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It Happened One Night – The Criterion Collection #736 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“It Happened One Night” is a romantic comedy classic that must be watched by cinema fans interested in learning about the career of Frank Capra or watching a historically significant film starring both Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. But also for any fans of Screwball comedy or romantic comedies in general. This Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection is no doubt the definitive version of the film to own! Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: It Happened One Night – The Criterion Collection #736

YEAR OF FILM: 1934

DURATION: 105 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, English Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: November 28, 2014

Directed by Frank Capra

Screenplay by Robert Riskin

Based on the Short Story by Samuel Hopkins Adams

Executive Producer: Harry Cohn

Produced by Frank Capra

Cinematography by Joseph Walker

Edited by Gene Havlick

Art Direction by Stephen Goosson

Costume Design by Robert Kalloch

Starring:

Clark Gable as Peter

Claudette Colbert as Ellie

Walter Connolly as Andrews

Roscoe Karns as Shapeley

Jameson Thomas as Westley

Alan Hale as Danker

Arthur Hoyt as Zeke

Blanche Friderici as Zeke’s Wife

Charles C. Wilson as Gordon

Opposites attract with magnetic force in this romantic road-trip delight from Frank Capra, about a spoiled runaway socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a roguish man-of-the-people reporter (Clark Gable) who is determined to get the scoop on her scandalous disappearance. The first film to accomplish the very rare feat of sweeping all five major Oscar categories (best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay), It Happened One Night is among the most gracefully constructed and edited films of the early sound era, packed with clever situations and gags that have entered the Hollywood comedy pantheon and featuring two actors at the top of their game, sparking with a chemistry that has never been bettered.

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“It Happened One Night”, the 1934 award winning film that would usher in a genre of  romantic comedies known as the “Screwball Comedy”.  It was the film that would set the stage for filmmaker Frank Capra and would lead him on the path of more Academy Awards and hit films, it would earn screenwriter Robert Riskin an Academy Award and it would be a film that would earn Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert an Academy Award. In fact, “It Happened One Night” would win all five major Academy Awards, a feat. that would not be accomplished until 40 years later.

It was a film that generated excitement during its time and would be so popular that the film would stay in theaters for years after it premiered.

But surprisingly, “It Happened One Night” was a film that was almost never made.

For Frank Capra and Robert Riskin, the two were heading out to work on projects until Capra was told by Columbia studio executive Harry Cohn that he had to work on a film and he would have to work on the film “It Happened One Night” (a film based on Samuel Hopkins Adams short story “Night Bus”) with a production schedule that would last around four weeks.

Before Columbia was a major film studio, it was part of the “poverty row” (low-budget film studios) and for the major studios, in the effort to control unruly actors who ask for a pay raise or had contractual issues, these talent would be loaned to “poverty row” as part of the actor’s punishment (often called “banished to Siberia”).

And for Clark Gable, his problems with MGM’s L.B. Mayer led him to be punished and sent to Columbia to be part of Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night”.

As for actress Claudette Colbert, she had no interest in shooting the film, as she was more interested in vacationing in Sun Valley and asked for a lot of money ($50,000 which was a lot at the time) to shoot the film in four weeks.  Thinking that there was no way Columbia would pay for her to star in a film for that much, she figured that there was no chance that she would be hired.  But to her chagrin, Cohn agreed to her demand and “It Happened One Night” would eventually become a film.

After shooting the film, Colbert was quoted as saying “I’ve just finished the worst picture in the world”.

And to everyone’s surprise, Columbia would have a hit on their hands.  So much excitement that even the film critics couldn’t understand how America has warmed up to this film.

But “It Happened One Night” would eventually become a classic romantic comedy, the beginning of Screwball Comedy but most of all, establish in cinema a style that would best be known as a Frank Capra film.

In 1993, “It Happened One Night” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.  And in 2013, the film would receive restoration.

And now, the Capra classic, “It Happened One Night” has received the Criterion Collection treatment and will be released in November 2014 on Blu-ray and DVD.

“It Happened One Night” is a film that begins with Ellen “Ellie” Andrews (portrayed by Claudette Colbert) in a heated argument with her wealthy father, Alexander (portrayed by Walter Connolly).  Ellie had eloped with pilot and fortune-hunter “King” Westley (portrayed by Jameson Thomas) and her father wants the marriage annulled.

Upset with her father, Ellie jumps off her father’s boat and runs away by boarding a bus from Florida to New York City, where she can be closer to King.

But while in the boat, she meets a former newspaper reporter named Peter Warne (portrayed by Clark Gable), a brash man who has a problem with the wealthy and is not afraid to tell people how he feels.

Noticing Ellie is trying to evade her father, he tells her that if she gives him an exclusive story about her trying to reunited with King, he won’t tell her father where she is.  If she refuses, he will call him immediately.  And of course, Ellie agrees to his demands.

But as Ellie has no money, she relies on Peter for her trip to New York City.  And the two must endure a road trip with not much money and find a way to get to their destination.  But can these two complete opposites stand in being with each other during this road trip?

VIDEO:

“It Happened One Night – The Criterion Collection #736” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality for the film is fantastic as white and grays are well-contrast while black levels are nice and deep. The film features a good layer of grain and the clarity of the film on Blu-ray showcases the detail of the film in high definition. I did not notice any damage to the film.

Comparing to the original DVD releases that I’ve had, clarity is evident.  Sharpness was evident, along with the black levels which were inky and deep.  There is a good amount of grain throughout the entire film and no doubt, this is the definitive version of “It Happened One Night” in terms of picture quality!

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from a 35mm safety composite fine-grain made from the original nitrate negative and a 35mm nitrate print. The digital restoration was performed by the Prasad Group in Chennai, India.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “It Happened One Night – The Criterion Collection #736” is presented in English LPCM 1.0. The monaural soundtrack is clear with no sign of hiss, crackle or any popping.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original nitrate optical soundtrack and a 35mm nitrate print. The soundtrack was restored by Sony Pictures, with additional restoration by the Criterion Collection. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 3.”.

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“It Happened One Night – The Criterion Collection #736” comes with the following special features:

  • Frank Capra Jr. Remembers…”It Happened One Night” – (11:16) A 1999 interview with Frank Capra Jr. discussing his father and the origins of “It Happened One Night”.
  • Screwball Comedy? – (38:36) Film critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate discuss “It Happened One Night” and if it is a screwball comedy.
  • Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House – (12:03) A 1921 silent short (Capra’s first film) based on Rupyard Kipling’s poem “The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House”.  Featuring a new score composed and performed by Donald Sosin.
  • Frank Capra’s American Dream – (1:36:02) A 1997 documentary about Frank Capra directed by Ken Bowser and hosted by Ron Howard.  Featuring many film historians, actors and directors who were influenced by Capra’s work.
  • AFI’s Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Frank Capra – (59:11) The American Film Institute presented its 10th lifetime achievement award to director Frank Capra in 1982.  This version is a slightly edited television version of the AFI program.
  • Trailer – (1:24) The original theatrical trailer for “It Happened One Night”.

EXTRAS:

“It Happened One Night – The Criterion Collection #736” comes with a poster-sized insert with the essay “All Aboard!” by Farrah Smith Nehme on one side and production credits on the other side.

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A film that was never expected to be a huge hit for Columbia, “It Happened One Night” was a film that would captivate audiences for its romantic comedy storyline but also for audiences seeing a side of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert that they have never seen before.

“It Happened One Night” also benefited from the fact that it was one of the last romantic comedies created in 1934 before the MPAA enforced the 1930 production code later that year.

It was a film with many scenes to remember.  From the dunking donuts scene, the sexual innuendo without the two characters having to engage in anything intimate onscreen, the bus ride as everyone sings “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”.

And of course, women saw Clark Gable’s bare chest, men saw the sexy leg of Claudette Colbert, but it was the storyline of complete opposites having to be together during a road trip.

As the character Peter Warne is set on his own ways, not caring about money, nor caring for spoiled brats… a reference to Ellie, the daughter of the wealthy Alexander Andrews and it’s a life of luxury that she only knows.  But while on this road trip with Peter, she exposed to another life, a life with no money, a life of seeing people who were hurt by the Great Depression and people struggling to get by.  But most importantly, learning a lot about life through Peter and Peter, in his way, his flippant style of trying to knock down Ellie from her high horse.

This is an important distinction of the film because it was released when families and pretty much the entire nation were trying to heal from the Depression, we have a film that was anti-money or anti-wealth.  About seeing life through those who struggle, in this case Peter Warne, out-of-a-job and willing to spend time with the Heiress in hopes that it will earn him a job.  But who knew that these two complete opposites, would find some love along the way.

So, there is so much to love about the story and enjoy the characters of “It Happened One Night”.  It was the film that introduced me to screwball comedies, the film that would introduce me to “poverty row” films, the film that would introduce me to the work of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert many years ago.  But most importantly, lead me to the path of discovering more wonderful films from Frank Capra.

As for this Criterion Collection release, this Blu-ray release is no doubt a wonderful tribute to not just the film (which looks amazing on Blu-ray!), but it’s the inclusion of two major interviews about the film, one significant documentary in regards to the oeuvre of Frank Capra but also the original 1982 special of the American Film Institute honoring Frank Capra.  And in addition to that, Capra’s first film, a silent short from 1921, “Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House” is included.

Overall, “It Happened One Night” is a romantic comedy classic that must be watched by cinema fans interested in learning about the career of Frank Capra or watching a historically significant film starring both Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.  But also for any fans of Screwball comedy or romantic comedies in general.  This Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection is no doubt the definitive version of the film to own!

Highly recommended!

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Christmas in Connecticut (as part of the “Classic Holiday Collection Vol. 1” DVD Box Set) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

December 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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While not the best classic Christmas film, “Christmas in Connecticut” is still an enjoyable, fun and delightful film that will no doubt make you laugh as it did with audiences back in 1945.    Also, another plus of this DVD is the inclusion of the Oscar winning short, “Star in the Night”.  A worthy addition to Warner Bros., “Classic Holiday Collection Vol. 1” DVD Box Set. 

Images courtesy of © 1945, 2005 Turner Entertainment. All rights reserved.

DVD TITLE: Christmas in Connecticut (as part of the “Classic Holiday Collection Vol. 1” DVD Box Set)

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1945

DURATION: 101 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Closed Captions, Dolby Digital, English and French Monaural

COMPANY: Warner Bros.

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: November 11, 2008

Directed by Peter Godfrey

Screenplay by Lionel Houser, Adele Comandini

Story by Aileen Hamilton

Produced by William Jacobs

Executive Producer: Jack L. Warner

Music by Friedrich Hollaender

Cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie

Edited by Frank Magee

Art Direction by Stanley Fleischer

Set Decoration by Casey Roberts

Costume Design by Milo Anderson

Starring:

Barbara Stanwyck as Elizabeth Lane

Dennis Morgan as Jefferson Jones

Syndey Greenstreet as Alexander Yardley

Reginald Gardiner as John Sloan

S.Z. Sakall as Felix Bassenak

Robert Shayne as Dudley Beecham

Una O’Connor as Norah

Frank Jenks as Sinkewicz

Joyce Compton as Mary Lee

Dick Elliott as Judge Crothers

Journalist Elizabeth Lane is one of the country’s most famous food writer. In her columns, she describes herself as a hard working farm woman, taking care of her children and being an excellent cook. But this is all lies. In reality she is an umarried New Yorker who can’t even boil an egg. The recipes come from her good friend Felix. The owner of the magazine she works for has decided that a heroic sailor will spend his christmas on *her* farm. Miss Lane knows that her career is over if the truth comes out, but what can she do?

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Every year on Christmas Eve, I try to pick out one classic holiday film to watch.  And sure enough, on my queue was the 1945 holiday screwball comedy “Christmas in Connecticut”.

The 1945 film is directed by Peter Godfrey (“The Two Mrs. Carrolls”, “Cry Wolf”) and stars Barbara Stanwyck (“The Lady Eve”, “The Big Valley”, “Double Indemnity”), Dennis Morgan (“It’s a Great Feeling”, “Captains of the Clouds”), Sydney Greenstreet (“Casablanca”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “The Mask of Dimitrios”), Reginald Gardiner (“The Great Director”, “The Flying Deuces”) and S.Z. Sakall (“Casablanca”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, “In the Good Old Summertime”).

And a film that has remained a favorite of classic film fans during the Christmas holidays, “Christmas  in Connecticut” is among one of the films featured in Warner Bros. “Classic Holidays Collection Vol. 1”, which also includes “Boys Town” (1938), “A Christmas Carol” (1938) and “The Singing Nun” (1966).

The film had also been remade by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 1992 starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Curtis, but if you want to see the film, the classic 1945 version is the version to watch!

“Christmas in Connecticut” begins with Jefferson Jones (portrayed by Dennis Morgan) and Sinkewicz (portrayed by Frank Jenks) surviving a u-boat torpedo which killed everyone but them.  Surviving for days on a lifeboat, keeping Jefferson alive is his dreams of the food written by the popular columnist Elizabeth Lane.

Just the thought of her food makes him salivate and he dreams of one day tasting the dishes that she has written about in “Smart Housekeeping”.

As Jefferson and Sinkewicz are war heroes, the two are stuck in the hospital eating the food given to them.  But because Jefferson’s stomach is not used to eating solid foods, since he was without food for a days, Jefferson just can’t help but feel hungry while reading “Smart Housekeeping” in bed.

So, he gets close to the nurse after being told by Sinkewicz that flirting with her can get him a good meal.  And sure enough, flirting with nurse Mary Lee (portrayed by Joyce Compton) works!  But as expected, because his body is not used to solid foods, he is unable to eat anything just yet.

But thinking that Jefferson wants to marry her, she wants to do something good for him.  So, Mary Lee writes to the publisher of “Smart Housekeeping” in hopes that war hero Jefferson Jones can eat at Elizabeth Lane’s home on Christmas Day.

And because this event could make a great article, publisher Alexander Yardley (portrayed by Sydney Greenstreet) contacts “Smart Housekeeping” editor Dudley Beecham (portrayed by Robert Shayne) of his plans.

But Dudley begins worrying and schedules a meeting with Elizabeth Lane.

We are then introduced to the popular columnist, Elizabeth Lane (portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck).  Who writes about having children, living on a farm and cooking her meals. But the truth is that Elizabeth is living in a hotel, the recipes for her column comes from restaurant owner/chef Felix Bassenak (portrayed by S.Z. Sakall) and as for the farm, the Connecticut farm is owned by John Sloan (portrayed by Reginald Gardiner), who has always loved Elizabeth, but she never had the same feelings for him.

But as Elizabeth (who is not wealthy), purchases a mink coat that she is making payments on, Dudley comes to break the bad news for her and worried that about losing their jobs, Elizabeth’s quick thinking makes her want to marry John (because he owns a farm), have Felix accompany her on this ruse to fool her publisher Mr. Yardley and also the war hero Jefferson Jones.

As for the children, because John’s maid, Nora (portrayed by Una O’Connor) is often taking care of the neighbor’s baby, they will pretend that the baby belongs to Elizabeth.

As everyone tries to stage this facade of Elizabeth Lane’s Connecticut life and get through the holiday with no problems, when Jefferson arrives, immediately Elizabeth begins to become smitten by him and for Jefferson, who has always been smittened by the columnist, he wonders why it appears that Elizabeth is different from her column and that she behaves as if she is not married.

But as Elizabeth and friends are trying to execute their plan of fooling them, will Elizabeth’s guilty feelings of lying to Jefferson affect her from executing her plan thoroughly?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Christmas in Connecticut” is presented in 1:37:1 black and white and in English and French monaural.

Picture quality-wise, “Christmas in Connecticut” looks very good for a film of its age.  Blacks are nice and deep, very good contrast when it comes to whites and grays with no deterioration or film damage.  I didn’t see any problematic dirt or white specks but I did notice a scene for possibly a minute where the scene starts shaking to the point I was wondering if we were experiencing a usual California earthquake because of the jitter.  But aside from that scene, picture quality for the film is good and the monaural soundtrack is clear and understandable.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Christmas in Connecticut” comes with a theatrical trailer plus the Oscar-winning short “Star in the Night” (winner of “Best Short Subject – Two-Reel).  The 22-minute film directed by Don Siegel (who would later go on to direct “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Dirty Harry”, “Escape from Alcatraz”) is a modern (1945) day retelling of the Nativity story set on Christmas Eve at a desert motel. And what happens when a hitchhiker (portrayed by Donald Woods) comes across a group of people at the desert hotel.

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“Christmas in Connecticut” is a fun screwball comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck in a role where she is a strong, independent woman and also a popular columnist named Elizabeth Lane.

The problem is that she is to cook for her publisher and a war hero and despite writing a column about food, she has no experience cooking anything.  She can write but the recipes belongs to her friend and chef, Felix.

Part of its efficacy as a comedy is the fact that Elizabeth must create this facade that she can cook, she is a mother of babies and lives on a farm and everything she gets her hands on, in order to prove to war hero Jefferson Jones and her publisher Mr. Yardley, unfortunately doesn’t go as well as she hoped.

As Felix teaches her how to cook something simple and tossing it on a pan, Elizabeth keeps throwing the food towards the ceiling.  When trying to clean the baby, she has no idea what to do but fortunately Jefferson loves kids, loves cooking and wants to make an impression on the columnist that he has admired for so long.

The characters are also quite fascinating as Sydney Greenstreet plays a publisher that always is thinking how to sell more copies of an issue using Elizabeth and possibly her husband to be, John Sloan.  But the person who literally steals each scene that he is featured is actor S.Z. Sakall playing the chef Felix Bassenak.  He’s very opinionated and can’t stand the fact that Elizabeth is marrying John Sloan, often in arguments with maid Nora (portrayed by Una O’Connor) and is always patient towards Elizabeth, despite how her decisions tend to stress him out.

The other fascinating reason why I enjoyed the film is because we are so used to seeing Stanwyck in film noir or a western, she is a great dramatic actress, so whenever you see her in a comedy role, you can’t help but be amused as it shows her diversity and skill as an actress.

While not the best classic Christmas film, “Christmas in Connecticut” is still an enjoyable, fun and delightful film that will no doubt make you laugh as it did with audiences back in 1945.    Also, another plus of this DVD is the inclusion of the Oscar winning short, “Star in the Night”.

A worthy addition to Warner Bros., “Classic Holiday Collection Vol. 1” DVD Box Set.

 

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The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Edition) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Blue Angel” is a classic film that is compelling, enjoyable and a highlight of Weimar cinema.  And with this classic film on Blu-ray, for fans of older classic cinema, “The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Edition)” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. 1930 UFA. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Edition)

FILM RELEASE: 1930

DURATION: 107 Minutes (German)/ 104 Minutes (English)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:18:1 Aspect Ratio, Black and White, 2.0 Monoraul

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber Incorporated

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: December 17, 2013

Directed by Josef von Sternberg

Based on the novel “Professor Unrat” by Heinrich Mann

Written by Carl Zuckmayer, Karl Vollmoller, Robert Liebmann

Producer: Erich Pommer

Cinematography by Gunther Rittau

Edited by Walter Klee, Sam Winston

Art Direction by Otto Hunte

Costume Design by Tihamer Varady

Starring:

Emil Jannings as Prof. Immanuel Rath

Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola

Kurt Gerron as Kiepert the Magician

Rosa Valetti as Guste, the Magician’s Wife

Hans Alberts as Mazeppa, the STorngman

Reinhold Bernt as The Clown

Eduard von Winterstein as the Director of School

Hans Roth as The Caretaker of the Secondary School

Rolf Muller as Pupil Angst

Roland Varno as Pupil Lohmann

Carl Balhaus as Pupil Ertzum

Robert Klein-Lork as Pupil Goldstaub

The crowning achievement of the Weimar cinema, The Blue Angel is an exquisite parable of one man’s fall from respectability. This exclusive two-disc set from Kino Classics includes both the newly-restored German version and the English version, both in high definition.

Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh, Faust, Othello), the quintessential German expressionist actor, stars as Professor Rath, the sexually-repressed instructor of a boys’ prep school. After learning of the pupils’ infatuation with French postcards depicting a local nightclub songstress, he decides to personally investigate the source of such indecency. But as soon as he enters the shadowy Blue Angel nightclub and steals one glimpse of the smoldering Lola-Lola (Marlene Dietrich), commanding the stage in top hat, stockings, and bare thighs, Rath’s self-righteous piety is crushed. He finds himself fatefully seduced by the throaty voice of the vulgar siren, singing ”Falling In Love Again”. Consumed by desire and tormented by his rigid propriety, Professor Rath allows himself to be dragged down a path of personal degradation. Lola’s unrestrained sexuality was a revelation to turn-of-the-decade moviegoers, thrusting Dietrich to the forefront of the sultry international leading ladies, such as Greta Garbo, who were challenging the limits of screen sexuality.

For director Josef von Sternberg, he would be known for silent films such as “Underworld”, “The Last Command” and “The Docks of New York”, but for this Austrian-American film director, like many filmmakers who worked in the silent era, his career would be in question with the coming of the talkies.

It was when he was invited to make a film in Germany that his life would change forever.  In 1929, Sternberg would create a film known as “Der blaue Engel” (The Blue Angel) and he would later have a muse who would become one of the greatest actresses of all time… Marlene Dietrich.  A film that is loosely based on Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel, “Professor Unrat” (Professor Garbage).

As von Sternberg would return to America, Dietrich would follow as she would have a U.S. contract with Paramount Pictures and as Greta Garbo was the Swedish sensation, Dietrich would be the German sensation and together, she and von Sternberg would work on films such as “Morocco”, “Dishonored”, “Shanghai Express”, “Blonde Venus”, “The Scarlett Empress” and “The Devil is a Woman”.

But before she would excel in the later films with von Sternberg, it was her very first film with him “The Blue Angel” that would make her a movie star and a singer.  Interesting enough, while a German version was filmed, von Sternberg also created an English version simultaneously but the latter would require re-filming of certain scenes much later.

While the English-language version had been released in the U.S. courtesy of Kino Video in its regular format and also included in the “Glamour Girls” DVD set, the German version was only available via “The Blue Angel: Special Two Disc Set”.

In Dec. 2013, Kino will be releasing “The Blue Angel (2 Disc Ultimate Edition)” which will include both the original German-language version with optional English subtitles, newly restored in HD from archival 35 mm elements by the Friedrich-Wilhel-Murnau-Stiftung and the English-language version, on Blu-ray for the first time.

It is important to note that while “The Blue Angel” is known to many as a Marlene Dietrich film but even Dietrich herself was known to remind people that she was on the bottom of the list at the time and not top-billed because the actress was not known at the time.

The film’s star was Emil Jannings, the popular silent star who was in the 1922 film “Othello” and F.W. Murnau’s “The Last Laugh”, “Herr Tartuff” and in “Faust”.   The actor would be the first person to receive an Oscar which he won in 1929 for “The Way of All Flesh” (1927) and the 1928 film “The Last Command” (the only year when multiple awards were issued).

But it was Marlene Dietrich would win people with her performance as Lola and would cement her career as a lead actress.

“The Blue Angel” revolves around Prof. Immanuel Rath (played by Emil Jannings), a professor at a local college in Germany.  He is very strict and his wily students are known to make fun of him quite often.  But it is when he catches the students with photographs from the beautiful Lola that angers him.  Why would his students be wasting their time at a cabaret?

When he goes to the cabaret one night to catch his students in the act, he runs into Lola Lola (played by Marlene Dietrich).  Accidentally entering her changing room, some of the students are hiding and watching Lola Lola’s interaction with the professor, as they see him as a sexually repressed man.  The next thing you know, the Prof. is calmed around the cabaret singer. As Lola Lola is changing, she throws her undies out in which one of the students grab it and put it inside the Rath’s front pocket.

When Rath returns home, wiping off his sweat, he accidentally wipes uses her undies.  Feeling ashamed that he may taken her undergarment back home with him, he returns back to the cabaret.

But when people that work with Lola, especially Kiepert the magician (played by Kurt Gerron) feel that an esteemed professor has come to the Blue Angel, they give him the red carpet in hopes that they can attract other well-known people to their club.

As for Rath, he has fallen in love with Lola Lola and no matter how badly the students tease him and make fun of him, he does not care.  The students become such a distraction at the school that a fellow colleague tries to tell him that a person of his stature should not be with a woman like Lola but it is too late.  Rath is in love, he wants to marry Lola and he could care less what anyone else thinks.

And sure enough, Lola and Rath get married…but then we start to see the Prof. Rath’s life crumble professionally and personally and see how people including Lola react around him.  How a man’s morality is lured to the life of immorality and is led to ruin and ridicule.

VIDEO:

“The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Edition)” on Blu-ray features a newly restored in HD from archival 35 mm elements by the Friedrich-Wilhel-Murnau-Stiftung.

Before I go into the picture quality, it’s important for those not familiar with Kino Blu-ray releases is that these films are presented as they were direct from the film source.  There is no clean up of the film and they are presented in 1080p HD (1:19:1) black and white.

With that being said, considering “The Blue Angel” is a film that is over 80-years-old, I was pretty surprised to see this 1930 film in good condition.  Considering that many 1910-1930 nitrate films did not survive, many early talkie films did not survive and those that did survive, some look better than others (such as Kino’s release of “The General”) and others that are not crystal clear but don’t have massive damage.  In the case of “The Blue Angel”, you are going to see occasional fickering, you are going to see dust, speckles and vertical lines, but for any classic fan especially for earlier films, one must realize that you get what you get and if it’s complete, as a cinema fan of these older films, you’re fortunate that they don’t look any worse.

For “The Blue Angel”, the film on Blu-ray features rich blacks while whites and grays are well-contrast.  The film maintains its grain but also I noticed much more clarity in the film when it comes to clothing, backgrounds and even closeups.  So compared to the DVD release, I do notice differences in picture quality when it comes to clarity and better detail with no blurring.  I did notice that with the English version, it is a tad bit brighter than the German version.

Once again, considering this film’s age at over 90-years-old, the film looks very good for its age!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio if “The Blue Angel”,  audio is clear and heard no major warbling or hiss for both films.  Audio is presented in LPCM German and English 2.0.  It’s important to mention that both soundtracks are clear with no major notice of any hiss or crackle for both German and English versions. But there are differences between both versions as the English version is not as clear, has that tinnish sound of an early ’30s film and unlike the German version, I had to crank up the volume a little bit.

I do prefer the sound of the German version but for those wondering, about the English dub, the English version features a redub by Marlene Dietrich, as both films were shot simultaneously, as opposed to having different actors dubbing the main characters.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Edition)” comes with the following special features:

  • Scene Comparison – (3:18) Screen comparisons of a single scene between the German and the English version of the film and their differences and similarities.
  • Screen Test – (3:38) A screen test made of Marlene Dietrich in the Babelsberger Studios back in Oct. 1929.
  • Marlene Interview – (1:25) A 1971 interview with Marlene Dietrich in Stockholm in regards to “The Blue Angel”.
  • Marlene Performances– (3:30) Featuring Marlene Dietrich performing “Falling in Love Again” (3:26) from a concert back in 1963 in Stockholm and a performance of “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” (3:30) and “Lola” (2:14) recorded in London in 1972 as part of her “I Wish You Love” performance.
  • Trailers – Two theatrical trailers for “The Blue Angel”.  One from the ’30s (3:42) and the other from the ’60s (2:59).
  • Photo Gallery – Featuring still photographs and production stills for “The Blue Angel”.

EXTRAS:

“The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Edition)” comes with a slipcase and comes with two Blu-ray discs (in one case) which features the film in German with optional English subtitles and the other disc featuring the film in English.

“The Blue Angel” is an important film in cinema as it is among the most discussed films when it comes to movies created in the Weimar period.  It was also an film as it required to be shot in German and in English.

And like many German films of the era, there is an air of darkness, moral descent and while it may seem as the film contains the banality of what has been done in German films, rarely do these films showcase a beautiful woman, a woman who is literally not wearing much (which definitely sent conservatives up in a tizzy) and as it was a von Sternberg film, its the unknown actress who has won the hearts of many viewers worldwide.

That actress is Marlene Dietrich who didn’t stick around to find out how the film would do in the box office as she packed up and left to America to embark on a career which she would be signed by Paramount and would headline many more films after “The Blue Angel”.

But this film was made possible because of actor Emil Jannings who personally requested producer Erich Pommer to hire Josef von Sternberg to direct the film, the first film for Jannings that would include sound.

First, the performance by Emil Jannings is wonderful.  As Dr. Immanuel Rath, he is your professor that is always strict and one who will not put up with anyone’s guff.  He is an intellectual and he is proud of his role as a professor at the local college.  And as someone would think that Jannings is a man who is so strict and possibly sexually repressed, he is a man afterall and that is where is naivety gets the best of him.

For an intelligent man, he has made a bad/desperate decision to go after a woman who probably has been around the block many times and a woman who literally offers nothing to him intellectually but perhaps only sexually.  If not sexually, just a woman who appears to accept him for how he is and a man who has dropped his guard for the sake of companionship.

As a viewer, you can sympathize with his decision.  Many of the young men can only dream of being with Lola, but now this man is with the beautiful Lola.

And it is Marelene Dietrich who is able to take the role of Lola Lola and give us a sense of intense sexuality and domination.  From the moment Dr. Rath proposes to Lola and you hear this devious laugh, it is like the snake who has convinced Eden to take a bite of the apple, but in this case, it is Dr. Rath who chose to go the path of Lola, despite being warned and now she will take him on this journey to moral descent and over the years, we see this distinguished professor go from a strict intellectual to a ridiculous clown.  No money, no respect and even lost any sympathy from Lola and those around him.

And this is where Josef von Sternberg is able to capture with efficacy, the destruction of a man, all decency stripped and you can only watch and realized that this man, blinded by his love of wanting to be loved, wanting to find a beautiful companion, has literally thrown everything in his life that is decent, away.

While the collaboration between Sternberg and Dietrich would lead to bigger things and better films, “The Blue Angel” is special for the fact that it introduced Dietrich to the world, it was an early German and English talkie but it is a film that was able to capture German filmmaking but with a filmmaker from America.

The film has long been debated by historians whether or not “The Blue Angel” is a German film or an American film based on von Sternberg’s imagination of what Germany was or what he grew up with versus achieving accuracy as depicted in the 1905 novel.  I personally look at the film of integrating the best of both worlds, Weimar and Hollywood cinema balancing each other out and the result is something special.

“The Blue Angel” does have cinematic important and while loosely based on the more darker “Professor Unrat” novel by Heinrich Mann, the film was a big success in the box office and most of all, Paramount knew that having both von Sternberg and Dietrich together will continually bring home box office gold!

And the fact that you do get both films on Blu-ray is awesome!  For anyone who really wants to experience this film, those extra 10-12 minutes in the German version, do make a difference as the sexuality of the character of Lola plays an important part of this film.  She is a vixen, she is erotic but it’s only scene in the German version of the film, not the English version.  There are other noticeable changes to make things much more accessible for international viewers but part of what makes “The Blue Angel” such a fantastic film is the performance and everything that is included in the German version.  I can’t emphasize enough about how the German version of “The Blue Angel” is the version to be seen, unless the viewer has a disdain towards reading English subtitles, then the English version will suffice.

And to answer the big question for those who own the previous DVD release of “The Blue Angel”, is the Blu-ray worth owning.  My answer to that is if you want the film in HD, then yes!  To watch the film on Blu-ray may not be a huge difference from the DVD release but the better contrast does make the Blu-ray worth owning.

And if you own only the English version, my answer is yes, get the Blu-ray, so you can watch the original German version.

With that being said, I also recommend those who were planning to upgrade their DVD copies of “The Blue Angel” to Blu-ray, to let you know that you may not want to get rid of your two-disc DVD version of “The Blue Angel” as the Blu-ray does not include the audio commentary by film historian Werner Sudendorf.

Overall, “The Blue Angel” is a classic film that is compelling, enjoyable and a highlight of Weimar cinema.  And with this classic film on Blu-ray, for fans of older classic cinema, “The Blue Angel (2-Disc Ultimate Edition)” is highly recommended!

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The Hitch-Hiker (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

October 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

thehitch-hiker

Ida Lupino’s “The Hitch-Hiker” is a significant film in America cinema and for film noir fans, it is the only classic film noir to be directed by a woman.  The film was quite unsettling for its time and now “The Hitch-Hiker” receives its HD treatment on Blu-ray!  If you enjoy classic film noir, “The Hitch-Hiker” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Hitch-Hiker

FILM RELEASE: 1953

DURATION: 71 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Monaural, B&W

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: NR

Release Date: October 15, 2013

Directed by Ida Lupino

Screenplay by Collier Young, Ida Lupino

Adaptation by Robert L. Joseph

Produced by Collier Young

Associate Producer: Christian Nyby

Music by Leith Stevens

Director of Photography – Nicholas Musuraca

Starring:

Edmond O’Brien as Roy Collins

Frank Lovejoy as Gilbert Bowen

William Talman as Emmet Myers

Jose Torvay as Captain Alvarado

Sam Hayes as Radio Broadcaster

Wendell Niles as Wendell niles

Jean Del Val as Inspector General

Clark Howat as Government Agent

Natividad Vacio as Jose

The only true film noir ever directed by a woman, this tour-de-force thriller (considered by many, including Lupino herself, to be her best film) is a classic, tension-packed, three-way dance of death about two middle-class American homebodies (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on vacation in Mexico on a long-awaited fishing trip. Suddenly their car and their very lives are commandeered by psychopathic serial killer Emmett Myers (William Talman).

In 1950-1951, America didn’t feel safe as news reports on the radio were of people found murdered between Missouri and California, the work of an American spree killer named Billy Cook.

A troubled individual who would hitchhike, steal his victim’s belongings and murder them.

The most shocking murder came when a farmer named Carl Mosser, along with his wife, three children and family dog picked up Mosser and was held at gunpoint and driving aimlessly for 72 hours.  He killed the family and the dog and dumped their bodies in mine shaft in Missouri.

While Cook was eventually captured after kidnapping two men who were on a hunting trip, he was executed for in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison in California.

For actress turned director, Ida Lupino (“High Sierra”, “The Bigamist”, “On Dangerous Ground”) was among the few women in Hollywood who was directing and in 1949, she made her directorial debut with “Never Fear”.

Two years later, Lupino became the first woman to direct the first American mainstream film noir titled “The Hitch-Hiker” based on the latter events of Billy Cook’s life after kidnapping the two men who were on a hunting trip.

For research for the film, Lupino had interviewed the two men who were kidnapped and were able to get releases from them, along with Billy Cook before he was executed.  And to appease the censors, she reduced the number of victims down to three.

The film would be loosely based on the actual experiences of what transpired during the kidnapping and thus the names were changed.

In 1998, “The Hitch-Hiker” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

And now the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber in Oct. 2013.

“The Hitch-Hiker” begins with a couple picking up a hitchhiker, not long after we hear a scream and the hitchhiker takes the money from the woman’s purse and two dead bodies are seen in the driver and passenger seat.  News starts to be reported on the radio of a killer on the loose, a person who has killed before and is on a killing spree.

The film then shifts to two men driving on the road and are out to go hunting.  Roy Collins (portrayed by Edmond O’Brien, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, “The Wild Bunch”, “White Heat”) and Gilbert Bowen (portrayed by Frank Lovejoy, “In a Lovely Place”, “House of Wax”) pick up a hitchhiker named Emmet Meyers (portrayed by William Talman, “Armored Car Robbery”, “The Racket”).

Not long after, Meyers pulls out a gun and orders the men to drive wherever he tells them.

He orders Roy to drive them out into the middle of the desert and tells them that he intends to kill them, but he’s not going to tell them when or how.  Knowing that they are hunters, he starts to have his fun with the two men by having Roy hold a can and putting it on a rock and showing how good of a marksman he is.  He challenges Gilbert to shoot the can and show him his marksman skills, which Gilbert proves to shoot a rifle very well.

He then has Roy holding a can next to his head and forcing Gilbert to shoot the can.  Scared that he may shoot his friend dead, fortunately for Gilbert, he manages to shoot the can.

But as Meyers toys with the two, Roy and Gilbert need to find a way to escape.  But Meyers warns them that because his right eye can not close, they better not pull anything on him or they are dead.

How will Roy and Gilbert escape from this psychopath or can they?

VIDEO:

“The Hitch-Hiker” is presented in 1080p High Definition black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio).  The film has been mastered in HD from archival 35 mm elements preserved by the Library of Congress.

Kino Lorber is not a company that does any cleanup or color correction to their films, so there are a few white specks, areas with little flickering and some scenes that were a tad bit high in contrast (such as one scene where they are driving and Roy’s face was a wee bit too high in contrast). But with the films in HD, the majority of the film does showcasing whites and grays that are well contrast, much better detail when showcasing closeups or environments without blur or the film looking aged in any way.

The majority of the film looks good considering the film is 60-years-old.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Hitch-Hiker” is presented in LPCM 2.0.  Dialogue is clear and understandable for the most part, as with Leith Stevens music.  There are no major audio problems that I noticed during my viewing for the film but for the most part, this 60-year-old film doesn’t have any damaged audio.

There are no subtitles included with this film.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Hitch-Hiker” comes with a trailer and image gallery featuring posters used as promotion for the film.

I can imagine how it was in 1953 to see a film such as “The Hitch-Hiker”.

That year, the country was concerned of the U.S. constructing a hydrogen bomb, Dwight D. Eisenhower became the new President replacing Harry S. Truman, the Korean War was coming to a close and as population grew in America, there was also an unease of whether American is safe.

And it didn’t help with a string of serial killings that year by a few criminals and also one hitch-hiker who would go on an American killing spree, Billy Cook, no doubt put fear into the American public and the fact that people should not be picking up random hitchhikers off the road, no matter if you are doing it out of the kindness of your heart.

That fear would be carried over to the film “The Hitch-Hiker” directed by actress turned filmmaker, Ida Lupino.

The 1953 film would be significant in American history as the first film noir to be directed by a woman and take on a type of film that was too brutal for major studios to consider.

In fact, prior to directing her first film, Lupino should probably credit a suspension by the Warner Bros. for turning down a role.  One must remember that in 1941, she received top billing alongside Humphrey Bogart in the film “High Sierra”, but she was often defiant against the studio for refusing roles that were beneath her dignity as an actress.

Often suspended by the studio, while serving her suspension, she would be on the set observing the filming and editing process and she would use the time to write and producer he own films with her husband, Collier Young and both created an independent film company, The Filmakers, which she served as a producer, director and screenwriter for low-budget films.

While she did not set out to become a director, when Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack in the film “Not Wanted”, she would step in (considering she co-produced and co-wrote the film).  And that was the beginning of films that featured the brutal repercussions of sexuality, independence and dependence.

And when she directed “The Hitch-Hiker”, critics who saw the film praised her work because she was able to take a recent and brutal incident and bring it to the big screen, but also showcase its male characters in a position being dominated by another man, as most Hollywood films would feature a woman quite often being dominated by a man.

As for the film, once again, place yourself in 1953, and imagine how scared people must have felt after watching a film about a hitchhiker who would murder people for his own enjoyment.  The fear of two married men, knowing they can’t fight back as the hitch-hiker, psychopath, Meyers is sadistic and stringing them along, for the sake of seeing them quake in fear.

There is no doubt that a 2013 version of the film would become much more brutal, with films such as Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salo” showcasing a family or people being tortured and killed and many films now going that direction of showing no happy ending and the victims tortured.

Personally, I don’t mind unsettling films. But I do love the films with a happy ending or at least a film in which the victim or victim’s family has a chance to fight back, such as Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” or even Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left”.

But this is classic film noir ala Hollywood.  Two men who are forced to do whatever their captor tells them to do and that is drive wherever, drive to Mexico and await for the moment they are to be killed.  Not knowing how they can escape!  There is no running for help as no one can understand English and the areas they go to are desolate or have children, that the two men wouldn’t want anyone else hurt.

So, its riveting storyline to see if these men will succeed in escaping from their captor.

In a long list of film noir, “The Hitch-Hiker” by no means is among the best but it is significant for it being the only classic film noir directed by a woman.  And so, for fans of film noir, the fact that the film has been mastered in HD from the archived 35 mm elements preserved by the Library of Congress and now released as a Blu-ray by Kino Lorber is awesome.

The Blu-ray does has its share of white specks, a bit of flicker and high-contrast scenes but for the most part, the majority of the film looks great on Blu-ray and the LPCM 2.0 soundtrack is clear.

Overall, Ida Lupino’s “The Hitch-Hiker” is a significant film in America cinema and for film noir fans, it is the only classic film noir to be directed by a woman.  The film was quite unsettling for its time and now “The Hitch-Hiker” receives its HD treatment on Blu-ray!  If you enjoy classic film noir, “The Hitch-Hiker” is recommended!

 

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I Married a Witch – The Criterion Collection #676 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

October 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“I Married a Witch” can be seen as Veronica Lake’s best comedy film and others may feel it is the best American film from French filmmaker René Clair.  Delightful and very entertaining, “I Married a Witch” is classic Hollywood cinema that I can easily recommend!

Image courtesy of © 1942 Caidin Film Company. All Rights Reserved. © 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: I Married a Witch – The Criterion Collection #676

RELEASE OF FILM: 1942

DURATION: 77 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural, English SDH

COMPANY: The Criterion Collection

RELEASED: October 8, 2013

Directed by René Clair

Screenplay by Robert Pirosh, Marc Connelly

Based on the story by Thorne Smith

Story Completion by Norman Matson

Music by Roy Webb

Director of Photography: Ted Tetzlaff

Edited by Eda Warren

Art Direction by Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegte

Set Decoration by George Sawley

Starring:

Fredric March as Jonathan Wooley

Veronica Lake as Jennifer

Robert Benchley as Dr. Dudley White

Susan Hayward as Estelle Masterson

Cecil Kellaway as Daniel

Elizabeth Patterson as Margaret

Robert Warwick as J.B. Masterson

Veronica Lake casts a seductive spell as a charmingly vengeful sorceress in this supernatural screwball classic. Many centuries after cursing the male descendants of the Salem puritan who sent her to the stake, this blonde bombshell with a broomstick finds herself drawn to one of them—a prospective governor (Fredric March) about to marry a spoiled socialite (Susan Hayward). The most delightful of the films the innovative French director René Clair made in Hollywood, I Married a Witch is a comic confection bursting with playful special effects and sparkling witticisms.

Filmmaker René Clair is looked as one of the legendary filmmakers in France.

From silent films such as “A Nous la Liberte”, “Le Million” and “Under the Roofs of Paris” to name a few, but in mid-1930’s, Clair with an invitation by filmmaker Alexander Korda, would begin his work in England.  With a taste of working outside of France, Clair would then have his sights in the United States.

Wanting to establish a French production center, he moved with his family and French filmmaker Julien Duvivier moved to America and not long after, Hollywood came knocking.

René Clair worked on his first American film with Universal Studios and his second American film, “I Married a Witch” with Paramount Studios in 1942.

Based on the novel titled “The Passionate Witch” by Thorne Smith (and completed by Norman H. Matson after Smith’s death), the film adaptation directed by Clair would star Fredric March (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “A Star is Born”, “The Best Years of Our Lives”), Veronica Lake (“Sullivan’s Travels”, “This Gun for Hire”, “The Blue Dahlia”), Robert Benchley (“Why Daddy?”, “Foreign Correspondent”), Susan Hayward (“I Want to Live!”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “With a Song in My Heart”, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”), Cecil Kellaway (“The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”), Elizabeth Patterson (“Pal Joey”, “Hail the Conquering Hero”, “Intruder in the Dust”) and Robert Warwick (“Sullivan’s Travels”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “The Awful Truth”).

While the film went through creative differences between Preston Sturges (who was tapped to be a producer for the film) and René Clair, even actor Fredric March had creative differences with actress Veronica Lake.  But the film was made and the film was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture)” for composer Roy Webb.

And now “I Married a Witch” will received the Criterion Collection treatment in October 2013 as the film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD.

“I Married a Witch” begins in 1642 with Puritan Jonathan Wooley (portrayed by Fredric March) discussing two witches from Salem, Daniel  and his daughter Jennifer being burned at the stake by the  and their ashes buried beneath a tree in order to seal their evil spirits.  Jonathan tells his mother that Jennifer was beautiful but she cursed him for denouncing her as a witch and that he and his male descendants would be unhappy in love and all marriages would be disastrous.

The film would then show several Wooley descendants in bad marriages.

Fast forward to 1942, Wallace Wooley (portrayed by Fredric March), a man running for governor.  Through the financial contribution of chief political backer J.B. Masterson (portrayed by Robert Warwick), he is to marry his daughter, a very spoiled woman, Estelle Masterson (portrayed by Susan Hayward).  We see Estelle yelling at Wallace and Estelle wanting to leave the party.

As J.B Masterson is hosting a political party for his future son-in-law, outside there is a storm and a lightning hits the tree and releasing the spirits of Daniel (portrayed by Cecil Kellaway) and Jennifer (portrayed by Veronica Lake) .  As their ashes fly around, they see how much the world has changed and together, they plot their revenge on Jonathan Wooley’s descendant, Wallace Wooley.

Jennifer begs for her father to create a human body and in order to perform the spell, he needs fire.  So, the elder witch burns a hotel and as news of a fire in the city, Wallace and Estelle head to the area of the burning hotel.  Meanwhile, Wallace can hear a woman screaming for help.

So, he runs and finds Jennifer and rescues her from the flames.  While everyone praises Wallace’s heroism, after saving Jennifer, she suffered not one scratch or burn and she starts clinging to Wallace, which irks Estelle immediately.

As he says his goodbyes to Jennifer, somehow when he goes back home, she ends up in his bedroom. Feeling that maybe she has no place to say, he allows her to sleep in his room and tries to talk to his friend Dr. Dudley White (portrayed by Robert Benchley) of how this woman is everywhere he goes.  Could it be that his political rival had sent her to be a political spy?

As Wallace’s wedding to Estelle is coming very soon, Jennifer can’t understand why he isn’t ending his marriage, no matter what kind of magic he uses.  So, with the help of her father, she concocts a love potion and once he drinks it, he will fall in love with her and she can torment him as much as she wants.  But as she is about to give him the drink, while sitting down, she bumps into a wall and a painting falls on her head.

Trying to help her, Wallace gives her the drink (that contains the love potion) and she ends up drinking the love potion and now falling in love with Wallace.

But will Wallace marry Estelle or will Jennifer find a way to convince Wallace that he should be with her?

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“I Married a Witch – The Criterion Collection #676″ is presented in 1:33:1 and a film that looks great on DVD.  It’s important to first note that if you want the best quality, a Blu-ray version will also be released from the Criterion Collection.  The film looks absolutely beautiful with blacks and whites are well-contrast and sharp (I can imagine that the Blu-ray will feature even better sharpness and contrast with better detail) and saw no major damage. There are small amounts of scratches, a few white specks and dust, a little flickering but nothing that prevents your enjoyment of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics film scanner from the original nitrate 35 mm negative and a nitrate 35 mm composite film-grain master.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps and jitter were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management and flicker.

Audio is presented in monaural and according to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from 35 mm optical soundtrack print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Dialogue is clear through the monaural soundtrack with no sign of hiss or pops.

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“I Married a Witch – The Criterion Collection #676” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Interview – (20:18) Featuring an audio interview from the late 50’s in New York with film historian Gideon Bachmann on his radio program, “The Film Art”.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (1:31) The theatrical trailer for “I Married a Witch”.

EXTRAS:

“I Married a Witch – The Criterion Collection #676” comes with a 30-page booklet featuring the essay “It’s Such an Ancient Pitch” by Guy Maddin and a classic interview from the 1970-1971 “Film Quarterly” with film scholar R.C. Dale and René Clair.

It doesn’t happen too often when you see the Criterion Collection releasing classic Hollywood films.

Typically the films are released because of the filmmaker behind-the-film and when it comes to Veronica Lake, you don’t often think of her films as being Criterion Collection material.  But the beautiful actress has been featured on Criterion Collection’s release of the 1941 film “Sullivan’s Travels” directed by Preston Sturges and now in 2013 with the Blu-ray and DVD release of “I Married a Witch” directed by René Clair.  A filmmaker which the Criterion Collection has released three of his films on DVD within the last decade.

“I Married a Witch” is the first René Clair Blu-ray release from the company and while those previous Clair films were French, for cinema fans, I felt personal enjoyment to see this Hollywood film released in the U.S.  Especially since the film has been out of print for quite some time.

It’s one of the better René Clair films made in America and as an early Hollywood film fan, if you are a fan of blonde bombshell Veronica Lake, next to “Sullivan’s Travels”, this is no doubt a film that features the actress at her best (before she began to focus on noir films).

But this is Veronica Lake, an actress who didn’t make a lot of films, but this film was made when she made peek-a-boo hairstyles a fad, she was a cinema icon (despite not getting along with a few of her co-stars) and even René Clair said of Lake, “She was a very gifted girl, but she didn’t believe she was gifted.”

But this is 1940’s Hollywood comedy, unlike René Clair’s French films, there is no Chaplin-esque film style, this is René Clair moving away from what he previously had done and trying to jumpstart a career in the U.S. and what better than to have a well-known Hollywood cast with Fredric March, Veronica Lake and Susan Hayward.

I know the film had its share of criticism because of the casting choice of Fredric March, from him being too old for the part to be paired with Veronica Lake, but people should know that the purpose of the character of Jennifer was being given a human body, similar to what she had when she died at the stake and also to get revenge on Wallace Wooley.  This is not a romantic comedy in the sense of man and woman falling in love right at the start, it’s about a witch wanting to get revenge on a descendant of a man who denounced her as a witch but ends up falling in love with him.

But Fredric March is an actor who had his issues with Veronica Lake, as Lake had with Joel McCrea for “Sullivan’s Travels”.  While both men are actors that focused on their craft, they both had their issues with working with Lake?  Is it the same as other actors who worked with other Hollywood bombshells in which beauty was more important than acting skills?  Possibly.  But these classic Hollywood films that starred your Marilyn’s, your Rita’s, your Ava’s, etc.  They were made popular because of these beautiful actresses.  And at this time, Veronica Lake was a Hollywood icon known for her hair and onscreen beauty.

As for the DVD, the fact that this film has been long out-of-print is a blessing for fans of the film that it has received the Criterion Collection treatment on Blu-ray and DVD.  The film looks very good, while not necessarily pristine, but looks good on DVD (and I’m sure even better on Blu-ray). While not a release that has a lot of special features, you do get a fascinating audio discussion included and also a very in-depth essay and interview included in the booklet.

Overall, “I Married a Witch” can be seen as Veronica Lake’s best comedy film and others may feel it is the best American film from French filmmaker René Clair.  Delightful and very entertaining, “I Married a Witch” is classic Hollywood cinema that I can easily recommend!

 

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The Devil Bat (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Review)

September 21, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

foolishwives

“The Devil Bat” is one of those low budget films that is interesting for its blend of horror and comedy, even if some of it was not intentionally meant to be funny. You just can’t help but laugh or be amused because of how ludicrous the story can get.  While “The Devil Bat” is  not one of the better Bela Lugosi films, for those who want to watch a low budget horror film from 1940 in HD, then this Blu-ray release is worth a try!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Devil Bat

FILM RELEASE: 1940

DURATION: 68 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, 2.0 LPCM Monaural, B&W

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: NR

Release Date: September 17, 2013

Directed by Jean Yarbrough

Screenplay by John T. Neville

Original Story by George Bricker

Produced by Jack Gallagher

Associate Producer: Guy V. Thayer Jr.

Cinematography by Arthur Martinelli

Edited by Holbrook N. Todd

Art Direction by Paul Palmentola

Starring:

Bela Lugosi as Dr. Paul Carruthers

Suzanne Kaaren as Mary Heath

Dave O’ Brien as Johnny Layton

Guy Usher as Henry Morton

Yolande Donlan as Maxine

Donald Kerr as “One-Shot” McGuire

Edmund Mortimer as Martin Heath

Gene O’Donnell as Don Morton

Alan Baldwin as Tommy Heath

John Ellis as Roy Heath

Arthur Q. Bryan as Joe McGinty

Hal Price as Chief Wilkins

John Davidson as Prof. Percival Garland Raines

After the Production Code forced the major studios to shy away from morbidity, violence, and the supernatural, Bela Lugosi (Dracula) found refuge in a place where horror was not only allowed, but enjoying a low-budget renaissance: the independent studios of Poverty Row.

In THE DEVIL BAT, Lugosi stars as a scientist who commands a mutant bat to avenge himself upon his enemies (using a specially formulated after-shave lotion as the targeting device). Even as he takes diabolical pleasure in such a ludicrous premise, Lugosi invests the character with an underlying sense of tragedy, a visionary genius out of step with modern, corporate society.

One of the pleasures of reviewing classic Hollywood films is to discover “Poverty Row” (B movie studios) films of the 1920’s-1950’s.

While studios were under to enforce the Production code, there were companies creating quick and low budget films.  Companies such as Monogram Pictures, Republic Pictures, Grand National Films, Inc. and many more.  In 1939, Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC) was formed and would focus on westerns, gangster films, serials but also horror films.  But their goal was to create films under $100,000 and to their credit, they were one studio who had talented names in their films.  From Neil Hamilton, Eddie Dean, Ralph Morgan, Lee Tracy, Patsy Kelly, Benny Fields but also Buster Crabbe, Julie London and Bela Lugosi.

For Bela Lugosi, having had a successful career in the teens and 1920’s especially in the horror film genre, by the mid-1930’s, with the British ban on foreign films, many American studios dropped horror films from their schedule and it had an effect on Bela’s career.  Also, he faced competition against Boris Karloff, who studios such as Universal would prefer.

But while he would star in MGM’s comedy, “Ninotchka”, Bela Lugosi began to get back into the horror genre by working for Poverty Row companies.  While Lugosi worked on films for Monogram Pictures, would work on the first horror film for PRC in 1940 for the film “The Devil Bat”.

And as the film had fell into public domain, in 1990, “The Devil Bat” was restored from its original 35mm archival film elements and again for a new restoration in 2008.

And now, “The Devil Bat” was released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber in Sept. 2013.

“The Devil Bat” begins with Dr. Paul Carruthers (portrayed by Bela Lugosi), a scientist who works for a company in creating products, such as perfume and after-shave lotions.   He is offered to stop by to a party hosted by his employers in which he declines.  Dr. Carruthers is seen focusing on taking a bat and experimenting with it in his lab using electrical voltage.  And he ends up increasing the bat’s size.

Dr. Carruthers also concocts an after-shave lotion  which he gives to people and trains the bat to smell for the after-shave lotion and whoever is wearing it, must be killed.  And those he wants killed are his employers, people who have made an amazing fortune through his inventions but yet he doesn’t get any percentage of the sales because he took a cash payment earlier before his products became popular.

So as he meets with each of the people who have gotten rich from his products that he created, Dr. Carruthers has his target victims use his lotion and late at night when they are out at night, he sends his killer bat to find the scent of the shaving lotion and kill the individual.

As the police try to solve the case, a photographer named Johnny Layton (portrayed by Dave O’Brien) who is dating Mary Heath (portrayed by Suzanne Kaaren) begins to worry for her safety, since her family members are being targeted and killed.  So, together with his photographer “One-Shot” McGuire (portrayed by Donald Kerr), both try to uncover who is omitting these crimes.  But when they see the bat they have dubbed as “The Devil Bat” flying and killing a man, now they must prove to the public that no matter how outrageous it sounds that a killer bat is responsible for killing its victims, they have solid evidence that a bat did the killing but someone is behind the bat in making them kill.

Will Johnny and “One-Shot” find the killer?  Or will Dr. Carruthers get away scott free for his crimes?

VIDEO:

There is no denying that many incarnations of “The Devil Bat” that have been released on public domain are not the greatest and while there have been two restorations done for the film, for those familiar with Kino Lorber, they do not clean up the film, they present the film in HD.  Upon watching “The Devil Bat”, viewers will notice an excessive amount of white specks and scratches.  But with that being said, it’s not the type that will hinder your viewing of the film unless you are sensitive to a film not being cleaned up.

So, with that being said, the film looks better than any previous standard definition release but with the film being a Poverty Row film that is not a classic or significant other than being PRC’s first horror film, it’s unlikely anyone is going to release this on Blu-ray and do an expensive restoration work anytime soon.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Devil Bat” is presented in Linear PCM 2.0 monaural and I didn’t notice any significant audio problems during my viewing.  It does have light hiss but nothing that would ruin your viewing experience of this 70+ year-old film.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Devil Bat” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith.
  • Photo Gallery – Stills from “The Devil Bat”

As a fan of Poverty Row films, part of the reason why I enjoy them so much is the fact they are low-budget, sometimes very cheesy but you occasionally find some gems and for the most part, I have watched quite a number of films that I found entertaining, not great or something I would consider as a classic but a film that was enjoyable despite it not having a top star or big budget.

In the case of “The Devil Bat”, it’s PRC’s first horror film and they had Bela Lugosi, a man who’s career of taking on macabre roles since the silent era to the talkies.  And where many silent film stars did not have a career after their booming silent film careers, Lugosi was known for his role as Dracula and may one call it fortunate or unfortunate for the typecasting of villainous roles, he still continued to work whether a big budget or small budget film.

“The Devil Bat” is quite cheesy in terms of modern cinema.  A man using electrotherapy to grow bats and train them to kill by the scene of aftershave lotion is quite silly but for the B-films of yesterday, they were not going after dramatic cinema or anything deep.  With a limited budget, you have a bat who looked like it was stuffed going after humans.  It’s just how they attacked humans was so unconvincing and not scary.  And I don’t even think how one would be scared for that time.

One scene had a man in a patio area with chairs, screaming for help while the bat was still far away.  Could he not run inside the home instead of yelling for minutes?  Could he grabbed the chairs that were around and whacked the bat?  One would have to defend their life, not standing there and screaming.  But it has that feel of 1940’s cinema B-movie that you just have to laugh.  It’s supposed to be a horror film but yet you have two media people who are there to uncover the killer of the victims and they are often bickering with their boss or with each other.  In some way, I found myself imagining how this would be a fascinating Abbot & Costello or even Laurel & Hardy comedy/horror film if they starred in it.

As for the Blu-ray release, it’s not the clearest of films.  It has many white specks and scratches but if you can focus yourself watching the film and not looking at the white specks, then you are fine.  LPCM audio was good but it does have hissing and some crackle.  As for special features, you have an audio commentary track by film historian Richard Harland Smith.

So, the question that many people will ask if it’s worth it?  If you are the type who cringes at films that are not cleaned up, then probably not as the Blu-ray release of this film has a lot of white specks and scratches.  But if you are a fan of classic cinema, including poverty row films, then I recommend it.

For me, I absolutely love Poverty Row films.   To see how creative a director and his crew can get with a small budget is intriguing and while I’m more biased towards the gangster, screwball, romantic comedy type of B films, “The Devil Bat” is one of those low budget films that is interesting for its blend of horror and comedy, even if some of it was not intentionally meant to be funny. You just can’t help but laugh or be amused because of how ludicrous the story can get.  While “The Devil Bat” is  not one of the better Bela Lugosi films, for those who want to watch a low budget horror film from 1940 in HD, then this Blu-ray release is worth a try!

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To Be or Not to Be – The Criterion Collection #670 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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“To Be or Not to Be” is a dark comedy that is considered to be an Ernst Lubitsch masterpiece!  Featuring a wonderful performance by Jack Benny and a final performance featuring Carole Lombard, “To Be or Not To Be” will be regarded as one of the finest Hollywood comedies ever made.  And as for this Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection, it’s the definitive version of the film to own on video.  Recommended!

Image are courtesy of © 2013 Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: To Be or Not to Be – The Criterion Collection #670

YEAR OF FILM: 1942

DURATION: 99 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Monaural in English, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY:Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: August 27, 2013

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Original Story by Melchior Lengyel

Screenplay by Edwin Justus Mayer

Produced by Ernst Lubitsch

Music by Werner R. Heymann

Cinematography by Rudolph Mate

Edited by Dorothy Spencer

Casting by Victor Sutker

Production Design by Vincent Korda

Set Decoration by Julia Heron

Starring:

Carole Lombard as Maria Tura

Jack Benny as Joseph Tura

Robert Stack as Lt. Stansilav Sobinski

Felix Bressart as Greenberg

Lionel Atwill as Rawitch

Stanley Ridges as Professor Siletsky

Sig Ruman as Col. Ehrhardt

Tom Dugas as Bronski

Charles Halton as Producer Dobosh

Henry Victor as Capt. Schultz

Maude Eburne as Anna

Halliwell Hobbes as Gen. Armstrong

Miles Mander as Major Cunningham

As nervy as it is hilarious, this screwball masterpiece from Ernst Lubitsch stars Jack Benny and, in her final screen appearance, Carole Lombard as husband-and-wife thespians in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who become caught up in a dangerous spy plot. To Be or Not to Be is a Hollywood film of the boldest black humor, which went into production soon after the U.S. entered World War II. Lubitsch manages to brilliantly balance political satire, romance, slapstick, and urgent wartime suspense in a comic high-wire act that has never been equaled.

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When it comes to legendary filmmakers, Ernst Lubitsch is one director that many cinema fans will have him listed on top of their list.

One of the most successful German filmmakers to work in Hollywood, Ernst Lubitsch worked in the silent era and would eventually be known for films such as “Trouble in Paradise” (1932), “Ninotchka” (1939), “The Shop Around the Corner” and the masterpiece “To Be or Not to Be” (1942).

In truth, when it comes to the oeuvre of Lubitsch films, the fact is that Lubitsch has created many entertaining films that cinema fans will consider as favorites.  And fortunately for fans, The Criterion Collection has released several of his notable films such as movie musicals “The Love Parade” (1929), “Monte Carlo” (1930), “The Smiling Lieutenant” (1931) and “One Hour With You” (1932) released by the Criterion Collection in their Eclipse Series DVD set “Eclipse Series 8: Lubitsch Musicals”.

Also, with the Criterion Collection releases of “Trouble in Paradise” (1932), “Design for a Living” (1933) and “Heaven Can Wait” (1943).

But for a filmmaker with a distinguished career, one masterpiece that Lubitsch fans look towards one of his best is “To Be or Not to Be”, a film that did not do well when it was first released in 1942, during World War 2 and people could not understand why a comedy about the Nazis would be released in theaters.  But the fact of that era was that no one was appreciative to any filmmaker that would even try to make comedy about Nazi ideology.  Critics blasted the film and considering what was happening in the world at that time, emotions were still high, especially when their was worry that the Nazi’s were winning the war in Europe.

For Ernst Lubitsch, “To Be or Not to Be” would be his first film about war and a film that unfortunately bombed in the box office but it was a film that would gain a following and earn respect by future critics and viewers decades later.

While the film was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture”, the film would receive its distinction as an important Hollywood classic when it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 1996.

The film was originally going to star Miriam Hopkins as Maria Tura but after seeing her part as much smaller than Jack Benny’s, she withdrew from the film and actress Carole Lombard (who was out of Hollywood temporarily as she and her husband Clark Gable tried to conceive a child) asked Ernst Lubitsch for the part.  And despite not sure if Lombard could play the part, having an actress of her caliber would help in receiving funding for the film but also it helped allowed Jack Benny to have top billing because he had all the lines and to complete the production, despite Walter Wanger withdrawing as producer, the film would gain Alexander Korda as co-producer.

For Jack Benny, even his own father had misgivings about the film, walking out because he was disgusted that his son would wear a Nazi uniform.  But when convinced by his son to watch the whole film, according to Benny’s memoirs, his father ended up loving the film and watched it dozens of times.

While for Carole Lombard, Lombard’s biographer Larry Swindell has said of Lombard’s work on the film, “it was the happiest experience of her career”.

Unfortunately, three weeks after the film ended production and Carole Lombard wanted to do her part for the U.S. during the war to promote bond-selling, she was was killed in an airplane accident.

“To Be or Not to Be” is set in Poland and focuses on members of a Polish theater company before they were occupied by the Nazis.

The top lead talents of the theater are Maria Tura (portrayed by Carole Lombard) and her husband Joseph Tura (portrayed by Jack Benny).  We see as one local actor in the theater, named Bronski, wants to prove that he can act and look like Adolf Hitler and appear in Warsaw before the 1939 invasion, but even a young girl recognizes the actor for not being the actual Adolf Hitler.

As Joseph is to play Hamlet, his wife Maria has been receiving bouquet of flowers from a man.  While bugged by it, the show must go on but for Joseph, he is upset when he sees a man in uniform leaving his seat.  The man is Lt. Stanislav Sobinski (portrayed by Robert Stack), a pilot who tells Maria about his love for her work and her.  And immediately wins her over when he tells her that as a pilot, he can drop three tons of explosives in less than a minute.

And their affair begins and she tells him to come into her dressing room when her husband starts his “To be or not to be…” speech.   But as the two are to have their privacy, Maria receives word that Germany has declared war on Poland and Sobinski knows that he will now have to leave and fight.

Hitler has conquered Poland and we learn that the Polish division of the British Royal Air Force is trying to fight for its country and before Sobinski and others prepare for their fight, they share a song and drink with the Polish resistance leader, Professor Siletsky who is planning to go back to Warsaw.  All the pilots give Siletsky their address to bring to their love ones at home but when Sobinski gives his message to Siletsky to give to Maria back home, he questions Siletsky about Maria Tura, he doesn’t know who she is.  Considering how popular Maria is in Poland, he is shocked that he never knew of her, but then he tries to correct himself as if he does.

Now suspicious of him, Sobinski tells his superiors of what happened and they realize that he may be working with the Nazis.  Sobinski’s superiors send him to Warsaw to warn the resistance but manages to meet up with Maria, who plans to pass on the message for him.

Siletsky has two Nazi soldiers to bring Maria to his hotel and when Siletsky delivers his message to Maria, he tries to recruit her as a spy for the Nazi.  Hoping to warn the resistance, Maria, her husband and Sobinski know they have no choice but to kill Siletsky before he relays his information to the Nazis and surprisingly, Joseph Tura proclaims that he will be the one to kill Siletsky.

But in order for them to do so, they and their fellow actors from the theater must put on an act that would fool Siletsky and the Nazis.  Will they succeed?

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VIDEO:

“To Be or Not to Be – The Criterion Collection #670” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio) in black and white.  Compared to the Warner Home Video 2005 DVD release, there are quite a few differences one will notice with this 2013 release.  For one, how much clearer the video is, without any blurring.  Also, noticeable is the contrast, white and greys are well-contrast, black levels are nice and deep.  And last, is detail.  Details on clothing and environemnts is much more apparent in this Blu-ray release.  The video is much cleaner and I have to say, it’s the definitive version of the film to own at this time!

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics scanner from the original 35 mm nitrate and camera negative and a 35 mm nitrate composite fine grain at Metropolis Post in New York.  The restoration was performed by the Prasad Group, India and the Criterion Collection.

AUDIO/SUBTITLES:

“To Be or Not to Be – The Criterion Collection #670” is presented in English LPCM 1.0 and features subtitles in English SDH.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“To Be or Not to Be – The Criterion Collection #670” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio commentary – Featuring an audio commentary by film historian David Kalat.
  • Lubitsch le patron – (53:10) A 2010 French documentary on Ernst Lubtisch’s career.
  • Pinkus’s Shoe Palace – (44:58) A 1916 German silent short directed and starring Ernst Lubitsch with a new piano score by Donald Sosin.
  • The Screen Guild Theater – (17:22) Featuring two episodes of “The Screen Guild Theater” radio anthology series featuring “Variety” (1940, Duration: 29:31) with Jack Benny, Claudette Colbert and Lubitsch.  And “To Be or Not to Be” (1942, Duration: 25:41) an adaptation of the film featuring William Powell, Diana Lewis and Sig Ruman.

EXTRAS:

“To Be or Not to Be – The Criterion Collection #670” comes with a 24-page booklet featuring the essay “The Play’s The Thing” by Geoffrey O’Brien and a March 29, 1942 New York Times article “Lubitsch Answers his Critics”.

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Watching “To Be or Not to Be”, one should watch this film but also knowing the era it was shot.

This film came out during a time when America was at war, when rumors were that the Nazi’s were gaining a stronghold on Europe and for the most part, America’s sensitivity towards the war was at an all time-high.  Those who saw previews and have not watched the film, would certainly be a person who disliked the film because it was a comedy and it featured people dressing up and disguising themselves as Nazi’s.

But this was a film which Ernst Lubitsch wanted to try something different within his career, to try a war movie that is a comedy about theater but there is no doubt that he was seeing how far he can go.

For one, a comedy featuring a woman having an affair with a younger man but yet be a comedy was never questioned by viewers or critics, if anything, it was about the film featuring with anything Nazi that put a bitter taste in the mouths of those viewing the film.

The film featured sexual innuendo with the use of war as the young Lt. Sobinski talks about his role in the military to a captivated Maria.

Sobinsky: I don’t know about it’s being thrilling – but it’s quite a bomber.  You might not believe it, but I can drop three tons of dynamite in two minutes.

Maria: Really?

Sobinsky: Does that interest you?

Maria: It certainly does….

Maria then explains to her fan, “this is the first time I’ve ever met a man who could drop three tons of dynamite in two minutes.”

At a time when cinema was pushing decency, the fact that viewers or critics didn’t get the sexual innuendo showed how Lubitsch knew how to get away with things with his films.

But interesting enough was the fact that people were not bothered by the sexual innuendo, they were bothered by Nazi’s and many were bothered by the following line when Joseph Tura, in disguise, asks Colonel Erhardt if he has heard of actor, Joseph Tura.  In response, Erhardt says, “What he did to Shakespeare, we are now doing to Poland.”

In fact it was a major contention within the staff who wanted Lubitsch to remove the offending line, but Lubitsch stood his ground and defended the line.  Taking any written attacks of a line as an attack towards his film.

The film also is very smart in the way it uses its characters, especially in something so death defying that involves imminent death if caught, the fact that the theater group are more interested in putting on a great role, self-absorbed is rather fascinating.  For Joseph Tura, he is more upset that a young man left his performance than the young man going to visit his wife in her dressing room.

The film is filled with moments and humor that probably made people feel uneasy as one jokes about the words “Concentration Camp” or the use of story plots that rely on moments of mistaken identity, but for this Lubitsch war film, it was a film of risks, a film with challenges and it was a film that challenged a viewer that tried to show that the Nazi’s were people too and that the opposition could be just as a bad as they are.

But if they Nazis are the antagonist of the film, how a group of actors were able to outwit them.  It’s a black comedy that managed to have endured but enjoyed by many after many years since it was screened in theaters.

The film marks the final film starring Carole Lombard who was ravishing in her final film performance and it was a role that made her happy but also a film that fans have looked at as a fitting farewell.

As for the Blu-ray release, not only is this Criterion Collection Blu-ray the definitive version to own, for those who were dismayed of how much this DVD was selling for due to being out of print, should be thrilled that this HD version looks so much better than the original 2005 DVD.  Also, you get an early Lubitsch short, two radio shows, an audio commentary and a documentary on the career of Ernst Lubitsch.

Overall, “To Be or Not to Be” is a dark comedy that is considered to be an Ernst Lubitsch masterpiece!  Featuring a wonderful performance by Jack Benny and a final performance featuring Carole Lombard, “To Be or Not To Be” will be regarded as one of the finest Hollywood comedies ever made.

And as for this Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection, it’s the definitive version of the film to own on video.  Recommended!

 

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Of Human Bondage (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 10, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“Of Human Bondage” is a significant film in the career of Bette Davis, it’s also a significant film for how it made changes with the Academy’s voting procedures and it’s the best looking version of the film to date.  If you are a film of classic Hollywood films or a fan of Bette Davis’ work, “Of Human Bondage” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Of Human Bondage

FILM RELEASE: 1934

DURATION: 83 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, B&W, Monaural

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: NR

Release Date: June 18, 2013

Directed by John Cromwell

Screenplay by Lester Cohen

Based on the Novel by W. Somerset Maugham

Music by Max Steiner

Cinematography by Henry W. Gerrard

Edited by William Morgan

Art Direction by Carroll Clark, Van Nest Polglase

Costume Design by Walter Plunkett

Starring:

Leslie Howard as Philip

Bette Davis as Mildred

Frances Dee as Sally

Kay Johnson as Norah

Reginald Denny as Griffiths

Alan Hale as Miller

Reginald Owen as Athelny

Desmond Roberts as Dr. Jacobs

Bette Davis rose from the ranks of Warner Bros. contract players to become a screen superstar when she was loaned out to RKO to appear in John Cromwell’s adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage.

Leslie Howard (Gone With the Wind) stars as Philip, a British medical student who becomes infatuated with a most unlikely woman: a vulgar waitress named Mildred (Davis). Undeterred by Mildred’s obvious contempt of him (and her disgust for his disabled foot), Philip lavishes his affection upon the tawdry woman, and allows his personal and professional life to disintegrate as a consequence of her sadistic whims.

Though considered an unlikely choice to play a cockney working girl, Davis fearlessly embraced Mildred’s dark side, and delivered an erotic yet malevolent performance that launched her to the forefront of Hollywood’s leading ladies.

For actress Bette Davis, by 1934, while having shot nearly two dozen films in the last three years, she was not yet a well-known actress.  While gaining attention for her lead role in “The Man Who Played God” in 1932 and eventually receiving a five-year contract from Warner Bros., the young actress still hoped for that one breakthrough role that would put her on the map.

And in 1934, thanks to screenwriter Wilson Mizner who showed her a copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel “Of Human Bondage”, she was adamant that she wanted the part, so much that she asked Jack L. Warner to lend her to RKO who held the screen rights.

There was one problem.  The part that Bette Davis wanted to play was an image of an evil woman and Warner did not want his beautiful actress playing such a part.  In fact, Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne and Ann Harding declined to play the role because of the character.  But eventually, Warner decided to let Davis plan the role of Mildred Rogers.

A role that would eventually put Bette Davis on the map and the film would receive critical acclaim.  While not nominated for an Academy Award, “The Hollywood Citizen News” questioned her omission form nominations and even actress Norma Shearer who was nominated that year, lent her support to have Davis nominated for her role.  And because of the outcry for Davis to have a chance of nomination, in the only time of the Academy’s history, they allowed any voter to write a name on the ballot of his or her personal choice for the winners but would also lead to a chance in Academy voting procedures for the following year.

And now “Of Human Bondage” will receive it’s Blu-ray release courtesy of Kino Lorber.   The film is mastered in HD from an original 35 mm print from Bette Davis’s personal collection (and was donated to the Library of Congress), will be released for the first time on Blu-ray in June 2013 with another Bette Davis Blu-ray release of her earlier film “Hell’s House” (1932).

“Of Human Bondage” is a film directed by John Cromwell (“Since You Went Away”, “Made for Each Other”, “The Prisoner of Zenda”) and would star Bette Davis, Leslie Howard (“Gone with the Wind”, “Pygmalion”, “The Petrified Forest”), Frances Dee (“Little Women”, “Becky Sharp”, “I Walked with a Zombie”), Kay Johnson (“Madam Satan”, “American Madness”, “Dynamite”) and Reginald Denny (“Rebecca”, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House”,”Cat Ballou”).

The film begins with an introduction to Philip Carey (portrayed by Leslie Howard), a man with a club-foot and a man who studied painting in Paris, but told by an art teacher that his paintings are not that good.  He advises him to put his talent to something different and so, Philip goes to medical school in London.  Not having much money, he is assisted by his uncle who sends him money to attend schooling and help pay for his apartment.

While a bit self-conscious about his foot, he does have time to hang out with a few of his medical buddies.  One who asks Philip to assist in telling a joke to a waitress that he fancies.

When Philip and friend go to the restaurant, both are surprised to find out that the tearoom waitress, Mildred Rogers (portrayed by Bette Davis) is quite vulgar and lewd.  This turns his friend off but for Philip, he is enamored by her beauty and bluntness.

And he becomes obsessed with her, so much that he keeps asking her for a date, following her, going to the restaurant and seeing how she also dates other male patrons that show up to the restaurant but for Philip, he wants her to be with him only.  No matter how cruel she is towards him (and is not even attracted to him), he is too blind by his love for her.

Unfortunately, his obsession with Mildred begins to affect his medical studies and when he decides he wants to marry Mildred, she tells him that she is marrying another Emil Miller (portrayed by Alan Hale) and tells him to stop following her, insults him and his club-foot and more.

As time goes on, Philip meets another woman named Norah (portrayed by Kay Johnson), a successful romance writer who truly loves him.  And just when things are going well for Philip, Mildred once again shows up in his life.  Asking for his help because Emil had left her and now she is pregnant with his baby and nowhere to go.

With his feelings towards Mildred still strong, Philip breaks up with Norah and lets Mildred live with him and takes care of her financially.

But the fact is that Mildred is only using Philip and her disdain towards him is still the same. But feeling that she can use him may lead to destroying Philip’s life, but can this man survive this unfortunate fate?

VIDEO:

“Of Human Bondage” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and in black and white. or a film that is 80-years-old, I was quite pleased with the picture quality as the white and grays were well-contrast.  The black levels were good but it’s the detail that looks impressive.  Having seen the public domain of this film, to watch this film in HD makes a tremendous difference.  The clarity and detail is much more evident, no blurriness or flickering.  Picture quality was very good!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Of Human Bondange” is presented in LPCM 1.0 monaural. Dialogue was clear and dialogue was not difficult to understand whatsoever. I don’t recall hearing any significant hissing, cracks or pops during my viewing of the film but for the most part, I was quite pleased by the lossless soundtrack and that it was not terrible, tinny, nor did it feature a lot of hiss.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Of Human Bondage” comes with the following special feature:

  • Revealing Mr. Maugham – (83 minutes) A feature-length 2012 documentary directed by Michael House about British playwright/novelist W. Somerset Maugham’s life and career with interview with writers and fans Armisted Maupin, Pico Iyer and Alexander McCall.

“Of Human Bondage” is considered to be a film that launched Bette Davis’ career.

Having read Bette Davis’ biographies and seeing how she really fought to play a role that no one wanted, watching it today, you realize how the character role of Mildred Rogers could not be played by anyone else but “Mother Goddam”, Bette Davis.

Way before Joan Collins would play the “mega-bitch” character on television’s “Dynasty” and other women who would play the role of lewd, amoral women in soap operas, going far back into early cinema, we have seen how women known as “vamps” were portrayed as golddiggers and amoral women who would do anything to suck out the life of an unsuspecting male.  Actress Theda Bara was a highlight of such style of cinema back in the teens, but by 1930’s, Hollywood Studios would not allow their top actresses to play such a part.  Many up-and-rising stars denied to play such a role for “Of Human Bondage” but for actress Bette Davis, she wanted it and she got it!

While she did not receive an Academy Award for her role, the shocking role of this uncaring woman would captivate viewers.  Unlike Theda Bara in “A Fool There Was” who used her sexuality to get her man or even Margaret Livingston’s role in “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”, sexuality was a way to show a weakness in a man.

For “Of Human Bondage”, the character of Mildred is not flirtatious or sympathetic towards Philip, she is blunt, insulting mean but also knows that his weakness for her can be used against him, anyway she sees fit.

She is a femme fatale, a woman of contempt and playing him can get her free housing, free clothes and trying to play this facade of being kind to him but not afraid to unleash her emotions of contempt for the gullible medical student.

For any man watching this film, one can only hope that he comes to his senses and realize that there are better women out there for him and that he would up from his curse of unrequited love.

Sure, modern viewers will see Mildred as a golddigger who was able to play and capitalize on a weak man.  But back in the day, such attitude and lewdness for a woman on a big screen was a big risk for major studios, but one actress was no afraid of how Hollywood would think of her, she wanted the part and she received wonderful acclaim for it.  “Life” Magazine even wrote that Davis gave “probably the best performance ever recorded on the screen by a U.S. actress”.

The film is rather significant for not only Bette Davis’ role in the film but how this one role led to outcry in the entertainment circles and would lead to the Academy’s changing its voting procedures for the next year.  So, in American cinema, “Of Human Bondage” does have its place in cinema history, not much for being a great Bette Davis film but more for what it did for Bette Davis’ career.   It’s the film that put Bette Davis on the map and the United States would finally know her name.  It was a calculated risk by Bette Davis and Warner Bros. and it paid off.  It made this actress a star!

The following year, Bette Davis would win an Academy Award for her role in “Dangerous” and again in 1938 for “Jezebel”.

“Of Human Bondage” would also receive two more film adaptations (one in 1946 and another in 1964) and for author W. Somerset Maugham, many novels he had written would receive several dozen of film adaptations with the most recent films “Being Julia” (2004) and “The Painted Veil” (2006).

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is fantastic.  For anyone who had watched the terrible public domain version of the film, the Blu-ray features much better clarity and detail.   Unlike the public domain, the picture quality of this film is not scratched up, no flicker and this is the best I have ever seen “Of Human Bondage” ever!  I am quite pleased with how much better this film looks on Blu-ray!  And the lossless audio of the film is also very good with no major hiss, crackling, pops nor tinny vocals.  Dialogue is clear.  And Kino also included an 83-minute documentary for “Revealing Mr. Maugham” about W. Somerset Maugham’s life and career.

Overall, “Of Human Bondage” is a significant film in the career of Bette Davis, it’s also a significant film for how it made changes with the Academy’s voting procedures and it’s the best looking version of the film to date.  If you are a film of classic Hollywood films or a fan of Bette Davis’ work, “Of Human Bondage” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!

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Hell’s House (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

“Hell’s House” is a pre-code, early Hollywood film featuring the early film appearances of Bette Davis and Pat O’Brien.   It’s a rarity to find an early ’30s film shot on nitrate in good shape but also to receive a Blu-ray treatment.  Overall, an enjoyable moralistic ’30s drama and a Blu-ray release that I recommend not just for fans of the talents in the film, but also fans who want to see more early Hollywood cinema on Blu-ray! Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Hell’s House

FILM RELEASE: 1932

DURATION: 71 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, B&W, Monaural

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: NR

Release Date: June 18, 2013

Directed by Howard Higgin

Story by Howard Higgin

Adaptation and Screenplay by Paul Gangelin and B. Harrison Orkow

Cinematography by Allen G. Siegler

Edited by Edward Schroeder

Art Direction by Edward C. Jewell

Starring:

Bette Davis as Peggy Gardner

Pat O’Brien as Matt Kelly

Junior Durkin as Jimmy Mason

Frank Coghlan Jr. as Shorty

Emma Dunn as Emma Clark

Charley Grapewin as Henry Clark

Morgan Wallace as Frank Gebhardt

Independently produced by Bennie Zeidman, HELL’S HOUSE (1932) is a Pre-Code melodrama that captured Bette Davis and Pat O’Brien just before they were catapulted to superstardom at Warner Bros. An exposé of the American penal system (not unlike I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and The Mayor of Hell), HELL’S HOUSE stars Junior Durkin as a wholesome farmboy who moves to the city after the death of his mother. Dazzled by the smooth talk and beautiful girlfriend (Davis) of a wily bootlegger (O’Brien), the naive lad runs afoul of the law and is sentenced to a brutal reform school. Abandoned by the legal system, the boy’s only hope is the conscience of the criminal responsible for him being there.

A young Bette Davis, the struggling actress was trying to make it in Hollywood.

Close to being terminated by Universal Studios a year prior, fortunately she was defended by cinematographer Karl Freund and was given a chance to be in a motion picture.

Davis would make her debut in “The Bad Sister” and would star in a few other films in 1931, but nothing that the actress could capitalize on.  But Universal Studios renewed her contract for three more months and lent out to various movie companies.

In 1932, she was lent to B.F. Zeidman Productions Ltd. for the movie “Hell’s House” which would be directed by silent film director Howard Higgen and would star Bette Davis, Pat O’Brien (who would later star in the James Cagney film “Angels with Dirty Faces” and the Ronald Reagan film “Knute Rockne All American”) and would star teen actor Junior Durkin (who would play Huckleberry Finn in “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”) as the main protagonist Jimmy..

While the pre-code, low-budget film was not a box office hit, it is one of the few very early Bette Davis films that is in good condition and was shot during the latter years of the Prohibition Era.

And now “Hell’s House” which was mastered in HD from an original 35 mm print from Bette Davis’s personal collection (and was donated to the Library of Congress), will be released for the first time on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The Blu-ray will be released in June 2013 with another Blu-ray release for an early Bette Davis film titled “Of Human Bondage” (1934).

“Hell’s House” revolves around teenager Jimmy Mason (portrayed by Junior Durkin).   Jimmy lives with his loving mother and one day, while his mother was walking and making a delivery in front of their home, she is struck and killed in a hit and run accident.

With no parents, Jimmy travels to the city to live with his relatives, his uncle Henry (portrayed by Charley Grapewin) and Emma Clark (portrayed by Emma Dunn).  Both decide to take in Jimmy and raise him as one of their own.

The couple introduce Jimmy to their porter, Matt Kelly (portrayed by Pat O’Brien), a man who pretends he knows all the important people in the city and tries to impress his girlfriend Peggy Gardner (portrayed by Bette Davis).  But the truth is that Jimmy is a con man and has an illegal bootleg alcohol business that he runs.  But Matt wants to show Jimmy around, so they decide to meet up the following morning.

While things seem to be going well with the Clark family, Jimmy overhears his aunt and uncle talking about how his Uncle Henry has lost his job and has no income.  His aunt Emma doesn’t know how they will survive with another mouth to feed and it causes Jimmy some concern.

While meeting with Matt the following morning, Jimmy is surprised to see how well-connected Matt is.  He is introduced to Peggy and Jimmy thinks that Matt is a popular guy who knows everyone and has a beautiful girlfriend.  Peggy tells Jimmy that if she needs to talk to her, he is free to come by any time.

Meanwhile, Matt receives a call from his employee and he happens to be drunk.  Matt, concerned about his business goes to his office where he fires the guy for not doing his job.  Meanwhile, Jimmy follows Matt to his office and he explains how he needs to get a job to help his aunt and uncle.  So, Matt gives him a job to answer telephones at his work.  But the rules are he can’t tell anyone about his work, about knowing him or anything.  His mouth must be kept mum about his job and if he does well, he will earn $25 a week.

Excited about the new job, Jimmy can’t wait to start work the following morning.

And as Matt waits for Jimmy to stop by the office to start his first day on the job, a woman across the street contacts the authorities about a possible bootleg business happening across the street.

As Jimmy arrives for work for his first day on the job, Matt leaves the office to make some deliveries but not long after, police swarm in and Jimmy is arrested.  As Matt sees from his back window, he decides not to help him and keeps driving.

As Jimmy is taken to court, he is expecting Matt to get him out and explain that he was just started working at the office for only a few minutes, but Matt never arrives.  Jimmy is given a chance by the judge to reveal who put him up to the job and if tells the truth, he would be released.  But Jimmy made a promise to Matt to not say anything, so he doesn’t.  Because he didn’t tell the judge who set him up for that job, he is sentence to three years in a reform school.

When Jimmy arrives at the reform school, he still believes that Matt will bail him out but as that time never comes, Jimmy is put to hard labor.  It is learned that the reform school is low on money and so the kids are put to hard labor by working on bricks and are treated poorly.

While a newspaper columnist named Frank Gebhardt (portrayed by Morgan Wallace) wants to investigate rumors of a corrupt system at reform school, the reform school is good at hiding their tracks.

Meanwhile, Jimmy meets a good friend named Shorty (portrayed by Frank Coghlan Jr.) inside the reform school and both watch each other’s backs.  But the two come up with an idea to sneak a letter out and Jimmy hopes it gets to Matt and explain the terrible conditions the children are suffering at the reform school.

Unfortunately, as Shorty was trying to slip the letter out.  He is caught, but instead of ratting out Jimmy, he takes the blame and is put in solitary confinement.  And as Jimmy wonders where his friend is, he doesn’t know that Shorty is suffering in solitary confinement.

Will Jimmy find a way to escape from reform school and will Matt come to his rescue?

VIDEO:

“Hell’s House” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and in black and white. It’s important to remember that “Hell’s House” is an older video filmed in the combustible nitrate that silent films were shot.  While the picture quality for the film is very good for its age, it’s important to note that the first reel of the print from which the master was derived from, suffers from nitrate decomposition and some missing frames.  But the film is essentially intact.

While not pristine, considering that many silent films do not look perfect and some surviving films suffer from nitrate damage, for “Hell’s House”, it’s not the type of damage that prevents you from enjoying the film.  There are no black decomposition showing up throughout the beginning of the film, if anything, the film looks much better than I thought it would be.  Grays and whites are well contrast, black levels look good and while there are some white specks, this is probably one of the better 1932 films I have seen on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Hell’s House” is presented in LPCM 1.0 monaural.  Dialogue was clear and dialogue was not difficult to understand whatsoever.  I don’t recall hearing any significant hissing, cracks or pops during my viewing of the film but for the most part, I was quite pleased by the lossless soundtrack and that it was not terrible, tinny, nor did it feature a lot of hiss.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Hell’s House” features no special features.

As a cinema fan, for any Bette Davis follower, trying to collect her films, especially earlier films, will learn quickly that they are not as easy to find.  And when you do find some of them, the quality of the print and audio are bad.

So, when I found out that Kino Lorber was releasing two Bette Davis films on Blu-ray, I was surprised because I wasn’t aware that her earlier films were in good enough quality to be released on Blu-ray, considering that Kino Lorber has a strict guideline of what films would receive the Blu-ray treatment.

But finding out that “Hell’s House” was mastered in HD from an original 35 mm print from Bette Davis’s personal collection that was donated to the Library of Congress, I was enthusiastic.

Why the excitement?  Well, I am aware that “Hell’s House” is not considered one of Bette Davis’ major films.  Afterall, she’s not a supporting character and it’s protagonist is a teenage boy.

But what I enjoyed about this film is the fact that it deals with a story about corruption in a reform school (which usually doesn’t get made, unless there was actual problems of that era), it dealt with a major problem with bootlegging, but also you have three talents that would be well-known for certain reasons.

Bette Davis of course would become a legendary star, years after this film.  But it’s hard to imagine that at the time of this film, she was close to losing her job and the films she did star in, she wasn’t getting any significant notice by it.  But Bette Davis definitely shows the audience promise with her beauty and style in this film alone.

While Pat O’Brien, who may not be a legendary movie star, but has appeared in nearly a hundred films such as “Angels with Dirty Faces”, “Knute Rockne All American” and “Riffraf”.  But similar to Bette Davis, his role in “Hell’s House” very early in his career.

And as for young actor Junior Durkin, while playing the role of Huckleberry Finn in “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”, “Hell’s House” was a major film in his career and he was becoming groomed by RKO Pictures for major work right after.  But unfortunately, three years later, the day before Durkin’s film “Chasing Yesterday” was to open in theaters and he would now go by the name “Trent” instead of Junior, Durkin would be killed in a car accident in San Diego along with John Coogan Sr., producer Robert J. Horner and the driver of the vehicle who had lost control.  The only survivor of the car accident was his best friend Jackie Coogan (known for his role as “The Kid” in the Charlie Chaplin film and later as Uncle Fester in “The Addam’s Family” but also responsible for the “Child Actor’s Bill” in California).

But there is another reason why the film is rather interesting.  For many Bette Davis fans who watched the film on television, some have blogged about their experience watching this film.  While a pre-code drama, those who have watched the film also claim the film has homoerotic tones between the characters of Jimmy and his good friend Shorty.

Personally, I never saw it that way.  I thought of the two characters almost like best friends, brothers who watched each other’s back.  And if there was any affection from Jimmy towards Shorty, it was more of how close they were as friends in prison.  But I never saw it as the two were gay or the story was homoerotic.  But then again, any friendship between young males have been seen and blogged by few viewers as being gay  (ie. Frodo and Sam for “The Lord of the Rings”).

The film is also an early Hollywood film that touches upon corruption and abuse in reform schools.  And what is interesting about this is the fact that a film goes to show how children were mistreated.  But fast forward to 2013, and many of these kids who were in reform schools during the 30’s through the 60’s have come forward to talk about the abuse they suffered.  And these stories such as the recent Florida’s Dozier School for Boys news or even the terrible news of reform schools overseas especially in Ireland are still appearing in the news.  It makes me wonder if writer/director Howard Higgin had a mission to let audiences know of problems in the system.

The only pre-code element that I have felt the film may have contained is the bootlegging and moral dilemma.  But nothing too serious and no one is seen murdering or doing drugs in this film, so it’s pretty tame when it comes to films of that era.

If anything, “Hell’s House” gives people a glimpse of an actress before she became a legendary star, a glimpse of an actor who would have a long career in film and television and a glimpse of a young actor who was destined to become something bigger but died at a young age.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality for this film was much better than I expected considering it’s 81-years-old.  Audio is clear and despite the nitrate decomposition of the first reel, it didn’t make me flinch or even made me think that there were problems.  Unfortunately, there are no special features included with this Blu-ray release.

“Hell’s House” is a pre-code, early Hollywood film featuring the early film appearances of Bette Davis and Pat O’Brien.   It’s a rarity to find an early ’30s film shot on nitrate in good shape but also to receive a Blu-ray treatment.  Overall, an enjoyable moralistic ’30s drama and a Blu-ray release that I recommend not just for fans of the talents in the film, but also fans who want to see more early Hollywood cinema on Blu-ray! Recommended!

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A Night at the Opera (as part of “The Marx Brothers Collection”) (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

May 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

“A Night at the Opera” is an American comedy classic that is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2004 Turner Entertainment Co.. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: A Night at the Opera (as part of “The Marx Brothers Collection”)

FILM RELEASE DATE: 1935

DURATION: 91 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, 1:33:1 Full Frame, Dolby Digital

COMPANY: Warner Brothers

RELEASE DATE: May 4, 2004

Directed by Sam Wood

Written by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind

Based on a story by James Kevin McGuinness

Music by Herbert Stothart

Cinematography by Merritt B. Gerstad

Edited by William LeVanway

Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons

Starring:

Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood

Chico Marx as Fiorello

Harpo Marx as Tomasso

Kitty Carlisle as Rosa

Allan Jones as Ricardo

Walter Woolf King as Lasspari

Sig Ruman as Gottlieb

Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool

Edward Keane as Captain

Robert Emmett O’Connor as Henderson

Arts patron Mrs. Claypool intends to pay pompous opera star Lassparri $1,000 per performance. Hey, maybe that’s why they call it grand opera!

Grand comedy, too, as Groucho, Chico and Harpo cram a ship’s stateroom and more than wall-to-wall gags, one-liners, musical riffs and two hard-boiled eggs-all while skewering Lassparri’s schemes and helping two young hopefuls (Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones) get a break. To save the opera, our heroes must first destroy it. And they must also gain ocean passage as stowaways, pull the wool (if not the beards) over the eyes of City Hall, shred legal mumbo-jumbo into a Sanity Clause, pester dowager Claypool (Margaret Dumont) and unleash so much glee that many say this is the best Marx Brothers movie. Seeing is believing.

In the early 1930’s, The Marx Brothers were among the most popular comic talents in Hollywood.

From their popular stage shows to their popular films on the big screen, the Marx Brothers created lucrative films for Paramount up to their 1933 film “Duck Soup” (regarded by many as one of the top films made by the five Marx Brothers), but with disagreements between Paramount and the Marx Brothers in regards to creative decisions and financial issues, the Marx Brothers would leave Paramount.

And during that time away from making films, Marx Brothers Zeppo and Gummo would pursue other career ventures, leaving Groucho, Harpo and Chico to focus on continuing their acting careers.

And fortunately, during a bridge game with Chico, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer head of production, Irving Thalberg, would discuss the possibility of the Marx Brothers coming to MGM and sure enough, the three Marx Bros. were given a contract.  But with Thalberg, he wanted to make sure that the stories that were created were fun, enjoyable but most importantly, had a strong structure and making the Marx Bros. sympathetic characters.

The first film that the Marx Brothers would make for MGM was the opera satire “A Night at the Opera”. And in 1935, the film would become a huge success in the box office.

Considered one, if not the greatest “Marx Brothers” film created (others consider “Duck Soup” as one of their best), “A Night at the Opera” was selected in 1993 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and have also been ranked in “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies” (#85) and “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs” (#12).

In 2004, Warner Brothers released “The Marx Brothers Collection” which contains the films “A Night at the Opera”, “A Day at the Races”, “A Night in Casablanca”, “Room Service”, “At the Circus”, “Go West” and “The Big Store”.  A few of the films were released separately and most recently,  few of the films would be bundled together as part of the “TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection”.

“A Night at the Opera” is a film that revolves around that begins with Otis B. Driftwood (as portrayed by Groucho Marx), who was hired by widowed socialite Mrs. Claypool (as portrayed by Margaret Dumont), who wants to break into high society.  But a manager of the opera company, Herman Gottlieb (played by Sig Ruman), knows that Mrs. Claypool has a lot of money and tries to woo her.  And as both men try to woo her and Otis, believing he has first dibs, is often making fun of his client and Gottlieb, we are then introduced to the opera talent.

Rodolfo Lassparri (as portrayed by Walter Woolf King) is one of the great opera singers but he is an egotistical man who wants nothing but fame and also to be with his female opera singing counterpart Rosa Castaldi (as portrayed by Kitty Carlisle).

Roldofo is a mean man and often beats on his employee Tomasso (as portrayed by Harpo Marx) and is caught and fired for wearing Rodolfo’s clothes.

As Rosa tries to console Tomasso for being treated badly by Rodolfo, she is a kind woman who shows kindness towards Tomasso and could care less about her singing partner, Rodolfo.  In fact, her heart belongs to Ricardo Baroni (as portrayed by Allan Jones), a man who just wants a break to show that he can sing opera, even though he doesn’t have much money.  Both love each other but because she is becoming  a popular opera singer and has to travel for performances, she knows that she will not see Ricardo all that much and she is hurt by that realization.

Meanwhile, as Otis finds out how much money an opera singer makes per night, he immediately comes up with an idea to sign Rodolfo Lassparri to a contract to perform at a New York Opera, which would help his client Mrs. Claypool become popular within high society.

But he runs into Fiorello (as portrayed by Chico Marx), who he thinks is the manager for Rodolfo, but instead is a manager for Ricardo Baroni.   And Otis and Fiorello come up with an agreement for his opera singer to perform in New York.  But they would need to find their own way to New York as Otis will be joining Mrs. Claypool and the troupe to New York via boat.

But unbeknown to Otis, Fiorello with Ricardo and also Tomasso have become stowaways inside the boat (by hiding inside Otis’ wardrobe case) and now Otis must try to hide his new friends before they are discovered by the boat’s staff.  Can they keep the ruse going and get to New York without any problems?  And also, with Ricardo on the ship, can the guys find a way to bring Rosa and Ricardo together, without Rodolfo knowing that Ricardo is on the boat illegally?

VIDEO AND AUDIO:

“A Night at the Opera” is presented in B&W (4:3) and the film looks great on DVD.  While there are some instances of a few scratches and specks, there are no major signs of aging film elements, blurring or warping due to the older film source.  Grain can be seen in the original film and if anything, the film looks good for a film that is over 80-years-old. Blacks levels are good, white and gray are well-contrast and overall video quality is very good on DVD.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital monaural and dialogue is clear and understandable.  I didn’t notice any major hissing or pops during my viewing of the film. ‘

Both video and audio look good on this 2004 DVD and I wouldn’t be surprised if “A Night in the Opera” is one day released on Blu-ray.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“A Night at the Opera features the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Leonard Maltin, I enjoy Maltin’s commentary as he doesn’t present an academic style commentary.  He tries to keep the film enjoyable with plenty of tidbits about each character, including information on the production and making of the film.
  • Remarks on Marx – (33:57) A featurette from friends of the Marx Brothers and those who are passionate about their films discussing “A Night at the Opera”, the cast of the film and memories of the Marx Brothers and why they will always be legendary talents.
  • Groucho Marx on the Hy Gardner Show – (5:22) Groucho Marx discusses how he got to work with Irving Thalberg and more.
  • Vintage Shorts – Featuring two shorts “How to Sleep” (10:38, about a man finding many ways to get to sleep) and “Sunday Night at the Trocadero” (20:08, three young girls try to impress a talent scout who visits the Trocadero night club).
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:16) Featuring the original theatrical trailer to “A Night at the Opera”.

While fans are often divided between which Marx Brothers film is the best, “Duck Soup” (1933) or “A Night at the Opera” (1933), personally, I enjoyed “A Night at the Opera” because of how unexpected it was.

What I mean by unexpected is that when you think of opera, you think about high society, but yet the Marx Brothers were not a comedy group that you would expect in a film that revolved around opera.  And that is where the relationship between the Marx Brothers and MGM’s Irving Thalberg worked wonderfully.  Thalberg gave the Marx Brothers there freedom under a few conditions, and one of the prime conditions was the development of a strong story and that the group would always be going up against some sort of antagonist.  And in this case, you have several people that are hoping to spoil things for the characters in the film.

The one-liners from Groucho Marx are just hilarious to hear, Harpo Marx’s physical comedy is just fun to watch and Chico Marx, a man who delivers one bad Italian accent but is so fun to watch.  But then you add the straightfaced Margaret Dumont (who worked perfectly with the Marx Brothers because she never understood their comedy and made Groucho Marx’s humor so fun to watch because of her reactions).  And what opera film would not be complete without two wonderful performers such as Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones.

The Marx Brothers and the supporting cast and just the many crazy situations that happen throughout the film, as many times I have watched this film, it often surprises me how much they incorporated.  From trying to fit so many people in Otis’ room, Harpo falling off the boat, the chase scene as an investigator is trying to uncover the whereabouts of the fugitives or when Tomasso and Fiorello must pretend to be three famous aviators with long beards and must give a speech.  I just love the film, its pacing and its overall delivery in humor.  Especially as we get to see the musical talent of both Harpo and Chico Marx as well!

And as for the DVD, what makes this DVD so fantastic aside from the great video and audio quality, is the fact that there are many special features included.  From Leonard Maltin’s informative audio commentary for “A Night at the Opera”, the intriguing documentary “Remarks on Marx”, the classic interview with Groucho Marx from “The Hy Gardner Show” and also two vintage shorts “How to Sleep” and “Sunday Night at the Trocadero”.  I was quite pleased with the amount of features with this DVD.

And last, the fact that you can purchase this film along with six other awesome and entertaining Marx Brothers films from the Warner Bros. DVD set “The Marx Brothers Collection“, sold online these days for a low price.

Overall, if you are fan of the Marx Brothers or a cinema fan discovering early Hollywood comedies, “A Night at the Opera” is a film that I highly recommend, but moreso recommending the purchase of “The Marx Brothers Collection“.

“A Night at the Opera” is an American comedy classic that is highly recommended!

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