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MGM Studios DVD presents
La Cage aux folles (1978)

"You have to learn how to hold things. Hold the toast in a manly way, like this. Spread the butter with force. Drink the tea like a laborer drinks wine."
- Renato (Ugo Tognazzi)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: July 19, 2001

Stars: Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Serrault
Other Stars: Benny Luke, Remi Laurent, Luisa Maneri
Director: Edouard Molinaro

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:36m:48s
Release Date: July 24, 2001
UPC: 027616864475
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BD+C+ D+

DVD Review

A good comedy is timeless, and La Cage aux folles is a very good comedy, indeed. This 1978 French-Italian production, which was the basis for the 1996 Robin Williams and Nathan Lane hit, The Birdcage, is still as fresh and funny as it was when it hit theaters in 1978. The offbeat comedy of La Cage aux folles helped remove the stigma of foreign films as being stuffy and pretenious, and introduced largely homophobic US audiences to an eccentric cast of predominantly gay characters. Originally written for the theater by Jean Poiret, the film version of La Cage aux folles is shot much like a play, with much of the story taking place in two or three locations.

Set in beautiful St. Tropez, La Cage aux folles tells the story of a middle-aged gay couple, Renato (Ugo Tognazzi), Albin (Michel Serrault) and their servant Jacob (Benny Luke). Renato runs the title club, a gaudy transvestite bar, where the star entertainer is the narcissistic, hypochondriac Albin, who appears under the stage name 'Zaza.' To further muddy the waters, Renato has a twenty year old son, Laurent (RÈmi Laurent), from a one night dalliance with the opposite sex many years ago. Laurent's mother all but abandoned him at birth, so he has been raised by Renato and Albin, and finds nothing wrong with their flamboyant lifestyle.

However, Laurent's impending marriage to Andrea (Luisa Maneri), the daughter of a member of the ultraconservative Moral Order political party has created somewhat of a problem. Andrea's stuffy parents wish to meet Laurent's 'parents,' and it is the process of turning Renato and Albin into something they are not that is the basis for the big laughs in La Cage Aux Folles. Or as the DVD cover states, "setting up an unforgettable evening that is charged and ready to detonate an explosion of zaniness and absurdity." Yeah, what they said! The scene where Renato attempts to teach poor Albin how to butter his bread like a man, and walk like John Wayne is a piece of comedic brilliance.

Director Edouard Molinero manages to pull some great performances from the two leads, and though some of the minor characters are bit on the thin side, Serrault and Tognazzi are standouts. Serrault, as the mincing, overly effeminate Albin is a real highpoint, and his character is both over-the-top and real at the same time. Though La Cage aux folles is a broad (no pun intended) farce, Serrault doesn't become a gay, cartoon parody. His Albin is a tempermental drag queen, but he is also deeply in love with Renato, and cares for young Laurent more than the mother ever did. Tognazzi's Renato is the opposite of Albin, he is a quiet, dapper man with a fondness for crepe shirts.

I imagine that some of the people that would have been turned off by a French movie featuring two gay lead characters back in 1978 eagerly went to see the latest Robin Williams flick when The Birdcage was released. I guess we're a more tolerant society nowadays, and that's a good thing, of course. Gay characters are commonplace, and apparently Mr. and Mrs. Middle America are comfortable enough with the concept, at least when it comes to movies and television. Now that MGM has released the original on DVD, I hope that those same people that would have passed on La Cage aux folles the first time around will have a change of heart and take a look this very funny movie.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Every rose has its thorn, and in this case, it's the image transfer of La Cage aux folles that gives the viewer a sharp pain. On the plus side, it is a widescreen 1.66:1 transfer. But it seems that the only decent print that MGM could find for this DVD release had apparently been buried under a haystack for the last 22 years. This is a very poor transfer that is chock full of scratches, dust and nicks. The once bright colors are now faded, and there is extensive bleeding during the nightclub scenes. An overall grainy look is pervasive throughout, and unfortunately tend to diffuse the already dulled color palette.

Bad transfer. The movie, however, is still funny.

Image Transfer Grade: D+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrench, Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Two choice here—French or English mono, which is not too surprising considering the "lineage." The original French track is the preferred choice, as the English dub is a bit sloppy, as most dubs tend to be. As a rule, I steer clear of dub tracks like the bubonic plague. Too distracting, if you ask me. Even in mono, La Cage aux folles dialogue is always clear and understandable. The music of Ennio Morricone regrettably sounds tinny and slightly dated, though this doesn't detract from the overall experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: One trailer. Not as much an extra as an obligation these days. Of course, the English subtitles are a requirement, especially if you want to use the original French audio. I don't speak French, so I'm not sure how accurate the translations are, but I only noticed a couple of oddly phrased subtitles. Plus, one of the more annoying menus I've seen in a while.


Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Forget Robin Williams. Forget Nathan Lane. Give me Tognazzi and Serrault. MGM has wisely decided to release this comic tour de farce, and it if you like comedy, you need to rent this. If you love comedy—buy it. The print isn't the best in the world, and the audio is in mono, but it is still damn funny.

Recommended. If you like to laugh, that is.


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