Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1965) (50th Anniversary Edition) (DVD)

Rodgers and Hammerstein were one of the most influential, innovative and successful writing teams in the history of musical theatre with hits including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and The King and I. Aired in 1957, Rodgers and Hammerstein created Cinderella, based on the fairytale character, their only collaborative effort written for television. Apparently, they had originally signed a contract with NBC, but when CBS offered them a chance to work with Julie Andrews, they jumped at the opportunity. The production was a phenomenal success, with an audience of 107 million, though videotape wasn’t available, making rebroadcasts impossible.

Given the earlier success, it came as no surprise when in 1965, CBS decided to mount a new production of Cinderella, this one committed to videotape. Commissioned by Richard Rodgers (Oscar Hammerstein II died in 1960), the remake had a new script written by Joseph Schrank that stuck closer to the original story, but most importantly, retains most of the original songs, and adds a new one, “Loneliness of Evening,” sung by the Prince.

Most of us know the basic story of Cinderella: Cinderella (Lesley Ann Warren) a sweet and good natured girl, Cinderella (Lesley Ann Warren), is forced into a life of servitude by her wicked stepmother (Jo Van Fleet) and self-centered stepsisters Prunella (Pat Carroll) and Esmerelda (Barbara Ruick) who are treated like Princesses.

When the Prince (Stuart Damon) returns home from a year of adventure rescuing princesses and slaying dragons without a bride, his parents, the King (Walter Pidgeon) and Queen (Ginger Rogers), throw a ball, inviting all the fair maidens in the kingdom in hopes that he find a bride. Naturally, Cinderella is left behind when her stepmother and stepsisters head to the ball. Soon, her fairy godmother (Celeste Holm) appears, with the message that anything is possible. Shortly thereafter, Cinderella finds herself transformed in a beautiful maiden, fit to attend the ball. However, she must leave the ball at the stroke of midnight, before the magic will end. In her haste to leave, Cinderella leaves a glass slipper behind, which sends the Prince on a Kingdom wide search for his love…

Just off her first Broadway show, 18-year-old Warren was “introduced” in the opening credits and does a solid job with the material. Her obvious youth and undeniably good looks, give her the innocent, slightly naïve presence one imagines for Cinderella. While her line delivery can border on sugary at times, she is appropriately wistful and her vocal range is strong; listening to her sing is a pleasure. Because I was only familiar with him from the soap opera General Hospital, the biggest surprise was the performance of Stuart Damon as the Prince. According to the retrospective on this disc, Damon was called on at the last minute to replace singer/actor Jack Jones. Damon is a revelation. He gives the Prince a real personality and some spark. His vocal range is strong and blends well with Leslie Anne Warren. They bring a real charm to “Ten Minutes Ago,” even if it is the sappiest of songs.

Of course, this was a Rodgers and Hammerstein production and they knew better than anyone how to write songs for a story. Charm is the calling card of several of their works, but they never overplayed it. In one of Cinderella’s most enchanting scenes, Cinderella enters the ball and a hushed silenced falls over the room. As the Prince stares at her—and everyone else takes notice—an immediate and special connection takes place. Later, the Prince shows unexpected self-awareness when he sings, “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?

The supporting cast—Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon, Celeste Holm, Jo Van Fleet and the others—are all fabulous in their roles. In 1965, only a person with the pedigree of Richard Rodgers could have convinced such an accomplished group of older (in some cases, legendary), actors to appear on a television special. Originally broadcast on February 22, 1965, this version of Cinderella proved so popular with viewers, it was rebroadcast eight times through February 1974.

By modern standards, the production style doesn’t stand up very well. It’s best described as a filmed play, very inexpensive set pieces. The special effects are laughable. Because of this, I’m not sure that today’s children could relate very well to this production, but the talent on hand merits giving it a try. However, adults who grew up watching this will likely find it a delight.

Digitally restored from the original source, this 50th Anniversary Edition looks far better than the DVD released in 2002. Softness has largely been eliminated and the colors are vibrant throughout. There is also a surprising level of detail. While it’s nowhere near what you would see with a Blu-ray transfer, individual aspects of the costumes are viewable. I noticed only two spots where the frame noticeably jumped and one small scratch.

The audio is presented in Dolby Surround, reworked from the original mono. There is plenty of action in the surrounds, but little in the way of directionality. Voices sound okay, though there is a certain shrillness on occasion, when the stepmother or her daughters speak to Cinderella.

English subtitles and Closed Captioning are included.

The following extras are available:

  • A Cinderella Story (9:50) Recorded in 2002, Lesley Ann Warren, Stuart Damon and Celeste Holm discuss the production history of the special. Warren and Damon share some particularly interesting tidbits about getting their roles.


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