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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Anastasia (1956/Fox DVD)

Anastasia (1956)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B+     Film: B+



The world of movies in 1956 was drastically changing with the introduction CinemaScope, now turning up in theaters nationwide, moviegoers were seeing grander films.  The format itself allowed for much more in terms of detail, color, space, etc.  A larger format meant larger films, so what better than one of the biggest conspiracies of all time, that being the story of Anastasia.  The story revolves around making a girl think or even act like she is the heir to the Russian thrown.


Interestingly enough this film was Ingrid Bergman’s first American film in a few years.  She was in exile due to her involvement with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, who was responsible for Isabella Rossellini.   In many ways Ingrid’s story is parallel with that of Anastasia, as she must convince ‘her’ people that she is who they always thought that she was.  Evidently the film was well-received as it earned Bergman her second Academy Award.  Rounding off the superb cast is her equal, Yul Brynner, who plays the man insisting the she return in an attempt to reclaim the thrown.  That year, he won an Academy Award, but it was for The King and I. 


The 2.35 x 1 CinemaScope Transfer looks good, but not great.  Although colors are better than what we have seen before either on TV, VHS, and even LaserDisc, the biggest problem is the detail.  Softness can be a bit of a problem from time to time, with patterns having issues holding and making for an irritating viewing.  The film was shot by Jack Hildyard, who had just finished shooting for David Lean on Summertime featuring Katharine Hepburn in one of her many superb roles.  In fact both Anastasia and Summertime were both written in part by Arthur Laurents.  Hildyard would later work with Lean again in 1958 on The Bridge on the River Kwai, but his ability to work in Scope essentially began here and demonstrates why cinematographers quickly fell in love with the format. 


The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 4.0, which essentially makes for a matrixed surround channel, with both the left and right containing the same monophonic signal.  This is surprisingly one of the better audio tracks for a film of this generation, and in 4.0, but has limitations as well as a more centered mix.  With exception of some minor directional effects and music, the majority of the sound is centered.  This was originally issued in 4-track magnetic stereo, which was standard on Fox’s CinemaScope releases.


Fox decided to include a handful of supplements with their Anastasia DVD. This is part of their classics set, which all include decent amount of supplements making them worth their weight in gold, most of the time.  The audio commentary provided is decent with writer Arthur Laurents making it the most useful, considering he is still around.  Going the extra mile here, we also have the background of Anastasia from the A&E Biography series.  This is one of the best supplements since it helps us understand some of the points left out of the film, plus gives the viewer some food for thought on some of the liberties with the film.  There are also some other extras including some on the films awards, etc.  Perhaps another nice asset is the film restoration comparison, which shows how the film compares from its 1991 origins to its restored 1997 version.  From there we are shown how improvements have been made since 1997 for this DVD edition.  Indeed much has changed to enhance the films color palette and allow for a more accurate presentation.


Mistaken identity is a common theme that has been told and retold in many mediums, including film.  We have seen how it has worked on many levels in suspense thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock to the legendary stories of the man in the iron mask.  Fox even did a cartoon version of Anastasia in 1997 with the voices of Kirsten Dunst and Meg Ryan doing the lead, which even was credited to the CinemaScope format.  There have also been traces of this story in HBO’s Rasputin from 1996 with Alan Rickman in the role of the mad monk.  This is the glossed over, Hollywood version of Anastasia in all its full color and glory, presented here in a noble transfer allowing us to see the early days of CinemaScope and its advantages even has a young format.



-   Nate Goss


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