Posts Tagged ‘Dalton Trumbo’

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:20:39

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.97 Mbps

Note: This title was release by MGM Home Video in the DVD format, but this marks the film’s Blu-ray debut in North America.

Title

The name Joseph H. Lewis probably doesn’t carry a lot of weight for anyone who doesn’t have a proclivity for B-movies, but Lewis made a string of interesting low-budget features in the film noir (The Big Combo, Gun Crazy, and My Name is Julia Ross) and western (A Lawless Street, 7th Cavalry, and The Halliday Brand) genres. Many of his films are extremely underrated and have earned a well-regarded place in B-movie history, but his final feature—Terror in a Texas Town—may very well be his most interesting.

The director had earned the nickname “Wagon Wheel Joe” for his use of artistic composition (he framed one shot through a wagon wheel), but he might be better remembered for the confident economy with which he told his stories. This economy was very much on display in Terror in a Texas Town, which told the simple tale of a greedy hotel owner named McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) who wants to take control of a town called “Prairie City.” Keen to drive the local farmers of their land, McNeil hires a gunman named Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young), which results in the death of an old Swedish émigré. The dead man’s son, George Hansen (Sterling Hayden), arrives in town to inherit the farm and set the stage for revenge—armed with only his father’s old whaling harpoon.

Of course, some credit should go to the legendary Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten that were blacklisted by the film industry during the dark ages of McCarthyism. The film was credited to Ben Perry, but anyone paying attention should be able to grasp some of the relevant thematic elements that saturate this forgotten gem. The film’s political agenda might be seen as Trumbo’s authorial signature.

None of this should suggest that Terror in a Texas Town is a flawless overlooked masterpiece, because it never even approaches this level of brilliance. The film is laced with all kinds of problems. One doesn’t wish to criticize such a well-respected actor, but Sterling Hayden’s turn as the younger Swede might very well be this film’s weakest element. His accent is never really convincing, and his vocal rhythms are simply more suitable for hard boiled American characters. However, the blame for this should be directed towards the film’s casting director.

In any case, the film’s problematic elements never obliterate its strengths, and anyone who isn’t fond of B-movies (or B-Westerns) might be surprised by this particular film. It never rises above its bargain basement origins, but it is really much better than anyone has any right to expect.

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video 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 Vladimir Zimakov and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. This reviewer prefers the original artwork to the new Zimakov design, but it is always nice to have a choice. There is also an attractive booklet that features an essay by Glenn Kenny.

[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 maxed out Blu-ray transfer shows an increase in information on the left and right edges of the frame when one compares it to earlier DVD releases of the film, an there is a pleasing and organic looking layer of grain evident that never becomes problematic and doesn’t inhibit fine detail (which is impressive). The video looks beautiful in motion and one feels that this is probably the best that the film can look on this format.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s Mono linear PCM audio track is a solid, clean, and well balanced reproduction of the film’s original elements. Gerald Fried’s score is given ample room to breathe in the disc’s uncompressed environment and dialogue is consistently clear and well prioritized. There really isn’t any reason for complaint.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Introduction by Peter Stanfield – (13:10)

Peter Stanfield is the author of a number of film related books—including a few about the western genre and one about the Blacklist era. These books include “Horse Opera: The Strange History of the Singing Cowboy,” “Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s,” “‘Un-American’ Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era,” “Mob Culture: Hidden Histories of the American Gangster Film,” “Maximum Movies―Pulp Fictions: Film Culture and the Worlds of Samuel Fuller, Mickey Spillane, and Jim Thompson,” “Body and Soul: Jazz, Blues, and Race in American Film 1927-63,” and “The Cool and the Crazy: Pop Fifties Cinema.”

While introductions rarely seem as if they are worth the effort, Stanfield’s contextual insights frame Terror in a Texas Town amongst other films in the Joseph H. Lewis filmography (The Big Combo and Gun Crazy are specifically mentioned). Comparisons with other filmmakers are made and the inevitable result is a marginal improvement in our appreciation for the material.

Scene-Select Commentaries by Peter Stanfield – (14:14)

Stanfield also provides a few short commentaries on a number of the film’s scenes and pays close attention to shot composition. It is interesting to hear his analysis (even if one doesn’t particularly agree with everything he says).

Theatrical Trailer – (01:55)

The film’s original theatrical trailer completes the disc’s supplemental line-up quite nicely, and fans of the film will be happy to have it included here.

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Final Words:

Arrow Academy’s new Blu-ray transfer is the best that the film has ever looked on home video, and anyone with an affection for B-Westerns will certainly want to add this release to their collections. It should also be of interest to anyone who admires the work of Dalton Trumbo.

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Review by: Devon Powell

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Trumbo cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: February 16, 2016

 Region: Region Free

Length: 125 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

 Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: A DVD edition of this film is also available.

“It’s a very dark time with a lot of loss and treachery, dark aspects of human nature came out with the scapegoating and witch-hunting. That’s for real, but it was also true that they were also using humor as a coping strategy so the film uses humor as a coping strategy. It can be dangerous if you’re letting off too much of the tension by joking, but I felt it would be inauthentic if there wasn’t humor.” –Jay Roach (Awards Daily, December 10, 2015)

It must be said that one’s expectations deplete when it becomes known that the genius (note sarcasm) behind such films as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Meet the Parents, and Meet the Fockers will be directing a film about the most celebrated member of “The Hollywood Ten.” Trumbo’s battle with the blacklist is such an important story that it might seem like a waste to allow someone like Jay Roach to direct the film. It seems like such a director might squander the subject’s boundless potential.

Luckily, there is little cause for concern. When one forgets what they know about the real story and views the film without any preconceived notions about what the film should be, it becomes evident that they are watching an extremely enjoyable movie.

Jay Roach summed up the film quite accurately in an interview when he quoted John McNamara (who wrote the screenplay):

“The screen writer said, ‘It’s not history; it’s a story about history.’ I really subscribe to that. It’s trying to get the essence of what happened to these guys, rather than becoming the record of the blacklist. It could never be that. It’s 13 years packed into two hours, it’s actors pretending to be people, it’s sets and make-up, but it can be something else — an attempt to raise questions and be authentic to the characters.” –Jay Roach (Awards Daily, December 10, 2015)

Audiences may have heard something about the story before. In 1947, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was Hollywood’s top screenwriter until he and other artists were jailed and blacklisted for their political beliefs. Trumbo used words and wit to win two Academy Awards and expose the absurdity and injustice of the blacklist, which entangled everyone from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) to John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger. The resulting film is an astonishing portrait of an often forgotten chapter of American history that features a performance by Bryan Cranston that earned him a well deserved Academy Awards nomination.

One Sheet

Theatrical One Sheet

The Presentation:

 3.5 of 5 Stars

 The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork, and the case is protected by a special slip cover with the same artwork. The original poster art would have been preferable to the artwork chosen, but this is nearly always the case.

 The menus utilize a slight alteration of the original poster art and are easy to navigate.

Picture Quality:

 5 of 5 Stars

 Universal’s picture transfer is absolutely gorgeous. Of course, this isn’t terribly surprising considering that the film was shot digitally, but this is really quite perfect. Colors are gorgeously rendered, contrast is perfectly accurate, blacks are deep without crushing the image, there aren’t any unsightly digital artifacts, and details are absolutely razor sharp! There doesn’t even seem to be any minor issues.

Sound Quality:

 5 of 5 Stars

The sound mix is just as lovely and perfectly represents the filmmaker’s intentions. The dialogue is really the star of the show in this film, and every word is crisp and clear while still allowing the music and sound effects to breathe. Jay Roach does some surprising things with the sound mix and it is nice to see that the transfer is so accurate.

Special Features:

1 of 5 Stars

It is probably unrealistic to expect a proper documentary about the life of Dalton Trumbo (or the Hollywood blacklist) to be included on this disc, but it would have added quite a bit of richness to the film. The two features included don’t amount to much at all. They could have left them off of the disc. That said, the terrific image and sound transfers more than make up for any lack of supplemental material.

Who is Trumbo? – (1080P) – (4:02)

I know who Dalton Trumbo is, but this question is hardly touched upon. Instead, viewers are given the EPK treatment. Key participants laud the virtues of the film and discuss the actual Dalton Trumbo in the vaguest of general comments. The sole element that makes this wort watching is a very short clip of the actual Dalton Trumbo. Just don’t blink! You might miss it.

Bryan Cranston Becomes Trumbo – (1080P) – (1:59)

This almost seems like a short trailer that features interview footage of Bryan Cranston discussing the film. There isn’t much here.

Final Words:

Trumbo is certainly worth watching, and this Blu-ray transfer of the film is absolutely fabulous!

Review by: Devon Powell