Archive for the ‘The Criterion Collection’ Category

Spine #1003

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 26, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:18:28

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 35.34 Mbps

Notes: ‘All About Eve’ has been released previously on Blu-ray by 20th Century Fox in a Digi-book edition and with standard packaging. This new Criterion edition offers a marginally superior transfer of the film and adds some new supplementary material to what was included on that earlier release. A DVD edition of this title is also available.

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“Bette was letter-perfect. She was syllable-perfect. There was no fumbling for my words; they’d become hers – as Margo Channing. The director’s dream: the prepared actress.” –Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Many have praised All About Eve for Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “devastatingly witty” screenplay for the same reasons others have criticized it. Some call the film “literate” while others describe it as “talky.” Those who prefer film stories to be told in a purely visual manner will inevitably lament the seemingly endless stream of dialogue, but those who have been weaned on the American theater will rejoice in the witty banter. This reviewer falls somewhere between these extremes as there is absolutely no reason why both approaches cannot coexist (even within the same film). What’s more, the argument seems to ignore the simple fact that there is plenty of pantomime going on throughout the film’s duration. The pleasure of this film lies as much in how various characters are behaving (or reacting) as it does in the immensely quotable dialogue.

This backstage tale follows Margo Channing (Bette Davis) as she entertains a surprise dressing-room visitor: her most adoring fan, the shy, wide-eyed Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). As Eve becomes a fixture in Margo’s life, the Broadway legend soon suspects that her supposed admirer intends to use her and everyone in her circle as stepping-stones to stardom.

All About Eve was an Academy darling and earned fourteen Oscar nominations. In fact, it would take home the statue for Best Picture, Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Adapted Screenplay (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Costume Design – Black and White (Edith Head and Charles LeMaire), and Best Sound Recording (Thomas T. Moulton). Unfortunately, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter’s Best Actress nods ended up canceling each other out, and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter may have done likewise in the Best Supporting Actress category. That’s perfectly okay, however, since the most important award that this film has earned is its status as a timeless classic.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection packages their two Blu-ray discs in a twin foldout with two rubber hubs. Like many other collectors, this reviewer really prefers Criterion’s usual clear case presentations. In fact, this particular release is less attractive and durable than many of their similar releases (the Digipak packaging for titles such as Night of the Living Dead and Silence of the Lambs was superior). However, it must be said that the artwork by Greg Ruth is rather attractive. Also included is a small booklet that contains artwork, an essay by Terrence Rafferty entitled “Upstage, Downstage,” and “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr. (Orr’s short story provided the inspiration for the film.) Of course, the usual technical credits are also included.

We can’t say that Criterion’s packaging is more attractive than the 20th Century Fox Digi-book released in 2011, but the text included in Criterion’s booklet is certainly more worthwhile than the press fodder found in that earlier release:

Original Blu-ray Book Packaging Cover Artwork.

Criterion’s packaging does at least hold the discs in place better than Fox’s packaging.

Criterion’s static menus are rendered in their usual style and are both attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

This Criterion transfer was taken from a 4K restoration of the film. While this might mislead fans into thinking that this is a “new” restoration and a significant upgrade from the original 20th Century Fox Blu-ray release of the film, the fact is that close scrutiny would suggest otherwise. It is an upgrade, but the improvements here seem to be the result of a superior encode of the same restoration transfer used for Fox’s earlier release of the film. While the earlier disc had an average Bitrate of 25.49 Mbps, Criterion’s release has a Bitrate of 35.34 Mbps. However, those who see this as a criticism should think again. The restoration efforts undertaken by Twentieth Century Fox from a “35mm composite fine-grain, on loan from the Museum of Modern Art” resulted in a terrific transfer years ago.

In other words, the marginal improvement may not demand an upgrade from those who already own the earlier Blu-ray, but it should certainly please those who haven’t added All About Eve to their Blu-ray collection. The gorgeous black and white image exhibits a fair amount of find detail and has a filmic appearance thanks to a well-resolved layer of grain. There may have been a bit of digital tampering on the part of 20th Century Fox during their restoration work, but this never results in a problematic image. What’s more, there aren’t any age related anomalies (rips, tears, dirt, debris, warps, watermarks, etc.) to distract the viewer.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

One could argue as to whether this Linear PCM transfer of the film’s original Mono mix is an improvement over Fox’s surround mix, but it is impossible to argue against the simple fact that this is more faithful to the original theatrical presentation of the film. The so-called “purists” will prefer this track as it is a very strong rendering of the original audio. It is a bit flat, but it is unreasonable to expect it to be otherwise! Dialogue is clean and clear throughout the duration, and the other elements are well always well balanced. Those listening for issues may detect a slight hiss during certain portions of the track, but this is never distracting. In fact, one wonders if it would be noticeable to those who aren’t listening for such issues.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Disc 1:

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Celeste Holm, Ken Geist (Mankiewicz Biographer), and Christopher Mankiewicz (son of Joseph Mankiewicz)

This variety pack of a commentary offers plenty of information to keep fans of the film entertained. It’s an informative track that only occasionally meanders. It adds an enormous amount of value to the package. Interestingly, Geist mentions that he isn’t a fan of the Sam Staggs book on the film. Unfortunately, he never mentions why he doesn’t care for it.

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Sam Staggs

It’s surprising to report that the scholarly commentary track by Sam Staggs is probably even more informative than the first track as Staggs literally “wrote the book” on All About Eve. He reveals a wealth of production information and is consistently engaging throughout the duration (even if some of the information is repeated in other supplements). Usually, these third party tracks tend to leave one wanting, but this is a terrific exception to that particular rule.

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Disc 2:

AMC Backstory: All About Eve – (24:21)

Once upon a time, AMC actually played American Movie Classics! Really! During this period, the channel would air a program called AMC Backstory. Each episode examined a different film’s production and release history, and this is one of those episodes. It’s a nice look at the “making of” All About Eve that features original and archival interview footage of Celeste Holm, Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Thomas Mankiewicz (the director’s son), Rudy Behlmer, and Roy Moseley. It’s a great carry-over from the Fox disc.

All about Mankiewicz (1983) – (01:46:45)

All about Mankiewicz is a two-part documentary by Michel Ciment that is built from a wealth of interview footage from conversations with Joseph L. Mankiewicz about his life as a filmmaker. There are some occasional stills and screenshots used for illustration, but the program mostly consists of interview footage. It’s a terrific addition to a very strong supplemental package and the most significant of the new Criterion features.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz – (26:02)

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz is yet another terrific program that focuses on Mankiewicz. In fact, the information in this short documentary may be more digestible than the two-part interview with the director discussed above. It focuses primarily on his career as a director and features interviews with Christopher and Thomas Mankiewicz, Kenneth Geist, and archival interview footage with the director himself. The commentary provided by these interviewees is illustrated by film footage, marketing materials, and production stills from the various films being discussed.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz: A Personal Journey – (25:59)

This program features Christopher and Thomas Mankiewicz and focuses on the private life of their father. Kenneth L. Geist (Joseph’s biographer) also chimes in with biographical information. It’s a substantial addition to the supplemental package. There is quite a bit of interesting information here and it is always engaging.

The Real Eve – (18:11)

The Real Eve is one of the most surprising treats included in this package! It is yet another carry-over from the original Fox disc, and it contains some incredibly interesting information. The interview portions with Jonathan Kuntz and Harry Haun give the viewer a wealth of information about the true story that inspired Mary Orr’s short story (“The Wisdom of Eve“), but the real meat is audio from a very combative dinner meeting between Orr and Martina Lawrence (the real-life inspiration for the Eve in her story). It’s essential viewing.

The Secret of Sarah Siddons – (07:02)

The Secret of Sarah Siddons may be less interesting than The Real Eve, but it is another worthwhile featurette. This one zeroes in on the real-life Sarah Siddons Society and their Sarah Siddons award (neither of which existed when Joseph L. Mankiewicz penned All About Eve.

The Dick Cavett Show (1969) – (19:56)

This excerpt from an episode of ‘The Dick Cavett Show‘ was shot and aired on December 31, 1969. It features an amusing interview with Bette Davis, and is an absolute treat for anyone who admires the actress.

The Dick Cavett Show (1980) – (28:42)

A full half-hour episode featuring Gary Merrill from June 18, 1980 is also engaging.

Larry McQueen on the Costumes in All About Eve – (17:56)

Larry McQueen (Costume Historian) discusses the costumes from All About Eve and how they help to forecast information about the characters. “Behind the scenes” details about some of the costumes are also divulged here. It’s a worthwhile addition to the supplemental package that will add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Vintage Bette Davis Promotion – (01:16)

This “promotional film” is a trailer of sorts that finds Bette Davis providing an obviously scripted answer to an obviously scripted question before moving to some very short clips from the film that is livened by hyperbolic statements meant to make the viewer run out and see the film. It’s a treat for anyone who loves marketing material and a nice inclusion on this release. (One only wished that Criterion had carried over the Vintage Anne Baxter Promotion as well.)

Lux Radio Theater Adaptation of All About Eve (1951) – (59:55)

This Lux Radio Theater adaptation of All About Eve originally aired on October 01, 1951 and found Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and Gary Merrill reprising their original roles. Reginald Gardiner took over the memorable role of Addison DeWitt. It’s interesting to compare the truncated radio play to the feature length film version.

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What Isn’t Included?

For some strange reason, the following newsreels and trailers haven’t been carried over from the 20th Century Fox’s original Blu-ray:

1951: Academy Awards Honor Best Film Achievements – (02:30)

Newsreel footage from the 1951 Academy Awards was fairly disappointing and focused mainly on Darryl F. Zanuck’s win for producing All About Eve.

1951: Hollywood Attends Gala Premiere of All About Eve – (01:56)

This footage from the Gala Premiere is probably the strongest of the newsreels that featured on the Fox disc. Luckily, the majority of this newsreel is seen in the AMC Backstory documentary (which is included in Criterion’s supplemental package).

Holiday Magazine Awards – (02:50)

The least interesting of the four absent newsreels was footage of an awards presentation. While the award was presented for All About Eve, no one from the production was on hand to receive the award.

Look Magazine Awards – (01:54)

Raw newsreel footage of Bob Hope presenting “Look” magazine awards to both Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Bette Davis. Time has taken a toll on the sound elements and is sometimes inaudible, but there are some nice moments here despite being obviously scripted and posed for the newsreel crew.

Vintage Anne Baxter Promotion – (01:19)

This is very much like the Bette Davis Promotion found on this disc and as the short interview clip of Anne Baxter is obviously scripted and followed by trailer-style scenes from the film. (In fact, the trailer-like final portion of this promo is exactly the same footage used in the Bette Davis Promo.)

Theatrical Trailer – (03:08)

This standard theatrical trailer is more typical of the trailers used during this era. At the end of the day, these newsreels and marketing trailers are minor losses. However, they did make nice additions to the Fox disc and could have easily been carried over to the Criterion disc (especially considering that the video-based supplemental material is included on a separate disc). One wonders if their omission was merely an oversight.

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Final Words:

All About Eve is a classic and will remain one throughout the ages. Criterion’s Blu-ray edition is a minor upgrade from the original Fox edition. Unfortunately, the Digi-book packaging and the absence of some of the earlier disc’s minor supplements keeps this from being an absolutely essential upgrade for anyone who already owns that earlier disc. However, those who haven’t added All About Eve to their collections will want to grab this Criterion edition as it comes Highly Recommended.

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AAE - One Sheet

Spine #996

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: September 24, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:12:43

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: N/A

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 35.90 Mbps

Notes: A DVD edition of this title also available for purchase.

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The universe loves an underdog story. Perhaps this is why Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp has remained iconic throughout the generations. In fact, this may very well be the reason that The Circus is looked upon with such enormous affection by this reviewer. The production was famously plagued by trouble from the very beginning, and Chaplin’s personal life was in chaotic shambles at the time. It’s a small miracle that it was even finished at all, yet it is one of Charlie Chaplin’s most amusing and touching films. In fact, it’s difficult not to see it as one of his two best efforts (along with City Lights). This is, of course, a minority opinion, but Chaplin is able to move fluidly from one gag to the next in such a manner that this film is never allowed to lag. As a result, it is an incredibly diverting entertainment.

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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. The cover sleeve includes attractive cover artwork that has been credited to Mark Chiarello. It’s a wonderful design as is usually the case for Criterion. Chiarello also provides artwork for the included pamphlet that includes an interesting essay by Pamela Hutchinson entitled, “The Circus: The Tramp in the Mirror.” It is an instructive essay that adds to one’s appreciation of Chaplin’s film. Technical details about the transfer are also included.

Circus Menu

Criterion’s static menu features a slight alteration of Mark Chiarello’s artwork and is in the same style that collectors have come to expect from Criterion.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s 4K restoration transfer is the result of an enormous amount of painstaking work. Multiple sources were examined, but the primary source being a second generation duplicate negative. If depth and clarity suffer slightly, it is no doubt a result of the unfortunate fact that the best available source was this second generation source. One really can’t hold this against the restoration team or the transfer itself. Source limitations cannot be remedied.

Having said this, The Circus has never looked this good. It isn’t at all bad for a film that was made over ninety years ago! There is an organic layer of grain on display throughout the duration, and there is less haloing here than was seen on previous releases. The picture is inevitably more filmic as a result. Detail and clarity may be handicapped but are certainly stronger here than they have ever been previously. It is also a much cleaner image than was on earlier transfers of the film, but there are still a few age related artifacts such as minor scratches, specks and etc.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The restored music track is allowed to flourish thanks to Criterion’s lossless Linear PCM audio track. If the track sounds a bit flat to your ears, try to remember that this is a faithful representation of the original. After all, this is what really matters. Age related issues are decidedly minimal and never distract the listener.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Jeffrey Vance

Jeffrey Vance offers an incredibly informative commentary as he draws from a well of knowledge learned while researching various book projects about the silent screen. Vance is the author of Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian, and Douglas Fairbanks and the co-author of Wife of The Life of The Party (Lita Grey Chaplin’s memoir), Making Music with Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton Remembered. Topics cover the film’s troubled production, his chaotic personal affairs at this point in time, and technical tidbits, theoretical analysis, deleted material, and much more. The fact is that the track takes on such a wide variety of topics that some listeners might wish for a deeper and more focused examination of one or some of these categories. Even so, fans won’t feel that their time has been wasted.

Chaplin in 1969 – (05:17)

Criterion has happily included footage from a sort of press conference held at Chaplin’s home in Switzerland at the time of the film’s 1969 re-release. The footage was apparently recorded for Swiss television and finds the auteur in good spirits. It is a charming interview and worth seeing even if viewers might wish for more probing questions about his work on the film and the challenges that he faced during its production.

Interview with Eugene Chaplin – (14:54)

Eugene Chaplin discusses his memories of his father and mother and also gives some general background information about his father’s early life. His memories are illustrated with stills and a generous portion of home movie footage of his father and mother during the director’s later years. Also discussed is Chaplin’s World—the museum created inside the director’s Switzerland home. It is a terrific addition to the disc.

In the Service of the Story – (20:31)

This program about the film’s creation by Craig Barron is actually more informative than the included Chaplin Today episode about the film. Barron really gets into specifics as he discusses how the various effects were achieved in camera (even showing us the camera and demonstrating how the effects were created in camera). Various visual illustrations help to make technical matters perfectly clear to novices. This is a significant addition to the supplemental package that will be fun to revisit.

Chaplin Today: The Circus – (26:32)

Those who have seen other episodes of Chaplin Today will know exactly what to expect from this one. The program was directed by Francois Ede in 2003. It includes some very general “behind the scenes” information, but in the end it feels more like an appreciation than a proper “making of” documentary. Emir Kusturica’s fondness for Chaplin’s work is touching, but one doesn’t feel that his comments really bring much to the table. It is also worth mentioning that much of this material is covered in a more comprehensive manner during some of the disc’s other supplements. Still, it is certainly nice to have it included here.

Stepping Out: Deleted Café Sequence – (Edited – 09:52, Outtakes – 29:42)

There are actually two features here, but both of them are closely related. Both of these require a bit of explanation. While putting together a documentary television series entitled Unknown Chaplin, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill discovered footage for a sequence that Chaplin shot for The Circus but didn’t use in the final assembly of the film. The footage remained unedited at that point, so they edited the sequence as Chaplin might have. This edited sequence is presented here with a score by Timothy Brock. In short, this portion of Stepping Out is essentially a deleted sequence (even if the assembly may not perfectly represent the director’s original intentions).

However, Criterion has included a wealth of the raw footage and presents it here unedited with commentary by comedy choreographer Dan Kamin. This commentary ensures that the audience never grows tired of the repetition in these outtakes as he draws our attention to Chaplin’s refinement of the sequence. As a result, this piece is turned into a kind of visual essay or a probing study of the directorial technique utilized by Chaplin. This might very well be the crown jewel of Criterion’s supplemental package!

A Ring for Merna – (07:29)

A Ring for Merna is essentially a glimpse at some incidental outtakes from the sequence that finds the Tramp heartbroken after learning of Merna’s affection for the tightrope walker. Footage from the film frame the raw deleted material to help contextualize the footage.

Audio Interview with Eric James – (09:55)

Jeffrey Vance’s 1998 interview with Eric James is surprisingly candid and always engaging. What’s more it offers a real glimpse into Chaplin’s scoring process. Some of these comments aren’t specifically about The Circus, but every word is well worth hearing.

“Swing Little Girl” – (05:12)

This supplement gives Chaplin fanatics an opportunity to hear the 1968 recording sessions for “Swing Little Girl.” Most interesting is that the song was originally recorded by a vocalist named Ken Barrie, and we are given the opportunity to hear some of his recordings. The piece ends with Chaplin’s own rendition of the song (which was ultimately used).

1928 Hollywood Premiere – (06:37)

The internet has forever stained this newsreel as the one aspect of this silent “première” footage that stands out is the famed “time traveling” lady who seems to be talking on a cell phone. However, those who manage to forget about this odd moment will be rewarded with some interesting snippets from the Hollywood premiere of The Circus at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on January 27, 1928. We are shown moments from some of the supporting circus acts and plenty of celebrities attending the screening. Notable personalities include Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Cecil B. DeMille, John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Will Hayes and others.

Re-Release Trailers – (05:20)

North American Re-Release Trailer
French Re-Release Trailer

The disc is rounded out with a pair of re-release trailers. We prefer the North American trailer to the French despite the fact that it showcases less footage from the film. Both trailers are decidedly strange approaches to marketing the film since neither does justice to the material.

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Final Words:

The Circus really deserves a more substantial reputation. One admires The Gold Rush and adores The Kid—but, for our money, it is one of Charlie Chaplin’s two best silent features (along with City Lights). This is understandably a minority opinion, but there you have it. Needless to say, we are thrilled to report that this release from Criterion is worthy of the film. The transfer is as good as it is likely to ever be on this format, and the supplementary content is incredible! Silent films rarely see such a brilliant release as this one. Highly Recommended!

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Spine #986

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:14:08

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 32.49 Mbps

Notes: A DVD edition of this title is also available for purchase.

TBW Title

It has been said that the French have decidedly different attitudes concerning infidelity than Americans, and it would be difficult to argue otherwise. While Marcel Pagnol’s The Baker’s Wife showcases some of these diverging attitudes, the film manages to play quite well across both cultures. The story was derived from a decidedly incidental episode in Jean Giono’s 1932 novel, “Jean le Bleu” (“Blue Boy“) and tells how a close-knit provincial village is thrown into disarray when the new baker’s wife runs off with a shepherd. Raimu gives a terrific performance as Aimable Castanier (the aforementioned baker) as he manages to elicit the viewer’s sympathy even when making himself both ridiculous and pathetic. In any case, the villagers joke about Aimable’s predicament, but it soon becomes clear that he won’t be making any more of his delicious bread until he has his wife back. Feuds, age-old animosities, and opposing philosophies will have to be set aside if they wish to enjoy their daily bread again. It is a well-told (and deceptively simple) folk-tale that Pagnol renders in his typical no-frills style.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases. The cover sleeve includes attractive cover artwork that has been credited to Manuel Fior. It’s a nice design as is usually the case for Criterion. Also included in the case is a pamphlet that includes an interesting essay by Ginette Vincendeau entitled, “The Baker’s Wife: Bread, Love, and a Trophy Wife.” Technical details about the transfer are also included.

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Criterion’s static menu features more of Fior’s artwork and is in the same style that collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s excellent transfer utilizes an excellent “4K digital restoration,” and the resulting is probably as good as it is ever going to look on this format. It’s really quite remarkable considering the film’s age as it offers a detailed image that is free from noticeable age-related anomalies or damage. An organic layer of film grain adds to the filmic texture of the image and resolves quite naturally. Fans will be pleased.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Those with reasonable expectations should be pleased with Criterion’s uncompressed 24-bit audio transfer as the track’s limitations were inherent in the original soundtrack. It’s difficult for these American ears to adequately judge the clarity of the French dialogue, but there weren’t any obvious problems with the sound to report. Vincent Scotto’s score is limited by the era’s sound production practices but not by this excellent transfer which seems to represent the original audio admirably.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Selected-Scene Audio Commentary with Brett Bowles – (Introduction: 03:54) – (Reconciling a Divided France: 11:44) – (The Folklore of Bakers and Bread: 11:33) – (Sexuality and Marriage: 11:47)

This scholarly examination of Pagnol’s classic may be better described as a video essay that has been divided into three sections (four if one considers the Introduction). Each section examines the film through a different microscope: Reconciling a Divided France discusses the film in the context of Frances social and political climate in 1938. The left was divided against the right, and this film mirrors many of the national squabbles through various characters (the most pointed example would be that of the priest and the teacher). The Folklore of Bakers and Bread discusses archetypes in France’s folklore that are mirrored in The Baker’s Wife. Sexuality and Marriage examines the film’s depiction of various gender roles in the context of the time in which it was made. Bowles’s analysis is certainly worth watching as it provides interesting analysis that can only enrich one’s viewing experience and enhance one’s appreciation of the film.

Introduction by Marcel Pagnol (1967) – (05:31)

To call this interview an “Introduction” to the film is a bit misleading. It’s actually a brief but incredibly informative interview with Pagnol. He discusses the film’s origins, the production, and working with Raimu with extreme candor. Criterion did well to include it in on the disc.

Cinéastes de notre temps: Marcel Pagnol Ou Le Cinéma Tel Qu’on Le Parle (1966) – (26:09)

This is the second of two episodes of a French television series entitled Cinéastes de notre temps that focused on Pagnol. It is essentially a lengthy interview with the filmmaker in his Paris flat. It’s actually an extremely interesting discussion that covers quite a bit of territory. He elaborates on his attitudes about silent and sound cinema, discusses the origins and practical reasons for making The Baker’s Wife, and muses about various differences between theater and the cinema. The program is slightly padded with excerpts from The Baker’s Wife, but it covers more territory than one might think. It is of enormous value to anyone interested in Pagnol’s work.

1976 News Program Revisiting the Village of Le Castellet – (13:19)

This short segment from a 1976 French news program revisits the village of Le Castellet (the film’s primary location). Ginette Leclerc and Charles Moulin make appearances and are briefly interviewed as are various residents that remember the production. It’s a charming addition to the disc (even if it isn’t terribly revelatory).

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Final Words:

Criterion continues their reputation for terrific transfers of cinematic masterworks with their Blu-ray release of Marcel Pagnol’s The Baker’s Wife. Those who are interested should indulge without hesitation.

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One Sheet

 

Spine #975

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Region: Region A

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 German DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3962 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 33.77 Mbps

Notes: This is the North American Blu-ray debut of Funny Games.

Title

“The film is a film about the representation of violence in the media, not about violence per se. It is a self-reflexive film, after all.” –Michael Haneke (Cinema.com, 2007)

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games has been making enemies since its release, and to say that the critical opinion was polarized is an understatement. It should be said upfront that yours truly despised the film upon the first viewing, and this wasn’t because of the overwhelming mean spiritedness behind it. Instead, it was—in the words of Haneke himself—the self-reflexive nature of the proceedings that simply seemed to be one step too far. Fourth wall breaks have never appealed to this viewer and it is doubtful that they ever will. However, it is important to keep in mind the intentions of the filmmaker and to ignore one’s own prejudices and preferences in order to judge a film fairly.

Therefore, it is important to understand what Michael Haneke was trying to achieve:

“It’s meant as a provocation, and of course, all the rules that usually make the viewer go home happy and contented are broken in my film. There’s this unspoken rule that you can’t harm animals. What do I do? I kill the dog first thing. The same thing with the boy. You’re not supposed to break the illusion. What do I do? I break the illusion. It’s the principle of the whole film. It’s a very ironic film… When I did Benny’s Video, which was done before the first Funny Games, I had depicted violence but I felt that not everything was said. I was thinking, how I could continue this dialogue…

…I wanted to show the audience how much they can be manipulated. First they think it’s all an illusion, just a film, then I do this rewinding and suddenly you go back. I look at the viewer directly. I talk to him. I wink at him. I do this again and again to show how much one can manipulate. In view of this overriding illusion in movies, it’s a good idea to create a little bit of mistrust in the verité, in the truth of moving pictures.” –Michael Haneke (Cinema Blend, 2007)

The “slap-in-the face” aspect of the film certainly resonates, but one wonders if he even needed to go as far as he did to make his point. French auteur Jacques Rivette voiced his dislike of the film in no uncertain terms after seeing the film at Cannes and was still annoyed at the film a few years later when he called Funny Games a “complete piece of shit” in a 2001 interview published by Senses of Cinema. Haneke has the film’s two villains wink at the camera, speak to the audience, and rewind the events of the film via remote control. He takes a sledge hammer approach to a goal that could have easily been achieved more gracefully without these devices. There is a decided arrogance to this approach that rightfully rubs many viewers the wrong way, and one would have to label the film a success if this were Haneke’s only objective.

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This wink represents the first in a series of fourth wall breaks employed in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

However, the film’s success is open for serious debate if the director honestly intended to force his audience to consider how they are manipulated by the rules and structure of the genre while also critiquing their thirst for violent entertainment. For one thing, there are plenty of genre fans who enjoy the film’s cruel and nihilistic nature. They experience the film just as they would any other entertainment—just as they enjoy films like Scream (which affectionately critiques the slasher genre without ever having to break the fourth wall). What’s more, these fourth wall breaks become less distracting (and less distancing) upon repeated viewings, and one becomes desensitized by their knowledge of upcoming events. In other words, this film (which was originally intended as a “provocation”) eventually turns into another genre entertainment. One has to wonder if the director would be pleased about this particular fact.

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The Presentation:

4 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 utilizes either a still or a screenshot from the film itself. It’s isn’t one of Criterion’s most brilliant designs, but it certainly serves its purpose. Also included in the case is a pamphlet that includes more film-related imagery and an interesting essay by Bilge Ebiri that is an interesting read even if you ultimately disagree with some of what is included within the text. Information about the transfer and technical credits are also included therein.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features the film’s title in black against a red background in the same style utilized by both the film and Criterion’s cover. A loop of the television noises heard within the film provide accompaniment for this image, 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:

4.5 of 5 Stars

It will come as no surprise to the already initiated that Criterion’s image transfer is top notch and a huge improvement over all previous DVD editions of the film. These improvements go beyond the greater resolution offered by the DVD format as it offers a sharper and cleaner image (even in darker scenes) and showcases with better blacks and improved color throughout the duration. Whites are well controlled but quite brilliant, and fine detail consistently impresses as well. Contrast is also expertly handled here, and there is a natural layer of film grain that is well resolved and never distracting. The disc’s encode seems well handled and utilizes a relatively high bitrate, and there are no anomalies to complain about here. The restoration was personally supervised by Michael Haneke, so it seems reasonable to assume that this is how the film is intended to look and represents the his intentions.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a nicely handled representation of the film’s original sound. It seems likely that certain audiophiles may wish for a more dynamic mix, but I’m not sure that their disappointment would be reasonable. What we are given is a clean and clear mix with a reasonable level of separation. In all honesty, the track is fairly dynamic, it just doesn’t reinvent the wheel for a new generation of viewers (and purists will be pleased by this decision). It’s somewhat difficult to gauge the level of clarity in the dialogue elements, because German is foreign to this pair of ears. However, there doesn’t seem to be any issues here, and ambience, effects, and music are also admirably handled.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Trojan Horses – (25:09)

Criterion’s new retrospective interview with Michael Haneke finds the director candidly discussing the film’s origins and script evolution, ‘behind-the-scenes’ production challenges, the untimely deaths of three of the film’s four primary actors, and his intentions for the film. The film’s remake is also discussed (albeit briefly), but this topic probably deserved more time than it received. His discussion is often surprisingly thorough, and there is at least one surprising revelation as to one of his influences. It is a thorough discussion about the film and a worthwhile addition to Criterion’s supplemental package. As a matter of fact, it is the disc’s strongest extra.

Bad Boy – (17:56)

Arno Frisch’s new interview is also surprisingly revealing and offers plenty of interesting information about the film’s script and production. It is clear that he is proud of the film and is enthusiastic throughout the duration. His revelations here add to those given by Haneke and gives the viewer a greater appreciation for the movie itself. He also discusses his vivid memory of the walkouts during the Cannes screenings of the film.

Game Culture – (28:07)

Alexander Horwath gives what might be described as a scholarly appreciation of the film. It does offer the viewer some food for thought, but it honestly isn’t terribly revelatory overall and pales in comparison to the two previous interviews. Most of his observations are either obvious or debatable, and most viewers will have already considered much of what he has to offer here. It’s a worthwhile addition to the disc, but fans of the film may find it wanting.

Cannes Film Festival Press Conference (1997) – (44:12)

It is nice to find this vintage press conference included here as it offers quite a bit of information even as it hints at the film’s divided reception. The information divulged is sometimes hindered by some of the reporters as they sometimes asked asinine questions, but such is always the case. Many of the questions betrayed an innate misunderstanding of the material and seemed to both annoy and amuse Haneke himself. In addition, Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe were largely ignored in favor of Arno Frisch (despite the fact that they had more difficult roles and did an outstanding job in the film). The answers are sometimes repetitive due to the ridiculous questions being asked, but at least this gives the viewer more opportunity to absorb the repeated information. It is a nice—if limited—addition that adds to the value of the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:12)

The film’s original theatrical trailer rounds out the list of supplements admirably.

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Final Words:

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is an “experimental provocation” that continues to polarize viewers. Some believe that the film is a successful critique of media violence while others believe that it is a hypocritical endeavor that merely raises the proverbial middle finger towards anyone who endeavors to watch the film.

This reviewer stands somewhere in the middle. It’s an interesting effort and worth seeing if only so that you can make up your own mind, and Criterion’s disc is probably the best way to experience it in one’s home environment.

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One Sheet

Spine #970

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: April 23rd, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:06:11

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 35.82 Mbps

Title

Zapata! and Face the Crowd were both scorned when they came out and so was Splendor in the Grass; now they’re minor classics. I know many of the critics and I don’t think of them as God-like figures. What can they do to hurt me? Sure, I might be slightly embarrassed for a day, but then you just go your own way.” –Elia Kazan (Interview, 1969)

Everyone has probably seen at least one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, so it might be worth posing the following question: What if Andy Taylor—the extremely modest and benevolent rural Sherriff portrayed in this series—was in actuality an amoral and maniacal megalomaniac? What if his country boy charm and kindly disposition were merely a pretense? I ask these questions because Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith’s character in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd) has a public persona that isn’t terribly different from the character that Griffith portrayed in his hit series, but this persona is merely a sociopath’s mask.

A Face in the Crowd follows the rise and descent of Rhodes as he is discovered by Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) in an Arkansas jail trying to sleep off a terrible hangover (any similarities to Otis Campbell end here). Jeffries soon has him employed as a charismatic local radio personality, but this is merely a single step on his journey to becoming a national television celebrity. However, this isn’t your typical rags-to-riches yarn as it soon becomes a scarily prescient satire about demagoguery. It forces us to consider just how possible a truly democratic system of government is in a land full of people who are more than willing to let others do their thinking for them (especially when the media is more than happy to oblige them).

Perhaps the film was a flop because it was released in an era when questioning our system of government was looked at with extreme skepticism, but those who look seriously at our current sociopolitical climate might wish that people had paid closer attention.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases. The cover sleeve includes thematically appropriate cover artwork that has been credited to Marc Aspinall. It’s a nice design as is usually the case for Criterion (even if it isn’t one of their best).

Also included in the case is a booklet that includes more attractive artwork and plenty of production photography that serve as illustration for an interesting essay by April Wolfe entitled, “American Character,” a second essay by Elia Kazan (the film’s director) entitled, “About Screenwriters,” and a vintage New York Times feature entitled “Strange Chronicle of Andy Griffith” by Gilbert Millstein. All three of these writings offer something worthwhile and should add to the viewer’s appreciation of the film. Technical details about the transfer are also included within its pages.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features thematically appropriate artwork and is in the same style that collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. Frankly, it isn’t one of their more attractive menus, but it should still be intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion provides the following information about this new Blu-ray transfer of A Face In the Crowd:

“This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics director film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, and small dirt…” –Liner Notes

The resulting image is a huge leap forward from previous home video transfers, and the differences aren’t merely the result of the new 4K scan (although it certainly contributes to this transfer’s superiority). It certainly showcases much more fine detail, but it also sees a huge improvement in nearly all other areas. Shadows are more detailed even as deeper blacks are on display, the film looks much better in motion, both clarity and image stability is greatly improved, and grain patterns look more organic and are better resolved. There doesn’t seem to be any problematic digital tampering on display here either.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s Mono PCM Audio transfer is a healthy rendering of the film’s original audio elements and is faithful to the original artistic intentions of the filmmakers. The original source elements seem to have been incredibly healthy, and there aren’t any encoding issues to mar the film’s original sound elements. The result is a stable audio transfer that is free from the distracting blemishes that one might expect to find from a film of its era. Certainly any perceived issues are inherent in the source.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Facing the Past – (29:10)

Facing the Past is a short documentary about the film’s creation and reception that includes interviews with Andy Griffith, Budd Schulberg, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Jeff Young, and Leo Braudy. It has been carried over from a previous Warner Brother’s DVD release, but it is arguably the disc’s most comprehensive examination of the film. It’s a thorough look at the film and the talent who brought it to life. Those involved are surprisingly open and candid about the challenges that they faced while working with Kazan, scholars are on hand to discuss biographical influences, and there is a surprising focus on the director’s controversial HUAC testimony that colors the entire length of the program. It is well worth a half hour of the viewer’s time.

Ron Briley on A Face of the Crowd – (20:43)

Ron Briley is the author if “The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan: The Politics of the Post-HUAC Films,” and this fact should provide viewers with a clue as to what they can expect from his informative interview. However, they will be quite surprised at just how digestible the information actually is as his delivery isn’t nearly as dry one might expect. Kazan’s political and professional background is discussed, the HUAC testimonies are examined with some level of depth, and Briley also examines how this biographical information influenced the film and its themes. It is interesting to learn that both Arthur Godfrey and Will Rogers informed the characterization of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes. In fact, Budd Schulberg’s inspiration for the story was born out of a drunken conversation with Will Rogers, Jr. about the reality behind his father’s public persona. There is quite a bit of information here that was also covered in the older Warner documentary, but it also contains enough new information to make it a worthwhile addition to this package.

Evan Dalton Smith on A Face In the Crowd – (19:43)

Evan Dalton Smith’s interview zeroes in on the background and career of Andy Griffith. Griffith’s early career as a monologist, his early stage success, his first few films (including A Face in the Crowd), and finally his iconic television series are discussed here in some depth. It is the lightest supplement on the disc, but there is still enough meat to add to the viewer’s appreciation and understanding of A Face in the Crowd and its star performer. It is worth the viewer’s time if only to learn of Kazan’s diabolical manipulation of Griffith’s emotional triggers as it was an experience that left its mark on the actor.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:19)

An original theatrical trailer for the film has also been included here. It is interesting to see as the approach is far from typical of trailers during this period. It might offer a clue as to why the film failed at the box office.

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Final Words:

A Face in the Crowd is essential viewing for fans of both Andy Griffith and Elia Kazan, and Criterion’s terrific Blu-ray release of the film is probably the best way to do this.

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One Sheet

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.

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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.

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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.

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Menu

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.

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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)

Comparisons

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Alfred Hitchcock Master

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.

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

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