The love triangle between Julius Caesar, Queen Cleopatra and Marc Antony probably rates as one of the greatest love stories of all time. Told in countless films and plays through the years, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction and this is part of the allure. Dating from 1934, Cecil B. DeMille’s iconic production proved to be something of a game changer for the industry, sneaking in under the Hays Code radar to present an erotic psychosexual Oscar winning masterpiece.
The Hays Code – or more correctly the Motion Picture Production Code, was adopted by the The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association in 1930 following a series of scandals off screen and a general concern about the risqué nature of some supposedly mainstream productions. The Hays Office referred to the first film censor Will H Hays who served from 1924 until he retired in 1934, shortly after this film was approved, handing the reins to the much tougher Joseph Breen....[Read the complete movie review]
Presented in 1.37:1 and transferred to AVC Mpeg. The picture is as good as it can be, bearing in mind the original 35mm stock. Dust and scratches are removed – along with a few damaged frames, leading to very occasional glitches and jumps. No attempt has been made to reduce film brightness changes, so expect a little flicker but no frame creep or instability. This suggests the film was scanned in frame by frame and re-stabilised. This is good news, as the black bands either side of the screen would only highlight this movement and cause a distraction. As one might expect, detail and low level shadow information is limited. There are lots of shades of grey for your TV to display, so if the palette is limited for any reason, expect to see solarising. This is not an issue on the majority of modern TVs and was not evident on my Panasonic plasma. The transfer is excellent and the original footage state of the art at the time. Of course coming up for 80 years has passed and things have improved somewhat, that’s all.
Picture score : 7
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stream carries the mono signal and is an excellent, lightly treated reproduction. The dynamic range is surprisingly high, although of course the frequency response is lacking, particularly at the lower end of the register. The sound track has a much lower noise floor than many movies of a similar age. Any crackles from the optical system have been removed, leaving just a low level hiss. Audio overloads in the master are evident (Optical tracks distort with quite harsh compression, unlike magnetic sound tracks where the first level of distortion is subtle and not unpleasant) and these come across as harsh, glassy peaks, particularly during shouted dialogue. The Western Electric Noiseless System has certainly stood the test of time, with the music being well balanced and sound effects well synchronised and realistic. Lip sync is spot on throughout the film.
Sound score : 6
The disc features a comprehensive set of extras, all of which are accessible from the start up main menu. As well as the option to watch the film with or without subtitles, you can also select a commentary by F.X. Feeney. Useful if you want an idea of some of the more subtle messages. This is accompanied by a pair of shorts looking at both Cecil B. DeMille and Claudette Colbert. These are well produced with plenty of vintage footage. The Hays Code is also explored in detail, but there are a few lip sync and stuttering issues with this short, probably due to NTSC – PAL conversion. The film trailer included is much more of a mini synopsis than the over sensationalist tasters we get these days.
The supplied booklet gives the text of an interview Cecil B. DeMille gave later on in his career. He heaps praise on his cast and also an interesting insight into the motivational processes he used to overcome a few sticky points during filming. There is also an article steering you towards some of the finer and more subtle details and also some viewing notes. There was an error in the pre-production copy I received regarding the viewing shape, but this should be corrected by release.
Extras score : 7
An intriguing and multi layered film that is well worth watching, if only to compare our attitudes to erotica. Some of DeMille’s later works may be stronger, but you cannot get away from the sheer scale and complexity of the production or the subtle nuances of the sexual overtones. There is not a bad performance to be seen and the film is a strong all-rounder in every respect. If you enjoy vintage cinema or just want to sample some of the best pre-war cinema, this film comes strongly recommended.
Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series have a reputation as well produced, carefully made discs and this one is no exception. The technical quality and well researched extras are excellent and seek to maintain but not to artificially improve the source quality. The picture is never going to stand up against current films, but in comparison to releases of a similar vintage this one really is first class. The sound quality is also just superb for the era. Compare this to the scratchy recordings of pre-war radio programs and you realise just how good the original soundtrack was and how well it has been restored. DeMille was known for insisting on top quality cameras and sound equipment, irrespective of cost and his diligence has proved itself in the long term. All in all, an excellent release and well worth acquiring.
Overall score : 8
786 word review written by Matthew Jarvis.
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