Let me save you the trouble: Goodbye Charlie (1964), the Debbie Reynolds-Tony Curtis fantasy comedy directed by Vincente Minnelli from the George Axelrod play (which starred Lauren Bacall and Sydney Chaplin), is not recommended.
Having seen it once on commercial television 35 years ago, I was mildly curious to revisit it all these years later, but gave up barely twenty minutes in. Getting the most out of this movie, good, bad, or indifferent, proved impossible. Instead, trying to watch this Fox Cinema Archives release was akin to reliving a minor childhood trauma, like forcing down Brussels sprouts at summer camp. And at least those were good for you.
Most regrettably, 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment has chosen to release Goodbye Charlie, a 2.35:1 CinemaScope production, in 4:3 panned-and-scanned full-frame format. In 2013.
A disclaimer up front is as ironic as it is ominous: "This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen."
No, sir. It has not. It has been formatted NOT to fit my screen. My screen is 16:9, not 4:3.
According to a recent study by the Leichtman Research Group, a solid seventy-five percent of U.S. households own 16:9 HDTVs. Indeed, more than half of U.S. households have more than one, and I'd wager that among movie buffs that percentage is even higher. Do they even make 4:3 televisions anymore? Didn't Sony and others end production of such TVs around 2008?
The only possible explanation for this is a) Fox had in its possession only a panned-and-scanned video master, and b) didn't want to spend the money on a new transfer. At least I hope that's the case. I'd hate to think they had a 16:9 widescreen or new HD transfer in their possession but forgot they had it or, worse, went with the panned-and-scanned version for some perverse reason.
Regardless, botched releases like this one exhibit either a cluelessness about the very customers manufactured-on-demand programs like Cinema Archives are trying to reach, and/or an attitude where the bottom line trumps all quality control, period. If the latter, then shortsightedness also applies. Fox may have saved themselves the cost of a new transfer, but one could probably count on two hands the number of consumers still willing to buy Goodbye Charlie knowing that it's panned-and-scanned.
While I doubt Goodbye Charlie was ever a great cash cow for Fox, it does have marketable qualities. Besides Curtis, Reynolds, Minnelli, and Axelrod, the film's cast includes Walter Matthau, Pat Boone, and in a prominent early-career supporting part, Ellen Burstyn, at the time working under the name Ellen McRae. (She was born Edna Gillooly, so â€¦ ) The movie earned a respectable $3.7 million in domestic rentals when it was new, prompted a TV pilot years later (with Suzanne Somers in Reynolds' role), and was all but remade by Blake Edwards as Switch (this time with Ellen Barkin) some years after that, so it's hardly as obscure, as, say, a Rin Tin Tin Jr. movie made in Canada with no human stars.
Another reason I strongly urge readers to avoid this release is because, considering the talent involved, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it eventually turn up in its original CinemaScope format elsewhere. For instance, a batch of mostly minor Doris Day comedies, likewise produced by Fox and shot in CinemaScope, were recently released on Blu-ray disc in Germany (these discs are, incidentally, region-free), so perhaps something similar may yet happen with Goodbye Charlie.
That Doris Day set, by the way, is attractively packaged, with much obvious imagination and enthusiasm, despite my inability to read German. That set certainly contrasts the utter lack of enthusiasm Fox is giving their Cinema Archive releases here in America. I think they must have hired some pimply-faced 17-year-old, one who probably regards The Goonies as classical American cinema, to write the copy on the back of these DVDs. This one's not as bad as some of the others, but here it is, all one sentence of it: "Shot by a jealous husband and lost at sea, Charles finds himself returned to the world as a woman named Charlie." Not only is that description imprecise and inapt, it does nothing to suggest that the movie is a even a comedy or why anyone might want to watch it.
Video & Audio
Goodbye Charlie's opening titles are presented in 4:3 letterboxed format while the rest of the film is 4:3 panned-and-scanned. Oddly, the sharpness and brightness of the image, as well as the better-than-usual quality of the Telecine work, suggests this is not some ancient video transfer 30 years old. That it appears much more recent and a bit less eye straining is, oddly, actually more depressing somehow. At least Fox is honest about it, noting "4:3 (pan & scan)" on the back of the packaging, albeit in teeny-tiny type. The mono audio, English only with no alternate audio or subtitle options, is okay, and the disc is region-free. No Extra Features.
Fox has so far released some terrific and terrific-looking movies to its MOD Cinema Archives line, but more than a few widescreen titles have unpardonably slipped out onto the marketplace panned-and-scanned only, and these should be avoided at all costs. This, alas, is one such title. Skip It.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.