As Oscar Hammerstein once wrote, “Impossible things are happening every day,” and that’s exactly what you’ll be thinking when you take a gander at the astonishing new Warner Archive release of George Pal and Henry Levin’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.
The Production: 4/5
As Oscar Hammerstein once wrote, “Impossible things are happening every day,” and that’s exactly what you’ll be thinking when you take a gander at the new Warner Archive release of George Pal and Henry Levin’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. An astounding restoration of the first-released narrative Cinerama film long since relegated to the irretrievably lost pile, the film now reveals itself to be a charming, whimsical entertainment of the first order with wonderfully fanciful fairy tales (with two of the stories much less well known than their Grimm Brothers’ siblings) incorporated into a moderately involving historical fiction about the two brothers who brought these legendary stories to the masses.
Tasked with writing an involved family history of a Bavarian duke (Oscar Homolka), Jacob (Karl Boehm) and Wilhelm Grimm (Laurence Harvey) are finding the work very challenging. Jacob finds the Duke’s story most banal while Wilhelm can’t concentrate on writing non-fiction when he’s completely caught up in hearing and writing down all of the fantasy folk tales of the region, a task that bookseller Stossel (Walter Slezak) can’t see would ever make the brothers any money. And it’s certainly money that they need since Wilhelm is supporting a wife (Claire Bloom) and two children (Bryan Russell, Tammy Marihugh) and bachelor Jacob is being pursued by and is very interested in the lovely Greta Heinrich (Barbara Eden). But the Duke is tired of waiting, and if the brothers can’t deliver the finished manuscript in three days, he’ll kick them out of the house he’s been allowing them to inhabit rent-free and send them to debtors’ prison.
While the framing story (directed by Henry Levin) of the loving if sometimes combative brothers concocted by screenwriters David P. Harmon, Charles Beaumont, and William Roberts is only serviceable, it allows very graceful entries into the four fantasy sequences (all directed by George Pal) which highlight this movie. Wilhelm tells his children a bedtime story of “The Dancing Princess,” a fog-filled romantic rhapsody where a woodsman (Russ Tamblyn) gifted an invisible cloak by an old gypsy (Beulah Bondi) is able to solve the riddle of the King’s (Jim Backus) daughter (Yvette Mimieux) wearing out a pair of slippers every night. The sequence allows Tamblyn (vocals dubbed by Gene Merlino) to show off his dancing and tumbling abilities while director George Pal uses this as his most advantageous opportunity to show off the Cinerama cinematography with lots of point-of-view shots that thrust the viewer directly into the action of a runaway coach and some perilous dangling above a mile-high gorge.
Later Wilhelm tries to convince the village children and the bookseller the benefits of a book of fairy tales by relating the story of “The Cobbler and the Elves.” Here Pal is able to trot out his Oscar-winning creations the Puppetoons in the film’s most charming and poignant sequence as a busy shoemaker (Laurence Harvey) nods off to sleep the night before a raft of shoe repairs must be completed. Some wooden elves he had been carving for the neighborhood orphans for Christmas spring to life during the night and do the cobbler’s work for him to Bob Merrill’s jaunty tune “Ah-Ooh.” Beginning and ending with Merrill’s plaintive “Christmas Land,” this sequence which only lasts a few minutes lingers quite movingly in the mind. Later in Rhineburg, Wilhelm learns of a local woman (Martita Hunt) who mesmerizes the local children with her grizzly tales. The one he overhears “The Singing Bone” concerns hapless knight Sir Ludwig (Terry-Thomas) and his squire Hans (Buddy Hackett) who attempt to slay a local dragon (more stop action special effects in the Pal tradition) on a killing spree. Hans manages to kill the beast but is then murdered by the jealous Ludwig who takes credit for the slaying but lives to regret it. Another hauntingly melancholy tune supplied by Merrill punctuates the climax of the story. When Wilfred catches pneumonia from exposure to the elements while gathering this and other tales, he hallucinates the final fantasy sequence where his future creations beg him not to die for fear of never being born themselves. It makes a memorable end to Pal’s wonderfully directed portions of the movie.
In addition to the stunning European location work which fully justifies the Cinerama treatment it receives throughout (now fully restored to its brilliant glory), the film’s hummable tunes by Bob Merrill (just try to get the whistled title tune out of your head after the movie has concluded) and background score by Oscar-winner Leigh Harline as well as the Oscar-winning costumes by Mary Wills which dot not only the live action sequences but also make the fairy tales pop right off the screen all give the film its special charm. Laurence Harvey has never been more likable on the screen (even with his sometimes irresponsible behavior as a grown up kid and he gets to show his versatility as the elderly cobbler, too), and Karl Boehm offers stolid if appealing support. Their ladies Claire Bloom and Barbara Eden look lovely but are fairly wasted in the movie. Walter Slezak and the even more irascible Oscar Homolka present the expected conflicts to the brothers’ efforts. All of the stars who populate the fairy tales couldn’t be more felicitously cast or service their enchanted tales more adroitly.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.89:1 Cinerama aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer (AVC codec) offering both letterbox (on disc one) and Smilebox (on disc two) renditions of the film. Color pops off the screen and at long last there is now brightness, detail, and vivacity to the image, something certainly lacking in the overly brown and dark extant laserdisc and broadcast versions of the movie. As with How the West Was Won (and even better than it, frankly), the join lines for the three Cinerama strips are almost completely gone, and all traces of the water damage, dirt, and dust of many decades are likewise a thing of the past. The movie has been divided into 55 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mix is a thing of beauty. Any age-related problems with the sound have been eliminated, and what we’re left with is completely clear and precise dialogue and song lyrics rooted to the center channel and the wonderful music and sound effects spread through the fronts and rears (more of the former than the latter). The Overture, Intermission, Entr’acte, and Exit Music are all present and accounted for and sound sensational.
Special Features: 5/5
Disc One –
Announcement Trailer (4:36, HD)
Letterbox Theatrical Trailer (2:27, HD)
Russ Tamblyn Radio Interview (5:11) conducted by Derek Allen
Yvette Mimieux Radio Interview (5:39): conducted by Derek Allen
The Epic Art of the Brothers Grimm (7:30, SD): Justin Humphreys presents two Reynold Brown paintings and a series of Joe Smith lithographs crafted for publicity purposes.
The Wonderful Career of George Pal (8:47, SD): Justin Humphreys discusses producer-director George Pal’s involvement with the work of the Grimm brothers.
Song Selection Menu: instant access to fourteen musical selections in the film.
Disc Two –
Cinerama Announcement Trailer (4:36, HD)
Smilebox Theatrical Trailer (2:27, HD)
Rescuing a Fantasy Classic (40:19, SD): produced and directed by Harrison Engle, this documentary is narrated by restoration director David Strohmaier and details the painstaking efforts to bring the film back to pristine condition from decades of neglect. Also commenting are Strohmaier’s restoration partner Tom March, associate producer Randy Gitsch, Cinerama producer James Vandever, sound restorer John Polito, and Warner executive Steven Anastasi.
Rothenberg, Germany, Commemorative Plaque (0:56, HD)
A Salute to William Forman (1:49, SD): Cinerama executive James Vandever pays tribute to Cinerama’s founder.
Slideshow (12:00, HD): behind-the-scenes stills, publicity shots, international posters, and other media.
Song Selection Menu: instant access to fourteen musical selections in the film.
Commemorative Booklet: eight reduced pages of excerpts from the souvenir booklet that accompanied roadshow presentations of the film.
It is with much gratitude and hearty congratulations that we welcome once again for quality viewing experiences, George Pal and Henry Levin’s lovely and charming fantasy spectacle The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. All of the years of painstaking effort which went into restoring this feature have been more than worth it to see this beautiful looking and sounding disc now available for film fans of all ages. Highly recommended!
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