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Warner Home Video presents
"Five thousand pounds and unmarried—that's the most heartening news since Waterloo."
DVD ReviewThough I saw this 1940 adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel first, the greatness of the BBC's 1995 miniseries forces me to watch it with that superior work in mind throughout. Co-written by Aldous Huxley, the film deviates from the source material in various ways, but it is largely a successful film, whatever devotees of the book might feel.
The story is well known, but in case you're classics-deprived, the tale revolves around the Bennett family. The five daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet range from Jane, the eldest, to Kitty, the youngest. Their dispositions vary extravagantly, with Jane and Elizabeth the most level-headed, and Kitty and Lydia flighty and shallow. With the arrival of a Mr. Bingley (Bruce Lester), his sister Caroline (Frieda Inescourt), and their friend, the imperious Mr. Darcy (Laurence Olivier), the story is set in motion, as Bingley and Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) form an attachment, and Darcy pursues Elizabeth (Greer Garson). Their respective feelings and misunderstandings nearly sabotage everything, before good sense prevails.
It's hard to go wrong with material like this; you simply have to have good actors and a decent script. The direction is rather uninspired, with very little to call attention to anything beyond the action at hand. That allows the story to do its thing, and Olivier and Garson spark off each other well. Garson, who was 35 when the film premiered, is simply too old for the role and looks it, but she's a fine actress nonetheless. Her Elizabeth is cool and collected, never really letting her guard down. Olivier's Darcy is much warmer, his attraction to Elizabeth always percolating just beneath the surface. He's almost too warm, as Darcy is meant to elicit chilly reactions, but even his early snooty comments don't drip with enough snobbery.
The biggest change in the source material is the insistence on making sure everyone ends the film happy with their place. As a consequence, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (the splendid Edna May Oliver, looking always like she's just finished sucking a lemon) isn't merely a snob who detests the idea of Darcy marrying beneath him, she's just his agent, sounding out Elizabeth and secretly pleased someone is willing to be rude to her. Likewise, the desperation that forces Elizabeth's friend Charlotte (Karen Morley) to marry the odious Mr. Collins (Melville Cooper) is glossed over. And the women's costumes are grotesque. In the end, these are relatively small quibbles; the highlights are here, and the story ends where it should, with marriage the order of the day and wit winning out over smugness and snobbery.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The transfer hasn't been subjected to any intense clean-up, as it's filled with speckling and other minor blemishes. It isn't overly offputting, but it's quite noticeable. The picture otherwise looks fine, with solid contract and decent detail.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The mono soundtrack is generally clean and without distortion; everything is clearly understandable.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:48s
Extras Review: Some unusual extras given the film, put on the disc due to their being released near the film, but that's only a guess. First is Eyes of the Navy (20m:18s), a pre-WWII propaganda short about how we are gearing up to protect ourselves. The MGM cartoon Fishing Bear (07m:52s) follows, starring Barney Bear. Both are a bit beat-up looking. The trailer is last up, and it's amusing in its own way.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsPleasing and well acted, this 1940 version of the Austen novel isn't perfect, at least compared to later versions, but it's certainly worth watching, with Olivier and Garson in fine form. The disc is solid enough, though the transfer ideally could have looked better. No reason to pass this by if you're a fan, however.
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