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Tuesday, 23 February 2016

On Blu-ray & DVD - David Hare's recent Facebook postings and conversations on Walsh, Hawks, Huston, Chaplin....and Mark Robson

Edge of Doom
Farley Granger weeps over the body of his dead mother, but more likely the fate of his career after this dog of a film is let loose, in the movie he personally dubbed "a total stiff". Edge of Doom (Mark Robson, USA, 1950),newly released on DVD by Warner Archive) was Sam Goldwyn's third production starring Farley as ingenue, but alas it wasn't to be a Farley loan-out to a more competent producer. Goldwyn tries to capitalize again on the unforgettable romantic loner Nick Ray created in the John Houseman/Dore Schary produced They Live by NIght a year before. But like Farley himself, I viewed the film with growing horror as so much obvious talent was being so visibly wasted on such an over-produced, underwritten and thematically undermined train crash. All the potentially good elements are immediately evident -Friedhofer's big score, Granger himself, and several fine bit players (Paul Stewart and Adele Jergens especially). And Robson's astute direction keeps the action from sliding into the quicksand of Yordan's laborious screenplay every so often. A real feat, trust me. Even without the benefit of enough budget for travelling shots, tracks or cranes, Robson is forced to resort to lab optical zooms for basic CU reverse shots but he still maintains a tight direct mise en scene, including one "Bus stop" audio shock cut moment so beloved of Tourneur's Cat People and the good old Lewton days.

You can see the director of The Seventh Victim (USA, 1943) working his craft here. The then slumside of the Clark St area in Chicago is recorded with both sordid atmosphere and pathos by DP Harry Stradling. But nothing in the picture gels, even a hint of anticlerical characterization by screenwriter Philip Yordan whom Granger - rightly considered to have laid an egg. The addition by Goldwyn of a completely unbelievable and pointless top and tail flashback framework consists of Dana Andrews in priestly cassock making tea for another conflicted priest - played by a bit actor called Robert Karnes, which must be the last piece of sauce on this turkey, as Dana reads the last line of Yordan's terrible dialogue: "it's better with some lemon."

Silver River
Miss Ann Sheridan and Errol Flynn indeed, the latter paired for the last time with supremo Raoul Walsh in the 1948 Warner's A-Western Silver River. This movie has finally caught my attention after decades of ignorance of it, thanks to a recent French Warner PAL DVD released recently under the French Warners label, (no longer called Legendes du CInema as they used to be.) Transfer is good clean and solid, with one three minute patch of mangled (out of phase?) audio that runs from circa 1h.6 minutes through to 1h. 8 minutes. The movie may not be peak Walsh at White Heat, Colorado Territory level of intensity but you just have to say the director never made a bad picture,. even a damn mediocre one.

The opening act bristles so fast and is played with such feliclity you could be mistaken for thinking you're in for a comedy, but act two lays down more Western history and more sheer volume of American social analysis than any one picture deserves - the taming of the West, the rise of what we know became Capitalism and the bad BAD banks through the Silver mining boom in the west with the profiteering and monopolization that was still choking the country when it joined the war in Europe in 1915. The third act is the quickest and the final shots of Erroll apparently claiming some redemption in his address to the crowd also hint at the serious discord between actor and director that apparently cursed the whole shoot. In wides from rear diagonal Errol on the horse seems to be dubbed by another actor whose voice doesn't synch to him, and the reverse cuts to medium front look like they were added or even inserted after final filming, suggesting a hurried or even re-written finale.

Anyway a must for Walshians and Westerners, but i would love to hear from a real expert on this, notably my old friend Noel Bjorndahl.  with Ross Freedman.

After which followed this lively Facebook conversation.......
Dag Sødtholt: Incredibly entertaining and well-made "life story". Especially the scenes where they are embarking upon the westward journey, with the wagons and the landscape, to Max Steiner's music, are wonderfully majestic.
David Hare Terrific Steiner score yes, really energetic and it sounds completely fresh. Sid Hickox the DP, even many of the interiors (with the notable expcetion of the grand mansion and the dance hall/casino) are shot with natural light a l'exterieure.
Dag Sødtholt Surely the scenes of the westward journey must be the quintessence of the western genre...?
David Hare  It comes at a point in the genre when summations and apotheoses were seemingly the norm. Not only is this landscape itself now remarkably familiar, so are many of the characters. No less persona than Thomas Mitchell reprises his drunken lawyer (doctor/judge/poet, etc) who cleans up his act for Flynn/McComb only to finally see through the charm to the corruption, resume the booze, and then clean up his act again for act 3 to become a candidate for the Senate!. The film clearly focuses on the untrammelled greed of the big miners, with McComb being just as uninhibited by human decency or morality as his nemesis Barton McLane (Sweeney). The movie doesn't flinch from the moral complexities of this late era of dramatizing the Western settlement, and the swing in tone from the comedic first act to the darkness of the second is what make this picture so commanding I believe. Native Americans, in the form of the Shoshone people are key to a major narrative development but Walsh refrains from showing them physically, or the act of violence that leads to McComb's ascension to control the Black Rock Mine, and to take Georgia as his woman. It would still be a few years until the mid fifties with Ford and Mann before we see the beginnings of an open dialogue about American racism within the form.
..... David Hare Such a shame the Flynn/Sheridan/Walsh collaboration never went beyond this film. Flynn still carries himself well and is a totally convincing performer. Both he and Sheridan also look a little older now too which I have to say I found quite disarming and more than a little moving. They match perfectly.
Dag Sødtholt There is also perhaps a bit of "Citizen Kane" about the humble beginnings, building an empire, and moral downfall, perhaps?
David Hare Kane is ubiquitous through the forties as a template I think.It just did it first, or in fact second (after William K Howard's Power and the Glory.) The fall of the tycoon is such an emblematic story about capitalism, look at L'Argent. David Golder, the Mabuse films....
Alan Ray I had no idea this film existed. How is that possible??
David Hare I know. it comes as something of a shock.
Noel Bjorndahl It's some time since my last viewing of it, David, but I remember feeling quite a bit sad in the early scenes because I felt that Flynn at that stage, was beginning to run out of puff- it was as if the cheeky, presumptuousness and gusto of his glory days collaborating with Walsh was only running at about 65% in spite of the energy that drives the first act which you characterize accurately. (There were, however, distant hints of the sheer gall of his early scenes with DeHavilland in They Died with their Boots on). I recall the second half presenting him in a much darker, unsympathetic manner at odds with the jauntiness of the familiar persona he projected with his drinking buddy Walsh across many felicitous collaborations. But then Silver River as it develops is all about corruption and Walsh calibrated the much darker mood and tone to reflect this. I'm probably generalising inaccurately-I'll make a point of watching it again very soon and rewrite these spotty memories.
David Hare I hope you give us more thoughts on this sooner rather than later.

The Big Sleep
Like somebody said, The picture says it all.
Warner Archive's new Blu Ray of The Big Sleep which in this incarnation looks just like it just woke up in a brand new 35mm Nitrate print. The transfer is another killer from Warner HV. Which makes the relegation of the inferior but vitally important 1945 "first cut" which Bob Gitt dug out of the obscurity of the vaults nearly fifteen years ago to a crummy and frankly disrespectful 480 line interlaced presentation on the new disc. The powers that be at Warner have a feeble minded view of their disc "extras" which is how they have absurdly classified the inclusion of this 45 cut. No mind that a basic 1080p scan for something so important would be automatic procedure from a cinephilically dedicated label like Criterion, MoC, Arrow, Carlotta, Koch Media, Arte or more. In the meantime though the new HD transfer of the ‘46 release print sings like a bird.

And this further Facebook exchange provides much additional info:

Noel Bjorndahl You seem to have your copies before I do-I'm looking forward to seeing this in Blu. I'm encouraged by your assessment.
David Hare Allowing for the disappointing 480i transfer of the 45 preview cut in the extras, the 46 version in 1080p is a wonderful image. In fact the transfer is so exacting it now makes more apparent numerous "soft" shots, optical zooms and reframes and dupe inserts which are in all likelihood now a genetic part of the master source material's dna . The bigger your screen the more obvious these things are but I love them because they look like film.
Will Krupp Great review David! I can't wait for this one, it's long been a favorite. I'm still trying to decide whether or not I will also keep the old "flipper" DVD for its superior 24fps progressive transfer of the 1945 cut or let it go (since I only find I ever access that cut for the two scenes I wished they kept in the redo) I'll have to take a look at it and decide. Can't wait for this next week! Thank you!
David Hare Will I played the old flipper disc on the weekend with the 480p 1945 cut of Gitt's doco and then the 480p of the 45 version fro the same dvd. I thought it looked pretty good. Then I played the Bob Gitt doco last night from the Blu Ray after the BD 1080p encoded movie and then the 480 interlaced new transfer of the 45 cut. The interlacing is so bad you get "ringing" on shots of writing, signs on doors etc, and all manner of other artefacts I had completely forgotten even existed in the digital domain at old "S-video" low level rez. It really was the worst possible outcome. Two observations. The "weak" shots (soft, dupey, drop in black level) in the new 2K/1080p encode are by and large the same as the same shots in the 45 version which clearly tell me these are inherent to the master 35mm and now the new 2K. There are more of them than usual for a mid forties WB movie given the provenance of the post production retakes and recuts.
Second observation, while the 46 version carries the copyright date "MCMXLVI", so does the 45 preview cut, in all its 480i glory! Go figure? The vast majority of the 45 print still looks pretty good, allowing for some surface debris, print nicks, not nearly a stable (minor gate weave) and lower dynamic range. It could have very easily been given a clean 1080p scan at less than 20 gigs, or around 19 Mbps,.no question.
Will Krupp They either never finished the final credits for the pre-release version or, if they did, they are long gone. The credits as they exist on the old flipper disc are the 1946 release credits just tacked on to the old cut. They are exactly the same (down to a credit for Peggy Knudsen rather than Pat Clark as Mona Mars.)
David Hare That's correct. I imagine they would have duped them on back in 1997 when they were filming the Bob Gitt piece, and preparing 35mm distribution prints of the 45 for theatrical (which is how you and I and most people reading first saw it.)
Will Krupp I first saw it on TCM. I've never seen either one theatrically
David Hare It first did the rounds in Oz in 35mm via various revival houses and Cinematheques. Alex Mescovitch ran it in Sydney at Paddington Town Hall, as he did Robert Harris' dye transfer print of his Rear Window restoration not long after that.
Will Krupp They either never finished the final credits for the pre-release version or, if they did, they are long gone. The credits as they exist on the old flipper disc are the 1946 release credits just tacked on to the old cut. They are exactly the same (down to a credit for Peggy Knudsen rather than Pat Clark as Mona Mars.)
David Hare That's correct. I imagine they would have duped them on back in 1997 when they were filming the Bob Gitt piece, and preparing 35mm distribution prints of the 45 for theatrical (which is how you and I and most people reading first saw it.)

Key Largo
Bacall and Bogey clearly enjoying the Florida outdoors during the shoot of Key Largo (John Huston, USA, 1948). The latest in Warner Archive's Blu-ray deep catalogue classics. Wonderful 1080p transfer of a mint 35mm, a showcase for the great DP Karl Freund who is regrettably obliged by the clunky Huston/Richard Brooks screenplay to move all the action into a soundstage after a lovely 10 minute plein air opening. Mercifully Freund makes as much as he can with the big set, but again Huston's stodgy direction, in fact less direction than basic blocking, staging and set up in medium shots, leaves Freund with fewer opportunities to compose or even light the show which he does however with such imagination as he can muster.

One might also want to lay some blame with source author Maxwell Anderson (Sarris used to call his work "blankminded blank verse") for the flat literalness of the screenplay, and indeed the quasi early static talkie kammerspiel format for the drama. But the goddess only knows Huston was never a true innovator and the formal conceits here are - to put it politely - old fashioned at best despite a stellar ensemble cast. Even the local Seminole people who are an important element of the drama's subtext are jettisoned into side notes and a few throwaway lines. But the weaknesses finally lie with the director. With this and The African Queen (UK, 1951) Huston descended into a 20 year period of self absorbing but artistically paralyzing earnestness until he eventually stumbled back into renewal as a film maker by the late sixties. No other director could have given such vibrant players as Eddie G and the sublime Claire Trevor such leaden direction, Claire/ "Gaye" seems to be reading her lines to a metronome.

Anyway it looks great. And I hope they sell enough of these to push on with Blu-rays of the last two Bogey-Bacalls: To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, USA, 1944) and Delmer Dave's wonderful Dark Passage (USA, 1947). The latter has been out on a gorgeous 720p WEB DL for some time and already sits in the Warner vaults in a fine HD master. Bring 'em on.

The Kid
"The Kid" (Charles Chaplin, USA, 1921) makes dinner for Charlie, the only family he's ever known in this impossibly beautiful new Blu-ray from Criterion. The jaw breaking visual quality of the picture will literally take you back as though you were seeing it for the first time, at the beginning of all narrative cinema, with Chaplin's microscopic world of humanity, and his unflinching vision of class engendered by the abject poverty of the early 20th century and the First World War. Chaplin was and remains the first and the greatest artist in film, even greater than Griffith in my opinion, along with Feuillade in France. He made less than a dozen features most of which revolved around his alter ego, the Tramp. Until 1940 when only Chaplin's particular genius could have seen and exploited the fine line between the most impoverished character in the cinematic universe, and his obverse, the most powerful and malevolently absurd figure in human history. So he played both, and somewhere, somehow with some miracle of sheer conviction he dovetails them into an atheist humanist's hymn for the future of mankind.

But The Kid is where it began - a Woman ("whose only crime was to have a child"), a Man, a Tramp and a Kid. The greatest archetypes in all cinema. I make no apologies for the tears I've shed watching this movie, not only for the personalities and the tale, but the sheer beauty of his ideas. It's always too easy to resort to the old (and erroneous) cliche that Chaplin was formally uninteresting. Where Griffith may have invented the basic dialogue of wide, medium and close shot, Chaplin actually stages and times the montage to a precise emotional rhythm. His storytelling is constantly moving (in all senses) and the sheer focus on the performance and its relationship to the surroundings defines his mise en scene. It's time he was recognized as fully equal to Keaton as a master of cinematic invention.

This stunning new transfer simply bombs the earlier MK2 Euro and AE Blu-rays of this out of the water. Criterion clearly held off on all the Chaplins after it saw the complete botch MK2 and the Chaplin Estate made of this title in the first tranche of Chaplin Blus a couple of years ago. Instead Criterion themselves went to Bologna no less, with original nitrates, and a fine grain for some ten minutes or so of damaged material (which all looks like it's in the second reel) and the magicians at Ritrovato remastered this in the 4K platform to what is possibly the best silent restoration work I've seen, or at least on a par with Gaumont's incredible Fantomas (Louis Feuillade, France, 1913) from the end of 2015. This is an essential disc for every serious movie lover.

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