• Mephisto Waltz, The



    Released by: Kino Studio Classics
    Released on: April 18th, 2107.
    Director: Paul Wendkos
    Cast: Alan Alda, Jacqueline Bisset, Barbara Parkins, Bradford Dillman, Curt Jurgens
    Year: 1971
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    The Movie:

    Of all the ROSEMARY'S BABY ripoffs of the 1970's, the most blatant was probably 1970's THE MEPHISTO WALTZ starring Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset. A young and beautiful couple with a young daughter (Pamela Ferdin) struggling to fulfill their life ambitions, some sketchy new "friends" with great wealth and charisma and of course, a deep involvement with the occult - sound familiar?

    The film is mostly forgotten today, but Kino have sought to bring it back in the public eye with this Blu ray release. It's easy enough to see why this didn't exactly set the world on fire back in the day. Not as lurid as many of the Italian ripoffs and devoid of any truly innovative ideas, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ's minor triumphs are really quite modestly centered in the areas of style and visual panache.

    Myles (Alan Alda) and Paula (Bisset) have settled into an ordinary but happy enough life. Never quite making it as a concert pianist, Myles has managed to eke out a career as a respectable music journalist. After interviewing the aging and legendary musician Duncan Mowbray (Curt Jurgens) for a print magazine, the older pianist takes a sudden and intense interest in Myles. Encouraging him to go back to playing and practicing regularly, Duncan is very complimentary of Myles' abilities. Before you know it, Moybray and his circle of wealthy acquaintances are inviting the couple to extravagant parties and patronizing Paula's struggling boutique and getting the pair involved in the occult.

    The big secret is that Duncan is dying, and has been a practitioner of a strange ritual designed to allow the transference of souls. All he needs is a young and healthy musician to transfer his "magic hands" and soul to, and after that's done, he'll have achieved something close to immortality. Paula becomes increasingly suspicious as Myles becomes more deeply drawn to Mowbray and his circle. When Mowbray dies, his "daughter" Roxanne (Barbara Parkins) starts to really lay the seduction moves on Myles. And once she's convinced him to partake of the transference ceremony (completely unbeknownst to wife Paula), all hell breaks loose.

    This is the point where the plotting on THE MEPHISTO WALTZ really goes off the rails. After a horrific tragedy, Paula inexplicably starts pursuing an affair with Roxanne's ex-husband (Bradford Dillman). William Windom also shows up in a poorly sketched role as a psychiatrist trying to help Paula. Then there's all the muddled dream imagery utilized during Paula's many scenes of having hallucinations and odd dreams...

    The principal problem with the film is the casting. Alda is not convincing at all as either a gifted pianist or even worse after his transformation, a charismatic sexual dynamo. Bisset, who at this time was literally one of the world's most beautiful women, simply looks all wrong with this milquetoast. And listen, as attractive as Parkins is, the whole idea of him cheating on Bisset seems utterly absurd.

    The film looks good however - with an interesting use of diffused lighting and oddly framed shots. But much of it is also quite static, like a TV movie. Which isn't exactly surprising considering that this was the feature film production debut of legendary TV force Quinn Martin.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    This is a grain heavy film shot mostly through what looks like a tub of Vaseline, so fine detail isn't exactly thick on the ground in Kino's AVC encoded 1080p 1.85:1 framed transfer. But here's the important part - it is faithful to the source material. The old DVD was kind of rough sledding and one can immediately see the improvement in this scan. Black levels are solid, and no pesky digital tampering is visible. I caught a couple of minor banding instances, but nothing I'd call a problem. The image is at its murkiest during the many hallucinatory bits - but it's very intentional.

    Audio? The 2.0 DTS-HD MA track is a standard affair if a bit on the quiet side. Levels are well balanced and dialog is clear. Jerry Goldsmith's brilliant score (really the highlight of this film) sounds quite nice.

    The extras of note are two commentary tracks. The first features film expert Bill Cooke and it's a pretty uneven affair. He veers between astute analysis of the state of Alan Alda's career at the time and the Byzantine financing of the film and... counting rooms in scenes and other mind-numbing minutiae. Actress Pamela Ferdin's track is a vast improvement however. Sharp as a tack and filled with good stories, Ferdin is relaxed and personable. As a child star who survived this often brutal show biz circus, she's got a pretty good take on the Hollywood studio culture of that time. She also has a lot of thoughts on the production of
    THE MEPHISTO WALTZ. Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature and bonus trailers for Jennifer, Deranged and Burnt Offerings.

    The Final Word:

    It's hard to recommend a film this flawed, but if occult thrillers of the 70's are your bag, I'd consider picking this one up. Kino's AV is solid (or at least the best this film can be considering source limitations) and it has one excellent audio commentary and a passable one. Everybody else might not be so keen to take this waltz.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!























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    C.D. Workman

    Car Wash

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    Lalala76

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    Mark Tolch

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