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Paramount Studios presents
Desire Under the Elms (1958)

"It's spring, and I'm feeling damned."
- Ephraim Cabot (Burl Ives)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 29, 2004

Stars: Sophia Loren, Anthony Perkins, Burl Ives
Other Stars: Frank Overton, Pernell Roberts, Rebecca Weller, Jean Willes
Director: Delbert Mann

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (thematic material)
Run Time: 01h:51m:07s
Release Date: August 31, 2004
UPC: 097360571240
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-A-B D-

DVD Review

Eugene O'Neill was one of America's foremost playwrights, and he remains best known for the dysfunctional families he created, most notably the doomed Tyrones of Long Day's Journey into Night. But running a close second to the Tyrones are the Cabots of 1840 New England, torn by lust for land, money, and the love of a woman.

Old Ephraim Cabot (Burl Ives), who married into ownership of a farm, is looking to remarry after the death of his second wife, the mother of Eben (Anthony Perkins). A religious hardscrabble farmer, Ephraim surprises everyone when he comes home with a beautiful young Italian wife, Anna (Sophia Loren). She immediately takes control of the farm, dispossessing Eben, who believes that it should be his. But the emotions and hormones of two young people are not to be denied, and soon old Ephraim is being cuckolded by his own son. When Anna gives birth to a boy, the christening party sets into motion a series of deadly events.

O'Neill's 1924 drama is one of the classics of the stage, and it gets some rough treatment in this adaptation. Little remains of the entire first act other than a few lines here and there. The second and third acts are more faithful, though the adaptation brings Eben's half-brothers Simeon (Frank Overton) and Peter (Pernell Roberts) back into the third act, while O'Neill kept them offstage. There's also a manufactured and slightly silly suspense scene involving possible discovery of the lovers by Ephraim. But O'Neill's broad themes largely survive intact, with a surprising amount of frankness (for the 1950s) still making it onto the screen. Ephraim's religious hypocrisy also gets fair representation. The driving force of desire for land, while still present, is somewhat sublimated in favor of the purely sexual attractions of Loren.

Loren does an admirable job with a difficult role, playing father and son off against each other. She's helped somewhat by substantial rewriting to make the part fit her (O'Neill's character, Abbie, is 35 or so and a New Englander). She reliably lights up the screen with smoky passion, which often seems wasted on the pre-Norman Bates Perkins. He's a bit stiff for the role, and doesn't quite put the ferocity into the part that O'Neill calls for. Burl Ives is excellent as Ephraim, making him both contemptible and sympathetic by turns. He doesn't quite mask his southern drawl, however, adding to the confusion of the dialects and making him sound like he's wandered out of one of his Tennessee Williams roles. Though O'Neill carefully wrote the New England dialogue with the proper inflections, those are pretty thoroughly ignored in the film, depriving the story of its solid roots. Had a more serious attempt been made at giving the story a more seriously Yankee grounding. it would have worked better. But perhaps Ives and Perkins were not up to the vocal work necessary.

Director Delbert Mann (who a few years before had won the Oscar for Marty) makes no attempt to disguise the film's stage origins. The sets and backdrops have an obviously stagey look to them. Nonetheless, he is perfectly willing to use a good deal of camera movement and a variety of angles to keep the visual interest constant. As O'Neill adaptations go, this is a pretty serviceable one.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white anamorphic widescreen picture looks very good. Only rarely are there source material defects visible (usually in opticals, such as dissolves, where dirt is likely printed into the negative). Although the picture is slightly soft, textures are vivid and there are surprising amounts of fine detail. Black levels are very good and greyscale range is excellent.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Both English and French 2.0 mono tracks are provided. The English track has a minor amount of hiss, but it's easily disregarded. Dialogue is clear throughout, and the score by the recently-deceased Elmer Bernstein sounds decent considering its age. While there's obviously not much low bass activity, the audio range is reasonably good and the woodwinds in particular sound quite natural.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are no extras. Chaptering is a little thin. Both English subtitles and closed captioning are present.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Lust and desire combat in more ways than one in this interesting but somewhat flawed adaptation. The transfer's quite good but there is nothing for supplemental material.


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