Friday, January 27, 2012

WINGS: Blu-ray (Paramount 1927) Paramount Home Video


The first silent movie to take home a Best Picture Oscar is William Wellman's Wings (1927) a monumental achievement by any standard of cinematic storytelling. While time and technologies have undoubtedly changed the screenplay by Hope Loring and Louis D. Lighton remains as exhilarating as ever: ditto for the effervescent acting of Buddy Rogers, Richard Arlen, and then 'IT' girl, Clara Bow. Paramount Pictures really put its best foot forward on this last feature, made at the tail end of the silent era and the results hold up spectacularly well, even from a very contemporary perspective. Harry Perry's cinematography, that incorporated hand cranked cameras actually bolted to real biplanes flying perilous missions in the sky left me white knuckled and utterly appreciative for not only the cameramen lensing this spectacle but also the actors - all of whom do their own stunt work (most of it, harrowing). Completed on a then monumental budget of $2 million dollars, our story opens in the halcyon days before WWI with a manly rivalry between suitors Jack Powell (Buddy Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) for the affections of town snooty, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston) - a girl with big city experience and aspirations to marry well. David comes from the traditionally affluent family. But Jack is the boy next door. Happy circumstance for Jack since the girl next door, Mary Preston (Clara Bow) just happens to be in love with him.
Jack and Mary revamp a beat up car into the roadster they nickname 'The Shooting Star'. Mary tells jack, "You know what to do when you see a shooting star? Kiss the girl you're in love with." But this gives Jack the idea to go see Sylvia instead. Too bad for Jack that Sylvia's heart belongs to David. Learning that the boys have been drafted into the air corp. Sylvia prepares a silver locket with her picture in it for David to carry into battle. She even writes an inscription of love on the back of the photo before inserting it into the locket. Unfortunately, Jack mistakes the locket as a present for him and Sylvia, not having the heart to straighten him out, lets him keep it.
During basic training Jack attempts to knock David senseless in a boxing match. But after David refuses to surrender to Jack - despite being badly beaten by him - Jack realizes what a brave man David actually is and the two become the best of friends. Jack and David also meet veteran flyer, Cadet White (Gary Cooper in a star defining role) who is killed during a training exercise at base camp. Jack and David fly, train hard and eventually partake in air raids over enemy lines, wiping out many German pilots during their missions and winning the respect of Lieutenant Cameron (Roscoe Karns). Given furlough in France, Jack takes on with a French chorus girl (Arlette Marchal) at the Moulin Rouge before Mary arrives to rescue him from making a terrible drunken mistake. It seems Mary has joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corp. and just happens to be stationed in France at the same time. Taking Jack back to her room, Mary's superiors learn of their fraternization. Strictly forbidden under army regulations, Mary's association with Jack gets her fired from her job. She is forced to return home while the boy's fight on.
Jack and David come to a parting of the ways after David attempts to save Jack from humiliation by tearing up Sylvia's locket photo before Jack can read her inscription. The boys fly a harrowing mission in which David is downed behind enemy lines. Wounded but still very much alive, he steals a German plane and attempts to fly back to the base. But Jack, mistaking him for an enemy pilot, shoots the plane down. It crashes into a farmhouse and David is killed. Returning home a war hero, Jack is riddled with guilt. David's mother (Julia Swayne Gordon), who vowed to hate Jack for the rest of her life, forgives him instead after Jack returns to her the toy teddy bear David once vowed to carry with him through the battle. Jack rushes home where he is reunited with his parents (George Irving and Hedda Hopper) and later, Mary who reminds him, as they look up and see a shooting star, what he can do with the girl he loves. Having at long last realized how deeply she cares for him, Jack leans Mary into him and kisses her.
Viewed today, Wings' storytelling holds up remarkably well. Part of the reason for this is the liquidity of camera movement achieved by Harry Perry. Gone are the static long shots one generally associates with silent movies. Wings has a fresh and vital cinematography that is in keeping with the very best in contemporary movies. The camera soars - literally - and up into the wild blue yonder and beyond.
The one curiosity herein is seeing Clara Bow's name above the title. Despite her galvanic reputation as Paramount's 'IT' girl, she isn't in the film all that much. Wings is a buddy/buddy flick; its real stars, Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen. Both have matinee idol good looks to recommend them - Rogers appealing more to the prepubescent while Arlen likely appealed as a mainstay for the twenty-something female audience. But each can act too. It's a wonder their respective careers never advanced after Wings (or perhaps they did and are simply forgotten today).
The male bonding chemistry is really what gives Wings its sparkle and heart. 'Wild' Bill Wellman's attention to realism sells the drama, tragedy and heroism of those daring WWI pilots as high cinematic art. Wellman was a relative unknown in the director's chair when Wings was being prepared. Asked by Jesse Lasky why he thought he would be the ideal choice to helm such a weighty and expensive project, Wellman replied, "I'll make the best goddamn picture that ever was." That was enough for Lasky. And Wellman damn near succeeds in doing just that. Wings remains a high water mark in American film making. Despite the 90 plus years that have passed since its general release, Wings is a film of epic illusion and grandeur. It needs to be screened more often today.
Paramount's Blu-ray resurrects the glory and wonder of Wings as few more recent digital transfer have been able to do and with far younger films to work from for their 1080p inspiration. Undergoing an exhaustive restoration, Wings comes to life on home video as never before. The meticulous research and restoration yields a magnificently layered, texturally dense and often very vivid transfer. The film is presented in hand tinted sepia, purple, deep azure and golden hues depending on the mood Wellman is attempting to achieve. While certain scenes still retain a heavy patina of film grain and marginal loss of fine details, the overall visual presentation of Wings is one of gorgeous preservation. Truly, the film elements look marvelous beyond all expectation and will surely not disappoint.
Two scores accompany this presentation: the first preserving the 'organ music' that would have accompanied the film during its general release, but the latter being a full orchestra and sound effects re-orchestration that duplicates as close as possible the original road show engagement. This latter scoring session is preferred and really heightens one's appreciation for the film. Extras are limited to three short featurettes: on the making of the film, the underscoring and restoration process, and another on filming aerial dogfights. Bottom line: To kick off its 100 year celebration in film making Paramount Home Video has done an exceptional job preserving this vintage classic for future generations. Wings is a winner. Buy it today. Treasure it forever. Very highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4
VIDEO/AUDIO
4.5
EXTRAS
3

ANNIE HALL (UA 1977) MGM/Fox Home Video


Not since 1938's You Can't Take It With You had a comedy won the coveted Best Picture Oscar until Annie Hall. Since then, no comedy has even dared try and for good reason. Along with Manhattan (1979), Annie Hall (1977) is probably Woody Allen's greatest artistic achievement - a darling existentialist romp through the rather severe neuroses of a pair of pixelated misfits. Co-written by Marshall Brickman and Allen the film takes romantic banality to a whole new and sublimely hilarious level. The film's uncanny biographical similarities with Allen's real life have caused some critics to suggest that Annie Hall is really about Allen's relationship with co-star Diane Keaton - a fact Allen denied then and continues to deny to this day. In retrospect, Annie Hall marks a significant departure for Allen from his previous movies. The plot is played mostly serious, if with brilliant, often scathing and supremely sardonic wit that only Woody Allen can provide. Originally intended as a drama with a murder mystery as its focus, Annie Hall ultimately became a study of imperfect (in some cases, seriously flawed) male/female relationships.
Our story opens with socially repressed misanthrope, New York TV comedy writer Alvie Singer (Woody Allen) and his misshapen reflections on his life thus far. Alvie sees himself as a typical Jewish man but tends to see Jew haters, both real and imagined lurking everywhere in his midst. To alleviate this religious angst Alvie relies on wasp friend, Rob (Tony Roberts) who chronically calls him 'Max' and inadvertently sets Alvie up with social neurotic Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) during a tennis match.  Annie is obnoxiously funny, a horrendous scatterbrain and a truly terrible driver. Her idiosyncrasies (smoking marijuana before, during and after sex) leave Alvie feeling even more socially inept and awkward, but with the added emotional hindrance of being hopelessly in love. Alvie engages Annie on a strictly platonic level at first. In point of fact, he thinks she's pretty dumb and encourages her to take night course to improve her mind. Unhappy chance for Alvie that Annie takes up his suggestion. As her intellect grows so do Alvie's insecurities - that she might leave him for someone more intellectually stimulating.
Annie introduces Alvie to her family. Her mother (Colleen Dewhurst) encourages the match, but Annie's severely disturbed brother, Duane (Christopher Walken) only seems to add to Alvie's nervous uncertainties. Annie wants to be a singer. At first, this dream goes unrealized. In fact, her nightclub debut is an unqualified disaster. But fear not. With Alvie's encouragement, Annie presses on, eventually garnering the respect of her audience and even the interest of big time L.A. record producer, Tony Lacy (Paul Simon). Alvie and Annie fly out to the coast (Allen poking devilish fun at the feather-headed superficial celebrity sect). Although Annie elects to stay behind to cut a record - thereby forcing her to breakup with Alvie she eventually returns to the Big Apple, though not necessarily to Alvie or even to that cloistered neuroticism she once knew.
Alvie runs through a series of even more tragically flawed relationships (Janet Margolin, Carol Kane and Shelley Duvall) only to realize too late that Annie has been the one for him all along. Regrettably, by the time he's figured this out it's really too late to go back and repair the damage in their relationship. Alvie will just have to live with the fact that he has let his soul mate get away. Woody Allen’s ability to fashion a cohesive story out of disjointed - often seemingly pointless - vignettes is not only admirable, but brilliantly realized. His non-linear narrative nimbly explores the past, present and future all at once, incorporating first person narrations and even animation to revitalize what is essentially a very conventional romance between two very unromantically inspired people.
Take, for example, the scene where Alvie is waiting outside a theater for a movie date with Annie. Alvie is suddenly accosted by an ardent fan (James Burge) who makes a damn hilarious nuisance of himself by screaming Alvie’s name and credentials to passersby. This scene, like the next where Alvie and Annie are forced to listen to a pontificating amateur critic while waiting in line for tickets, ends only when the criticized author - Marshall McLuhan – miraculously turns up from behind one of the lobby marquees to admonish the man and reaffirm Alvie's faith in sweet revenge. "If only life were this simple," Alvie muses. But these sequences have absolutely nothing to do with Alvie and Annie's romance. Nevertheless, they help to set a style, a mood and a tone for the film that ultimately satisfies and, even more miraculously, enriches the romantic thread along the way to its next deceptively explorative moment.
Woody Allen is of course his usual brilliant self-deprecating self – employing a direct address to the audience throughout the film that is quite engaging. Christopher Walken makes a welcomed edition as Annie’s off kilter brother. Diane Keaton won her Best Actress Oscar for this film. But knowing her as we do today, she seems to be playing herself rather than a character; her wacky delivery of lines and unconventional wardrobe just par for the course of who Diane Keaton is in life. So, does she still deserve the Oscar? Arguably, yes. Her performance is eclectic and moody and fraught with an intuitive ability to create empathy for the character. Only in retrospect does Annie Hall play like a quirky precursor to Seinfeld; another story about New Yorkers that, in truth, have very little to say but said it magnificently well as masters in the art of time-suckage.
MGM/Fox's Blu-ray easily bests the disgustingly below par DVD transfer from 1999. Despite being repackaged many times over the years the non-anamorphic DVD was always woefully undernourished. The Blu-ray rectifies the first great sin. We get a transfer enhanced for widescreen TVs. But the image is, I suspect, at the mercy of less than perfect film elements. Worse, it looks at times as though it has been sourced from 720p digital files simply bumped to a 1080p resolution.
Colors are slightly faded and contrast levels much weaker than expected. There are even a few instances where film grain has that digitized look to it. *Check out the scene where Annie and Alvie stroll near the Hudson at twilight near the bridge. It's not only excessively grainy, but background information hints at some 'tiling'. Sharpness is also another issue. The Blu-ray is softly focused. Details don't pop as they should. In fact, there's a very flat appearance to this transfer. Background information tends to get lost or simply blend in without distinction. Darker scenes lack fine detail. Overall, I have to say this is a middling to below middling effort. Compared to the aforementioned DVD anything – even this Blu-ray is light years ahead of the game. But Blu-ray is advertised as the definitive way to watch movies. This Blu-ray does not live up to that promise! The audio is mono as originally recorded, and although dated, gives us an adequate representation of the original listening experience in keeping with Woody Allen's minimalist approach to making movies (at least, movies from this vintage in his career). There are NO extras!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+
VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5
EXTRAS
0

Saturday, January 21, 2012

THE BLUES BROTHERS: Blu-ray (Universal 1980) Universal Home Video


A mindless claptrap loosely structured to 'celebrate' the city of Chicago and several of the biggest R&B acts of their generation, John Landis' The Blues Brothers (1980) attempts to straddle the chasm between the traditional light-hearted Hollywood musical/and kick in the crotch comedy for which the 1970s were deplorably famous, but winds up strapping a pipe bomb to just about everything instead. The film is the brainchild of Saturday Night Live alumni Dan Akroyd and John Belushi; the two having played the brothers Blue on television in several popular skits. Envisioning a more durable and lengthy piece of entertainment for himself and Belushi to co-star, Akroyd wrote a 324 page screenplay (his first, and nearly 3 times as long as a normal screenplay ought to be) before having the manuscript bound to resemble a copy of the telephone book and submitting it to Landis for consideration. Evidently, Landis saw something he liked, because he quickly set about pruning Akroyd's concept into a manageable length.
The premise for all the musical numbers and rampant destruction that follows is threadbare at best. Jake Blues (John Belushi) is paroled after serving three years in prison for armed robbery. His brother Elwood (Dan Akroyd) immediately takes him for a little tete a tete with 'the penguin': Sister Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman) who is disappointed by the way 'her boys' have turned out. But now the orphanage where Elwood and Jake grew up is in very real danger of being taken over by the city for failing to pay its taxes. (Aside: religious properties are exempt from taxation. However, at the time the script was being developed Illinois was considering a bill that would have revoked that exemption).
Jake offers to knock over a liquor store to get Sister Mary the $5,000 she needs to save the orphanage. But Elwood reasons a more prudent way to raise money. He and Jake will reunite with their band and give a benefit concert. To bolster their confidence the orphanage's custodian, Curtis (Cab Calloway) tells the boys to visit an Evangelical church run by Rev. Cleophus James (James Brown). The boys attend and Jake is divinely inspired by the word of God. All, however, does not go according to plan. Elwood is pulled over by two state troopers (Steven Williams and Armand Cerami) for running a red light. Discovering that Elwood's license has expired the police make chase. Elwood drives his car through the Dixie Square Mall in a 'Smokey and the Bandit' styled chase that ends with the total annihilation of virtually every store front in the place.
(Aside: the Dixie Square was an abandoned property set for demolition at the time Landis and his crew did their own wrecking of its interiors. However, after the filmed carnage was complete the state of Illinois attempted to sue Universal for the cost of damages, claiming they had plans to reopen the mall but could no longer consider it viable or safe.) Elwood takes Jake back to his 'men's club' - a flophouse. But the next day the entire establishment is nuked by 'a mysterious woman' (Carrie Fisher). Elwood and Jake survive the building's collapse and make their way to Ray's Music Express, an emporium presided over by none other than Ray Charles. They acquire new instruments on credit and hurry off to collect the remaining members of their band (Murphy Hall, Willie Dunne, Matt Murphy and Tom Malone).
Matt's ol' lady, Mrs. Murphy (Aretha Franklin) attempts to discourage her hubby's participation in the band's reunion by belting out a rendition of 'Think', but to no avail. Elwood and Jake interrupt a Neo Nazi rally, driving their car into the crowd and forcing the Nazis to jump into the river, thus incurring the wrath of the Head Nazi (Henry Gibson) who vows revenge. Next, Elwood, Jake and the boys make their way to Bob's Country Bunker: a remote western bar where they crash a Good Ol' Boy's gig. Unfortunately, they drink more than they earn and the bar owner (Jeff Morris) demands payment. The band flees into the night, making their way to the Palace Hotel ballroom. Elwood and Jake rally their friends to promote their appearance and sell out the 5000 seat venue. Their ambitious promotion works, but it also alerts the police, Bob and the Head Nazi to Jake and Elwood's whereabouts.
On route to the Palace, Jake and Elwood run out of gas, forcing the band to go on without them for the first act. Curtis performs a retro rendition of Minnie the Moocher and wows the crowd. After a brief flirtation with 'a chic lady' (Twiggy), Jake and Elwood arrive at the Palace. They perform their trademark song that brings the audience to a standing ovation. Unfortunately, their arch nemeses are about to close in. Elwood and Jake escape through a trap door in the stage floor but are confronted by 'the mysterious lady' who turns out to be Jake's estranged wife. She has come there to murder the brothers. But at the last possible moment she allows herself to be very briefly seduced by her ex instead. Elwood and Jake elude their captors and race back to Chicago.
The extended chase sequence that brings them to the County Clerk also brings out the police and the National Guard. Elwood and Jake burst into the Cook County Assessor's office where their money is taken on behalf of the orphanage by a lowly clerk (Steven Spielberg). The orphanage has been saved. Unfortunately, someone will have to atone for all the damages incurred throughout the state. Jake, Elwood and the band are carted off to prison - presumably for an indefinite stay. The film concludes with the band performing 'Jailhouse Rock' to the rest of the inmates.
The Blues Brothers could be considered high camp with cameos a la the likes of Michael Todd if only the resulting narrative weren't so fraught with structural inconsistencies that render the movie an episodic mishmash at best. The premise - raising money to save an orphanage - is so threadbare it's practically nonexistent after the initial scenes are played out. What follows is a grossly over-inflated and overproduced series of clichés – some grossly overwrought in very poor taste. It is rumored that 103 cars were totaled during the lengthy chase sequences that open and close the film; to say nothing of the many properties either damaged or completely destroyed along the way.
I must be getting old, but this sort of thoughtless twaddle doesn't appeal to me anymore. I'm not entirely certain that it ever did. The musical acts are engaging, I suppose, but their choreography is more frenetic than fantastic. George Folsey Jr.'s slapdash editing simply fades to black or cuts away to another angle of action already covered. He seems incapable of providing a dramatic visual link or transition between scenes. In the end, The Blues Brothers isn't so much a tongue-in-cheek 'look who's here' cavalcade of stars - musical and otherwise - as it proves an exhaustive roller coaster ride that runs out of thrills and outstays its welcome long before the final fade out.
Universal Home Video has chosen to include The Blues Brothers as part of their 100 year celebration. This disc is just a repackaged version of the Blu-ray already available for more than a year. So if you already own it, don't buy it again. We get two versions of the film; the theatrical cut and the 'extended director's cut'. The latter doesn't really add anything to your viewing experience so much as it simply lengthens a few of the musical sequences with different angles of the action already covered in the theatrical cut. The excised portions reinserted into the film have a different color palette than the rest of the film and appear - at least to my eye - slightly more waxen and void of film grain than the rest of the movie.
Overall color fidelity is solid (except during the aforementioned inserts). Flesh tones are quite natural. Contrast levels are strong. Blacks are deep. Whites are clean. Age related artefacts are not an issue. A hint of edge enhancement crops up but nothing that will distract. The visuals are in fine shape and will surely not disappoint. The DTS audio is unexpectedly aggressive, particularly during the musical sequences. Heavy on the bass and really robust in its clarity and separation. Extras include a retro hour long 'making of' documentary and two brief featurettes: one on transposing the music, the other on remembering John Belushi.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2
VIDEO/AUDIO
4
EXTRAS
3.5

A FAREWELL TO ARMS: Blu-ray (Paramount 1932) Kino/Lorber


Ernest Hemmingway's literary masterworks have never translated well to the big screen. Perhaps it's because most of Hemmingway's celebrated novels are not really works of fiction at all, but thinly disguised first person accounts of the author's own expeditions around the world. This semi-autobiographical approach may read well as literature but it doesn't necessarily play well as pure cinema. Such is the case with Frank Borzage's adaptation of A Farewell to Arms (1932); a sumptuously mounted super production from Paramount that regrettably only comes to life in brief fits and sparks.
Difficult to assess the crux of the problem. Benjamin Glazer and Oliver Garrett's screenplay moves the action along at a swift clip (perhaps a little too swift), while Charles Lang's lush B&W cinematography transforms the internal decadences of the First World War into sublime cinema art. So too is the film blessed with first lady of the American theater, Helen Hayes, and matinee idol Gary Cooper, as the star-crossed lovers of this harrowing tale. Each is in fine form. Together they manage to generate more than a thread of empathy that makes their doomed romance all the more palpably engaging and tragic. Still, the thing doesn't come together as it should - a genuine mystery.
The title of Hemmingway's bleakest novel is excised from a 16th century poem by English dramatist, George Peele. The book cynically contrasts the intimacy of a personal loss with the more nationalized and epic destruction of a civilization. The film does not have the luxury of this comparative exposition or at 85 minutes even enough time for that matter to explore such dualities. Hence, we are left to align our interests with the rather banal story of an American Lieutenant in the Italian Ambulance Corp., Frederic Henry (Gary Cooper). A carousing devil-may-care sort, along with his suave sidekick, Maj. Rinaldi (Adolph Menjou); the two frequent the more salacious brothels and bars in search of diversions to numb their psychological wounds.
Rinaldi is the real womanizer; Frederic, his protégée. Yet, despite the many seductions they share, Frederic's heart is never in the same place as his loins. After a particularly vicious bombing raid, Frederic meets Nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes). At first she is very curt and standoffish. However, during a music recital Rinaldi encourages Catherine to share a drink with him in the garden. She agrees. When Rinaldi returns a few moments later with a bottle and two glasses he finds Frederic seated next to Catherine. Frederic attempts to take advantage of Catherine. She slaps his face, but then decides to allow him to kiss her anyway. She then reveals to him a broken heart over the loss of her boyfriend in the war and he discovers that she is a virgin. Learning of their affair - an entanglement forbidden by army protocol - Rinaldi has Catherine reassigned to a hospital in Milan. But when Frederic is wounded in battle he is taken to that very same hospital where his affair with Catherine continues.
Well enough to return to the front, Frederic departs without ever knowing he has impregnated his beloved. She flees to Switzerland to have the baby but writes Frederic most every day. Unfortunately, Rinaldi has decided for himself that Frederic does not need any more 'distractions'. He confiscates the letters and files them away. Meanwhile, Frederic continues to write Catherine at the hospital in Milan - unaware that she is no longer there. Frantic to learn what has happened, Frederic deserts the army. He is discovered by Rinaldi who reluctantly tells Frederic where Catherine is. But Rinaldi has forwarded Catherine's unopened letters to Frederic back to her. Fearing that this means Frederic is dead, Catherine suffers a collapse. Her baby is delivered prematurely and stillborn. Frederic arrives in Switzerland to find her gravely ill. And although Catherine's faith in Frederic and their love is restored with this reunion, it comes too late to save her broken heart. She dies in Frederic's arms, just as the town's steeple bells begin to peel, heralding the armistice between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
A Farewell to Arms has its moments to be sure. And certainly, this adaptation is light-years ahead of its 1957 remake – a lumbering affair co-starring a very wooden Jennifer Jones and unconvincing Rock Hudson. Yet, on the whole the story simply does not gel - even as a straight forward romance. The first third is very strong, with Cooper earnestly excelling as the dreamy-eyed Lothario. But from the moment his Frederic meets Catherine that charisma evaporates; less appealing as a lover than a ‘don’t fence me in’ stud. Helen Hayes is an odd choice for Catherine.
As an actress she's more than adequate. But as a woman made desirable to a man who, arguably, has had plenty of them, she is less so. It's hard to see why Cooper's Frederic would be so intoxicated by Haye's sexually inexperienced ingénue. The hurdle in this explanation is never entirely resolved and, as the affair between Catherine and Frederic blossoms it becomes even more of a perplexing issue. There are flashes of chemistry between Cooper and Hayes, but these are fleeting at best. The overriding arch in their romance is absent. In the final analysis, A Farewell to Arms is like a diamond in the rough; attractive but with a serious flaw running through it, never entirely buffed out.
The same might be said for Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release of the film. Remastered from original 35mm fine grain elements, the image is fairly impressive in its reproduction of film grain. Contrast levels are very good with deep blacks and clean whites. But age related artifacts are everywhere and distract on more than one occasion. Overall, the image is sharp, exposing a fair amount of fine detail. There are, however, moments when the elements lapse into a murky soup of soft focus and weaker than expected tonality. The audio is mono as original recorded. it exhibits consistent hiss and pop throughout. Save three trailers there are NO extras to consider.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
0

Friday, January 20, 2012

GOOD MORNING VIETNAM (Touchstone 1987) Buena Vista Home Video


Art imitates life...well, sort of, in Barry Levinson's Good Morning Vietnam (1987) a very loose adaptation of the experiences of Armed Forces Radio D.J., Adrian Cronauer. In 1979 the real Cronauer attempted to garner interest in turning his tenure in Vietnam into a television sitcom. Unfortunately, networks were disinterested in both his premise and the war. Fast forward a decade later and at least part of Cronauer's dream becomes a reality. But the idea Cronauer pitched to Hollywood is decidedly very different from the film that ultimately premiered in theaters. Good Morning Vietnam plays fast and loose with Cronauer's life story. In fact, apart from its general tenor and a few key elements derived from Cronauer's real life experiences, the screenplay by Mitch Markowitz is a work of total fiction.
Second class airman Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) arrives in Saigon in 1965 to host a program for the Armed Forces Radio Service. It is Brigadier Gen. Taylor's (Nobel Willingham) hope that Cronauer's glib take on current events will stimulate the morale of the troops stationed in Vietnam. Cronauer is immediately befriended by Private Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker). But his reception with commanding officers Lieutenant Steve Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sergeant Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh) is frosty at best. Neither wants Cronauer on their watch and neither cares for his particular brand of humour.
Despite this friction, Cronauer proves to be untouchable; thanks to the support of his listeners and Taylor's backing. He also befriends his fellow disc jockeys, Mart Lee Driewitz (Robert Wuhl) and Dan 'the man' Levitan (Richard Portnow), buying them drinks and women inside Jimmy Wah's (Cu Ba Nguyen) plush local watering hole. Sometime before, an ex G.I. promised Wah nude pictures of actor Walter Brennan and Wah is counting on Cronauer to fulfill that request. At work Cronauer changes the program's format from easy listening to rock and roll. He further infuriates his superiors by poking endless fun at the President, his daughters, his policies and the general absurdity of the actions taken by the White House that are progressively leading to an escalation of the war.
Cronauer meets and becomes infatuated with Trinh (Chintara Suapatana); a young Vietnamese girl taking English lessons. She is distant and untrusting, but Cronauer pursues her - even bribing her teacher to let him take over the class. But Cronauer is thwarted in his romantic advances by Trinh's brother, Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran) who believes that Cronauer's influence can only corrupt his sister's honor. Cronauer is reprimanded by Dickerson after he involves himself in a brawl over some Vietnamese prostitutes at Jimmy Wah's. And although Cronauer takes his lumps, he continues to broadcast as he likes and teach the unorthodox English classes to be near Trinh. Impressed by Cronauer's sense of honor, Tuan sets him up on a date with Trinh's whole family serving as their chaperone. Cronauer is generous with his money and buys everyone a seat inside the local theater.
Later on, Tuan rushes to Jimmy Wah's - reportedly to get Cronauer to meet Trinh privately. The two are barely a few feet outside the bar when the entire establishment is blown to bits. Cronauer is shaken and does not see what is plainly a setup. Tuan is a Viet Cong operative who has risked his own life to save his friend from the explosion at the last possible moment. Cronauer attempts to broadcast news of the incident and is promptly taken off the air. He becomes bitter and cynical about the U.S. involvement in Saigon and vows to quit his job rather than play his part in the cover up. This suits Dickerson and Hauk fine. But Taylor commands his underlings to reinstate Cronauer with all possible speed.
Dickerson devises a ploy to rid himself of Cronauer by sending him into dangerous terrain to interview the soldiers. During his trek into the jungle Cronauer's jeep is blown off the road by a Viet Cong land mine. Tuan risks his life again to rescue Cronauer. But this time he is revealed to be Phan Duc To, a VC operative. Gen.Taylor cannot ignore this association. Cronauer loses his job and is ordered to leave Vietnam. On his bittersweet ride to the airport, Cronauer convinces Garlick and his escort to allow him one final visit to Trinh and his 'English class'. There, Cronauer stages a spontaneous softball game with the students and gives Garlick a recorded message to play on the air as his farewell address to the troops. Garlick remains true to his word, then assumes the reigns of Cronauer's old show.
Good Morning Vietnam benefits immensely from Robin William's explosive shoot from the hip improvisation. Whenever the screenplay paints itself into a melodramatic corner Levinson simply cuts to Williams as Cronauer seated behind a microphone and belting out a litany of scathing satire guaranteed to tickle the funny bone. The disappointment, of course, is that the screenplay has been artificially plumped out with pure pulp. This isn't Adrian Cronauer's stories from Vietnam. It is pure fabrication almost from beginning to end. That said, Mitch Mankowitz's screenplay gets a lot of mileage from its liberal slant on the big bad U.S. government invading a small country and turning everything upside down. This is a fairly enjoyable movie that glosses over its points and, in the final analysis moralizes Adrian Cronauer as a crusader and figurehead championing peace and his fellow G.I.
Buena Vista Home Video's Blu-ray easily bests its previously issued DVD on every level. The image is tighter, brighter and more refined. A few scenes retain a thick patina of grain that seems slightly unnatural, but on the whole, this is a faithful reproduction of the theatrical experience. Colors are bold and bright. Contrast levels are bang on allowing Peter Sova's cinematography to really shine through. Flesh tones are very natural in appearance. The DTS audio delivers the goods, particularly on the catalogue of vintage pop tunes that are interpolated throughout the story. The explosion at Jimmy Wah's is also appropriately aggressive. Extras include a featurette with the real Adrian Cronauer, interviews with Levinson and cast and crew, outtakes and the original theatrical trailer. Good stuff, all around.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
4
EXTRAS
3

Thursday, January 19, 2012

MANHATTAN: Blu-ray (UA 1979) MGM/Fox Home Video


There are two love affairs at play in Woody Allen's brilliant dram-edy Manhattan (1979); the first between two couples with opposing viewpoints about practically everything, and the latter (and more meaningful) between Allen and the isle from whence the film derives its title. Undeniably, this is Woody Allen's most personal masterwork; an intimate celebration of the New York he knows so well and worships at every possible chance he gets. Allen is Isaac, a middle aged, angst ridden TV comedy writer who is currently indulging a May/December whirlwind with 17 year old music protégée Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway). Outwardly, Isaac's friends, Yale (Michael Murphy) and Emily (Anne Byrne Hoffman) support his relationship. Inwardly, they feel he is making a terrible mistake - one that can only end in disastrous heartbreak.
The wrinkle here is that even as Yale professes to be in a stable relationship he is having an affair with journalist, Mary (Diane Keaton). Yale confides the affair to Isaac and asks that he check Mary out to garner his approval. But Isaac and Mary's first casual meeting goes hopelessly awry. She's too opinionated, too bold in her criticisms and too grating on his nerves. Or maybe not. An accidental reunion without Yale reveals to Isaac that Mary is just as vulnerable as he is. She just happens to shield her insecurity from the world. Isaac, on the other hand, wears his awkwardly on his sleeve.
Isaac decides to convince Tracy that he is all wrong for her so that he pursue Mary for himself without feeling guilty. But he cannot betray Tracy's naive sweetness, even if it's for her own good. So far, the plot of Manhattan sounds about as close to cliché as the romantic comedy can get. That is, of course, if the movie had been written and directed by anyone other than Woody Allen. The most engaging aspect of any Woody Allen film in general, and this one in particular, is its seemingly effortless use of dialogue; so natural and unassuming that it appears to be happening with a magical spontaneity as the film plays on.
The conversations these characters have with each other are never anything but spot on truthful. Allen is at his most wonderfully sardonic when he suggests to Tracy that he believes in mating for life "like pigeons and Catholics". But the humor peppered throughout this wordy excursion is only part of the dialogue's charm. There is something else at play here - a sort of reality apart from the world of artificially crafted narrative film. It goes without saying that Allen's delivery of each line carries with it a weight of comedic genius. But again, that's only a fragment of the sparkle that Manhattan delivers in spades virtually from its first frame to its last.
One aspect of the film that sets it apart from virtually all others in Woody Allen's canon is its spellbinding B&W cinematography from Gordon Willis. Above all else, Manhattan is a story of that tiny little isle where all of these lives playfully and occasionally self-destructively intersect. The usually introspective Allen makes no apology for creating a character out of this vast cityscape. In fact, he revels in peeling back the layers to get to the heart of what makes New York...well...New York. We are first introduced to 'Manhattan' with a flourish of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and an eclectic series of shots that take us from the Bronx to the Battery and everyplace in between.
Yet these opening images are not presented as a travelogue per say. Rather they are an exaltation of Manhattan as a place where the nostalgia of our collective memories collides with the more sumptuous and imaginative daydreams we all share. Clearly, Woody Allen has imparted his love of the city on Gordon Willis (or perhaps Willis shared it all along). Either way Manhattan - the movie is a visceral journey to the very heart of love and life embodied in the flawed human beings attempting to find their own happiness within its tight borders. Isaac, Mary, Yale and Tracy may be imperfectly matched, but Manhattan - as seen through Woody Allen's eyes, is as close to perfect as cities and motion pictures get.
MGM/Fox's Blu-ray easily bests MGM's old SD DVD from 2002. Here at last is Manhattan as we ought to have seen it all along; with its sumptuous deep focus image revealing a startling clarity and multitude of fine details even during its darkest scenes. The gray scale has been impeccably rendered. Blacks are velvety deep. Whites are pristine. Film grain is ideally preserved for a very theatrical experience. There is a razor sharpness to the visuals that reveals more fine detail and background information than ever before. Love, love, LOVE this 1080p transfer! The audio is DTS 2.0 and really does justice to the many orchestral offerings scattered throughout the film. Dialogue sounds crisper than I recall and although obviously manufactured, will impress like never before. The one disappointment is in the extras. There are none. Just a theatrical trailer. But I digress. Manhattan on Blu-ray comes highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5
VIDEO/AUDIO
4
EXTRAS
0

THE APARTMENT (Mirisch 1960) MGM/Fox Home Video


Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) is a subversive light comedy with a very big message. Reportedly, the idea for the film first came to Wilder after seeing David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945). Wilder wondered, what if the married man wasn’t a noble and worthy sufferer, but a total cad with no intention of doing right by either his wife or the girl he has seduced? The gestation period for The Apartment proved lengthy, perhaps because Wilder knew that the story he really wanted to tell could not be told under the stringencies of the Production Code of censorship. Throughout the 1950s Wilder toyed with numerous ideas for a screenplay with longtime collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond. But by 1960 film censorship - and indeed the studio system that had helped to foster and preserve it for so many years - was in a state of steep decline and utter chaos: not so good for Hollywood in general, but very, very good for Wilder and The Apartment.
According to co-star Shirley MacLaine, the script was written as filming progressed. However, Wilder has gone on record as saying that he only gave his actors several pages at a time because he did not want them to know the ending of his story in advance. In MacLaine's case, this uncertainty definitely added something to her performance; a sort of skittish effervescence to balance out the world-weary woman of the world. And MacLaine proved – as though proof were required – that she could give meaning and depth to a characterization and an archetype that, up to The Apartment’s debut – had often been misrepresented on film as manipulative, misguided or simply played as the cardboard cutout shrew.
Our tale charts the rise and inevitable fall of aspiring corporate stooge, C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) a bean counter suffering at Consolidated Insurance and inevitably succumbing to the allure of various vices and pitfalls in order to climb up the corporate ladder. Baxter has his eye on a key to the executive washroom. But he’s in a dead end job – just another cog in a very big wheel. Baxter is so desperate for a chance to elevate himself at work that he sucks up to his boss, Mr. Vanderhoff (Willard Waterman). When the latter decides he needs a quiet little place to take his secretary for a little backroom badinage, Baxter loans him his apartment for the evening – assuming the favor will be returned in kind with a leg up at work.
It isn’t. Instead, Vanderhoff lets it be known around the office that Baxter’s apartment can be used for private affairs. In no time Baxter’s flat has gone from a lonely bachelor pad to a sort of portable rendezvous for wayward married executives who want more than dictation from their secretaries. Spending more than one night out in the freezing cold or soaking himself inside a local bar while his bosses indulge themselves at his place isn’t exactly what Baxter had in mind. But what can he do? Reneging on the deal now would put a crimp in everyone’s plans and create a trickle down resentment that could relegate Baxter to the end of the line for a promotion. If it seems that Baxter’s life is going nowhere – it is. But things begin to look up after he becomes romantically drawn to pixie-ish elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Baxter senses that Fran shares his flirtatious enthusiasm. But his optimism for a romance is shattered after he discovers that Fran and the company’s president, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) are having an affair.
Having heard about Baxter’s 'hospitality', Sheldrake borrows the apartment for several trysts with Fran. But when he decides to break up with her and go back to his wife, Fran attempts suicide – bringing notoriety and possible scandal to this low key hideaway. As a favor for hushing up the whole fiasco, Sheldrake promises Baxter what he’s always wanted – a cushy job in the executive suite. But has Baxter already paid too high a price for the privilege?
The Apartment is often misinterpreted as both a social critique and a snubbing of the corporate world; a place Wilder clearly perceives as harboring the lowest common denominator of rank professionalism. But Wilder isn’t necessarily railing against this high rise set so much as he seems to be exposing the ever weary dangers of greed – corporate or otherwise. Jack Lemmon is the idea man, less heroic than enterprising. His everyman excels on every level, mostly in revealing the frustrations as well as the elation of a good guy mildly corrupted by his own aspirations rather than his surroundings. Shirley MacLaine delivers an enchanting performance as the pixie innocent who nearly succumbs to 'the evils that men do'. Her Fran becomes the princess in this fractured fairytale. And her rescue from it, in and out of Baxter's apartment and right into his arms, is as unexpected as it proves welcomed. True to Wilder's own heart, Fran and Baxter eventually work through their auspicious relationship with a deck of cards – a game of chance. But it’s their proximity to certain failure until the very end that continues to ring true for more than a handful of daydreamers still stuck in the steno pool.
MGM/Fox Home Video’s Blu-ray thankfully improves on the mess that was their SD DVD. The B&W widescreen image not only tightens up, it sharpens up - considerably. Fine details that were marginally present now pop out with a startling clarity. We can, as example, for the first time clearly see patterns in suits and detail in hair and skin. Contrast is slightly darker, but fine detail is evident even during the darkest scenes. Edge enhancement present on the DVD is still present on the Blu-ray, but has been greatly tempered for an image that is very smooth and mostly satisfying throughout this presentation while remaining true to Joseph LaShelle's original cinematography. The audio is DTS reprocessed stereo. I very much liked the robustness of Adolph Deutsch's score - particularly the main title. Extras are all direct imports from the DVD and include two all too brief featurettes: one on the making of the film, the other a fleeting tribute to Jack Lemmon. There's also an audio commentary and theatrical trailer. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRAS
2.5

NOTORIOUS: Blu-ray (RKO 1946) MGM/Fox Home Video


Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) ranks among a handful of truly superior espionage thrillers; adult and sophisticated in its spy subplot; sincere and frank in its’ understanding of the mechanics behind male/female relationships. At this point there had been a severe rupture in the Anglo/American alliance between Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick. Neither particularly wanted to work together after Spellbound, but Selznick still wanted the revenues he could derive from another Hitchcock smash hit. So, Selznick put together a 'package' deal that included Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman and Hitchcock before farming out the property lock stock and barrel to RKO to produce and distribute.
For the first time since his arrival in America, Hitchcock was free to make the sort of movie he wanted to without Selznick's meddling...well, almost. Selznick did keep a watchful eye from afar on the film as it developed. But by then Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht had concocted a silken caper that could stand on its own. The film stars Cary Grant as T.R. Devlin, a suave FBI man who employs the daughter of an executed Nazi, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), to infiltrate her late father’s organization of spies in South America. Alicia’s past as a fast and loose party girl precedes her arrival in town. Devlin pretends to be repulsed by her, but secretly harbors a growing sexual frustration to possess Alicia for his own. Devlin's boss, Capt. Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern) observes Devlin's looming obsession and pulls the plug on their burgeoning romance. After all, Alicia's 'talents' for seduction are needed elsewhere.
Alicia is employed to pursue one of her father's old friends, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains); the head of a Nazi spy ring. Devlin sets up their first cute meet at a horse track by startling Alicia's horse, thus forcing Sebastian to play the part of her gallant rescuer. Sebastian takes the bait. Soon he and Alicia are inseparable. But their faux romance is frequently interrupted by Devlin's need to be near. Alicia confides in Paul and Devlin that Sebastian has proposed marriage. After some consternation, mostly on Devlin's part, Alicia agrees to marry Sebastian to get even closer to uncovering the truth behind the Nazis' plans for espionage.
At first, Sebastian does not suspect a thing. But during a lavish reception given at their home, Sebastian is led to believe that Devlin and Alicia have become romantically involved. Yet, the passionate kiss between Alicia and Devlin that he is privy to has actually been staged to throw Sebastian off Devlin's discovery of uranium found inside one of the vintage bottles inside Sebastian's wine cellar. This rouse works only temporarily. Sebastian learns the truth about Alicia after investigating the wine cellar for himself early the next morning. Together with his mother, Anna (Leopoldine Konstantin), Sebastian decides that the only way to save face within the organization is to slowly poison his wife and make her resulting death look like an accident.
Notorious is slickly packaged entertainment, sinfully adroit and compelling. It is arguably the quintessential example of the master indulging in his craft with all pistons firing simultaneously. Ted Tetzlaff's moody cinematography creates a taut atmosphere throughout the film that gradually constricts the world around Devlin and Alicia into a claustrophobic and inescapable prison of their own design.
For arguably the first time in his career Cary Grant reveals a bitter alter ego to his usual devil-may-care charm. His Devlin is a courtly spy seething with a perverse need to command the woman he believes has betrayed his affections. Ingrid Bergman is tragic as the self-destructive plaything who suddenly realizes she has every reason to live. Claude Rains positively oozes menace from every pore. Notorious is a film of so many unique and engaging qualities that it's difficult to assess its greatest strength. Watching the film today is like indulging in a luscious pastry. All of the necessary ingredients are present. Yet, each combines with the others to produce a sublime soufflé; a delectable nourishment that completely satisfies the heart and the mind. In the final analysis, Notorious is a high-class thriller with few - if any - equals.
No! No! NO! Not again! When MGM/Fox Home Video issued its box set of Hitchcock thrillers encompassing a few of his British films as well as all of his Selznick tenure, Notorious received short shrift; its transfer softly focused, poorly contrasted and with a discernible amount of edge enhancement and pixelization. Hardly the way to treat a film as great as this.
But now we get the Blu-ray. Things should be different, right? Wrong! Notorious has obviously been sourced from the same flawed elements used in the DVD mastering effort. The results speak for themselves. Contrast levels marginally improve. The image is ever so slightly darker than before but still relatively thick and unrefined. Clarity is still lacking. Grain is thick but unnaturally reproduced and fine details are lacking throughout. Edge effects from the DVD are still present and more obviously observed. Disappointing, actually!
Hitchcock films in general deserve nothing but the best mastering efforts. But Notorious is not just any Hitchcock film. Arguably, it represents the very best of his early American works. It is, without question his greatest Selznick picture! Regrettably, the Blu-ray does not do the film justice. The DTS audio is mono and adequate. All of the extras, including several featurettes, and an audio commentary, stills gallery and theatrical trailers are imports from the aforementioned, and much maligned DVD release. For shame! MGM/Fox has taken a silk purse and made a sow's ear from it. Not recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+
VIDEO/AUDIO
2
EXTRAS
3

SPELLBOUND: Blu-ray (Selznick 1945) MGM/Fox Home Video


From a purely psychological perspective Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) is a red herring; its simplification of Freud's theory of the guilt complex pitched and played down to the audience as a standard chase/caper. This, however, does not discount Spellbound from being a superior thriller. It merely suggests that the psychological aspects of the piece are neither its high points nor its strengths. By 1945 producer David O. Selznick was involved on several productions that diverted his absolute involvement on Spellbound until filming was well underway. In fact, Selznick had initially 'packaged' Spellbound as a property to be marketed to RKO lock, stock and Hitchcock, before deciding to produce the film himself. Hitchcock detested being traded as though he were a prize thoroughbred under his ironclad contract. But he owed Selznick two more pictures in that deal and Spellbound eventually became one of them.
After initial apprehensions Hitchcock persuaded Selznick to purchase the rights to Hilary Saint George Saunder's novel ‘The House of Dr. Edwardes’ for $40,000. Selznick had wanted Hitchcock to make a film about his own life-affirming experiences in psychoanalysis after the death of his brother Myron and divorce from first wife, Irene Mayer. In fact, Selznick's therapist, May Romm is credited as being a technical adviser on Spellbound. But Hitchcock shared no such interests on the project as proposed. Instead, the director scored a minor coup by having Selznick hire renown painter Salvador Dali to stage an elaborate dream sequence. Hitchcock saw the hiring of Dali - with his bizarre and dreamlike visualizations - as an artistic collaborator. But as far as Selznick was concerned having Dali (an artist of immense repute) on the marquee translated into considerable cache at the box office – period!
Spellbound begins in earnest with Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman); a somewhat sexually repressed psychotherapist tending to patients at Green Manors; a country sanitarium. Although Constance's own sexual frigidity is the brunt of Dr. Fleurot’s (Jon Emery) cynical humor and flirtations, her own romantic aspirations kick into high gear with the arrival of a new chief of staff, Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) who has come to replace outgoing head, Dr. Murchison (Leon G. Glenn) after Murchison has previously suffered a minor nervous breakdown. Indeed, Constance is immediately smitten with the charismatic Edwardes, despite the fact that he reveals certain phobias almost from the moment of his arrival to Green Manors. Patterned lines drawn across a table cloth or viewed as part of a design in fabrics inexplicably frighten and agitate him; the glaring purity of white stirring Edwardes into a panicked frenzy.
True to Freud’s concept of woman as nurturer, Constance is drawn closer to Edwardes by these outbursts, sacrificing her professional ethics and eventually even blunting her physician’s instincts to fall in love with her man of mystery. Her first instinct is therefore not to cure Edwardes of his psychoses but to spirit him away from a police investigation into the disappearance of the real Anthony Edwardes. The authorities suspect this imposter (rechristened John Brown) of murder. Fleeing the city limits, Constance takes John to her old academic mentor, Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekov) who suggests to John that women make the best psychiatrists until they fall in love. "After that," he confides, "They make the best patients." Determined to probe John's repressed psyche and unlock his memories to free his mind of its internalized suspicions and fears Alex and Constance attempt regression hypnotherapy. John recalls being inside a gambling house with Edwardes, but the resulting jumble of images (including a curtain full of eyes and a giant wheel tumbling down a snowy incline) only embellish – rather than resolve - the mystery at hand.
Constance decides that John needs to be taken back to the last place he recalls being with Edwardes before his blackout and forced amnesia. Alex warns Constance that she is taking a terrible risk. But she believes in John, furthermore in his innocence of the crime of murdering Edwardes. But what if he is guilty? Unlocking yet another repressed memory – this one from John’s childhood - John remembers sliding down a banister, unable to stop from knocking into his brother who was thrown and impaled on the spires of a nearby wrought iron fence. Recognizing that this death was an accident, John’s conscience is set free and Constance is convinced that they have now reached an end to John’s emotional trial.
But when the body of the real Anthony Edwardes is discovered not far from the spot where John had his breakthrough the authorities have no choice but to arrest him for the crime of murder. Through a rapid montage we hear the case as presented by the prosecution, endure John’s doleful glances and Constance’s frantic pleas for his innocence. These, regrettably, fall on deaf ears. John is convicted and sent to prison. Weary and heart sore, Constance returns to Green Manors where, unable to find a suitable replacement, the board has decided that Dr. Murchison shall remain on and in charge. But Constance is unsettled by the dream John shared with her and Alex under hypno-regression therapy.
Piecing together the clues, Constance decodes the truth behind these seemingly disjointed and very cryptic symbols; that John met Murchison while being treated by Edwardes at the Twenty-One Club; that Murchison, already having suffered his breakdown – and determined to keep his position at Green Manors – did go to the ski lodge where Edwardes was in the middle of treating John and did, in fact, during the session murder Edwardes himself, knowing that John would succumb to the delusion of believing he had killed the good doctor instead. Backed into a corner by the truth, Murchison takes out the same gun from his desk that he used to murder Edwardes, pointing it at Constance. She defies that he will shoot her. Instead, Murchison takes his own life. Hitchcock punctuated this penultimate suicide by making a giant hand in plaster with a giant gun, keeping them in perfect focus as the gun follows Constance about the room before pointing directly into the camera with a single frame of film hand-tinted bright red at the moment the fatal shot is fired.
Freed of suspicion John and Constance are married and make ready for their honeymoon at Grand Central Station, passionately embracing in front of a bewildered conductor who cannot understand why they would show such a display of obvious affection since neither is seeing the other off at the station platform.  
The heart of Spellbound is more romantic than suspenseful. This is not a ‘who done it’ but a ‘how did they do it’ wrapped in the enigma of some mangled psychological pretext. Most psychotherapist concur that the film does not adhere to either Freud or the precepts of curing the human mind as put forth by the mandates of their profession. Ben Hecht's screenplay deftly exploits Constance’s race against time and makes legitimate attempts to sustain the psychoanalytic thread. But the latter is eventually relegated as backdrop for the gushing romance. Miklos Rozsa's memorable score, complete with its spooky use of the Theremin captures the duality of Constance and John’s erotic attachment. But the dangerousness in that love is not matched by some more subliminal psychologically complexity. If anything the psychology behind Spellbound disturbs, though hardly masks its narrative intent.
Hitchcock’s artistic battles with Selznick on the set of Spellbound were daily and exhausting. At one point the director pleaded to buy out the rest of his studio contract and find someone else to complete the film. Selznick retaliated with the threat of a lengthy lawsuit, forcing Hitchcock to finish the film. Selznick also encountered resistance from Salvador Dali, who had planned an elaborate dream sequence far too costly and much too lengthy for the purpose of the film. Although Hitchcock convinced Dali to reduce his scale – many sequences that were filmed were eventually excised by Selznick in the editing process to tighten Dali’s meandering symbolism. None of these edits pleased Dali’s artistic sensibilities and in viewing Spellbound today the one sequence in it that continues to disappoint is Dali’s dream. The cuts Selznick made blunt and distill the curious amalgam into just a junket of strange and unsettling images, incomprehensible without John’s narration and Constance’s subsequent sleuthing of the crime of murder to tie together all of its loose imagery.
After Spellbound’s premiere, Hitchcock shifted his focus to preproduction on Notorious. Believing that Spellbound’s narrative still lacked in clarity Selznick pulled the general release print and removed a montage illustrating the complexities of treating patients; effectively eliminating an additional fourteen minutes from the runtime but also depriving us of practically the entire explanation behind the fundamental treatment of diseases of the human mind. Even after enthusiastic reviews and favorable box office greeted the premiere Selznick seemed dismissive about his final cut, calling it “just another man-hunt wrapped up in pseudo-psychotherapy.” Thankfully, audiences continue to disagree with Selznick’s snap assessment. Spellbound remains a very stylish thriller. Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman have genuine chemistry. Hitchcock maintains a sense of foreboding in their burgeoning romance that is sustained until the final fade out. As publicity of its day indicated, "Will he kiss me or kill me?" In the final analysis, Spellbound kept everyone guessing, even if the flawed science behind the final edit rendered the film's psycho-babble about the human mind utterly moot.
MGM/Fox Home Video Blu-ray shows marked improvements over its SD DVD. The image tightens up as it should in 1080p. Contrast levels greatly improved with richer blacks and cleaner whites. But so too does the overall sharpness, clarity and detail in the image improve. The video noise on the DVD translates to an impressive patina of very naturally reproduced film grain. The audio is DTS mono perfectly reproduces the power in Miklos Rozsa's dramatic score. Extras are all imports from the DVD and include an engrossing audio commentary by Charles Ramirez Berg and Thomas Schatz, an isolated music/effects track, a making of featurette, interview snippets with Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich, a featurette on Salvador Dali and galleries dedicated to stills and poster art. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4
VIDEO/AUDIO
4
EXTRAS
3