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Old 12-01-01, 05:22 PM   #1
Steve
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Review:The Lady Eve (Criterion)

Finally, one of my favorite films is on DVD! The classic Henry Fonda/Barbara Stanwick/Preston Sturges romantic comedy - The Lady Eve. If you haven't seen this, this is a classic romantic (almost screwball) comedy from the 40's. Barbara is a card shark ready to snooker Henry, but love gets in the way... Great stuff and surprisingly still plays well after 50 years..Very witty dialogue.

So when i heard Criterion came out with a Special Edition of this, it went right on my "must buy list." Sure it was expensive ($40 MSP) but hey - it's worth it, right? well...

first, you should know that I care about the movie first - supplements second.. and the movie transfer was very - very disappointing.

steady grain throughout most of the picture, excessive darkness, soft picture, scratches, tears, splices and you can actually see the little blip at the top right which is used to signal to the projectionist to change reels! When was the last time you saw that on a DVD? There are only 4 or 5 of these in a film- they couldn't remove these? Worse yet, there are not just one but two places where the film jumps! Jumps, I tell you! I have 300 DVDs and I don't EVER remember seeing a film jump.

For $40 I thought it would be remastered, restored or something.. I checked the back of the DVD and sure enough - NO remastering was done.. Just a transfer of a new print..nothing more.

The audio was worse. The mono was so harsh that sometimes I couldnt' understand what the people were saying.. And of course, Criterion didn't include English subtitles... there was actually one famous scene where Barbara screams after seeing the snake (very funny) and her scream was so shrill that I had to turn down the volume! never had to do that before.

Summary: I have Delta/Laserlight DVDS that are just as good as this transfer at 1/8th of the price.

Movie: A
Video: B-
Audio: C-

Supplements: pretty standard stuff. trailer, some production shots, the what is becoming the obligatory 5 minute introduction by Peter Bogdonovich, and a scholarly audio commentary that is done by Mariane Keane.

The production shots includes script notes and letters from the cast (Barbara?) but were so small as to be impossible to read.. not sure why they were even included. This is probably one of the few times I wish there were DVD-ROM features so I could view them with Adobe Acrobat or some tool to zoom in and read them.

The only interesting item was Edith Head's designer scrapbook.. This was very interesting...

At this time I must comment on the growing number of Radio Lux Broadcasts that I am seeing (or more correctly hearing) from Criterion and others. Maybe it is just me, but I just don't get it. This is an audio only radio broadcast of pretty much the same players reading the exact script from the movie. Interesting as a curio, but after 5 minutes it felt like I was watching the DVD with my eyes closed.. What's the point? At least here (as opposed to My Man Godfrey) they had a different male lead (Ray Milland). This was interesting - for about 5 minutes. I just couldn't last through the whole thing.. So some people may go "radio broadcast, cool!" but for me it was a waste of space on a disc.

The scene access is the lamest I have ever scene. not that this feature is all that important to me, but c'mon- hasn't the scene access with only #'s and a few words to indicate the scene pretty archaic stuff by this point? I know not every scene access menu has to have animated menus, or motion scenes, but at least a picture from each scene is pretty standard nowadays..

Also, what I found surprising was what wasn't on this disc. Bogdonavich kept talking about the "7 great films Sturges did," but didn't mention them. Couldn't they have included at least a 1 screen filmography? Sure, I can look this up in IMDB, but I thought that was pretty standard stuff. Also was missing was any kind of bio or background about Sturges. Sounds like a very interesting person from the introduction and I would have liked to have known at least a LITTLE something about the man besides what was on the intro. Again, I thing a 2 or 3 screen bio on the director is fairly common these days. And I would have liked to seen trailers for other Sturges film.. This was the more surprising because Criterion IS releasing some of his other films... so this could even be a plug for selling another Criterion disc... but I admit this is pretty minor quibbling..

Supplement Rating: C+

I just don't understand the $40 price tag. (Ok, I got it for $25, but you get the point for comparision). If it was remastered, then I could understand. Criterion did an INCREDIBLE job with movies like 3rd man, Grand Illusion, Seventh Seal, etc. so I know they can do it when they want to.. Paying $40 for those transfers was well worth it in my opinion.. but for this?

I am not sure if I could really recommend this DVD to anyone but die hard fans of the movie.. If you are a Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwick, Preston Sturges fan or love this movie and "just have to have it" in your collection, then you have already bought this disc and don't need to hear my opinion. If you aren't, then I would highly recommend a rental. My local video store has this... At $3.50 a rental, you could see this film for at least 7 times before you come even close to buying the Criterion disc at a discount! And this would give you plenty of time to review all of the supplements.

now I want to make it clear that the movie is definitely watchable. A B- rating in my books isn't horrible, and I have a lot of films that fall in that category. But for a $40 special edition, I expected more and thus was very dissappointed.

I don't plan on selling this on e-bay (I love the film too much), but in retrospect I wish Paramount would do a special edition of this.. or maybe Image, Roan or even Delta/Laserlight.. I doubt the transfer would be much worse and it would have cost a lot less.

Review Copyright 2001 DVD Tough Critic

All rights reserved. No part of this review may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, or transmitted in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without permission of the author.

Last edited by Steve; 12-03-01 at 06:06 PM.
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Old 12-03-01, 12:47 PM   #2
Richard Malloy
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Quote:
...and of course an audio commentary that is done by some film scholar that will put anyone to sleep who is not in film school.
Mariane Keane constantly delivers some of the best commentaries in the biz. Too in-depth for the MALLRATS crowd, but perfect for THE LADY EVE.

I disagree with many of your other points, as well, but this one was glaring. I'm not sure what precisely is your criticism (too in-depth? too "inside baseball"? too smart for the average bear?), but I disagree heartily with the gist of it.

Save the dumbed-down commentaries for the dumbed-down films and give me Marian Keane anyday (for more of her brilliant insight, check out NOTORIOUS).
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Old 12-03-01, 06:02 PM   #3
Steve
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valid point

1) I was trying to generalize the fact that none of the supplements were stellar in my opinion, and

2) I will not deny that my disappointment on the transfer soured my opinions of the supplements. While it wasn't horrible, it was not up to what I know Criterion is capable of, nor what I was expecting from a Special Edition.

I will definitely listen to the commentary with a fresh ear sometime in the future. In the meantime, I will adjust my review to be less harsh on the commentary. I understand that some people enjoy these scholarly approaches, and for older films such as this one this may be the best that we can expect since most people associated with the film are deceased.

thank you for your comments.

: )
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Old 12-03-01, 07:03 PM   #4
Sykes
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I concur 100% with your criticism of the transfer, as well as the Marian Keane commentary (although it is a vast improvement over the shambling Sullivan's Travels commentary).

As for the transfer, I can do little to build upon your comments, except to say that it is simply unacceptable from Criterion.

To qualify my comments about Ms. Keane, let me first say that I am not a big fan of commentaries per se. In fact, you can probably count on two hands the number of commentaries I've been able to remain conscious through. For my tastes, commentaries, by and large, address the wrong angles. Whereas I would like to see an objective, scene-for-scene breakdown of the formal and creative aspects of a film (usually the function of the oft-too cursory "making-of" featurette), typically the only options are enduring either shameless back-slapping sessions or redundant narrating of the screen action by some self-aggrandizing director or other creatively-involved artist; or the monotonous hum of some auteuristic film doctorate interpret the meanings and subtext for you. The former, I deem to typically plumb the depths of tedium; while the latter, I find frequently banal, overly-Freudian, and often hazardous in influencing one's interpretations of a film. For instance, to hear Keane try to make a case in her clinical, cribsheet-modulated monotone, that the fleeting image of a candle in Hitchcock's The 39 Steps is a phallic symbol is to make one wish that this space on the disc had been reserved for more valid content.

Although I prefer the latter situation to the former, what would be a better arrangement would be to offer multiple commentaries, by divers film scholars of divergent schools-of-thought, to have the luxury of various interpretations for consideration. And, hopefully, they won't possess the starched, "school-marm" tones of Marian Keane.
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Old 12-04-01, 11:13 AM   #5
Richard Malloy
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"Starched school-marm tones"? Hardly! I find her to be positively passionate about these films. And "overly Freudian"? Freudian, yes, but do you really think a film like THE LADY EVE (or any of the Hitchcocks) can be properly discussed and dissected without reference to the Viennese witchdoctor?

(Indeed, these films are a product of their times and may well be "overly Freudian" to the modern viewer, and in many ways banal as a result. But to criticize Ms. Keane's elucidation of these Freudian elements is rather beside the point. That, after all, is precisely her job.)

So we have one reviewer who concedes that the lack of a digital restoration "soured" him on every other aspect of the disc, which he proceed to judge unfairly (by his own admission). And we have another who's not a fan of commentaries to begin with - and who claims to have remained conscious through only a handful (which ones, I wonder?) - and whose definition of an acceptable commentary merely references everything he deems unacceptable in commentaries (e.g., "everything").

But we do agree on this: the SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS commentary is certainly second-rate, especially for Criterion. I won't defend that one (and Marian Keane is not part of that rather poor effort).

Quote:
what would be a better arrangement would be to offer multiple commentaries, by divers film scholars of divergent schools-of-thought, to have the luxury of various interpretations for consideration.
As a lover of commentaries, I agree - more and more diverse is better! On that note, I wonder what you think of the two commentaries on the NOTORIOUS release? I find (Hitchcock scholar) Marian Keane's passionate, shot-by-shot explication perfectly complimented by (David Selznick biographer) Rudy Behlmer's behind-the-scenes and historical insights. To me, this represents the ideal selection of commentaries and the standard to which Criterion (and others) should aspire. And I say that as one who is passionate about commentaries, and who returns to old favorites, again and again.
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Old 12-04-01, 07:02 PM   #6
Steve
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Time out, folks!

Let's not lose perspective of this review.. The commentary is ONE part of the disc...

The MOVIE is the main thing, and this transfer is poor. Quite honestly, even if the supplements were great, I still would rate this disc low because of the transfer.

I am not alone.. check out other websites that have reviewed this disc. filmsondisc gave this disc a C+, folks... so it is just not me who thought lowly of this release.

I do not think I judged this disc unfairly, only that because the main feature of the disc (The movie) was so disappointing that the other features of the disc (the supplements) would have to be absolutely outstanding to even begin to compensate. I have reviewed the supplements and stand by my initial review.

I am glad people enjoy Marione's commentary , but in no way can this alone make a disc great and worth $40...in my opinion.

so let's not focus on this one aspect of the disc.. As a whole, it was disappointing.....
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Old 12-04-01, 07:14 PM   #7
Neitzl
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I think I'm in the minority, but since I had never seen this film before, transfer-wise, I thought it was great! I did notice the jumps, but thought, oh well it is an OLD film. I watched it on my 19" trinitron monitor, so for what it's worth it was progressive scan. I thought the movie itself was incredible, never been a Stanwick fan, but she was great! The film seemed to be as good as it could be, but again, I never did see it before, so I can't compare. It really isn't as good as Sullivan's Travels, but it was great. I'm probably completely wrong, but the transfer did not take away from my viewing enjoyment.

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Old 12-04-01, 07:57 PM   #8
Gamblor187
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Quote:
Originally posted by Neitzl
never been a Stanwick fan
*gasp!*
For shame, Neitzel!

It's too bad that the transfer and extras don't seem to be very good. Still, I don't think I'll be able to stop myself from picking up this disc. I've been waiting for it for a long time.

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Old 12-05-01, 11:37 AM   #9
Richard Malloy
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Quote:
The MOVIE is the main thing, and this transfer is poor. Quite honestly, even if the supplements were great, I still would rate this disc low because of the transfer.
Correct me if you disagree), but I found there to be absolutely nothing wrong with the TRANSFER.

However, the original elements are a bit dodgy (particularly in the opening reel), but they nonetheless look quite acceptable to me. By no means are they as gorgeous as, for example, McQueen's restored elements for REBECCA, but we seem to be talking apples (the transfer) and oranges (the state of the original elements) without distinction. And while the original elements are hardly pristine, the TRANSFER is by no means some shimmering, artifacting botch-job a la Madacy/Winstar-Fox Lorber/etc. It is, IMO, a very good transfer of old, somewhat worn film elements that have not undergone restoration.

Would a "digital restoration" have been in order? If you love the film as much as I do, the answer is a resounding "YES!". But is a digital restoration required to enjoy this film (IMO, one of Sturges' very best)? Absolutely not!

Fer cryin' out loud, people, if you like Preston Sturges, at least give it a rent! It's one of the finest comedies of its time. And I bet you'll be surprised by just how good it looks considering what's been said here.
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Old 12-05-01, 11:54 AM   #10
Steve
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am i in left field?

Folks,
This is a GREAT movie, and I hope my negative comments about the disc will not distract people from renting to see this classic. I cannot praise the film high enough.

My complaint that this is being sold as a premium priced special edition - and for THAT reason, I think that the consumer will not get his/her monies worth.

compare Criterions new Hitchcock films (notorious) vs Anchor Bays. Some very serious differences that would easiliy justify the $40 price tag in my opinion.

For fans of the movie (like myself) - we have no choice, do we? I mean it is either fork over $40 or don't get it.. I wonder how everyone would feel if there was another version of Lady Eve out there to compare to? But right now we have nothing to compare it to, do we?

Am I the only person who is annoyed that as more and more studios are actually REDUCING their prices for movies, and giving consumers more and more for their money, fans of older films like the Lady Eve are FORCED into paying top dollar for (at best) average transfers with average supplements?

am I really the only one who feels this way? Does everybody else not mind spending $40 (ok $28 at discount) for 1 movie = regardless of the transfer quality or quality of supplements? This is pretty much twice what I pay for most of my movies... Shouldn't there be SOME kind of industry standard for pricing??? Am I really out in left field here?
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Old 12-05-01, 01:08 PM   #11
Richard Malloy
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Am I the only person who is annoyed that **** fans of older films like the Lady Eve are FORCED into paying top dollar for (at best) average transfers with average supplements?
We should definitely get them for free!

As I've said, I don't think there's anything at all wrong with the transfer, and IMO the extras are far above "average", with Marian Keane's commentary leading the way, but also the Edith Head costume design section, the publicity ephemera, the Lux Radio Theater broadcast - I've always enjoyed these - and even the trailer with its quasi-racist narration (which may have been suppressed by another studio). (I could do without the Bogdanovich introduction...)

And I think one should acknowledge that the major studios aren't exactly flooding the market with special editions of films from the 30s and 40s. Except for major exceptions like Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, and Casablanca, there's quite a dearth of top-notch DVD releases from this period. We're lucky to get a good transfer and a bare-bones disc for most titles that lack the cache of a Citizen Kane or a Casablanca. And, of course, we much acknowledge that there's simply a smaller market for these DVDs.

So, when we complain about paying top-dollar for Criterions or Fantomas or Ruscicos, I think we should remember that these are "boutique" companies putting out films with much less appeal to the general public than those mainstream hits that the studios can churn out at a reduced price. The boutique companies can't rely on enormous sales to recoup their expenses - they have to rely upon the specialty consumer willing to pay a little more. And if that means I get two wonderful Preston Sturges films in special edition DVDs (where before there were none), I'm willing to pay a few dollars more. Hell, I'm glad to do it.

Last edited by Richard Malloy; 12-05-01 at 01:11 PM.
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