20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years

20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years (1996)
Image Entertainment
Extras: Featurettes

Punctuated by the booming intonations of narrator James Coburn, ’20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years’ is an entertaining documentary about the history and legacy of the studio. The Image Entertainment DVD also includes almost two hours of supplemental materials, with two promotional reels from the 1930s and one ’featurette’ clocking in at almost 90 minutes!

Writer/director Kevin Burns’ feature-length documentary (originally produced for American Movie Classics) maps the dream factory responsible for such classic films as ’The Grapes of Wrath,’ ’All About Eve,’ ’How Green Was My Valley’ and ’The Sound of Music.’ Lengthy clips guide the viewer through the years and the titles, concentrating mostly on the studio’s first half-century. Burns, for the most part, emphasizes and illuminates in the right places, giving equal time between trumpeting the triumphs and examining the box offices failures and near shutdown of the studio in the early 1960’s. Surprisingly, the documentary glosses over the period between 1965 and 1996 (when it was produced), skimming over fan faves as ’The Omen,’ ’Star Wars,’ ’Alien,’ ’All That Jazz’ and ’Independence Day.’

The video is quite good, using full-frame and letterboxed clips where apropos.
Source fidelity ranges from slightly beat-up to practically fresh. The color sections exhibit strong and clean hues, with the black and white sections, on average, displaying solid detail and shadow depth. The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack decently juggles audio elements of varying shape for ample playback levels. Nothing to write home about here.

The DVD is a flipper, side one containing the documentary with side two housing the supplemental features. The 1936 Promotional Reel and the 1937 ’Studio Tour’ highlight the different studio departments, as well as tout their star roster and product line-up. Unfortunately, when seen back to back, one notices they share much of the same footage. ’’The Robe’ Promotion Reel’ compiles newsreel footage of the film’s premiere along with a trailer in widescreen. At almost 90 minutes, ’The Big Show’ is a movie onto itself. The presentation outlines the studio’s 1958 roster, practically title for title.

The DVD is a solid rental. The best part of watching it was seeing the clips of Fox fare not available yet on DVD like ’The Enemy Below,’ ’Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?’ ’The Seven Year Itch,’ and ’Journey to the Center to the Earth.’ If nothing else, the disc is a teaser for all the wonderful Fox catalog titles that have yet to make it to the format – but hopefully are looming not too far in the future.