Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

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Mike Gebert

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Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Feb 09, 2009 10:03 am

Not long ago someone made a disparaging remark about the types of films being shown on MGM HD, a premium channel which would be more fairly called UA HD, since it has a wide range of independent product and none of the MGM library (and as a result tended to feature a lot of forgettable 70s-80s product).

As if they heard the remark and were stung by it, MGM HD has suddenly become the best place to look for HD transfers of older movies. Much of this seems to come from new access to the Goldwyn library, but there's really quite a range of interesting things turning up on the channel, and to a lesser degree (mostly post-1960 in these cases) on Universal HD and HDNet Movies. (As noted earlier, this even includes the first silent known to be shown in HD, The Winning of Barbara Worth.)

I thought it might be good to just start calling attention to these showings, referencing both the films and the quality of the transfers. Unfortunately, by the time they're referenced here current showings may be over, but one can at least hope that since the transfers exist, they'll turn up again... someday... or on Blu-Ray. I'll start with three British titles:

I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING-- Marvelous, much-imitated (eg Local Hero) romance about a young woman who thinks she wants to marry a tycoon, arrives on the Scottish island he's renting part of, and, well, explicitly the message is, can't buy me love, but that hardly does justice to the way this film dramatizes the process of rediscovering one's soul, one's deep connection to one's country and one's people and the land and the wild pagan side of our natures and our own mortality (it actually helps that neither of the romantic leads are spring chickens)... Material on this seems to be good, not spectacular (as one would hope for given Powell & Pressburger's visual rep) and so HD was not revelatory, but it's plainly more detailed than any version I've seen before-- I had never noticed, for instance, that an early shot of a factory gate was in no small part a matte painting, as becomes clear when part of the opening gate vanishes under the matte! (HDNet)

GENEVIEVE-- Automotive comedy about two rival car-club members who own 1900-era jalopies and enter a race, which soon takes on other dimensions of rivalry (including over the woman one of them won and married). On the plus side, this is a gorgeous Technicolor movie, seemingly shot in the colors of Fiestaware and offering a delightful open-air portrait of Britain in that time, tree-lined roads and country diners and gray Victorian buildings looking like bankers at the beach and so on. On the minus side, it's rather mean-spirited, moreso than the rash of cartoonish 60s vintage-race comedies it plainly inspired (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, etc.), and so even as it's joyous to watch the HD Technicolor transfer, it's somewhat less than joyful-- until Arthur Wontner, best known for playing Sherlock Holmes in the 1930s, turns up in a one-scene bit at the end, and suddenly bats the movie out of the park and gives it the heart and soul it had lacked till now. (MGM HD)

SABOTAGE-- I hadn't seen this Hitchcock film-- the one with Oscar Homolka as an anarchist who sends his stepson onto a bus with a bomb-- in probably 30 years; my memories were certainly of 16mm murk typical for that time and for a film that had crossed oceans and was apparently at the time in the public domain. Camera negative or something very close to it must survive, however, because this transfer was absolutely stunning in its level of detail, you felt like you could walk around pre-Blitz London in it, reading the shop signs and newspapers (I was delighted to be able to see, at one point, that the color supplement article Homolka is reading at one point has an article about Lugosi in White Zombie!) While others of his British films may be better as slick entertainment, this one is peerless at showing what a fine observer of the British scene Hitch could be, the various anarchists all a seedy and unhealthy bunch living shabby, nervous lives, and Homolka is a kindly man in his own mind who fails to see how he's also a monster. Not a perfect film, the wrap-up is somewhat unworthy of the character drama leading up to it, but a rich and intelligent one that points to his best dramatic portraits of self-deluded, three-dimensional evil such as Notorious and Strangers on a Train. (MGM HD)
“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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PostSat Feb 14, 2009 9:37 am

A couple of westerns:

THE HORSE SOLDIERS-- One of the best HD transfers and movie combos I've seen is the Warners one of The Searchers. Of course, they started with a movie in drop dead gorgeous VistaVision and 50s Technicolor. From five years later comes this rather more minor John Ford Civil War drama, shot nearly entirely outdoors but in some form of conventional 35mm, and in the wooded South rather than the grandiose west. Not surprisingly it's not nearly so awe-inspiring an experience in HD, though almost any "western" (or horsey drama of that era, in this case) seems to improve from the tactile details of uniforms and wooden buildings and so on in HD.

Anyway, it's basically the tale of a raid led by John Wayne into the Deep South to disrupt and confuse the enemy (not unlike Quentin Tarantino's next movie), with William Holden as the doctor he quarrels with over medical ethics versus military necessity and Constance Towers-- who always seems vaguely wrong with hair-- as a Southern belle they have to drag with them once they discover she's been eavesdropping on their plans. Holden's role is really thankless and the military-vs.-medical debate is never really engaged in any serious way; Towers gets to play a dumb belle early on (an act she's putting on) and there's a nice screwball flair to her earlier scenes which, however, fades as the movie goes on. Of interest mainly for its fairly unusual picture of the South as they started to lose the war, and in general for the realism of depicting a raid like this in enemy territory, which pulls many punches but does, occasionally, give some real idea of what the war was like. (MGM HD)

DAY OF THE OUTLAW-- Dave Kehr and others have written recently on this obscure 1959 Robert Ryan starrer directed by Andre deToth. It has some story problems which to my mind keep it out of the front rank of westerns, but the black and white visuals are extremely strong and really benefit from being in HD. At first, the title seems to refer to Robert Ryan, cattle rancher who's a-comin' to a remote, snowbound Wyoming town to kill a farmer who's just laid in a supply of barbed wire (and who's married to a woman Ryan has the hots for). Just as this plot seems to be ready to boil over, renegade colonel Burl Ives and a gang of degenerates rides into town like Brando in The Wild One and take everybody hostage-- and the problem is, Ives took a bullet and is slowly dying, and nobody likes the idea of what will happen if his men lose his restraining influence.

There are several ways this could go, notably involving Ryan and his rival getting over their differences, but since the rival is played by a nobody, it doesn't really develop that way and where it goes is visually striking but not as dramatically compelling (not least because it requires underlying decency in way too many putative bad guys to work). Still, I'd watch Ryan play pretty much anything, and deToth's vast, spare visuals anticipate the emptily hostile and forbidding landscapes of art westerns like Once Upon a Time in the West and Days of Heaven. (MGM HD)
“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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PostThu Mar 12, 2009 9:25 am

A ringer from beyond the normal time period:

QUEEN OF BLOOD-- This is one of those Roger Corman movies where they took special effects footage from a Soviet sci-fi film (oh, where is the promised Soviet sci-fi documentary from the makers of East Side Story?) and built an American sci-fi movie around it; it's also one of the movies that seems to have influenced the Alien series, as it concludes (really, I'm not spoiling anything you'll care about) with glowing eggs implanted all over the ship. The integration of the Soviet footage with the infinitely cheaper Corman footage is quite ingenious in spots, but the overall effect is something like an Ed Wood movie with footage from The Tales of Hoffman inserted into it, as we see a Soviet shot of someone addressing a vast glass-painting futuristic arena and then cut to Basil Rathbone giving a speech in front of a blank wall. The dubious level of conviction this inspires is only exacerbated by the HD transfer, since any cutting between the perfectly clear, luridly colorful Corman footage and the somewhat fuzzily duped Soviet footage is as obvious as switching from 35mm to 8mm. (At a drive-in in 1965, I'm sure it worked better.) Anyway, hard to imagine anyone sitting through this seriously now, even though the Soviet effects really are beautiful and vampire space-babe Florence Marly gives it her alien-MILFy best, proving quite seductive in an Eastern bloc kind of way. But it was interesting to see an example of this forgotten minigenre from the exploitation annals of the 60s... and it does prove that the damnedest things are getting amazingly good HD transfers these days. (MGM HD)
“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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PostThu Mar 12, 2009 9:51 am

Mike Gebert wrote:A ringer from beyond the normal time period:

QUEEN OF BLOOD-- This is one of those Roger Corman movies where they took special effects footage from a Soviet sci-fi film (oh, where is the promised Soviet sci-fi documentary from the makers of East Side Story?) and built an American sci-fi movie around it; it's also one of the movies that seems to have influenced the Alien series, as it concludes (really, I'm not spoiling anything you'll care about) with glowing eggs implanted all over the ship. The integration of the Soviet footage with the infinitely cheaper Corman footage is quite ingenious in spots, but the overall effect is something like an Ed Wood movie with footage from The Tales of Hoffman inserted into it ...


Oh, this was one of my favorite movies when i was a kid--and so non-observant that i didn't even notice the clash of styles! Of couse i was watching it on a small black and white TV (didn't even know it was in color). I've got to see it again one of these days. Loved her hairdo!

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PostThu Mar 12, 2009 9:59 am

http://www.filmsinreview.com/2005/12/01 ... mber-2005/

You can see the hairdo in an illustration on this page, though certainly NOTHING else about the image is at all accurate... she wears a form-abstracting body stocking in most of the movie.
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PostSat Apr 11, 2009 7:00 pm

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP-- I finally made it past "You laugh at ma mustache but you dunna why I grew it!" (I'd tried three or four times to watch this and always faded out at the sauna scene.) Even with my Anglocinephilia (I'll watch practically anything made in England between 1940 and 1960), this is a movie I find it easier to admire than to have full feeling for. The debate-- gentlemanly Blimps versus the total war notion of fighting the Nazis as brutally as they attacked England-- ought to have real punch, as we confront the very same question re terrorists and now pirates, but somehow it doesn't engage in a way that seems relevant now; and for all that Powell & Pressburger were the mad romantics of British cinema of that time, the three romances with the three Deborah Kerrs, which ought to reach Vertigoesque fever pitch, never seem all that heated up (and indeed the assorted Kerrs are disposed of offscreen in two of their three incarnations). So it won't be replacing I Know Where I'm Going as my favorite P&P, now or any time soon, but I did find Anton Walbrook particularly affecting, and the scene where he tries to persuade British officials to allow him to remain in England ("Turned anti-Nazi in 1934, that's rawther late, isn't it?" "I mean no disrespect when I say... it took you English five years") is masterfully underplayed and makes the whole movie, as far as I'm concerned.

As far as the HD goes, this is of course one of those gorgeous Technicolor P&Ps shot at the time when only they seemed capable of using Technicolor for more than sheer eye candy, and the detail and lavishness of the print in HD was certainly an inducement to sticking it out. (MGMHD)

GUNFIGHT AT THE OK CORRAL-- John Sturges made one of my favorite watch-for-the-millionth-time-on-a-rainy-day 50s movies, Bad Day at Black Rock, and I had hopes that this retelling of the My Darling Clementine story would be, like The Big Country,one of those westerns whose minor flaws melted away in the visual magnificence of VistaVision. Alas, instead it's one of those 1950s movies that's only a little longer than its predecessor, but feels Ben-Hur longer. It sets out to be a more realistic western than Ford's mythmaking, but it really isn't, it's just as Hollywood but more drab, both in character development (which is pretty static) and visual style (way too much of this alleged epic western takes place in grayish indoor sets). Even the final gunfight is overcomplicated for no good reason. Give me Clementine—or Tombstone. (HDNet Movies)
“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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PostSat Apr 11, 2009 9:06 pm

I don't have an HD cable or satellite service, but I have been buying almost any Blu Ray release of movies more than 40 years old (hard to believe that means those made before 1970 now!) and selected favorites from the 70s and 80s, just to encourage more catalog releases.

The Sean Connery James Bond films all look incredible on a big screen, as if stepping into a time machine to see them brand new, and as Mike has alluded, just watching the detail in the image makes them much more impressive than a regular TV or DVD viewing. And seeing HOW THE WEST WAS WON projected eight feet wide in "Smileboxed" simulated Cinerama with its original full stereo surround sound will make you throw away the old DVD (or save it only for quick reference on a small computer screen).

Disney's PINOCCHIO, as expected, looks superb, at least as good as the last 35mm print I saw. THE SEARCHERS and RIO BRAVO both look superb, as well (and along with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY were among the first Blu Ray titles I ordered). The Blu Ray of 2001 looks much better than any of the beat-up 35mm revival prints I've seen and simply blows away the 16mm print I saw in college, but it doesn't quite approach the 70mm print that I saw on its original release.

A real revelation was the 1951 version of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which I had not seen in decades and then only on a reasonably good if well-used 16mm rental print. The film itself holds up much better than I remembered it (perhaps with an extra 20-30 years of living in the modern world to give it more resonance) but once again the clarity of the brand-new-looking sparkling black and white image is guaranteed to stun any young folk who can accept the fact that it's in black and white. The remixing of the soundtrack for stereo also isn't bad, and the original mono is included for purists. All of the bonus materials are well-worth checking out, but apparently are not included on the Blu Ray copy that comes as a bonus with the 2007 remake (and whose inclusion at only a few dollars difference in price may be the only reason to buy that version).

I've looked at some of the bonus items so far on AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, GIGI, and THE ROBE, all of which look promising (I've never actually gotten around to watching AMERICAN IN PARIS or GIGI all the way through before, even on TCM). I will be watching THE ROBE on Monday night in its entirety with the 4-track original stereo soundtrack option selected. I'll describe those in more detail once I've had the chance to watch them.

I've also watched the theatrical release version of SOUTH PACIFIC once through with its commentary track but not with the regular audio track yet. The transfer from the 65mm negatives again is absolutely stunning, sharper than some Blu Ray titles of recent releases (mainly those shot on Super 35 for blowup to scope). Unfortunately (should I throw in a frowning emoticon here?) the fascinating reconstruction of the uncut roadshow version is presented only in standard definition (possibly due to the lower quality of the surviving materials on the 14 extra minutes), but Richard Barrios' commentary on it is both enthusiastic and illuminating.

I haven't yet got the chance to look through THE THIRD MAN, ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, CASABLANCA, and THE 400 BLOWS yet, but I'll report back as I can get to them. It is really encouraging how many of the key classics are getting to Blu Ray just this year, and should do much to change the reputation of "old" films among younger viewers as a product of hopelessly primitive technology. It is really hilarious to read many Blu Ray reviews of films from the 1980s and 90s with their naive comments of how suprised they were that the both the picture and sound quality is so good for such an old movie!

With any luck, if more cinephiles go HD along with the current crop of young techno-junkies who ooh and ahh over the latest CGI blockbusters, we can look forward to more specialized Blu Ray releases, since more and more HD transfers seem to be showing up even for standard DVD releases. (Hey, now wouldn't it be just great for THE BIG PARADE to be the first Warner's Blu Ray silent and WINGS to be Paramount's first, each complete with four or five different soundtracks and multiple audio commentaries, making-of documentaries, program reproduction and advertising art, mail-in promo with a full-size one-sheet repro, and a bonus HD copy of the sound reissue????)

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PostSat Apr 11, 2009 9:24 pm

Thanks for the report, Chris.

By the way, I noticed that The Ghoul is playing on MGM HD in the next couple of days. This was the British horror film with Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Cedric Hardwicke and Ralph Richardson which was lost for a long time, found in a battered Czech print in the early 70s... and then, out of the blue, a few years ago they found the negative had been sitting on the shelf all along. So it's an absolutely stunning transfer of a movie... that's enjoyable only for how misbegotten the results are given so many great people in the cast.

* * *

Oh, and one more:

STELLA DALLAS-- I tried watching this, I certainly give Vidor in the 30s benefit of the doubt and I'll watch almost anything with Barbara Stanwyck, but I just couldn't stick with a story that had her endlessly kowtowing to that stuffed moose John Boles (who really looked like Ben Affleck here), sacrificing herself over and over for her daughter's social position. Obviously there was an audience that made this a huge hit (twice, silent and sound), but I bailed on it after a half hour, if I need to see her in something soapy, Douglas Sirk's All I Desire will do. Anyway, the print was a little grainy but very clear. (MGM HD)
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PostSun Apr 12, 2009 7:50 am

Mike Gebert wrote:Thanks for the report, Chris.

By the way, I noticed that The Ghoul is playing on MGM HD in the next couple of days. This was the British horror film with Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Cedric Hardwicke and Ralph Richardson which was lost for a long time, found in a battered Czech print in the early 70s... and then, out of the blue, a few years ago they found the negative had been sitting on the shelf all along. So it's an absolutely stunning transfer of a movie... that's enjoyable only for how misbegotten the results are given so many great people in the cast.


Oh, I wish that movie could be better. It certainly looks great and starts off well, then for most of the film it's talk, talk, talk until the interest picks up at the very end. Tod Slaughter's films aren't nearly as well made but they're much more fun to watch.
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PostMon Apr 13, 2009 1:54 pm

When I first saw THE GHOUL in the late 70s, a murky, contrasty dupe off the Czech print with the subtitles blocked out to give a "letterboxed" effect, I was terribly disappointed, not only in its picture quality but in its slow pace and general entertainment value for the genre. Then I got the MGM DVD made off the camera negative (and on an upscaling player the DVD approaches BluRay quality). It was like seeing it for the first time. The wide grayscale and beautiful detail gave the film the mood it needs to make the slow pacing seem deliberately mysterious rather than just tiresome. Of course it helps that Egyptian-themed stories are a personal favorite, but the film is now one that I watch over again regularly and enjoy each time. It may not be up to Karloff's THE MUMMY, but I would buy a Blu Ray made from an HD transfer of THE GHOUL immediately.

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PostMon Apr 13, 2009 1:59 pm

I think THE GHOUL is just fine. Forget that it's supposed to be a Karloff vehicle, and enjoy it for Thesiger (who steals the show with a great performance) and the wonderfully moody atmosphere. Some really beautiful lighting in this film.
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PostMon Apr 13, 2009 2:30 pm

The "new" GHOUL DVD really is marvelous - like seeing the film for the first time. I've heard that it's out of print, so those who don't have it would do well to grab it soon.
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PostMon Apr 13, 2009 3:43 pm

A trailer for THE GHOUL has been airing on the Paranormal Channel here in the UK for the past few weeks, though, I can't seem to find a transmission date.

Any UK members know anything of this?

-Mike
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PostMon Apr 13, 2009 4:35 pm

Michael O'Regan wrote:A trailer for THE GHOUL has been airing on the Paranormal Channel here in the UK for the past few weeks, though, I can't seem to find a transmission date.

Any UK members know anything of this?

-Mike


The Paranormal Channel??? (Blink.)

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PostMon Apr 13, 2009 4:47 pm

Danny Burk wrote:The "new" GHOUL DVD really is marvelous - like seeing the film for the first time. I've heard that it's out of print, so those who don't have it would do well to grab it soon.


$5.50 at DeepDiscount.

http://www.deepdiscount.com/viewproduct ... id=df00021














;
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PostSun Apr 19, 2009 2:26 am

Frederica wrote:
Michael O'Regan wrote:A trailer for THE GHOUL has been airing on the Paranormal Channel here in the UK for the past few weeks, though, I can't seem to find a transmission date.

Any UK members know anything of this?

-Mike


The Paranormal Channel??? (Blink.)

Fred
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Yep:

http://www.paranormalchanneltv.com/

A pretty crappy channel except for the 10pm movie slot each night.

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PostSun Apr 19, 2009 7:40 am

Michael O'Regan wrote:
Yep:

http://www.paranormalchanneltv.com/

A pretty crappy channel except for the 10pm movie slot each night.

-Mike


There's a global paranormal boom??? Damn, the things I miss by not having television.

Fred
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PostSun Apr 19, 2009 7:44 am

I knew it by telepathy.

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PostSun Apr 19, 2009 12:42 pm

Yes, folks....the truth, apparently, is out there with the gullible!!!!
:wink:
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PostTue Apr 28, 2009 7:07 pm

This time's theme is major directors of the 50s doing second-tier work:

THE FAR COUNTRY-- The weakest of the James Stewart-Anthony Mann westerns, with a meandering storyline that lacks the elemental simplicity of the usual Stewart revenge-mania plot. In some ways it's like a reverse western version of It's a Wonderful Life-- John McIntire, as a Judge Roy Bean type, is set to take over a gold country boom town and turn it into Pottersville, but Stewart at first has no interest in being all that stands between the little people and that darker vision. (Once you've made the connection, the prominent part played by a little bell in the climax is unintentionally hilarious-- hey, an angel got his wings!) And any western with Corinne Calvet as a cutesy-accented Quebecoise and Kathleen Freeman as a dance hall gal has got, well, issues. Anyway, at least the location photography (shot at Jasper National Park in Alberta) is handsome as can be in HD, though it makes shots involving dissolves stick out like a sore thumb. (HDNet)

TO CATCH A THIEF-- No one's favorite Hitchcock, even though it seemingly has irresistible elements-- Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, the Riviera and VistaVision. The fact is, there's just not that much of a thriller here-- it's kind of Suspicion with burglary rather than murder at stake-- so you have to enjoy it for its superficial pleasures, and in this incredibly colorful and sharp new transfer, the 50s Riviera looks even more Gallicly enchanté than in real life. (HDNet)
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PostTue May 05, 2009 12:02 pm

Here are some observations on the new BluRay release of THE ROBE.

THE ROBE has been nicely restored in its full CinemaScope and stereophonic glory, but on the whole is likely to be less impressive to modern viewers unfamiliar with film history. It's still a pretty good, if not particularly great biblical epic, but as we all know, story and character don't matter in the least to techno-geeks. As the very first CinemaScope film released, it was shot with the original lenses Fox bought from their inventor, which were made in 1927, and the camera crews were just getting used to the technology. Some shots are a bit soft (especially on the sides), while others are very sharp across the full width, and of course would have looked that way when it first came out unless there was film warpage that couldn't be compensated for. The matte shots are much more obvious on BluRay than the old DVD, and likewise would have looked exactly that way in theatres in 1953. The stereo sound is very nice throughout much of the film, but has some exaggerated separation and weaker dialogue tracks from time to time. Whether this is the original way it sounded or just a result of the surviving audio elements is not clear.

The BluRay's audio commentary spends more time on the music than on other aspects of the film, and the disc allows isolated playback of the music track. One interesting tidbit is that the opening shot in the gladiator arena (which is a bit fuzzier than the following scenes) was actually lifted from DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, which had already begun production before THE ROBE was finished with postproduction. There is a fascinating if frustrating picture-in-picture commentary on the technical aspects with several long comparisons of the standard 1.37:1 version playing simultaneously on top of the 2.55:1 scope picture. A few scenes are obviously alternate angles shot with different cameras, whereas others are just as obviously different takes with different blocking of the actors and camera and even substantially different editing. It would have been really nice to have a separate disc with the complete "flat" version, and the simultaneous comparison would have been a bit easier to watch if they were above and below each other instead of superimposing the small image over the larger one.

The supplementary materials are excellent, including a nice documentary about the CinemaScope process itself. THE ROBE in BluRay is a must-buy for any diehard film buff for its historical significance alone, and fans of biblical epics will also be pleased. Casual film fans should definitely rent it, but are not likely to do a lot of re-watching. I'd probably give the disc a B for entertainment value, maybe a B+ for picture quality and audio quality, and an A for supplementary materials.

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PostSun May 17, 2009 12:14 pm

Warner Home Video has a couple of Vincente Minelli musicals on BluRay now. I'd actually never gotten around to seeing either of these all the way through before, only clips and excerpts, until getting these BluRays. While not my favorite musicals by any means, both are solid MGM entertainment, well-worth owning for fans of the genre and the titles. Quite likely they were chosen for BluRay because both won the Oscar for Best Picture. (Now, if only they'll come out with SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and THE BANDWAGON, and then get into the Warner Bros. and RKO musicals.)

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951)
The "ultra-resolution" hi-def transfer of this film is absolutely incredible for sharpness and color, a perfect example to show young people that "hi def" has been around for many decades before they were born. The sound quality is good, though not great. Minelli's film is a lush, colorful love letter to Paris, art, dance, and Gershwin music. Gene Kelly is engaging as usual, Oscar Levant is entertaining, and the young Leslie Caron may be at her best in her very first movie. I can't believe I waited so long to see this film all the way through! The disc includes some wonderful bonus features and shorts, though unfortunately not all in high definition.
( Movie: A- / Video: A+ / Audio: A- / Extras: A )

GIGI (1958)
For some reason (studio politics?) MGM's GIGI swept the Oscars that year when the independently produced but more impressive SOUTH PACIFIC was barely even nominated. The film's apparently wholesome celebration of moral double standards and society-sanctioned prostitution had always seemed mildly disturbing to me and I'd avoided the complete movie until now, more inclined to watch it after viewing the disc's documentaries on its history. Minelli's film, aided by the music, does a fine job of making the story look more like a Hollywood romantic variation on MY FAIR LADY. Leslie Caron really embues the film with her charm, and the famous Chevalier-Gingold scene remains touching. The video transfer of this CinemaScope film is good, but not the consistent reference quality of the 3-strip AN AMERICAN IN PARIS or the 65mm SOUTH PACIFIC. The inherent softness of early CinemaScope lenses and 1950s color negative film comes through in many shots, although it is definitely sharper than most of THE ROBE. Audio quality varies, with the original magnetic stereo surviving well through much of the film, but sounding a bit muddy in some portions. Again there are many fine bonus materials, including a standard-def transfer of the original 1949 French B&W non-musical version of GIGI.
( Movie: B+ / Video: A- / Audio: B+ / Extras: A- )

Sony has issued very little pre-1990 Columbia product to BluRay, but have seen fit to release a four-film box set of 1950s Ray Harryhausen fantasies produced by Charles Schneer, a must-buy for fans of stop-motion animation or 50s sci-fi fantasy. These titles are not what you'd call timeless classics, but are all wonderful examples of the genre and great to see in such good quality. The first three of the four include colorized versions supervised and enthusiastically endorsed by Harryhausen himself (as well as a black and white version of each film), while the fourth was filmed in color. Despite Harryhausen's insistence that he would have shot them all in color if he'd had the budget and if color film of the day had been able to withstand the duplication needed for special effects without objectionable degredation, all three colorized versions have the appearance of tinted lobby cards in motion rather than Technicolor or even 1950s Eastmancolor. They're a curiosity, but the original black and white not only looks better but fits their genre better. Unfortunately it appears that the black and white transfers include the same electronic enhancements needed to flatten the contrast for the colorization process, and many shots have an annoying video look to them. Nevertheless, they're all still impressively sharp even if they simply can't hold a candle to the stunning black and white hi-def transfers of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL or THE THIRD MAN or CASABLANCA.

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) is arguably the best of the bunch (and many may disagree). It's a tautly plotted thriller of a submarine's encounter with a giant octopus that proceeds to terrorize the oceans and then San Francisco.

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956), another close candidate for best of the set, is a nicely done low-budget and a bit more action-oriented variation on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL with intelligent writing but less overt preachiness. Its Washington DC setting also calls to mind INDEPENDENCE DAY.

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) is an enjoyable Kong-like monster movie about a tiny creature brought back from Venus that quickly grows to gigantic size and terrorizes Rome, climbing the Colosseum before the army inevitably gets him.

THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), the only one of the three filmed in color, is a landmark family adventure fantasy with many of Harryhausen's trademark animated creatures menacing the protagonists, from a Cyclops to a skeleton to a two-headed giant bird to a dragon, and more! The good cast gets into the fairytale spirit with obvious enthusiasm. The hi-def transfer is likely as sharp as the original film, which looks pretty much like a good 16mm original Eastmancolor print--or, I guess, like a low-budget 35mm release print. The many process shots required to combine the miniatures and animation keep a large percentage of scenes looking much softer and grainier than the rest of the film, which is a bit on the grainy side to begin with. Many of us may have had the Super 8 color sound abridgement of this (which cost more than the complete movie on BluRay!), and now we can see that the Super 8 version in that case was a pretty close representation of an original 35mm print, at least during the special effects sequences.

All four films include interesting commentaries with Harryhausen chatting with film historians and fans, as well as documentaries about the films (unfortunately standard-def only). Each film deserves across-the-board B+ ratings for movie entertainment value, video quality, audio quality, and bonus materials. THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD might be raised to an A- for video, simply because it looks as good as it likely can, whereas the three B&W features look pretty good overall but display occasionally objectionable digital manipulation/distortion of the picture. At least they didn't apply the even more annoying digital grain reduction that would have destroyed the "film look" entirely. (Some recent films, for example MONSTER'S BALL, have had the film grain digitally removed for BluRay, resulting in a flat, artificial, pasty-like image that looks like it was shot on video even when it wasn't -- very distracting to watch on a big screen when you know what film should look like.)


--Christopher Jacobs
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Richard P. May

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PostMon May 18, 2009 5:20 pm

I just caught up with Mike's comments on THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, in his April 11th posting. This sent me back to Michael Powell's autobiography, "A Life in the Movies", page 406, where he describes working with Technicolor the first time.
I won't repeat the text here, but recommend this book to anyone interested in P & P's films, and especially their use of color with cinematographers Jack Cardiff and Georges Perinal.
Dick May
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Penfold

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PostMon May 18, 2009 6:01 pm

Richard P. May wrote:I just caught up with Mike's comments on THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, in his April 11th posting. This sent me back to Michael Powell's autobiography, "A Life in the Movies", page 406, where he describes working with Technicolor the first time.
I won't repeat the text here, but recommend this book to anyone interested in P & P's films, and especially their use of color with cinematographers Jack Cardiff and Georges Perinal.


The first solo credit, yes, but he had directed many of the bigger sequences of The Thief of Bagdad at Denham in the late summer of '39.....the harbour sequences, the first sight of the princess, and so on.
The BluRay release of the restored The Red Shoes, and the next project to be a rerestored Blimp, were announced at Cannes this week, btw...
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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Michael O'Regan

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PostMon May 25, 2009 4:17 am

I finally caught THE GHOUL the other night. It was, indeed, an excellent transfer.
Did anyone else find it a little dark in places?
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostTue Sep 22, 2009 8:36 pm

Finally got around to watching the BluRay of QUO VADIS (1951) -- nearly three hours long with its newly restored overture and exit music, though I haven't sat through its audio commentary track in its entirety yet. I'm not positive I had ever before made it all the way through the movie itself in its various TV broadcasts, unless it perhaps was an abridged version. I remember my old Latin textbook used stills from the film to show what ancient Rome looked like.

The film is a lot of fun for any fan of ancient Roman epics and would make a good pairing (if you have the time) with DeMille's SIGN OF THE CROSS. I had a few people over and ran the 1909 Italian mini-epic NERO OR THE FALL OF ROME as the short subject before the feature, a good contrast not only for treatments of the subject and filmmaking styles, but the DVD quality vs. the BluRay quality. My audience found the 1909 film an interesting curiosity, but were unexpectedly impressed by QUO VADIS, which really holds up pretty well dramatically -- better than THE ROBE, I'd say. Peter Ustinov, of course, steals the show as Nero!

The picture quality on the QUO VADIS BluRay is simply beautiful. The audio quality is good, but has the lower frequency range of an optical master rather than magnetic master recordings and has not been reprocessed for artificial stereo like many older films, which may imply that separate music, effects, and dialogue tracks no longer exist. The soundtrack is also presented in Dolby Digital rather than lossless PCM or one of the lossless HD audio formats. There aren't many extras, just the commentary track, a fairly interesting featurette on biblical epics (in standard-def), and theatrical trailers.

The Oscar-nominated film is easily a must-buy on BluRay for any fan of the classics who has a hi-def projector or TV set.

Movie: A / Video: A+ / Audio: B+ / Extras: B

--Christopher Jacobs
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostThu Nov 12, 2009 3:24 pm

My latest Amazon order, which included a number of BluRays of movies from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, just arrived Tuesday. Oddly, however, my Kino order that included THE GENERAL on BluRay (plus the Gaumont DVD set and others) has not yet arrived after three weeks.

I've had time to spot check a few titles for picture/sound quality and will try to do a full report later. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (at least the black and white version -- I haven't yet checked the colorized version that's included) is a wonderful BluRay, looking like a pristine 16mm original printdown or a darn good 35mm print. Audio is fine. The 1951 version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL from VCI is extremely good. The preprint looks a bit grainier than IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in many scenes, but the transfer has deep rich contrasts in its beautiful black and white photography, and is very sharp overall. The audio is okay but not great, and the remixed stereo track is really annoying with lots of echo rather than a true 5.1 mix like a few classics have done. NORTH BY NORTHWEST looks very good indeed, although the opening credit sequence now looks obviously grainier (due no doubt to optical printing effects losing a generation), something not as noticeable in the standard DVD. Haven't yet gotten around to THE LONGEST DAY or PLAYTIME or most of the others yet, but will try to post capsule reviews with video/audio/extras ratings by the end of the month (by which time I should also have GONE WITH THE WIND and THE GENERAL).

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PostThu Nov 12, 2009 3:57 pm

I've put together a list of movies from 1970 and earlier (thus about 40 years old or older!) that are currently available on BluRay (by the end of January 2010). This is all I could find that are in the North American market, along with a few available in Europe, some of which are playable in Region A, some only in Region B. If anyone can add to the list (which expanded quite a bit this year alone), please do! A few more classics are scheduled to be released early in 2010 (The African Queen, The Music Man, Godard's Contempt, Lola Montes, The Ladykillers, Disney's Dumbo) but pickings are still pretty slim. Other than a few token all-time classics and Criterion Collection titles (and several former Criterion titles picked up recently by Lionsgate for BluRay), a majority of films fall into the "James Bond," Western, War, or Sci-fi/fantasy genres, or one of the 50s-60s roadshow spectacles (including a couple of musicals). Of course it's also true that the widescreen costume and setting-heavy epics are especially well-served by BluRay editions compared with their DVD counterparts.

--Christopher Jacobs
http://hpr1.com/film
http://www.und.edu/instruct/cjacobs

================================================
Note: Studios are the original film distributor and not necessarily the current video distributor. Most of the foreign films are on BluRay from Criterion.

Movies from 1970 & earlier on Blu-Ray
(North American releases) (*European releases)


General, The - United Artists 1926
*Sunrise - Fox 1927

*The 39 Steps 1935 (Region B)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Disney 1937
Adventures of Robin Hood, The - Warner Bros 1938
Gone With the Wind - Selznick-MGM 1939
Wizard of Oz, The - MGM 1939

Pinocchio - Disney 1940
Casablanca - Warner Bros 1942
*Brief Encounter 1945 (Region B)
It's a Wonderful Life - Liberty Films 1946
*Black Narcissus 1947
Miracle on 34th Street - 20th Cent Fox 1947
*Hamlet 1948 (Region B)
*Red Shoes, The 1948 (Region B)
Third Man, The - London 1949

American in Paris, An - MGM 1951
Christmas Carol, A - United Artists 1951
Day the Earth Stood Still, The - 20th Cent Fox 1951
Quo Vadis - MGM 1951
Robe, The - 20th Cent Fox 1953
Wages of Fear - International Affiliates 1953
*The Black Shield of Falworth - Universal Int'l 1954
*The Dam Busters - Associated British 1954 (Region B)
It Came From Beneath the Sea - Columbia 1955
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers - Columbia 1956
Searchers, The - Warner Bros 1956
20 Million Miles to Earth - Columbia 1957
Jailhouse Rock - MGM 1957
Seventh Seal, The - Svensk 1957
Gigi - MGM 1958
Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, The - Columbia 1958
South Pacific - 20th Cent Fox 1958
Diary of Anne Frank, The - 20th Cent Fox 1959
Four Hundred Blows, The - Janus 1959
North by Northwest - MGM 1959
Rio Bravo - Warner Bros 1959
Sleeping Beauty - Disney 1959 (includes the spectacular 1958 Oscar-winning CinemaScope short The Grand Canyon in hi-def)

Last Year at Marienbad - Astor 1961
Dr. No - United Artists 1962
How the West Was Won - MGM 1962
Longest Day, The - 20th Cent Fox 1962
8 1/2 - Embassy 1963
From Russia With Love - United Artists 1963
Becket - Paramount 1964
Dr. Strangelove - Columbia 1964
Goldfinger - United Artists 1964
Pink Panther, The - United Artists 1964
Viva Las Vegas - MGM 1964
*Zulu - Embassy 1964
Battle of the Bulge - Warner Bros 1965
Pierrot Le Fou - Pathe 1965
Repulsion - Royal 1965
Thunderball - United Artists 1965
Batman: The Movie - 20th Cent Fox 1966
Professionals, The - Columbia 1966
Sand Pebbles, The - 20th Cent Fox 1966
Star Trek: The Original Series (3 seasons) - Paramount 1965-69
Bonnie and Clyde - Warner Bros 1967
Cool Hand Luke - Warner Bros 1967
Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The - United Artists 1967
Graduate, The - Embassy 1967
In Cold Blood - Columbia 1967 (only available as a double-disc set with Capote
The Dirty Dozen - MGM 1967
Playtime - Spectra 1967-Fr/1973-US
The Green Berets - Warner Bros 1968
2001: a space odyssey - MGM 1968
Bullitt - Warner Bros 1968 (includes a great 99-min. documentary on editing with tons of hi-def clips from old and new films)
Planet of the Apes -20th Cent Fox 1968
Battle of Britain, The - United Artists 1969
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - 20th Cent Fox 1969
Easy Rider - Columbia 1969
Wild Bunch, The - Warner Bros 1969

Beneath the Planet of the Apes - 20th Cent Fox 1970
Gimme Shelter - Maysles Bros 1970
M*A*S*H - 20th Cent Fox 1970
Patton - 20th Cent Fox 1970
Woodstock - Warner Bros 1970
Last edited by Christopher Jacobs on Sun Jan 10, 2010 3:08 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Mike Gebert

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PostThu Nov 12, 2009 5:32 pm

By the way, I noticed Young and Innocent was going to be on one of the HD channels shortly. Considering how amazingly good Sabotage looked, it seems well worth checking out.
“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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PostSat Nov 14, 2009 4:28 pm

YOUNG AND INNOCENT is one of my favorite British Hitchcocks, along with THE LADY VANISHES and THE 39 STEPS. Too bad I don't have an HD movie channel. If they show up in good North American BluRay editions I'd buy them instantly. I've heard that the recent British BluRay of THE 39 STEPS was very disappointing.

Incidentally, I somehow left out Blake Edwards' original THE PINK PANTHER (1964) from my list of currently available BluRay releases of films from 1970 and earlier (now updated to include it). I've been holding off buying that one until it goes on sale for under $20, as almost all other catalog titles on BluRay can usually be found for $10-$20, mostly between $10-$15 (and THE SEARCHERS on BluRay is already selling for under $10!).

A few more BluRay releases of older films are scheduled and/or rumored to be out in the first few months of 2010, including LOLA MONTES from Criterion. And while Warner's announced plans to release the 1959 BEN-HUR to BluRay before the end of 2009, there have so far been no official release dates or details on whether the silent version will be included as a bonus (in hi-def or simply as a standard DVD). Apparently SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is currently undergoing more restoration for BluRay, and CITIZEN KANE is tentatively promised on BluRay for its 70th anniversary in 2011.

--Christopher Jacobs
http://hpr1.com/film
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