Alexander Korda's Private Lives
Though born to modest means in Hungary, Alexander Korda would go on to become one of the most important filmmakers in the history of British cinema. A producer, writer, and director who navigated toward subjects of major historical significance and mythical distinction, Korda made a name for his production company, London Films, with the Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII. He then continued his populist investigation behind the scenes and in the bedrooms of such figures as Catherine the Great, Don Juan, and Rembrandt. Mixing stately period drama with surprising satire, these films are exemplars of grand 1930s moviemaking.
For their 16th series in their Eclipse line, Criterion presents four films by Alexander Korda including The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Rise of Catherine the Great, The Private Life of Don Juan, and Rembrandt (all but one of the films were directed by Korda, Catherine the Great having been directed by Paul Czinner, Korda acting as producer and writer for the film.) They are all presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 over four single-layer discs. The picture on all four transfers have also been picture-boxed.
The transfers on here are okay, not great. Little to no restoration has been done on them, Henry VIII looking pretty close to what I saw on television many years ago (from what I can recall.) Damage is pretty heavy, though the amount varies from film to film. Surprisingly I think Rembrandt presents the worst amount of damage, despite being the newer film, if only by a few years. There’s a heavy amount of scratches, tears, blotches, and so on. The film can look faded, can jump, and flicker. Also there are instances where a glow can be seen around objects.
The digital transfer itself is decent enough. Artifacts are noticeable through most of the films, coming in the way of noise. Sharpness and detail seems to be limited by the source materials, so I can’t say they’re really all that strong in this area. Gray levels are pretty nice, though, with distinct shades, while blacks are never all that strong.
The Eclipse line are budget releases so I understand that they don’t get the same lavish attention as their Criterion siblings. Still, I’ve been fairly impressed with the image on most of the releases and this one comes off as a bit of a letdown. Not awful, but not great.
Audio is a bit of a mess on these discs. All four discs present English Dolby Digital mono tracks. They all have a hiss to them, some heavier than others, Henry VIII possibly presenting the most obvious one. Cracks and pops are also common. General quality varies, with Henry VIII possibly being the worst, sounding a little muffled. The rest are adequate, though nothing really special.
Eclipse releases do not contain special features, keep their prices down. As usual, though, we get notes for each disc (presented on the inside cover of the case) written by Michael Koresky. The notes give a history of Korda and London Films, focusing primarily on the time period during which these films were released.
Other than Henry VIII I have to admit I wasn’t all that familiar with these films. I enjoy Henry VIII (and am actually sort of shocked it didn’t get a full Criterion edition) and also liked Rembrandt, but must admit I wasn’t all that fond of the other two titles. As for the overall quality of the release it’s middling. The digital transfers themselves are okay, but little (if anything) has been done in the way of restoration, and the audio is below average. After a couple of stellar Eclipse releases this one is a little disappointing.