The Great Caruso
Enrico Caruso’s (Mario Lanza) only passion is to sing. For that, he leaves his hometown of Naples, Italy, and travels to America to sing for the Metropolitan Opera. At first his lack of education and poor background make him an outcast in the high-class opera world. Eventually, his amazing voice wins him both fans and the hand of his love, Dorothy (Ann Blyth)
For more about The Great Caruso and the The Great Caruso Blu-ray release, see the The Great Caruso Blu-ray Review published by Randy Miller III on March 19, 2021 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Writers: Sonya Levien, William Ludwig
Starring: Mario Lanza, Ann Blyth, Dorothy Kirsten, Jarmila Novotna, Richard Hageman, Carl Benton Reid
Producer: Joe Pasternak
» See full cast & crew
The Great Caruso Blu-ray Review
Super Mario’s World.
Reviewed by Randy Miller III, March 19, 2021
Singer-turned-actor Mario Lanza portrays world-famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) in The Great Caruso, MGM’s fast-moving and
flawed biopic produced just eight years before Lanza’s own untimely death at the age of 38. Caruso himself died mere months before Lanza’s birth
but, thanks to early recordings made between 1902 and 1920 (during the disc phonograph’s rise in popularity), Lanza was able to listen to his musical
idol’s voice at a young age. The Great Caruso is a starring role Lanza was born to play and, while it it captures the spirit of the late, great
singer, it heavily favors musical performances over strong pacing and plays much too fast and loose with the facts.
During most of The Great Caruso, it’s difficult to tell where Caruso ends and Lanza begins. The serendipitous match between actor and
subject creates an effective illusion, further aided by the reminder that little is known about Caruso’s early life… even his number of siblings, which
ranges from six to 20 depending on the storyteller. But the fact remains that Enrico was one of only three children to survive infancy, which is
presented as his primary musical driving force that’s also fueled by the untimely death of his supportive mother (Angela Clarke). Unfortunately,
financial difficulties and his potential marriage to sweetheart Musetta (Yvette Duguay) — combined with an ultimatum by her stern father (Nestor
Paiva) — convince Enrico to do what most struggling artists do: settle for a full-time job instead. But after an impromptu performance impresses
established local singers eating at a restaurant he delivers flour to, Enrico scores starter gigs that eventually pave the way for much greater
and, soon, a one-way trip to America.
More than half of the film concerns Enrico’s stateside success and struggles, from his heated backstage conflicts with a prima
donna to newspaper critics who didn’t appreciate his short stature, less-than-leading-man looks, and working-class heritage. Later in life,
Enrico’s dependency on ether to loosen his throat leads to life-threatening consequences. But the singer’s career is ultimately shown to be a
charmed one, with multiple chance encounters and extremely lucky breaks that reek of legend over fact, rushing the plot forward at almost
every turn. It’s here where The Great Caruso comes up short: its approach ultimately hurts the singer’s life and legacy by not just
skimming over facts but changing them entirely, which even led to a successful lawsuit against MGM by Caruso’s heirs that resulted in the film being withdrawn from circulation in Italy. This,
combined with its stop-and-start momentum, is like your favorite band’s “Greatest Hits” collection as a career retrospective: without all those deep
cuts, it just doesn’t ring true.
Nonetheless, The Great Caruso is fitfully engaging as surface-level entertainment. It’s absolutely crammed with musical
performances — 27 in all (mostly abbreviated, yet another reason why its 107-minute runtime struggles to keep up) — and Lanza capably
belts out most of them with power and precision. It’s even accessible for those who don’t normally like opera but, like most biopics, must be taken
with a huge grain of salt: this is not the life of Enrico Caruso, not even close. Yet it’s still a decently entertaining story, and one that’s been
preserved nicely by Warner Archive on their new Blu-ray which, as usual, serves up a sterling A/V presentation and even a valuable mid-length
bonus documentary. Altogether, this is great treatment of a film that, as far as I know, was never even released on Region 1 DVD.
The Great Caruso Blu-ray, Video Quality
Advertised as a new 4K restoration from original nitrate Technicolor negatives, The Great Caruso looks as impressive as expected on yet
another rock-solid 1080p transfer from Warner Archive. The period-specific costumes and backdrops sparkle with detail and clarity, from modest
storefronts and shop interiors to the beautiful early processional of Enrico’s youth and colorful stage performances of his adulthood. Depth is even
impressive during wide shots, many of which feature eager audiences during the film’s grandiose “live” performances, while close-ups boast tight image
detail and a pleasing layer of natural film grain. Its Technicolor palettes looks fantastic with bright and vivid hues that absolutely defy the film’s age,
its extremely clean appearance is thanks to Warner Archive’s careful restoration work that combines their purist-friendly approach with manual cleanup
to preserve its original textures. This is yet another top-tier effort for a film that, despite its resounding focus on sonic power, is often a joy to look at
As usual, Warner Archive has uploaded a few YouTube videos showing off the new transfer, including the three and a half-minute opening sequence, Enrico’s memorable restaurant performance, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
The Great Caruso Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Not surprisingly, Mario Lanza’s powerhouse vocals are at the forefront of Warner Archive DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix, a split mono presentation that
features a strong dynamic range and almost zero source defects. Although, yes, some of the lyrics are questionably lip-synced, it’s a mostly convincing
illusion bolstered by Lanza’s real-life operatic chops and, along with supporting musical performances (by the likes of Dorothy Kirsten, Ann Blyth,
Blanche Thebom, Teresa Celli, Giuseppe Valdengo, Marina Koshetz, and Nicola Mosconam) and the original score by Johnny Green, forms a satisfying
soundstage that’s given plenty of time to shine. Dialogue is crisp and clear with no drop-outs or distortion, save for one stray moment of sulking by
young Enrico (Peter Edward Price) during the film’s first ten minutes.
Optional English (SDH) subtitles are included during the main feature, but unfortunately not the extras.
The Great Caruso Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Richard Thorpe’s The Great Caruso is a flawed but fitfully pleasing biopic, one that plays fast and loose with the facts but still works as
surface-level entertainment despite its uneven pace. Bolstered by singer-turned-actor Mario Lanza’s lead performance, it’s absolutely crammed with
musical performances that are even accessible to those who might normally steer away from the opera. Yet the off-putting factual changes about his
life and career ultimately tarnish Caruso’s legacy, even if they’re responsible for a generation or two of future fans. Nonetheless, it’s worth a watch and
Warner Archive’s Blu-ray offers great support for the main feature, including another top-tier A/V presentation and a terrific 2005 bonus documentary
about Lanza’s own life and career. It’s recommended, but with caution.
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The Great Caruso Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Archive Announces March Releases – February 1, 2021
Warner Archive has began announcing its March slate of Blu-ray release. Amongst them are: Damn Yankees (1958), The Great Caruso (1951), Isle of the Dead (1945), and Thundarr the Barbarian: The Complete Series (1980-1982).
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