Posts Tagged ‘Classic Film’

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.

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“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.

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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.]

Spine #63

Carnival of Souls - Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA

Release Date: July 12, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 1:18:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 32.37 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD edition from Criterion, and can also available in an unimpressive DVD release from ‘Off Color Films’ (which also includes a dreadful colorized version). It should be mentioned that both of these editions include the famous “Director’s Cut” of the film, which is eight minutes longer than the film’s theatrical release.

TITLE

“It was sunset, and I was driving back to Kansas from California when I first saw Saltair, an abandoned amusement park located at the end of a long causeway into the Great Salt Lake. The lake had receded, and the pavilion, with its strange Moorish towers, stood silhouetted against the red sky. I felt I had been transported into a different time and dimension. I stopped the car and walked out to the pavilion. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. The stark white of the salt beach, and the dark quiet of the deserted buildings created the weirdest location I had ever seen. When I got back to Kansas I discussed Saltair with my friend, coworker, and writer, John Clifford. We agreed [that] with the Saltair location and others we had scouted locally, we could develop a script for a very eerie feature film.

Well, John wrote the script for Carnival of Souls in three weeks, and our crew spent a week in Salt Lake City filming Saltair, and two weeks in Lawrence Kansas filming the rest of the movie. We were naïve enough to hope for the look of a Bergman film and the feel of a Cocteau. When a preview was shown in Lawrence in the fall of 1961, the audience’s reaction was mixed. The Bergan look and the Cocteau feel were a little too far out for the time and place. That year, Carnival of Souls was shown in shortened form primarily in the south in drive-ins as part of a double bill, and then it went underground.

Making the film had been exciting. Distributing the film had been agonizing… But Carnival of Souls had affected more people during its short run than we thought. Through magazines, books, and television, it has become a cult classic…” –Herk Harvey (Video Introduction)  

Saltair Resort Postcard

This is a vintage postcard that features the Saltair Resort.

Herk Harvey’s description of the film’s strange journey from a low budget passion project to a celebrated cult classic should be encouraging to any future filmmakers who are currently saving their pennies in an effort to make their dreams come true. Carnival of Souls is required viewing for these individuals. However, it also works as an eerie mood piece. Sure, it is a low budget film with many obvious flaws, but there are many people who might argue that these flaws actually add to the surreal nature of the film. Whatever category readers of this review might fall into, it is recommended that everyone see the film once so that they can make an educated decision for themselves (because it could easily go either way).

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. Edward Kinsella’s original artwork is brilliantly conceived and probably surpasses the film’s original one sheet artwork. An added bonus is the wonderful fold out pamphlet featuring an essay by Kier-La Janisse.

The disc’s menus utilize eerie footage from the actual film coupled with Gene Moore’s organ score.

Menu 1Menu 2Menu 3Menu 4

It is an elegant menu that is quite easy to navigate. All of this makes for an extremely attractive presentation.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has given viewers an outstanding high definition transfer of the film’s original theatrical cut of the film that looks incredibly clean. Their transfer of the 4K restoration of the film is a marvel to behold. As always, the film’s restoration was explained in technical detail in the leaflet provided in the disc’s case:

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

The resulting image is incredibly detailed with remarkable clarity and depth. Contrast is also beautifully rendered while blacks are deep without crushing. Meanwhile, the rich and always consistent grain textures add a beautifully organic quality to the proceedings. One could easily argue that seeing this new restoration of the film gives fans of the film an altogether new experience. It is impossible to find anything to criticize! This is a gorgeous transfer.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s uncompressed sound transfer is perhaps the most surprisingly immaculate element on this disc. The film’s famous organ music is finally given enough room to breathe while allowing the dialogue to be as crisp and clearly defined as the film’s ambience. As is usual with Criterion discs, steps were taken to ensure that the sound isn’t marred by any distracting anomalies.

“The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4.” –Liner Notes

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has included a near-perfect supplemental package for Carnival of Souls. It is as close to perfect as anyone has a right to expect. There are those who may fault Criterion for not including the infamous “Directors Cut” of the film, but this was probably excluded because this version has always been sourced from a one-inch video copy. It would be pointless to release such a copy on Blu-ray (although, a DVD copy of this version could have made a very nifty second disc). Only the most ungrateful cinemaphiles should allow this omission to affect their opinion of this sensational package.

We are given over five hours of material, and all of it is well worth watching.

Audio Commentary with Herk Harvey (Director) and John Clifford (Screenwriter)

This selected scene commentary with the film’s director and writer is taken from a 1989 retrospective interview with the two gentleman. It was edited to create this sparse commentary track (which is always informative and engaging). It is really to bad that it doesn’t fill the entire length of the film.

Deleted Scenes:

Those who haven’t already seen the film’s director’s cut should find these three deleted scenes fascinating. They were cut from Carnival of Souls before the 1962 release of the film. Unfortunately, the best available source for the deleted footage was a one-inch analog videotape.

Organ Factory – (01:17)

This is a scene that suffers from awkward dialogue (or perhaps wooden delivery of “on the nose” dialogue), but it is a scene that has certain virtues. However, one wonders if the film didn’t benefit from its omission.

Running – (01:00)

While this scene doesn’t seem to add much to the film, the inclusion of this footage did make for a more effective edit.  Out of the three deleted scenes, this is the one that comes the closest to being missed (even if it seems to be the most insignificant).

Doctor’s Office – (01:45)

This scene has a creepy quality that adds to both the film’s tone and story, but it seems to work better in its shorter form.

Outtakes – (27:09)

This lengthy collection of outtakes are accompanied by Gene Moore’s organ score, and there is so much here that it might actually overwhelm the average viewer. While this footage might not be as engaging without any context provided to help guide the viewer, it is certainly a generous offering that fans should find interesting. More supplemental packages should include such a feature.

The Movie That Wouldn’t Die! – (32:13)

This 1989 reunion documentary was made in an effort to celebrate and promote the film’s 1989 theatrical release. Herk Harvey and John Clifford are on hand to explain the conception of the film’s story, the process of funding their project, the location shooting, and the initial reception of the film during its original release. Candace Hilligoss (actress), Glenn Kappelman (one of the investors), Tim DePaepe (filmmaker), and Mark Syverson (fan) also lend their voice to the proceedings. The program was created by Bill Shaffer for a television station in Topeka, Kansas (KTWU – Channel 11), and it is without a doubt one of the better features included on the disc.

Hidden Featurette: The Carnival Tour

Those who wait for the credits to roll on “The Movie That Wouldn’t Die” will discover this tour of some of the film’s locations. (The tour took place in 2000, and the locations have probably changed a bit in the past 16 years.) It is interesting to see what these locations looked like so many years after the release of the film.

Regards from Nowhere – (23:36)

David Cairns (Film Critic) offers a slightly more scholarly appreciation of the film as he discusses various aspects of the film including the unusual netherworld featured in the film. One might call this a video essay or an appreciation instead of a proper documentary, but it is a creatively rendered essay that includes excerpts from interviews with various other participants that appreciate the film, snippets from some of Harvey and Clifford’s industrial shorts, background information, and an impressive presentation. This is exactly the sort of scholarly material that Criterion fans have come to appreciate.

Final Destination – (22:41)

One wonders if Dana Gould (Comedian) can really be seen as a serious authority on Carnival of Souls, but it must be said that his enthusiasm for the film is contagious. He discusses his love for the horror genre and favorably compares Carnival of Souls with The Night of the Living Dead. His discussion of the production is both informative and entertaining.

[Note: He does give the viewer one small nugget of false information. It was not released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released in 1960.]

Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City – (26:00)

This 1966 documentary about the Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City (where the most iconic scenes in the film were shot) was created by Ed Yates for a Salt Lake City television broadcast (KCPX-TV). It presents the rather sad story behind the spooky pavilion seen in Carnival of Souls. It is one of the highlights of this supplemental package (even if the image and sound quality is lacking).

 The Centron Corporation:

Herk Harvey and John Clifford were both working at this industrial film company (which was based in Lawrence, Kansas) when Carnival of Souls went into production. This collection provides a glimpse at some of these industrial films, which provide a kind of context for the production of Carnival of Souls.

The following clips are included:

 The Centron Corporation: Historical Essay – (09:57)

This audial history of the Centron Corporation originally appeared in Ken Smith’s Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1979. Dana Gould lends his voice to the text, which turns this informative excerpt into an effective video essay.

Centron Commercial (1967) – (02:13)

Rebound (1954) – (21:15)

Star 34 (1954) – (12:37)

To Touch a Child (1966) – (12:01)

Case History of a Sales Meeting (1963) – (05:32)

Signals: Read’em or Weep (1982) – (05:24)

Theatrical Trailer – (02:17)

The campy theatrical trailer used to market Carnival of Souls doesn’t do the film justice, but it does provide an interesting look at how the film was positioned upon its original release.

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Final Words:

Carnival of Souls is one of those cult films that divides audiences. Those that love these quirky little B-movies will agree that Criterion has provided them with a spectacular Blu-ray release that does the film justice. Others will argue that the film has received a better release than it really deserves. Either way, it is difficult to argue against the quality of this incredible disc.

Review by: Devon Powell

Spine #821

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: The Criterion Collection

Release Date: June 28, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 1:34:58

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Uncompressed Original English Mono Audio

Alternate Audio: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 28.50 Mbps

Notes: A 2-Disc DVD edition of this ‘Criterion’ title is also available. ‘Sony Picture Classics’ previously releases this film on Blu-ray, but the transfer is slightly less impressive and it doesn’t contain nearly as many supplemental features.

Title

“I started out being completely unfamiliar with any of the professional literature in the field of nuclear deterrence. I was at first very impressed with how subtle some of the work was—at least so it seemed starting out with just a primitive concern for survival and a total lack of any ideas of my own. Gradually I became aware of the almost wholly paradoxical nature of deterrence or as it has been described, the Delicate Balance of Terror. If you are weak, you may invite a first strike. If you are becoming too strong, you may provoke a pre-emptive strike. If you try to maintain the delicate balance, it’s almost impossible to do so mainly because secrecy prevents you from knowing what the other side is doing, and vice versa, ad infinitum…” -Stanley Kubrick (as quoted by Alexander Walker in “Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis”)

The paradox described by Kubrick is the basis of what may very well be his finest feature. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is an incisive and unflinching satire that contains ingredients that nearly everyone can enjoy. Kubrick bombards the audience with irreverent humor that includes plenty of sexual innuendo and toilet humor. (The entire framework of the film is sexual… beginning with intercourse [a bomber re-fueling] and ending with orgasm [bombs exploding].)

The Opening Title Sequence

The film’s sexual framework is apparent in the fabulous opening credit sequence.

However, the dark and bone-dry satirical elements combined with shrewd observations about the more ridiculous patterns of human behavior are what sets Strangelove apart from other comedies. Actually, the film was originally conceived as a serious thriller.

“As I tried to build the detail for a scene I found myself tossing away what seemed to me to be very truthful insights because I was afraid the audience would laugh. After a few weeks of this I realized that these incongruous bits of reality were closer to the truth than anything else I was able to imagine. After all, what could be more absurd than the very idea of two mega-powers willing to wipe out all human life because of an accident, spiced up by political differences that will seem as meaningless to people a hundred years from now as the theological conflicts of the Middle Ages appear to us today?” -Stanley Kubrick (as quoted by Alexander Walker in “Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis)

Instead of forcing the film to conform to his original intentions, Kubrick changed his intentions to better fit his subject matter. This made all the difference in the world.

“…In culling the incongruous, it seemed to me to be less stylized and more realistic than any so-called serious, realistic treatment, which in fact is more stylized than life itself by its careful exclusion of the banal, the absurd, and the incongruous. In the context of impending world destruction, hypocrisy, misunderstanding, lechery, paranoia, ambition, euphemism, patriotism, heroism, and even reasonableness can evoke a grisly laugh.” -Stanley Kubrick (as quoted by Thomas Allen Nelson in “Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze”)

Perhaps the laughs were too grisly for certain viewers. Critical reception at the time was somewhat positive, but praise was given with a certain amount of reservation. Bosley Crowther’s review for the New York Times is one case in point.

“Stanley Kubrick’s new film, called Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is beyond any question the most shattering sick joke I’ve ever come across. And I say that with full recollection of some of the grim ones I’ve heard from Mort Sahl, some of the cartoons I’ve seen by Charles Addams and some of the stuff I’ve read in Mad Magazine.

For this brazenly jesting speculation of what might happen within the Pentagon and within the most responsible council of the President of the United States if some maniac Air Force general should suddenly order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union is at the same time one of the cleverest and most incisive satiric thrusts at the awkwardness and folly of the military that have ever been on the screen…

…My reaction to it is quite divided, because there is so much about it that is grand, so much that is brilliant and amusing, and much that is grave and dangerous.

On the one hand, it cuts right to the soft pulp of the kind of military mind that is lost from all sense of reality in a maze of technical talk, and it shows up this type of mentality for the foolish and frightening thing it is…

…As I say, there are parts of this satire that are almost beyond compare.

On the other hand, I am troubled by the feeling, which runs all through the film, of discredit and even contempt for our whole defense establishment, up to and even including the hypothetical Commander in Chief.

It is all right to show the general who starts this wild foray as a Communist-hating madman, convinced that a ‘Red conspiracy’ is fluoridating our water in order to pollute our precious body fluids. That is pointed satire, and Sterling Hayden plays the role with just a right blend of wackiness and meanness to give the character significance.

But when virtually everybody turns up stupid or insane–or, what is worse, psychopathic–I want to know what this picture proves. The President, played by Peter Sellers with a shiny bald head, is a dolt, whining and unavailing with the nation in a life-or-death spot. But worse yet, his technical expert, Dr. Strangelove, whom Mr. Sellers also plays, is a devious and noxious ex- German whose mechanical arm insists on making the Nazi salute.

And, oddly enough, the only character who seems to have much common sense is a British flying officer, whom Mr. Sellers–yes, he again–plays.

The ultimate touch of ghoulish humor is when we see the bomb actually going off, dropped on some point in Russia, and a jazzy sound track comes in with a cheerful melodic rendition of ‘We’ll Meet Again Some Sunny Day.’ Somehow, to me, it isn’t funny. It is malefic and sick.” -Bosley Crowther (New York Times, January 30, 1964)

Did Mr. Crowther not understand that satire is supposed to have this dividing effect on the viewer? The entire point is to show the folly in all arguments. Everyone is ridiculous for the simple reason that there is ridiculousness in each point of view. This is what made the cold war situation so dangerous. I suppose the dark nature of the humor might still be too much for certain people to digest, but this is probably a testament to the film’s brilliance. It still seems relevant today.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has given Dr. Strangelove the royal treatment. Instead of utilizing their usual clear case packaging (which is usually quite lovely), they have designed an impressive Digipak with film related artwork designed by Eric Skillman.

Inside the digipak is a “Plan R” envelope that contains the following artifacts:

1. A booklet that is beautifully designed to look like a men’s magazine entitled “Strangelove.” This booklet contains an article by Terry Southern about the making of the film that was originally written in 1994. This article is both enjoyable and informative. Fans of the film will love it.

2. An official document that is labeled “TOP SECRET” and contains an essay by David Bromwich about the production of Strangelove.

  1. Holy Bible and Russian Phrases. This tiny little booklet is slightly less impressive than the other two items. There are a few Russian phrases at the beginning of the book, but most of the book is devoted to film and disk credits and technical information about the transfer.

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This is really a very clever little package, and it should look terrific on your Blu-ray shelf.

The menus utilize footage from the film accompanied by a dramatic musical arrangement of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” that is featured in the film.

Menu 1Menu 2Menu 3Menu 4

They are quite attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s tiny “Holy Bible & Russian Phrases” booklet details their 1.66:1 high definition transfer in more depth than any review might hope to discuss it:

“…Because of overprinting and damage created at the time of its theatrical release, the original camera negative of Dr. Strangelove was destroyed at the laboratory fifty years ago. As a result, a combination of elements, including 35mm fine-grain master positives, duplicate negatives, and prints were used for this digital transfer, which was created in 4K resolution on an Oxberry wet-gate film scanner at Cineric in New York in 2004. Given the condition of the many elements; the fact that they represented different manufacturing generations from the original camera negative, resulting in wide variations in density and contrast; and the need to maintain the filmmaker’s aesthetic intentions, it was determined that the only way to restore the film properly was in a full 4K digital space.

Daniel DeVincent, Cineric’s director of digital restoration, created lookup tables designed to optimize the scanner for each element and achieve the dynamic range of 35mm film. Under the supervision of Grover Crisp, initial color correction was carried out by DeVincent, with additional color correction done by Scott Ostrowsky at Technicolor and Colorworks in Los Angeles. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed by Cineric using DaVinci’s Revival.”

The result is a fabulous transfer that gives viewers the opportunity to experience the film in a fresh light. Fans who have only viewed the film on previous DVD issues will be especially surprised at the difference in quality.

However, those who own Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray release of the film might need to look quite closely to see a definite difference in quality. The higher bit-rate (28.50 Mbps as opposed to Sony’s 25.95 Mbps) does give Criterion’s transfer a decided edge, and one can see that Criterion’s transfer is marginally superior when one carefully compares the each transfer. The differences are especially clear while comparing the transfers while they are in motion.

The cinematic layer of grain gives the transfer a cinematic texture that is preferable to overzealous DNR, and the picture remains clear throughout the length of the film. The high-definition transfer showcases a level of detail that wasn’t evident on DVD issues of the film, and the transfer exhibits near-perfect contrast with clean gradients in the mid-range. There may be a few minor edge enhancement issues, but one really has to scrutinize the image to notice this. It certainly never becomes distracting. Overall, this is an excellent transfer!

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The film’s soundtrack was also restored to its former glory by the restoration team.

“The original monaural soundtrack and the alternate 5.1 sound mix were remastered from the best surviving optical tracks at Chase Audio by Deluxe, under [Grover] Crisp’s supervision, [and] additional restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools and iZotope Rx4.”

Purists will no doubt prefer Criterion’s LPCM English Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit). This mono track sounds quite good for its age. Criterion seems to have cleaned up a few of the track’s blemishes leaving a relatively clear audio experience. Meanwhile, their 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Mix (48 kHz, 3680 kbps, 24-bit) is slightly more dynamic with some subtle activity in the rear speakers, though this track has a few minor anomalies (such as minor hissing) that aren’t quite as obvious in the mono track. It should be said, that these issues are barely noticeable. One would have to have a terrific sound system and a sensitive ear to notice them.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

It is nice to see that most of the terrific supplements from the Sony Blu-ray have been carried over for this disc in addition to Criterion’s brand new bonus features. (The picture-in-picture feature isn’t included, but few will miss it.) There are nearly four hours of supplements on this disc, and it is nearly impossible to imagine that anyone will feel shortchanged.

Inside Dr. Strangelove (2000) – (SD) – (46:04)

David Naylor’s documentary is a better than average look at the making of Kubrick’s masterpiece. The program utilizes a healthy amount of narration to fill in any holes left by the numerous interviewees featured throughout the duration of the piece, and archival stills, newsreel footage, and clips from the film are used to illustrate what the various participants discuss. Participants include James B. Harris, Ken Adam, Peter Murton, Gilbert Taylor, Tracy Reed, James Earl Jones, and probably two times as many others worth mentioning. The result is as entertaining as it is informative.

No Fighting in the War Room (2004) – (SD) – (30:04)

“No Fighting in the War Room, or Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat” gives viewers a glimpse into the political atmosphere of the cold war era. Interestingly, Robert McNamara (former secretary of defense) is on hand to explain the finer points of nuclear deterrence in a manner that is simple to understand, and horrifying to contemplate. This contextual information adds to one’s appreciation of the film’s satirical elements.

The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove (2000) – (SD) – (13:50)

This is obviously a companion piece to David Naylor’s “Inside Dr. Strangelove.” Many of the same participants are utilized, and it could have very easily been edited as a part of that particular program. “The Art of Stanley Kubrick” would be the perfect introduction to the work of Stanley Kubrick if it proceeded to discuss the director’s six post-Strangelove efforts. As it is, the viewer is given a general overview of Kubrick’s becoming.

Best Sellers (2004) – (SD) – (18:28)

 “Best Sellers, or Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove” is relatively self-explanatory. This short piece gives the brilliant comedian his due while telling the story of his background and discussing his vast talent. Plenty of participants are on hand to sing his praises as the program finally comes to his legendary three-role performance in Dr. Strangelove.  While this cannot be described as a particularly comprehensive look at the life and career of Peter Sellers, it is an admirable introduction. There are quite a few clips of his early work that will be new to many viewers, and the inclusion of this footage would be enough reason to praise this excellent featurette.

Stanley Kubrick’s Pursuit of Perfection: Joe Dunton and Kelvin Pike – (12:13)

Joe Dunton (Cinematographer) and Kelvin Pike (Camera operator) discuss Kubrick’s photographic knowledge while reminiscing about their experiences working with Kubrick. Pike’s memories are especially interesting (and relevant), because of his work on Strangelove. This is a very welcome addition to the disc!

Deep Impact: David George Remembers Peter George – (10:57)

David George discusses Red Alert (which formed the basis for Dr. Strangelove) and his father’s collaboration with Kubrick and Southern on the film’s screenplay. This program further expands the viewer’s behind-the-scenes knowledge of the film by looking at the evolution of the script. There are some wonderful nuggets of information here.

Flying Solo: Stanley Kubrick as Producer – (19:14)

Mick Broderick has recently written a book about the making of Dr. Strangelove entitled “Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy,” and this program is essentially a one-sided conversation with Broderick about Stanley Kubrick’s first efforts as producer. The information given is more general in nature and offers the viewer information about Kubrick’s working methods.

Exploding Myths: Richard Daniels on the Stanley Kubrick Archive – (14:15)

Daniels discusses some of the misconceptions about Kubrick’s working method while offering evidence of the contrary that can be found in “The Stanley Kubrick Archive.” For example, we are given evidence that Sellers didn’t ad-lib dialogue nearly as much as legend suggests. His improvisations were more in his delivery and physical business. There is quite a bit of information crammed into these fourteen minutes.

Transcending Time: Symbols and Strangelove – (17:25)

In this scholarly discussion, Rodney Hill theorizes about the various Jungian archetypes present in Dr. Strangelove. Hill claims that Kubrick’s appreciation of the writings of Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) influenced his films. Dr. Strangelove is briefly dissected along these lines. It makes for interesting food for thought (even if one doesn’t agree with Hill’s theories).

Peter Sellers on “The Today Show – (4:23)

This excerpt from a 1980 episode of The Today Show is a very humorous clip of a conversation between Gene Shalit and Peter Sellers. The conversation is less informative than entertaining, but Sellers is always a delight to watch. This archival clip adds a charm to the supplemental package that is most appreciated.

1963 Split Screen Interviews 1963 with Peter Sellers & George C. Scott – (SD) – (7:16)

While these interviews are interesting as artifacts of the film’s marketing and promotion, they suffer from a lack of context. The viewer are only given pre-recorded answers to unknown questions. It is good to have them included here, but it is difficult to gather any concrete knowledge from them.

Exhibitor’s Trailer – (16:53)

This “trailer” is made up of raw footage from the film that is narrated (or explained) by Stanley Kubrick) himself. The most interesting aspect of this short promotional piece (which was never intended to be seen by the public) lies in the fact that this is essentially unedited footage that has been roughly assembled. It has the capacity to give one insight into Kubrick’s shooting and editing process (even if these insights might seem minor).

Jeremy Bernstein Interviews Stanley Kubrick (1966) – (3:06)

This is an excerpt from a 1966 interview with Stanley Kubrick. It must have shocked Jeremy Bernstein when Kubrick agreed to a lengthy interview for what would become a full-length profile for The New Yorker, because the director wasn’t particularly fond of giving interviews. The interview was held in England while Kubrick was working on his newest project (2001: A Space Odyssey). Kubrick even insisted that Bernstein use one of his tape recorders to capture this legendary 77-minute interview… and now we have this wonderful excerpt from this conversation included here on this disc.

The clip focuses on Dr. Strangelove and is essential listening for fans of the film. It is really nice to have this audio footage included on the disk.

Theatrical Trailer – (3:24)

One of the more ambitious and unusual trailers to come out of the Hollywood system, this might be better called a “teaser” than a proper “trailer.” Fans should be grateful to have this included on the disc!

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Final Words:

The final paragraph of Roger Ebert’s 1994 rave about the film sums up this reviewer’s feelings perfectly.

“Seen after 30 years, Dr. Strangelove seems remarkably fresh and undated – a clear-eyed, irreverent, dangerous satire. And its willingness to follow the situation to its logical conclusion – nuclear annihilation – has a purity that today’s lily-livered happy-ending technicians would probably find a way around. Its black and white photography helps, too, putting an unadorned face on its deadly political paradoxes. If movies of this irreverence, intelligence and savagery were still being made, the world would seem a younger place.” –Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, October 28, 1994)

Over ten years have passed since Ebert wrote these words, and Dr. Strangelove still hasn’t grown stale. There is no excuse for ignoring this film, and Criterion has given us the perfect outlet for watching it film on home video. Find a place of honor on your shelves for this one.

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Review by: Devon Powell

hitchcockmaster

Boxed Set

Distributor: The Criterion Collection

Release Date: December 15, 2015

Region: Region A

Notes: Our source at Criterion tells us that this Boxed Set will likely only be available for a very limited time. However, these titles are also available individually on both Blu-ray and DVD.

The Criterion Collection has packaged their currently available Hitchcock titles into a boxed-set called Classic Hitchcock. The set contains the following Criterion titles with the same packaging, supplements, and transfers as their respective individual releases:

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934):

https://hitchcockmaster.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/the-man-who-knew-too-much-1934-the-criterion-blu-ray-spine-643/

The 39 Steps (1935):

https://hitchcockmaster.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/blu-ray-review-the-39-steps-the-criterion-collection/

The Lady Vanishes (1938):

https://hitchcockmaster.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/blu-ray-review-the-lady-vanishes-the-criterion-collection/

Foreign Correspondent (1940):

https://hitchcockmaster.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/blu-ray-review-foreign-correspondent-the-criterion-collection/

(Please click the links to read complete reviews of each of these titles.)

Final Words:

Those who have not already purchased any of these Criterion titles will find that this boxed set saves them quite a bit of money. However, we sincerely hope this release isn’t an…

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