Saturday, February 24, 2007

JEZEBEL (Warner Bros. 1936) Warner Home Video

In retrospect, William Wyler’s Jezebel (1936) marks the true beginning of Bette Davis' golden period at Warner Bros. Moreover, it manages to capture much of the fiery disposition of Scarlett O’Hara without ever mentioning Gone With The Wind – a novel, then very much ingrained in the hearts and minds of a vast and growing readership, and very shortly destined to begin preproduction at Selznick International Studios.


Davis took home her second Best Actress Oscar playing spoiled Southern belle, Julie Marsden. It was an award almost as hard won as it was well deserved. Only a year earlier Davis had stormed out of her Warner contract and departed for Europe - determined to make movies abroad to prove to Jack Warner and the world that she was more than just the glam-bam dolly he was trying to make her over as.


Perhaps, Davis knew she couldn't win the lawsuit that Warner immediately filed. But it didn't matter. She won the battle, getting Jack Warner to take her career more seriously and allow her an unprecedented amount of autonomy to choose projects for herself. And more than anything else, Davis wanted to play Scarlett O'Hara. 


But Selznick was not at all convinced that she could. In fact, Jack Warner had offered Selznick a sweet deal to co-produce GWTW with the loan out of Davis and Errol Flynn (for Rhett Butler). But Selznick balked and went with a smaller money deal over at MGM simply to secure Clark Gable for his film.


So Warner decided to do one better - snub Selznick the way he believed he had been snubbed - by trumping their deal and releasing a film that capitalized on GWTW's notoriety before Selznick had had a chance to even shoot a single frame of film. 


Jezebel is based on a modestly successful stage play by Owen Davis, heavily rewritten for the film version by John Huston, Robert Buckner, Clements Ripley and Abem Finkel. 


Like Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett, Jezebel's Julie Marsden (Davis) is a devious spitfire and a manipulative man trap. More than anything Julie wants to be loved. But her defiance against the rigid social conventions of her day brands Julie a rather wanton free spirit. Julie’s Aunt Belle Massey (Fay Bainter) is constantly urging her niece towards prudence and restraint. 


But Julie will have none of it. After appearing at her own party in riding habit and with crop still in hand, Julie shops the New Orleans plaza for a suitable gown to wear to the Olympus Ball – the event of the social season. Her choice of a harlot-red gown audaciously flashing among the virginal whites humiliates and alienates Julie's rich lawyer beau, Preston Dillard (Henry Fonda) who breaks off their engagement and departs for a career in the North. 


Emotionally shattered, Julie fills her days with superficial dalliances. Long suffering and self-professed gentleman with an air of petty larceny, Buck Cantrell (George Brent) seems the most promising prospect. Ah, but then Pres’ returns to the South with his new bride, Amy (Margaret Lindsay). Determined to destroy Pres’ happiness, Julie sets up a series of conventions that will lead to dire consequences for all concerned.


The last act of director William Wyler’s velvety smooth melodrama is reserved for a deadly outbreak of yellow fever that exacts its pound of flesh from the principle cast. It’s a rather problematic conclusion to what is essentially a woman’s picture with more venom than guts. 


Still, the film holds together remarkably well under today’s scrutiny and that is in no small way due to Bette Davis’ towering central performance. As Julie, Davis is unrelenting; a demigod in angel’s harness whose final realization and sacrifice is both hauntingly tragic, yet morally satisfying.


Warner Home Video’s Special Edition DVD at long last provides an adequate mastering effort for this Oscar-winning classic. The B&W image exhibits a refined gray scale with fine details evident throughout. Blacks are still a tad weak, more dark gray than black, but whites are much improved for an image that is more crisp and solid than ever before. 


Age related artifacts are still rather heavy in spots, despite an exhaustive digital restoration. The biggest plus is a complete absence of digital anomalies that were quite prevalent on previously released discs. The audio is mono but adequately represented. Extras include a brief featurette on the making of the film and an informative audio commentary. Recommended!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4



VIDEO/AUDIO
4



EXTRAS
3

STAGE FRIGHT (Warner Bros. 1950) Warner Home Video

Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950) is a convoluted English charmer that seeks to recapture something of the flavor of Britain's music hall glory with a murder thrown in for kicks. Rarely has Hitchcock’s attention to comedy and suspense been more seamlessly blended than in this minor - if narrative flawed - effort.


Selwyn Jepson's novel 'Man Running' is the inspiration for the film, scripted by Whitfield Cook, Ranald MacDougall, Alma Reville and James Birdie. I've always enjoyed Stage Fright as a slightly 'inferior' masterwork from Hitchcock's Warner Bros. period. Today, the films Hitch' made at W.B. are not as well regarded as those he made either at Selznick International in the early 40s, or those over at Paramount in the mid-1950s. Yet, Stage Fright is a clever enough suspense with finely wrought performances throughout. The film also brings Hitchcock back to his roots and gives audiences an opportunity to see a post-war Britain in all its reconstruction glory. 


Our story opens with a problematic flashback. Stage diva, Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich) arrives at the London flat of her lover, Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) after just having murdered her husband. But the flashback is a MacGuffin – a deliberate lie told by Jonathan to throw the audience off the identity of the real murderer until much later.


Enter Jane Wyman as Jonathan's loyal friend, Eve Gill. A student of drama who is desperately in love with Jonathan, Eve is determined to get to the bottom of the crime. She enlists the help of her estranged father, Commodore Gill (Alastair Simms) and together they play a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Charlotte, testing Jonathan’s theory of the crime. 


Against her father's strenuous objections Eve masquerades as Nellie Good, a common house frump who becomes Charlotte's new housemaid, only to discover that the actress is currently having an affair with her agent, Freddie (Hector McGregor). 


Meanwhile police inspector, Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding) has grown quite fond of Eve. Moreover, he believes her trusting nature is shielding the real killer. As Eve and Wilfred's relationship grows more sincere, he tries to convince her that Jonathan's story does not add up. But Eve will have none of Wilfred's theories - at least, none that he can't prove.


One of only two films Hitchcock made in England after becoming an American director (Frenzy being the other), Stage Fright has been rather dismissively misrepresented by the critics as a footnote in the director’s illustrious career. Yet, Stage Fright is a far more intricate and satisfying movie than most give it credit. Hitchcock stages some brilliant sequences, including the moment when Commodore Gill bribes a Boy Scout to carry a doll with a blood stained dress up to the stage while Charlotte is performing, simply to gauge her reaction. 


Hitchcock is equally blessed with a marvelous cast. Richard Todd makes for a very spooky suitor. Marlene Dietrich is devilish as the music hall singer who may have murder in her heart. Michael Wilding and Alastair Simms give superb support and add that invaluable flair for a decidedly very British feeling film. But the standout is arguably Jane Wyman - though perhaps not as captivating as she ought to be. Reportedly Dietrich did not care for Wyman. By all accounts, the feeling was mutual. 


Nevertheless, Stage Fright is a good solid film with plenty of Hitchcock's cinematic touches that help to generate a lot of suspense. Why it remains in a vacuum apart from the director's other masterworks is a curiosity. True enough, Stage Fright is not as great a movie as Rebecca, Psycho or The Birds (to name only a few). But it is very solid second tier Hitchcock - which pretty much means it's A-list everyone else! 


Warner Home Video’s DVD is just average. While the gray scale is nicely balanced, the overall characteristic is rather grainy and, at times dull. Blacks are more tonal variations of deep gray than pure black. Whites are sometimes clean, sometime a dingy gray. Dirt, scratches and other age related artifacts are present. Ditto for edge enhancement and pixelization. The audio is mono but very nicely cleaned up. A brief featurette is the only extra feature.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5



VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5



EXTRAS
2.5

THE LITTLE FOXES (Samuel Goldwyn 1941) MGM Home Video

The Little Foxes (1941) put a period to a rather tempestuous alliance between director William Wyler and Warner's 'fifth brother', Bette Davis. The two had begun their association as respectful collaborators on the set of Jezebel (1938). By the time that film wrapped, Davis and Wyler had become lovers; an on again/off again affair that lasted out their working together again on Somerset Maugham's The Letter (1940). But by the time Davis stood before the cameras to immortalize this play by Lillian Hellman, she and Wyler were quite simply at each other’s throats. In hindsight, the fireworks behind the scenes augmented Davis’ unrelentingly bitter performance as Regina Giddens, the ruthless matriarch of an unscrupulous Southern family of backstabbers.

The screenplay by Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Arthur Kober and Alan Campbell opens with a bittersweet coup. Regina's elder brother, Oscar (Carl Benton Reid) has entered into a loveless marriage with Birdie Hubbard (Patricia Collinge), an emotionally fragile creature with an alcohol problem, simply to inherit a portion of her family's plantation and cotton fields. 



Oscar's plan all along has been to enrich his own family's dwindling coffers by now entering into an alliance with his elder brother, Ben (Charles Dingle) to build a cotton mill that will restore the family's reputation to prominence. In this shuffle, Oscar has all but discarded his wife. Having realized the error in her marriage too late, Birdie gently tries to advise her niece, Alexandra (Teresa Wright) against a similar fate being perpetrated on the unsuspecting girl by no less than her own mother, Regina (Bette Davis).  


Once proud and prosperous, Regina’s determination to be flush with riches once again spurs her to plot the financial ruin of her two brothers, while orchestrating a forced romance between Alexandra and devious first cousin, Leo (Dan Duryea), Oscar's son. Such a marriage would surely afford Leo - and more indirectly Regina and Oscar - access to Alexandra's paternal inheritance.


Alexandra, however, is infatuated with David Hewitt (Richard Carlson); an impertinent telegram operator who immeasurably enjoys goading Alexandra to wild distraction. Like Birdie, however, David really only has Alexandra's best interests at heart.  


The bond Alexandra shares with her ailing father, Horace (Herbert Marshall) is a special one. He has always loved her and been protective of her, respecting Regina's wishes in Alexandra's upbringing, though ever cautious of the negative influences she may exude. Yet, despite Regina's obvious affects, Alexandra has remained unspoiled and true to her own heart. Regrettably, this admirable innocence is not to last.


Regina asks Horace outright for his money but he refuses.  Her next course of action is to align her deceptions with Oscar - both convincing the rather dimwitted Leo, a bank clerk, to steal Horace's railroad bonds from his safety deposit box. Discovering this plan afoot, Horace summons Regina to the parlor and informs her that he has decided to change his will. Alexandra will inherit everything. Furthermore, he will give Leo the bonds, thereby cutting her out of Oscar and Ben's cotton deal entirely. However, before Horace can solidify these plans he suffers a fatal heart attack as Regina looks on, quietly refusing him the medication that might save his life.

A grieving Alexandra remains oblivious to her mother's treachery. Regina now turns her attentions to blackmailing Oscar and Ben. She will have Leo arrested for stealing her late husband's bonds unless both brothers agree to give her seventy-five percent ownership in their mills. With little recourse, Oscar and Ben reluctantly agree. But their acquiescence comes at a terrible price for Regina. 



Having at long last awoken to the evil that Regina has perpetrated upon the entire family, Alexandra confronts her mother. She denounces Regina and tells her she will never be a party to her devious ways again.  David comes to take Alexandra away, leaving Regina the heir of the Giddens' estate, but thoroughly isolated in this resplendent cage she has constructed for herself.

The Little Foxes is a magnificent, if sadly underrated classic in Bette Davis' canon of film work. Davis is chilling as the intellectually scheming, morally repugnant, yet utterly charming - at least on the surface - enterprising matriarch. In later years, William Wyler would go on record with his own disappointment about Davis' performance, that he believed lacked heart. To be certain, Davis’ Regina Giddens is a spider woman with no redemption. She is both self serving and wholly unsympathetic, existing in a sort of soulless vacuum of her own design.



That said, there are few actresses of any vintage, including Davis' own, who could present so malignant a creature so compellingly on the screen and still make her magnetic to an audience. When Davis' Regina Giddens appears in a scene, nothing and no one else matters.  Like the rest of the clan, we as the audience, are brought to heel in shock and awe and perhaps even tremble at this demonic creation who will stop at nothing to achieve her own desires. 


The film's themes of innocence lost and regained are well established in both Teresa Wright and Herbert Marshall's tender and understated performances, and to a lesser extent, through Birdie's flawed attempts to intervene on Alexandra's behalf while living in constant fear of her own husband. 


But The Little Foxes is also a superb drawing room melodrama, painstakingly paced by Wyler. As seen through master cinematographer, Gregg Toland's deep focus lens, the omnipotent darkness and decay of this forgotten southern family is affectionately recaptured with rather sumptuous accoutrements. These extol and exaggerate the Giddons' dead family legacy, best exemplified through Stephen Goosson's sublimely cluttered Art Direction and Howard Bristol's equally claustrophobic Set Decoration.  In the final analysis, everything works in service of the story and the result is a disturbingly vial, multifaceted movie that will likely endure for many good years yet to come.  

MGM Home Video’s DVD is rather disappointing. Despite a refined gray scale with solid deep blacks and very clean whites with minimal age related artifacts, the entire image is marred by a relatively high concentration of digital anomalies; edge enhancement, shimmering of fine details and pixelization - all of them quite distracting. One hopes to someday see this film properly remastered for Blu-ray. It certainly deserves better visually than what it has received! 
The audio has been rather awkwardly re-channeled by Chace Audio to produce a pseudo-stereo effect that predictably exhibits all the limitations in fidelity one would expect. This is primarily a dialogue driven narrative. The original mono, also included on this disc, will therefore do quite nicely. A theatrical trailer that appears as though it were fed through a meat grinder is the only extra included.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5
EXTRAS
0

KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (MGM 1953) Warner Home Video

Director Richard Thorpe’s Knights of the Round Table (1953) was MGM's first movie shot in Cinemascope. Ever cautious that ‘scope’ would be just another passing fade (like 3D that had come and gone the year before) the company hedged its bets with this sprawling spectacle by producing a 'flat' version too. On the surface, midieval England - with its varied visions of galliards, knights on horseback and round table discussions - must have seemed like good subject matter for the expanded width of the big screen. Yet as penned by Talbot Jennings, Jan Lustig and Noel Langley - all competant screenwriters - ‘Knights’ is a rather plodding, somber and unimaginative entertainment.

The legend of King Arthur has always been a perennial film favorite. But on this occasion, an aged Robert Taylor, usually so natural in period costume, is an uncomfortable and wooden Sir Lancelot. Riding through the forest in search of noble King Arthur (Mel Ferrer), Lancelot becomes embroiled in a plot to expose the evils of Morgan Le Fay (Anne Crawford) and Modred (Stanley Baker). But the two hold the key to Arthur’s downfall; the secret that Lancelot and Queen Gueneviere (Ava Gardner) are lovers.

In part, due to the production code’s stringent morality, but also because Lancelot is to be the hero of our story, the romance between Guen’ and Lance’ is antiseptic at best. Even after the king discovers the truth for himself, his lament is more magnanimous than tortured; his forgiveness less driven by angst than necessity for a happy round table discussion. In short, director Thorpe’s faux epic diffuses conflict at every opportunity and winds up with an undeniably glossy, though dull, spectacle.


Alfred Junge and Hans Peters art direction is impeccable but somehow distilled by the rather stiff cinematography by Stephen Dade and Freddie Young. Cinemascope is not their forte just yet and Knights of the Round Table illustrates their frustrations with the letterboxed proportions. We either get extreme long shots that attempt to encompass all of the action all at once, or extreme close ups that are meant to draw attention to one or two players in a scene by giving us absolutely nothing else except a pair of talking heads to look at. In a few years both Young and Dade would be masters at re-framing their action for the widescreen lens. But not just yet and unfortunately it shows.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is just above average. No attempt has been made to remove age related artifacts. At times the image seems somewhat digitally harsh. Exterior photography has a heavy patina of film grain and a less saturated color palette. Matte process shots are obvious and inconsistently rendered. Black levels are perhaps a bit weak and fine details are lost in darker scenes.

Close ups, however, look gorgeous. Several establishing shots suffer from a litany of pixelization that breaks apart fine details. Fades between scenes are hampered by a sudden grainy transition that is inherent in all early Cinemascope films. The audio is stereo surround and amply provides a satisfying acoustic spread. Extras include a very brief featurette with Mel Ferrer’s comments on the production, a movietone trailer and the film's original theatrical trailer. This is not a bad movie but it is an incredibly dated one.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
2

FAR FROM HEAVEN: Blu-ray (Alliance Atlantis 2002) Alliance Atlantis Home Video

In mood, tone and overall plot development Todd Hayne’s Far From Heaven (2002) is an evocative homage to Douglas Sirk; the 1950’s director extraordinaire of syrupy over-the-top soap opera melodramas. Sirk’s particular brand of schlocky nonsense has always escaped this reviewer’s admiration, although there is little to deny that for his time he was considered bar none the leading authority in this type of campy melodrama.

Hayne’s emulation of ‘the master’ is a stunning recreation of Sirk's visual lushness to be sure, but regrettably without Sirk's cleverness to solicit some sort of epic grandeur from simple middle class dilemmas. Revisiting the idyllic 1950s through less than rose-colored glasses is hardly an ambitious pursuit. Yet, there is a faint aroma of formaldehyde permeating Hayne’s exploitation of that absurd quest for the deepest shag rug and most prominent fins on each new car.

The plot concerns dutiful wife and mother, Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) whose serene domesticity is forever shattered when she discovers that her handsome ad executive husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid) has been engaging young men to satisfy his homosexual double life.

The film plays fast and loose with Frank’s feeble attempts to break himself of his homo-erotic tendencies (in post war America it was thought that homosexuality could be ‘cured’) – a struggle of emotions that eventually leads to an emotional rift and permanent split with Cathy. In the meantime, Cathy’s feelings of inadequacy push her closer to an even more taboo interracial love affair with groundskeeper Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert).

Hayne’s social commentary on both the rigidity and hypocrisies of vintage Americana is clearly the star of this film. However, he is hampered in his delivery of that 'message’ by leaden performances from Quaid in particular but also Moore. There simply is zero chemistry between these two. One wonders, for example, how Cathy could have been fooled for so long into thinking her husband was heterosexual. Frank’s ‘transgressions’ are presented as sudden and almost freak occurrences. For an audience, it is as though he awoke one morning and decided to switch sexual preferences.

The ‘affair’ between Cathy and Raymond is even more problematic – not for its interracial content – but because there seems to be zero spark to propel it anywhere. Cathy’s antiseptic WASP is chronically constipated from going all the way by her own inability to commit to a different skin color, while Raymond’s cultured reserve is more nonchalant than apprehensive – robbing us of all possible passion and melodramatic tension. In the end, Far from Heaven is far from perfect entertainment. It is a story of improbable and utterly flawed romantic longing set against a ‘50s pastiche of suburbian backyard landscapes.

Alliance Home Video's Blu-ray greatly improves on the multitude of sins committed on their DVD transfer. The image is really quite stunning. Colors are rich, vibrant and nicely balanced, recapturing the Sirk-esque lushness that Haynes is aiming for. Contrast levels are accurately rendered. Blacks are solid, deep and velvety. Whites are pristine. The DVD's edge enhancement and some shimmering of fine details is gone from the Blu-ray. The soundtrack has been remastered but is still 5.1 and adequately rendered for this dialogue driven movie.

Extras are all imports from the DVD and include a very self-congratulatory featurette in which director Hayne's explains how he believes he did Douglas Sirk one better. Aside: like Richard Attenborough's heavy-handed handling of Miracle on 34th Street (1994) or Gus Van Sant's shot for shot remake of Psycho (1998) - this simply can't be done! Why won’t Hollywood admit as much?

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5

EXTRAS
2

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (Warner Bros. 1944) Warner Home Video

Howard Hawks’ To Have And Have Not (1944) gets the nod for introducing audiences to Lauren Bacall and having the inspired notion of teaming her with Humphrey Bogart for the very first time, thereby creating one of the most legendary screen couples in film history - both on and off the silver screen. 


Under a personal contract to director Hawks – who evidently hoped for more behind the scenes from his young discovery – Bacall disappointed her mentor by falling for, and eventually marrying, Bogart instead.

Bacall plays Marie ‘Slim’ Browning, a pickpocket in Martinique who crosses paths with Capt. Harry Steve Morgan (Humphrey Bogart). Seems Harry was double-crossed by his most recent fishing patron, Johnson (Walter Sande), the man whose wallet Slim has just pinched. Before Steve can collect on the debt, Johnson is accidentally killed by a stray bullet.

Morgan is hired by nightclub owner and supporter of the resistance, Frenchy (Marcel Dalio) to charter his boat for freedom fighters; Paul De Bursac (Walter Molnar) and his wife, Hellene (Dolores Moran). However, when Morgan’s boat receives a Vichy ambush, Paul is wounded.

Hawks, who reportedly told Ernest Hemingway that he could make a success out of his worst novel – To Have and Have Not – does just that. Jules Furthman and William Faukner's screenplay sets up some genuine romantic fireworks between Slim and Harry that crackle with witty dialogue. Of course, all that good writing would have been for not had Bogart and Bacall not fallen for one another on the set, thereby lending some prickly sexual subtext to the already loaded lines. 



To Have and Have Not is not so much a ‘narrative’ as it proves a ‘character’ driven exercise in film making. The patriotic 'resistance rescue' plot is really just an excuse to hang a bunch of glib one liners on. Hawks gets great economy out of Bogie and Bacall's on screen chemistry. This excels and carries the movie along even as it thoroughly stalls the threadbare plot from moving towards its inevitable conclusion. 


Style over substance? You bet. But what a style it is - and oh, what a treat to explore over and over again. There's just something magical about these two stars - completely within their element and obviously in love with each other.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is a fairly admirable effort. The gray scale is, on the whole, nicely balanced with solid blacks and relatively clean whites. Occasionally, edge enhancement and pixelization intrude. There are a few scenes in which contrast levels seem low and age related artifacts and film grain more than a tad excessive.The obvious stock footage used as rear projection is riddled with excessive grain and slightly out of focus. The audio is MONO but cleaned up and very well balanced. Warner provides a featurette, a cartoon and the film's original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
2

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

LIBELED LADY (MGM 1936) Warner Home Video

Libeled Lady (1936) is a sparkling romantic comedy of errors and bad manners. When commitment shy editor, Warren Haggerty (Spencer Tracy) finds that his newspaper is being sued for alleging that socialite, Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) is a home-wrecker, he delays plans to marry his fiancée Gladys (Jean Harlow) by placing her in the midst of elegant playboy, Bill Chandler (William Powell).

The idea is to have Gladys and Bill marry so that Connie will then be fooled into having an affair with a married man - hence Warren's paper will be off the hook for printing the initial rumour. But the plot goes hopelessly awry when Gladys starts to have genuine feelings for Bill and Bill really falls in love with Connie. So what's a struggling foursome to do? 
Director, Jack Conway fleshes out this thimble of a plot with a series of hilarious vignettes and some really stellar acting from the cheap seats, including cameos by Charles Grapewin, Arthur Connelly and Cora Witherspoon - all instantly recognizable war horses from MGM's ever expanding stable of second string talent.

This film is one of many that proves great talent alone can not only rescue a meager storyline, but actually sell it convincingly as high art. In its heyday Hollywood in general and MGM in particular were the purveyors of such screwball nonsense. But even today the artificiality of the exercise holds together - magnificently so. We can still laugh at the jokes, corny as they might be, and, when all else fails, admire the sheer joy and meticulous craftsmanship behind the scenes that seems so effortless, yet compelling.

Everyone in the cast is a character - and that's part of the film's success too. We can enjoy the stars as stars and then settle into their performances as extensions of their star personalities. Not a single celebrity working in Hollywood today has as much charisma as William Powell in his little finger. Ditto for Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow; each one working overtime to be exactly on point. To have any one of these talents in a single film is a plus. To have all four thrown together into one movie is a star-studded zeitgeist - a singular sensation that sends electrical currents down our spines to tickle our funny bones. Libeled Lady may be light and fluffy, but it certainly packs a wallop.

Warner Home Video’s DVD is a travesty! There is virtually nothing redeeming about this B&W image, so excessively marred by age related artefacts that one wonders why the studio – usually committed to the classics, released it in such deplorable condition. The gray scale is weak and unstable. Dirt, scratches and other damage are everywhere! The audio is so strident and scratchy it is barely audible in spots, the score grating on the ear. An 'audio only' radio broadcast is the only extra included.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
1
EXTRAS
1

KING KONG: Blu-ray (RKO 1933) Warner Home Video

King Kong (1933) is not a horror movie. He was also not a man in an ape suit, though early inner office memos from directors/producers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack seem to suggest the possibility. What King Kong was, is, and arguably remains, is one of the most technically proficient forays into sci-fi melodrama ever put on the big screen. Today, the film may seen quaint from a purely technological perspective, its start/stop animation and puppetry utterly vintage and 'inferior' to our more computer savvy and critical eye. But Kong has personality and that's a commodity hard to come by even employing the best digital wizardry. Time alone has not diminshed the film's impact as an enduring artistic work. Merian C. Cooper modeled the film's protagonist visionary explorer/film maker, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) on his own early exploits. Together with aspiring actress, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), the story emerged as a sort of cosmopolitan ‘beauty and the beast’ melodrama with thrills added in. Denham and his company arrive on a remote island populated by hostile natives. But the focus of the expedition shift to conquering a gargantuan ape and dragging him back to the big city. Billed as the eighth wonder of the world, Kong is put on display for the paying public. Unhappy circumstance for all concerned, that Kong breaks free of his chains and goes about terrorizing the city – killing at will. But Kong has a weak spot for Darrow, capturing and carrying her with him as he scales the Empire State Building.

The creation of Kong was actually a miracle in stop motion animation for its day, employing an eighteen inch steel skeletal puppet covered in rabbit fir and latex. Despite Kong’s diminutive reality, on screen he rages like a colossus, thanks to special effects master Willis O’Brien. O’Brien had created several semi-convincing dinosaurs for another project at RKO entitled ‘Creation.’ But the studio’s penny-pinching, coupled with the impact of the Depression put an end to that project. O’Brien’s dinosaurs were destined for better things. They appear in several key sequences of Kong.

Warner Home Video has searched the world’s archives looking for a serviceable print of King Kong. What they’ve unearthed does indeed provide a more refined and detailed image than perhaps has ever been seen since the film’s debut. Yet, the results are not entirely satisfying. The gray scale is solid with soft grayish black levels and, at times, blooming whites. Film grain is excessive but very natural looking on Blu-ray. The image is not smooth however. Age related artefacts have been tempered, but the print is far from pristine. Is this the best Kong will ever look on home video? Probably. RKO was hardly a studio known for its preservation methods and a good many of their classic films remain in peril of deteriorating beyond repair.

The audio is mono. There is an obvious background hiss during quiescent scenes. Extras are all direct imports from Warner's lavish 2 disc DVD set and include an intense and immersive ‘making of’ documentary featuring actual production stills, archival interviews – as well as critiques and a reconstruction of Kong in action with director, Peter Jackson, and, the masterful biography; I Am King Kong; on the filmic exploits and legacy of Merian C. Cooper.


Aside: I am not a big fan of Warner (or any other studio for that matter) squeezing a ton of extra features on a single Blu-ray along with a 2 hr movie. Warner has done this with The Wizard of Oz. They've even managed compressing the lengthy Gone With The Wind on a single Blu-ray. Blu-ray's compression ratio is far superior to DVD. But why is that cause to jam pack a single disc with extras when the movie itself could have probably benefited from an even higher bit rate if it was the only content being mastered onto a single disc. Extras are extras. They belong on an 'extra' disc. Nevertheless, this minting of King Kong looks far more impressive on Blu-ray than it ever did on DVD and comes recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4


VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
4

THE TARZAN COLLECTION (MGM 1932-42) Warner Home Video

Today, Johnny Weissmuller’s robust physique and half yodel/half shriek as the undisputed king of the jungle seem a gross cliché. But in 1932, the year MGM debuted its’ first celluloid incarnation of Edgar Rice Boroughs’ primitive fantasy he-man in Tarzan, the Ape Man the concept was not only fresh and vital to cinema goers, but it also carried more than a hint of eroticism that had the Catholic League of Decency breaking a celibate sweat, and, German Chancellor Adolph Hitler banning ye ol’ buff of the loin cloth from his country’s movie screens. Maureen Sullivan – better known as Jane – was quietly offered land and money if she would stop ‘disgracing’ herself on the screen.


All six of the original MGM films are included in The Tarzan Collection; variations on Boroughs’ intriguing novel, about a human male baby raised by animals in the deep darkest jungles of Africa after his parents have been killed. The baby grows up to be a man, but the man is void of all human intellect. Thus, when Tarzan reaches adulthood and stumbles across the shapely figure of Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) he is moved with a visceral - yet strangely innocent - sexual appetite to possess her that arouses more than just his curiosity.


The narrative of the first three films in particular takes the old premise of 'love with a stranger' in even ‘stranger’ directions. Jane is, at first, understandably fearful of this half naked man, then perhaps just as confusingly drawn to him after being held captive in his tree house. At first, Jane's scientific mind reasons that Tarzan is a fascinating specimen for study. But shortly thereafter Jane resigns herself to the education of her man in the ways of human interaction.  As the series progressed Jane’s infatuation with this nature boy shifted to romantic love – a move made problematic for the censors when ‘boy’ (Tarzan and Jane’s love child) suddenly appeared in Tarzan Finds A Son (1939).


The first four films; Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan and his Mate (1934), Tarzan Escapes (1936) and Tarzan Finds A Son (1939) are quite frank in their exploration of exotic romance and adventure. But the final two films; Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) and Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942) are trite and idiotic hiccups in the formula that reduce the impact of the characters to pure camp. 


When MGM decided to retire the original series in 1942 it was hardly the end of Tarzan's legacy on film. In fact, as the years rolled on many men with more muscle than brain matter would don the loin cloth and resurrect the series both at MGM and elsewhere with ever more predictable results. But MGM's Tarzan remains the standard even to this day. 


There's just something about the Weismueller/Sullivan chemistry that pretenders to the treetop have been unable to quantify or duplicate since. And MGM's lavish production values sold the series as high art shot on the backlot with fake trees, tamed elephants and a lovable trained chimp named Cheetah. 


There is little to celebrate in this DVD collector’s set from Warner Home Video. The movies are spread across four discs but not in their chronological order. The first four films suffer from a barrage of age related artifacts – dirt, scratches, tears, et al. Image quality is excessively grainy and poorly contrasted. Blacks are faded gray. Whites are dull gray. The quality improves slightly in the last two films. However, edge enhancement, pixelization and shimmering of fine details are extremely obtrusive and everywhere. The audio is mono and exhibits hiss and pop.  


Frankly, I cannot understand Warner's marketing mentality. If the film's are good enough to release on properly stamped DVDs than they ought to rank a restoration effort to make them ready for the digital format. Garbage in, garbage out. I wouldn't recommend this set to anyone except for Skeet shooting practice. That's a pity, because Warner has taken the time to give us a fantastic feature-length documentary on Weissmuller and the Tarzan phenomenon.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Tarzan, the Ape Man 3.5
Tarzan and His Mate 4
Tarzan Escapes 3.5
Tarzan Finds a Son 3
Tarzan's Secret Treasure 2
Tarzan's New York Adventure 1



VIDEO/AUDIO
Tarzan, the Ape Man 2.5
Tarzan and His Mate 2.5
Tarzan Escapes 2.5
Tarzan Finds A Son 3
Tarzan's Secret Adventure 3
Tarzan's New York Adventure 3



EXTRAS
3

THE BIG CLOCK (Universal 1948) Universal Home Video

John Farrow’s The Big Clock (1948) is a labyrinth of dark humor and cyclical twists and turns – rather like riding a funhouse car into the murky blackness of uncertainty but with one's nervous expectation of fear riding shotgun. However, the film becomes rather curiously unhinged by some sloppy screenwriting that diverts our attentions away from the central predicament for our story's hero, Crimeways editor-in-chief, George Stroud (Ray Milland).


You see, George has been assigned by his punctually obsessed editor, Earl Janoth (Charles Laughton) to cover the murder of a mysterious woman, Pauline York (Rita Johnson). There is just one little wrinkle that needs to be overcome; the overworked Stroud not only knows the woman in question but spent the night with her after failing to pick up his wife (Maureen Sullivan) from the train station. After Pauline's untimely demise, George cannot recall - thanks to some very strong booze - if he had anything to do with her death.


There’s also something else to consider; Pauline was Janoth’s mistress. Now the question arises for Stroud: how to accurately cover his scoop, report all the facts, expose the killer and keep his own name out of the proceedings. As expected, both men are feverishly working at cross purposes.


Elsa Lanchester appears as Louise Patterson, a high-strung painter whose sketch of the prime suspect slowly begins to take on the contents of George Stroud. The Big Clock was remade in 1987 as a Kevin Costner thriller that ironically derived its namesake from another film noir, No Way Out. Regrettably, neither the original nor its remake is particularly effective at instilling its chills and suspense.


The strength of Ray Milland's acting prowess when playing congenial every men has always eluded me. Truth be told, I tend to find him a rather ineffectual hero, perhaps because he seems so much more at home and convincing as the troubled villain in films like Dial M For Murder or The Lost Weekend. But in The Big Clock he has to not only 'play good' but 'be good' and I'm afraid nobility does not suit his on screen persona at all. 


There's also something rather off putting about Laughton's performance in this film, so sleazy and oddly effeminate that one cannot imagine any woman much less the sultry Pauline finding him attractive. Separately, the film might have survived either casting misfire. Put together, Milland and Laughton's star turns represent a rather abysmal weakness from which the film never recovers.  


The Big Clock on DVD is a below average effort from Universal. The gray scale is poorly balanced with very dull murky blacks and dirty whites. Contrast levels are low. Age related artifacts are everywhere. The overall texture of the image is gritty and grainy with some rather obvious examples of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details. There are NO extras.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
0

BLACK ANGEL (Universal 1946) Universal Home Video

A sexy nightclub singer with her neck broken, an ex-lover who suffers from alcoholic blackouts, and a dutiful wife who'll stop at nothing to prove her husband's innocence: excellent fodder for a classic film noir, this one singed by a race against time and sparkling performances from a stellar cast.


In Roy William Neill’s Black Angel (1946) style trumps substance, or even common sense for that matter. Roy Chanslor's screenplay, based on Cornell Woolrich's novel, gives us a lot of twists and turns, some memorable, other's worrisome or even implausible, but always in service to some truly stunning camerawork by Paul Ivano. Like The Big Sleep, the plot to Black Angel really doesn't matter all that much. The film is populated by some great character actors of their day giving it their absolute all, including Peter Lorre and Dan Duryea.


When viper-ish chanteuse Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) gets invited to a necktie party, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), Mavis’ lover seems the natural choice for the police’s prime suspect. No one believes Kirk’s story. It is, after all, a little hard to swallow - that he found Mavis already strangled on the floor of her apartment when arriving for a prearranged dinner date.


However, when Kirk is sentenced to death, his long-suffering, too-good-to-be-true wife, Catherine (June Vincent) begins to investigate the elements of the crime for answers of her own. She is aided by Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) Mavis’ ex-husband who still carries a torch for the deceased when he’s not too busy getting plastered and out of control. Blair concocts a fairly devious plan to get to the truth. He trains Catherine as a new singer for Marco’s (Peter Lorre) nightclub. Mavis sang there. Perhaps, Marco has something to hide?


The first half of the narrative is quite strong and peppered with all the winning essentials of a vintage film noir; a corpse, stark lighting, a litany of suspects and more than a few hairpin turns. Yet, the plot is riddled with a rich texture of diverting anomalies; like Kirk - guilty of philandering/innocent of murder. Or Mavis’ femme fatale turned victim. What about Catherine’s never wavering devotion to her wayward hubby, or Blair’s dedication to discovering who really killed his wife even though it's really him he's after?


Black Angel is a film that starts out strong but fizzles to the point of absurdity. The last act is uninspired. It’s as though director, Neill has painted himself into a narrative corner and then effectively turned out the lights, leaving the plot and audiences waiting for some grander exposition that never comes along to tie up all the loose ends. 


That said, Black Angel is not a bad movie. It's just not a definitive film noir. The mood and tempo of the piece is dark and sinister thanks to Martin Ozbina and Jack Otterson's brilliant art direction, as well as Paul Ivano's brooding cinematography. Peter Lorre's performance is arguably the stand out. Yet, it's depressing to see his character vindicated before the final reel, because during the first and second acts he makes one hell of a charming - if slightly unsettling - villain. 


The volatile chemistry between Dan Duryea and June Vincent is also palpable. It's a genuine pity they were never paired up again in subsequent like-minded fare.  


Universal’s DVD is just above average. Though the B&W image can exhibit a rather solid gray scale with deep blacks and relatively clean whites, contrast levels on the whole are softly rendered, leaving the mid-register a rather undistinguished gray. Age related artifacts are everywhere and occasionally quite distracting. Edge enhancement is present but not distracting. Pixelization, however, is! The audio is mono but nicely balanced. There are no extras!


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
3

EXTRAS
0

THIS GUN FOR HIRE (Paramount 1942) Universal Home Video

Frank Tuttle’s This Gun For Hire (1942) is a watered down, glammed up version of Graham Greene’s gritty novel A Gun for Sale. The first of four cinematic outings teaming sultry Veronica Lake with the coolly handsome – if sinister - Alan Ladd, the story of a sympathetic gal falling for a cold-blooded assassin is a rather potent cocktail with a sadly undernourished final act.


Perhaps a tad heavy on sentimentality than most film noirs, the plot concerns professional hit man Philip Raven (Ladd). After having been double-crossed by ne’er-do-well, Willard Gates (Laird Cregar), Raven (Ladd) contemplates killing the innocent little girl who has seen him.


On the lam and with no one to trust, Raven meets Ellen Graham (Veronica Lake) a nightclub performer with a cop boyfriend, Michael Crane (Robert Preston). Ellen is supposed to be working on exposing Alvin Brewster (Tully Marshall), a chemical company CEO who sold poisonous gas to the Japanese. But an odd relationship develops between Ellen and Raven. Freud would have a field day with these two. Raven ought to kill Ellen, but she wants to mother him. The compromise? Ellen becomes Raven’s willing captive.


If you know the conventions of film noir than you also know how this one wraps up. Raven corners Gates inside Brewster's high rise with Michael in hot pursuit.  He's too late to stop Brewster, but manages to pump a few rounds into Gates before Michael shoots him and apprehends Brewster. Raven dies in Ellen's arms. 


At 81 min. This Gun For Hire is slickly packaged with some very fine performances. Tuttle’s direction seems effortless even if Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett's screenplay leaves something to be desired. The plot shifts from Ellen’s lighthearted nightclub audition using the playful tune ‘Now You See It, Now You Don’t’ as a launch into her harrowing escape with Raven through the rail yards. 


The film's potency as a noir thriller is hampered by Allan Ladd - not because his performance is weak. On the contrary, he's the best in the whole movie. But because his character is initially set up as the villain of the piece. Yet, as the script unravels, Ladd's Raven shifts from pure evil, to avenging angel, to finally a good guy trapped in a set of very bad circumstances. That's difficult casting, and it is saying much of Ladd's performance that he manages to pull off this near impossible balancing act for us in a way that seems entirely believable. 


Ladd and Lake have fantastic on screen chemistry. It's no wonder they were costarred again and again in like minded fare, and a genuine pity indeed that none of their subsequent movie teaming have surfaced either on DVD or Blu-ray. In the final analysis, This Gun For Hire is a rewarding movie experience. Its just not entirely perfected as film noir entertainment.


Universal’s DVD transfer is on the whole quite solid and clean. The gray scale is very well balanced with deep solid blacks and whites that are almost pristine. There’s a hint film grain and some age related artifacts. Also, some edge enhancement and pixelization, but nothing that will distract. The audio is mono and very well represented. There are no extras.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

CRISS CROSS (Universal 1949) Universal Home Video

Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross (1949) is a stylishly bleak and torrid film noir ménage a trois. Daniel Fuchs screenplay revels in detailing these shadowy intersecting lives with multi-layered plot entanglements, each tainted by the threat of imminent violence. 


The best of noir thrillers function on the ambiguity of its characters' virtues and vices. The more we think we know what everyone's all about, the less effective the piece becomes. But Criss Cross leaves us hanging fairly regularly. None of the creatures that inhabit this underworld are as pure as the driven snow, yet few are as completely unscrupulous or self-destructive as one might imagine. In the end, everyone is distilled into disturbing variations of tonal gray. 


Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Thompson, a love-struck mama’s boy who returns home after a one year sabbatical from his own painful divorce. The love of his life is Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) – a vane selfish creature destined to destroy Steve’s chances at happiness. Anna decides to better herself – financially, at least – by marrying mobster, Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). But she is not quite ready to give up her playtime on the side with Steve. Her lure - and allure - is not without its own subtext or danger. Against his better judgment, Steve jumps into the deep end of the pool, so to speak, igniting his tawdry lust for Anna that ends badly for all concerned.


From its harrowing and daring armored car robbery to its final showdown with Steve and Anna trapped in a face off with Slim at a seaside hideaway, Criss Cross delivers the sort of pulp-fiction, hard-hitting crime melodrama that makes even the spine-chilling bowels of this seedy underworld scintillating; a sort of rogue's paradise where devoured lust and all-consuming greed collide to produce dark magic.


Reportedly, Lancaster was not at all pleased with the final film, heavily rewritten by Fuchs and Siodmak to minimize the heist scenario in service of the love story after producer Mark Hellinger suddenly died shortly before filming was about to commence. There is some truth in stating that the rewrites tend to water down the tautness of the opening act into a somewhat conventional triangulation of tainted love. Otherwise, the film works fairly well - its compromises really not all that dysfunctional to the overall arch of the story.  


Universal’s DVD is quite good. The gray scale is very well balanced with deep solid blacks. Whites are clean. A hint of age related artifacts and some edge enhancement and pixelization exist. Overall, the presentation is more than adequate. The audio is mono but well represented. There are, unfortunately, no extras.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
0

THE SET-UP (RKO 1949) Warner Home Video

Robert Wise’s The Set-Up (1949) is a taut and pulsating 71 minute masterpiece that pulls no punches in exposing the seedy underworld of racketeering in professional boxing. All the essentials are present for one of the undisputed champions of film noir.


Robert Ryan stars as Stoker, a once optimistic pugilist who has fallen prey to two unscrupulous promoters fronting for gambler, Little Boy Jo (Alan Baxter). Jo buys Stoker’s complicity in throwing a fight. The fix will make Jo rich and he’ll pass on a percentage of that profit to Stoker for his ‘efforts.’


Stoker takes the bribe, before acquiring an ounce of integrity  and thereafter becoming driven to win. Audrey Totter costars as Stoker’s faithful wife, Julia Thompson. Win, lose or draw, Julia would rather her husband be a bum than a boxer. She implores him not to fight – then diligently stands beside him when the chips are down.


Ryan, still lean and muscled, was himself a boxer before he became an actor and the intensity in his performance delves deeply into experiences from that prior career. The film unfolds in ‘real time’ meaning that the action takes place in approximately the same amount of time it would take for the actual events to take place.


A tough, gritty noir with gut-wrenching exhilaration beyond its ringside, The Set-Up is required viewing; a great little programmer from RKO that comes out swinging and leaves a winner.


Warner Home Video has delivered a rather impressive B&W DVD. The gray scale is refined. Blacks are rich deep and velvety. Whites are relatively clean. Occasionally, film grain appears more harsh and gritty than one might expect. Age related artifacts are present but do not distract. Digital anomalies are not an issue for an image that overall is smooth and refined. The audio is mono but nicely cleaned up. An audio commentary is the only extra.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2.5

Saturday, February 17, 2007

RAIN MAN: Blu-ray (United Artists 1988) MGM/Fox Home Video

The film that first broke the silent barrier of autism, Barry Levinson’s Rain Man (1988) is a frank and very unique glimpse into that isolated, and still largely unknown medical curiosity of the mind. The film's purpose is perhaps equally divided between its desire to entertain and educate; an awkward construction built into Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass' screenplay that occasionally becomes heavy handed.


Nevertheless, the story is immeasurably blessed by Dustin Hoffman's central performance as the autistic Raymond Babbitt. Hoffman's great gift to movies has always been his ability to get inside the head of a character and fully mine the possibilities to reveal subtle nuances and self reflexive moments of introspection. Yet, how does any actor get inside the head of someone stricken with this crippling disease that denies that very access with a genuine inability to express one's self in clear, articulate terms. Quite easily, the character of Raymond Babbitt could have degenerated into mere lampoon - an aping of the external characteristics of the illness without understanding the human being suffering from it. 


But Hoffman's portrait is neither as superficial, nor as condescending as all that. Rather, he finds the extraordinary humanity lurking beneath Raymond's outwardly despondent facade. When we laugh at his characterization it isn't because Raymond seems wholly ridiculous or easily made to be the figure of fun for our amusement, but because we completely recognize how similar he is to us all beneath his autistic condition.


The film begins in earnest with Raymond's 'normal' brother, Charlie (Tom Cruise), a con artist looking to unload some snazzy Lamborghini's on unsuspecting buyers without first passing their emission tests. Charlie's girlfriend, Susanna (Valerie Golino) is sympathetic to Charlie's predicament. Moreover, she genuinely loves this man who is strangely aloof, and occasionally quite cold toward her advances.


Charlie receives word that his father Sanford has died. But the reading of Sanford's will is hardly what Charlie expected. Stemming from a long standing rift in their father/son relationship, Sanford has left his entire estate in trust to Charlie's brother - Raymond - a brother that Charlie did not even know he had.


Journeying to the sanitarium to reunite with Raymond, Charlie learns from Dr. Bruner (Jerry Molen) that Raymond has autism. Self serving, and in desperate need of Raymond's inheritance - the birthright he feels he has been denied - Charlie decides to kidnap his brother to extort money from Dr. Bruner. 


Charlie is ruthless, greedy and uncaring; all qualities that Susanna eventually decides are deal breakers in their relationship. She leaves Charlie to look after Raymond by himself; a full time job that Charlie is ill-prepared to handle. However, her abandonment leads to a most fortuitous bonding between the brothers. Because of Raymond's aversion to flying, Charlie is forced to drive cross country. At first, this leads to many a one sided frustration for Charlie. But Charlie gradually begins to learn that Raymond's illness also comes with its own special set of gifts - chiefly, in Raymond's ability to count cards while the two make an overnight stop in Las Vegas. 


Raymond wins Charlie an awful lot of money. But their deception incurs the wrath of the casino/hotel manager who 'encourages' the boys to collect their winnings and never come back. Charlie decides that there might be other ways of exploiting Raymond's talents and takes his brother back to his home. But Raymond's confusion in unfamiliar surroundings almost burns the place down.  Eventually Charlie comes to the realization that he loves his brother just enough to return him to the sanitarium – the only place where Raymond will be truly content and genuinely looked after.


Rain Man is a story about bittersweet realizations. Hoffman’s ability to immerse himself in his character is both startling and effective. His Raymond emerges as a deeply felt, finely wrought and multi-dimensional person for whom the world will always acquire a slightly skewed perspective. Tom Cruise's performance is really second rate when directly compared to Hoffman's. As an actor, he's too in love with his own already galvanic matinee idol image to be wholly believable. 


In her all too brief scenes, Valerie Golino adds warmth and charm that the story otherwise lacks outside of Hoffman's sympathetic turn. It's really no surprise that Hoffman won the Best Actor Academy Award. But I must say it's rather surprising the film took home Best Picture. Levinson's direction is stilted. Both he and cameraman, John Seale rely almost exclusively on Hoffman's ability to sustain the visuals, and for the most part, the actor does not disappoint. But there really isn't much to the film without Hoffman because Rain Man is a one man show.


MGM Home Video's Blu-ray  doesn't exactly blow the lid off hi-def transfers either. Minted from what I suspect are the same tired digital files used to make the DVD, this time merely bumped up to a 1080p single, Rain Man's image is middle of the road at best. Colors are bright, but don't quite pop or achieve that level of spatial separation that we've come to expect from Blu-ray. Contrast levels are adequately realized, but fine details are wanting in darker scenes and film grain continues to exhibit a rather unnatural 'clumpy' feel that belies no full scale remastering from the original camera negative has occurred. 


The audio is 5.1 DTS and nicely balanced though continuing to sound slightly dated. All of the extra features from MGM/Fox's Special Edition DVD are imported for the Blu-ray and include three audio commentaries, a very short featurette on the making of the film and the film’s theatrical trailer.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5

EXTRAS
2