Image Entertainment presents
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1957) (1957)
"Ten minutes ago I met you,
And we murmered our how do you dos,
I wanted to ring out the bells and to fling out my arms and to sing out the news."- Cinderella (Julie Andrews), singing Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Ten Minutes Ago"
Stars: Julie Andrews, Dorothy Stickney, Howard Lindsay, Ilka Chase, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, Jon Cypher, Edith Adams
Director: Ralph Nelson
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:16m:31s
Release Date: 2004-12-14
DVD ReviewRodgers and Hammerstein have written some of the most acclaimed musicals in theatrical history—Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The Sound of Music—but a little ditty they whipped up in the 1950s for that throwaway, lowbrow medium called television remains one of the team's most enduring and beloved creations. Cinderella, a tune-filled adaptation of the time-honored fairy tale, was originally broadcast—gulp!—"live" on CBS on March 31, 1957, and a staggering 107 million Americans tuned in. (That's a whopping 60 percent of the U.S. population at that time.) Industry pundits (and even the composers themselves) may have doubted whether such sophisticated fare would play in places like Peoria and Omaha, but the public embraced the one-night-only event, and turned this mini-musical into an instant classic.
Of course, most classics get trotted out for endless holiday replays, but unbelievably Cinderella has long languished on the shelf, unseen for more than 40 years. The reason remains a mystery, but most insiders believe it's because the program's sole surviving copy is a banged-up black-and-white kinescope. Thankfully, however, the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization at last bowed to public pressure and bestowed its blessing on Cinderella's commercial release. So what if the video quality isn't pristine? Image Entertainment has produced a top-flight DVD, thus ensuring this charming musical will be seen and enjoyed for generations to come.
Since it first aired, Cinderella has been remade twice—in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren, and in 1997 with pop stars Brandy and Whitney Houston—but the modest original starring Julie Andrews remains the definitive production. The fact that it's also by far the most primitive version (from a technical standpoint) speaks volumes about the impact of talent, creativity, and simplicity. Filmed in a shoebox-sized studio on makeshift sets by an occasionally jerky camera, Cinderella sports a cramped, some might say amateurish look that's a bit distracting at first for contemporary audiences. Sure enough, the gaffes and limitations of early television don't escape our high-tech gaze, but the brilliance of Rodgers and Hammerstein overshadows them. In addition, the spot-on performances and marvelous mix of comedy and romance make us forget the archaic trimmings and concentrate on the work itself.
While there's no getting around the story's sappy elements, Hammerstein infuses Cinderella with a dry wit that beautifully lightens the tone. The tale of a neglected, put-upon stepdaughter (Andrews) whose fairy godmother (Edie Adams) magically transforms her into a glamorous princess and sends her off to the palace ball to meet the prince of her dreams (Jon Cypher) remains intact, but the lilting score adds welcome texture and depth. Each song perfectly highlights the characters' moods, whether it's a bright tune (Impossible!, Ten Minutes Ago), elegant ode to romance (Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?), sarcastic rant (Stepsisters' Lament), or plaintive ballad (In My Own Little Corner). The familiar songs still sound fresh today, and rival the best of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway hits.
Andrews makes an utterly believable Cinderella, as she conveys the girl's yearning and youthful optimism, and her natural acting style lends this frothy fantasy the hint of realism it craves. Although Andrews was the darling of Broadway at the time (appearing concurrently as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady), she was a relative unknown in Middle America, yet her fresh-faced innocence, understated beauty, and gorgeously pure singing voice quickly seduced viewers nationwide. Television acted as Andrews' fairy godmother, and immediately made the 21-year-old actress a household name.
Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley almost steal the show as Cinderella's ditzy, clumsy stepsisters (their outrageous "lament" is a highlight), and Ilka Chase also excels as the social-climbing stepmother. Cypher's prince is a tad too earnest and stiff, but his voice blends well with Andrews', and their attraction seems genuine.
For the times, Cinderella was an enormous undertaking, and the fact that it was performed live makes one respect and admire the talent involved—in front of and behind the camera—all the more. Just attempting such an intricate production takes guts, but to execute it with so few flaws is truly remarkable. Cinderella indeed proved—like the song— that impossible things happen every day, and this long overdue DVD release proves they're still happening decades later.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Although the story and score of Cinderella may be timeless, unfortunately, the picture quality remains anchored in the 1950s. Of course, there's not much one can do with an ancient kinescope, but the folks at Image have fashioned an acceptable transfer that should play well on any system. Lines are a bit soft and fuzzy, grain is evident, and some muddiness pervades the image during darker scenes, but close-ups are relatively clear and brighter sequences often flaunt a fair degree of detail. Contrast is weak and the scratchy print lacks vibrancy, but after one gets used to the flaws, the disc—believe it or not—is very watchable. Just remember, we're lucky to see this version of Cinderella at all, so any visual imperfections are easy to forgive.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio shows its age as well, but most of the surface noise has been erased. Sound can be a bit thin and muffled at times, but that's due more to the primitive recording equipment and the live broadcast's complicated logistics than careless transferring. Despite these issues, dialogue is largely clear and comprehendible and the songs sound much better than expected, with only minimal distortion occasionally creeping in.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 14 cues and remote access
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:09s
- Introduction by Julie Andrews
- Photo galleries
- Promotional appearance by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II on The Ed Sullivan Show
A portion of that massive publicity campaign is included on the disc in the form of a six-minute excerpt from The Ed Sullivan Show, in which Rodgers and Hammerstein plug Cinderella. After chatting up the musical with Sullivan, Rodgers takes the baton and conducts the orchestra while Hammerstein movingly recites the words to Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful.
Three separate still galleries provide 75 images in both color and black and white. Many are culled from the CBS archives and include portraits, rehearsal shots, and production photos. Rare on-set color pictures and numerous cover shots of Andrews from contemporary television publications (including TV Guide) show just what a big deal Cinderella was. Extensive and handsomely produced liner notes, presented in a fold-out booklet and including several rare photos, complete the extras package.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsFans of early television, Julie Andrews, and Rodgers and Hammerstein will welcome the DVD release of Cinderella. This delightful musical might be too sophisticated for kids (who may prefer the more visually stimulating Disney version), but teens and adults will appreciate the wonderful songs, witty script, and excellent performances. A nice array of supplements enhances this recommended disc.
David Krauss 2005-01-11