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A Little Night Music [DVD] [1977]

The ownership and preservation situation of this movie must be a nightmare -- that's the only explanation one can perceive for its rather pathetic history on home video. There was fairly decent edition on VHS from Embassy/Nelson Entertainment in the US, and the laserdisc edition from Image Entertainment was notoriously fuzzy and washed out. Additionally, reports over the years claim that the original negative on this movie has been so badly damaged, that major restoration work will be required before a better-looking version will be seen -- and given the movie's reputation, this is unlikely to happen, ever. What we have here is a mixed blessing -- it is superior to the old laserdisc edition, and looks better than the old Nelson VHS tape; there is lots of color and a considerable amount of detail in the very slightly letterboxed image (1.66-to-1 is the claim, but it seems more like about 1.55 or 1.60-to-1). But there are scratches visible in the source print (including a very faint but perceptable vertical line down the center of the screen), and other flaws do show through. And when coupled with the clunkiness of Harold Prince's direction, those imperfections do make for a difficult viewing experience. On the other hand, the sound is reasonably crisp and full, and the one part of this picture that does work is the Stephen Sondheim score -- indeed, the music and John Jympson's editing, with Herta Pisching's production design and the costumes by Florence Klotz and Irene Sharaff, are the virtues to be appreciated here when the music brings things to life. Alas, the producers of the DVD have failed to exploit even the one virtue that survived intact in the movie, having provided us with a mere 12 chapters -- not enough for reference points for each song or the score's full highlights. The menu, which opens up automatically on start-up, is simple enough, but doesn't do the movie justice. Additionally, there seems to be a discrepancy about the running time -- this disc runs 120 minutes, but the official US running time on the movie is 124 minutes (and, supposedly, the European edition ran 15 minutes longer). One would love to have some of this sorted out one of these days -- perhaps it's precisely this kind of flawed representation of a successful and highly regarded stage original that should get the "special edition" treatment; full restoration and a deluxe release with commentary (at this writing, Sondheim himself is still very much with us . . . ), and even a botched film of a masterpiece might make money for some enterprising DVD producer. In the meantime, there is this disc, to satisfy the Sondheim completists, and Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Rigg fans.

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    A Little Night Music
    Beginning its several incarnations as an Ingmar Bergman film named Smiles of a Summer Night, the story was adapted by composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim into a successful Broadway musical directed by Harold Prince. This film, also directed by Prince, is adapted from the stage musical. In the movie, in the early 1900s, a group of friends bound together by complicated romantic entanglements, have come together for an elegant dinner at a country estate. The men present are the current, previous, or prospective lovers of the beautiful actress, Desiree (Elizabeth Taylor), and the other women are all united by their jealousy of her. Sadly, Desiree herself wants to simplify things and settle down -- she envies the wives. The adapted score later won an Oscar. The musical's well-known songs include Every Day a Little Death, A Weekend in the Country, and You Must Meet My Wife. The most famous song from the musical, Send in the Clowns, is sung here by Elizabeth Taylor. ~ Clarke Fountain, Rovi

    Cast & Crew

    • Elizabeth Taylor
      Elizabeth Taylor - Desiree
    • Diana Rigg
      Diana Rigg - Charlotte
    • Len Cariou
      Len Cariou - Frederick
    • Hermione Gingold
      Hermione Gingold - Armfeldt
    • Lesley-Anne Down
      Lesley-Anne Down - Anne

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