NIXPIX - DVD & BLU-RAY Reviews

Monday, February 8, 2016

SNOW WHITE and THE SEVEN DWARFS: Blu-ray (Walt Disney Productions 1937) Walt Disney Home Video

In 1934, the Hollywood trades rumbled with an insane rumor American entrepreneur, cartoonist, animator, voice actor, and producer, Walt Disney had already begun to lay the groundwork for his first feature-length animated motion picture. As with most ‘firsts’ – having no precedence quickly equated to abject skepticism almost overnight. For many in the industry, to say nothing of the critics, the announcement was fraught with implausibility, pitfalls and certain failure. Oh sure, the two-reel cartoon short had been around practically since the dawn of motion pictures; and, equally the case, Walt and his small army of artists had been at the forefront of that evolution; pushing the boundaries to include Technicolor, the multiplane camera, and, occasionally, the combination of live-action and animation. While these technological advancements had been met with excitement, equally as popular with parents and their kiddies, virtually no one could conceive of a time when animation could hold an audience spellbound in the dark for two hours. We must first, if only in passing, tip our hats to Walt Disney; that composite figure of unwavering audacity, blind constancy and unparalleled ambition, in who all points of our collective 20th century childhood have long since converged. There is a word for men like Walt, however meager and grossly inadequate it remains in adequately summarizing his towering list of achievements; but that word is sheer genius.
Ignoring the seemingly sound counsel of not only his brother and business partner, Roy E. Disney, but also his beloved wife, Lillian (both tried to dissuade Walt from what the critics had already dubbed, ‘his folly’), and borrowing against a life insurance policy and mortgaging his assets when virtually every bank in America refused to loan him the necessary funds to finish the picture, Walt spent the money wisely; hiring noted Chouinard Art Institute professor, Donald Graham to begin the necessary training process, meant to raise the bar in his animators’ art. For the next several years Walt’s lucrative franchise, The Silly Symphonies, provided the ideal platform for the animators to test the new methods gleaned from this expert tutelage: also, to try out burgeoning technologies, including the multiplane camera, that added depth of field to this one dimensional art form. Arguably, without Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) there would never have been a Disney empire. Certainly, the whopping $8 million windfall Snow White earned back on its initial release (equivalent to $134 million today) afforded Walt the opportunity to shudder his cramped Hyperion facilities and move his entire base of operations to the more spacious and campus-styled Burbank Studios, expressly designed to carry on the fledgling ‘tradition’. Today, Snow White harks back to a cultural touchstone in what is today, sadly, the all-but-defunct industry of hand-drawn cell animation; Walt’s coup complete when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him a special Oscar and seven miniature statuettes to mark the occasion; the award(s) presented to him by an ebullient Shirley Temple, matched by Walt’s own enthrallment, only partly for having achieved his goal. After all, there is a greater satisfaction to be derived from having proven wrong one’s harshest critics.
Indeed, nothing like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had been seen before, certainly not at the world premiere held at the Carthay Circle Theater; its forecourt cluttered in lavish replicas of Snow White’s cabin in the woods (complete with working water wheel) and the queen’s castle; the bleachers packed to capacity with eager fans ready to witness Hollywood’s glitterati descending on mass in their lavish furs, frocks and tuxedos to mark the occasion. The same critics who had condemned Walt’s enterprising notion to spend over a million as a feat of complete ‘idiocy’ now began writing the picture’s epitaph with plaudits. One cannot underestimate, or perhaps even fathom, what that night must have meant to Walt; the first of many affirmations his creative verve had truly come of age.  There is not an individual working in Hollywood today who can hold a candle to Walt Disney’s dedication to a dream; begun under a very dark cloud of skepticism in 1934, only to emerge victorious nearly three years later; the gamble well worth it. A new distribution deal was orchestrated with RKO; Snow White becoming the first picture marketed under the ‘Walt Disney Productions’ banner. Initially, Walt had hoped to produce Snow White for $250,000 (roughly ten times the cost of a single Silly Symphony). But with great hope there arose even greater responsibility to ensure Snow White did not simply match all the efforts thus far put forth, but went far beyond any level of expectation, elevating animation to an art form; the ballooning bottom line of $1,488,422.74 cringe-worthily astronomical by 1937 standards.
From the beginning, Walt was centered on ‘the dwarfs’ as the picture’s stars; given no names or individual personalities in the original Grimm fairy tale, first published in 1812. But Walt wanted seven unique personalities rife in comic relief; the eventual names chosen for these beloved dwarfs distilled from a list of nearly fifty; virtually all of them chosen to reflect a distinguishing characteristic.  Staff writer, Richard Creedon did extensive work to flesh out the story, borrowing from Grimm wherever possible, but also inventing scenarios along the way. In this preliminary outline the story became somewhat more cleverly ‘involved’, overwrought and unnecessarily complex; plans to have the Queen employ a poisoned comb (taken directly from Grimm), entrap the Prince in a plot to marry him for herself under a spell; then, leaving him for dead in a dungeon filling with water, were all eventually discarded. Walt believed firmly in animation to tell stories, but he also felt such meandering narrative threads were getting in the way of the base innocence and charm of the piece. In simplifying the story, Walt chose to almost telescopically focus on Snow White’s gradual warming to the seven diminutive fellows in her midst. Early on, Walt made his most critical decision, ultimately to ensure the picture’s success. Apart from the dwarfs, virtually all the humans would be drawn in an, as yet, uncharted manner of heightened realism; the huntsman, the Queen (and her alter ego, the old hag), Snow White and her Prince Charming affecting a highly romanticized Hollywood-esque charm, but with realistic human behaviors and mannerisms.  As example, it was Walt who reformed the original design of the Queen from portly curmudgeon to stately and statuesque villainess, a critical decision adding an unsettling dimension of wickedness and austerity to her presence. 
By November 1935, the basic story elements were locked into place and Walt and his animators proceeded to concentrate on the stylistic elements in Snow White’s evolution; Walt, refining the particulars while keeping tight reigns on the project as a whole; encouraging his staff to see as many movies as possible to stimulate their creativity and expressly finding inspiration in MGM’s 1936 Romeo and Juliet, for the romantic pas deux between Snow White and Prince Charming, and, 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the Queen’s transformation into the old hag. The now iconic ‘Heigh Ho’ sequence was animated almost exclusively by Shamus Culhane, although the overriding arc of design was the work of Albert Hunter, with artists, Ferdinand Hovarth and Gustaf Tenggren refining the characters. Ably assisted by Chouinard’s fine artist and art instructor, Donald W. Graham, the animators dove head (and heart) strong into their respective tasks of achieving a heightened sense of realism, the collaboration affectionately dubbed ‘brutal battles’, fueled by a mutual inability to grasp one another’s basic concepts – at first – but gradually buoyed by as an enthusiastic willingness to learn and frenetic creative energy to surpass even their own expectations.  Although rotoscoping (tracing over live action footage) was generally frowned upon, in the final hours of production, several sequences were rotoscoped to expedite finishing the project in time to meet its Christmas release.
Meanwhile, Walt had hired composers, Frank Churchill and Larry Morey to write catchy songs to be interpolated between the more somber and adventurous moments in the picture, relying on Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline to supply Snow White’s incidental underscore.  Because Walt did not own a music publishing apparatus at the time of Snow White’s release, the rights to all this music fell to Bourne Co. Music Publishers who have long since held onto them, much to Disney Inc.’s chagrin, forcing them to re-license their own work for subsequent reissues of the movie; also, its soundtrack albums, of which Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved the forerunner. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opens with a majestic fanfare, the rest of the score veering from rambunctious melodies like ‘The Silly Song’ and ‘Heigh-Ho’, to melodic ballads (Someday My Prince Will Come, and, I’m Wishing) to the operatic, ‘One Song’. In short order we are introduced to the wicked Queen (voiced by Lucille La Verne); her magical incantations of “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” forcing the ghostly visage (Moroni Olsen) caught in her reflection to confess another as being the ‘fairest in the land’. This, the Queen absolutely will not tolerate. Learning it is Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) whose beauty is far beyond compare, the Queen commits a huntsman to take the girl deep into the woods and commit murder, ordering he should bring back Snow White’s heart in a tiny box as proof the crime has been carried out. Before her outing with the huntsman, Snow White inadvertently meets Prince Charming (Harry Stockwell). The couple are smitten, but deprived of any genuine way to show their affections, other than a very brief musical interlude.  
Snow White is taken into the woods as planned. However, at the last possible moment, the huntsman experiences his own change of heart, begging for her forgiveness and revealing the Queen’s evil plan.  Snow White flees deep into the woods to escape the Queen’s wrath. Terrified and lonely, she eventually comes across a wood cutter’s cottage. Exhausted by her ordeal, she collapses into a deep sleep upon one of the upstairs beds. A short while later, the seven miners who occupy this house; Sleepy, Grumpy (both voiced by Pinto Colvig), Sneezy (Billy Gilbert), Happy (Otis Harlan), Bashful (Scotty Mathraw), Dopey (Eddie Collins) and Doc (Roy Atwell) return to discover Snow White still very much asleep. Doc, the self-appointed leader of the group, demands she leave at once. However, Snow White quickly establishes herself as an integral part in all their lives; the perfect housekeeper and cook, winning support from virtually all the dwarfs – even Doc, who would rather hold stubbornly steadfast to his original conviction, but cannot entirely refuse all her hard work and kindnesses.
As fate would have it, the Queen learns of the huntsman’s treason. She concocts and drinks a hellish magic potion that transforms her stately features into the hunched and gnarled disguise of an old hag. This transformation sequence is one of the most harrowing and haunting of any in a Disney movie; Walt and his artisans tapping into German Expressionism to create a truly memorable and disturbing visualization.  Passing herself off as the peddler of juicy apples, the hag arrives at the cabin. Innocently, the girl takes a bite from one of the poisoned fruit and falls instantly, and presumably, dead. The hag relishes her victory. But the dwarfs, realizing what she has done, make chase through the woods. A terrific storm invigorates their pursuit. The hag makes an attempt to dislodge a bolder from the top of a mountain, surely to crush her pint-sized pursuers. But at the last possible moment she is thwarted in this malignant deed by Mother Nature; a bolt of lightning causing the hag to topple from the mountainside to her death. Returning to the cottage, the dwarves mourn the loss of their beloved Snow White, placing her in a glass coffin. Having learned of the young girl’s demise, the Prince arrives. His farewell kiss breaks the evil spell. Snow White is not dead, but merely in a trance from which she now awakens. The dwarfs rejoice and the Prince leads his beloved to his castle in the clouds where surely they will live, ever predictably, happily ever after.      
In addition to putting his critics to shame and allowing Walt the opportunity to build an even bigger studio to house his future dreams, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also afforded Walt the ability to pursue two even more ambitious projects; Pinocchio and Fantasia (both released in 1940). Regrettably, neither matched the commercial success of Snow White, and, in fact, sent the new studio’s balance sheet sinking deep into the red. In the lean years that were yet to follow, buffeted by wartime rationing and Walt’s commitment to churning out military training and goodwill short subjects for the U.S. government (an admirable, though hardly profitable endeavor), the 1944 re-issue of Snow White managed to stave off the specter of total ruin, as well as establish a tradition of re-releasing animated features every seven to ten years. Consequently, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would enjoy re-re-re-issues in 1952, ‘58, ‘67, ‘75, ‘83, ‘87 and ’93 with its lifetime gross surpassing $418.2 million, to say nothing of the profits derived from its various reissues on home video. In 1993, this cornerstone to Walt’s fairy tale kingdom received a much needed and labor-intensive photo-chemical and digital restoration; the files scanned in at 4K resolution for future archival preservation.  Retrospectively, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remains nothing short of a milestone. Indeed, filmmakers of Walt’s time, Sergei Eisenstein and Charlie Chaplin were quick to add their notable praise; Eisenstein going so far as to suggest Snow White the greatest movie ever made. There is little to deny the picture’s influence on pop culture. It opened up the field of family-orientated fantasy film-making capped off by MGM’s The Wizard of Oz and rival animator, Max Fleischer attempting to breathe life into Gulliver’s Travels (both released in 1939). Snow White also spawned imitators and parodies; Howard Hawk’s 1941’s screwball gem, Ball of Fire, costarring Barbara Stanwyck as a hep cat girl of the jazz age and Gary Cooper as her scholastic Lochinvar; also, Bob Clampett’s unapologetic and irreverent 1943 Merrie Melodies short, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs; war-themed and with the entire ‘black’ cast warbling jazz tunes.    
To suggest Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs changed the trajectory of animation is an understatement. Once regarded as little more than a minor diversion for tots, suitable only as one reel shorts sandwiched between other features, the movie once dubbed ‘Disney’s folly’ achieved overnight landmark status by which all like-minded endeavors have long since been judged. Today, Snow White continues to entertain us, although, in hindsight, it tends to seem tamer and less ‘appointed’ in direct comparison to Walt’s other ‘princess-themed’ features: Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959) among them. And yet, what remains perennially appealing is Snow White’s virginal tenderness; Walt and his artisans tapping into the inescapably wholesomeness too often stripped from family-themed entertainments today; replaced by sentimentalized treacle or worse, rank adult cynicism, designed to mature (or rather steal away with) our childhood memories, instead of staving off the specter of adulthood for just a little while longer.
The best of Disney’s animated features – particularly those Walt supervised – tap into childhood with a magically timeless diviner’s rod, capable of bringing forth oft buried remembrances from our own happier, carefree times. In Disney films we escape the realities of life; not by being shielded from them, but rather, gently coaxed out of its darker recesses, safely kept at arm’s length by the proverbial ‘happy ending’. Within this context there is a lot to unpack; virtue triumphant; goodness preserved and/or restored, evil vanquished; the natural order held together by the purity of a take-charge heroine, and so on. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs promises all this and more and for 83 minutes at least, this much rings true; the world is a place where fears are faced, but where any dreams dared to be dreamed can come true. Is it wrong to believe in wishing wells and fairy tales? Do we do our children a disservice by keeping them unawares for a little while longer? Flying in the face of abject scholarship that suggests as much, personally, I think the opposite is true. Stimulating impressionable minds ought to be the ensconced precept of any great work of cinema art endeavored for the young. Walt distinctly understood this as an elemental necessity. His movies thus appeal to the young and young in heart, and, collectively endure because they speak to renewable human longings, despite changing mores, tastes and socio-political upheavals, perennially enjoyed for their undiluted fresh-faced naiveté. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is among these timeless works of art. It lives because Walt never gave up or into the prejudices facing him at the start. For this, I say, ‘Courage, thy name is Disney’…uncle Walt, if you prefer, as I do.                 
'Perennially satisfying’ is also a good way to describe Disney’s Blu-Ray. If you do not already own the previous Diamond Edition Blu-ray, now many years out of print, I suppose it is as good a time as any to pick up this edition, although, already owning the aforementioned, I am really not loving the studio’s new slimmed down look; the cardboard sleeve and homogenized vertical writing having become something of ‘a thing’ with Disney Inc. hi-def releases. The company really did put its best foot forward on the aforementioned 2009 Blu-ray, housed in a handsome blue embossed booklet or, for those with very deep pockets, a red velvet deluxe case also containing a book, lithographs and other sundry bling and tangible extras. So there is not a whole lot of room for improvement this time around, and, in fact, none is forthcoming; the video/audio quality virtually identical to the old 2009 release.
Sourced from a painstaking restoration of the original camera negative, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears. I am always blown away by the resiliency of metal dye transfer Technicolor; its overall fidelity and sensitivity to even the subtlest changes in light and shadow. Contrast levels are again perfectly realized and much – if not – all of the image exhibits razor-sharp clarity; the minor caveats, the result of the source – not the hi-def mastering process. Disney Inc. is somewhat adverse to grain but Snow White escapes the studio-sanctified verve to eradicate it altogether. There’s a light smattering present, indigenous to the source, and without the added distraction of age-old dirt and debris. Just shy of its 80th anniversary, the fairest of the fair can still hold that claim with more than a modicum of pride. Once again, the vintage audio is presented in both original mono (restored) and a splendid new 7.1 Dolby Digital mix. Bottom line: an A-list reference disc to be beloved for as long as the child within remains the centerpiece of life.
Extras are a mixed bag. Disney scholar, John Canemaker hosts a vintage commentary with excised comments from Walt and other Disney staff no longer with us. It’s a comprehensive history and well worth the listen. We also get ‘In Walt’s Words’ almost five minutes of a 1956 interview, but a virtually repeat of the comments interpolated throughout Canemaker’s commentary.  At around the 7 min. mark is Iconography, a chance for current Disney alumni to reminisce about Snow White and then produce sculptures. @DisneyAnimation: Designing Disney’s First Princess is 5 min. of animators recognizing the influences of Snow White on the contemporary Disney heroine, and, clocking in a full minute short of this is, The Fairest Facts of Them All with Disney Channel’s Sofia Carson relating ‘little known’ facts about the movie. Honestly, I could have done without ‘Snow White in Seventy Seconds’ a minute’s worth of gutless rapping meant to contemporize the tale for today’s youth, who seemingly cannot contextualize anything unless it comes with a beat. For a while now, it has become something of a thing at the Mouse House to offer insight into the movie that never was. In Alternate Sequence: The Prince Meets Snow White we get a pseudo-representation of a story meeting and Walt’s original concept for how the fairest of them all and her comely prince should have found true love.
The best extras are all carry-overs from the old Blu-ray release; beginning with The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, at just a little over a half hour, about as densely packed as one might expect with historians, Neal Gabler and John Canemaker telling the tale. Personally, I think it still a tad truncated – condensing four years into 33 min., including the film’s premiere and cultural importance. To flesh out the particulars, we get Andreas Deja, Bringing Snow White to Life – 10 plus min. of intensely discussed animation with his fellow artists. I have always liked Deja and felt the company continues to under-use him as the ‘new’ spokesman for the studio’s rich heritage. He clearly has a passion to become the eminence grise. Hyperion Studios is an interactive tour of the original animation studio. This, and Decoding an Exposure Sheet, a technical look at the record kept on each sequence of the movie, are holdovers from the Platinum edition DVD. Ditto for Snow White Returns: a reconstruction of a never realized animated sequel. There’s also, Story Meeting/Dwarfs, Story Meeting/Huntsman, Deleted Sequence/Soup/Bed, and finally, an all too brief puff piece on the various voical talent. Shameless to the end, Disney Inc. cannot resist giving us theatrical trailers for their new movies, Zootopia and The Good Dinosaur. Bottom line: if you don’t already own Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs you definitely should. This disc comes highly recommended, but only for those who do not already own the fairest of them all in 1080p.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+
VIDEO/AUDIO
5+
EXTRAS

4

Thursday, February 4, 2016

SPECTRE: Blu-ray (EON Productions/MGM 2015) Fox Home Video

Gosh almighty, I am so very much done with the inelegant James Bond as depicted by Daniel Craig: that thug-muscle, gun-toting hypocrite who affects a taste for fine wine, expensive cars and hot women, but cannot help but wind up shirtless and pathetically soaked through with hard liquor while wallowing over the loss of his beloved mommy-figure, ‘M’ (Judi Dench) and deceptive lover, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), even more so, suffering Bond’s general disdain for that lavish government expense account for which most any of us would sincerely trade a few teeth and a kidney. I also wish Mr. Bond would quit banging twenty-cent tarts or philandering married gals of a certain 'prime' with equal aplomb and noblesse oblige. Sean Connery’s Bond would never have been caught this sloppy and unawares; ditto for Roger Moore’s laid-back – if morally ambiguous, though deliciously amused 007. The secret to either man’s longevity as Bond – James Bond, that is – remains steadfastly affixed to each’s ability never to take themselves or the work of super-spying quite so seriously. In the shadow of film makers like Terrance Young, Guy Hamilton and John Glenn, among others, who intuitively understood part – if not all – of Bond’s sex appeal lay in the cream of the jest (he actually ‘cures’ Pussy Galore of her lesbian tendencies in the novel, Goldfinger); also, the series’ perpetually sundrenched and appealingly exotic locales.  I observe, with more than a modicum of regret, no such thoughts have crossed the mind of director, Sam Mendes who continues to inveigle his Mr. Bond in convoluted and badly realized vignettes mired in the dank, dark despair of post-postmodernism run amuck. Spectre (2015) is one of the bleakest, weakest and most graceless footnotes to the Bond franchise in a very long while, morbidly afflicted by our present-day preoccupation with a theater of death.
In fact, after the mercifully reinstated, trademarked gun barrel opener, the pre-credit sequence to Spectre takes place on ‘The Day of the Dead’ celebration in Mexico City; Bond attempting to kill three would-be terrorists plotting an international incident. Bond’s interception is foiled by a hotel explosion. Once again, James has come too late to this party. In the good ole days, MI6 would have debriefed their numero uno answer to Nietzsche’s superman who, thereafter, would have become the catalyst to stop these baddies in their tracks. But no – it’s a new day for James, increasingly the bungler of such clean kills that turn into very messy and blood-soaked grindhouse likely to leave Connery and Moore with their heads in their hands. The hotel explosion leads directly into a somewhat tedious chase through the congested streets, all shot with the frenetic ‘Steadicam’ energy of a break-dancing chicken by cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema; Bond on a die hard mission to apprehend ringleader, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) – the real assassin who survived this attack. In the ensuing struggle, Bond and Sciarra board a helicopter; Bond eventually tossing Sciarra from it to his death; though, not before he recovers a ring with a stylized octopus etched into its band. Given Bond’s previous outings with this international spy syndicate known as Spectre, the fact he needs MI6 clarification, and a little help from Ms. Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) to identify the emblem, remains something of a curiosity. Perhaps too many knocks on the head have finally taken their toll on our Mr. Bond.   
Personally, I don’t like to think on my own mortality. But I especially do not believe it proper to put a chronically sullen and squinty-eyed Bond on display as the proverbial piñata, enjoyed for a good swift kick (and far more), repeated marked as a dinosaur for extinction, and cruelly blamed for all the wrong and ridiculousness in the world; a sort of anti-heroic worldview adopted by the denizens of dreck in Hollywood these days and increasingly favored by audiences. To paraphrase Bonnie Tyler, “I’m holding out for a hero!” It is a good thing I am sincerely not holding my breath too, because somewhere along the road to this Bizarro-land degradation, where virtues and traditions are trampled on and disdainfully observed with increasing moral ambiguity, as a society we have replaced the definitions of good vs evil with the laissez faire ‘gray area’ and treaties that market such unadulterated swill masquerading as art – high, low or (and, in most cases) indifferent. Viewed from this repugnant quagmire, one could almost champion a pervert like Christoph Waltz’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld as doing the morally ‘good’ work by drilling holes in Bond’s cranium with a Black and Decker.  Grotesque torture scenes like this one have become the norm in Bond movies since Daniel Craig took over the role. In Casino Royale, Bond had his testicles thrashed with fetishistic aplomb by Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre. In Spectre, Waltz’s Blofeld goes after the other head, enjoying Bond’s cringe-worthy suffrage for a few excruciating moments that leave much to be desired since – no kidding – we are assured Bond will always survive whatever hellish circumstances befall him – even this crude pseudo-lobotomy.     
Spectre isn’t out of the realm of possibilities for a post-Connery/Moore Bond flick. But that is not saying much and precisely, it proves my point. It hovers in the foggy ether as a nondescript installment to this once highly anticipated and Teflon-coated franchise, steadily brought down several pegs with each subsequent installment since Moore’s exit, and with Spectre a fait accompli to the unremarkable era of the ‘every Bond’ movie; dangerously close to the precipice of being just par for the course. Certainly, Craig – who has repeatedly threatened with each new installment to be ‘un-officially’ done with his alter ego, seems to be going through the motions herein. He’s older too; at 47, less buff and more sullen than serious, looking to move into his emeritus years and/or diversify his portfolio with roles apart from the one that continues to make him a star. Personally, I am not one of those Craig worshippers who, having idiotically labeled him “the best Bond ever!” now seem as myopically shaken and stirred by the prospect of facing that day when Craig will no longer be Bond. Actually, I am rather looking forward to that day, and hoping Spectre is Craig’s swan song; goodbye, and don’t let the Aston Martin run you down on the way out. For a while now I have had my own ideas as to who could – and should – be the next 007; the list beginning with Henry Cavill, Clive Owen or Ewan McGregor. Each would bring something new and likely invigorating to a role Craig seems willfully to despise with increasing frequency, holding out for his even more obscene paycheck to reprise the part.   
Spectre is the 24th Bond from Eon Productions and, at 148 minutes, one of the longest and most self-involved. Here’s hoping the golden 25th has more to offer. I cannot rightly say what went wrong. Superficially, at least, #24 had everything one might associate with the classic Bond thriller: stylish sets, exotic international locales, outlandish action set pieces, and a turbo-charged erotic femme fatale.  Still in absentia: the uber-clever Bond super villain a la an Auric Goldfinger or Hugo Drax; although Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld retains the traditionalist evil-doer’s verve for pointlessly labyrinthine ambitions about conquering the whole world, doomed to remain an avatar’s pipedream in the end. Everything one could imagine on a $300 million budget is present and accounted for, and yet, none of it looks the part…well, maybe, Léa Seydoux forthright Bond girl, Madeleine (no, no misogynistic monikers like Dink, Pussy Galore or Holly Goodhead…this Bond girl is all grown up, though predictably bumped out in all the right places). I keep reading a lot of pseudo-feminist critiques about Bond movies refusing to ‘move with the times’ and accept a strong woman in supporting role. Indeed, poor Daniel Craig had to dodge a militant press corp. repeatedly browbeating him about the so-called ‘problematic views’ of women in Bond movies. Note to anyone harboring the misguided notion any Bond girl, past, present or future, is designed to be anything more than a sultry, slinky sex kitten for our Mr. Bond to bonk – she’s not. Deal with that reality and maybe you will be able to have a good time when watching the next Bond movie or any that have gone before it. Or simply give up this idiotic level of expectation and go see another installment of The Hunger Games. Clearly, Bond movies are not your cup of tea – Earl Grey, breakfast or orange pekoe aside.  
To be fair, Spectre addresses some, if not all of ‘the problem’. My question is why should it? Léa Seydoux gets in a few licks, but has the ever-loving snot and wind knocked out of her by steroidal henchman, Hinx (David Bautista). Face it girls; he is meaner, uglier and ramped up on better synthetics than Madeleine. She never had a chance. But to be clear, Bond movies of yore were created to appeal to a male audience: real men and boys who couldn’t wait to grow up and aspire to be James Bond. Poor deluded devils! Personally, I do not want my Bond getting in touch with his feminine side. According to a recent Cosmo poll, neither do real women, who would prefer a ‘take charge’ protector alpha male to a sensitive ‘yes’ man – especially, in the bedroom. So, perhaps, Bond’s only genuine flaw is he is not apologetic about being that surrogate for guys who have already surrendered their testicles to the chemical castration of the mainstream media’s representation of today’s man; their urges, needs and inherent behaviors viewed as bad – or at the very least, wrong – while everything their significant other does is celebrated as clever, inspiring and structured around high-minded principles of altruism. Oh, who’s telling tall tales now? But I digress. 
And I have news for any aspiring Bond director in the future who believes the next Bond movie should tackle ‘the problem’ by presenting Bond with a female counterpoint every bit his equal in the field or while playing the field. You will lose half, if not all, of your loyal Bond viewership if that day ever comes to pass. After all, it is a James Bond movie we have paid to see: not James Bond…and friends. One of the most grotesque tragedies befallen a great many Bond movies in more recent times – is a weak villain. Spectre, alas and a lack, has one of the least inspired of the lot. The oversight becomes even more glaringly curious when one considers how maniacally sinister Christoph Waltz can be, given the right part and more than an arm’s length of experimentation to discover it for himself. Waltz ought to have been the linchpin to propel Spectre into that top-tiered echelon still occupied by the likes of an Auric Goldfinger. But he never gets this opportunity and quickly slips into just another ineffectually bitter and grimacing cliché of villainy. Since Casino Royale, each subsequent Bond movie has tried to provide plausible ‘cause and effect’ to carry over from one movie into the next. Too bad Bond movies were never intended to be trilogies, quadrilogies, prequels, sequels etc. but stand-alone entertainments with a certain level of threadbare continuity factored in for good measure; the gadgets, pithy one-liners, merciless riding of Bond by his superior, ‘M’, gadget master, ‘Q’ and Miss Moneypenny; the Bond girls, with no head, except what they gave to the cause of satisfying our James, and so on.
The plot to Spectre is suspiciously like too many other more recent Bond adventure yarns; James taking one for the team yet again, officially and indefinitely suspended from field duty by M (Ralph Fiennes). As a parting gesture, ‘M’ has ‘Q’ (the as ever ineffectual Ben Wishaw) outfit Bond with a sort of glamorized version of the ankle bracelet – an injectable chip that can be monitored from anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, ‘M’ is in the midst of a power struggle with ‘C’ (Andrew Scott), head of the privately-backed Joint Intelligence Service, consisting of the newly amalgamated MI5 and MI6. We get flashes of the old home guard caught in the crosshairs of their debate; the gleaming white edifice that once housed Judi Dench’s MI6, now a crumbling façade slated for the wrecking ball. It’s the end of an era, or rather, the forced obsolescence of this once galvanic espionage leviathan now viewed by ‘C’ as a foundering Cold War relic to be put down once and for all. ‘C’ promotes his agenda in parliament. Britain will join with eight other countries to form a consortium with the code name, Nine Eyes; a global surveillance and intelligence initiative.
Against direct orders, Bond convinces ‘Q’ to quietly stop monitoring his whereabouts. He travels to Rome, attends Sciarra’s funeral and confronts the widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci) in the presence of some Spectre bodyguards. Their tête-à-tête signs Lucia’s death warrant. That evening, as she prepares for her assassination, Lucia is instead surprised when Bond suddenly reappears, easily dispatching the henchmen sent to kill her before predictably making love to her to seal the deal. Lucia confesses to Bond Spectre is behind everything; their international consortium closer than ever in their plans to rule the world. Learning the whereabouts of their next clandestine meeting, Bond secretly infiltrates the gathering; unnerved when its leader, Franz Oberhauser – a.k.a. Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) turns in mid-address to the group to acknowledge him directly. Bond is pursued by thug-muscle henchman, Hinx. In a harrowing car chase solely meant to afford Bond the opportunity to show off the new toys affixed to the revamped Aston Martin he has stolen from ‘Q’s laboratory, James narrowly escapes this assassin. Previously contacted by James, Moneypenny now informs him everything about Spectre’s plans points to Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) – a former member of Quantum, since revealed to be a subsidiary of Spectre. Traveling to Austria in search of White, Bond finds the recluse hiding inside the basement bunker of a remote and seemingly abandoned chalet. White is dying of thallium poisoning. But before the inevitable, he strikes a bargain with Bond, pleading with him to protect his only child, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) who is sure to become a target.  
Offering White the honorable out, Bond leaves the room and White shoots himself. James enters the Hoffler Klinik, a mountain-top retreat, under the pretext of becoming a patient. But Madeleine is both hostile and unwilling to accept Bond’s protection. Meanwhile, ‘Q’ has discovered a sinister link between former agents Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene and Raoul Silva. All of them belonged to Spectre. Meeting up with ‘Q’, Bond and Madeleine narrowly escape Hinx; a daring chase by cable car, air and automobile, ending with a near death experience for all concerned. Madeleine agrees to take Bond to L'Américain; her late father’s favorite hotel in Tangier. There, a secret room in White’s suite reveals the whereabouts of Oberhauser’s base of operations in the desert. Traveling by train to this remote outpost, Bond and Madeleine are once more confronted by Hinx. In one of the most brutal of all hand-to-hand combat sequences ever featured in a Bond movie, the brutish Hinx, who once gouged a man’s eyes with his bare fingers, now attempts to toss Bond from the baggage car like a rag doll. Instead, Bond gets Hinx leg caught in a chain link attached at the other end to a series of weighted barrels. Tossing the barrels out the open door takes care of Hinx too. 
Now, Bond and Madeleine arrive at a remote outpost in the middle of the desert, surprised to find an escort waiting to take them to Oberhauser’s base of operations, nestled in the middle of a crater. Oberhauser reveals to Bond how Spectre will soon dominate the world, having been instrumental in securing the Nine Eyes program and thus rendering all international protection agencies utterly useless and at the mercy of his control. Bond is severely beaten by Oberhauser’s henchmen and then strapped into a chair; Oberhauser drilling into Bond’s cranium to extract the mutual history they share – seemingly one memory at a time. Oberhauser reveals to Madeleine that when Bond was a boy, prematurely orphaned, his father became Bond’s temporary guardian too. Jealousy intervened as Oberhauser, believing Bond to have taken his place as the number one son, murdered his own father and then staged his own death; later, to resurface as Spectre’s puppet master, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Oberhauser now suggests he will drill into Bond’s mind, systematically enjoying the slow, sad progression of Bond’s mental and physical infirmity.  Instead, Madeleine intervenes and, with the aid of a gadget watch earlier supplied by Q, she is successful at stopping Oberhauser from carrying out this dastardly plan.
Bond and Madeleine escape Blofeld’s compound, detonating a series of explosions that level it to the ground. Back in London, Bond and Madeleine part company briefly. Although Bond is in love with her, he accepts she cannot – and will not – be a party to this espionage any longer. Unhappy chance, Madeleine is captured and taken prisoner yet again by Oberhauser who now presents Bond with an impossible dilemma. Either he use the remaining countdown to prevent Spectre from gaining access to the Nine Eyes main data base – thereby thwarting Oberhauser’s plans to rule the world – or save Madeleine from certain death, as Oberhauser has hidden her somewhere in the bowels of the defunct MI6 building, destined to be detonated with explosive charges. Bond gives ‘M’ the necessary information to pursue ‘C’ for his complicity in Oberhauser’s plans.  ‘M’ and ‘Q’ ambush ‘C’ at his office moments before Nine Eyes’ directive goes live. ‘Q’ manages to corrupt the program, thereby denying Oberhauser access to the participating nation’s high security files. But ‘C’ and ‘M’ now struggle to regain control of the system; ‘M’ causing ‘C’ to slip and plummet to his death from an open window. Inside the old MI6 building, Bond manages to rescue Madeleine with only seconds to spare. Viewing their escape from a nearby helicopter, Oberhauser orders his assassin/pilot to fire upon the pair. Instead, Bond manages an impossible kill shot, the helicopter crashing into Westminster Bridge. Oberhauser has survived – just barely. He now taunts Bond with this flawed victory; killing him will put an end to their rivalry, but Bond will lose Madeleine’s love forever. Bond is tempted, but ultimately chooses to leave Oberhauser to be arrested by the police. A short while later, Bond and Madeleine are seen departing from his stylish London flat aboard the iconic and presumably completely rebuilt Aston Martin DB-5 – inexplicably blown to bits at the end of Skyfall. But this finale suggests Bond has chosen a quiet life and marriage over more assignments for MI6. Has he? Hmmmm.
Spectre is occasionally a stylish affair, but mostly it leaves a great deal to be desired. The plot is overly complicated and nonsensical. Okay, it’s only a movie, as Hitchcock used to say. But the villain of this careworn world domination scenario is not even clever enough to explain how Spectre’s technological espionage – advanced surveillance via robots and drones – will render whole governments ineffectual and at his mercy. In retrospect, the alliances begun in Casino Royale were the beginning of a quadrilogy capped off by the events as unfolded in Spectre; the lengthy thematic integration of various narrative bloodlines spread out over four movies, heavily influenced by personal motivations with a singular, if overreaching, arch of intrigue, and a not altogether successful parallel between hero and villain who share a mutually flawed past. In Quantum of Solace, Bond became a rogue agent, further muddying the clarity between good vs. evil. But in Spectre, this line in the sand is more obscured – or rather, clouded by chronically shifting alliances. Could the whole thing really have been designed merely to exorcise a child’s grudge match turned into a magniloquent revenge scenario: as in ‘you stole the love of my father so I’m going to kill you’; Blofeld the mysterious ‘architect of all Bond’s pain?!?’ Apparently, and rather simplistically - yes, although it has taken a good deal more time than necessary to unravel this reality.
It still might have worked, except Waltz’s deadpan monologues increasingly take on the flavor of wounded pontifications; soliloquys, actually, devoted to his own self-importance; a sort of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ one-upmanship that will not rest and suggests, however ridiculously, that Blofeld and Bond might have been compatible siblings, if only one was not quite so noble and the other ruthlessly psychotic. Of course, allowing Blofeld to walk away from the fray at the end sets up the not altogether out of the realm of possibility Daniel Craig will return for another Bond movie, despite his increasing prejudice over being typecast in a role that – let’s face it – made him a superstar. Without a doubt, and whatever Craig decides, the Bond franchise is not finished. Not by a long shot. We will get another Bond picture. Give it two years’ time (three tops), and, one likely to mirror the tragic circumstances from yet another (better) Bond adventure – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969); the death of Mrs. Bond #2?
Finally, the stunts in Spectre are the most impressive aspect of its production; the aerial helicopter assault during the pre-title sequence, the flaming plane crash and Hummer chase through the snow-capped mountains of Austria, the elephantine holocaust in flames that levels Blofeld’s desert hideaway; these are executed with a frenetic energy, all but ruined by cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema. Rarely, does Hoytema allow his camera to remain stationary or even focused on anything in particular for more than a second or two, the blur in continuity having a discombobulating effect. Action sequences in movies are meant to impress and hold the viewer spellbound in the dark with their all-encompassing feats of full-scale daring. The stunt work in Spectre is so shakily achieved it merely forces one to look away to settle a queasy stomach. Badly done!  Like most Bond movies that have followed Roger Moore’s record-holding tenure, this one is watchable, though unlikely ever to be beloved. It has no staying power and zero credibility as a great work of art, much less a worthy contender for a great 007 adventure. Worse, like too many Bond movies from more recent times it neither sets a new standard, raises the bar, nor helps evoke the time-honored precepts of the franchise as a whole. Honestly, last years’ Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – even, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. were more entertaining than this.
Fox Home Video’s Blu-ray is predictably solid. A full spectrum of color saturation, excellent clarity, superb reproduction of film grain and crystal clear detail abound, even during extremely dim lighting conditions. From top to bottom, Spectre looks phenomenal and will surely impress. The image, at least at the theater I attended, was hardly as enveloping and frequently appeared almost monochromatic. To be certain, cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema has tinted certain sequences to exaggerate their mood; the Mexico City sequence, as example, adopting copper-toned warmth; the Austrian Alps looking bluish and icy. However, within this overall ‘color wash’ effect are a lot of variables, magnificently brought forth in this 1080p transfer. The substiles within this palette never fail to astound.  Suffice it to state while I had my issues with the movie, I really have nothing to complain about regarding this video presentation. Wow and thank you! The audio in DTS 5.1 is equally as impressive; the SFX giving your surrounds and sub a hearty workout; dialogue always brought forth with razor-sharp audibility. Extras are a colossal disappointment; a few ‘video blog’ featurettes tied together, loosely representing a ‘making of’ but actually just a lot of sound and fury to promote the movie; also, a trailer and a featurette on the staging of the Mexico City opener. Spectre was a Christmas release in theaters and frankly, I am a little astonished it has made the leap to home video so soon.  So, Spectre is out. It’s not a great Bond movie. I would argue against it being even a passably good one. So, judge accordingly: the transfer is a winner.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
2.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
5+
EXTRAS

1.5     

THE GRADUATE: Blu-ray (Embassy Pictures 1967) Criterion Collection

It has been almost 50 years since the sexually ravenous and destructive Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) seduced insecure, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in Mike Nichols’ seminal dramedy, The Graduate (1967) and yet, despite changing hairstyles, and clothing, the artificially inflated mores of our decaying post-modern society are ever more in tune with this film. The novel by Charles Webb called for a buff, blonde California bronzed Apollo a la the ilk of Robert Redford to be cast in the lead. Indeed, Nichols was ‘encouraged’ by the film’s backers to consider Redford as his star. It would have made perfect sense: Redford, not only looking the part but already well-established as a movie star. Yet, in hindsight, the genius of the picture is its casting against type; the comparatively, diminutive, dark-haired and soft-featured Hoffman counteracted by the actor’s towering, intuitive and heartfelt performance as this socially numb and drifting young man who cannot see anything clearly, much less his own future. Today, The Graduate plays like a semi-tragic reflection of everything since gone wrong with modern youth, crippled by a general lack of ambition and viable opportunities to improve their circumstances; preyed upon by the aged crust of prejudice and insidious jealousies built into each generation gone before them.
The film is justly recalled for Hoffman’s distinctly neurotic virgin, photographed through the raised and very supple leg of Anne Robinson; her devilishly playful chuckles a wicked little prelude to the operatic sexual conquest soon to follow as Ben openly reiterates her motives, “Mrs. Robinson…you’re trying to seduce me.” Figuratively and literally, Ben makes his own bed; forced to lay in it, and, lie about it to his parents and the love of his life; later, to be compounded by his clandestine rendezvous with Mrs. Robinson in out-of-the-way hotels and an unanticipated courtship blossoming between Ben and Anne’s daughter, the doe-eyed Elaine (Katharine Ross), much to the chagrin of Mr. Robinson (Murray Hamilton), who comes to the realization Ben is bedding both his wife and perfect ‘little girl’ in tandem.  The territorial Anne cannot stand competition – not even from her own child; venomous and spiteful and ready to sell Elaine in marriage to the proverbial tight-lipped WASP, Carl Smith (Brian Avery), deliberately an exile, but also to wreck Elaine’s chances at real happiness. Or is this even true? Are Elaine and Ben representatives of a ‘new frontier’ celebrating the sexually revolution of the sixties, or are they merely a textbook example of everything that has gone to hell since? We today are at a great advantage, with 50 years mileage in the rear view since The Graduate’s debut.    
In some ways, The Graduate, though billed as a comedy, is every young man’s worst nightmare, hit at the crossroads of life with impossible expectations and even more dire dead-end prospects – or worse – none at all; inveigled in a trap by his own design, and suffering from the unease of an adult existence dislocated from the parental cocoon. For Benjamin, circumstances both beyond and entirely within his control are conspiring to reshape his impressions; Mrs. Robinson, merely the first of these vile barracudas, ready to steer him into shark-infested waters. It is interesting to note Bancroft was only six years Hoffman’s senior in real life – yet perfectly cast as the middle-aged viper, grasping at the last straws of her own fading youth. It might have all become far too serious and full of the sort of self-loathing ennui for which a certain ilk of late sixties/early seventies movies were prone, except the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, coupled with Mike Nichols’ inimitable flair for finding something supremely hilarious and sobering in the everyday, plus, Dustin Hoffman’s rather giddily earnest performance, have all conspired to draw out a delicious gullibility in this semi-tragic young man, sincerely guileless, but waffling.  
One recalls, as example, and with pleasant absurdity, the flashes of nudity that grip and paralyze Ben in an upstairs bedroom of the Robinson home as Anne bears all for him while nonchalantly laying out the seemingly harmless ‘ground rules’ of her ‘no frills’ offer; Ben, unable to look away – entirely – and yet, quite frantic to escape her indecent proposal unscathed. Of course, he falls, fails, and founders; his ability to keep a good mid-life crisis going, his dissatisfaction with their clandestine rendezvous and his mounting and genuine love for Elaine playing tug-o-war with his heart as well as his loins. Such incidents are played in scenes that ache with the panged irony of youth; Hoffman giving us an exceptional piece of acting, easily surpassing his physical shortcomings.  
It might have all come to not, as Charles Webb’s novel, detailing this May-December tryst, raised more than a few eyebrows in Hollywood. And even more cleverly, Nichols avoids the pitfalls of becoming just another installment in that superficially trashy milieu, devoted to pretty young things showing more than a little skin in half shadow, dipping their toes in the creative cesspool without going all the way or going much too far to be taken seriously. By comparison, the titillation in The Graduate is mostly cerebral; kicked off by the veritable dry-mouthed and gut-wrenching nervous breakdown going on inside Ben’s head; his inner cry incapable of releasing all that pent up energy, given its momentary, if imperfect, escape with the enterprising Mrs. Robinson; the only one to have seen through his blank façade, effectively targeting Ben as ripe for her own exploitation to satisfy a midlife longing for young flesh.
Our story begins in an airport terminal, the sound of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’ typifying the isolationism echoing in Ben’s head as he prepares to come home after his college graduation. In these initial scenes, Nichols and his cinematographer, Robert Surtees keep the action tightly focused on Ben’s facial expressions, but with a deliberate equilibrium-altering (and most effective) use of the hand-held camera; Ben, navigating his way through a tidal wave of well-wishers, who superficially preen and poke at him as though he were an oddity, put on public display solely for their amusement; some, like Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke), merely hoping to capitalize on Ben’s qualifications by drawing him into a business venture. Ben’s affluent parents; father (William Daniels) and mother (Elizabeth Wilson), typically dote on their only child, and yet, remain rather oblivious to his central needs. Instead, they merely throw money at the problem, hoping it will go away. Upon graduation, Ben is given a snazzy red sports car. For his twenty-first birthday, he gets a rather expensive, though no less thoughtless, gift of scuba gear – again, forced to parade before a small gathering to show off the Band-Aid privileges that only money can buy. Was there ever a more perfect realization for a young man’s crushing angst than this parallel between Ben’s internalized drowning and more concrete representation of it, as Ben settles – figuratively and literally – at the bottom of the family’s pool in his weighted aquatic gear while his parents’ well-heeled sycophants emphatically observe the implosion?
In the interim, Benjamin has already met Anne Robinson. She is an embittered tease with gritted teeth that spell disaster; a signpost Ben somehow manages to repeatedly misread or ignore as she recklessly tosses the keys to his new roadster into a tank of fresh water fish, forces Ben to drive her home, then appears in the raw to seal the deal, leading to the now infamous moment of propositioning and its awkward aftermath as a somewhat morose Mr. Robinson returns from a golfing trip to encourage Ben to sew, as he puts it, ‘a few wild oats’; preferably with their daughter, Elaine. Meanwhile, Mrs. Braddock begins to suspect Ben is satisfying his primal urges with prostitutes. Neither the Braddocks nor Mr. Robinson can fathom Ben and Anne have already consummated their…what should we call it? Hardly, a relationship. It’s not even an affair. Anne and Ben are not equals. She isn’t trying to relate to him as anything more or better than an erotic castaway; her latest fling with some taut boy-flesh. It’s all rather distasteful and filthy, but strangely tantalizing to Ben – at least, at first, especially when challenged by Anne to prove his manhood. Gradually, however, this erotic fantasy fades – as all erotic fantasies eventually do – congealed into a quagmire of regrets as reality sets in. After all, this affair is wrong on soooooo many levels; chiefly, Ben embarrassing himself by disgracing his parents. As though to amend his moral weakness, he gives Anne his word he will not date Elaine, but then almost immediately back-peddles on the oath at Mr. Robinson’s behest.
Presumably to put Elaine off of him from the outset, Ben takes this true innocent to the seediest of men’s club, subjecting her to a stripper whirling her tassels. Tearfully, Elaine asks to be taken home. But realizing he has gone much too far in his cruelty, Ben now apologizes; confesses actually, to everything except the fact he has been sleeping with her mother. Elaine is sympathetic. This young man has both qualities and a soul. And Elaine is rather into picking up and looking after ‘wounded animals’. Thus, she and Ben begin a flawed courtship, interrupted when Anne jumps into Ben’s car in her stead, ordering him to cease in his pursuit of Elaine. “I can make things very unpleasant for you,” Mrs. Robinson admits with steely-eyed resolve. Disbelieving she could ever be quite as malicious as to confess the truth, yet equally as determined to make a clean breast of the situation, Ben rushes to Elaine and reveals the truth to her first. His candor is only partially liberating; but it destroys the uncomplicated freshness in their burgeoning relationship and makes veritable mincemeat of Elaine’s faith in her parents’ relationship and marriage in general. Swiftly, Elaine goes off to Berkeley to resume her studies, becoming involved with Carl Smith, her rebound lover. In the meantime, Ben takes up residency in an apartment near the campus, run by the suspicious Mr. McCleery (Norman Feld), who suspects Ben of being a pervert, spying on young college girls. Ben pursues Elaine. And although she is not receptive towards him at first, he gradually wears down her apprehensions. She can see in him the merits her mother only suffered through to exploit Ben for cheaply erotic thrills, meant to shore up her own crumbling marriage.
But Anne has worked out an even more insidious revenge; first, by revealing her peccadillos to her husband. Understandably enraged and humiliated, Mr. Robinson confronts Ben. And although he is quite successful at getting Ben kicked out of his rented apartment, Mr. Robinson is as incapable of stopping the inevitable. For a brief moment the Robinsons unite in their resolve to give their daughter the perfect wedding, or rather to deprive Benjamin of seeing Elaine ever again. Breaking into the Robinson’s home, Ben learns from Anne of Elaine’s pending nuptials to Carl Smith. She also telephones the police, determined to have Benjamin arrested as an intruder. But Ben is relentless, dogging every lead and scouring the various venues until he learns the location for the ceremony. Arriving in the nick of time – literally seconds away from the big moment – Ben barges in and declares his love with frantic ardor. Unable to resist him, Elaine abandons Carl at the altar. Ben holds off the enraged congregation with a crucifix seized from the altar. The couple escapes aboard a passing bus full of retirees on a field trip; Ben and Elaine’s exuberance, an anathema to the aged crust of prejudice that continues to surround them.
Interestingly, Nichols concludes The Graduate on an abstruse note; Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’ interrupting this blissful euphoria. The song does more than simply bring the action full circle; having both opened and closed the show on the same strains of moral/social/sexual vagueness. Consider the opening lyrics for starters, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” Benjamin Braddock has not escaped his former life unscathed.  Hitherto, he remains insularly stricken with these same emasculated fears that initially made him vulnerable to the seductive reasoning of a middle-aged cougar. One can argue the angst as momentarily diluted by his most recent triumph. Yet it is unlikely to have been beaten into submission as he and Elaine move forward to the next flawed vignette and/or roadblock set before their lives. After all, the Robinsons, now unified in their venom, will not remain silent for much longer.
No, Ben has not been even remotely successful at bringing closure to these incidents from his more recent past, likely to continue to discolor and erode his lifestyle and affections for Elaine. Almost certainly, he has ruined any chances of procuring a career amongst the many prospects put forth by friends of the family. Most assuredly, Mrs. Robinson will see to that!  And even if the Robinsons did not represent a united front against whatever the future may bring, then Benjamin and Elaine still have not found everlasting happiness together. Rather, they are living in a fool’s paradise and mostly off the ether of this momentary - if mutually sustained - adrenaline rush. It is, after all, quite liberating to defy mores and convention by doing something – anything, in fact – that goes against the grain of society. Rarely, however, does such defiance prove a point that is everlasting, and quite often, not without hellish repercussions to mar and obscure the victory. It merely gratifies an innate and perennial urge put forth by each new generation to be decidedly different and apart from the one preceding it.
The Graduate was a huge hit upon its release. Today, it remains a cultural touchstone in American cinema, having gone far beyond being the funniest American comedy of its’ year. However, time does strange things to cinema art; particularly to its reception by the critics; in particular, the late Roger Ebert, who in 1967 praised The Graduate yet, thirty years later, found his sympathies shifted from Benjamin to Mrs. Robinson; describing the former as “an insufferable creep.”  There is something to reconsider in Hoffman’s rather queerly conflicted, introspective performance. If Nichols had cast industry fav, Robert Redford in the lead such critical backlash might not be levied. Hoffman’s unconventional casting sets the film apart. But it also brings into question Benjamin Braddock’s sincerity. Is he pursuing Elaine because he truly loves her, or rather – and simply – to break out from under the yoke of his own sexually repressed frustrations, given only a minor release with her mother?   This graduate isn’t telling because Hoffman’s finely honed art is more about providing the audience with infinite possibilities to reexamine rather than any finite conclusion. Questioning Ben’s motivations is part of the fun in this exercise. Is Ben a cad? Well…yes. After all, just because a hungry lion is tossed a piece of meat does not mean he has to eat it. Is Ben sorry he had the affair with Mrs. Robinson or bitterly remorseless for having been forced to reveal it? Hmmm. And so the beat goes on…and on…  
Personally, I am not a fan of ‘lists’, frequently compiled to suggest a movie’s greatness on an arbitrary scale of tastes and reflections put forth by a select few ‘experts’ in the field. As example, the 1997 tally devoted to the AFI’s 100 greatest of all time had The Graduate pegged at a solid 7th place, but slipping to #17 by 2007. What does this mean? Very little, if you ask me. Lists are like pie crusts – easily made and even more easily broken.  I am a little less critical in my opinion of awards. The Graduate received a slew of nominations in 1967; Best Picture, Actress (Anne Bancroft), Supporting Actress, (Katharine Ross), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography and Best Director. Curiously, Hoffman did not receive the nod here. Ultimately, only Nichols walked away the winner – a statuette justly deserved. 
The Graduate makes a welcomed resurgence on Blu-ray via the Criterion Collection. It is about time too. MGM, the present-day custodians of this classic, originally made independently for Embassy Pictures and distributed by United Artists, have finally realized what a gem they possess. The Graduate was one of MGM’s first assets to make the leap to hi-def back in 2006, and while that 1080p transfer was a marked improvement over all previous standard releases on VHS, LD and DVD, what we have here is a brand new 4K upgrade that seems to hint maybe – just maybe – the corporate power structure at MGM responsible for preserving their own heritage has had a change of heart. Let us be honest and fair when pointing out MGM today is a far cry from the great studio overseen by Louis B. Mayer. Today, it functions mostly as a holding company, nee repository for post-sixties to late eighties film fodder made independently, but released under the UA banner in those fitful waning years.  Still, the company has managed to do the least with what is under their control. The Alamo, anyone?!? But I digress.
All the more worthy applause is now due. The Graduate is, by far, one of the best looking hi-def discs to come down the MGM/UA pipeline in a very long while. Permit us then to simply say, ‘wow’ and ‘thank you’ to whoever is responsible for this turnaround in executive leadership.  This new 4K digital restoration is phenomenal – period! It is a shay darker than the previous incarnation, but also appears to more faithfully replicate Robert Surtees’ original cinematography. Flesh tones are the biggest improvement; fully saturated without adopting that garish orange tint plaguing the old Blu-ray release. The other major improvement: indigenous grain structure. The old Blu-ray had practically none, suggesting untoward DNR was applied to unnaturally homogenize the image. One final point to make about the image: there’s more of it, the Criterion revealing considerably more information on all four sides of the frame.  Criterion has given us the option between a remastered PCM original mono and an impressive DTS 5.1.; the real benefactor to the latter aural presentation, Simon and Garfunkel’s songs, sounding hauntingly crisp with exceptional fidelity.
Prepare to be impressed in extras: two audio commentaries - the late Mike Nichols in conversation with Steven Soderbergh, recorded in 2007, and, a more scholastic approach by Howard Suber, recorded for Criterion’s LaserDisc all the way back in 1987. We get brand new featurettes too: the first, a magnificent 40-minute interview with Dustin Hoffman who is frank and exhibits extraordinary recall about the making of the film. The second featurette co-stars producer, Lawrence Turman and screenwriter, Buck Henry, dishing the dirt with film historian, Bobbie O’Steen. Criterion has also amassed a lot of vintage extras: Students of The Graduate: a 2007 retrospective on the film’s influence; The Graduate At 25 – a 1992 featurette on the making of the film, an excised Barbara Walters’ interview with Nichols from1966 and an all too brief 1970 appearance by singer-songwriter, Paul Simon on The Dick Cavett Show. Capping off the extras are 14 minutes of screen tests and a trailer, plus Criterion’s usual devotion to printed liner notes, herein supplied by journalist/critic, Frank Rich. Bottom line: Criterion’s reissue of The Graduate is the definitive version to own. Bottom line: very highly recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
4.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
5+
EXTRAS

5+

Monday, February 1, 2016

THE WRONG MAN: Blu-ray (Warner Bros. 1954) Warner Archive

In hindsight, Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial career entered a fallow period after he parted company with producer, David O. Selznick in 1947. Say what you will, but creatively speaking, Hitchcock and Selznick were a marriage made in heaven. That neither came to enjoy this short-lived union as creative equals was their own affair. But to state as much in no way negates the multitude of treasures Hitchcock thus far bestowed on the movie-going public, nor does it discount the as yet spellbinding array of movies soon to follow. However, Hitchcock’s move away to be ‘his own man’ at Warner Bros. produced an uneven interim; begun with his second experimental ‘one set piece ‘pet project, Rope (1948 – the first, 1947’s Lifeboat) and culminating with his classiest affair yet, Dial M for Murder (1954). Right in the middle, there was Strangers on a Train (1951) – an unimpeachable highlight; suffered for first by an unmitigated flop, Under Capricorn (1949), and a fairly flawed minor glamor puff piece, Stage Fright (1950). The stalemate ostensibly ended with Hitchcock’s most personal film to date; the sadly underrated, I Confess (1953). But a move to Paramount recharged Hitchcock’s batteries, the artistic freedom he would enjoy there, allowing him a second irrefutable ‘golden age’, kick-started by 1954’ Rear Window.
Unhappily, Hitchcock’s last film to satisfy contractual obligations at Warner Bros. – The Wrong Man (1956) – while delving into many of the master’s signature themes – veered wildly off the mark in virtually all aspects; much too far from the Hitchcock ‘formula’ (if, indeed ‘formula’ can be accurately applied to typify the director’s visual prowess).  In hindsight, The Wrong Man remains a restlessly dull and awkward movie to get through. With due respect paid to Hitchcock, for both his verve and cheek to at least ‘try’ something new, The Wrong Man is an unquestionably self-important event; Hitchcock’s embrace of the unvarnished ‘documentarian’ look to tell his true story somehow at odds with his inability to cast the film accordingly with virtual unknowns. It is the stylistic clash between truth and fiction from which The Wrong Man’s convictions as cinema art never fully materialize.
The gravest misfire is the casting of Henry Fonda to portray this wronged man, bass-fiddle Stork nightclub entertainer, Christopher Emanuel Balestrero – better known to his friends as ‘Manny’. Fonda, an undisputed fine actor, can no more play the Italian-born Balestrero than Chuck Heston was capable in pulling off a Hispanic detective in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958). At least, Fonda assuages the pitfall of applying heavy shoe polish to his face and hair to affect the part. But the disconnect is painfully on view in the supporting cast; the olive-skinned Esther Minciotti to play Manny’s mama, and, Nehemiah Persoff and Lola D'Annunzio as his brother-in-law, Gene Conforti, and, Manny’s sister/Gene’s wife, Olga. The part of Manny’s button-down Suzy Cream-Cheese goes to Vera Miles – a fav, gleaned from the same ‘cool blonde’ mold previously held, but then vacated by Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly - until Miles became pregnant and had to bow out of Hitchcock’s plans to build her into a big star in Vertigo (1958); a miscalculation for which the master of suspense never quite forgave his leading lady.
From top to bottom The Wrong Man is decidedly, and deliberately understated; Hitchcock opening the picture with an unexpected prologue; forgoing his usual ‘cameo’ to appear in shadow and explain to the audience what they are about to witness is the whole truth and nothing but. Too bad, Hitchcock’s faux-documentary style deprives the average popcorn muncher of that necessary base-level expectation for a good piece of macabre suspense. In point of fact, The Wrong Man has none of this, beyond Hitchcock’s ability to inflict a minor pervading dread. This lingers like an ill omen or bad cloud with an almost interminable ennui, not only in Hitchcock’s staging of the drama, but oddly enough, in Henry Fonda’s decidedly ineffectual central performance.  Almost from the moment we first meet our hero it becomes difficult, if not altogether impossible, to warm to Fonda’s incarnation of Manny Balestrero; Fonda somehow aloof and not terribly inquisitive in his acting. It isn’t a lack of theatricality that suffers; rather Fonda’s strangely unsettled inability to relate – either to the other characters or – more importantly, to Hitchcock’s camera. Instead, Fonda is prone to chronically wounded glances of disbelief; his shoulders, sloped and heavy when sheathed in his trench; loose and rickety otherwise, his entire demeanor quite unable to bear the brunt of Manny’s predicament. In hindsight, there is a very good reason why Cary Grant and James Stewart are today both regarded as the quintessential Hitchcock wrong man accused – chiefly because they look and behave like stars. Stewart’s built-in persona as Hollywood’s favorite go-to every man might have done something better – or even more – with The Wrong Man. But Fonda, whose career was built on such ‘authentic’ figures, imbued with an innate sense of moral decency, is queerly working much too hard to convince us he is the reincarnation of this common fellow.
Such satisfaction, at least for the audience, is never achieved; Fonda is as Fonda was, and not even entirely playing to type - or certain of his character’s motivations, although, as Hitchcock once glibly suggested, any actors’ ‘motivations’ ought to be chiefly centered on earning a pay check. Fonda’s portrayal is devastatingly subpar. He does, however, distinguish himself in one particular – if minor – moment; a sincere and tender exchange between Manny and his elder son (Kippy Campbell) after being newly sprung from jail – a sort of dressed down ‘Andy Hardy’ man to man quality pervading their exchange of devotion. The real standout performance therefore belongs to sexy Vera Miles as Manny’s beloved Rose, thrown into a temporary state of catatonia from which, so the epilogue relates, the real Mrs. Balestrero emerged two long years after her husband’s acquittal, and not first without being heavily medicated and institutionalized. Miles ought to have been a bigger star in the cinema firmament. We get flashes of her depth herein; paralytic silences and blank stares that speak volumes – bottomless, in their terrorizing and dark premonitions, revealing a mental incapacity in Rose to reconcile her devotion to husband and family with this residual angst from some very severe Catholic guilt. It is a deliciously tragic performance.
The Wrong Man decidedly lacks the visual savoir faire of any Hitchcock picture before or since – certainly, none of his A-list efforts from the fifties; not even successfully to mimic the starkness of stylized B&W Hitchcock would later exploit to perfection in Psycho (1960). Again, this is a deliberate decision conjointly achieved at Hitchcock’s behest by long-time collaborator/cinematographer, Robert Burks, and, augmented by Bernard Herrmann’s unusually sparse underscore. Yet, Hitchcock seems to have mislaid a cardinal rule about making movies in general – and making them as the immortal Hitchcock especially; that reality and fantasy are very strange and not altogether pleasing bedfellows. The Wrong Man is visually grittier but it never goes all the way in its documentarian appeal; Hitchcock using at least some of the New York locations to good effect. Originally the intention was to shoot the entire picture in New York. Alas, economy and prudence recalled cast and crew back to Burbank for most of the seamlessly recreated interiors.
But there is a great deal to be said for Hollywood actors of a certain generation and the gently concocted artifice in making movies on a soundstage and backlot. In viewing Henry Fonda as the proverbial ‘fish out of water’ on location in The Wrong Man, one can no more effectively conjure – much less accept – his presence wandering aimlessly through the shabby back alleys and skulking about dingy upstairs’ apartments on New York’s lower east side than suspect him of being mere flesh, awakening like the rest each dawn to brush his teeth, comb his hair, and, put on his trousers one leg at a time. At some level, Fonda’s name brings with it the unwelcome cache of a bona fide movie star – but of a different sort than either Cary Grant or James Stewart. Without question, Fonda’s drawing power – combined with Hitchcock’s ‘above the title’ name recognition ought to have been quite enough to send box office registers peeling madly around the world. Undoubtedly, The Wrong Man is not trying to appeal to the same ticket buyer as other Hitchcock movies; its’ appeal centered on telling ‘the truth’ in a truth-less art – nee, straightforward – manner. Tragically, The Wrong Man never comes together as it should – not simply as an ambitious departure from Hitchcock’s otherwise suspenseful milieu – but even as a pseudo-documentarian's chronicle.  No, it just doesn’t work – period!
After Hitchcock’s opening monologue to establish the premise for his picture – not so much a ‘movie’ as an attempt at an ‘actuality’ or slice of life - we fade in on the lavishly appointed Stork Club; Manny plucking away at his bass. In the wee hours of the morning, he packs up, stops to buy a morning paper and takes the subway home; fancifully picking horses from the racing form he never intends to bet on. Hitchcock’s fascination with what he effectively dubbed ‘pure cinema’ – or pictures without dialogue – is not very compellingly achieved herein. He gives us the lay of Manny’s unremarkable life; devoted husband to Rose and father of two generic young boys, Robert (Kippy Campbell) and Gregory (Robert Essen). Rose has waited up all night for Manny to come home…well, partly. It’s those darn wisdom teeth giving her grief again; a dentist’s consultation earlier has resulted in an estimate of $300 for the necessary surgery to alleviate Rose’s pain. What to do? Manny hits upon the idea of borrowing against his life insurance policy held at New York’s Associated Life. Rose is understandably reluctant to be thrown into debt yet again. After all, the couple has just crawled out from under another loan. But she does concur with Manny; the policy angle is the best of all possible solutions.
Ominously, this is the beginning of all their problems as one of Associated’s tellers, Miss Dennerly (Peggy Webber) mistakenly identifies Manny as the same man who previously held up the office, making off with $79. At present, she passes along her identification to two coworkers, Miss Duffield (Anna Karen) and Ann James (Doreen Lang); the latter, overplaying her hand by slipping into quiet hysterics at the very sight of Manny from across the office.  A short while later, Manny is visited outside his home by two steely-eyed police officers; pug-nosed Det. Lt. Bowers (Harold J. Stone) and nondescript, Det. Matthews (Charles Cooper).  The boys in blue are not buying Manny’s story about a wife with bad teeth and insist he accompany them to the 110th Precinct. Although Manny repeatedly asks to telephone Rose - and, as yet, is not under arrest, but merely under suspicion of the crime – he is nevertheless denied this request. It might have at least laid Rose’s mind to rest. Instead, Bowers and Matthews take Manny on a sort of unofficial ‘pub crawl’ to the various burglarized establishments – parading him in front of eye witnesses who can neither confirm nor deny he is the fellow for whom they are searching. Back at the precinct, Bowers gets Manny to reprint the stick-up note the real robber used; taken aback by the similarities in penmanship.  In short order, Manny is put in a line-up; identified by Miss James and Miss Duffield and thus arrested and charged with the crime.
At home, a frantic Rose rallies the rest of the family in support; brother-in-law, Gene learning of Manny’s predicament and vowing to post bail the next morning. In the meantime, Hitchcock revels in the police procedural; finger-printing, the line-up, the first night in jail and so on. Likely, Hitchcock’s fascination in showing us these nuts and bolts of ‘law and order’ stem from an oft’ repeated, though perhaps apocryphal story about Hitchcock’s own father asking the police to lock up his young son for five minutes to illustrate for the impressionable lad what happens to anyone who disobeys the law. I suspect, given the context, and how little was actually known by the general public back then about the machinery of justice – and its misuse – all these scenes prove revealing. And yet, they drag on…and on; interminably so, forcing Fonda into a code of silence as Hitchcock vacillates in some clever Hitchcockian visuals; the swirling camera after Manny has been locked in his cell, meant to externalize his unwieldy thoughts and mind reeling with fear and hopelessness. The problem is such bravura moments take us out of the faux documentary quality steadfast elsewhere, reminding the audience of the picture’s ‘reel’ inauthenticity. We are not watching a documentary about Manny Balestrero, but Henry Fonda pretending to be the man in a dramatization of his life.
The next day, Manny appears before a judge to face the charges. He is given bail. But the reprieve is short-lived.  Rose places her faith in attorney, Frank O'Connor (Anthony Quayle), who comes highly recommended, though openly admits he has very little experience in criminal law. O’Connor encourages the Balestreros to retrace their whereabouts on the dates when the robberies were committed. Manny and Rose are able to recall they were on vacation for the first hold-up. Returning to the upstate motel, Manny and Rose piece together their recollections of the others with whom they enjoyed their stay; a man who walked with a hunch, named LaMarca and another with bushy eyebrows called Morelli. Manny also recalls a third man who remains unidentified, but Manny seems to think of as a former boxer. Tragically, the first two leads wind up as ‘dead ends – literally; Morelli and LaMarca having passed away since.  Devastated their alibis cannot be corroborated Rose falls into a deep depression. Manny tries to shake her out of it and is assaulted with a hairbrush for his efforts. Rose’s nagging doubt, coupled with her inability to function in any capacity forces Manny to place her under a doctor’s care in an out-of-the-way asylum. 
As Manny’s life continues to crumble, the trial begins. But mid-way through this nail-biting cross-examination a bored juror suddenly makes an impromptu statement, forcing O’Connor to ask the judge to declare a mistrial. Mercifully, Manny will not have to endure a second bite at the same apple as the real robber, Daniel (Richard Robbins) launches into another hold-up, foiled by a husband and wife running a delicatessen. O’Connor telephones Manny with the good news; Manny rushing to the precinct to confront the man correctly charged with the crime. Once more he crosses paths with Miss Duffield and Ann James; the pair identifying Daniel as the real criminal, then suddenly quite ashamed to realize accusing Manny first has contributed to the derailment of an innocent man’s reputation. Manny rushes to the asylum to share his good fortune with Rose. Regrettably, his revelation does not free her mind of guilt. She remains aloof and distraught, urging Manny to go and never return. In the movie’s epilogue we learn Rose Balestrero did not emerge from the self-imposed cocoon of exile for nearly another two years; the family since moved to Florida to start their lives anew.
One of Hitchcock’s bleakest movies, The Wrong Man is far more a police procedural melodrama than either a true crime story or noir thriller, though it borrows stylistic elements from both genre and movement. But the picture suffers from an interminable amount of Hitchcock’s own flawed sense of truth-seeking solemnity; Hitchcock forgetting that even a skilled documentarian mixes up the light with the fantastic. Worse, the narrative appears to have been cobbled together in the editing process with little to zero visual finesse; chopped up, with inexplicable fade outs, inserts and/or cutaways from the action, sometimes right in the middle of dialogue scenes. Consider the sequence where Rose first confides in Manny her queerly unsettling sense of internalized blame for the predicament they now face together. Manny’s declaration in her defense, that Rose has been the best wife any man could ask for, is immediately followed by a ten second fade to the Stork Club; guests, oblivious to Manny’s plight as he plucks the strings of his bass fiddle with a blank expression written across his face; then, another overlapping fade into mid-conversation inside O’Connor’s offices where Rose and Manny are engaged in their private consultation.
Hitchcock is deliberately trying to be un-Hitchcockian in his methodical approach to this material – alright. But he lacks the subtleties of a hard-nosed photo-journalist to effectively pull off the ruse; his quest for verisimilitude mired in the turgidly dull particulars of Manny’s day to day ordeal. In his attempt to shoot an ‘actuality’ in place of a drama, Hitchcock cannot resist inserting a few bravura moments to satisfy his own sense of pure cinema; the clever tracking shot that follows Manny through the open letterbox slot of his locked jail cell; the discombobulating swirl of the camera, meant to infer Manny overwhelmed by the sudden realization all this is happening to him for real; the split image of a stunned Manny reflected, presumably, in the cracked mirror glass of Rose’s hairbrush after she has struck her husband in a fit of shellshock and disbelief in his innocence. These examples illustrate Hitchcock’s cleverness. But they almost appear out of the blue or to have been excised from another picture entirely; bookended by interminable bouts of pedestrian movie-making; the connective tissue between them lacking except in the most base continuity.  To state as much of any movie is clumsy business at best. For a Hitchcock effort, it remains inexcusable. In the final analysis, The Wrong Man was, is, and remains a wrong turn in Hitchcock’s impeccable career.
I have yet to warm to the new Warner Archive Blu-ray. For starters, the movie’s grain structure is inconsistently rendered. Hitchcock intended The Wrong Man to have a ‘newsreel’ quality to it. My issue herein is certainly not with the thick patina of grain. But the image ‘quality’ toggles back and forth – not even from scene to scene, but rather cut to cut - from greatly smoothed out and ‘acceptable’ levels of film grain, to a pattern so densely thick it all but breaks apart fine details and threatens to completely take the viewer out of the story. Fine details are mostly satisfying, although the entire image has a rather stark – natural – contrast. I detected some residual softness in certain scenes, with fine details suffering accordingly.  This is so obviously a new telecine transfer achieved by rescanning the fine grain master positive at 2k. And although substantial cleanup has removed the more obvious scratches and dirt, not all of the age-related imperfections have been eradicated. Some scenes actually look quite ‘messy’ – nee, dirty.
As stated earlier, Hitchcock and his cinematographer, Robert Burks were going for the documentarian feel. As such, I believe the oft bumped to marginally blown-out contrast achieved herein was deliberate and is, in fact, well-preserved by Warner’s efforts on this disc. Better still, The Wrong Man's original mono soundtrack is featured in pristine 2.0 DTS mono that is very impressive. Extras are limited to the same ‘making of’ produced some years ago for the DVD release and a theatrical trailer. Bottom line: The Wrong Man wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m not particularly crazy about the way it looks in hi-def either. I suppose I would have preferred WAC to homogenize the grain structure – not by blurring it, hiding it, or ‘cleaning’ it up to the point where everything became waxen, flat and pasty gray either. But the grain is so heavy at times it clearly distracts rather than augmenting this B&W presentation. Sorry folks; I’ll have to say, pass on this one and be very glad that you did.
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
2
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRAS

2