Posts Tagged ‘Classic Movies’

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: September 05, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:52:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 34.96 Mbps

Title

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

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

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

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

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Commentary by Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton

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

Bass on Titles (1977) – (33:46)

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

Television Promo – (04:59)

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

Theatrical Trailer – (02:28)

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

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Final Words:

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

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Olive Films

Release Date: August 29th, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:16

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.35:1

Bitrate: 25.48 Mbps

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

Title

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

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

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

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

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

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

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

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

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

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

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

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

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Nora Fiore

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

Theatrical Trailer – (02:09)

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

“The Stranger: Murderers Among Us”

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

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Final Words:

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

One Sheet

Blu-ray Cover

Limited Edition to 3000

Distributor: Twilight Time

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 126 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

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

Title

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

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

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

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

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

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

Booklet

Twilight Time’s Collector’s Booklet

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

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

1 of 5 Stars

Original Theatrical Trailer

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

Isolated Music Track

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

One Sheet

The Official One Sheet

Final Words:

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

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Paramount

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 131 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Dolby Digital Mono

Alternate Audio:

French Dolby Digital Mono Spanish Dolby Digital Mono

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

Ratio: 1.34:1

Bitrate: 39.00 Mbps

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

Title.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

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

70th Anniversary Edition.jpg

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

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

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

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

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Sound Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

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

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

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

The “Colorized” Version – (HD)

color-title

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

color-screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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Final Words:

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

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 Review by: Devon Powell

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

hitchcockmaster

Boxed Set

Distributor: The Criterion Collection

Release Date: December 15, 2015

Region: Region A

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

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

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934):

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

The 39 Steps (1935):

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

The Lady Vanishes (1938):

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

Foreign Correspondent (1940):

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

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

Final Words:

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

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Blu-ray Review: Family Plot.