Release Date(s)1953 (February 9, 2021)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
During the golden era of 3D movies, many film genres were being shot in stereoscopic formats at all of the major studios, including Universal Pictures who had controversially built their own 3D camera system to do so (controversial in so much as they were sued by a rival, but ultimately nothing came of it). One of these films was the Budd Boetticher-helmed Western Wings of the Hawk, only Universal’s second 3D feature up to this point after It Came from Outer Space. Fresh off of the success of Shane in the leading role was Van Heflin, who took the part when Glenn Ford eventually dropped out. Julie Adams co-starred as his compatriot and eventual love interest (genre fans will no doubt be more familiar with Adams for her performance in Creature from the Black Lagoon, which was released a year after Wings of the Hawk). Unfortunately, Wings of the Hawk was only a month into its release when the studio began offering it in both 2D or 3D, with the 2D eventually winning out. As such, few have seen the film in its intended format since its release in August of 1953. The 3-D Film Archive has not only restored it to its original glory, but have also provided the film’s original three channel stereophonic soundtrack.
At the beginning of the Mexican revolution, a prospector nicknamed “Irish” (Heflin) and his loyal partner Marco are peacefully mining for gold in Mexico when they discover a seemingly rich vein of it. Their celebration is short-lived when the corrupt and powerful Colonel Ruiz (George Dolenz) arrives, demanding that Irish hand everything over. He refuses, fighting his way out of the colonel’s clutches and losing Marco to well-aimed rifles by Ruiz’s men. Irish is then saved by a group of rebels, bringing him to their secret camp and their leader, Arturo (Rodolfo Acosta). They decide to help him after he saves Arturo’s gun-toting bride-to-be Raquel (Adams) from a recent and potentially deadly bullet wound. As Irish and Raquel grow closer, Arturo grows enraged, eventually betraying them to the enemy. Soon Colonel Ruiz and his men come gunning for the outmatched insurrectionists, but Irish has something up his sleeve to combat them.
Wings of the Hawk was shot by director of photography Clifford Stine on 35 mm film using Universal's own 3D camera rig, which utilized two Mitchell NC cameras shooting two separate strips of film to achieve the intended effect. The results were finished photochemically and framed at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (a relatively new process at the time). Kino Lorber presents 3-D Film Archive’s restoration of the film in both 2D and polarized 3D on the same disc. The 2D presentation is pretty rough by comparison as it features heavy grain, faded edges, delineation issues, and flicker. The Technicolor hues are what shine the most as rich swatches of green foliage, blue costumes, and the red lipstick on Julie Adams stand out (maybe a tad too much). Shadows are often blue instead of black, but the presentation appears natural and true to its source. The 3D presentation is the preferred way to the view the film, and it’s lovely. Since Boetticher and Stine composed the film with great depth in many shots, the quality of the 3D really soars. Occasionally gimmick moments are employed, meaning objects fly at the camera, but those are few and far between. The real piece de resistance is the enormous depth in the image. Everything appears sharp with excellent definition, and ghosting is never an apparent issue. It’s a wonderful 3D presentation.
Audio is provided in the aforementioned original three channel stereo as an English 3.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. An alternate English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also available, sourced from a “2020 compressed Midnight Movie mix” (more on that in a moment). Optional subtitles are provided in English. Unlike many multi-channel soundtracks of the day, the audio for Wings of the Hawk was not created during post-production. Multiple microphones recorded audio on the set to give the film’s sound more dimension. If you’ve ever seen this film with only mono sound (which is most people after the film’s release), then you’ve never heard what a powerful soundtrack it can be. The explosive moments really rattle the windows (which were so loud during filming that it actually shook the windows of businesses nearby, prompting the police, the army, and the FBI to investigate where it was coming from). Dialogue is discernible and sound effects, such as gun fire and punches, have nice impact. The lush score by Frank Skinner (The Naked City, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) is also well-rounded and effective. The 5.1 track is provided for those without the ability to hear the three channel soundtrack in a proper environment. Meaning that if you’re only hearing the film through a soundbar, the 5.1 track is a nice alternative as it’s basically a compressed version in a 5.1 milieu, minus the rear and low frequency channels. It’s a nice way to provide consumers with a way to watch the film if they’re incapable of hearing it properly. But for those who can, the outstanding three channel track is the whole ballgame.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Jeremy Arnold
- Audio Essay by Mike Ballew (HD – 24:38)
- Hypnotic Hick – 3D (HD – 6:32)
- Hypnotic Hick – 2D (HD – 6:32)
- Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:12)
Film historian Jeremy Arnold provides a very informative audio commentary about the production. Since he was a close friend of Budd Boetticher, he offers the director’s feelings about the final film and his period at Universal before he began making films with Randolph Scott at Warner Bros, which became known as the “Ranown Cycle.” He also examines the skill and techniques used to create the film, and covers the careers of not only Boetticher, but members of the cast and crew. 3D expert Mike Ballew’s audio essay (billed here as an audio commentary, even though it’s presented separately from the main feature) is an extremely well-researched and lengthy overview of the film’s production, its physical and technical challenges, and the state of 3D filmmaking at that time. It’s an amazing resource for those who are curious to learn more about the film in greater detail. Next is the newly-restored Woody Woodpecker cartune Hypnotic Hick, presented in both 2D and 3D. Compared to the main feature, it’s more traditional 3D, meaning that there are many moments of things popping out of the screen. As it's Universal’s first 3D animated short, it’s a wonderful addition. Last but not least is the trailer for the main feature. The disc sits inside a blue amaray case with artwork featuring the original theatrical one-sheet.
As per usual, the 3-D Film Archive have rescued another 3D gem from the depths of obscurity and breathed new life into it marvelously. If you’re a fan of Blu-ray 3D, you owe it to yourself to pick up Wings of the Hawk and continue to support the company’s efforts. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons