Sort of two films in one, with neither being particularly interesting, the 1966 playing card caper Kaleidoscope carries the burden of reminding us that Warren Beatty, the persona, the movie star, the actor, was woefully indebted to the material he was trying to perform. Beatty's engine tended to run at the same speed regardless of the road or occasion. He was always a cocky jackass, though in the right film he was ingratiating. In the wrong film...well, prepare for excessive grinning and self-serious squinting. We see a lot of Beatty's teeth in Kaleidoscope. He was still a year away from being Clyde Barrow, a year removed from trying something different with Mickey One. Director Jack Smight was barely weaned off television dramas and soon to bask in the mild success of the Paul Newman vehicle Harper, released the same year. TV would quickly beckon again for Smight and he'd return to paycheck work like the needless small screen remake of Double Indemnity by the early seventies.
The celluloid of Kaleidoscope remains, however semi-obscure and rarely mentioned over the past few decades. It's now officially become part of the home entertainment scene, available from Digital Classics on DVD in the UK and also as part of the Warner Archive burn-on-demand collection. There's undoubtedly someone out there who covets this movie, just as there are people for every title. Someone saw it on their first date on the path to marriage. Or Beatty completists are looking to plug in a hole. Fans of Susannah York are curious. Settle down people. Kaleidoscope is here at last.
Unofficial part one of the film begins in the vein of a romantic comedy from the '30s or '40s. Pleasant, charming, with promise. Beatty comes across Susannah York after a traffic mishap. It's a screwball meet-cute that is unlike anything else in the film. The setting is London, but Beatty has to take off for a few days. He doesn't tell her why or where. His destination is revealed as Geneva and a wordless, irritatingly sitar-scored detour follows where the character stealthily infiltrates a playing card manufacturer. Once there, he rigs the plates so that the cards made will be marked. The next part of the plan is to hop around European casinos with his newfound "luck." At some point, York's character shows up and the two continue their hot streak together. Beatty's smart enough to realize he has to keep moving but he doesn't count on York selling him out to her father, a Scotland Yard man. Pause for sitar music and semi-groovy visual transition.
We return to London for unofficial part two, where Beatty accepts a deal from York's father (played by the sort of delightful Clive Revill) to apply his card tricks to a struggling businessman who's been an uncomfortable thorn in Scotland Yard's side for far too long and is now suddenly vulnerable in the wallet. It's Beatty's job to beat him at cards, with the hope of virtually bankrupting the man's business interests. This man Harry Dominion (Eric Porter) will prove to be a sore loser with a terrible hair style. Most of what happens is extremely predictable and done absent any flair, though Christopher Challis' colorful cinematography and York's reaction shots do their part in getting us through it all.
Kaleidoscope is an inept film. When Beatty's gambling in the Riviera there are frequent cuts and zooms to the backs of the playing cards. I'm not sure if this is to keep reminding us what he's doing or if there's some other explanation. Not having tinkered with those plates myself, I had no idea what card was going to come up just by looking at the pattern on the back. That's really not the way to create mild suspense. The entirety of the movie is filled with one implausibility after the next, to the point where I suspect that we're not really supposed to take it seriously much of the time. Then again, there's no hint of humor or irony either. It's a straightforward telling trapped between two completely different eras of moviemaking. There's no pastiche, no homage, no cleverness at all. The film is Beatty being pompous and a spoiled York tagging along.
The label Digital Classics has brought a small handful of Warner Bros.-owned films to DVD in the UK, including Kaleidoscope. The disc sent over for review is a DVD-R and thus not a final copy but I can only assume it to be otherwise identical to the retail version. What I have here is single-layered, PAL but not region-coded.
The progressive transfer is in roughly the 1.75:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen displays. (It's 1.78:1 with thin black bars on each side.) While the opening titles fare the worst in terms of dirt being on the print, the remainder of the picture only occasionally shows any speckles of debris. The image does not appear to have undergone any restoration work, preventing any excessive manipulation. This has the feel of seeing an archival print in the cinema. It's also a little on the soft side, with close-ups often looking much sharper. Colors, one of the film's few strong points, come through well. I'd rate the overall quality as fair to good, with points for leaving things as is instead of making a mess of it.
A musical score by Stanley Myers tries to integrate a bit of the swinging London pop sound, accented by Indian instruments like the sitar and the tabla , with the normal suspense-type cues. The English mono mix comes through slightly tinny but generally fine. It's a clean track with easily understood dialogue and consistent levels of volume. Some subtitles would've still been nice, but none are provided.
The disc is also lacking any bonus material and the menu looks like it was made by a 12-year-old on the family PC.