I, The Jury: Special Limited Edition (4K UHD & Blu-ray 3D Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Nov 16, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray 3D
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I, The Jury: Special Limited Edition (4K UHD & Blu-ray 3D Review)

Director

Harry Essex

Release Date(s)

1953 (November 8, 2022)

Studio(s)

Parklane Pictures/United Artists (ClassicFlix)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: See Below
  • Audio Grade: See Below
  • Extras Grade: B+

I, The Jury (4K UHD & Blu-ray 3D)

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Review

When I, The Jury was released in 1953, there hadn’t been many film adaptations of Mickey Spillane’s best-selling pulp novels to measure up to. In fact, it was the first, and at a time when the popularity of the author’s work was bigger than ever, expectations were high for it to succeed. The resulting film—which was shot in 3D by legendary cinematographer John Alton (his only 3D film) and was released during the golden era of 3D—wasn’t well received but did good business, based upon Mickey Spillane’s name alone. Directed by Harry Essex, who had previously written Man-Made Monster and Kansas City Confidential, this first foray into the scandalous world of hard-nosed private eye Mike Hammer would be more appreciated in its later years.

During the Christmas season, an insurance investigator—a close friend of Mike Hammer (Biff Elliot)—is gunned down in his home. Mike then makes it his mission to find and kill whoever pulled the trigger, despite warnings from police captain Chambers (Preston Foster) not to cross the line. He meets a beautiful psychiatrist, Charlotte Manning (Peggie Castle), and subsequently falls in love with her, despite her being a potential suspect. But as criminals come after him and he bullies his way from one lead to the next, he may be closer to his target than he thinks.

Author Max Allan Collins (who provides a commentary for this release) puts forth that this version of I, The Jury is perhaps the most faithful, despite the changes made to it by the production code office, most involving drugs and prostitution. This had an unfortunate effect on the plot, which would up being about stolen jewels—small potatoes when you discover what lengths the perpetrators will go to in order to get them. One of the largest alterations involves the film’s finale, which is impossible to talk about without getting into spoilers, but for those who know the book, there was little chance that it was ever going to be in a film produced during the Hays code era.

The biggest and most obvious criticism of the film is Biff Elliot’s performance, which is mostly brutish and overwrought. It’s not as bad as most make it out to be, but it certainly stands out and takes some time get acclimated to. His Mike Hammer is a bit of a palooka, more so than a crack detective, and he’s definitely not the smartest person in the room as most of the people around him reach conclusions much sooner than he does. It makes for a more interesting take on the private investigator, but at the same time, the women who are constantly fawning over him is an obvious trope of the genre that doesn’t quite work with his performance.

For decades, the most overlooked aspect of I, The Jury was John Alton’s cinematography. It’s one of the most gorgeous film noirs ever lensed, particularly because it was designed with depth in mind for the 3D. Dark shadowy hallways and alleys, as well as long, lingering shots from several floors up in the Bradbury Building, give the film a distinct visual quality that works well in both 2D and 3D. But because this version of Mike Hammer takes a very long time to figure anything out, I, The Jury is an unnecessary slow burn. Nevertheless, it’s still a film worth appreciating, if only for the top notch visual quality above everything else.

I, The Jury was shot by cinematographer John Alton on 35 mm black-and-white film in dual-strip 3D using the Dunning 3D process, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. ClassicFlix brings the film to home video with three viewing options: 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D, and standard Blu-ray. The UCLA Film and Television Archive in conjunction with PKL Pictures and Romulus Films has restored the film in 4K, presumably from the original camera negatives.

The 4K Ultra HD is presented in SDR only. It’s a generally outstanding presentation with excellent contrast and deep levels of detail in the shadows, as well as a spectrum of gradations. Whites are solid without appearing overblown while blacks are naturally deep. Mild speckling and scratches are leftover, which aren’t all that intrusive. One wonders what a Dolby Vision grade would offer for this presentation’s finer nuances in clothing and on backgrounds, but as it is with a high bit rate and good compression, it’s still a beautiful presentation. The Blu-ray features many of the same qualities (with obviously less pixels to work with), but also offers the same overall level of organic clarity.

The star of the show for many will be the Blu-ray 3D presentation. As this is a film that’s more about the depth of the image with only a couple of instances of poking objects at the camera, it soaks up John Alton’s carefully-constructed cinematography wonderfully. The opening credits have a very narrow convergence point (and nearly made my eyes cross when viewing it for the first time), and there are a couple of misalignments that cause ghosting, but the effectiveness of the 3D imagery is otherwise stellar.

Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Though limited by its single channel source, it offers fine support for the various elements. Dialogue exchanges are clear and discernible, and the score swells appropriately without distorting. It’s also a clean track, free of any obvious leftover damage or dropouts.

4K ULTRA HD (VIDEO/AUDIO): A/B
BLU-RAY (VIDEO/AUDIO: A-/B
BLU-RAY 3D (VIDEO/AUDIO): A-/B

The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D discs for I, The Jury sit in a clear amaray case featuring new artwork on the front by Stewart McKissick and a still from the film on the reverse. The following extras are included on each disc:

DISC ONE (UHD)

  • Audio Commentary with Max Allan Collins
  • Audio Commentary with Biff Elliot and Joseph Salek

DISC TWO (BD & BD3D)

  • Audio Commentary with Max Allan Collins
  • Audio Commentary with Biff Elliot and Joseph Salek
  • Archival Interview with Biff Elliot (SD – 5:20)
  • Deep in the Shadows: The 3D World of I, The Jury (HD – 10:28)
  • Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Lost Pilot (HD – 28:57)
  • O. Henry Playhouse TV Episode Between Rounds (HD – 26:32)
  • O. Henry Playhouse TV Episode After Twenty Years (HD – 26:20)
  • Public Defender TV Episode featuring Biff Elliot (Upscaled HD – 24:46)
  • Michael Shayne Mysteries Trailer (HD – 3:04)
  • O. Henry Playhouse Clip: The Reformation of Calliope (HD – 3:36)
  • Raw Deal Trailer (HD – 2:20)
  • T-Men Trailer (HD – 2:16)

In the first audio commentary, author Max Allan Collins, who was a friend of and wrote books with Mickey Spillane, has definite opinions about the film, commenting on it as it goes along. He covers Spillane’s own feelings about it and other adaptations of his work at the time, the faithfulness of the story despite the production code’s issues, stories about and backgrounds on members of the cast and crew, and his opinion of the film. It’s a very informative track. The second commentary was recorded in 2004 by Joseph Salek. He shares the track with an older Biff Elliot, who was in his early 80s at the time of the recording. They watch the film together and comment on it specifically as Salek occasionally asks Elliot questions, and Elliot is only happy to oblige. They go quiet a lot, but it’s a nice conversation, and Elliot was still sharp enough at the time to provide plenty of detail. In the brief archival interview with Elliot (provided by Jeff Joseph), which appears to have been conducted a couple of years later, he details himself and his career, but mostly points out how different he is from Mike Hammer. In Deep in the Shadows, author Mike Ballew discusses the 3D camera system used for the film and how cinematographer John Alton put it to expert use. Next is a series of TV items, including the Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Lost Pilot, which features an intro and outro by Max Allan Collins, stars Brian Keith, and was written and directed by Blake Edwards. A pair of O. Henry Playhouse TV episodes are next: Between Rounds featuring Preston Foster (and Kathleen Freeman) and After Twenty Years featuring Peggie Castle. Last is an episode of Public Defender featuring Biff Elliot. Also included are a series of trailers for other ClassicFlix releases.

I, The Jury has languished for many years without a proper home video release, and ClassicFlix has given us the definitive presentations of the film for years to come. Many will not able to view the Blu-ray 3D presentation, but rest assured that the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray presentations are not to be missed. Highly recommended.

- Tim Salmons

(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)

 

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