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If you're allergic to sugar, you might want to give Funny Face a miss since this is about as rich a confection as Fifties Hollywood ever managed to whip up. On the other hand, if you want to see two of the greatest of all film stars showcased in a witty, stylish musical comedy then this should be right up your street. Paramount have given this movie a top-notch transfer that makes up for the paucity of extra features.

Funny Face
Movie
Funny Face neatly satirises both the idiotic superficiality of the magazine industry and the hopelessly self-deluded pretensions of the middle class socialists who swarmed upon Paris in the nineteen fifties. The fearsome editor of Quality Magazine, Maggie Prescott (Thompson) is looking for a new look with which to inspire a whole nation of "women standing there naked waiting for me to tell them what to put on". Having tried a campaign based around "Think Pink", she decides to do something revolutionary; Clothes For Women Who Aren't Interested In Clothes. An attempt to dress the intellectual women of America leads Prescott and her photographer Dick Avery (Astaire) to a small bookshop in Greenwich Village where they patronise and ignore the assistant Jo (Hepburn), considering her beneath them and giving her a supporting role to their divinely dim model Marion. But when the photos come out, Avery realises that while the model is not worth a second look, Jo has genuine star quality. A gentlemanly seduction in the dark room and a hasty costuming later, Jo, Dick and Miriam are on their way to Paris for the launch of the haute couturier Paul Duval's new collection. Needless to say, once in Paris, Jo's attention is caught by the intellectual night life of the after-hours jazz clubs and Dick has to go some to tear her away from a sweet-talking Professor and get her photographed and dressed in time for the press launch. It doesn't help that he's fallen head-over-heels in love with her.

This is all very lightweight stuff, recycled for hundreds of romantic comedies in the 43 years since the film was made, but it's produced with such elegance that it's hard not to fall under the film's spell. Stanley Donen was a choreographer before he became a director and he was responsible for the most memorable moments in Singin' In The Rain and most of the other MGM musicals of the late forties and early fifties. In his best films - Funny Face and Charade in particular - he brings the same timing and skill to the dialogue and action as he does to the musical numbers, resulting in the sort of weightless grace that is so vital to good comedy. He's helped enormously by his cast as well. Audrey Hepburn is as gorgeous as ever, although rather more so before she is glammed up by the designers. Kay Thompson is very funny, especially in the revivalist number she does with Fred Astaire, but it's Astaire who makes the film a classic. He is coolness personified when acting and while it's a long 28 minutes to wait before he even dances a step, when he does, it's a miracle. The elegance of the man is extraordinary and his dancing is ethereal - watch the way he sings with his feet. The highlight of the film is probably his performance of "Let's kiss and make up" when he dances with his umbrella. The lowpoint is a jazz dance number performed - rather badly - by Hepburn and some blokes which Astaire watches but doesn't join in, something that strikes me as perverse.

The film looks smashing, with a visual design based on the photos of fashion photographer Richard Avedon and some fantastic location photography in Paris. This is showcased in the best number of the film, "Bonjour Paris", performed by Astaire, Hepburn and Thompson in brilliantly effective split screen. The richness of the visuals is matched by the wit of the script and, in particular, by the superb music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin. Some of their best songs are here - the aforementioned "Bonjour Paris", "He Loves and She Loves" and "S'wonderful". Admittedly, the performances vary somewhat - Thompson and Astaire are fine, but Hepburn wasn't a singer and her rendition of "How Long Has This Been Going On" leaves something to be desired. Her acting is good enough to get her through however. Donen's direction is light and frothy and the editing keeps jumping to catch the laughs. This isn't a great film, it's not even a classic in the musical genre, but it is hugely entertaining and well worth watching.

Funny Face
Video
This is a very good DVD from Paramount in the transfer department. The original film was presented in Vistavision, which is a high definition process designed as a challenger to Cinemascope. The ratio for Vistavision was roughly 1.78:1, which is the ratio this DVD is presented in. It's an anamorphic transfer and it's generally excellent. The colours are the first thing to really dazzle the eye, as they are rich and full throughout the film, and this movie is one where the colours are vital to the overall effect. Look at chapter 11 for an example of this. The contrast is good, there is plenty of detail and a sharpness throughout that makes the film look far more recent than 1957. The blacks are deep and true and there is little grain or artifacting. A little faded in places admittedly, but generally I doubt whether this film has looked as good as this since its premiere engagements 44 years ago.

Sound
The sound quality is a little less impressive. The original mono soundtrack is not, sadly, on the disc and we get an allegedly 5.1 remix which sounds more like Dolby Surround. The dialogue is almost entirely monophonic and its only the musical numbers which utilise the surround channels. This is quite a nice effect in itself but a little bit artificial and I would have liked the original English mono soundtrack as an option.

Extras
The only extras are an extended trailer for Paramount DVD called "Paramount In The Fifties" which is ten minutes of PR fluff enlivened by some great clips from the likes of "Sunset Boulevard" and "Roman Holiday". The original trailer is also included along with a photo gallery. There are 19 chapter stops and static menus.

Funny Face
Conclusion
If you like musicals, you will like "Funny Face". I do, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. If, on the other hand, you'd rather have root canal work than watch fifties stars sing and dance, then this is probably best avoided. The DVD offers a good presentation of the film but not very much else.


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