Oscar Wilde's comic jewel sparkles in Anthony Asquith's film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest. Featuring brilliantly polished performances by Michael Redgrave, Joan Greenwood, and Dame Edith Evans, the endurin... more »gly hilarious story of two young women who think themselves engaged to the same nonexistent man is given the grand Technicolor treatment. Seldom has a classic stage comedy been so engagingly transferred to the screen. The Criterion Collection is proud to present The Importance of Being Earnest on DVD for the first time.« less
The Criterion version is the best version by far.......
Dianne Foster | USA | 11/16/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Two film versions of Oscar Wilde's IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST are now available on DVD. If you know nothing of the play or subsequent movie versions of the play, you might wonder, which is best? Which should I buy? Should I buy both of them? The version of EARNEST released in 1952 and listed here stars Michael Redgrave as Worthing (father of Lynn, Vanessa, and Colin Redgrave; grandfather of Miranda and Natasha Richardson, etc.), Dame Edith Evans as Aunt Augusta, Joan Greenwood as Gwendolyn, Margaret Rutherford as the woeful governess, and several other fine stage actors of 1950s England. The 1952 version is 95 minutes long and presented as a stage play with a few outdoors settings. If you want to see the play as Wilde probably meant it to be seen, this version is the one to buy. The dialogue is snappy and smart, the humor dry and witty, the actors are filled with zest. Not only that, but the 1952 version is a Criterion DVD with `digital transfer' and historical notes. The second version of EARNEST, released in theaters a year or two ago, stars Colin Firth as Worthing, Rupert Everett as Algeron, Frances O'Conner as Gwendolyn, Dame Judi Dench as Aunt Augusta, Anna Massey in the Margaret Rutherford role, Reese Witherspoon as Cecily, and Edward Fox as Algeron's underpaid manservant. If Wilde knows about this version, he is probably spinning in his grave in Pere Lachaise. The dialogue (Wilde wrote) is virtually the same in both films, and the actors for the most part are great actors, but something has gone missing from the newer release. I love Colin Firth, but he is dismal as Worthing. I am ambivalent about Everett but he is the best thing in the newer film. Anna Massey is fine, I loved her as George Sand's mother in IMPROMPTU, but after seeing Margaret Rutherford play the role of the wayward nanny-turned-tutor in the Criterion version--forget it. The second EARNEST (newer version) plays like an old record on warped speed. The witty dialogue moves so slowly, the repartee is as flat as fallen souffle. On top of that, what is a knight in armor doing in this play? Did the screen play call for this bit of nonsense? Or did the director decide to borrow elements from a few other films! For example, in several scenes, Firth (Worthing) gives an almost repeat performance of scenes from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. I could forgive the ripoff of P&P in BRIDGET JONES because that film is a satire on P&P, but in EARNEST it simply doesn't work.The action in the newer version is V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W compared with the Criterion version. Did the director slow the action because he thought "monolingual" Americans would understand the words better?? How stupid, GOSFORD PARK did just fine. Those of us who patronize British films and the BBC understand British accents --
and many of us can identify accents by class and locale. Gee whiz, if you can follow the dialogue in East Enders you can follow anything. If you're a drama student and can afford both versions, buy both versions. In this case actions do speak louder than words and you can discover for yourself that great script and actors aren't the only ingredients in a good film-the director matters."
The definitive cinematic production
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 02/21/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Oscar Wilde's celebrated masterpiece is a comedy on three levels. First there is the denotative level, one might say, the level in which the bourgeois are entertained après dîner. It is on this level that Oscar Wilde follows the great theatrical tradition of comedy from the time of the Greeks through Shakespeare and French farce into the twentieth century to the musical comedy of the London and New York stage. His play on this level is a comedy of manners, pleasant, charming and very clever. The class conscious jokes about the lower orders and the servants are double-edged and add just a touch of squirm to the laughter of the not completely discerning audience. It is on the second level that The Importance of Being Earnest becomes one of the greatest plays ever written. On this level, the comedy is a full blown satire of Victorian society, and in particular of its audience. Wilde had the very great pleasure of flattering and making fun of the audience while being applauded for doing so. His subtitle for the play, "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" is an allusion to these two levels. It is on this second level that Wilde speaks through the voice of Lady Bracknell (and sometimes Algernon), whose ironic and unself-conscious cynicism is so like his own. It is on this level that all the fun is made of the hypocrisy of marriage and its mercenary nature, at least as practiced by the petite bourgeoisie of London town, circa 1895. But there is a third level, a level known of course to the cognoscenti of the time and to modern audiences, but for the most part never dreamed of by the London theater-goers of the day. In this regard I have recently read that "Earnest" was a slang euphemism for being gay, and I suspect this is true. Indeed, I can imagine a whole world of witticism based on being "earnest" and being "Ernest," a world now (perhaps charitably) forgotten. Certainly this knowledge sheds some light on Jack's invention of his invalid friend "Bunbury," whom he finds he must visit to escape unwanted social engagements.One of the best things about this great play is one can appreciate it on any one of the three levels and find delight on that level alone. One can see Worthy as John Worthy, or as Jack Worthy, or as Ernest Worthy, however one likes. This adaptation, starring the incomparable Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell, and Michael Redgrave (father of Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave) as John Worthy is of course the justly celebrated, clearly definitive screen adaptation. It should be noted, however, that Lady Bracknell is the real star of the show, and when she enters a scene, she steals it. Edith Evans was brilliant and unforgettable and obviously having a wonderful time. Margaret Rutherford is a scream as Miss Prism and Miles Malleson as Chasuble is just, shall I say, darling. I should note that both the male leads were a touch too old for their parts. Redgrave was 42 and Michael Denison, who played Algernon, was 37 when the movie was released in 1952. Yet I think Oscar Wilde would have approved of the casting, probably finding it admirable and fitting that these two men about town would have avoided marriage for so many years. (I won't mention the ages of the actresses.) Joan Greenwood as Gwendolyn achieves just the right amount of flaky innocence and calculated whimsy, while Dorothy Tutin is the very definition of the spoiled, sweet and adorable, man-hunting Cecily Cardew. The direction by Anthony Asquith is unnecessarily directive in the sense that he moved some scenes around, but is essentially without harm.The best way to appreciate this play, and to pick up all the nuances, and there are nuances aplenty--and jokes upon jokes, sharp social and political observations, and witticisms within prevarications, and lies that are truths and vice-versa--is to view the video, just appreciating it on one level, then read the script, and then view the video again. You're in for a treat."
Perfect Confection...Sweet & Tart
Peter T Webster | Holderness, NH United States | 04/04/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"With the release of "An Ideal Husband" (starring Rupert Everett) last year, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is no longer the best Oscar Wilde movie. BUT -- it is still Wilde's funniest and sharpest satire AND the finest example of "Wilde Style" acting ever recorded on film. This movie reeks of "thea-tah" in the best sense. Wilde characters live perfectly and carefully structured lives (it's part of the joke). These are not natural people...so don't expect a naturalistic movie. It's candy colored pastels, raised pinkies, and noses tilted defiantly to the sky. And always, always knowing exactly what to say, and how to say it.The cast of "Earnest" is superb individually and as an ensemble. It includes stage and screen legends like Michael Redgrave, Dame Edith Evans, and the inimitalble Margaret Rutherford. Invite your wittiest friends to tea...and watch this movie."
Peter A. Fish | Menlo Park, CA USA | 06/28/2002
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The customer reviews for this tape are misleading. They are written about not about the tape being offered for sale, a 1988 BBC production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Instead, they refer to the 1952 film production, with Michael Redgrave and Dame Edith Evans. This is extremely misleading: after reading the reviews, I ordered the tape thinking I would be getting the 1952 film but got the 1988 version instead."
Terrific movie, good DVD
Steven W. Hill | Chicago, IL United States | 01/03/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Many of the reviews here have a lot to say about the movie itself, but not much about the DVD presentation. That the movie is excellent is not in dispute. I'd also like to point out that everyone can and will appreciate it, not just english majors or art-film aficionados. Although the society it presents is utterly and completely different from our own modern ways, it's STILL a very very funny film with a wealth of one-line gems of Oscar Wilde wit.The picture quality presented here on the Criterion DVD is incredibly vibrant and quite pleasing. The color is amazing considering the movie is half a century old (and also considering the DVD was digitally mastered from a print rather than a negative). Audio cleanup is unobtrusive and all the lines of dialogue are clear and understandable.The biggest drawback with the DVD is the lack of extras. There is an original theatrical trailer, and a gallery of production stills, but that's all. Luckily it means the retail price is a bit lower than other Criterion titles, but it's still disappointing that more visual extras couldn't be included. The booklet is, as usual with Criterion discs, well worth reading.Summary: great funny film for everyone, beautiful picture, weak on extras."