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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Call Me Madam (1953)

"It just so happens that one of my ancestors was Dutch, so you can understand how happy I am to be in this Grand Duchy and to meet all you Grand Dutchmen."
- Sally Adams (Ethel Merman)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 19, 2004

Stars: Ethel Merman, Donald O'Connor, Vera-Ellen, George Sanders
Other Stars: Billy DeWolfe, Walter Slezak
Director: Walter Lang

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Manufacturing Corp.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:54m:35s
Release Date: April 20, 2004
UPC: 024543113669
Genre: musical comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BBB- C-

DVD Review

After the triumphal run of Annie Get Your Gun, Ethel Merman needed a new vehicle on Broadway. The story of Perle Mesta, appointed as an envoy to Luxembourg by Harry S Truman, presented itself. With book by Lindsay & Crouse and music of course by Irving Berlin, the show based loosely on Mesta's story ran for over 600 performances beginning in 1950. This picture is a mostly faithful adaptation of the hit show, fueled by some terrific casting.

Socialite widow Sally Adams (Merman) is appointed ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Lichtenberg. Accompanied by her press attaché Kenneth Gibson (Donald O'Connor), Sally brashly takes on the European establishment, much to the consternation of chargé de affaires Pemberton Maxwell (Billy De Wolfe). Lichtenburg is looking for an American loan to fund a dowry for Princess Maria (Vera-Ellen) to marry a prince by arrangement. But she and Kenneth light sparks, as do Mrs. Adams and the foreign Minister, General Cosmo Constantine (George Sanders), and Sally finds her heart getting in the way of her diplomatic duties.

Merman recreates her role from Broadway with authority, and it's impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part. It's perfectly suited to her brassy character and she manages to make the character both obnoxious and charming, sometimes in the space of a few seconds. She dominates the screen even when she's not singing, and when she belts forth, hold onto your hat. O'Connor is always appealing and his dancing skills are put to good use here. George Sanders has a good chemistry with Merman, though his accent seems quite misplaced from western to eastern Europe; half the time he sounds like he's doing a bad imitation of Bela Lugosi. And of course, if you want someone both officious and unctuous, Billy De Wolfe is your man. The one weak link is Vera-Ellen as the princess. She doesn't quite carry off the role, but her dancing nicely keeps up with that of O'Connor, so one can forgive quite a lot from her.

Despite the hit theatrical run, none of the songs is particularly memorable, and they're pretty well forgotten today except amongst Berlin devotees. They're pleasant enough, but hardly worth noting. The exception is a ludicrous song and dance to Dance to the Ocarina, a highly embarrassing sequence that really should have been left on the cutting room floor. O'Connor's tap dancing is top notch as usual, particularly in a sequence set in the Grand Duke's wine cellars as he dances up and down stairs and over wine casks. The energy and verve of this sequence is highly vibrant and one of the high points of the entire film.

Though not one of the most famous movie musicals, this picture is solidly entertaining mainly thanks to the cast. It's a long way from politically correct, though, and feminists are likely to be offended by some of the sentiments expressed in the film, but it was 1953, after all. Long unavailable due to rights issues with the Berlin estate, this is certainly a welcome addition to any musical lover's library.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This film came out a few months before Cinemascope hit in September of 1953, so it's properly in full frame aspect ratio. The Technicolor is strong and vibrant for the most part, although the first reel has some flicker and instability of color. Black levels are good, and detail is acceptable. Grain is fairly heavy and often a bit on the sparkly side.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Both stereo and mono tracks are included, though the stereo's hardly noticeable. There's no significant directionality, but the stereo track does have a more pleasingly broad soundstage. The tracks are fairly clean, although dialogue has a bit of noise over it. The music sounds first rate, with excellent range and no significant distortion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring All That Jazz, The Commitments, The Rose, The Sound of Music, Roxie Hart, Star!
1 Feature/Episode commentary by scholar Miles Kreuger
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:59m:53s

Extras Review: In addition to a pile of trailers, Fox provides a commentary by musical theater scholar Miles Krueger. While he has plenty of good information, there are enormous stretches of dead air in between comments, making it something of a disappointment.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Ethel Merman and supporting cast shine in this Irving Berlin adaptation that's plenty of fun in spite of itself. The transfer's decent, but the commentary could be more extensive.


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