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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Our Town
Our Town
Warner Bros. // Unrated // January 1, 1999
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Chris Hughes | posted September 25, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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Features: Video: Standard 1.33:1 [4:3] Audio: Dolby Mono. Includes the Short Film 'The Wizard's Apprentice.' Second Audio Track Featuring the Complete Lux Radio Theater Adaptation. Also Includes the Short Documentary 'The Town' by Director Josef von Sternberg.

The Movie:
Thornton Wilder's seminal American play Our Town was an instant success upon its initial run. Our Town takes place in the fictional community of Grover's Corner and follows the life of various residents (Emily Webb in particular) as they come to terms with the changing American landscape of the early twentieth century. Wilder was especially interested in the social dynamic of an agrarian nation on the verge of industrialization and he used the characters in his play to personify the many emotional and psychological challenges posed by this sea change.

Given its popularity, adapting Our Town for the big screen was a no brainer and in 1943 the task fell upon the shoulders of screenwriter Harry Chandlee, producer Sol Lesser and Director Sam Wood. The result of their collaboration was a passable film staring William Holden. The spirit of Wilder's play remains intact but 1940s Hollywood wasn't ready for it's original down beat ending preferring instead to alter the conclusion to better please a conservative movie going audience.

The Picture:
The packaging for Our Town touts the disc's digitally remastered transfer from the original negative and overseen by the National Film Museum but upon playing it one has to question that claim. The film elements used here are beyond battered. They're bruised, faded, chipped and stained. The images flutter, jump and bump their way along in such an inexcusable way that I had to wonder why Focus Films even bothered with this release.

The Sound:
The sound on this disc is even worse (if you can imagine that) than the video. The audio track is buried in hiss, crackle and pop. It exhibits a fantastically limited dynamic range and is so harsh on the ear that I could barely make it through the film.

The Extras: Focus Films seems to have been trying to make up for the atrocious source elements used for Our Town by offering a few interesting extras. First and perhaps most intriguing is a short film by Sam Wood called 'The Wizard's Apprentice.' This live action short is clearly influenced by German Expressionism and is thought to be the inspiration for Disney's Fantasia. The film elements used for 'The Wizard's Apprentice' are actually a cut above those used for Our Town and this extra alone may be worth the price of admission for serious film historians. Next up is the complete radio presentation of Our Town from the Lux Radio Theater. This is presented on a second audio track and is interesting if not overly engaging. Finally there's a short documentary piece by director Josef von Sternberg titled 'The Town' that examines life in an actual mid western community in 1944.

Conclusion:
Though there are better screen versions of Our Town I went into this disc really wanting to like it. I had seen and enjoyed this 1943 version on television and was hoping for (at the very least) an average DVD. Unfortunately Focus Films really dropped the ball on this one. The audio and video are no better than aged VHS and the extras, though interesting, add little if any value for the average viewer. I give this release my lowest rating: Skip It.
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