Tuesday, March 27, 2007

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (Warner Bros. 1936) Warner Home Video

A massive undertaking. A staggering achievement – words that accurately describe Michael Curtiz’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936); Errol Flynn’s most lavishly mounted and sumptuously produced spectacle. Ever the meticulous planner, Curtiz oversaw the production down to its last detail, using authentic postage stamps and uniforms actually worn by the 27th Dragoons in the film.

Flynn is top cast as the dashingly arrogant Maj. Geoffrey Vickers – an officer and a gentleman, but with an axe to grind. While on maneuvers, Vickers barracks are attacked by marauding cutthroats under the command of Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon). The outpost is ravaged and British men, women and children are ruthlessly slaughtered.

Though Vickers officers, Col. Campbell (Donald Crisp) and Capt. James Randall (David Niven) encourage prudence and reserve in making their next move, the memory of those innocent deaths is ingrained, and Vickers vows a more valiant – if bloody - revenge.

Somewhat forced to concoct a subplot that would reunited Flynn with his frequent costar, Olivia de Havilland, the screenplay by Michael Jacoby and Ronald Lee inserted a rather generic lover’s triangle involving Vickers, Col. Campbell’s daughter, Elsa (de Havilland) and Vickers’ brother, Capt. Perry (Patric Knowles) – a bone of contention for no one but purist historians.

Based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the production shot in Sonora, the High Sierras and Chatsworth, wrapping up at a then staggering cost of $1,200,000.00. Aside: although the best scene in the film is the final ‘charge’ that Vickers launches against Khan’s insurmountable forces, ironically this is the one sequence that Curtiz deferred to his second unit director – B. Reeves Eason. Nevertheless, Curtiz trademark for exemplary quality above most is evident in every frame. The film, a colossal smash when it debuted elevated Flynn to ultra-hunk status in the eyes of his adoring fans.

Warner Home Video’s DVD exhibits a stunning B&W transfer. The benefactor of considerable digital restoration (previous incarnations have looked average to down-right poor) this DVD’s grayscale has been beautifully mastered. Blacks are velvety deep and solid. Whites are generally clean. There is a minimum of grain and other age-related artifacts for a very smooth visual presentation. The audio is mono but adequately represented. Extras include Warner Night at the Movies (minus Leonard Maltin’s intros) and a litany of vintage short subjects. Highly recommended!

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



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