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Anastasia: Fox Studio Classics

Did Anastasia (1956) hold a thinly veiled appeal for star Ingrid Bergman? The fictionalized story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaievna Romanova, directed by Anatole Litvak, marked the actress's "return" to Hollywood after she left her husband in 1949 for director Roberto Rossellini. During the interceding years Bergman and her new husband (they married in 1950 and eventually had three children) delivered several films, but none were hits, and the anti-Bergman sentiment in America kept them from getting much play. Anastasia also was shot in Europe, but its American financing and lavish production qualities marked Bergman's return to stateside silver screens, earning her an Oscar for Best Actress as well. Perhaps it was fitting then that Bergman should be drawn to the legend of Anastasia, the lost, innocent girl who seeks to be restored to her rightful place among the world's noble class. The story concerns Anastasia, who is found by Gen. Bounine (Yul Brynner) and his fellow White Russian expatriates in Paris after she has been released from a local asylum. It's known by some that she once claimed to be Anastasia Nikolaievna, the only survivor of the Romanov family's mass execution ordered by Lenin in 1918, and for the White Russians — who lost the Civil War, and the nation, to the Bolsheviks — the existence of a living heir to the tsar's throne is a source of great inspiration and hope. But for the more opportunistic among them (including Gen. Bounine), a living Romanov means a potential claim on the family's extensive financial holdings. Bounine thus begins tutoring his "Anastasia" in the hopes of passing her off to all who meet her as the genuine article. But during the process, Bounine can't be sure if he's stumbled upon a remarkable facsimile or the actual living princess. And in order to lay claim to the family fortune, they will have to earn an audience with the Dowager Empress (Helen Hayes), who was the real Anastasia's grandmother and will certainly know the truth. A popular film in the style of Fox's 1950s romances, Anastasia has held its appeal over the years, despite its rather threadbare nature. The guessing game is a bit fun, if also completely predictable before long, and the entire story amounts to little more than a little-girl-lost Hollywood weepie. Even worse, the supposed romance between Bergman and Brynner has very little sizzle, even though we're supposed to believe that these two have the hots for each other. But plot schmot — the Russian-born Brynner loses his temper frequently, and with perfect diction, and he gets a short number playing guitar with a gypsy band, which is something the actor actually did while a young man in Paris. And while Bergman was far too old for the part (the story itself suggests Anastasia would be less than 25), she still looks radiant going into her 40s. A good choice for genre fans. Fox's DVD release of Anastasia, part of their "Fox Studio Classics" imprint, features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 4.0 — the restored print is clean and colorful with barely a hint of deterioration. Features include the "A&E Biography" episode on the life of Anna Anderson, the alleged real-life Anastasia — it's a fascinating story, although the Hollywood movie has little to do with the known facts of the case. Also on board is a commentary featuring screenwriter Arthur Laurents and film historians Sylvia Stoddard and John Burlingame, four archive newsreels on Anastasia, two very old newsreels featuring footage of the Romanov family, a restoration comparison, the theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Fox titles in the series. Keep-case.

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