Jane Fonda plays Lilliam Hellman. She is living in a beach house with Dashiel Hammett (Jason Robards), struggling with a play (The Children’s Hour, though the film is ridiculously coy about mentioning its title). She is also worried about her childhood friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), who is caught up in the struggle with the rising tide of fascism in 1930s Europe. Hellman loses contact with Julia, but on a trip to Europe in the wake of her play’s success, she is contacted by friends …f Julia’s, asking her to take on the risky job of transporting bribes to Hitler’s Berlin.
After almost 45 minutes of flashbacks and shots of Fonda looking upset over a) Redgrave’s inurires and b) her typewriter, one realizes that one still knows next to nothing about either of these characters. Some information does start to emerge, choppily, through the gloss, but at the cost of much brittle shouting from Fonda, and desperately committed grins from Redgrave. The period recreation is very handsome, and all the name dropping is fun, but when we are told of Hal Holbrook’s character that “deep down, he’s very superficial,” the realization hits home that the same can be said of the movie.
Mono and 2.0 stereo are the options here. On balance, mono is probably the better, less distracting audio choice to go with. The distortion is minimal (which is good, given how much shouting goes on here). The stereo, however, is utterly indiscriminate when it comes to surround. Absolutely everything, be it music, dialogue, or the clacking of typewriter keys, is fed through all speakers, and the effect is rather ridiculous. I suppose there something rather immersive about the environmental effects, but there is just too much coming out of the rear speakers to avoid thrusting the viewers out of the film, making them far too aware of recording.
The blacks are good, and the colours are generally quite rich, but I can’t help but wonder if some of the extremely dark scenes are supposed to be quite that opaque. This is a point of hesitation, I will confess. At any rate, the print is in excellent shape, with no damage, and there is no grain or edge enhancement. In sum, the transfer looks very good for a film close to thirty years old.
Trailers for the feature, plus four other releases. That’s it. The menu is basic.
Very much a high-gloss product, 1977 model. It means very well, and the cast is stellar, but the effect isn’t very convincing.
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