Phaedra Blu-ray Review

Melina Mercouri plays the tragic Phaedra in Jules Dassin’s film

A devastating Greek tragedy comes vividly to life in Jules Dassin’s Phaedra. The American-born auteur best known for Rififi constructs a haunting modern fable about doomed love within a distant family. The film’s story is loosely based on the mythological writings of Euripides. A passionate love affair between a bored wife and her stepson turns into tragic drama for everyone in their family.

Phaedra stars sultry screen siren Melina Mercouri (Never on Sunday) in the title role. Beautiful and irresistible to her male admirers, Phaedra is married to a Greek shipping tycoon. The Greek Mercouri was Dassin’s wife and plays the adulterous Phaedra with a fiery passion that threatens to consume everyone around her. While tame by today’s standards, the 1962 production breathes with a smoldering sensuality considered risque at the time. Its signature moment is a provocatively filmed scene in which Phaedra begins her affair.

Set against some of Europe’s most famous backdrops including Paris, London and Greece, Dassin’s movie presents its mythological storytelling in a modern setting. The sensuous Phaedra faces the tragic consequences of a love affair she pursues with her English stepson, Alexis (Anthony Perkins). Coming after his iconic role in Hitchcock’s Psycho, it’s interesting to see Perkins play a love-struck young man driven mad with guilt and loss by his desires.

The lovely Greek setting and atmosphere adds the perfect touch

Actor Raf Vallone is cast as Thanos, Phaedra’s wealthy husband more involved with his shipping business than his own family. Always plotting out his next business venture, he begs Alexis to come back to Greece and join the family business. Thanos is oblivious to his wife’s infidelity, fueling Phaedra’s betrayal.

Phaedra’s screenplay is by Dassin and Margarita Liberaki (The Magic City). Phaedra co-stars Elisabeth Ercy (Fathom) and is nicely lensed in black and white by Jacques Natteau (Les Misérables). It features costume design by Academy Award-winner Theoni V. Aldredge (The Great Gatsby).

This is beautifully staged Greek tragedy. A gripping tension mounts towards Phaedra’s inevitable and tragic conclusion- Thanos learning of the scandalous affair behind his back. The revelation will blow up the family’s entire world, leading to a devastating outcome.

Blacklisted from Hollywood during the 1950s, American ex-pat Jules Dassin crafted an emotionally wrought film that brilliantly captures the follies of blindly chasing love. The lovely Greek setting and atmosphere adds the perfect touch. Phaedra and Alexis play with the hot fire of passion, which ends up burning their world to the ground. Their intense love for each other fuels Phaedra’s wonderfully rich tapestry of emotional turmoil. This is prime filmmaking that has aged well and remains a powerful movie.

Video

Olive Films provides a serviceable presentation for Phaedra, licensed from MGM’s vault. The black-and-white film was barely available on DVD, having been released through MGM’s manufacture-on-demand DVD-R service. This Blu-ray offers up a vast improvement in definition and sharpness.

The 1962 production holds up nicely today with clean, crisp cinematography highlighting its various European locales. The 116-minute main feature has been included on a BD-25 in AVC. Presented at 1080P resolution in its intended 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, Phaedra’s video quality isn’t flawless. The softer film transfer comes from an older telecine effort, introducing limited halos and minor crushing.

The elements themselves are in fine condition with superior clarity and negligible wear. Hints of compression noise show up in the mushy grain structure. Fine detail isn’t overwhelming but hasn’t been filtered out. The serviceable black levels and steady contrast are average for a vintage movie such as Phaedra. A new film scan would reap visible improvements over this dated transfer.

This isn’t the best vintage presentation possible but represents a dramatic improvement over prior home video versions.

Audio

Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis adds an atmospheric mood to Phaedra with his delicate score. The provided 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack has adequate fidelity. The ordinary dynamic range includes intelligible dialogue with mild hiss. The thin audio sounds rather lackluster and worn.

Optional English SDH subtitles appear in a yellow font.

Extras

Phaedra Trailer (03:43 in HD)

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