A charming little movie that never really recieved much notice during its theatrical run, "84 Charing Cross Road" is based upon a play by James Roose-Evans and stars Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft. The material is noticably on the thin side, but the actors provide strong enough performances to hold the attention for at least most of the film's running time. Bancroft stars as Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft), a New York woman who sees an ad for a used bookstore in London.
The letters are read by Frank Doel, the bookstore owner, who replies with a set of the books that the woman was searching for. The two eventually begin a correspondence that lasts a great period without the two ever actually seeing each other. Both are searching for companionship; Helene lives alone, but Frank lives in a marriage with Nora (Judi Dench!) that seems to have become more subdued over the years.
There's a need for films to add some sort of crisis, even occasionally when it seems apparent to the audience that the situation seems rather unlikely. "84 Charing Cross Road" is a different story - there's no crisis and little drama to the proceedings; director David Jones has to do what he can with two people trying to find friendship with an ocean separating them. That takes a lot of letter writing and a fair amount of voice-over narration. The two characters are fleshed-out as the screenplay provides some insight into their surroundings, but this whole subject gets stretched a little thin at nearly two hours.
Overall, I was really surprised by this little film. While a bit overlong, the performances and story were more fully-realized and engaging than I'd expected, given the plot, which seems pretty thin at first glance.
VIDEO: Unfortunately, Columbia/Tristar has not decided to present "84 Charing Cross" in a new anamorphic widescreen presentation and instead, has only offered the film in pan & scan. While I'd hoped that the listing on the back of the box was a mistake, the "this film has been modified to fit your screen" message that came up confirmed my fears. As for the presentation itself, the picture quality is noticably inconsistent. Sharpness and detail varied slightly throughout the movie, with some low-lit scenes appearing slightly murky and undefined, while brighter, outdoor sequences approached a more pleasing level of crispness.
As for the previously mentioned inconsistency, flaws with the image either were present or completely lacking; parts of the opening scenes appeared worn and grainy, for example. Soon enough, the picture seemed to clear up for a while before some specks and grain returned for another stretch. While I never saw any major wear, there were enough minor flaws to occasionally be slightly distracting.
Colors were fairly well-rendered, appearing crisp and natural, with no smearing. It's really dissapointing that the studio has decided to offer a mediocre pan & scan presentation instead of a fresh, new anamorphic widescreen one.
SOUND: The film is presented in 2.0, although it sounds more like mono (the box only states "English" as the sound option). The film's audio quality is just fair. The film is dialogue-driven, but I felt as if I needed to turn up the volume to hear the dialogue clearly - even then, it sounded a bit on the rough side.
MENUS: Very basic, non-animated main menu.
EXTRAS: Trailers for "Remains of the Day" and "Sense and Sensibility".
Final Thoughts: "84 Charing Cross Road" is a charming, heartwarming little film with very good performances. Columbia/Tristar's DVD edition, on the other hand, is a dissapointment, not only presenting the film in pan & scan, but providing little in the way of supplements. Hopefully, the studio will revisit this title in the future, although that seems unlikely.