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Limelight – The Criterion Collection #756 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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I know that many people prefer the silent films of Chaplin, and there are those who are not familiar with his later films. But “Limelight” is a later Chaplin film that is recommended for viewing. There is no doubt that Chaplin put his heart and soul into this film and in essence, you can look at it as the great entertainer passing his baton to a new generation of talent. Chaplin’s final American film receives a magnificent Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection and is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Limelight – The Criterion Collection #756

YEAR OF FILM: 1952

DURATION: 137 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, English Monaural LPCM 1.0, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: May 19, 2015


Directed by Charles Chaplin

Original Story and Screenplay by Charles Chaplin

Produced by Charles Chaplin

Music by Charles Chaplin

Cinematography by Karl Struss

Edited by Joe Inge

Art Direction by Eugene Lourie

Costume Design by Riley Thorne


Starring:

Charles Chaplin as Calvero

Claire Bloom as Thereza

Nigel Bruce as Postant

Buster Keaton as Calvero’s Partner

Sydney Chaplin as Neville

Norman Lloyd as bodalink


Charlie Chaplin’s masterful drama about the twilight of a former vaudeville star is among the writer-director’s most touching films. Chaplin plays Calvero, a once beloved musical-comedy performer, now a washed-up alcoholic who lives in a small London flat. A glimmer of hope arrives when he meets a beautiful but melancholy ballerina (Claire Bloom) who lives downstairs. An elegant mix of the comic and the tragic, this poignant movie also features Buster Keaton in an extended cameo, marking the only time the two silent comedy icons appeared in a film together. Made at a time when Chaplin was under attack by the American press and far right, Limelight was scarcely distributed in the United States upon its initial release, but it is now considered one of his essential and most personal works.

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The 1950’s were not the kindest to Charles Chaplin.

The film star that was on top of the world in the teens and twenties and a career that continued to stay strong in the ’30s, became more involved in politics much to the dismay of J.Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI and a smear campaign was developed to destroy Chaplin.

With a film career now waning in the late ’40s and ’50s and with the failure of his film “Monsieur Verdoux” (1947), Chaplin would begin working on the story for his next film “Limelight”.

Because many theaters decided to pass on showing “Limelight”, Chaplin would hold the world premiere in London and by the time he left with his family in September 1952, the attorney general revoked Chaplin’s re-entry permit and that if he intended to re-enter the U.S., he must submit to an interview concerning his political views and moral behavior.  And because of this, Chaplin would cut his ties with the United States to never appear until 1972 when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences offered Chaplin an Honorary Award.

That year, “Limelight” would be re-released in the United States, twenty years after its initial release.  And through the year’s the film would grow in reputation, considered as Chaplin’s last great film and would also be the only film to star two of silent film’s kings, Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  It will also become known as his most personal and introspective film.

While many feel it is an autobiographical film about Chaplin’s fall from grace in cinema and Chaplin insisting the film’s primary character was about stage actor Frank Tierney, there is no doubt that the film does mirror Chaplin’s own personal life.

And now, “Limelight” will be released by the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and DVD in May 2015.

“Limelight” is set in London 1914, the eve of World War II, and a once famous stage clown named Calvero (portrayed by Charles Chaplin) is now a drunk.

As he is entering his apartment complex, he smells gas and finds a young dancer named Thereza (portrayed by Claire Bloom) unconscious.

Calvero eventually saves the young woman but finds out that Thereza a.k.a. “Terry” had tried to kill herself after suffering an injury that will prevent her from dancing again.

Eventually he has Terry live with him and help her regain her self-esteem, help her get back on her feet and walk again.  While he tries to help her, she returns to dancing and is recognized for her dancing and becomes famous.  Unfortunately for Calvero, his comeback is not successful.

A young military man named Neville (portrayed by Sydney Earl Chaplin) tries to get closer to Terry and falls in love with her, but for Terry, she is in love with Calvero and does not care about their age difference.

Wanting to give Terry a chance with Neville, Calvero leaves her in hopes she will succeed on her own.


VIDEO:

“Limelight – The Criterion Collection #756” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio).  The film is well-contrast with white and grays featuring fine detail.  Blacks are inky and deep.  There is a good amount of grain and for the most part, there is no discoloration, blurriness and picture quality is magnificent.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna. For the restoration, a new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35mm original negative at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, flicker, and jitter.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “Limelight – The Criterion Collection #756” is presented in English LPCM 1.0 monaural. Dialogue is clear with no sign of hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was digitized at 24-bit, using COSP technology, from the 35mm sound negatives. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Limelight – The Criterion Collection #756″ comes with the following special features:

  • Chaplin’s “Limelight” – (21:11) Chaplin biographer David Robinson explores the evolution and personal nature of “Limelight”.
  • Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd – Interview with actress Claire Bloom (15:53) and actor Norman Lloyd (14:53).
  • Chaplin Today: “Limelight” – (26:43) A 2002 program directed by Edgardo Cozarinsky featuring interviews with filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, Claire Bloom and Sydney Chaplin.
  • Outtake – (4:31) An outtake that was included in the original premiere of “Limelight” in 1952 but was removed before the film was distributed worldwide.
  • Charlie Chaplin Reads from Footlights – (2:16) Chaplin reads two excerpts from his novella “Footlights”, the basis for “Limelight” (audio only).
  • Short Films – Featuring two shorts: “A Night in the Show” (1915, 25:06) – Chaplin’s 12th film from Essanay Film Manufacturing Company.  And “The Professor” (1919, 6:27) – An uncompleted short by Charles Chaplin.
  • Trailers – Featuring the English and Italian trailers for “Limelight”.

EXTRAS:

“Limelight – The Criterion Collection #756” comes with a 42-page booklet featuring the essays “Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man” by Peter Von Bagh and “Hollywood Chaplin” by Henry Gris.


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Chaplin’s final American film “Limelight” is a film that I felt entertained but also made me feel sad for the great entertainer.

For those of us who are able to live today, to watch a Chaplin film in HD, to read nothing but praise but also to celebrate his career and acknowledging how great he was as a man of all trades is amazing.  Charlie Chaplin was no doubt an amazing man that directed, wrote, produced, starred, composed a lot of his films but to know that the way we look at Chaplin today, was a much different experience for viewers during the ’50s is heartbreaking.

To know that the FBI would do all they can to damage his career but prevent him from coming back to the United States is one of the great entertainment tragedies to play out in media, considering how much he has given to cinema but also entertain millions of people worldwide.

The community hunt for those in the entertainment industry is well-documented but “Limelight”, although Chaplin insists in his books that it was about a real life stage actor not of himself, does seem autobiographical in the sense that a Chaplin in his ’50s, was no longer loved in the entertainment world as he was once decades ago.

He felt at the time that this would be his final movie because all that has gone on in his personal life but yet, with great resolve and being the professional that he is, he created a magnificent film that many Americans and theaters passed on.

While the film was re-released in 1972, 20-years later to coincide with him receiving an honorary Academy Award, for many Americans not familiar with his later films, thanks to the Criterion Collection, many will get to see his last great American film.

The film would become the springboard for stage actress Claire Bloom (who would go on to star in “The King’s Speech”, “Cash of the Titans”, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “The Haunting”) who continues to have a strong acting career today.

“Limelight” would be the first pairing of the two silent comedy kings, Chaplin and Buster Keaton but also a film that shows how grateful Chaplin was to his friend by giving him a part in his film, considering the troubles that Keaton had in his personal life.

The movie would also become the debut of Sydney Chaplin, the second son of Charles and his second wife Lita Grey, as the man who falls for Terry.

The film would also feature Chaplin’s children – Charles Chaplin Jr., Geraldine, Josephine, Michael and wife Oona Chaplin would also appear in the film.

But “Limelight” is a fitting final American film for Charles Chaplin (his final film was in 1969 titled “A Countess from Hong Kong”), as if it was created to be the last hurrah for the great entertainer.

The Criterion Collection also made sure that viewers and collectors would have a magnificent product thanks to the wonderful picture and audio quality but also the number of special features which includes two Chaplin short films.

Overall, I know that many people prefer the silent films of Chaplin, and there are those who are not familiar with his later films.  But “Limelight” is a later Chaplin film that is recommended for viewing.  There is no doubt that Chaplin put his heart and soul into this film and in essence, you can look at it as the great entertainer passing his baton to a new generation of talent.

Chaplin’s final American film receives a magnificent Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection and is highly recommended!

 

Make Way For Tomorrow – The Criterion Collection #505 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 30, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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A touching yet hearbreaking Leo McCarey classic.   The film will forever have its relevance in American society today and the future as every family must deal with how they will handle their aging parents.  A fantastic film and a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection!

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Make Way For Tomorrow – The Criterion Collection #505

YEAR OF FILM: 1937

DURATION: 92 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, English Monaural LPCM 1.0, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY: Universal Studios Home Entertainment/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: May 12, 2015


Directed by Leo McCarey

Based on the novel “The Years are So Long” by Josephine Lawrence

Based on the play by Helen Leary, Nolan Leary

Written by Vina Delmar

Produced by Leo McCarey, Adolph Zukor

Music by George Antheil, Victor Young

Cinematography by William C. Mellor

Edited by LeRoy Stone

Art Direction by Hans Dreier, Bernard Herzbrun

Set Decoration by A.E. Freudeman


Starring:

Victor Moore as Barkley Cooper

Beulah Bondi as Lucy Cooper

Fay Bainter as Anita Cooper

Thomas Mitchell as George Cooper

Porter Hall as Harvey Chase

Barbara Read as Rhoda Cooper

Maurice Moscovitch as Max Rubens

Elisabeth Risdon as Cora Payne

Minna Gombell as Nellie Chase

Ray Mayer as Robert cooper

Ralph Remly as Bill Payne

Louise Beavers as Mamie

Louis Jean Heydt as Doctor

Gene Morgan as Carlton Gorman


Make Way for Tomorrow, by Leo McCarey, is one of the great unsung Hollywood masterpieces, an enormously moving Depression-era depiction of the frustrations of family, aging, and the generation gap. Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore headline a cast of incomparable character actors, starring as an elderly couple who must move in with their grown children after the bank takes their home, yet end up separated and subject to their offspring’s selfish whims. An inspiration for Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, this is among American cinema’s purest tearjerkers, all the way to its unflinching ending, which McCarey refused to change despite studio pressure.


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In the 1930’s, both Leo McCarey and Frank Capra are held to the highest regard.

Legendary American film critic Andrew Sarris wrote of McCarey, “McCarey represents a principle of improvisation in the history of the American film.  Noted less for his rigorous direction than for his relaxed digressions, McCarey has distilled a unique blend of farce and sentimentality in his best efforts.” (The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, Andrew Sarris)

For many classic cinema fans, McCarey was known for his directorial efforts in silent films for Hal Roach’s Little Rascals, Charley Chase’s silent shorts to directing many popular hits for Laurel and Hardy and also the Marx Brothers.

As McCarey is known for classic films such as his Academy Award winning films “The Awful Truth” (1937) and “Going My Way” (1944) in 1937, McCarey received recognition for his film “Make Way for Tomorrow” (1937).

Unfortunately, due to America was still suffering the sting of the Depression, American cinema faced major challenges in attracting people to the box office and despite receiving critical praise, the film was a box office failure.  But since its theatrical release in 1937, the film has been considered one of the greatest American films of all time and a film that would inspire screenwriter Kogo Noda in writing the 1953 film “Tokyo Story” directed by Yasujiro Ozu.

McCarey believed that “Make Way for Tomorrow” was his finest film created and in his Academy Award acceptance speech for Best Director for “The Awful Truth”, McCarey said, “Thanks, but you gave it to me for the wrong picture.”

And now “Make Way For Tomorrow” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

“Make Way for Tomorrow” revolves around the Cooper family.  The children are brought together at the home of their father Barkley (played by Victor Moore) and their mother Lucy (played by Beulah Bondi).  The children are informed that their parents will be losing their home because Barkley has not made any money for four years and is unable to make any payments.

So, the children decide what will happen to their parents.  Unfortunately, many of them don’t have the room for two people, so the only decision is to split them up for at least three months and each child can take their turns watching over a parent.

Lucy will stay with her oldest son George’s (played by Thomas Mitchell) home while Victor will stay with Cora (played by Elisabeth Risdon) for three months.  But the truth is, the children have their own lives and having a parent live with them becomes a bit intrusive and we start to see how life for Victor and Lucy will be away from each other and how their children and their families deal with having to take care of a parent.

For George, he loves his mother but his wife Anita (played by Fay Bainter) feels that Lucy is quite intrusive to her personal life as a Bridge teacher.  Since Lucy is missing her husband considerably and has no one to talk to, she is feeling depressed.  Whenever Anita feels disturbed by Lucy, she tries to have her daughter Rhoda (played by Barbara Read) watch over her grandmother.

Meanwhile, Victor is not having that much fun living with Cora either.  She and her husband are quite mean to him and if anything, he misses his wife a lot and the only thing he can do is try to find a job (which no one is hiring an older person) and making friends with store owner Max Rubens (played by Maurice Moscovitch).

With each parent missing each other considerably and have never been separated this long in their 50 years of marriage, they don’t know when they will ever see each other and despite their children telling them that they will reunite in three months, both parents have a feeling that they may never see each other again.

“Make Way for Tomorrow” is a film that takes place before social security and before there was any organized government programs for the elderly.  The film gives us a snapshot of how things were back then for families trying to take care of their elder parents but also how relevant the story is today as families also must deal with this issue of aging parents and what they must do for them, especially with the social security program that was created to help those when they grow older, now probably not going to be existent for aging parents in the near future.


VIDEO:

“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505″ is presented in 1080p High Definition and in 1:33:1 black and white.  For a film released in 1937, the picture quality of this film is very well done.  There is a fine layer of grain and scratches are quite light.  Blacks and grays show a very good contrast and for the most part, the film looks fantastic on Blu-ray and sharper, well-contrast compared to its older DVD counterpart.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new high-definition transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35mm fine-grain master positive.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505″ is presented in English LPCM 1.0.  Dialogue is clear but I have to admit that at times, there was certain dialogue spoken by Victor Cooper I couldn’t tell what he was saying (more because of the way he was saying the dialogue), I had to rewind and turn on the English subtitles to find out what was said.  But that is more about me having difficulty understanding the dialogue clearly.  But the soundtrack seems much clearer than its older DVD counterpart.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and lZotope RX 4”.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505” comes with the following special features:

  • Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today – (19:53) A new video interview featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich discussing the career of Leo McCarey and “Make Way for Tomorrow”.
  • Gary Giddins – (20:09) New video interview with critic Gary Giddins in which he talks about McCarey’s artistry and the political and social context of the film

EXTRAS:

“Make Way for Tomorrow – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #505” comes with a 28-page booklet booklet featuring new essays by critic Tag Gallagher and filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, and an excerpt from film scholar Robin Wood’s 1998 piece “With This Wedding, I Thee Unwed”.


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“Make Way for Tomorrow” is an excellent Leo McCarey film that will always resonate strongly with me.

From the magnificent and heartbreaking performance by Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi, to the well-planned camera shots showing the emotions of the characters and most of all, the pacing of the film and not showing that one person is to blame but it’s a part of life that families need to deal with.

The issue of aging parents have been featured in quite a few films in the past but it was McCarey’s that really struck a chord with the audience and because of the film’s nature, released during a time of the Great Depression, Americans were just not in the mood to deal with a realistic and heavy issue, no matter how critically acclaimed the film was.  It’s the type of film that many people just don’t want to deal with until that time comes.

And that was in 1937, flashforward 78-years-later to 2015 and its still a major issue today.

But the film tries to make the viewer sympathetic.  Granted, you would expect the children to be a little more understanding and helpful after all their parents did for them, raising them and you want to see that same type of respect from the children to their parents but realistically, not many people in America are like that.  We look at George’s family who has to take care of her mother and immediately, we know that things are not going to work out.

When George’s wife Anita tries to teach Bridge to her students who are wearing tuxedos and nice dresses, all Lucy wants is companionship because her husband is not there and no one else in the family is willing to communicate with her.  So, she does what is natural.  She tries to sit and be quiet and watch them play, but her rocking chair makes too loud of a noise for the students to concentrate and embarrasses Anita.  But possibly one of the most interesting and saddest scenes in the film is when Lucy receives a call from her husband and you can feel the sadness in her voice of being away from her husband and really missing him.  And just that moment where the students can not play because they are entranced to her conversation with her husband, it was a sad scene of the film.

But what is probably the most difficult scene is to see both Lucy and Victor together, as they visit the city and reminisce of the locations they one shared when they were younger.  These scenes are not just fun to watch but it’s also very sad that knowing what will become of the two.  During 1937, there was so social security, there was no government programs to assist the elderly and their children have their own lives and none of them have the extra room to take in both parents.  Some of the children are willing to take one, others are not willing to do anything anymore knowing that having their parent in their house is a big responsibility.

And what is so sad is that parents have to go through so much in order to raise their children when they are young.  But when it’s reverse and the children have to take care of their parents, too many decide its not worth their stress and none are willing to take on that responsibility.  And for both Lucy and Victor, they know that.  They know it’s an inconvenience and they know that what is going to happen next in their life, they know they may have to take on these challenges alone rather than together.

You can watch “Make Way for Tomorrow”, watch the excellent performance by Bondi and Moore and just see the faces on both Lucy and Victor’s face as they spend which may be their final day together as husband and wife.  It’s heartbreaking and it was very noble of director Leo McCarey of going through with this film despite the studio wanting him to change the ending.

I have seen many Leo McCarey films and none have resonated this strongly with me than “Make Way for Tomorrow” and I know people tend to misuse the word “masterpiece” when describing a film but the truth is “Make Way for Tomorrow” is a masterpiece filmed and released during the depression-era.  As heartbreaking as Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”  or De Sica’s “Umberto D.” was in the ’50s and “Bicycle Thieves” was in the late ’40s, “Make Way for Tomorrow” was an American film during the Golden Era of Hollywood that really captured a storyline of family and aging parents successfully.

As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality for this Blu-ray release is fantastic!  Compared to the 2010 DVD release from the Criterion Collection, the Blu-ray release is much sharper, features better black and gray levels and the two special features and the 28-page booklet are great inclusions.  Leo McCarey fans should be happy with this release as well as any Criterion Collection fan.  It’s definitely a worthy release worth checking out!

Overall, “Make Way for Tomorrow” is a magnificent film that will stand the test of time and will continue to be relevant for many generations to come.  Definitely recommended!

 

Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Sullivan’s Travels” is an American classic and Preston Sturges at his best.  But the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of “Sullivan’s Travels” also celebrates the life of this filmmaker but also showing us that even for great successes, when their luck has ran out, things don’t work out as great as you once have hoped.  The definitive release of this Hollywood classic, “Sullivan’s Travels” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118

YEAR OF FILM: 1941

DURATION: 101 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Black & White, Monaural LPCM 1.0

COMPANY: Universal/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: April 14, 2015


Written and Directed by Preston Sturges

Executive Producer: Buddy G. DeSylva

Produced by Preston Sturges

Associate Producer: Paul Jones

Music by Charles Bradshaw, Leo Shuken

Cinematography by John F. Seitz

Edited by Stuart Gilmore

Casting by Robert Mayo

Art Direction by Hans Dreier, A. Earl Hedrick

Costume Design by Edith Head

 


Starring:

Joel McCrea as John L. Lloyd Sullivan

Veronica Lake as The Girl

Robert Warwick as Mr. Lebrand

William Demarest as Mr. Jones

Franklin Pangborn as Mr. Casalsis

Porter Hall as Mr. Hadrian

Byron Foulger as Mr. Johnny Valdelle

Margaret Hayes as Secretary

Robert Greig as Burroughs

Eric Blore as Sullivan’s valet

Torben Meyer as the Doctor

Victor Potel as Cameraman

Richard Webb as Radio Man

Charles R. Moore as Colored Chef


Tired of churning out lightweight comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo. En route to enlightenment, he encounters a lovely but no-nonsense young woman (Veronica Lake)—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. This comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges is among the finest Hollywood satires and a high-water mark in the career of one of the industry’s most revered funnymen.


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In 1941, producer/writer/director Preston Sturges (“The Lady Eve”, “Unfaithfully Yours”, “The Great McGinty”)  created his masterpiece “Sullivan’s Travels” starring actor Joel McCrea (“Foreign Correspondent”, “Buffalo Bill”, “The Virginian”) and actress Veronica Lake (“I Married a Witch”, “This Gun for Hire”, “Hold That Blonde”).

The film was selected for preservation by the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990 as being “Culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and in 2007, was ranked #61 in the American Film Institute’s “Greatest Movie of All Time”.

As “Sullivan’s Travels” was the 118th release by the Criterion Collection, the film has received a new high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack in this 2015 Blu-ray release.

“Sullivan’s Travels” revolves around director John L. Sullivan (played by Joel McCrea).  After having his share of profitable films, which were comedies that were not showcasing him as a serious director, Sullivan decided that he wanted to change things up and direct a film titled “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”.  Of course, the studio head Mr. Lebrand (played by Robert Warwick) wants him to focus on comedy but Sullivan will not do it.

Sullivan comes up with an idea.  Why not learn first-hand on how to be a homeless person (know in the 1940’s as the word “tramp”) by actually becoming one in order to gain the research he needs for his serious film that would depict the sorrow of humanity.

Of course, the studio is not so thrilled about their profitable director getting into that kind of trouble, so they have an entourage following Sullivan who is dressed as a tramp hitchhiking.  The problem is that the entourage are just a bit too close and nearby.  So, Sullivan tells them that he needs his space and distance from them to make this research possible and will meet them in Las Vegas.

Sullivan eventually breaks free and starts working as a helping hand for a woman who tries to keep him locked up in the house but Sullivan manages to escape and hitchhikes his way out of the area and is given a ride by a truck driver.  When he wakes up, he finds out that he is taken back to Hollywood.  Upset and hungry, he goes into a diner but with not much money, a failed actress (played by Veronica Lake) buys him breakfast.

Sullivan learns that the girl has only been taking extra work and has not done so well in Hollywood.  So, he wants to help her.  He pretends that he knows a successful director named Sullivan and borrows his car and tells her that he can stay at the director’s home for several weeks and he’ll fly her back home.  But when the two are busted by police, Sullivan is forced to reveal that he is not homeless or a washed up director, he is actually a successful director dressing up as a tramp in order to do research for his upcoming film.

Upset by Sullivan lying to her, she tells him that if he is going to disguise himself as a homeless person to research this role, she is going to join him.  And thus begins, Sullivan’s travels along with the girl to learn how it is to be homeless in America during these harsh times.

 


VIDEO:

“Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio). This is the definitive version of “Sullivan’s Travels” to date.  The picture quality surpasses the original DVD release in clarity and detail.  White and grays are well-contrasted, black levels are nice and deep and the film looks absolutely magnificent as I did not see any major damage, scratches or dust.  The mild flickering from the original DVD is not as evident in the Blu-ray release.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine film scanner from a 35 mm nitrate fine-grain at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, where the film was also restored.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118” is presented in English LPCM 1.0 monaural.  Dialogue is clear with no signs of hiss or popping.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monoraul soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic soundtrack made from the original 35 mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX4.”

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Sullivan’s Travels – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #118″ comes with the following special features:

  • Audio commentary by filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser and actors Christopher Guest and Michael McKean – An enjoyable commentary by the four who discuss the film.  Very good insight on Preston Sturges by Kenneth Bowser.  Note: All four were not in the studio watching the film at the same time for the commentary.
  • Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer – (1:15:10) A 76-minute documentary made by Kenneth Bowser for PBS’s “American Masters” series.  A very well-done documentary on Preston Sturges from his earlier family life to being blackballed by the industry and losing the business he started and losing a lot of his money.
  • Sandy Sturges – (13:37) An interview with Preston Sturges’ widow Sandy Sturges in 2001.  Who also reveals of why things may have gone sour between Howard Hughes and Preston Sturges.
  • Ants in Your Plants of 1941 – (17:20) A video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns features director Bill forsyth and was produced by the Criterion Collection in 2014.
  • Sturges Talks to Hedda Hopper – A four minute radio interview from 1951 for Heda Hopper’s Hollywood.  Sturges talks about the importance of television and film.
  • Preston Sturges Recites “If I Were King” – A recital written by Justin Huntly McCarthy used for McCArthy’s play and was the basis for the screenplay “If I Were King” (1938).
  • Sturges Sings “My Love” – A Homemade recording of Sturges singing “My Love” from 1938.

EXTRAS:

“Sullivan’s Travels – The Criterion Collection #118” comes with a five-page insert with the essay “Self-Portrait in a Fun-House Mirror” by Stuart Klawans.


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I have to admit that when I first watched “Sullivan’s Travels”, I was a bit surprised.  I was expecting a screwball comedy and at first, the film was very comedy-driven until you get to the final half hour and see how serious the film gets and then it transitions back to a comedy film once again.

But there are scenes that made me happy to see.  First, the chemistry between Joeal McCrea and Veronica Lake was just magnificent.  To see how Sturges avoided any problems by the censors but yet still making sure he was compliant with the Hays code was quite interesting.  Where depiction of a couple sleeping together was typically not possible (thus the two beds were separated during the Golden Era) but then sidestepping the code by having the two sleep together in other scenes without the use of a bedroom. But to watch these two together on screen and have so much fun made this film quite enjoyable.  Veronica Lake looks absolutely stunning in this film.

Another scene that I absolute enjoyed was how it depicted the Southern church and its Black parishioners.  With Blacks typically shown stereotypically in roles that made fun of their characters, we see both black and white people watching a film together and both races are enjoying the film together.  In fact, the NAACP secretary Walter White even wrote a letter to Sturges congratulating him in creating a film and showcasing Blacks decent treatment.  I was definitely a moving scene.

Although the film received rave reviews, within the 70+ years after the film’s release in theaters, many critics are discovering how important and significant this film is and also how this film ranks up there among Sturges’s other popular films

As mentioned earlier, this is the definitive version of “Sullivan’s Travels” to date.  I have various DVD versions but to see the clarity with this Blu-ray release, I was quite happy to watch this film digitally restored in HD!  Definitely an improvement from the original Criterion Collection DVD.

It’s one thing to give the film credit but I also give credit to the Criterion Collection for including the documentary “The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer”.  I had no idea how much turmoil Sturges had to face after the 1940’s.  For a man who’s films are so highly regarded, it’s a shame that the early Hollywood system really turned their backs on him and literally blackballed him from ever writing, directing or producing another film during the 1950’s.  Kenneth Bowser does a remarkable job in featuring the career of Preston Sturges and interviews with those close to him.

Also included on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is the addition of the “Ants in Your Plants of 1941” video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns and featuring director Bill Forsyth.  While the audio portions remain, the only thing from the original DVD not included on the Blu-ray release are storyboards, blueprints and stills.  Plus you get an essay featured on the 5-page insert.

Overall, “Sullivan’s Travels” is an American classic and Preston Sturges at his best.  But the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of “Sullivan’s Travels” also celebrates the life of this filmmaker but also showing us that even for great successes, when their luck has ran out, things don’t work out as great as you once have hoped.

The definitive release of this Hollywood classic, “Sullivan’s Travels” on Blu-ray is highly recommended!

 

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a timeless Frank Capra classic that is relevant today and it will continue to remain relevant for many decades to come.  Featuring wonderful direction by Frank Capra and an amazing performance by James Stewart and Jean Arthur, plus a 4K restoration, a digibook release and a great amount of special features about Frank Capra’s oeuvre, this Blu-ray release is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1939, renewed 1967 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

YEAR OF FILM: 1939

DURATION: 129 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, black and white, English 1.0 DTS-HD MA, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish DTS-HD MA,  Subtitles: English SDH, Chinese Traditional, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal), Spanish, Thai

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: December 2, 2014

Directed by Frank Capra

Screenplay by Sidney Buchman

Story by Lewis R. Foster

Produced by Frank Capra

Music by Dimitri Tiomkin

Cinematography by Joseph Walker

Edited by Al Clark, Gene Havlick

Art Direction by Lionel Banks

Costume Design by Robert Kalloch

Starring:

Jean Arthur as Saunders

James Stewart as Jefferson Smith

Claude Rains as Senator Joseph Paine

Edward Artnold as Jim Taylor

Guy Kibbee as Governor Hopper

Eugene Pallette as Chick McGann

Beaulah Bondi as Ma Smith

Harry Carey as President of the Senate

H.B. Warner as Senate Majority Leader

Grant Mitchell as Senator MacPherson

An idealistic, newly-appointed senator (James Stewart) heads to Washington, where he single-handedly battles ruthless politicians out to destroy him. Winner of the 1939 Academy Award® for Best Writing (Original Story), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a timeless and stirring ode to the power of democracy.

As the legendary Frank Capra was known to churn out box office hits and win several Academy Awards with films such as “It Happened One Night”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”, “Lost Horizon”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, his optimistic films that were known to be happy and full of hope, would take a turn in the late ’30s for a more darker path.

After working on war films that depicted the genocide brought by the Nazi’s, this brought a change in Capra, as evident in his 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.

While the film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won “Best Original Story” (and in 1989, the Library of Congress added the film to the United States National Film Registry, for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, it was not a film that would receive a lot of praise from Washington or the press.

Mainly because it was one of the more popular films to portray politicians as corrupt, including the Washington press.  While the politicians and political press would become vocal about the film, the film was also banned in other countries.  But the controversy over the film and the political response would do nothing but to benefit the film and over 70-years since the film was released in theaters, become an American classic as a film about one Senator trying to make a stand against political corruption.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” would be nominated for 11 Academy Awards and would earn Lewis R. Foster an Oscar for “Best Writing, Original Story”.

Considered as one of Capra’s best, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” will be released on Blu-ray in Dec. 2014 and the film has received a full restoration in 4K and will be released as a Digibook, with rare behind-the-scenes photos and an all-new essay about the making of the film.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” begins with the death of U.S. Senator Sam Foley.  Governor Hubert “Happy” Hopper (portrayed by Guy Kibee) must choose a replacement and under the pressure of corrupt political leader Jim Taylor (portrayed by Edward Arnold) to hire a reformer named Henry Hill, Happy’s children pressure him to vote for Jefferson Smith (portrayed by James Stewart), the head of the Boy Rangers.

Torn about who he will vote for, Hopper decides to flip a coin and the winner would be Jefferson Smith, in hopes that this politically naive newcomer will be easy to manipulate.

Junior Senator Jefferson Smith is taken in by his father’s late friend, Senator Joseph Paine (portrayed by Claude Rains).  Not knowing that Senator Paine is working with the corrupt Jim Taylor.

But because the Washington media smells inexperience with Senator Smith, they begin publishing news articles that he is nothing but a country bumpkin, which tarnishes his reputation in Washington amongst his colleagues.  As he tries to fight against the media for trying to hurt him, he is told by many media that he is nothing but a man who follows whatever his political leaders tells him to do.

Senator Smith wants to make a difference but Senator Paine tells him to sit back and to not let it affect him.

Wanting to prove that he is ready for the job as Senator, to assist Senator Smith is his secretary Clarrisa Saunders (portrayed by Jean Arthur), who worked for the late-Sam Foley and knows the political system very well.  Clarissa sees the naive politician as being too good for politics but hearing him want to make a difference with society and wanting him to be important, she suggests that he propose a bill.

And wanting to show his importance, he proposes a bill to his fellow Senators and that is to authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home estate for a national boys’ camp, which would be paid back by youngsters across America and while it receives attention from children and the proposal begins to receive donations, Jim Taylor does not like it.

Taylor despises the proposal because the proposed campsite is part of a dam-building scheme included in an appropriation bill  by Taylor and Senator Paine.

And just when things are going right, Taylor and Paine concoct a plan that Senator Smith is profiting from his bill because he owns the land in question.  Senator Smith realizes he is being framed and can’t understand why Senator Paine is trying to frame him for a crime he did not do.  And with the U.S. press picking up a story, Senator Smith’s reputation is tarnished.

Will Senator Smith be able to prove that he is a good man and that the things he was accused for is not true?

VIDEO:

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 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 shows amazing clarity 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!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for audio, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is presented in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. The monaural lossless soundtrack is crystal clear with no sign of hiss, crackle or any popping.

Subtitles are in English SDH, Chinese Traditional, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil and Portugal), Spanish and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Frank Capra Jr.
  • Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” – (11:52) Frank Capra Jr. talks about his father and his father working on “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.
  • Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: The Golden Years – (17:53) Frank Capra Jr. talks about his father’s work during the 1930’s (The Golden Years of Hollywood).
  • Frank Capra Collaboration – (19:20) Film historians discuss Frank Capra’s influence in cinema.
  • Conversations with Frank Capra Jr.: A Family History – (25:57) A featurette about Frank Capra Jr. talking about his father, Frank Capra coming to America and how his father was to the family.
  • The Frank Capra I Knew – (13:06) Jeanine Basinger, curator of the Frank Capra Archives at Wesleyan University, discusses her working relationship and friendship with Frank Capra.
  • Frank Capra’s American Dream – (1:49:03) The full 1997 documentary about Frank Capra and his cinema work.
  • Trailer – (1:24) The original theatrical trailer  and international trailer for “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.

EXTRAS:

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” comes in a digibook package with 28-pages.  Featuring photos from the film plus “The Making of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” essay by Jeremy Arnold.

My first introduction to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is perhaps how many adults today have known about the film and that is through school.  In my case, it was shown multiple times during political science class in high school and again in college.  While it was used as an educational tool for the term “fillibuster”, it wouldn’t be until my adult years when I discovered the oeuvre of Frank Capra thanks to “It Happened One Night” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”, that I began to learn and also rediscover Capra’s films with better insight.

But while “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a film that stood up to political corruption back in the 1939, it is a film that has had its relevance decades later.

Sure, we know there are corrupted politicians and that there are corrupted newspaper media but back then, it was a different time in which Frank Capra was seen as evil, his film to be pro-communist, something that the filmmaker would have to deal with years later, considering that he was a man who loved America, created films beloved by Americans but yet, when he creates a film that is seen as a renegade film to Washington politicians, today’s society would praise it, yesterday’s politicians detested it.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” marked the end between Frank Capra and with Harry Cohn and Columbia Pictures.  He worked for Columbia Pictures which was seen as a Poverty Row studio, earned them Academy Awards for “It Happened One Night” and for years later, he would become the #1 director in America, but also during wartime, having to work on films that deal with what is happening at war, but also the atrocities that were committed against humanity which would change him before working on “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”.

His eyes saw the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany and to see the crimes of humanity and while his films have always ended with hope, his films would be less about the comedy but also to depict the sad, frailty of human nature.  This can be seen in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and even the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” which dealt with suicide.

The story was about a good man, wanting to make a difference as a Senator but to quickly learn the dark side of politics behind-the-scenes and how his own friend, would turn against him for the sake of politics.

Both James Stewart and Jean Arthur gave a wonderful performance.  For me, I always am amazed to watch Jean Arthur, may it be on a screwball comedy or a drama film, she was a woman full of anxiety and was so shy that she spent most of her time in her dressing room.

Frank Capra wrote in his book “The Name Above the Title” about Arthur, “Jean Arthur is my favorite actress.  Probably because she was unique.  Never have I seen a performer plagued with such a chronic case of stage jitters.  I’m sure she vomited before and after every scene.  When the cameras stopped, she’d run headlong to her dressing room, locked herself in-and cry.”

For James Stewart, I always thought he gave a wonderful performance faking a man with his throat roached from standing hours of talking.  In truth, a doctor swabbed mercury solution that irritated his vocal chords, to the point that it was hard for him to speak, but yet he gave a wonderful performance nonetheless, making us see and believe Senator Smith.

While I have owned various versions of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” throughout the years, this is no doubt the best version to date.  Fully restored in 4K, the picture quality looks absolutely amazing.  The film is sharp, white and grays are well contrast and black levels are nice and deep.  I saw no blemishes while watching this film and I was absolutely pleased with the overall look of the film.  The lossless soundtrack is in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0.  And another plus to this amazing Blu-ray release is the plethora of special features included.

And last, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is released in digibook format with 28-pages and for anyone who is not familiar with digibook, these are released for a short time and are often changed to the usual casing later on.  If you are a digibook collector, you will definitely want to get this film when it’s released.

Overall, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is a timeless Frank Capra classic that is relevant today and it will continue to remain relevant for many decades to come.  Featuring wonderful direction by Frank Capra and an amazing performance by James Stewart and Jean Arthur, plus a 4K restoration, a digibook release and a great amount of special features about Frank Capra’s oeuvre, this Blu-ray release is highly recommended!

 

 

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!

 

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.

 

 

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!

 

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!

 

 

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!

 

 

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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