Theatre of Blood
Director– Douglas Hickox
Starring – Vincent Price, Diana Rigg
Country of Origin- U.K.
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
Arrow Video in the UK previously released the Vincent Price starring Douglas Hickox (Zulu Dawn) directed underrated masterpiece of 70's horror Theater of Blood to the Blu-ray format. However, the release was Region B, and an upgrade in Region A/1 was vastly needed for North American viewers for this Vincent Price gem. To the rescue comes Twilight Time with their new edition of the film.
Theatre of Blood stars Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart an actor who commits suicide after he is embarrassed at an awards outing. He is rescued, and years later comes back to seek revenge on the critics that setup his fall. Theatre of Blood has always felt like a companion piece to Price's The Abominable Dr. Phibes, at least on a thematic level. In the first Phibes film Price's character kills his victims also out of a sense of revenge, and does so based on the 10 Commandments. In comparison Theatre of Blood sees Price seeking revenge for his humiliation using Shakespeare as his inspiration for murder.
The film is a lot of fun with a certain morbid satire streak to the proceedings. The film is well directed by Hickox who gives the film a certain natural feel that works in the films favor. Price seems to relish his role as Lionheart, but one can see an analog between Price who was known as a horror actor who "hammed it up" on screen, and Lionheart. We also get an excellent turn from Diana Rigg (Game of Thrones, The Avengers) as Lionheart's daughter who helps him recover and seek his revenge.
The Blu-ray from Twilight Time is excellent and really reproduces the natural look of the film. It is presented 1:85:1 with a 1080p AVC encode. Colors are nicely reproduced, detail is solid, there are some specks and softness, but overall nothing to complain about. The audio is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that is mostly solid with dialogue and score coming through clear, but thin. Extras include a commentary track by Twilight Time's own Nick Redman with horror historian David Del Valle. The track is highly informative, and quite interesting especially with someone like Del Valle who has personal history with Price. There is also an isolated score track, and trailer for the film.
I will go on record that picking a list of top 5 Vincent Price horror films is a very difficult proposition, and even if I were to settle on a list today it would certainly be different tomorrow, that being said a consistent contender for that space would be Theatre of Blood, and I believe this Blu-ray release will bring the film up in estimation for certain viewers that might have passed by it on DVD and VHS.
The Film (5/5)
Member of the Wedding
Director– Fred Zinnermann
Starring – Ethel Waters, Julie Harris, Arthur Franz, Brandon De Wilde
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- David Steigman
Julie Harris as Frankie Addams is the name of the character for who the film’s title, The Member of the Wedding, is about. Taking place in Georgia, Frankie’s older brother Jarvis Addams (Arthur Franz from Invaders from Mars, and Monster on the Campus) is getting married which greatly disturbs her because she believes to be connected to him more than anyone else. Throughout most of the film, Frankie, a twelve year old kid, with her hairdo and looks to have her appear as a tomboy, goes on a made tirade about hating life, hating everything, how she doesn’t fit in anywhere, living in isolation. She yells and screams like a crazy lad, throwing things around, slamming doors because of her frustrations. She sees herself as a social outcast, very unhappy with herself and her life. She shares her pain and her thoughts with two people. The first is her only friend John Henry, played by Brandon De Wilde. He is the one and the same child actor who went on to play the young boy Joey in the Western classic Shane. The other is the maid, Berenice Sadie Brown (Ethel Waters from Pinky). We listen in on this poor tormented child for the majority of the movie, whose words and beliefs are far ahead of her time. Berenice does her very best to guide Frankie, but she is so full of hatred and animosity that even she struggles to deal with her. Jarvis weds Janice (Nancy Gates); while the ceremony is going on, Frankie sneaks into the back of the now married couple’s car, wanting to go with them and be part of their life. The couple tries to reason with Frankie, which fails, causing her father to pull her out of the car. Even if he didn’t pull her out, the couple wouldn’t have taken Frankie along for the ride. She runs away from home and within hours she encounters and experiences some happenings which brings out some maturity into young Frankie, including a kiss which changes everything about her. She returns home; realizing now she will now blossom into a young woman.
The Member of the Wedding is a terrific film, with outstanding performances. Julie Harris, who at twenty seven years of age playing a twelve year old is phenomenal, steals the show as Frankie with an incredible over the top performance, as she dominates the dialog and activity for much of the picture, rightfully earning an Oscar Nomination. She would go on to a successful career on man television shows. Brandon De Wilde won The Golden Globe Oscar in 1953 for best juvenile actor with his performance as John Henry. This was his first of many roles for the young actor, including Shane, Hud and many television shows. Sadly, Brandon De Wilde passed away at the young age of thirty. The film itself was a Broadway production with the same three actors (Julie Harris, Ethel Waters and Brandon De Wilde) having the exact same roles. The film does have a Broadway feel to it as well, due in part mainly to Julie Harris’ incredible performance.
The Member of the Wedding is presented from on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.34:1, and the results are outstanding. There so much fine detail in this release, that it’s beyond belief. Excellent greyscale, solid blacks, a nearly flawless release, which is what we can expect when it comes to Sony HD masters.
Twilight Time’s audio for The Member of the Wedding is a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, and again it’s practically flawless, with music and dialog coming in loud and clear
Twilight Time has really outdone it for providing extras for The Member of the Wedding
There are TWO audio commentaries for this release.The first one is with Suzanne Vega, Derek Botelho and David Del Valle and the second one has Carson McCullers Biographer Virginia Spencer Carr doing the honors
The obligatory isolated score track, which is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
There are also two featurettes; The World of Carson McCullers and The Journey from Stage to Film, another featurette with Kevin Spacey and Stanley Kramer’s widow.
And still more; there is an introduction to the film by Karen Kramer, plus the original theatrical trailer and the also obligatory seven page linear notes/booklet written by the lovely and talented Julie Kirgo.
The Member of the Wedding is a classic that is very deserving of getting this kind of high quality release that has been provided to us courtesy of our friends at Twilight Time!
The Film – 4/5
Audio/Video - 5/5
Extras - 5/5
Cast-Charles Bronson, Jack Palance, Richard Basehart
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
Craggy silver screen icon of monosyllabic manliness Charles Bronson plays the title role – a half-breed Apache man being hunted to his death by a fanatical posse – in Michael Winner’s 1972 western Chato’s Land, one of the finer blood-and-gut oaters to emerge in the wake of Sam Peckinpah’s earth-shattering masterpiece The Wild Bunch. Chato marked the beginning of a six-film collaboration between Winner and Bronson that included Death Wish and its first two sequels and the classic hitman thriller The Mechanic.
After Chato shoots and kills a bigoted small town sheriff in self-defense, former Confederate Army Captain Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance, Shane) assembles a posse to bring the hated half-breed to justice. Among the willing volunteers are elderly Joshua (James Whitmore, The Shawshank Redemption), Scotsman Malechie (Roddy McMillan, Ring of Bright Water), and the savage Hooker brothers – Jubal (Simon Oakland, Psycho), Elias (Ralph Waite, The Waltons), and Earl (Richard Jordan, The Friends of Eddie Coyle). At the start of the hunt the group appears to be united in their desire to capture Chato alive so that he may be hung for his crimes, but soon loyalty and civility give way to thuggish mob violence as Whitmore’s posse becomes split sharply with only the Civil War veteran who trusts the Apaches about as far as he can throw them to hold his unruly team together. Worse than that, Chato is determined to methodically eliminate every member of the posse through surprise attacks and his tactical advantage of having greater knowledge over the territory than his pursuers.
Bigotry and hypocrisy have always gone hand-in-hand especially where the meting out of justice to disenfranchised minorities at the behest of power-crazed white mobs is concerned. Michael Winner was no cinematic visionary, but he could tell a good story well when the mood struck him and Chato’s Land is one of the better film he made in a career containing more forgettable flops than classics. A true craftsman who understood the value of a well-assembled product, Winner’s directorial style was that he had no style; he was a student of the “thirty set-ups before lunch” school of filmmaking. He may have studied the widescreen western epics of John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Sergio Leone before he teamed up with his frequent screenwriter Gerald Wilson to put the story that would become Chato’s Land to paper and eventually to screen, but he was not about to make a soulless imitation of them.
It’s funny that Chato was released theatrically in the same year that David Morrell’s novel First Blood, the story that introduced the troubled anti-hero Vietnam veteran and future action franchise star John Rambo to the world, was published. The tales share many similarities, primarily the driving plot device of the strong but silent man who commits an act of violence against a brutally corrupt lawman and then uses his skills at hunting and combat of both the armed and unarmed varieties to dispatch his would-be captors. Cormac McCarthy could have also looked at Winner’s film with its collection of self-righteous racist brutes ready to rape and murder in the name of justice and gotten a little extra narrative inspiration for his legendary western novel Blood Meridian.
Bronson is his usual solid, stoic self as Chato, making the most of a character who exists to be little more than an archetypal anti-hero nonetheless immediately worthy of our sympathies. Due to the lack of gray areas in Wilson’s narrative, the deck is stacked against Chato from the beginning and at no point during the film are we given the chance to wonder if perhaps our main character is on the wrong side of the law. But if he is on the wrong side, then how do the tactics employed by his relentless pursuers exactly constitute the rightful enforcement of the rule of law on a frontier that is virtually lawless? Most of the film is forcefully spent in the company of Captain Whitmore and his posse, and surprisingly it’s the good captain who comes across as the most sympathetic of the bloodthirsty bunch. The performance by Palance is among the better ones he gave in the final decades of a career that saw the legendary screen heavy seek out acting work in Europe when Hollywood started to turn a cold shoulder to him. He gives Whitmore a genuine honesty that makes the character so much more than a mere western villain.
Oakland, Waite, and Jordan are delightfully sleazy fun as the scummy Hooker siblings, with Jordan in particular leaping at every opportunity to gnash his teeth at a hunk of scenery since the rest of the supporting cast are content with underplaying their roles. The always welcome Whitmore acquits himself well when Winner provides him the chance to shine. Making an early film appearance is Victor French, the late, great bearded character actor best known for Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. The excellent cinematography by Robert Paynter, later in his career a valued collaborator of filmmakers Richard Lester (Superman II) and John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), brings a postcard-level beauty to the oppressive desert locations – some of which were found by the production in Almeria, Spain, where many a classic spaghetti western was filmed. Winner retained the services of Peckinpah’s favorite composer Jerry Fielding to create Chato’s original score, a strangely affecting soundtrack simultaneously like and unlike most silver screen western backing music Hollywood could produce.
Twilight Time appears to have utilized an older video master of Chato’s Land for their limited edition Blu-ray – perhaps the one prepared for MGM’s Region 1 DVD. Presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, there’s nothing particularly special about this 1080p high-definition upscaling except that it is possibly the best this movie will ever look on home video unless it gets a 2K or 4K restoration sometime down the road (which I doubt). The colors and grain are natural and not overwhelming or intrusive. Close-up shots appear to be the greatest beneficiary of the HD scan, with facial details and skin tones coming across with increased clarity. Some print damage remains and is occasionally detectable. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track is flat but active where it counts and is refreshingly free of distortion and unbalanced volume levels. Dialogue is audible and not at all tinny. English subtitles have also been provided.
Bonus features are scant, the best being a retrospective interview with screenwriter Wilson (18 minutes) in which he discusses how his personal experiences shaped the scripting of Chato’s Land. Fielding’s score is offered on a robust isolated DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. The original theatrical trailer (2 minutes) and a promotional trailer for MGM’s 90th anniversary (2 minutes) close out the extras on the disc, but you can also find a collectible booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo on the inside of the case.
The Film: 4/5
Cast-Elvis Presley, Steve Forrest, Barbara Eden
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
When he was laying down tracks in the recording studio or entertaining thousands of fans in some of the world’s largest concert venues, Elvis Presley truly was the King. As a silver screen matinee idol however, he was forced by his tyrannical manager Colonel Tom Parker to take roles that Frankie Avalon would have been fortunate to nab at the height of his career. Eddie Murphy devoted one of his funniest early stand-up comedy bits to breaking down why Presley was so successful: “Fuck it, let him sing all his dialogue!” This wasn’t always the case, but in his worst movie vehicles Presley spent most of his time in front of the camera looking like he would rather be banging groupies and downing peanut butter and banana sandwiches back behind the walls of Graceland.
Every so often he was granted the opportunity to show the world how good of an actor he could be when paired up with a great director and cracking script. One of those rare features was 1960’s Flaming Star, a darker-than-you-might-expect 20th Century Fox western filmed in majestic CinemaScope by Don Siegel, the two-fisted filmmaking legend who gave the world such classics as the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dirty Harry among many others. The film was based on the 1958 novel Flaming Lance and the task fell to the novel’s author Clair Huffaker and Fox staff scribe Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath) to write the screen adaptation that did right by its source material.
In the years following the Civil War, Texas rancher Sam Burton married Neddy (Dolores Del Rio), a member of the Kiowa tribe, and together they conceived a half-breed son named Pacer (Presley). Along with Pacer’s half-brother Clint (Steve Forrest), the family lives in peace and prosperity on the Burtons’ ranch. Their happiness comes to a violent end when the Kiowa Indians, under the command of a new chief, begin attacking homesteads across the frontier and slaughtering their residents without mercy. Knowing that Pacer has Kiowa blood running through his veins, friends of the Burton family quick turn against them. The bigotry and hostility he encounters at every turn forces Pacer to decide where his loyalties actually reside as all-out war with the Kiowa tribesmen looks increasingly to be a certainty.
There was a moment during Flaming Star when Presley, during a moment of quiet introspection for his conflicted character, reminded me of a young Michael Madsen. It was then I began to wonder what kind of career this icon of modern American music could have had as an actor had he went with a different, less controlling manager. I’m sure I wasn’t the first, but watching Flaming Star gave audiences a rare glimpse of an Elvis Presley who was as adept at commanding a film scene and holding his own among a company of talented acting veterans and promising newcomers as he was in his element as a musician. It certainly did help Presley that the film he was starring in was a rock-solid effort helmed by a director whose name was synonymous with well-crafted, challenging genre cinema, and he was heading up a cast that treated him like one of their own and who only asked in return was that the King ascend to their level of commitment to the craft. You could trade out Presley for any other established male movie star of the time, be it Steve McQueen or Montgomery Clift, and the film would still be great. Maybe it would be even better, but getting to watch the one and only Elvis Presley rise to the occasion and give a genuine performance infused with pathos and soul gives Flaming Star a special quality that few post-war westerns could hope to attain.
Siegel’s film was filmed and released in an important new era for the western, when things were no longer as simple as being able to tell who were the good guys and who were the bad based on the color of their hats. Even though white actors coated in bronzer and fake war paint were still being employed to play the Native American characters (racial progress in Hollywood has always been so much slower than in the rest of the nation), nearly gone were the days when the concept of cowboys shooting nameless rampaging Indians for ninety straight minutes as entertainment was as American as a slice of apple pie bathed in Miller Light. Sure the major studios and their more desperate indie competitors were still going to satisfy the patriotic bloodlust of their primarily Caucasian audiences with westerns preaching the simplistic messaged that heavily-armed white might always made right, but filmmakers like John Ford and Sam Peckinpah (with an across-the-Atlantic assist from their Italian counterpart Sergio Leone) were determined to redefine the genre of the western for newer generations of moviegoers. The systematic elimination of the Production Code (soon to be replaced by the now-standard ratings system) aided in the cause to make westerns, horror films, and action dramas more appealing to older audiences with increased violence, sexuality, and mature themes as the popularity of television continued to increase and put a serious dent in Hollywood’s bottom line.
While Flaming Star doesn’t have any in the way of sex appeal (though Elvis’ female fans who watched the film were treated to the sight of the King spending the finale without a shirt on, something I’m positive they were very thankful for), it is surprisingly violent and complex for a western made in 1960. After an opening revelry the Kiowas start to hit hard and fast; L.Q. Jones (The Wild Bunch) gets a tomahawk buried in his skull – though the effect is more implied by the speedy editing than actually glimpsed – and countless others are riddled with arrows in bloody fashion. Presley’s half-breed character seems a model of cool-headed behavior in the most intense of situations, but as it turns out he is a ticking time bomb of controlled violence you could compare to Ryan Gosling’s mostly silent anti-hero in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Even when he doesn’t come across completely believable as a skilled frontiersman with the blood of the Kiowa coursing through his body, Presley wisely underplays the role and is given some brief yet impressive emotional scenes he makes all the more saddening with his natural charm and conviction.
Best known as the daring and brave Hondo from the 1970’s TV action drama S.W.A.T., the underrated Steve Forrest matches Presley beat for beat in the dramatic scenes and the two men never attempt to out-act each other. Their brotherly interplay is also very credible. Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie) is on fine form as a sympathetic, headstrong local woman with the heart and strength to stand by the Burtons in their time of need. Dolores Del Rio, the legendary Mexican actress who became one of the first from her country to achieve international popularity, gives one of her finest dramatic performances as Pacer’s loving mother haunted and scarred by the equal amounts of scorn she has received from the white people as well as her own tribe for choosing to settle down with a white man. John McIntire (Sheriff Chambers from the original Psycho) gets some good moments on screen as the besieged patriarch of the Burton clan. Valuable additional support is also provided by Richard Jaeckel (The Dirty Dozen, also co-written by Nunnally Johnson), Ford Rainey (Halloween II), Karl Swenson (The Birds), Perry Lopez (Chinatown), and Rodolfo Acosta (One-Eyed Jacks) as Pacer’s main nemesis among the Kiowa. Eagle-eyed viewers might be able to spot actor and longtime member of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia entourage Red West (Road House) as an extra among the Kiowa warriors.
Twilight Time’s 1080p high-definition transfer of Flaming Star looks as excellent as can be. Framed in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the film’s expansive CinemaScope photography shot by Charles G. Clarke (Miracle on 34th Street) is cleaner and more vibrant than any previous home video edition has offered. Print damage is nowhere to be found and grain is present and consistent to add a filmic texture to the rich desert visuals. The soundtrack options include a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track and a robust new English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and each track serves its purpose depending on the limitations of your television set-up. The music score by Fox’s staff composer Cyril J. Mockridge (Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) doesn’t stand out and the two original songs Presley performs are relegated to the first five minutes and are hardly among his most memorable tunes, but they sound fantastic and dialogue and Foley effects also benefit from the improved clarity and lack of distortion in the mix. English subtitles have also been provided.
Bonus features on this limited edition Blu-ray include a solid film historian commentary track with Twilight Time’s resident cinema experts Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman and theatrical trailers for the film in both English and Portuguese.
The Film: 4/5
Cast-Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
The late Roger Ebert once created a category of action and suspense thrillers known as “Bruised Forearm Movies”, named so because the level of intensity and excitement in each movie would have you grasping each other’s arms out of sheer tension until marks were left behind on the skin. Man Hunt, the riveting film noir nail-biter directed by cinematic giant Fritz Lang and released in 1941 by 20th Century Fox, deserves to be in such company.
Adapted from Geoffrey Household’s classic 1939 serialized novel Rogue Male by Dudley Nichols, the brilliant screenwriter responsible for Bringing Up Baby and Stagecoach, Man Hunt stars Walter Pidgeon (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) as famed British big game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike. The good captain has earned himself an international reputation for the fierce predators he has tracked and killed in his time, and as our story begins he is wandering through the woods outside of a German mansion that belongs to that mass murdering maniac Adolf Hitler. Considering it a “sporting stalk”, Thorndike draws a bead on Adolf and is about to open fire before he is stopped by a Gestapo soldier and brought before the erudite Nazi officer Major Quive-White for interrogation.
Refusing to sign a confession implicating the British government in the botched assassination attempt at a time when the Third Reich is beginning its plans to conquer Europe and later the world, Thorndike is first tortured without mercy and then set up by Quive-White to die in what is supposed to look like an accidental fall from a cliff. Thorndike manages to survive the fall and escape Germany on a Danish ship with the help of clever cabin boy Vaner (Roddy McDowall). Before long he is back in England and hoping to find his way back to the safety of his brother Lord Risborough (Frederick Worlock), but Quive-White and other Nazi agents – including the gaunt Mr. Jones (John Carradine) – are close behind him in pursuit. Realizing that his country’s government would be forced to extradite him back to Germany to stand trial if he turned himself in, Thorndike turns to help from beautiful stranger Jerry (Joan Bennett). As he tries to stay at least one full step ahead of the relentless Quive-Smith, the gentleman hunter finds himself falling in love with Jerry while doing everything he can to keep her out of danger.
Whether you believe me or not, I have not spoiled the plot of Man Hunt. The film is a clever cat-and-mouse thriller with heightened suspense and chilling atmosphere as only Fritz Lang, one of the 20th century’s most influential masters of the moving image, could provide. Man Hunt was one of Lang’s earliest American films and it was an important one for its time as it was made to help sway popular opinion into taking sides against Hitler and his Nazi Party when the United States was still neutral in the Third Reich’s ongoing takeover of Europe and England’s valiant attempt to keep those hateful bastards at bay for as long as possible. It was a work of entertaining propaganda released when the world needed it most, but Man Hunt is first and foremost an effective thriller with a flawed but worthwhile protagonist at the center of its complicated plot, a first-rate love interest to help humanize our overly mannered gentleman hero, and a villain brought to life with subdued evil and malicious wit.
“If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you?” That’s one of those moral dilemmas we enjoy posing to one another every so often to prove our patriotism, our loathing of the greatest evil, our devotion to making the world a better place…. or maybe it’s just something we love answering in the affirmative just to show what tough, freedom-loving freedom lovers we are. Sure there are more than a few of our peers who could easily see themselves transported back to sometime in the early 1940’s or long before so they could wrap their meaty American paws around Uncle Adolf’s scrawny neck and choke the life out of his Chaplin-insulting mustache, but once you’re actually put into the position where you can kill another human being – even one as odious and disgusting as Hitler – the desire to pull the trigger or bring down the sledgehammer (choose your weapon, dear reader) suddenly doesn’t appear so simple.
During Man Hunt we’re never quite sure I our besieged hero Thorndike really intended to take out Hitler with one brilliant shot or if he was just having a sporting stalk as he so eloquently put it. It isn’t until his final showdown with George Sanders’ cold-blooded Nazi that we are given a definitive answer. Thorndike is meant to be representative of those of us who want to take a stand against the worst of humanity but aren’t positive if we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. At a time when those with the power and resources to do what was right were carefully mustering the strength to do so, men and women like Thorndike around the world were waiting anxiously to receive the call to action. Human evil cannot be abided or reasoned with; it must be fought and destroyed.
Lang certainly does an amazing job of recreating German and British forests, streets, and interiors on the spacious lots at 20th Century Fox, with veteran studio cinematographer Arthur C. Miller (The Mark of Zorro) using smart angles and inky black shadows to open up the most infinitesimal locations and give Man Hunt the appearance of a film that wasn’t shot entirely in closed spaces. The Nichols screenplay is never any less than intelligent, funny, and genuinely humane at the most unexpected of times, and the relationship between the characters of Thorndike and the working class lady Jerry becoming fully-realized by the close of their final scene despite being given less screen time to develop than most screen romances are permitted.
Walter Pidgeon (Forbidden Planet) was an excellent choice for the role of Thorndike and he manages to find the beating heart and lonely soul of a famous aristocratic hunter and give Man Hunt a real hero to remember. Later to reteam with Lang for the noir classic Scarlet Street, Joan Bennett is a gutsy, warm-hearted delight as the woman who captures our hunted hero’s heart. George Sanders (Rebecca) brings icy wit and determination to his villainous Nazi Quive-White, with John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath) on top form as a subordinate adversary assisting in the pursuit of Thorndike. Lastly, Roddy McDowall (years before his first trip to the Planet of the Apes), in one of his earliest performances, not only succeeds in being one of those rare child actors who isn’t instantly annoying but in creating a credible young character whose willingness to help Thorndike feels like a natural occurrence and not like the plot mechanics wheezing to life.
For its DVD release in 2009, Man Hunt underwent an extensive restoration using the original nitrate film negative as a source element to get it looking its best since it was first released theatrically, and Twilight Time appears to have given that transfer of masterful quality a stunning 1080p high-definition upgrade. The shadowy compositions in the stark black & white imagery created by Lang and cinematographer Arthur C. Miller (The Ox-Bow Incident) look absolutely gorgeous through improved black levels and balanced brightness, and the film grain is kept to an acceptable and authentic minimum. Some minor print damage remains but you would have to go the entire film without blinking in order to avoid being caught off-guard by its presence. The lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is true to the film’s nature and the nuanced sound mix and is never hindered by distortion created by unbalanced volume levels. Every component of the mix comes through all channels clear and free of damage. English subtitles are also included.
The 2009 Region 1 DVD featured a few quality extras produced specially for the occasion and Twilight Time thankfully ported most of them over to their Blu-ray. They include an illuminating audio commentary with author and Lang biographer Patrick McGilligan that goes into great detail about the production of the film and the personal and historical backgrounds that lead to its creation, a making-of documentary (17 minutes) featuring interviews with several authors and film historians that cover ground similar to what was discussed in the commentary, and the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes). The restoration comparison featurette and still galleries from the previous DVD edition unfortunately didn’t make the cut. Twilight has also included the complete Newman score on an isolated DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and a booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo.
The Film: 5/5
Cast-Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin, Amy Irving
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
For years Yentl Mendel (Barbra Streisand) has been secretly educated in Talmudic law by her aging father Rebbe (Nehemiah Persoff) because it is against the traditions of their Jewish faith for women to receive such schooling when they are expected to be subservient to the men. When her father passes away, Yentl decides to leave her rural village in Poland to attend a “yeshiva” to further her studies, but first she must adopt the identity of a boy named Anshel so she will be admitted to the school. At the yeshiva Yentl becomes fast friends with Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), a fellow student whose intelligence and passion for the Talmud rivals, and in some instances surpasses, her own. Avigdor is engaged to be married to Hadass (Amy Irving), the daughter of a wealthy and important family in the town, but when her parents discover a dark secret Avigdor has been keeping for years, the wedding is called off. He persuades Yentl to marry Hadass in his place so they will be able to stay together in spite of her family’s protestations and reluctantly Yentl agrees, but she is placed in the unfortunate position of dealing with Hadass’ growing attraction to her while concurrently trying to reconcile her own feelings for Avigdor with her aspirations to break down the societal barriers for women of the Jewish faith and embrace the teachings of the Talmud.
Come Hell or high water, Barbra Streisand was going to make Yentl. If she had to sell her soul to do it, then it would be done without a second thought. If she had to invent a time machine and then travel into the dystopian future to lead the resistance against the machines that have taken over the planet in order to get the film made, then she did it thirty-five minutes ago. There are passion projects, there are dream projects, and then there is, for the fabulous and irrepressible Barbra, Yentl. She devoted fifteen years of her life on-and-off to developing the film and battling with overly cautious studio executives who loved the idea of seeing her acting and singing on the big screen once more but weren’t exactly fans of the source material. She turned down huge money offers to perform live in London and Las Vegas as Yentl bounced around from one studio to the next in various stages of Development Hell. By the time cameras rolled on the film Streisand was born to make, it was with the full support of a United Artists that was still recovering from the massive box office failure of Michael Cimino’s underrated western masterpiece Heaven’s Gate and being absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to create the new Tinseltown entity MGM/UA.
Since the late 1960’s Streisand had been virtually obsessed with adapting Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy (which had been previously mounted as a Broadway production in 1975) for the screen. She found many parallels between the struggles of the story’s titular heroine and her own, battling a male ruling hierarchy in the entertainment industry to establish herself as an independent artist answerable to no one else. Streisand co-wrote the screenplay with the British playwright Jack Rosenthal, updating certain elements of the story to reflect her own creative desires including aging the character of Yentl from a young girl to a young woman so she could play the role. The task of portraying the most important part in the film while simultaneously serving as director and wearing many other hats on the production was a daunting one to be sure, but Streisand accepted the challenge and tackled it with every ounce of the devotion she had kept in reserve to make the project a reality since she first read the original Singer story in her youth.
It was Streisand who conceived of making her adaptation of Yentl a musical of sorts, but the original songs written by the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman (with the assistance of composer Michel Legrand, who also contributes an amazing orchestral score positively exploding with the lavish romanticism exhibited by the movie itself) are not incorporated into the film in the manner you would expect of a typical silver screen song & dance extravaganza. Streisand employs the tunes to represent her character Yentl’s innermost thoughts, concerns, and longings. They function as an expression of that which she cannot vocalize in front of others but what she feels the deepest in her soul. Sometimes she allows herself to be seen singing, other times they simply provide the soundtrack to the onscreen action. It is an unusual method which Streisand goes about turning this particular film into a musical that works within her comfort zone, but at least she doesn’t have Yentl breaking out in song at the most awkward moments, and thankfully her sense of humor permits her to occasionally comment on the absurd storytelling nature of a musical during one number by having other characters wonder where the singing is coming from.
Streisand also spares us the spectacle of any dancing. That would have been too much and it would have accomplished what the songs never threatened to do, which is distract from the primary focus of the story – Yentl’s struggle to figure out how she feels about her friends Avigdor and Hadass while committing to her passion for studying the Talmud. At its core Yentl is the story of three people trying to decide the course of action that would allow them to fulfill their every hope and dream, but mainly it’s about Yentl breaking down barriers for the women of her faith to pursue their own passions in life simply because there should be nothing that a woman cannot do on this planet. Yentl, both the person and the film, challenges the restrictions that societies placed on women thousands of generations before those of us alive now were even conceived, some of which continue to endure to this day, and does so in a very uncomplicated manner. Yentl doesn’t set out to change the world; she just wants to study the Talmud, the love of which was inspired in her by the teachings of her father, who understood and honored the laws of his religion but saw that change was inevitable and his beloved daughter could be the catalyst for that change.
I could write a few thousand more words about the themes of Yentl and how Streisand perfectly explores them in her film, but I will get back to the film and what else works about it, which is pretty much everything. Having never really been a fan of its star, director, and co-writer before, I was amazed by Streisand’s devotion to making every moment in the film count, right down to her amazingly heartfelt and honest performance, one of the best of her entire acting career. She may not have been Singer’s ideal Yentl, but with feminine fire Streisand commits to the character’s virtues and flaws and embraces the passion that drives her to put all that she holds sacred in life at risk to rise about the station imposed on her before she was even born. Mandy Patinkin’s charisma and barely contained, table-banging theatrical intensity makes a fine match for Streisand’s own and the two share a chemistry that allows their interactions to form the emotional core of the story and create many of its most powerful dramatic moments.
Amy Irving completes the unorthodox romantic triangle with vulnerability, grace, and suppressed lust that her marriage to “Anshel” suddenly brings out with a vengeance. I appreciated the fine supporting turns from Nehemiah Persoff (Twins) as Yentl’s father, Steven Hill (Law & Order) as Hadass’ father, Allan Corduner (Topsy-Turvy), and Miriam Margoyles of the Harry Potter movies and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. The cinematography by David Watkin (Catch-22) bathes the scenes in a warm, burnished amber hue, and the film’s pace never once lags or comes to a halt thanks to the expert editing from Terry Rawlings (Alien, Blade Runner). Roy Walker’s (The Shining) production design feels true to the narrative and not at all like sets inside of a studio soundstage. Streisand surrounded herself with the finest talent both in front of and behind the camera, and under her steely direction everybody came prepared to give their best and nobody disappointed.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary in February 2009, MGM released a two-disc special edition DVD containing both the 133-minute theatrical cut of Yentl as well as a 137-minute extended director’s cut prepared by Streisand using deleted scenes from her personal archives, along with a boatload of archival and retrospective supplements. Twilight Time has brought it all over to their single disc Blu-ray release, but unfortunately their customary isolated audio track was not included this time around so we won’t be able to enjoy the full Legrand score and the accompanying performances by Barbara separated from the rest of the film. Bummer. The scenes reinserted into the director’s cut are easily noticed due to the shaky condition of the film elements (dirt, scratches, grease pencil markings, etc.), but the color timing is rarely altered, thus allowing the transition between the theatrical cut scenes and the deleted scenes to appear mostly seamless.
The film itself receives a positively remarkable 1080p high-definition transfer framed in its original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Accurate color reproduction results in a real dazzler of palettes, with blooming green foliage and warm brown interiors taking center stage in the visuals. Details are vivid and sharp, especially in the close-up shots, and outside of the previously mentioned condition of the director’s cut added scenes there is not a trace of permanent print damage to be found here. Two English soundtracks have been provided in DTS-HD Master Audio: if you’re looking for a track that well give you the best possible presentation of Legrand’s lush and swooning orchestral score and the many songs written by the Bergmans and performed by Streisand, the 5.1 option is the only way to go. The rest of the audio mix, from the dialogue to the sound design, also come through in perfect condition with astounding clarity and range. Watching the film on a standard television might compel you to choose the 2.0 track instead because it will do just as well as the 5.1. Distortion and damage are non-existent on both channels. English subtitles have also been included.
The extras kick off with two introductions to the director’s cut by Streisand – the first is a brief text intro, but the second finds Streisand for approximately two minutes discussing her feelings about the film today and the arduous process behind its making. In short, it’s a summary of what you’ll find among the bonuses. Both cuts come with an audio commentary by Streisand and co-producer Rusty Lemorande that is overflowing with love for the film and the people who helped make it possible. The director understandably dominates the track because she has the most to share and her insights into every aspect of the filmmaking process and what a learning experience it was for the first-timer are fascinating and funny in equal doses. Lemorande occasionally tosses in his two cents. Moments of silence are frequent but they never last.
Next we have a reel of deleted scenes (17 minutes), including the ones that went back into the director’s cut, introduced by Streisand. You can only watch the scenes at once; none of them can be accessed from the menu individually, but they look to have been sourced from original film elements and don’t appear too rough for the most part. Before we get into the meat of the supplementary material, Streisand appears for another introduction (3 minutes) in which she offers more welcome behind-the-scenes details. “The Director’s Reel” (7 minutes) finds her talking about the challenges of both acting and directing in the same film, illustrated by outtake scenes and still photos from the production.
“The Rehearsal Process with Materials from Barbra’s Archives” is a collection of six featurettes (29 minutes) - staring with, you guessed it, a Streisand intro – that take us step-by-step through the painstaking work that went into the creation of the film’s haunting and exuberant musical numbers via videotaped rehearsals in both black & white and color. Comparisons between the rehearsal tapes and the final scenes are also included. Streisand takes a break from the music to instead sing the praises of her creative collaborators in front of and behind the camera in the affectionate tribute featurette “My Wonderful Cast and Crew” (7 minutes). Storyboard sequences are offered for the deleted musical numbers “The Moon and I” and “Several Sins a Day” (4 minutes each); these were shot on scratchy videotape, resulting in a rough form of animatic.
Streisand’s original concept film (8 minutes), shot on 8mm color stock, is included with optional commentary from the director and shows her looking for rural exterior locations close to what she envisioned for Yentl. Four still galleries (Production, Behind the Scenes, Portraits, and Recording Studio) and the original teaser (1 minute) and theatrical (3 minutes) trailers close out this extensive selection of supplements. Last, but never least, is Twilight Time’s usual collector’s booklet featuring informative liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. The film itself is great enough, but in terms of technical presentation and supplements this is one of the company’s best releases to date.
The Film: 4.5/5