Monday, January 29, 2007

ISLAND IN THE SUN (20th Century Fox 1957) Fox Home Video

The career of 20th Century-Fox mogul/producer Darryl F. Zanuck had reached an impasse by 1957. Perhaps, in part, because Zanuck had left both his studio and his wife, Virginia in favor of a career as independent film maker and aging love interest to actress Bella Darvi, Zanuck’s tastes in motion picture entertainment veered toward personally supervising the Cinemascope production of Island in the Sun (1957): a critical reexamination of love deemed illicit – not on the basis of marital infidelity but on the issue of miscegenation.

Determined, as he had done in the past to advance social justice by exposing the tyranny of prejudices in American culture, Zanuck launched an impressive film with an all star cast, in which black actors Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belefonte are perceived as equal to – if not better than – their white counterparts; James Mason, John Williams and Joan Fontaine.

Belafonte is David Boyeur – a staunchly outspoken labor leader battling racial injustice on an island in the British Caribbean. He is admired from afar by Mavis Norman (Fontaine); a growing mutual admiration that blossoms into romance against this backdrop of political turmoil.
Regrettably, Zanuck was forced to tone down the passion between Boyeur and Norman more explicitly realized in Alec Waugh’s novel. As a result, the subplot involving the Fleury family – American ex-patriots living in exile with their closet full of secrets that include racism, infidelity and murder - were given more meaty attentions.

As expected, the one unrequited kiss shared between Mavis and David sparked moral outrage in the south and Zanuck regrettably omitted most any and all reference to their having been lovers – they’re just good friends. The film is atypical of Fox films of this period – employing Cinemascope for glossy locations, pristine and generally sanitized storylines and a not so unexpected plot twist or two. In retrospect, Island in the Sun does not break new ground or old social taboos but helps assure its audience that fun in the sun comes with its limitations.

Fox’s DVD is astoundingly good. Rich vibrant colors, excellently balanced and with accurate contrast levels, the anamorphic picture will surely please in all aspects. The sumptuousness of 50s Eastman stock is evident. Flesh tones tend to appear a tad on the pasty beige side. Transitions between scenes suffer from minimal degradation as was an inherent flaw of all ‘scope’ productions.

A few scenes seem to be softly focused but these are not particularly distracting either. Age related artifacts are present, but kept to a bare minimum. The audio is a lush 5.1 Dolby Digital remastering effort and it brings back the directional splendor of early stereo recording. Dialogue is perhaps overly pronounced – bearing in mind that most of it during the mid-50s was – but overall the listening experience recreates what audiences heard in 1957.
*Important Notice: this title is NOT available in Canada.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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