Archive for the ‘Orson Welles’ Category

Spine #952

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 20, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:28:22

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 31.33 Mbps

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“They destroyed Ambersons and the picture itself destroyed me! I didn’t get a job as a director for years afterwards.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

So goes the legend of Orson Welles and The Magnificent Ambersons—another “mutilated masterpiece” in a career full of “mutilated masterpieces.” In any case, this is what Welles would have the world believe. It cannot be denied that the man knew how to spin a good yarn. The best of all of these tales may actually be his own revisionist history. There is certainly evidence to dispute many of his claims as to the details surrounding R.K.O.’s reshaping of Ambersons, but the legendary Welles version will always be the accepted version as it paints the picture of a misunderstood genius in an industry full of philistines.

The one thing that is absolutely certain is that the finished product was a source of sadness and regret for the director.

“I loved ‘Ambersons’ [and] wanted to make a movie of it, [but] the point of Ambersons—everything that is any good in it is that part of it that is really just a preparation for the decay of the Ambersons…

…It was thought by everybody in Hollywood while I was in South America that it was too downbeat—a famous Hollywood word at the time, downbeat—so it was all taken out, but it was the purpose of the movie to see how they all slid downhill, you see, in one way or another…

…There’s no scene in a hospital. Nothing like that ever happened in the story, and the great long scene—which was the key long scene at the end—which was ‘Aggie’ Moorehead in a third rate lodging house… and Joe Cotton has come to see how she is, and that was the best scene in the picture and it was what the picture was about… It’s gone… In other words, [at] about the time Major Amberson dies, the picture starts to become another picture—becomes their picture.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

Welles mentions “South America” and this alludes to one of the director’s unfinished projects entitled It’s All True. Unfortunately, this particular unfinished project played a major role in the misfortunes that befell The Magnificent Ambersons.

“I was in terrible trouble then, because I was sent to South America by Nelson Rockefeller and Jock Whitney. I was told that it was my patriotic duty to go and spend a million dollars shooting the carnival in Rio. Now, I don’t like things like carnivals and Mardi Gras and all that, but they put it to me that it would be a real contribution to Inter-American Affairs and the Latin American world and so, without a salary and a budget of a million dollars, I was sent to Rio to make up a movie about the carnival. But in the meantime comes the new government. RKO is now a new government… They had promised me when I went to South America that they would send a moviola and cutters to me and that I would finish the cutting of Ambersons there. They never did. They cut it themselves.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

Robert Wise, the film’s editor, is often vilified for his part in the reshaping of Ambersons, but the reality is that he was simply carrying out orders. If it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else. In any case, it wasn’t simply a matter of the film being edited without his input, and it wasn’t altered simply because it had a bleak tone. The actual trouble seems to have been the result of an unsuccessful preview screening of the film.

“At a certain point the studio became concerned because they had a lot of money tied up in the picture, about a million dollars, which was a big budget in those days. So we went out for some previews with our work print. At a certain point the studio became concerned because they had a lot of money tied up in the picture, about a million dollars, which was a big budget in those days. So we went out for some previews with our work print… We took this one to Pomona and the preview was just a disaster. The audience disliked it, they walked out, they were laughing at Aggie Moorehead’s character and it was an absolute disaster. So what were we going to do with it? We went back and cut out the scenes with Aggie Moorehead where they were laughing at her over-the-top performance. It was a long picture, as I recall…

…Well, we took it the next time to Pasadena and it played a little better but still not acceptable. We then cut some more and re-arranged things and the third time we took it to Inglewood but we had cut so much out we had continuity problems and needed some new scenes to bridge the gaps. They asked me to direct a scene between George and his mother and that was one of my first directing experiences, that scene between Dolores Costello and Tim Holt in her bedroom. We took it to Long Beach and they sat for it, they didn’t walk out, they didn’t laugh. And that’s the way it went out. We had to get a version that would play for an audience.” –Robert Wise (In Search of Lost “Ambersons)

Scholars are always talking about the “original version” of The Magnificent Ambersons as if the theatrical version of the film isn’t the “original version.” The fact of the matter is that the preview version of the film wasn’t a finished version, and Orson Welles never actually got to cut the film to his liking before heading to Rio. One imagines that the preview version was closer to the director’s intentions than the finished product, but this edit was simply an unfinished assembly of the film. Nobody really knows how closely that version actually matched the director’s vision for the Ambersons. The true tragedy is that only one “finished” edit of the film has ever existed, and this is what was released into theaters on the bottom half of a double bill. No true director’s cut of the film can ever exist (even if someone miraculously finds the earlier preview cut), because Welles was never allowed to oversee a definitive cut. This is what truly bothered Welles.

“Even if I’d stayed in the US to finish The Magnificent Ambersons, I would’ve had to make compromises on the editing, but these would’ve been mine and not the fruit of confused and often semi-hysterical committees. If I had been there myself, I would have found my own solutions and saved the picture in a form which would have carried the stamp of my own effort.” –Orson Welles

Orson Welles During Production #2

Orson Welles during the production of The Magnificent Ambersons

One certainly wishes that circumstances had been different. As it turns out, the longer preview version of the film is forever lost to history since the film was made at a time when little thought was given to the future of a studio’s catalogue.

“It was standard practice that, after the previews, when you’d come back and take sequences out you’d put them in the vault. About six months after the films were released and if you didn’t need to change the film, they’d sell the footage for the silver. But that was nothing particular with Ambersons. It was just company practice. All this about how we destroyed and mutilated it is nonsense.” –Robert Wise (In Search of Lost “Ambersons)

Some sources claim that the negative was melted down because the silver nitrate was needed for the WWII war effort. Just think of the countless treasures that are now lost to history as a result of such a shortsighted practice. It should make us grateful for the treasures that still remain. To call The Magnificent Ambersons a “lost film” seems ridiculous. It may be a bastardized version of the director’s original intentions, but it exists in its original theatrical form—and this existing version is really quite remarkable (even if it is something less than a masterpiece).

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection has given this release special Digipak packaging. Like many other collectors, this reviewer tends to prefer Criterion’s usual clear case presentations. However, this particular design is undeniably attractive. The artwork by Eric Skillman should certainly please fans of the film. Also included is a booklet that resembles the film’s screenplay—a twice-stapled bundle of white pages with most essays written in the courier font (the exception is a short selection by Welles himself)—with the original script’s title page as its cover. The pages contain six worthwhile essays, including “What Is and What Might Have Been” by Molly Haskell, “Surfaces and Depths” by Luc Sante, “Echoes of Tarkington” by Geoffrey O’Brien, “The Voice of Orson Welles” by Farren Smith Nehme, “Loving the Ruins: Or, Does ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ Exist” by Jonathan Lethem, and an excerpt from Orson Welles’s unfinished 1982 memoir entitled “My Father Wore Black Spats.” All essays are worth reading and add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features film-related artwork rendered in the same style employed for the packaging and the layout is exactly what collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. It is attractive and should be intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s transfer was taken from a 4K restoration that was scanned from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain from the Museum of Modern Art. As is their usual practice, they cleaned the scan of dirt and debris while also correcting age-related anomalies such as warps, splices, scratches, and etc. Purists will be pleased to discover that they have retained the 1.37:1 aspect ratio of the film’s original theatrical presentation, and the resulting image looks much better than this reviewer was expecting. It is a vast improvement over the somewhat rare DVD edition (from earlier special editions of Citizen Kane) in that the darker scenes aren’t nearly as uneven and showcase more detail. Contrast appears to be more accurate here as well and the texture is more filmic. There may be a few density issues inherited from the source elements, but these aren’t terribly problematic. The digital corrections made during the restoration process were obviously made with incredible care and didn’t leave any room for criticism. It looks great in motion as well. This is a release that fans of Orson Welles have been waiting for and it shouldn’t disappoint them.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s restoration extended to the film’s original audio as the track was taken from the 35mm print and cleaned of hiss, hum, crackle, clicks, and thumps. Their work is featured in the film’s original mono presentation as a Linear PCM audio track that showcases great stability but can admittedly sound slightly thin on occasion—though this never really becomes troublesome. It never impedes one’s ability to understand the dialogue or distracts the viewer by calling attention to itself. Bernard Herrmann’s score sounds much better without being oppressed by the excessive compression of the DVD format as it is given more breathing room. In short, the limitations of the track are due to the limitations of the original production techniques and the age of the source elements. Criterion offers viewers a track that is as good as can be reasonably expected.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Robert L. Carringer

It is difficult to think of a more appropriate commentator on The Magnificent Ambersons as Carringer had written a number of books about Orson Welles and his work—most notably “The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction.” The book reconstructs the “lost” version of the film by analyzing the various surviving production documents and other artifacts and personal interviews with several of the people who worked on the film.

We can’t say that he does the same in this commentary, but he does manage to point out many of the scenes that have been altered while filling us in on what has been removed. The commentary was recorded in 1985 for Criterion’s ancient laserdisc release of the film but holds up nicely even if his tone is more scholarly than enthusiastic.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum

James Naremore (author of The Magic World of Orson Welles, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook, On Kubrick, Film Adaptation, and etc.) and Jonathan Rosenbaum (author of Discovering Orson Welles, Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues, Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics, and etc.) lend their expertise to a new commentary that is just as scholarly as the Robert L. Carringer track. The film’s style is discussed as is some of the film’s history. They both comment about the film’s mutilation by the studio and the effect that this has on the fluidity of the film.

A Dangerous Nostalgia: Simon Callow on ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (25:58)

Simon Callow (author of a three volume biography on Orson Welles: Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu, Orson Welles, Volume 2: Hello Americans, and Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band as well as other works about such figures as Charles Laughton and Oscar Wilde) discusses how the fate of The Magnificent Ambersons led to his own fall from glory while also examining the original Tarkington novel. Callow also references some of the specific alterations made by RKO. It is a worthwhile interview that could have been much longer as it is an interesting discussion that engages the viewer’s interest.

Joseph McBride on ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (28:54)

Joseph McBride (author of What Ever Happened to Orson Welles, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success, Searching for John Ford, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Two Cheers for Hollywood and several other cinema-related titles) discusses the studio politics behind RKO’s fateful decision to rework The Magnificent Ambersons into the film that we have today. It is an engaging interview that should again add something to the viewer’s appreciation of and interest in the director and this film specifically.

Graceful Symmetries: Welles’s Long Version of ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (18:47)

Christopher Husted’s essay discusses the film’s mutated score by the great Bernard Herrmann and uses this score for clues as to what the so-called “lost” longer edit may have looked like. Again, this original essay adds quite a bit of value to the proceedings.

The Cinematographers – (15:40)

François Thomas (author of Orson Welles at Work) offers a scholarly essay about the film’s cinematography and how the various cinematographers involved brought a different aesthetic to their work on the film. This is a great way to examine the film’s history and overall aesthetic as it will certainly add to the viewer’s appreciation and understanding of the final theatrical “product.”

Orson Welles on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ (1970) – (36:34)

This May 04th, 1970 episode of The Dick Cavett Show features Orson Welles as one of the guests (along with Jack Lemmon) and covers a wide variety of topics. These include his early life, commonly believed exaggerations about him, his work, and etc. The information is both fascinating and entertaining. It might be the disc’s best supplemental feature (and this is saying a great deal).

Two To One (1927) – (28:05)

Two to One is a short film that was edited from a seventy minute silent feature entitled Pampered Youth (1927). It represents a silent adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons.” This shorter version was released in Britain in 1931.

Pampered Youth One Sheet

Those who are fond of the Welles version should agree that the inclusion of this short film offers the viewer a unique opportunity to compare the two different versions, and one imagines that it will add to people’s appreciation of the film (especially since sound is such a huge part of the aesthetic in an Orson Welles film).

Peter Bogdanovich Interview with Orson Welles (Audio) – (36:00)

These priceless excerpts from Peter Bogdanovich’s lengthy foundational interview with Welles were conducted throughout the latter part of the 1960s and the early 1970s and will make for fascinating listening for anyone with even the remotest interest in the director. He’s always engaging and it is revealing to learn his views on such topics as cinematography, composition, acting, and the work of other directors.

AFI Symposium on Orson Welles (1978 – Audio) – (29:46)

The audio recording of this 1978 AFI symposium about Orson Welles was excerpted from a longer recording and wasn’t recorded in a manner that makes the information particularly easy to digest, but fans of the director will likely agree that the information discussed makes the challenge well worth it.

The Magnificent Ambersons: Mercury Theatre Radio Adaptation (1939) – (55:42)

It is interesting to compare Orson Welles’s radio adaptation to his film adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons. There are many remarkable similarities and a few interesting differences in the two adaptations. The most interesting difference is the absence of Fanny Minafer in the radio adaptation and some subtle rearrangements in the ordering of a few of the scenes. The most interesting similarity is the striking resemblance between the two endings. The ending that the studio forced upon the film version—the ending that Orson Welles criticized so harshly—is remarkably similar to his own ending to the radio adaptation. It is nice to have this radio play included for these reasons. This episode originally aired on October 29, 1939.

Seventeen: Mercury Theatre Radio Adaptation (1938) – (01:00:05)

Orson Welles also adapted Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen for one of his Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts. It is a reasonably diverting play but some of the characterizations are decidedly dated. (One might even argue that one characterization in particular is racist). The episode originally aired on October 16, 1938.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

The original theatrical trailer is an excellent addition to Criterion’s stellar supplemental package. It is always disappointing when the trailer isn’t included on a Blu-ray release, because trailers give interesting insights into how a film was marketed to the public upon its release.

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Final Words:

The magnificence of the Ambersons began in 1873. Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city…” The magnificence of The Magnificent Ambersons, on the other hand, began years later in 1941 and has largely been overlooked due to its interesting backstory regarding RKO’s “sabotage.”

Criterion’s new Blu-ray release serves as a testament to the film’s underrated charms. They even sweeten the deal by offering an incredible array of supplemental features. It comes highly recommended for anyone with even a casual interest in the director’s career.

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One Sheet

 

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: May 26th, 2015

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:31:13

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3552 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital Audio (48 kHz, 448 kbps)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 22.99 Mbps

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When it comes to the subject of Orson Welles, cineastes can be divided into two distinct categories: the apologists and the critics. The apologists believe that everything he touched is, at the very least, a flawed masterpiece that could’ve been a perfect film if it hadn’t been for meddling producers and studios or a lack of funds. The critics seem to view him as a man who couldn’t get out of his own way and play the game. Obviously, either one of these views makes for an incredibly interesting subject for a documentary, but it probably won’t surprise most people to learn that Chuck Workman’s Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles falls on the side of the apologists.

The documentary’s original release fell on the eve of his centenary and takes the viewer on a journey through his life and career—but with the exception of the earlier portions of the film, it is really devoted almost entirely to his work in film (both in Hollywood and as an independent filmmaker). It has obviously been produced with love and includes many interviewees who offer their memories, knowledge, or general appreciation for his work. What’s more, there is plenty of archival interview footage with the always articulate director, and one can see scenes from nearly every film that Welles directed (both finished and unfinished).

One imagines that it will be shown often in classrooms and by anyone who appreciates his work, because it offers a rather thorough general overview of his film work. However, his struggles making each individual film was given short shrift, and the production for each of these creative ventures could (and probably should) be the focus of their own feature-length documentary. Magician is also nearly void of any real analysis when it comes to his output. How do these films fit into the filmmaker’s worldview? Are there any camouflaged autobiographical elements in his films? What were they? We never learn, and these subjects are never even raised. There is also no effort to examine his personal life or his interpersonal relationships. All of this seems a shame, but it is also understandable. Chuck Workman cast an extremely wide net, and it was inevitable that the result is simply an incredibly interesting primer.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by a clear Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring the film’s one sheet artwork framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo on the exterior and still a still of Orson Welles behind a large film camera on the interior. Inside the case is a small booklet that features chapter stops and film credits. These pages are illustrated with photographs of Welles.

Menu

The disc’s menu features footage from the film and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Transfers of documentaries are sometimes much more difficult to evaluate, because they usually rely on a wealth of varying sources of varying resolution and quality. Therefore, when this reviewer reports on the disparity between these sources, it would be extremely unfair to hold this against the transfer. On the other hand, one doesn’t wish to give the reader an inaccurate impression of what to expect.

The fresh footage shot by Workman for this particular film looks quite nice as it showcases quite a bit of fine detail and a respectable level of clarity. Most of the clips from the various films in Welles’ filmography also look reasonably attractive, although an amateur short that was shot long before his debut as a proper filmmaker have seen better days. Archival material is (and was always going to be) all over the place, but this adds a quality that some will argue add to the overall experience. Television video dances with old filmed television, damaged behind the scenes footage, and other such sources. It adds personality.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

It’s difficult to imagine anyone expecting a truly dynamic sonic experience from such a film, and those who are will be likely to complain. However, the more reasonable among us will likely agree that Cohen’s 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio option more than pulls its weight in support of this documentary feature as it offers nice fidelity for the most part (again, sources were always going to vary in this and every other regard).

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

A Conversation with Chuck Workman – (08:59)

Annette Insdorf (Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University) interviews Chuck Workman in this short promotional EPK featurette. The experience feels almost like a short appreciation of the director’s overall career in much the same way that DVDs and Blu-rays sometimes include short appreciations of individual films by various filmmakers or scholars in lieu of a proper “making of” documentary or analysis of the feature. It’s nothing more nor less than this, but somehow it seems more worthwhile than many of those that focus on an individual film.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

The film’s theatrical trailer rounds out the disc and does a nice job of introducing the overall tone and method of presentation that the film employs.

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Final Words:

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles is an easy recommendation for anyone who is even remotely interested in the work of this incredibly polarizing filmmaker. It might not offer anything new for anyone who is familiar with the life and legend of Orson Welles, but it somehow still manages to hold ones attention. Cohen Media Group’s Blu-ray offers the best way to see the film in the home environment, and it therefore easily earns a recommendation for anyone whose interest has been piqued. It’s also a pretty good way to prepare one’s self for the upcoming release of The Other Side of the Wind.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Release Date: March 17, 2015

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:27:30

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 29.53 Mbps

Notes: This title received a prior North American Blu-ray release from Sony, but the transfer was inferior. It was also given a Region Free UK release by INDICATOR that includes a very similar transfer.

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“I believe you know the story of [The] Lady from Shanghai. I was working on that spectacular theater idea, Around the World in 80 Days, which was originally to be produced by Mike Todd. But, overnight, he went bankrupt and I found myself in Boston on the day of the premiere, unable to take my costumes from the station because 50,000 dollars was due. Without that money we couldn’t open. At that time I was already separated from Rita; we were no longer even speaking. I did not intend to do a film with her. From Boston I got in touch with Harry Cohn, then director of Columbia, who was in Hollywood, and I said to him, ‘I have an extraordinary story for you if you send me 50,000 dollars, by telegram in one hour, on account, and I will sign a contract to make it.’ Cohn asked, ‘What story?’ I was telephoning from the theater box office; beside it was a pocket books display and I gave him the title of one of them: Lady from Shanghai.

I said to him, ‘Buy the novel and I’ll make the film.’ An hour later we received the money. Later I read the book and it was horrible so I set myself, top speed, to write a story. I arrived in Hollywood to make the film with a very small budget and in six weeks of shooting. But I wanted more money for my theater. Cohn asked me why I didn’t use Rita. She said she would be very pleased. I gave her to understand that the character was not a sympathetic one, and this might hurt her image as a star in the public eye. Rita was set on making this film, and instead of costing 350,000 dollars, it became a two million dollar film. Rita was very cooperative. The one who was horrified on seeing the film was Cohn.” —Orson Welles

…And so goes the legend behind what is quite possibly the director’s most damaged Hollywood effort. Many scholars believe that the film’s failure was the final death blow to his Hollywood career (although he would make Macbeth for Republic the following year and return a decade later with Touch of Evil). Only one thing is certain: the film, it’s troubled production, and the studio’s mutation of Welles’ original editing and intention for the film during post-production is wrapped around legend—and legend tends to be a tumultuous blend of truth and interesting fiction.

There are even signs of apocryphal information in the director’s origin story. For one thing, the picture is an adaptation of a novel entitled “If I Die Before I Wake” by Sherwood King—a novel owned by Columbia after being sold to them by William Castle. However, some elements seem to be true and Cohn sent the director the money that he needed believing that he was getting a writer, director, and a leading actor for a ridiculously low price. Of course, he would soon regret his acceptance of this deal.

The production seemed cursed from the start. Cohn was furious when the director gave Rita Hayworth a make-over for the film and truly believed that her new blonde hairstyle would ruin her career—an opinion that is both incredibly misogynistic and short-sighted since hair grows back and she could always wear a wig during the interim. In any case, this poisoned his opinion of Welles and The Lady from Shanghai from the very beginning of their working relationship. Things were to only get worse when cameras began rolling on location in Mexico. The cast and crew were cursed with the worst environment imaginable and had to deal with poisonous creatures and insects as well as illness and severe weather. Welles was bitten by an insect that cause a reaction so severe that his face swelled to the point where he couldn’t even open one of his eyes, Hayworth became ill numerous times, various crew members contracted dysentery, his assistant cameraman (Donald Ray Cory) became overheated and died of a heart-attack, Errol Flynn (who owned the yacht that appears in the film) stayed drunk and often hold up the production by disappearing for hours at a time, and all of this put them behind schedule.

MILLION DOLLAR HAIRCUT

Rita Hayworth sheds her famous locks for the production of The Lady from Shanghai.

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When Viola Lawrence (the film’s editor and studio stooge) saw the film’s unique location footage, she became worried and reported to Cohn. When he reviewed the rushes, he ordered that Welles shoot glamorous close-ups of Hayworth to have inserted into the film. The result is that the film has a number of awkwardly inserted close-ups of Hayworth that are completely unmotivated. Since Hayworth’s previous films usually included a singing performance, he also had Welles shoot her singing “Please Don’t Kiss Me” during one of the yachting sequences. He somehow made this work for her character, but it wasn’t really necessary and does date the film quite a bit.

Lawrence would again wreak havoc after a preview of the director’s 155 minute rough cut tested poorly. Over an hour of footage was deleted from the film—including substantial portions of the scene at the Chinese opera and the much-lauded funhouse finale. It’s fair to assume that the film would have been trimmed to some extent regardless, but taking an hour of footage out of the film has resulted in an incredibly uneven film (albeit an incredibly interesting one).

To make matters worse, the Welles absolutely hated Heinz Roemheld’s score (and for good reason). He had gone to enormous effort to temp the film in order to give the eventual composer an idea of the proper tone that he wanted for each moment as well as where to add and where not to add music. These cues were entirely ignored by Roemheld. After all, he didn’t work for Welles. He worked for Cohn.

After hearing the result, Welles wrote a memo begging to have the film re-scored. This request was also ignored. Most of the Columbia suits had already written the film off as a disaster and didn’t really want to spend another cent on a film that was doomed to failure—a prophesy they ensured by shelving the film for a year. Of course, this only signaled to the critics to prepare their poison pens for a real stinker, and they were more than happy to oblige.

These things happened all too often throughout Orson Welles’ career, but The Lady from Shanghai seems to suffer the most for it. It is probably the weakest of his Hollywood efforts. Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Touch of Evil tower above it while The Stranger and Macbeth are more coherent and no less interesting. Lady has a number of brilliant touches, but the overall result is an awkward and somewhat sloppily fragmented viewing experience. It doesn’t flow organically but instead relies on voice-overs to bridge scenes together and answer the inevitable questions imposed on the audience. The film’s final explanation is rendered unsatisfying because of this particular weakness—and in the end these deficiencies are only made more infuriating by the flashes of brilliance inherent in the film’s better moments.

 It is impossible to know for certain whether or not The Lady from Shanghai would have worked better had it not fallen prey to studio hysteria, but it is impossible not to lament the fact that we will never find out.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment houses their disc in the standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring film related artwork. They’ve made the unfortunate mistake of not utilizing the film’s original one sheet design as it was vastly superior.

One Sheet

The Original One Sheet for The Lady in Shanghai.

One assumes they decided that it was necessary to have Welles on the cover. They missed a pretty great opportunity as far as their presentation is concerned.

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The static menu features an attractive design, but one feels obliged to warn readers that there are no chapter stops on the disc.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment isn’t known for quality transfers, but Sony gave them an incredible 4K restoration master for this this release. Frankly, this new Mill Creek release is a significant improvement over the previous Sony release due to a superior transfer of the very same 4K restoration that appeared on that earlier disc. Instead of Sony’s VC-1 transfer (which was done at a much lower bit-rate), we are given an AVC transfer at a significantly higher bitrate (despite the fact that they have used a single layer disc. The film’s short running time and the lack of any supplemental material has allowed Mill Creek to offer this film at a maxed-out bitrate that rivals many dual-layered releases.

This transfer is brighter with less crush and much better shadow detail, but not bright enough to interfere with the Welles’s chiaroscuro aesthetic. Clarity has also seen an overall improvement and grain resolution is never problematic on the Mill Creek disc. Fine detail also impresses… in fact, the entire image is really quite lovely. Those who have been disenchanted with Mill Creek’s transfers in the past will be pleasantly surprised. The only issues of note are obviously the result of the film’s original production (optical effects appear softer than many fans might prefer). What’s more, the image is really quite immaculate… I’ll stop raving. It’s a great image transfer.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The film’s 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio maintains the original film’s mono limitations but is rendered in a manner that supports all of the various elements—including the aforementioned Heinz Roemheld score, sound effects, and dialogue. There aren’t any distracting anomalies (although there is some very subtle hiss evident if one is listening for it). Those expecting a dynamic mix will be disappointed, but nobody with any sense should expect such a track from a film of this era. Fans won’t be nearly as impressed with the track as they are the image, but rest assured that this is a solid and faithful rendering of the original sound elements.

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Special Features:

0 of 5 Stars

This Mill Creek Entertainment release doesn’t offer any supplemental features.

The previous Sony edition had a commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, but the transfer of the actual film wasn’t terribly great. The UK Indicator release was wise enough to carry this commentary over to their disc while also adding a video interview about the film with Bogdanovich, an appreciative video essay by Simon Callow, the theatrical trailer, and a trailer commentary by Joe Dante.

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Final Words:

The Lady from Shanghai is an interesting but extremely flawed film due to studio tampering. Those fond of Orson Welles or the film noir genre would be wise to add it to their collections, but one doubts if it would appeal to everyone. This Mill Creek Entertainment release is surprisingly solid as it has been taken from a gorgeous 4K restoration transfer and rendered at a maxed out bitrate (on a single layer disc). Those who wish to own a similar transfer in addition to supplemental features will have to pay much more and order the Indicator release from their website. However, if one measures the value of Indicator’s supplemental material against their asking price, they will find that it comes up short on the value end. Most people will find it difficult not to save their hard earned money and choose the Mill Creek Entertainment edition.

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Spine # 870

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: October 10, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

European – 01:33:31

US/UK – 01:30:59

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate:

European – 30.51 Mbps

US/UK – 30.51 Mbps

Title

“I could never better stead thee than now. Put money in thy purse. Follow thou the wars, defeat thy favor with an usurped beard. I say, put money in thy purse.” -Iago (Othello, Act 1, Scene 3)

Orson Welles’s Othello is probably known more for its legendary production history than it is for its cinematic merits—and it does have merit that goes well beyond what anyone should expect from a film made under the conditions in which it was created. Understand before we go any further that this shouldn’t suggest that it is perfect or even the “flawed masterpiece” that some scholars have labeled it. What’s more, the film wouldn’t hold up if one examined it as a proper adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. In fact, one would wager that purists will probably hate it without even giving any consideration into the film’s strengths. When examined as a cinematic mood piece or a small thriller quite separate from the original work, it holds up much better.

However, one shouldn’t be led into believing that the final film hasn’t been scarred by its production limitations. In fact, there is a blemish for every serious challenge that Welles faced throughout the four year production (1948-1951). Why did the production last four years? Well, the director didn’t have enough money to put in his purse. He would shoot scenes when money was available and stop when these resources dried up so that he could go find or earn more funds. In fact, he performed in The Third Man during one of these extended breaks in the production schedule and his salary kept the production afloat.

There is a famous anecdote about a scene in the film depicting the murder of Cassio—a scene that Welles has set in a Turkish bath house for the simple reason that there weren’t any costumes available for the scene. Various participants give a contradictory accounting as to the reasons for this: some say that there wasn’t enough money to pay for them yet, while others claim that they simply hadn’t been finished. Either way, Welles couldn’t afford to shut down production until the costumes were available. The result is one of the film’s most striking and cinematic sequences.

Such issues were frequent throughout the shoot, and Suzanne Cloutier once claimed that “no one connected with the picture knew what would be happening from one day to the next.” It isn’t any wonder considering that the film seems to have been created with nothing but an incredible amount of tenacity—and the talent of Welles and his faithful collaborators. Unfortunately, tenacity couldn’t provide the resources necessary to provide adequate production sound, and nearly the entire soundtrack was created in post-production. The result is an out-of-synch soundtrack that is sometimes quite distracting to the viewer.

Other issues are the result of the aforementioned extended piecemeal production that spanned not only years but also a variety of locations (including Morocco, Perugia, Venice, Rome, Paris, and Italy). There are times throughout the film when Welles will cut from an actor in one country to a different angle of the same actor in another country that was shot either years later or years earlier. It works better than one might expect, but it would be misleading to imply that the seams aren’t at times all too evident.

Orson Welles once stated that a director is a man “who presides over accidents.” This seems to paint a much better picture of the filmmaker than the decidedly erroneous notion of the “infant terrible” perfectionist that the history books seem intent on selling to the universe. In fact—in the case of Orson Welles—it might be said that the director is a man who presides over chaos.

Fortunately, all of the soul-crushing production headaches resulted in a kind of triumph for Welles. The film was lauded by European critics and it took home the Golden Palm award for best film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1952. However, the suits in Hollywood didn’t care about such success—a film is only successful if it sets the box-office on fire. The American public didn’t have much interest in a black-and-white Shakespearean art film, and it only pulled in around forty-thousand dollars when it was finally released in America in 1955 by United Artists. It was quickly pulled from distribution and went largely unseen until 1992 (when it saw a somewhat questionable restoration by Michael Dawson, Julian Schlossberg, and Beatrice Welles). When the controversy of that release died down, it again descended into relative obscurity… until now.

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has once again given cinephiles a beautiful Blu-ray package. The special 2-disc set looks like most of their standard single disc releases. Both discs are housed in their standard clear case with a cover sleeve featuring a new cover taken from one of the film’s frames (which was credited to Sarah Habibi). Inside the case, there is a leaflet featuring an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien and the usual technical credits.

Both disc menus make use of stills from the film coupled with the film’s music, and they are up to Criterion’s usual high standards. Those who own other Criterion discs will know exactly what to expect.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion provides not one but two 4K restoration transfers on two separate discs:

The 1952 European Version was scanned in 4K resolution from a 35mm fine-grain master positive, and the resulting image is absolutely gorgeous. The film has never looked better on home video—although this isn’t saying nearly enough considering that it never really looked terribly good on home video until this release. Fine detail impresses here as does depth, clarity, contrast, and shadow detail. Any flaws are obviously inherent in the original source and never become problematic. The restoration work ensures that distracting anomalies such as dirt, scratches, damage, and other unfortunate issues never become problematic (even if the occasional speck of dirt remains).

The 1955 US/UK Version doesn’t look quite as good as the European transfer—especially in terms of density (which has some unfortunate fluctuation issues) and detail. The gradients between the various shades of gray aren’t as balanced as they appear in the other version either. However, these issues are source related and it would be a mistake to imply that the overall image quality isn’t remarkably better than anyone would’ve previously had reason to expect. It’s probably safe to say that this is the definitive transfer of the 1955 version of the film. On a positive note, there is slightly more information in the frame.

Interestingly, Criterion has chosen not to include the highly controversial 1992 restoration cut and its stereo sound mix. The reasons for this are probably obvious to Criterion enthusiasts.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The restoration team has also cleaned the monaural soundtrack (which was taken from composite fine-grain prints) so that listeners will not be bothered by such annoying issues as hiss, hum, crackle, clicks, thumps, or any other unfortunate audial blemishes. The LPCM transfer of this restored track is therefore the best anyone can really expect from this particular film’s original elements. Unfortunately, there are plenty of source related issues resulting from the troubled production. Perhaps most distressing is the slightly uneven and not always entirely discernable dialogue (which can also be poorly synched).

Purists were infuriated when the team behind the 1992 restoration built the track from scratch and tweaked the edit to put the track in slightly better synch, because it wasn’t representative of Orson Welles’s original film. Criterion is devoted to presenting films as they were shown during their original release, and this track accomplishes this. The fact is that in this particular case, one cannot have it both ways.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Peter Bogdanovich and Myron Meisel

The 1955 cut of the film includes this archival commentary track with Peter Bogdanovich and Myron Meisel—two scholars who are well versed in Welles history. The track was recorded in 1994 and finds both Bogdanovich and Meisel in good form as they spend the duration discussing its troubled production history and telling amusing anecdotes about the director. It is surprisingly informative and engaging for what is essentially a third-party track, and it adds an enormous amount of value to the package.

Filming Othello – (01:23:02)

Filming Othello

Criterion generously includes a nice 2K scan of Filming Othello taken from the film’s original elements. It is often cited as Orson Welles’s final competed film—although one has difficulty considering it as an official part of his canon of work any more than one would place the Quentin Tarantino-directed episode of “ER” on a list of that director’s primary works. It belongs somewhere else—perhaps under the heading of “other projects.”

It’s certainly an instructive viewing experience, and one feels that the director relished the opportunity to dabble in his favorite medium once again—even if it is essentially a retrospective essay film produced for West German television that never approaches the creative brilliance of F for Fake. However, there is a certain poetry to the fact that this 16mm production was also produced over a period of four years (1974-1978).

The heart of the film is an extended conversation between Micheál MacLiammóir, Hilton Edwards, and Orson Welles that was shot in Paris, France, in 1974—but this conversation isn’t the only reason to see this film, which begins with an introduction by Welles himself as he sits somewhat stoically behind a moviola (an image that probably won’t surprise anyone who has already seen F for Fake).

“This is to be a conversation, certainly not anything so formal as a lecture, and what we’re going to talk about is Othello, Shakespeare’s play and the film I made of it,” he announces before he leads into the events that led to the troubled production and indeed some of the challenges that plagued him throughout the experience. This portion of the film isn’t terribly different from most interview footage, but he soon introduces the aforementioned conversation with MacLiammoir (Othello’s Iago) and Edwards (Brabantio) which he has brought upon his moviola for our benefit. The footage plays on this machine before we cut into the actual footage. The three gentlemen discuss the themes inherent in the original play and possible character motivations—including those added to Iago’s character by Welles for the film’s production. It’s an interesting conversation that should appeal to anyone who admires either the film or the Bard’s original play. When the footage of this conversation comes to an end, we return to Orson Welles as he announces that he ran out of footage well before they ran out of conversation.

Another interesting aspect of the program is the brief footage from a post-screening question and answer session held in 1977. It is much too brief, but one is grateful that it has been included in any case. Shortly after this portion of the film, Welles gives the viewer his closing statement. It is a perfect statement that probably says everything that the director felt about the film:

“…There are too many regrets, there are too many things I wish I could have done over again. If it wasn’t a memory—if it was a project for the future, talking about Othello would have been nothing but delight. After all, promises are more fun than explanations. In all my heart, I wish that I wasn’t looking back on Othello, but looking forward to it. That Othello would be one hell of a picture.”

Apparently, the film enjoyed a screening at the 1978 Berlin Film Festival, but it had fallen into obscurity until very recently (much like Othello itself).

Return to Glennascaul (1953) – (28:06)

Return to Glennascaul

Hilton Edwards directed this short film starring Orson Welles as himself and was made during a lull in the production of Othello. It tells a rather simple but diverting story: While driving in rural Ireland during a break in the shooting of Othello, Welles offers a ride to a man having car trouble. The man ends up telling him a strange story about a pair of women who once flagged the man down. It turns out that the women were ghosts. Other details are best experienced by the viewer as it is a charming diversion that should satisfy viewers. The short was nominated for an Academy Award and adds value to an already amazing collection of supplements.

The film includes a short introduction by Peter Bogdanovich.

Souvenirs d’Othello – (48:46)

Criterion also includes a French-Canadian television documentary entitled Souvenirs d’Othello about Suzanne Cloutier (Desdemona) directed by François Girard. The program centers on a few interviews with the actress as she remembers the production of Othello (which she claims was the highlight of her life). Her memories of Orson Welles and his drive to complete the film in the face of numerous impediments are of enormous value. There are a number of revelations to be found here, and they should all please those who—like Cloutier—admire the film work of Orson Welles.

Interview with Simon Callow – (21:55)

Simon Callow (author of Orson Welles: Road to Xandu, Orson Welles: Hello Americans, and Orson Welles: One Man Band) discusses the production of Othello in some detail. The discussion covers a variety of topics, including the changing cast decisions, the trials of the lengthy shoot, and the director’s relationship with actors. There is the occasional erroneous claim, and a few of these will be obvious to even casual fans (such as his claim that Filming Othello was produced in the late 1960s). One imagines that the producers of the interview chose to exercise diplomacy and not correct these false statements.

Interview with François Thomas – (18:12)

François Thomas (co-author of Orson Welles at Work) discusses the two different cuts of the film and the differences between them from the obvious differences between the spoken and written credits to the small subtle alterations made to the later version of the film. His observations are interesting and useful to viewers and should clarify a great deal for those who don’t wish to dissect such things for themselves. This should also add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Interview with Ayanna Thompson – (21:12)

Ayanna Thompson is the author of Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America and a number of other Shakespeare-related texts. Her discussion here is an interesting addition to the disc that covers territory that isn’t really touched upon in any significant way in the other supplements. Thompson reflects on the history of the portrayal of Othello by white actors and Welles’s historical voodoo production of Macbeth that utilized black actors. One actually wonders why the director didn’t cast Canada Lee in the role of Othello (since the director had worked with the actor on the stage). He would’ve been amazing.

Joseph McBride on Orson Welles – (32:44)

Finally, Criterion includes a 2014 ‘Fiction Factory’ interview with Joseph McBride (author of a number of film related books, including What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? – A Portrait of an Independent Career). A number of pertinent topics are covered here and they range from those specific to Othello to more personal subjects like the Hollywood blacklist, and Welles’s move to Europe. It’s another very solid addition to Criterion’s rich supplemental package.

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Final Words:

This is an essential package for Orson Welles fans! The prospect of owning incredible transfers of two different cuts of Othello would be incredibly exciting all on its own, but Criterion has seen fit to include a 2K scan of Welles’s feature-length film essay entitled Filming Othello in this package as well! In addition to this, they include an Oscar-nominated short film made by Micheál MacLiammóir and Hilton Edwards during one of the many lulls in Othello’s piecemeal production, over an hour and a half of scholarly interviews about the film, and an informative commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich and Myron Meisel. Those who aren’t impressed will want to check their pulse and seek immediate medical assistance.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Olive Films

Release Date: August 29th, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:16

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1978 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.35:1

Bitrate: 25.48 Mbps

Note: Other Blu-ray editions of this title exist, and each has its own collection of strengths and weaknesses.

Title

“I wished to show people that I didn’t glow in the dark, you know. That I could say ‘action’ and ‘cut’ just like the rest of the fellows.” –Orson Welles

Welles probably did agree to direct The Stranger as a way to prove to Hollywood that he could play by their rules and bring a mainstream film in under schedule and under budget, but his claims that there is “very little” of him in the final picture is an obvious fabrication. The film is saturated with personal “in-jokes” and seems to have been built from the ground up as a Welles picture. His fingerprints are simply all over it.

Unfortunately, his attitude seems to have spilled over into Welles scholarship and criticism and this is a terrible shame. One hates to argue with an established “genius” but this is not one of his worst films. In fact, it’s one of his three or four best films. (Readers can probably guess the other three.) This tautly paced noir-esque melodrama features Welles as Franz Kindler, a Nazi who is being hunted so that he can be made to pay for his atrocious war crimes. Kindler, as it happens, is posing as Professor Charles Rankin and living in the picturesque town of Harper, Connecticut. Of course, his new wife, Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) is clueless about her husband’s past—a past that is about to catch up with him when Mr. Wilson of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (Edward G. Robinson) closes in on the sleepy hamlet.

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The story was much better when Alfred Hitchcock made the film three years earlier as Shadow of a Doubt (it’s the same premise with a few altered details). For one thing, Joseph Cotton’s “Uncle Charley” manages to be much more charming and all the more menacing due to his dual nature—and Hitchcock manages to subtly add subtext that hints at the same “superman” mentality that is at the heart of The Stranger. This is especially true in his infamous dinner table speech… but I am digressing more than is necessary.

Welles suffered the same compromises that he always suffered (with the exception of Citizen Kane). A lengthy opening sequence was cut, Robinson was cast in a role that he had wanted Agnes Moorehead to play, and thirty-two pages were excised from Welles’ revised script (sixteen of these pages were the aforementioned opening sequence) at the suggestion of Ernest J. Nims—the film’s editor. Even so, The Stranger doesn’t seem to suffer much from these changes. It stands the test of time with its use of noir tropes, Russell Metty’s (Touch of Evil) chiaroscuro photography and the bold decision to incorporate footage of actual Nazi atrocities into its plot to moving effect. What’s more, it is the director’s biggest box-office success, and it deserves more respect than Welles and his followers have given it.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

Olive Pictures protects their Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case with somewhat disappointing film related cover art. It would’ve been much better if they had simply utilized the film’s original one sheet design, but one assumes that they wanted to distance themselves from the HD Cinema Classics release (which contained a decidedly poor image transfer due to inferior source materials). In any case, there were still better options available to them.

Worse, the blurb on the back states that The Stranger is Orson Welles’ fourth outing as a director, which is a careless inaccuracy. It is possible that they were including Too Much Johnson, but this silent short was: a.) not completed, and b.) was shot as part of one of Welles’ stage productions. (It was to be a film within the narrative of the play.) It needs to say that it is his “third feature film as a director” just for clarity’s sake. Such issues seem rather careless and could easily be avoided given the proper care.

On a positive note, the case also contains an illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker (author of The Aesthetics of Antifascist Film: Radical Projection) entitled “The Stranger: Murderers Among Us” and some interesting production stills—some of which might have made a superior cover with a few creative alterations.

Menu

The static menu is reasonably attractive and features music from the feature. It’s exactly what one has come to expect from a menu and is therefore intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Most fans probably own one of the previous releases and are wondering whether this Olive Films edition is an upgrade, a downgrade, or a rehash. It can be said upfront that it isn’t a rehash of any of the previous Blu-ray releases. It is leaps and bounds better than the atrocious HD Cinema Classics release, which should be replaced immediately. However, the Kino Classics edition competes with this transfer—and some will prefer it to this new release. It just depends on each viewer’s preferences.

Some will like this new transfer’s filmic qualities. There seems to be less grin manipulation here. Other releases saw an artificially sharpened image and/or grain filtering, while this looks a bit more organic (albeit much less sharp than the earlier Kino release). It looks a bit smoother in motion too—and unlike the earlier Kino release, this disc has significantly less damage. The lack of blemishes inherent in the earlier Kino release is one of the major positive points of this newer release. However, this release seems to have been minimally cropped at the sides. There is less information on both the left and right sides of the frame. The ‘International Films’ logo at the beginning of the film has also been removed, and the end of the film cuts out at the “The End” title card (which is bound to irritate most people). This new Olive Films release also suffers in the areas of depth and clarity due to the source being utilized. These issues seem less apparent in the Kino release. Fine detail suffers a bit too, but this wasn’t an element that has been impressive in any of the film’s releases.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The included 2.0 English LPCM audio track is serviceable, but one does feel that there is room for improvement. The source obviously had flaws, but few viewers will ever become distracted by these. A proper restoration would have been nice, but this is a solid representation of the source’s sound.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Nora Fiore

Nora Fiore’s scholarly commentary is more informative and insightful than many third party “scholar” commentary tracks, but less essential than those that include the actual participants. However, this was admittedly impossible. Viewers will enjoy hearing a basic history of the film’s production in any case.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:09)

Those who love vintage trailers will be pleased to learn that the film’s original theatrical trailer is included here in all its glory.

“The Stranger: Murderers Among Us”

It seems rather superfluous to include Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker’s text based essay on the disc when it is included in the collector’s booklet but here it is again on the disc itself.

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Final Words:

It is difficult to decide whether this or the previous Kino release is the better transfer, but The Stranger is essential to cinephiles who have a high regard for the work of Orson Welles.

One Sheet

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: November 15, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 01:59:23

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 1.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Additional Audio:

1.0 English Dolby Digital Audio 1.0 Polish Dolby Digital Audio

1.0 Portuguese Dolby Digital Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish, French, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 30.65 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released in various DVD editions and has been released on Blu-ray. The two previous 70th Anniversary Edition releases offer the same 4K restoration transfer of the film but include supplemental features that aren’t included with this 75th Anniversary Edition.

title

“I got that good a contract because I didn’t want to make a film. And you know when you don’t really want to go out to Hollywood—or at least this was true in the old days or ‘Golden’ days of Hollywood—when you honestly didn’t want to go, then the deals got better and better. And in my case, I didn’t want money. I wanted authority. So, I asked the impossible hoping to be left alone. And at the end of a year’s negotiations, I got it—simply because there was no real vocation there. My love for film began only when we started work.” –Orson Welles (Monitor, Interview with Huw Weldon, March 13, 1960)

One can feel Welles developing a true love for film in every frame of Citizen Kane. It is one of those unusual stories that seem quite unremarkable upon hearing a synopsis but are uniquely rewarding due to rich characterization, subtext, and an innovative approach to storytelling. The film’s central character is Charles Foster Kane. Kane is a powerful publisher who eventually aspires to be president of the United States. He starts out with absolutely nothing and proceeds to acquire vast amounts of wealth and power without ever realizing that he is losing himself amongst his numerous acquisitions.

“I must admit that it was intended—consciously as a social document—as an attack on the acquisitive society and indeed on acquisition in general, but I didn’t think that up and then try to find a story to match that idea. Of course, I think the storyteller’s first duty is always to the story… It wasn’t at all a communist picture or a Marxist picture. It was an attack on property and acquisition of property.” –Orson Welles (Monitor, Interview with Huw Weldon, March 13, 1960)

If the film earned a reputation as “communist propaganda” it was most likely due to the efforts of a certain newspaper magnate named William Randolph Hearst who felt that Citizen Kane was a thinly veiled and slanderous account of his own life and sought to use his formidable muscle to halt the film’s production and distribution and ultimately to destroy Welles himself. However, the film’s production was always on extremely shaky ground due to the tumultuous political work environment at RKO.

“There was indeed a very definite effort to stop the film during shooting by those elements in the studio who were attempting to seize power. Because in those days studio politics—particularly RKO, and indeed many of the big studios in Hollywood were very much like Central American republics. And there were revolutions and counter-revolutions, and every sort of palace intrigue and there was a big effort to overthrow the then head of the studio who was taken to be out of his mind because he’d given me this contract which made the making of these films possible. And stopping me or proving my incompetence would have won their case. So, it wasn’t malice towards me. It was a cold-blooded political maneuver. It didn’t have anything to do with Mr. Hearst. That came later…” –Orson Welles (Monitor, Interview with Huw Weldon, March 13, 1960)

It did come a bit later, but when the trouble with Hearst arose it nearly stifled the release of one of cinema’s most cherished masterpieces. It eventually saw a release, but William Randolph Hearst and Hedda Hopper (aka the wicked witch of the west coast) managed to keep the film out of the larger theaters (such as Radio City Music Hall) and the Hearst chain of newspapers wasn’t allowed to advertise or write about the film. The result was relatively disappointing box office.

It was favorably reviewed (in publications that weren’t actually owned by Hearst), and the film went on to receive nine Academy Awards nominations—including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Score for a Dramatic Picture, Best Sound Recording, Best Art Direction (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White), and Best Film Editing. Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles took home the statue for Best Original Screenplay, but legend has it that Welles was booed at the ceremony.

RKO soon locked Citizen Kane away in its archives and by the early 1960s, it had been out of circulation for many years. Luckily, AFI tastemakers selected it as the “Greatest Film of All Time.” Such arbitrary lists are ridiculous but their praise rejuvenated interest in the film.  Since then, Welles’ masterpiece has remained # 1 or # 2 on countless critics’ lists and other surveys including those from Roger Ebert, The BBC, Rolling Stone magazine, Pauline Kael, among many others. While it is easy to argue against the claim that Citizen Kane is the “best film of all time,” one cannot argue that the film isn’t an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, an innovative film, and essential viewing for both cinephiles and future filmmakers.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with attractive film-related artwork. The overall result is rather underwhelming when one compares it to the film’s two previous releases—both of which utilized a more satisfying design concept.

The 70th Anniversary Edition was given two different releases. The first was labeled an “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” and it received ‘digi-pack’ casing with a stellar assortment of collectibles including a hardback book, reproductions of key art and advertisements on cardstock, reproductions of letters and memos from the production, and a reproduction of the opening night’s souvenir program. What’s more, it included two bonus DVDs with supplemental material not available with this release. The second release was given ‘digi-book’ packaging and included only one of the two bonus DVDs.

The point is that Warner Brothers seems to be downgrading each consecutive release.

 The menu utilizes a different design concept than the one utilized for the cover because it is essentially the same disc that was featured in the previous two releases—and the menu design reflects this fact.

menu

Sound elements from the film’s opening newsreel can be heard over the menu and the overall effect is really quite nice.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers is capable of offering truly incredible Blu-ray transfers, and this is especially true when they are armed with a 4K restoration of the film in question. This particular disc is a case in point. Of course, one might say that Citizen Kane is one of their most prestigious catalog titles, and it deserves the best transfer possible. Their AVC encoded transfer is a beauty to behold. The shadowy chiaroscuro frames exhibit delectably rich black levels with what seems to be accurate detail in the shadows of the frame. What’s more, this is achieved without any distracting compression artifacts. Clarity is also beautifully rendered without sacrificing any of the film’s natural grain structure. There is little room for criticism, but some will no doubt notice a bit of ringing if they are looking for such things. However, this isn’t necessarily even worth mentioning. It rarely ever presents itself and it isn’t noticeable to any distracting degree when it actually does present itself.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

This lossless Mono DTS-HD Master Audio isn’t quite as impressive as its visual counterpart, but one feels that this might be due to the actual source materials. Recording techniques weren’t as advanced at the time of the film’s production as they are today. Minor distortion can rear its ugly head at times—especially during some of the film’s musical interludes. However, one can certainly praise the track for its depth, and Welles offers an impressive sound design for his debut feature—no doubt a holdover from his radio experience. It is nice that the original Mono mix is offered in favor of any faux stereo “upgrade.” Luckily, there aren’t any unfortunate anomalies such as hiss, dropouts, or hum. It is a very good transfer of the film’s original soundtrack—and this is all that anyone should expect.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Why is the film’s 75th Anniversary release less substantial than its 70th Anniversary release? The original Blu-ray release of Citizen Kane was truly remarkable. In addition to the print extras discussed in the “Presentation” section of this review, the release included two DVD discs featuring two feature-length films about the production of Citizen Kane.

The first DVD was devoted to an Oscar-nominated documentary feature entitled “The Battle over Citizen Kane.” It provided fans with a decidedly comprehensive account of Hearst’s battle to rid the world of Citizen Kane. The film offered substantial biographical information about both William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles while offering a comparison of their personalities. It was probably the best supplemental feature in the entire package, and it is sorely missed in this new release. As a matter of fact, this reviewer would gladly trade both commentary tracks for this single documentary.

The second DVD featured an HBO telefilm entitled RKO 281. While the program was admittedly less revelatory and substantial from an academic perspective, it certainly added quite a bit of value to the package. Of course, none of this ultimately matters because neither of these interesting films is included with this new release.

Luckily, Warner Brothers is still offering a relatively satisfying assortment of supplemental material in this new release:

Feature Length Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich

Peter Bogdanovich is an articulate speaker and an engaging storyteller, and his commentary track is probably the most substantial supplemental feature included here. His well-established friendship with Welles (if it can be called that) allows him to convey a number of revelatory information along with quite a few anecdotes and some technical details about the production. It isn’t the perfect commentary track because only Welles could give a comprehensive account of all aspects of production. Since he isn’t still alive to bestow his wisdom here, Bogdanovich will have to suffice.

Feature Length Commentary by Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert is known for his ability to engage a listener and for his general knowledge of cinema history. However, because he simply brings a general knowledge, his commentary is relegated to general background information, appreciation for Gregg Toland’s contributions to the film (which often involved revolutionary technical advances), and an overall appreciation of the film as a whole. However, this is an incredibly pleasurable way to spend a few hours.

Opening: World Premiere of Citizen Kane (01:08)

This short RKO-PATHE newsreel covers the world premiere of Citizen Kane. A title card informs us that the event was held at the Palace Theater on May 1, 1941. The vintage footage is an extremely interesting artifact, but one wishes that it were longer. There is barely any opportunity to absorb what is being shown here. The actual footage is barely over 30 seconds in length.

Interview with Ruth Warrick – (05:40)

Ruth Warrick is an engaging interview subject and her memories of her work on the film adds quite a bit of value to the disc. One only wishes that her recollections were less generalized and that she would provide a few specific anecdotes from the set (especially since she appears to be an articulate speaker).

Interview with Robert Wise – (03:04)

Robert Wise is equally articulate as he remembers how he came to edit Citizen Kane and the various issues surrounding the production. Again, one simply wishes that the interview was longer and a bit more comprehensive.

Theatrical Trailer – (03:46)

Oddly enough, the most interesting video-based supplement might be this unusual theatrical trailer for the film. Instead of showing audiences footage from the film, Orson Welles announces various cast members and teases the audience with contradictory descriptions of Charles Foster Kane. Even more interesting is the fact that Welles never actually appears in any of the footage. We are only shown a mic as it lowers from a boom into a close-up before hearing his familiar voice. This is obviously a tribute to his fame as a radio personality.

Photo Galleries:

The Production – (15:01)

There are three primary photo galleries included here (Storyboards, Call Sheets, and Still Photography), and they are shown as a video slideshow. No musical accompaniment is included, but the “Still Photography” segment (which clocks in at over ten minutes) includes a commentary by Roger Ebert. Ebert isn’t discussing the photos being shown, gives a general appreciation of the film and its place in cinema history. It is obvious that it is included here as an afterthought as his dialogue goes on much longer than the gallery of stills. It is frankly unnecessary as one would prefer that Ebert’s thoughts were presented in interview format along with the Ruth Warrick and Robert Wise interviews.

Post Production – (05:11)

The four photo galleries include in this section (Deleted Scenes, Ad Campaign, Press Book, and Opening Night) are largely textual in natures and include such things as letters and memos. However, there are a few interesting visual delights—such as a few interesting storyboards and still photographs from a handful of deleted scenes. The press book is also a highlight. All galleries in this section are shown as a video slideshow with no musical accompaniment.

It should probably be freely admitted that photo galleries and on-screen text-based features have never really interested this reviewer. They are nice but rarely feel substantial and it seems that these things would be better represented in some sort of collector’s booklet instead of as part of the disc itself. The inclusion of Ebert’s commentary might have made the Still Photography section more interesting, but it was poorly and awkwardly utilized. Frankly, none of these galleries add much to the overall supplemental package.

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Final Words:

With both of Citizen Kane’s 70th Anniversary Blu-ray releases out of print, this new 75th Anniversary Edition earns an enthusiastic recommendation for anyone who doesn’t already own one of the previous two editions of the film. However, those who already own either of these previous releases can rest easy in the knowledge that they own the better package.

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Review by: Devon Powell