Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
  • Author
  • Message
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Apr 30, 2016 12:21 pm

Here are a couple more sci-fi/horror movies from the 50s-60s recently released to Blu-ray...

Image
JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1962) 77m ** ½ (Blu-ray released April 5, 2016)
A Danish-US co-production for American International, this very low-budget sci-fi adventure never comes close to living up to its advertising art, with a poster depicting things that never happen in the movie, obviously designed to sell matinee tickets to kids (or Blu-rays to sci-fi fans a half-century later). Nevertheless it has a certain charm and cleverness to its premise that should appeal to genre fans. It really looks more like a TV episode with its limited use of sets and its reliance on writing to pull the viewer into the characters’ experience, with a mood similar to “The Twilight Zone” and bearing a strong resemblance to certain episodes of the original “Star Trek” or possibly “The Outer Limits” that would appear a few years later.

An international team of five astronauts is sent to explore the planet Uranus in the late 2001 (eerily, a letter the astronauts read is dated September 10, 2001), but this is a far cry from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which would go into production just a few years later. It also does not waste time trying to explain most of its technology, which had been the main fault of GOG nearly a decade earlier. Quite a bit of the beginning is spent in suggestive locker-room talk about girlfriends, wives, and sexual experience, obviously (as the commentary points out) targeting the teenage boys and young males expected to make up the bulk of the audience. When they land on the planet they are amazed to find the atmosphere not only breathable, but the landscape virtually identical to places they remember from back on earth. It seems that some sort of being inhabits the planet who is able to read their thoughts and create physical places, people, and creatures from them. The crew must figure out what is going on and decide how to deal with it so they can escape the planet alive. There is an ominous claustrophobic atmosphere due partly to the few and small locations. Special effects are simple (including superimposition, a bit of stop-motion animation, miniatures, and practical models). A couple of interesting twists keep the plot moving and call into question whether or not their situation is actually resolved at the end, leaving open the potential for a sequel.

Picture quality is very good, with very minor wear, and audio is fine (although obviously post-dubbed). The main bonus feature is a highly informative audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas. There also is a trailer, plus trailers to three other 50s sci-fi films Kino already has or is soon to release on Blu-ray: DONOVAN’S BRAIN (1953), THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953), and INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959).

JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C+


Image
THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957) 83m ** ½
(Blu-ray released August 11, 2015)
The 1950s were the decade of monster movies, and this is a good, solid example. It falls slightly short of similar genre films like THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), THEM! (1954), and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), but is competently made on its modest quarter-million-dollar budget and gets in all the expected plot points. In fact the audio commentary points out how closely it follows the structure of THEM!, which the young screenwriter had watched to see what science fiction/monster movies were like shortly before tackling her first screenplay.

The film gets off to a great start with a military parachute jumper who disappears into the Salton Sea, as does one of the two sailors assigned to pick him up. The second apparently dies of fright when he sees what happened to his buddy. (One of the ill-fated sailors is played by Jody McCrea, son of Joel McCrea.) A navy officer (Tim Holt) assigned to investigate then shows up and they soon discover what appears to be a giant underwater caterpillar but is supposed to be a prehistoric snail set free by an earthquake and now ready to breed. Divers retrieve a giant egg, which is kept cool in a laboratory so it can be studied and will not hatch. It’s about this point that the plot seems to switch into autopilot as resident scientist Hans Conreid (in a rare dramatic role) tries to explain the phenomenon to military bigwigs and Holt romances pretty secretary Audrey Dalton while the creature(s) terrorize swimmers and anyone in their paths. Meanwhile, the secretary’s young daughter decides to turn up the heat in the lab so the bunnies won’t be cold, which naturally starts to incubate the giant egg, which naturally leads to what we expect, and the plot suddenly starts to move a bit faster again. Although the second half of the film is fairly routine and predictable, overall it remains an entertaining little sci-fi thriller with decent performances. To its credit, the plot takes the time to develop some characterizations, even in minor characters, rather than concentrating strictly on the action, the monster, and other special effects. In these pre-CGI days, the monster is a reasonably impressive actual full-size mechanical prop, rather than stop-motion animation or someone inside a suit.

Kino’s HD transfer is very sharp and film-like, and as usual the stock footage, optical transitions, and blow-ups are inherently grainier. A brief section shows some mottling across the picture. Sound is fine. The primary bonus feature is an interesting and fast-paced audio commentary by historian Tom Weaver based on 30 years of interviews with various people who worked on the movie. Besides revealing lots of background information about the production and its personnel, the commentary helps greatly to place the film in context and increase appreciation of it while recognizing its faults. The only other bonus is a trailer in HD that interestingly includes a couple of shots not used in the movie itself: the monster clutching a beautiful girl and a matte shot of the monster looming over a city skyline.

THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C+
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon May 09, 2016 10:54 pm

And here's a nice little film noir available soon from Kino that comes to life far more effectively on Blu-ray than in the fuzzy internet and low-quality DVDs previously available. It's also a movie that has its faults but gets better with repeat screenings.

Image
THE CHASE (1946) 86m *** (Blu-ray released May 24, 2016)
An out-of-work vet with some psychological problems accepts a job as chauffeur for a wealthy gangster, and soon becomes dangerously involved with the gangster’s beautiful wife. The basic premise of “The Chase,” adapted by Philip Yordan from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, is a standard outline for a typical film noir, but the film itself has a number of off-beat and unexpected elements that set it apart. For one, although star Robert Cummings did some straight dramatic roles (including Alfred Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR), he is better-remembered for light comic characters in both film and television. He does a decent job here as a noir protagonist with personal issues who finds himself struggling to survive the situations he finds himself in. The film’s director, Arthur Ripley, spent a large part of his career as a gag man and writer specializing in comedy for such noted figures as Mack Sennett and Frank Capra. He does a fine job with this drastic departure from his forte and fresh variation on the usual Hollywood formula.

There are several moments of dark comedy mixed in with the dark subject matter, some of the most memorable delivered by Peter Lorre as the sinister and cynical sidekick to the eccentric but ruthless and violent crime boss played by Steve Cochran with a disconcerting unpredictability and gleefully sadistic streak. The byplay of the two with each other, as well as with Cummings and with Michèle Morgan as the wife, has reminded more than one critic of the work of David Lynch some 40 years later. Adding to this impression are various off-the-wall actions by Cochran’s villain, the frequently nightmarish, dreamlike quality of many scenes as the plot develops, and some surrealistic plot twists that seem ahead of their time. These provide an overall feeling not unlike that in Lynch’s BLUE VELVET, TWIN PEAKS, or MULHOLLAND DRIVE (indeed Cochran’s Eddie Roman often foreshadows Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth, and the plot structure bears certain similarities to MULHOLLAND DRIVE), although of course not nearly so extreme. Other aspects have a distinctly Hitchcockian flavor, notably the innocent man pursued for a crime he did not commit. Also in the cast are character actors Jack Holt and Lloyd Corrigan, among others.

Until now, THE CHASE has been available on mediocre and poor quality Public Domain DVDs or internet downloads. Kino’s Blu-ray is a lovely HD transfer of a new preservation by the Film Foundation and UCLA archive, restoring Franz Planar’s crisply detailed black-and-white cinematography to its expressionistic glory, with only minor dust and scratches visible. Audio is okay. The disc includes two different half-hour radio adaptations of the original novel, “The Black Path of Fear,” for the CBS “Suspense” program (one from 1944 with Brian Donlevy, the other from 1946 with Cary Grant using the same script), an entertaining and informative audio commentary by eccentric and Lynchian filmmaker Guy Maddin, plus trailers for three other noir films Kino has released on Blu-ray – A BULLET FOR JOEY, HE RAN ALL THE WAY, and WITNESS TO MURDER (the first two trailers in HD).

THE CHASE on Blu-ray –
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B-
Offline
User avatar

sc1957

  • Posts: 232
  • Joined: Sat Jul 10, 2010 8:49 pm
  • Location: Ohio

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue May 10, 2016 11:42 am

the secretary’s young daughter decides to turn up the heat in the lab so the bunnies won’t be cold


I hate it when that happens.
Scott Cameron
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue May 17, 2016 4:32 pm

Here’s another murder thriller with a noirish flavor featuring a star playing against his usual Hollywood image, just released on Blu-ray two weeks ago and benefitting greatly from seeing on a large screen.

Image
A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956) 94m *** ½ (Blu-ray released May 3, 2016)
“Some secrets can’t be kept… they have to be buried!” exclaims the ad copy on some of the posters for A KISS BEFORE DYING. This screen adaptation of Ira Levin’s award-winning first novel is also the first feature directed by Gerd Oswald, an effective and unusually daring film for its time. It is sometimes classified as a film noir, but its noir elements seem more a side-effect growing out of its creepy, somewhat Hitchcockian murder thriller plot. Robert Wagner is probably best-known today for his hit TV series from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, and perhaps his appearances in the “Austin Powers” films, but in the 1950s he was a rising young star usually playing romantic leads. A change of pace was his charming but slimy and utterly ruthless central character in A KISS BEFORE DYING, which goes far beyond the typical film noir anti-hero to become a dangerous and opportunistic villain.

Wagner plays a college student hoping to marry into money, and will do pretty much anything to achieve his goal. The film opens with him and his heiress girlfriend (a young Joanne Woodward) in bed, where his amorous mood quickly changes when he learns she is pregnant. She wants to get married immediately but he realizes her strict copper-magnate father (George Macready) will disown her, destroying his plans (so far their romance has been a secret). Thus he quickly plots to murder her, make it look like suicide, and since her family has never met him he starts to romance her sister (Virginia Leith), soon killing another young man who might implicate him and making that look like suicide as well. At first defending him against any suggestions of his involvement, eventually the sister starts to have suspicions and teams up with a young detective (Jeffrey Hunter) to seek positive evidence. The strong cast also includes Mary Astor as Wagner’s mother.

Atypically for a film noir, or most crime dramas of its era, A KISS BEFORE DYING was filmed in lush, saturated color with a well-composed horizontal CinemaScope widescreen picture. This helps focus on the everyday lives and surroundings of the characters, giving it the feeling of 1950s domestic melodrama as much as murder thriller. In this way it resembles another off-beat noir thriller, Richard Fleischer’s VIOLENT SATURDAY. That film, which was released the previous year, also revolved around sordid secrets in an Arizona copper mining town, was also in color and CinemaScope, and also happened to co-star Virginia Leith. Other films it calls to mind are A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), and Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954), and certain aspects of PSYCHO (1960), but Oswald’s A KISS BEFORE DYING is a polished, self-assured crime melodrama that can stand on its own.

The HD picture on Kino’s Blu-ray is mostly very good, despite a couple of spots with noticeable bluish distortion and splotches, and some periodic minor print wear. The sound sometimes shows its age, but is reasonably good. The only bonus feature is a trailer in standard definition (although it is at least in CinemaScope).

A KISS BEFORE DYING on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: D
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 01, 2016 5:10 pm

Austrian-born director Fritz Lang is best-known for his massive silent science-fiction epic METROPOLIS (1927) and his moody, influential crime thriller “M” (1931), both made in Germany, and for a few notable crime thrillers and westerns made in Hollywood from 1936-1956. He started writing films as early as 1916 and directed over 40 features in various genres between 1919 and 1960. Over a dozen of his films are available on Blu-ray, with a few more scheduled for release this summer. Among his finest work are Lang’s last two silent features, which made their U.S. Blu-ray debuts this February from Kino, filling in the gap between his legendary METROPOLIS and his first talkie, “M.” Further interest is added by their variations on Lang and his writer-wife Thea von Harbou’s recurring sociopolitical commentary and by the overlapping casts in the two films.

Image
SPIES (SPIONE) (1928) 150m (Blu-ray released Feb. 23, 2016)
SPIES was the first film Fritz Lang produced, in addition to writing and directing. It has an elaborate, novelistic, and sometimes convoluted plot with several major characters, although it concentrates on three: the villain, the hero, and the love interest who starts as a villain but falls for the hero. Rudolf Klein-Rogge (perhaps best-remembered as the mad scientist Rotwang in METROPOLIS) stars as a suave and cultured but cold and ruthless criminal mastermind believed by the public to be a respectable banker named Haghi. He is also a master of disguise, showing up at various times as different characters to carry out his own nefarious schemes. In this way he is much like the “Dr. Mabuse” character also played by Klein-Rogge in Lang’s 1922 silent DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER and its 1933 sequel THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE. Co-starring is Willy Fritsch as secret agent 326, also a master of disguise and sort of a precursor to James Bond, assigned by the German Secret Service to find Haghi and foil his wide-reaching plans for world domination. Gerda Maurus stars as Sonja, a beautiful Russian spy Haghi orders to neutralize 326. When she unexpectedly falls in love with him in the process and refuses to work against him, Haghi imprisons her, giving 326 another reason for tracking him down. Along the way there are a number of other espionage plot threads, as well as various attacks and escapes and an exciting train wreck, among other events. The film may be a bit long at two-and-a-half hours, but rarely lets up on the action and intrigue, aided by striking cinematography and effective editing. Critical sequences involving a train and a theatre performance foreshadow themes that would later become staples of Alfred Hitchcock.

Kino’s Blu-ray has outstanding HD picture quality, showing some very minor print wear and a few dupe shots, and is a definite upgrade from the 2004 DVD release. The Blu-ray includes the original German title cards with optional English subtitles, whereas the DVD had new English title cards created to replace the German ones. Some reviewers have reported a slight squeezing of the image, resulting in a 1.28 aspect ratio instead of 1.33, but this is pretty much unnoticeable. The piano score by Neil Brand is very good and very well-recorded. Kino’s old DVD had a nice score by Donald Sosin, which is apparently included on the British Blu-ray edition as an alternate audio track. However the DVD running time is seven minutes longer than the Blu-ray, so the speeds may be slightly different. Bonus features include the original trailer and a very good 72-minute documentary about the film (although it’s standard-definition). The old DVD’s bonus feature of stills and advertising is not on the Blu-ray.

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


Image
WOMAN IN THE MOON (FRAU IM MOND) (1929) 169m
(Blu-ray released Feb. 23, 2016)
For his second film after METROPOLIS, Lang returned to science-fiction, but this time based heavily upon actual scientific research instead of speculative fantasy. In fact in several basic details it’s surprisingly close to the actual Apollo moon shot some 40 years later, until the last section after they finally set foot on the surface of the moon. Apparently the film was close enough to an actual secret rocket development program that the Nazi government suppressed it during the 1930s and 40s.

A lot of melodrama, intrigue, and a romantic subplot take up much of the screen time leading up to the rocket launch and moon voyage that make up the last section of this nearly three-hour film. A few parts would benefit from tightening up the editing, especially in the first half. Although some material gets in the way of the basic plot of a moon voyage, it still has some interest as a less than flattering portrait of Weimar Germany and industrial Europe that remains no less timely today, notably its depiction of the relationship of big business to private entrepreneurship, and of both towards the individual researcher/thinker/scientist who comes up with a potentially marketable idea.

The film begins with a long section at the rundown apartment of an impoverished eccentric old professor (Klaus Pohl), who back in the 1890s (about 30 years before the main story) met with both academic and public ridicule for his theories of gold on the moon’s surface, waiting to be picked up as soon as space travel is developed. His only friend is a wealthy young man named Helius (Willy Fritsch), whose name ironically refers to the sun, who has been financing and planning a trip to the moon. About this same time a cartel of ruthless businessmen with gold interests scheme to become part of the exploration or they will destroy it, sending a smarmy man called Turner (Fritz Rasp) to steal the plans and deliver their ultimatum that either he will accompany them on the trip or it will not happen at all. Meanwhile Helius’ partner and best friend Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) announces his engagement to his other assistant Frieda (Gerda Maurus), with whom Helius has secretly been in love but never declared himself.

Another long section develops these relationships as preparations continue for the space trip and the rocket finally blasts off for the moon. Action picks up considerably during the final segment dramatizing the events and conflicts arising during the trip and exploration of the moon. Once they reach their goal, the painstaking scientific accuracy gives way to pulp speculative sci-fi fantasy-adventure as they discover an atmosphere of oxygen on the far side of the moon, as well as the abundance of gold. We also get more character conflict, both physical and emotional.

The picture quality again, for the most part, is extremely sharp on Kino’s Blu-ray, a significant upgrade from their old DVD. And again the Blu-ray includes original German title cards with optional English subtitles, whereas the old DVD had newly-made English title cards and subtitles only for newspaper articles, letters, etc. The new music score by Javier Pérez de Azpeitia is also quite good and is the only soundtrack option, although again the old DVD’s synthesizer score by Jon Mirsalis was also very good. Running times of the Blu-ray and DVD are virtually identical so with two players it might be possible to play the new picture in sync with the old sound. The only bonus on the Blu-ray is an interesting and all-too-short 15-minute documentary (in standard-definition) on the film’s production. The DVD’s sole bonus feature had been an extensive photo gallery, which is not included on the Blu-ray.

WOMAN IN THE MOON on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Jun 22, 2016 6:46 pm

Here’s an off-beat film noir that seems to be pretty much under the radar of many film fans, but is interesting and unusual on several levels as a social commentary and for twisting the film noir “rules” by being shot in color and CinemaScope with stereo sound, as well as reversing a number of traditional roles expected in the genre. It received a very good Blu-ray release last summer.

Image
HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955) 103m *** (Blu-ray released August 11, 2015)
Samuel Fuller was an independent-minded, often-perverse maverick filmmaker noted for some raw-edged noir thrillers and gritty war films, who also directed a number of major films for Hollywood studios. In 1954 when 20th Century Fox wanted to do a color and CinemaScope remake of THE STREET WITH NO NAME, a 1948 noir about an FBI agent infiltrating a criminal gang, and also asked if Fuller would like to direct the first major Hollywood film to shoot in Japan, he jumped at the chance to do both at once, resulting in HOUSE OF BAMBOO, released in 1955. He combined the crime elements with a strong wartime influence and a number of envelope-pushing themes in the subtext. He heavily rewrote the story to have a gang of unsavory American ex-soldiers pulling major heists and running rackets in present-day (1954) Tokyo, and added an interracial couple with one of the gang members forced to hide his marriage to a Japanese girl (Shirley Yamaguchi) from the gang, and hide his gang membership from her.

Even more daring is the never-discussed yet dramatically implicit homosexual relationship between the cultured but ruthless crime boss (Robert Ryan) and his violent number one henchman (Cameron Mitchell). This develops into a quirky, off-beat, and bitter triangle, a struggle for both power and friendship, once the new guy (Robert Stack) joins the gang and quickly becomes the boss’s new favorite even though he ostensibly is living with the girl to protect her after her husband is killed on a job (in reality she is more interested in protecting him). Fuller and Ryan never explained this plot point to Stack, however, so both he and his character would appear confused and uncomfortable with some of the things Ryan does in his performance. This aspect of the plot makes for interesting comparison to other noir films like THE CHASE and GILDA (both 1946 and released to Blu-ray this year), which have somewhat similar disguised male relationships between a crime boss and a trusted subordinate.

A large part of the film contrasts the attitudes of the Americans and their culture with traditional Japanese culture, something Fuller admired greatly, including Japanese cinema. The visual style of HOUSE OF BAMBOO very much calls to mind major Japanese filmmakers of the period, especially Mizoguchi and Ozu. Thematically it’s a precursor a number of later Japanese films, notably Masaki Kobayashi’s BLACK RIVER (1956) and Koreyoshi Kurahara’s BLACK SUN (1964), among others. HOUSE OF BAMBOO was shot on location at a time Japan was still struggling to rebuild its economy and serves as a time capsule for that brief period after the war before the country rapidly became a major force in international commerce.

It’s a film that works on multiple layers and rewards repeated viewings. The basic crime melodrama is fine as it is, dramatizing intricate heists and intra-gang tension, an unusual romantic angle and racial elements, all climaxing in a dramatic shootout in a rooftop children’s playground. But there is far more subtext going on beneath the surface of the gangster plot, with the constant culture clashes, national and gender identity issues, themes of personal loyalty vs. duty vs. personal code vs. pragmatic survival, and plenty of visual symbolism to intensify it all, aided by the masterful use of color, lighting, and widescreen composition by Fuller and cinematographer Joe MacDonald. Numerous long takes with elaborate crane dolly movements provide additional dramatic impact. Other notable stars in the cast are DeForest Kelly and Harry Carey, Jr. as gang members, and Sessue Hayakawa as a Japanese police inspector. Two years later Fuller would also explore racial tensions, social hypocrisy, and the bitter effects of war in his underrated, lower-budget CHINA GATE (1957), also made for Fox but this time with studio sets standing in for Vietnam. The larger budget and location photography give HOUSE OF BAMBOO a more polished look than CHINA GATE or some of Fuller’s impressive but rougher-edged lower-budget independent productions like SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963) and THE NAKED KISS (1964). These three films are also available on good Blu-ray editions.

The 2.55:1 HD transfer Twilight Time got from Fox for the Blu-ray is generally excellent. The picture is sometimes slightly contrasty and/or softish but mostly very sharp and clear with well-defined colors. The stereo sound is also nice to hear, remixed from the original 4.0 magnetic analog tracks to play back through 5.1 audio systems using DTS-HD MA encoding. Bonus features include Twilight Times’ usual illustrated booklet with a gushing but informative essay by Julie Kirgo and an isolated music track of Leigh Harline’s score. Unexpectedly the disc has two good audio commentaries (Twilight Time personnel Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, and film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini) with some overlap in info but slightly different approaches. Kirgo and Redman discuss mostly the actors and characterizations, especially Robert Ryan and Robert Stack, as well as producer Buddy Adler and conditions in postwar Japan. Silver and Ursini talk about Fuller’s style and the style of Japanese filmmakers, spending a lot of time analyzing how the shot framing and camera movements help convey plot information and character relationships, including material that would not otherwise get past the censors. There are also two brief silent Movietone newsreels and a trailer (all standard-definition).

HOUSE OF BAMBOO on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B+
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Jun 26, 2016 11:30 pm

This July 4th marks the 240th anniversary of the birth of the United States of America with the colonies’ official declaration of independence from Great Britain. While a number of movies are set during the colonial period it seems rather odd that very few films have been made that focus on the American Revolution (with even fewer available on Blu-ray), although there are numerous films dealing with the Civil War, quite a few on World War I, and virtually countless films covering different aspects of World War II. Blu-rays of movies about the Revolutionary War can pretty much be counted on one hand. A few flashbacks in the Dolly Madison biopic MAGNIFICENT DOLL (1946) happen during the Revolution, but it is mostly about her life post-Revolution. Anyone wanting to screen a Revolutionary War film in high definition for Independence Day can choose from John Ford’s Technicolor DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939), Peter Hunt’s wonderful musical-comedy-drama 1776 (1972), Al Pacino’s flawed but underrated REVOLUTION (1985), Mel Gibson’s heartfelt epic THE PATRIOT (2000), and now finally the almost-forgotten THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (1959). Released theatrically in summer of 1959, THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE was broadcast on network television in 1962 and then all but disappeared until a VHS release in 1998. It never got a DVD release until the simultaneous Blu-ray debut in November of 2015 from Kino-Lorber Video. Appropriately, it is scheduled to play on the TCM cable network for the 4th of July during the afternoon, but the Blu-ray will provide a superior image and, of course, a more reliable way to revisit it at will.

Image
THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE (1959) 83m **** (Blu-ray released Nov. 24, 2015)
Ironically, such a distinctly New England story was filmed on locations in England and at British Elstree Studios, though co-produced by the production companies of American co-stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Adapted from the play by George Bernard Shaw, this Revolutionary War action-drama with a touch of illicit romance is simultaneously a very entertaining and biting satire on military intelligence, government policy, social protocol, and human relations. There are also some clever sequences of animated toy soldiers on a map to indicate troop movements and battle scenes. The top-notch cast co-stars Lancaster and Douglas with Laurence Olivier, all of whom put over Shaw’s dialogue wonderfully. Director Guy Hamilton (noted for several James Bond films including the iconic GOLDFINGER, and who just died this past April at age 93) keeps enough action going that the pacing rarely feels like a stage play, yet allows Shaw’s sharp wit to come through. The film’s original director, Alexander Mackendrick (WHISKEY GALORE, THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT, THE LADYKILLERS) is reported to have complained that the movie was turning Shaw’s play into a “swashbuckling adventure spiced with sex,” while Lancaster was more upset with the pace of his directing. The finished film moves right along in less than an hour and a half. THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE received mixed reviews when it first came out, but holds up well today precisely because its adventure and romantic aspects drive the plot, yet still leave room for witty, philosophical conversations and sociopolitical commentary, rather than bogging down in dialogue.

The basic plot deals with the conflict between widely different character personalities and how those characters undergo a change, or at least reveal previously-hidden inner feelings to become more like the opposite of their prior reputation. The testing of the personal values of each major character is a large part of the film’s strength. Burt Lancaster is Anthony Anderson, a pacifistic pastor in a town that has so far remained neutral in the early years of the Revolutionary War. Anderson is too late to prevent the hanging of Timothy Dudgeon, one of his parishioners, for treason in a nearby town. He is upset the British plan to display the body as a warning and thus refuse to allow him to bury it. That night Dudgeon’s estranged, brash, brawling, and free-thinking eldest son Richard (Kirk Douglas) secretly steals the body and returns it to his hometown for burial. Things soon become more complicated when the British invade that village, notice the forbidden grave, and order the arrest of Anderson. At the time they arrive, however, Anderson is gone and Dudgeon is staying at his house for protection, playfully arguing and flirting with Anderson’s beautiful but straitlaced wife (Janette Scott). Thus the soldiers mistake him for the pastor and take him away for trial and execution. The normally self-centered Dudgeon decides to do a good deed for a change by going along and pretending he’s the pastor. At the military inquest, cynical British General Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier) finds Dudgeon’s stinging retorts to the interrogation by stuffy Major Swindon (Harry Andrews) to be highly entertaining, but insufficient to prevent his execution in time of war. Meanwhile Anderson and other townspeople have decided it’s finally time to take a stand against the British. The action builds to an effective climax and a somewhat unexpected resolution.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is excellent overall with a crisp, clear, film-like image transferred at 1.85:1, and rich black-and-white contrast range, although there is some occasional slight vertical jitter as if the projector’s intermittent sprocket needs service or the film might be slightly shrunken. Audio is fine for a 1959 optical mono soundtrack, and is presented on the disc in DTS-HD MA 2.0. Bonus features are sparse, just an HD trailer for the film, plus four SD trailers for other action-adventure films starring either Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas that were also released theatrically through United Artists: THE SCALPHUNTERS (1968), CAST A GIANT SHADOW (1966), THE TRAIN (1964), and RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP (1958). All of these except THE TRAIN are available on Blu-ray from Kino. THE TRAIN had a limited Blu-ray release from Twilight Time two years ago and quickly sold out. An “encore” limited release is scheduled for this October.

THE DEVIL’S DISCIPLE on Blu-ray –
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: D+
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Jul 15, 2016 3:53 pm

As I noted in another thread, lost films do turn up periodically, and hopefully get restored. When we're lucky, they even get released on Blu-ray, like the following...


Image
THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN (1920) 78m *** (Blu-ray released July 19, 2016)
After its fortuitous rediscovery about a decade or so ago, followed by a painstaking restoration, the long-lost silent melodrama THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN received a limited theatrical release in 2014 and is finally being made available for home viewing this month, thanks to Milestone Film and Video. The independently-produced feature had only a few showings when first made, mostly in nontheatrical situations, with no official theatrical release, and then disappeared for nearly a century.

What is nearly unique about this historic film is that it featured a cast made up exclusively of Native Americans recreating their ancient Kiowa and Comanche traditions and rituals within the context of the fictional story, filmed on location in the Wichita Mountains area of southwest Oklahoma by the Texas Film Company. The 1920 film allowed the pre-reservation Indian lifestyle to be preserved for posterity while it was still within living memory of the participants or their parents, a period then not too far in the past. They even supplied their own authentic costumes and props.

This was at a time that the tribes were not only encouraged to assimilate into modern American culture, but were prohibited by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs from speaking their own language and performing their native customs. It was only 30 years earlier that the region was officially named “Oklahoma Territory” shortly after government organized the famous land rushes for white settlers to claim property for themselves -- the same land that for over 60 years Congress had declared to be “Indian Territory” and previously forced settlers to leave so it could be reserved as a homeland for a variety of tribes forcibly evacuated from other states. In 1907 there were enough white settlers that it was formally changed from territory status into a state.

Interestingly, two of the film’s stars, White Parker (White Eagle) and Wanada Parker (Red Wing), were grandchildren of Cynthia Ann Parker, whose experience served as the inspiration for John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS, as well as a major incident in THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN. She had been abducted by Comanches at age nine, grew up to marry a warrior and have three children, and 24 years later was “rescued” by Texas Rangers and returned to a family she no longer remembered.

The plot of THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN is a standard romantic melodrama with the conflict between Kiowa warriors White Eagle and Black Wolf, two rivals for the chief’s daughter (the eponymous Daughter of Dawn), while Red Wing suffers unrequited love for Black Wolf, who only wants The Daughter of Dawn so he can gain power and prestige, whereas White Eagle truly loves her. Later a revenge subplot develops. This is all set against the background of normal tribal life, with White Eagle leading a buffalo hunt to relieve the current food shortage, and a rival nearby Comanche tribe plotting to raid horses and women from the Kiowa to relieve their own shortages.

The film’s staging, photography, and editing are all well-done, on a par with typical Hollywood productions of the era. There are a number of in-camera dissolves, some simply from long shots to close-ups, but others to indicate what characters are thinking about. Director Norbert A. Myles had been an actor who went briefly into writing and directing, and later became a Hollywood makeup artist.

Milestone’s Blu-ray has generally good picture quality, but unfortunately some nitrate decomposition was starting to set in before the sole surviving 35mm nitrate print was copied. This resulted mainly in the tell-tale mottling along the two sides of the picture, as well as substantial minor splotches and dirt throughout the image, and a few sections where the film was too warped to stay in sharp focus when it was duplicated. The picture looks slightly soft compared to a film in pristine condition, but still in much better shape overall than many silents, and it’s amazing that it survived at all, especially in complete form. The original amber and blue tints are preserved in this copy. Original title cards had survived only as flash titles and have been reproduced with a modern digital font, except for occasional freeze-frames in the case of a few titles with artwork.

After the film’s 2007 restoration, the Oklahoma Historical Society commissioned a new music score by Oklahoma native classical composer David Yeagley, who happens to be a Comanche. His score works quite well to follow the action and characters, although is mostly rather low-key, often playing down the melodrama. Due to budget restrictions it took another few years before the score could be recorded, a necessary factor for an official theatrical or video release of the film. The 2011-2012 recording by the Oklahoma City University student orchestra, however, is excellent.

There is no audio commentary but for bonus features there are eight highly informative featurettes about the film’s history, rediscovery, restoration, and music scoring, produced by the Oklahoma Historical Society, including interviews with descendants of cast members recalling family stories. Although no booklet is included with the disc, a 14-page press kit with cast, credits, synopsis, and extensive program notes can be downloaded from the Milestone Films website at http://www.milestonefilms.com/pages/press" target="_blank. The disc is unlikely to be found in most stores but can be ordered on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon at retail price, or at a discount price directly from the distributor at http://www.milestonefilms.com/" target="_blank with institutional and streaming rights available at an extra charge, and a theatrical DCP also available.

THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B
Video: B
Audio: A
Extras: B
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Jul 21, 2016 1:06 pm

It’s been a good period for film noir and noirish melodramas on Blu-ray this year, as the genre (or subgenre or style, depending on who is defining it) seems to be enjoying a renaissance of popularity with its flawed anti-heroic characters, fashionably dark cynicism, and stylish low-key cinematography. A nice variety of titles both classic and obscure have been getting quality Blu-ray releases from several distributors, including Kino, Olive, Twilight Time, Criterion, Flicker Alley, and even Warner. Bruce Calvert reviewed the wonderful MURDER MY SWEET Blu-ray back in January, and I’ve recently reviewed HOUSE OF BAMBOO, A KISS BEFORE DYING, THE CHASE, HE RAN ALL THE WAY, STORM FEAR, KEY LARGO, A BULLET FOR JOEY, and PITFALL over the past few months. I’ll try to add reviews of other memorable noirs recently released to Blu-ray, including TOO LATE FOR TEARS, WOMAN ON THE RUN, and more, in the near future, but until then here are some notes on another batch of classic noir and almost-noir, several of which deserve to be much better-known. Kino's recent practice of adding trailers in their bonus menus to other films in the same genre or by the same director and stars is a laudable attempt at raising awareness of many relatively obscure films, and more likely to inspire sales/rentals than the random trailers the major studios typically force viewers to endure before the feature begins.

Another note: [rant] It can never be stressed too strongly how much more effective and involving all of these films are when seen in high-quality HD transfers on a big screen, bringing out subtleties of their masterful cinematography, as well as details and textures of the sets, props, and costumes that intensify the drama in ways that standard-definition TV and streaming video cannot convey. In the best Blu-rays, the clarity of the image itself is as much a part of the enjoyment as the stories and acting, and does much to inspire repeat viewings. [/rant]

Image
THE BIG SLEEP (1946) 114m **** (Blu-ray released Feb. 23, 2016)
Howard Hawks’ mystery-thriller starring Humphrey Bogart is one of the best movie adaptations of Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe to come out of Hollywood, vying with Edward Dmytryk’s MURDER, MY SWEET (1945) starring Dick Powell as the same character. THE BIG SLEEP has the edge, however, with no less than William Faulkner among the screenwriters but mainly thanks to Lauren Bacall figuring prominently in the cast and her obvious chemistry with Bogart (on and off-screen). It’s the most fun of the four Bogart-Bacall films to revisit, with the possible exception of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (which comes out on Blu-ray later this month). It’s packed with snappy, witty dialogue, sexual innuendoes that verge on the Pre-code in their daring implications (the outrageously clever bookstore sequence stands out in this regard), and an elaborate mystery so convoluted and confusing that the process of the investigation itself is more satisfying than finding out what really did or didn’t happen and who did it (even the author confessed to not knowing which character committed one of the murders). Like most noir classics there’s an overpowering dark atmosphere, corruption, blackmail, murder, and more, but there’s also a pervading sense of humor that engages the audience as much as trying to solve the mystery. And then there’s Lauren Bacall, Bogart’s real-life wife by that time. THE BIG SLEEP was a follow-up to TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, but during a delay in releasing the finished film, the studio decided to expand Bacall’s role even more, filming new scenes and reshooting others. The changes helped make it the beloved hit it became, although it did render certain plot threads even more confusing, as some of the scenes of Bogart’s explanations to the police had been deleted.

Picture quality, as usual for Warner Archive Blu-rays, is superb – rich, sharp, and film-like, and sound is likewise very strong. While welcome to see the complete 1945 pre-release cut (running 116m) included for comparison, it’s somewhat disappointing that is relegated to a standard-definition bonus feature instead of a co-feature in high-definition. Other extras include a brief introduction by archivist Bob Gitt, and a 36-minute comparison between the two alternate versions of the film (the DVD’s comparison featurette was about 20 minutes shorter).

THE BIG SLEEP on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A+
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: B+

Image
DARK PASSAGE (1947) 106m ***
(Released to Blu-ray May 17, 2016)
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are the big draw for this well-done but not quite great murder mystery about an escaped convict condemned to death who must prove his innocence of killing his wife. Bacall plays an amateur artist who decides to help him. It’s sometimes considered the least of the four films they made together, although it’s certainly not a bad film and the order of preference is subjective and arguable. All four can be enjoyed in superb high-definition transfers. KEY LARGO and THE BIG SLEEP came to Blu-ray in February, and arguably the best, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, comes out this month. The big distinction for DARK PASSAGE is that Bogart is not shown for the first half-hour and his face is never seen for well over an hour into the plot. The story is told from his point of view for the first part of the movie, with the camera representing his eyes until after his character undergoes plastic surgery to change his appearance. This gives an intriguing if sometimes frustrating sense of mystery until the more conventionally-presented last half of the film. Bogart and Bacall play very well off of each other. Also prominent in the cast is Agnes Moorhead as an obnoxious mutual acquaintance of the two.

Picture quality is outstanding on Warner’s Blu-ray, and the sound is also very good. Bonus features include a nice little 10-minute TCM featurette on the film (in SD), a fun 1947 Bugs Bunny cartoon called “Slick Hare” with movie star caricatures in a Hollywood restaurant and Bogart ordering rabbit (in HD), plus a trailer in HD.

DARK PASSAGE on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B+
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: C+

Image
DEADLINE – U.S.A. (1952) 87m *** ½
(Blu-ray released July 26, 2016)
Richard Brooks wrote and directed this heartfelt newspaper drama with a crime reporting subplot and a strong film noir sensibility, although it’s not quite a standard film noir except for a few scenes. At its core it’s an ode to the ideals of newspaper journalism, attempting to get the truth of important stories to the public without bowing to the pressure of advertisers and amidst the sensationalism and scandal-mongering of rival papers. On top of all this, the heirs of the paper’s founder have decided to sell out to their leading rival, who plans to close it rather than run two papers. Sometimes the idolization of newspapering and a free press is rather heavy-handed and akin to wartime propaganda (this was during the escalation of the new Cold War), but there’s enough human drama to overcome the flag-waving.

Humphrey Bogart gives a strong performance as the harried editor hoping he can use the power of the press to expose the involvement of a local mobster (Martin Gabel) with a murder that was designed to look like suicide. Meanwhile he’s also trying to win back the affections of his ex-wife (Kim Hunter) who grew tired of taking second-place to his career. Ethel Barrymore adds dignity as the newspaper family matriarch, who unsuccessfully opposes her daughters’ desires to cash in on the paper’s market value for more lucrative investments, rather than keeping it going as a steady but smaller source of income.

Kino’s Blu-ray has a fine HD transfer with a mostly very sharp picture and decent sound. Bonus features include an interesting audio commentary by Eddie Muller and three trailers: one to DEADLINE – U.S.A. in SD, plus HD trailers to THE CAPTIVE CITY (1952), another crusading journalist noir thriller with a heavier emphasis on the crime than DEADLINE USA’s focus on the paper itself, and SHIELD FOR MURDER (1954), a noir thriller about a violent rogue cop, both films also available from Kino on Blu-ray.

DEADLINE – U.S.A. on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: C+

Image
IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) 94m *** ½
(Blu-ray released May 10, 2016)
Like DEADLINE – U.S.A., this is not quite a typical film noir, focusing as much on its two central characters as on the crime aspects of the story. It’s really a murder mystery starring Humphrey Bogart as a short-tempered, independent, and cynical screenwriter who gets involved in a troubled romance with his neighbor (Gloria Grahame) after she provides an alibi when he’s suspected of killing a girl he’d taken to his apartment to help him work on a script. Bogart and Grahame are both at their best playing these complex characters who quickly become completely devoted to each other yet develop more and more trust issues. As their relationship deepens, various implications and suggestions arise that their guarded and sometimes volatile personalities have difficulty dealing with. Frank Lovejoy is a sympathetic police detective who warily tries to balance helping them with uncovering the truth. Director Nicholas Ray invests the film with the sense of impending doom that pervades most noir films, as well as a distinctly anti-formulaic screenplay that Bogart’s character would approve of.

Picture quality on Criterion’s Blu-ray is excellent throughout, and the sound is also very good. As usual, Criterion includes a generous supplementary package with a pamphlet essay, a new audio commentary, a trailer, a documentary on director Ray, an interview about Grahame with her biographer, a featurette examining the film, and a 1948 radio adaptation of the same novel.

IN A LONELY PLACE on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: A

Image
TRY AND GET ME (1950) *** ½
(Blu-ray released April 19, 2016)
This taut crime thriller directed by Cy Endfield, based on an actual case, premiered under the title THE SOUND OF FURY, but was retitled for its general release. Frank Lovejoy plays a nice guy struggling to support his pregnant wife and young son. He reluctantly teams up with a small-time hoodlum (Lloyd Bridges) to pull of some robberies so he can make ends meet, taking care not to let his wife know how he gets his money. Unfortunately their exploits soon turn to kidnapping and murder, and their ultimate arrest leads to a tabloid-style journalist exploiting the story and sordid details to sell papers and rile up the public. The film is well-acted, well-made, and packs a powerful social commentary along with its effective balance of tension, suspense, and action.

The HD transfer on Olive Films’ Blu-ray is excellent and the sound is fine. As usual for Olive, there are no bonus features except for a main and chapter menu although there are now optional English captions for those who need them.

TRY AND GET ME on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: F

Image
WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950) 95m *** ½
(Released to Blu-ray February 16, 2016)
Otto Preminger was in his prime when he directed this excellent thriller, starring Dana Andrews as a cop who’s basically a decent guy but has a temper and no qualms about treating criminal suspects quite violently until they cooperate. One day he goes too far and accidentally kills a suspect involved with a gangster he’s long been after, decides to cover it up, and later feels guilty when he starts to fall for the dead man’s estranged widow (Gene Tierney). The script, partly the work of veteran screenwriter Ben Hecht, fleshes out the main characters with greater depth than many of the formula genre films. Joseph LeShelle’s striking black-and-white cinematography also adds a great deal.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray has an excellent film-like HD transfer and good sound. Bonus features include a booklet, an isolated music score, an audio commentary by film noir expert Eddie Muller, and a trailer (in SD).

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: B

Image
SHIELD FOR MURDER (1954) 82m ***
(Released to Blu-ray June 21, 2016)
This would make a fitting second feature to double up with WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS. Edmond O’Brien directs himself in this dark and violent noir about a long-time efficient police detective noted for abusing criminals and having a short temper overall. He finally goes off the deep end and in order to get enough cash to leave the force and settle down with his girlfriend he kills a small-time crook carrying a payoff to a crime boss, steals the money, and tries to make it look like a standard “shot while trying to escape” scenario. He must see how long he can cover up his deed before his straight-arrow partner (John Agar) and the rest of the department figure out the truth. Things get complicated when he learns there was a witness. Carolyn Jones has an all-too-brief bit as a barfly.

Kino’s Blu-ray has generally good picture quality, but some shots look slightly soft. Audio is okay. The only bonus features is a trailer plus trailers for three other noir features on Blu-ray from Kino, 99 RIVER STREET, HIDDEN FEAR, and HE RAN ALL THE WAY.

SHIELD FOR MURDER on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: D+

Image
99 RIVER STREET (1953) 83m *** ½
(Blu-ray released June 21, 2016)
John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, and Brad Dexter star in this great little noir thriller directed by Phil Karlson, whose complicated plot unfolds over the course of a single night, with several unexpected twists along the way. Payne is a former successful prizefighter who lost a bid for the championship and now drives a taxi for a living. This does not sit well with his wife (Peggie Castle), who gave up her showgirl career to marry him and hates being a housewife to a struggling cabbie with a short temper. She plans to leave him for a sleazy jewel thief (Dexter) just as an old actress friend (Keyes) shows up to ask the ex-boxer for an emergency favor. Not long afterwards the wife shows up dead in his back seat, and the two team up to evade the police and solve the murder with the help of his taxi-dispatcher boss (Frank Faylen). They find themselves quickly getting caught up in the crooked and dangerous world that so casually disposed of the wife. Payne is powerful as the volatile yet vulnerable protagonist, and Keyes is obviously having a great time playing a so-so actress who must turn on and off various characterizations depending on the circumstances.

Kino’s Blu-ray has fine picture quality and decent sound. Bonus features include a highly entertaining and information-packed commentary by Eddie Muller, and a trailer plus trailers to three other noir thrillers available on Blu-ray from Kino, HIDDEN FEAR, SHIELD FOR MURDER, and HE RAN ALL THE WAY.

99 RIVER STREET on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: C+

Image
HIDDEN FEAR (1957) 80m ** ½
(Released to Blu-ray June 21, 2016)
John Payne plays an American cop in Copenhagen trying to clear his somewhat disreputable sister (Natalie Norwick) of a suspicious murder charge. Working to some extent with the Danish police but mostly on his own, he discovers a much more wide-reaching criminal operation behind it than anyone expected. Alexander Knox plays one of the main villains. Like FOREIGN INTRIGUE (1956) with Robert Mitchum, HIDDEN FEAR has a feeling reminiscent of THE THIRD MAN, but is much rougher-edged. Although there are a few nicely-edited action sequences, it is nowhere near as polished cinematically, and the cast often seems rather lethargic, just going through the motions, except for former matinee idol Conrad Nagel, who usually appears to be having fun.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is generally okay but not up to most of their other releases. Some portions are quite sharp but other portions have some muddy shadow detail and are often softer than one would expect from prime 35mm elements, as well as showing more dirt and other wear. Audio is problematic. It’s sometimes difficult to make out dialogue, due to poor dubbing, inferior sound equipment at the Danish studio where it was produced, damage to the print, or a combination of all three. The only bonus features are a trailer plus trailers to three other Kino noir titles: 99 RIVER STREET, SHIELD FOR MURDER, and HE RAN ALL THE WAY (the same batch of four trailers as on the 99 RIVER STREET and SHIELD FOR MURDER discs).

HIDDEN FEAR on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B
Video: B+
Audio: C+
Extras: D+
Offline
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5270
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Jul 30, 2016 3:39 pm

Image

DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) 95 min. **** Released June 28, 2016

Whenever someone talking film has said they regretted the end of silent pictures, I've said, sure, I miss that we don't have more silent Keatons or Chaplins or whatever— but we also wouldn't have... insert title of choice. His Girl Friday, perhaps. But the title I've mentioned the most, I think, is Dr. Strangelove, a comedy that clearly belongs to an entirely different era, with its sick humor that was new even to the movies then, and consisting of a type of comedy that was primarily verbal (though there were notable echoes of silent comedy, especially the pie fight that was originally to end the film). We wouldn't have had Strangelove—and thus we wouldn't have had the 1960s, not in the same way.

I trust the plot needs little introduction. A general takes advantage of a loophole in nuclear theory to launch his base's bombers against Soviet targets and as a British officer on exchange there desperately tries to get the recall code that will override the decision, we follow one B-52 on its mission and the activities in the Pentagon's War Room as the president and generals try to figure out what to do. It has a solid thriller structure, based on a novel by a former officer, Peter George (initially under the pseudonym Peter Bryant), but as Kubrick and his then producing partner James B. Harris initially worked on it, they kept finding it horribly funny. In the end they decided to stop worrying and love the war, and 6 weeks before shooting, Kubrick brought in the comic novelist Terry Southern to further refine the comedy (if refining is what it is when you name a character General Jack D. Ripper). The final film hits a near-pitch perfect note of realism taken to drily zany extremes, usually deadpan (Sterling Hayden's stone-faced, gravel-voiced general delivers a theory of nuclear war rooted in his own impotence or sublimated homosexuality without ever making us doubt his deadliness) but at times taken to perfectly calibrated exaggeration (mostly George C. Scott, as a LeMay-like strategist of nuclear war who can only be called an enthusiast).

And then there's Peter Sellers. Columbia insisted, after Lolita, that Sellers be cast in multiple roles, and Kubrick loved the idea, even though in the end, it makes Strangelove the second movie about nuclear bombs in which Sellers plays a head of state, a counsellor to the head of state, and a soldier. (The first one was The Mouse That Roared.) Sellers actually had a fourth role, but drunkenly broke his ankle and couldn't climb around the bomber set, resulting in a hastily, but perfectly, cast Slim Pickens taking over the role.

The film was completed at about two hours, but didn't quite work as either thriller-against-the-clock or satire. Kubrick and editor Anthony Harvey began cutting it down to its present length, getting rid of many of the more over the top moments—most notably the pie fight. The reason always given— I heard Terry Southern give it personally— was that actors couldn't help laughing in those scenes (indeed, if you watch Peter Bull as the Soviet ambassador during the Strangelove scenes, you'll see him plainly suppressing a laugh). But there's another reason. From an IMDB summary of the final scenes:

...he turns back to General Turgidson, who now has a look of apprehension on his face as he ducks aside, managing to evade a custard pie that the ambassador is throwing at him. President Muffley has been standing directly behind the general, so that when he ducks, the president is hit directly in the face with the pie. He is so overwhelmed by the sheer indignity of being struck with a pie that he simply blacks out. General Turgidson catches him as he collapses. "Gentlemen," he intones, "The president has been struck down, in the prime of his life and his presidency. I say massive retaliation!"


Yeah, a comedy presidential assassination in a movie released three months after Kennedy's death. That wasn't going to fly. People would have torched theaters; Strangelove would have been withdrawn and melted for silver. Instead they constructed an ending in the editing room that ends the movie on a note of nuclear-orgasmic climax, the sort of sarcastic sexualized breach of proper postwar era respect for authority that couldn't help but result in a partly disapproving review from the leading critic of the time, the New York Times' Bosley Crowther. Yet within the year even he would recognize that this was a landmark film, an important cultural shift, and he would fight, unsuccessfully, for it to be voted film of the year (over My Fair Lady) at the New York Film Critics Circle awards.

Criterion released Dr. Strangelove on laserdisc 20 years ago, adding in the process a new wrinkle— because Stanley Kubrick had specific ideas for each of his films being presented on old 4:3 TVs, the parts of Strangelove that were filmed cinema verite style (like the attack on the Air Force base were shown as they were shot, unmasked 1:33:1, while the bulk of the film was shown at a slightly more widescreen 1.66:1. The first blu-ray, released a few years ago by Columbia, went back to 1.66:1 for the entire film, and Criterion's follows this.

I have no idea how the Columbia release was but Criterion's is truly a flawless and spectacular edition of a great late black and white film, whose look varies from the naturalism of the Air Force base and the airplane interior to the gleamingly glamorous War Room, a triangular bunker with a giant wall of screens, precursor to all the Bond villain lairs production designer Ken Adam would come to build. The detail is fantastic, and sitting close revealed many things I had never noticed before—some possibly intentional (the stray cigarette ashes that dot Strangelove's charcoal gray suit seem to fit him, even if likely accidental) and some giving things away (it's obvious when they're side by side, for instance, that craggy Hayden is relatively naturally made up, but Sellers' Group Captain Mandrake has heavy pancake makeup, likely to hide the seams on his false nose). It's a small price to pay for being able to watch Sellers' three, very disparate characterizations (and noses) in such detail, and he conceives all three so differently that it's a pleasure to see what little ways he brings each to life— such as the way Mandrake rocks back and forth like a brisk military man, very different from the slightly shlubby bearing of President Merkin Muffley.

The package comes with a fun envelope marked Plan R, which contains several items riffing on the film's themes (the back cover of the fake magazine is an ad asking, "Have You Ever Seen a Commie Drink a Glass of Water?") The disk includes a number of short films or excerpts dealing with different aspects of production; they're often only fair in themselves, yet they keep adding information to your picture of how the film was made, and I especially liked the one involving camera operator Kelvin Pike, who seems to have been Kubrick's hands on the camera (and better at executing replicatable camera moves than Kubrick was). One of the most interesting parts was learning that President Muffley was initially intended to be depicted as having a cold, and using an inhaler in the War Room—the most momentous moments in human history being decided by a man comically out of it. During that long editing process, they decided he needed to be the straight man, the one decent man for audiences to identify with in the War Room, and so they somehow managed to cut all of that out without affecting continuity or even showing the inhaler; only a single shot that includes Muffley stuffing a hankie into his sleeve survives in the final cut.

As noted, the picture is flawless and the sound, too, is impeccable in the DTS 5.1 version. This is a fantastic set at a very reasonable price of one of the greatest American films, and just a hint... the Barnes & Noble Criterion sale continues through tomorrow, making it $19.99.

DR. STRANGELOVE on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A+
Video: A+
Audio: A+
Extras: A
“One of the wonders of the internet is that it's a totally open forum. The world's greatest expert—or greatest idiot—is free to post.” —David Shepard, quoted by Richard Bann
Offline
User avatar

sc1957

  • Posts: 232
  • Joined: Sat Jul 10, 2010 8:49 pm
  • Location: Ohio

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Jul 31, 2016 9:27 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:
DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) 95 min. **** Released June 28, 2016

...I have no idea how the Columbia release was but Criterion's is truly a flawless and spectacular edition ...


The 4K digital transfer that Criterion uses is the same transfer used for the 2009 (45th anniversary) version put out by Columbia. If you have that disc you don't really need this one unless, like me, you're attracted to all the swag Criterion includes. A magazine called Strangelove which features a centerspread of Miss Foreign Affairs? My precious bodily fluids told me that I had to have it. My Columbia disc will go to my local library's small collection of Blu-rays.

The Criterion disc includes the interviews from the 45th anniversary Columbia disc (focusing on the Cold War, Kubrick, Peter Sellars, and George C. Scott), and it adds new interviews that focus on the film-making process.

In the included booklet, Criterion says:
"Because of overprinting and damage created at the time of its theatrical release, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was destroyed at the laboratory fifty years ago. As a result, a combination of elements, including 35mm fine-grain master positives, duplicate negatives, and prints, were used for this digital transfer"
Scott Cameron
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Aug 03, 2016 5:33 pm

As well as iconic scenery, period settings, costumes and props, the Western genre is noted for its predictable formulas, easy-to-follow morality plays of good vs. evil, even though story subtext might often reflect contemporary concerns. After the success of STAGECOACH and several other “adult” westerns in 1939, however, and especially after World War II, major directors at major studios would more frequently use the Western as a framework for psychological drama and social criticism. A number of memorable westerns produced by 20th Century Fox have come to Blu-ray in impressive-looking HD transfers over the past several months, but released through licensees rather than from the studio itself. Here are two released by Kino in classic Academy-ratio black and white (one just this week), and two released by Twilight Time in color and early CinemaScope. The four make a nice mini-festival of Fox westerns covering a six-year period. Three of the four happen to co-star Richard Widmark, two of them pair Susan Hayward and Hugh Marlow, and two were helmed by the same director.

Image
YELLOW SKY (1948) 98m *** ½ (Blu-ray released July 12, 2016)
Gregory Peck and Richard Widmark are uneasy partners leading a gang of bank robbers in this character-driven western expertly directed by the versatile William Wellman from a well-plotted and award-winning script by Lamar Trotti (who also produced the film). It’s also beautifully photographed in black and white by Joe MacDonald with plenty of evocative camera angles and lighting and deep-focus, wide-angle (NOT widescreen) compositions. Peck and his gang casually pull a bank robbery and head out into the hot, dry desolation of Death Valley to escape the pursuing posse. They soon realize they did not bring enough water, but just as they’re on their last legs they come upon an abandoned mining town inhabited only by a feisty girl (Anne Baxter) and her prospector grandfather (James Barton). When the gang members (including a young Harry Morgan) figure out that the pair have remained because they’ve found a new vein of gold, they plot to steal it. However, the hitherto tough and unsentimental Peck falls for the girl and the gang splits into two factions, one led by Widmark, before an inevitable final confrontation. The art direction, makeup, costumes, staging, and cinematography emphasize the gritty realism of the situation and rough edges of all the characters. Although there is a lot of talk, giving greater dimension to what would normally be minor characters in a genre picture like this, there are also a few good action scenes (like the final shootout) and plenty of spectacular scenery, filmed mostly on location in Death Valley and Lone Pine. The overall mood often suggests portions of von Stroheim’s GREED, notably the men enduring brutal desert heat and a later shot of the grizzled old grandfather posed in the shadows looking very much like Gibson Gowland’s “McTeague.” Interestingly, the opening titles to YELLOW SKY have exactly the same music score as the later RAWHIDE. However once the film gets going, YELLOW SKY uses almost no music, just skillfully chosen and mixed sound effects that accentuate its realistic atmosphere, enhancing the sense of desolation in the desert and ghost town.

Picture quality is excellent on Kino’s Blu-ray, with razor-sharp clarity enhancing the film’s realism. Very minor wear on the image is barely noticeable. Audio is likewise very good. The main bonus feature is a leisurely audio commentary by William Wellman, Jr. that has quite a few pauses while the film plays but supplies plenty of interesting information and personal anecdotes of when he was a boy on the set. There is also a trailer (in SD) plus trailers to four other westerns on Blu-ray from Kino: THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (in SD), MAN OF THE WEST, MAN WITH THE GUN, and BILLY TWO HATS, the last three all HD).

YELLOW SKY on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: C+

Image
RAWHIDE (1951) 87m *** ½
(Blu-ray released August 2, 2016)
Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward lead a great cast in this tension-packed noirish western from veteran director Henry Hathaway. The familiar-looking plot of people being held hostage by criminals bears some similarities to the plots of THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936), KEY LARGO (1948), SUDDENLY (1954), and STORM FEAR (1955), among others. Hayward is a strong-willed traveler with a young child who takes an instant dislike to Power as the reluctant but clever assistant to stagecoach station manager Edgar Buchanan, but they must pose as husband and wife once the station is invaded. Then they must deal with various unexpected turns of events to survive. Hugh Marlowe is the head villain this time, leading a bandit gang that takes over the remote stop with plans to hold up the next stage, which is supposed to be carrying a payroll. All they need to do is wait, so long as there’s no interference from either the hostages or other gang members. This is easier said than done. Jack Elam is at his slimiest as one of the gang, constantly lusting after Hayward. Dean Jagger, George Tobias, and Jeff Corey round out the cast. Everything is very well-plotted in Dudley Nichols’ script and skillfully directed by Hathaway to heighten the suspense. Milton Krasner’s striking black and white cinematography intensifies things all that much more. It may all be a familiar formula, but it is so well done it becomes a minor classic. As noted above, RAWHIDE uses the identical music for its opening credits as YELLOW SKY and a variation on that film’s score into its opening documentary-like scenes. Unlike YELLOW SKY, however, RAWHIDE does augment many scenes with appropriate mood music rather than rely on sound effects and dramatic silence throughout.

Kino’s Blu-ray has outstanding picture quality and good sound. Bonus features include nice little featurettes on Hayward, on the film’s Lone Pine location, and a brief restoration comparison (all standard-definition). There are also trailers to four westerns Kino has released on Blu-ray -- RAWHIDE, YELLOW SKY, and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT in SD, plus MAN OF THE WEST in HD. Strangely, the RAWHIDE box cover lists the wrong date and running time (1943 and 75 minutes instead of the correct 1951 and 87 minutes).

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

Image
GARDEN OF EVIL (1954) 100m ***
(Blu-ray released May 10, 2016)
Henry Hathaway also directed this laid-back character study masquerading as a western adventure, beautifully photographed by Milton Krasner and Jorge Stahl, Jr. to highlight not only Technicolor but the “miracle of CinemaScope” and “the wonder of high-fidelity directional stereophonic sound,” as the advertising campaign revels in hyping to the fullest. The film’s set-up has Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, and Cameron Mitchell getting loosely acquainted when the ship they’re traveling on puts ashore for lengthy repairs at a remote Mexican village. They pass the time leisurely in the local saloon (where we get an all-too-brief cameo by Rita Moreno as a sultry singer), until an excited Susan Hayward suddenly enters trying urgently to hire some men to help rescue her husband, severely injured and trapped in their gold mine. When she offers $2000 cash per person, all three sign on for the mission, as does one of the local Mexicans (Victor Manuel Mendoza), and the five embark on a dangerous journey across the Mexican wilderness populated by hostile Apaches.

The film’s title refers to the ominous Indian superstition that evil spirits dwell in the mine’s location. Along the way, the different characters and questionable motivations of each begin to emerge. Tensions gradually build as it seems apparent the men are hoping the husband will be dead and they can fight over the mine and the attractive woman leading them. Once they reach the mine, they find the husband (Hugh Marlowe) still alive but unable to travel on his own. They also realize the marriage has more than a few problems and the husband does not especially welcome their interference. After various confrontations among each other, once they’re finally on their way back to civilization, the Apaches attack. GARDEN OF EVIL has a few action scenes but is more concerned with internal character conflict, as well as the process of the journey itself. The film was shot on location in Mexico and makes great use of the scenery in its colorful widescreen image.

The 2.55:1 widescreen picture on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is a bit contrasty with some soft-focus center-of-frame shots, but otherwise is sharp with good color overall, though some flesh tones are on the yellowish side. As common with most early CinemaScope films, close-ups tend to appear stretched out in the center of the screen. The stereo soundtrack, as promised in the original ads, has some good directional moments, and Bernard Herrmann’s score sounds all the better, as he wrote it specifically to take advantage of the multi-channel stereo playback that had suddenly become widespread (no pun intended) with the introduction of CinemaScope the previous year. It’s presented in a choice of the film’s original four-channel mix or a somewhat enhanced 5.1 mix, and the disc includes an isolated music track in DTS 3.0 stereo. Other bonus features include a booklet, an audio commentary, three featurettes on the film, the director, and Susan Hayward, plus two trailers (one stressing the stereo sound). The featurettes and trailers are all in SD.

GARDEN OF EVIL on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B

Image
BROKEN LANCE (1954) 96m ***
(Blu-ray released Nov. 10, 2015)
Like Anthony Mann’s THE MAN FROM LARAMIE released the following year, Edward Dmytryk’s BROKEN LANCE includes some major plot elements loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Of course it may not be a coincidence that screenwriter Philip Yordan worked on both westerns. What appears on the surface to be just another revenge western about family rivalries is actually a character drama of a dysfunctional family that deals with race relations, industrial pollution, and other issues decades before it became fashionable. Perhaps a bit preachy at times, the film is put over by its strong performances by Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, Robert Wagner, Katy Jurado, and more. This film also exploits “the miracle of CinemaScope and the wonder of stereophonic sound” to enhance the storytelling experience, thus benefitting greatly from a large screen and good audio system.

Much of the story plays out in flashback, as cattle baron Matt Devereaux’s youngest son Joe (Wagner) returns to the family decrepit homestead from prison and recalls the events that led up to his arrest, his stubborn and iron-willed father’s death, and his three brothers letting the ranch fall into ruin in favor of exploiting their mineral rights. Many events revolve around the brothers’ resentment (especially Widmark’s) of their father’s preference for the half-breed son of his second wife, a Native American whose presence was grudgingly tolerated by the community because of Devereaux’s power and influence. We also have a star-crossed romance between Joe and the daughter (Jean Peters) of a bigoted judge. The last section of the film builds to a final showdown (literal and figurative) between Joe and his brothers. BROKEN LANCE would make a good double-feature with Don Siegel’s FLAMING STAR (1960), which spotlights an impressive performance by no less than Elvis Presley in a similar role of a conflicted half-breed.

Twilight Time’s HD transfer looks good and preserves the full 2.55:1 aspect ratio, although as with many early CinemaScope features certain shots and areas of shots are sometimes soft-focus due to lens abnormalities. The color is very good. The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack reproduces the original 4-track magnetic stereo sound from the film’s original release. Bonus features include an illustrated booklet, an isolated music track, an audio commentary with co-star Earl Holliman, a brief Fox Movietone newsreel covering the film’s Oscars, and two trailers (essentially identical except that one pushes the stereo sound and the other omits any reference to stereo). The newsreel and trailers are all standard-definition.

BROKEN LANCE on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B-
Offline
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5270
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Aug 05, 2016 9:13 pm

Caught up on a couple of relatively recent releases:

Image

LUST FOR LIFE (1956) 122m ***½ (Blu-ray released February 3, 2015)
Based on a pop bestseller "non-fiction novel" by Irving Stone, and filmed by MGM in the mid-1950s, Lust For Life ought to be cheesy and kitschy, yet despite scenes which have Georges Seurat standing around putting the finishing dots on La Grand Jatte while explaining his theories of painting, this is an intelligent and emotionally affecting biography of Vincent Van Gogh with a sincere and tormented performance by Kirk Douglas which convincingly dramatizes the life of a man whose mental problems— which today we would pigeonhole reductively as bipolar, with obvious manic and depressive phases— took the form of being a great and empathetic artist, while at the same time getting us efficiently through Exposition Park to explain the roots of his art. Credit goes to the adult screenplay by Norman Corwin, but most of all the credit goes to Vincente Minnelli, who (working with the cinematographers Freddie Young and Russell Harlan) skillfully shows the world as Van Gogh saw it and accentuated its colors and shapes into his art—and to Kirk Douglas, who got an Academy Award nomination, though he would see an Oscar go instead to his supporting costar Anthony Quinn as Gauguin.

I had memory of this being in color that popped off the screen, but perhaps I exaggerated it a little in the memory, as this blu-ray doesn't quite pop color the way, say, Criterion's Red Shoes does. Some of the images of his art are sometimes blurry in focus—I assume they were working with slides they blew up too much—and the colors, though vivid and otherwise reasonably sharp, are not eyepoppingly so; they don't have that razor sharpness we associate with titles from preserved three-strip elements. This was apparently one of the first releases in Metrocolor, a single-strip process, and perhaps that's why it's not quite as beautiful as other things. Still, for the price it's a high quality version of a major 1950s film in widescreen color. Sound is somewhat tinny at times—maybe only on looped lines. But in general, this is a pleasing edition, which has a few minor extras, a trailer and a 1950s promotional short for the film.

LUST FOR LIFE on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: B+
Extras: C


Image

STATE OF SIEGE (1972) 121m ***½ (Blu-ray released May 26, 2015)
I let my 17-year-old pick out some Criterion titles that looked interesting to him during the recent BN.com sale, and this was one of them. I knew I had seen Z, of course, but I honestly couldn't remember if I had seen this followup from Greek director Constantin Costa-Gavras, which lightly fictionalizes a true-life event from 1970, in which an American USAID worker, Dan Mitrione, ostensibly in South America to train police in modern methods, was suspected of actually training police in counterintelligence against Communist insurgencies, including by training them in torture methods. Mitrione was kidnapped by the Tupamaros in Uruguay, and murdered (I didn't spoil anything; his death is at the beginning and we learn what led to it after).

In this version Mitrione is Philip Michael Santore, and he's played by Yves Montand (who was actually Italian, for all that he's the quintessential Parisian), and the bulk of the film is in French. This makes for a somewhat dissonant effect; imagine the same film with an actual American playing the role in English, Gene Hackman or somebody, and the scenes would be very different from how urbanely Gallic Montand plays an American cop as he is interrogated by the Tupamaros and slowly concedes, bit by bit, what he's been up to. (It's fitting that Americans get a taste of the kind of casting dissonance we inflict on other countries, I guess. Down with Yanqui imperialism!)

Apart from that, though, the film has the virtues that made Z such an electrifying hit— Costa-Gavras films with a kind of heightened pseudo-documentary realism, letting scenes play out as they might to a newsreel camera, yet somehow he's a little quicker in getting to a sharp point than realism would be, and there's a musical score by Mikis Theodorakis (Zorba the Greek) which is jaunty, ironic, seems to make a bit of absurdist comedy out of the machinations of security services in what is, after all, very far from being a country of the utmost importance to the world. In any case, you may know nothing of Uruguayan politics (in fact, I'd say that's fairly likely) but you'll be captivated by their vivid portrayal here. Besides Montand, there's a very strong performance by the German actor O.E. Hasse (who was in Hitchcock's I Confess) as a skeptical reporter who's good at nailing hapless officials with a pointed question.

The film is meant to be a bit raw, so Criterion's version makes it a rock-steady, color-corrected edition of a rough and ready, sometimes grainy film, whose predominant colors are gray (is Montevideo always overcast? It is here). Sound is clear; supplements are few but include some NBC reports with John Chancellor on the Mitrione kidnapping—the footage of police crackdowns looks a whole lot like the movie you just saw.

STATE OF SIEGE on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B
“One of the wonders of the internet is that it's a totally open forum. The world's greatest expert—or greatest idiot—is free to post.” —David Shepard, quoted by Richard Bann
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Aug 16, 2016 11:31 pm

After Mike's review of more edifying fare (and I really liked LUST FOR LIFE, as well), here are a couple of less ambitious genre films that don't have the reputations but can supply a diverting entertainment and still have a bit of subtext for those who care to analyze them on deeper levels.

Last month two new Blu-ray releases featured low-budget sci-fi movies about monsters we cannot see (thus helping keep the budgets low). Neither is a “classic” but both are able to hold attention with their earnest acting that belies their budgets and rapid shooting schedules, as well as their expression of 1950s paranoias safely and metaphorically dramatized within fictional fantasy. The first film deals with the general public uneasiness with rapid scientific advances that might unexpectedly turn against us, while the second taps into the fear of invasion by a superior power able to recruit an army from our own population. They both incorporate the familiar clash between scientists seeking new knowledge and military experts seeking immediate results.

They also play well together as a double-feature, especially given their short running times, and in lieu of a classic drive-in experience they might make a fun backyard movie night before summer is over if you can rig up an HD projector, screen (perhaps a bedsheet or one of the inflatable screens sold for such purposes), and sound system outdoors. As usual, proper high-definition scans of 35mm prints in decent condition enhance the viewing experience dramatically, effectively turning routine genre films into much more enjoyable storytelling than the same films in mediocre film or video dupes.

Image
THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953) 76m *** (Blu-ray released July 5, 2016)
The “monster” in this Ivan Tors production is more of a metaphoric application of the term to a dangerous radioactive man-made atomic element inadvertently created by a scientist experimenting on his own rather than as part of a team. It quickly becomes something far beyond his ability to control. The element exerts an intense magnetic field until it can absorb energy from its surroundings, which then causes it to grow in size exponentially until it repeats the process some time later, feeding itself almost like a living creature. THE MAGNETIC MONSTER was the first of three OSI (“Office of Scientific Investigation”) films (GOG, which I reviewed back in April, was the third) inspired by actual research that Tors hoped would foster serious interest in science rather than simply exploit simplistic scientific excuses for run-of-the-mill giant monsters, mutations, or alien invaders. There’s not even a romance involved in the plot, usually an obligatory feature of any studio film, although the main scientist (Richard Carlson) does have a perky and sympathetic wife (Jean Byron) we see briefly in three scenes. With the help of a 1950s-era supercomputer bearing the cleverly and amusingly contrived acronym MANIAC, the scientists calculate that the element will soon acquire enough mass to throw off the balance of the planet so it wobbles out of orbit and off into space. Their job is to overload the element with enough energy to destroy it.

Even though the science behind THE MAGNETIC MONSTER is a bit vague, the cast is able to maintain an intense sincerity that pulls it all off, despite a more melodramatic flair during the last 20 minutes. The scientific banter throughout the film lets characters interact and moves the plot forward with little of the pace-dragging tedium that mars GOG. GOG, of course, had the attractions of color, widescreen, and 3-D to help distract from the dullness of its storytelling, whereas THE MAGNETIC MONSTER is in black-and-white, standard Academy ratio, and a normal 2-dimensional presentation. Luckily the acting, story, and filmmaking are able to hold viewer interest reasonably well on their own merits, and it’s also quite interesting to see scenes from a German film made two decades earlier skillfully worked into the plot.

Picture quality is excellent on all the footage shot specifically for the film, and very good on the stock footage and the substantial segment lifted from the 1934 German production GOLD for the climax, which supplies views of a massive expressionistic set well beyond the budget of this film but well-integrated into newly-created shots of the cast in similar-looking surroundings. Sound quality is fine. The main bonus is an audio commentary by Derek Botello, who provides a fair amount of historical information but is at his best when he’s reading passages from contemporary reviews or the memoirs of Curt Siodmak. His own personal observations and interpretations seem to indicate a lack of familiarity with the period beyond what he’s read by other critics with political agendas, or inferred from growing up a generation later. There is also a trailer (in SD), and trailers to three other vintage sci-fi films available on Blu-ray from Kino: DONOVAN’S BRAIN, INVISIBLE INVADERS, and JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (all in standard-definition).

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER on Blu-ray –
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B-

Image
INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959) 67m ** ½
(Blu-ray released July 12, 2016)
This ultra low-budget sci-fi horror movie stretches audience credulity and stock footage libraries to the limit more often than many low-budget genre films. Aliens who have developed the ability to be invisible to the human eye have been living on the moon and now plan to invade the earth. They can make themselves visible by inhabiting the bodies of newly-dead humans, so when a research scientist (John Carradine) is killed in an experimental explosion, they use his body to announce to fellow scientist (Philip Tonge) that the earth must surrender to them within 24 hours or they will destroy humanity. Of course when he tries to explain this to authorities, everyone thinks he’s crazy until dead bodies start coming to life and attacking people and disasters start occurring all over the world (shown via a wide variety of newsreel footage in good to mediocre condition). Eventually he, his daughter (Jean Byron), another scientist (Robert Hutton), and a pragmatic army major (John Agar) lock themselves in an underground bunker to develop a way to attack the aliens, but of course they don’t always agree with each other on how to do it. Carradine’s voice returns periodically as the voice of the alien leader.

More than a few lapses of logic, mindless zombies, and questionable character actions provide a level of camp entertainment for adult viewers in a film clearly aimed at children and teen monster-movie fans. To the film’s credit, all the actors play their parts with a determined seriousness that keeps it from becoming a self-conscious spoof of the genre. The acting is what holds the film together, giving a creepy sense of believability to the patently ridiculous situations, and allowing more sophisticated viewers to ruminate on subtext that is symptomatic of 1950s sociopolitical attitudes and Cold War fears. Also helping greatly in the film’s entertainment value is the high quality of the image.

Kino’s Blu-ray has a good, sharp HD transfer at 1.66:1, with good sound. Even the many instances of stock footage usually look pretty good. The main bonus feature is an audio commentary by historian Tom Weaver, who presents a lot of information but admits from the outset he does not much like the film. A seven-minute audio insert into the commentary by Dr. Robert J. Kiss gives some interesting data on the film’s 1959 release and exhibition history, noting how it was almost always shown as the second of a double-feature, quickly shifting from one-week runs to bookings of only a couple of days. He also discusses its unanticipated success in 1962 prime-time TV showings after low ratings as a late-night movie. Kino’s disc includes two trailers (both standard-definition), one for INVISIBLE INVADERS and one for THE MAGNETIC MONSTER.

INVISIBLE INVADERS on Blu-ray –
Movie: B-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C+
Offline
User avatar

silentfilm

Moderator

  • Posts: 8834
  • Joined: Tue Dec 18, 2007 12:31 pm
  • Location: Dallas, TX USA

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Aug 28, 2016 7:30 pm

Image

WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950) 79m ***1/2 (Blu-ray released May 17, 2016)
Nearly lost to history and a vault fire, this excellent film noir is a great gift to film fans from UCLA and Flicker Alley. WOMAN ON THE RUN is an atypical noir, in that the woman is the hero. Ross Elliott is out walking his dog at night when he witnesses a murder. When the police arrive and tell him that this was a mob hit, Elliott's character quickly escapes from police custody. The police find his wife, played by Ann Sheridan as wise-cracking, cynical woman who has drifted apart from her husband. She will have none of their protection either. She alerts her husband to the dragnet, and has to give the police the slip herself. With the help of a newspaper reporter, Dennis O'Keefe, she is one step ahead of the police and the killer as they all hunt her husband. She quickly learns that there are plenty of people who know her husband better than she ever has, and begins to wonder if she shouldn't give their marriage a second try. Directed by Norman Foster, who worked with Orson Welles on JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943) and other projects, this is a minor masterpiece of suspense. Although adapted by Alan Campbell, several of the crew were also writers (like Robert Keith, Dennis O'Keefe and the director) and they apparently rewrote much of the dialog on the set. The film reveals the killer half-way through, greatly increasing the suspense. This film has effective photography by Hal Mohr, and striking low-angle and Dutch tilt shots to convey the atmosphere of 1950s San Francisco. This is the kind of role that Ann Sheridan longed for, and she is excellent as she changes from a cynical almost-ex-wife to a woman fighting for her husband. There is literally a roller-coaster of an ending at an amusement park. If you are a fan of Film Noir, don't miss this film!

Picture quality is very good, but not excellent. This was transferred off of the mute dupe negative at the BFI, which was the last surviving 35mm copy of the film. There is plenty of grain, so it still looks like a film. It is much, much better than other PD disks of the title on the market. Hal Mohr's excellent photography still shines throughout this film. The sound isn't great either, as it is from a digital copy of the now-destroyed American print. The commentary track by author and Noir City Film Festival organizer Eddie Muller is excellent. He fills us in on the many character actors who appear in the film. Muller spends a lot of time describing the fascinating history of this independently produced film, and the winding story of the film's loss and rediscovery. There are a hand-full of short special features including a documentary on the making of the film and another on the restoration of the film. A then-and-now feature shows us filming locations in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Francisco. There's also an extended promo for the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco. Finally, the disk includes a nice booklet that also covers the loss and rediscovery of the film, and it is illustrated with many beautiful stills. The BluRay and DVD disks have English closed captions available.

WOMAN ON THE RUN on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: B+
Audio: C
Extras: A
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostFri Sep 02, 2016 4:18 pm

Nice write-up, Bruce. You beat me to posting my review of that film by about a day, so I held off for a while! Now that my class week is over, I'll post my very similar evaluation, although I was slightly more generous when rating the picture and sound but less generous in rating the extras. Along with it is my review of its co-release, TOO LATE FOR TEARS, which I liked almost as much. I thought WOMAN ON THE RUN was more engrossing, partly due to the more likeable characters (a bit unusual for a noir), and it also had a much more entertaining audio commentary. Both films are well-worth revisiting periodically, with or without the commentaries

This past May, restorations of two long-forgotten film noir classics made their Blu-ray and DVD debut from Flicker Alley. Both films focus on strong female leading characters rather than the male detectives, gangsters, small-time crooks, and/or unwitting schlemiels who typically get lured by a scheming woman to their doom or near-destruction. The reputations of both films had suffered or been ignored over the decades due to the mediocre to poor condition copies available until recent efforts by the Film Noir Foundation to locate higher quality material and restore some of their luster, as well as to provide wider availability for re-evaluation (again demonstrating how important a role image clarity plays in appreciation and enjoyment of a film).

Image
TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) 101m *** (Blu-ray released May 17, 2016)
Lizabeth Scott, who died last year at age 92, is the driving force behind the plot of this fine but relatively little-known example of film noir in its heyday. Unlike most noir films, her character is both the deadly femme fatale and the story’s obsessive, fatally flawed anti-hero, protagonist and antagonist rolled into one. She plays Jane Palmer, a dissatisfied housewife out driving (and arguing) with her husband one night, when suddenly a bag full of money is tossed into the back seat of their convertible by mistake. Her straitlaced husband Alan (Arthur Kennedy) wants to take it to the police, but Jane insists they keep it and immediately starts planning how she’ll spend it and scheming how she can keep it. Soon sleazy conman Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea) shows up at their apartment posing as a detective, but it’s quickly obvious that the money was a payoff intended for him and he wants it back. It doesn’t take long for Danny to realize that his shady dealings and physical threats are nothing compared with the drastic lengths Jane is willing to go to keep the money, whether it be seduction or cold-blooded murder. A little later Alan’s sister (Kristine Miller) and a man claiming to be a war buddy (Don Defore) figure into the complicated, well-plotted thriller, skillfully adapted to the screen by Roy Huggins from his own novel.

Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray was prepared from the recent 35mm restoration of the film by the UCLA Archive and the Film Noir Foundation, using the best surviving film elements that could be found. Sadly, these were dupe negatives a couple of generations away from the original camera negative, so there is an overall increase in contrast and grain over films restored from pristine 35mm material, but the film still looks better and is more complete than typical Public Domain video dubs of beat-up 16mm TV prints. Sound quality is reasonably good. There is a modest but worthwhile selection of bonus features, including an informative and lavishly illustrated booklet and a decent audio commentary by historian Alan K. Rode that recaps some of the booklet’s information and goes into great detail on the careers of the actors, director, producer, and writer. There are two brief but interesting featurettes, one covering the film’s production and the other detailing its restoration.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: B+
Audio: A-
Extras: B-

Image
WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950) 78m *** ½
(Blu-ray released May 17, 2016)
Ann Sheridan stars as Eleanor Johnson, the disillusioned and estranged wife of Frank (Ross Elliot), a struggling artist who has difficulty dealing with his strong-willed wife’s needs. It looks as though he will be the protagonist in the opening scenes while he is walking his dog at night and happens to witness a murder. However, after a brief police interrogation, he disappears into hiding and police detective Ferris (Robert Keith) tries to learn his whereabouts from Eleanor, becoming somewhat attracted to her in the process as he learns that their marriage is on the rocks. Both still want to find Frank before the killer does. Meanwhile, a persistent reporter (Dennis O’Keefe) latches on to Eleanor to help her evade the police that keep following her, offering to pay a substantial sum if they can find her husband first so he can get an exclusive story. He, too, is attracted to her, and there is plenty of wisecracking back-and-forth banter between them as they follow clues left by Frank and come across several acquaintances who seem to know her husband better than she does. Much of the action (like most noirs) takes place at night, with moody cinematography by the legendary Hal Mohr, and events gradually build to a spectacular climax involving a roller-coaster at an amusement park. Director Norman Foster had been a protégé of Orson Welles, and much of his style reflects that of his mentor.

No 35mm film elements of the independently-produced WOMAN ON THE RUN were known to exist until noir expert Eddie Muller discovered in 2003 that Universal Pictures had a single print off the camera negative in their vaults, which had never been projected. This was used for festival screenings for the next five years but was unfortunately destroyed in a devastating vault fire in 2008. Muller eventually learned that the British Film Institute had a dupe negative of the picture but no usable sound, which had to be re-synched from a video recording.

The Flicker Alley Blu-ray has rather good picture contrast and is reasonably sharp, but looks slightly soft and grainy since the original print was no longer available and the camera negative had long disappeared. Sound is quite good. Bonus features include a nice 24-page booklet, a great audio commentary track by Muller, and four featurettes about the film, its amazing path to restoration, its San Francisco locations, and the “Noir City” film festival that rediscovered the film.

WOMAN ON THE RUN on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: B+
Offline
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5270
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Sep 05, 2016 9:29 am

Image

8-1/2 (1963) 101m ***1/2
Having to assign a Maltinesque rating to 8-1/2 raises a question—does anyone throw on 8-1/2 for fun? This is a question about many of the great films of the 1960s— hard to imagine who seeks to unwind with, say, L'Avventura, or Muriel, or Weekend. This is a movie for the evening that you want to wrestle with the nature of cinema, with the limitations of art, with an era when movies mattered, and not just because of how much money they made opening weekend. It certainly has all the accoutrements of a great film—stunning black and white photography, a handsome man wrestling with deep thoughts (and talking a lot about it), beautiful women around him. It feels like what a great movie should be, is it one?

Where La Dolce Vita, Fellini's undoubted masterwork, was focused on society and one particularly trivial habitue of it who senses that there's a more meaningful life just out of his grasp, 8-1/2 is focused on Fellini and the world around him is a projection of what's in his head. Marcello Mastroianni— his hair grayed to make him look like Fellini, which of course he doesn't at all— is the director who can't make any decisions for his new movie, which appears to involve a science fiction theme, because he's unable to decide what it should be about, and instead goes through a series of reveries, mainly about the women in his life, from his embittered wife (Anouk Aimee, as angular as Giulietta Masina was round), to his shallow mistress, to the pagan temptress (precise nature undefined) who captivated him as a boy in Catholic school. (Fun fact I found: the actress who plays La Seraghina, an American named Edra Gale, turns up in another classic film just four years later:

Image Image

Well, White People Problems, as the kids today would say of a movie director bemoaning his lack of anything to say, and I tend to think Fellini dug his own reputation's grave with this film— plenty were ready to agree that he had nothing more to say and his highly colorful way of saying it was ultimately shallow next to movies that were about the real problems of the 60s, man. (If you notice, the ending that gets him out of this premise of the film director with nothing to say seems to be directly taken from a film by a rival— Bergman and The Seventh Seal.) Certainly the imitators this film produced (Alex in Wonderland, Stardust Memories, Nine) don't make you want to see more of these things. But Fellini is Fellini, and his eye is wonderful—one image that caught me was when he's looking back on his Catholic school days. No one ever thinks what the confessional looks like because it's built in to the woodwork of a church. Fellini takes the confessional and sets it out in a blankly minimal setting—where the gothic shape looks like a beetle about to devour the child. I know the feeling, man.

So there's enough of that that I found 8-1/2, on first viewing in many years, worth the effort to stick with a story that has no story. Criterion's disc, like its disc of La Dolce Vita, looks about as gorgeous as any black and white movie put on blu-ray. The photography by Gianni Di Venanzo (who shot La Notte and Juliet of the Spirits) is harsher than Otello Martelli's on La Dolce Vita, with light often hitting characters from above as if they're under interrogation, but also including splendid moments of chiaroscuro and silhouetting. The disc has quite a lot of extras, including an intro by Terry Gilliam and a documentary on a funeral sequence that was cut from the film; the most notable is a 1969 special made for NBC (!), Fellini: A Director's Notebook, shot during the making of Fellini Satyricon.

8-1/2 on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: A
“One of the wonders of the internet is that it's a totally open forum. The world's greatest expert—or greatest idiot—is free to post.” —David Shepard, quoted by Richard Bann
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Sep 13, 2016 11:33 pm

Back to some B (or B+) westerns of the 40s and 50s distributed (but not produced) by major studios. Here are three more vintage independent westerns released to Blu-ray the past few months, all in color for a change and one in CinemaScope.

First a pair of Randolph Scott westerns produced independently by Nat Holt and directed by Edward L. Marin for 20th Century Fox release, digitally restored with some difficulty to their original Cinecolor hues and new to Blu-ray this summer. Cinecolor was a less-costly alternative to Technicolor, based upon two complementary colors instead of three primary colors. It was still relatively rare for lower-budget movies to shoot in color over 65 years ago, and later reissues by other distributors for theatres or television were frequently in black-and-white or crude photochemical conversions to Eastmancolor. The camera negatives had been lost over the years but black-and-white protection positives of the two separate color records survived, each with its own shrinkage, damage, and optical timing errors that had to be dealt with when recombining them into color. The Cinecolor process could produce some amazingly effective color scenes, but like two-color Technicolor the limited palette can become frustratingly repetitive after a while. While neither film is particularly special, both are good solid B-western entertainment that play very well together as a double-feature. Both also feature veteran character actor Victor Jory as the villain, although in two very different sorts of characterizations, one more actively violent and the other no less ruthless but more passively scheming and controlling things behind the scenes. Both films also include a slightly feminist subtext with strong, independent-minded female characters central to much of the action.

Image
CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949) 95m *** (Blu-ray released August 9, 2016)
The plot of CANADIAN PACIFIC is the struggle to construct a transcontinental railroad across Canada, especially to unite the isolated west-coast British Columbia with the rest of the Dominion east of the Rockies. Randolph Scott is railroad surveyor and trouble-shooter Tom Andrews, who plans to retire after this assignment so he can marry Cecille (a 20-year-old Nancy Olson in her speaking-role film debut), daughter of a Metis mountain fur trapper (John Parrish). However, the rest of the Metis settlement and local Indian tribes are being riled up by the scheming Dirk Rourke (Victor Jory), a trader who sees the railroad as a threat to his trading post monopoly as well as their traditional way of life. He also sends men to sabotage the construction and sow discontent among the workers, besides inciting the tribes to attack the railroad camp and steal dynamite. In the midst of all this, the railroad’s new young doctor (Jane Wyatt) arrives to provide even more dramatic tension with her strongly pacifistic views, besides introducing some romantic tension and a tentative love triangle in Tom and Cecille’s relationship. Crusty old explosives expert Dynamite Dawson (J. Carrol Naish) helps keep things moving both in periodic violent intervention and in smoothing out personal misunderstandings. There are several climaxes and subclimaxes, and as expected in a B-western, everything naturally ends with a satisfying resolution.

The two-color Cinecolor cinematography adds a colorful appearance to the Canadian mountain location scenery, with attractive flesh tones and a pleasant orangey-blue dominated palette with plenty of good browns but no yellow and a dull brownish-blue that does a good job of simulating pine-tree green. Kino’s Blu-ray has a very good HD transfer of the new restoration with a sharp image and decent if not particularly impressive audio. Besides an HD trailer (in black and white), the main bonus feature is an hour-long documentary detailing the restoration process. There is also an HD scan from the first 20 minutes of an old 16mm Cinecolor print for comparison with its similar colors but much grainier image, and an HD scan of a nostalgic but drastically grainier and softer 8mm Castle Films black-and-white one-reel abridgement for home movie use (silent with German subtitles).

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


Image
THE CARIBOO TRAIL (1950) 81m ***
(Blu-ray released August 9, 2016)
After another Holt-Marin-Scott-Jory Cinecolor western, FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS (1949), which apparently does not have film elements in suitable condition for a Blu-ray release, the same team came out with THE CARIBOO TRAIL the following year. It was also filmed on mountain locations but with California (including plenty of studio soundstage scenes) and parts of Colorado passing for Canada. Even though it’s nearly two reels shorter, the characters tend to be somewhat more developed and interesting here than they were in CANADIAN PACIFIC, but the plot largely follows the familiar western formula. It generally has more intimacy to its melodrama than the epic ambitions of CANDADIAN PACIFIC. This time Randolph Scott is Jim Redfern, a small-time Montana rancher who drives his steers northward to British Columbia in hopes of starting a much larger ranch with his buddy Mike Evans (Bill Williams) and their Chinese cook Ling (Lee Tung Foo). Mike, however, is more interested in searching for gold in the same area, which had seen a gold rush some years before (and we later learn there is still a limited amount of gold to be found). On the trail they join up with a grizzled old prospector called “Grizzly” (George “Gabby” Hayes in his final big-screen role). Victor Jory plays Frank Walsh, a local land baron who owns most of a town and the surrounding land, and has his men steal Jim’s entire herd, instigating plenty of violent confrontations throughout the course of the movie, and a severe falling-out between Jim and Mike. Walsh is also unsuccessfully attempting to romance the town’s saloon owner, Francie Harrison (Karin Booth), who quickly falls for Jim once he arrives and demonstrates his willingness to stand up against Walsh. This leads to still more fights and shootings, as well as another Indian attack arranged by Jory’s character. Along the way we get to see a young Mary Stuart as Grizzly’s niece, in her final movie role before going on to star as Jo in the TV soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” for the next 35 years. As usual, there are a couple of interesting twists but everything ends pretty much as expected for the good guys and the bad guys.

Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is quite good, although the Cinecolor seems to have more of a dull brownish cast than the color in CANADIAN PACIFIC. Still the color adds significantly to enjoyment. Audio quality is adequate but shows its age. Bonus features again include a documentary on the color restoration, this time about a half-hour long and making references to the CANADIAN PACIFIC restoration. Again there is an HD scan of an old Castle Films 8mm black-and-white silent home movie abridgement, this time with English subtitles. There’s also a black-and-white trailer scanned from 35mm in HD.

THE CARIBOO TRAIL on Blu-ray –
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: B+
Extras: B-


Image
THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956) *** 86m
(Released to Blu-ray May 24, 2016)
A good three-color (Eastmancolor by DeLuxe) antidote to a few hours of Cinecolor is this slight but enjoyable Clark Gable western directed by Raoul Walsh with Gable personally involved in its production for his own company. There is relatively little action and a lot of talk for a Walsh and Gable picture, which often gives the feeling of a filmed stage play, although it was adapted by Margaret Fitts from her own story with screenwriter Richard Alan Simmons. The CinemaScope framing by Lucien Ballard, especially in the interior scenes, tends to strengthen this theatrical impression. Gable plays a charming conman named Dan Kehoe, who seems almost like a cousin to Rhett Butler. For most of the film he is holed up at a small, dilapidated ranch with four beautiful widows (hence the film’s title) and their crusty old mother-in-law Ma McDade (Jo Van Fleet) in an otherwise abandoned town called Wagon Mound. The melodramatic plot is handled with a generally light-hearted touch that keeps it entertaining despite an obviously limited budget, even when it bogs down in the middle.

Things get off to a promising start as Kehoe rides into a nearby small town and learns from the bartender (Jay C. Flippen) about the reclusive family of in-laws. The mother’s four sons had pulled a large heist a couple of years back and hid $100,000 on their property before the posse tracked them down and killed them all except one, who escaped but has never been heard from again. Because the brothers died in an explosion and fire, their remains were unrecognizable, so each of the young women has been hoping that her husband is the one who got away and will eventually come back to divide up the gold. Waiting for her prodigal son to return, Ma shoots on sight anyone else who tries to enter their property. This information immediately starts the wheels turning in Kehoe’s head. He sets off for Wagon Mound, pretending to be on the run from the law, and sure enough gets shot in the arm by Ma. The man-hungry widows bring him inside to nurse him back to health. All have drastically different personalities and try a variety of approaches to romance him to help them find the gold, much to his amusement. Gable’s Kehoe and Eleanor Parker as the most thoughtful McDade widow Sabina (both billed above the title in the advertising) hit it off especially well. Jean Willes, Barbara Nichols, and Sara Shane play the other three widows with relish, each vying for Gable’s attentions under the disapproving eye of the bitter Ma McDade. The ensuing events gradually lead to some realizations and a few obvious plus several unexpected plot twists before the conclusion, which it would spoil the movie to reveal in advance. Apparently Walsh filmed three endings so preview audiences could decide which one would be on the theatrical release.

There are a number of elements and themes similar to YELLOW SKY (1948), which I reviewed earlier (mainly the greed for gold, the talkative characters, and the ghost town), but THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS lacks the gritty drama, moral subtext, and philosophizing of William Wellman’s drama, and while its characters have some interesting quirks and backstory they are generally less complex, despite some definite noirish overtones. Whereas YELLOW SKY was another Fox release (like the two Randolph Scott pictures), THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS was released theatrically through United Artists. Overall it’s a pleasant if forgettable western adventure mystery comedy romance designed to provide a diverting hour-and-a-half at the movies. The relatively short runtime again lends itself to double-featuring with either of the Randolph Scott films, with YELLOW SKY, or with some other Western. All of these films come to life far more effectively in these nice film-like Blu-ray editions than they ever could on old video copies or 16mm dupes.

Picture quality on Olive’s Blu-ray is very good, and the wide CinemaScope image looks impressive projected on a big screen. While the colors are not quite as intense as Technicolor they’re much more vivid (and varied) than Cinecolor. Sound quality is decent. The only bonus feature is a trailer in HD, which is more than Olive usually offers.

THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: D+
Offline
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5270
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Sep 17, 2016 8:43 am

We tend to see the art films of other countries more than the commercial hits (though sometimes, as with Kurosawa's samurai films, they're both), so it's a crapshoot whether or not we'll know the stars who define the movies and stand as the romantic image of themselves to those countries. Jean Gabin, the John Wayne of France, worked with top directors, so we know him well enough. Hans Albers, the German John Wayne... not so much.

Image

GOLD (1934) 117m *** (Blu-ray released June 14, 2016)

Kino long ago released the only Albers film and almost the only Nazi-era film to have a worldwide reputation, Ufa's color spectacular Munchhausen, so popular that it was advertised at a revival theater when I was in Munich in 1978, and now they've taken advantage of a science fiction theme to release Gold, a thriller about, well, alchemy. The movie starts in third gear with Professor Achenbach about to test his ray for transmuting lead into gold, his assistant engineer Holk (Albers) at his side. But another assistant has betrayed them to shadowy gangsters, and in the resulting accident, Achenbach is killed and his work discredited. Months later Holk is recruited by the Scottish industrialist John Wills (played by the operatic baritone Michael Bohnen) to work on his even bigger gold project— but Holk suspects Wills was behind the sabotage, Wills suspects Holk knows it, Holk's independent daughter Florence (Brigitte Helm) falls for Holk like Angie Dickinson for John Wayne, and Wills' chief engineer isn't happy to have a rival twirling the big knobs and running up and down the stairways shouting orders.

If you ever wanted another Metropolis, especially one crossed with a little James Bond, Gold is your movie—massive sets of dials, Frankenstein-like sparking lights, and other scientific things that go ping, and some well-plotted tension between Albers and his Goldfinger-like enemy. Albers, who combined manly ruggedness with a certain caustic wit (according to William K. Everson, he would insert swear words into his dialogue which the censors dared not cut because he was Hans Albers), is always dashing about the main set, while Helm, whose part doesn't really have that much to do with the plot, shows that she knows how to use her angular looks to maximum advantage—there's nothing she likes better than the chance to suddenly whip her head around and look like an art deco hood ornament come to life.

The spectacular main set (Wills' underground gold transmutation lab-factory) is used to maximum advantage— I don't know that director Karl Hartl (F.P. 1 Antwortet Nicht) was nearly the pictorialist that Lang was, but he knows enough to keep showing us different angles, including one moving camera shot that must have been shot from a 50-foot platform, a la Intolerance or Broadway. The most surprising aspect is that the movie is rather smart about the economics of flooding the world with gold, which would mainly serve to depress the market for gold (which, indeed, is probably why Spain didn't stay rich off its New World plunder). There's a great montage sequence which at first recounts the thrill of the discovery... and slowly turns into an account of the political and economic panic that follows. I know we shouldn't get all Kracauer about seeing the history of Nazism in every German film, but... could someone have been trying to say something about the dangers of following some ranting leader promising the world but bringing only chaos and destruction?

The print of Gold is a little rough with speckles and lines, but generally has good picture and sound quality and clarity; it seems pretty complete, there was just one abrupt cut I noticed that suggested footage might be missing. The main problem is that whenever the screen is very dark, it gets noticeably splotchy and is unable to maintain a large area in an even tone; the center will be lighter than the edges. There are no extras. Still, imperfect it may be but it's more than watchable, and science fiction fans will be glad for the chance to see one of the most visually impressive scifi films of the time, comparable to Metropolis and Things to Come, while anyone should enjoy an intelligent, pretty well-paced and constructed thriller with its two charismatic stars.
“One of the wonders of the internet is that it's a totally open forum. The world's greatest expert—or greatest idiot—is free to post.” —David Shepard, quoted by Richard Bann
Offline
User avatar

Brooksie

  • Posts: 2478
  • Joined: Wed Jun 30, 2010 6:41 pm
  • Location: Portland, Oregon via Sydney, Australia

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Sep 17, 2016 12:21 pm

How is it that I never heard of this film? Sounds fascinating.
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Sep 18, 2016 1:35 pm

Funny, I was just thinking of watching my new Blu-ray of GOLD soon so I could write it up, and Mike's review makes me even more eager to see it. A sizeable chunk of GOLD was incorporated into the low-budget 1950s American sci-fi movie THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, which I noted a month ago in my review above, and the sets do indeed look impressive. I'll probably want to watch that again after seeing GOLD. Meanwhile, here is another vintage American movie relatively new to Blu-ray (can two years be considered "recent"?) ...

How’s about seven Gables? (sorry, couldn’t resist!)
Legendary Hollywood icon Clark Gable acted in some 67 films from 1931 through 1961 but is represented by only seven films on Blu-ray so far. He is best-remembered as Rhett Butler opposite Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in the epic GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), and as Fletcher Christian opposite Charles Laughton’s Captain Bligh in MGM’s MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935), both of which won Academy Awards for Best Picture (and both on excellent Blu-ray editions from Warner Home Video). He won the Best Actor Oscar opposite Claudette Colbert’s Best Actress performance in Frank Capra’s Best Picture/Director/Screenplay-winner IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), on a very nice Blu-ray from Criterion, and starred with Loretta Young in William Wellman’s CALL OF THE WILD (1935), on a good Blu-ray from Fox. Likewise memorable is Gable’s final screen appearance, opposite Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift in John Huston’s THE MISFITS (1961), also available on a fine Blu-ray. All of these I’ve reviewed previously in this thread, except for IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. Two other films from Gable’s later career are also now on Blu-ray, both produced by independent companies for release through United Artists. I just reviewed the lesser-known but worthwhile THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS (1956) above. Here’s a rather more impressive late Gable picture that made it to Blu-ray almost exactly two years ago.

Image
RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958) 93m *** ½ (Blu-ray released September 23, 2014)
Wartime submarine movies are a genre unto themselves, and one of the best is this Robert Wise drama with a strong cast led by Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, featuring Jack Warden, Brad Dexter, and Don Rickles. It was produced by Lancaster’s production company and adapted from the 1955 novel by Commander Edward L. Beach Lancaster is Lt. James Bledsoe, who hopes to get his own command to replace his injured captain. However, the strict and demanding Commander P. J. “Rich” Richardson (Gable), has been stuck in a desk job since his last command was sunk by a Japanese destroyer that has since sunk three more U.S. submarines in the same area. When he hears a submarine command is available, he insists on taking charge so he can hunt down the ship that destroyed his last submarine.

As submarine movies go, there is little that is unexpected. Nevertheless, the expertly-crafted and well-acted film provides a gripping balance of tensions between the two rival officers, between the officers and their crew, and between their submarine and the enemy above. At times the rest of the crew’s uneasiness over Richardson’s obsession makes it seem as if the plot may turn into another “Caine Mutiny,” but there are a few twists that shift the tension and action in other directions. The navy is reported to have supplied over a half-million dollars’ worth of equipment to add authenticity to the submarine interior sets. Effective use of miniatures keeps the naval confrontations exciting. At only 93 minutes, RUN SILENT RUN DEEP makes an ideal opening film for a Clark Gable Blu-ray double-feature with THE KING AND FOUR QUEENS, which is the lesser of the two but has the added attractions of color and CinemaScope, or perhaps another notable but non-Gable submarine warfare movie like THE ENEMY BELOW (1957), which pits an American destroyer against a German U-boat.

Kino’s Blu-ray of “Run Silent Run Deep” has fine picture quality, the crisp black-and-white cinematography by Russell Harlan scanned in HD at a 1.66:1 aspect ratio with sharp detail overall but a few slightly softer shots. Sound is also quite good. Unfortunately the only bonus feature is a trailer, but at least it’s in HD.

RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP on Blu-ray –-
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: D
Offline
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5270
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Sep 24, 2016 8:11 am

A remake (apparently not good) of The Magnificent Seven opened in theaters, but I took advantage of an evening to show my kids a favorite action film—which, as it turned out unintentionally, is also about assembling a team of vagabonds in a desperately poor village south of the border to handle a tough job. Did The Wages of Fear help inspire Seven Samurai, the inspiration for The Magnificent Seven? Could be...

Image

THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953) **** 148 min. (Blu-ray released April 28, 2009)

In a tiny South American village which started out being an oil boom town but slid back into the squalor of a desperately poor village, a group of tramps waste away their days pointlessly contemplating the impossibility of ever getting out. Then a chance comes— 300 miles away, an oil well has blown up, and there's life-transformingly big pay for anyone who can drive a truck full of nitroglycerin to the well to blow the fire out. The hitch is, one bump in the road and you could go up in a massive explosion, never even knowing it happened. Two teams are hired, one of them consisting of a sassy young tramp from Paris (Yves Montand) and an older smuggler (Charles Vanel, 30 years after playing the baddie opposite Ivan Mosjoukine in The House of Mystery). The challenge is not only the physical one, but also the existential one—what does it do to a man to drive for two solid days expecting death at any second?

Action scenes in movies are sometimes denigrated today for laying out the challenges too clearly and mechanically, like video games— I have to climb this, shoot this, and slide down this and then I advance to the next level. Yet clarity in laying out the challenges and ratcheting up the suspense is movie magic when it's done well— and it's almost never been done better than in the masterfully calculated and edited Wages of Fear. With two trucks, we are often shown two approaches to the same problem, and the second invariably builds on the first to make it more nail biting. When Montand's truck has to back out onto a wooden platform in order to gain enough speed to climb a incline, and we've already seen the first team damage it, my kids were howling with the tension and terror of the moment, something I don't remember that they've done since years ago, they watched Safety Last or The Kid Brother and hopped up and down, little kids, on the couch with the simultaneous comedy and terror of it.

The main difference between Harold Lloyd and H.G. Clouzot is that sense of existential dread— this is the action movie version of No Exit or L'Etranger, and gloom hangs over it throughout, leavened with sardonic black comedy of a highly misanthropic sort. The most interesting character is Vanel's, Jo, an older runner of contraband and other crimes (unspecified) who has hightailed it one step ahead of the police to the town. In the town there's no question of his toughness— he deliberately goads Montand's old roommate Luigi, then humiliates him by proving he's not tough enough to pull a trigger in a bar fight in front of everyone. (This, of course, is not actually a character flaw.) But on the road, Jo steadily crumbles— "You're young and think you're invincible, but I feel every bump and every pebble, I've died 50 times already," he shouts to Montand. It's a poignant and revealing characterization.

For a movie mostly about wastelands and squalor, it's handsomely shot (the wilds of the Languedoc and other remote parts of France standing in for South America with complete conviction), and a climactic scene in which they must guide a truck through a pool of oil is quite beautiful for the starkness of two stars dyed jet black in a pool of the same. Editing is peerless, with one climactic moment told through the simplest but utterly devastating montage (one of my sons said, "I'm still processing [event]" a few moments later). The film has existed in various shortened versions— partly because "anti-American" scenes were removed in the U.S., partly because the early scenes in the village seem to drag to no end (though they also have the consolation of Vera Clouzot as a sexy barmaid). That's not strictly true, they're setting the stage and establishing at least some of the characters, but it's also true that the movie kicks into much higher gear once they climb into the trucks.

In any case the quality of the film varies a little, with a little softness or streaking visible in scenes which seem like what would have been cut back then, but it's very minor (or has been covered well in the transfer). There are several making-of interviews included, but the thing I'm most interested in watching is a documentary on Clouzot's career— he is best-known for two films made back to back in the 1950s, this and Les Diaboliques, yet the earlier films of his I've seen are all terrific sardonically misanthropic noirs (Le Corbeau and Quai des Orfevres) and his later career includes his film with Picasso and a reputation as a terrible tyrant on set, so I'm interested to know all that. Maybe truck drivers have it easy next to actors, who knows?
“One of the wonders of the internet is that it's a totally open forum. The world's greatest expert—or greatest idiot—is free to post.” —David Shepard, quoted by Richard Bann
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Oct 02, 2016 11:43 pm

I like Clouzot's WAGES OF FEAR quite a bit as well, and the Criterion disc is indeed excellent. I also very much like William Friedkin's 1977 American remake SORCERER, which isn't quite as good in some ways but improves on the original in other ways. Warner's Blu-ray looks and sounds great but is devoid of extras (although the Digibook edition at least has some text and photos). But on to some new reviews...


It’s now October, the month of Halloween. There are plenty of more artistic, edifying, or thought-provoking films to watch, but genre films tend to be the cinematic equivalent of “comfort food” that can be returned to repeatedly for an entertaining hour or two. The crisp clarity of a high-definition image makes the attraction to revisit favorites even stronger and makes routine formula films seem much better than they otherwise might. Genres may be westerns, musicals, action-adventures, mystery-thrillers, or others, but this time of year tends to inspire watching horror/sci-fi movies, and especially those from the 1930s through the 1960s. Four years ago Universal Pictures came out with their “Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection,” an excellent nine-film Blu-ray set including beautiful high-definition editions of DRACULA (1931), FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), and more through 1954.

This September, in plenty of time to stock up for Halloween movie parties, they have just released Blu-ray sets of recently-restored films comprising two of their golden-era 1930s-40s classic horror series of sequels: the eight-film “Frankenstein Complete Legacy Collection,” and “The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collection” with seven films, four of which overlap with the “Frankenstein” set so only three additional films if you get both. Each also includes the first of the series for collectors who do not already have the “Essential Collection.” I may review these Legacy Collections, or at least portions of them, sometime in upcoming weeks.

But Universal wasn’t the only major studio doing stylish horror-thriller fantasies in the 1930s, or the only ones featuring Bela “Dracula” Lugosi, or with restored films available on Blu-ray. Fox Film Corporation jumped on the Lugosi bandwagon in 1932, and the result can now be enjoyed and revisited at leisure in full 1080p. Earlier this year a more obscure horror-fantasy thriller, this one a much lower-budget 1958 independent production for United Artists, also got a nice-looking Blu-ray release. Both of these were aimed at younger viewers, who for whatever reason always seem to be the biggest horror fans.

Image
CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932) 72m *** (Blu-ray released August 23, 2016)
Not too many Fox films from before its merger with 20th Century have survived the ravages of time, decomposition, and vault fires, and even fewer are on video, much less Blu-ray. CHANDU THE MAGICIAN was just released to Blu-ray last month and coincidentally premiered in theatres the week of September 30, 1932. While not a major prestigious classic, it is a prime example of solid, polished studio filmmaking, capitalizing on the horror genre that had recently shot to popularity the year before, but blending in various other elements for box office appeal. It’s not so much a standard horror film as it is an exotic adventure fantasy with generous doses of the supernatural, science-fiction, and of course romance, inspired by a major hit radio show of the same title.

A major draw for audiences then and now is the casting of horror icon Bela Lugosi in one of his most memorable roles as the gleefully insane evil villain Roxor, who has set up headquarters in an ancient Egyptian temple and does not want simply to conquer the world, he wants to destroy it and humanity along with it! This he hopes to accomplish by acquiring a powerful death-ray that has been perfected by otherwise mild-mannered scientist and family man Robert Regent, played by silent screen veteran Henry B. Walthall. It just so happens that Regent’s brother-in-law Frank Chandler (the top-billed Edmund Lowe) has been in India studying mysticism and the art of illusion, and is a magician known as “Chandu” (pronounced “Shawn-doo”). When Regent and later his wife (Virginia Hammond) and children Betty Lou (June Vlasek/Lang) and Bobby (Nestor Aber) are kidnapped by the ruthless Roxor to obtain the death-ray device, Chandu knows he must use his hypnotic abilities to save both them and the world. This he sets out to do with the help of his girlfriend, the beautiful Egyptian Princess Nadji (former Miss America Irene Ware) and comic alcoholic English sidekick Albert Miggles (Herbert Mundin). Meanwhile, an ally of Roxor named Abdullah (Weldon Heyburn) wants to possess Princess Nadji for himself and figures prominently among the dangerous obstacles Chandu must deal with.

The action moves along fast and furiously in only a 72-minute running time, with regular cliff-hanging climaxes and resolutions that call to mind a serial (and in fact two years later a 12-episode Chandu serial was produced but starring Lugosi in the title role instead of as the villain). Some of the most melodramatic elements have more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek attitude along the lines of the Indian Jones movies. CHANDU THE MAGICIAN is aimed primarily at juvenile audiences (and radio fans) with its escapist action-adventure and first-rate special effects (decades before CGI), and thus tones down or discreetly skirts around some of its adult themes. Nevertheless, it is still obvious that it was made before the Production Code crackdown, with some of its potentially disturbing violent implications, and especially when the lovely young Betty Lou is being auctioned off at the slave market in a clingy gown with little or nothing beneath it.

Besides plenty of over-the-top action, a large part of the film’s appeal is its striking look -- in setting, lighting, and camera composition. It was co-directed by Oscar-winning visual stylist William Cameron Menzies, a noted art director and production designer throughout the silent era and later for GONE WITH THE WIND among others, and Marcel Varnel, who was better-known a few years later for making comedies in England. The effective black-and-white expressionistic cinematography is by the great James Wong Howe.

The surviving 35mm elements on CHANDU THE MAGICIAN appear to have been in very good condition. Picture quality on Kino’s Blu-ray is quite sharp and film-like with good contrast that showcases the visuals nicely. Some scratches are visible but most of the dust has been digitally removed. A few grainy shots (besides obvious optical effects) may be due to dupe material in the preprint used for the scan. Audio is okay but shows its age. Bonus features include a very good audio commentary by Gregory William Mank, a nice little featurette (in SD) about Chandu on radio and film, a brief restoration comparison, and trailers to two other Lugosi films: THE BLACK SLEEP and WHITE ZOMBIE, both also available on Blu-ray from Kino.

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: B+
Extras: B


Image
CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (1958) 67m ***
(Blu-ray released February 16, 2016)
The title may sound like a cheesy no-budget horror film, but this suspense-fantasy produced by the independent Vogue Pictures for release through United Artists is a good step above the average genre picture. It has a surprisingly literate if rather talky script, taut, effective direction, and competent acting. These help make up for its minimal budget and for the annoying overuse of voiceover narration that explains things we can already see on screen or easily figure out from what’s going on. Perhaps the narration was a last-minute addition by producers concerned that the children expected to make up much of the audience might be confused without it.

The screenplay by Jerome Bixby, whose later work included a major “Twilight Zone” episode and four episodes of the original “Star Trek” TV series, could have become a minor classic at a major studio with enough resources to produce the parallel story in ancient Pompeii that results in the modern-day action, which plugs easily into a standard horror formula. The simplified finished film directed by Edward L. Cahn provides tantalizing hints at what might have been, done through dialogue explanations and some grainy stock footage flashbacks of a volcanic eruption and miniature Roman-era sets. It’s not so much a straight horror-monster movie as it is a supernatural romantic thriller.

The film is strongly reminiscent of the classic Boris Karloff version of THE MUMMY. It opens with an archaeological excavation in Pompeii discovering the solidified body of a lava-encased Etruscan gladiator named Quintillus Aurelius. It turns out he had a forbidden love affair with a Senator’s daughter and both died in the conflagration. By some fateful coincidence he has been preserved alive due to contact with ancient Egyptian embalming fluid and volcanic radiation. She, on the other hand, has been reincarnated in the body of attractive young artist Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards). She happens to be the fiancée of American Dr. Paul Mallon (Richard Anderson), who’s working at an Italian museum under Dr. Carlo Fiorillo (Luis Van Rooten). Fiorello’s daughter Maria (Adele Mara) is also working on the project, and had once had a relationship with Mallon. There’s plenty of backstory among all of them that the film also doesn’t have time to flesh out. Of course the “monster” is revived after he is unearthed, has superhuman strength (killing most people who stand in his way), and tries relentlessly to reunite with his long-lost love, who is unconsciously drawn to him against her will. The actors play everything in dead seriousness and the film has no (intentional) comedy relief, helping to put across the potentially ludicrous situations and provide entertainment that can work as either a straight thriller with some interesting historical references and intriguing fantasy, or as a campy no-budget monster movie that can’t quite live up to what it sets out to do. Either way, it’s fun to watch, especially in high definition.

Kino’s Blu-ray has a fine HD scan with good audio. The picture is so crisp that besides the softer and grainier stock-footage shots, it is easy to notice a number of out-of-focus shots that likely were used because the low budget did not permit retakes. Bonus features include trailers to two other late fifties sci-fi horror films that would make great co-features, INVISIBLE INVADERS (1959), also directed by Edward L. Cahn, and THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957), both of which I reviewed earlier this year and are not coincidentally available on Blu-ray from Kino. The disc also has an okay but disappointing audio commentary track by Chris Alexander. He provides some interesting facts, but frequently just rambles on with personal quips and observations peppered with casual profanity. He also forgets details of some things he starts to bring up or doesn’t follow through with his train of thought, and obviously has not brought along notes to refer to. For example he makes a big point that the uncredited narrator Morris Ankrum often appeared as a judge on the old “Perry Mason” TV series, which he claims is one of his favorite shows, but completely neglects to mention that the film’s star Richard Anderson had a major recurring role on “Perry Mason” as a police lieutenant. And for such a short commentary, he allows far too many pauses while the film continues to play.

CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: C
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Oct 17, 2016 5:04 pm

Image
IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) 80m *** ½ in 3D & stereo, *** in 2D mono (Blu-ray released October 4, 2016)
Continuing in the vein of Halloween-appropriate horror/sci-fi/fantasy films for October is a new Blu-ray released last week and at an unexpected bargain price of only $8 - $10 (currently available only from Best Buy in the U.S.). IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) has long been considered one of the major science-fiction films of the 1950s, largely due to its thoughtful story by Ray Bradbury, polished direction by Jack Arnold, and effective production by William Alland. However, it has not been possible to see it in its original format with polarized three-dimensional projection and dynamic three-channel stereophonic sound in six decades, except for rare festival or archival showings.

A brief 3-D reissue in the 1970s used the inferior red/blue glasses anaglyph system with mono sound. The DVD released in 2002 was standard 2-D, although it did include a Dolby Digital 3.0 soundtrack remixed and rebalanced for playback on a typical stereo TV set. For the new Blu-ray, on the other hand, the 3-D Film Archive not only remastered the picture with digital cleanup and careful realignment of the right-left images for the current 3-D Blu-ray format, but also restored the original 3-track magnetically-recorded stereo audio mix, using the lossless DTS-MA format. The result is a vivid sense of depth to the 3-D image, and a wide dynamic range of loud and soft with extremely directional Left-Center-Right stereo separation of the sound that rivals modern theatrical stereo movies (just not employing the surround channels).

The movie itself is a good example of 1950s sci-fi from a major studio, in this case Universal Pictures, whose 1931 releases of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN (now both on excellent Blu-rays) set off moviegoers’ long love affair with horror films. After World War II, the horror genre morphed into science-fiction stories of the atomic age, usually focusing on alien invasions from another world and/or monsters from either another planet or created by atomic radiation. Both formulas capitalized on post-war fears of foreign invasion or the danger of nuclear power.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE has an alien spaceship crashing (loudly) into the Arizona desert, witnessed by amateur astronomer John Putnam (Richard Carlson) and his fiancée Ellen (Barbara Rush). At first they believe it’s a meteor, but when Putnam investigates the crash site he sees a half-buried spherical ship that seems to have some sort of life inside. Unfortunately a rockslide covers the ship and everyone he tries to tell his story to thinks he’s pulling a hoax or just plain crazy. Then townspeople start to disappear and/or act very strangely. Putnam learns that the aliens are able to assume the shape of humans, and they assure him they mean no harm. They are simply replacing local citizens temporarily in order to move about unnoticed while they attempt to repair their ship so they can leave earth as quickly as possible. Once the townspeople finally realize what’s happening, they naturally start to panic and immediately want to destroy the aliens. Much of the film’s conflict is Putnam’s attempt to intermediate with the aliens and hold off the violent mob of townspeople. It often has a similar feeling to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from a few years later, except in that film the aliens really were trying to take over the world. The aliens here are not overtly hostile, and have arrived accidentally rather than specifically to warn the planet about humans’ dangerously violent tendencies as in THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, although some of that concern still comes through in their conversations with Putnam.

The filmmakers’ original plan was to keep the aliens off-screen and reveal them only through their human shape, reactions by humans, and shots from their point-of-view. After production wrapped, however, the studio insisted they construct a hideous-looking monster they could exploit, and the director reluctantly added several shots showing the creature. This detracts somewhat from the serious main theme of Bradbury’s story and makes it more like a typical B-grade monster movie. However, plenty still remains of Bradbury’s strong (and still all-too-timely) statement against xenophobia, as well as several of his poetic monologues. And the film’s aggressively effective use of 3-D image compositions and high-fidelity stereo sound add immensely to its enjoyment (and rewatchability).

Picture quality on Universal’s Blu-ray is very good, transferred in HD at its originally intended aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Back in 1953, many theatres ran it in widescreen, usually at 1.85:1, but this crops the image severely and would need to have the framing readjusted to be watchable. Zoomed to 1.78:1 the picture is still overly cropped in close to half the scenes. It might look acceptable in 1.66:1 but looks best at the standard 1.37 Academy Ratio. The Blu-ray includes the original intermission card at the halfway point. A brief break was necessary in the 1950s for theatres to change reels because their two projectors were running simultaneously with the left and right-eye prints in synchronization through polarized filters. Today’s digital 3-D system displays the right and left images sequentially, with electronic glasses switching alternate lenses on and off to allow each eye to see the proper image. The disc can be played on a standard Blu-ray player and TV set in 2-D without glasses. There are still some faint scratches visible on occasion and a slightly grainy image possibly due to scanning right/left prints rather than the camera negatives. This is more obvious when watching it using the 2-D option, and is less noticeable in the 3-D presentation.

The audio is mostly outstanding but needs a decent stereo sound system with external speakers for full appreciation of the high-low frequency range and loud-soft dynamic range, not to mention the stereo separation. The stereo speakers built into a TV set or a self-contained “soundbar” will not be far enough apart to convey some of the spatial effects unless you’re sitting only a couple feet from the TV. Sometimes the dialogue in the center channel has a boxy, studio sound (perhaps due to post-dubbing) although off-screen dialogue coming from the left or right usually sounds quite clear. In general the dialogue is at a very low volume compared to the music and sound effects, which of course intensifies the stereo dynamics of the orchestra score and things like crashes, rockslides, helicopter sounds, etc. Although the box cover as well as the on-screen info data indicate that the audio is DTS-HD 3.0, it actually plays back as DTS-HD 3.1, including substantial subwoofer information. With other DTS-HD 3.0 and DTS-HD 2.0 tracks, the subwoofer does not turn on unless the audio stream is converted to PCM and decoded by a Dolby Pro-logic system.

Bonus features include the same fast-paced and informative Tom Weaver commentary from the 2002 DVD, as well as its half-hour documentary on Universal sci-fi films (in standard-definition), plus the original trailer now in hi-def, watchable in either 2D or 3D.

IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE on Blu-ray --
Movie: A- in 3D w/stereo sound or B in 2D w/mono sound (Average of B+)
Video: A-
3D: A+
Audio: A-
Extras: B
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Oct 23, 2016 11:41 pm

Image
Producer-director William Castle made a wide variety of films and TV programs from 1939 through 1975. But he gained a public reputation with the horror films he made in the late 1950s and 1960s for his own production company, many of which had an intentionally campy, tongue-in-cheek attitude. He was especially noted for devising flamboyant promotional gimmicks to help exploit his horror films, providing a sense of showmanship that made movie-going a special event and has been rarely seen in movie theatres for decades.

For his first independent thriller, MACABRE (1958), he offered audience members a $1000 life insurance policy against dying from fright. With HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) he convinced many theatres to have a life-size skeleton fly from the screen over the audience on a wire at a key moment. For THE TINGLER (1959) he had random theatre seats wired to vibrate when the monster gets loose. In 13 GHOSTS (1960), although shot in black-and-white, scenes showing the ghosts were printed in blue with the ghosts in red. Audience members could then choose to look through a special “ghost viewer” and have the ghosts invisible by looking through a red filter or visible by looking through a blue filter.

This summer Mill Creek Entertainment released four of Castle’s films on bargain double-feature Blu-rays, one with HOMICIDAL (1961) and MR. SARDONICUS (1961), and the other with 13 GHOSTS (1960) and the misleadingly titled 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS (1963). Other Castle movies currently on Blu-ray include HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) in a Vincent Price box set from Shout Factory, I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965), available separately from Shout Factory, and THE AMERICANO (1955), THE SPIRIT IS WILLING (1967), and SHANKS (1974), all from Olive films. The best introduction to Castle’s work is probably Mill Creek’s disc containing HOMICIDAL and MR. SARDONICUS. Both are 1961 productions released theatrically through Columbia Pictures, and both make an ideal Halloween season double-bill.

Image
HOMICIDAL (1961) 87m *** ½ (Released to Blu-ray July 19, 2016)
In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO revolutionized the horror thriller. Despite touches of dark, ironic humor, it was mostly deadly serious and its huge box-office success started the trend of slasher-murders by psychotic killers that remains a core element in horror films today. William Castle was among the first to capitalize upon the notoriety of PSYCHO with his HOMICIDAL the following year. He includes several scenes that closely parallel scenes in PSYCHO and has as many or more unexpected twists, surprise shocks, and shifts in plot direction. Ironically Hitchcock is said to have been inspired to make PSYCHO because of the popularity of low-budget horror films being made by Castle and by Roger Corman.

HOMICIDAL does not have the lighthearted campiness of many of his other films, except for the Hitchcock-like personal introduction with William Castle addressing the audience, and his brief gimmick just before the film’s climax. When a key character is just about to enter the killer’s house to learn what is happening, a 45-second timer appears on the screen as a “fright break” to give time for squeamish viewers to leave the auditorium in shame and claim a refund on their ticket. It would spoil the many surprises to discuss the plot in much detail. The film begins with a prologue set in 1948 showing two children, and then the action jumps to the present (1961) to what at first seems like a completely unrelated story. Very quickly a mysterious situation is set up, only to be interrupted by a brutal killing that makes the film all the more intriguing. Castle and screenwriter Robb White gradually reveal backstory, psychological implications, and other clues as the plot unfolds and grows more complex, with numerous twists along the way. Performances are effective (particularly Jean Arless, later known as Joan Marshall), if lacking the star power of “Psycho.” Critical reaction was mixed but Time Magazine preferred the film over PSYCHO and put HOMICIDAL on its list of the year’s ten best.

Mill Creek’s Blu-ray, using a Sony HD transfer, has a very good image and good sound. Unfortunately there are no bonus features besides the appropriate co-feature MR. SARDONICUS.

HOMICIDAL on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: F

Image
MR. SARDONICUS (1961) 90m ***
(Blu-ray released July 19, 2016)
Only four months after the June release of HOMICIDAL Castle’s MR. SARDONICUS (1961) hit theatre screens that same October. It was a return to a more traditional gothic thriller, but again is played as straight melodrama rather than camping it up (except for Castle’s amusing personal introduction at the start in which he assumes audiences have seen HOMICIDAL, and the gimmick near the end where Castle asks the audience to vote on the fate of the villain by holding up special “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” cards, which he then appears to count from the screen before continuing with the regular plot). The film’s 1880 setting is very much in tune with the wave of horror films coming from Britain’s Hammer Films and Roger Corman at American International Pictures around that time, and harkens back to the classic thrillers from Universal and RKO in the 1940s.

The plot borrows a major premise from Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel “The Man Who Laughs” (made into a brilliant film by Paul Leni for Universal Pictures in 1928). This it combines with the familiar formula of idealistic doctors whose medical experiments push the boundaries of scientific knowledge, and the trope of superstitious villagers fearfully living in the shadow of a secluded castle where a mysterious aristocrat is believed to be doing unsavory things. In short, a famous English physician (Ronald Lewis) is urgently summoned to a central European castle by his former fiancée (Audrey Dalton), now married to a mysterious baron (Guy Rolfe) who demands his services. The doctor learns various secrets after his arrival and the plot holds a few thrills as it unfolds to its Twilight Zone-like conclusion. Castle’s direction holds interest throughout, and the acting is satisfactory, with Oskar Homolka standing out as the servant of Sardonicus.

On the same Mill Creek disc as HOMICIDAL this edition of MR. SARDONICUS also looks very good, but oddly just a hair less good than Mill Creek’s previous Blu-ray release of it three years ago paired with the much lesser and non-Castle horror film THE BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN (1971). The new disc has a slightly lower bitrate and a lossy Dolby Digital audio track instead of the DTS-HD MA lossless audio on the older release. Again there are unfortunately no supplements.

MR. SARDONICUS on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: F
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Oct 25, 2016 7:11 pm

It’s World Series time again and the first game is already underway (with Cleveland ahead and playing quite a game so far as I'm typing this). Each of this year's teams has won two World Series in the past but neither of this year’s competitors has won the fall baseball championship since the days of nitrate film. The Cleveland Indians last won in 1948, although they played in 1954, 1995, and 1997, and previously won in 1920. The Chicago Cubs have not even played in a World Series since 1945, although they’ve made it to twice the number of series as the Indians, appearing also in the series in 1906, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, and 1938, but have not won since 1908 (and 1907).

By unusual coincidence, last fall Olive Films released a Blu-ray of a film that starred the entire championship Cleveland Indians team, playing themselves, both in newsreel footage of the 1948 series, and in film of 1949 season games, as well as in substantial speaking roles in the fictional story.

Image
THE KID FROM CLEVELAND (1949) 89m *** (Blu-ray released November 24, 2015)
THE KID FROM CLEVELAND is a relatively ambitious production for Republic Pictures, a small studio better-known for B-westerns and serials. The basic story is a juvenile delinquent social melodrama about a troubled teen named Johnny Barrows (Russ Tamblyn in his first starring role) who hates his stepfather (Louis Jean Heydt) and has been hanging out with local hoodlums to avoid his home life. One day he sneaks into the Cleveland Indians baseball stadium and strikes up a friendship with broadcaster Mike Jackson (veteran character actor George Brent), as well as players on the team, claiming that he is an orphan. Of course they all want to help the boy. Jackson and his wife (Lynn Bari) even consider adopting him to help reform him and keep him off the streets.

As events progress, things become more complicated when they learn the truth about his home life, the death of his real father in World War II, and the struggles of his mother (Ann Doran) to protect him. Johnny eventually rebels against the help he’s offered and drifts back to his unsavory friends until he’s on the verge of being sentenced to a reformatory. The story is a fairly standard formula, but is very well-mounted with good acting and overall production values. It’s a must for fans of historic baseball, with its featuring of the entire Cleveland team in actual speaking roles playing themselves, not just sports footage (including owner Bill Veeck, coach Tris Speaker, noted players Bob Feller, and Leroy “Satchel” Paige, plus several others in featured parts). It’s also an above-average example for devotees of dramas about delinquent teens, with an obvious but touching family message, especially for step-parents trying to take the place of a lost parent and family communication in general.

Picture quality on the Blu-ray from Olive Films is very good indeed, particularly in the scenes with low-key lighting that give an edgy, film-noir feeling to certain points of the plot. The only scenes that are slightly soft and grainier are the actual newsreel shots of the 1948 World Series. Scenes of the 1949 baseball season must have been taken especially for this film, as they are as crisp and clear as the rest of the movie. Audio is fine throughout. Unfortunately, as with most Olive releases, there are no bonus features other than a main and chapter menu.

THE KID FROM CLEVELAND on Blu-ray –-
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: F
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Oct 29, 2016 12:27 pm

Late October is when people often get the unnatural urge to have horror-themed parties and watch horror movies. There is no lack of Blu-ray editions of recent horror-thrillers loaded with gory dismemberments, flowing blood, and psychologically twisted villains. By comparison, horror films made before the 1968 ratings system often seem to depict a progression of slightly disturbed but endearingly eccentric old friends. Universal Pictures has long been the touchstone of stylish horror thrillers that entertain on numerous levels of appreciation and are endlessly re-watchable.

Back in 2012 Universal released eight beautifully-restored HD transfers of its iconic monster movie classics to Blu-ray (nine if you count the Spanish-language version of DRACULA). Those “essential” titles for anyone into classic studio horror films have also been released individually, and include DRACULA (1931) plus the complete Spanish-language production, FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE MUMMY (1932), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), THE WOLF MAN (1941), THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943), and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) in both 3-D and 2-D.

This September they finally released two Blu-ray “Legacy Collection” sets of newly-restored sequels, covering the complete run of “Frankenstein” and “Wolf Man” films of the 1930s-40s. Both include films previously released separately and in the classic monster “essentials” collection for those who don’t yet have them, FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in the first collection and THE WOLF MAN in the second. Both sets also include the 1948 comic riff on all the major Universal monsters, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. There is substantial duplication between the two legacy sets with films featuring both the wolf man and the Frankenstein monster. Only two of the seven films in “The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collection” are not on the eight-film “Frankenstein Complete Legacy Collection” or already available in the “essentials” Blu-ray set.

The films have all been available on DVD for years, but these new HD transfers, some now re-scanned from the original nitrate negatives, are so much sharper projected in full 1080p onto a big screen that they're almost breathtaking, and certainly don’t look their age. The weakest-looking is BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and even that looks extremely good. Sound is very nice on all the films, mostly better than any previous available versions. The outstanding film-like quality with a rich contrast range and fine details never visible on old TV broadcasts or even the quite impressive DVDs, is a major inducement to revisit them regularly. The initial films in each series also include the excellent commentaries and other bonus features from the earlier Blu-ray releases. The sequels are bare-bones, movie-only editions, but still look superb and sound very good. So far only the “Frankenstein” and “Wolf Man” films have Blu-ray legacy collections, but it’s likely that Universal will eventually put out Blu-ray editions of the complete “Dracula,” “Mummy,” “Invisible Man,” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” series, as they did on DVD about a decade ago.

Image
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) 70m *** made a star of Boris Karloff as the violent but misunderstood monster created by an obsessed scientist from dead bodies. Based loosely on the Mary Shelley novel, it established the formula for countless remakes and sequels and has provided numerous opportunities for deeper psychological and social analysis. Like DRACULA the same year, FRANKENSTEIN sometimes suffers from early-talkie clunkiness and studied theatrical acting styles, but more than makes up for it with evocative camera compositions and Karloff's sensitive performance. FRANKENSTEIN Blu-ray -- Movie: A- / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: A

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) 75m **** is arguably the most entertaining and best-paced film in the set. It leans heavily towards dark comedy and satire as Karloff’s monster learns to talk. Director Whale mixes off-beat humor with skillful sentimental melodrama, effective suspense, and brilliant use of the moving camera through impressively stylized sets. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN Blu-ray -- Movie: A+ / Video: A / Audio: A / Extras: A

SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) 99m *** ½ is the last of the series starring Karloff as the monster, with Basil Rathbone starring in the title role. The fascinating stylized expressionist-deco art design is a major aspect of this entry, which easily ranks among the best and was the most influential on Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” 35 years later. A possible reason is how quickly the film, especially Basil Rathbone and Lionel Atwill, move into unashamed high melodrama mode, gleefully pulling out all the stops. This excellent new restoration includes a few minutes missing from previous editions. SON OF FRANKENSTEIN Blu-ray -- Movie: A / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: NA

GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) 67m *** is a worthy sequel with a strong cast, though not up to the previous installments. Bela Lugosi has a plum key role as Ygor, who revives the monster. GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN Blu-ray -- Movie: B / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: NA

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) 74m *** is an underrated film in the series, focusing mostly on Lawrence Talbot’s efforts to be free of his werewolf affliction. The opening reel ranks with the best of the series and the rest is an effective sequel to THE WOLF MAN, but now merging with the Frankenstein mythology, a trend that would continue through the end of the cycle. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN Blu-ray -- Movie: B+ / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: NA

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) 71m *** picks up the story quite effectively and has Boris Karloff this time appearing as a mad scientist undercover as a traveling showman with his hunchback assistant. He wants to revive the monsters, including Dracula and the Wolf Man, to carry out personal revenge against those who had sent him to prison years before. This time John Carradine plays Dracula. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN Blu-ray -- Movie: B+ / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: NA

Carradine returns in HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) 67m *** , the last of the official Universal monster movies that was played straight as serious supernatural melodrama. Dracula hopes a scientist can cure him of his vampirism, but the focus again is on Lawrence Talbot/the Wolf Man who wants the same scientist to cure him. HOUSE OF DRACULA Blu-ray -- Movie: B / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: NA

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) 83m *** ½
is one of the team’s best films, partly due to the affectionate fun they have with all the classic Universal monsters while still delivering a reasonably effective little thriller. The horror cycle had run its course by this time and it’s all done tongue-in-cheek, but is still an entertaining last gasp of Universal’s classic gothic horror before the transition to science-fiction plots as the source of monsters or the revival of classic monsters a decade later by Hammer Studios. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN Blu-ray -- Movie: A / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: A-

Image
“The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collection” includes the last four of the above eight films in the Frankenstein collection, and adds THE WOLF MAN (1941), WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935), and SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946).

THE WOLF MAN (1941) 70m *** ½ stars Lon Chaney, Jr. in a moody supernatural tragedy of a normal young man accidentally bit by a werewolf who discovers he must become one himself when the moon is full. More than most horror films it serves as an effective metaphor for schizophrenic behavior (even referring to it in the dialogue). THE WOLF MAN Blu-ray -- Movie: A / Video: A / Audio: A / Extras: A

WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) 75m *** is an interestingly off-beat variation on the werewolf mythology before it became more formularized in the later films. Here it’s reminiscent of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. Henry Hull is a botanist who gets bitten in Tibet by a werewolf who turns out to be another scientist, Warner Oland, looking for the same rare flower that can be used as a brief antidote for the werewolf condition. WEREWOLF OF LONDON Blu-ray -- Movie: B / Video: A+ / Audio: A- / Extras: NA

SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946) 61m *** often gets a bad reputation, probably because it is not really a horror film and leaves out any references to Dracula or Frankenstein, which audiences had by this time come to expect. Rather, it is a perfectly fine little murder-mystery thriller that is just as moody as the horror classics and capitalizes on the werewolf legend, starring a young June Lockhart. SHE-WOLF OF LONDON Blu-ray -- Movie: B / Video: A+ / Audio: A / Extras: NA
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Nov 05, 2016 7:15 pm

THE MARX BROTHERS SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION box set

Halloween's over, but for many the horrors are not yet over. This month’s U.S. presidential election is perhaps the most divisive and least-anticipated in recent history. None of the three main candidates comes close to having a majority voter appeal or enthusiastic support, to the extent that a vote for any one of them is essentially a vote against the other two. The second week of November 2016 is a week that will likely inspire various modes of personal escape, even if only temporary, from the cares and fears of modern life. A safe retreat from news coverage is becoming wrapped up in a movie, preferably projected onto a big screen from a Blu-ray. Titles appropriate for the national mood might be along the lines of NIGHTMARE (1964) and THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964), or perhaps I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) – all of which happen to have received recent Blu-ray releases, incidentally. However, more relaxing relief both before and after the election would be the timeless Marx Brothers political satire DUCK SOUP (1933), or any of the zany, nonsensical comedies starring the Marx Brothers, for that matter. As luck would have it, their most inventive films have just showed up on Blu-ray.

Image
Last month Universal Studios finally released their years-long high-definition digital restorations of the first five Marx Brothers features, widely considered their best work and endlessly rewatchable. All now look much better than previous video incarnations, one of the four also restoring cuts that had been made for the post-code re-issues. “The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection” box set has three Blu-ray discs with the movies the comedy team made for Paramount from 1929-1933, plus a fine new 80-minute documentary, “The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos,” as well as some brief vintage interviews from “The Today Show” and an illustrated booklet providing details on their early work from vaudeville to Broadway to the screen. Each film also has an informative and entertaining audio commentary by a different film historian (one of them speaking with the son of Harpo Marx). Fans who have seen the films over and over may want to start by watching each with its commentary and/or the documentary, which will likely inspire a re-watch of each film without the commentary shortly after.

Image
THE COCOANUTS (1929) 93m *** (Blu-ray released in set October 18, 2016)
THE COCOANUTS introduced the brothers to movie audiences after nearly 20 years on stage as a team. Based on their recent Broadway hit set in a Florida hotel, the film is sometimes stagey like most early talkies, but has a few innovative camera angles and an infectious charm. It benefits greatly from the brothers’ manic intensity and musical numbers by no less than Irving Berlin. The inconsequential romance has to do with a struggling architect, a real estate boom, and some missing jewels. This film was in the worst condition of all their films, and this new edition now has much sharper material than previously available for much of its running time, although there are still sections of only moderate sharpness and a few others that are still quite soft-focus and murky-looking. Anthony Slide provides a decent although sometimes rather eccentric commentary.
THE COCOANUTS Blu-ray -- Movie: A- / Video: A- / Audio: A- / Extras: B

Image
ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930) 99m ***
(Blu-ray released in set October 18, 2016)
ANIMAL CRACKERS is also based on a stage hit, which they had been performing nightly while shooting THE COCOANUTS during the day. This film again provides a good record of what their theatrical appearances would have looked like, but is also more assured cinematically. The basics of this plot involve a famous painting to be shown at a dinner party, and two copies of it, one by an amateur and the other by a struggling artist, which of course get substituted at various times. ANIMAL CRACKERS had long been their most problematic film, surviving only in a censored re-release that had been duplicated out-of-focus. Now it’s the best-looking of the set. Amazingly an uncut negative was recently discovered in England, and the film now not only looks better than it has since its initial release, but restores the complete “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” number and all the lines deemed too risqué by late 1930s censors and later television broadcasters. Jeffrey Vance provides a solid audio commentary.
ANIMAL CRACKERS Blu-ray -- Movie: A- / Video: A / Audio: A- / Extras: B

Image
MONKEY BUSINESS (1931) 77m *** ½
(Blu-ray released in set October 18, 2016)
MONKEY BUSINESS was their first Hollywood feature and first made directly for the screen, although it does recycle some of their vaudeville bits from the 1910s. This one is set mostly on a ship with the brothers as stowaways who get involved with gangsters. Although their familiar foil Margaret Dumont is missing, they have the wonderful comedienne Thelma Todd to work with, and Zeppo’s role is a bit more prominent than usual. Picture quality is quite good, as is the audio commentary by Robert S. Bader (author of a new book on the brothers) made in conjunction with Bill Marx, son of Harpo.
MONKEY BUSINESS Blu-ray -- Movie: A / Video: A / Audio: A / Extras: B

Image
HORSE FEATHERS (1932) 67m ****
(Blu-ray released in set October 18, 2016)
HORSE FEATHERS remains a timeless farce satirizing academics, including college classrooms, faculty attitudes, student life, and especially college football. The basic plot shows the importance of sports over classroom learning at modern universities (not unlike Harold Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN in some ways) but this time works in a group of gangsters trying to fix the big game. Again the brothers adapt some of their old vaudeville routines, again there are enjoyable songs and the welcome presence of Thelma Todd. It’s arguably the best (or second-best) film of their movie career. Picture quality is very good, and there’s a nice commentary by historian F. X. Feeney.
HORSE FEATHERS Blu-ray -- Movie: A+ / Video: A- / Audio: A- / Extras: B

Image
DUCK SOUP (1933) 69m ****
(Blu-ray released in set October 18, 2016)
DUCK SOUP is also a strong candidate for the best Marx Brothers film, and one of the greatest comedies of all time. This gleefully outrageous musical satire of politics and war has Groucho as the president of the mythical and bankrupt country of Freedonia. It’s packed with pure craziness, surreal gags, and incredible non-sequiturs, the perfect complement to this year’s presidential campaigns. The filmmakers were accused of stealing material from the Wheeler & Woolsey political comedy DIPLOMANIACS, released earlier that year, and there are certain similarities but also significant differences and each team definitely has its own peculiar approach. Again the HD picture is quite good and there’s another fun commentary by Robert S. Bader, this time with movie expert Leonard Maltin.
DUCK SOUP Blu-ray -- Movie: A+ / Video: A / Audio: A / Extras: A-
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Nov 10, 2016 12:42 am

This Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day, once called Armistice Day to mark the cease-fire that ended World War I hostilities on that date in 1918. It’s one of the very few national holidays that does not move to the nearest Monday (although it did for several years in the 1970s). The date still calls to mind “the war to end all wars,” but after World War II and the Korean War the name was changed to Veterans Day. Since 1954 it officially honors military veterans in general, not just those of the First World War, “for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” as noted by the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs in their history of the holiday.

Image
STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND (1955) 114m *** (Blu-ray released October 18, 2016)
Numerous movies memorialize the actions and courage of soldiers in wartime, as well as their struggles to readjust to civilian life after service, but relatively few films celebrate their activities between major wars. One of those is Anthony Mann’s STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND, which was filmed by Paramount Pictures in 1954 and released theatrically in 1955 during the height of the Cold War. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Grand Forks Air Force Base (about a half-hour from where I live) was constructed the following year, opening in 1957, and becoming a Strategic Air Command base from 1958 until reassigned when SAC was deactivated in 1992. Last month Olive Films came out with a sparkling new Blu-ray of Mann’s film, a production that has its dramatic ups and downs but perfectly embodies the V.A. Office description of the purpose of Veterans Day.

STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND stars James Stewart as a former World War II bomber pilot named Robert “Dutch” Holland, who in 1951 as the story begins is a major league baseball player on inactive duty in the Air Force Reserve. Stewart himself had been a WWII pilot and actually was an Air Force Reserve colonel when the film was shot, so was able to influence the film’s production. The film begins as an idealized portrait of postwar family life, with Dutch Holland in young middle-age but still at the height of his baseball career, recently-married for the first time, and just moved into a new house. The first major conflict quickly arises during his baseball spring training for the St. Louis Cardinals when the Air Force calls him back to 21 months of active duty. Holland is naturally upset at the sudden change in his plans and is extremely reluctant to return to the service, but his new wife Sally (June Allyson) puts on a strong face and show of support despite her disappointment at the little time she is able to see him due to his frequent flying missions. Holland gradually settles in to his position and becomes more enthusiastic when allowed to go back to flying, rather than sitting behind a desk. It is about this point that the film shifts gears into a long but slick, idealized docudrama advertisement for the air force alternating with an often-tedious marital melodrama about the many family sacrifices necessary for military personnel. On the other hand, there are very effective and dramatic sequences showing a couple of Holland’s important missions. The strongest is a harrowing test flight in arctic weather when an engine catches fire over Greenland. Another is the pioneering nonstop flight from Florida to Japan with a mid-flight refueling near Alaska. As Leonard Maltin’s “Movie Guide” rather simplistically puts it, the film “only gets off the ground when Stewart does.”

Stewart’s performance pretty much carries the film, with decent support from Harry Morgan, Frank Lovejoy, and Jay C. Flippen, among others. There’s also a nice music score by Victor Young to reinforce the screen action. The film will obviously have the greatest appeal to Air Force veterans and their families, but is a few steps above a routine military propaganda film (even for the troubled mid-1950s). Tepid drama aside, it’s a valuable slice of national attitude for social historians of the Cold War era.

What really makes STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND worth watching, over and above its patriotic themes for Veterans Day, is the Blu-ray’s preservation of the incredible clarity of the film’s wide-format VistaVision image, which has a sharpness and vividness of color that makes it look like it was filmed yesterday. The catchline for the VistaVision process was “Motion Picture High Fidelity” as the photographed image area was double the size of standard 35mm movie frames, achieved by running the film horizontally through the camera. Most prints were optical reductions onto standard vertical 35mm film but a few theatres had special projectors that could run horizontal contact-prints, providing an improved image brightness and sharpness comparable to 70mm film. Extensive and spectacular aerial cinematography by William Daniels lovingly captures the now-rare aircraft in flight, a treat for any aviation buff. These are mostly the large push-propeller B-36 bombers that also included small jets on the outer edges of the wings, and the smaller new B-47 jet bombers, photographed against clouds and sunsets in calendar-worthy compositions. Classic car enthusiasts likewise will appreciate the pristine look of mid-20th century autos. History buffs of the era in general can luxuriate in all the details of daily life preserved on the ultra-sharp film as though looking through a window into the past. A nice little illustrated write-up on the studio’s original promotion for STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND’s VistaVision premiere presentation can be found at http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/wingvv7.htm" target="_blank" target="_blank with links to more on the process.

During this transitional period of widescreen moviemaking, the picture was composed to be compatible with 1.66, 1.85, and 2:1 screens, but probably looks most natural at 1.66, Paramount’s preferred aspect ratio at the time (although they recommended VistaVision films be shown at 1.85). Olive’s excellent HD transfer is at the 1.66:1 ratio and will look its best projected onto a large screen, making a good demonstration Blu-ray in home theatres, especially for non-movie-buff friends who can’t comprehend why any movies over 20 years old should bother being put onto Blu-rays because they falsely assume films that old had such primitive technology “before HD was even invented” that they wouldn’t look any good anyway. STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND may have been made 62 years ago but is actually sharper with better color than many recent movies on Blu-ray. It also proves that a proper presentation can bring an otherwise mediocre film to life and even make it more entertaining than watching much better films in poor quality video copies. Audio is quite good, but unfortunately the disc’s DTS-HD MA lossless soundtrack does not recreate the film’s original “fake stereo” 3-channel Perspecta Sound process, which electronically shifted the mono recording to the left, center, and/or right speakers at key moments by using low-frequency control tones recorded onto the regular optical soundtrack but filtered out during playback so they’d be inaudible. Sadly the disc’s only bonus features are main and chapter menus plus optional English subtitles.

STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND on Blu-ray --
Movie: B-
Video: A+
Audio: A-
Extras: F
Offline
User avatar

Christopher Jacobs

Moderator

  • Posts: 2219
  • Joined: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:53 pm
  • Location: Grand Forks, North Dakota

Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Nov 21, 2016 5:31 pm

Back to some classic noir in scintillating high-definition. The subgenre of crime thrillers known as “film noir” was at its height during the 1940s and 1950s and has a wide cult following today with some even declaring this month as "Noirvember." It is noted for cynical anti-heroic characters, a pervasive sense of inexorable fate, usually leading to the doom of one or more characters, and moody low-key cinematography featuring plenty of shadows with expressionistic lighting and camera angles. Often there is a strong female character, frequently an aggressive “femme fatale,” and as often as not a seething sexual subtext that may or may not be easy to recognize due to the Hollywood Production Code restrictions on movie content at that time. Film noir has had a minor renaissance in “neo-noir” and noir-influenced thrillers over the past thirty years but the modern films only on rare occasion achieve the satisfying blend of stylish visual artistry, narrative craftsmanship, and underlying social/psychological commentary that can be found during the mid-20th-century noir cycle.

More and more noir films from the classic era are showing up on beautifully-restored Blu-rays as more film buffs rediscover the genre and voraciously seek out more examples to watch in high-quality editions that showcase their distinctive (usually black-and-white) imagery to best advantage. Here are three notable titles released over the last ten months that have some distinctive variations on the usual formula.

Image
GILDA (1946) 110m *** ½ (Blu-ray released January 19, 2016)
GILDA (1946) has a reputation as one of the essential noir films, along with DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), OUT OF THE PAST (1947), THE BIG SLEEP (1946), MURDER MY SWEET (1944), among others. All of these and many more are now on fine Blu-ray editions.

Glenn Ford stars as Johnny Farrell, a small-time gambler stuck in Buenos Aires. One night an eccentric casino owner named Ballin Mundsen (George Macready) rescues him from a back-alley murder attempt and hires him to manage his casino while he pursues various other shady interests. Then he returns from a trip married to glamorous singer Gilda (Rita Hayworth), not realizing that she and Johnny had previously been lovers and now hate each other. The sudden appearance of Gilda puts an uncomfortable strain on Johnny and Ballin’s partnership/friendship, especially when Gilda flirts with rekindling her relationship with Johnny. Hayworth and Ford play wonderfully off each other and the odd but interesting dynamic between Ford and Macready hints at a deeper relationship than simple friendship. The homoerotic subtext is only moderately disguised. As usual for a noir film, various subterfuges and double-crosses develop, and Hayworth also gets to belt out a couple of great song numbers.

Picture and sound quality on Criterion’s Blu-ray are excellent, and there’s a great set of bonus features, including a leaflet, a reasonably good commentary by Richard Schickel, two different discussions of the film (one by Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann and the other by noir expert Eddie Muller), a trailer, and a vintage “Hollywood and the Stars” documentary on Hayworth’s career, all in HD.

GILDA on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: A-


Image
ROAD HOUSE (1948) 95m *** ½
(Blu-ray released September 13, 2016)
Not to be confused with the mediocre 1989 action film starring Patrick Swayze, this film called ROAD HOUSE is a modestly-budgeted romantic melodrama that gradually evolves into a classic noir. It bears a number of similarities to GILDA. Instead of an Argentinian casino, there’s a small-town lodge/nightclub/bowling alley near the Canadian border owned by eccentric and less-than-stable immature playboy Jefferson T. “Jefty” Robbins (Richard Widmark), who has his more business-like childhood friend Pete (Cornel Wilde) manage it. Jefty returns from a trip to Chicago with sultry smoky-voiced singer Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), hoping to marry her against the advice of the resentful Pete. She doesn’t care for either of them and feistily asserts that she’s just there to do a job, defying Pete’s attempt to send her back to Chicago. Although Pete can’t stand her at first, she doesn’t take long to seduce him, leading to nasty arguments and conflicts with Jefty, a robbery frame-up, a courtroom trial, and eventually a north woods shoot-out. Meanwhile the lodge’s cashier Susie (Celeste Holm) has a long-standing unrequited attraction to Pete, which leads to some amusingly awkward moments once he falls for Lily and a key role in the film’s climax. Some critics have theorized a homosexual backstory between Jefty and Pete, while others dismiss the idea and others never even consider it. Lupino’s provocative costumes and aggressive sensuality gave censors enough to worry about, besides the metaphoric bowling sequences where characters (especially Pete) work off some of their inner tensions. Lupino’s several songs use her own voice rather than a dubbed professional singer, giving an edge of gritty realism in an otherwise controlled studio world that prefigures David Lynch’s off-the-wall noir soap opera “Twin Peaks.”

Kino’s Blu-ray has beautiful picture quality and good sound. Bonus features include a fun, conversational commentary by noir historians Eddie Muller and Kim Morgan, an interesting documentary on the careers of Widmark and Lupino, and a gallery of photos and promotional material. There are also trailers to three other noir films available from Kino (but not one for ROAD HOUSE).

ROAD HOUSE on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B


Image
APPOINTMENT WITH CRIME (1946) *** 91m
(Blu-ray released June 21, 2016)
This British take on crime melodrama is obviously influenced by American noir, but has a somewhat rougher edge throughout, as it lacks some of the content restrictions imposed by Hollywood’s self-censorship regulations. Some gangsters persuade small-time crook Leo Martin (William Hartnell, who would later play “Dr. Who”) to pull a risky daylight heist, but he’s caught and sent to prison. Once he gets out, he naturally decides to take revenge on the men who set him up and refused to help him, soon becoming much nastier than the anti-heroes in most American noirs. Along the way he meets an attractive dancehall girl (Joyce Howard) he’d like to settle down with, but becomes so obsessed with revenge that he goes after the crime bosses who originally ordered the heist responsible for his prison term. Interestingly there is no attempt to disguise the homosexual relationship between the cultured crime boss (Herbert Lom) and his more effeminate associate. This aspect as well as a substantial use of “hell” and “damn” were very likely censored for the American release five years later. Venerable character actor Wilfrid Hyde-White has a bit part as a beer-loving janitor at the dancehall.

Olive Films’ Blu-ray has very good picture quality, although a bit low in contrast and slightly soft at the start. Audio isn’t bad but dialogue is sometimes muddled due to the heavy British accents. There are no extras beyond a chapter menu and optional English subtitles that frequently don’t match the dialogue, as if whoever was transcribing the dialogue could not understand the British accents.

APPOINTMENT WITH CRIME on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: F
PreviousNext

Return to Talking About Talkies

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests