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The Importance of Being Earnest (The Criterion Collection) (1952)

Michael Redgrave , Richard Wattis , Anthony Asquith  |  Unrated |  DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Michael Redgrave, Richard Wattis, Michael Denison, Walter Hudd, Edith Evans
  • Directors: Anthony Asquith
  • Writers: Anthony Asquith, Oscar Wilde
  • Producers: Anthony Asquith, Earl St. John, Teddy Baird
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: June 25, 2002
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00006673M
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,350 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Importance of Being Earnest (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Rare production stills with notes by film historian Bruce Eder

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Oscar Wilde's comic jewel sparkles in Anthony Asquith's film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest. Featuring brilliantly polished performances by Michael Redgrave, Joan Greenwood, and Dame Edith Evans, the enduringly hilarious story of two young women who think themselves engaged to the same nonexistent man is given the grand Technicolor treatment. Seldom has a classic stage comedy been so engagingly transferred to the screen. The Criterion Collection is proud to present The Importance of Being Earnest on DVD for the first time.

If you're looking for the definitive example of dry British wit, look no further than The Importance of Being Earnest. Of course, it helps to have Oscar Wilde's beloved play as source material, but this exquisite adaptation has a charmed life of its own, with a perfectly matched director (Anthony Asquith was raised in the rarified, upper-class atmosphere of Wilde's play) and a once-in-a-lifetime cast. Mix these ingredients with Wilde's inimitable repartee, and you've got a comedic soufflé that's been cooked to perfection. Opening with a proscenium nod to its theatrical origins, the film turns Wilde's comedy of clever deception and mixed identities into a cinematic treat, and while the 10-member cast is uniformly superb, special credit must be given to Dame Edith Evans, reprising her stage role as the imperiously stuffy Lady Bracknell. To hear her Wilde-ly hilarious inflections and elongated syllables is to witness British comedy in its purest form, fully deserving of the royal Criterion treatment. --Jeff Shannon

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
172 of 179 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Criterion version is the best version by far....... November 16, 2002
Two film versions of Oscar Wilde's IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST are now available on DVD. If you know nothing of the play or subsequent movie versions of the play, you might wonder, which is best? Which should I buy? Should I buy both of them?
The version of EARNEST released in 1952 and listed here stars Michael Redgrave as Worthing (father of Lynn, Vanessa, and Colin Redgrave; grandfather of Miranda and Natasha Richardson, etc.), Dame Edith Evans as Aunt Augusta, Joan Greenwood as Gwendolyn, Margaret Rutherford as the woeful governess, and several other fine stage actors of 1950s England.
The 1952 version is 95 minutes long and presented as a stage play with a few outdoors settings. If you want to see the play as Wilde probably meant it to be seen, this version is the one to buy. The dialogue is snappy and smart, the humor dry and witty, the actors are filled with zest. Not only that, but the 1952 version is a Criterion DVD with `digital transfer' and historical notes.
The second version of EARNEST, released in theaters a year or two ago, stars Colin Firth as Worthing, Rupert Everett as Algeron, Frances O'Conner as Gwendolyn, Dame Judi Dench as Aunt Augusta, Anna Massey in the Margaret Rutherford role, Reese Witherspoon as Cecily, and Edward Fox as Algeron's underpaid manservant. If Wilde knows about this version, he is probably spinning in his grave in Pere Lachaise.
The dialogue (Wilde wrote) is virtually the same in both films, and the actors for the most part are great actors, but something has gone missing from the newer release. I love Colin Firth, but he is dismal as Worthing. I am ambivalent about Everett but he is the best thing in the newer film.
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76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive cinematic production February 20, 2001
Format:VHS Tape
Oscar Wilde's celebrated masterpiece is a comedy on three levels. First there is the denotative level, one might say, the level in which the bourgeois are entertained après dîner. It is on this level that Oscar Wilde follows the great theatrical tradition of comedy from the time of the Greeks through Shakespeare and French farce into the twentieth century to the musical comedy of the London and New York stage. His play on this level is a comedy of manners, pleasant, charming and very clever. The class conscious jokes about the lower orders and the servants are double-edged and add just a touch of squirm to the laughter of the not completely discerning audience. It is on the second level that The Importance of Being Earnest becomes one of the greatest plays ever written. On this level, the comedy is a full blown satire of Victorian society, and in particular of its audience. Wilde had the very great pleasure of flattering and making fun of the audience while being applauded for doing so. His subtitle for the play, "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" is an allusion to these two levels. It is on this second level that Wilde speaks through the voice of Lady Bracknell (and sometimes Algernon), whose ironic and unself-conscious cynicism is so like his own. It is on this level that all the fun is made of the hypocrisy of marriage and its mercenary nature, at least as practiced by the petite bourgeoisie of London town, circa 1895. But there is a third level, a level known of course to the cognoscenti of the time and to modern audiences, but for the most part never dreamed of by the London theater-goers of the day. In this regard I have recently read that "Earnest" was a slang euphemism for being gay, and I suspect this is true. Read more ›
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Confection...Sweet & Tart April 4, 2000
Format:VHS Tape
With the release of "An Ideal Husband" (starring Rupert Everett) last year, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is no longer the best Oscar Wilde movie. BUT -- it is still Wilde's funniest and sharpest satire AND the finest example of "Wilde Style" acting ever recorded on film.
This movie reeks of "thea-tah" in the best sense. Wilde characters live perfectly and carefully structured lives (it's part of the joke). These are not natural don't expect a naturalistic movie. It's candy colored pastels, raised pinkies, and noses tilted defiantly to the sky. And always, always knowing exactly what to say, and how to say it.
The cast of "Earnest" is superb individually and as an ensemble. It includes stage and screen legends like Michael Redgrave, Dame Edith Evans, and the inimitalble Margaret Rutherford.
Invite your wittiest friends to tea...and watch this movie.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific movie, good DVD January 3, 2003
Many of the reviews here have a lot to say about the movie itself, but not much about the DVD presentation. That the movie is excellent is not in dispute. I'd also like to point out that everyone can and will appreciate it, not just english majors or art-film aficionados. Although the society it presents is utterly and completely different from our own modern ways, it's STILL a very very funny film with a wealth of one-line gems of Oscar Wilde wit.
The picture quality presented here on the Criterion DVD is incredibly vibrant and quite pleasing. The color is amazing considering the movie is half a century old (and also considering the DVD was digitally mastered from a print rather than a negative). Audio cleanup is unobtrusive and all the lines of dialogue are clear and understandable.
The biggest drawback with the DVD is the lack of extras. There is an original theatrical trailer, and a gallery of production stills, but that's all. Luckily it means the retail price is a bit lower than other Criterion titles, but it's still disappointing that more visual extras couldn't be included. The booklet is, as usual with Criterion discs, well worth reading.
Summary: great funny film for everyone, beautiful picture, weak on extras.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful, wonderful performance of this brilliant Oscar Wilde Play. A very definite must have.
Published 1 day ago by Amets
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
excellent movie.
Published 1 month ago by Mr.Anthony Di Carlo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Sandra E. Russell
4.0 out of 5 stars "The Importance of Being Earnest"
This is an old favorite of mine. I wanted to have my own DVD so I can watch it whenever I want.
Published 4 months ago by Rose E. Trungold
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive "Importance if Being Earnest" movie
I know there are at least two versions of this movie -- maybe more. This is my favorite because of the audio. The voices are so rich. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jeanne
4.0 out of 5 stars Rather Stagy but Nonetheless Classic Version of a Classic Play
Anthony Asquith's version for Rank announces its intentions right at the beginning, with a shot of an Edwardian-style theater and the curtain rising on a proscenium stage. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Dr. Laurence Raw
5.0 out of 5 stars Very satisfied with renting this movie!
This was the only place I could find the 1952 version of The Importance of Being Earnest. While I enjoyed the 2002 version, I had been told that the 1952 version was more true to... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Dawn P
5.0 out of 5 stars BRITISH HUMOR AT IT'S FINEST!
A few years back, Hollywood did what Ho0llywood does best. They took a GREAT movie and remade it into a HORRIBLE movie. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Tim Drain
5.0 out of 5 stars Earnestly worth watching.
This version is worth watching. The story telling is simple, clean, and honest. I enjoyed this film immensely and have recommended it to friends and coworkers with great... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mark Caswell
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful rendition of a great play.
This film is so much better than the more recent film- better script, much better acting. Judi Drench must have been embarrassed!
Published 9 months ago by Ginger
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