George Bernard Shaw on Film
The hugely influential, Nobel Prize–winning critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw was notoriously reluctant to allow his writing to be adapted for the cinema. Yet thanks to the persistence of Hungarian producer Gabriel Pascal, Shaw finally agreed to collaborate on a series of screen versions of his witty, socially minded plays, starting with the Oscar-winning Pygmalion. The three other films that resulted from this famed alliance, Major Barbara, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Androcles and the Lion, long overshadowed by the sensation of Pygmalion, are gathered here for the first time on DVD. These clever, handsomely mounted entertainments star such luminaries of the big screen as Vivien Leigh, Claude Rains, Wendy Hiller, and Rex Harrison.
For the 20th release in their Eclipse line Criterion presents George Bernard Shaw on Film, a 3-disc set that includes the films Major Barbara, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Androcles and the Lion. All three films are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and have thankfully not been window boxed. The first two films are presented over their own individual dual-layer discs while Androcles and the Lion is presented on a single-layer disc.
The source materials still present some problems but the digital transfers on here all look exceptional. By now I shouldn’t be shocked since the Eclipse series so far as a whole have all presented decent transfers—despite the fact it’s a budget line of sorts—but I am still surprised by what’s here; even upscaled on a 46” television they all look good.
The image across all three are very sharp with some fine, distinct details present, and the transfers also manage to handle the grain present in all of the films superbly. Contrast levels on the two black and white films, Major Barbara and Androcles and the Lion, are excellent, with fairly deep blacks, bright whites, and distinct gray levels. Caesar and Cleopatra is the lone colour film and it’s a little problematic, looking a bit washed and presenting some colour separation. Blues still look rather striking and blacks are also decent.
Though still a bit problematic the source materials are in respectable shape and all of the films look to have gone through some level of restoration. Scratches and vertical lines are present across all three, though to varying degrees. Androcles and the Lion may look the best in this regard, with only a few minor blemishes and a couple of big splotches, while Major Barbara may present the most in the way of print damage, with some big blotches and more scratches, yet it still looks much better than I was expecting. As mentioned earlier grain is present but not heavy or distracting and looking fairly natural.
Again Criterion has done an excellent job gathering the best possible materials for this Eclipse release. I doubt anybody will be disappointed with what is presented here.
All three films present Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks. They sound decent, but seem to get better through each film. There’s some distortion present, most obvious in Major Barbara, along with some background noise, but it’s all fairly minor. Androcles and the Lion actually has some range to it, and may be of the best quality. Dialogue is clear and music sounds pretty good across all three. I’ve heard better but they work.
As usual there are no supplements to be found on this Eclipse release other than liner notes, which have been written by Brice Eder for this set. Major Barbara comes with a three page insert that covers that film along with producer/director George Pascal’s acquiring of George Bernard Shaw’s works (and even other adaptations of Shaw’s work.) The liner notes for the other titles cover their respective films and make great reads (I was especially stunned, and intrigued, by Eder noting Harpo Marx was originally considered for the role of Androcles.)
Other than maybe Major Barbara I wasn’t terribly fond of the films found on here, though I’m happy to have seen them. But I still give this set a high recommendation as technically it’s a strong release. The source materials present their problems but they’ve still been cleaned up rather extensively, and the transfers are sharp and pleasing.