Posts Tagged ‘Classic Film’

Spine #986

TBW Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:14:08

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 32.49 Mbps

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

TBW Title

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

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

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

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Words:

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

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One Sheet

 

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Spine #952

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 20, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:28:22

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 31.33 Mbps

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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

 

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.)

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: May 26th, 2015

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:31:13

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3552 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital Audio (48 kHz, 448 kbps)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 22.99 Mbps

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When it comes to the subject of Orson Welles, cineastes can be divided into two distinct categories: the apologists and the critics. The apologists believe that everything he touched is, at the very least, a flawed masterpiece that could’ve been a perfect film if it hadn’t been for meddling producers and studios or a lack of funds. The critics seem to view him as a man who couldn’t get out of his own way and play the game. Obviously, either one of these views makes for an incredibly interesting subject for a documentary, but it probably won’t surprise most people to learn that Chuck Workman’s Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles falls on the side of the apologists.

The documentary’s original release fell on the eve of his centenary and takes the viewer on a journey through his life and career—but with the exception of the earlier portions of the film, it is really devoted almost entirely to his work in film (both in Hollywood and as an independent filmmaker). It has obviously been produced with love and includes many interviewees who offer their memories, knowledge, or general appreciation for his work. What’s more, there is plenty of archival interview footage with the always articulate director, and one can see scenes from nearly every film that Welles directed (both finished and unfinished).

One imagines that it will be shown often in classrooms and by anyone who appreciates his work, because it offers a rather thorough general overview of his film work. However, his struggles making each individual film was given short shrift, and the production for each of these creative ventures could (and probably should) be the focus of their own feature-length documentary. Magician is also nearly void of any real analysis when it comes to his output. How do these films fit into the filmmaker’s worldview? Are there any camouflaged autobiographical elements in his films? What were they? We never learn, and these subjects are never even raised. There is also no effort to examine his personal life or his interpersonal relationships. All of this seems a shame, but it is also understandable. Chuck Workman cast an extremely wide net, and it was inevitable that the result is simply an incredibly interesting primer.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by a clear Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring the film’s one sheet artwork framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo on the exterior and still a still of Orson Welles behind a large film camera on the interior. Inside the case is a small booklet that features chapter stops and film credits. These pages are illustrated with photographs of Welles.

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Transfers of documentaries are sometimes much more difficult to evaluate, because they usually rely on a wealth of varying sources of varying resolution and quality. Therefore, when this reviewer reports on the disparity between these sources, it would be extremely unfair to hold this against the transfer. On the other hand, one doesn’t wish to give the reader an inaccurate impression of what to expect.

The fresh footage shot by Workman for this particular film looks quite nice as it showcases quite a bit of fine detail and a respectable level of clarity. Most of the clips from the various films in Welles’ filmography also look reasonably attractive, although an amateur short that was shot long before his debut as a proper filmmaker have seen better days. Archival material is (and was always going to be) all over the place, but this adds a quality that some will argue add to the overall experience. Television video dances with old filmed television, damaged behind the scenes footage, and other such sources. It adds personality.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

It’s difficult to imagine anyone expecting a truly dynamic sonic experience from such a film, and those who are will be likely to complain. However, the more reasonable among us will likely agree that Cohen’s 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio option more than pulls its weight in support of this documentary feature as it offers nice fidelity for the most part (again, sources were always going to vary in this and every other regard).

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

A Conversation with Chuck Workman – (08:59)

Annette Insdorf (Director of Undergraduate Film Studies at Columbia University) interviews Chuck Workman in this short promotional EPK featurette. The experience feels almost like a short appreciation of the director’s overall career in much the same way that DVDs and Blu-rays sometimes include short appreciations of individual films by various filmmakers or scholars in lieu of a proper “making of” documentary or analysis of the feature. It’s nothing more nor less than this, but somehow it seems more worthwhile than many of those that focus on an individual film.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

The film’s theatrical trailer rounds out the disc and does a nice job of introducing the overall tone and method of presentation that the film employs.

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Final Words:

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles is an easy recommendation for anyone who is even remotely interested in the work of this incredibly polarizing filmmaker. It might not offer anything new for anyone who is familiar with the life and legend of Orson Welles, but it somehow still manages to hold ones attention. Cohen Media Group’s Blu-ray offers the best way to see the film in the home environment, and it therefore easily earns a recommendation for anyone whose interest has been piqued. It’s also a pretty good way to prepare one’s self for the upcoming release of The Other Side of the Wind.

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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

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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