Classic Blu-ray Remarks
We now have two classic titles available on Blu-ray from Fox that have each received several previous standard DVD releases - All About Eve (1950) and An Affair to Remember (1957). Both films are very well known, so I'll focus only on the various home video incarnations All About Eve previously appeared three times on standard DVD.
The first was a bare-bones effort in 2001, followed by an early 2003 release in Fox's Studio Classics line. That version sported a substantially improved transfer and a number of good supplements including two audio commentaries and the AMC Backstory take on the film. The third release was a two-disc edition included in the Bette Davis Collection, Fox's centenary tribute to the actress. Its new transfer improved only minimally on the Studio Classics one. New supplements were four featurettes mainly focusing on writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Now comes a Blu-ray edition from Fox that reminds us once again how much the older black and white classics can benefit from a high definition presentation. The full frame image is superb. It is a very substantial improvement over the already good-looking DVD versions, offering a crispness and level of image detail that one gets in only the very best Blu-ray transfers. Black levels are very deep indeed and contrast is highly impressive. Appropriate grain levels have been retained and the result is a very film-like experience indeed. The original mono track is retained but a new DTS-HD 5.1 mix delivers really crisp dialogue and a replication of Alfred Newman's score that sounds very dynamic. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. The supplement package is the same as on the previous two-disc DVD with the exception that the latter's restoration featurette has been dropped and two short promotional pieces on Bette Davis and Anne Baxter added. The classy digibook packaging also adds some 26 pages of useful production information and photographs. Very highly recommended. An Affair to Remember has had a similar history of three previous standard DVD releases. A passable 2000 release was followed by a much improved 2003 entry in Fox's Studio Classics line including an audio commentary and the AMC backstory. The 2007 50th anniversary release improved only modestly on the Studio Classics' transfer, but did add five new featurettes on the film's stars (Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr), its director Leo McCarey, its producer Jerry Wald, and the film's look. Fox's new Blu-ray edition delivers an excellent transfer of the film although the improvement over the previous DVD is not quite as great as that for All About Eve. Still, the difference is notable and will please fans of the film. The 2.35:1 image is clear and very clean with excellent colour fidelity. The De Luxe colour is not as saturated as the best Technicolor films, but the somewhat dreamy look suits the film perfectly and Blu-ray has captured it admirably. The image is wonderfully filmlike with modest grain and no evidence of untoward digital manipulation. The DTS-HD 5.1 track exhibits nice directionality across the front and modest use of the surrounds, mainly to expand Hugo Friedhofer's music score. The original stereo track and English and Spanish subtitles are also provided. All the supplements of the previous 50th Anniversary DVD have been carried over. The classy digibook packaging adds 26 pages of production information and photographs. Highly recommended.
Walt Disney's Bambi (1942) received one DVD release, a Platinum Edition in 2005. That two-disc version delivered a beautiful rendition of the classic animated feature and a whole raft of supplements that taken as a whole would seem hard to improve upon.
Disney's new Blu-ray edition continues the approach the studio has taken to its classic features - a thoroughly cleaned up image and a general brightening that results in very vibrant colours although they may not correspond exactly to how the film originally looked. The resulting image, as in Bambi's case, does look very sharp and appealing, but one's acceptance depends upon where one stands on the grain issue in respect to classic animated features. Disney at least seems able to retain high frequency detail in its images at the same time that it excises the grain. One school is quite accepting of the grain removal since it reveals the grain-free original art work upon which the film was based. The other school focuses on the nature of the original filmed product with its inherent grain as what we should be seeing on our home theatre screens. I tend to fall into the latter camp though it easy to see how one can be seduced with Disney's approach given the high quality of the results. Controversy continues when one looks at the audio. Disney has chosen for some reason to go with a 7.1 DTS-HD HR (high resolution) track. That's a form of lossy audio akin to a DD+ presentation. It all sounds very good, both dialogue and music score, but one wonders at the reason for the compromise. The restored original soundtrack as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles are included. The supplement package is a combination of material from the previous DVD release plus special Blu-ray features that merge some older supplements with new material (such as "Inside Walt's Story Meetings: Enhanced Edition" which allows a viewer to branch off to relevant supplements as the film plays). The amount of material overall is exhaustive, but never exhausting. A DVD version is included as a separate disc in the blu-ray release. Recommended.
Film Chest in conjunction with Virgil Films appears to be undertaking a program of making new restorations of public domain titles available on Blu-ray. The first fruits of their labours are 1952's Kansas City Confidential and 1946's The Stranger.
Kansas City Confidential pits ex-cop Timothy Foster (Preston Foster) against ex-soldier and ex-con Joe Rolfe (John Payne) innocently implicated in a heist that Foster masterminded after his forced early retirement from the Kansas City police. Rolfe's search for redemption leads him to Mexico where he encounters Foster and the three gang members actually involved in the heist. As none of the latter three know each other or Foster due to the way Foster organized the heist, a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues leading to a final confrontation over the split-up of the stolen money. The film has key noir elements such as the embittered ex-cop and embittered ex-soldier/ex-con combined in a fascinating dance to the death characterized by brutality and ultimate redemption. John Payne is one of the key noir players and he's nicely complemented by as nasty a trio of thugs as you'd want to see on screen (Lee Van Cleef, Neville Brand, Jack Elam). Overall, it's a terrific little film that generates good tension throughout under the sure hand of well-known noir director Phil Karlson (99 River Street, Scandal Sheet, The Brothers Rico). The full frame transfer is based on a pretty good looking 35mm print which received a fair bit of digital clean-up to remove many scratches and speckles. Going by the restoration comparison which is included on the disc, a slight amount of detail appears to have been lost in the clean-up process although a modest but acceptable amount of film grain remains. The resulting Blu-ray image is quite good, offering a sharp image with good contrast. In comparison with the best available standard DVD source - MGM's 2007 release, the Blu-ray is brighter and cleaner but has less grain and offers no more than a comparable level of image detail. The audio consists of a Dolby mono and a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix. The latter really offers no improvement over the mono and represents an investment that Film Chest really didn't need to make, especially for a film of this nature. Better that a single lossless mono track be provided. Spanish subtitles are included. Supplements include the afore-mentioned restoration comparison, a pastiche of scenes from the movie (not a trailer as stated on the packaging), a postcard insert, and a standard DVD copy of the film. Recommended if you don't have the MGM DVD version. Otherwise try a rental to see if a purchase upgrade makes sense for you. The Stranger is a superior film noir originally made by International Pictures and subsequently allowed to fall out of copyright. It's long been one of most widely available titles from the public domain specialists. MGM released by far the best DVD version of the film and it's against that version that Film Chest's Blu-ray effort should be measured. The film stars Edward G. Robinson as Nazi hunter Mr. Wilson who is on the trail of holocaust architect Franz Kindler (Orson Welles, who also directs the film). He tracks Kindler to the town of Harper, Connecticut where Kindler has taken the name Charles Rankin and is preparing to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the na´ve daughter of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. All three stars are in good form in the resulting game of cat and mouse that eventually leads to Rankin's unmasking, but it is Robinson's understated performance that carries the day. Welles's direction is fairly unobtrusive although the shadowy lighting both indoors and out is notable. Though apparently restored from "original 35mm assets", the resulting high definition image is no better looking than standard DVD. Compared to MGM's DVD, the Blu-ray does look cleaner and brighter, but contrast is poorer and virtually all sign of film grain has been excised from the image. Film detail is generally inferior as well. As with Kansas City Confidential, a mono track is provided and an unnecessary 5.1 Dolby Digital mix has been generated for the title; both sport some hiss and crackle at times and it would have been preferable to stick with the mono only and simply provide a cleaned-up, lossless track. Spanish subtitles are included. Supplements consist of a restoration comparison, a pastiche of scenes from the movie, a postcard insert, and a standard DVD copy of the movie. If you already have the MGM DVD release, stick with it; if you don't and want this title, the MGM version is still the best one to seek out.
AC Comics now has the 12-chapter Republic serial Federal Operator 99 (1945, with Marten Lamont) available as a 2-disc DVD-R release.
Anchor Bay has a couple of Alejandro Jodorowsky films on the way on Blu-ray for April 19th: the western El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973).
Criterion's May plans include Blu-ray editions of Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, directed by Ingmar Bergman) on May 3rd; Diabolique (1955, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, also on DVD) and Pale Flower (1964, directed by Masahiro Shinoda, also on DVD) on May 17th; and The Great Dictator (1940, Charlie Chaplin, also on a 2-disc DVD release) and Solaris (1972, directed by Andrei Tarkowsky, also on a 2-disc DVD release) on May 24th. The Great Dictator will have a new audio commentary by Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran.
On March 29th, Entertainment One (eOne) will be releasing the television debut of Frank Sinatra and Ethel Merman. It came in NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954 when they starred in a performance of Cole Porter's musical comedy "Anything Goes". The DVD is entitled The Archive of American Television Presents: Anything Goes.
Fox will release Twelve O'Clock High (1949, with Gregory Peck) on Blu-ray on May 3rd.
Grapevine Video has four silent titles for release in March: April Fool (1926, Baby Peggy), Oh! Doctor (1925, Reginald Denny), Which Shall It Be? (1924, a Madeline Brandeis production), and The White Sin (1924, Madge Bellamy). Sound releases are a Charles Laughton Double Feature (The Private Life of Henry VIII /Captain Kidd ), The Bob Cummings Show (4 episodes), and a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Double Feature (Song of Arizona /Roy Rogers and Dale Evans TV Show episode).
Image will have The Twilight Zone: Season 4 on Blu-ray on May 17th. Extras appear to include those on the previous DVD release plus 13 new audio commentaries and a vintage audio interview with director of Photography George Clemens,
Kino will release Gaumont Treasures: Volume 2 - 1908-1916 in a 3-disc DVD box set due April 19th. It will include classic films by Emile Cohl (Fantasmagoria, The Puppet's Nightmare, The Living Fan, Comic Mutations, The Twelve Labors of Hercules, Petit Faust, and Bebe's Masterpiece), Jean Durand (Calino Wants to Be a Cowboy, Onesime Goes to Hell, Onesime, Clockmaker, Onesime Loves Animals, Zigoto Drives a Locomotive, The Railway of Death, Burning Heart: An Indian Tale, and Under the Claw) and Jacques Feyder & The Early Masters of French Cinema (Heads... and the Women Who Use Them, The Barges, La Marseillaise, Child's Play, and Feet and Hands). Additional extras will include documentaries, additional shorts, excerpts and rare behind-the-scenes clips. Total content is over 10 hours of material. Also due on April 19th is a 3-disc Ingrid Bergman: Swedish Film Collection DVD box set that will include Intermezzo (1936), A Woman's Face (1938), and June Night (1940).
Lorber Films will release three Sophia Loren titles on Blu-ray on May 3rd: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963, a 2-disc set that includes the feature-length documentary Vittorio D.), Marriage Italian Style (1964), and Sunflower (1970). All these titles will also be available on DVD but only together as a 4-disc set - the Sophia Loren Award Collection.
MGM released Last Tango in Paris (1973, with Marlon Brando) on Blu-ray on February 15th. The studio gets active again on March 29th with a Blu-ray version of George Stevens' The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and on April 5th with a Blu-ray release of Fiddler on the Roof: 40th Anniversary Edition (1971, directed by Norman Jewison).
MGM's MOD DVD-R program has further releases set for March 15th. They include Billy Two Hats (1974, Gregory Peck), The Black Sleep (1956, Basil Rathbone), The Captive City (1952, John Forsythe), A Cold Wind in August (1961, Lola Albright), Cop Hater (1958, Robert Loggia), Daughters of Satan (1972, Tom Selleck), The Explosive Generation (1961, William Shatner), Fort Massacre (1958, Joel McCrea), The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976, Lee Marvin), Not As a Stranger (1955, Olivia de Havilland), Queen of Blood (1966, John Saxon), and Return from the Ashes (1965, Maximilian Schell).
Milestone is releasing its restoration of Araya (a film by Margot Benacerraf, and co-winner of the 1959 Cannes International Critics Prize) on DVD on April 5th. The DVD is derived from a 2K scan off of the director's original 35mm interpositive. Extras include three documentaries on Benacerraf, two commentary tracks with the director, and her first film, Reveron, on the famed Venezuelan painter.
Paramount will have The Lucy Show: The Official Fourth Season on April 26th. Coming May 24th on Blu-ray is Le Mans (1971, with Steve McQueen).
Shout! Factory released 11 Harrowhouse (1974) and Lucky Lady (1975) on February 1st and has Capone (1975, with Ben Gazzara) set for March 29th. Damnation Alley (1977, with Jan-Michael Vincent) is planned for a summer 2011 release. Television fare also coming includes Leave It to Beaver: Season Six on March 1st and Frank Sinatra - A Man and His Music: The Collection on March 8th. The latter is a two-disc set containing the four "A Man and His Music" specials from 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1981.
Sony's MOD DVD-R program has new additions as of the beginning of February: Across the Sierras (1941, Bill Elliott), Blind Alley (1939, Chester Morris), Let's Do It Again (1953, Jane Wyman), Meet the Stewarts (1942, William Holden), Rumble on the Docks (1956, James Darren), Three for the Show (1955, Betty Grable), A Walk in the Spring Rain (1970, Anthony Quinn), and You Belong to Me (1941, Barbara Stanwyck). Then on March 1st, another 10 titles are planned for release: Creatures the World Forgot (1971, Julie Ege), Destroyer (1943, Edward G. Robinson), Dirty Little Billy (1972, Michael J. Pollard), Hammerhead (1968, Vince Edwards), The Kid from Broken Gun (1952, Charles Starrett), Laramie Mountains (1952, Charles Starrett), R.P.M. (1970, Anthony Quinn), The Reckoning (1969, Nicol Williamson), The Southern Star (1969, George Segal), and Three Hours to Kill (1954, Dana Andrews). Incidentally, the Sony MOD titles are now also available through Amazon starting March 8th. Sony continues to work on a Blu-ray release of Lawrence of Arabia. An 8K scan of the negative has been completed, but there's still a year's worth of work necessary. It looks as though a 50th anniversary release in 2012 may be in the offing. And the studio also has The Caine Mutiny and The Guns of Navarone in the works for Blu-ray release in the coming months. Meanwhile, the Taxi Driver: 35th Anniversary Edition (1976, with Robert De Niro) is expected on Blu-ray on April 5th.
Timeless Media Group has two more TV western releases on the docket. Coming on May 17th are The Virginian: The Complete Fourth Season and Wagon Train: The Complete Third Season. Both will be 10-disc sets packaged in collectible tins.
Universal added further titles to its Vault Series of MOD DVD-R releases, effective January 31st. The films include: Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938, Claudette Colbert), Here Come the Waves (1944, Bing Crosby), It Ain't Hay (1943, Abbott and Costello), McHale's Navy (1964, Ernest Borgnine), The Other Side of the Mountain (1975, Marilyn Hassett), The Other Side of the Mountain: Part 2 (1978, Marilyn Hassett), The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968, Paul Newman), Sometimes a Great Notion (1971, Paul Newman), and We're Not Dressing (1934, Bing Crosby). Several of the titles were previously available as part of various DVD box sets. The studio is issuing more of its classic titles previously only available as box sets and the next such wave (on pressed DVDs) will be the five 1929-1933 Paramount Marx Brothers titles: Animal Crackers, The Cocoanuts, Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, and Monkey Business. All are due June 7th. For those who may have missed them, Universal is re-releasing a bunch of its war and western titles in two compilations on March 22nd. 4 Movie Marathon: Classic Western Collection will contain Albuquerque, Whispering Smith, The Duel at Silver River, and War Arrow while 4 Movie Marathon: Classic War Collection will contain Wake Island, To Hell and Back, Battle Hymn, and Gray Lady Down. Both 2-disc sets are priced at under $10.
VCI has experienced delays in producing its March slate. Now delayed to March 29th from March 15th are Candlelight in Algeria, Thunder in the City, Child in the House, and the double feature of The 20 Questions Mystery/Tread Softly. VCI has more British offerings for April 5th. First up is a Terry Thomas Comedy Double Feature release of Too Many Crooks (1958) and Make Mine Mink (1960). We'll also get a Diana Dors Comedy Double Feature of An Alligator Named Daisy (1957) and Value for Money (1955). Coming on April 19th will be: Upstairs and Downstairs (1959, with Michael Craig); To Paris with Love (1955, with Alec Guinness); Simon and Laura (1955, with Peter Finch); and Tennessee's Partner (1955, with John Payne and Ronald Reagan). April 26th will bring Romeo and Juliet (1954, with Laurence Harvey) on both DVD and Blu-ray. May 3rd releases focus on British war films: Sea of Sand (1958, with Richard Attenborough), The Malta Story (1953, with Alec Guinness), The Way to the Stars (1945, with John Mills), and Above Us the Waves (1956, with John Mills). Also due on the same date is a Silent Discoveries double feature of Yesterday and Today (compilation of pre-1910 silent films) and After Six Days (aka La Bibbia, a 1920 version of the Old Testament).
Virgil Films has added more titles to its list of public domain films being issued on Blu-ray. Due on March 29th are: The Terror (1963, Boris Karloff), Dementia 13 (1963, William Campbell), and Poor Pretty Eddie (1975, Leslie Uggams).
Warner Bros. will bring Grand Prix (1966, James Garner) to Blu-ray on May 24th and will be returning to Stanley Kubrick on May 31st with the release of the Stanley Kubrick Limited Edition Collection, available on both Blu-ray and DVD. It will include 9 films on 10 discs: Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. Lolita and Barry Lyndon are new to Blu-ray and will be available only in the collection. The version of A Clockwork Orange will be a 2-disc 40th Anniversary Edition that will also be available individually. Its bonus features will include: Malcolm McDowell Looks Back - Malcolm McDowell reflects on his experience working with legendary director Stanley Kubrick on one of the seminal films of the 1970s; Turning Like Clockwork - considers the film's ultra-violence and its cultural impact; audio commentary by Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman; the documentary Still Tickin': The Return of Clockwork Orange; Great Bolshy Yarblockos!: Making A Clockwork Orange; and the theatrical trailer. June 7th brings Blu-ray releases of The Man Who Would Be King (1975, with Sean Connery) and The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976, with Clint Eastwood) while June 14th will offer a Blu-ray release of The Cincinnati Kid (1965, with Steve McQueen). The big news for June 7th, however, is the announcement that Warners will release 1933's Night Flight on DVD. Officially withdrawn from circulation almost 7 decades ago, Warners has cleared the rights to the film that was a major MGM release originally, starring the likes of John Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, and Myrna Loy. The DVD will include a vintage "Sports Champions" short entitled Swing High and the classic cartoon When the Cat's Away. One final Warner note - for those who may have missed them when previously released, four Randolph Scott westerns will be available on March 29th packaged as a 2-disc set - 4 Film Favorites: Randolph Scott Collection (Colt .45/Fort Worth/Tall Man Riding/Ride the High Country).
Warner Archive releases for February 1st included Intruder in the Dust (1949, with Juano Hernandez, remastered), The Learning Tree (1969, with Kyle Johnson), and two Ronald Reagan films - Stallion Road (1947) and Night Unto Night (1949). In honour of Valentine's Day, the Archive released 7 romantic comedies on February 8th: Sunday in New York (1963, with Jane Fonda, remastered), Bachelor in Paradise (1961, with Bob Hope, remastered), The Bachelor Father (1931, with C. Aubrey Smith), My Love Came Back (1940, with Olivia De Havilland), Design for Scandal (1941, with Walter Pidgeon), Bride by Mistake (1944, with Laraine Day), and Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945, with Hedy Lamarr). The Archive celebrated Ginger Rogers' 100th anniversary with six releases of hers on February 15th: Chance at Heaven (1933), Finishing School (1934), Lucky Partners (1940), Primrose Path (1940), Suicide Fleet (1931), and Upperworld (1934). Westerns and film noir highlight the Archive offerings for February 22nd. The noir titles are Destination Murder (1950, Joyce Mackenzie), Experiment Alcatraz (1950, John Howard), and The Tattooed Stranger (1950, John Miles) while the westerns include Stars in My Crown (1950, Joel McCrea, remastered), The Outriders (1950, Joel McCrea, remastered), Ambush (1950, Robert Taylor), Ride Vaquero (1953, Robert Taylor), Wild Rovers (1971, William Holden, includes original overture and exit music), and Tim Holt Western Classics: Volume 1. The latter is the first of a continuing series that will hopefully see all of Holt's more than 40 RKO westerns between 1938 and 1952 available. The titles in the first volume (10 of them on 5 discs) are: Renegade Ranger (1938), Law West of Tombstone (1938), Along the Rio Grande (1941), Bandit Trail (1941), Robbers of the Range (1941), Dude Cowboy (1941), Come On Danger (1942), Bandit Ranger (1942), Pirates of the Prairie (1942), and Fighting Frontier (1943). The first Archive additions for March arrived on March 1st - a pretty impressive half-dozen: The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947, Humphrey Bogart), The Wagons Roll at Night (1941, Humphrey Bogart), Days of Glory (1944, Gregory Peck), Confidential Agent (1945, Lauren Bacall), Devotion (1946, Ida Lupino), and Whiplash (1948, Dane Clark). Archive releases for March 8th include three silent titles: Don Juan (1926, with John Barrymore), The Merry Widow (1925, with Mae Murray), and Noah's Ark (1928, with Dolores Costello). Don Juan includes the August 6, 1926 opening night Vitaphone shorts program: Will Hays Introduction to Vitaphone, New York Philharmonic - Overture to Tannhauser, Mischa Elman - Humoresque and Gavotte, Roy Smeck in His Pastimes, Marion Talley - Caro Nome, Efrem Zimbalist and Harold Bauer - Themes and Variations from The Kreutzer Sonata, Giovanni Martinelli - Vesti La Giubba, and Anna Case - La Fiesta. Also out on March 8th is Hanna-Barbera's Space Kidettes and Young Samson Collection (1967). Finally, it looks like the Archive will have two Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald films for April 26th: Naughty Marietta (1935) and Sweethearts (1938).
Well once again, that's it for now. I'll return again soon.