OH . . . ROSALINDA! was, for many years, the "white whale" of Powell and Pressburger productions. Alone among the films made by their corporate alias The Archers, it simply failed to turn up anywhere. Over the decades, their wartime pictures and the immediate postwar titles had shown up from time-to-time on television and, occasionally -- apart from The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, which did get played more often -- in theaters around New York. I'd even managed to catch Ill Met By Moonlight, The Elusive Pimpernel, and Gone To Earth/The Wild Heart, but not ROSALINDA. Then, about 20 years ago, under the sponsorship of The Piper-Heidsieck Champagne House, The Archers' nearly complete output was shown on theater screens in New York City (I saw A Matter of Life And Death seated next to Ivana Trump at the Museum of Modern Art, which would've made quite a picture, the perfectly coiffed and made-up Czech ex-model seated next to someone who looked like a fugitive from a rummage sale, like a scene from a Klicpera farce . . . ).
And there was OH. . . ROSALINDA.
I compared seeing it for the first time, in a theater, with the experience of materializing inside of the most delicious birthday cake in the world and being asked to eat your way out of it (not unlike the experience of hearing the underlying Johann Strauss II Fledermaus for the first time). Each new scene and every shot was a delight to the eye (and the ear), and a tease to the mind as well, as the re-purposed Strauss score brushes up against the absurdities of the four-power occupation of Vienna near its end, circa 1955. (As it happens the end of that occupation by the Americans, the Soviets, the British, and the French was, in real-life, marked by musical events, most notably the re-opening of the Vienna State Opera in November of that year [with Beethoven's Fidelio]; and its subject matter also puts OH . . . ROSALINDA! into a small sub-category of what one might call "Cold War musicals" that includes Cole Porter's Silk Stockings).
As the last grand artistic statement by The Archers, closing out a trilogy started with The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffmann, but delayed for three years following its initial conception, ROSALINDA is a bold, powerful and overwhelmingly gorgeous THEATRICAL film, and one that, by virtue of its subject matter, brings us back to the reality of the postwar era -- it's an odd, aesthetically challenging venture in the wake of The Red Shoes, which swept us along in a mindset of art once again being something worth dying for, and The Tales of Hoffmann's complex plunge into often dark artistic recesses.
I wish I could say that the movie translates well to the small screen, but that's not possible.
The only Archers production shot in CinemaScope, the anamorphic image (2.55-to-1) just doesn't work on a home-screen, or at least not on this viewer's 28-inch monitor. Powell fills the screen more than well enough in his only venture into the format, and often with diverting images in juxtaposition, but the inability to do any close-ups, coupled with the overt artificiality of a film shot to a pre-recorded audio track, becomes much more jarring in miniature than it seemed on the bigger-than-life theater screen. This was a movie meant to be seen in the latter venue, LARGER than life, which immediately allows the viewer to bound over and well-past the miming -- in a theater, it all holds together, whether we're dealing with Anton Walbrook's wryly sardonic dialogue, Mel Ferrer's wily romantic machinations with the sultry Rosalinda (Ludmilla Tcherina), or the transitions to arias, choruses, and dances. But the transitions, and the points where matters all "join" take much more of an effort for the viewer at home to ignore. And the artifice that was on display in The Archers' adaptation of The Tales of Hoffmann is much more pronounced here, and not as smoothly woven into the proceedings.
That said, this is still a good effort by the DVD producers. There's obviously some room for improvement in the source material, when and if someone decides to spend the money on it, but the movie is still a lively diversion and a delicious confection for the eye. The chaptering is reasonably generous, but there are no notable extras, apart from the trailer and an array of stills, and a booklet reproducing a lot of promotional material in extreme miniature; and this release is obviously far superior in sound and image to one bootleg DVD that I have somewhere in my possession (and can now dispose of). I'm happy to own this release, though I'll make it my business to see ROSALINDA in a theater again, should the opportunity arise once more (as it now has on three occasions in 20 years).