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Russian exiles in Paris plot to collect ten million pounds from the Bank Of England by grooming a destitute, suicidal girl to pose as heir to the Russian throne. While Bounin is coaching her he comes to believe she is really Anastaisa. In the end the Empress must decide her claim.

Anatole Litvak
Ingrid Bergman, Yul Brynner, Helen Hayes, Akim Tamiroff, Martita Hunt
Writing Credits:
Guy Bolton, Arthur Laurents, Marcelle Maurette

Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Actress-Ingrid Bergman.
Nominated for Best Score-Alfred Newman.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 4.0
French Digital Mono
Spanish Digital Mono
English, Spanish

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 7/1/2003

• Audio Commentary with John Burlingame, Arthur Laurents, James MacArthur and Sylvia Stoddard
• A&E Biography Episode: “Anastasia: Her True Story”
• Movietone Newsreels
• Theatrical Trailers
• Restoration Comparison

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Anastasia (1956)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 24, 2003)

Yul Brynner enjoyed a “career year” in 1956. He appeared in its biggest hit, The Ten Commandments, and also starred in another enormous success, The King and I. The latter earned him an Oscar for Best Actor, and it gave him additional work almost literally until the day he died.

Given the very high profile of those two flicks, Brynner’s third effort often falls under the radar. However, Anastasia did quite well itself. The movie attracted a nice audience and also snared a Best Actress Oscar for Ingrid Bergman.

In my opinion, Anastasia provides the most satisfying film of Brynner’s three from 1956. The movie opens with a text preface about the end of tsarist Russia in 1917 and the execution of the royal family in 1918. We learn of “whispers” about the possible survival of Grand Duchess Anastasia. The flick starts in Paris during Russian Easter in 1928. We meet General Bounine (Brynner), an émigré who owns a Russian restaurant there. He gets an urgent message from Stepan (Gregoire Gromoff) about the presence of Anna Koreff, the alleged Anastasia (Ingrid Bergman). She runs from Bounine and Stepan and wants to jump in a river but they stop her.

Bounine runs a little organization that intends to find Anastasia and claim her inheritance. They have eight days to locate Anastasia or they’ll go to jail for fraud. They bring in the sickly and depressed Anna, who Bounine firmly doesn’t believe actually is Anastasia; he thinks the latter died a decade earlier and he just wants an acceptable fake so they can perpetuate the scam.

From there Bounine trains Anna and attempts to convince various Russian personalities that she really is Anastasia. Anna slowly grows into the role as she convinces quite a few people. The biggest test comes when they go to Copenhagen and try to meet the Russian Empress Dowager (Helen Hayes). The movie follows these attempts as well as the relationship between Bounine and Anna.

Occasionally Anastasia feels like it should be entitled My Fair Tsarina. Granted, the movie includes a darker emotional core due to Anna’s issues, and it definitely isn’t as light as My Fair Lady, but more than a few similarities to the Pygmalion framework appear.

There really isn’t much to the story. Essentially we get a standard love tale with a twist. Most of the movie follows the attempts to convince various folks – and the audience – that Anna is Anastasia. While the movie never strongly tells us yes or no, it seems to lean toward the “yes” side of the coin; for the purposes of the film, it hints to the audience that Anna and Anastasia were one and the same.

Still, it remains mysterious enough to keep us guessing for the most part. It displays a surprising ambivalence about the topic. The story tends toward melodrama at times, and some predictable elements occur. In particular, the relationship between Bounine and Anna seems predestined to go down a certain path.

Nonetheless, much of the movie remains subtle, and it definitely benefits from a spectacular performance by Bergman. Depending on the requirements of the scene, she came across as haunted and tortured or she may seem regal and in control. She nicely allows Anna to grow into the part as her memories apparently begin to return. Bergman never telegraphs her emotions or identity, and her strong work helps keep us involved in the movie.

Brynner seems less convincing, mostly because he tends to exclaim his lines rather than deliver them realistically. He works with brute force and doesn’t display much depth or subtlety. I also don’t think Brynner and Bergman demonstrate a great deal of chemistry.

Nonetheless, Anastasia largely works well. An interesting plot based on history that gets bolstered by an excellent performance from its lead, the movie displays some flaws but generally comes across as entertaining and intriguing. Anastasia still provides a winning presentation after all these years.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B / Bonus B

Anastasia appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie mostly looked very good and presented an impressive picture.

In general, the sharpness appeared positive. Occasionally, wider shots came across as a bit ill defined and soft, but these occasions were rare and not excessive. Usually the image seemed distinct and detailed. No issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, but mild edge enhancement marginally marred a few scenes. Print flaws appeared remarkably absent during this surprisingly clean and smooth presentation. The only source issue I noted came from one short sequence that looked oddly wobbly at about the 32:30 point; otherwise I failed to detect any problems in that area.

As befit a film about royalty, Anastasia featured a broad and lush palette that seemed well presented here. The colors came across as wonderfully vivid and lively throughout the movie, and I thought they looked gorgeous most of the time. Black levels also appeared deep and rich, while shadows were nicely detailed and concise. The mild edge enhancement and occasional softness caused me to knock down my grade to a “B+”, but I still felt quite pleased with the image of Anastasia.

The Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack of Anastasia also help up well. The soundfield seemed more ambitious than usual for a film of its generation. It featured a lot of directional dialogue, which became a strength and a weakness. Most of the time, the speech came from the appropriate places and moved accurately from one spot to another, but more than a few exceptions occurred. Some lines bled between channels, and others popped up on the wrong side. For example, occasionally speech from a character on the left would emanate from the right speaker. Overall, the localization worked fine, but these exceptions caused distractions.

Otherwise, music demonstrated moderately clean stereo imaging. The definition was a little mushy at times, but it remained better than average for the era. Effects appeared accurately placed. They blended neatly. Surround usage remained light but decent. Mostly music came from the rear speakers, as this reinforced the track.

Audio quality was acceptable. Speech sounded somewhat muffled at times, and demonstrated a moderately bassy quality that occasionally affected intelligibility. I thought lines sounded a bit edgy at times as well. Music was generally full and distinct. Highs sounded a little flat at times, but lows came across as fairly deep. Bass was somewhat loose on occasion, but I thought the track commanded a good impression in that regard for the most part. Effects also seemed a bit dull but they generally were tight and accurate. The audio for Anastasia was flawed but ambitious, and it seemed satisfying enough to earn a “B”.

Like every other “Fox Studio Classics” DVD, Anastasia includes a good set of supplements. We start with an audio commentary from screenwriter Arthur Laurents, film historian Sylvia Stoddard, Alfred Newman biographer John Burlingame, and the son of Helen Hayes, actors James MacArthur. All four were recorded separately and their comments were edited together for this piece.

Most of the Studio Classics commentaries work well, but Anastasia offers one of the best. Of the four, Burlingame and MacArthur say the least. The latter doesn’t show up until late in the movie, which makes sense since we don’t see Hayes until we pass the halfway point. MacArthur provides a few nice details about his mother’s career and her work on Anastasia. Burlingame pops up sporadically through the flick but also doesn’t speak very frequently. Partly that occurs because unlike The Song of Bernadette - for which Burlingame also contributed comments – Newman wrote relatively little music here. Burlingame tosses out a quick synopsis of Newman’s career plus occasional specific remarks about his work on Anastasia.

Only a few Studio Classics discs include material from folks who worked on the film, so it’s good to hear from Laurents. Happily, he proves to be chatty and engaging as he discusses his contribution to the movie. Laurents gives us information about what he did with the script and quite a few interesting statements about the participants and the making of the film. Laurents adds a lot to the piece.

However, Stoddard definitely dominates the commentary. I’d not feel surprised to learn that her statements occupy fully half of the track, though my estimate could be incorrect. In any case, Stoddard provides a wealth of information about both the movie and the historical case of Anastasia. She clearly adores the film, and her enthusiasm comes through swimmingly as she imparts scads of useful notes. All in all, I really enjoyed this diverse and highly informative commentary.

Next we get an episode of A&E Biography entitled Anastasia: Her True Story. The 44-minute and 15-second program mixes archival materials, movie clips from films related to Anastasia, and interviews with screenwriter Arthur Laurents, playwright James MacKenzie, historian Jonathan Sanders, Romanov relative Prince Andrew Romanoff, Romanov Family Association representative Albert Bartridge Jr., forensic pathologist Michael Baden, forensic anthropologist Anthony Falsetti, animator Don Bluth and biographer Peter Kurth.

“Story” presents a fairly clean and concise examination of the Anastasia tale. It follows her early life and the death of her family. From there it looks at rumors of Anastasia’s survival as well as the story of Anna Anderson, the woman who inspired Anastasia. We get notes about attempts to figure out her real identity as well. “Story” takes a nice look at the case. Some of the information also turns up in the audio commentary, but this program nonetheless offers a good synopsis and recounting of events.

Many of these “Fox Studio Classics” DVDs include archival footage, and that goes for Anastasia as well. We find six Movietone Newsreels: “Anastasia Proves Dramatic Triumph in Twin Premieres” (73 seconds), “Anastasia Star Ingrid Bergman Best Actress” (97 seconds), “Redbook Awards to The King And I and Anastasia” (52 seconds), “World Felicitates Ingrid Bergman on Second Oscar” (44 seconds), “1907 Czar of Russia Footage” (18 seconds), and “Romanoff Footage” (140 seconds). A couple of these seem somewhat dull, but most are reasonably interesting historical snapshots.

A Restoration Comparison provides text that covers the work done for this DVD and then shows splitscreen images of a mix of different versions of the film. Lastly, some advertisements appear. In addition to the trailer for Anastasia, we find a section called Movie Classics. This includes promos for All About Eve, An Affair to Remember, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Grapes of Wrath, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, and How Green Was My Valley.

A lively and entertaining telling of a well-known tale, Anastasia holds up nicely after almost 50 years. The movie benefits from some generally subdued storytelling and a stellar performance from Ingrid Bergman. The movie looked surprisingly good, and both sound and extras were very solid as well. I can find little about which to complain, as this DVD includes a solid movie presented nicely.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0312 Stars Number of Votes: 32
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