Posts Tagged ‘Classic Cinema’

Spine #952

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 20, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:28:22

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 31.33 Mbps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orson Welles During Production #2

Orson Welles during the production of The Magnificent Ambersons

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

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

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

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

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

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Robert L. Carringer

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

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

Feature Length Audio Commentary by James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cinematographers – (15:40)

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

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

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

Two To One (1927) – (28:05)

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

Pampered Youth One Sheet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

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

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Final Words:

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

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

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One Sheet

 

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Do you have any cinephiles on your gift list this year? It has been a fairly slow year for Alfred Hitchcock enthusiasts, but there is a handful of suspense thrillers and horror films that should please genre lovers. Better yet, we have included  a few releases that may have gone unnoticed or undiscovered by even the most enthusiastic devotees of cinema.

Those who are interested in one of these products should click on a title to read our full review.

Alfred Hitchcock

BLU-RAYS:

Under Capricorn

78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene

BOOKS:

Hitchcock’s Heroines

Suspense Thrillers, Horror Films, and Dark Dramas

BLU-RAYS:

Silence of the Lambs – The Criterion Collection

Halloween (4K UHD)

Night of the Living Dead – The Criterion Collection

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

A Quiet Place

Sisters – The Criterion Collection

Village of the Damned

Summer of 84

My Friend Dahmer

Unsane

Classic Cinema

BLU-RAYS:

2001: A Space Odyssey (4K UHD)

The Apartment

Some Like It Hot – The Criterion Collection

The Two of Us

Les Parents Terribles (The Storm Within)

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

BOOKS:

The Essential Films of Ingrid Bergman

(Note: Unfortunately, some of these titles may not be available to followers who aren’t living in North America.)

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Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Release Date: September 25, 2018

Region: Region A

Length:

Strait-Jacket – 01:32:52

Berserk! – 01:36:18

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 1.0 English Mono Uncompressed PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: “Strait-Jacket” was recently given its own individual release from Shout! Factory (which used a slightly different encoding of the same transfer). The biggest difference between the two discs is that Shout! Factory included supplemental features and this disc includes “Berserk!”

STRAIT-JACKET Title

Strait-Jacket (1964)

Strait-Jacket proves once again that William Castle has nothing in common with Alfred Hitchcock. Robert Bloch was commissioned to write the screenplay, but it never approaches the brilliance of Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic prowess elevated the material contained within Bloch’s novel, and Castle simply doesn’t have what it takes to elevate the pedestrian nature of Bloch’s screenplay for Strait-Jacket. They are obviously making a terrific effort to capitalize on the enormous success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—but Robert Aldrich’s cult classic is also far superior to anything that Castle ever directed. However, Strait-Jacket is much better than most of his other horror endeavors. The viewer is spared the ham-fisted gimmickry that tended to interrupt the flow of his films, and Crawford’s performance is (at the very least) interesting. There is quite a bit of campy fun to be had in these ninety-two minutes.

Berserk - Title
Berserk! (1967)

The same cannot be said for Berserk! This is the sort of easy-to-solve “whodunit” that one might expect to see on episodic television (or in a made-for-television movie), but the real trouble isn’t the paint-by-numbers nature of the mystery formula. It is the filmmaker’s complete disregard for tone and pacing. Jim O’Connolly seems much too enamored with the circus acts as countless routines pad the film’s length to approximately 96 minutes. Sure, it is nice to see the trained poodles, elephants, lions, and other diversions out of context, but this slows the story down to an infuriating crawl. Of course, it is quite possibly just as well that these interruptions were included. Some of these acts were more engaging than the film’s plot.

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment houses their Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case that features a sleeve with reasonably attractive film-related artwork.

Menu

The disc’s static menu is also attractive and should be intuitive for the viewer to navigate.

Picture Quality:

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Strait-Jacket: 4 of 5 Stars

Two different Blu-ray releases of Strait-Jacket hit shelves within weeks of one another, and the good news is that both of these discs used the same high definition image master (albeit with slightly different disc encoding).

The biggest difference between these two transfers is that Mill Creek has presented the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio while Shout! Factory offered a 1.78:1 transfer. This means that the top and bottom of the image contains a bit more information on the other disc, but this is more in line with what the audiences saw in theaters upon its release. An occasional blemish (usually white speckling) can be found throughout both transfers, but this is never distracting. Grain resolves adequately here on this disc, and the backs seem darker throughout the film. Contrast is reasonably well handled here, and the overall image showcases more detail than could be found on previous DVD releases.

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Berserk: 3.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek’s master for Berserk! appears to be less attractive but it is certainly watchable. One does at least feel that they are watching a Blu-ray. There is a decent amount of fine detail, contrast is reasonably well handled, and clarity is okay (though not particularly impressive). Color seems accurate but one wonders if the film wouldn’t have been better in black and white. There is some dirt and white speckling evident, but neither issue is ever distracting.

Sound Quality:

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Strait-Jacket: 3.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek includes a Linear PCM audio track in the film’s original mono, and the result is a solid rendering of the film’s original mix. It is obviously somewhat flat, but it would really be unreasonable to expect anything better. Those who refrain from comparing it with more recent sound mixes should find no fault here as all of the various elements come across clearly (including the music) as the lossless nature of the transfer gives it plenty of breathing room.

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Berserk: 3 of 5 Stars

Berserk! is also given a Linear PCM audio track in its original mono, but it doesn’t come across as strongly as the one for Strait-Jacket. It sometimes sounds boxed-in and seems to need more breathing room. It is impossible to say whether this is an issue with the transfer or if the original sound elements leave something to be desired. It never really becomes a problem in any case.

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Special Features:

0 of 5 Stars

There are no supplemental features included on the disc.

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Final Words:

Wouldn’t Strait-Jacket and I Saw What You Did make a more appropriate double feature? Both films were directed by William Castle and star Joan Crawford in “over the top” performances, and Mill Creek has released at least two double feature discs devoted to William Castle in the past. This could have fallen in line with those releases. Neither of these films could be called a “masterpiece,” but Strait-Jacket does at least engage the viewer. The same cannot be said for Berserk! This disc is worth the money if you happen to be a fan of either Joan Crawford or William Castle.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: May 29, 2018

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:27:45

Video: 1080P (AVC, MPEG-4)

Main Audio: 2.0 French Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.66:1

Note: Cohen Media Group is also giving the film a separate DVD release.

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“It’s extraordinary to make a film on such a difficult subject. It’s filled with pitfalls—pitfalls for [Claude Berri] and also pitfalls for me. That hooked me in immediately, plus he was so enthusiastic and such a dreamer. I was thrilled that in 1967 there were still dreamers and poets in the streets.” -Michel Simon (1967)

Sometimes films sneak up on you. Claude Berri’s semi-autobiographical debut effort is such a film. In some ways, The Two of Us seems like a rather simple story about a young eight year old’s connection with his new grandfatherly guardian, but such a reading is overlooking the more interesting aspects of Berri’s poignant film. The devil is in the details, and the story doesn’t seem quite as straightforward when one considers that the eight year old in question is a Jewish refugee hiding in Nazi-occupied France and that the “new grandfatherly guardian” happens to be an anti-Semitic Catholic man who is completely unaware of the boy’s Jewish origins. Michel Simon portrays the guardian with a crusty tenderness throughout the duration, but his diatribes about all things Jewish aren’t lost on the young boy. The result is a loving relationship that is laced with acid—but young Claude is a clever boy. He understands that the old man who cares for him is all thunder and no lightning. His bigotry is based on ignorance and his affection for the boy is based on genuine connection. He’s a human being who simply seems to absorb the propaganda that surrounds him. The fact that his dangerous ideals have never been seriously challenged is also significant. (One doubts if he has ever encountered a Jew in his provincial country environment.)

Berri never tries to vilify Pepe. He’s simply portrayed as an imperfect man in an extremely imperfect world, and his humanist approach to the character is refreshing. In fact, this grandfatherly gentleman ends up being the film’s tragic figure when one fully expects that figure will be young Claude. It is easy to relate to their relationship. Most of us have overheard relatives or someone that they love say shockingly hateful things about one group or another and have to settle their disturbed feelings about their attitudes and come to some sort of compromised acceptance in order to continue their relationship with these people. Luckily, the young eight year old is resilient. In fact, Claude manages to forge his affectionate relationship to this man by forgiving Pepe’s obviously ridiculous beliefs. They are, after all, based on ignorance. He even teases Pepe about these beliefs throughout the film while turning these dangerous attitudes into a game. What else can a child do? He has a sense of humor about the old man’s skewed attitudes and enjoys calling attention to the flaws in Pepe’s logic. There’s something extremely hopeful about Claude’s refusal to let these beliefs define him or corrupt their mutual affection for one another.

The film’s autobiographical origins are worth noting as Claude Berri was also sent to live with gentiles during the occupation of Paris in 1944—although these gentiles knew that he was a Jew and guarded him from the Nazi threat because they felt it was the right thing to do. In some ways, I am reminded of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Both films are brilliant and affecting debut features, both directors borrow from their own childhoods, and both films reveal unchanging unfortunate truths about humanity. It is no wonder that Truffaut was a great admirer of the film. The Two of Us tackles weighty subjects without dragging the film down with excessive melodrama. Instead, there is a sense of frivolity and fun throughout most of its duration.

French One Sheet

The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by the standard Blu-ray case with insert artwork that features the infamous Saul Bass poster framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. It seems poor form to criticize their practice of branding their films by framing their art in this manner, but one does wish that they would have made an exception in this case since the Bass artwork should stand on its own. They could at least have made this cover art reversible—although this would’ve made it impossible for them to feature the still that decorates the interior of the case. Cohen also includes a small booklet that features cast and crew credits and film related photography. One wishes that this booklet could have featured the infamous Truffaut essay about the film, but this is a small complaint.

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

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Cohen Film Collection is proud to present a gorgeous new 4K restoration of this world cinema classic. This is the sort of transfer that is great enough to speak about it in extremely general terms, because every single aspect of the image is simply gorgeous and beyond reproach. Cohen’s Blu-ray image is as perfect as anyone has any right to expect from the format. Detail, depth, density, and grain resolution, all perfectly represent the original source (which must have been in surprisingly good condition from the outset). This is a huge improvement over the old Criterion DVD.

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

It’s always a bit more difficult to rate the audio transfer on these older films, because many audiophiles have ridiculously high expectations. They want a dynamic sonic experience that puts their expensive sound systems to good use. However, it is much more important to have a faithful representation of the film’s original audio mix. Cohen’s Linear PCM mono track is an extremely clean and faithful representation that supports Berri’s visuals admirably. This is a narrow track and isn’t at all dynamic, but these really aren’t fair criticisms.

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

There are a handful of supplements available on Criterion’s DVD release of the film that aren’t included here. The interviews with Claude Berri and his Oscar-winning short, Le poulet (1962), would have added considerable value to this release. Fortunately, the material included in this release is also essential viewing for anyone with an appreciation for French cinema.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Wade Major

Wade Major (film critic with NPR affiliate KPCC-FM and co-host/producer of the IGN DigiGods Podcast) gives a surprisingly instructive commentary that adds to one’s appreciation and enjoyment of the film by contextualizing the film’s story and events, theorizing about certain story elements, providing information about the film’s production, and discussing background information about Claude Berri, Alain Cohen, and Michel Simon.

Michel Simon Discusses The Two of Us – (01:25)

This interview excerpt is too short to provide the viewer with anything more than a few general comments about his involvement with this production and its reception, but it is nice to have it included here as a historical artifact.

Michel Simon and Jean Renoir in Conversation – (06:00)

The same can be said of this excerpt from what looks like a much longer program (though we could be wrong). Simone and Renoir discuss La Chienne in a very vague and general manner while offering each other the credit for the film’s success. Later, we see Simone waxing nostalgic about those he has worked with (with Sacha Guitry receiving and especially affectionate mention). There isn’t anything about the film in question, but fans will probably be glad to have it included here in any case.

Restoration Re-Release Trailer – (01:45)

Cohen rounds out the supplemental package with their restoration re-release trailer. It’s very nice to have it included here, but one wishes that the film’s original trailer could have been features as well.

US One Sheet by Saul Bass

Final Words:

Cohen’s 4K restoration transfer of The Two of Us is a gift to Blu-ray collectors everywhere. It comes highly recommended!

Review by: Devon Powell

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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