The Television Program:
Evening Primrose was an interesting thing to finally experience. It was a broadcast for an ABC series entitled ABC Stage 67 which aired the program back in 1966 and only once.
The reason why this long lost television episode has been dug up for a new DVD treatment is perhaps even more interesting than the show was (in some regards) itself. This special was a unique one act musical (uncommon for television broadcasts at the time) and it was an early work by Stephen Sondheim (famous for writing the music and lyrics to such works as Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George -- among several others). Sondheim's music for the show is indeed the biggest highlight of the entire production and serves as a good enough reason to view the show at least once.
The plot sounds like something straight from an episode of The Twlight Zone. Anthony Perkins (Psycho) stars in Evening Primrose as a poet who decides to start his life over in a department store so that he can at last be alone and free of the burdens of society. The only problem he encounters with his idea is that there are many others doing the same exact thing already! These people have rules and expectations regarding who can and cannot join in their merry parade of sneaky livelihoods at the store. The poet sees fit to join this group nonetheless. However, he soon notices a lone young woman (Charmian Carr) who captures his attention and the two quickly begin a romance. "Fluffy" love stuff like that appears to be forbidden for those who dwell in the store as the 'leaders' of the movement seem to find pause with their brewing relationship. Can these two stay together and should they continue to stay within the confines of a department store or try and return to normal society? That very question is a main driving force throughout the program.
The story may sound a bit silly... and that is because it is. The main thing that truly makes this stand above a standard episode of television is the music. It is not just the fact that it is a one act musical. The strength lies in the remarkable abilities of Stephen Sondheim. Some of his popular songs are included here: "I Remember" and "Take Me to the World" in particular. The emotion in these songs resonates extremely well and is a joy to experience as the tunes represent a unique voice finding its path to even greater things to come in the future.
The direction by Paul Bogart is also quite good. I had a few qualms with certain scenes and yet I also place a lot of the success of this program on his swift and fun direction which was never pretentious and yet always refined. Bogart brings out some great performances from his actors too, and that is something that shouldn't be taken lightly as an accomplishment.
I was especially impressed by the performances. Anthony Perkins stands out in particular with his role. He plays a lovably odd and kind man who simply feels lost in his world. This is not the kind of performance I was expecting from him as I have only so much familiarity with his roles outside of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Perhaps needless to say -- this role tests his acting abilities in an entirely different way than what most viewers will expect and somehow he manages to surpass and bend those expectations. Perkins truly excels here.
While one can tell this is a dated production (the low-budget nature of the production occasionally stands out) it is also a blast to behold such sheer creativity from a group of talent artists working together. It comes as no surprise then to learn that the program has gained a cult following over time. That status is well earned.
How unfortunate... the video presentation is hardly eye-catching in the way you would want it to be. What is 'eye catching' is how bad the video quality looks. The back of the cover states this: "impeccably restored and re-mastered from a newly discovered kinescope print". While I cannot claim to be an expert in restoration, I'm doubtful of the "impeccable" nature of this special's restoration. The print is extremely soft, sometimes hazy looking, and features specks of what appears to be dirt or damage to the film. It is not that pleasing visually and will be underwhelming for most. It is also worth noting that this program originally aired in color and that no color versions of the film even exists anymore. That is quite a shame and obviously a disappointing aspect of this DVD release.
The audio presentation fares about the same as the video does. While the voices can be heard clearly the overall presentation seems to not be in the best of shape. The sound design is a product of its time and I was disappointed in how the overall presentation seemed to have less restoration than I had anticipated. This mono soundtrack is merely serviceable.
I should probably begin by stating just how surprised I was by the amount of extras included with this release. Not only is there an entertaining and informative 30 minute long interview with director Paul Bogart, there is also test footage (in color) of Anthology Perkins practicing for the role, and a new audio-only interview with Charmian Carr. Both interviews are enjoyable and essentials for fans of Evening Primrose.
Another added bonus is a 28 page long booklet with more information about Evening Primrose than I would have ever even thought to ask! It is honestly one of the most enjoyable and detailed booklets I have ever seen for a release outside of the Criterion Collection. It begins with an introduction by the Archive of American Television Director Karen L. Herman, continues with a note by Stephen Sondheim, features an in-depth essay on the entire production by Jane Klain, and rounds everything off with a reprint of the song lyrics.
I was thoroughly entertained by this ABC Stage 67 broadcast production. It is essential viewing for any fan of the composer Stephen Sondheim. It is also quite fun for the unique performances by Anthony Perkins and Charmian Carr. This DVD release features a ton of interesting extras too. The Audio/Video presentation was disappointing but the quality of the content helped to make up for some of those shortcomings.