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Betsy, The  Print E-mail
DVD Drama
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 30 March 1999



title:
The Betsy


studio:
Warner Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Laurence Olivier, Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Katherine Ross
release year: 1978
film rating: Two Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

‘The Betsy’ is one of those rare films that benefits from being modified from the widescreen to full-screen aspect ratio. It’s difficult to imagine what this movie played like on the big screen. Adapted from Harold Robbins’ novel by screenwriters William Bast and Walter Bernstein and directed by Daniel Petrie, ‘The Betsy’ resembles nothing so much as an extra-long, better-acted episode of ‘Dynasty.’

Actually, it’s the other way round as ‘The Betsy’ was made in 1978 and ‘Dynasty’ and its ilk didn’t show up until the ‘80s. However, the style and subject matter both seem more familiar from nighttime soap opera than from films of any era.

‘The Betsy,’ believe it or not, is what aging Detroit auto mogul Loren Hardeman Sr. (Laurence Olivier) plans to call a new car that he hopes to have designed behind the back of his company-running grandson, Loren III (Robert Duvall). The moniker is a tribute to Hardeman’s beloved great-granddaughter (Kathleen Beller), but it’s typical of the film that he doesn’t contemplate what car dealers will face trying to peddle one of these babies. Hardeman Sr. enlists the professional acumen of race car driver Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones), who until now has only designed his own race cars. Loren Sr. and Loren III are both driven by memories of past tragedy (dramatized in copious flashbacks) that have them at loggerheads in the present. There are lots of sexual assignations, some of them between in-laws, and lots of manly butting of heads about the right way to build cars and run corporations, played out on well-appointed sets.

They just don’t make movies like ‘The Betsy’ for theatrical release any more -- for good reason. The film’s look is unremittingly flat, with no differentiation in photography between the segments set in the present and those in the past. Chapter 9 does feature some nostalgia-inducing and oddly cute split-screen segments, but even an explosion in Chapter 30 doesn’t make much of an impression, visually or aurally. On the DVD, Chapter 6 suffers from little white scratches popping up all over the frame.

The main thing the film has going for it is an incredibly talented cast. Olivier is restrained and sympathetic, Duvall is superb (as always) and Jones plays his hot-headed brash hero with conviction. It’s also a kick to be reminded of how these performers and others looked 20 years ago -- hard to imagine Jones as a floppy-haired young stud, but here’s proof.

Otherwise, ‘The Betsy’ is simply an oddity, an unacknowledged forerunner of the sort of fare that ruled the tube a decade ago and can still be caught in syndication today.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital
aspect ratio(s):
1:3:3 (full-screen, modified from original ratio)
special features: Chapter Search
comments: email us here...
   
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba








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