Either it comes out the way it is, which sounds imperfect but certainly watchable, according to Matt's fine review, or it doesn't get seen at all. I, for one, prefer the latter choice.
 

roxy1927

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3.5 out of 5 sounds pretty poor for the image of a bluray release of its vintage. And WarnerArchive has done wonders with MGM films. I guess I'm not quite understanding what exactly Kino does. Do they just act as a distributor? Because from the sound of it this could be just a good dvd release.
 

Mark-P

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3.5 out of 5 sounds pretty poor for the image of a bluray release of its vintage. And WarnerArchive has done wonders with MGM films. I guess I'm not quite understanding what exactly Kino does. Do they just act as a distributor? Because from the sound of it this could be just a good dvd release.
The movie was not made by MGM. It is currently owned by MGM, by way of various acquisitions.
 

Harold Chasen

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It's very confusing, and I don't claim to understand it all. But almost all of the films from what we all think of as "MGM" - the studio of Clark Gable and Judy Garland and Arthur Freed and Vincente Minnelli - are now owned by Warners, not MGM. Warners also owns almost all of the RKO titles, as well as Warner titles. Conversely, titles now owned by MGM are not from the old MGM - they were released by United Artists, or by others.

Warners has their own in-house scanning and restoration capabilities, and they make their own masters. Kino doesn't - they can only release what they are given, or not release it. Based on the comments from the Kino Insider, they are able to do a bit of fine-tuning, but that's it. Some of their releases are from studios, like Universal, that are doing extensive restorations and have active asset protection programs. But others titles don't have such TLC lavished on them, and again, Kino can only either release them as is, or not release them at all.
 

roxy1927

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Ok but as I haven't been a collector for very long in such a case how does this get called a bluray release as opposed to a very good dvd release? MGM gave them what they have. Kino put it out. What was done and where was it done in the chain?
 
Last edited:

rdimucci

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Kino put it out. What was done and where was it done in the chain?​


MGM has the film elements (negative, interpositive, whatever). MGM scanned those elements at some point (maybe recently, maybe not). They also may or may not have performed some clean-up of those scans to remove dirt, wear marks, or other artifacts. The scans are then corrected for consistent color or B&W density. The result of these MGM processes, in the form of a digital file, is offered to Kino Lorber for potential release on disc. KL looks it over and decides whether to release the film or not, and decides whether to do it as a Blu-ray or DVD. In some cases, KL may invest their own funds in doing some additional clean-up or image correction. But if KL finds the file unsatisfactory for release, all they can do is not release it. They cannot do a re-scan because they do not control the elements, and they generally cannot afford to have MGM do a re-scan for them.
 

roxy1927

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So it would be up to MGM to decide if it is worth the money to do further work the digital files? And then as you say it is up to Kino to accept it and release it as a bluray or DVD.
 

Stephen_J_H

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Kino put it out. What was done and where was it done in the chain?​


MGM has the film elements (negative, interpositive, whatever). MGM scanned those elements at some point (maybe recently, maybe not). They also may or may not have performed some clean-up of those scans to remove dirt, wear marks, or other artifacts. The scans are then corrected for consistent color or B&W density. The result of these MGM processes, in the form of a digital file, is offered to Kino Lorber for potential release on disc. KL looks it over and decides whether to release the film or not, and decides whether to do it as a Blu-ray or DVD. In some cases, KL may invest their own funds in doing some additional clean-up or image correction. But if KL finds the file unsatisfactory for release, all they can do is not release it. They cannot do a re-scan because they do not control the elements, and they generally cannot afford to have MGM do a re-scan for them.
Agreed. Based upon the description, I suspect that MGM scanned a 35mm reduction element.