You could only see his eyes behind the layers of makeup in The Elephant Man
but those expressive orbs earned John Hurt a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his moving portrayal of John Merrick, the grotesquely deformed Victorian man. Inarticulate and abused, Merrick is the virtual slave of a carnival barker (Freddie Jones) until dedicated London doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins in a powerfully understated performance) rescues him and offers him an existence with dignity. Anne Bancroft co-stars as the actress whose visit to Merrick makes him a social curiosity, with John Gielgud and Wendy Hiller as dubious hospital staffers won over by Merrick. David Lynch earned his only Oscar nominations as director and co-writer of this sombre drama, which he shot in a rich black-and-white palette, a sometimes stark, sometimes dreamy visual style that at times recalls the offbeat expressionism of his first film, Eraserhead
. It remains a perfect marriage between traditional Hollywood historical drama and Lynch's unique cinematic eye, a compassionate human tale delivered in a gothic vein. The film earned eight Oscar nominations in all and though it left the Oscar ceremony empty-handed, its dramatic power and handsome yet haunting imagery remain just as strong today. --Sean Axmaker, Amazon.com
On the DVD: Being black and white, it's easier to judge the digital transfer in terms of shade and thankfully this print looks just fine. There's a little confusion over the sound, however, which is advertised as Stereo on the box but says Mono on the Audio Menu. It certainly seems to be a basic Dolby stereo but it's a shame Lynch hasn't given it the personal touch since he's obsessed with mixing his films' sound himself. From the nicely thought-out animated menus there's a gallery of 20 photos and a misguiding, dramatic theatrical trailer. The only other extra is a 64-page book of which only 10 pages relate directly to the film (the rest re-tell Lynch's career and the real Elephant Man's life). --Paul Tonks
Brutalised in childhood for his appalling deformities, 'Elephant Man' John Merrick (John Hurt) has been treated as a human freak ever since. When he is discovered by London doctor Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), Merrick is finally treated with the kindness and intelligence he deserves. Unfortunately, by awakening his true character the problems continue, for he can never lead a 'normal' life. David Lynch's atmospheric, fact-based film was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Director and Best Actor.