Wednesday, April 30, 2014

WILD AT HEART: Blu-ray (Samuel Goldwyn/Polygram 1990) Twilight Time

To misquote a line from Wild At Heart (1990), the way director, David Lynch’s head works is God’s own private mystery. Depending on one’s point of view, the fact that Hollywood has allowed this hallucinogenic showman to proliferate his bizarre visions for so long is either a colossal mistake or sinister joke perpetuated on the audience. Personally, I’m still trying to figure out which. Lest we forget, this is a director who can dazzle us with some of the most perverse human behavior ever to corrupt a movie screen – salacious, tasteless, exotic and undeniably provocative. Without exercising the idiom ‘talking out both sides of my mouth’, my own affection for Lynch’s work is mostly a compliment to his testament of incorrigibly ridiculous dystopian world views, regarding a hopelessly chaotic culture gone mad. Ironically, Lynch’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’ approach to life used to come across as a lot more unsettling than it does today; a very sad indictment on where our pop entertainment has taken us in more recent times; into a sort of artist’s purgatory where ‘art’ itself has become synonymous with smut. Let’s be honest, when we live in a world where even a woman expelling paintballs from her clitoris can be considered performance art, David Lynch can seem marginally mainstream to downright quaint by direct comparison.
By Lynch’s own account, he grew up relatively normal in an elegant house on a tree-lined street, surrounded by manicured yards and the proverbial white picket fence. In some ways, Lynch’s entire career has been a response – or rather, backlash – to this unassuming upbringing; a way to conduct an autopsy on his own ‘beautiful world’ and reveal the heinousness, gutter depravity and crass commercialism lurking just beneath. I can’t say I’m a fan of David Lynch. I don’t suppose anybody really is. What is admirable about the man and his work is Lynch’s ability to scratch the surface of a seeming unobtrusive place and time. Lynch doesn’t create the blemish or blight on this idyllic surface sheen. He merely is brave enough – and perhaps perverted by his own curiosity – to pick at the crusty scabs, allowing the puss and ugliness of life its penetrating escape to the surface. Watching any David Lynch movie is likely to put one off; to confuse, and be left questioning either personal sanity or that of the conjurer who has committed such mind-blowing images to celluloid.
Wild At Heart traverses familiar Lynchian territory, embellishing the nightmare with a patina of amoral tawdriness and C-grade filth.  Flat-chested, gum-chomping femme fatale, Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) and her fetishized Elvis-impersonating Lochinvar with anger-management issues, Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) are hardly beautiful people. Yet, surrounded by an iniquitous halo of covetous cutthroats, they seem almost normal by comparison: definitely odd, but human nonetheless. In another place and time, they might even have sunk to their own level of misguided happiness. Okay, it’s a stretch.  It might even be a myth, one subliminally perpetuated in Lynch’s screenplay, saturating the intellect with human waste and urban decay almost through osmosis. Lynch’s heavy-handed visual style sears its counterculture social mores into our collective understanding with all the subtly of a sledgehammer cutting through a slab of Jell-o.
Lynch’s movies in general, and Wild at Heart in particular, don’t make us think so much as they proselytize the viewer into a new perspective – nee almost ‘acceptance’ – for this alter-universe running parallel, yet counter-intuitive to our own belief system; making us see the world through some very cracked uber rose-colored glasses, or rather, David Lynch’s eyes. The view is never appealing, nor is it meant to be. Let’s be honest: you aren’t watching a David Lynch movie to feed your ‘feel good’. Yet, however disgusted we may become while allowing his visuals to wash over us from the third row, we do come away with an alternative point of view; however repugnant and socially depraved it may be…and it is. There’s no joy in a David Lynch movie, begging the question why anyone would willing submit to the experience. The answer, perhaps, lies in basic human curiosity. You know…the same kind that killed the proverbial cat.  Lynch’s movies get a strangle-hold on our rosy visions of life and never quite let go. While some movies brutalize the audience with nasty images we cannot relate to, Lynch’s don’t necessarily concoct the nightmare, so much as they make us aware of the fact we may be already living in the midst of one.
After an opening credit sequence layered over a sea of hellish flames, we find our white trash/red-hot lovers Lula and Sailor on the steps of a dancehall; the pair accosted by Bobby Ray Lemon (Gregg Dandridge); a thug in a three piece, who makes the allegation Sailor is hot for Lula’s mama, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd, looking like a grotesque Mae West knockoff).  The truth is Marietta lusts after Sailor, determined that if she cannot have him no one - not even Lula - will. Bobby pulls a switchblade. But self-defense is carried one step too far when Sailor proceeds to mash Bobby’s brains into the hard tile floor, leaving a bloody pool in the foyer of the club. In short order, Sailor is carted off to jail – but not for murder, only manslaughter. This fine line of distinction, and Sailor’s good behavior while inside the joint, gets him paroled in record time.
His first telephone call is to Lula. Regrettably, Marietta answers the phone, threatening to kill Sailor if he comes near the family home. No worries about that, since Lula is already in the car and off to pick her man up; reuniting Sailor with his snakeskin jacket that, according to Sailor, symbolizes his individuality and belief in personal freedom. The pair hightail it to a seedy motel – one of many – for the first in a series of raunchy sex scenes, shot by cinematographer Fredrick Elmes through heavily diffused color filters, but with very little subterfuge. Note to self: I’ve seen enough of Laura Dern’s meager cleavage to last me a lifetime.
In flashback, we discover Lula was raped by ‘an uncle’ (Marvin Pooch) who died in a mysterious car explosion not long thereafter. To say Lula’s past is sordid is an understatement. Her father was doused in gasoline and lit on fire by one of Marietta’s casual lovers, Marcelles Santos (J.E. Freeman).  The Fortune bloodline really did need some pruning; populated by weirdoes, including Marietta’s latest flame, the milquetoast, Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and Lula’s Cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) who used to enjoy placing live cockroaches on his anus – and no, I’m not going to delve into this plot point any further.
Sailor breaks his parole to chart a course for New Orleans – Lula’s favorite city. Along the way the couple stops at a hard rock hell hole where Sailor prevents an idiot punk (Brent David Fraser) from groping his woman; then, encouraging the speed metal band, Powermad to accompany him in a serenade of Elvis Presley’s ‘Love Me’.  Sailor’s impromptu performance inexplicably sends the punk female crowd into a giddy collective swoon.  Meanwhile, Marietta, pretending her only concern is her daughter, urges Johnnie to pursue the pair. Actually, Marietta is consumed with revenge – having been spurned by Sailor and determined to see him dead. When Johnnie fails to come up with any viable leads, Marietta grows impatient, then crazy. This crippling madness manifests itself by painting her entire face and wrists in blood-red lipstick. She hires Santos to do a hit. Santos promises to bring Lula back. But in addition to killing Sailor, he also promises to take great pleasure eliminating Johnnie.
Santos taps his contact in New Orleans; a mobster named Mr. Reindeer (W. Morgan Sheppard) who sends his gimp, Reggie (Calvin Lockhart) and Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie), a peg-legged hooker with rotting teeth, after Johnnie. In the meantime, Marietta has snapped out of her turbo-injected psychosis, at least long enough to see the error of her ways, and, jump in the car to be reunited with Johnnie in the Big Easy. She promises him just as soon as Lula is safe, things will be different between them. Regrettably, Juana and Reggie capture and murder Johnnie. Unaware of these events, Lula and Sailor continue their sex-crazed, cross-country trek, driving through Texas en route to California; coming across a terrible wreck at night in the middle of the desert. The driver and a passenger are already dead by the side of the road. But another passenger (Sherilyn Fenn) is found bloody and raving as she attempts to explain to Sailor and Lula what happened. However, before she can finish her statement, the girl collapses; blood oozing from her nose and mouth. Lula regards this as a very bad omen.
With little money to sustain their journey, Sailor drives to Big Tuna, Texas where he contacts Perdita Durango (Isabella Rossellini); an ‘old friend’ who actually knows Marietta has contracted his murder.  Sailor and Lula rent a room at an out-of-the-way motel where they encounter some lowlifes, including Buddy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and 00 Spool (Jack Nance) who discuss the wreck in the desert. Lula confides in Sailor; she is pregnant with his child. Sailor couldn’t be more pleased. But a baby takes money. So Sailor reluctantly agrees to Perdita’s half-baked plan to hold up a local feed store with gangster, Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe); a sadist who has other plans for Sailor. While Lula waits at the motel, Perdita drives the getaway car to the holdup; playing dumb after an unsuspecting police officer (Neil Summers) stops to question her.  Bobby loses his already tenuous grip on reality, opens fire and thus draws attention to the robbery. Perdita drives off.
Sailor emerges from the feed store still wearing his nylon stocking mask, Bobby making chase with his reloaded rifle. The cop shoots Bobby several times in the chest, causing him to accidentally shoot himself in the chin with his rifle and thus, blow his head clean from his body. Yes, it is as disgusting as it sounds! Arrested for armed robbery, Sailor is given six years in the penitentiary. Time passes.  Upon Sailor’s release, Lula, despite Marietta’s strenuous objections, is waiting for Sailor; this time, to introduce him to Pace (Glenn Walker Harris Jr.), the son he has never known. Believing Lula and Pace would be better off without him, Sailor walks off down a lonely road, through a seemingly abandoned industrial park. Almost immediately, he is confronted by a Hispanic gang, the leader knocking Sailor unconscious and breaking his nose.  In his semi-lucid state Sailor hallucinates an encounter with Glinda (Sheryl Lee) – the Good Witch of the North from The Wizard of Oz. She elucidates for Sailor that his future is with Lula and Pace. Being the upstanding guy that he is (at least where Lula is concerned), Sailor rises to the occasion, sprinting into his girlfriend’s arms, singing ‘Love Me Tender’ – the song he always intended to perform for his wife.    
Like most of David Lynch’s work, Wild at Heart defies explanation. It’s myriad of references to Oz, including a scene where Marietta barfs into a toilet while wearing black pointy shoes; Lula’s frequently imagined incarnations of mama in full wicked witch’s garb, pursuing them on a broomstick, and, the penultimate moment, where a frustrated Lula douses water on Marietta’s framed portrait, burning a hole through its façade, do not enlighten per say. I mean, we get the parallel. Witches come in many forms. So does the devil. Marietta Fortune is a gargoyle. Yet, within the movie’s landscape of heartless cruelty, she’s really not any more or less wicked than say, Mr. Reindeer, or Bobby Peru.
The performances throughout Wild at Heart are all uniformly bad – or rather, good, in a ‘crash and burn’ sort of way. It’s transparently obvious Laura Dern is reveling in her ‘dulcet bad girl’; mixing silliness with the slut factor to induce us to care. Nicholas Cage is his usual creepy self; mildly unhinged in spots, but mostly bored with any scene that doesn’t begin with his homage to Elvis or end with his shaggy torso MACtac’ed to Dern’s anemic nipples. The supporting cast do their part; the vignette with Crispin Glover feelin’ his groove as a live bug crawls up his butt, generally a waste of that actor’s superior talents. Isabella Rossellini gets short-shrift this time around too; looking like the very haggard/exceptionally bitter reject from the undead. Willem Dafoe is just plain sinister as the leering, all-gums and trigger-happy freak of nature.
Depending on one’s point of view, Wild at Heart is either a masterpiece of cameos or a dirty, disposable little nothing, never truly coming together to satisfy as pure entertainment. Lynch seems to have lost his way through this quagmire of departing innocence and infested evil. There’s no stratagem and/or context to any of the aforementioned; not even a shred of significance. Bizarre is one thing. But Lynch interpolates this excursion into the uncanny with bouts of very jejune comedy; neither amusing, nor ironic, but wreaking of rank self-evasive parody.
Because of this, Wild at Heart tends to unravel into dishonest, very cartoony and one-dimensional characters. Its narrative oddities just seem forced, its agenda intercepted, then sabotaged by Lynch in his feeble attempts to make this toxic cinema more mainstream as palpable pop satire. In one sense, he’s gone too far down the rabbit hole, and yet, in another, he hasn’t nearly gone far enough; his visions of abject derangement and raw passion becoming a mishmash rather than a potpourri. There’s no challenge to his exercise; just a lot of dreck bubbling up and the horrid aftertaste of betrayal and ‘sell out’ once the houselights have come up.
Fox/MGM’s Blu-ray release via Twilight Time leaves much to be desired. Obviously sourced from a print instead of the original camera negative, Wild at Heart neither pops nor sparkles as it should. Colors are, at times, rich, but unrefined. Contrast is rather inconsistently rendered throughout. Film grain never appears natural; gritty and/or digitally harsh or practically non-existent. There’s no happy medium. Worse, nicks, chips and dot crawl are evident throughout. Comparing the old DVD release alongside this ‘new’ 1080p transfer, Fox/MGM appear to have used the same flawed digital files for this ‘upgrade’; the inherent age-related damage occurring in the same spots on both the DVD and Blu-ray. 
The Blu-ray’s 5.1 DTS vastly improves on the old DVD 5.1 Dolby Digital (which wasn’t hard to do). With the exception of Twilight Time’s usual commitment to an isolated score track – and Julie Kirgo’s magnificent liner notes (always a treat), all of the extras included herein are directly ported over from MGM’s DVD, including a ‘making of’ featurette, extended interviews, a piece with David Lynch expounding on the experience of conceiving and making the movie, the original theatrical trailer and 4 TV spots. Bottom line: if you’re a fan of Wild At Heart the Blu-ray bests the DVD - but only marginally.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


BROADWAY DANNY ROSE: Blu-ray (Orion 1984) Twilight Time

Take six lovable New York comedians (Sandy Baron, Corbett Monica, Jackie Gayle, Morty Gunty, Will Jordan, Howard Storm and Jack Rollins), mix in a pair of cameos from immortals, Milton Berle and Sammy Davis Jr. (the latter barely glimpsed as the grand marshal of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), feather in a trio of misfits (ebulliently played by Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and Nick Apollo Forte); a bit of screwball comedy and what have you, but a witty soufflé of the first magnitude.  In short, it’s impossible not to love Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose (1984); a compendium of effervescence and charm, superbly photographed in sumptuous B&W by Gordon Willis. In many ways, Allen’s chef d’oeuvre harks back to his masterful opus magnum, Manhattan (1979), traipsing the familiar byways of this celebrated isle and points west to New Jersey for a riotous and memorable excursion.  
‘Love’ and ‘life’ have always been the two centrally themed and sustainable commodities explored in a Woody Allen movie. Learning to ‘love life’…ah, now, that takes some doing. Yet, if anything, Allen’s formidable array of deliciously obtuse protagonists (let’s just cut to the chase and point out the obvious; that Allen plays himself in virtually every movie he’s written, starred in and directed) have a very hard time coming to grips with life  - or perhaps, merely the curves it seems to haphazardly throw. Let’s not even talk about ‘love’ – a topic Allen’s chronically sarcastic alter egos know absolutely nothing about. Broadway’s Danny Rose is Allen batting his atypical best as the disparager of love.
According to Danny, it never works out. “You know what my philosophy of life is? That it's important to have some laughs, but you gott’a suffer a little too, because otherwise you miss the whole point.” Too bad Danny never takes his own advice, preferring to self-medicate with bad jokes. “I need a Valium the size of a hockey puck,” he openly admits. And we believe him too. After all, this is New York’s Woody Allen we’re talking about; a lifelong card-carrying liberal from The Big Apple; mostly in love with the city, but frequently disgusted by its citizenry; articulating this love/hate relationship as only Allen can – with adroit, razorback introspection.
The sheer joy in a Woody Allen movie is largely topographical; Allen’s love affair with New York the cornerstone of his fertile story-teller’s imagination. Taking the cliché of the ugly American to its delightfully insensitive extreme, Allen populates his version of New York with silly little creatures, heavy on the Brooklyn accent, but light on gray matter. Nevertheless, they are emotionally complex, while simultaneously remaining socially stunted.  It’s a perennially good gag; brimming with familiar faces – some long gone – others having moved on in their respective careers or retired from the spotlight altogether. If Hollywood, at least in the movies, represents the expansive promise of untapped stardom and notoriety, then Allen’s vision of New York is its antithesis; a densely populated enclave of affable hams, like the blind xylophonist (Mark Hardwick) or Bird Lady (Alba Ballard); bitten by the showbiz bug, yet inevitably forgotten - even in their own time.
Drowning in this sea of disposables is Broadway’s Danny Rose (Allen); the purveyor/procurer and shameless promoter of unexceptional acts. Allen’s alter ego, unlike Allen himself, is a failed comedian; just a guy who found his niche telling awful quips to the over-the-hill Catskills crowd until he suddenly realized a quick buck could be made off of somebody else’s lousy dream; fueling the fire and fanning the flames of their fancies. Shameless liar or congenial confidant? Well, Danny’s a bit of both, and very much treasured by the six comedians (Sandy Baron, Corbett Monica, Jackie Gayle, Morty Gunty, Will Jordan, Howard Storm and Jack Rollins) gathered to reminisce about the good ole days inside Carnegie Deli – the midtown landmark pastrami house.
Broadway Danny Rose is often referenced – or rather, dismissed – as minor Woody Allen. Perhaps, in some ways, it’s true. For Allen did give himself an impossible act to follow; a formidable body of work of which this movie doesn’t immediately come to mind, appear either to stand out or distinguish itself as top tier within his canon. But take a closer look and you’ll readily discover a minor masterpiece unfolding; Allen with all his creative juices pressed into a ripening and stellar vintage, working with time-honored material, his editorial skills honed with laser-focused precision, plying the audience with this clever ‘little’ tale that, nevertheless, moves like gangbusters through it faux nostalgia and real life circumstances, touched by Allen’s ingenious sense of comedic timing and tinged with the fundamentals of perplexedly flawed male/female relationships. Such seemingly effortless liquidity is just par for the course of most any Woody Allen movie that we tend to forget just how awe-inspiringly inventive Allen has been; or rather, callously dismiss his meticulous planning as merely expected. 
Woody Allen is, of course, a virtuoso at such critiques, able to clear cut the proverbial forest, merely to get to one tree; his reflections always genuine and absorbing. In Broadway Danny Rose, Allen continues to dissect human foibles with the skills of a surgeon; exposing the murky underlay that obliterates our only real chances for happiness on this earth. Allen serves as our casual omnipotent observer, invariably dragged kicking and screaming from the sidelines into the very messy thick of things. The comedy arises from our collective empathy for this little guy who just wants, but isn’t allowed, to be let alone - to interpret the world on his terms. Danny would rather not get involved, choosing life as his spectator sport. After all, it’s easier to manipulate the variables when you consider yourself above the fray. And arguably, he is more than content to remain a cult failure in the industry; the good-time Charlie who pitches for the underdogs but doesn’t really want to play on their team.
It’s therefore something of an unhappy circumstance for Danny that his latest ‘discovery’, Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte) is on the cusp of hitting the big time. Lou’s a sort of Tony Orlando knock-off; more clueless, middle-aged and paunchy, belting out forty year old pop standards inside some of New York’s less regarded nightclubs. Danny keeps telling Lou he could be great, but even he doesn’t believe it. As fate would have it, the nostalgia craze kicks into high gear and suddenly Lou’s landing gigs in some very high profile clubs and hotels, appearing on locally syndicated talk shows and living the good life with his wife (Sandy Richman) and two kids (Maggie Ranone and Charles D'Amodio). It all makes for a semi-pretty picture; except, Lou is ass over tea kettle in love with Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow); a smart-mouthed divorcée from an affluent clan with spurious connections to the mob.
Herein, it’s interesting to note the frequency with which Allen references the mafia in his artistic milieu; chronically billed as whacky, gun-toting ‘wise guys’ who couldn’t carry out a discrete hit with thumb screws and a bazooka. These aren’t the dapper dons or notorious ‘goodfellas’ quelled from a Martin Scorsese casting call, but rather immaculately dressed, Roman-nosed greasers whose shtick is far better than their aim. As always, Allen plays up his own awkwardness as the proverbial ‘fish out of water’ – stumbling into one heavy-handed catastrophe after another; and bumping into both trouble and the furniture as required for the good laugh.
Life gets even more complicated for Danny after he is inadvertently mistaken as Tina’s lover, the mafia sending a couple of goons, Joe (Frank Renzulli) and Vito Rispoli (Paul Greco) to take care of business after their eldest brother, Johnny (Edwin Bordo), who believed he was a viable suitor for Tina, attempts suicide; forcing Danny and Tina to flee through the Jersey shore marshes on foot. Tina isn’t exactly without blame, trusting her future to the scheming psychic, Angelina (Olga Barbato), while deviously plotting to get Lou to fire Danny so he can get a ‘real agent’ like Sid Bacharach (Gerald Schoenfeld).
Danny and Tina are held at gunpoint by the Rispolis, Danny giving up the name of third-rate ventriloquist, Barney Dunn (Herb Reynolds) as Tina’s real lover. What the heck? It gets him off the hook and it also diverts suspicions away from Lou. Besides, at last count, Barney was off doing the cruise ship circuit, far away from the Rispoli’s realm of influence. Too bad for Barney his tour wasn’t a success. He’s back in New York and incurs the mob’s wrath, winding up with broken bones and a bashed in face at county hospital. Feeling guilty for Barney’s injuries, Danny pays his bills. Danny and Tina then show up for Lou’s big show, only to discover he is severely hung over and depressed. On the fly, Danny concocts a homemade remedy to sober Lou up. He goes on, performing as only he can, and impressing Sid Bacharach, the prestigious talent agent, who signs him immediately.
With his newfound success, Lou leaves his wife and kids to marry Tina. But she is guilt-ridden on several fronts and decides to crash Danny’s Thanksgiving Day party instead. Asking Danny to reconsider his Uncle Sidney's mantra, ‘acceptance, forgiveness, and love’, Tina is instead denied all three. No, she won’t be coming back into Danny’s life….or?!?  As Tina bolts from the room feeling utterly dejected, Danny almost immediately regrets his decision, leaving his own party to pursue Tina down the street. The ‘big chase’ is another stock in trade in Allen’s film-making arsenal; hardly original, though nevertheless satisfying, as we return to the deli; Sandy Baron praising Danny Rose as a real character and truly one of a kind; Broadway’s sweetheart to the downtrodden,  given the Great White Way’s highest honor: a sandwich named after him at the Carnegie Deli.
Broadway Danny Rose is hardly Woody Allen’s most iconic work, or even his most fondly remembered. It is, however, immensely entertaining. Allen’s Danny is, of course, mere variation on Allen’s own acute, self-deprecating public persona. In more recent times, this has been overrun by personal scandal.  Since it is virtually impossible to separate Woody Allen’s public image from the characters he plays, the allegations currently impugning Allen’s own reputation seem to mildly rub off on his fictionalized counterpart. The real revelations are Mia Farrow – at first, barely recognizable as the smart-mouthed, uber-violent Mediterranean tart, and Nick Apollo Forte as her bumbling and ineffectual Romeo.
The part of Lou Canova had been originally slated for Sylvester Stallone. Thankfully, we get Forte instead; a real entertainer, who actually wrote two of the movie’s memorable parody songs, including an infectious little ditty about indigestion. Both Farrow and Forte wow us with their subtly nuanced intellect. Remember, it takes a very intelligent person to play a moron. Tina and Lou are just about the dimmest bulbs in Broadway Danny Rose; the former coming to this realization sooner, trading horses in mid-stride to pursue a relationship with Danny instead. In the last analysis, Broadway Danny Rose is one of Allen’s subtler masterpieces; perfectly scripted, expertly played and sumptuously photographed for maximum results; a tour de force for all concerned.
MGM/Fox’s Blu-ray via Twilight Time isn’t bad. Regrettably, it also isn’t perfect. The B&W image sparkles for the most part with exceptional tonality and fine detail throughout. Too bad we also get some built-in flicker. Also, film grain can occasionally look digitally harsh. MGM/Fox have done nothing to eradicate age-related artifacts. Somehow, in B&W they appear more negligible, though no less forgivable. Honestly, this is Blu-ray 1080p. Not VHS or DVD. Nicks, chips and scratches were decidedly NOT a part of the original release print. They have no place in hi-def – period! A hint of edge-enhancement is also factored in – mostly plaguing letters in the credits, but also occasionally causing background information to ‘flicker’. We’ll accept the fact that Broadway Danny Rose probably won’t have a very big calling on Blu-ray. But if the whole point of the medium is ‘perfect’ picture and sound, then this disc leaves something to be desired. 
The 1.0 DTS mono is perfectly in keeping with Woody Allen’s intent. Allen doesn’t think much of stereo. Broadway Danny Rose doesn’t need it anyhow. Dialogue is crisp and clean, music and effects nicely integrated into the one-dimensional sound mix.  A minor tragedy: no extras – not even a Nick Redman/Julie Kirgo commentary. Kirgo does give us another exemplary mini-essay in her liner notes. Good stuff, as always. We also get TT’s usual isolate score and effects track; welcomed indeed. Bottom line: recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


USED CARS: Blu-ray (Columbia Pictures 1980) Twilight Time

Consider Robert Zemeckis’ Used Cars (1980) as a prelude to all the shamelessly foul-mouthed and sexist whack-tac-u-lar silliness that permeated a fair percentage of comedies from the decade. Class will out, perhaps. But Used Cars is more arrogantly funny than slick and stylish; a C-grade premise, given B-grade wit, some mildly distracting tits and ass humor, and, an A-list cast to tickle the funny bone. In spots, the movie has its own charm and continues to hold up spectacularly well, despite tastes having mercifully moved on from this sort of addlepated crotch-kicking. In some ways, Used Cars is very much a transitional piece, starring 60’s Disney brat, Kurt Russell, crossed over to the other side of adolescent immaturity. He’s a man now, and of sufficient age to forego baseball bats and tennis-shoed computers for a healthy red-blooded all-American male’s appetite for cleavage. Russell’s performance literally saves Used Cars from the compactor; his congenial slickster, just the thing the movie needs to keep its pedestrian plot getting flat tires. 
Used Cars straddles the comedy chasm, between the 70’s penchant for gross-out raunch a la Animal House (1978) and the wittier jovialities in Coming to America (1988). There are remnants of the old regime at play; perky breasts and ample buttocks gratuitously bobbing in close-up – even a wayward glimpse of Russell’s own studly loins slipping into his BVD’s; the film’s waning ode to the proliferation and mainstreaming of art house porn a la the likes of Hugh Hefner. Let’s not get carried away. Used Cars never aspires to be highbrow. Nor is it marginally interested in being a truly great comedy; the screenplay co-written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale is little more than threadbare – barely enough to hang some truly juvenile to downright tasteless sight gags. Its’ slap and tickle, with a wink-wink/nudge-nudge has not dated all that well. Indeed, Used Cars today plays more like a relic from a time capsule buried too long in the Arizona sands. That said, there are decidedly some good things to say about the movie and some highlights to recommend a revisit to this car lot.    
Lest we forget, here is a movie about three guys circling the proverbial porcelain bowl of life; their sole purpose to get laid, rich and famous (not necessarily in that order). Used Cars is what one might expect of a typical 80’s comedy; crass commercialism with more than a touch of art house nudity run amuck. The movie caters to the lowest common denominator in adolescent, navel-gazing: visual masturbation, if you prefer, with a wellspring of offensive laughs thrown in for good measure, if for no other reason, than to watch these misguided fools prop up the ridged corpse of former boss, Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden) and send him on his way in a gasoline-soaked clunker, careening towards an electrical transformer – with predictable results. Could this be the moment, director Ted Kotcheff came up with the idea for Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)? 
In retrospect, Used Cars typifies Robert Zemeckis’ movie-making career; a director unashamedly pursuing ‘mainstream’ pop-u-tainment: a decidedly refreshing departure from his contemporaries, many of who believed themselves to be loftier than the time-honored pursuit to entertain as much of the audience as possible; instead, still going gaga over the French New Wave, while indulging their own existentialist agendas. No one could accuse Used Cars of aspiring to any such chichi nonsense. In fact, the film harks back to a simpler time, primarily because Zemeckis’ heroes were not Jean Luc Goddard or Francois Truffaut, but rather James Bond and Walt Disney. Used Cars teeters between the overt sexism of the former and family-oriented ‘feel good’ of the latter. It also looks ahead to a decade’s worth of equally engaging, mind-numbing silliness. Of course, Zemeckis cannot take all of the credit for starting this trend. Fellow film maker John Milius (who also became Used Cars producer), initially came up with the concept of a war between two used car lot owners.
Like so many implausibly scripted scenarios from this decade, Used Cars manages to weave its magic spell on the audience almost by accident; forgoing the niceties, ramping up its absurdities and introducing a host of memorably ridiculous characters into the mix. For starters, there’s Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell); the brash, smooth-talking salesman, working for Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), the dog-eared proprietor of this seedy little nothing that is in stiff competition with his infinitely more successful – and ruthless - brother, Roy (also played by Warden). Russo’s alright. He may be enterprising and ambitious (his dreams of becoming a state senator leading to all sorts of subversive references regarding America’s then current political quagmire), but his heart’s in the right place…well, sort of. What can we tell you about the guy? As a product of pure capitalism, Russo wants better than what he has. Who among us does not – or rather, did not in the go-go/spend-spend 80’s?
Russo can chase his dreams with confidence; relying on coworkers, Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and garage mechanic, Jim (Frank McRae) to help lead the charge and back him up. Russo had a good egg in Luke. Unfortunately, Luke dies of a heart attack before he can contribute the necessary $10,000 Russo needs to bribe his way into a run for political office. Regrettably, the boys have little time to mourn their beloved boss. Seems Roy is power mad to possess Luke’s lot; the pressure mounting after he is informed by his high-priced mouthpiece, Sam Slaton (Joe Flaherty) that the mayor intends to pave the new interstate right through the middle of his own car lot.  The wrinkle is, of course, that Roy will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, evening hiring ex-demolition derby driver, Mickey (Michael Talbott), to recklessly drive Luke's prized 1957 Chevrolet. This actually caused Luke’s heart attack, though not before Luke tore his brother’s garage insignia off Mickey’s shoulder, clearly identifying him as his killer and Roy’s employee.
The plot thickens as Russo, Jeff and Jim frantically elect to bury Luke in his 1958 Edsel, landfilling the pit behind the lot to conceal the fact Luke has actually died, while telling Roy his brother has gone on an impromptu fishing vacation to Miami Beach; thus, staving off his imminent takeover. Freddie Paris (David L. Landers) and Eddie Winslow (Michael McKean) – a sort of Mutt and Jeff pair of techo-terrorists – are employed by Russo to illegally intercept the local TV broadcast signal, interrupting a football game in progress so Russo and the boys can publicize their sale with a sexy model, Margaret (Cheryl Rixon, who predictably winds up indignantly naked on live television). The appearance of bouncy breast tissue in primetime is enough to get the bumble-brain redneck sect down to the lot for a few choice sales. The boys use every trick in the book to hook their clientele. Jeff even has Luke’s loyal mascot, Toby fake getting run over to force a sale through.
Meanwhile, Russo swaps out a consignment of legitimate vehicles Luke intended to donate to the local high school for their driver’s ed’ program with the vast assortment of junk populating the lot. Infuriated by their newfound popularity, Roy attempts to woo customers back to his lot by hiring a circus, complete with flame-throwers, clowns and camel rides for the kiddies. It works until Russo debuts his sixty-cent striptease; luring the adult male buyers across the street: more ‘T’, more ‘A’. What can I tell you? Sex sells. At this rate, Russo should have his $10,000 in no time. Except he hasn’t anticipated the arrival of Luke’s estranged daughter, Barbara Jane (Deborah Harmon): immediately mistaken for a consumer alert inspector by Russo, then quickly taken to dinner and almost as immediately to bed by him, to keep her in the dark – literally and figuratively - about their latest shyster’s scheme; interrupting President Carter’s address for another commercial endorsement; this one showing Jeff, disguised as Wild Bill Hickok, vandalizing several ‘high priced’ cars on Roy’s lot.
In retaliation, Roy storms into Luke’s office, assaults Jeff and discovers the secret resting place of his brother. Jeff alerts Russo to the fact the police are on their way and together with Jim, the boy’s dig up Luke, rigging his car to drive at full speed, and in full view, past the gathered onlookers, right into a power transformer, resulting in a cataclysmic explosion. Problem solved, right? Wrong! For Barbara, having spent the night at Russo’s, has discovered a recorded conversation between Russo and Jim on his answering machine where the pair all but admit to burying Luke in their own backyard. This revelation breaks Barbara’s heart. After all, she was beginning to like Russo and thought the feeling was mutual.  In wounded retaliation, she promptly fires Russo and his cohorts; the trio resorting to selling junk at garage sales to make ends meet. In the meantime, Barbara attempts to keep her father’s memory alive by starring in her own promos for the lot. Roy, however, gets hold of this raw footage, altering its content and then filing trumped-up charges of false advertising against her.
Russo improves his chances for getting into politics by betting his entire savings on a football game. Despite the odds, he wins. However, when Russo learns Barbara may go to jail if she loses her court case, he convinces her to lie on the witness stand, telling Judge H. H. Harrison (Al Lewis) she does have – as Roy’s doctored commercial claims - ‘miles’ of cars for sale. Russo uses his betting money to buy 250 cars from spurious, but good-natured Mexican dealer, Manuel (Alfonso Arau), hiring student drivers to bring the convoy of wrecks to the lot. Roy tries to prevent this delivery but fails, the resulting inventory measuring end to end at just a little over a mile. Having defeated Roy once and for all, Sam informs Barbara and Russo – who are on the cusp of a reconciliation – that their car lot is now the biggest dealership in town.
Used Cars is a spectacularly silly affair; teeming with the sort of bargain-basement, entertainment sell-out mentality that continues to find favor today, though, arguably, now only as an artifact from another bygone era. There’s some cleverness to be had. But the exchanges of dialogue are hopelessly marred by an overkill of profanity; the weight in shock value diffused after only the first few minutes of run time, leaving the rest of Used Cars a fairly potty-mouthed affair. To a certain generation and age bracket this white squall of vulgarity will undeniably amuse. But it does tend to wear out its welcome long before the movie reaches its predictable conclusion.  Again, Kurt Russell is the big selling feature, a far better actor than this movie gives him credit. Russell cakewalks his way through the script; capable of emitting equal portions of ball-busting ego and guileless charm. When he is on the screen – which is pretty much always – Used Cars has unstoppable momentum; like a train wreck one is powerless to stop but compelled to watch. 
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare nearly as well. As Luke Fuchs, Jack Warden exudes the sort of warm-hearted sage wisdom we generally respect and admire. As Roy, Warden has to play the proverbial prick. He does it with bombast (I’ll give him that) but without guts or conviction; Roy Fuchs coming across as just another stock cliché of the middle-aged brute with a bad dye job and comb over. In retrospect, Gerrit Graham’s film career never matured beyond Used Cars. He’s rather clumsy in the role of the affable sidekick who can’t keep his zipper up; already had his taste of walking the line as the lead in Phantom of Paradise (1974). After Used Cars, it’s strictly character parts for Graham, mostly on television; a sad waste of a better talent. 
We can thank the movie gods director Robert Zemeckis’ career did mature beyond Used Cars. In the interim since, Zemeckis has given us an eclectic mix of ‘mainstream’ entertainments; Romancing The Stone (1984), Back to the Future (1985), Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Death Becomes Her (1992) and Forrest Gump (1994) among them: movies likely to remain beloved and revisited by fans and scholars for many decades yet to come. Used Cars isn’t among this distinguished roster.  In some ways, it almost belies being part of Zemeckis’ canon. There just isn’t enough ingenuity to cut through all the abject stupidity on display herein. Even with all its flaws, Used Cars isn’t awful. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t plan on revisiting this title anytime soon. But at least I can say it wasn’t a waste of two hours of my life that I can never get back!
There’s a lot more reason to cheer about Sony’s superb 1080p transfer, Used Cars getting its Blu-ray release via Twilight Time. With the exception of one unexpected, and rather perplexingly out of focus and grain-riddled insert of Jack Warden as Luke Fuchs, the rest of this hi-def image is grade-A spectacular. Colors are ultra-vibrant. Flesh tones look occasionally pinkish, but otherwise fairly natural. Contrast is bang on and film grain has been accurately reproduced. Fine detail leaps off the screen (as it always should in 1080p), showcasing Donald M. Morgan’s cinematography to its very best advantage.
While the level of pleasure derived from the movie remains debatable, we can unequivocally state you are going to love – LOVE – the way this disc looks. It’s that simple.  The other revelation here is the sound. Sony has afforded Used Cars a 5.1 remix that offers some startling clarity and exceptional separation. The sound of screeching tires and Luke’s beloved Edsel exploding into a ball of bright orange flame is complimented by some fairly aggressive sound effects that will definitely give your speakers a workout. Dialogue is crisp and Patrick Williams’ underscore and use of pop tunes are spread across all five channels with very effective spatiality.    
Extras include TT’s isolated score, plus an alternative score by Dennis McCarthy and even, unused cues – wow! We also get a fantastic audio commentary from Zemeckis, co-writer, Bob Gale, and Kurt Russell. I’ll just go on record as saying I think I enjoyed this trio’s reminiscences more than I did the actual movie. Finally, we get radio interviews, radio spots and a theatrical trailer. Why Used Cars rates such a hefty package of extra features is, frankly, beyond me, but it’s extremely rewarding to see Sony Home Entertainment once again taking the high road, the time and making the effort to see their movie heritage is well preserved and documented for future generations to explore and appreciate. Very well done, indeed!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)

Monday, April 28, 2014

SORCERER: Blu-ray (Paramount/Universal 1977) Warner Home Video

Director William Friedkin proved yet again he was fast becoming one of the decade’s new breed of celebrated auteurs with Sorcerer (1977); an existential thriller, ambitious in both its narrative structure and globe-trotting scope of execution. Of all the movies in Friedkin’s superlative catalog, Sorcerer is probably the one he would most like to forget; its spectacular implosion at the box office all but wrecking his reputation, yet somewhat understood; coming as it did on the heels of Friedkin’s own The Exorcist (1973); its title – ‘Sorcerer’ suggesting another otherworldly horror classic in the works. Instead, audiences were treated to a loose remake of Le Salaire de la peur (The Wages of Fear, 1953), a perilous yarn about four irreprehensible soldiers of fortune caught in a deadly juggernaut of hopeless strife.
Friedkin’s vision for Sorcerer was expertly grounded in stellar performances by Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, and Amidou; a taut screenplay from Walon Green (all about four truck drivers assigned the hazardous duty to transport crates of volatile nitroglycerin across very rough terrain); a breakout electronic score by Tangerine Dream, and, finally, some thoroughly mesmerizing cinematography from John M. Stephens. Regrettably, it all came to not as audiences stayed away in droves; the dower tale of these societal outcasts and their spiraling desperation too bleak for the average film goer to stomach. Sorcerer’s failure seems all too easily blamable on its misguided title; also, its ill-advised debut opposite George Lucas’ mega-blockbuster, Star Wars.  Friedkin had initially conceived Sorcerer as a modest $2.5 million art house flick; more of a prelude to his next big feature, The Devil’s Triangle. However, Friedkin was to have second thoughts about Sorcerer during pre-production – eventually costing $22 million, necessitating the participation of two major studios, Paramount and Universal, to foot the bill.
Much of Sorcerer was shot in the Dominican Republic; that country’s inhospitable working conditions, inclement weather and Friedkin’s frequent rows with the foreign crew, repeatedly delaying the shoot and escalating costs as Friedkin pushed onward to finish his movie. Sorcerer is, in many ways, a masterpiece; severely underrated and/or dismissed outright by the critics. The 1970’s were a particularly fallow period for movie art, you see, and, at least in retrospect, critics from this generation seemed ravenously preoccupied with finding faults rather than extolling a movie’s virtues. Barely earning back $5.9 million domestically (and another $9 million worldwide), Sorcerer’s calamitous debut earmarked the beginning of the end for this era of director-driven movies (the final death knell dealt by Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate three years later). The biggest complaint heaped upon Sorcerer – given its title - is that it wasn’t another Star Wars or even another Exorcist.
To clarify: the title Sorcerer came to Friedkin after he observed that in Ecuador cargo trucks have names painted across their hoods. Friedkin had originally anticipated calling the film Lazaro – after Lazarus – then, Ballbreaker, and finally, Sorcerer. One can argue the silliness in this exercise, but the French derivative, ‘Sorcier’ is actually painted across one of trucks making the perilous journey through the dense jungle terrain.  Moreover, Friedkin always insisted the name Sorcerer perfectly fit the movie’s cynical theme; fate as the evil wizard, exacting its revenge on our motley foursome before they are even aware of its impact, and thus, powerless to save themselves from its maniacal clutches. Indeed, fate is a cruel task master in Sorcerer – driving men of diverging faiths and backgrounds (their one common denominator, using aliases to hide from the world, having already escaped their respective countries for crimes committed against humanity elsewhere) to their premature deaths.
Friedkin’s appointment of Walon Green to adapt the screenplay was well suited. Both men shared a love for Clouzot’s Wages of Fear. Moreover, Green’s screenplay for The Wild Bunch had impressed Friedkin immensely, as did Green’s suggestion that Friedkin read Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude as inspiration for Sorcerer. Over the next four months, Friedkin and Green ironed out the kinks in their adaptation; Friedkin’s final bit of verisimilitude was cribbed from a lurid story told by actor, Gerard Murphy (Donnelly in Sorcerer), who had been a career criminal prior to turning to acting for a paycheck. In fact, the Elizabeth, New Jersey heist sequence very closely mirrors a robbery Murphy partook in, his cohorts played by real life ex-cons and an IRA nationalist. Look closely and you’ll notice a cameo by Friedkin in this prologue too. 
When it premiered, Sorcerer was likened to Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: the Wrath of God (1972); also, to John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Friedkin’s lengthy prologue to Sorcerer is an international affair; spanning from Vera Cruz to Jerusalem, and Paris to Elizabeth, New Jersey. Friedkin encountered a minor snafu in securing the rights to ‘remake’ Wages of Fear; chiefly because its director, Henri-Georges Clouzot did not own the intellectual rights, while author, George Arnaud detested Clouzot’s filmic adaptation of his novel. Ultimately, Friedkin worked his charm on Arnaud, who gave his blessing to proceed.
If the rights to remake Wages of Fear seemed fairly easy to secure, then the services of Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni and Lino Ventura to co-star proved anything but. Friedkin had aggressively pursued McQueen for the part of small-time hood, Jackie Scanlon (the role eventually played by Roy Scheider). Very keen on the script, McQueen’s demands to remain near his wife, Ali MacGraw, and, in fact, have her appointed to the production as an associate producer, were vetoed by Friedkin, who thereafter lost the actor’s interests and ultimately, his commitment on the project. As a result, Friedkin also lost Lino Ventura in this trade-off; Ventura only accepting the role of Victor Manzon with the understanding he would be playing opposite McQueen. Meanwhile, co-star Marcello Mastroianni, initially assigned the part of Nilo, had to back away, citing his involvement in a bitter custody battle after his separation from Catherine Deneuve.
Desperate to attach a ‘big name’ to the role of Scanlon, Friedkin next pursued Robert Mitchum, who rather bluntly told the director, “Why would I want to go to Ecuador for two or three months to fall out of a truck? I can do that outside my house.” Friedkin then considered Warren Oates for the lead; a decision quashed by Paramount. With an initial outlay of $10 million, they could not see clearly the movie’s success with Oates’ name above the title on a marquee. After both Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson turned Friedkin down, Universal’s Sidney Sheinberg suggested Roy Scheider, who had proven reliable box office on The French Connection (1971) and had since experienced a flourish of considerable success in Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).
Learning of Scheider’s involvement on the project, Lino Ventura officially bowed out, leaving room for Friedkin to hire Bruno Cremer in his stead. Friedkin also cast his first and only choice for the role of Palestinian terrorist, Kassem with French-Moroccan actor, Amidou, whom he had admired ever since Amidou’s standout performance in Claude Lelouch's La Vie, l'amour, la mort (1968). In retrospect, Friedkin blamed part of Sorcerer’s failure on his decision to populate the movie with actors way down on his list of ‘must haves’; also marginally regretting his difficult working relationship with Roy Scheider throughout the shoot. Scheider had toiled in the trenches for Friedkin on The French Connection without question. But on Sorcerer he frequently clashed with Friedkin on matters of artistic merit; becoming indifferent and absolutely refusing to take direction – doing his scenes his way.
A tenet in Friedkin’s body of work maintains skepticism for either ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’. Indeed, Sorcerer takes Friedkin’s general mistrust of mankind to its extreme and nihilistic conclusion. Void of all melodrama, the characters are disreputable, yet strangely compelling; severely flawed but nevertheless able to exact a modicum of empathy from the audience as ‘real’ people who react to situations, always with less than altruistic motives, but only when they absolutely must, for the good of their own self-preservation.  Friedkin also chose to tell most of his story without the benefit of dialogue, wherever possible cutting and/or paring down verbal exchanges to concentrate instead on a lush visual style to tell his story. Finally, Friedkin insisted on a documentarian verisimilitude to give Sorcerer its gritty look of realism.
For the Jerusalem shoot, Friedkin actually staged the detonation of a terrorist bomb twice. In New York, he had stuntmen wreck seven cars over ten days to capture the carnage from various angles. Sorcerer’s four prologues were, in fact, shot in the locations as depicted in the movie; Friedkin’s desire to achieve ‘reality’ on the screen meeting with considerable opposition from Universal’s Lew Wasserman, who killed Friedkin’s plans to photograph the rest of his story in Ecuador. Friedkin then settled on the Dominican Republic, but forever regretted this decision when the weather frequently delayed his shoot.
If Sorcerer is remembered for one particular sequence, it remains the moment when both trucks loaded with nitroglycerin must separately cross a rickety suspension bridge during a violent thunderstorm. The bridge, originally designed by John Box, and built in the Dominican, was later disassembled and shipped to Mexico after water levels severely dropped. Friedkin employed sewage pumps to funnel drain water through an elaborate sprinkler system, adding wind turbines to stir the rain. For these twelve minutes, Friedkin spent approximately $3 million and almost four months on location; losing one of the trucks twice in the turbulent undertow.  Both Roy Scheider and Amidou (who did their own stunt work) would later regard this sequence as the most heart-palpitating and perilous of their respective careers.
Sorcerer opens in Vera Cruz with Nilo (Francisco Rabal), an immaculately dressed assassin in dark sunglasses, entering a hotel suite unannounced and executing its unassuming guest with a silenced pistol. From here the action shifts to Jerusalem where a trio of Arab terrorists disguised as Jews are in the process of planting a knapsack containing a pipe bomb at the steps of a government building before casually boarding a bus back to their apartment. The detonation rocks the city center. The military descend on the group’s hideout, sabotaging their escape. Only Kassem (Amidou) eludes police.
Meanwhile, in Paris, affluent businessman, Victor Manzon (Bruno Cremer) is given a gold watch by his wife, Blanche (Anne-Marie Deschodt) for their wedding anniversary. Not long afterward, the president of the Paris Stock Exchange accuses Victor of fraud. Admitting to the charge, Victor promises to remedy the situation with an influx of capital supplied by his father-in-law. He orders his business partner, Pascal (Jean-Luc Bideau) to ask for the money. They quarrel and Pascal reluctantly agrees to pursue the matter on Victor’s behalf; returning during a dinner engagement at a fashionable restaurant to explain how his father has rejected the offer to preserve the integrity of their family’s name. Shamed, Pascal commits suicide, shooting himself in the head in his sports car and Victor flees the restaurant without ever explaining to Blanche what has transpired. He will never see her again.  
Friedkin now shifts our attentions to a heist gone horribly awry in Elizabeth, New Jersey; an Irish mob stick-up of a profitable church with rival connections. The goons, fronted by Donnelly, shoot a priest and make off with the church’s bankroll. Jackie Scanlon is their getaway driver. But only a few blocks from the robbery, Scanlon suddenly loses control, colliding with a jackknifed semi. Everyone is killed in the rollover, except for Scanlon, who escapes with serious injuries. Unfortunately, the wounded priest just happens to be the brother of mafia chieftain, Carlo Ricci (Friedrich von Ledebur) who puts a hit on Jackie. Jackie friend, Vinnie (Randy Jurgensen) arranges for his extradition to an undisclosed location. With a price on his head, Jackie has no alternative.
Friedkin now moves into the movie’s second and third acts, taking place in Porvenir; a South American hovel of stifling poverty, overseen by its Castro-esque dictator and a secret police who, of course, mismanage the law, accepting bribes and favoring only rich gringos who can pay for their ‘protection’.  We are reunited with Kassem, Victor and Jackie; all of whom have assumed fake identities, procuring work with a local American oil company – the town’s only real source of sustainable income. Kassem befriends Marquez (Karl John), an ex-Nazi hiding from his own former sins. Survival is one thing. But all of the aforementioned have had quite enough of their squalid living conditions, in stark contrast to the lives they once knew. Each is pinching his pennies to save up for an emigration visa.
After Nilo arrives in town, still immaculately groomed, he raises suspicions. Some 200 miles away, the American oil company experiences at cataclysmic setback after one of their wells accidentally blows up; expelling a hellish fireball into the sky and incinerating virtually all the workers who were preparing its rig for the drilling. The only way to extinguish the blaze is with nitroglycerin. Regrettably, the nitro at the nearby depot has been improperly stored with the dynamite; its chemical compound highly unstable.  Electing to transport this volatile liquid miles over rough terrain, the company holds open auditions for competent truck drivers. Kassem, Victor, Jackie and Marquez are hired on to assemble their trucks from rusted out hulls and spare parts in the junk yard. However, on the eve of their departure, Nilo sneaks into Marquez’ slum hut and slits his throat, replacing him on the journey. Kassem and Victor drive the first truck; Jackie and Nilo the second. Despite their obvious contempt for one another, each man is forced to set aside his prejudices and co-operate in order to survive.
At one point, Jackie and Nilo reach a fork in the dirt road, obscured by a missing sign post. Jackie elects to drive the lower elevation, reaching a rickety suspension bridge in a blinding rainstorm. Nilo gets out and guides the truck across the unbelievably unstable expanse. A short while later, Kassem does the same for Victor, the pair narrowly making it across before the flimsy towers give out and collapse. Stifling heat persists. The foursome comes to a break in the muddy road, this time blocked by a toppled kaoba tree. Using a box from their unstable cargo to rig a bomb, the tree is successfully obliterated; the path cleared for the last league in their journey.
Kassem and Victor hurry to their destination atop the mountains, the cliff giving way beneath their tires, plunging the truck over the side and into a steep ravine. The nitroglycerin detonates killing both men in an instant. A short while later, Nilo and Jackie discover their smoldering wreckage. They are held up by some revolutionaries along the roadside and engage in a gunfight that ends with Nilo fatally wounded. As Jackie races through a barren landscape of stone pillars he begins to hallucinate how all of their lives have been destroyed by fate.
He is spared his descend into total madness after Nilo dies; dragging the body a few feet away and leaving it to rot amidst the apocalyptic stone pylons (actually shot in Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, near New Mexico). Jackie then carries the nitroglycerin in his arms after his engine dies, staggering toward the oil field on foot where he is welcomed by the workers with open arms. For his bravery, Scanlon is offered legal citizenship and money, as well as another better job with the company. He declines all of these offers, however, opting for a dance with one of the local barmaids. Carlo Ricci's henchmen, who have been pursuing Jackie half way around the world, along with Jackie’s old friend, Vinnie emerge from a taxi. Sorcerer concludes on a decidedly ambiguous note; a high angle overhead shot of the intersection, as Vinnie and the boys enter the bar.
Sorcerer is unapologetically negativistic. And yet, in many ways, it is a film of exquisitely stark loveliness. Much of the credit for its’ exotic look must go to cinematographers Dick Bush and John M. Stephens. Initially, the project was Bush’s show. While Friedkin was pleased with Bush’s contributions on the various prologues, he was exceedingly unimpressed by the dark, underexposed visuals Bush had captured after only two weeks of shooting in the Dominican. Bush balked at Friedkin’s insistence on a reshoot and shortly thereafter lost all confidence on the project. Ultimately, he was replaced by Stephens, who fell into line with Friedkin’s wishes; the visuals photographed in the jungle exemplifying the danger and mystery of an exotic tropical locale, while the forgotten hovel of La Altagracia, where the bulk of the movie’s last act takes place, was later described by Friedkin as ‘a prison without walls’ and with a ‘sense of timeless poverty and persecution’ lingering about its squalid byways and alleys.   
Sorcerer’s behind the scenes crew went through multiple changes as the production progressed; Friedkin firing managers at will, and reluctantly accepting the resignation of his line producer, David Salven, who was facing personal problems back in the U.S. In Tuxtepec, Mexico, Friedkin was informed by federal authorities that several of his crew, including grip, stuntmen and a makeup artist, were in the possession of illegal drugs and urged to leave the country or face prison sentences. Friedkin would later recall he additionally lost some fifty crew members either to injury, gangrene, food poisoning or malaria.  In the end, it might have all been worth it had Sorcerer performed at the box office.
Instead, the critics excoriated Sorcerer with vitriol and relish. Leslie Halliwell led this charge, calling Sorcerertruly insulting’, adding, ‘Why anyone would want to spend $20 million on a remake of The Wages of Fear, do it badly, and give it a misleading title is anybody's guess. The result is dire.’ Andrew Sarris bettered this assault, summarizing Sorcerer as ‘a visual and aural textbook on everything that is wrong with current movies’.  Dissected as everything from ‘self-consciously arty and pretentious’, Sorcerer seemed destined to quietly disappear as one of Hollywood’s unmitigated turkeys.  Time, however, has had other plans for this movie. While Sorcerer fails to live up to Friedkin’s contributions on either The Exorcist or The French Connection, it nevertheless remains a compelling piece of movie fiction, capable of holding one’s attention for most of its run time, particularly once all prejudices against its title have been set aside.
Fair enough, the film lacks protagonists we can root for. Roy Scheider is the most recognizable name above the title. But even his Jackie Scanlon is little more than an impenitent slob unable to relate to his fellow man in any way that might endear him to the audience. Lest we forget, William Friedkin did not set out to make a movie about either heroes or villains. Sorcerer has a lot of reprobates milling about its impoverished landscape. But even the most repugnant among them – arguably, Nilo (who has no compunction about taking a man’s life simply to better his own) – is given a brief reprieve near the end of this narrative; standing up to rebels who attempt to rob his truck and dying alone in the remote stone desert with a queer smile frozen across his face.
Far from being one or even two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, the characters who populate Sorcerer are remorseless but genuine; alive - if relentlessly blemished by life; in short – they are human, even if their actions dictate inhumane behavior. Friedkin gives us real human tragedy without the groundswell of emotions too easily manipulated into deeper contemplation through tears. This isn’t a story about people we embrace, and yet we discover something very sad and disturbing in their seemingly soulless makeup. Arguably, apathy was never Friedkin’s strong suit, or even the desired result herein. But as the camera pulls back from La Altagracia and we await the inevitable sound of gunfire that will put an end to Jackie’s brief reprieve, Sorcerer achieves its end goal; to illustrate the abject pointlessness and disposability of these lives in particular, and perhaps even life in general.
Paramount’s hi-def Blu-ray, under its distribution arrangement with Warner Home Video has brought forth a spectacular reference quality 1080p transfer. The image has both clarity and depth and detail abounds; everything from the careworn metal to the lush density of the tropical undergrowth has been given a ground-up clean up and restoration; the color palette full of eye-popping hues that startle and impress, yet always seem indigenous to the original theatrical presentation. Best of all, the image retains the organic look of film. My one complaint herein is that Warner continues to utilize a lower than expected bit rate. Compression artifacts are not an issue, though I suspect in projection the results might not be quite so perfect. Why this Blu-ray’s bit rate was not maxed out is anybody’s guess and, frankly, beyond me. 
This new Blu-ray contains a ‘reimagined’ (Friedkin's terminology) 5.1 DTS sound mix by Aaron Levy of Todd-Soundelux. In a word, it is ‘impressive’. Rear channels are used sparingly but effectively; the sequence on the bridge given to a deafening array of rain and wind effects. Explosions register with deep bass. Dialogue is clear and the electronic score, while dated, never overwhelms our aural experience. This is a magnificent disc with one caveat: no extra features – not even an audio commentary. For shame! Bottom line: highly recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE: Blu-ray (Paramount 1962) Paramount Home Video

Few directors are as instantly associated with a genre. Arguably, none is more beloved for his iconoclastic portraits of the American west than John Ford. A curmudgeon who at once begrudgingly allied his talents with that other ‘John’ of legendary status – ‘Duke’ Wayne – and profited handsomely by the alliance (and vice versa), Ford’s filmic repertoire could almost stand alone as the purest evocation of the American west…or, at least, the west as seen through a poet’s eyes. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to conjure to mind any image of the west without immediately referencing an image burned into our collective memory from a John Ford movie. The pivotal line from Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is “When the legend becomes fact – print the legend.” Yet, one might just as easily substitute ‘Hollywood’ for ‘the west’ and attach John Ford’s name for good measure.
Ford breathed the western. It was in his blood. He reintroduced audiences to both its legacy and mythology at a time when Hollywood regarded the western genre as little more or better than a cheaply made diversion for the Saturday matinee. But Ford’s westerns are almost always epitaphs to its rugged grandeur and naturalist beauty, invariably tinged with a touch of sadness for that way of life now lost to us for all time. Ford might have aspired to become a cowboy himself; if only he had he been born fifty years earlier and miraculously reincarnated as a proud and vigorous figure to be carved in granite astride his noble steed.
The image we readily have of John Ford today, is that of the patch-eyed and jowl, cigar-chomping and paunchy overseer of an inimitable and truly remarkable body of work.  Yet, even in his youth, the six foot Ford – with smoother skin and two eyes, hiding behind a pair of perfectly round spectacles; his quaff of thick curly hair tussled atop his head – looked more like a bookkeeper than a roughhewn and starry-eyed romantic figure from the old west.  Ford found his alter ego in the six foot four Wayne, a formidable tower of rugged masculinity; flawlessly handsome then, and ready to make good on the prospect of becoming the face of the American west, no less magisterial or ensconced in its annals than Wyatt Earp.
It wasn’t easy. Ford at once detested and adored Wayne; a sort of professional jealousy, manifesting itself in a terrible contempt, frequently exposing Wayne to abject humiliation in front of his costars. Wayne took it, perhaps because he realized Ford truly loved him besides, could appreciate his talents (talents, Ford diligently worked to foster, hone and mold along the way into an iconography we instantly recognize as ‘John Wayne’) and knew, that when it came to making yet another film in the venerable western genre, Ford could think of no one finer to walk in those dusty, spur-strapped boots than the man who owed him everything. It was, of course, a two-way street.
Ford could not have made the westerns he did, so readily and with such masterful precision, without John Wayne as his star. There were, to be sure, other Hollywood he-men who invariably found their reputations attached to this genre: Gary Cooper for one; Errol Flynn another, and of course, Clint Eastwood – though arguably, only after Wayne and Ford had retired their ten gallons and ridden off together into that proverbial sunset. Yet, as magnificent as Coop’, Flynn and Eastwood undeniably are; they fail to match our fondness for Wayne.  While the others came, partook and arguably, stood in for the American west on occasion, Wayne and Ford were the epitome of it…or at least, the west as we prefer to remember it.
In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Ford is perhaps testing these maxims and precepts against his own turbulent culture and changing audience tastes: a very smart move. For in questioning the western mythology he almost single-handedly helped to solidify as ‘the truth’, Ford makes us aware of the differences between fact and fiction – essentially maturing the western beyond the legend, while illustrating the machinations by which lies come to mimic truth; eclipsing reality with their reasonable facsimiles. It’s a delicate balancing act, one that could so easily have failed – either as a John Ford western, or simply, as a movie too much ahead of its time. Perhaps this is the way Hollywood viewed the project too. For in preparing the film, Ford could find no studio willing to fund it, despite his assurances Wayne’s name, as well as James Stewart’s were already attached to the project. Bargaining with Paramount to get a workable budget, Ford was forced to shoot the entire movie on back lots at Paramount and MGM and, in B&W. The latter was hardly considered a hardship, as Ford’s best westerns are, arguably, all shot monochromatic. But the lack of locations – at least in retrospect – proved a minor hindrance.
Indeed, when comparing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to the rest of Ford’s canon, one is immediately struck by its restrained visuals; the obviousness of indoor sets shot under optimal lighting conditions, only meant to mimic the great outdoors. No sprawling vistas or stark resplendencies showcasing Death and Monument Valley herein. Yet, it is to Ford and cinematographer, William H. Clothier’s credit The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance visually belies these cost-cutting measures - mostly; Clothier’s sumptuously lit sets and exteriors playing to the moody magnificence of what is essentially an intimate melodrama with only one big reveal.
James Stewart’s somewhat self-appointed Ransom ‘Ranse’ Stoddard didn’t gun down desperado, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin).  Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) did. Ranse’s reputation: his entire political career and marriage to Hallie (Vera Miles) have been built upon this lie – one not even he is aware of at first – playing to a courageous showdown that never happened…or rather, did – just not in the way Ranse thought. And Ranse not only owes Tom these many years of prosperity. He literally owes him his life. For Liberty was a far better shot and infinitely more ruthless than Ranse ever could be.
In Ranse Stoddard we have a fascinating figure; the diminutive gentleman of some brains, who nevertheless is the proverbial fish out of water when exposed to this harsh frontier – home to both Tom and Liberty. And James Stewart is the quintessential actor to play such a troubled ‘hero’; Stewart’s genial nature allied with his alter ego, forced into bouts of sad-eyed doubt, and even more crippling vignettes of fuming rage that frequently muddle his thinking.  On the flipside is Wayne; the robust man of action whose fists and rifle do most of his talking.  Screenwriters, James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck play to the fact each is rather envious of the other. Ranse would trade half his intellect for some of Tom’s brawn and vice versa. In the end, neither is satisfied with his lot in life; and curiously, we get the distinct sense neither is Hallie; having chosen Ranse as her husband, yet somehow wishing she had remained at Tom’s side. 
Based on a short story by Dorothy M. Johnson, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is not about the man who thinks he shot Liberty Valance; rather, the vanquished breed of nobility turned to dust with the passing of Tom Doniphon. John Ford has already written the epitaph for Hollywood’s version of the American west by setting his prologue in a present, nearer to our own time and social morays. Gone is that era of inspired daydreaming for uncharted horizons as the aged Senator Ranse Stoddard and his wife, Hallie depart the train at Shinbone station to pay their respects on the day of Tom Doniphon’s funeral. Here is a town barely recognizable to this aged couple who left it so many years before, never looking back while Ranse pursued his successful political career. Ford is a master at setting up the complex parallel between Shinbone’s thriving sophistication and the Stoddard’s physical decline. Indeed, while Ranse and Stoddard have entered the winter of their lives, the town has only begun to enjoy its’ Spring; begun after someone put a period to the notorious outlaw, Liberty Valance.
Ranse takes great pride in Shinbone’s progress, allowing the town to believe his actions were the impetus for it. The truth, regrettably, is never what it seems.  Met at the station by an exuberant reporter, Charlie Hasbrouck (Joseph Hoover) and his even more demonstratively probing editor-in-chief, Maxwell Scott (Carlton Young), Ranse cannot resist the opportunity to give ‘an exclusive’ interview to ‘The Star’ newspaper, while Hallie is escorted out of town by the former Marshall, Link Appleyard (Andy Devine), who drives her to the ruins of the old stone house where Tom Doniphon once lived. Learning of Ranse’s purpose in town – to attend Tom’s funeral – Scott presses the matter further, following Ranse, Hallie and Link to the undertaker, where Tom’s loyal man, Pompey (Woody Strode) is already in mourning. Once again, it is Ranse who leaves the forlorn friends to enlighten the press about their friendship; stepping into an adjacent garage where he immediately discovers the remnants of an old stagecoach raised on blocks.
This discovery jogs Ranse’s memory. We regress nearly forty years back in time; Ranse, now an optimistic young lawyer, newly appointed to the bar and on his way by stagecoach to practice in Shinbone. Regrettably, the coach is high-jacked by Liberty Valance and his band of ruthless cutthroats. Defending the honor of the widow Prescott (Anna Lee) gets Ranse badly beaten and horse-whipped by Liberty, who also destroys Ranse’s law books with relish before leaving him for dead in the desert. Thankfully, all is not lost.  For Tom and his hired man, Pompey come across Ranse and hurry him into town in the dead of night, to be nursed by restaurant owner, Peter Ericson (John Qualen) and his wife ,Nora (Jeanette Nolan). Tom is sweet on their daughter, Hallie. She, however, is quick to dismiss Tom’s affections; also outspoken in her disdain for the town’s marshal, Link Appleyard who is quite unwilling to enforce the law.
Left penniless by the stagecoach robbery, Ranse rooms upstairs with the Ericson’s and works in their restaurant, washing dishes. For the forthright Ranse, general help is decidedly a step down in his career aspirations, further aggravated when Liberty arrives for a meal, using the opportunity to humiliate Ranse once again; this time, by tripping him with a tray full of dishes. What Ranse perhaps fails to grasp is that Liberty intends to finish the job he started in the desert. Intent on preserving the order, if not Ranse’s dignity, Tom intervenes in their confrontation; later, informing the naïve Easterner that if he intends to remain in the territory he will have to learn how to use a gun. Ranse refuses. In fact, Ranse is rather pompous; citing himself as a man of peace, still believing he can bring about an end to Liberty’s reign simply by enforcing the law.
Furthermore, Ranse aims to elevate the general tenor of the town by introducing formal education to its children; a practice embraced by Hallie who, admittedly cannot read or right. Ranse not only teaches Hallie the fundamentals, he also appoints her to help educate the others. A quiet respect blossoms between these two, eventually leading to love, though arguably, not passion. More impressive is the amount of respect Ranse garners from the town for his efforts. As his stature grows, Ranse once again realizes he is placing himself in harm’s way; for Liberty is not about to let Shinbone ‘go soft’. Secretly, Ranse purchases a gun, planning to teach himself the art of self-defense. It won’t work. Ranse is not accustomed to living by the gun. Knowing it is only a matter of time before Ranse and Liberty clash again, Tom decides to take Ranse to his farm and give him a crash course in how to use his firearm.
Hallie’s growing affections for the competition are not lost on Tom, who uses the object lesson of gun training to humiliate Ranse by firing his pistol into a nearby can of paint. It splatters all over Ranse’s new suit.  Tom forewarns Ranse that Liberty will be just as devious in their confrontation. Furious, Ranse knocks Tom to the ground with his fists before storming off. In the meantime, Shinbone has decided to elect a pair of delegates for the statehood convention. This, of course, is very much to Ranse’s purpose, as it will hasten the end of Liberty by bringing a solid infrastructure, safety, and education to their tiny hamlet; elements of societal order Liberty cannot abide. Liberty attempts to intimidate the town into electing him as their delegate. Instead, the town sides with Ranse and local newspaper editor, Dutton Peabody (Edmund O’Brien), the latter a proponent of ridding Shinbone of its lawlessness once and for all. Both men are put forth as candidates for the legislature. As rebuttal, Liberty challenges Ranse to a duel. But Tom stands his ground, informing Liberty that the people have spoken. Ranse stays. Liberty should get out while the getting is good.
That evening, Liberty and his men brutally assault Peabody for publicizing his defeat in the paper.  The desperadoes trashes The Star’s offices. Discovering Peabody too late, Ranse flies into a rage and stalks off in the night for a showdown; drawing Liberty from the cantina where he has gone to celebrate. Liberty is mildly amused by Ranse’s anger, casually firing his pistol into a nearby bucket of water and drenching Ranse. He then shoots Ranse in the arm, relishing what he perceives will be a slow kill. Liberty allows Ranse to retrieve his gun. His murder will be the sweetest revenge. But as Liberty goads Ranse into taking his final shot, he never imagines it will be his own last demand. For Tom is hiding off to the side, and as Ranse shakily prepares to take aim, Tom simultaneously fires a single bullet into Liberty, instantly killing him.
The town is elated by Ranse’s victory. Hallie affectionately tends to his wounds and Tom, begrudgingly, offers his congratulations. A short while later, Liberty’s henchmen, Reese (Lee Van Cleef) and Floyd (Strother Martin) plot Ranse’s lynching for Liberty’s ‘murder’. Tom, who bitterly realizes that in ridding the town of Liberty he has lost Hallie to Ranse, decides to get drunk and confront the pair. Pompey arrives, dragging Tom back to his ranch. Disgusted by his own sabotage of his future dreams to marry Hallie, Tom sets fire to the addition to his home he had begun as their bridal suite. The fire quickly engulfs the homestead. But Pompey manages to save Tom from the blaze. At the convention, Ranse is hailed as ‘the man who shot Liberty Valance’. But his guilt over committing murder prevents Ranse from accepting this appointment to the legislature. To spare Ranse from his self-pity, Tom privately reveals he shot and killed Liberty Valance. His conscience cleared, Ranse returns to the delegation and is exuberantly appointed.
We return to the present, Ranse deflated by his confession to Mr. Scott; realizing his preeminence in American politics, first as a Governor, then Senator, and finally, as an Ambassador to Great Britain, would never have come about without Tom Doniphon’s intervention and his enduring silence on the matter. Ranse gives Scott permission to do with the story what he will. But Scott informs Ranse he has no intention of publishing the piece, explaining “This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Momentarily relieved of the responsibility - having to pretend at being a ‘great man’ - Ranse informs Hallie that he intends to retire from political life immediately and establish his own small law practice in the territory.  However, as Ranse thanks the conductor for the many courtesies extended to him by the railroad, the conductor exuberantly reminds him, “Nothing's too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance!” It’s no use. No matter how long Ranse Stoppard lives, he must carry the burden of knowing his entire life’s work has been built upon a terrible lie.
In this ultimate moment of realization, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance achieves a sort of sobering confessional quality few American westerns before or since its time have managed to convey without becoming maudlin or overtly sentimental. The strength of the picture remains James Stewart’s superb performance as this basically honest man who willingly allows himself to be swayed, then corrupted by a lie he is all too eager to embrace, simply to advance his own career objectives and life’s aspirations. In the end, Tom Doniphon is the more forthright man of action; his reputation and stature – even within Shinbone – reduced to rubble and a forgotten rosewood casket precisely because he did the honorable thing.  But Ranse has hardly escaped the deception unscathed. Without any needless exposition, John Ford manages to convey a sense Ranse’s marriage to Hallie is not a success.  Tom has been between them these many years – or rather, his memory, now likely to linger in perpetuity after his death. And knowing what a fraud he is has understandably eaten away at Ranse’s self-respect. If only he could admit the truth, he might be rid of this specter; success - the double-edged sword, having simultaneously built up and destroyed his credibility with the passage of time. Alas, any confession now would ruin two lives – his and Hallie’s; an impossible situation. The secret must be carried to his grave.    
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance stands in stark contrast to John Ford’s superb Technicolor visual tomes from the mid to late 1950’s. In forgoing stately grandeur to tell this more intimate and devastating tale, Ford almost single-handedly matures the Hollywood western into the advancing, deglamorized, and decidedly less romantic age. Arguably, the doing was only partly his. For two decades John Ford had been a highly respected and recognized name. However, by 1960, he was fighting a losing battle on several fronts. First, Ford’s ill health had begun to take its toll on his vitality for the craft. Second, the demise of the studio system meant Ford’s reputation could no longer rely on the crutch of a full company awaiting his beckoned call. Third, Ford’s last few movies had not been hits at the box office, and the new breed of executives now in charge of the studios were, perhaps, unwilling to gamble on Ford’s reputation alone to bankroll this project.
As a result, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was made mostly under duress, Ford understanding that its failure could end his career. Ford’s crusty nature aside, it must have been galling to realize the only way this film could be green lit was if John Wayne’s name was attached to the project. In early years, Ford had been the master craftsman and saleable commodity studios turned to for inspiration. Now, it was Wayne – the man who owed Ford everything – whose name alone could light up the marquee. Shot mostly on sets at Paramount, with a few exteriors on the old MGM western set, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance lacks the emblematic breadth of a traditional John Ford western. The absence, however, is all to the good, since the film is an intimate character study, focused on the clash between the old and new western ideologies, and, the paradox making the two irreconcilable.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is very dark film. It seeks to examine the integrity of a man by the measure of his actions, rather than through the contemplations behind those actions. Both James Stewart and John Wayne deliver multi-layered, subtly nuanced performances as their love/hate friendship progresses. Tom loves Hallie, but loses her to Ranse because he allows his competition to take credit for his heroic deed. And even Ranse seems to realize – perhaps much too late to make any difference at all – Hallie has married him partly to satisfy her romanticized view of the night Liberty Valance was gunned down. As such, Hallie’s opinion of Ranse as her knight has only managed to tarnish his armor. 
James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck’s screenplay irons out much of the serialized confusion in the original Dorothy Johnson short story, fleshing out the character of Tom and affording him more internal conflict. In the short story, Tom is a stock and benevolent figure. In the film he is the frustrated instigator and sublime antagonist – constantly reminding Ranse of the fact that personal integrity alone is a poor substitute, especially when pitted against men who only respect the point of a pistol.
In their infinite wisdom, Paramount Home Video have chosen to release The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance only in the U.K. on Blu-ray and minus virtually all the extra features included on their rather lavishly appointed 2-disc Centennial Collection DVD. Thankfully, this disc is ‘region free’. You can play it anywhere! In hi-def, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance sports an impressive transfer; exceptionally solid with superior clarity and a gorgeous gray scale. This is a near flawless presentation, infrequently interrupted by the minutest age-related artifact. Great stuff from Paramount – as always. Like Sony, Paramount remains consistently committed to releasing impeccable HD quality transfers on home video. The DTS 5.1 audio is very impressive, though undeniably dated in its overall fidelity. Dialogue is very natural sounding and SFX and music are nicely integrated.
Less impressive is the loss of the comprehensive commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, the scene specific commentary from Dan Ford with archival recordings of Stewart and Lee Marvin, and the absence of that second disc of extras, including the magnificent 7-part documentary on John Ford and the making of this film; plus, the extensive gallery of lobby cards, production stills and publicity photos and original theatrical trailer. No two ways around it. Losing all of this is a grand disappointment. The hi-def transfer alone is worth the price of admission herein, and perhaps Warner Home Video will get around to reissuing this one in North America with all the bells and whistles. Until then, keep your old Centennial DVD, but dip into the register for this repurchase – clearly, the way The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was meant to be seen. Highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)