The melodrama is a tricky form. Done wrong, the result is risible. Done right, as it is here, and the result can be compelling.
Bette Davis is Charlotte Vale. Charlotte is, thanks to the brutal tyranny of her mother, a repressed, ugly duckling spinster. Then psychiatrist Claude Rains steps in, and she transforms completely. Her rebirth is completed on an ocean cruise when she falls in love with the unhappily married Paul Henreid. What follows is a story of romantic sacrifice and the triump… of the human spirit. Described, the plot sounds like total cornball. In execution, it is irresistible.
The audio is a textbook example of just how good a mono soundtrack can sound – so rich and full that you forget it isn’t stereo. No need for a remix here. Max Steiner’s magnificent score is as powerful as ever. The very, very slight buzz one can hear in some of the voices is simply due to the fact that the film is from 1942, and that the quality of the sound is otherwise so exemplary.
The video is even better. This is one of the youngest-looking 60-year-old films I’ve ever seen. There are two moments where the picture shudders very slightly up and down. Otherwise, the image (presented, naturally, in its original 1:33:1 full screen format) is absolutely flawless: no grain, no print damage of any kind, and the clarity is razor-sharp. This presentation is staggeringly close to being perfect.
The extras are rather limited. The menu is still, but scored on the main page. There is a one page list of cast and crew, and one page devoted solely to mentioning that Steiner’s score won an Oscar. While the box boasts “Cast Career Highlights,” the only cast member this is true of is Bette Davis, who gets a biography accessible from the Cast page.
There is the original trailer (whose picture quality is much inferior to the feature’s, showing just how glorious the latter really is), and, finally, a page called “Scoring Session Music Cues,” which allows you to play 6 different cues. You can select to play them all or individually.
A classic picture, in a first-class presentation. This would make a great double-bill with Casablanca, having been made the same year with some of the same cast.
Special Features List
- Theatrical Trailer
- Scoring Session Music Cues
- Cast and Crew Credits
- Bette Davis Biography
- Awards Page