You don’t really care about the plot, do you? Gordon MacRae is romancing famr girl Shirley Jones, but thuggish Rod Steiger also has designs on her. And so on. But it’s the songs that matter: “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top,” “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No.” And one could go on for much longer. The list is of tunes that one is familiar with without even knowing it, so completely have they permeated the mass consciousness. Fred Zinnemann’s film is handsome…and energetic without placing it in the same league as Singin’ in the Rain, and one might suspect that there is a touch too much attention paid to the technical, spectacle side of things, something that is reflected in the extras, but more on that below.
Two different kinds of stereo tracks here: 2.0 and 5.0. The surround effects are, quite naturally and appropriately, primarily given over to the music, which sounds great. It’s big, it’s expansive, it’s enveloping. The dialogue is clear enough, but the sound reproduction here does reflect the fact that the film is fifty years old.
Here’s where things get really interesting. The movie was shot simultaneously in two different widescreen formats, and both are presented here. The cameras weren’t simply side-by-side, however, and so both versions actually have noticeably different compositions, openings, and the like. Disc 1 has the CinemaScope version (2.55:1). Disc 2 has the Todd-AO version (2.20:1). Though the latter was the more advanced process, and would have led to a more spectacular theatrical experience, the full Todd-AO effect can’t be recreated in the home setting anymore than the IMAX experience can. The irony, then, is that the CinemaScope transfer looks better, with a sharper image, brighter colours, and better print.
Each version of the film has a commentary track. On Disc 1, film historian Hugh Fordin speaks with Ted Chapin (President of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization). Their talk is a good look at the nuts-and-bolts making of the film. Historian Nick Redman (who has helmed many an excellent Sam Peckinpah commentary track) interviews Shirley Jones, and the result is a track far more personal than the other one. Both versions come with karaoke-style subtitle and jump-to-the-song options and the theatrical teaser. The trailer itself is on Disc 2, along two live TV performances of songs, and a fascinating documentary featurette on Todd-AO. There are also two vintage shorts promoting the process. Neat stuff, but so technical that it raises the point I made earlier about the movie itself. There are also still galleries. The menu’s main screen and transitions are animated and scored. The secondary screens are scored.
A nice presentation of the movie, and providing both versions of it is a very nice bonus indeed.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentaries
- Singalong Karaoke Subtitles
- “CinemaScope vs Todd-AO” Featurette
- “The Miracle of Todd-AO” Featurette
- “The March of Todd-AO” Featurette
- 1954 Television Excerpts
- Still Galleries
- Theatrical Trailer and Teasers