When “you’re looking for fate, I suggest you try New York City.”
When Hollywood maintained a high standard of fine romantic comedies that kept you laughing throughout because the players from the leads to the smallest bit parts could all act and the scripts were so sharply written that they compensated for the improbabilities of the plots, it was the 1930s and early 1940s. They called them screwball comedies and Hollywood has been seeking to find the same magic-in-a-bottle on and off for the past half century. One of the recent efforts came about six years ago in the form of Mrs. Winterbourne. Columbia TriStar has now released the film on DVD with a transfer that greatly outshines the film’s content.
When Connie Doyle finds herself in the big city, she is soon befriended by and moves in with Steve DeCunzo, a real jerk of a guy who’s only interested in sleeping with Connie and then discarding her — which he does when she becomes pregnant. After wandering the streets of the city and ending up at Grand Central Station, Connie finds herself accidentally aboard a train headed to Boston where she soon falls in with the wealthy Bill Winterbourne and his pregnant wife. The couple are on their way home to visit Bill’s mother who has never met his wife. En route, the train crashes and afterward, Connie awakens in a hospital and finds out that she has been mistaken for Bill’s wife who, along with Bill, was killed in the crash. Thwarted in her initial efforts to set the record straight, Connie is taken to meet Bill’s mother, Mrs. Winterbourne. Mrs. Winterbourne completely accepts Connie as her daughter-in-law, but another family member, Hugh Winterbourne, who just happens to be the twin brother of Bill, is suspicious. Torn between carrying on the deception because of the benefit to her baby’s future and revealing the truth, Connie’s situation is further complicated as love blooms between her and Hugh.
When Shirley MacLaine is given top billing in your movie, and yet has a part that mainly involves wearing nifty clothes but with little of substance to do and playing a character with even less credibility, aren’t you letting your audience down and ensuring ultimate failure for the film?
When Ricki Lake is a star of your movie, you have to ask yourself what possible chance of success there is. After all, can someone whose filmography has such nuggets as Jackie’s Back (1999), Serial Mom (1994), and Inside Monkey Zetterland (1992) be expected to carry a film when all she offers in her role is an obnoxious personality?
When you rely on wooden actor Brendan Fraser to be your movie’s male lead, when at best he’s suited to a second banana role à la Ralph Bellamy (or the more contemporaneous Greg Kinnear) you’ve got to expect to be in trouble.
When you settle for a script that turns completely on the requirement that a train wreck causes one pregnant women to get mistaken for another, you must be assuming that your audience is completely composed of people with three-year old mentalities.
When you turn the directing reins over to Richard Benjamin whose directing résumé peaked back in 1982 with My Favourite Year and who more recently handled such “gems” as Milk Money (1994) and Made in America (1993), you’ve got to realize that since bad things come in threes and your movie title starts with “M” too, the odds aren’t exactly in your favour.
When the DVD back cover has to dig up positive quotes from luminaries such as Jeanne Wolf of Jeanne Wolf’s Hollywood and Ron Brewington of the American Urban Radio Networks (what?) to use as come-ons, you know the film wasn’t too highly regarded when first released. The passage of time (and a fresh reviewer in the form of your intrepid judge) has not altered that assessment.
When Columbia TriStar chose to release Mrs. Winterbourne on DVD, it apparently hoped to compensate for the film’s inadequacies with a fine image transfer. The title was remastered in High Definition and then down-converted to the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer presented on the disc. The film looks excellent for the most part with vibrant colours and naturalistic flesh tones. Blacks are deep and pure and whites are clean and bright. Edge enhancement is essentially non-existent. There is a minor amount of grain that is apparent in some of the darker sequences, but all in all, the film looks much better than its content warrants. A full-screen pan-and-scan version is also provided on the flip side of the disc.
When the sound mix also exceeds one’s expectations based on the film’s content, you start to wonder what’s going on. To hear some effective if subtle use of the surrounds and a rich timbre overall (including some nice LFE) in an essentially dialogue-driven film is a welcome surprise. Welcome, but not a surprise is Columbia’s usual extensive subtitling, provided in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai. A Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo French sound track is also included.
When a studio then chooses to provide no supplementary content on the DVD whatsoever, you finally think you’ve figured it out. Columbia + great video + great audio + no supplements = Superbit release. Except, it’s not.
When you’ve got a combination of a good film and a poor transfer, the result is certainly frustration over the missed opportunity to do the film proper justice. I sometimes think it’s even worse when the opposite occurs, as it has in the case of Mrs. Winterbourne. Here you’ve got a poorly-written and prosaically-acted film that Columbia has awarded a top-notch transfer. It seems to make no sense, unless you suspect that Columbia knows it’s got a turkey and the only way to move DVDs of it at all is to make it look and sound really good. In this case, however, not even a great transfer can compensate for the film’s basic inadequacies.