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One Touch of Venus(1948)
Fantasy comedy about a young window dresser who kisses a statue of Venus, which then comes to life in the form of Ava Gardner. The problems begin, however, when Venus falls in love with him.
For more about One Touch of Venus and the One Touch of Venus Blu-ray release, see One Touch of Venus Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 20, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ava Gardner, Robert Walker, Eve Arden, Tom Conway, Dick Haymes, Olga San Juan
Director: William A. Seiter
» See full cast & crew
One Touch of Venus Blu-ray Review
My Fair Statue.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 20, 2013
Quick: name a famous long running musical based on Pygmalion. My Fair Lady, right? Wrong. My Fair Lady was based on Pygmalion, a case in which italics mean everything. Pygmalion was of course a play by George Bernard Shaw which utilized the Greek myth (evidently borrowed by Ovid from the Phoenicians) as a metaphor for a man who fell in love with his own creation. But the (unitalicized) myth itself became the basis for a lesser known, albeit quite successful, musical which in its Broadway incarnation provided Mary Martin with one of her signature roles and which was the only collaboration between Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash. Perhaps just a bit incredibly, One Touch of Venus was also one of only two Broadway musicals directed by the legendary Elia Kazan, who managed to invest this rather whimsical tale with some of his trademark realism. The Broadway version also featured choreography by Agnes De Mille, then a very hot property after her innovative work on Oklahoma!, which opened just a few months prior to One Touch of Venus. The musical recast Pygmalion into modern times, with a priceless statue in a department store springing to life (some may be slightly reminded of "The After Hours" episode from The Twilight Zone: Season 1). The Broadway version was a smash hit, running for a very respectable 567 performances (it probably would have been the biggest hit of 1943 had Oklahoma! not stolen its thunder), and it was immediately snatched up for a film adaptation. Unfortunately, that snatching was done by Universal-International, a studio hardly known for its musicals, let alone its fealty to Broadway. And that's evidently when a whole slew of dunderheaded decisions started being made. Mary Martin—out. (Martin never really managed to have much a film career, sadly.) Elia Kazan—out. (To be fair, he hadn't quite matriculated to Hollywood yet.) Agnes De Mille—out. And weirdest of all, Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash—out, or at least mostly out. In one of the oddest transformations ever of a Broadway musical to film version, almost all of the score was scuttled, and even what remains is Bowdlerized almost beyond recognition. One almost wonders why Universal just didn't make Pygmalion, or in fact Pygmalion, instead.
The original book for the Broadway version of One Touch of Venus was by the rather incredible team of S.J. Perelman and Ogden Nash, and it bore the imprint of both of these men's impeccable wit and literary leanings. Unfortunately, as with so much else in the film version, Perelman and Nash were—yes, you guessed it, out, replaced by Frank Tashlin, the future gag man for Jerry Lewis (Rock-A-Bye Baby) and Harry Kurnitz, a journeyman writer who contributed stories for some of The Thin Man films. What this ends up doing to the erstwhile fantasy is make it, as I stated in my review of the DVD version some years ago, more like a late 40s precursor to Bewitched, with harried department store worker Robert Walker as Darren and enchanted statue Ava Gardner as Samantha.
Department store window dresser Eddie Hatch (Walker) imbibes a little too much alcohol and on a whim kisses a priceless statue of Venus (Ava Gardner) recently purchased by his employer, Whitfield Savory (Tom Conway), a kiss which magically brings the statue to life. Soon Eddie's girlfriend (Olga San Juan) and best friend (Dick Haymes) are certain Eddie's gone completely off his rocker, while at the same time Savory is certain Eddie's a thief, since Venus now has the uncanny ability to not be seen by anyone other than Eddie.
The original One Touch of Venus received raves for being charming and dreamlike. The film unfortunately flattens the material, attempting to create an ebullient farcical soufflé, but in reality offering little more than a stale pancake. The film is neither very funny nor very magical. Walker tries very hard—perhaps too hard—to make Eddie a lovable, stumbling buffoon, but the actor is simply too intense to be a light comedian. Gardner just doesn't seem to know what to do with her role. She can't quite make Venus truly Classical, and yet she doesn't want to (or was directed not to) make her too modern, something that might have worked a bit better, all things considered. The best performance here by far is by the wonderful Eve Arden, once again doing her patented love struck, acerbically witty secretary routine to Conway's nattily unctuous boss. San Juan has some nice moments as she becomes more frustrated with Eddie, ultimately leaving him for Haymes. Haymes has the one great voice in the film, which unfortunately doesn't help ameliorate the fact that he was an incredibly stiff actor.
What really sinks this One Touch of Venus, at least for an inveterate musical theater lover like me, is the patently insane decision to make the film more or less a non-musical, especially when the stage version's score was so ineffably gorgeous. The Broadway version's signature hit "Speak Low" (which is bizarrely recast to serve as a duet between a dubbed Gardner and Haymes) is rewritten to make its final cadence and lyric completely different from the original version. Why? The only other song from the original score that even makes it piecemeal into the film is a completely redone version of "Foolish Heart", not called "Don't Look Now, My Heart is Showing". It's simply ridiculous and inexplicable, especially since this was one of Weill's biggest Broadway hits, and was the only book musical for which Nash provided lyrics. Instead, we're offered "new" music and lyrics by Ann Ronell. Never heard of her? There's a reason. (She actually wrote the standard "Willow Weep for Me", but why replace Weill and Nash with her?)
One of the great sadnesses here, rather like in the film versions of Gypsy and (quite ironically if you think about it) My Fair Lady, is that the actress who originated the leading role was bypassed in favor of someone relatively ill suited for the part who was cast for supposed box office appeal. Mary Martin was incredibly photogenic and had a wonderful, if somewhat limited, singing voice, but she was never able to translate those assets into big screen appeal. One Touch of Venus could have been her ticket to major screen stardom. Gardner is certainly exotic, but she's almost as cold and lifeless as the statue of Venus itself. Unfortunately, so is the film.
One Touch of Venus Blu-ray, Video Quality
One Touch of Venus is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.37:1. This is a pretty soft looking transfer some of the time, though a lot of that is endemic to the source elements, as evidenced by the DVD that was released several years ago and which I also reviewed. This may have been sourced from different elements than the DVD, as there doesn't appear to be quite the level of damage on these elements, although there are still quite a few white flecks and other minimal damage dotting the proceedings. Contrast is generally quite good here, with fulsome blacks and decent gray scale. Fine detail is acceptable but never really spectacular. The film has a couple of opticals which offer the expected extra level of grain and grittiness. In the now longstanding Olive Films tradition, there doesn't appear to have been any digital tweaking applied to this release.
One Touch of Venus Blu-ray, Audio Quality
One Touch of Venus features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that suffices perfectly well, once the opening credits are over. That segment features some choral singing which has some very noticeable distortion. After that, aside from a few isolated clicks and pops, there aren't any major issues to report. Dialogue and the minimal score are presented with good fidelity.
One Touch of Venus Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
One Touch of Venus Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I've met several people through the years, especially Ava Gardner fans, who at the very least like, and in some cases outright love, this version of One Touch of Venus. Almost all of them had no clue it was once a musical, and not one of them had ever heard the original version of "Speak Low", or any of the musical's other winning songs. So maybe the salient lesson here is, if you don't have any idea of how this particular filmic statue sprang to life, you may indeed fall deeply in love with it. This Blu-ray offers decent to very good video and audio.
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