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Image Entertainment presents
"We have a Frankenstein on our hands, and a very well-informed Frankenstein. He must be stopped!"
DVD ReviewWith the recent success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, quiz shows made a brief resurgence recently. Of course, it was nowhere near the scale of the successes of the many game shows of the early 1950s before the scandals depicted in Quiz Show were disclosed. In the more innocent year of 1950, there was still quite a lot of luster on programs such as Twenty-One and The 64 Dollar Question. Champagne for Caesar not only pokes fun at these shows, but also the effect of television, already recognized even then as contributing to a general lowering of American intelligence.
Beauregard Bottomley (Ronald Colman) is a well-read egghead who knows just about everything. Unfortunately, this makes him rather unemployable since no one wants to be around someone who knows everything. His attempts to obtain a position at Milady Soap are torpedoed when he inadvertently offends the president, Burnbridge Waters (Vincent Price). Beauregard decides to get himself onto a quiz program sponsored by Milady Soap where every question allows the money to be doubled. But Beauregard won't be stopped by the $160 limit and gets the viewing public on his side to keep playing...until the entire $40 million value of Milady Soap is on the line. Of course, Waters can't allow this and stoops to any number of stratagems to find a weakness in Beauregard's armor, including having the host Happy Hogan (Art Linkletter) seduce Beauregard's sister Gwenn (Barbara Britton) and sending the heartless but equally smart maneater Flame O'Neil (Celeste Holm) after Beauregard himself.
Colman is in a rather different role here than his usual dashing hero, playing quite against type and thereby increasing the gentle humor of the piece. Linkletter plays the role of host rather more broadly, but it isn't inappropriate considering the rather buffoonish nature of his character as the host. Mel Blanc is also entertaining as the obnoxious parrot Caesar of the title, who seems to have a drinking problem. But the real star of the proceedings is Vincent Price, who finally moves out of heavy and serious leads to play the comic foil and gives a gem of a performance. He steals the show whenever his utterly weird Waters (who is given to going to another plane without notice), especially as he begins to crack when Bottomley wins more and more from week to week. He also demonstrates some of the evil flair that would eventually get him into roles as horror villains in a few years with House of Wax.
The comedy is whimsical rather than broad, but the piece moves along briskly enough, even when it pauses for romance. The romantic interest is helped immeasurably by the picture generally demonstrating an utterly cynical attitude. One also sees Hollywood beginning to see the threat that television presented to its well-being, and the satire against the tube is none too gentle. Dmitri Tiomkin contributes a fun score that feels like an amalgam of television theme songs.
There seems to be a segment missing here, though whether it was cut at release I'm not sure. At one point, Price's suit is drenched, but there's nothing indicated to cause it. The still gallery reveals that at some point suds were dumped on him. It's possible that this was considered too slapstick, but I'm afraid I don't know the film well enough to know for certain. In any event, this is a great classic comedy, and anyone who ever felt herself good at Trivial Pursuit® will enjoy seeing a quiz winner treated as an American hero.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture generally looks pretty good; the source print seems to have hardly any damage for most of its running time, though there is one extremely scabrous spot at 01h:07m where it looks as if the picture has been scraped off. Shadow detail is rather lacking, with dark areas being a solid black. There is also a bit of shimmer present particularly on Colman's tweed jacket. A decent range of greyscale is present, though, making the whole acceptable if not stellar.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono is rather noisy, with a fair amount of crackle and hiss present. There's also a slight electronic buzz that I often found irritating, though it wasn't so bad as to be a constant distraction. Dialogue is clear throughout and the music has a nice fullness to it without being shrill or tinny.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsA comedy for quiz show fans with a gentle touch and extolling the virtues of knowledge for its own sake. The source print is excellent, though the transfer is a little dodgy.
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