THE FOUR ASPECTS OF THE FILM (Widescreen)
Yet another Holy Grail title I long-wished would get a proper home vid release, 1962’s lavish Cinerama entertainment THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM finally gets the Blu-Ray edition it deserves, thanks to The Warner Archive Collection, and the Herculean efforts of the format’s #1 fanboy David Strohmaier.
Today, the word “Cinerama” tends to confuse most post-Boomers – movie buffs that they may be. But more than a half century ago, it was a really big deal. Literally.
It wasn’t simply widescreen, or 3-D, or even IMAX, and yet, the positive attributes of all these things apply. In a nutshell, Cinerama was a synchronous three-camera 70MM process that required a special stadium-esque theater to show the succeeding synchronous three-projection 70MM walls of cinema. The germ of the idea went back as far as the silents, most famously rendered in the triptych finale of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (although these screens didn’t fully “tell” one complete, continuous tapestry. More than a decade later, the grandiose concept proved a draw at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair – a freaky, dizzying attraction (called Vitarama by its exhibitor Fred Waller). World War II brought the idea further to fruition. Waller worked with the Army Air Force to create a lifelike rig situation to train pilots under simulated fire. This intrigued Merian C. Cooper, who, with travel impresario Lowell Thomas, approached unsung ‘Rama hero Hazard Reeves to possibly do a full-length feature, to be shot around the world in Technicolor with a new audio appendage called stereophonic sound (a big movie after all needed big sound). The result was 1952’s This is Cinerama, iconic for its opening roller-coaster sequence that immediately sent scores of stunned viewers into the rest room to hurl their partially masticated Goobers and popcorn. In other words, it was a massive hit.
Of course, the expense was tremendous – having to build special theaters, equipped with giant projectors, screens – and, natch, those 70MM prints x three. And the elaborate sound equipment. But it paid off. This is Cinerama played for years, with flagship Bijous in key states, and, soon in major European and Asian countries. Even Russia went Cinerama koo-koo. More feature travelogues followed, most of them successful, but there always was that dangling carrot of actually doing a narrative movie in the process (1958’s Windjammer came close, but still, it was essentially a glorified travel-docu pic).
After 1959, with the enormous success of Ben-Hur, MGM at last decided to take the plunge, and announced How the West Was Won in Cinerama; soon George Pal (then working out of Metro, and flush from the triumph of his 1960 classic The Time Machine) threw his hat into the format sweepstakes and unveiled his plans for a bio of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, aka The Brothers Grimm, with sidebar featurette depictions of some of their most beloved works. To achieve this magical, captivating odyssey, Pal hired writers Charles Beaumont and William Roberts (using Hermann Gerstmer’s biography, Die Bruder Grimm, as a sourcework).
Long story short, both movies were blockbusters – not only in their roadshow Cinerama runs, but in their subsequent standard 35MM release. Of course, the problem with the latter was not only the loss of immersion (most thrilling in POV sequences), but of actual quality. The three screens had to be optically stitched together in a lab – the painful outcome displaying two bold join lines separating the center from what had once been the left and right panels. This was basically the versions we Cinerama fans had to live with for more than a half a century!
But now, leave us to the movie in question.
GRIMM is anything but. It’s a fun-filled, children friendly adventure (but also suitable for grownups not wanting to spend the 140-minute running time as groanups). The crux of the movie is a framing story about the two sibs, how they slave away for a dullard one-percenter, copying text in a behemoth-sized library. Their creative escape comes via (primarily through Wilhelm) fashioning a voluminous amount of delightful tales of fantasy from local lore (even relying upon a self-proclaimed forest witch!) blended with a unique personal take. As usual, the children love them, the adults are perplexed. We also get to know the Grimm’s non-literary existence, via their romances, Wilhelm with his loving wife Dorothea; Jacob with a burgeoning relationship with carefree Greta. There’s absolutely something here for everyone: comedy, music, drama, action, thrills, love stuff – and even one of producer Pal’s famed Puppetoons, used to tell the tale of The Cobbler and the Elves.
It’s these vivid once-upon-a-time excursions that had kiddies lining up around the block multiple times to revel in the wonder of what they were not only seeing, but (thanks to Cinerama) experiencing. The other stories, by the way, are The Dancing Princess,
and, perhaps most famously (at least, it was for me), The Singing Bone because of the stop-motion dragon (encrusted with jewels to tone down the scare factor).
To fully capture the allure of such a lavish undertaking, Cinerama cameras traveled extensively to the Bavarian and German locations of the Grimms, finishing up at MGM studios in Culver City. Pal, who also supervised the Cobbler segment, ceded the lion’s share of the directing chores to Henry Levin, who had recently scored huge with Journey to the Center of the Earth.
And, like How the West Was Won, a game cast of celebrated thesps graced the three panel extravaganza, notably within the fairy tales: Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, Otto Kruger, Clinton Sundberg (The Singing Bone), Laurence Harvey Walter Brooke, Robert Foulk (The Cobbler and the Elves), and Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Backus, Beulah Bondi, Sandra Bettin (The Dancing Princess; Tamblyn, it should be noted, has the cool honor of being in both narrative Cinerama movies). The remaining members of the GRIMM company comprise Walter Slezak, Ian Wolfe, Oskar Homolka, Martita Hunt (as the witch), Betty Garde, Walter Rilla, Gene Roth, and, in guest appearances as the Brothers’ renowned characters (Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, etc.), such familiar movie and TV faces as Arnold Stang, Pamela Baird, Billy Barty, Peter Whitney, Diana Driscoll, and Angelo Rossitto.
Title stars Laurence Harvey and Carl Boehm were perhaps the most unusual choices for the pic, as they are probably the least likely duo to cast in a children’s movie. In essence, Pal is turning your kids over to the Manchurian Candidate and Peeping Tom. Hey, it works. That Harvey’s wife is Claire Bloom (then simultaneously appearing on-screen as the rough sex-addicted nympho in The Chapman Report) is another head-scratcher, although one I relish. Only Barbara Eden as Boehm’s love interest seems to be perv-free (Pal obviously thought so, too, and later cast her in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao), and would soon become an iconic phantasmagorical figure herself in the long-running I Dream of Jeannie series.
The no doubt enormous budget and extreme showmanship required to properly present Cinerama titles likely put a halter on any further narrative efforts; indeed, the moniker would soon become just that – a name to attach to a big screen 70MM single strip “specials,” It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Circus World, The Hallelujah Trail, and 2001 being several examples. Despite the logos, they ain’t Cinerama.
Around ten years ago, we Cinerama fanatics had the thrill of seeing a fully-restored three-panel Blu-Ray of How the West Was Won. It looked gorgeous with, best of all, the join lines having been digitally removed. Immediately, we all champed at the bit for a similar release of GRIMM. Not so easy, as the West materials had been in fairly decent shape, but the GRIMM elements were partially in shambles. Deterioration, water damage, and intermittent matrices shrinkage on some of all of the panels. A mammoth overhaul job, and an exorbitant pricey one. Could the sales for the title justify the cost? Could the footage even be saved?
And here’s where the aforementioned David Strohmaier stepped in. As a labor of love, editor Strohmaier had worked on stress-inducing restorations of the original This is Cinerama and many of the followups. He was, likely, dying to get his talented mitts on GRIMM. And so it came to pass.
Part of the supplements included in this two-disc set (a standard version and, like West, a Cinerama-simulated SmileBox curved edition), comprise a terrific documentary on the restoration, featuring Strohmaier painstakingly at work with an amazing crew of digital artists. The results are breathtaking: 70MM quality, eye-popping Technicolor visuals (I swear the previous prints were fuzzy, faded copies) and nifty stereo sound (how stunning to be able to view the astounding cinematography of Paul Vogel in all its three-panel glory, beautifully appended by Leigh Harline’s score, encompassing songs by Bob Merrill and coscripter Beaumont). It’s a must that you view the Rescuing a Fantasy Classic piece. Other outstanding extras include the original coming attractions, the Cinerama announcement trailer, vintage radio interviews with Russ Tamblyn and Yvette Mimieux, documentaries on the movie and George Pal, plus much more.
Back in 1962, GRIMM seemed to play forever. I can still recall the opulent display in my nabe record shop for the LP; I swear it was in the window for my entire childhood!
SIDEBAR: I have to boast that a great pal of mine in Australia sent me the original souvenir book from the Oz roadshow release to add to my collection of Big Time Movie Tie-Ins. They used to be sold in the lobbies for around a buck (serious urchin money back then). It’s one of my most prized movie possessions.
If you’re a picture-show buff from my generation, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM is an absolute add-on to your cinema collection (while it plays in any situation, those fortunate enough to have 60”-plus TVs, a projection system, or an actual basement theater will be especially dazzled and delighted). It takes a lot to make me happy these days. This Blu-ray made me happy.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM. Color. VERY Widescreen [2.89:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The Warner Archive Collection/Cinerama, Inc./Warner Bros. Entertainment. CAT # B09R6VTNNV. SRP: $24.99.
This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold*