Directed by Ken Russell in 1971 and based off of the stage play of the same name, this take on Busby Berkeley style musical excess is an interesting movie. The film is based around a theater troupe that is, at this point in the game, grasping at straws as they play each showing to an increasingly emptier house. Polly Brown (Twiggy), the stage manager at the theater, is called to come on board as the understudy for injured leading lady Rita (Glenda Jackson) when a big time Hollywood director named Cecil B. DeThrill (Vladek Sheybal) shows up in the audience. He's there looking for people to appear in his latest big budgeted major studio musical movie.
When Rita learns of DeThrill's presence, however, she decides she's going to reclaim the role as her own as she does not want Polly to get the exposure she so desperately craves. Meanwhile, Polly is starting to fall for the play's leading man, Tony Brockhurst (Christopher Gable), as everyone else in the cast seems bound and determined to get DeThrill's attention, much to the dismay of supporting actor Tommy (Tommy Tune) and the play's director, Mr. Max (Max Adrian).
Made the same year as his notorious The Devils, The Boy Friend predates Russell's best known musical, Tommy, by a few years but foreshadows that later film's visual excess in a big way. Many things about this picture are played for all they're worth, from the performances to the style in which it has been shot (ultra-wide and in scope!) to the music. Working with many of the same cast members he employed on The Music Lovers a year earlier (Christopher Gable, Max Adrian and Glenda Jackson), he manages to get some pretty obvious enthusiasm out of his core company and you've got to give Twiggy credit for handling the musical numbers as well as she does here. Russell used her as an extra in The Devils but this was her first role of any substance and the director was right to give her a chance as she's quite good in the part. Not so surprisingly, a fairly successful recording career would follow for the former model. Her striking features and deep set eyes make her a fine choice for the part she plays here, and given the fact that she obviously wasn't camera shy, Russell is able to really pull from her natural screen presence.
Russell plays things so closely to Berkeley's limited shooting style, however, that the movie never quite hits the sublime visual heights that it could have. This was obviously intentional but as you watch the film you might find yourself yearning for a little more spectacle than it delivers. He focuses so tightly on the connection between DeThrill's boxed seat in the theater and the actors' point of view on stage that we rarely pull back far enough to really take in all that costumes and sets and fancy detail that live theater can often provide. The songs, written by Sandy Wilson, are more fun than the camerawork here is and the performances strong enough to make up for the distance Russell shows between his drive as a filmmaker and the material he's working with here.The Blu-ray:
Warner Archive presents The Boy Friend on Blu-ray for the first time on a 50GB disc with a high bit rate framed at 2.40.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. Colors are strong and bold while texture and detail are quite improved over the past DVD release (also from Warner Archive) which looked quite good for its time. There isn't much in the way of heavy print damage, just some specks here and there and the image is generally pretty clean. There aren't any serious compression artifacts to complain about though you might spot a couple here and there. Overall, this is a really nice looking image free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. Black levels are good and skin tones look nice and natural. This is quite film-like with a nice, natural amount of grain and good depth to the image.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is fine. The musical numbers sound pretty good while the dialogue is clear and balanced properly against the score and effects. No alternate language tracks are provided but English subtitles are available.Extras:
As far as extras go, Warner Archives have included their standard static menu screen, chapter selections, and an eight minute vintage making of featurette that features some interesting behind the scenes footage. There's also a theatrical trailer includedFinal Thoughts:
More extras, a commentary in particular (tough, given that Russell has passed on), would have been very welcome on this release but that didn't happen. However, the presentation is at least a very nice one and the inclusion of the featurette is a nice touch. As to the movie itself? It's an odd one, though a pretty enjoyable film at that. Not Russell's best but an interesting precursor of things to come and his fan base will welcome the chance to own a great looking copy of The Boy Friend on Blu-ray. Recommended.