Archive for November, 2012
Friday, November 30th, 2012
Baron Blood (1972)
by Troy Howarth
D: Mario Bava
Main Players: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Antonio Cantafora, Rada Rassimov, Luciano Pigozzi, Nicoletta Elmi, Umberto Raho, Gustavo DeNardo
American student Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) inadvertantly resurrects his bloodthirsty ancestor, Otto Von Kleist aka Baron Blood, during a trip to his ancestral castle in Austria…
In the early 1970s, cinematographer turned director Mario Bava was in an awkward position in the Italian film industry. The so-called father of Italian horror found himself ecclipsed in popularity by his youthful disciple, Dario Argento, and few of his films made much of an impression at the box office either at home or abroad. Bava had abandoned the Gothic horror format in the mid-60s, having realized that audiences were basically disinterested in such fare, and his attempts at broaching other subject matter did not always meet with commercial or critical approval. In the late 60s, he forged an alliance with American producer Alfredo (aka Alfred) Leone. They got off to a rocky start on the troubled production of Four Times That Night (1969), but Leone recognized the filmmaker’s abilities and was determined to work with him again. The opportunity presented itself when Leone acquired a screenplay by B movie veteran Vincent Fotre. It adopted a more modern approach to the Gothic milieu, and Leone quite rightly recognized that it was precisely the sort of material that Bava would be well suited to.
Baron Blood represents a farewell of sorts to the genre that made Bava’s name as a director, and it is also one of the few instances where he would film outside of his native Italy. Leone was able to secure permission to film in an authentic castle in Vienna, Austria, and Bava’s fascination with its baroque architecture is quite obvious. Though hamstrung by a script that piles on cliche after cliche, Bava’s keen eye for detail and atmosphere is evident throughout. The film is littered with visual and aural jokes, from its deliberately jarring, jaunty opening theme music to the presence of Coca Cola machines in the castle’s stately hallways. The end result plays as if Bava is acknowledging that the “good old days” have passed, but there’s time for one last visit to the torture chambers and foggy alleyways.
The script is very much indebted to Andre DeToth’s classic House of Wax (1953), as is Bava’s treatment of it. The director seldom tied himself down so explicitly to a specific filmic influence, but there are simply too many visual and narrative similarities to be dismissed lightly. When one realizes that the role of the regenerated Baron was offered to none other than House of Wax star Vincent Price, it’s obvious that Bava and Leone were wearing their infleunce for all to see. Price would pass on the project, having had a negative experience with Bava on the ill fated Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966), and it was taken instead by Price’s friend and sometimes-co-star Joseph Cotten, who had just recently wrapped his role as Price’s antagonist, Dr. Vesalius, in Robert Fuest’s The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). The cast, it has to be mentioned, is one of the strongest Bava ever had access to – clearly Leone’s eye for international distribution prompted him to hire as many recognizable faces as possible. Cotten has been criticized for hamming up his role, but he seems a model of restraint compared to somebody like Price, who brought such theatrical flourish (and a heavy dose of irony) to many of his horror roles. Cotten does what he can with an ill-developed characterization and seems to be having a fun time when he’s allowed to cut loose at the end. Elke Sommer is on hand to fill out plenty of garish mini skirts and 70s fashions as the damsel in distress. Bava’s films are loaded with memorable, strong female characterizations - but this isn’t one of them. Sommer isn’t required to do much beyond looking lovely and screaming a lot – and she accomplishes both with elan. She would be rewarded with a far more interesting role in Bava’s next film for Leone, the deeply personal (and seemingly cursed) Lisa and the Devil (1972). Former matinee idol Massimo Girotti (Visconti’s Ossessione) is on hand as a Van Helsing type who warns against dabbling in the occult, while Antonio Cantafora (Demons 2) is properly smug as the slightly ambiguous “hero.” Rada Rassimov (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) steals her too-few scenes as the medium who foretells danger, while a number of Bava veterans show up for good luck, including Valeria Sabel (Four Times That Night), Gustavo De Nardo (The Whip and the Body), Nicoletta Elmi (Twitch of the Death Nerve) and Luciano Pigozzi (Blood and Black Lace).
Bava’s direction is fluid and imaginative, as one might expect, though his late-period over-reliance on the zoom lens is distractingly in evidence. The director creates some wonderfully stylish imagery, just the same, and he manages to top the foggy chase sequence in House of Wax when the Baron chases Sommer through some deserted alleyways. The director’s impish sense of humor is evident throughout, and if the end result falls short of his finest achievements, it’s still a fun and engaging piece of work. Producer Leone’s emphasis on production gloss results in some excellent production values, with the castle itself providing marvelous color and atmosphere. Stelvio Cipriani’s score underlines the mood quite nicely and there are some good makeup effects from Carlo Rambaldi.
Kino continues their much-welcome blu ray series, The Mario Bava Collection, with Baron Blood. The 1.78/16×9/1080p transfer looks simply splendid. The film was released in the States originally in a truncated, rescored version by AIP – and it was this version that gave Bava his biggest commercial success in the U.S. during the 1970s. This version hit VHS and laser disc, but it has since been supplanted by the original export edition prepared by Bava and Leone, with Cipriani’s score and the extended footage fully intact. In a way, it’s a shame that the AIP edit remains MIA on DVD and BD, since it does make some minor improvements over the original edit – AIP was wise to trim a little flab here and there, and while I’m partial to the subtler Cipriani score, the Les Baxter music for the US version is pretty good, too. In any event, the edit presented here made its bow on laser disc courtesy of Elite Entertainment, and it was then issued on DVD by Image before being cleaned up and presented in better form on DVD as part of Anchor Bay’s second Bava Box Set. This new BD edition offers the best transfer seen to date, with improved color, clarity and detail. Seeing the film this time, I noticed for the first time that the normally camera-shy Mario Bava makes not one but TWO cameo appearances in this picture. His one cameo is pointed out on the audio commentary by Tim Lucas, but the first is even more obvious – and yet it has gone unremarked-upon (to the best of my knowledge) until now: at about the four minute mark, as Girotti and Cantafora confer at the airport, Bava can be seen mugging in the background in a blue sweater. I’ve seen this film so many times, and it’s definitely pleasurable to be able to see something new in it so late in the game. Beyond that, the print is in excellent shape, with only minor print damage in evidence. The image is very sharp, and colors are vivid in the style of Bava’s Technicolor classics of the 1960s.
The lossless mono English soundtrack sounds as good as one can expect. There is no background noise or distortion. Cipriani’s music has good presence, and the dialogue is clean and clear. There are no subtitles or captioning options.
Extras include the commentary track by Tim Lucas ported over from the Anchor Bay release, as well as trailers, radio spots, trailers for other titles in the Bava collection and, new to this release, the opening and closing titles from the Italian print. The Italian credits give Girotti above the title billing, reflecting his status as a major star in Italy (he came to this film out of fondness for Bava), and credit the script to Willibald Eser and Bava, with no mention of Fotre at all. It’s worth noting that while the titles in the film itself are presented slightly windowboxed, they are in the full 1.78 aspect ratio on these titles – it seems likely that the print utilized for the transfer was this Italian print, with the English titles ported over from the Anchor Bay release, which had been framed at 1.85.
Film: 3.5 out of 5
Video: 4 out of 5
Audio: 3 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5
Sunday, November 25th, 2012
Stars: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness, Arthur Kennedy
Director: David Lean
Released by Sony
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Released to great acclaim in 1962 David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia may well be the king of the epics. The term “epic” loosely covers all the grand period adventure films that were set in a majestic and inspiring foreign locale. The elongated length of these films, often with intermissions, let you spend a great deal longer with the story and characters. The lead character was larger than life and usually of heroic stature. This was the province of top drawer Hollywood movie stars like Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur, El Cid), Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) and Steve McQueen (the Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles). All these stars thumped their chests proudly. The films were ballyhooed and trumpeted across the globe, each claiming to be the biggest and best you’d ever seen. Huge fortunes and massive budget were lavished on these star studded efforts that reached back trough the pages of history to find a story and a character worthy of this treatment. These pictures courted the moviegoer like few others. You can trace these epics from Gone with the Wind in 1939 to the more recent Titanic (1997) and Braveheart (1995). Lawrence of Arabia boasted no huge stars. This was Peter O’Toole’s first starring role having caught the director’s eye in a 1960 heist picture, The Day They Robbed the Bank of England. Omar Sharif the only lead in the film with any actual legitimate Arabic heritage was making his first film in English. Anthony Quinn was a star but was still a few years shy of his famous turn as the lead in Zorba the Greek (1964). What’s more during its almost four hour running time there are no thrilling battlefield sequences even though it takes place during World War One. We see the devastating impact of battles, field strewn with bodies and casualties but no major action set pieces at all. There is no love story to grab at your heart. In fact you’d be hard pressed to recall a single woman in the film at all. And yet this story of the effect that one single man had on a nation is completely compelling. The drama and absolutely stunning cinemaphotography will hold likely hold you spellbound.
Essentially this one lone British soldier whom we meet working in a map making room is tasked to go into the desert and suss out the situation with the various Arab tribes and the Turks. The British Empire has an interest in this outcome though most of the officers we see seem to be more concerned with the possibility of getting an actual Squash court built at their remote outpost. T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) makes the journey and becomes so enraptured with the desert, its people and the majesty of the whole experience that he becomes first handedly involved in uniting several tribes in an attack on the strategic city of Aqaba. The film follows this enigmatic character who dons the robes of an Arab tribe and begins to actually lead the revolt against the Turks. He bristles at authority every chance he gets. His behavior as she struts back into the British outpost dressed in flowing robes covered from head to foot with sand is the first offense. He tops it by bringing an Arab boy into the posh bar and insisting he is served lemonade to the horror of all the officers surrounding him. For this and his actions in the field he is promoted. When Omar Sharif’s character Sherif Ali speaks of the fates and Allah’s will, Lawrence lets him know in no uncertain terms that, “Nothing is written.” He answers to no one. Peter O’Toole’s blue eyes blaze in the impossibly immense dessert. Everything is sand under a baking hot blue sky. The waves of heat shimmy and sway up from the sand. We see this collection of men riding camels across this vast expanse. The way Freddie Young has shot this is intoxicating. You are dwarfed by the spectacle and in awe of the tremendous scenery. This was not shot in the normal 35mm but in 70mm. The frame drinks in every nuance that Mr. Young feeds it. Colors are striking. Compositions are drop dead gorgeous. It’s as if David Lean has told him that no one has ever seen anything like this in their lives. You can not possible know what it is like to stand in the middle of this desert, feeling this heat, seeing the horizon lines stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction. And then somehow, Freddie Young shows us. When he holds his camera on that horizon line and we watch Omar Sharif ride his camel staring out as an almost imperceptible dot and then ever so slowly comes closer and closer, the feeling is truly unlike anything you’ve seen in a film before.
Is Lawrence a good guy or a bad guy? The easy answer is he’s a bit of both. But that would be cheating the story. The first half shows his rise and how be became this larger than life leader. There is a famous scene where Lawrence rides off by himself and when he is sure he is alone, kind of dances with his robes. He takes this beautiful scimitar knife out and marvels at his reflection in the blade. The story goes that O’Toole improvised this bit at director Lean’s request. We see Lawrence adopt two boys as his personal servants. They follow him like worshipful puppies. Everyone pronounces his name, “Orance”. It starts out cute but then become reverential. Like an epic sporting match that needs an interval break, the film stops while we are treated to the intermission music. The opening overture and intermission music are included just as it was presented in the theatres originally.
After the movie resumes things have changed. We meet an American reporter played by Arthur Kennedy that is brash and looking to make a hero out of this Lawrence fellow. He tries to take a picture of Anthony Quinn’s character, Auda only to have his camera smashed. Lawrence explains he does not want his spirit tampered with. However when the reporter asks for a shot of Lawrence we get the kind of imagery that legends are made of. Lawrence clambers up on top of a train that he and his army had blow off the tracks. He gets shot, Auda swiftly hacks the shooter with his huge sword and Lawrence climbs back up on top and walks across the train. He almost dances his way along the wrecked and conquered beast. Everyone looks up to him. Later on there is a very strange and foreboding sequence in the city of Daraa. Lawrence is captured. He is interrogated, beaten, and whipped. It is strongly implied that he is also raped. This horrid experience seems to have put out Lawrence’s flame. He suffers greatly and appears to withdraw inside himself. He wants to quit. And yet, he is promoted again and leads his even greater armies onto more victories. There is a political backdrop with Alec Guinness as Prince Faisel and Jack Hawkins as General Allenby assisted by Anthony Quayle as Colonel Brighton. Claude Reins is always there. He is dressed very dapper in fine suits with a cane. We’re not quite sure just where he is from, but one thing is sure – we do not trust him. These men play with the circumstances of the revolt like a game of chess. They maneuver men and countries around like pieces on a chess board. Surely Lawrence, who is shown to be exceptionally bright and well read, is aware of their machinations. Sometimes he is greatly offended, other times he is above it all seeing a far more important goal, and then finally he seem too weary to care. In the first half he takes a perilous journey back through the desert to rescue a man who has fallen. He saves his life. Later in the film Lawrence must execute this very same man in order to keep his army of disparate tribes together. Does Lawrence weigh the irony and personal tragedy of this moment as he shoots or does he revel in yet another chance to pull the trigger and champion the revolt? Or does he shamefully feel, as he later admits that he liked it, the act of killing?
I have seen this film several times over the years and each time I come away with a different take on who T.E. Lawrence is. The film opens with his funeral. He veered his motorcycle off the road to avoid hitting two bicyclists and was killed. Was this his way of giving up on progress? We see people exit the service. Some knew him, some pretend to have known him and in a very telling exchange one man defends the concept of his honor without ever having seen him. Throughout the film Lawrence presents different sides of himself. Sometimes he reveals two wholly different sides to the same person who does not make the connection that it is the same man. Lawrence of Arabia is a remarkable film about a remarkable character.
2.20:1 Sony’s 50th Anniversary 8k transfer of this 70mm film is breathtaking. The restoration work on this film began with the addition of the scenes to resurrect the director’s cut back in 1989. There was a very well done DVD subsequently released. This debut in Blu-ray represents the finest work the medium can offer. Colors are bold. Detail is flat out outstanding. Wide shots are held for long periods of time allowing you to take in the panorama of the location. The look of this film is indeed a spectacle and immensely satisfying. So much of the success of this motion picture rests on the look of it and how that affects the viewer. One would be advised to view this on the biggest screen possible. Freddie Young’s work here won an Academy Award. His exceptional lensing in Jordan and Morocco draws you into another world like few others are capable off. Epic films like to tout the alluring power of shooting on exotic locations. There are few films that come to mind with as strong a “You-are-there” feeling as this one. The publicity pictures used here do not do justice to the stunning look of the Blu-Ray.
(There were two almost imperceptibly slight jumps likely the result of missing frames. Rather than point them out let’s let them lay where they are like flaws in a Persian rug.)
English 5.1 DTS HD, French and Japanese 5.1 Dolby. Subtitles offered in English, English SDH, French, Japanese, Arabic and Dutch. Maurice Jarre’s classic score gets a first class presentation here. You can wrap yourself in the sonic blanket as the overture, intermission, and end titles play out. It’s also nice to note the differences he brings to the second half and how he alters the main title theme. The various shadings of the orchestra are all presented in fine form. Dialogue is very easy to follow throughout the film. There are a multitude of accents that all come across clearly.
The only new one is a reminisence with Peter O’Toole. He is charming. He has a great tale of how he ordered a foam rubber pad to be made for his camel saddle that became a big hit there. The other features have been ported over from the previous DVD special edition. Most are on the second disc. Secrets of Arabia, Peter O’Toole Revisits (the new one), The Making of Lawrence of Arabia documentary, Five Featurettes, NY Premiere (Newsreel), Advertising Campaigns, trailer. This is the two disc set. There are more extras and a soundtrack CD included in the Gift Set edition.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Movie – Classic
Blue-Ray – Classic
Sunday, November 18th, 2012
Stars: Jean Seberg, David Niven, Deborah Kerr
Director: Otto Preminger
Released by Twilight Time
Limited Edition of 3,000 units
Available at screenarchives.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
This 1958 film begins with a stunning credit sequence designed by Saul Bass. He works with paintings and titles to create an intriguing opening. The film then begins in gorgeous black and white widescreen cinemascope. The French Rivera is beautiful. The young vivacious Jean Seberg who would later captivate the world in Breathless (1960) is beautiful. Even David Niven who plays her father is beautiful. Seberg as Cecile is pouting about something. We flashback in color to the good times of summer at the famous coastline resort in France. Her dad whom she calls Ramon (Raymond) has been going out with an endless stream of bimbos, tarts and young good time girls. Most of them become playmates for Cecile for they are barely older than she is. Her father is having a great time. He pals around with his daughter in a very intimate, maybe too intimate, camaraderie. They share a rapport and giddy spoiled assessment of everyone only in terms of how much fun they can bring them. Otto Preminger looks to be weaving a good looking but banal tale of the troubles of spoiled rich people.
The film is based on the runway bestseller by the then eighteen year old French literary sensation, Francoise Sagan. The title translates to Hello Melancholy or Hello Sadness. Is that a cheeky but cheery welcome for bad times to come? As the story unfolds Ceclie whose mom died long years ago has found herself an older fellow to play with. He’s going to be a lawyer and they are growing closer. An unusual turn of events brings Anne into their lives. She was an old friend of her mom’s. She is a contemporary of her father’s. She is an adult. When she stays at their lovely beach house things change. Anne takes on a more appropriate maternal role with her. Cecile is told to give up the boyfriend and start cracking the books since she failed her last set of exams. The poor seventeen year old is getting tired of her already. When it is announced, after what feels like a day and a half that her dad and Anne have decided to get married Cecile’s idyllic life comes crashing down around her. She is jealous that Anne is stealing her dad. She is afraid of growing up. She’s never had any kind of reins on her.
What follows is Cecile’s plan to break up her father and Anne. She enlists the most recently dumped ex-girlfriend to pretend to go out with her boyfriend. She connives and plans to have them “discovered” or stumbled upon everywhere they go. If she knows her dad, he’ll starts to miss what he once had and grab that girl back. The old jealously bit should break off the engagement and Cecile’s life will return to a series of lazy afternoons where nothing is expected of her. Her world again will become an orgy of nights of fun and frolic with Roman. Only she seriously misjudges Anne’s reaction. The tragedy that follows changes the whole feel of the film that came before it. You look back on it with a whole different feeling than you had when it unfolded.
David Niven plays the raffish playboy very well. He’s all charm without a single thought. Jean Seberg looks great but does not have a lot of depth. Several times Preminger adds a voice over to her scenes as if to explain what she could not convey. Deborah Kerr is fine here easily letting her adult style play in contrast to the children around her. The movie was shot on location in France. The playground that the cast frolics in looks gorgeous and exceedingly colorful. At one point when everyone is gaily dancing in a Congo-line that erupts out from a club and onto the streets by the water, Preminger cuts to long shot. We see about every third or fourth person has some vibrant article of red clothing on. The effect is mesmerizing. Everything truly looks like a perfectly stirred cocktail. The effect that Preminger creates with this film is very much like a child who builds a magnificent sand castle in wondrous detail and then knocks it down.
Bonjour Tristesse is a tragedy masquerading as a frothy melodrama. It’s very well done. This new Blu-Ray treatment looks gorgeous making it very easy to fall under its deceptive spell.
2.35:1 This Blu-Ray presentation looks beautiful from the Saul Bass credits to the black and white and color photography. The colors of the French seaside look bucolic as expected but the sharpness and sheen of the black and white will really take you by surprise. The bulk of the film is in color. Reds are luscious. The variety of costumes take a tour through the color wheel and every one of them comes out looking bold and beautiful. One of the most colorful films you’ll encounter. Twilight Time’s transfer is a delicious treat.
English mono DTS HD with subtitles offered in English SDH. Everything is bright and clear in keeping with the lush look of the film.
Twilight Time features their standard isolated soundtrack. There is an old promotional extended trailer that has an interview with the book’s author Francoise Sagan. It’s very dated but worth a look as she favors the heroine of the story so much.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Movie – Good/ Excellent
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Friday, November 16th, 2012
Stars: Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Eric Von Stroheim, Nancy Oleson, C.B. DeMille
Director: Billy Wilder
Released by Paramount
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Sunset Boulevard (1950) starts off with a voice over as the camera pulls us into an estate with a large mansion. It’s a very common and accepted device in Film Noir. The lines even have that snappy cynical edge to them. However a moment later we realize it’s coming from a dead body floating in the pool. A dead guy is talking to us. That’s bizarre and kind of funny in an odd way. That same voice takes us through the bulk of the film told as a flashback. We follow a down on his luck screenwriter who is dodging the boys from the finance department who are trying to repossess his car for lack of payment. He stashes his car in what he thinks is a deserted garage in an abandoned estate. After a moment he sees a strange woman behind the blinds looking out at him. A butler beckons him in and his world is forever changed. They think he is there to bring in a custom casket for their recently deceased monkey. He had stumbled into the domain of Norma Desmond a once famous silent movie star who now lives with her memories, illusions and Max the butler. William Holden plays Joe Gillis with a hard boiled cynicism. He’s seen it all. That his introduction to Desmond’s world would begin with a burial is a good indication of what is to come. When she finds out he is a writer she shows him her mammoth script of Salome and offers to pay him to edit it into shape. He flatters her and cons her into paying him a lot of money to do the work. However once Max moves his things in from his apartment which he owes back rent on it gets more difficult to see who is coning who.
Norma has Max get her old roadster working again and she takes him out shopping. She throws a big party with fancy food and a live band only Gillis is the only guest. She buys him an engraved cigarette case. As he accepts her food, the gifts and allows her to cloth him the realization sinks in that he has become a desperate gigolo. Some evenings the Waxworks as he calls them stop by to play cards. They are all recognizable stars and big shots from that bygone era whose big parade has clearly passed them by. There’s a sense too that Hollywood has used them and cast them aside. It’s curious that three films were released in 1950 that all commented on the not so flattering underbelly of Hollywood.All About Eve revealed the desperate lengths to which people will go to get a part. Nicholas Ray’s sardonic noir In a Lonely Place mixed a Hollywood writer, murder and career wrecking accusations into a black out cocktail. Reflexive cinema had come a long way from the life affirming sentiments of Sullivan’s Travels (1941). Sunset Boulevard was an address that 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain would never go near. All of these are well done but there is something more in the writing from Billy Wilder, Charles Bracket and Marshman. The script is tight as a drum with an ending that is one for the ages. Much of the dialogue crackles with that noir-like hard boiled attitude. Yet with an amazing regularity they come out with some lines that would become classic parts of movie history.
When Gillies first meets Norma he says, “You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.” She fixes him with those eyes and proclaims, “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” The film is full of these outstanding exchanges and lines. One evening they are watching a silent film. Gloria Swanson is on the screen. The present day Gloria playing the actress as Norma Desmond moves into the light cast from the projector. It backlights her in a radiant halo. She tilts her head and says, ‘We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” It’s one of the most captivating images of the film, indelible.
There must be an acre of distance from Gloria Swanson’s pupils to the edges of her eyes. She goes from a normal look to one of over exaggerated expression. It’s a play on silent movie styles but she takes it so much further. She’s always looking up and over everything. Her hands move in a highly articulated dance of anxiety. They’re mesmerizing yet really scary. The transitions she goes through to bring out the full range of Norma Desmond’s moods are very impressive. She plays desperate, longing, sexy, frightened, controlling, and domineering all with varying degrees of a madness lurking below the surface. Gloria always carries Norma with a regal aristocratic style. She has that framed metal loop on one of her fingers that suspends her cigarettes in the air. It’s an amazing performance by Ms. Swanson.
There’s also a very nice love story that blooms between Gillis and a young script reader played by Nancy Oleson. One tender scene features them walking along one of the fake back lot Hollywood streets as if to say maybe this is all a dream. They get closer and closer yet do not physically connect. A short while later Wilder tops it with a very long extended embrace and kiss on a balcony. It’s gorgeous and yet so fragile in the mean and twisted world that Gillis now lives in. Wilder chose Erich Von Stroheim a real former director of classic early movies to play Max the butler. When it is revealed that Max the butler was one of Norma’s great directors and her first husband the brilliance in his casting is uncanny. He would later use another famous director Otto Preminger in his film Stalag 17. Those who watch a lot of films will catch a strange echoing to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) and The Maysles brothers documentary Grey Gardens (1975). Much of the humor in the film is quite good though dark. This enduring classic has become a part of popular culture. Even Carol Burnet brought her parody of the character back many times on her highly rated TV show. Wilder has created a perfect mix of noir and dark satire and framed it around one of the most iconoclastic charters in all of cinema. This Blu Ray is stunning to behold but make no mistake about it; it is Gloria Swanson who really has a hold on you here.
1.33:1 (1.37:1) First off, the print looks like somebody bent down over it with a pair of tweezers and hand picked up every piece of lint and dust imaginable. There is nary a scratch nor a blemish on this. As the film starts the early daytime exteriors don’t quite look natural. They look a bit on the hazy side as though trying to decide whether they should be darker or lighter. That is the way it was shot. However once the film gets inside the mansion it really hits its stride and never looks back. There is a much greater gray scale than its noir pedigree would have you believe. The close ups offer a good deal of detail. That shot of Norma Desmond back lit in the light of the movie projector as she looks up with those striking eyes is just jaw dropping. You could freeze that frame and build a shrine to it. The classic shot of Holden floating in the pool yields a much better sense of the actual texture of that image. We are looking up at him with the cops wavering in the water looking down. A mirror was placed on the bottom of the pool and the camera photographed it at an angle. It’s a remarkable shot. For a man so obsessed with his scripts, Wilder gets in a few compositions for the ages with this one.
English Mono Dolby TrueHD, Mono Dolby in French, Spanish, Portuguese and English. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese. All of the dialogue on the mono track is easily audible, including some of Norma’s whispered lines. However the main star on the soundtrack is Franz Waxman. His lush orchestrations fit every mood and scene perfectly. He even gets in a few old school stingers. The music gently evokes a nostalgic sense of days gone by yet can also work a more contemporary, for the times, backdrop to the more emotional scenes. There is so much poignancy, regret and melancholy that sweep in and out of the score.
The one new extra is a deleted scene featuring the gang over at Jack Webb’s house
singing a song that pokes fun at Hollywood and the casting game in particular. Today it comes off more affectionate than the biting sarcasm that caused it to be cut from the film.
The other extras have all been ported over from the most recent Paramount special DVD edition. They offer up a nice helping of stories and insights and are well worth the look.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Movie – Classic
Blu-Ray – Excellent