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Image Entertainment presents
The Gin Game (2003)

Fonsia: Is there something wrong with you? I mean, are you sick or something?
Weller: Oh my, I should say so. I have one of the most advanced cases of old age in the history of medical science.

- Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: October 23, 2003

Stars: Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore
Other Stars: Annie Abbott, Sheila Rogers, Alessandro Mastrobuono
Director: Arvin Brown

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (very strong language, adult situations)
Run Time: 01h:26m:46s
Release Date: July 08, 2003
UPC: 014381015829
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+A- D-

DVD Review

In a year in which we have lost far too many greats in the world of film, music, and television, what a thrill to be able to witness a long overdue reunion of Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke. Arguably television's coolest couple back on the classic 1960s sitcom named for the latter, both performers have proven themselves to be equally gifted in the dramatic field as witnessed by Van Dyke's critically acclaimed roles in Carl Reiner's The Comic and the haunting mid-'70s television movie, The Morning After; Moore nabbed an Oscar® nod for her work in Ordinary People and kudos for darker roles (including David O. Russell's underrated Flirting With Disaster).

It would have been so easy for Mary and Dick to play it safe and tread on breezy, airy confines in a project reminiscent of the show that made them household names. Instead, they chose to be daring and interpret a classic Broadway play originally brought to life by two of the Great White Way's most cherished actors: The Gin Game, which starred Tony Award winners (and real life couple) Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.

An alternately funny and heartbreaking character study focusing on the emotional difficulties of aging in senior citizens, author D.L. Coburn's play centers on a pair of nursing home residents: Fonsia Dorsey (Moore) is a recent arrival; a diabetic woman who's pained more by the difficulties of having to adjust to smaller quarters than her medical condition; Weller Martin (Van Dyke) is a feisty old codger who prefers to go his own way and not associate much with his fellow inhabitants. One day, while attempting to fight off tears of loneliness with some fresh air, Dorsey stumbles upon Martin in the midst of a solitaire card game. After charming her with an offbeat brand of humor, Fonsia accepts Weller's invitation for a round of gin, a game she somewhat remembers, but one in which she isn't very confident. Out of respect and want of a new friend, she settles into the spare chair for a round or two.

Wouldn't you know, Dorsey proves to be a natural, winning game after game much to Martin's increasing disdain, which comes out in the form of profanity-filled outbursts and fist pounding tantrums. But is it just being on the losing end that's gnawing at Weller's insides? No, of course not. Like the saying goes, "we must play the hands that life deals us," more pressing personal issues reside not just inside Martin, but Dorsey's emotional makeup, too. And as the cards continue to be laid upon the table in succeeding rounds, the two confront the issues of aging, feeling at odds with the constant complaining of their fellow nursing home citizens, and the demons of their pasts (Weller's bad breaks in business; Fonsia's estranged relationship with her son and a broken marriage), baggage that so encumbers their psyches in increasingly hostile confrontations, that jeopardizes the potential of a much needed union that deep down inside, they both covet so desperately.

Though worlds apart from the sunny disposition of those infamous New Rochelle lovebirds that graced our living rooms four decades ago, Moore and Van Dyke's effortless chemistry still proves potent, even under decidedly different and often times dark circumstances of the story at hand. In addition to the compelling storyline and the twosome's game nature to go against the grain, what impressed me further? Here's a case where two performers known for their boundless energy and zeal in every project they've lent their talents to (even Change of Habit). Tackling a piece filled to the brim with virtually every age issue possible, from the loss of independence to the inevitable slowdowns no aging body is immune to, how courageous and admirable it is to witness two professionals who certainly must relate to the subject matter of this play (especially Moore who is a real life diabetic), to expose themselves physically and artistically in such a fashion is inspirationally riveting.

For those strong enough, old enough, and mature enough to take its bite, The Gin Game offers some invaluable lessons. From the consequences of refusing to move away from a past emotional hurricane to mustering up the courage to battle irreversible life changes, this is so much more rewarding than most star-turn showcases and it's made even more so by two of the industry's best, still at the top of their game.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1:78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Listed as high definition, the 1:78:1 anamorphic image seemed to be somewhat murky and not as sharp given the circumstances, but this is not a complaint. Actually, the quaint, old-fashioned brown-filtered cinematography adds to the emotional impact. No doubt, this is the look director Arvin Brown wished to convey and a more glitzy, high-tech presentation would have diluted the mood. So for those of you who caught the original May 2003 broadcast on PBS (especially those in hi-def broadcast markets), don't expect too much of a quantum leap in picture quality from what you witnessed then.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: As is usually the case in most plays that make the jump to the small screen, dialogue comprises 99 percent of the audio presentation; this one's no exception. Other than television veteran Mike Post's sadly bittersweet score emerging during act transitions, this is a very basic but smooth 2.0 mix that follows the lead of its non-flashy video counterpart. Dialogue is easily understandable, well recorded and never grates into distortion (even during those high octane Dyke cuss-filled rants).

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: I don't wanna go all Laura Petrie, here, but I've always wanted to do this: "Oh, Image!" The least you could have done in the supplemental department was port over the behind-the-scenes interviews from the excellent PBS Gin Game companion site (sniffle, sniffle).

At least, Image could have used this disc to plug their recently released freshman and sophomore season boxed sets of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

It isn't often when two performers can re-create the same kind of chemistry thirty years after last joining forces, while capturing our emotions twice in a lifetime. Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore are such a twosome; they achieve such a feat with The Gin Game.


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