Posts Tagged ‘Classic Film’

IAWL - UHD & BLU-RAY

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: October 29, 2019

Region: Region Free

Length: 02:10:34

Video: 2160P (HEVC, H.265)

Main Audio: English Mono Dolby TrueHD

Alternate Audio:

English Audio Description
Spanish Mono Dolby Digital
French Mono Dolby Digital
Italian Mono Dolby Digital
German Mono Dolby Digital
Japanese Mono Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Dutch, Finnish, and. Japanese

Ratio: 1.33:1

Notes: This is the 4K UHD debut of this title. However, we should warn collectors that the included Blu-ray does not include a 1080P transfer of the 4K remaster. In fact, it doesn’t even contain a transfer of the original black and white film. Instead, we are given the same Blu-ray disc of the “colorized” version of the film that was included in support of the previous three Blu-ray editions.

However, this post also examines the standard Blu-ray release of the 4K Restoration.

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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. Stern gave the story to friends as a Christmas card when he couldn’t find a publisher for it, but it isn’t often mentioned that he found various publishers for it soon after this 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 story seemed to encapsulate all of Frank Capra’s favorite themes. Capra had built his reputation championing the “common man,” and the same “love thy neighbor” philosophy is apparent throughout the director’s entire filmography.

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. How many people are actually lucky enough to live their dreams? Most of us end up settling or being forced by circumstance into a completely different life. Most of us are George Bailey. 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 this sentimentality has been well earned. It isn’t forced or shoehorned into the narrative. 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 re-establishes the themes of the film and isn’t at all beyond the realm of plausibility. Classics are classics for a reason! This film is no exception.

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The Presentation:

4K UHD: 4 of 5 Stars

Blu-ray: 4 of 5 Stars

IAWL UHD COVER

The 4K UHD Edition

Paramount protects their UHD and Blu-ray discs in a standard 2-disc UHD eco-case, and this is more than a little annoying. Eco-cases don’t properly protect the discs or the artwork. The included sleeve features a new design that is reasonably attractive, but it is difficult to say if it is an improvement upon previous designs as this is a point of taste. Having said this, it is difficult not to wonder why none of the home video releases utilize any of the original marketing art. Perhaps Paramount feels that these designs wouldn’t appeal to modern sensibilities. Luckily, they have provided the eco-case with added protection in the form of a glossy cardboard slip cover that features the same artwork.

IAWL BLU-RAY COVER

The Blu-ray Edition

There’s not much difference here. Both Blu-rays are protected in a standard 2-disc UHD eco-case with a sleeve that features pretty much the same cover art that is used for the UHD release. A slip cover featuring this design is also included with this edition of the restored classic.

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Picture Quality:

4K UHD: 5 of 5 Stars

Blu-ray: 5 of 5 Stars

The 4K UHD Edition

Those who know what to expect from 35mm nitrate stock will be quite pleased with this 4K Digital Restoration upgrade despite the minor age related issues that are sometimes on display. Most of the initial 4K Scan was derived from the original camera negative since 13 of the 14 reels were still in relatively good condition. However, the ends of these reels had begun to deteriorate. The other two reels had either degraded to the point of uselessness or no longer survive, so it was necessary for the restoration team to use two different second generation fine-grain prints that were struck at the time of the film’s release. The resulting scan was then restored using the latest digital technology.

We are happy to report that It’s A Wonderful Life has never looked this terrific on home video. However, one does feel the need to remind viewers that the original image was never as sharp as modern films. This isn’t a weakness. It’s a natural part of the film aesthetic and one that many people actually miss. Having said this, there is an impressive level of fine detail evident throughout the film. There are some revelatory details to be discovered in this new transfer. Clarity is vastly improved upon when comparing this transfer than the one included on the previous Blu-ray editions. There’s naturally a layer of film grain that resolves more naturally than in previous transfers of the film. The previous editions were slightly marred by overly aggressive DNR, but such doesn’t seem to be the case here. Blacks are deep without crushing detail and whites are strong without blooming. If there is some minor fluctuations throughout the duration of the film, this is due to the fact that it was necessary for the team to make use of multiple sources to create the best possible image. This transfer is a fantastic holiday gift for fans of this classic film, but the real gift is that Paramount has created a new negative from this restoration so that the film can be preserved!

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The Blu-ray Edition

Naturally, the Blu-ray release of this new restoration—which one is forced to buy separately if they want to own this new restoration on both formats—is terrific as well! Everything that was said about the UHD transfer can be repeated here as the primary difference is that the Blu-ray’s resolution is 1080P and is rendered with a bit more compression. Sharpness might take a slight dip and the dynamic range is reduced, but this is a terrific Blu-ray image. (It really should have been included in the 4K UHD package.)

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Sound Quality:

4K UHD: 4 of 5 Stars

Blu-ray: 4 of 5 Stars

Both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions of this restoration release of It’s A Wonderful Life include a TrueHD mix that offers an improvement over the previous Blu-ray editions by virtue of actually being in high definition. It is a solid representation of the original mix that offers clear audio that is an obvious upgrade from the Dolby Digital tracks that graced the previous Blu-ray editions. Music might struggle slightly as a result of production limitations, but this is not the fault of this transfer. One imagines that this is the best that this track can sound, and it is nice to finally have the original mix in high definition!

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Special Features:

4K UHD: 2.5 of 5 Stars

Blu-ray: 2.5 of 5 Stars

Before discussing the included supplementary material, it is necessary to point out that all three of Paramount’s previously released featurettes is conspicuously missing here. First of all, A Personal Remembrance was originally included on DVD editions of the film and wasn’t carried over to any of the previous Blu-ray releases (despite being listed on the packaging for one of these). The fourteen-minute featurette is hosted by Frank Capra Jr. (who honors his father and his work on the film). We admit that this piece wasn’t terribly comprehensive, but it did include some very interesting vintage interview footage with Frank Capra and a short clip of James Stewart discussing the film. The archival footage of Capra and Stewart alone should be a good enough reason to port it over.

To make matters worse, The Making of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — a made-for-television documentary about the making of this holiday classic that is hosted by Tom Bosley — is also missing. This twenty three-minute program contained quite a bit of interesting information and also featured retrospective interviews with director Frank Capra and James Stewart. It was a terrific addition to both the DVD and the Blu-ray releases of It’s a Wonderful Life. We imagine that Paramount may have felt that their new Secrets from the Vault documentary (which is 34 seconds shorter) covered some of the same territory, but there is footage and information here that cannot be found in the newer program.

Finally, the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer was included on the first three Blu-rays but isn’t included on this release. It is curious that Paramount didn’t seize this opportunity to carry over all three of these older supplements to their new line-up of supplements, but the studio has made several questionable choices concerning this release.

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Disc One (4K UHD & Blu-ray Edition)

Secrets from the Vault – (22:11)

Craig Barron (film historian) and Ben Burtt (sound designer) discus the film’s production history in this new featurette that covers some (but not all) of the topics covered in both The Making of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and A Personal Remembrance. We learn about Capra’s departure from Columbia and the founding of Liberty films, production details such as how the fake snow was created (we even get to see actual test footage during this portion of the program, the masterful sound design, camera and optical effects, we are shown newly discovered footage that was deleted from the final film, the disappointing box-office, and the film’s wrap party (with quite a bit of silent home movie footage from this event).

It’s a terrific addition to the disc, but it certainly isn’t comprehensive enough to warrant the absence of the earlier two featurettes.

Restoring a Beloved Classic in 4K – (13:03)

Those interested in the digital restoration process will enjoy this nice featurette about the film’s 4k digital restoration. It’s a featurette that will add to one’s appreciation of this new restoration. Andrea Kalas and Laura Thornburg (Paramount archivists) discuss the process in some depth. We even get to see inside the vaults.

Original Cast Party Home Movies – (08:04)

This recently discovered home movie footage shows glimpses of the film’s cast and crew having a nice picnic-style gathering. It’s nice to see James Stewart as he holds Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu) and Frank Capra playing baseball. It’s a neat addition to the disc (although it would have benefited from an optional contextual commentary.

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Disc Two – (4K UHD & Blu-ray Edition)

The “Colorized” Version (Blu-ray)

COLOR TITLE

Color Screenshot B

The packaging for the 4K UHD/Blu-ray combo package is a bit misleading. One might assume that the Blu-ray disc contained in this package contains a 1080P transfer of the newly remastered 4K scan of the disc, but such is not the case in this particular instance. Instead we are given a colorized version of the feature. It is the same disc that Paramount included in the previous three Blu-ray editions of the film. This seems incredibly misleading since Paramount has given the new remaster its own Blu-ray release. It would be reasonable for consumers to expect the advertised Blu-ray in this package to contain the new 4K restoration in 1080P.

This reviewer isn’t a fan of colorization since one prefers to see the film as it was originally intended to be seen. Setting aside our initial disappointment, the colorized version does make a decent supplemental offering. We merely feel that it should have been included in addition to and not instead of the new scan in 1080P.

(Those who buy the Blu-ray edition of the restoration will also receive this “Colorized” version in that package.)

The transfer seems to be fairly decent as it exhibits some nice detail. One cannot expect the colors to be natural under the circumstances. Purists will probably wish to watch the original black and white version since it is more effective on almost every level.

This is the only supplement included on this disc.

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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. The 4K UHD release is a huge upgrade from the previous three Blu-ray editions, and it easily earns our highest recommendation—but with some very strong reservations.

We cannot endorse Paramount’s choice to market this as a 4K UHD/Blu-ray Combo and then not include the newly restored remaster on Blu-ray. To substitute the colorized version for a proper Blu-ray of this new restoration is both misleading and incredibly disappointing. To make matters worse, none of the earlier supplements have been carried over to this new release.

The standard Blu-ray edition is also an upgrade from the previous three editions, but fans of the film will want to hold on to their older discs for the supplemental features since Paramount failed to carry them over to this new release. Why wouldn’t they carry them over? Is it laziness or apathy that has led to this easily remedied issue? Either way, the problems with this release are inexcusable. This film deserves better and the fans who love it deserve better.

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One Sheet

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Spine #1003

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 26, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:18:28

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 35.34 Mbps

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

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

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

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

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

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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

Original Blu-ray Book Packaging Cover Artwork.

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

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

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

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

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

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Disc 1:

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

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

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Sam Staggs

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

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Disc 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Eve – (18:11)

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

The Secret of Sarah Siddons – (07:02)

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

The Dick Cavett Show (1969) – (19:56)

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

The Dick Cavett Show (1980) – (28:42)

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

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

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

Vintage Bette Davis Promotion – (01:16)

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

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

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

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What Isn’t Included?

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Magazine Awards – (02:50)

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

Look Magazine Awards – (01:54)

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

Vintage Anne Baxter Promotion – (01:19)

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

Theatrical Trailer – (03:08)

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

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Final Words:

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

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AAE - One Sheet

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Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: October 29, 2019

Region: Region Free

Length:

4K UHD — 01:41:45
Blu-ray — 01:41:47

Video:

4K UHD — 2160P (HEVC, H.265)
Blu-ray — 1080P (VC-1)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

English Mono Dolby Digital Audio (Blu-ray Only)
Spanish Mono Dolby Digital Audio
2.0 Spanish Dolby Digital Audio
5.1 French Dolby Digital
5.1 German Dolby Digital Audio
Czech Mono Dolby Digital Audio
Hungarian Mono Dolby Digital Audio
Polish Mono Dolby Digital Audio
5.1 Russian Dolby Digital Audio
Japanese Mono Dolby Digital Audio
5.1 Thai Dolby Digital Audio

Subtitles:

4K UHD — English (SDH), Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Arabic

Blu-ray — English (SDH), English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Chinese (Traditional)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Notes: This title has seen numerous releases on both Blu-ray and DVD, but this edition marks the film’s debut on 4K UHD. The Blu-ray disc contains the same transfer that was included on previous Blu-rays. A code is included that allows one to redeem a digital copy of the film.

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Once upon a time, in a land not very far from our own, there existed a kind of magic. It was a magic conceived and eventually born of limitation. Everything was limited. People had limited access to both information and entertainment. As a result, everything seemed spectacular and wondrous. Take, for example, The Wizard of Oz. The film aired only once a year (if that), and this special television broadcast was very nearly a holiday for the countless children who sat with their families to watch it. One might compare these rare broadcasts to Christmas morning.

Such isn’t the case in nowadays, but the film remains a classic staple of childhood viewing. Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s timeless children’s tale about a Kansas girl’s journey over the rainbow, The Wizard of Oz officially premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on August 15, 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind), produced by Mervyn LeRoy, and scored by Herbert Stothart, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Ray Bolger appeared as the Scarecrow; Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, Jack Haley as the Tin Woodman. Frank Morgan was seen in six different roles, including that of the “wonderful Wizard” himself. Most importantly, the central role of Dorothy was portrayed by sixteen year old girl named Judy Garland. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Wizard of Oz received five Academy Award nominations—including Best Picture—and earned two Oscars® for Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Original Score. What’s more, Judy Garland was given a special award for Outstanding Juvenile Performance. The film was an overwhelmingly popular and critical success upon its initial release and repeated its ability to captivate audiences when MGM reissued the film in 1949 and 1955. The Wizard of Oz was also part of the inaugural group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant in 1989. The fact that people still talk about the film today is a testament to the film’s undeniable longevity.

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers protects their UHD and Blu-ray discs in a standard 2-disc UHD eco-case, and this is more than a little disappointing. Eco-cases don’t properly protect the discs or the artwork, and this is supposed to be an 80th Anniversary Edition of one of their more important catalog titles! It’s difficult to feel that one is holding something special in their hands when it is housed in flimsy plastic with holes in it.

This case contains a sleeve featuring a new design that is reasonably attractive. Whether it is an improvement upon the previous designs is a point of taste, but it seems a step down from a few of them. One does wonder why none of the home video releases have ever utilized any of the original marketing art, but perhaps it was felt that these designs wouldn’t appeal to modern tastes. Luckily, they have provided the eco-case with added protection in the form of a glossy cardboard slip cover that features the same artwork.

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Picture Quality:

4K UHD: 5 of 5 Stars

Blu-ray: 4.5 of 5 Stars

Disc One: 4K UHD

A new 8K 16bit scan of the original Technicolor camera negative became the basis for the 4K UHD scan. The process was overseen by MPI colorist Janet Wilson, who has overseen every remaster of The Wizard of Oz for the past 20 years. It seems a bit obvious to state that the transfer is better than the previous Blu-ray editions. Fine detail impresses (even when compared to a great many more recent titles), and color and contrast are outstanding. Textures are lifelike and real throughout the duration. The layer of film grain is allowed to resolve more naturally than was previously allowed. The 4K UHD format was made for films like this one. It is amazing to think that this is a transfer of an eighty year old film!

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Disc Two: Blu-ray

Those who have already seen the 75th Anniversary transfer will know precisely what to expect regarding the included Blu-ray disc since it is the same disc and not a remaster. This 2013 disc actually makes use of the same 8K master that was utilized by the new 4K UHD, but one still wishes that they could have used a 1080P version of the new work done on that master for the UHD. However, since the same master was used for that release, one feels that this is only a minor flaw in the package. This 2013 transfer is surprisingly strong. It’s a fantastic transfer in its own right as it improved upon the original 2009 Blu-ray. There is less print damage and fewer compression issues here than were on that earlier transfer. Nearly every element is somewhat beyond reproach.

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Sound Quality:

4K UHD: 4 of 5 Stars

Blu-ray: 4 of 5 Stars

Disc One: 4K UHD

This 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix sounds slightly different than the one that graced the 75th Anniversary Blu-ray (which is also included in this package), but it is very difficult to determine if the slight alterations have resulted in a superior track. In fact, it is difficult to determine if the changes are only in one’s head! They are close enough that any changes are barely worth mentioning. There may be a bit more muscle to this mix in a few scenes thanks to enhanced LFE. It seems a shame that a lossless mono track couldn’t have been included as an option, but one wonders if I am alone in my purist attitudes about such things. It’s great to offer enhanced or upgraded mixes as a choice, but why can they not include the original mixes in high definition as well (especially since foreign language dubs have been included). At least the 5.1 mix is a strong alternative.

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Disc Two: Blu-ray

Even the Blu-ray disc suffers slightly in this regard. The original mono mix is included as an alternative to a slightly different 5.1 DTS-HD mix, but it is offered in the Dolby Digital format. It is admittedly better than not including it on the disc at all. Again, this 5.1 is a strong alternative. All elements are well prioritized, and the track has a few dynamic moments that never take the viewer out of the film. Best of all, this never actually sounds like a film that was released in 1939. There are no obvious or distracting age related problems such as hiss or distortion, and none of the audio elements ever sound thin to these ears (the same can be said of the track included on the UHD disc).

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

It is difficult to score this supplemental package. On the one hand, it is loaded with instructive content that is all but guaranteed to thrill devotees of this classic film. On the other hand, several previous releases included a companion disc that was loaded with even more pertinent goodies (including special effects test footage, deleted scenes, documentaries about L. Frank Baum and Victor Fleming, silent Oz shorts, a television bio-pic about Baum, featurettes about the film, and much more). It seems to this reviewer that this 80th Anniversary 4K UHD release could have benefitted from that extra disc. As a result, what might normally be a five star package has been demoted to three and a half stars.

Disc One: 4K UHD

Feature Length Commentary by John Fricke with Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr, Jane Lahr, Hamilton Meserve, Dona Massin, William Tuttle, Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy and Jerry Maren.

This commentary track has been edited together from a variety of sources, but the result is a cohesive discussion of the film that is well beyond the average commentary track. Sydney Pollack acts as a sort of host, and John Fricke is on hand to relay quite a bit of production history. However, much of the track’s information is divulged by an assortment of cast and crew members via audio taken from various archival interviews. It is a terrific track that never grows tiresome.

The Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic – (50:52)

This 1990 CBS Special is hosted by Angela Lansbury like many of the other supplements offered on disc two. It repeats much of the information that is included on the Gary Leva documentary (also on disc two), but it presents it in a different manner. There is archival footage included here that never appears in the longer documentary. It’s a great addition to the supplemental package, and it would be incredibly disappointing if it wasn’t included in this release. Interestingly, this program was actually produced by Jack Haley, Jr (the Tin Man’s son).

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Disc Two: Blu-ray

Feature Length Commentary by John Fricke with Barbara Freed-Saltzman, Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, John Lahr, Jane Lahr, Hamilton Meserve, Dona Massin, William Tuttle, Buddy Ebsen, Mervyn LeRoy and Jerry Maren.

This is the same commentary that appears on the 4K UHD disc.

Music & Effects Track

Warner Brothers provides viewers with the option to experience the film without the dialogue so that they can study the film’s music and effects. It is a single channel mix that is presented in Dolby Digital.

The Making of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – (01:09:02)

Gary Leva’s surprisingly comprehensive documentary about the production of The Wizard of Oz is narrated by Martin Sheen, illustrated with the usual production stills and footage from the film, and brought to life through a wealth of archival footage. Historians such as John Fricke and Leonard Maltin help fill in narrative holes as well. Those wondering if this more recent examination of the film’s production history brings more to the table than the 1990 CBS special with Angela Lansbury will be happy to learn that it is a bit more comprehensive in many ways. However, there are things in that older program that aren’t included here. Both are surprisingly solid.

We Haven’t Really Met Properly… – (21:23)

“Frank Morgan”
“Ray Bolger”
“Bert Lahr”
“Jack Haley”
“Billie Burke”
“Margaret Hamilton”
“Charley Grapewin”
“Clara Blandick”
“Terry”

Taken as a single program (instead of a collection of clips), this featurette adds enormous value to the disc as it discusses the careers of the many cast members that brought the film to life. Our biggest complaint is that there is no segment about Judy Garland! Talk about an oversight! However, one of the aspects that make it such a treat for fans of the films is that it discusses actors that modern viewers may not be as knowledgeable about, and one suspects that it will raise interest in these often overlooked talents. Interestingly, Angela Lansbury provides narration for these mini-biographies as well. One wonders if these were played during the commercial breaks during airings of the film on television.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Storybook – (10:27)

Angela Lansbury recites segments from Baum’s original book as the original illustrations (which are semi-animated) are offered as visual support. It’s an incredible interesting addition to the disc as it allows one to compare the film to its source. However, one wishes that this reading were of the entire book and not merely segments. Perhaps this wasn’t practical.

Audio Jukebox

This feature houses an overwhelming collection of rehearsals, outtakes, and other fascinating audio recordings from the production of the film’s iconic musical numbers. It is an incredible addition to the disc and is worth the somewhat daunting amount of time that it takes to listen to all of them. There is about seventy minutes of audio material here:

Over the Rainbow (Outtake)
The Munchkinland Medley (Rehearsal and Sequence Recordings)
The Munchkinland Medley (Voice Tests)
If I Only Had a Brain
We’re Off to See the Wizard
If I Only Had a Heart
If I Only Had the Nerve
Emerald City/The Merry Old Land of Oz
If I Were King of the Forest
The Jitterbug
Triumphal Return to Emerald City
Kansas (Underscoring)
Munchkinland (Underscoring)
The Road to Oz (Underscoring)
Emerald City (Underscoring)
The Witch’s Castle (Underscoring)
Finale (Underscoring)

Good News of 1939 Radio Show – (01:01:01)

Maxwell House Coffee would like to invite listeners to enjoy the final episode of the season (Episode #89)—a scripted celebration of MGM’s then upcoming production of The Wizard of Oz. Robert Young hosts an assortment of musical numbers (songs from the film are performed), skits, and various reenactments of “behind the scenes” moments (although only the incredibly naive would believe that they are accurate representations of those moments), and faux interviews are presented in a program that is sometimes entertaining and sometimes tedious.

It’s a terrific addition to the disc as it is an incredible promotional artifact. It is interesting to hear the Fanny Brice “Baby Snooks” sketch, and some of the films cast have some interesting moments here. It’s certainly worth a listen.

Leo is on the Air Radio Promo – (12:25)

Less interesting but also worthwhile is this Leo is on the Air segment that is essentially a lengthy radio advertisement that features songs, dialogue, and MGM’s publicity head (Frank Whitbeck) hyping the film.

Lux Radio Broadcast (12/25/1950) – (01:00:48)

The included 1950 Christmas broadcast of the Lux Radio reenactment of The Wizard of Oz (Episode 726) is interesting if only to hear the incredible Judy Garland reprising her role. It’s also rather interesting to note the changes from the film version. The cast of this radio play is as follows:

Dorothy Gale – JUDY GARLAND
The Scarecrow/Hunk – HANS CONRIED
The Tin Woodman/Hickory – HERB VIGRAN
The Cowardly Lion/Zeke – EDWIN MAX
The Wicked Witch of the West/Miss Gulch – NOREEN GAMMILL
Glinda, the Good Witch of the North – BETTY LOU GERSON
The Wizard/Professor Marvel – HERB BUTTERFIELD
Auntie Em – RUTH PERROTT
Uncle Henry – BILL JOHNSTONE
The Mayor of Munchkinland – GIL STRATTON, JR.

It is a welcome addition to the disc.

Theatrical Trailers

1939 Theatrical Teaser – (00:32)
1940 Lowes Cairo Theatre Trailer – (01:59)
1949 Re-Release Trailer – (02:50)
1970 Children’s Matinee Re-Release Trailer – (01:35)
1998 Re-Release Trailer – (02:05)
2013 Re-Release Trailer – (02:30)

The disc includes six vastly different trailers that were made for different releases of the film.

Sing Along Tracks

One wonders if there are people in the world who actually utilize these sing along tracks. What do they really add to the disc? Features like this tend to feel like a way of seeming to add more supplemental material to a disc without actually having to bring anything to the table. This is essentially an option that allows viewers to watch the musical numbers with special “Singalong” subtitle tracks at the bottom of the screen. The following songs are included: “Over the Rainbow,” “Munchkinland Medley,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road/You’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “If I Only Had a Heart,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had the Nerve/We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “Optimistic Voices,” “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” and “If I Were King of the Forest.”

Stills Galleries

Oz on Broadway
Pre-MGM
Sketches and Storyboards
Richard Thorpe’s Oz
Buddy Ebsen
Oz Comes to Life
Behind the Scenes
Portraits
Special Effects
Post Production
Deleted Scenes
Original Publicity
8/15/1939 Hollywood Premiere
8/17/1939 New York Premiere
2/29/1940 Academy Awards® Ceremony
Oz Abroad
Oz Revivals

These eighteen still galleries are presented as incredibly lengthy slideshows that feature so many stills that even the most enthusiastic fans are likely to grow a bit weary long before they make it all the way through the albums.

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Final Words:

The Wizard of Oz has finally been released in the 4K UHD format, and the film has never looked better! They sort of skimped on the supplemental material for this release, but one doesn’t like to dwell on the negative when there is so much here to love. Fans will just want to hold on to those old collector’s sets if they happen to own them!

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OZ - One Sheet

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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

 

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

Title.jpg

“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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