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MGM Studios DVD presents
A Chorus Line (1985)

"Tell me about your mother."
- Zach (Michael Douglas)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 13, 2003

Stars: Michael Douglas, Terrence Mann, Sharon Brown, Alyson Reed, Audrey Landers
Other Stars: Michael Blevins, Yamil Borges, Jan Gan Boyd, Gregg Burge, Cameron English, Tony Fields, Nicole Fosse, Vicki Frederick, Michelle Johnston, Janet Jones, Pam Klinger, Charles McGowan, Justin Ross, Blane Savage, Matt West
Director: Richard Attenborough

Manufacturer: deluxe
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (language, leg warmers)
Run Time: 01h:57m:29s
Release Date: April 15, 2003
UPC: 027616884596
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-A- C+

DVD Review

Marvin Hamlisch was riding high in Hollywood in the early 1970s with the success of his scores for The Way We Were and The Sting. But as he relates in the associated documentary, Hamlisch had always had a yearning for doing Broadway. When he abandoned Hollywood and did so, the result was not only a success, but one of the greatest stage successes of all time. A Chorus Line shattered records and displayed an incredible longevity for a show that was, in essence, about putting together a show. But this was not just a trifle of post-Modernism, but an exercise in the search for a deeper meaning in life and the desires that drive us.

Casting for the chorus line in a new show is being undertaken by choreographer Zach (Michael Douglas), with the aid of his secretary Kim (Sharon Brown) and stage manager Larry (Terrence Mann). As he culls the hundreds of hopefuls down to 64 and then down to 16, the emphasis is on dance, with people being eliminated with just a glance. But when the final 16 are reached, Zach changes tactics, asking each participant to tell him about themselves, as he makes his final cut down to eight. The result is an often brutal, often funny self-assessment that lays bare their hopes and motivations. At the same time, Cassie (Alyson Reed), a former star, attempts to return to the stage in the chorus, leading to friction with Zach, with whom Cassie's had an intense relationship.

While the show is still entertaining, there's a subtext that's missing or at least sublimated here. The culprit is the use of Douglas as Zach onscreen instead of a disembodied voice offstage; the result on stage made the chorus a metaphor for life, with Zach the voice of God demanding a justification of the existence of the dancers. While a bit heavy-handed, that provided a universal resonance in the stage version that is lacking in the screen version. Whether this is the result of director Richard Attenborough messing with the story or Douglas' ego demands is unclear, but it badly damages the deeper meaning of the piece.

That said, Douglas does turn in a fine performance, swinging between harsh and ruthless criticism to fond tenderness for Cassie and concern for why she's lowering herself to the chorus, peppered with random if not gleeful cruelties such as shining a spotlight on the aging Sheila (Vicki Frederick). Reed's casting is less happy, since she doesn't demonstrate any star quality that would render credible the whole subplot regarding her. The other dancers include some excellent players, notably Audrey Landers with the show-stopping number "Dance Ten, Looks Three" extolling better living through surgery; Gregg Burge as the overenthusiastic young black man, Richie; Janet Jones as Judy Monroe, a charmer from Texas; and Justin Ross as the ethnic and beefy Greg Gardner. Charles McGowan as Mike turns in a great comic turn in the characteristic dance "I Can Do That," one of the more positive self-examinations on display here. The songs drive deep under the dancers' skins to develop their insecurities, their pride in their abilities, and their all-too-human foibles as they deal with love and sex. The homosexuality of most of the men is touched upon, but not emphasized unduly beyond articulating a feeling of differentness.

Two songs by Hamlisch are added for the film of the production, including the brief and poignant "Who Am I Anyway," sung by the ill-fated Paul (Cameron English). The other songs are, in Hamlisch's tradition, dependent on catchy melodies, and you'll find yourself humming them long after the picture is finished. The camerawork is active and never becomes dull; one huge advantage that the film version has over the stage version is the ability to get close and among the dancers, where we can truly feel the effort, hope and despair of the dancers. Had Zach been left out of the limelight this could have been a great film, but as it is the result falls a bit short.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is quite attractive in general, although there is a huge amount of disturbing ringing on the credits. Since they're already in a highly stylized font, the result is that they are hardly readable. Color is excellent, and the shadow detail on the stage is quite good indeed. Thankfully, the ringing is nowhere near as prominent during the main body of the film. The source print is in excellent condition, with nary a speckle to be seen. Grain structure seems to be intact, with undue sparkling. Textures are good throughout.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround track gives a nice solid sound, with decent warmth and presence. The bass has an excellent grounding. The clapping that occasionally shows up is a shade on the harsh side. The music has a good depth in all ranges, and the various voices in the orchestra have decent clarity. Hiss and noise are practically nonexistent, which is pretty amazing considering this film is primarily shot on a stage setup.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:22m:08s

Extras Review: The prime extra is a 19m:43 discussion of the genesis of the play with Hamlisch. He includes a number of fascinating anecdotes, and the piece is over all too soon. The only other extra is an anamorphic widescreen trailer for the feature film. Chaptering is adequate.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

A flawed but nonetheless entertaining adaptation of the long-running musical, with a very good transfer and an interesting documentary. Worth checking out.


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