Plot: What’s it about?
Burnbridge Waters (Vincent Price) is the owner of Milady Soap, a commercial empire which even sponsors its own quiz show, Masquerade for Money. On this program, the contestants can double their winnings with each correct answer and while most only win a nominal sum, the potential is there to grab millions upon millions. Of course, a person would have to either be a genius or have access to the answers to take the entire Milady Soap vault, but in Beauregard Bottomley (Ronald Colman), the show has a serious threat. You see, Bottomley might be unemployed and seem like just another man on the street, but his mind holds vast amounts of knowledge, the kind that could crumble the Milady Soap estate. And since he has ill will toward Waters himself, he just might try to take the old man for everything he has. This anger is present because when Bottomley applied for a lower tier position at Milady Soap, Waters balked and wouldn’t allow him to work in the corporation. So now he wants not only revenge, he wants to take Waters’ company from under him and do so on the grandest stage of all, national television. Even though his superior intellect should guide him through the questions without much trouble, he’ll have to contend with Waters’ interference and a femme fatale (Celeste Holm) sent to undermine his efforts. Can Bottomley do the impossible and not only win on Masquerade for Money, but win the entire company in the process?
We’ve all seen Robert Redford’s acclaimed Quiz Show and heard about the real life events that inspired it, but have we all seen Champagne for Caesar. I doubt most of our readership has, but now that it is available on DVD, I hope that changes and soon. Not only is this movie a wild, comic version of Quiz Show, but Champagne for Caesar actually predates the real life controversy, making it ahead of its time. But just because this film deals with game shows of the 40s & 50s, don’t assume its content is dated, as the recent deluge of game shows like Survivor and The Weakest Link shows this one still has ample resonance. The subject matter still holds weight after all these years, but what about the rest of the elements, right? Well, even today Champagne for Caesar is a hilarious effort that delivers on all counts and not only is this one of the funniest movies out there, but it has some substance to boot. The message of television’s threat to the big screen isn’t hammered home, but it is covered and thanks to the approach used, it never hinders the comedic impact and of course, that makes all the difference here. Plus, we have an eclectic cast that includes Ronald Colman, Celeste Holm, Vincent Price, Art Linkletter, Barbara Britton, and even Mel Blanc, who provides the voice of the parrot, Caesar. In the end, this movie is has withstood the tests of time and is more than recommended, without any hesitation.
In a role in which he was cast against type, Vincent Price finds himself in the part of the villain, which must have a tough transition. Of course, I’m being sarcastic, since Price is best known for his work in darker characters, but even so, this is still not his usual performance. Even though this movie is one of his earlier pictures, Price was known for his dramatic work and in Champagne for Caesar, he has more comedic presence. But Price was a master thespian and proves he could handle any role thrown to him, as he steals the show with his turn as Burnbridge Waters. In fact, I’d rank this up there with the best efforts of his career and according to both critics & fans, I’m not alone in my very high opinion of his performance here. He is able to bring his usual sinister presence, but add in some comic flair and as he so often does, he outshines his costars and make it his movie, a truly superb turn from one of the screen’s finest. Other films with Price include The Ten Commandments, Tales of Terror, The Last Man on Earth, House of 1000 Dolls, Theatre of Blood, House of Wax, and The Masque of the Red Death. The cast also includes Ronald Colman (A Double Life, Lost Horizon), Celeste Holm (Gentleman’s Agreement, All About Eve), and Barbara Britton (The Spoilers, Ride the Man Down).
Video: How does it look?
Champagne for Caesar is presented in full frame, as intended. As you’d expect from a film released in 1950, the materials have been worn by time to an extent, but I think the print still looks more than solid. You’ll see some light nicks and marks, but aside from a few isolated incidents, the print is free from any serious defects. Even grain proves to be a non issue here and of course, that means we have a cleaner, sharper image than expected. The contrast holds up well also, rendering the black levels in well balanced, refined fashion. The few serious, but infrequent print defects cause me to lower the score, but rest assured, this is a fine overall presentation, given the age and low profile of the materials.
Audio: How does it sound?
This disc uses the original mono track, but don’t worry as this film never calls for any type of power based audio. As such, the front channels handle it all and never falter in the least. I found no age related issues with the music, as it was always clear and crisp. The sound effects are mostly natural, more subtle noises, so no surround use is missed in the least with this one. The dialogue is the main audio focus and it comes through well, no clarity issues at all.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc includes a selection of still photos & lobbycards.