Royal Wedding/The Last Time I Saw Paris (1951/1954) – DVD Review

Royal Wedding/Last Time I Saw Paris DVD cover art

Film:
DVD:

Royal Wedding
Written by Alan Jay Lerner
Directed by Stanley Donen
Starring Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, and Peter Lawford

The Last Time I Saw Paris
Written by Richard Brooks, based on original story by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Directed by Richard Brooks
Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson

Released by: Good Times
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; appear in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio

My Advice: Rent it.

The musical Royal Wedding stars Fred Astaire and Jane Powell as a brother-sister dance team, Tom and Ellen Bowen. To capitalize on the crowds in London for the royal wedding, the Bowen’s agent books them to perform in London. While on the cruise ship on their way to London, Ellen, notorious for her six-day affairs with young men, meets her match, young Lord Brindale. Once in England, however, Tom has a romance of his own, but neither the road to true love nor the road to a hit act runs at all smooth. This movie also showcases the famous dance number where Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling.

Both Astaire and Powell are charming. While this movie doesn’t attempt to be a Serious Artistic Statement, it does succeed in being entertaining and fun. The music and dance numbers are choreographed as splendidly as you would expect from an Astaire vehicle, and time has not dimmed the effect of either his talents or of Powell’s as dancers.

The plot of Royal Wedding may not be the most complex either, but it’s engaging and logical enough not to irritate. The cliche of a womanizer and a man-eater meeting and falling in love works better in the hands of Powell and her love, Peter Lawford as Lord Brindale. Astaire’s would-be romance, Sarah Churchill as Anne Ashmond, is a bit stiff and not enough time is spent on her to really develop her as a living character.

The Last Time I Saw Paris stars Elizabeth Taylor, Donna Reed, and Van Johnson in an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story set mostly in the year following the liberation of France from the Nazis. Charles, journalist for the “Stars and Stripes,” met the daughters of a friend, Marion and Helen. Falling in love with Taylor as Helen, Charles thinks life will be easy, but jealous big sister Marion, alcoholism, and frustration as a novelist all take their toll.

Fred Astaire dancing from Royal Wedding

The film is the very definition of 1950s melodrama. The situation of the expatriates in Paris is weepy enough, but add in Liz Taylor as the bon vivant wife done wrong (and who does wrong), the irritatingly snotty and snippy Reed, and the psychological mess that is Johnson’s character, Eva Gabor as
Charlie’s mistress, and you have the makings of a real sobfest–or just one cliche after another, unredeemed even by Taylor’s luminous beauty.

Even though the plot is as ill-fated as Taylor’s character, the acting isn’t really to blame. Taylor is splendid, especially given what she has to work with. Donna Reed succeeds in being loathsome and pathetic at the same time, while Charlie starts out strong and goes quickly downhill when his life becomes “too hard” for him, just as his character demands of the actor. Too bad the story was just far too cliche and downright dull to be worthy of their talents. The only bright spot is the amusement of seeing the very young Roger Moore in a brief cameo. The morass of drinking, abuse, and human failure is just too overdone and heavy-handed with no real message, interest, life, or even horror and fails to be the strong drama it could have been.

Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling from Royal Wedding

The quality of the digital transfer is decent enough, but not great. Neither film seems to have been restored or brightened, and there are a couple of stalled scene changes, especially in Paris. The audio is clean, however, with very little crackling, fuzzing, or other problems. The musical sequences in Wedding still manage to shine, which is what matters most, even though the sound quality isn’t quite as good as you might hope.

There are also no extras at all on this disc. It’s quite nice to have two movies for the price of one (even less than the price of one), but I would have been willing to pay more for a better package. How about an interview with a film historian on why these movies in particular are worth saving? Such a person might lend his or her knowledge and face for free, just to get the word out. Or maybe a stills gallery? A filmography? Something?

Scene from The Last Time I Saw Paris

All in all, fans of old movies will want to pick this up if only to complete their home libraries. Viewers who love musicals, dance, or Fred Astaire will also want to have this for the inclusion of Wedding, one of Astaire’s best films. Fans of Taylor might be a bit disappointed with this effort, even though she herself is wonderful–the movie as a whole just doesn’t support her and isn’t quite worthy of her talent or her face. Basically, just leave the Royal Wedding side of the disc up and skip the other side.

Scene from The Last Time I Saw Paris

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By | 2017-09-25T00:02:55+00:00 December 7th, 2003|Reviews|0 Comments

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