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Paramount Studios presents
The Black Orchid (1959)

"If there was a law against making people like you, this man would be in the electric chair."
- Rose (Sophia Loren)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: August 30, 2004

Stars: Sophia Loren, Anthony Quinn
Other Stars: Mark Richman, Ina Balin, Jimmy Baird
Director: Martin Ritt

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:34m:04s
Release Date: August 31, 2004
UPC: 097360581348
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The Black Orchid is one of those "old Hollywood" movies that, if made today, would certainly be more likely to show up on cable than at the cinema. The slow, lightweight story is perfectly suited to an afternoon melodrama matinee, and that's not why we go to the movies anymore, not with a TiVo full of SoapNet waiting for us at home.

The soapy plot never manages to mine the dramatic potential out of a fine melodramatic set-up: widow Rose (Sophia Loren) is distraught after the murder of her husband, a small-time mobster who got fitted for a pair of cement shoes. Her son Ralph (Jimmy Biard) has a bit too much of his old man in him and has been shipped off to a "state farm" for troubled boys (this despite the fact that he's a perfect angel in every one of his scenes), and she spends her days working as a seamstress and crafting the titular artificial flowers for extra cash. Because she's played by Sophia Loren, Rose catches the eye of Frank (Anthony Quinn), the widower next door whose daughter Mary (Ina Balin) is about to be married.

Rose is emotionally distant but still longing for love, and Frank is, I guess, worried there won't be a lady around the house to cook him dinner once Mary leaves (but more on the period sexism in a bit), and so the two fall quickly, improbably in love and plan to marry in a week's time. Mary is miffed, because she's daddy's girl, I guess, and sabotages her own marriage in an attempt to stop her father's.

It all seems a little bit campy today, particularly the trademarked Martin Ritt (Norma Rae, Nuts) "woman's content," which here includes a hokey bit about postpartum depression—Frank's first wife "had troubles" after Mary was born and spent the rest of her life locked in her bedroom, emerging only to fix her husband's meals, and he fears the girl may turn out the same way. Despite a few scenes of bonding between the ladies, the women in The Black Orchid are generally weak-willed and spoiled, slaves to their emotions and overly possessive of the men in their lives (Rose even admits she murdered her late husband because she was such a greedy, controlling wench, she forced him into a life of crime). It doesn't help that the emotional climax revolves around (seriously) the proper way to cook sausages for your man's Sunday dinner (resulting in the following memorable, unintentionally humorous exchange: Rose: She made me cook the sausages. Frank: Oh, thank god!). The screenplay features only a few good pieces of dialogue and a lot of empty filler; who could have guessed Joseph Stefano would write Psycho two years later?

Still, it makes for an enjoyable afternoon sit for the star power alone. Quinn is as affable and likeable as ever, and Sophia Loren (in the role that earned her the first acting awards of her career) shows range and nuance in an underwritten role. Considering she's known more today as a sex goddess than a great actress, it's a pleasure to be reminded that she's more than merely a famous bust. Martin Ritt's direction is sure-footed, and he opens up the fairly staid screenplay quite nicely with some interesting camera work and long takes with his two stars. Unfortunately, he approved a ludicrous musical score that sounds like it was lifted from a B-grade sci-fi picture or an episode of The Twilight Zone (I'm thinking in particular of the build-up to a relatively banal confrontation between Rose and Mary that would feel right at home in a Hitchcock thriller).

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This black-and-white transfer is inconsistent and merely ok. For the most part, the print appears to be in good shape, free of excessive grain, scratches, and dirt, but throughout, the image tends to "pulse," with contrast levels fading in and out, causing some scenes to look a bit fuzzy. Otherwise, detail is good.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix sounds decent, with a generally clear dialogue track free of background hiss. Speech sounds natural, but the distracting musical score has a bit too much weight in the mix and comes off as brassy and overpowering on occasion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Nada, nada, limonada. Oh well.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

The Black Orchid is a weak, weepy romantic drama that wouldn't be worth remembering or watching today were it not for the two screen legends cast as leads. A lesser title on the résumés of both Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren, but worth a sit for fans of this kind of movie. The DVD is fine, despite some problems with the transfer—if nothing else, Paramount should be rewarded for digging deep into the archives to release such minor material.


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