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The Reluctant Debutante (Blu-ray Review)

Warner Archive Collection capped off May of 2020 (Which already feels so long ago) with the release of the 1958 film, The Reluctant Debutante. The cast features Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall at the top of the chain, but also notably stars Angela Lansbury, John Saxon and Sandra Dee. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli, father of Liza Minnelli and husband to Judy Garland. In other words, its stacked with somebodies. Some might not realize that the film was actually remade in the first part of this century with 2003’s What A Girl Wants that starred Amanda Bynes and Colin Firth. Crazy, I know. Warner Archive Collection release The Reluctant Debutante into its Blu-ray library on May 26, making it available and ready for you to order as soon as you complete reading my wonderful words, soon to be policed by the wonderful haters of our site. Thank you all in advance for the corrections, so I can save the time on doing them.

Film

It’s social season in London, and amid the swirl of coming-out balls, the aristocratic Broadbents (real-life marrieds Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall) are intent on giving their American-educated 17-year-old daughter, Jane (Sandra Dee), the right entry into society and a proper upper-class beau. One complication: Flighty Mabel Claremont (Angela Lansbury) is eager to match that same beau with her daughter. And another: Jane, of course, has her own ideas about these matters – and an eye for a guy (John Saxon) who’s a drummer in the dance band. Comedy is in season for The Reluctant Debutante, a rib-tickler of societal foibles and follies given spirited direction by Vincente Minnelli and featuring a full dance card of deft badinage.

Oh boy, a British socialite movie. The Reluctant Debutante is a film that feels primed for the stage, bringing itself to the screen with little a set change and playing itself to the back rows at many times. The film surrounds itself mainly around two separate party engagements that feel a little monotonous and have in between and aftermath scenes to fill the space. At risk of sounding to harsh, there is a pep and an energy to the film that does get it by no matter how stagnant it is when you step back for a moment.

Classical in its look, the film does feel big and grand as it tells this smaller story of trying to woo the right suitor. Rex Harrison comes in fresh off My Fair Lady and really brings that same sort of charm to the role. A young John Saxon is pretty fun, as is Angela Lansbury who show up intermittently is supporting parts. Kay Kendall, who plays the stepmother Sheila is a fun bopper as she plays things rather colorful and quite big and has a nice comedic presence.

The Reluctant Debutante is a film I’m not mad for checking out and can’t say I didn’t enjoy much of it, but I feel I would have loved it as a stage production.  As a film, it struggles to engage or make more out of what its working with. Part of that is just the times and how any move of its nature was made back then. It has a stacked cast of recognizables which makes for some of the fun, but overall, once is pretty much enough for this reviewer.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The Reluctant Debutante boasts a “brand new master of the film” for its debut on Blu-ray. And it comes with a nice, crisp, filmic looking technicolor zest. Its plenty strong with colors and has plenty of detail in the frame. Overall its a nice view that gives you a feeling of watching it in the theater.

Depth:  Solid depth of field here, especially in sequences with the balls and social banquets with people littered throughout the frame. Movements are smooth, cinematic and feature no distortion issues.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and dark, carrying plenty of character, holding onto details, textures and patterns with ease. No crushing witnessed on this viewing.

Color Reproduction:  Colors pop with great upholstery, wallpapers, fabrics and more. It has a really lovely palette on display with good blues, reds and yellows.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural with a consistent touch, only finding a hair difference when fading into another scene. Features on the faces show up best in more closer up shots and impress many medium range ones.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: The film presents itself with a very nice mono track. It doesn’t really bring too much boom or loudness, but it does the trick with bringing the conversations to the forefront with good layering and depth. This isn’t the flashiest of mixes, but its far from bad and is enough to make this thing work complimentary to its era.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with a hint of analog hiss intact.

Extras

Trailer (HD, 2:24)

Summary

The Reluctant Debutante is a little jaunt of socialite humor that feels like the stage come to the screen. There’s some all right comedy here and there and some enjoyable performances, but ultimately was pretty static to me. Warner Archive Collection provides it a beautiful presentation that should please the fans of the film who’ve been awaiting its upgrade to the Blu-ray format.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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