Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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All Darc

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PostMon Jun 06, 2011 5:44 pm

Technology advances will come for home video...

http://techon.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/NE ... 81999&ad_q


A new problem: A screen device large enough and with pixels enough...


If home HD projectors evolute and jet a reasonable price in some years, and 4K resolution HD Blu Ray became a reality, in theory someone could enjoy something close to a 70mm presentation.

Old films would start to look even more outdate, in terms of image detail & definition.
But I bet a technology to add fine detail to vintage images will rise too. And George Lucas would release his own Imax Star Wars, and will say that this was his original intention.
Keep thinking...
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostTue Jun 07, 2011 12:38 pm

I have SENSO as well, and found it interesting if overlong and not terribly involving, with the new restoration looking very good if not quite great. I haven't gotten around to watching the English-dubbed cutdown version. I'd rate the movie itself a B-, with the picture and sound both an A-.

More and more classics continue to come out on Blu-ray (though sometimes that depends upon one's definition of "classic"). Last month several older titles suddenly showed up as "Best Buy exclusives" at some stores, usually at reasonable prices. Below are some observations on the 1967 version of CASINO ROYALE.

--Christopher Jacobs
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CASINO ROYALE (1967) **
There are a number of silent film and classic Hollywood connections to this British-made all-star spoof of James Bond films and 1960s culture (especially British 60s culture), which bears no relation besides its title and main character to the 2006 Daniel Craig reboot of the 007 series. What other film could include both Richard Talmadge and John Huston among its six directors, or Billy Wilder, Ben Hecht, Terry Southern, Joseph Heller, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, and Val Guest among its many (often uncredited) writers? There's even a brief Keystone Kops sequence featuring Geraldine Chaplin and Dick Talmadge (among others) as Kops. The main characters in the plot are played by David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, and Woody Allen, with speaking roles of various sizes by the likes of Deborah Kerr, William Holden, Charles Boyer, John Huston, Kurt Kasznar, Bernard Cribbens, Daliah Lavi, Jean-Paul Belmondo, George Raft, Peter O'Toole, and numerous others.

The film's star power and outrageously "Sixties" attitude are the primary attractions of this uneven and highly episodic film, which is something of a cult favorite despite and possibly because of the chaotic mess of its production history and a disjointed plot that pokes fun at itself, its performers, and just about anything else that was topical in the mid-1960s. In brief, David Niven plays a staid and retired Sir James Bond, who is not happy with the playboy image and ridiculous technical gadgets the government has given his namesake to keep his legend alive. He's reluctantly and forcibly persuaded to come out of retirement to help various relatives and namesakes (including Peter Sellers and Woody Allen) foil the international evil spy ring SMERSH, whose biggest agent (Orson Welles) is winning a fortune at the gaming tables.

There are some very funny moments and the actors generally appear to be making the most of the silliness that more often ensues. The score by Burt Bacharach fits the sixties craziness perfectly and he earned an Oscar nomination for "The Look Of Love" (which was almost deleted by producer Charles K. Feldman). Viewers expecting anything resembling a James Bond film will be either confused or disappointed or both, but those looking for a sometimes funny and certainly unconventional satire on the spy genre, celebrities, politics, and pop culture should find CASINO ROYALE worth watching. When I saw this on TV in the late 60s or early 70s, the only Bond films I'd seen were THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and I recognized only a few of the film's main stars. As a result it seemed odd and often confusing and hard to follow, and certainly most of the in-jokes (there are some direct references to DR. NO) and social satire were lost on me (not to mention whatever was cut by network censors or the pan-and-scan B&W TV image). With another 40 years of experience and movie-watching it is quite entertaining, if still odd and disjointed most of the time.

The Blu-ray from MGM/Fox (apparently UA recovered the rights from original distributor Columbia Pictures) has an excellent, very sharp, and vividly colorful hi-def picture transfer that shows off the effective Panavision widescreen photography (by Jack Hildyard, but some of which was by Nicolas Roeg). A few moments have some digital compression artifacts barely visible but they are rare and never an issue. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio is truly outstanding with the rich, full-frequency stereophonic recording of Bacharach's score (lots of good bass reproduction) and strong, often directional, sound effects sure to amaze young viewers who think "old movies" from before 1995 or so couldn't have very good audio technology.

As usual with the latest MGM Blu-rays, there is no main menu, but there are a few nice bonus features accessible through a pop-up menu. There's the original trailer in HD, and a nearly hour-long 2008 retrospective five-part documentary (in SD) interviewing many participants who are unusually frank about the film's troubled production and drawbacks. A fascinating audio commentary by two James Bond historians provides additional interesting background on the film and the personnel involved, as well as the problems that make it amazing the film ever got finished, much less contain any sense of coherence. Currently the Blu-ray is available only from Best Buy (and only the larger stores) for about $15.

CASINO ROYALE (1967) on Blu-ray --
Movie: B-
Video: A
Audio: A+
Extras: B+
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostThu Jun 16, 2011 2:29 pm

Haven't had much time to watch Blu-rays this week with the teen moviemaking workshop I've been doing (which reminds me that anyone who's ever made a movie back in the days of 8mm and Super 8 film should see the new theatrical release of "SUPER 8").

A bunch of semi-classic westerns have come out on Blu-ray in the past month. I already reviewed HORSE SOLDIERS (not exactly a western) and should have reviews soon of THE COMANCHEROS, VERA CRUZ, BIG JAKE, and RIO LOBO. Meanwhile, here's a review of what's probably the best of the bunch, the recent Blu-ray release of THE BIG COUNTRY, which currently is only available at Walmart, but is an amazing bargain at $10.

--Christopher Jacobs
http://hpr1.com/film
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THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) *** 1/2
The recent Motion Picture Academy restoration of William Wyler and Gregory Peck's independent production is now on a bargain Blu-ray from Fox/MGM. Peck stars as a retired sea captain in the late 19th century who travels west to marry the daughter (Carroll Baker) of a wealthy and powerful ranch owner (Charles Bickford) who has been fueding for years with a neighboring rancher (Burl Ives) he despises for the family's rough, "trashy" lifestyle. Charlton Heston plays Bickford's no-nonsense foreman and Chuck Conners is Ives' crudely violent son, while Jean Simmons is a schoolteacher who just happens to own the ranch in the middle that supplies water to the two feuding families. Of course personalities clash, romances ebb and flow, secrets come to light, and tensions all around gradually build to an exciting climax over the course of this sprawling 165-minute epic. Basically a story of the conflict that results when a strong but deliberate man of peace suddenly finds himself in a culture of knee-jerk violence, it's a western action film for people who prefer character dramas and a character drama for people who prefer western action. Peck's character in some ways calls to mind his role in THE GUNFIGHTER.

There are times when the pacing might be tightened, but those parts are more likely to seem objectionably slow when the film is viewed on a standard TV set. THE BIG COUNTRY is definitely a film designed for the big screen, and while the strong characterizations and fine performances (Ives won the Oscar for Supporting Actor) make for a compelling story, much of its impact comes from the vastness of the rural western environment that can only be appreciated with a picture as large and detailed as possible. It was filmed in Technirama, a high-resolution horizontal 35mm format comparable to VistaVision but using the 2.35 "scope" aspect ratio, and the excellent high-definition Blu-ray transfer restores the details and textures that could never be seen on TV. On a large screen, this makes the many long shots and wide-angle views dramatic and involving rather than distancing and dull. The opening credits with their optical work seem a bit soft compared with the rest of the crystal-clear transfer, which would deserve an A+ rather than an A if not for some periodic but pervasive faint color flickering that may be due to original lab work or slight deterioration of the negative.

Oddly for such a big production, the film has only mono sound. It would have been nice if separate magnetic dialogue / effects / music masters or at least original multi-track recordings of Jerome Moross' impressive Oscar-nominated score had survived. Nevertheless, the sound is certainly adequate with the Blu-ray's DTS-HD Master Audio presenting decent but not outstanding frequency range.

Bonus features are sparse, but hard to complain about on a bargain $10 Blu-ray. There's the original trailer in HD, a standard-definition black-and-white TV promo for the ABC Sunday Night Movie presentation, and a peculiar but quaintly fun short promotional film (also B&W and SD) with Jean Simmons describing how the cast and crew play cards and chess with each other between scenes. There are also alternate audio dubs in five languages and optional subtitles in ten. Once again, MGM-Fox left off a main menu so a popup menu is the only way to access any special features.

THE BIG COUNTRY on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: D
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Mike Gebert

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PostThu Jun 16, 2011 4:01 pm

By the way, I posted about an HD showing of The Big Country way back when here.
If you truly love film, I think the healthiest thing to do is not read books on the subject. I prefer the glossy film magazines with their big colour photos and gossip columns, or the National Enquirer. Such vulgarity is healthy and safe. —Werner Herzog
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PostThu Jun 23, 2011 7:43 am

I just got my Wal-Mart blu-ray of THE BIG COUNTRY and watched it last night. This is a film I can recall switching off after watching for a few minutes in the old pan-and-scan days and wondering why such good directors like Wyler could make such lousy movies by the 1950s. Of course, now I realize that I wasn't watching what Wyler had created but a butchered version that was about as exciting as reading the script.

I've seen a couple of 50s widescreen wonders on my widescreen HDTV, the other night it was Mann's MAN OF THE WEST (no pun intended) and I have finally figured out why those films were so slowly paced, at least comparatively speaking. Seen in their original ratio and in crystal clear HD, the pacing doesn't seem slow at all because the eye needs time to absorb each shot. I grew up with a bias against 50s films so I'm rather startled to find myself having to do a complete re-evaluation in my old age. I can't improve on Mike's review of THE BIG COUNTRY so I'll just mention my candidate for the next blu-ray restoration - 1956's THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY. Columbia has issued a nice standard edition but it suffers from some graininess and flecks and specs in the image. But it's a wonder seeing it in widescreen although I even liked the pan and scan version.
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PostFri Jun 24, 2011 1:43 pm

I review several recent HD releases of vintage films, including The Big Country, at http://www.inthebalcony.com/.
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostWed Jun 29, 2011 5:36 pm

I had forgotten completely about Mike's three-year-old posting on the HD telecast of THE BIG COUNTRY. That was still before I'd upgraded to an HD projector and gotten a Blu-ray player, and HD was still a distant dream on our cable provider. I never saw the film at all until I got the Blu-ray, and that's definitely the best first way to experience it (barring a 35mm theatrical screening). Interestingly, I see we covered many of the same aspects, although Mike's review of the film itself is more thorough.

I plan to get Criterion's new KISS ME DEADLY and want to hold off watching VERA CRUZ until I can run them back to back as a mid-50s Aldrich double-bill. I still haven't gotten around to watching RIO LOBO yet (I may revisit RIO BRAVO first, which was my very first Blu-ray projected on a big screen, to compare them). As promised, however, below are reviews of the recent Blu-ray releases of two more John Wayne titles that were the final films of their veteran directors -- THE COMANCHEROS and BIG JAKE, having their 50th and 40th anniversaries this year, respectively.

Meanwhile, I also just watched Criterion's new disc of PALE FLOWER (1964) a powerful and stunning-looking black and white CinemaScope Japanese new-wave film noir that's well-worth checking out, especially if it shows up on one of the half-price sales by Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I also just received an Amazon.co.uk order of four region-free BFI titles including the amazing THE GREAT WHITE SILENCE and two double-features of 1950s Brit-coms from Adelphi Pictures (two by Maurice Elvey and two by John Guillermin), as well as a surrealistic partly stop-motion animated partly live-action Czech variation on Alice In Wonderland, ALICE (1988). I hope to watch them all over the next couple of weeks and post reports.

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

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THE COMANCHEROS (1961) ** 1/2
Veteran director Michael Curtiz's final film was this rousing action western starring John Wayne, who also directed many scenes uncredited when the ailing Curtiz was too ill to shoot.

It's a pretty good western overall, not terribly original or up to the best of the genre, but certainly a solid, entertaining production with a veteran cast and few good action sequences that should please most Western fans and Wayne fans. In his typical and well-loved manner, Wayne plays Jake Cutter, a Texas Ranger trying to bring in a charming gambler charged with murder after a fatal duel, and also to deal with a band of outlaws who are trading in guns and whisky with the hostile Comanche Indians. Stuart Whitman plays the gambler, who meanwhile has fallen for a mysterious and independent-minded beauty he met before being arrested (Ina Balin), and later discovers she's the daughter of the ruthless head of the Comancheros (Nehemiah Persoff). There are brief but memorable roles played by Lee Marvin, Bruce Cabot, Edgar Buchanan, Henry Daniell, and even Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, among others.

The CinemaScope picture looks extremely good on the hi-def Blu-ray transfer, with rich colors, especially the reds and earth tones. There's also fairly nice stereo sound, especially the Elmer Bernstein score, (in remixed 5.1 and original 4.0) with good frequency range, although many post-dubbed lines now seem more obvious.

While slightly overpriced for its slim 24-page size ($35 list and usually discounted or on sale for $20-25), the attractive 50th anniversary Digibook has some interesting material and nice photos, plus a couple of separate loose insertions of miniature poster color reproductions, one for the US release and one for the French release. Bonus features on the disc include an audio commentary with several cast members, a decent documentary on John Wayne's films for 20th Century Fox, and an illuminating historical documentary on the real Comancheros. There's also a brief Fox Movietone Newsreel, an interesting audio-only interview with Stuart Whitman, and an image gallery of scans from the complete comic-book adaptation of the movie. A number of the film clips in the Wayne at Fox documentary are in hi-def, perhaps hinting at future Blu-ray releases.

THE COMANCHEROS on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: A-




BIG JAKE (1971) ** 1/2

While certainly not a sequel to THE COMANCHEROS, John Wayne again plays a character named "Jake," in this case Jacob McCandles, a free-spirited old cowboy in the early 1900s who has either left his wife or been thrown out by her (neither of them quite seems to recall which it was). The last film directed by George Sherman, who had produced THE COMANCHEROS and directed some of Wayne's early westerns, it again has a cast packed with veterans and a routine if well-executed plot. Richard Boone is the villain this time, with Maureen O'Hara reprising her familiar love-hate stormy romantic interest for Wayne. The story is a fairly standard revenge melodrama and journey formula, with Wayne's title character out to rescue his kidnapped grandson, Little Jake (played by Wayne's son Ethan) with or without the not terribly competent help of his estranged sons (played by another of Wayne's sons, Patrick, along with Christopher Mitchum and Bobby Vinton, of all people). Bruce Cabot has a decent supporting role as an Indian tracker and other veterans showing up include Hank Worden, Harry Carey Jr, John Agar, and more.

Often unfairly underrated by critics, it's all a generally entertaining blend of Western genre and specifically John Wayne film expectations, great scenery, some comedy (including an apparent "Butch Cassidy" influence, especially in the nostalgic opening sequence), and plenty of action. The climactic shootout may seem more extended than typical for Wayne films, perhaps influenced by the "new wave" of westerns by Leone and Peckinpah though nowhere near as violent (despite what some critics at the time complained). It's actually now been re-rated up to "PG-13" from the "GP/PG" original for today's viewers (or at least ratings board members) who seem to be more "sensitive" to violence.

Picture quality on Paramount's no-frills Blu-ray is very strong, with the beautiful 2.35:1 Panavision image looking much as it probably did in 1971 theatres. The audio, while good, is not particularly outstanding. The so-called 5.1 DTS-HD Master stereo track sounds more like it was reprocessed from the optical mono soundtrack rather than remastered from original stereo recordings (which would have been really nice for Elmer Bernstein's fine archetypal movie Western score) or even from separate music/effects/dialogue stems. Unfortunately there are absolutely no bonus features other than multiple language dubs and subtitles, but at least there's a main menu. It's a good deal if you can find it on sale for $10-$15, and John Wayne fans will still probably want to buy it at the $16-$20 it more commonly sells for, but there's no reason to spend the full $25 list price.

BIG JAKE on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: F
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostWed Jul 13, 2011 5:32 pm

This past spring I reviewed the BFI's region-free Blu-ray of three films from Britain's Adelphi Studios, all featuring Peter Sellers: PENNY POINTS TO PARADISE (1951), with the half-hour short LET'S GO CRAZY (1951) and the feature-length oddity compiled from Mack Sennett short comedies, THE SLAPPIEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES (1953). Now the BFI has released two more early 1950s double-features in its Adelphi Collection, this time including a region-free Blu-ray copy and a PAL DVD in the same package with a handsomely-produced booklet. Like the Sellers disc, the films are again grouped by theme, a pair of early Diana Dors comedies directed by Maurice Elvey, and two early films directed by John Guillermin long before he became a director of Hollywood action pictures. They're very reasonably priced, even including shipping from England, and the Diana Dors disc was on a nice sale at the time I ordered them.

Here's a brief evaluation of The Adelphi Collection - volume 2: IS YOUR HONEYMOON REALLY NECESSARY plus MY WIFE'S LODGER. I'll follow soon with a writeup on volume 3: THE CROWDED DAY (1954) and SONG OF PARIS (1952).

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

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Probably best-known to cinephiles for his powerful working-class drama HINDLE WAKES (1927), Maurice Elvey was an extremely prolific British director from 1913 through 1957. Diana Dors was an ebulliant blonde starlet often called a British Marilyn Monroe both for her film career and her often stormy private life. A new region-free BFI Blu-ray features two fine examples of Dors' work directed by Elvey for the low-budget Adelphi Studios, a small family-run company that still exists but produced movies from only 1939-1956 (perhaps a British equivalent of Republic or Monogram). These "Brit-coms" are a fascinating glimpse into everyday life in postwar Britain, with an earthy blend of cheerful cynicism and low humor generally avoided by the major studios in favor of the more polished and urbane wit of, say, the Ealing comedies.

Both also incorporate American characters as important plot elements, though whether this is indicative of contemporary British concerns or merely an attempt to appeal to the American market is hard to tell. Their style anticipates in some ways (including a few cast members) the "Carry On" series of films that would begin a few years later.

MY WIFE'S LODGER (1952) ** 1/2
This very British film might be considered a wry comic variation on some of the themes treated much more seriously in HINDLE WAKES (and even more intensely in later films like KES). Its approach to family strife is also strongly reminiscent of material handled by W. C. Fields, but with a heavy north British sensibility. Based on a popular stage farce written by its star Dominic Roche, it follows the adventures of a hapless middle-aged World War II veteran who returns home to find his children now independent-minded teens and his always-critical wife apparently enthralled by the smarmy lodger (named Roger, subject of the film's catchy theme song!) who now shares their house.

Dors really lights up the screen in the supporting role of the daughter, but the film really belongs to Roche, who based most of his career on his "Willie Higgenbottom" persona. Much of the film is surprisingly dark situation comedy, but various plot developments gradually build to an appropriate climax and a rather unexpected resolution. Dors even gets to sing a song near the end.

The BFI's excellent high-definition transfer was made directly from the original 35mm negative, and the reasonably good sound was copied from a separate dupe negative and a 16mm print. There are no bonus featues on the disc other than a menu and chapter stops (and of course the second feature), but there is a very nice 32-page booklet full of informative essays, photos and extensive credits.

MY WIFE'S LODGER on Blu-ray --
Movie: B
Video: A
Audio: A-
Extras: D+


IS YOUR HONEYMOON REALLY NECESSARY (1953) ***

This is the main film featured on the disc's cover and in its promotional materials. It is truly a vehicle for the comedic talents and striking physical attributes of the 21-year-old Diana Dors, then a rapidly-rising star who would soon be out of the price range of the small Adelphi Studios. The plot of this saucy bedroom farce (also based on a stage play) may be familiar, but the fine timing and execution by its cast and director keep it fresh and entertaining throughout.

Several years after the war an American officer Laurie Vining (Bonar Colleano) arrives at his new assignment in England with a brand-new wife (Diana Decker), while wartime buddy Hank Hanlon (Sidney James) keeps gleefully reminiscing about the times they used to have with his wildly vivacious and curvaceous first wife, Candy (Diana Dors). Within hours, Candy shows up at their apartment claiming that the divorce he obtained in California is not valid in England so they're still legally married. Vining immediately calls his mild-mannered lawyer (David Tomlinson) to fix the situation, but they all wind up spending the Vinings' honeymoon night in the same apartment trying to hide the facts of the dilemma from the confused and frustrated new bride.

Though certainly no Cary Grant, Colleano does a respectable job as the harried husband, but Dors shines as the sexy ex-wife who revels in her effect on men, particuarly the shy lawyer she'd previously dropped to marry the handsome American serviceman. Tomlinson (best-known to American audiences as the father in MARY POPPINS) is also excellent in what might have been a Ralph Bellamy role in an American screwball comedy, and Sidney James as the no-nonsense friend is the usual endearingly blunt persona he'd develop further in the "Carry On" films. Decker is quite good as the new wife, and stage actress Audrey Freeman (Tomlinson's real-life wife) is a delight in her only screen appearance as a love-hungry housemaid.

Once again the BFI's HD picture quality is excellent, transferred from the original negative, and the sound is quite good, transferred from a 35mm print. Once again there are no bonus items besides chapter stops and some interesting background material in the enclosed booklet.

IS YOUR HONEYMOON REALLY NECESSARY on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: D+
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Christopher Jacobs

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PostSat Jul 16, 2011 12:24 pm

The Adelphi films showing up on region-free Blu-ray releases from the BFI are revealing some unassuming but eminently entertaining programmers as well as a few little gems that have been unfairly underrated and all but forgotten if not entirely unknown (especially in the United States). While it's doubtful these will ever get mass-market distribution, and may never sell to more than a small number of die-hard British film enthusiasts enamoured with the 1950s, they really have much to recommend them to any casual fan of older movies. And at prices ranging from $15 to $20 U.S. including shipping from England, these double-features are well-worth checking out (yielding a net cost of under $10 per film).

Here are some comments on volume 3 in the series: THE CROWDED DAY and SONG OF PARIS, two films by John Guillermin (best known for his Hollywood work including THE TOWERING INFERNO, DEATH ON THE NILE, THE BLUE MAX, and the 1976 KING KONG).

--Christopher Jacobs
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SONG OF PARIS (1952) *** 1/2
Although given second-billing on the disc, SONG OF PARIS may be the most entertaining film yet released in the collection. Financed and released by Adelphi, it was actually made by another British B-production company, the Vandyke Picture Corporation, co-starring French actress Anne Vernon and Russian-born American comic Mischa Auer, with archetypal Englishman Dennis Price leading the British contingent of the cast.

SONG OF PARIS is a screwball romantic comedy (plus a few songs by Vernon) that's very reminiscent of Hollywood comedies from the 1930s and 40s. Price plays the strictly-business head of a London company that manufactures stomach pills, who must reluctantly travel to Paris to learn why French sales have fallen off. There he inadvertantly gets involved in a publicity stunt with a beautiful French cabaret singer (Vernon) who has been trying to fend off the unwelcome romantic attentions of a persistent but penniless and highly jealous count (Auer). Not long after Price gets safely back to his London office, Vernon shows up looking for a job, leading to the obvious misinterpretations by his staff, friends, and family about what all went on during his brief visit to Paris. Price gradually learns to loosen up and defy his domineering mother (a highly amusing Hermione Baddeley) with the help of his sister (Joan Kenny) and the very willing Vernon. Of course the count soon shows up to complicate things even further.

Besides the American-style screwball comedy situations, SONG OF PARIS likes to revel in poking fun at both British and French stereotypes. Baddeley has a great line about how good the family business sales will remain, because a new British restaurant is opening "so they'll need plenty of stomach pills." And there are plenty of knowing winks and asides when the staid Price tries to find a secluded apartment for Vernon so the count won't be able to track her down.

Picture quality on SONG OF PARIS is excellent, transferred from the original 35mm negative, which other than a few occasional very light scratches is in beautiful condition. Scenes like the nightclub song number glisten like a vintage black-and-white print rich with silver. Sound quality, transferred from a 35mm print, is good. Some distracting low-frequency rumble may be audible if your subwoofer is turned up too loud, but disappears when the frequency cutoff is set slightly higher. Like the other films in this series, the BFI has provided no extras other than chapter stops, optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing, and a very nice 32-page booklet with background essays and photos.

SONG OF PARIS on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A+
Audio: A-
Extras: D+


THE CROWDED DAY (1954) ***

A generally pleasant drama with touches of comedy and a few darker episodes in the "Grand Hotel" mode, THE CROWDED DAY follows the lives of a variety of department store employees from early morning to late night on a single day during the Christmas season. The film was Adelphi's attempt to add production values that would break them into major theatre chains and move up to the "A" slot on double-features. Guillermin's sure direction of the multiple overlapping story lines, some striking cinematography by Gordon Dines (with one sequence strongly reminiscent of THE THIRD MAN), and a large cast of veteran actors as well as rising stars place THE CROWDED DAY on solid footing with the more prestigious British studios. While it attracted favorable critical attention, it unfortunately could not break the stigma of Adelphi's low-budget reputation among theatre owners, so it lost money.

It remains an impressive film overall, with strong acting and reasonably interesting characters with believable problems. It's also a good glimpse into the life of everyday people, their customs, and attitudes in mid-1950s Britain. The film stars John Gregson, Joan Rice, Freda Jackson, Patricia Marmont, and Vera Day, and features Joan Hickson, Richard Wattis, Sidney James, Dora Bryan, and Prunella Scales, among numerous others.

Picture quality is very good, although from a 35mm finegrain rather than the camera negative. Film-like sharpness and contrast range, especially in the nighttime alley chase sequence, are excellent. Again, there are no extras beyond the chapter stops, optional English titles, and the enclosed booklet.

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

PostMon Aug 01, 2011 11:39 am

A pair of mid-1950s Robert Aldrich films came out separately on Blu-ray earlier this summer, VERA CRUZ and KISS ME DEADLY. Each entertaining in its own way, and with both of them blending the popular styles and genres of their times with subject material and an approach a decade or more ahead of their times, they make for interesting viewing back-to-back. For the same reasons, they are also both good candidates for introducing "newbies" to older films and actors. Because of their film formats, I prefer watching them in reverse chronological order, starting with the black-and-white "flat" film and ending with the color/scope film (because with a projector I keep my screen a constant height and like to progress from narrower to wider pictures), but chronological order might be better for getting some people adjusted to movies from over half a century ago by starting in widescreen and color before shifting to black and white (and with the letterboxing on a regular HDTV screen the picture will actually look smaller for the wider formats and larger for the 1.66 to 1.85 formats). Here are my impressions, covering them in normal chronological order...

VERA CRUZ (1954) ** 1/2
About ten years after the Civil War, Gary Cooper is a quick-witted but slow-talking former Louisiana colonel who's been driven off his plantation, and Burt Lancaster is an outlaw leader of a band of renegades as fast with his mouth as he is with his gun. Both are in Mexico looking for adventure and for money, just as the peasants are uniting under Juarez to overthrown the emperor Maximilian. Being both cynical and mercenary, they naturally can't resist the financial offer of a charming marquis played by Cesar Romero instead of joining the revolutionaries (including beautiful peasant girl Sarita Moneil). Maximilian hires them to escort a beautiful countess (Denise Darcel) to a port city so she can return to Paris, not revealing that her carriage actually contains three million in gold intended to finance European military aid against the revolutionaries. Of course Lancaster, Cooper, and Darcel all discover the truth and devise their own plots together and individually to obtain the gold for themselves, with none of them trusting the other.

The result is an entertaining if sometimes predictable action film with lots of intrigue, double-crosses, romantic attachments feigned and real, a few surprises, and of course plenty of violence that's more on a 1960s or 70s level than the 1950s. The characterizations, attitudes, and various plot elements bear certain similarities to films like THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY, THE WILD BUNCH, and even the recent COWBOYS AND ALIENS. Among Lancaster's gang are such familiar character actors as Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, and Jack Elam, adding to the fun. Though Lancaster helped produce the film and hams up his anti-heroic role with gusto, it's Cooper who's the real star and most sympathetic character.

The picture quality is generally good with vivid colors (especially the red opening titles), but since this was shot in the low-budget non-anamorphic widescreen format of SuperScope (now called Super 35), cropping and blowing up the image to a 2:1 ratio makes the picture obviously grainier than a standard format film, especially whenever there's a night scene that required faster film, or an optical effect like a dissolve (both of which happen frequently and sometimes together). The high-definition Blu-ray transfer reveals all the graininess of these scenes, but also shows how sharp the SuperScope image could be in straight scenes in bright daylight. The mono audio is fine, although not particularly memorable. The only bonus feature on the disc is the original trailer (in high-definition), although there are chapter stops, Spanish and French-dubbed soundtracks, and optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Once again, as with recent MGM/Fox Blu-rays, there is annoyingly no main menu, only a popup menu.

VERA CRUZ on Blu-ray
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: A-
Extras: F+


KISS ME DEADLY (1955) *** 1/2

Arguably Aldrich's masterpiece, KISS ME DEADLY turns Mickey Spillane's popular Mike Hammer detective novel into a combination gritty film noir and modern paranoid apocalyptic thriller. Hammer (Ralph Meeker) is driving down the highway at night and swerves to avoid hitting a girl wearing nothing but a trenchcoat (Cloris Leachman). She tells him to forget her if he drops her at the nearest bus station, but to remember her if they don't make it there. Soon after, they're run off the road, she's tortured and killed while he's knocked unconscious, and they're both put back into his car which is then pushed over a cliff. Of course Hammer barely escapes and decides to investigate, against the wishes of the police, the FBI, and a bunch of other people. The mystery has international repercussions beyond simple criminal activity that Hammer, with the help of devoted secretary/lover Velda (Maxine Cooper) very gradually begins to unravel as things become more and more dangerous for him and everyone he comes into contact with.

The screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides changes the "McGuffin" from drug dealing to atomic secrets, partly due to censorship concerns. It was also notorious for inverting Spillane's brutal right-wing vigilante detective into a brutal self-absorbed nihilist who was supposedly as reprehensible as those he was up against, and ominously depicting the official forces of law and order as no better than either. Although denounced for its violence even before it was released (based on the novel's reputation and the script), most of the violence actually occurs off-screen. The film was either excorciated or ignored by mid-1950s American critics, but was lavishly praised as "the thriller of tomorrow" by the left-wing French critics who would soon form the French New Wave and became a cult arthouse hit.

Now over a half-century later, the film appears to have it both ways, playing upon both traditions and fears of its time while anticipating themes trendy two generations after its release. Thanks to effective directing and acting (though Gaby Rodgers as "Lily Carver" is a bit weak at times), it makes Hammer a more complex antihero than perhaps it intended, it incorporates the dangerous femme fatale, yet it also depicts a strong, independent-minded woman who is on the side of the protagonist (who may certainly have "issues," but like Meeker's Hammer, is not completely unsympathetic). Velda may actually be the film's most sympathetic character. Reflecting McCarthyism and the Cold War, the government is depicted as both uncomfortably menacing yet worthy of respect. The film today ironically fulfils the sociopolitical fears and expectations of both the left and the right, and fits easily into modern concerns about international terrorism vs. private greed. The same fear of big government it depicts as a leftist issue in the 1950s is now a pet issue of the right. Interestingly, Spillane disliked the film for many years because of its distortion of his novel, but later changed his mind and felt Meeker was the best of all the screen versions of Mike Hammer. The strong supporting cast includes Jack Elam, Jack Lambert, and others who also appeared in VERA CRUZ, as well as a young Strother Martin and the ubiquitous Percy Helton.

Picture quality, as usual for Criterion Collection releases, is very good to excellent, mostly the latter, with a crisp 1.66:1 high-definition image that is consistently film-like and shows the fine grain of the film and the textural details of settings and costumes, along with rich deep blacks and bright whites. This is especially effective in the strikingly shot noir night scenes (black and white film of the period being inherently sharper to begin with than 1950s color film stocks). Audio also is very good. Bonus features are up to the Criterion standard, including a nice booklet with essays by J. Hoberman and Aldrich himself (all cleverly designed in the style of a 1950s men's magazine), a good audio commentary by noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini, featurettes about the film, its locations, its screenwriter, and a documentary about Spillane. There's also the original theatrical trailer (in HD) and an alternate shortened ending that was on the film for many of its TV showings until recently.

KISS ME DEADLY on Blu-ray
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: A-
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostMon Aug 29, 2011 11:04 pm

Criterion has been releasing a ton of great older movies to Blu-ray this year, both American and foreign, and both iconic or obscure titles or directors. I ordered a bunch in late Spring/early summer, and then a bunch more when Barnes & Noble had their half-price sale, gradually catching up with them over the past few months. Here are brief reactions to a few that have come out since last Spring.

Ingmar Bergman is generally regarded as one of the greatest directors of the 20th century, creating such masterworks as THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957), PERSONA (1966), and FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1983), all of his work revealing his great admiration for classic cinema, pre-cinema, theatre, and opera. He’s especially noted for his heavy, brooding, philosophical dramas, but actually made some comedies as well, including one of the all-time best romantic comedies ever made -- SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT (1955).

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT (1955) ****
Set mainly at a Swedish country estate around 1900 where several couples spend the weekend (including spouses, ex-lovers, present lovers, and hopeful lovers), SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT is a sophisticated, delightfully witty bedroom farce very much in the tradition of the classic comedies of Ernst Lubitsch and Oscar Wilde, and Precode Hollywood in general. It’s loaded with innuendos, implications, double-entendres, and rapid-fire trading of cleverly barbed insults, all done with the utmost taste and charm. Among the many great one-liners are "My wife may cheat on me, but if anyone touches my mistress I become a tiger!" ...followed up some time later by the same character shocked at seeing his wife in the arms of another man and saying "One can dally with my mistress, but touch my wife and I become a tiger!" Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was one of Bergman’s inspirations, and his story later inspired the Broadway musical and film A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and the Woody Allen film A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY. Devotees of Bergman’s darker dramas will be interested to see many of his stock company of actors playing drastically different types of characters, and will recognize elements reworked in later films like THE MAGICIAN (also now on Blu-ray from Criterion, and well-worth a look, but preferably not as one's very first Bergman film).

Criterion’s high-definition transfer is excellent, as is the mono sound. There is no audio commentary, but bonus features include a taped introduction by Bergman, an interesting video conversation with two Bergman experts, the original trailer, and an illustrated booklet with two essays on the film by such disparate critics as John Simon and Pauline Kael.
SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT on Blu-ray --
Movie: A+
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C+



French director Louis Malle is probably best-known for his American films like PRETTY BABY (1978), ATLANTIC CITY (1980), MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981), and VANYA ON 42nd STREET (1994). Of his French productions, the most-popular include AU REVOIR, LES ENFANTS (1987), LACOMBE, LUCIEN(1974), MURMUR OF THE HEART (1971), and VIVA MARIA (1965). But Malle occasionally made some more experimental, off-beat, and uniquely personal films like the two surrealistic satiric fantasies that came out on Blu-ray this summer: ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO (1960) and BLACK MOON (1975).

ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO (1960) ** 1/2
“Zazie” is a madcap comic tale of an assertive, foul-mouthed nine-year-old girl left for the weekend in Paris while her mother runs off with her latest lover. But rather than see the sights with her uncle (Philippe Noiret, as a performer at a Parisian drag club), Zazie would rather ride the Metro all day, except there is a subway strike so she can’t, which upsets her no end. Based on a popular French novel acclaimed for its ingenious wordplay and stretching of language, the film doesn’t always translate effectively in English subtitles, but the then 27-year-old Malle preferred to find visual equivalents of the book’s satiric inventiveness. As a result, he parodies previous films and cinematic conventions rather than novels and literary conventions, all the while presenting a witty commentary on modern civilization. The frenetic pacing, off-the-wall humor, blend of real, surreal, and animated images, as well as fast-motion and slow-motion, prefigure later films like A HARD DAY'S NIGHT or the “Monkees” and Monty Python TV series. It all but demands repeat viewings to catch everything that’s going on.

The Blu-ray’s video and audio are fine, although it’s hard to tell whether the overall warm colors are intentional or due to image fading, and the sometimes grainy image may be due to optical effects. While there’s unfortunately no commentary track, bonuses include contemporary interviews with the director, author, screenwriter, and star, along with a newer audio-only interview with the art director, and a 2005 documentary comparing Paris then and now. There’s also the trailer and an illustrated booklet with a worthwhile essay.
ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO on Blu-ray --
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: A
Extras: B+

BLACK MOON (1975) **

Malle’s BLACK MOON (certainly not to be confused with the fun 1934 Roy William Neill exotic adventure of the same name with Jack Holt and Fay Wray) is even more peculiar and potentially disturbing, with even less of a formal plot than ZAZIE. It’s sort of a postapocalyptic fantasy set in the near future and loosely inspired by “Alice in Wonderland” that deals with the (quite literal) war between the sexes, the innocence of childhood, a teenage girl’s coming of age, and sexual anxiety. The young protagonist Lily (Cathryn Harrison, granddaughter of Rex) drives through the countryside witnessing armed conflicts between military units of men and women shooting each other down. She barely escapes being captured by one side or the other by driving deeper into the woods, where she comes upon an apparently abandoned farmhouse populated by sheep and other farm animals, crowds of naked children, an odd brother-sister couple both named Lily (underground film icon Joe Dallesandro and the somewhat similar-looking Alexandra Stewart), and a mysterious old lady who talks with a large rat. There’s also a unicorn. From there the progression of events follows a decidedly dreamlike logic as Malle explores various personal issues, obsessions, and interests with no obvious coherence. Partly co-written by Joyce Buñuel (daughter-in-law of Luis) and loaded with allusions and symbolism, the film may not be easy to watch or understand, but it’s always intriguing and provocative. Visually lush (shot by Sven Nykvist), its surreal approach to narrative may be more unsettling and off-putting than engaging for many viewers.

As usual, Criterion’s video and audio transfer are excellent. Filmed in English, it's almost a silent film as there’s not much dialogue at all, but the disc includes an optional French-dubbed soundtrack at times using some distictly different words and phrases compared with Malle's preferred English version. There are only a few bonus items: an illustrated booklet with an essay that bears reading, a trailer that’s nothing more than the opening scenes of the film, a stills gallery, and a TV interview with Malle where he refuses to explain what he meant with the film, asserting that the film “speaks for itself.”
BLACK MOON on Blu-ray --
Movie B-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Sep 10, 2011 1:12 am

And here are a few more Criterion classics from the past few months...

PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (1930) *** 1/2
In summer of 1929, six young Germans interested in filmmaking raised some money and collaborated on an experimental, largely improvised silent drama of ordinary young people using non-actors they recruited. The result was PEOPLE ON SUNDAY, which premiered in Berlin early in 1930 to critical and audience acclaim. The filmmakers quickly found jobs in the movie industry, and after Hitler’s rise to power all soon fled Germany and made names for themselves in Hollywood.

Directors Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer would find success with low-budget thrillers. Writer Billie (later Billy) Wilder would become a legendary writer-director of such American classics as SUNSET BOULEVARD and SOME LIKE IT HOT. Co-writer Kurt Siodmak would later specialize in science-fiction and horror scripts like THE WOLF MAN. Cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan developed major special effects processes and would later win an Oscar for shooting THE HUSTLER. Assistant cinematographer Fred Zinnemann would become an Oscar-winning director responsible for Hollywood classics like HIGH NOON, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, and more.

PEOPLE ON SUNDAY is a remarkably fresh and natural-looking film of two young couples planning to visit the lake on their day off, their various experiences, occasional personal tensions, tentative resolutions, and return to work the next day. Inspired somewhat by the then-fashionable city-documentary, it anticipates elements of Italian neo-realism of the 1940s-50s and the French New Wave of the 1950s-60s. It’s a perfect film for aspiring filmmakers to study as an example of how to make the commonplace into something cinematic and of interest to others, as well as casting nonprofessionals for type.

Criterion’s high-definition transfer of the restored film is excellent, and there are two fine audio scores included, the one by the Mont Alto Orchestra newly-recorded for this edition. Extras include an informative booklet, a half-hour documentary on the film, and a half-hour short made by cinematographer Schüfftan that is quite similar in both style and content to PEOPLE ON SUNDAY, but is a talkie (with somewhat primitive use of sound, but a film just as visually effective as the feature).
PEOPLE ON SUNDAY on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A+
Extras: B+


THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (1983) *** 1/2

THE MAKIOKA SISTERS is director Kon Ichikawa’s free adaptation of an epic family novel set shortly before World War II, apparently covering the year from 1938-1939. It’s a long but involving character drama of the four female heirs to a family business, each with a very different personality and priorities, but all tied to the family traditions to certain degrees, including the rebellious youngest sister. The major plot issue is the sisters’ struggle to marry in the order of age, and to maintain the family prestige. In some ways it can be seen as an allegory for Japanese culture’s struggle to modernize and become a global power and in other ways it is a universal, deeply personal story of individual cares, sacrifices, and family loyalty. At times it calls to mind classic Ozu and Naruse.

It’s also a film marked by superb color art direction and cinematography that is a feast for the eyes on Criterion’s excellent hi-def transfer. The only extras are an HD trailer and a 20-page illustrated booklet with an essay on the film, comparing it to the novel and to America’s GONE WITH THE WIND.
THE MAKIOKA SISTERS on Blu-ray --
Movie: A
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: C


PALE FLOWER (1964) ***

Masahiro Shinoda’s PALE FLOWER is an intriguing character drama of the Japanese underworld with stunningly dazzling use of black-and-white CinemaScope cinematography and avant-garde blending of contemporary jazz music with sound effects. It’s both classic film noir and experimental New Wave, a film that today manages to look retro and modern at the same time. The plot and characterizations are sometimes hard to follow: basically, a yakuza assassin just released from prison becomes fascinated by a mysterious but beautiful young woman with an insatiable passion for gambling. Their troubled, enigmatic relationship makes for a brilliant exercise in cinematic style with symbolic overtones (including an interesting dream sequence) and an unforgettable climax and conclusion. Once again it can be read as having an allegorical subtext, this time dealing with Japan's situation in the Cold War politics and economy of the early 60s.

Criterion’s hi-def transfer again is first-rate, as is the sound. Extras include the original trailer, a new HD video interview with the director, an interesting selected-scene audio commentary discussing mainly Toru Takemitsu’s groundbreaking modern music score, and an illustrated booklet with credits and a perceptive essay analyzing the film.
PALE FLOWER on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostTue Sep 13, 2011 12:35 pm

Here's another pair of Blu-ray reviews, perhaps of films a bit on the recent side for NitrateVille, but the first relates somewhat to recent discussion of Cinerama and the second is largely a silent film with music and sound effects.

In late spring of 2011, two rival documentary-style auto-racing sagas from 40 and 45 years ago came out on Blu-ray, one that was intended to star actor/racecar-driver Steve McQueen, and one that actually did. Both look and sound great on Blu-ray and should have great appeal for racing fans, especially those into professional racecars of the 1960s and 70s. Both are vivid documents of the sport, shooting at actual races with actors themselves driving their cars, rather than staging everything for the cameras. They were also both made before computer-generated effects, and took pains to shoot on location so what you see is what they actually did. Neither one offers anything particularly memorable for its dramatic content, however, the second having virtually no plot at all other than the race. Avid racing fans might prefer to add one star or a letter grade to my evaluations of the films themselves, whereas people bored by racing may well drop each by a full letter grade.

GRAND PRIX (1966) ** 1/2
Director John Frankenheimer wanted Steve McQueen in the lead, but one of the producers had a falling out with McQueen and he refused to do the production. James Garner became his replacement, and spent two months learning to drive racecars so he could do his own driving in the film. A simple plot follows a group of drivers at various Grand Prix racing events across Europe, each race filmed and edited in a different style. Tying things together is a routine behind-the-scenes soap opera with personality clashes of drivers, wives, girlfriends, and reporters (all within the constraints of mid-60s pre-ratings system censorship). While not terribly involving for the most part, especially at a length of nearly three hours including the overture and entr'acte, the attempt to flesh out the characters of the drivers gives a bit more interest to the numerous scenes of racing. It also gives an excuse to have a few big-name stars like Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, and Toshiro Mifune (who sounds like he was dubbed by Paul Frees). Intermission comes at about an hour and forty minutes into the film, so the last part after the entr'acte runs a little under eighty minutes with a pacing that moves right along.

Besides shooting in the large-format Super Panavision 70 (intended by MGM for the huge curved Cinerama screen), Frankenheimer enlisted the collaboration of famed title designer Saul Bass to plan shot compositions and enliven the editing of the races. This with the camera's close attention to details and specially designed car-mounts led to some truly dazzling sequences and split-screen effects, complemented by Maurice Jarre's effective music score. The film deservedly won Oscars for editing, sound, and sound effects editing.

The HD picture quality on this Warner Blu-ray is generally superb -- sharp, fine-grained, and film-like (thanks to the large original negative) -- although there are several noticeable instances of minor damage to the original elements. Due to its Cinerama roots (despite being 70mm rather than 3-strip), it's at its most impressive sitting extra-close to a large screen (e.g., about four to six feet away from an eight-foot wide by three-and-a-half-foot high screen).The 5.1 DTS-HD stereo sound is likewise impressive. Bonus features include the original trailer and five interesting featurettes (all SD but still reasonably sharp and all but one in 16x9). There's a vintage 1966 short about the film, and four recent retrospectives, some dealing with the Formula One racing industry more than the film. All add greatly to appreciation of the film. Unfortunately there is no audio commentary, and the overture and entr'acte music play over a still photo rather than over a black screen.

GRAND PRIX on Blu-ray --
Movie: B-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: B-



LE MANS (1971) **

Though missing out on GRAND PRIX, Steve McQueen still wanted to do his own racing film and ultimately settled on the famous 24-hour Le Mans competition, shooting test footage at the 1969 race to plan shots and sequences, then going into full production at the 1970 race. There was no real script, however, and eventually director John Sturges walked off the film, with Lee Katzin brought in to finish it. The result is still a spectacular homage to the LeMans endurance race and the drivers who make racing their lives, but those hoping for a story of individuals and narrative conflicts won't find much to hold their attention. Although at 108 minutes it's about 70 minutes shorter than GRAND PRIX, it often seems longer, but picks up in pace a bit for its last half-hour. Some critics actually prefer LE MANS to GRAND PRIX, possibly because the people seem more realistic without the contrived soap-opera plot, and the editing lacks the flashy split-screen self-indulgence of GRAND PRIX, looking more like a documentary than an artfilm. Silent film fans, however, may find it more interesting than modern mainstream audiences, as there is almost no dialogue. It's almost like a silent with a few short talking sequences thrown in, just to make it look like it's a drama rather than a Fred Wiseman-style documentary.

Shot in 35mm Panavision, much of the film looks very sharp, but there are also numerous sections with much grainier film stock, all of which comes through with a good film-like texture in this HD transfer from Paramount Home Video (who apparently now own the National General releases). The DTS-HD 7.1 audio also sounds very good. The only bonus features, however, are the original trailer in HD (albeit from a very grainy 35mm print) and a half-hour documentary (in SD 4x3) on the making of the film, hosted by Steve McQueen's son. Interestingly the split-screens of the LE MANS trailer seem calculated to call to mind GRAND PRIX, but feature itself does not use the multi-screen editing style briefly in vogue during the late 1960s.

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

PostSat Sep 17, 2011 11:37 pm

Okay, back to the 1950s for some quick notes on a classic bargain Blu-ray that came out last spring, which I finally watched a few weeks ago and revisited in part over the past couple of days.

ROMEO AND JULIET (1954) ***
Laurence Harvey and Susan Shentall have the title roles with Flora Robson as Juliet's nurse, Sebastian Cabot as her father, and John Gielgud as the "Chorus" in this sometimes underrated British production from Rank, handsomely filmed in Technicolor on location in Italy. Directed by Renato Castellani, who also adapted the screenplay, it's much better than the 1936 MGM version, with the two leads looking and actually being much closer to the characters' ages, if not quite as young as the couple in Franco Zeffirelli's memorable 1968 production and not quite as emotionally involving as Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrman's audaciously effective 1996 re-imagining of the tale. Performances are good all around in the 1954 film, and the authentic locations help bring the play to life, if the pacing is sometimes uneven. Still it's a fine production overall, also interesting for the bits of the play it includes or leaves out that are missing or included in other versions.

Robert Krasker's cinematography is outstanding (it won the BAFTA award that year). It often appears to imitate the composition and colors of Renaissance-era paintings, and is well-represented by this 1.37:1 HD transfer. The picture has vivid colors, rich yet with the somewhat pastel British Technicolor look, although fleshtones occasionally appear washed-out as they were in the 16mm I.B. film prints I've seen (and the colors overall are virtually identical to those same prints). The image is reasonably sharp, sharper than a DVD, but very slightly soft-looking due to digital noise reduction. It's certainly sharp enough to notice the power lines near the top of the screen in a couple of the outdoor shots. Audio quality is decent, if not overwhelming, with Dolby Digital tracks in both the original mono and an unnecessary 5.1 remix. The only bonus feature is the original British trailer in HD, which is a bit contrastier than the feature, but also somewhat sharper. The trailer's editing also makes the film look like an action-packed romantic melodrama instead of the usually leisurely-paced story it turns out to be. While there are 21 chapter stops in the 140-minute film, oddly the chapter menu is broken down into only the five acts of the play.

The VCI disc for some reason has problems playing on a relatively new LG brand player -- the picture is jerky and slow-motion, with audio going out of sync. It plays just fine, however, on a slightly newer Insignia player and even on an "old" (pre-internet-interactive) 2008 model Magnavox player, which won't play certain things that the LG player has no difficulty with. While Blu-rays have been on the market for over five years now, they're still obviously a developing technology with sometimes unreliable "standards" that result in annoying glitches consumers are forced to deal with.

Fans of Shakespeare will probably want to add this to their Blu-ray collection. General classic movie fans should see it, but may prefer to rent or borrow a Blu-ray copy rather than buy it.

ROMEO AND JULIET on Blu-ray --
Movie: B+
Video: B+
Audio: B+
Extras: F+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Sep 28, 2011 1:55 am

More Westerns showing up on Blu-ray
Fans of low-budget, shameless genre films may wonder about the overall quality of those bargain Blu-rays offered by the likes of Mill Creek. The Mill Creek Blu-ray releases I’ve seen so far actually have outstanding high-definition transfers, although the quality of the film elements that were scanned can vary tremendously. For example Mill Creek’s double-feature of two 1990s Japanese “Gamera” sci-fi monster movies looks superb, as good as any recent Hollywood hit, and even features the original Japanese soundtracks with optional subtitles, as well as an English-dubbed option. (The films are also a lot of fun!) A Mill Creek double-feature of two 1960s spaghetti westerns, on the other hand, faithfully reproduces the kind of sharp but washed-out looking print rushed through cheap film labs for grindhouses and drive-ins, featuring only the dubbed English version. Still, with the disc priced at around $8 - $10, amounting to only $4 - $5 per film in full HD, spaghetti western buffs should be satisfied and grindhouse fans will want to snap it up.

THE LAST GUN (Jim il primo) (1964) 96m ** ½
Cameron Mitchell stars in the title role of this reasonably entertaining variation on typical western plot elements. A notorious gunfighter tries to retire as a mild-mannered, small-town shopkeeper, but a gang of outlaws terrorizing the citizens inspires him to use his talents as a Zorro-like protector of the weak. Meanwhile the banker has been conspiring with the outlaw leader to rob his own gold shipment, the sheriff is ineffectual and nobody will help him, and a mysterious guitar-playing stranger joins the band of outlaws but seems more inclined towards loving than fighting. While quite tasteful by today’s standards, the film includes a bit more sex and violence than American films would have for another four or five years. Other major characters in the Italian-Spanish production with an international cast are played by Carl Möhner, Célina Cély, Kitty Carver, Livio Lorenzon, and Mariangela Giordano. The decent script is credited to Ambroggio Molteni and James Wilde, Jr., and it was competently directed by Sergio Bergonzelli.

The transfer is excellent, with no apparent digital tinkering, but the original print quality is only fair. While its physical condition isn’t bad, there’s plenty of dirt and some scratches on the negative (printing through as white), and most of the outdoor scenes are too light, as if the printer light was too dim. Indoor scenes generally look better (and some look outstandingly good), so this may have been a quick one-light print calibrated for those scenes and the denser negative for the outdoor shots simply became underexposed. For some reason it was transferred at nearly a 2:1 ratio instead of 1.85, but compositions never suffer for it. Dubbing on this film is fairly good and the soundtrack is okay, if not particularly memorable.

THE LAST GUN on Blu-ray --
Movie: B
Video: B+
Audio: B+
Extras: F+

4 DOLLARS OF REVENGE (Cuatro dólares de venganza) (1965) 87m **

Jaime Jesús Balcázar directed this Spanish-Italian western set at the end of the U.S. Civil War with a plot largely inspired by “The Count of Monte Cristo.” A young Union officer (Robert Woods) and his friend are rivals for the hand of a rich man’s daughter (Dana Ghia) who has a hard time choosing between them but finally chooses our protagonist. Meanwhile a local businessman is looking to control the town’s next election, and the officer has political ambitions. The officer is sent to protect a gold shipment but his platoon is ambushed by bandits. When he alone survives, he’s accused of planning the attack so he could steal the gold for himself, and is sentenced to hard labor. Of course he escapes from prison and gradually tracks down those who framed him to exact his revenge.

The general direction of the plot is very predictable and the acting (especially the dubbed voices) is more routine and lackluster than that in THE LAST GUN. However, there is some impressive cinematography that is unfortunately undercut by the mediocre lab work and dirty negative (although again the transfer itself is very sharp, and having been shot in Techniscope, the grain is very apparent).

The only extras on this single-disc double-feature are four HD trailers, one for each film plus trailers for two other spaghetti westerns that make up another Mill Creek Blu-ray double-bill: “Django” and “Now They Call Him Sacramento.” Strangely neither the boxcover nor the main menu give a clue that the trailers are there, but the popup menu available while the movies are playing reveals a bonus menu that gets you to the trailers.

4 DOLLARS OF REVENGE on Blu-ray --
Movie: C+
Video: B-
Audio: B
Extras: F+
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Sep 28, 2011 3:15 pm

Singing in The Rain was broadcast in HD, but it at same time it was and was not the Ultra Resolution restoration.

Well, the color balance and the technicolor film strips alignment was the same of the digitally restored DVD. I compared many scenes, same color, contrast and there was very well aligned.


BUT...
the image was not digitally cleaned-up like the DVD !!!!

It have many scenes with a lot of white dust particles and colored particles (when dust it's only in one of the 3 strips).
I know the original negative was lost in a fire, but fine grain master survived, and this explains the colored dust, since the dust was in the negative and was printed in the fine grain master separations, and appears as colored dust particles.

I can't explain the white dust... cause it had to be from a single strip print or so, but the HD TV master look to good to be from a print, and should need to be a print from a unfinished restoration (weird to think).


Strange... Warner allowed a TV channel broadcast the unfinished restoration in HD... ???


Anyway the HD was sharp, good detail. This make elar that the Blu Ray of SInging in The Rain will be great, despite the film original negative is no longer available.
Keep thinking...
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greta de groat

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Re:

PostWed Sep 28, 2011 3:30 pm

Christopher Jacobs wrote:CITIZEN KANE is tentatively promised on BluRay for its 70th anniversary in 2011.

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


It's out already, we got 2 copies in the library last week. It's a 3 disc set but the other 2 discs are DVD and contain The Search for Citizen Kane and RKO281

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Sep 28, 2011 4:00 pm

greta de groat wrote:
Christopher Jacobs wrote:CITIZEN KANE is tentatively promised on BluRay for its 70th anniversary in 2011.

--Christopher Jacobs
http://hpr1.com/film" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank
http://www.und.edu/instruct/cjacobs" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank


It's out already, we got 2 copies in the library last week. It's a 3 disc set but the other 2 discs are DVD and contain The Search for Citizen Kane and RKO281

greta

There's also a Super-Duper Deluxe Edition of Kane on blu that is a 4-disc set and also includes the first region 1 release of The Magnificent Ambersons. Alas, that too is also only a standard DVD.
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Sep 28, 2011 4:21 pm

Kevin2 wrote:
greta de groat wrote:
Christopher Jacobs wrote:CITIZEN KANE is tentatively promised on BluRay for its 70th anniversary in 2011.

--Christopher Jacobs
http://hpr1.com/film" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank
http://www.und.edu/instruct/cjacobs" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank" target="_blank


It's out already, we got 2 copies in the library last week. It's a 3 disc set but the other 2 discs are DVD and contain The Search for Citizen Kane and RKO281

greta

There's also a Super-Duper Deluxe Edition of Kane on blu that is a 4-disc set and also includes the first region 1 release of The Magnificent Ambersons. Alas, that too is also only a standard DVD.

I almost bought the Blu-ray of CITIZEN KANE last week, but I already have the DVD set and don't need another DVD of the same extras, so I'll wait for either AMBERSONS and/or the extras to get HD transfers or for KANE to come out on a lower-priced movie-only Blu-ray (like the BEN-HUR 2-disc Blu-ray of the 1959 version that I just bought yesterday at Walmart for $20).
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Sep 29, 2011 2:50 pm

Note on LE MANS:

Warner Bros. owns the National General library. Paramount owns the Cinema Center films released originally through National General. (Clear as mud, I know.)
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Oct 02, 2011 12:32 am

Here's another "old" western (hey, it's 40 years old now!) that came out on Blu-ray this summer.

HANNIE CAULDER (1971) 85m ***
While the stereotypical low-budget B-Westerns after the 1950s were Italian productions, this reasonably effective variation on the archetypal revenge melodrama is a British film with an all-star cast, and was released by Paramount in the U.S. Directed by Burt Kennedy (who did several westerns in the 1960s-70s including SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF, and THE TRAIN ROBBERS, among others), it stars Raquel Welch as a woman out to get the men who killed her husband and raped her, and Robert Culp as the sympathetic bounty hunter who teaches her how to use a gun. Stealing the show, however, and raising it from just another routine formula shoot-em-up are the three sleazy and stupid villains, played to the comic hilt by Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam. We also get Christopher Lee, of all people, very low-key and dignified as a gunsmith in Mexico, a brief cameo by Diana Dors as the brassy middle-aged madame of a saloon, and Stephen Boyd in an even briefer cameo as a mysterious “preacher.” While rated R for violence, language, and hints of near-nudity, what we see and hear would probably get a PG-13 today.

Although the film print used for the transfer appears to be in excellent shape and the film has very nice wide Panavision cinematography, the video transfer on this release by small distributor Olive Films unfortunately is a bit soft. This is most likely due to overzealous digital noise reduction that reduces grain, blurring fine details and textures if watched on a large 1080p screen any closer than one or two screen-widths. There’s also some moderate edge-enhancement at times. It doesn’t look too bad from a distance, however, and looks okay on a small 720p screen. There’s one audio track, lossless PCM with good frequency range and nice loud bass in all the gunshots, but for some reason the dialogue in this original mono mix often seems a bit too low in volume compared with the music and effects. Sadly, there are absolutely no extras whatsoever beyond a main menu and a chapter menu. The list price of $30 is a bit steep, and for some reason it’s hard to find this disc for under $20, which is still high for such a bare-bones release with a less than optimum picture transfer unless you’re a big western fan. If you can find it on sale for $10 or $15, or for rent, it’s certainly worth a look.

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

PostMon Oct 03, 2011 5:38 pm

With Blu-ray technology having been on the commercial market for five years now, 2011 seems to be the year for a mini-boom in commemorative Blu-ray editions of classics. Within the past month CITIZEN KANE and DUMBO have shown up for their 70th anniversaries, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’s just came out for its 50th, and BEN-HUR was promoted as 50th anniversary release, albeit two years delayed. Earlier this year saw Blu-rays of such diverse 50-year-old films as THE COMANCHEROS, KING OF KINGS, THE HUSTLER, THE MISFITS, and LÉON MORIN PRÊTRE, with upcoming Blu-rays announced for THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, ONE-EYED JACKS, and WEST SIDE STORY. There also seems to be a possibility of a 60th anniversary Blu-ray of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by the end of the year. Earlier this year Disney gave us a 60th anniversary Blu-ray of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and last month we got a U.S. release of the 70th anniversary edition of DUMBO. I’ve already reviewed several of the above titles. Here are some comments on the new Blu-ray of DUMBO.

DUMBO (1941) ****
The last of Disney’s classic early animated features to reach Blu-ray (pre-1950), DUMBO is one of the best from the studio’s entire output, ranking with PINOCCHIO and SNOW WHITE. (FANTASIA, BAMBI, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and SLEEPING BEAUTY are the others so far on Blu-ray. We still have CINDERELLA, PETER PAN and LADY AND THE TRAMP to look forward to from the 1950s, plus minor but entertaining 1940s features like MAKE MINE MUSIC, THE THREE CABALLEROS, and THE RELUCTANT DRAGON.) DUMBO's simple story of a misfit baby elephant teased by others for his big ears, later learning to turn his liability into an asset and become a hero, is a masterful blend of sentiment, inspirational message, and imaginative animated art (besides winning an Oscar for its music score). The surrealistic drunken dream sequence, “Pink Elephants on Parade,” stands among the classic showpieces of all film animation. The scenes illustrating the songs “Baby Mine” and “When I See an Elephant Fly” demonstrate the extremes of emotion Disney’s animation could span, from delicate, tearjerking sadness and pure pantomime to bouncy, enthusiastic good fun with outrageously entertaining puns.

As usual, Disney’s HD video transfer is top-notch, revealing the care with which the studio treats its film assets. The soundtrack has been given a pleasant remix into 7.1 surround sound (and new 5.1 mixes in French and Spanish), but this Blu-ray also includes a good restoration of the original English mono audio for purists.

Bonus features, as well, are very good, with most of the last DVD’s bonuses ported over in standard-definition, plus several new featurettes in HD, a generous HD gallery of artwork, and a new “Cine-Explore” commentary showing the commentators and various film clips in a window while the movie plays (in addition to including the old audio commentary track). Especially welcome are the inclusion of the classic Silly Symphonies THE FLYING MOUSE (1934) and ELMER ELEPHANT (1936) in full HD, and unlike the Blu-ray of SNOW WHITE (which hid its eight bonus shorts scattered throughout various sub-menus and featurettes), these are extremely easy to access with an overall much-improved menu design. There are also a few bonuses, such as games, designed for kids and families.

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

PostSun Oct 09, 2011 1:15 am

I finally got around to watching the Blu-ray of RIO LOBO, one of several older westerns on Blu-ray I got back in June. Here are some brief reactions.


RIO LOBO (1970) ** 1/2

Howard Hawks' last film is a routine but well-enough made western. It is certainly a respectable effort, but suffers more from its mediocre supporting cast than from its formulaic script that's at its best when it reworks the last section of Hawks' RIO BRAVO in its last half-hour (and had one of the same screenwriters). The first half-hour is an decently-executed train robbery during the Civil War, and the middle hour is a routine setup of the usual situation of villains trying to take over a town by terrorizing its citizens into signing over their property. John Wayne does a good job of being John Wayne -- here a Union colonel now out for vengeance against a traitor formerly under his command, and Jack Elam is great as a crusty old Texas rancher, with Christopher Mitchum doing a nice job as Elam's ex-Confederate sergeant son. Unfortunately Jorge Rivero as the half-French half-Mexican Confederate captain who becomes Wayne's sidekick after the war seems uncomfortable with both his role and his accent. Jennifer O'Neill in one of her first films looks just fine but her performance is mostly awful and only so-so the rest of the time. Sherry Lansing likewise is attractive and shows a certain screen presence, but soon after this film became much more successful as a producer and studio executive than as an actress. Still, there are several scenes where the cast appears to be having such a good time that it rubs off a bit on the viewer.

Picture quality on Paramount's Blu-ray is quite strong and film-like, and the 5.1 DTS audio provides good stereo music and effective directional sound effects, sometimes even directional dialogue. Unfortunately there are no extras beyond the chapter menu, alternate language tracks, and subtitle options.

RIO LOBO on Blu-ray --
Movie: B-
Video: A
Audio: A
Extras: F
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostWed Oct 12, 2011 12:50 am

A number of good examples of film noir are finally starting to show up on Blu-ray, giving viewers the chance to revel in the details and textures of their rich black-and-white cinematography as much as their gritty, fatalistic, and typically ironic crime stories full of low-lifes and anti-heroes. The list is still small, but notable noirs on Blu-ray include Robert Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY (1955), Phil Karlson's KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952), Sam Fuller's THE NAKED KISS (1964), and Masahiro Shinoda's PALE FLOWER (1964), besides Charles Laughton's noirish thriller NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) and John Huston's proto-noir remake of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). And while there's no murder or crime caper involved, Robert Rossen's atmospheric poolhall drama THE HUSTLER (1961) is full of noirish characters, themes, and visual style.

A pair of early Stanley Kubrick films released this August on one Blu-ray disc from Criterion may be more notable to auteurists as foreshadowing various aspects of his later work, but these movies are best appreciated as two more striking examples of the noir subgenre: KILLER'S KISS (1955) and THE KILLING (1956). Seeing THE KILLING for the first time since college, I found it much more interesting and involving than I did some 30 years ago, when I thought it was okay but disappointing after the enthusiastic hype I'd heard. Seeing KILLER'S KISS for the very first time has given me, surprisingly, a new favorite Kubrick film (to rank just under BARRY LYNDON and 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY) that is refreshingly different in many ways while equally a visual tour-de-force. Those turned off by the long and ultra-long running times of Kubrick's major films should be pleased to note that each of these nice little noirs is well under 90 minutes!

KILLER'S KISS (1955) *** 1/2
Told mainly in flashback, the simple plot follows a washed-up boxer (Jamie Smith) who gets involved with a weary dance-hall girl (Irene Kane, later known as Chris Chase) who's tired of the constant attentions of her boss, a small-time gangster (Frank Silvera). When the boxer and the girl decide to run away together, the gangster naturally has different ideas, leading to a murder in an alley, a rooftop chase, and a climactic fight in a mannequin factory.

Stanley Kubrick's second feature-length film has been unjustly dismissed as a lesser work, probably by critics upset that it is so different from the cold, controlled style and detached, darkly satiric social commentary he is so noted for, a style that is evident from his very next film, THE KILLING. When taken on its own merits, KILLER'S KISS is a tight little thriller only 67 minutes long that oozes atmosphere and never wastes a moment. Stark New York nighttime locations and stylish image compositions create a perfect example of the non-studio New York approach to moviemaking then gaining in vogue and demonstrates just how much pure style can turn familiar stereotypes into compelling drama and aesthetic pleasures. The actors never take center stage like they do in so many of Kubrick's later films, but they are always competent and have an earnestness that fits their roles without overplaying them.

Kubrick's experience as a magazine photographer really shows throughout the picture. In fact a few shots have been lifted by Turner Classic Movies for their familiar pre-feature introductory noirish sequence of clips with a man selling tickets and a blonde woman undressing in a window. Some of the boxing sequence appears to have been a direct influence on Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL. Due to its miniscule budget, Kubrick had more direct control over KILLER'S KISS than any of his other films, serving not only as director but as producer, writer, cinematographer, and editor. He even post-dubbed all the sound so he wouldn't have to worry about microphone shadows. Kubrick's then-wife Ruth Sobotka shows up in a cameo as the girl's dead ballerina sister, a flashback within the flashback. There's also a dream sequence done as a negative image. For whatever reason, Kubrick includes a couple of scenes in the gangster's office showing old wall posters for the melodrama "Blue Jeans" and the silent film THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH, and a number of scenes call to mind various other films.

Criterion's high-definition 1.33:1 transfer is superb, full of crisp, high contrasts and velvety grays. Audio likewise is faithfully reproduced. It's usually easy to recognize that the actors were post-synching their lines, but it never detracts from the overall experience and actually adds to the film's low-budget aesthetic. Although KILLER'S KISS is itself a bonus feature on the disc of THE KILLING, it's got its own bonus features: a newly shot and very good featurette in high-def of a critic discussing various aspects of this film in the context of Kubrick's later work (making one wish there were an audio commentary on the feature), the original trailer in HD (although missing its picture during the opening and closing for some reason), as well as a brief discussion of KILLER'S KISS in the critical essay on THE KILLING printed in the enclosed booklet.

KILLER'S KISS on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: B



THE KILLING (1956) ***

A typical heist thriller, this one a detailed and elaborate plan to rob a horse track during the confusion expected to result after shooting one of the favorite horses, blends with the usual femme fatale subplot of a cheating, scheming wife and her boyfriend, leading to the usual crime gone wrong and rather heavy-handed dramatic irony so prevalent in film noir, with a majority of the characters winding up getting shot.

THE KILLING is raised above average by its outstanding cast of character actors (Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr, Marie Windsor, Jay C Flippen, Ted DeCorsia, Coleen Gray, and more) and again by some outstanding black and white cinematography. Based on a novel, it was adapted to the screen by Kubrick and producer James Harris, with dialogue by noted pulp fiction writer Jim Thompson. Much of its strength comes from fleshing out almost every one of the crime's participants into someone a bit more than a simple stereotype, giving the audience reason to care whether they succeed at their efforts, and all in just 84 minutes. Still, the film is so methodical and looks so carefully plotted and controlled, that it lacks some of the free-spirited energy that pervades KILLER'S KISS.

Again, Criterion's HD transfer is excellent, scanned from the original 35mm camera negative at 1.66:1, with fine uncompressed mono audio from the original magnetic soundtrack. The best bonus feature, of course, is the complete feature of KILLER'S KISS in HD, but there are also newly recorded HD interviews with producer James Harris about the film and Kubrick, and with author Robert Polito about Jim Thompson, plus two interviews in SD with Sterling Hayden made in the 1980s for French TV, and the original trailer in HD. The enclosed booklet includes an interesting if rather overanalyzed discussion of THE KILLING by a Harvard archivist plus a brief reminiscing by Marie Windsor on working with Kubrick. Unfortunately there is no audio commentary.

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

PostWed Oct 19, 2011 12:15 am

Here are brief reviews of a couple more recent and highly worthwhile Blu-ray releases of older titles, one a 90-year-old potential Halloween movie, and the other a 50-year-old romantic comedy-drama with certain modern PC issues.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921) ***
More of a moody ghost story than true horror, Swedish actor-director Victor Sjöström’s THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE or KÖRKARLEN (1921), is new to Blu-ray from Criterion, released September 27th. Nobel prize-winning novelist Selma Lagerlöf worked with Sjöström to adapt her book to the screen. The story chronicles the adventures of an alcoholic vagrant suffering from tuberculosis (played by writer-director Sjöström) and the ancient Norse legend that the last person to die on New Year’s Eve must spend the following year driving the ghostly horsecart of Death to collect the souls of all who die that year.

Of course it’s about more than supernatural chills, but is a moving, complex character study and morality tale that has numerous obvious parallels in the work of Ingmar Bergman three to five decades later. Although only a toddler when the film was made, a teenage Bergman saw it in revivals and credited it as the film that made him become a filmmaker himself. Its preoccupation with death and human perversity, the contrasts between good and evil, affected his work deeply. He would even cast Sjöström in some of his most memorable films, particularly WILD STRAWBERRIES, which treats some of the same themes as THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE.

Criterion’s HD transfer is excellent, although the restored film, made from two different release prints combined and copied to a new preservation negative, shows some wear and minor flicker inherent in the surviving film material. There are two fine options for music accompaniment to enhance the silent drama. One is a small orchestra score in a traditional style that highlights the drama perfectly. The other is by an experimental duo that is also very effective, and actually creates more of a horror film mood, although it's sometimes more repetitive (especially towards the beginning) and doesn't always match as many scene shifts/action cues quite so closely.

Bonus features include a fascinating audio commentary by a Scandinavian film historian, a filmed 1981 interview with Ingmar Bergman in HD (excerpted from a documentary), a new HD featurette about the film’s Bergman connection, footage of the construction of the movie studio where THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE was filmed, and a booklet with credits and a critical essay.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A-
Audio: A+
Extras: A



BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961) ***½

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S debuted on Blu-ray September 20th, 2011. Based upon Truman Capote's novella, the definitive Audrey Hepburn film is a simple but surprisingly subversive story for 1961 mainstream Hollywood with its capricious, amoral young heroine who lives off income from random men and compares herself to a wild animal, not to mention its low-key intellectual would-be novelist hero who finds it more convenient to write if he is being kept by a wealthy married woman so he doesn't need to work for a living (yet never manages to buy a ribbon for his typewriter). However, Hepburn as Holly Golightly and George Peppard as Paul Varjak are both so endearingly vulnerable and sincere that viewers can't help but be drawn into their lives, hoping they'll find happiness and excusing their faults. A perfect example of Hollywood going lightly, the script adaptation got an Oscar nomination. It would certainly have been interesting if Capote's original model for the role, Marilyn Monroe, had played Holly, and although Hepburn makes the part her own (and earned an Oscar nomination for it) there are still hints of a Monroe-type character that come through. And though the dialogue often sounds theatrical,the actors make it work. Hepburn and Peppard get excellent support from Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, and John McGiver, among others.

Under the direction of Blake Edwards, the plot shifts effortlessly from drama to comedy and back again, always with a strong undercurrent of romance, if not always what one might expect or want to see next. Some things are just a bit too obvious, while others are genuine surprises. Edwards' most memorable contribution departs from the main story for the famous 10-minute cocktail party scene, full of his comic touches and actor ad-libs (including laughing/crying woman Fay McKenzie, who was a guest at the 2011 Cinecon with her 1941 Gene Autry film DOWN MEXICO WAY). The casting of Mickey Rooney as a broadly stereotyped caricature Japanese photographer who lives upstairs today raises a number of eyebrows (at the very least), but because other than his physical appearance and accent, none of Rooney's dialogue or slapstick comedy schtick is really linked to any race or culture, it's more of a minor annoyance. The incessant smoking and drinking are likely to raise nearly as many objections from the PC-police.

One of the film's five Oscar nominations was for its art direction, and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S is a great time capsule of 1961 attitudes, but also of architecture, automobiles, and of course fashion designs, enhanced all the more by the crisp, clear image and vivid colors. The two Oscars it actually won were for its memorable Henry Mancini score and for the song "Moon River," which typically had nearly been deleted by the producers.

Paramount's Blu-ray is a wonderful 2011 restoration with a superb HD transfer. With a good HD projector it makes it feel like you're in a theatre in 1961 watching it opening week (and comes off even better with an audience of a half-dozen or more, as I had the other night when I ran it in my basement theatre). It's a vast improvement over the last DVD in both sharpness and color richness. There's a great-sounding and effectively remixed 5.1 DTS-HD stereo audio track as well as the restored original mono track, plus alternate French, Spanish, and Portuguese soundtracks.

As befitting a "50th Anniversary Edition," there is a good selection of bonus features, with all those from the old 45th Anniversary DVD ported over, including the interesting but sometimes sparse commentary track by producer Richard Shepherd. The others deal with Audrey Hepburn as a style icon, Tiffany's, and of course the making of the film itself. New for the Blu-ray is a cutesy 4½-minute standard-def tour of the Paramount backlot (no doubt something to include on each Paramount movie released to video during its 2012 "centennial" year), as well as HD image galleries and three new HD featurettes. One is an entertaining reunion of all the surviving extras from the cocktail party, one is a pleasant documentary on Henry Mancini featuring his wife and kids reminiscing, and the other is a thoughtful discussion from an Asian perspective of Blake Edwards' choice to use Mickey Rooney for the "Mr. Yunioshi" character. The original trailer is also now in HD.

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S on Blu-ray --
Movie: A-
Video: A+
Audio: A
Extras: A
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSat Oct 22, 2011 10:17 pm

Disney’s Restoration of Dumbo
and Efforts to Preserve Their Film
Library.
http://www.hometheaterforum.com/t/31490 ... lm-library" target="_blank
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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostSun Oct 23, 2011 4:34 pm

Thanks, Syd, for the Disney/Dumbo link -- it was very interesting. Too bad other studios aren't always as conscientious about preserving their libraries. SETH
"Novelty is always welcome, but talking pictures are just a fad." -- Irving Thalberg
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Re:

PostThu Oct 27, 2011 3:33 pm

kndy wrote:Fantasia/Fantasia 2000

I just finished watching and testing the upcoming Blu-ray release of "Fantasia" and "Fantasia 2000" and all I can tell you is how wonderful the original looks and sounds on HD.

If you have a 7.1 setup, as an audiophile who enjoys the movie, you will love this release! I have had this soundtrack since before my college years back in the very early '90s and have had the soundtrack on cassette, CD and now to hear it via Blu-ray 7.1, I've never imagined I would be listening to the soundtrack with this presentation ever and it sounds absolutely wonderful. Instruments are wonderfully positioned to various channels, you hear the music going from the left to the right and vice versa, just remarkable channel placement for various instruments.


Just a quick word about the audio on the new Fantasia restoration. A sharp-eared guy on the Disney Animation group on USENET discovered there are problems with the audio during the "Toccata & Fugue" segment. Specifically:

"Toccata & Fugue"
Time 4:21 raspy sound from the oboes, Stoky looking to the right.
Time 8:56 raspy sound from the oboes, animation in progress
Time 10:13 raspy sound from the oboes.

By the time you hear the oboes in "Arabian Dance" from the "Nutcracker Suite"
at time 22:02 the oboes now sound normal.

He was writing about the Blu-ray, but I confirmed this with the standard DVD release as well. There's a strange digital raspiness there that is not present on the Anthology box set DVD release (in either the DTS or Dolby mixes). Another bummer is that the new release has no DTS audio on the DVD. I'm not sure if the audio artifacts are from noise reduction, or just bad encoding. And of course, Deems Taylor's original audio is still missing...

Derek
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Derek Gee

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Re:

PostThu Oct 27, 2011 5:49 pm

WaverBoy wrote: ALICE has been recolored so that the colors' original balance and relationship to each other are gone and cannot be restored by adjustment, the backgrounds have been digitally frozen, and the foreground characters have been rotoscoped off and redeposited on these backgrounds so that they appear to jitter a bit now, because they are still affected by natural cinema weave, unlike the now-frozen backgrounds. And to cap it all off, the original optical effects have been replaced by new digital effects. And lest you think I'm cuckoo, here are some posts from the Home Theater Forum by Stephen Worth, one of the foremost classic animation experts worldwide, regarding the re-creation of ALICE...


The debate over Disney's restorations has been going on for a long time. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson complained that the colors on the 1993 Cineon restoration of SNOW WHITE (used for the Laserdisc & VHS releases) were nice, but not what they used originally. Later, they were both hired as advisors for the DVD restoration, and the colors looked virtually the same. Thomas & Johnson were used as consultants on some of the other restorations, and they signed off on those too. How do I interpet that?

Some of what Mr. Worth says is true, but some appears to be false. His assertion about the "missing" distortion glass from PINOCCHIO, for instance. The glass was photographed in each frame, it makes no sense it would suddenly go missing. So I checked my two DVD's of PINOCCHIO, right near the opening where Jiminy heads over to the fire. The distortion is right there where it should be on the restoration DVD.

I also do not buy his assertion that whole films have been digital recomposited. I can see where that would be used for things like re-censoring FANTASIA, but it is an expensive process, and not needed for an entire picture if you're using Reliance (formerly Lowry) to do the digital clean-up. From his comments, I think he may be mistaking image stabilization applied by Reliance for digital recomposition.

I also think there's merit to what Disney has said about the look of the film. Yes, these restorations don't look like the 4th generation dupe negative you might have seen in the 80s, but that doesn't mean that's how they're supposed to look. Trying to match an IB Tech print is also a losing game. I don't know of any way to get that "glow" that comes from the colors on a genuine IB print. Matching your video version to the color scheme of a 1951 release print may not match a later release print. Trying to match it may not be possible anyway. I've seen no video verison of THE WIZARD OF OZ that looks like the IB Tech print I've seen.

This is not to say Disney hasn't made mistakes with the restorations - they have. I can at least understand their perspective though.

Derek
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All Darc

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Re: Old Movies in HD: An Ongoing Guide

PostThu Oct 27, 2011 7:35 pm

Forgive folks, but I need to say this:

If you follow DVD Beaver comparisons, for a large amount of films, you will find that even for modern films or sometimes even for CGI animations or films with a lot of digital intermediation for FX, it's very rare that one edition look very like the other, like for example a DVD from 204 and one from 2009, or a actual Blu Ray.

It's not just a matter of restoration technology or hard work to determine the true colors, true original photograph.

Honestly, they change colors so much times, and contrast so much times, even from one scene to another, and not just release a yellowed or darker or more satured transfer than the anterior edition, that I imagine they do it intentionaly to try to give a feeling of "new product".

If you take a old film with a huge extravagant budget and endeavor in the restoration, like Gone With The Wind, you will notice some funny thing. First film resolution digitally restored in 4K for the second DVD edition, and looked great. But was re-restored in 8K for Blu Ray version (that have only HD resolution) and the colors was changed once again, and also the contrast.
The first film resolution digital restoration, on 4K resolution, should be enough to get all resolution from a film emulsion from 1928. And they did a extensive research to find the right colors form each scene. And the last restoration, 8K, came and changed things once again...

The word restoration sometimes looks a fashion to try present a new thing.
Or maybe I'm wrong, and Warnes just research more, got more evidences, and find that the color balance for each scene need some retouchs.
But I still ee no reason to rework digital clean up in 8K, since 4K was enough to get all details from chemical film.
Keep thinking...
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