The Sherman Bros. Cinderella musical THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE: THE STORY OF CINDERELLA (1976) has proven elusive to me since it was first released when I was in my teens.
Although I've owned the LP soundtrack since the movie came out, I had never caught up with the film until now, thanks to a beautiful new Blu-ray released last November.
It's a movie I was hoping to love and instead simply liked. There are performances, songs, and scenes which are very, very good, even brilliant -- just try getting the Oscar-nominated "Slipper and the Rose Waltz" out of your head! -- but the whole thing threatens to collapse under the weight of the film's bloated 146-minute running time. There are extraneous songs which don't move the plot along and an extended double ending, causing the film to run about half an hour too long.
An editor with a judicious use of scissors could have taken a good film and trimmed it into an excellent one. Curiously enough, IMDb says that there was a U.S. version of the film which ran 127 minutes. I wonder if I might like that version better!
THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE was directed by Bryan Forbes, who cowrote the screenplay with the film's composers, Richard and Robert Sherman. Forbes passed away last May, and Robert Sherman in May 2012.
The film has numerous strong points, starting with the lilting title song. It stars Richard Chamberlain as the Prince, with Gemma Craven as Cinderella; Chamberlain acquits himself well as a singer and romantic lead, and Craven is charming. She would later star in a marvelous TV production of SHE LOVES ME (1978), which really needs to come out on DVD.
Whenever the film's energy is flagging, it only takes the appearance of the film's two great ladies, Margaret Lockwood and Annette Crosbie, to zap it back to life. Crosbie is a delight as a rather unusual Fairy Godmother, who is sweet-natured but spread thin caring for her charges; she must "borrow" magic for Cinderella's evening at the ball, hence only having enough magic to last until midnight! Crosbie appeared in this film shortly after her superb performance as Queen Victoria in TV's EDWARD THE KING (1975).
Lockwood (seen above left) is delicious as the Wicked Stepmother from the moment she returns from burying her husband and removes her coat to reveal a bright red gown underneath! She's great fun to watch, as Lockwood fans might imagine.
There are a number of other venerable acting names in the cast, with Kenneth More as the Chamberlain, Michael Hordern as the King, and Edith Evans as the Dowager Queen. Polly Williams, who was married to Nigel Havers and sadly passed on of cancer a decade ago, has a small role as a member of the nobility in love with the prince's manservant John (Christopher Gable).
The film has some gorgeous moments, including a marvelous solution to the Prince finally finding Cinderella; in despair, he tosses the glass slipper into a meadow, where it's found by a wondering Cinderella. The prince's friend John then spots her dancing with it and hastens to summon the prince. It's beautifully filmed and quite romantic.
I also especially liked a lovely theatrical-style curtain call at the end of the film, with the characters bowing to the audience as their names appear on screen.
As for the film's issues, there are far too many songs sung by minor characters which do nothing to advance the story; this is an issue both early on, causing the story to ramp up verrry slowly, and again at the end. All the viewer wants is to see the Prince and Cinderella reunited, and instead we're left clock watching while servants dance in the kitchen.
Dancing mice and the Prince literally dancing on the tombs of his ancestors also could have been cut; the weight of history and family obligation felt by the Prince is dramatically important, but the lighthearted song and dance in that setting was...awkward.
The film basically has two endings, as after the Prince finds Cinderella they are separated once more. (My reaction was "Wait...what? Again?") Just when the viewer despairs, the Fairy Godmother turns up to mutter about people not being able to do things correctly without her help, and she sets things right once and for all. Whew!
The film has gorgeous costumes and sets, and it was beautifully shot by Tony Imi, with locations including Salzburg, Austria.
In addition to the Blu-ray, THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE had a past release on a pan-and-scan DVD.
Amazon Prime members can stream this film at no extra charge.
The Blu-ray was favorably reviewed by DVD Talk ("This new release...is positively glorious...Highly Recommended") and High-Def Digest ("stupendous transfer...quite captivating"). The Blu-ray has extras from the earlier DVD release, including a commentary track with director Forbes and two featurettes.
I agree the Blu-ray itself is gorgeous and recommend the film with the qualifications noted above. Chamberlain, Craven, Crosbie, and Lockwood plus the title song are reason enough to spend time with this telling of the classic story.