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Ronald Neame
Maggie Smith, Robert Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Gordon Jackson, Celia Johnson, Diane Grayson, Jane Carr, Shirley Steedman
Writing Credits:
Jay Presson Allen, Muriel Spark (novel)

Out of one Jean Brodie would come a whole generation of Jean Brodies ... experimenting with sex, society and everything else.

Based on Muriel Spark's best-selling novel, the film The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie earned a Best Actress Oscar for its star, Maggie Smith, in 1969. The theme song, "Jean" written by Rod McKuen, was also nominated for a Best Song Academy Award.

An inspiration to the young girls she teaches and a challenge to the 1932 Edinburgh school who retains her services, Jean Brodie (Smith) espouses her wisdom on art and music, defends fascism, and otherwise encourages fiercely independent thinking in her students. As she engages in ongoing battles with the school's rigid heads and bewilders two men in love with her, Miss Brodie also faces the biggest trial of her life when her career and livelihood become threatened.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby 2.0
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 7/6/2004

• Audio Commentary with Director Ronald Neame and Actor Pamela Franklin
• Still Gallery
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie: Fox Studio Classics (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 5, 2004)

As one might expect from a series called “Fox Studio Classics”, the 20 releases prior to July 2004 all came from fairly long ago, cinema-wise. The newest flick of the bunch was from the late Fifties, and the trend appeared likely to continue with films from the Eisenhower era and prior times.

Now Fox hits too close to home with the release of 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This flick came out two years after my birth, which makes me feel darned old. Anything that originated during my lifetime shouldn’t be called a classic, dagnabbit! (Of course, if I want to avoid looking old, I probably shouldn’t use terms like “dagnabbit”.)

Set in Edinburgh circa 1932, Prime focuses on its title character (Maggie Smith), a teacher at a private girl’s school called Marcia Blaine. She’s a rebel at this conservative location, and her unorthodox methods don’t always go over well with the establishment. Brodie declares herself to be in her prime and won’t let anyone stand in her way.

As part of her “prime”, Brodie entertains male callers. We hear allusions to her concluded romance with married art teacher Teddy Lloyd (Robert Stephens), although he still desires to continue that affair. Instead, Brodie now dates milquetoast teacher Gordon Lowther (Gordon Jackson). Lloyd persists, though, and eventually starts to break down her resistance. The movie follows the various romantic elements as well as Brodie’s run-ins with stodgy headmistress Miss Mackay (Celia Johnson) and the development of the students under Jean’s tutelage.

Films about inspirational and iconoclastic teachers are a dime a dozen, and they often seem a lot alike. Flicks like Dead Poet’s Society and Mona Lisa Smile always posit the lead teachers as the ones with the answers who get put down by the establishment.

Prime differs in its portrayal of its lead. To be sure, Brodie fits the standard definition, but she doesn’t seem like as simplistic a personality. Actually, in most ways, she is a simple character - at least in the film’s first half or so - as she presents such an absurdly arrogant and haughty personality that I find it difficult to take her seriously.

Smith throws herself into the role wholeheartedly. Brodie immediately comes across as haughty, condescending, arrogant and self-important. She is dismissive of kids with interests that don’t agree with hers, and she declares her favorite Italian artist to be the greatest and accepts no other judgments. Brodie immediately appears annoying and unlikable, which seems to be the point to a degree. On one hand, we kind of admire her for the force of her convictions, but on the other, she’s too insufferable to like her.

Normally I’d find such an obnoxious character to become a weakness in this sort of film, as we’re usually meant to be on their side of the arguments. However, Prime comes across partially as a parody of the usual iconoclastic teacher story. Especially in the first half, it takes things to such broad extremes that I find it tough to take seriously and can’t imagine that we’re meant to see much of it as anything other than a spoof of the genre. Given that some of director Ronald Neame’s prior efforts like 1958’s The Horse’s Mouth offered similarly scenery-chewing lead performances, it becomes even more difficult to view Brodie as anything other than an intentionally cartoony character, at least during the initial parts of the flick.

Does all of this succeed? Yes, at least to a degree. Smith buys into her obnoxious character in such a devoted way that she becomes a real force of nature. Smith doesn’t seem afraid to make Brodie unlikable; though her concern for her students mostly comes through, she remains so overbearing and self-absorbed that her basic nature keeps her at a distance from us. Nonetheless, Smith’s aggressive take ensures we can’t take our eyes off of her.

The movie expands on her personality as it progresses. I won’t get into what happens, but after a first half that feels like a spoof, the second almost turns into a horror movie as Brodie’s actions negatively affect others and one pupil tries to stop her. Granted, it’s not a simple good vs. evil tale, but the film exposes the damage Brodie can do and also gets into the root of her personality issues. Hint: she’s not really as self-confident as she wants to believe.

Other characters don’t get off any easier. Lloyd provides a fairly conventional cad but with a twist, as his obsession with Brodie offers some funny elements. For example, all of his paintings look like Jean. Even when he depicts his family, all the members show signs of Brodie - even the dog’s!

Again, the movie eventually starts to offer more depth, as we get more to the heart of Brodie’s pathology. The flick doesn’t take an easy turn here. It loses some of its comic energy but gives Brodie and the others more dimensionality and explains a lot of things. Gloriously unsentimental, the film eventually exposes Brodie for what she is, which seems decidedly atypical for this kind of project.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie runs a bit long. Nonetheless, it offers a refreshingly insubordinate take on the usual inspirational teacher tale. Along with a forceful performance from its lead, this seems like enough to make it entertaining.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C-/ Bonus C+

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A very nice transfer, Prime displayed only a few concerns.

Almost no problems with sharpness manifested themselves. Softness remained at a minimum throughout the movie. Instead, the flick looked quite well-defined and distinctive. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement popped up through the flick. Other than some mild and inoffensive grain, the film looked quite clean. I saw the occasional speckle but found the defects to appear very minor for an aging movie.

Though Prime didn’t embrace a dynamic palette, it maintained nicely natural tones that came across well. The colors consistently looked accurate and vivid. I noticed no issues with bleeding or noise, as I thought the hues seemed firm and lively. Blacks also demonstrated fine depth and clarity, while low-light shots appeared concise and smooth.

Most Fox Studio Classics releases present stereo remixes, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie followed suit. These tend to vary between pretty good and fairly crummy. Unfortunately, the stereo audio of Prime fell into the latter category.

One of the major stumbling blocks with these remixes affected speech, as the stereo tracks often featured excessive echo for the dialogue. That occurred during Prime and left the lines thin and feeble much of the time. They acquired a distant quality that occasionally made them difficult to understand.

Nothing about the track opened up the soundfield very much. The audio remained glorified monaural, as it presented music and effects with an emphasis on the center. They spread lightly and vaguely to the sides but demonstrated no distinctive delineation. Instead, scenes like those in the dining hall displayed a loose feeling of blending to the sides and failed to mark anything better defined.

Audio quality seemed lackluster. As noted, the dialogue was tinny and without much clarity. Some edginess popped up at times. Music also came across as bland and somewhat shrill, as the score lacked much clarity. It presented decent low-end in general but still remained rather drab. Effects played a small role in this chatty flick, but they didn’t prosper either. Those elements were bland and without definition.

Happily, the DVD also included the film’s original monaural soundtrack. This mix didn’t excel, but it avoided some of the problems found on the stereo version. Speech still showed a little edginess, but the lines came across as more direct and intelligible. Music and effects were also a bit better defined and rounded. The difference between the two wasn’t enormous, and the mono track still only merited a “C+”. Nonetheless, that bettered the “C-“ I gave to the stereo version.

One oddity about the audio: starting around the 66-minute mark, I noticed a weird low-end noise that popped up in the background for both the stereo and mono tracks. This remained faint enough that it sounded like someone’s car subwoofer from outside my house. It wasn’t, and it went away after a few minutes. It caused some odd distractions, though.

Light on extras, the prime attraction for Prime presents an audio commentary with director Ronald Neame and actor Pamela Franklin. Both were recorded separately and had their remarks combined for this edited track. Neame talks about casting the girls, pacing issues due to all the dialogue, Smith’s attitude on the set, the development of the story and the characters, and general insight into the creation of the flick. Franklin presents notes of a more anecdotal nature in general. She chats about her experiences and impressions of the production and also tosses in stories about subjects such as a screening for royalty. She also talks about the characters and their development. Both participants spend a fair amount of time on subjects not directly related to Prime, as they chat about their careers before and after the movie. Neame presents a lot of good notes about his time with David Lean, for example. Overall, the commentary doesn’t excel, but it presents a generally informative and engaging piece.

In the Still Gallery, we find some shots from the set. This collection offers 26 photos in all. Nothing great pops up here, but it’s a decent package. The DVD’s booklet features some extremely rudimentary production notes.

We also get a slew of ads. The disc includes the teaser and theatrical trailers for Prime as well as promos for other Studio Classics. That domain contains ads for An Affair to Remember, The Grapes of Wrath, The Song of Bernadette, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and How Green Was My Valley.

An unusual and fairly successful take on a tired subject, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie nicely mocks the usual tendencies of its genre. Boasting a dynamic performance from Maggie Smith and enjoying a generally insouciant tone, the flick provides an entertaining piece despite a few flaws. The DVD presents very positive picture along with average audio and a small mix of extras highlighted by a fairly informative audio commentary. Clever and broad, Prime deserves a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5405 Stars Number of Votes: 37
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