Screen Movies Magazine
DVD REVIEWS Issue 9
The DVD Reviews section is a two-handed effort this issue, with your Editor selecting a mixed bag of, now, low-price releases, and Dennis McCullough taking a long look at the Walt Disney classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which makes a long awaited appearance on region 2.
Tony Edwards will be having a closer look at the making of Disney’s first CinemaScope feature in the next issue of WSMM
DOWN WITH LOVE Region 2
Curiosity – and a bargain price – drove me to purchase this DVD. Also affection for the Doris Day romantic comedies of the early sixties, rather than an appreciation of the dubious talents of Ewan McGregor and Rene Zellwegger, had me parting with a fiver of my hard-earned cash. Apparently, that’s what this film is supposed to be: a recreation of those much-loved Doris Day/Rock Hudson (or Doris Day/James Garner) films, that gave such an unexpected boost to the careers of the stars involved.
In his director’s commentary, Peyton Mead – in only his second directorial outing – explains how they tried to duplicate the techniques of sixties cinematography, set and costume design and music scoring, almost to the point of obsession, and for the most part it is a reasonable approximation of how movies of that period looked. Unfortunately, having expended so much attention on the film’s appearance, he seems to have forgotten about the content, which seems to be the reworked plots of Pillow Talk (1959) and Sex and the Single Girl (a very successful Tony Curtis/Natalie Wood comedy from 1965). You would imagine that here might be the basis for a very funny movie, but you would be wrong.
Rock Hudson was an unknown quantity, with regard to comedy, when he was cast opposite Doris Day in Pillow Talk, and he proved to be a revelation. Having usually appeared in action roles or the romantic melodramas of Douglas Sirk, he proved to be extremely adept at light comedy – as, of course, was Doris Day - and they both went on to appear in similar vehicles, together and separately, with much success. This was because they both had tremendous screen presence as individuals, and terrific chemistry together.
Not so McGregor and Zellwegger. They are hopelessly miscast and way out of their depth; totally unconvincing as Mr. Smooth and Miss Prim and Proper, they affect strange mannerisms and poses throughout the film, to what purpose I am unable to fathom. Zellwegger wears a lot of silly hats, too.
One of the saddest things about this travesty is the presence of the – since deceased – Tony Randall, presumably to give the film some sort of dubious authenticity, or even a tenuous connection to the original movies. It fails dismally on both counts.
All that this lame, misguided effort proves is that they were much better at this sort of thing then than they are now, and that applies to several other genre revivals that have been inflicted on an unsuspecting public of late. Not to mention any names, but Oliver Stone’s appalling Alexander springs to mind almost immediately.
The best thing about Down With Love is the use of a beautifully restored, original 20 th Century-Fox logo, with the CinemaScope extension, before the credits – now THAT really takes you back! It’s almost – note: ‘almost’ - worth buying this DVD just to see that logo, but you would do far better with a genuine Doris Day/Rock Hudson DVD instead.
2.40 Anamorphic, with DD 5.1 97 min.
THE CORE Region 2
This entertaining little sci-fi actioner swept through the multiplexes almost in the blink of an eye, attracting very little attention (or ticket sales) on the way. Which is a pity, really, as this movie is entertainment at its best: a completely bonkers plot, a witty script with a great cast not taking any of it too seriously, and some pretty good effects along the way.
These US Government scientists have done something to stop the Earth’s core spinning (oops!), which will result in spectacular volcanoes, earthquakes and the extinction of all life on the planet, unless a group of oddball scientists (Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Tcheky Karyo, Hilary Swank – an Oscar winner, even!) can save the world by traveling to the Earth’s core in a huge drilling machine – which looks not unlike the Eurostar Express – and detonating a series of nuclear devices at strategic points, which will re-start the core spinning. Of course it will.
This bizarre premise, however, is carried off splendidly by this very slick cast, and director Jon Amiel (remember the brilliant BBC version of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective? Or Entrapment? Or The Scarlet Letter? - they were all directed by Jon Amiel) who together, contrive to make this stuff amazingly believable.
The disc comes with some deleted and extended scenes, a commentary from Amiel, a ‘Making of’ documentary and a visual effects deconstruction.
Highly entertaining, pleasing colour and sound – and more fun than Armageddon and Deep Impact put together. Excellent.
2.35 Anamorphic DD 5.1 129 min.
BATTLE OF THE BULGE Region 1
We have waited far too long for this magnificent movie to arrive on DVD, and that’s for sure. But it must be said that the wait has been well worthwhile considering the beautiful restoration treatment that it has been given. I have owned the earlier laserdisc and VHS widescreen versions for some time, but they pale into insignificance before the spectacular, 2.75 aspect ratio of this new presentation – with fully restored DD 5.1 soundtrack.
Regular readers will know that I’m always banging on about colour in modern movies – well compare the fabulous colour on display here, in this 1965 movie, to the drab pseudo-colour of Spielberg’s recent offerings like, Saving Private Ryan or Minority Report – even his latest, War of the Worlds. Yuk!
Apart from its superb presentation, Battle of the Bulge is a terrific war film, boasting an excellent cast, which includes Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, Robert Shaw, Dana Andrews, Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas and the beautiful Pier Angeli, in what would be the last of her mainstream movie appearances (her health and career went into decline after this film, and she would feature in a succession low-budget continental films until her untimely death, at the age of 39.
The film tells the true story of a last ditch breakthrough by a German tank force, as the Allies advance towards Germany after D-Day. The giant King Tiger tanks blast through everything that stands in their way – under the command of an impressive Robert Shaw – and seem, at first to be unstoppable, until their weakness is finally spotted by a dogged Henry Fonda, as an Army Intelligence officer and former police detective.
Director Ken Annakin handles the action scenes superbly – he also directed The Longest Day – and also handles two more intimate interludes with equal aplomb; one scene between Robert Shaw and Barbara Wherle as the courtesan – first class - and another particularly poignant scene between Telly Savalas, as an enterprising black-marketeering tank commander, and Pier Angeli as his business partner who also loves him.
An absolutely essential addition to any DVD collection, it boasts gorgeous picture and sound quality, a couple of interesting vintage ‘making ofs’ and the trailer – oh, and not forgetting the magnificent score by Benjamin Frankel.
2.75 Anamorphic 177 min.
THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY Region 1
Having an issue of a magazine delayed is not always a bad thing, and this case it has worked to our advantage by enabling us to include a review of the even longer-awaited John Wayne classic, The High and the Mighty (1954), which was released on the 8 th August.
Based on Ernest K. Gann’s best selling novel, this smash-hit movie disappeared into limbo, never to be seen again except for a one-off television broadcast in the 1960s, which was the source of the notorious bootleg VHS copy that has been circulating for years at ridiculously inflated prices.
Well, thankfully, no more. We now have this, utterly magnificent, restored CinemaScope print to drool over, complete with a whole bunch of fascinating extras and commentaries, in a two-disc set which, retailing for just under £10, is the bargain of the century for all fans of the early ‘Scope movies.
The High and the Mighty is the forerunner of all the airplane disaster movies that would become so popular for a later generation of filmgoers, and at the time, even though the book was so successful, Jack Warner – head of Warner Bros, who were distributing the films of John Wayne’s own company, Wayne-Fellows, didn’t think the public would sit still for two hours of ‘people trapped in an airplane’. But, as Wayne was then the top box-office draw in the world at the time, who was he to argue? As it turned out, The High and the Mighty proved to be hugely popular with audiences, and was a tremendous success, financially – a fact which makes its ‘disappearance’ even more inexplicable. Rumours of legal wrangles following the break-up of Wayne-Fellows and the subsequent creation of the Batjac company were rife. And it was also reported that Wayne’s son, Michael, who eventually became president of Batjac, refused to release the film again until ‘The time was right’.
Happily for us, that time seems to have arrived, and after an extensive restoration – which includes footage that was believed to have been lost – The High and the Mighty can now be seen in its original form.
Wayne is the co-pilot with a past – an horrific plane crash which killed his wife and child, for which he assumes responsibility – and Robert Stack is the unstable pilot, coming apart during an engine failure during a storm. Backed up by an impressive cast, which includes Robert Newton, Claire Trevor, Sidney Blackmer and William Campbell. The two-disc set features a fabulous 2.55:1 transfer (although it doesn’t indicate this on the packaging) presented anamorphically, and with the option of stereo sound or Dolby 5.1 – the latter being extremely impressive, having being remastered, presumably, from the original 4-track magnetic soundtrack.
Disc 2 comprises a series of extensive, making of and restoration documentaries plus interviews with many of the cast and crew, including writer, Ernest K. Gann, and co-stars Robert Stack and Doe Avedon.
This is an absolutely terrific package, and, like the Battle of the Bulge DVD reviewed above, is an essential addition to any widescreen collector’s library.
And, of course, there is also that unforgettable, Oscar winning score by Dimitri Tiomkin…
20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA Region 2
One important strand that ran through Walt Disney’s film career was the fact that he was an innovator: first sound cartoon*; the multi-plane camera; an early form of stereo sound, for Fantasia; the development of special colour pigments for cartoons (more recently, digital projection – though I’m sure readers will realize that Walt did not personally have a hand in this current development) and in the early 1950s, the application of CinemaScope, for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).
Disney had first used the anamorphic process on a 1953 cartoon short, Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, and his move into live-action features from animation may have been, in part, prompted by union unrest around the time of the production of Dumbo, combined with the problems of a protracted production times and tied-up finances of full-length cartoon production. The union unrest episodes are thought by some to be red herring, though.
20,000 Leagues was the first film to be distributed by the newly set up Buena Vista organization – a subsidiary of the Disney company. Disney had previously released his films through the Howard Hughes owned RKO company, but had been unhappy with the arrangement for some time. As it turned out, setting up his own distribution arm would prove to be a successful move.
For the director’s job, Disney selected Richard Fleischer (Compulsion, TheVikings, The Boston Strangler, Fantastic Voyage), the son of his greatest animation rival in the 1930s, Max Fleischer (Out of the Inkwell, Betty Boop, Popeye, Gulliver’sTravels). According to Richard Fleischer’s autobiography, Just tell me when to cry, Disney informed Fleischer that he had been picked because Disney had seen a previous Fleischer picture, The Happy Time, which featured child actor Bobby Driscoll (who had previously appeared in Disney’s Song of the South and Treasure Island), and was of the opinion that anyone who could make an actor out of Driscoll was the right man for the job!
Kirk Douglas played the titular hero Ned Land. Douglas was later annoyed with Disney for including footage of his family in a Disneyland television special. James mason (the only actor who’s voice is the nearest aural equivalent to Tat & Lyle’s Golden Syrup) was cast as Nemo. Now, Here are some interesting factoids: Ian Fleming was a fan of the film and used Nemo as the inspiration for Dr. No, with a little bit of Fu Manchu thrown in for good measure. The original Bond novel features an octopus sequence, which was not included in the first Bond movie because of budget limitations. And Nemo is Latin for ‘no’…you learn something new every day.
The Nautilus – in fact the whole look of the film - was designed by Harper Goff [also production designer for Fleischer on The Vikings] At the time, Disney paid a salary rate lower than the union minimum. Disney gave Goff - who was not a union member but was about to join - a hint that his prospects with the Disney company may be blighted if he…I think you can fill in the rest. Disney then hired – as a one-off – John Meehan, who was a union member, to execute Goff’s designs. It was Mehan who won the Academy Award while Goff went back to designing the Disneyland amusement park.
Although 20,000 Leagues was shot in CinemaScope, it was also released in a flat version, which I saw when it was re-released in the late 1950’s/early 1960s. That’s a thing that rarely happens these days. The underwater scenes were shot by Till Gabbani, using a Disney-designed camera. It was discovered that there was insufficient light for some of the submarine model shots. At that time, CinemaScope lenses did not have large enough apertures to handle a low light environment. Goff solved the problem by building a ‘squeezed’ Nautilus model, which was photographed with a standard Mitchell camera. When this footage was projected through the theatre’s anamorphic lens - hey presto - the submarine assumed it’s correct shape.
The film was edited by Elmo Williams, who was also the editor on High Noon (1952 – and which in this writer’s humble opinion is a text book example of perfect editing), and who would later edit The Vikings, again for Fleischer.
The DVD release of 20,000 Leagues is a wonder to behold. The CinemaScope image is 2.55:1 and the audio has been remixed into 5.1 surround. The print is spotlessly clean and sharp, and the Technicolor hues are as rich as peaches. There are several surprises in stor on the disc. The cover wraparound does not list any extras, but the disc is a loaded treasure chest. The one extra that will be of great interest is the original octopus sequence, which was shot in ‘daylight’. Disney felt [quite correctly] that this sequence didn’t work, and ordered it to be re-shot, at a reported cost of a quarter of a million dollars, as a night storm sequence, which is the one featured in the film.
The real star of the film is the Nautilus itself. The design of the submarine is a classic, and it’s influence can be seen in the 1961 feature, Mysterious Island. A few years ago there was a high quality model kit of the Nautilus available.
This UK release omits the commentary by noted prop collector Bob Burns, which is on the region 1 version, but that’s a small quibble.
20 ,000 Leagues does have its minor faults – one being the spine-chillingly embarrassing rendition of the song, ‘Whale of a Tale’, by Kirk Douglas. The other is the cute, medallion-wearing seal, forced into the plot by Walt himself. However, these two aberrations can be overlooked in what is now a classic movie, and the best English language version of a Jules Verne novel.
2.55:1 Anamorphic. Dolby Digital 5.1, with English, French and Spanish languages.
* In a way, Max Fleischer got his revenge on Disney. Steamboat Willie (1928) was indeed the first sound cartoon, but did not feature dialogue. The first ‘talkie’ cartoon was a Betty Boop short, produced by the Fleischer Studio.
Stop Press! Keep a lookout for the December release of Oklahoma! Special Edition. This disc will contain BOTH 35mm and 70mm versions of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, one at 2.55:1 CinemaScope and the other at 2.20:1 Todd-AO, completely remastered. In addition there will be several documentaries and commentaries – one by Shirley Jones – and most interestingly, BOTH of the Todd-AO showcase shorts, The Miracle of Todd-AO and The March of Todd-AO. Unmissable.
Copyright © 2002-2005, John Hayes/Wide Screen Movies Magazine
Last revised: 3 December, 2005
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