Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the age of the film, the picture looked very strong.
Sharpness appeared a little erratic but usually remained quite good. The occasional wide shot displayed a slight amount of softness. However, those instances remained minor, and the majority of the movie seemed nicely crisp and well defined. I noticed no concerns related to jagged edges or moiré effects, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement became apparent. Print flaws seemed wonderfully absent. I saw the occasional speck here or there, but otherwise the movie came across very clean and free of defects.
Colors mostly looked bright and vivid. Skin tones appeared slightly heavy on occasion, but the movie generally displayed fresh and dynamic tones that came across very well. Black levels looked deep and intense, and shadows mostly were appropriately opaque and not too thick. A few interior shots came across as somewhat too dense, but most of the movie demonstrated clean low-light images. While the smattering of issues caused some slight concerns, I mostly felt very impressed with the image of Many-Splendored. It displayed some absolutely glorious visuals at times, such as during the first date boat ride sequence.
Audio also seemed good for its age, though it didn’t keep up with the picture. The Dolby Digital 4.0 demonstrated a fairly broad soundfield. One interesting aspect of the mix related to speech, which used very wide directional dialogue. This often placed lines far to the right or left side of the spectrum. While I liked this idea in concept and commend Fox for not mucking with the original mix, I thought the directional dialogue created distractions. At times the material bled across the speakers and the speech didn’t tend to blend together especially well.
Otherwise the soundfield seemed pretty effective. Effects appeared appropriately placed across the front. The elements moved reasonably naturally and came together nicely. Music also demonstrated nice stereo imaging for the most part. The surrounds mostly bolstered the material from the front and added a good level of reinforcement to the package.
Given the vintage of the recordings, the audio appeared acceptable. Dialogue varied. Some lines sounded natural and concise, but other times the speech was thin and hollow. Edginess and intelligibility were fine. Effects displayed similar qualities in that they remained clear but lacked much heft. Music was reasonably distinct and lively; the score didn’t come across as exceptionally vibrant, but it worked well and showed some moderate bass at times. The only mild distraction came from somewhat heavier than normal hiss at times. Nonetheless, given the spectrum and age of the material, the audio of Many-Splendored offered a positive audio presentation.
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing first showed up on DVD in March 2000. I never saw that version, but apparently it featured a non-anamorphic image with 2.0 audio and almost no extras. The new release provides an expanded roster of supplements. We start with an audio commentary from film historian Sylvia Stoddard, movie score historian John Burlingame, and director of photography Michael Lonzo. As with the other “Fox Studio Classics” DVDs, all of the participants sat separately and their responses were edited together, though their remarks were screen-specific.
Overall, the track offered a good look at the film. Burlingame mostly focused on the work of composer Alfred Newman. He discussed Newman’s material for the film specifically and went over his career in general. Burlingame also chatted about the creation of the famous title song and its initial reception. Lonzo went over notes related to Many-Splendored’s cinematographer Leon Shamroy plus Hong Kong cameraman Charles S. Clarke. He mostly stuck with technical details about the production, though he added some information about both men’s careers too.
Stoddard dominated the track and offered the strongest material. She gave us a good history of the era and the reality of the story. Stoddard related the social situations dominant in the era and provided tidbits about the real Han Suyin, her life, and her book. The comments helped flesh out my understanding of the flick and placed it in perspective. I didn’t agree with Stoddard’s positive appraisal of the movie, but I appreciated her attempts to detail the flick, and the other men also contributed to this useful commentary.
Next we get an episode of A&E’s Biography series entitled William Holden: An Untamed Spirit. During this 44-minute program, we get clips from various Holden movies along with archival materials and contemporary interviews from son Scott Holden, Paramount executive A.C. Lyles, journalist James Bacon, and actors Patricia Morison, Nancy Olson-Livingston, Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, Stefanie Powers, and Rick Schroder.
“Spirit” covers Holden’s life and career in a fairly solid manner. We get details of his early years and his path to Hollywood as well as his rise to fame. We follow his personal life as well, with a particular emphasis on his drinking problems and romantic relationships. The program doesn’t present a thorough examination of Holden, but it offers a decent overview that lets us get a better understanding of his career.
The Movietone News area includes two clips. The 60-second “Audience Awards Presentations” shows a ceremony at which Jones won Best Performance By an Actress. In the 78-second “Photoplay Awards a Hollywood Highlight”, we watch producer Buddy Adler, Holden and Jones take home prizes, Deborah Kerr collects the one for Jones. Neither of these clips seems particularly compelling, but they’re a nice little slice of history.
After this we find a Restoration Demonstration. This four-minute and three-second piece provides text that covers the work done for this DVD and then shows splitscreen images of a mix of different versions of the film. I don’t normally find these to offer much practical value, and the same goes for this one. The demonstrations always come across as a bit self-congratulatory.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we find ads for a few other Fox Movie Classics releases. We get promos for An Affair to Remember, All About Eve, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, How Green Was My Valley and the upcoming The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing offered one of the least interesting cinematic experiences I’ve witnessed in quite a while. It lacked a significant plot, interesting characters, or much substance. Despite a significant historic background, it maintained a limp focus on it relationships and seemed to go nowhere. The DVD provides very strong picture quality plus erratic but generally positive audio and a nice set of informative supplements. Because I didn’t like the film at all, I can’t recommend Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing to anyone who doesn’t already know they enjoy it. However, those fans should embrace this fine DVD release; even those who already own the original disc will want to pick up this solid reissue.