Posts Tagged ‘Classic Cinema’

Spine # 897

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: October 17, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 03:05:12

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

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

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 4051 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 27.19 Mbps

Title

“The American press was predominantly enthusiastic about the film, and Time magazine ran a cover story about it. The international press was even more enthusiastic. It is true that the English press was badly split. But from the very beginning, all of my films have divided the critics. Some have thought them wonderful, and others have found very little good to say. But subsequent critical opinion has always resulted in a very remarkable shift to the favorable. In one instance, the same critic who originally rapped the film has several years later put it on an all-time best list. But, of course, the lasting and ultimately most important reputation of a film is not based on reviews, but on what, if anything, people say about it over the years, and on how much affection for it they have.” –Stanley Kubrick (Interview with Michel Ciment)

We can announce with some certainty that there are enough admiring cinephiles to call Barry Lyndon a classic. In fact, there are those who would call it Kubrick’s masterpiece—although one might argue that his filmography is full of them. However, one doesn’t wish to imply that it is uniformly admired by general audiences. There are plenty of people who would agree with the following condescending words written by Pauline Kael:

“This film is a masterpiece in every insignificant detail. Kubrick isn’t taking pictures in order to make movies, he’s making movies in order to take pictures. Barry Lyndon indicates that Kubrick is thinking through his camera, and that’s not really how good movies get made—though it’s what gives them their dynamism, if a director puts the images together vivifyingly for an emotional impact. I wish Stanley Kubrick would come home to this country to make movies again, working fast on modern subjects—maybe even doing something tacky, for the hell of it. There was more film art in his early The Killing than there is in Barry Lyndon, and you didn’t feel older when you came out of it…” —Pauline Kael (Kubrick’s Gilded Age)

BTS

Frankly, any critic who hopes that a brilliant director will shovel out the same twaddle being shoveled out by lesser directors should throw their pen or typewriter in the garbage and tape their mouths shut. Kael somehow earned a great deal of respect as a film critic—no small accomplishment considering the fact that she was wrong more often than she was right. She was wrong about Alfred Hitchcock, she was wrong about the Coen brothers, and she was wrong about Stanley Kubrick.

When one is making cinema, details are never insignificant. They are used to build a very distinct world for the viewer, and those so-called insignificant details transport the viewer back in time with an efficiency that has rarely been matched by other directors.  What’s more, Barry Lyndon’s pacing isn’t slow—it is deliberate.  This distinction is an important one, because Kubrick has obviously worked the pacing out with the same meticulous attention. It is the sort of film that requires quite a lot of the viewer and will reward their effort. One must allow the images to wash over them with an understanding that the journey of this film is more important than the destination.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has really been on the ball lately as their beautiful package for Barry Lyndon is one of several exceptional releases in a matter of months. Other examples include last month’s 2-Disc Blu-ray package for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and a stellar 2-Disc/2-Version release of Orson Welles’s Othello earlier this month. This release for Stanley Kubrick’s period masterpiece is in every way their equal.

On the surface, this 2-Disc edition looks exactly like Criterion’s standard single disc releases. Both discs are housed in their standard clear case with a cover sleeve featuring a slightly altered and more simplistic incarnation of Jouineau Bourduge’s one sheet design for the film. Charles Gehm also contributed a design to promote the film, and Warner Brothers utilized it as the primary poster for Barry Lyndon’s original theatrical run. However, Bourduge’s more simplistic alternative one sheet design has become the most iconic image associated with the film. It is no wonder that Criterion decided to utilize it and they made the right choice!

Charles Gehm's One Sheet

Charles Gehm’s One Sheet Design

In addition to the two discs, Criterion houses an above average 40-page collector’s booklet that includes a scholarly essay by Geoffrey O’Brien entitled “Time Regained,” and two pieces that were originally published in a special March 1976 issue of American Cinematographer that was devoted to the film. The first is an incredibly in-depth interview with John Alcott entitled “Photographing ‘Barry Lyndon’” and it essential reading. Alcott goes into some technical detail about how many of the film’s innovative technological effects were pulled off—so much technical detail that some readers will find themselves ill-prepared to completely understand some of the information. The same can be said about a short article by Ed DiGiulio (president of Cinema Products Corporation) about the special equipment alterations and inventions that Kubrick needed for the film. It is entitled “Two Special Lenses for ‘Barry Lyndon’” and is well worth reading. This all adds up to an incredibly substantial booklet—which we prefer to Criterion’s single essay pamphlets.

One does wonder why Michel Ciment’s famed interview with Stanley Kubrick about Barry Lyndon hasn’t been included within these pages (especially since Ciment was interviewed for one of the disc’s supplements). However, to question why this hasn’t been included makes one feel like an unappreciative brat.

Each disc has its own menu design and features its own piece of music from the film, and both are attractive and intuitive to navigate. Anyone familiar with other Criterion discs will know what to expect.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has wisely secluded this three hour film on its own disc coupled only with a choice of soundtracks. This allows them to make the most of their new 4K digital restoration. The following information about the transfer was included in the collector’s booklet:

Barry Lyndon is presented in the film’s photographed aspect ratio of 1.66:1, as specified in a December 8, 1975, letter from director Stanley Kubrick to projectionists. This new digital transfer was created in 16-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film-scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. The high-definition transfer created in 2000 and supervised by Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant, served as a color reference for this new master. 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, small dirt, grain, and noise management…” –Collector’s Booklet

The result is a substantial improvement over the 1.78:1 Warner Brothers transfer, and the differences go far beyond the fact that Criterion presents the film in its intended aspect ratio—even though the earlier transfer was really quite wonderful from a technical standpoint. For one thing, Criterion’s handling of the film’s grain results in an organic and very clean representation that is in keeping with the original image without getting in the way of fine detail. The image is much sharper here despite the intentionally soft appearance of the cinematography. This is simply the result of a technically superior 4K scan and not the result of digital tampering. Black levels are gorgeous and deep without crushing detail in shadowy areas of the frame. The clean-up work undertaken by those who restored the film has resulted in an immaculate image. As a matter of fact, the improvements evident in this new transfer are at their most remarkable during the darker scenes. Density is another area that shows a marked improvement over the previous Blu-ray transfers.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The film’s sound elements have also seen a new transfer and restoration and technical details were included in Criterion’s collector’s booklet along with those concerning the image:

“…The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm magnetic DME (dialogue, music, and effects) track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX. The alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack was created in 2000 from original soundtrack stems by Vitali and audio engineer Chris Jenkins.” –Collector’s Booklet

Purists should be very happy to learn that the original mono track has been restored and included here along with the 5.1 mix. Both tracks are quite good and there aren’t any issues to report regarding either track as both sound incredible here.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Making Barry Lyndon – (37:52)

A “making of” documentary about Barry Lyndon should’ve been made years ago, but Criterion has happily corrected this oversight with this thirty-eight minute look at the film’s production. The program features new interviews with several of Kubrick’s collaborators, including Jan Harlan (executive producer/Kubrick’s brother-in-law), Katharina Kubrick, Leon Vitali (actor), Dominic Savage (actor), Brian Cook (assistant director), Michael Stevenson (assistant director), and Richard Daniels (senior archivist at the Stanley Kubrick Archive). It also includes an archival radio with Stanley Kubrick that certainly adds quite a bit to the proceedings. This is a somewhat comprehensive piece that covers such topics as pre-production research, the script—or what there was of a script, the special challenges regarding the film’s innovative cinematography, the meticulous costume designs, and anecdotes from those who worked on the film. One wonders why some of the stand-alone interviews weren’t included as a part of this more comprehensive piece, but this isn’t necessarily a complaint. Obviously, this is the strongest and most instructive supplement on the entire disc (and this is saying quite a lot).

Achieving Perfection – (15:32)

Achieving Perfection is an excellent featurette that focuses primarily on the film’s visuals and the painstaking work that went into creating them. It features interviews with Douglas Milsume (focus puller), Lou Bogue (gaffer), and excerpts from an archival audio interview with John Alcott (cinematographer). This piece gives a more detailed account of the infamous lenses utilized by the production in order to achieve the scenes that were lit using only candlelight. The problems and their solutions of shooting with these special lenses are elaborated on in some depth as are other scenes and their respective challenges. It is an incredibly informative fifteen minutes that seems to fly by all too quickly.

Drama in Detail – (13:34)

Christopher Frayling (Film Historian) discusses the tense working relationship shared by Stanley Kubrick and Academy Award–winning production designer Ken Adam. Their relationship was difficult for Adam because of Kubrick’s insistence on knowing the logic or reasoning behind each and every design. His sets had to work for the director both aesthetically and logically, and this was difficult for Adam who had a very different approach. As a matter of fact, he declined the chance to work with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey because his experience on Dr. Strangelove was so exasperating. Apparently, his decision to work on Barry Lyndon years later led to more than an Academy Award as he also had a well-earned a nervous breakdown.

Timing and Tension – (13:50)

Timing and Tension is a conversation with Tony Lawson who worked closely with Kubrick on the editing of Barry Lyndon. Lawson is modest about his contributions to the film and claims that he was not an equal partner during the interview, but it is clear that he was an essential cog in Kubrick’s well-oiled machine. His revelations about Kubrick’s approach to editing should fascinate the director’s admirers. The interview’s brief duration is rather deceptive, because there is an incredible amount of essential material here.

On the Costumes – (05:00)

This brief but fascinating interview excerpt with Ulla-Britt Söderlund (co-designer of the film’s costumes) was taken from a French television broadcast entitled Les rendez-vous du dimanche that aired on September 19, 1976. We see some of the costume pieces as Söderlund details the meticulous work that went into making them a reality. There is an incredible amount of information here considering its brief duration, and it is a remarkable addition to the supplemental package.

Passion and Reason – (17:35)

Michel Ciment’s interview is interesting and fulfills the disc’s need for a scholarly voice, but one feels it is one of the least interesting supplements on the disc. It isn’t as focused as it needs to be and the commentary is sometimes rather obvious. It works as an appreciation of the director and of the film but somehow falls short in terms of actual insight.

Balancing Every Sound – (10:13)

Balancing Every Sound is an interesting discussion with Leon Vitali (who eventually became Kubrick’s personal assistant). Vitali talks about the reason behind Kubrick’s decision to present the film with a monaural mix and how these same sound elements were later used to create a 5.1 mix. He goes into somewhat general detail about how their choices were guided by an honest effort to present the sound in a manner that was faithful to Kubrick’s original Mono mix. Several comparisons between the two tracks are offered.

A Cinematic Canvas – (15:04)

Adam Eaker discusses some of the artwork that influenced aspects of the film as well as some of the paintings that appeared in it. It wasn’t at all surprising to find that this scholarly discussion was one of the most instructive academic features on the disc. In fact, it is essential viewing for those who appreciate the film and its director. Artists discusses here include (in no particular order) Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, George Stubbs, Johan Zoffany, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Eaker discusses how the works of these artists directly influenced Kubrick’s vision in an incredibly clear and concise way that makes this an extremely worthwhile fifteen minutes.

Theatrical Trailer #1 – (04:07)

Warner Brothers probably knew that they had an unusual film on their hands—one that would be rather difficult to market to the film going public. Their concept for the trailers was to highlight the film’s artistic merit. It wasn’t “the thrill ride of the year” or the “most fun you’ll have at the movies.” It was a languid but beautifully crafted cinematic experience made by one of the undisputed masters of the art of film. Therefore, quotations from enthusiastic critics and a list of awards and nominations are recited from a distinguished sounding gentleman. This approach is probably not as unusual today as it was then, because one now sees these sort of trailers every Oscar season.

Theatrical Trailer #2 – (02:09)

The shorter second trailer highlights a few different scenes at certain points, but it is essentially a condensed version of the first trailer and utilizes the same “review and award accolades” concept.

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Final Words:

In the opening paragraph of a seven-page cover review of the film for Time magazine entitled “Barry Lyndon: Kubrick’s Grandest Gamble,” Richard Schickel wrote the following:

“In [Barry Lyndon], [Stanley Kubrick] demonstrates the qualities that eluded Thackeray: singularity of vision, mature mastery of his medium, near-reckless courage in asserting through this work a claim not just to the distinction critics have already granted him but to greatness that time alone can — and probably will — confirm.” -Richard Schickel (Time, December 15, 1975)

The film would’ve proven this prophetic statement about Kubrick’s greatness even if it had been the director’s only effort. It is a singular experience that cannot be justified in any review (including Schickel’s). It is an uncompromising film that divides viewers, but this can be said about nearly all truly great films. Cinephiles should abandon all preconceived notions as to what a film should be and how it should be experienced—and if it is being experienced on home video, Criterion’s new Blu-ray is the best way to do this.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: October 10, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:36:24

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3441 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio:

2.0 English Dolby Digital Audio
2.0 French Dolby Digital Audio
2.0 Spanish Dolby Digital Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH), Spanish

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 22.71 Mbps

Title

Just the other day, this reviewer was with a group of friends when a promo for one of those banal made-for-television Christmas movies ran across a television screen that happened to be in the room. There was a collective groan. “It’s not even Halloween yet,” someone said. “As if Christmas in December wasn’t bad enough,” someone else interjected. Christmas is a stressful season that many people dread—primarily because it has become an obligation to spend money. The heart and soul of the holiday has been all but eradicated due to commercialism. It’s difficult to imagine what audiences must have been thinking when they settled into their theater seats and witnessed a Christmas story without having any notion as to what to expect in June of 1947.

One Sheet

The original one sheet for the film went out of its way to avoid giving away that Miracle on 34th Street was a Christmas-themed film.

Why on earth would a studio release a Christmas-themed entertainment in the summer? It boggles the imagination, but it isn’t at all surprising that the film was an enormous success. The Grinch himself might find his heart growing three sizes larger during such an incredibly charming entertainment. Ebenezer Scrooge could have been spared his haunting tour of Christmases past, present, and future if only such a film could have been screened for him all those years ago. Miracle on 34th Street is everything a Christmas movie should be. It prepares our hearts for the holiday and reminds us what it’s supposed to be about. It is for this reason that the film is still celebrated as one of the essential Holiday classics 70 years after its release. It is an open indictment of the very commercialism that has swallowed the holiday and what it really means to those who celebrate it.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

In some ways, a “70th Anniversary Edition” of Miracle on 34th Street that doesn’t include a new and better transfer of the film than what was previously available flies in the face of the film’s themes about the commercialization of the holiday season. However, we will admit that the packaging for this edition is more attractive than those included in previous Blu-ray editions of the film.

20th Century Fox houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case with new film-related artwork that is attractive but not exceptional. Unfortunately, the case is of the eco-friendly variety that features large “recycle” holes that leave both the artwork and the disc vulnerable to damage. Luckily, the case itself is further protected by a sleeve featuring the same design.

The disc’s animated menus feature footage from the film and is above average aesthetically while remaining easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

20th Century Fox’s transfer of the film’s original black and white version. Yes, this means that it is unmarred by the ghastly colorization that viewers see on television every year. This is the film as the filmmakers originally intended it to be seen. While, those who remember the film’s earlier DVD transfers will notice a substantial improvement in image quality—an improvement made even more evident due to the fact that it hasn’t gone through as much digital manipulation. Grain is consistent throughout the duration of the film. Whites aren’t quite white, but blacks are rather inky and deep. Unfortunately, there might be a bit of crush during some of the darker shots in the shadow areas of the frame. Clarity is sufficient but not terribly impressive and contrast fluctuates more than one might hope. However, there aren’t any noticeable compression anomalies to distract the viewer.

This is a decent transfer but it isn’t an upgrade over earlier Blu-ray editions of the film, and it is impossible not to see this new release as a missed opportunity. To be fair, this might be the best that Miracle can look without a substantial restoration, but isn’t such a restoration warranted?

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master is the obvious choice despite the fact that the separations are artificially rendered and not terribly dynamic. It manages to seem faithful to the original audio, and the lossless track gives music and other sound elements more room to breathe than tracks that have been heavily compressed. One doubts if the track could sound any better under the circumstances.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Commentary by Maureen O’Hara

One wishes that this was a proper commentary track instead of excerpts from an interview placed throughout the duration of the film. O’Hara’s memories about the production and those who worked on it are interesting and engaging but there is too much dead space. Why on earth didn’t they simply include the interview as a stand-alone featurette with footage and stills from the production? Frankly, this reviewer would be more excited about this than a commentary track, and it wouldn’t waste nearly as much of the viewer’s time. None of the information is comprehensive enough to include as a commentary, but it is certainly nice to have it here in some form.

AMC Backstory: Miracle on 34th Street – (22:06) – (SD)

Those who remember AMC during the days when the channel actually played classic movies will remember their short Backstory programs. This one follows their usual format and provides a brief look at the making of the film. It isn’t incredibly comprehensive and is as much an appreciation of the film as it is a proper “behind the scenes” examination of the production. However, there are some interesting revelations provided by Maureen O’Hara (Doris Walker), Robert Hyatt (Thomas Mara Jr.), Alvin Greenman (Alfred), Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s sister), Rudy Behlmer (Film Historian), and others throughout the duration. The result is a decent overview that doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s great to have this included here.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History – (15:29) – (SD)

There is some minor overlapping of information in this short featurette, but this program focuses primarily on the location shooting at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In fact, it also includes a bit of background information about the parade which should be of interest to fans of the film.

Fox Movietone News: Hollywood Spotlight – (01:46) – (SD)

Also included is an archival newsreel featuring clips from the 20th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on March 20, 1948. Perhaps most relevant is Edmond Gwen’s acceptance speech for his award for Best Supporting Actor.

Promotional Short – (05:05) – (SD)

This is in all actuality an unusual trailer for the film that doesn’t include a single frame from the actual film. This is because the film’s June release made it necessary to hide the fact that it is in actuality a Christmas movie. Various actors and directors appear to rave about the film in seemingly contradictory ways throughout the short length of the trailer. It is a very interesting approach but one wonders how in the world it actually brought viewers into theaters. In any case, it adds quite a bit of value to the disc.

Poster Gallery – (00:39) – (1080P)

This slideshow contains various posters and advertisements for the film. Interestingly, it is clear that the marketing department took great pains to camouflage the fact that Miracle on 34th Street is a Christmas-themed movie.

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Final Words

Forget the soulless 1994 remake and make room for this original 1947 classic in your holiday schedules. It will put your hearts and minds in the proper spirit for the season. The image and sound transfers are merely average, but the film itself is as charming today as it was 70 years ago.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: September 05, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:52:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 34.96 Mbps

Title

“The struggle for self-determination, the struggle for what a character wants his life to be…I look for characters who feel strongly enough about something not to be concerned with the prevailing odds, but to struggle against those odds.” -Robert Aldrich

“The struggle for self-determination” pervades The Big Knife, a film based on a relatively successful play by Clifford Odets that made its Broadway debut at the National Theatre on February 24, 1949. Under the direction of Lee Strasberg, the stage production would last for 109 performances. The screenplay for the film by Robert Aldrich would be adapted by Odets and James Poe.

Aldrich follow-up to Kiss Me Deadly (which was made that same year) finds Charles Castle (Jack Palance), one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, at a crossroads in his life. His marriage is falling apart and his wife is threatening to leave him if he renews his contract with a philistine producer named Stanley Shriner Hoff. Meanwhile, Hoff knows of several incriminating skeletons in the actor’s closet and threatens to expose them to the world if he doesn’t sign on for future productions with his studio.

The film won the Silver Lion award at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, but the film wasn’t an overwhelming success in its day—and this is despite an excellent tile design by Saul Bass and a strong cast who gives excellent (if sometimes overwrought) performances. The theatricality of both the story and the performances is what ultimately dates the film, and it isn’t one of Aldrich’s best efforts. It is, however, an enjoyable diversion and a solid entry in the filmographies of every participant.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. There is also an attractive booklet that features an essay written by Nathalie Morris and a number of archival stills.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

Menu

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s 2K restoration transfer looks incredible but unfortunately falls short of absolute perfection due to variances in clarity, a few anomalies created by the ravages of time, and what many will perceive to be a thicker than usual layer of grain. However, none of this gets in the way of the transfers strengths. For instance, the level of fine detail is still pretty impressive, contrast is well rendered, and there aren’t any unfortunate compression issues to distract the viewer.

This transfer does seem to have one curious and unfortunate negative aspect in that there is approximately sixty-six seconds of missing footage. This isn’t noticeable unless one compares it to other releases of the film.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

No one should expect this talky film to feature a truly dynamic experience, but the Linear PCM track is reasonably solid despite its narrow range. Dialogue is certainly clean and clear, and there aren’t any age related issues. It might not impress modern viewers, but it serves the story.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Commentary by Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton

As I am not usually a fan of third party commentary tracks, this discussion between Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton has limited appeal despite the fact that they cover a lot of information here. It is better than many similar tracks, but it isn’t as instructive as it might have been if it featured one or some of the actual filmmakers. We do, however, get a lot of general information about such topics as Robert Aldrich’s filmmaking legacy, comparisons to the play, background information about the cast, and other pertinent subjects. It is nice that Arrow goes to the trouble of producing commentaries for these older films (even if some of the participants featured in them can seem rather arbitrary).

Bass on Titles (1977) – (33:46)

If this interesting documentary hadn’t been included, the rating for this aspect of the disc would have been 2 or 2.5 stars. Needless to say, it is the disc’s best supplement. It finds Saul Bass discussing some of his title designs before that particular title sequence (or a clip of that sequence) is shown. Unfortunately, many of his titles aren’t included here at all. This is the programs largest weakness. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Television Promo – (04:59)

Also interesting is this vintage television EPK that serves as a glimpse behind the scenes—but only in the most superficial manner. It is basically an introduction to the film’s distinguished cast, but it is much more interesting than it would be if it wasn’t produced in 1955.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:28)

The trailer typically exploits its successful stage origins and the more sensational elements of the story, and the result is a trailer that never really distinguishes itself. It simply tries to appeal to the more sophisticated “high-brow” viewers who enjoy literate stage plays as they cater to the least common denominator by exploiting the more scandalous plot points. By covering all exploitable territories in a single trailer, the film in question seems to have no distinguishable personality. However, it is certainly interesting to watch.

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Final Words:

The Big Knife isn’t one of Robert Aldrich’s better films, but it is a diverting adaptation of the Clifford Odets stage play. Meanwhile, Arrow’s Blu-ray release is the best it has looked on home video.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Olive Films

Release Date: August 29th, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:16

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.35:1

Bitrate: 25.48 Mbps

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

Title

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

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

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

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

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

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

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

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

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

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

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

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

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Nora Fiore

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

Theatrical Trailer – (02:09)

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

“The Stranger: Murderers Among Us”

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

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Final Words:

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

One Sheet

hitchcockmaster

Spine #885

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

The Lodger – 01:30:24

Downhill – 01:50:59

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

The Lodger – 2.0 Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Downhill – 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio (48 kHz, 192 kbps)

Ratio:

The Lodger – 1.33:1

Downhill – 1.33:1

Bitrate:

The Lodger – 29.36 Mbps

Downhill – 15.09 Mbps

Notes: This is the North American Blu-ray debut of “The Lodger,” but the film was given a DVD release by MGM. Unfortunately, the MGM edition is now out of print. The release also marks the Blu-ray debut of “Downhill.”

Title

The Master Finds His Voice

PART ONE:THE LODGER

The Lodger is the first picture possibly influence by my period in Germany. The whole approach to this film was instinctive with me. It was the first time I exercised my style. In…

View original post 9,331 more words

Blu-ray Cover

Limited Edition to 3000

Distributor: Twilight Time

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 126 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Notes: This release has received numerous DVD releases, but this is the film’s North American Blu-ray debut.

Title

A lot of veteran directors ran into a creative wall in the 1960s. Both the industry and the audience’s sensibilities were changing rapidly, and the greatest auteurs of the previous decades struggled to keep up with these unusual times. Alfred Hitchcock peaked with 1960’s Psycho (despite a strong return to form in 1972 with Frenzy). Like Hitchcock, one of Billy Wilder’s career peaks occurred in 1960 with the release of The Apartment only to fall into a creative slump in the following decades.

Luckily, fate granted Wilder with a temporary reprieve from creative purgatory when he began his seventh script collaboration with I.A.L. Diamond on The Fortune Cookie (1966). Wilder originally wanted to cast Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason but created cinematic history by casting Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon instead. This was the first time these actors were paired together in a film, but the duo would go on to make nine additional movies with one another (although Kotch wasn’t an acting partnership). As a matter of fact, two of these pairings (The Front Page and Buddy, Buddy) were also directed by Billy Wilder.

The tale focuses on the travails of a TV cameraman (Jack Lemmon) who is injured while shooting a professional football game and then inveigled into an insurance scam by his brother-in-law—the infamous Whiplash Willie (Walter Matthau). The resulting film was a financial success and earned Walter Matthau a well-earned Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for his indelible comic performance in the film.

Even so, it is clear in retrospect that The Fortune Cookie doesn’t rank amongst the director’s best efforts. The film is too leisurely paced and the mixture of drama and comedy is decidedly uneven. One sometimes wishes that some of the film’s broadly drawn comic moments were more subdued or that they could have been played straight. After all, a lot can be said for understatement and for simple gestures. Having said this, Wilder’s mid-sixties comeback is essential viewing for Wilder fans and anyone who enjoys the on-screen chemistry between the film’s two principal actors.

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in clear Blu-ray case featuring film-related artwork. The six-page booklet featuring movie stills, poster art, and an enthusiastic short essay by Julie Kirgo sweetens the overall presentation a good deal.

Booklet

Twilight Time’s Collector’s Booklet

The menu utilizes the same film-related artwork and is attractive and intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Twilight Time’s 1080p AVC transfer is surprisingly solid. The image is incredibly rich in detail and with accurate contrast that showcase rich black levels without seeming to crush important detail. It is a vast improvement over the previous DVD edition of the film. Black and white films can look truly terrific in high definition, and this release is no exception.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The English mono DTS-HD master audio track sounds clean without any distracting anomalies to mar the viewer’s enjoyment. Dialogue registers clearly and is well prioritized while the lossless nature of the track gives André Previn’s score adequate room to breathe. Ambience and effects are also well mixed and seem to reflect the original film’s release.

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Special Features:

1 of 5 Stars

Original Theatrical Trailer

As a lover of vintage trailers, the inclusion of this original theatrical trailer for the film is a happy bonus and a much-appreciated addition to the disc.

Isolated Music Track

André Previn’s score is allowed to shine without the film’s other sound elements in this isolated music track. Cinephiles with an interest in film scores will find this feature interesting.

One Sheet

The Official One Sheet

Final Words:

Whether you are a Billy Wilder devotee, enjoy the comic pairings of Matthau and Lemmon, or simply adore classic Hollywood cinema, this Blu-ray release from Twilight Time earns our endorsement—and interested parties will want to purchase their copy as soon as possible.  This is a limited edition release available exclusively at www.twilighttimemovies.com and www.screenarchives.com. There really isn’t any way to know how long it will be available.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Paramount

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 131 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono

Alternate Audio:

French Dolby Digital Mono Spanish Dolby Digital Mono

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Ratio: 1.34:1

Bitrate: 39.00 Mbps

Notes: This film has had two previous Blu-ray releases and a number of DVD releases. This Platinum Anniversary Edition is essentially a re-packaging and does not represent any major overhaul. However, the advertised six “art cards” are exclusive to this set.

Title.jpg

“It was the story I had been looking for all my life! A man, a good man, ambitious but so busy helping others, life seems to pass him by. Despondent, he wishes he’d never been born. He gets his wish. Through the eyes of a guardian angel, he sees the world as it would have been had he not been born. Wow! What an idea. The kind of idea that when I got old and sick and scared and ready to die – they’d still say, ‘He made The Greatest Gift.’” –Frank Capra

“The Greatest Gift” originated as a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, who famously gave the story to friends as a Christmas card when he couldn’t find a publisher for it, although it isn’t often mentioned that he found various publishers for it soon after it’s informal release. It was published first as a book and was later included in various magazines (sometimes re-titled “The Man Who Was Never Born”) The themes appealed to Frank Capra, who had built his reputation championing the “common man” and a “love thy neighbor” philosophy in his film work. The story seemed to encapsulate all of his favorite themes.

Capra had already directed quite a few films that are undisputed classics, but none eclipse It’s A Wonderful Life—which stands strong as the director’s masterpiece. After being nominated for five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Recording), the film passed into cinema limbo and was all but forgotten until television revived it many decades later.

Worse yet, the FBI flagged It’s A Wonderful Life for what they perceived to be communist propaganda and most critics charged the film with being “saccharin.” Capra was known for his sentimentality. The press often labeled his films “Capra-corn” for this very reason. Perhaps the sentimental nature of the film’s ending overshadowed the film’s rather dark subject matter. George’s crisis is one that we all face. Responsibilities keep us from the lives we plan for ourselves. We watch our dreams move farther away from us on a daily basis, and the fact is that most of us never live the lives that originally hoped to live. The film’s fantasy elements make us forget that this is actually a very simple story about a man drowning in the realities of life.

If the ending is sentimental, then the sentimentality has been well earned. Audiences recognize the honesty of George’s struggle. This is why they are able to accept and perhaps even embrace the film’s unlikely ending. Viewers rejoice when George Bailey’s friends bail him out of his predicament at the last minute. It reestablishes the themes of the film despite its sentimentality. Classics are classics for a reason and this film is no exception.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

It’s A Wonderful Life has landed on Blu-ray for the third time to celebrate the film’s 70th Anniversary, and the discs are housed in the standard Blu-ray casing with new film-related artwork that is reasonably attractive but not necessarily superior to the artwork featured on the first two Blu-ray editions. The case is protected by an embossed slipcover featuring the same artwork.

70th Anniversary Edition.jpg

Also included inside the case are 6 attractive “art cards” that feature various posters and lobby cards for the film. The inclusion of these cards is the primary difference between this new edition and the two previous Blu-ray releases.

The menus are identical to those utilized for the previous two releases and feature a decorated Christmas tree. They are attractive and easy to navigate but one feels that they do not truly represent the film.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

My review of the earlier Blu-ray releases of this film was not only extremely forgiving but actually quite enthusiastic. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to be enthusiastic this time around, because Paramount wasted an opportunity to offer fans something even better than this transfer, which is the same one that they have offered twice before. The image is reasonably sharp and a marked improvement over DVD editions of the film and contrast is very nice indeed. Unfortunately, there seems to be some slight digital noise reduction on display. It isn’t quite as bad as some might suggest, but it certainly hasn’t been done as subtly as one might hope. Luckily, this is really the only issue that stands out.

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Sound Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

This Dolby Digital Mono mix is actually pretty decent, but why on earth wouldn’t Paramount take advantage of this new 70th Anniversary release and include a lossless audio upgrade? Could it possibly be anything other than laziness or apathy? Luckily, the track doesn’t contain the pops, hiss, and other distractions that one might expect from a vintage track. Dialogue is always clear and never distorted. Even Dimitri Tiomkin’s score sounds somewhat decent here. One cannot say for certain that a lossless track would be a marked improvement over this Dolby Digital transfer, but one would assume that such an upgrade might at least represent a marginal improvement.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Before discussing the included supplementary material, it is necessary to point out that one of Paramount’s previous featurettes is conspicuously missing here (and from the other two Blu-ray releases.  A Personal Remembrance is a fourteen-minute featurette with Frank Capra Jr. honoring his father and It’s a Wonderful Life. This wasn’t a very comprehensive featurette, but it did feature some interesting vintage interviews with Frank Capra and a short clip of James Stewart discussing the film. This feature was included on the more recent DVD releases of the film and is the only supplement not ported over for any of Paramount’s Blu-ray releases. While most (if not all) of the information covered on this absent featurette is covered in the Making of documentary included on the Blu-ray, it is still a little disappointing not to have it included in this so-called “new” Blu-ray package.

The “Colorized” Version – (HD)

color-title

The second disc in the set features a colorized version of the feature. I have never been a fan of colorization and prefer to see the film as it was originally intended to be seen. However, it is nice to have a good transfer of it included here because one never knows when a friend or relative will have a bias against black and white films. This version will at least allow these misguided people to enjoy the film (even if it is a mutilated version).

color-screenshot

The transfer certainly looks as good as can be expected. The transfer seems to be quite excellent with admirable detail. One cannot expect the colors to be natural because they simply aren’t. Purists will certainly wish to watch the original black and white version, which is more effective on almost every level.

The Making of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – (480P) – (22:45)

The made-for-television documentary about the making of this holiday classic contains quite a bit of interesting information and features retrospective interviews with director Frank Capra and James Stewart. This is certainly a very welcome addition to the disc even if it isn’t quite as comprehensive as it should have been.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) – (01:48)

The original theatrical trailer is included here in high definition, and it is a nice little time capsule that offers fans of the film the opportunity to see how the film was marketed upon its release.

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Final Words:

It’s A Wonderful Life is much more than a beloved holiday classic. It is Frank Capra’s masterpiece and it should have a place in everyone’s Blu-ray collection. Having said this, there is absolutely no reason for anyone who owns one of Paramount’s two previous releases to double-dip unless the prospect of owning the six included art cards is too irresistible to pass up. Frankly, Paramount hasn’t taken proper advantage of the film’s 70th Anniversary edition. At the very least, they should have included a lossless audio transfer and the absent A Personal Remembrance featurette that graced DVD editions of the film. This featurette is conspicuously missing from all three Blu-ray releases (and at least one of these advertised that it would be included). Even the relatively nice image transfer probably could have been improved by an all new 4K transfer. However, those who haven’t already added this important classic to their collections should certainly indulge, because it doesn’t look like Paramount is going to spring for anything better than this.

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 Review by: Devon Powell

[Note: Astute readers will notice that the score for each element of this disc has been reduced by half a star for this particular Blu-ray edition of the film. This does not mean that the discs are inferior to the other releases. It simply means that they should have improved upon the earlier releases and didn’t. One is willing to give Paramount the benefit of the doubt once, but to do so twice would be absolutely ridiculous.]