Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Oct 10, 2015 10:47 pm

No, I never saw that.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Christopher Jacobs

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Nov 10, 2015 10:10 pm

Here, finally, are a couple more reviews. Since my last review posting I was released from the hospital October 18th and moved into the Gift of Life transplant recovery house a few blocks from the Mayo Clinic, settling in just in time to catch the 1916 SHERLOCK HOLMES on TCM’s prime-time broadcast that night. It’s still a long, slow process for my new immune system to settle in and replace the old one, not to mention just getting back to a semblance of physical strength and normality after two months in the hospital, and I’ll probably be at the recovery house another six to eight weeks or so, though I'm hoping I'll be able to leave a bit earlier. In any case, I should have a few more reviews ready soon.

The last reviews I posted and the first of the three below were of movies I actually watched before coming down to Rochester MN in August. The last two of the following three reviews are movies that will be officially released next week and which I’ve managed to watch on Blu-ray here at the recovery house (though sadly only on large-screen HDTVs rather than projected in HD onto a screen).



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MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) 130m **** (released to Blu-ray 12/2//14)
One of the key classics of 20th century cinema is Frank Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, yet another of the major films premiering in 1939. It earned 11 Academy Award nominations, but amazingly did not win a single category. Nevertheless, it’s a film that should be shown theatrically every few years during election and campaign seasons in every country. The moving story of political corruption and cynicism clashing with sincere political idealism and patriotism documents the attitudes of 1930s America, but applies to all ages from ancient Greece and earlier up to the present day. It’s also a good presentation of the power of the media as well as the media's own blasé cynicism.

James Stewart has one of his most memorable roles as an average, intensely patriotic, but naïve young man from the upper Midwest who suddenly finds himself appointed to the U. S. Senate after the death of a senator has the state’s political machine scrambling to find an appropriate substitute they can count on not to upset the status quo. He is even more overawed by seeing the city of the nation’s founders first-hand than by his own new political status, soon making him a laughing stock. To keep him out of the way, the establishment recommends he write up his own new bill to present to the Senate, something he takes to enthusiastically, proposing a summer camp to help the Boy Rangers club he ran back home, as well as disadvantaged children across the country.

Unknown to Smith and to his more experienced colleagues, the piece of ideal land he has specified is already earmarked on another bill as the site of a new dam, which will provide lucrative kickbacks for the state’s political bosses including the much-admired senior senator (Claude Rains). Once this news is revealed, and Smith refuses to cooperate with the political machine despite threats on both career and personal reputation, the heart of the plot begins, with Smith encouraged to do all he can by his secretary (Jean Arthur) and a cynical reporter (Thomas Mitchell) to fight the political graft in his state. Capra brilliantly handles the screenwriters’ expert blend of conflict in personal characterizations, shattered political ideals, and vicious political manipulation, always giving the film a strong emotional heart that excuses some sentimental overindulgences here and there. Other standouts in the cast include veteran character actors Harry Carey, Edward Arnold, and Guy Kibbee, among others.

Sony’s Blu-ray, released in December 2014, is beautifully transferred from their recent and meticulous 4k scan and restoration. The film-like crisp, glowing black-and-white image looks like you’re seeing in a theatre on opening night with its rich contrast and lack of film damage. Minor scratches and slightly-soft images are a by-product of original duping and wear in stock footage inserts and montages. Audio is very clear and clean, quite good for a 1930s soundtrack.

Bonus features are thorough and numerous, with an attractive digibook packaging including photos and a good essay, among other things. The on-disc extras are mostly standard-definition, ported over from DVD editions, including a commentary with Frank Capra, Jr., five featurettes on Capra and the film, plus a nearly two-hour documentary on Capra hosted by Ron Howard. There are also two original trailers in HD, one with footage not used in the final release of the film.

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: A-




Indie films (past and present) can be strong personal cinematic visions or slick packages designed to sell tickets and fill a particular bill. This month Kino Video comes out with great-looking Blu-ray editions of movies from the 1940s and 50s that demonstrate both approaches, each film fitting to various degrees into the “film noir” category.

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PITFALL (1948) 86m *** ½ (released to Blu-ray 11/17/15)
One of the classic noir films of the 1940s is an independent production that breaks many of the film noir “rules” but hits even harder on several of the most common noir themes as a result, mostly in subtler ways than a standard Hollywood production. The main themes pervading the film are alienation and dissatisfaction – with job, with relationships, with life and the status quo in general. Talented director André de Toth twists what seems mostly a domestic romantic melodrama of modern (i.e., post-war) suburbia into an increasingly darker look at American values, morals, and dreams. As in noir tradition, a fair amount of ironic wisecracks pepper the dialogue in certain scenes but it may take more than one viewing to appreciate how the film both uses and subverts what one expects of film noir.

The obligatory femme fatale in this film is not scheming to use the protagonist for a doomed crime plot, but is instead serves as merely a temptation for three of the central male characters, although the jealousy she unwittingly creates among them leads to at least a killing or two by the end of the movie. There’s also an ambiguity in characters’ pasts and futures that major studio films of the era (or even today) would likely take the time to explain.

Our erstwhile hero/antihero John Forbes (Dick Powell) is an L.A. insurance executive with a comfortable job, a beautiful wife (Jane Wyatt), and an adoring if often irritating son (Jimmy Hunt). Nevertheless he feels empty, like life has passed him by and left him in a boring rut of repetition. Then he meets Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott), the sultry girlfriend of a convicted embezzler named Bill Smiley (Byron Barr) that his company insured and is attempting to recover their losses, most of which paid for various gifts from Smiley to Stevens. They start a passionate but brief affair that both realize is wrong and can’t continue. This was all it took for Forbes to rediscover an interest in his home life, but it’s a bit too late. The trouble is that shady private detective J. B. MacDonald (Raymond Burr), who discovered Stevens’ role in the case, is unhealthily attracted to her himself, to the point of stalking her and threatening Forbes even after they have broken off with each other. By this time the film has shifted into full noir mode with plot threads and events building to various final showdowns.

Powell is at his darkest in a role tailored especially for him, after transitioning from juvenile lead in romantic musical comedies to detective dramas four years earlier with MURDER MY SWEET (available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection). Scott, who died earlier this year at 92, is also in fine form as the vulnerable fashion model who always gets mixed up with the wrong men. She considered it her favorite role. Burr, decades before becoming a TV icon as the respectable lawyer Perry Mason and later as Detective Ironside, is at his smarmiest and most intimidating as the movie’s villain.

Picture quality is outstanding on Kino’s Blu-ray, with only some very minor wear visible. It’s drastically sharper than my old laserdisc as it’s been newly mastered in HD from a duplicate negative at the UCLA archives, and the sound is also fine. Bonus features, on the other hand, are sparse, just two HD trailers (for A BULLET FOR JOEY and HE RAN ALL THE WAY, both available on Blu-ray from Kino) and an audio commentary. However, the commentary is an excellent one by noir expert Eddie Muller that gives great insight into the film as well as interesting background information on the cast and crew and the production itself.

PITFALL on Blu-ray –
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B-


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A BULLET FOR JOEY (1955) 87m ** ½
(released to Blu-ray 11/17/15)
The trailer to A BULLET FOR JOEY makes it look like it’s going to be a fast-paced and moody film noir in the classic tradition starring two big-name actors popular as tough guys in gangster films a couple of decades earlier. However, by a short time into the feature itself, it soon becomes apparent that this is a routine police procedural crime drama using the familiar formula of foreign agents trying to kidnap a brilliant scientist (George Dolenz) who’s working on a top-secret government project. When the action finally picks up in the last reel or so, the film becomes a laughably (or at least an eye-rollingly) over-the-top melodrama with no surprises. Journeyman director Lewis Allen and most of the cast seem to be simply doing a job rather than showing dedication to the material.

For whatever reason, the film is set in Montreal. Edward G. Robinson plays Raoul Leduc, a no-nonsense but relatively low-key police inspector investigating a series of murders he gradually realizes are related. Meanwhile, the ominous and well-funded Eric Hartman (Peter van Eyck) brings deported gangster Joey Victor (George Raft) to Canada to reassemble his gang and pull off the kidnapping for a hefty fee. Victor recruits his reluctant aging ex-girlfriend Joyce (Audrey Totter) to seduce the romantically-challenged scientist. It’s not too hard to figure out most of what happens next.

Raft has a few good scenes with his trigger-happy henchmen, but is rather heavy-handed with Totter and frequently a bit subdued, like Robinson. Dolenz is adequate if underwhelming as the scientist and van Eyck is merely a caricature as the villain. Totter delivers the most interesting and complex performance in the film, world-weary with a mind of her own even though she knows she’s being used.

Kino’s Blu-ray has a fine, film-like HD transfer at the appropriate 1.75:1 aspect ratio, a major aspect in enjoying this film, as well as very decent audio. The only bonus features are three trailers, including one for A BULLET FOR JOEY plus two other Kino noir releases.

A BULLET FOR JOEY on Blu-ray
Movie: C+
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: D
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Nov 10, 2015 10:23 pm

Great to see you here, Chris - glad to see you're feeling well enough to post a review!
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Nov 11, 2015 12:21 am

Wishing you all the best Chris for a speedy recovery. Always great to read your reviews.
A minor annoyance that I bought a DVD copy of PITFALL recently that is not so good. This film is definitely worth a Bluray upgrade.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Nov 11, 2015 12:23 pm

Welcome back, Chris! We all missed you at Cinecon this year.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Nov 11, 2015 12:35 pm

Glad to have you back, Chris, and glad your problems are simply becoming matters of which size screen you get to watch on :)

My feeling about Mr. Smith is that it did win one Oscar-- the next year for Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, which he's good in but hardly the dominant performance.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Nov 11, 2015 6:57 pm

I remember reading somewhere that, due to the overwhelming demand for "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in its original release, the original negative was eventually worn out from overprinting. Sometimes a film suffers just as much from too much popularity as from being neglected! I also remember that in a previous DVD release, part of the opening credits stated that the film had been restored by the Library of Congress.

So am I correct in assuming that whatever is being released on Blu-Ray at this point is not sourced from the original negative, but from the best surviving elements? [Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I also recall that the original negative of Citizen Kane was destroyed in a vault fire some years ago. But the restored version of KANE, which used one or more fine-grain positive prints, still looked pretty darn good to me, and much better than I remember in 16mm or VHS.]

In any event, it's great that these films still exist and are being presented in the best possible modern technology. SETH
"Novelty is always welcome, but talking pictures are just a fad." -- Irving Thalberg
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Nov 11, 2015 9:09 pm

Really happy to see you posting again Chris. I love reading your reviews as they always cover everything one could want to know. Please take care of yourself and keep getting better!
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Nov 15, 2015 10:52 pm

Thanks, everybody, for the kind words and good wishes! Here’s a writeup of another Blu-ray I’ve watched during my stay here at the Gift of Life Transplant House. Hope to get several more watched, reviewed and posted over the coming weeks.


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THE HURRICANE (1937) 103m *** ½ (Blu-ray released 11/24/15)
Kino’s Blu-ray release of THE HURRICANE the Tuesday before Thanksgiving helps round out the variety of genres handled by prolific filmmaker John Ford now available in high-definition. Ford is best remembered for his westerns, especially those starring John Wayne like STAGECOACH, FORT APACHE, RIO GRANDE, THE SEARCHERS, etc., and for iconic classics like THE GRAPES OF WRATH, THE INFORMER, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, and THE QUIET MAN, among others. Except for THE INFORMER, all of these plus at least nine other Ford films are on Blu-ray. One of his less-remembered films, THE HURRICANE nevertheless very much incorporates his style and world view.

THE HURRICANE is a variation on the once-popular genre of the South Seas Island picture, typically exploited for the islands’ exotic beauty, simple and leisurely native life, and a strong sense of escapism from the rule-bound civilizations of America and Europe. Ford would return to this genre for one of his last films, DONOVAN’S REEF (not yet on Blu-ray), and the same basic elements can easily be found in many of his westerns, but with THE HURRICANE he takes a very different and more dramatic approach. A native romance is a central aspect of the plot, between the chief’s daughter Marama (Dorothy Lamour) and a popular islander named Terangi, now making a satisfying life for himself as a ship’s mate (Jon Hall). But here the South Sea Island paradise is ruled with a heavy hand by the punctilious, stiff-collared colonial French governor (Raymond Massey), who insists upon following the letter of the law for the most minor of infractions. He refuses to bend to the pleas of his soft-hearted wife (Mary Astor), the kindly and open-minded island priest (C. Aubrey Smith), or his friend the island’s cynical, philosophical, and alcoholic doctor (Thomas Mitchell, playing a character nearly identical to his Oscar-winning role in STAGECOACH). As a result we soon wind up with a south seas reworking of LES MISERABLES, with Terangi hounded by a sadistic prison warden (John Carradine) and his initial six-month sentence increased by years for each of the numerous times he attempts to escape.

Throughout the film we also have Ford depicting the strong undercurrent of racial prejudice that affects the islanders under colonial rule, and is at the root of the barroom brawl that sends Terangi to prison for assaulting an insulting drunken white patron who has political connections. Through most of the film its title may seem like merely a metaphor for the tensions whirling around the story’s protagonists. However the last twenty minutes or so finally bring on the huge natural disaster promised by the advertising. The hurricane arrives at the island very shortly after Terangi’s latest escape attempt successfully brings him home, a climax for the film’s action as well as its various underlying themes and plot threads. The impressive special effects (even in today’s world of CGI) make for a rousing finale as well as driving home (perhaps a bit too heavy-handedly at times) the metaphoric religious/mythic symbolism of the cleansing power of nature in a world of corrupted humanity, the good often suffering along with the evil. A plot framing device, with Mitchell’s character recounting the events to a fellow steamship passenger taking home movies as they pass the now-devastated remains of the island, reinforces this, as well as making a commentary on how quickly such natural disasters are forgotten and survivors resume their lives. Although disguised as a south seas romantic action-melodrama disaster film, Ford’s THE HURRICANE is a strong social commentary that effectively dramatizes a desire for personal liberty to pursue one’s desires, a contempt for racism, a disdain for colonialism, a dissatisfaction with inflexible (and often selective) enforcement of laws, and a complex faith in the possibility of divine retribution or poetic justice.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is very good overall, a very film-like HD transfer, from 35mm elements in fine condition but with occasional minor damage evident. The audio is quite respectable for a 1937 recording. Bonus features are merely a trailer (in HD, although very grainy, perhaps from a 16mm or 35mm dupe) and an audio commentary. However, it’s an excellent commentary, with the insights and background given by Ford expert and biographer Joseph McBride really helping to reveal the subtleties of Ford’s vision and to increase appreciation of the film. He even notes how he himself was more dismissive of it when he was younger but came to recognize its finer qualities after he got older and had seen more Ford films.

THE HURRICANE on Blu-ray –
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: B+
Extras: B-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Nov 16, 2015 6:33 am

We're all getting old and worn out. I just got out of 9 hours in ER for diabetic situation. Movies are NOT that important. They are just bits of film stuck together. They are fun but we take them way too seriously. Let's all get well & the best of luck to keep on truckin. :D
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Nov 29, 2015 10:41 pm

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THE EPIC OF EVEREST (1924) 87m *** (Blu-ray released 9/8/15)
As winter weather sets in with its cold and snow, it will be easier to relate to the incidents depicted in films like the 1924 British documentary THE EPIC OF EVEREST.

Various cable TV channels these days frequently broadcast stories of mountain climbers in their “extreme sports” coverage, typically with lots of quick hand-held closeups and helicopter shots over a soundtrack of loud, edgy rock music and an excited narrator. These rarely convey much sense of danger, isolation, or pioneering achievement, and seem more concerned with personal desires of participants to prove their stamina doing something exotic. Back in 1924 the general public had little exposure to such experiences in distant places or the cultures encountered along the way, outside of a few written accounts by explorers, occasional drawings and photos, and perhaps brief newsreel film footage. The expedition that year by noted mountain climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine to scale the world’s tallest mountain was big news, as no human had ever reached the top of Mount Everest and returned alive (or ever would until nearly another three decades had passed).

Captain John Noel had filmed an unsuccessful 1922 attempt to conquer Everest, and now planned to make a feature-length record of the 1924 climb, inspired by Herbert Ponting’s amazing 1911-12 film of Scott’s ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole, which was released in 1924 as a feature-length documentary called THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE (now available on a British Blu-ray in a region-free edition from the BFI, either individually or packaged in a set with THE EPIC OF EVEREST). THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE is still only available from the U.K. but this past September Kino released a separate disc of THE EPIC OF EVEREST for its Blu-ray debut in the U.S.

This 91-year-old documentary is quite fascinating as well as beautiful to look at (especially on Blu-ray), if very slow-moving by today’s standards. Images are remarkable for their artistic composition and clarity, virtually each shot worthy of a gallery art photo. Some time is spent showing views of the crew preparing for the ascent, though with few closeups we never really get to know any of the personalities to much degree. During the early stages of the climb the picture lingers over various scenes of remote Tibetan village life, also rare sights for western viewers, with title cards marveling over the natives’ ability to adapt themselves to living in such a harsh environment. As the climb gets higher up the mountain, the film often becomes a meditation on the mountain and on human life and nature, rather than a simple blow-by-blow account of the expedition. Long takes of the majestic scenery and frequent intertitles with a poetic flair go far beyond the simple conveying of a factual record for the viewer. This somber, thoughtful approach is even more evident as the film approaches its conclusion.

The feeling is enhanced by the interesting new (although sometimes monotonous) modern music score added to it, composed by Simon Fisher Turner (who also scored the BFI release of THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE) and blending limited, subdued sound effects at times. At a certain point the film equipment was too bulky to lug any further up the rugged incline with the uncertain and often fierce weather conditions, so a special telephoto lens designed for this expedition was used to capture views of the explorers from longer and longer points of view until they disappeared over a pass, never to return.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is excellent, the HD master prepared from the BFI’s recent and beautifully crisp restoration of the film from two different original 35mm nitrate prints (one more worn but color-tinted). Audio quality for the new score and period sound effects is also fine. (The British disc also includes an audio track of the reconstructed 1924 score.) Bonus features include three six- to nine-minute featurettes: an introduction to the film by the filmmaker’s daughter Sandra Noel and the BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon, a discussion by the composer on scoring it, and a short explanation of what went into restoring it, plus a theatrical trailer, all in HD. Fans of mountain climbing, nature photography, ethnography, and classic documentaries will want to own or at least see THE EPIC OF EVEREST on Blu-ray.

THE EPIC OF EVEREST on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Dec 06, 2015 11:30 pm

Here are some observations on another recent Kino Blu-ray release. We definitely need more Louise Brooks in HD!

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DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (1929) 111m *** ½ (Blu-ray released Oct. 20, 2015)
American film actress Louise Brooks had a fairly minor career in Hollywood with only a couple of major titles like BEGGARS OF LIFE (1928) and THE CANARY MURDER CASE (1929), and is best remembered today for two films she made in Germany for noted director Georg Wilhelm Pabst, PANDORA’S BOX and DIARY OF A LOST GIRL, both 1929. Pabst also made THE WHITE HELL OF PITZ PALU with Leni Riefenstahl the same year, and is noted for THE JOYLESS STREET (1925) and SECRETS OF A SOUL (1926), among others. Most of these films have been available on DVD for some time, but this past fall Kino Video released a restored version of DIARY OF A LOST GIRL to Blu-ray in North America (a region B-locked British Blu-ray came out a year ago with different bonus features). So far the only other Louise Brooks feature on Blu-ray is her final film, the John Wayne B-western OVERLAND STAGE RAIDERS (1938), put out by Olive Films.

Adapted from a controversial best-selling novel by Margarethe Böhme, DIARY OF A LOST GIRL (DAS TAGEBUCH EINER VERLORENEN) follows the adventures of a naïve but strong-willed pharmacist’s daughter named Thymian from the time she’s about 14 years old in the mid-1920s through roughly age 18 in 1929. During that brief timespan she is seduced, has a baby, is sent to a repressive reform school, escapes, finds work in a brothel, and eventually finds some stability through various incidents, which include gaining a title after marrying an irresponsible and penniless count.

Brooks has a striking beauty and commanding screen presence that dominates much of the film. Except for a couple of scenes where she faints, her performance has a restrained natural quality conveying small nuances of emotion that sometimes makes her seem like a modern actress stuck in an old movie. This very quality caused many critics of the time to complain that she could not act, and was just standing around in scenes while the rest of the cast was emoting. Today her face seems more empathetic, almost hypnotic, and it’s easy to see why she now has a cult following. The other actors do have a somewhat artificial if carefully calculated stylization in their movements, but are still quite subdued compared to the stylistic extremes that marked German Expressionist cinema. A large percentage of the story is told entirely visually, both through actor performances and through camera/editing choices, with fewer than normal intertitles to provide dialogue when needed. Pabst’s editing brings out characterizations and personal reactions through quick cuts between closeups, but the camera also often moves freely through scenes, increasing the dynamics of the action, with some memorable long tracking shots up and down stairwells. Other scenes are staged with a ballet-like precision and edited with increasing rhythms that build to an emotional climax while exposing various emotions.

The film was appreciated by a few artistic-minded viewers when it came out but widely denounced by critics and public alike. Its dramatization of the decadent and hypocritical society of Germany during the Weimar Republic era just before the rise of the Nazi Party resulted in numerous cuts by censors and the film being pulled from release for even more cuts before re-opening in 1930 as sound movies were taking over. Some copies had alternate endings. Different countries and cities made additional deletions, so no two surviving prints are exactly the same. In 1997 multiple prints from around the world and censorship records were used to reassemble the film as closely as possible to Pabst’s original vision for a photochemical restoration, recently scanned in HD with some extra repair and cleanup done digitally for the Blu-ray edition.

The HD picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is quite good, although it reflects the differing condition of the surviving elements pieced together for this version. It’s all very sharp with a visible grain structure. Contrast matches nicely between sections from different sources but a number of shots and complete scenes show damage from scratches and/or mild decomposition (mostly some flicker). Audio recording is excellent for the excellent piano score composed, compiled, and performed by Javier Perez de Azpeitia, which incorporates appropriate period music cues and classical extracts that follow the actions and mood of the movie closely. There are only a few bonus features, the most interesting being a sometimes sporadic but informative audio commentary by writer and Louise Brooks Society director Thomas Gladysz, who frequently posts to NitrateVille. There’s also a moderately amusing two-reel short comedy, WINDY RILEY GOES HOLLYWOOD (1931), starring Brooks as an aspiring young actress, with Jack Shutta as a loudmouth braggart who manages to become a studio publicity man. It features William Davidson, Dell Henderson, Wilbur Mack, and Walter Merrill, and was directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (under the name William Goodrich). This is in HD but the preprint is nowhere near as sharp as the feature and looks overly contrasty, like a mediocre 16mm dupe. In addition there’s a brief trailer of memorable shots (in HD) that was prepared for Kino’s Blu-ray edition. Interestingly the boxcover insert is reversible, so you can have the original German poster on the front cover instead of Kino's cover art! The back covers are the same.

DIARY OF A LOST GIRL on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A-
Audio: A
Extras: B-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Jan 17, 2016 7:46 pm

Here, finally, is another Blu-ray review. I’m still not home yet but have been staying with relatives in the Twin Cities for a couple of weeks after leaving the Gift of Life transplant recovery house back on January 5, the date this Blu-ray came out. I’d seen Fantômas back when the DVD came out about five years ago, but had almost no memory of it. It’s a film I doubt if I could even get through on a typical YouTube streaming version, because in a film from this somewhat charming but still primitive stylistic period, the image quality is what provides the details for understanding much of the story. The stunning clarity of this Blu-ray is a major reason for watching it (the bigger the screen, the better), and quite literally is almost like seeing it for the first time.

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FANTOMAS (1913-1914) 355m *** (Blu-ray released January 5, 2016)
Today’s 35mm motion picture film technology has been around for over 120 years now, with the earliest audiences amazed and intrigued simply by the novelty of seeing the illusion of motion in photographs. It did not take long for films that told stories to take over the industry, however, with a few short but significant periods of filmmaking which led to the cinematic storytelling techniques we take for granted today. “Modern” movies and the major studio, distribution, and exhibition industry supporting them were pretty well established by about 100 years ago or so.

There was a very rapid transitional period of development all around the world, especially in France, during the few years just before and during World War I, approximately 1912-1916. One of the major influential works was a five-film series based on popular crime novels featuring the master criminal “Fantômas.” The company that produced it, Gaumont, had been founded in 1895, the same year projected films were introduced to the public, and amazingly is still in the moviemaking business today. Gaumont digitally restored FANTÔMAS for its 100th anniversary in 2013 with a 4k scan of the still-surviving original camera negatives, mostly in excellent condition. This set of films happens to be one of this year’s first Blu-ray releases by Kino Lorber video. FANTÔMAS is a film that blends the “primitive” style of movie storytelling (about 1902-1914) with the very earliest period of simply recording things in motion (about 1891-1905) and the not-quite established conventions of full-blown cinematic drama (about 1915 through the present). Like most films of the primitive period, it tends to rely more upon explanatory title cards, letters, and newspaper articles than on dialogue titles.

Louis Feuillade was one of Gaumont’s most prolific directors, noted especially for his multi-film series FANTÔMAS, LES VAMPIRES, and JUDEX, among others (each of which improved stylistically and dramatically on the previous), as well as hundreds of other films, short and feature-length. He was an early advocate of “realism” over artificially happy or sentimental stories. Feuillade’s wildly popular Fantômas films made during 1913-14 can be viewed as sequential episodes running an hour to an hour-and-a-half each, as one five-and-a-half-hour epic of crime and intrigue, or as five individual films that can stand alone on their own. Episode 3 is the longest of the five at 97 minutes. The final episode runs 75 minutes and the other three are about an hour each. Disc 1 has the first three films and Disc 2 has the last two plus the bonus features (except the audio commentaries).

The plots all follow the often surprisingly vicious exploits of the title character (who is a master of disguise) and the elaborate efforts of police inspector Juve and his journalist friend Fandor (both of whom employ various disguises as well) to capture him. Some of the villain’s most disturbing actions in the novels were slightly softened in the film adaptations to avoid censorship. Naturally to keep the series going (there had been 32 original novels and more written later) the criminal always escapes justice within the last few minutes of the story, an aspect objected to by certain censors of the time and which of course would not be permissible under Hollywood’s Production Code of 1930. Entertainment value will vary depending on how much the viewer is into the still-evolving 1910s cinematic techniques and/or 19th-century theatrical conventions. There is no Musidora in these films to command attention on the screen with her ominous but magnetic personality, although René Navarre has a strong screen presence in the title role and the other actors give a good sense of what effective stage acting was like during the late “Belle Époque” era. Picture compositions are very carefully arranged to fill the screen aesthetically but staging and acting styles tend to be on the flamboyant Delsarte side, and interiors frequently look like hastily-assembled artificial sets. On the other hand, exteriors not only make use of more natural diagonal image compositions but show amazing and authentic period detail of Paris before World War I. At times outdoor shots are reminiscent of the “actuality” films of the Lumière brothers from 15 years before. Plot structure can vary from showing more than you need to leaving out things you want to see, and occasional oddly surrealistic touches. Amusing little details include a scene of a prostitute (and gang member) out for dinner in a fancy restaurant with an American boxer, overhearing the detective and journalist while the boxer gets progressively drunker in the background. Then there are the off-beat sequences with Fantômas disguised as an American detective, and more.

The very long takes and mostly long shots may make modern viewers irritable or lull them to nod off for a nap at points, but it does allow a lot of examination of interesting details in the settings, props, and costumes as well as facial and physical reactions of all the extras, all crystal clear in this superb copy. The extreme sharpness helps mitigate the rarity of close-ups or medium shots, since it is very easy to see the nuanced, if stylized, facial expressions and body movements of all the actors in the scene at the same time, but it's up to the viewer to decide which actors to watch and when, as in a stage production. Actors are obviously placed so viewers can see their reactions to other characters who do not notice them. It's really a lot of fun to watch their expressions during the dance scenes and various other crowd scenes. You can also make out very clearly the small but obvious Gaumont "G" logo stuck on the wall in some scenes (an early form of copyright protection). Close-ups are used mainly to show letters and details of important props, but periodically, especially during the later films, scenes are broken up into alternate camera angles to highlight details more cinematically. The only minor picture glitches are in a brief blue-tinted sequence where the gamma setting causes some weird glossy shimmer in the shadows. The only color tint in the film is blue for night scenes, with everything else a crisp, clear black and white.

The Blu-ray’s picture quality is unbelievably outstanding for anyone used to watching silent films on DVD, VHS, or shady internet streaming sources. The previous DVD release had an adequate picture quality for an old silent movie, but the new 4k scan, primarily from the original camera negative, looks absolutely incredible on a large HD screen, mostly like it was filmed yesterday. A few segments had to be inserted from slightly worn but still very very sharp 35mm prints and dupe negatives to fill in missing footage. Those brief segments are slightly softer with lower contrast, and occur more frequently in the last two episodes. It seems quite plausible that many of the shots that had to be reconstructed may be due to later cuts done for censorship reasons or simply to tighten the pacing. A few still-missing scenes are bridged by descriptive titles. In any case it’s nice to see the restored full 1913-14 release. Motion is at a natural speed and the conversion to 24 fps is also reasonably good.

The audio is not in a lossless format but sounds fine throughout. The films have a reasonably good orchestra score, perhaps a bit on the modern side but reflecting the action fairly well. The score is similar on each episode, apparently prepared in the 1990s from stock music. Despite its occasionally anachronistic style, it frequently follows the scenes very closely, including some spot-on switching themes during a party sequence when it cuts from tango music as we see the guests tangoing (with some gusto), to suspense music when the shot cross cuts to another location, to waltz music when it cuts back to the party and guests are now waltzing.

Bonus features include a very good 11-minute documentary on the director, plus two of his earlier short films, all unfortunately in standard-definition but with fine piano scores on the shorts. A high-definition featurette showing the bookcover art from the original novels and later reprints is quite interesting. There is a great two-hour (but all-too-short) audio commentary by enthusiastic film historian David Kalat spread across the first two episodes. Kalat explains in sometimes overwhelming detail much of the background of the films, the novels, their creators, and the era that gave rise to them, but only occasionally discusses scenes as we are watching them. I would take issue with a few of his assertions (notably that camera composition seems primitively random) but overall it’s an excellent listen that crams more information than you can absorb into his allotted time. I would recommend starting the set with the documentary and two shorts before beginning the first feature. The commentaries also discuss actions in later episodes (and in novels never filmed) but may be viewed after watching the first two features or saved until after seeing all five. They could even be listened to before watching any of the films.

For all of their dramatic and stylistic shortcomings for modern viewers (or even for fans of the “classic” era of silent cinema of the 1920s), the five “Fantômas” films, FANTÔMAS IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE, JUVE VS. FANTÔMAS, THE MURDEROUS CORPSE, FANTÔMAS VS. FANTÔMAS, and THE FALSE MAGISTRATE, are a nearly pristine example of filmmaking in a transitional period that balances film as art, entertainment, and business. At the same time they unconsciously but vividly preserve the casual customs, attitudes, and concerns of people (mostly the well-to-do) in those final years before the First World War.

FANTÔMAS on Blu-ray –
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Jan 18, 2016 10:00 am

Chris, your Fantomas review is so helpful. I have the DVD set, and I've been trying to decide whether to replace it with the Blu-ray. (Which seems a bit pricey so I've been hesitating, but I don't remember what I paid for the DVDs, either.) Anyway... I just read a post about the new Fantomas on another forum; that poster was intent on tearing the Blu-Ray down frame-by-frame to find fault. Your review tells me so much more than that. Thank you.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Jan 18, 2016 6:14 pm

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MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) 95m *** ½ (Blu-ray released September 15, 2015)
This film noir classic has been out on DVD from the Warner Archive, but Warners give us a treat last year by releasing the film on BluRay. The price is really cheap for a BluRay, and is very much worth the price.

When RKO previewed the film in December, 1944 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but people stayed away. The film had the title of the original Raymond Chandler novel, Farewell, My Lovely. Since it starred Dick Powell, audiences thought it must be a musical. After the title was changed to Murder, My Sweet, audiences flocked to see it. The film won an Edgar Award as the best mystery of the year. The story had been adapted as part of the Falcon series in 1942, The Falcon Takes Over. It was remade under the original title with an older Robert Mitchum in 1975.

Detective Phillip Marlow is short of cash and his date stood him up, when "Moose", a really big bruiser, hires Marlow to find his old girlfriend. It seems she stopped writing after he was in prison a couple of years. After this inconsequential case, Marlow is hired for protection in a payoff, but is knocked out cold and drawn into a web of lies, murder, blackmail and betrayal.

It's a break-out performance by Powell, who is nothing like his previous portrayals. It's interesting to compare Powell's Phillip Marlowe to Bogart's. Bogart definitely had an "edge" on his personality, that Marlowe didn't. But one of the main plot points is that everyone wants to hire Marlow to sidetrack him from finding the truth to both mysteries. Powell gets knocked-out twice and shot up with drugs once to make him talk, and he is extremely effective as a detective that appears to be confused by it all, but really keeps his moral compass. Powell also keeps things like with just the right amount of humor in his portrayal.

Claire Trevor plays a woman who is completely untrustworthy who has her jade necklace stolen and is being blackmailed over the loss. Anne Shirley, in her final film role, plays Trevor's step-daughter who alternately is working against and with Marlowe. Mike Mazurki has the role of his career as a dim-witted but strong bruiser who is looking for his old girlfriend. Otto Kreuger is his usual slimy self as a rich man who has a strong interest in the missing necklace.

Although an "A" picture at RKO, it would have been a "B" budget at the big studios. Director Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer Harry Wild use a lot of shadows, interesting camera angles and even sets with ceilings like in Citizen Kane to make this a noir classic. The expressionist drug-induced hallucinations were novel for the time. The film is very tightly edited by Joseph Noreiga.

The HD picture looks incredible because the film was transferred from the original camera negative. The negative did have some issues, and I did notice a couple of shots that were definitely not from the original negative, but only one in the climax is really noticeable. The sound is crisp and clear,

There is an excellent commentary track by author Alain Silver that is definitely worth a listen. He covers the many RKO contract players in bit parts, Raymond Chandler's experience in Hollywood, and Film Noir in general. The film has a standard definition trailer as an extra. Since it is for sale only in the USA (probably because foreign rights belong to someone else), the only subtitles available are in English. The menu doesn't indicate it, but there are chapter stops.

MURDER, MY SWEET on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: C
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Jan 18, 2016 8:11 pm

Bruce --

Nice to see another voice among the reviewers! MURDER MY SWEET is one of my favorite noirs and I just ordered the Blu-ray a couple days ago (along with some other vintage noir titles) so it should be arriving in a week or so. Really looking forward to seeing it in HD (along with Criterion's THE KILLERS and a few more obscure noirs).



Scott --

Thanks for your feedback. The FANTOMAS films are certainly not for everyone. For us in the 21st century they are more of a vivid window into the past than an engaging entertainment or exciting thriller. You really need to appreciate the period, especially classical theatre acting, to enjoy them as something more than a curiosity. Even I had trouble keeping my eyes open at times and had to rewind and rewatch some scenes. Thus I'd never introduce someone to silent films by showing one of them all the way through, but I might show a few minutes of selected scenes so they can see first-hand that "High Definition" is not just some new digital technology but was already the everyday norm for standard 35mm film over a century ago. If only every silent survived in this condition!
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Jan 26, 2016 4:12 pm

Regarding FANTOMAS, I have Kino's earlier DVD edition and was happy with it, but pre-ordered the Blu-ray as soon as I saw it was coming out. The difference is startling. The Blu-ray just looks so, so good. If you're a fan of these movies at all, it is definitely worth the upgrade.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Jan 28, 2016 9:15 pm

I bit the bullet and bought the Blu-Ray. And you're right, it's a major upgrade over the DVD. Almost all of the random specks and streaks are gone, and the amount of detail you can see is wonderful. I love looking at the 100-year-old cars and trains, and the other old technologies and household items. The episode I watched tonight hinged on a "rocker-style" ink blotter, among other things. As for the plots... well, let's say that the journey is the reward.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Feb 05, 2016 1:48 am

Ironically neither of these is quite as sharp as FANTOMAS, but they still look quite nice, especially TABU...

I’d like Samoa, please!  :)
Movies provide instant mini-vacations from troubles of the real world, windows into an alternate reality, especially when projected onto a wall-sized screen. Their tropical south-seas island settings make two recent Blu-ray releases from Kino ideal escapes from the winter weather assaulting much of the country. So turn up the thermostat, curl up with some bananas and cocoanut milk, and enjoy…

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MOANA WITH SOUND (1926/1980) 98m *** (Blu-ray released Dec. 8, 2015)
After the unexpected success of his ethnographic documentary NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922), explorer-filmmaker Robert Flaherty was commissioned by Paramount to make another one. As a result, he moved his family to the Samoan Islands to live with the natives from 1923-24, shooting thousands of feet of film. This he edited into the roughly hour-and-a-half feature MOANA by December of 1925, which Paramount released theatrically in January 1926.

As with NANOOK, Flaherty had natives re-enact earlier traditions and ways of life that elders could remember but had long been abandoned for a more European and American-influenced lifestyle. Among these was the painful body tattooing coming-of-age ritual performed on the title character to demonstrate his courage and endurance. “Moana” means “deep water” in the Samoan language, and is name of the main male character in this film, unlike the female character named Moana in the upcoming Disney cartoon. The tattooing ceremony takes place over several days and serves as sort of a climax to the film. Most of the movie is a leisurely slice-of-life showing native hunting and gathering activities, making clothing from tree bark, preparing food, singing and dancing, etc. While the natives are cast to play fictional characters, there is no traditional “plot” with inciting action, crisis, climax, or resolution, since the film’s purpose was to document the fast-disappearing South Seas island culture rather than to tell a story. As such, it is quite interesting, and the visuals are beautiful to look at. However, the slow pacing and lack of conflict are less likely to engage mainstream audiences, and indeed the film was a financial disappointment when first released. Part of NANOOK’s success had come from its dramatization of the natives’ struggle to survive in the harsh arctic environment. The South Seas islanders did not face such fierce challenges to obtain food or simply to live day to day.

In the 1970s, Flaherty’s daughter Monica returned to the same island where MOANA was filmed to record audio of ambient sounds, native singing, and lip-sync voices of natives matching what was said in the silent film. Her experience as a child during the filming was deeply imprinted on her, and she wanted to recreate a fuller experience of what she remembered than just the images. She even taught the modern natives the words to melodies they vaguely recalled but had already slipped from the cultural memory only a half-century later. All this she expertly synchronized to a 16mm print of the film without changing any of the shots, editing, or titling of the original cut, finishing in 1980. Then in 2014 an ambitious restoration project combined her soundtrack with better-quality 35mm film elements. The post-dubbed sound in no way compromises the integrity of Flaherty’s original silent production. The skillful audio additions enhance the film’s documentary value considerably, and provide a much more intimate portrait of the natives depicted on screen than a purely silent film with an accompaniment of typical movie mood music.

Kino’s Blu-ray has an overall nice-looking image with good contrast, although it is rather softish, as the original negatives are lost and the surviving 35mm material is in various conditions of wear and generations from the original. Parts of the original also had some inherent issues (graininess, splotches) due to the tropical heat affecting the film and problems developing the film on location. The audio is not perfect but impressive considering the amateur equipment used to record it. A good selection of bonus features on the disc include documentaries on the film’s production and restoration, an old public TV interview with Flaherty’s wife, recent discussions on the film by historians, a trailer for the restoration, plus home movies of the Flaherty daughters during their island stay in the mid-1920s and a 1925 one-reel experimental artsy documentary of New York City called TWENTY-FOUR DOLLAR ISLAND (both in HD).

MOANA on Blu-ray –
Movie: B+
Video: B+
Audio: A-
Extras: B


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TABU: A STORY OF THE SOUTH SEAS (1931) 86m *** ½
(Blu-ray released Dec. 8, 2015)
Better-known by more casual film buffs for NOSFERATU and SUNRISE, director F. W. Murnau’s final film was a partial collaboration with Robert Flaherty, co-written and partly photographed by Flaherty. Floyd Crosby (father of singer-songwriter David Crosby) was the primary cinematographer and won the Academy Award for his efforts on the film. TABU was a self-consciously artistic record of native Polynesian islander customs performed within a fictional romantic plot of star-crossed lovers. Flaherty preferred a more documentary-style film and had a falling-out with Murnau, who was financing the film himself and whose romantic vision prevailed. A portion of the plot, however, does show the naïve couple being exploited by the “civilized” people on another island.

The story depicts an idealized romance between two young islanders that suddenly takes a dark turn when the girl is selected to be a sacred virgin for the gods and is declared off-limits to all men under pain of death. The boy steals her away and they flee to an island colonized by white people, but fate intervenes when the old high-priest of the island manages to track them down. Natural performances are turned in by the actors, all of whom were native-born islanders, and most of the film crew was made up of local natives as well. TABU occasionally lingers a bit long over some scenes but is substantially faster-paced than MOANA, with much more action – and of course has a melodramatic romance to hold audience interest. The effective music score by Hugo Riesenfeld adds immensely to telling the story and conveying the emotions. It follows actions closely and even imitates songs, dialogue and shouts of the natives.

Kino’s Blu-ray looks very sharp and film-like, scanned from a preservation negative struck from a unique pre-release cut of the film a few minutes longer than the censored original American release and about five minutes longer than the further-censored post-war re-release that was the standard version available until the 1970s. Some very minor wear shows up from time to time, and bonus features reveal just how beat-up some portions were before restoration. The picture is almost square, actually a bit narrower than the advertised 1.19:1, to make room for the Movietone soundtrack while retaining the full frame height of the original silent image. Audio quality is quite respectable for a 1931 film and Riesenfeld’s score is very appropriate to accompany what is on the screen, even when working in variations of famous classical pieces. Bonus features include nearly three reels of unused takes, mostly of the natives’ rush to put their boats out to sea, all scanned from surviving camera negatives and looking slightly sharper but more worn than the main feature itself. There are also two 15-minute featurettes in German with English subtitles, one covering the making of the film and its restoration, the other showing and discussing numerous other outtakes. There is also a 10-minute German-made short documentary (in high-definition), TREIBJAGD IN DER SÜDSEE (HUNT IN THE SOUTH SEAS) edited in 1940 from a fishing sequence and other footage that did not make it into TABU.

TABU on Blu-ray –
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Feb 28, 2016 4:34 pm

Finally got another review before the end of the month. Hope to have several more during March. It's always nice to see classic and/or vintage films show up on Blu-ray looking like they did when brand-new, even when they're not particularly "great" films or even "good" films. The Warner Archive Collection has been stepping up Blu-ray releases slightly compared with the past few years, and here is one that dramatically fits into the good but not great category, or even just another routine wartime propaganda effort, but the sparkling HD transfer makes it seem much better, and almost like seeing it for the first time after last experiencing it on TV roughly 40 years ago.

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PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES (1944) 109m *** (Blu-ray released Nov. 10, 2015)
Released theatrically 72 years ago next week (March 11, 1944), and on Blu-ray about four months ago, back in the 1970s this World War II propaganda film was a staple of TV stations that had a package of Warner Brothers films and always seemed to show up more often than many of the more famous titles. The prolific Michael Curtiz’s follow-up to CASABLANCA also stars Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, and Sidney Greenstreet, with many of the same bit players in Warners’ stock company. PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES is classic wartime action-adventure in the classic slick and polished Hollywood tradition. It works in much of the same basic thematic material as CASABLANCA but is a very different sort of story with an unusual nonlinear (or perhaps more accurately, multi-linear) plot structure. PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES presents four different but connected storylines in flashbacks, but not in the more common series of flashbacks told within a single framing story, as done for instance in CITIZEN KANE, which relies on numerous flashbacks but always returns to the main plot of the reporter trying to discover the meaning of Kane’s last words. Instead, these flashbacks are nested within each other to show story material mostly in reverse chronological order and then working their way back to the first story. We have a war story of bomber pilots set in the present (1944), a sea voyage story (responsible for the film’s title) set in 1940 just before the fall of France, a Devil’s Island prison escape story set shortly before the ship story, and the story of a dissident newspaper reporter at the time of the Munich Agreement with France in 1938.

The film opens with a reporter being taken to a secret airfield in England where the free French air force launches bombing raids on Germany. There an officer (Claude Rains) tells the reporter of a sea voyage he took a few years earlier, in order to explain the background of one of the French flyers (Humphrey Bogart). The ship picks up a canoe of ragged men assumed to be survivors of a vessel sunk by the Germans, but one French officer (Sidney Greenstreet) is convinced they are escaped convicts. When that turns out to be the case, one of the escapees tells the story of how they all wound up condemned to Devil’s Island and managed to get away with the help of an aging ex-prisoner wanting to recruit strong men willing to fight for France against the Germans, and arrange their escape. During the Devil’s Island flashback, a prisoner recounts to other prisoners how the patriotism of Bogart’s character got him unjustly framed for murder and sentenced to Devil’s Island. Each of these four stories might easily be developed into a feature film on its own, but weaving them into this complex series of flashbacks within flashbacks within a flashback makes PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES stand out from the standard propaganda film. It has a small amount of romantic interest, but unlike CASABLANCA concentrates more on action and exotic adventure elements rather than on the inherent love story. The most heavy-handed propaganda scenes, such as Bogart’s character gunning down a helpless German air crew, his persecution before his arrest, and the closing sequence of his letter to the son he has never seen, may seem a bit overdone some seven decades later but at a time when the war was still more than a year away from its conclusion likely had a powerful emotional impact on wartime audiences.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray has superb picture quality, revealing details like pores of skin and textures of fabric with a natural film grain and excellent contrast that showcases James Wong Howe’s striking, beautifully-lit black and white cinematography to its best advantage. The sound is quite good for its era. Bonus features include a trailer in HD, and the entertaining “Warner Night at the Movies” set of shorts ported from the DVD in SD. Another ported-over SD extra is the highly entertaining “Breakdowns of 1944” gag reel of Warner actors blowing lines and bursting out in various expletives not permitted in movies at the time.

PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES on Blu-ray –
Movie: B
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: C+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Mar 03, 2016 11:36 pm

Here's a vintage crime drama released to Blu-ray last summer that I finally got around to watching.

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BIG HOUSE, U.S.A. (1955) 83m *** (Blu-ray released August 4, 2015)
The title and advertising campaign may lead one to believe that this will be a prison picture, but that doesn’t happen until close to half-way through the movie and makes up barely a quarter of the running time. It’s sort of an odd little film, with the central character played by Ralph Meeker seeming to be a protagonist or at least an anti-hero, but never becoming fully sympathetic. After the opening credits, people may think they mistakenly entered the wrong theatre or loaded the wrong disc in their player, as it promises to be a leisurely story about an asthmatic kid at a summer boys’ camp. When he collapses during a footrace, the infirmary nurse wants to give him a shot, but to avoid it he sneaks out and wanders off into the woods, where he becomes lost, initiating a massive search by the park personnel and others. A helpful hiker (Meeker) happens upon the boy and leads him to an abandoned park ranger tower, instructing him to wait until he returns with help. But rather than contacting the authorities, he instead contacts the boy’s father telling him the boy is safe and will be returned if the father pays a huge sum of money.

At this point the film finally begins to pull free from its sluggish beginning and get interesting, with FBI agent Reed Hadley leading the investigation. The ransom is paid and after a variety of unforeseen circumstances, Meeker is finally arrested and sent to prison, but he never reveals where he hid the money. At the prison he’s put in a cell with some of the roughest men in the place, played by Broderick Crawford, William Talman, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Charles Bronson. Naturally they’re planning an escape and naturally hope to share in Meeker’s stash of money, but as always, things don’t go according to their original plans and they must adapt and think quickly. A drawback to the drama is that Hadley’s FBI agent keeps narrating the progress of the plot rather than let the film dramatize it. Still, it’s reasonably well-made overall and very nicely photographed in a 1.75:1 aspect ratio preserved in this HD transfer. The prison sequence and the following escape/manhunt sequence both have a feeling of film noir (mainly due to the low-key lighting and the extra-ruthless characters), but overall the film is basically just another standard crime drama following how law enforcement officials track down criminals.

Image quality is very good throughout Kino’s Blu-ray and sound is good. The only bonus feature is a set of three trailers to other noir movies released by Kino.

BIG HOUSE, U.S.A. on Blu-ray –
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: D
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Mar 13, 2016 6:16 pm

A pair of above-average horror/sci-fi films from the fifties make their debuts on Blu-ray later this month, both dealing with obsessed brain surgeons, each with elements of “Frankenstein.” Atypically for most horror/sci-fi from that decade, neither giant monsters nor invaders from another planet are to be found in either film. One of them is a modern-day psychological thriller with hints of film noir and the other a classic-style 19th-century gothic thriller. At under 90 minutes each, they make a good double-feature. Coincidentally the first film also co-stars Nancy Davis (Reagan), who passed away a week ago at age 94. Her big-screen career lasted barely a decade and she would appear in only two more films after this, including one with husband Ronald Reagan, but she continued acting on television until 1962 and of course achieved far greater fame as First Lady of California and later of the United States.

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DONOVAN’S BRAIN (1953) 84m *** (Blu-ray released March 22, 2016)
A 1942 novel by Curt Siodmak served as the basis for DONOVAN’S BRAIN, just one of several screen adaptations of the plot but the only one with the same name as the novel. Lew Ayres, best known for ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and MGM’s “Dr. Kildare” series fell on hard times for a while with the public and the major studios after he declared himself a Conscientious Objector during World War II, eventually serving in action in the medical corps. In this low-budget independent production he leads the cast as Dr. Patrick Cory, a brilliant scientist experimenting at his rural home with keeping the brains of animals alive in a glass tank, outside of their bodies, with the assistance of his wife (Nancy Davis) and a surgeon at the local hospital (Gene Evans) who happens to be an alcoholic.

When a private plane crashes nearby, emergency workers bring a critically injured survivor to see if they can help him, a millionaire businessman named Donovan, but he dies on the operating table. Cory discovers there are still alpha waves registering from the dead man’s brain and naturally gets the idea to remove it for study and experimentation, ignoring the protests of his wife and assistant. Not only does Cory succeed in keeping Donovan’s brain alive in the tank, but it starts to grow and then to control Cory telepathically so he can continue his disreputable business career based on shady deals and blackmail. Meanwhile, a freelance reporter (Steve Brodie) guesses what Cory has done to Donovan and tries to blackmail him. Needless to say, things get more and more out of hand, just as Cory’s wife and assistant had feared, with Donovan controlling Cory’s brain more and more effectively. Ayres does a great job in what amounts to a dual Jekyll and Hyde role as the idealistic scientist and the ruthless (and murderous) business tycoon. The rest of the cast gives strong support, and production values look better than what the budget might imply, turning what could easily have become a cheesy B-movie into an effective noirish suspense thriller with philosophical overtones.

Veteran Joseph Biroc’s fine black and white cinematography is still in the Academy ratio during this year of transition to widescreen formats. Much of it looks reasonably well-protected for cropping to slight widescreen ratios like 1.66 or 1.75, but quite a few scenes look overly cropped when zoomed to the 1.78 (16 by 9) HDTV ratio. Kino’s HD transfer preserves the full 137:1 image and is extremely sharp with periodic minor artifacts of dust on the negative. Audio is good for 1950s optical sound. Bonus features include an introduction by Joe Dante, an audio commentary packed with information on the production, actors, genre, and more by historian Richard Harland Smith. There is also a trailer to DONOVAN’S BRAIN plus trailers to related genre films in Kino’s Blu-ray catalog, THE BLACK SLEEP (also about a brain surgeon) and THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (another Curt Siodmak film, coming to Blu-ray this June), although all trailers are in standard-definition.

DONOVAN’S BRAIN on Blu-ray –
Movie: B+
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: B-


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THE BLACK SLEEP (1956) 83m ***
(Blu-ray released March 22, 2016)
“A horror-horde of monster mutants walks the earth!” screams the tagline at the top of the movie poster, with “the terror-drug that wakes the dead!” just below the title. This low-budget independent horror film is substantially better than its exploitive advertising art makes it look, thanks to its all-star cast of veteran character actors, effective if modest production values, dramatic revisions of the original script (explained in the audio commentary), and slick direction by Reginald Le Borg. The result comes off as sort of a transitional genre film suggesting the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s to mid-40s and anticipating the gothic horror revival by Hammer and American International in the late 1950s through the 60s. Lead billing goes to Basil Rathbone as the mad doctor and Akim Tamiroff as his gleefully mercenary gypsy cohort (in a role apparently designed for Peter Lorre, who turned it down). Billed after them are horror icons Lon Chaney, John Carradine, and Bela Lugosi, although they have only minor supporting roles. The film’s protagonist is played by lesser-known but solid character actor Herbert Rudley.

Noted surgeon Sir Joel Cadmund visits a prison where Dr. Gordon Ramsey, a former student of his, awaits execution after being falsely convicted of murder. With the help of a rare drug that induces apparent death (the “black sleep”), Sir Joel rescues Ramsey and takes him back to his remote estate. There he tells Ramsey he needs his assistance in his medical experiments. It gradually comes out that his beautiful wife has been in a coma for years due to a brain tumor, and he’s trying to find a cure by operating on live human subjects using the “black sleep” drug, to learn how the brain works. While Cadmund’s victims usually survive his surgery, they always have accidental brain and/or physical damage with unfortunate side effects and generally wind up confined to the dungeon-like basement or become his servants. Ramsey, of course, is appalled and becomes even more incensed the more he learns the depths of Cadmund’s obsession. Meanwhile the police have become suspicious of Cadmund’s gypsy confederate, who has been obtaining subjects and bodies for his experiments. Things soon build to a climax with a revolt of Cadmund’s patients before the inevitable conclusion.

Rathbone is perfect in the type of role that soon would become a staple of Peter Cushing, convincingly serious and ominous as a stern, regal character for whom his goal justifies any means, yet still having the barest shred of sympathy due to his lost love’s condition. Rudley makes a good, if not especially charismatic hero, and Tamiroff always excels at such slyly villainous roles with a touch of dark humor. Chaney’s talents are largely wasted as a former patient now reduced to wild outbursts of violence that for some reason can only be controlled by Cadmund’s nurse (Phyllis Stanley). Patricia Blake (later known as Blair) makes an attractive love interest who also is a critical part of the plot’s complex character relationships. Carradine has even less to do than Chaney other than riling up the patients to turn on Cadmund. Lugosi, quite frail but dignified in his final regular film role, plays the mute butler and appears extremely frustrated that he has no lines. Nevertheless Lugosi is constantly providing earnest reactions in the background to what the other characters are doing and saying, possibly recalling when he played a very similar role to Rathbone’s in VOODOO MAN over a decade earlier or to Carradine’s in ISLAND OF THE LOST SOULS over two decades earlier. Massive Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson provides the film’s menacing muscle as another former patient.

Picture quality is very sharp and film-like on Kino’s Blu-ray, transferred at its proper ratio of 1.85:1. Audio quality is good. Bonus features include an amazingly thorough and detailed audio commentary by historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter (the latter an inserted segment discussing the film’s score), an introduction by Joe Dante, a two-minute HD image gallery of production stills and advertising art for the film, and the same three trailers on the DONOVAN’S BRAIN disc.

THE BLACK SLEEP on Blu-ray –
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: B-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Mar 20, 2016 8:05 pm

A classic film released to Blu-ray this month may have special interest to sports fans of the upper Midwest, as the title and subject is THE VIKINGS and one of the sequences features fighting hawks (which happens to be the newly-assigned more PC name of the former UND "Fighting Sioux" athletic teams). The Norse setting also depicts the ancient heritage and culture of many families in the Wisconsin-Minnesota-North Dakota region.

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THE VIKINGS (1958) 116m *** ½ (Blu-ray released March 8, 2016)
Serious analysts might identify some interesting subtext in the 1958 film THE VIKINGS, dealing with class, gender, religion, and tribal/cultural relationships to compare the thousand-year-old historical period depicted on screen with the post-World War II-era when the film was produced and/or to the present day nearly a half-century later. But at its root this epic action-adventure is just another collection of variations on the standard Hollywood tale of violent medieval times, focusing on interlocking plots of court intrigue and of proud enemies who become romantic rivals for a captured princess, one a slave and the other a chieftain’s son who do not realize they are really brothers. Nevertheless, director Richard Fleischer’s film rises above the typical genre picture thanks to a well-crafted screenplay by noted novelist and screenwriter Calder Willingham, adapted by playwright Dale Wasserman from a novel by Edison Marshall (based to some extent on actual people and events). The film is most memorable, however, for its spectacular widescreen Technicolor cinematography by the great Jack Cardiff, shot on location in Europe, partly in the actual Norwegian locales where the events took place. Another major part of its effectiveness in this pre-CGI era is the production’s painstaking recreation of well-researched, authentic-looking sets and props, including a Viking village and full-size ships, as well as staging some large-scale battle sequences and Viking ritual customs, following archaeological and anthropological information available at the time.

Performances entertainingly often verge on over-the-top, as befitting the larger-than-life characters and full-blown melodrama of many scenes. Other scenes, especially towards the end, give the cast an opportunity for more subtle dramatic nuances. Ernest Borgnine as the lusty, blustery Viking chief Ragnar tends to steal the show whenever he’s on screen, but the plot centers around energetic star (and executive producer) Kirk Douglas as his hot-headed, braggart son Einar. Tony Curtis is effective in the more subdued role of Ragnar’s illegitimate son Eric, whose mother was a former English queen assaulted during a Viking raid two decades earlier. He had later been captured by chance in another raid as a baby and raised as a slave with his true parentage known only to those few who could recognize the talisman around his neck (a convenient literary device popular at least as far back as ancient Greece). Janet Leigh (Curtis’ real-life wife at the time) provides relatively passive love interest as the Welsh princess Morgana, betrothed to the villainous Northumbrian English King Aella (Frank Thring), and the catalyst for most of the clash between Eric and Einar. British character actor James Donald is also fairly restrained as the scheming English nobleman Egbert who’s been playing both sides in the hopes of seizing the usurper Aella’s throne.

THE VIKINGS was shot in “Horizon-Spanning” Technirama, a VistaVision-like widescreen process with 35mm film running horizontally instead of vertically, to provide a larger, sharper negative, while adding a slight anamorphic squeeze so a standard 35mm reduction negative or Technicolor printing matrices could be made in CinemaScope. Kino’s HD master may or may not have been scanned from the camera negative (more likely from a good vertical 35mm interpositive), but certainly retains the added clarity the double-size frame area could provide. The Blu-ray is very sharp with negligible wear, and reproduces the Technicolor hues beautifully, but there are some odd pulsating grayish streaks visible across some of the darker scenes. Strangely this widescreen epic was not made with a stereo soundtrack, although the original mono sound is well-represented on the Blu-ray, with minor age-related artifacts.
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There is no director commentary, but the main bonus feature is an interesting half-hour making-of documentary from 2002, hosted by director Richard Fleischer recalling various aspects of its production and interspersing film clips and behind-the-scenes production photos. There is also a trailer to the film (in SD) as well as an appropriate selection of trailers to four other films with the same stars or director (all conveniently on Blu-ray from Kino) -- THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (1959) with Kirk Douglas (the only trailer in HD), TARAS BULBA (1962) with Tony Curtis, MARTY (1955) with Ernest Borgnine, and MR. MAJESTYK (1974) directed by Richard Fleischer. The disc also includes optional English subtitles.

THE VIKINGS on Blu-ray –
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: C+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Mar 28, 2016 12:46 pm

Last month a couple of overlooked comedies from the mid-60s and early 70s made their Blu-ray debuts. Both were boxoffice disappointments when originally released and continue to elicit mixed responses, but have gained fans over the intervening decades. Both are well-worth revisiting a half-century later in the sharp new Blu-ray editions.

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AFTER THE FOX (1966) 103m *** ½ (Blu-ray released February 23, 2016)
Peter Sellers and Victor Mature star in Vittoria DeSica’s entertaining satire on prison/gangster/heist films, Italian culture, family relationships, and the magical power of movies themselves over the public, filmmakers, and critics. For his first screenplay, Neil Simon adapted his own stage play, but the film feels far more Italian than typical Simon, likely because DeSica’s noted longtime scenarist Cesare Zavattini co-wrote the script and worked in a number of DeSica’s recurring themes. The trendy pop score is by Burt Bacharach with lyrics of the title song by Hal David sung by the popular rock group The Hollies (along with Peter Sellers). The film’s infectious and nearly continuous sense of play makes it so much fun to watch that it’s easy to forgive a few spots that drag, become repetitious, or seem like they’re trying just a bit too hard with their slapstick farce.

Sellers plays Aldo Vanucci, a criminal mastermind and master of disguise who is in prison as the film begins but soon finds a clever way to escape (twice) and return to his hometown where he discovers his movie-mad sister (Britt Ekland) wants to become an actress. Meanwhile a fortune in gold bullion stolen by another criminal named Okra (Akim Tamiroff) is being shipped from Cairo to Italy, and he knows Vanucci is one of the few who could help him smuggle it into the country. Vanucci decides he will pass himself off as a famous film director, Federico Fabrizi (looking a lot like Fellini), shooting a movie about a gold theft called “The Gold of Cairo.” To make his scheme seem legit, he convinces fading but still wildly popular and delusionally vain American star Tony Powell (Victor Mature) to play the lead. His plan is to get the naïve and starstruck residents of a coastal village to bring the gold ashore for him for free, believing they are extras in the key scene of his fictitious film. As part of the process he and his gang manage to steal his film production equipment from director Vittoria DeSica (playing himself), who happens to be shooting a biblical epic in Egypt.

Sellers is hilarious, as usual, reveling in the various characters that his character gets to play, especially the flamboyant faux movie director who is forced to improvise when things don’t go according to plan but has almost no idea how to make a film. He also has no script so must make things up for the actors to do until the ship finally shows up. Simon’s dialogue is full of great one-liners made all the funnier by the actors’ delivery and timing (many by usually dramatic actor Martin Balsam as the cynical agent for Victor Mature’s character). Mature has often been underrated as an actor but here shows he can poke wicked fun at his own screen image yet is able to portray his character as both a gullible laughingstock and a poignant has-been struggling to maintain his career. The largely Italian supporting cast provide wonderful foils for the leading characters, notably comedian Lando Buzzanca as the bumbling small-town police chief dying for a speaking role in the fake movie. And the big courtroom sequence near the end has something in it for all movie lovers.

Kino’s HD transfer of the 2.35:1 Panavision picture looks very good. Sound is also good. Bonus features are all standard definition -- a brief introduction by Larry Karaszewki, and trailers to three 1960s Peter Sellers films available from Kino on Blu-ray: AFTER THE FOX, WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?, and THE PARTY.

AFTER THE FOX on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C-


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THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN (1972) 110m ***
(Blu-ray released February 23, 2016)
The droll comic parables of writer-cartoonist James Thurber were the inspiration for this movie spin-off of the short-lived 1969 TV series “My World and Welcome To It,” made by the same writer-producer-director team of Melville Shavelson and Danny Arnold. Also from the TV series, little Lisa Gerritson stars as the precocious daughter. Jack Lemmon stars as a Thurber-like writer with severe eye problems, noted for his invective, cynical attitude, especially towards women, children, animals, and people at parties. He ironically manages to “meet cute” an attractive, free-thinking divorcee bookseller (Barbara Harris) with an opposite personality, along with three kids, a dog, and an ex-husband who’s a respected photojournalist (Jason Robards). Despite his overt philandering sexism and her strongminded but nevertheless family-oriented feminism, the two develop a strange attraction for each other.

The bulk of the film chronicles their growing relationship, full of dark, bitter humor that gradually devolves into moments of slapstick and sentimentality, especially when Robards returns from one of his assignments. A few serious and touching segments help develop the characters more deeply (notably an animated version of Thurber’s “The Last Flower), but it is the performances of Lemmon, Harris, and Gerritson that are most likely to keep a viewer involved. Part of the film’s problem is that it is too bitter for people looking for some light fun and too sentimental for people preferring the script’s darker aspects. More than a few critics and viewers cannot get past the general unlikeability of the main characters and simply are unable to find the film funny. Those who can will find THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN to be a reasonably diverting offbeat satire of late 1960s-early 1970s New York life, and a sometimes poignant study of troubled characters struggling for meaning in their lives and someone else to share them with. The original PG rating would likely be a PG-13 today with all the sexual content, even though it’s mostly talk, innuendo, and implication rather than anything explicit.

The Kino Blu-ray has an extremely sharp picture with beautiful color but there is quite a bit of dirt on the negative that shows up as white specks. Sound is fine. There are sadly no bonus features beyond a main menu.

THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: F
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Apr 04, 2016 10:53 pm

Among the biggest news for film buffs lately was the long-awaited February Blu-ray release of Howard Hawks’ Bogart and Bacall film noir classic THE BIG SLEEP (1946). But three notable noir variations on a theme have also come out on Blu-ray in recent months, one another major Bogart-Bacall classic released at the same time as THE BIG SLEEP, and two lesser-known titles released last summer that deserve more widespread recognition. None of these three is truly an archetypal film noir (like THE BIG SLEEP, or say OUT OF THE PAST or DOUBLE INDEMNITY), but all share a number of elements identified with noir (postwar alienation, impending doom, black-and-white imagery with some striking low-key lighting, and of course a crime-thriller plot) that give them a noir flavor. Two are set in isolated locations, from the hot, humid, coastline of the southeast to the frigid snowy wilderness of the northeast, while the third is in the heavily-populated yet claustrophobic urban jungle of New York City.

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KEY LARGO (1948) 100m **** (Blu-ray released February 23, 2016)
John Huston’s classic is one of the iconic films in the group-held-hostage-by-criminal(s) genre, along with Archie Mayo’s PETRIFIED FOREST a dozen years earlier (the latter of which has been on Blu-ray since 2013). Humphrey Bogart stars in both films, as the ruthless gangster in the earlier one (the role that kicked his career into gear), but in the second as a disillusioned vet, a former officer who is more or less the hero and romantic interest even though he mostly tries to downplay his war record and not to get involved. In KEY LARGO the gangster is Edward G. Robinson, who ironically had been Warner Brothers’ preferred choice for PETRIFIED FOREST until Leslie Howard insisted that Bogart reprise his Broadway role in that film. Robertson’s Johnny Rocco here comes across as an older, nastier follow-up to his iconic Rico in LITTLE CAESAR.

This time Huston and co-screenwriter Richard Brooks revised the 1939 stage play by University of North Dakota alumnus Maxwell Anderson to bring in the World War II aspect, which both updates the story and gives Bogart’s character the motivation to stop at the remote, rundown Florida hotel operated by the widow (Lauren Bacall) and invalid father (Lionel Barrymore) of one of his army comrades. There he soon learns that an old-time deported mobster and his gang have taken over the hotel as a hideout until he can conclude a business deal and leave, causing a heavy undercurrent of tension among everybody there. The impending arrival of a hurricane (both literal and metaphorical) increases the tension further, changes everyone’s plans, and eventually forces people into action. A great deal of the plot plays out through the dialogue, but the all-star Warner Brothers cast under Huston’s direction, combined with moody cinematography by the great Karl Freund, help the film overcome its theatrical origins. The Huston-Brooks screenplay earned a Writers Guild of America nomination and Claire Trevor won an Academy Award for her touching portrayal of Rocco's aging, alcoholic mistress, at her most poignant when forced by the cruel gangster to sing for a drink.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray looks very good, with a wide contrast range and only minor wear, but the blacks often blend together, reducing detail in extra-dark scenes. Sound is good. The only bonus feature is a trailer for the film, which is in HD but quite grainy except for the superimposed titles, likely due to all the opticals used in the trailer.

KEY LARGO on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: D


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STORM FEAR (1955) 88m *** ½
(Blu-ray released August 4, 2015)
Cornel Wilde produced and directed as well as stars in this tight, well-written drama of crime and domestic problems with a strong film noir sensibility. Adapted by award-winning playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote from a novel by Clinton Seeley, it’s an interesting variation on the familiar formula perhaps best-known in the classic KEY LARGO, finally out on Blu-ray this February. A family’s remote snow-covered mountain home is invaded by criminals on the run, and tense interaction develops between them. In this case the family has its own problems with the sickly head of the household Fred Blake (Dan Duryea), a writer, frustrated by constant rejection by publishers and a tenuous relationship with his wife Elizabeth (Jean Wallace), who is being wooed by their hired hand Hank (Dennis Weaver). He also can’t seem to give their little boy David (David Stollery) the love and attention the child would like. When the gang of three bank robbers arrives and takes over the house, we quickly learn their wounded leader Charlie (Cornel Wilde) is Fred’s estranged brother and had had a troubled relationship with Elizabeth some time in the past. Family relationships become even more strained as Charlie gives young David the attention he craves and the boy becomes torn between admiration for his uncle’s free-spirited life and uneasiness about his criminal deeds. Meanwhile Charlie’s partners, the brassy but ingratiating Edna (Lee Grant) and the violent half-crazy Benjie (Steven Hill), are impatient to leave before the police discover their hideout, which is currently blocked by a recent snowstorm. Scenes in the house often call to mind KEY LARGO but with the added depth of the dysfunctional family. The last third of the film covers their attempt to escape over the mountains as snowplows begin opening the roads.

STORM FEAR is unusually heavy in characterization for a genre crime picture, motivating a few unexpected twists that develop in the plot, as well as some unexpectedly touching sequences and an ending that is not really surprising but also not completely predictable. The effective script, strong performances by the entire cast, a fine music score by the versatile Elmer Bernstein, and beautiful black-and-white cinematography by Joseph LaShelle help make the film a minor classic that deserves to be better-known.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is mostly extremely good, very sharp with a good contrast range that helps intensify the noir feeling during the night scenes. A few portions are somewhat softish, however, and the usual minor wear shows up periodically. Audio likewise is very good. The minimal bonus features do not include a trailer to STORM FEAR but there are trailers to three other film noir titles that Kino has released on Blu-ray: HE RAN ALL THE WAY, A BULLET FOR JOEY, and WITNESS TO MURDER. The first two trailers are in HD, and the third is a pretty sharp SD transfer.

STORM FEAR on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: D



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HE RAN ALL THE WAY (1951) 77m *** ½
(Blu-ray released August 4, 2015)
John Garfield’s final screen performance is another well-made and underappreciated film noir about a criminal holding a household in terror as he seeks temporary refuge from his pursuit by the police. He plays Nick Robey, an unemployed, sullen layabout who lives with his bitter, alcoholic mother (Gladys George) in a New York tenement building. Along with a couple of shady friends, he tries to pull off a factory payroll heist so he can start a new life with his share, but things go wrong and he’s the only one able to escape. While hiding out and passing time at a public swimming pool, he meets and flirts with a shy, lonely girl named Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters). She naturally falls for the macho, free-spirited lug who seems to be taking an interest in her, but he’s plotting how he can use her as a cover. After she takes him home to meet her parents (Wallace Ford and Selena Royle), things seem to be going reasonably well, and he even starts to develop some genuine feeling for the girl, until news reports lead her parents to put two and two together just as the police are getting closer to learning his identity. At that point he decides to hold the family hostage until he can make a getaway. But Peg still does not want to let Nick go and would rather share his life on the run than continue her dull, everyday routine.

Garfield is in top form as the troubled young hoodlum who can’t get a break and whose hot temper hides his inner pain and faint glimmers of hope that he would prefer to settle down and lead a normal life if given the opportunity. In many ways he's a parallel of Cornell Wilde's character in STORM FEAR (although this film came first). Shelley Winters is also at her best as the working-class plain jane who just might be his opportunity to change his life as much as he is hers. Of course the world of film noir promises an inexorable fate that is not likely to be what either wanted. The film wastes no time in developing characters enough to grab audience interest and keep the plot moving throughout a tight screen time of 77 minutes. In fact, it might have been nice to see a bit more of the backstory of several characters, including Nick’s mother and Peg’s family. Masterful atmospheric black-and-white cinematography by James Wong Howe and music by Franz Waxman complement the film’s emotions beautifully. Writer Dalton Trumbo was not initially given credit during the period of the Hollywood blacklisting, which also had an impact on director John Berry and co-writer Hugo Butler, as well as the ailing Garfield, who died of a heart attack at age 39 within a year of the film’s release.

Kino’s Blu-ray has an outstanding HD transfer (other than a brief digital glitch near the beginning) that looks very film-like with only minor wear. Sound is also quite good. The only bonus features are the same three trailers on the STORM FEAR Blu-ray, but at least that includes a trailer to HE RAN ALL THE WAY in HD.

HE RAN ALL THE WAY on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: D+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Apr 22, 2016 9:50 pm

While students around the country prepare to survive final exams and end-of-semester projects over the next few weeks, and arts patrons try to survive a month of multiple often simultaneously-scheduled end-of-season events, two underrated films dealing with survival of much more extreme situations have just come out on Blu-ray.

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THE PURPLE PLAIN (1954) 100m *** ½ (Blu-ray released April 5, 2016)
This well-produced and often-moving J. Arthur Rank production stars Gregory Peck as a Canadian expert pilot serving with the British in Burma during the Second World War. None of his fellow flyers want to fly with him because with his reclusive, surly attitude and rash, dangerous decisions, they think he’s gone “round the bend.” His tent-mate keeps telling him he should get married so he’ll have something to live for and look forward to after the war. They don’t realize he has become suicidally reckless because of his wife's death in the London Blitz on their wedding night. Then he suddenly finds new reason for living after meeting a beautiful English-speaking Burmese girl in a refugee village. Shortly after that, however, on a routine mission his plane crashes in the wilderness behind Japanese lines, forcing him to find a way to get back home to his base with his injured crewman and complaining passenger. The last half of the movie is a struggle for survival through jungle and desert.

The interracial romance is refreshingly and somewhat surprisingly treated in a low-key, very matter-of-fact manner, but then this is a British rather than an American film from 1954, where at that time such a subject would have become a major issue and likely the focus of the plot. The production was able to use actual World War II aircraft, thanks to the Royal Air Force, which adds greatly to its authenticity. Scenes of the long trek to survival often call to mind THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, which filmed on some of the same Ceylon/Sri Lanka locations a few years later. THE PURPLE PLAIN is beautifully shot in Technicolor by Geoffrey Unsworth, well-acted, and a powerful story of hope vs. despair as well as a psychological study on the effects of depression, besides being a good adventure film. Apparently a popular hit in Britain earning four major BAFTA nominations (according to the IMDb, but only two nominations according to Wikipedia), it doesn't seem to have made a significant mark in the U.S. but deserves to be much better known.

Kino’s Blu-ray, transferred at the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio, is extremely sharp except the opticals, and has very good color with some minor fluctuations. Color saturation, like most British productions, is more subdued than typical Hollywood Technicolor. Some occasional dust on the Technicolor negatives shows up as colored and white specks. Sound is good. The only bonus features are three trailers to other films either starring Gregory Peck or by director Robert Parrish (ON THE BEACH, THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY, and BILLY TWO HATS), all of which happen to be on Blu-rays from Kino.

THE PURPLE PLAIN on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: D

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PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962) 93m *** ½
(Blu-ray released April 19, 2016)
I reviewed the bare-bones DVD version of this about a year and a half ago in the “Last Movie You Watched” thread, and it is nice to see this film finally get a good HD transfer and the Blu-ray release it deserves, along with a good audio commentary and bonus features beyond a trailer. Originally titled “Survival,” it’s a film that holds up under repeat viewings, with an intelligent and still timely script, shot in nice moody black-and-white CinemaScope. It stars Ray Milland, Jean Hagen (a far cry from Lina Lamont here!), and Frankie Avalon getting the rare chance to do a serious role and holding his own very well. Hagen shows far more dramatic range than she was allowed to have in her comic SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN role, and often seems reminiscent of Shelley Winters. Interestingly the film was also directed by Ray Milland, and despite its low budget is a fairly accomplished little post-apocalyptic cinematic parable, dealing with the threat and the after-effects of atomic warfare.

Milland and his family set off on a weekend camping/fishing trip and a flash in the distance they think at first is lightning turns out to be an atomic mushroom cloud over Los Angeles. The rest of the film they attempt to survive and maintain some resemblance of civilized behavior while rationalizing their lapses into violence against the panic-stricken populace, looters, and opportunists who suddenly appear. The complex characterizations and effective performances raise it well above the level of many post-apocalyptic thrillers that focus on action and special effects with more stereotyped characters. It might easily have been handled as the exploitation film promised by the trailer (it’s an American International production, after all), but is actually a very thoughtful and well-structured meditation on how people might react in the event of the massive nuclear attack everyone was fearing at the time. PANIC IN YEAR ZERO would make a good co-feature with ON THE BEACH or THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, or an appropriate followup to DR. STRANGELOVE.

The black-and-white scope image on Kino’s Blu-ray looks very good projected on a big screen, with excellent contrast, a generally sharp picture, and very minor wear. Audio is also good. Bonus features include a 10-minute video discussion of the film by Joe Dante (in HD) and a fine audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith that gives plenty of background on the sets, actors, story, and social implications, as well as personal observations that tie its themes in with modern-day trends over a half-century later. There is also a trailer (in SD and cropped to standard widescreen), plus two HD trailers to other Ray Milland American-International pictures on Blu-ray from Kino: X--THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES and PREMATURE BURIAL.

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Apr 25, 2016 8:17 am

Christopher Jacobs wrote:THE PURPLE PLAIN (1954) 100m *** ½ (Blu-ray released April 5, 2016)
This well-produced and often-moving J. Arthur Rank production stars Gregory Peck as a Canadian expert pilot serving with the British in Burma during the Second World War.


Screenplay by Eric Ambler. I also recommend the novel by H.E. Bates, which I was tricked into reading by its lurid pulp paperback cover.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Apr 25, 2016 9:00 am

Christopher Jacobs wrote:Image
PANIC IN YEAR ZERO (1962) 93m *** ½ [/b] (Blu-ray released April 19, 2016)
I reviewed the bare-bones DVD version of this about a year and a half ago in the “Last Movie You Watched” thread, and it is nice to see this film finally get a good HD transfer and the Blu-ray release it deserves, along with a good audio commentary and bonus features beyond a trailer. Originally titled “Survival,” it’s a film that holds up under repeat viewings, with an intelligent and still timely script, shot in nice moody black-and-white CinemaScope. It stars Ray Milland, Jean Hagen (a far cry from Lina Lamont here!), and Frankie Avalon getting the rare chance to do a serious role and holding his own very well. Hagen shows far more dramatic range than she was allowed to have in her comic SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN role, and often seems reminiscent of Shelley Winters. Interestingly the film was also directed by Ray Milland, and despite its low budget is a fairly accomplished little post-apocalyptic cinematic parable, dealing with the threat and the after-effects of atomic warfare.

Milland and his family set off on a weekend camping/fishing trip and a flash in the distance they think at first is lightning turns out to be an atomic mushroom cloud over Los Angeles. The rest of the film they attempt to survive and maintain some resemblance of civilized behavior while rationalizing their lapses into violence against the panic-stricken populace, looters, and opportunists who suddenly appear. The complex characterizations and effective performances raise it well above the level of many post-apocalyptic thrillers that focus on action and special effects with more stereotyped characters. It might easily have been handled as the exploitation film promised by the trailer (it’s an American International production, after all), but is actually a very thoughtful and well-structured meditation on how people might react in the event of the massive nuclear attack everyone was fearing at the time. PANIC IN YEAR ZERO would make a good co-feature with ON THE BEACH or THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, or an appropriate followup to DR. STRANGELOVE.

The black-and-white scope image on Kino’s Blu-ray looks very good projected on a big screen, with excellent contrast, a generally sharp picture, and very minor wear. Audio is also good. Bonus features include a 10-minute video discussion of the film by Joe Dante (in HD) and a fine audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith that gives plenty of background on the sets, actors, story, and social implications, as well as personal observations that tie its themes in with modern-day trends over a half-century later. There is also a trailer (in SD and cropped to standard widescreen), plus two HD trailers to other Ray Milland American-International pictures on Blu-ray from Kino: X--THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES and PREMATURE BURIAL.

PANIC IN YEAR ZERO on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B


This was in constant rotation on television when I was a vamplet (as was The Man With the X-Ray Eyes); post-apocalyptic stories were all the rage then...as they are now, come to think of it. I remember thinking it was good but I haven't revisited it. Perhaps I shall.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Apr 28, 2016 8:35 pm

Nice to see a little conversation (or at least tidbits and anecdotes) about the movies! Here are a couple more to discuss...

Fans of three-dimensional movies can rejoice that within the past six months two restorations of vintage 3-D science-fiction/horror films have come out on feature-packed 3-D Blu-ray editions. While neither is particularly a “classic” film, both have excellent 3-D and fine picture quality, as well as a generous selection of extras.

Image
GOG (1954) 83m ** (Blu-ray released March 1, 2016)
It’s wonderful to have the opportunity after 60 years to see the Ivan Tors sci-fi film GOG in its full 3-D glory with its color and aspect ratio restored in full 1080p high definition. The downside is, that although the 3-D looks great, the picture is sharp, and colors are very nice, GOG simply is not a very good film, a mediocre genre picture at best, strictly for diehard fans of the science-fiction, murder-mysteries, and/or of 3-D movies. It should also prove of interest to social historians as a valuable document of 1950s concerns and attitudes. The original working title, SPACE STATION USA, might have had more appeal than the enigmatic “GOG,” but the final film turned out to have no scenes aboard a space station, taking place entirely at a military base that is preparing for a future space station.

The film actually gets off to a pretty good start, with scientists in a secret underground laboratory performing an experiment to freeze a live animal and thaw it out so it revives with no physical damage, a process they expect to use for human space travel. Shortly thereafter, scientists start to get killed off either by accident or malfunction of the supercomputer running the lab, or by intentional sabotage or murder. Then military investigator (Richard Egan) is called in and the plot almost immediately screeches to a halt while the scientists spend the next half-hour or so explaining in unnecessary detail how their operation works as more personnel wind up dead due to equipment malfunctions. We learn that the movie’s rather odd and not very marketable title is actually the name of one of two mobile robots that are designed to perform tasks dangerous for humans. The choice of the robot names Gog and Magog apparently implies (for anyone acquainted with Biblical and Koranic scriptures) that they could well be signs of an impending apocalypse. During the last half-hour, events and pacing start to pick up a bit, building more interest as it all proceeds to a conclusion. The actors, led by Herbert Marshall and Constance Dowling, besides Egan, do the best they can with the material, and many of the plot elements are actually quite interesting, but the pedestrian directing and editing by Herbert L. Strock, and especially the poor script, make it hard to get through. With this film even more than most, it is the presentation quality (sharpness, color, and 3-D) that accounts for a large percentage of its entertainment value.

Picture quality is generally quite good on Kino’s Blu-ray, in fact amazingly good considering the condition of the surviving film material. Opticals and stock shots, of course, are softer and grainier, but it is interesting to note that the jet fighter scramble shots appear to have been done in 3-D especially for this film (and do not match the stock shots of jets in flight). Colors are restored to their 1950s brilliance, the picture was transferred at the proper 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and the vivid 3-D cinematography can finally be appreciated. Audio is also good. The bonus features are what make this disc worth getting for fans of sci-fi and/or 3-D. There is an audio commentary that’s arguably more entertaining than the film itself, with historian Tom Weaver providing tons of background information for most of the film (as well as apologies for the film’s drawbacks), interspersed with separately-recorded intervals of Bob Furmanek discussing the restoration of the 3-D and David Schecter focusing on the music score. Besides the commentary track, there are very interesting separate interviews with the director and the cinematographer (both in SD), and an effective HD demonstration of the restoration needed. There is also a trailer for GOG, along with trailers for two other 3-D movies released on Blu-ray by Kino: THE MASK (1961) and THE BUBBLE (1966), as well as the latter film’s re-release trailer under the title FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH.
GOG on Blu-ray --
Movie: C+ (but without the 3-D it barely rates a C-)
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras B-

Image
THE MASK (1961) 83m ** ½
(Blu-ray released Nov. 24, 2015)
This Canadian-made horror film is actually an above-average psychological thriller about the power of the mind, masquerading as a horror-exploitation film thanks to a few 3-D horror fantasy sequences. Re-released in the late 60s and 70s as EYES OF HELL in a slightly abridged version, this Blu-ray edition restores the rather hokey opening prologue (a mask collector/promoter explaining the mystery of the mask and instructing viewers to put on their 3-D glasses when the character puts on the mask in the movie), and expands a few other scenes.

After the prologue, THE MASK gets off to a rousing start in a forest at night with the movie’s first murder. We soon see a young archaeologist telling his psychiatrist that he has been disturbed by unusual nightmares and the urge to kill after he began to study a rare ancient ritual mask, blaming the mask for his problems. The psychiatrist is convinced it’s all in the young man’s mind until he turns up as a suicide a short time later, and has mailed him the mask so he can see for himself. Skeptical, the psychiatrist tries on the mask himself and finds himself pulled into a bizarre, hallucinatory, and surreal world (which the audience suddenly experiences in 3-D and stereo sound). Like the young scientist, he becomes more and more addicted to the mask and its powers that draw out the suppressed evil side of his personality, but rationalizes continuing these experiences as research that might help understand the human mind. Of course he resists the pleas of his fiancée that this is dangerous and he must stop. He eventually seeks out his own scientific mentor for help in a controlled situation, but the power of the mask proves irresistible. The basic plot is an interesting variation on the classic “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” story.

The film has some decent acting and effective noir-style black-and-white cinematography that help hold interest. The plot sort of grinds to a halt whenever one of the three five-minute 3-D sequences starts. These were originally to have been designed by veteran experimental filmmaker and montage expert Slavko Vorkapich, but his ideas proved too complex and expensive for the film’s budget. Because of this, director Julian Roffman along with cinematographer Herbert S. Alpert, visual effects artist James B. Gordon, and others wound up doing the dream fantasies as best they could on the production schedule and budget they had, shooting the regular dramatic scenes as quickly as possible so all remaining time and money could be spent on the 3-D scenes. The result is interesting, if problematic and a bit monotonous after a while. The 3-D is very well done, as is the peculiar electronic stereo music that accompanies these scenes, but the sequences themselves show their low budget all too often. They are still somewhat surprising and groundbreaking for 1961, a few years before the psychedelic hippie era, and some viewers even today find them disturbingly hypnotic and more memorable than the rest of the film. Each of the three gets progressively darker and spookier in tone, with imagery sometimes suggesting Doré illustrations of Dante’s “Inferno.” Overall, however, they’re a bit of a disappointment, run just a bit too long, and seem to bear only minimal connection to the inner thoughts of the characters wearing the mask. They allude perhaps to some ancient rituals connected with the mask and/or some sort of unknown but shared consciousness with the wearer. Faults aside, the 3-D segments add a novelty appeal to THE MASK and gave a sense of audience participation when viewers had to put on their own 3-D “masks” at the proper time. Now, watching on a 3-D HDTV set, viewers merely wear their glasses through the entire movie and the picture pops in and out of 3-D for the dream scenes (as well as in and out of stereo sound).

As with GOG, THE MASK has a surprisingly large selection of bonus features for a Kino Blu-ray, including a fairly interesting audio commentary by Canadian filmmaker and 3-D fan Jason Pichonsky. There’s also a nice 20-minute documentary on the director and his career. Some of the information from the documentary is repeated in the audio commentary. All three 3-D sequences can be watched separately in the film’s original red/cyan anaglyph 3-D format, but you’ll need to have your own colored 3-D glasses to view them in 3-D. The entire film can be watched in a 2-D version (in case you don’t have a 3-D player or TV set) but in that case the 3-D sequences are also presented in 2-D and not in two-color anaglyphic 3-D. The 2-D version seems very slightly sharper, perhaps because you’re getting a brighter picture without the glasses and see one solid 2-D image rather than duplicate right/left images throughout the 2-D portions. It would have been preferable to have a seamless branching option to watch it in 2-D with the anaglyphic 3-D sequences as originally shown, but it’s nice at least to have them available. There is a trailer to the original release, another for the later EYES OF HELL re-issue, and two TV spots for the reissue (all in HD). Besides all that, there is an amusingly quaint new British seven-minute 3-D musical short, ONE NIGHT IN HELL (2014), reminiscent in style of Georges Méliès films and early stereopticon cards (also viewable in 2-D), as well as a salute to Slavko Vorkapich that includes an 11-minute series of some of his Hollywood montage sequences, plus two of his short films: the 14-minute expressionistic silent THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA (1928) and a 2-minute animated ABSTRACT EXPERIMENT IN KODACHROME (1940s), all in HD.

THE MASK on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B (perhaps a B- without the 3-D sequences)
Video: A (an A+ on the 2-D version)
Audio: A
Extras: A-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Apr 29, 2016 5:29 pm

Thank Goodness! NOW I understand where Firesign Theatre got the reference for the Magog Atlantis Carpet Reclaimers ad ("Yes, my brother Gog was wrong about the comet.") on Everything You Know is Wrong! (1974). 'Serving Heater-Hellmouth and the low desert area'. Been wondering about it for over 40 years.

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