Archive for the ‘The Criterion Collection’ Category

Spine #966
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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: March 19, 2019

Region: Region A & B

Length: 01:09:05

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 35.73 Mbps

Notes: This marks the film’s Blu-ray debut after suffering from years of inferior public domain releases.


Detour is a movie so filled with imperfections that it would not earn the director a passing grade in film school. This movie from Hollywood’s poverty row, shot in six days, filled with technical errors and ham-handed narrative, starring a man who can only pout and a woman who can only sneer, should have faded from sight soon after it was released in 1945. And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir. No one who has seen it has easily forgotten it… Placing style above common sense is completely consistent with Ulmer’s approach throughout the film. Do these limitations and stylistic transgressions hurt the film? No. They are the film…” –Roger Ebert (Great Movies, June 7, 1998)

Roger Ebert’s review of Edgar G. Ulmer’s poverty row classic may be marred by a factual error as he reports the popular myth that the film was shot in only six days when it actually took over fourteen days (and cost $117,226.80 instead of the commonly reported $30,000), but it is difficult to improve on his critique of the film’s content. Frankly, it seems as if the film’s power lies in the limitations of the production. It isn’t so much a quintessential example of film noir as it is a collection of unvarnished noir tropes, but it has an unsanitary edge and a sharp simplicity that manages to make its mark on all who see it.


The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases (we actually prefer this to their digipaks). The cover sleeve includes thematically appropriate cover artwork that has been credited to Jennifer Dionisio. It’s a nice design that is actually in keeping with the film’s original publicity materials as they obviously served as inspiration. Also included in the case is a booklet that includes more attractive artwork and an interesting essay by Robert Polito entitled, “Some Detours to Detour.” The essay is quite detailed and well researched as it corrects some of the many myths about the film’s production. What’s more, it provides tons of new ‘behind the scenes’ information about the production that should thrill and perhaps even surprise fans of the film. Technical details about the restoration and transfer are also included within its pages.

One Sheet.jpg


Criterion’s animated menu features footage from the film and is in the same style that collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. It is attractive and should be intuitive to navigate.


Picture Quality

5 of 5 Stars

It is impossible to discuss this transfer without first giving our reader’s a thorough understanding of the incredible work that went into creating this 4K restoration. Luckily, an earlier article on the process was published on the Criterion site:

“The director of the Academy Film Archive, Michael Pogorzelski, and film preservationist Heather Linville ended up supervising the complicated process of tracking down existing prints and ultimately piecing together the best elements. There was a 16 mm print that had gone through much wear-and-tear from being in circulation, and was used for reference in the restoration. There was also a 35 mm duplicate negative in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, but it too was a problematic source: it contained a number of jump cuts, the result of many missing frames that were lost from the 35 mm release print from which it was made. ‘Heather spent ten years (on and off) searching the world for 35 mm elements that were comparable to or of higher quality than the MoMA element,’ Pogorzelski says.

Finally, last year, the Archive had a breakthrough when it contacted the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique in Brussels, which holds a 35 mm nitrate print of Detour in its collection. ‘This element had never been considered as a possible preservation source because it contained both Flemish and French subtitles burned into the frame,’ Pogorzelski explains. ‘We asked to have a scan made thinking that perhaps we might get lucky and find some shots that didn’t contain subtitles that could fill in the frames that were missing from the MoMA element. Instead of a few frames here and there, we got one of the best surprises of our careers: the print had been struck from the original camera negative of Detour, and the image quality was better than anything we had seen in ten years of searching.’

But even with this exciting discovery, there were still challenges ahead, including the question of how to remove the subtitles from the Cinémathèque’s 4K scans without affecting the quality of the image. Roundabout Entertainment in Burbank, California, developed and tested two methods to accomplish this. First, frames from the subtitled Brussels print were composited with frames from the MoMA negative. But because the MoMA print was missing frames, and because significant camera movement resulted in unsatisfactory composites, the second approach was to meticulously paint out the subtitles by hand. And after this work was done, a single shot that didn’t exist in either element was sourced from a safety 35 mm print housed at the Cinémathèque Française.” –Inside Criterion (Back to the Big Screen, November 2018)


4K Final

The resulting image is a revelation to those who have only seen previous public domain prints of the film in standard definition. Those releases were detrimental to the viewer’s enjoyment and to the tonal consistency of the story. Style and cinematography is of paramount importance to the effect of film noir (even poverty row noir), and such deficiencies ruined the experience. Luckily, this new transfer is truly an unqualified success as any weaknesses were likely inherent in the film as it originally projected in 1945. Depth, clarity, and contrast see a noticeable improvement over previous transfers, and if the consistency isn’t one hundred percent perfect, it certainly isn’t the fault of the restoration or Criterion’s encode. Grain is noticeable but has a healthy and organic consistency and never gets in the way of revelatory fine detail. There are textures on display here that have never been evident in the previous transfers. Best of all, it is a more filmic experience as it plays much better in motion. Finally, the age related anomalies that fans of the film know all too well by now have been largely eradicated. It is representative of the best existing film elements, and it would be ridiculous to expect anything better.


Sound Quality

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s linear PCM track has also been restored to its original mono glory and can now be experienced without the wall of hiss that marred previous home video releases. It is a crisp and healthy sounding track as it has room to breathe now that it is free from compression. Of course, the film was made in 1945 at a poverty row studio and never represented a flawless sonic experience, but this transfer represents the original soundtrack quite nicely.


Special Features

4 of 5 Stars

Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen – (01:15:36)

This documentary about the Edgar G. Ulmer is without question the crown jewel of the disc’s supplemental content. The program was produced in 2004 and features retrospective interviews with numerous participants: Ann Savage, Arianne Ulmer Cipes (Ulmer’s daughter), William Schallert, Jon Saxon, Peter Bogdanovich (who had interviewed the director), Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Wim Wenders, and John Landis. One wonders why Joe Dante and John Landis appears in so many of these retrospectives. Neither could be considered experts on Ulmer’s career and do not bring much to the table. However, some of the other participants make up for their questionable participation as they discuss the filmmaker’s career in B-movie exile. It’s a diverting and reasonably informative look at an incredibly interesting figure.

Noah Isenberg on Detour – (21:11)

Noah Isenberg (author of Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, Detour: BFI Film Classics, We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film, etc.) gives an interesting appreciation of the film as he covers such topics as Ulmer’s early career, his ability to make the most of limited budget, observations about Detour (including mistakes in the film), and other pertinent topics. He’s a knowledgeable source and his interview should add to the viewer’s appreciation of the film.

Restoring Detour – (11:02)

Those who enjoy knowing about the immense amount of effort that goes into a proper restoration will be happy to know that the disc includes this informative featurette. Mike Pogorzelski and Heather Linville give a general account of their search for proper source elements, the removal of burned-in subtitles, and other interesting challenges that they faced during their restoration of Detour. Their information is illustrated with element comparisons.

Janus Films Re-Release Trailer – (01:32)

The restoration release trailer is also included. One wishes that the original trailer was included here with it, but this is a minor criticism of what it actually quite a nice supplemental package (though admittedly modest by Criterion standards).


Final Words

Criterion’s release of a pristine restoration of Detour should thrill noir fans. The transfer is immaculate and the supplements will only add to the viewer’s appreciation of this low budget classic (and for the work that went into this restoration). It comes highly recommended.




Spine # 137
blu-ray cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:41:37

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 29.73 Mbps

Notes:This title is also available both individually and as part of The Premiere Collection boxed set (both with different cover art) in the DVD format and was given an incredible release in the same format by The Criterion Collection several years before that release.

The film was later given a lackluster Blu-ray release by MGM Home Entertainment both as part of a three-film set entitled, The Classic Collection and as an individual release. This new Criterion edition is from a new 4K restoration transfer of the film and represents an upgrade in quality.


“In spy films—in all spy films—we have what is called ‘The MacGuffin.’ The MacGuffin, if…

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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


“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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


One Sheet


Spine #950

SLIT Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 13, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 02:02:18

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 29.83 Mbps

Notes: MGM released a Blu-ray edition that included a 1.66:1 transfer of the film. While the transfer was rendered with a slightly higher Bit-rate (31.99 Mbps), it was made from a 1080P scan. Needless to say, Criterion’s 4K restoration transfer is superior.


“Very early in the structure of that picture my friend Mr. Diamond very rightly said, ‘We have to find the hammerlock. We have to find the ironclad thing so that these guys trapped in women’s clothes cannot just take the wigs off and say, “Look, I’m a guy.”

It has to be a question of life and death.’ And that’s where the idea for the St. Valentine’s Day murder came. If they got out of the women’s clothes they would be killed by the Al Capone gang. That was the important invention. When we started working on the picture I had a discussion with David O. Selznick, who was a very fine producer, and I very briefly told him the plot.

He said, ‘You mean there’s going to be machine guns and shooting and killing and blood?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘It’s not going to be funny. No comedy can survive that kind of brutal reality.’ But that’s what made the picture. The two men were on the spot, and we kept them on the spot until the very end.” –Billy Wilder

Only Billy Wilder would think to blend genres like the gangster film and the burlesque comedy. Some Like It Hot is one of those films that should really date terribly—especially in this era of enlightened social understanding, but Wilder’s deft storytelling prowess and unique comic sensibilities have guaranteed the film’s longevity.

As Criterion’s packaging deftly announces: Some Like It Hot is “one of the most beloved films of all time, this sizzling masterpiece set a new standard for Hollywood comedy. After witnessing a mob hit, Chicago musicians Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) skip town by donning drag and joining an all-female band en route to Miami. The charm of the group’s singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) leads them ever further into extravagant lies, as Joe assumes the persona of a millionaire to woo her and Jerry’s female alter ego winds up engaged to a tycoon. With a whip-smart script co-written by I. A. L. Diamond, and sparkling chemistry among its finely tuned cast, Some Like It Hot is as deliriously funny and fresh today as it was when it first knocked audiences out six decades ago.

“The whole trick in the picture is that, while the two were dressed in women’s clothes, their thinking processes were at all times a hundred-percent male. When there was a slight aberration, like Lemmon getting engaged, it became twice as funny. But they were not camping it up. They never thought of themselves as women. Just for one moment Lemmon forgot himself — that was all. The rest of the time, Curtis was out to seduce Monroe, no matter what clothes he was wearing.” –I.A.L. Diamond

Of course, Monroe’s Sugar Cane isn’t the only one being seduced. Most of the film’s viewers also fall under their spell. Lemmon is especially delightful in his portrayal of Jerry/Daphne. In fact, this may very well be Jack Lemmon’s most hilarious performance. He really runs away with the entire film. Of course, he had the guidance of an excellent director. Nobody does it like Wilder.


The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases (we prefer this to their digipaks). The cover sleeve includes thematically appropriate artwork by F. Ron Miller. It’s a decent design that adequately captures the zany qualities of Wilder’s film. Another very different design was considered that showcased Marilyn Monroe much more prominently. One imagines that it was abandoned so that all three of the primary characters could be featured with equal prominence (but this is merely conjecture).

Unused Blu-ray Cover

Criterion’s abandoned cover artwork.

Also included in the case is a pamphlet that includes an appreciative essay by Sam Wasson entitled, “How to have Fun.” Information about the transfer and technical credits are also included in its pages along with various stills from the film.


Criterion’s menu features film-related art and is in the same style that collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. It is attractive and should be intuitive to navigate.


Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

It won’t come as much of a surprise for our readers to learn that Criterion’s 4K image restoration looks incredible on Blu-ray and easily outclasses the earlier MGM transfer. This restoration was actually a collaboration between Criterion, MGM, and Park Circus. Cinephiles will be pleased to learn that the original 35mm camera negative was used as the primary source for their work, but it became necessary for them to also utilize scans of the 35mm duplicate negative and a 35mm fine-grain positive for footage that was missing from the negative.

The first immediate difference that springs to mind is that Criterion showcases the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio (1.85:1) as opposed to the 1.66:1 ratio employed for the earlier MGM release. This does result in less detail at the top and bottom of the frame, but this is in keeping with how the film would have been projected during its original theatrical release. Criterion’s image is also more stable in terms of density, is much cleaner, looks better in motion, exhibits more a much more impressive level of fine detail, and contrast is more expertly handled. Better yet, there aren’t really any moments where the level of quality drops due to the restoration team’s use of multiple sources. It all flows as organically as if they had used a single source (and this is incredibly rare). There may be a few incredibly brief moments that are less impressive, but they certainly don’t stand out in any obvious way. Finally, we should mention a noticeable improvement in this transfer’s dynamic range and the more naturally resolved grain. This is an upgrade on every level.


Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Those who appreciated the 5.1 audio track that was included on the MGM release may be disappointed with this release, but purists will understand why Criterion has chosen to include a lossless PCM rendering of the film’s original monaural mix. Frankly, we found the forced 5.1 re-mix a bit unnatural without really offering a more dynamic sonic experience. This transfer presents the film’s audio as it was originally intended in a clean restoration that is free of distracting age related anomalies (such as hiss or hum) with impressive fidelity for a film of this vintage. The Wilder/Diamond dialogue is allowed to clearly flourish throughout the duration, and the film’s music has plenty of room to breathe. Of course, things are a bit flat—but what do you expect from a movie released in 1959. Be happy! This is as good as one can reasonably expect.


Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Most of the supplemental material from the 2011 MGM Blu-ray has been carried over to Criterion’s disc, with the Paul Diamond, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel commentary track being the single exception. The stills gallery on that earlier disc was also left off of this release, but this is hardly worth mentioning. Criterion makes up for not including these features by including their own 1989 commentary and several other programs and interviews that weren’t on the earlier release.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Howard Suber and Jack Lemmon

This is an older Criterion commentary from 1989 that features Howard Suber’s scholarly observations in conjunction with some pre-recorded memories from Jack Lemmon. It is on par with the MGM commentary and it touches on many of the same topics. If there is a downside, it is that it is less conversational and therefore feels a bit more like a lecture. The film’s production is discussed as is the film’s overall structure. Suber’s obvious Monroe obsession is both a positive and negative attribute as he has plenty of Monroe trivia and discusses the actress with enthusiasm but sometimes his infatuation disturbs his ability to discuss her contributions to the film in a sober and unbiased manner.

Billy Wilder on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ (1982) – (55:36)

The crown jewel of Criterion’s supplemental package is undoubtedly this two-part interview with the legendary director (who certainly knows how to tell a story). It was conducted on January 14 and 15, 1982 and finds Wilder in great form as he discusses his personal history (including his early years in Germany) with an earnest openness that endears him to the viewer immediately, and he does so without surrendering his acidic humor. He discusses an encounter with Sigmund Freud, his evacuation to America during the dark years of Nazism, the magnificence of pre-war Berlin, relearning to write in English, and some of the various actors he had worked with throughout his career. We hope that Criterion continues to include these Cavett Show interviews on their future releases. They always add enormous value to their discs.

The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot – (25:45)

This documentary short has been carried over from the earlier MGM Blu-ray and it is nice to see that it has been included. The program includes an array of archival interviews with the likes of Billy Wilder, I.A.L Diamond, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and several others and some extremely precious color footage that gives the viewer behind the scenes of the film’s production. While one wishes that this were more comprehensive, it is great to hear the various participants discussing the film’s script, cast, production, and release. Of course, a great deal of time is devoted to the late Marilyn Monroe (who was not particularly easy to work with and rarely arrived to the set on time). It is an engaging and informative glimpse into the film’s history that fans will be thrilled to have included here.

The Legacy of ‘Some Like It Hot– (20:21)

The Legacy of ‘Some Like It Hot’ makes a great companion to The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot’ as it discusses the film’s lasting legacy. It utilizes footage shot at a screening of the film in 1984. Those who appeared in the previous program are back for this one while new voices are added. (It’s difficult to imagine why we really needed to hear from Hugh Hefner and Curtis Hanson, but they are included here in any case.) It’s not a terribly insightful look at the film’s lasting appeal, but it manages to engage the viewer in any case.

A Nostalgic Look Back (2001) – (31:12)

Fans will be pleased to see that Criterion also carried over Leonard Maltin’s “nostalgic” interview with Tony Curtis from MGM’s earlier Blu-ray (actually, this actually goes back even farther to one of the early DVD editions). Their conversation covers his memories of being cast, the film’s production, his experience working with Monroe, his approach to the role, and some amusing anecdotes—but there is something about Curtis that strikes one as incredibly narcissistic and his navel-gazing does grow a bit tiring after a few minutes. I notice that Jack Lemmon tends to discuss and praise Billy Wilder and his fellow actors, but Curtis is a bit more enamored with his own contributions. It is still worth seeing as it adds another perspective and his stories about Monroe are incredibly interesting.

French Television Interview with actor Jack Lemmon (1988) – (09:49)

While this excerpt from an episode of Cinema cinemas (which originally appeared on French television) is much shorter than Maltin’s interview with Curtis, it is also more amusing. It repeats some of the same information included in some of the other programs included here, but it is certainly worth watching.

Memories from ‘The Sweet Sues’ – (12:02)

Memories from ‘The Sweet Sues’ is another featurette that originally appeared on MGM’s Blu-ray release of the film, and it definitely brings something worthwhile to the table as the actresses remember the various members of the cast and their experiences during the production.

Orry-Kelly’s Costumes – (18:57)

Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Costume Designer) and Larry McQueen (Costume Historian and Archivist) discuss Orry-Kelly’s career and legacy and dissect his costumes in Some Like It Hot. This is more of an “appreciation” than a career history or comprehensive examination of his costume work in this film, but it does offer a few truly interesting nuggets of information while always engaging the viewer. Most importantly, it is bound to enhance the viewer’s appreciation of Kelly’s costumes. It is also very nice to see one of the dresses worn by Monroe in the film (which is now owned by McQueen).

Radio Interview with Marilyn Monroe (1955) – (08:44)

In a radio interview with Dave Garroway that predates the film by a few years (it was recorded on June 12, 1955), Monroe discusses her hopes to become a better actress. She seems incredibly personable here, but there is a perceptible sadness to her voice that is impossible to overlook in retrospect. Other topics are also discussed, but the information relayed is trivial. What lingers after these nine minutes is the aforementioned sadness.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:18)

The original vintage theatrical trailer rounds out this incredible supplemental package rather nicely.


Final Words:

Do you like to laugh (or at least smile)? Well, if the answer to this question is yes, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot earns an easy recommendation (even if it is decidedly old-fashioned in some of its attitudes regarding gender). The Criterion Collection’s new 4K restoration transfer is vastly superior to the earlier MGM disc and might even be worth an upgrade if the film is one of your favorites.



Spine #89

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: October 23, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:32:42

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.71 Mbps

Notes:The Criterion Collection had previously released a DVD edition, but this is the film’s Blu-ray debut.


WARNING:This article contains spoilers. We prefer not to discuss a film’s plot in intricate detail so that spoilers aren’t an issue, but it was necessary to compare very specific elements in Sisters to those found in Alfred Hitchcock’s work. We apologize in advance.

De Palma 1973 Brian De Palma in 1973

“I have found that people who like and are knowledgeable about Hitchcock also like Sisters—they know the references I am making to his films and they seem to appreciate it all the more for that. Which is good, because you could so easily…

View original post 6,206 more words

Spine #938

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:40:09

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32.18 Mbps

Note: Sony Pictures gave this title a Blu-ray release in 2009, but this new Criterion edition bests it by offering a superior transfer and a wealth of worthwhile supplemental material.


“Video is a way of distancing ourselves from people and events. We tend to think that we can experience things because we watched them on tape. For Graham this was an aspect of myself taken to an extreme measure. He needs the distance to feel free to react without anybody watching, which, I guess, is the definition of voyeurism, even though I think voyeurism has mostly negative connotations. I guess it should. I don’t know.” –Steven Soderbergh (Truth or Consequences, Film Comment, July/August 1989)

Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape ushered in the golden age of independent filmmaking and proved that there is a market for small esoteric films that are aimed at adults. The then 26-year-old director worked from a script that he wrote in only eight days, and it told a rather simple story about the terror of true intimacy. Housewife Ann (Andie MacDowell) feels distant from her lawyer husband, John (Peter Gallagher), who is sleeping with her sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). When John’s old friend Graham (a magnetic, Cannes-award-winning James Spader) comes to town, Ann is drawn to the soft-spoken outsider, eventually uncovering his startling private obsession: videotaping women as they confess their deepest desires. The camera is a wall that Graham builds between him and any possibility of true connection. sex, lies, and videotape isn’t merely notable as the independent debut effort of a maverick filmmaker. It is also a film that holds up to repeated viewings.


The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Steven Soderbergh’s indie classic has been given the Digi-book treatment with a semi-transparent plastic slipcover that makes the cover image look as if it were captured on an old-school television screen. It’s a nice touch, but it is a far cry from Criterion’s best designs as it employs the same image (only slightly off-center and rendered with less contrast) than the one utilized for the 2009 Sony release. When Criterion announced their July releases a few months ago, they illustrated the announcement with very different artwork. We’re not sure that it isn’t actually better than the final result.

Sony Cover

This artwork was used for Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray release.

Alternate Artwork

This artwork illustrated Criterion’s announcement of their release of sex, lies, and videotape a few months ago. Obviously, they didn’t end up using this design.

To be fair, it should be said upfront that Criterion has given the concept much more thought than standard Blu-ray packages typically receive. It’s no secret that I tend to prefer their standard clear-case packaging to their digipacks, but such issues are subjective and divide collectors. Luckily, this release includes a booklet instead of their standard pamphlet. What’s more, the text contained within this little gem is truly substantial.

An appreciative essay by Amy Taubin offers the reader a decent argument as to the film’s merit and place in independent cinema history, but the included excerpts from Soderbergh’s production diary—which includes an interesting self-penned introduction—is where the book really shines.


The animated menus feature footage from the film and are exactly in the style one expects from a Criterion release.


Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“…For this year’s restoration, we not only transferred from the original camera negative but also maintained 4K resolution throughout the whole process. The transfer was done at Deluxe in Culver City, California, and the final timing was done by Joe Gawler at Harbor Picture Company in New York, New York. The work on the dirt cleanup, etc. was redone again, this time at 4K.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Having never seen Sony’s 2009 transfer of the film, it is impossible to state conclusively just how much better Criterion’s 4K restoration looks. However, it comes from a much better source and has been handled with more care. Those involved with the production would prefer that you see this transfer (which is really quite remarkable). The image is pristine with excellent color fidelity and black levels are handled perfectly without crushing any discernable detail—and “detail” is another element that will impress viewers. Density and depth will also impress fans of the film. The transfer maintains a filmic texture that should satisfy purists with its very fine layer of grain.

It can be said that those who own the original DVD edition of this film will be floored. It really feels as if you are discovering the film for the first time. It seems more alive somehow. Criterion earns their reputation with this release.


Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“When it came time for the 2009 remastering, everyone felt that it was important to step back further to the original 1989 premixes in order to create an updated version of the track. The original 2″ Dolby SR-encoded 24-track analog premixes and the digital multitrack stems were transferred to Broadcast Wave files at the 24-bit/96 kHz standard… Extensive dialog editing was undertaken in Pro Tools to smooth out tone variations among camera angles, and to remove multitudes of snap and pops that we were unable to deal with given our 1989 dialog editing workflow. The music was “up-mixed” to full 5.1 from the original three-track (left-center-right) pre-mixes, although reference was made to the 1989 levels relative to dialog and sound effects…

…As happy as we were with this revision, one problem remained: there were considerable problems with generator noise during production, and we needed to go back to the original edited dialog tracks, before noise reduction and equalization had been applied during the 1989 premixing… The sound restoration took place at my company, Swelltone Labs, in New Orleans.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Considering the number of masters this film’s audio has been given, it is difficult to judge how close this 5.1 English DTS-HD master audio mix is to the original theatrical version of the soundtrack, but it does seem like those involved have made every effort to be faithful to the original audio—or at the very least to the filmmaker’s original intentions. Apparently, minor improvements have been made in an effort to eradicate some of the blemishes inherent in the original audio. Technological advances have allowed the filmmakers to offer us a product closer to what they originally wanted in the first place.
It’s certainly superior to the DVD edition’s audio track, and the subtle 5.1 mix adds a bit of extra life to the track. Even stringent purists should find themselves in agreement with the changes made here. We graded this audio transfer with an understanding of the limitations that were inherent in the original source elements, and most should agree that it earns its perfect score if they do the same.


Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

In addition to a feature length commentary track (and a commentary for an additional deleted scene), Criterion offers over 1 hour and 41 minute of video based supplemental material for fans to devour.

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Steven Soderbergh & Neil LaBute

Those who have owned the film on DVD will recognize this 1998 commentary track, which finds LaBute leading a conversation with Steven Soderbergh that covers the writing of the script, production stories, stylistic decisions and intentions, the casting, various challenges of working on one’s first feature the film’s unexpected and overwhelming success after Cannes, and more. It’s a pretty decent track and does add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Deleted Scene (w. Optional Commentary by Steven Soderbergh) – (03:20)

The rough quality of this video-sourced footage should not dissuade viewers from checking out this deleted scene which finds Ann confessing to her therapist that she is considering not continuing her therapy after Graham makes a comment about not trusting anyone who he doesn’t know intimately with his problems. The therapist seems annoyed and counters that Graham may have had an agenda and she ends up deciding not to discontinue her therapy sessions. In the included optional commentary track for the scene, Soderbergh claims that the scene was cut because it made Ann appear too “pliable” and due to the fact that it wasn’t needed since the audience was already aware that she had been thinking quite a lot about Graham.

Something in the Air: The Making of sex, lies, and videotape – (28:55)

Andie McDowell, Laura San Giacomo, and Peter Gallagher offer viewers much more than the usual generic navel-gazing comments that one expects from many of the more “making of” programs—but then this one was produced by Criterion. This retrospective look at the film’s production suffers only from the conspicuous absence of James Spader. The remaining three actors give candid accounts of how they were cast in their roles and then discuss their characters in some depth. MacDowell is an especially articulate and thoughtful subject and her presence is probably the highlight. They discuss the boost that the film gave to their careers and what it was like working with Steven Soderbergh on his first feature. This may very well be the crown jewel in this disc’s supplemental package.

1990 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (09:05)

It isn’t clear why this interesting archival footage was originally produced, but it finds a slightly awkward Soderbergh in Washington D.C. discussing sex, lies, and videotape shortly after the film’s enormous success. Topics discussed include the performances of each of the four primary actors, his inspiration for the film, his original trailer and the one eventually used by Miramax, the title, and more.

1992 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (13:31)

This interesting publicity interview is originally from an episode of The Dick Cavett Show and was meant to promote the release of Kafka (even though this film is only mentioned twice). However, Cavett is obviously more interested in sex, lies, and videotape and focuses on this film throughout the entirety of the interview. Fans will be happy to see it here. It adds enormous value to the disc despite the relatively short duration.

2018 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (06:17)

This “interview” or “introduction” is somewhat different from the fan Q&A that Criterion had originally planned. Apparently, Soderbergh was allowed to film this short piece on his own time, and this has resulted in a somewhat rambling fashion. The black and white footage is contains interesting information but is made less palatable by simply jumping topics without notice. The themes and structure of the film is discussed and he offers a comparison of his methodology during the production of this film and his more recent movies.

The Today Show: Interview with James Spader – (05:13)

This archival segment from a 1989 episode of The Today Show finds Gene Shalit and James Spader discussing the film’s enormous success. It is too bad that the interview couldn’t have been a bit longer since it is the only supplement that features Spader.

Cliff and Larry: Beginnings – (19:38)

Larry Blake (sound editor/re-recording mixer) and Cliff Martinez (composer) discuss the film’s music and sound design but get into detail about working with Steven Soderbergh and what they perceive to be unique about him as a filmmaker. It’s a light but revealing conversation that fans of the director and sex, lies, and videotape will appreciate.

Generators, Noise Reduction, and Multitrack Audiotape – (11:58)

Larry Blake’s video essay tackles the interesting subject of the film’s troubled sound mixes throughout the ages. Comparisons between the original Park City festival mix, the re-mix for Miramax’s eventual theatrical release, and this new 2018 mix illuminate just how rough the original location sound actually was before it was cleaned up for distribution and how Criterion’s new audio restoration improves upon the theatrical mix.


Trailer: Soderbergh’s Cut – (01:33)

Miramax’s Final Theatrical Trailer – (01:37)

Interestingly, there are two versions of the trailer included on the disc. The first is the unused Soderbergh cut which was too unique and indirect for marketing purposes. The second is Miramax’s final trailer for the film, which is noticeably more exploitive of the film’s sexual themes.

A Note on the Picture and Sound Restorations

This is a textual supplement that explains the differences in the various home video masters of the film and how each one was created. It is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand why Criterion’s transfer is so special and the ultimate version of this movie on home video.

Final Words:

“One never says never with restoring films, but this time, we think it’s for real. Steven [Soderbergh] asks that you destroy all previous copies.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

We feel that this quote says everything. Criterion offers the definitive home video transfer of the film with this release. It has been approved by the director and comes with an overwhelming amount of supplemental material that will add to one’s appreciation of the film. It comes highly recommended.


Spine #909

Blu-ray Cover (No Sticker)

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: February 13, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:36:36

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: 35.67 Mbps


“Well, the question of race was the furthest thing from my mind. When I was writing that character, I was thinking about the disintegration of family, the whole idea that people can’t cooperate, even when faced with a disastrous situation they just stick to their own agendas, arguing about whether to go upstairs or downstairs instead of facing the problem. When John Russo and I wrote the screenplay, [the character] was a white guy… So when Dwayne [Jones] agreed to play the role, we all had a conversation and decided that it was a bold move to not change the script. That was it. The same things happened to him when he was white. The redneck posse came and shot him, because they thought he was a zombie, not because they knew he was black. It was an accident really, in the end, a happy accident. The night we drove the first print to New York we heard on the radio that King had been assassinated, so of course, the film immediately took on a completely different slant.” –George A. Romero (Little White Lies)

Most of the participants who worked on Night of the Living Dead substantiate Romero’s above quote (and many others like it). George A. Romero and John Russo probably didn’t write an allegorical social document about race relations in the 1960s, but it is impossible to believe that the filmmakers didn’t know what casting Dwayne Jones in the pivotal leading role would do for the material. Frankly, whether the original script was meant as a comment on racism in America or was simply an exercise in macabre suspense is immaterial at this point. The fact is that the film as shot so perfectly reflects the social atmosphere of the time in which it was made that it is impossible to see it as anything else.

The most interesting aspect of the entire film has nothing to do with zombies. The characters could be protecting themselves from anything in the world: zombies, a homicidal cult, aliens from outer space, murderous hillbillies, or any other threat. To be honest, the zombie sub-genre is one of my least favorite brands of horror. The entire concept strikes me as rather ridiculous and not even remotely scary. Night of the Living Dead manages to rise above this personal prejudice against zombie films—and this is because we spend much more time with another kind of threat: paranoid human beings. It ratchets up a good deal of suspense because the zombies gathering outside can represent anything at all. They are abstractions. The social commentary is always on point (whether it was intended or not), and this only adds to the viewer’s sense of dread. The overall effect is simply chilling, and the devastation that we feel has nothing at all to do with flesh eating zombies.


The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection has given this release special Digipak packaging. Like many other collectors, this reviewer really prefers Criterion’s usual clear case presentations. However, it must be said that the design is overwhelmingly attractive. The artwork by Sean Phillips resembles a graphic novel and should please fans of the film. Also included is a folded pamphlet containing artwork on one side and an essay by Stuart Klawans entitled “Mere Anarchy is Loosed” on the other side. While a booklet in addition to the poster would have been preferable, the text gives the reader contextual information about the cultural climate at the time the film was made and released. Of course, the usual technical credits are also included.

MenuMenu 2

There are two discs contained in the package and both utilize static menus that feature different film specific artwork. It all falls in line with what one has come to expect from Criterion. They are both attractive and fairly intuitive to navigate.


Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Night of the Living Dead was restored in 4K by the Museum of Modern Art and The Film Foundation. Funding was provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation and the Celeste Bartos Fund for Film Preservation.

The restoration was overseen by George A. Romero and Image Ten, Inc.—especially Gary R. Streiner, Russell W. Streiner, and John A. Russo. The original 35 mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution by Cineric, Inc., in New York City, with audio digitization performed by Audio Mechanics in Burbank, California.” –Janus Films

The restoration team primarily utilized the original 35mm camera negative but a 35mm fine-grain from 1968 was used for portions of the negative that weren’t usable (approximately 1% of the film). Criterion’s transfer of the film’s immaculate 4K restoration is the best the film has ever looked on home video. It is immediately evident that there is more information on the left and right sides of the 1.37:1 frame. Black levels have also been significantly improved upon when one compares the image to earlier releases as they appear deep without crushing detail. There is an organic layer of grain that adds to the transfer’s filmic presentation without becoming unwieldy. Fine detail also impresses as there is a crispness to the image that hasn’t been evident in any of the previous releases. Depth and clarity are also significantly improved. Frankly, it’s impossible to imagine Night of the Living Dead looking any better on home video.


Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The film’s audio has also been meticulously restored:

“…After the evaluation of eighteen separate source elements, the original monaural soundtrack was remastered under the supervision of Romero and Gary Streiner from the original quarter-inch mix masters, quarter-inch premix audio tape, a final composite 16mm magnetic track, and the 16mm magnetic mix units. The restoration was performed at Audio Mechanics, led by John Polito.” –Liner Notes

The resulting audio was given a faithful LPCM transfer in the film’s original mono, and the only limitations of the track are those inherent in the original production methods. The dialogue is clearly rendered and the imperfections aren’t at all distracting. Most age-related blemishes have been carefully removed by the restoration team. This is a vast improvement over the 40th Anniversary DVD put out by Sony a decade ago. The film’s library source music is predictably flat, but it would be ridiculous to expect a dynamic sound mix for this particular film. The important thing is to present the original mix in the best possible condition, and this transfer certainly does this quite well.


Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

There is no denying that Criterion’s supplemental package is superb, and those who focus on what is here while ignoring what has been left off of the disc will be perfectly satisfied. In addition to a feature-length work print of the film (which features an alternative title), there is also a second disc that features over 3 hours and 16 minutes of video-based supplements included here. These features cover a lot of territory and add considerably to one’s appreciation of the film. Unfortunately, there are a few supplements that were featured on earlier DVD editions of the film that have not been carried over to this edition. Most of this material is more than adequately replaced here as some of the interviews with Romero covers the same territory as the interviews featured on those discs. However, there was a rather interesting feature-length documentary entitled One for the Fire: The Legacy of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ that would have added a considerable amount of value to Criterion’s edition. Frankly, its absence is the only thing that keeps this supplemental package from earning a 5-star rating.

Introduction to the ‘Night of Anubis’ Workprint

Russell Streiner introduces the work print and this introduction does a truly outstanding job of putting the footage in the proper context. He explains many of the odd blemishes the viewer sees throughout the print. It is an essential ingredient in an outstanding supplemental package. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t have been worth including the entire work print (minus the one reel) without this introduction.

Night of Anubis – (01:25:09)

Night of Anubis

Night of Anubis was the original title of the film (Anubis was the God of mummification in ancient Egypt), but this was changed after it was realized that this esoteric title was unlikely to interest a mainstream public. This never-before-presented 16mm work-print edit still carries this title.

The raw footage is presented here and hasn’t been corrected or restored in any way. It is included here for comparison purposes and is missing the final half of its second reel. However, it should be of great interest to fans and scholars as it features the aforementioned alternate opening title and a zombie shot that the original distributor had them remove. It also shows more information as it includes the negative edges. Unrestored audio from the final edit has been synched as well as it could be to this silent footage. There will be a few viewers who will wish that they had simply included the deleted zombie footage and the credit sequence since these are the only significant changes, but including the entirety of the remaining footage allows one to see how the film was constructed and the hard work that went into it.

Audio Commentary by George Romero, John Russo, Karl Hardman, and Marilyn Eastman

A lot of fans will remember this commentary track from several other home video releases. It was originally recorded in 1994 for the first “official” release of the film on laserdisc. It has since graced a number of DVD editions (including the 40th Anniversary DVD restoration). There’s something about commentaries for low budget independent features that one can’t help but love. They can be even more interesting than listening to brilliant auteurs talk about big budget masterpieces because guerilla films are made with blood, sweat, tears, and compromise. The filmmakers are forced to use what is at their disposal. These tracks truly inspire (especially when the film has become an undisputed classic). Romero seems to take in his mistakes with an admirable sense of humor and an incredible amount of modesty (as none of them hurt the film), and the same can be said of the other participants. Everyone involved seem to remember the communal effort and various idiosyncrasies of the production.

Audio Commentary by Bill Hinzman, Judith O’Dea, Keith Wayne, Kyra Schon, Russell Streiner, and Vince Survinski

Most of what was written about the previous track apply to this track as well—and while the conversational nature of this track is similar, there is not a lot of informational overlap. It is another enjoyable track that should please fans of the film as well as future filmmakers looking for inspiration. It is nice to have both tracks carried over for Criterion’s release.

Introduction to the Dailies Reel – (03:41)

Much like Russell Streiner’s introduction to the work print, Gary Streiner offers contextual information for the dailies presented on the disc. It is an informative preparatory piece that increases one’s appreciation for the dailies and for the film itself.

Never-Before-Seen 16 mm Dailies Reel – (18:04)

It is a rare opportunity to be able to witness the raw dailies of a classic film, so these eighteen minutes are really quite special as they give the viewer the opportunity to compare various takes of shots used in the film. The downside is that the sound elements for these shots no longer exist. What’s more, many of these takes have been flipped and there was no effort made to flip them back to their original state (which would’ve taken only minimal effort). This makes these comparisons slightly more difficult to digest. However, it is remarkable that they are available here in any form at all.

1967 Newsreels – (02:49)

This ‘behind the scenes’ footage from the film’s production was taken from a VHS recording of silent 16mm B-roll shot for a Pittsburgh news broadcast and is said to be the only existing footage of the film’s actual shooting. Jeff Carney provides original music to accompany the footage. The footage largely consists mainly of footage taken during the shooting of some of the film’s television news footage—specifically that which features an interview featuring Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille (who actually saved the footage), and the shooting of the helicopter. There isn’t much here, but it is certainly nice to have included here considering that it is the only footage that offers fans a brief glimpse behind the curtain.

Higher Learning: Interview with George A. Romero – (45:31)

This post-screening Q&A with George A. Romero was held at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 and is hosted by Colin Geddes. The conversation is a casual but lively and incredibly informative one and is a pleasure to watch. Romero discusses the film’s production history, his writing habits, dispels a few myths, his embarrassment at the mistakes that he made during the film’s production, and his feelings and confusion about the immense popularity of the so-called “zombie film.” It may very well be the crown jewel in a supplemental package that is full of wonderful treasures.

Tomorrow with Tom Snyder: George A. Romero & Don Coscarelli – (18:18)

This selection from the July 3, 1979 episode of NBC’s Tomorrow pairs Romero with fellow horror director, Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) as Tom Snyder interviews the directors about the horror genre. The downside of the interview is that Coscarelli seems to hog most of the answers, but it is nonetheless an extremely entertaining archival interview.

Interviews with Duane Jones – (21:56)

Some might see this as a carry-over from the 40th Anniversary edition DVD release of the film, but this earlier disc didn’t include as much of Jones’ interesting and extremely rare interview as Criterion includes on this release. What’s more, there are a number of still photographs that illustrate this interview that are exclusive to this release. The interview was conducted and edited by Tim Ferrante on December 13, 1987. Jones discusses why he prefers to distance himself from the film despite the fact that he is grateful to George A. Romero and the crew of Night of the Living Dead for allowing him to be a part of it and to the fans for the acclaim that they give him. He also discusses what he considers a smooth and enjoyable production—and mentions that there were only two incidents that he considers unpleasant memories. One of these incidents wasn’t included on earlier discs, and it is probably the more important of the two as it is an example of the uneasy racial tension that was so prevalent at the time of the production. It is clear that the parallel between the film’s events and that situation isn’t at all lost on Jones.

Interview with Judith Ridley – (10:42)

Those who have the early Elite laserdisc or DVD edition of the film will have seen this interesting interview with Judith Ridley. It is great to have it carried over for this release. It is a decidedly light-hearted reminiscence (although Ridley doesn’t seem completely comfortable). She recalls how she came to be involved in the film and discusses her time on the set as well as why she didn’t continue making movies. It nice to have her perspective included here.

Light in the Darkness – (23:41)

Light in the Darkness is a “featurette” produced by Criterion that features new interviews with Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, and Robert Rodriguez. It is essentially an appreciation of the film that carries a sort of charm due to the admiration shared by the three participants. Guillermo del Toro probably offers the most analytical comments about the film and its legacy, but Darabont and Rodriguez both offer interesting insights as well. One doubts if any of these insights will be new to most die-hard fans, but those who may be new to the film will find that their appreciation is intensified after watching this nice addition to the supplemental package.

Walking Like the Dead – (13:05)

This new featurette focuses on some of the actors (or extras) who portrayed the film’s “ghouls.” Interviewees include Kyra Schon (a.k.a. Karen), William Hinzman (the ghoul at the cemetery), Ella Mae Smith, William Burchinal, as well as a number of other participants. Each of these individuals seem to delight in their memories of the production. The footage was originally shot for Autopsy of the Dead (which covered the making of Night of the Living Dead in some detail). It’s a nice addition to the disc, but one wishes that Autopsy of the Dead could have been included either instead of or in addition to this featurette.

Tones of Terror – (11:15)

Even better is this video essay by Jim Cirronella about the film’s expert utilization of Capitol’s “Hi-Q” prerecorded library music. This subject is covered in more depth than one might expect considering the short duration of the essay. This is truly one of the packages surprise gems as it is certain to increase one’s appreciation of the film and the work that went into making it a reality.

Learning from Scratch – (11:58)

This featurette is based on an extremely interesting interview with John Russo about the Latent Image crew and how they learned by making industrial films and commercials. This piece utilizes quite a bit of footage from some of these commercials in order to illustrate the information being relayed throughout these twelve minutes, and there are even several color stills from the production of Night of the Living Dead to sweeten the deal. There is a lot of background information packed into these twelve minutes and fans are sure to be delighted.

Limitations into Virtues – (11:57)

Those who are familiar with Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos and their Every Frame a Painting videos will know what to expect from this analytical essay that zeros in on how the film was shot due to the limitations of the production. The style of the film is even compared to a clip from a Draft beer commercial that was previously shot by the Latent Image crew. It is an enjoyable and instructive essay that should please fans.

Venus Probe – (00:33)

An interesting addition to the package is this short newsreel clip about the Mariner 5 spacecraft and its findings during a probe of Venus. Those familiar with the film will remember that the subsequent malfunction of the Mariner 5 inspired vague theories as to what causes the dead to rise in the film.

1968 Theatrical Trailer – (01:49)

The heavy-handed nature of the original 1968 trailer makes it an amusing experience. It is interesting to see how far trailers have come since the film’s original release.

2017 Restoration Re-release Trailer – (01:13)

Janus Film’s re-release trailer offers an opportunity to see how the film was marketed to modern audiences, and they really did a wonderful job with it.

TV Spots

Rare television shots give fans a deeper glimpse into the film’s original marketing and both are interesting additions to the disc.

Radio Spots

It is interesting to hear these vintage radio spots from the film’s original release and some of the film’s re-releases. One gathers that at least one of these spots has been mislabeled as being from a 1970 re-release of the film considering that three films mentioned in the ad (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, and The Exorcist) were released a few years later. However, this is just a bit of nitpicking.


Final Words:

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is one of the great stories of independent cinema: a midnight hit turned box-office smash that became one of the most influential films of all time. After decades of poor-quality prints and video transfers, Night of the Living Dead can finally be seen for the immaculately crafted film that it is thanks to a new 4K restoration, scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by Romero himself. Stark, haunting, and more relevant than ever, Night of the Living Dead can finally be seen as it was intended in high definition.

When Mill Creek Entertainment released a sub-standard Blu-ray edition of Night of the Living Dead last October, we recommended that fans wait for Criterion to release this painstaking restoration transfer of the film. Those who followed our advice will be well rewarded with this release as it surpasses our initial expectations.