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DVD SAVANT

Cinderella


Cinderella
Image
1957 / B&W (originally color) / 1:33 flat full frame / 90 min. / Street Date December 14, 2004 / 19.99
Starring Julie Andrews, Howard Lindsay, Dorothy Stickney, Ilka Chase, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, Edith (Edie) Adams, Jon Cypher
Production Designer Jean Eckart, William Eckart
Original Music Richard Rodgers
Written by Oscar Hammerstein II
Produced by Richard Lewine
Directed by Ralph Nelson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This legendary television production shows the high-minded ideals that some TV efforts could boast in the late 1950s, when the three networks presented live plays as weekly specials. Responding to NBC's popular Peter Pan with Mary Martin, CBS commissioned none other than Rodgers and Hammerstein, then the tops on Broadway and cleaning up in Hollywood with spectacular roadshow adaptations of their work. Cinderella was produced in seven months expressly for the new star Julie Andrews, then playing in My Fair Lady; it was shown only once in color and recorded only with a B&W kinescope camera.

A class production all the way, Cinderella is a straight telling of the fairy tale with several catchy songs and excellent support from a stellar cast. Image's DVD has the best quality available; and their publicity claims that this DVD is the first ever general public release of the show since its one live performance in March of 1957. If that's true, it's a collector's item.

Synopsis:

The Queen and King (Dorothy Stickney and Howard Lindsay, a husband-and wife acting team) force their son Christopher, the Prince (Jon Cypher of Hill Street Blues in his first role) to undergo a ball designed to allow him to pick out a bride. Cinderella (Julie Andrews) cheerfully puts up with the abuse of her stepmother (Ilka Chase) and her catty, obnoxious stepsisters Portia (Kaye Ballard) and Joy (Alice Ghostley) but wishes aloud that she could attend the ball too. Up pops her Godmother (Edith Adams) who reveals that impossible things happen every day: and with the help of some magic Cinderella is soon on her way to the ball.

Bet you already knew that plot, but the cast is what's important and the talent rounded up for this musical Cinderella is charming, even when seen in slightly contrasty B&W. Andrews is as fresh as a daisy, newcomer John Cypher is picture perfect and Alice Ghostley and Kaye Ballard, both barely 30, are fall-down funny. Ghostley's hairdo is funny in itself. Edie Adams became popular in the early 60s with The Apartment and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World; wasn't she also the singing star of some sexy cigar commercials? Here she has more baby fat but is just as entertaining as the Fairy Godmother.

Writer-Lyricist Hammerstein gives the characters personality but doesn't spoof the story or send anything up, which is a refreshing change from today's anything-for-a-laugh comedy writing - even animated cartoons are inundated with tiresome cultural & showbiz references. This Cinderella sticks with the fairy tale basics. Andrews' Cinderella accepts her home situation with good cheer instead of despair, an attitude that seems more likely to attract the blessings of a Fairy Godmother. The songs examine loneliness and ask interesting questions. Are people in love over beauty, or is beauty something that only comes out through love?

The production was done live, in an average-sized theater, and the lack of flubs is very impressive. Director Ralph Nelson didn't make many good movies but in this show his camera is fluid and his angles interesting. The only real goof (shown in an accompanying docu) is when relative neophyte Jon Cypher accidentally oversings one of Dorothy Stickney's lyric lines. The production does some clever fast cutting between ensemble members in early musical numbers. The special effects consist of a double-exposed 4th of July sparkler and some lightning-fast costume changes. I suspect that Julie's change to her magical dress is actually just the glass shoes and a cloak thrown over her drab costume; there can't have been enough time to change to the ball gown.

The only regret is that the show wasn't recorded with film cameras that would have yielded a quality negative. I have no idea how many color TVs were in use back then but it couldn't have been too many; I don't remember color TV being anything you'd want to look at until at least 1961, when NBC started showing its whole lineup in color and their peacock became a famous logo fanning out at the beginning of each program. Until then (and actually until 1964 when the neighbors got a fancy color set) the bits of color TV I saw were limited to three shades of orange.

Apparently this kinescope recording is it, and it's in B&W. Thankfully, the image is free of distortion and fairly sharp, but there are some scratches and the music tends to cut off abruptly during commercial breaks. All in all, it looks fine, but after one sees the color photos taken on the set the kinescope starts to look pretty peaked.

I was pleased to see Iggy Wolfington as the Chef; he initiated the role of the sidekick onstage in The Music Man and I met him on the set of 1941, where he played the talent scout from RKO.


Image's DVD of the classic CBS production of Cinderella looks as fine as the surviving element can be made to look. Some shots reduce lined costume details to odd moire patterns; there are a couple of instances of damage but otherwise the show is intact. Oddly, the kinescope has the edge over the new color interview footage of Julie Andrews, which due to lighting or processing has that odd contrast effect where her teeth appear to be a row of shark-like fangs. Thankfully, the mono audio is in great shape.

The little docu (unattributed) has pleasant interviews with Andrews, Ballard, Adams and Cypher and communicates more amusing details about the show. In the docu and a set of still galleries, we also see great behind the scenes shots and scans of original ads, TV Guide covers, etc. from the time. There's also a promotional appearance by Rodgers and Hammerstein on the Ed Sullivan show. All in all, this will be a welcome release for musical fans and people who want to see how good Julie Andrews was - seven years before Mary Poppins.

Apparently the show is going to have its first reprise on PBS' Great Performances broadcast, near the date of the DVD release.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Cinderella rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Fair ++++ but highly watchable, and this is all there is
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: interview docu, still and art galleries, Ed Sullivan excerpt.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 28, 2004





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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