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“Desire Under the Elms”
Reviewed by: Wayne A. Klein
Genre: Drama
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround 2.0 (mono)
Languages English
Subtitles English
Length 111 minutes
Rating NR
Release Date 8/17/04
Studio Paramount Home Video
Commentary: None
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: None
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: None
Cast and Crew: Sophia Loren, Anthony Perkins, Burl Ives, Pernell Roberts, Frank Overton, Rebecca Welles, Jean Willes, Anne Seymour, Roy Fant
Written By: Irwin Shaw based on the play by Eugene O’Neill
Produced By: Dan Hartman
Directed By: Delbert Mann
Music: Elmer Bernstein
The Review:

Burl Ives plays Ephraim Cabot a greedy miser of a man who has managed to estrange his Peter (Pernell Roberts), Simeon (Frank Overton) but most especially Eben (Anthony Perkins) who wears bitterness like an oversized suit. When Ephraim brings home a new, young step-mother for the boys and wife, Anna (Sophia Loren) causes rivalries to begin anew between the brothers, their father but most especially Anna. It seems Ephraim has made the decision to leave the farm Anna when he dies. Eben confronts Anna but their confrontation erupts into passion as the two sleep together. ***

Eugene O’Neill occupies the same place in American Literature as a playwright as, say, Sophocles did for the Greeks. While Sophocles told of great and heroic characters who fall from grace with the gods, O’Neill focuses on anyone from the average American to the celebrity (I suppose in our screwed up world that’s what passes for a “heroic” figure now). O’Neill’s best plays (“The Iceman Cometh” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night”) tend to focus on the everyman and his or her struggles with temptation and how they seek their redemption. While “Desire Under the Elms” isn’t O’Neill’s best work, it still resonates with a number of difficult and forbidden themes. It’s O’Neill’s version of “Oedipus” but with characters that for all their heroic qualities, are flawed and simple human beings. ***

That said this is a pretty bad film adaptation of O’Neill’s play. The fault lies in Irwin Shaw’s dumbed down script. While Mann’s direction dispenses with staging the film as a “play” some of the sequences still have a static quality to them. The performances range from decent to so over-the-top that they add a campy quality to the film and bring out the soap opera elements of O’Neill’s plot. This is definitely an O’Neill play that deserves a reinterpretation despite the fact that it’s a fairly minor work in his canon. ---

Image and Sound: Shot in Vistavision one of the earliest widescreen processes, the black and white images would probably have been a bit sharper and with better clarity if there was some sort of full scale restoration done on the film. As it is, “Desire” looks pretty good although some of the sequences look a bit muddy while other parts look a bit washed out. Given the age of the film, the black and white images look pretty decent. It’s unlikely that Paramount gave the producer responsible for this film-to-DVD transfer the budget for the necessary restoration of this film. The sound is pretty decent although the frequency response isn’t as good as it could be. Still, Elmer Bernstein’s striking score comes across with good presence and the dialogue is fairly clear. ---
The Extras:

There are no extras included.

Commentary: There is no commentary track. ---
Final Words: Although not a complete disaster, this adaptation of O’Neill’s play leaves a lot to be desired. Basically a star vehicle for Sophia Loren and Anthony Perkins, the fine moody cinematography and director Delbert Mann’s imaginative direction can’t overcome a script that takes a piece meal approach to O’Neill’s play.


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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