Vera Cruz Blu-ray

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Jun 9, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Vera Cruz (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Robert Aldrich

    Studio: MGM/UA
    Year: 1954

    Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 94 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English, French, Spanish
    Subtitles: SDH. Spanish, French

    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 19.99


    Release Date: June 7, 2011

    Review Date: June 9, 2011



    The Film

    3.5/5


    Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz is something of a schizophrenic western. It’s got some great stars and quite a few rugged action scenes, but there is also some excess baggage on board and between the action scenes come some turgid passages that don’t pass muster. The film was a big hit in its day, and it plays quite well now, but it’s a shame the romantic subplots that seem inappropriate and unwelcome couldn’t have been pared away to make for a more robust pure action picture. And, if there was absolute insistence from the front office that the co-male leads must have romantic encounters, it’s a pity they couldn’t have found much better actresses to fill the bill. The ladies in this picture are unquestionably the weak links in an otherwise sturdy western adventure yarn.


    After fighting on the losing side of the Civil War, Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) heads south to Mexico to try to rebuild his fortune by volunteering his services to the highest bidder in the civil war going on there between the forces of the Emperor Maximilian (George Macready) and the Juaristas who want to reclaim their native land from the European-appointed ruler. Trane is initially cheated and then gains the upper hand on roguish con man Joe Erin (Burt Lancaster) and his men who have decided to aid the forces of Maximilian on the promise of a bigger payday. In their roles as armed mercenaries protecting Countess Marie Duvarre (Denise Darcel), Joe and Ben stumble on $3 million in gold being transported to the port city of Vera Cruz to be shipped back to Spain in order to finance additional forces to support Maximilian, and their plan is to hoodwink the Mexican guards and take the gold for themselves. But Ben falls for undercover operative Nina (Sarita Montiel), a Juarista who insists the gold must stay in Mexico, thus beginning a game of comeuppance between Ben, Joe, the Countess, Nina, and Marquis Henri de Labordere (Cesar Romero) who’s very suspicious of the overly accommodating Americans.


    Roland Kibbee and James R. Webb’s screenplay doesn’t always make clear the fluctuating allegiances as the movie progresses, perhaps deliberately to obscure the motivations of various characters who seem to have evolving morals over the issue of the proper ownership of the gold. Robert Aldrich keeps things moving fairly evenly though some of the slow patches while the stars talk do bring things to a grinding halt. When there’s action afoot, however, Aldrich delivers the goods in two quite beautifully staged and shot action sequences: an ambush in a village and the climactic battle at Vera Cruz. He also uses a 360 degree pan around a courtyard revealing previously hidden Juaristas that gets the action scenes off to a jaw-dropping start. But whose idea was it to insert these unconvincing romances into what’s basically a male-dominated action picture? They halt the flow of action every time they appear, and with both ladies (Denise Darcel, Sarita Montiel) possessing a very stiff and unsteady mastery of spoken English, their scenes with Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper respectively couldn’t be more artificial and uncompelling.


    Gary Cooper plays his usual stalwart gentleman in his customary low key style which makes his pairing with the combustible, mercurial Burt Lancaster quite a contrast. Lancaster gives a very physical, charismatic performance even if he does overdo that grin too much, but with such a colorful scoundrel to play, he almost always draws focus in a scene even when he's not supposed to be the center of attention. Two of Lancaster’s henchmen went on to big careers of their own even though in this film they’re more whipping boys than anything else: Ernest Borgnine and Charles Buchinsky (soon to change his last name to Bronson). George Macready plays Maximilian in his usual icy style while Cesar Romero makes a suavely treacherous “ally” for the mercenaries. Henry Brandon offers a pleasingly haughty Captain Danette whose ego gets punctured on more than one occasion. As mentioned previously, Denise Darcel and Sarita Montiel (who gets an “introducing” screen credit here) offer limited dramatic functions to the film but certainly can compete with confidence to the beautiful and lush Mexican landscapes bountifully exploited by the filmmakers.



    Video Quality

    3/5


    The film was the first one presented in Superscope, and its 2.00:1 screen aspect ratio is offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Unfortunately, Superscope is not shown to advantage here as all the long shots and most of the medium shots are blurry and indistinct. While close-ups are usually better delineated, even they can sometimes take on a somewhat soft countenance. Color fidelity is not the best though the reds come through with fiery distinction, and flesh tones are on the whole respectably represented. Black levels are also acceptable without being exemplary. There is also a fair amount of dust and dirt that comes and goes. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.



    Audio Quality

    3.5/5


    The DTS-HA Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix places the nicely recorded dialogue together with the sound effects and Hugo Friedhofer’s variable score into a predictable audio track for its era. Fidelity is pleasing overall with a decent amount of low end to the mix, and there is no presence of overbearing hiss, crackle, or flutter to intrude on the viewing and listening experience.



    Special Features

    1/5


    The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs for 3 minutes. Incidentally, the color in the trailer is much more vibrant and eye-popping than in the film transfer itself.



    In Conclusion

    3/5 (not an average)


    Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz is a pleasing and entertaining western without quite reaching the status of a classic. Appealing performances by its two male leads bolster a variable cast in a film that seems a little longer than its 94-minute running time might indicate. Video quality does not measure up to the best western vault titles coming from MGM in the past few months, and with a lack of extensive bonus material, it makes a firm recommendation difficult apart from fans of the movie or those looking to upgrade from the previous DVD edition.




    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

     
  2. Adam Gregorich

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    Thanks Matt. I'm a sucker for any Gary Cooper movie and its great to see the Classic Western releases continue on Blu-ray.
     
  3. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Matt,


    Thanks for the review, have you seen the prior DVD?


    Yes, the video quality is lacking compared to other titles, but I think it's much better than prior video format releases of it.





    Crawdaddy
     
  4. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    No, I didn't have the DVD but I had read there was quite a bit of dissatisfaction with it, so I'm sure those who have it will want to upgrade.
     
  5. FoxyMulder

    FoxyMulder 映画ファン

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    The quick question i have is this.


    You say long shots and medium shots are blurry and indistinct, now its been a while since i saw Vera Cruz but i do love this movie, do you think these shots are blurry and indistinct due to the way it was filmed or due to some digital tinkering for the blu ray release which has had a negative effect on the image quality, or do you think they are using an old outdated master. ?


    If it resembles the filmed look then i'd buy it in a heartbeat, if on the other hand it looks bad due to using an old outdated master or digital tinkering then i would most likely pass on this release.
     
  6. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Robert's word is good enough for me; this most certainly IS a classic western and I'll be getting it.
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    "The film was the first one shot in Superscope, and its 2.00:1 screen aspect ratio is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Unfortunately, Superscope is not shown to advantage here as all the long shots and most of the medium shots are blurry and indistinct. "


    Actually, films were never shot in SuperScope. AFAIK, they were all shot 1.37, and matted in post to resemble a widescreen production. Unfortunately, many of these did not make the technical cut in their field enlargements to 2:1.


    Probably the strangest SS release was Olivier's King Henry the Fifth, a three-strip production from 1945.


    RAH
     
  8. Robin9

    Robin9 Cinematographer

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    Deep Discount has this BRD on offer for $11.09 with 25MORE discount.
     
  9. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    Thanks for the information. Maybe I should change the wording to "the first film presented in Superscope."
     
  10. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    I can't answer your question. I never saw the film in a theater so I have no idea if the look on the Blu-ray is faithful to the theatrical presentation or not. It doesn't appear to have been digitally tinkered with in any way, so I don't for a moment think that DNR or any other process has been used to alter the filmed look of the piece.
     
  11. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Has anybody else viewed this BRD yet?






    Crawdaddy
     
  12. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Glenn Erickson notes:


    ...In color, stability and resolution it far outclasses previous DVDs. It does look somewhat grainy, a quality traceable to the fact that the film was shot on early Eastmancolor stock. Original Technicolor prints literally blurred out the film's photographic texture. The framing is actually a little less stringent than the original 2:1 Superscope aspect ratio, which is no crime as original release prints tended to be too tight in some shots. The only thing missing is the original Superscope logo, which MGM hacked off after making the first laserdisc release.


    An audio remix about ten years ago cleaned up what had been a distorted soundtrack, but no audio elements exist to correct a flaw right at the top of the film. Right in the first bar of the Hugo Friedhofer score, a marked "wow" hits the track. MGM has no alternate sound elements to refer to, a lack that many trace to the wholesale destruction of an entire vault of audio elements and alternate versions for UA films. This happened back in 1989 or so when the studio was purchased by Pathé, and is a black mark in studio history.
     
  13. PRO-630HD

    PRO-630HD Extra

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    Has anyone seen tchnicolor look so faded? Why doe the theatrical trailer have such vibrant colors.
     
  14. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Vera Cruz is not Technicolor.


    RAH
     
  15. PRO-630HD

    PRO-630HD Extra

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    You are wrong on that Robert. It is Technicolor. It is written in big bold red print on the bluray 1 minute 10 seconds into the playing time. IMDB confirms this, not that it is needed when stated in the credits. I don't know where to begin with this one. I just picked up An American in Paris then looking at this I am bewildered. I got the 2001 dvd from my local library to compare at the transfer on it I am sure is far closer to what audiences saw in 1954. Blacks are deep, scenes are bright, good contrast, colors are rich and vibrant. On the bluray not so much. Colors are dull and faded as is the whole transfer, scenes are dim, black levels are raised and the whole thing just looks washed out. Just as colors fade on film over time. I have seen many technicolor pictures but none looking like this bluray transfer. The dvd transfer really screams technicolor I highly and I mean highly doubt the bluray transfer is accurate. The bluray has less print damage than the dvd and shows more detail, but not by a lot. We all know a properly mastered bluray blows the dvd out of the water. The difference should be night and day. Here it is more like night and dusk.
     
  16. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer
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    I believe Robert means that Technicolor did the processing (and thus gets the screen credit) but that's it's actually Eastmancolor. If I'm wrong, I'm sure he'll correct us both.
     
  17. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Correct. Photographed on early Eastman Color 5248, processed by Technicolor, and printed in dye transfer. None of which saves the original elements from dye failure.


    RAH
     
  18. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    In his contemporary (and coruscating) review for the NYT, Bosley Crowther said: "The scenery might look pretty if the fuzziness of Superscope and the blobbiness of the color were not offensive to the eye..."


    In explaining the process, the inestimable Widescreen Musum says: "...Vera Cruz was probably the best film released in Superscope."
     
  19. jaaguir

    jaaguir Stunt Coordinator

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    Hi,


    Maybe someone can help me with this (I assume Mr. Harris has better things to do) 'cause I'm not sure I get it.


    I confess the "Vera Cruz is not Technicolor" comment threw me off somewhat, as it sounded derisive (just to my ears, I guess). I guess (based on this later comment) it just meant that it's not 3-strip. But when studios abandoned the 3-strip system, Technicolor continued doing the lab work for some movies with their own exclusive proccess, and I was under the impression this was considered to be superior to other color processes, like DeLuxe, Metrocolor, etc. I thought the brand name "Technicolor" on the credits still meant something (good) for those movies, since I've read great praise for Technicolor in reviews for some VistaVision or the "A star is born"(1954) blu-rays, for example. So is that praise deserved, or a misconception? (especially

    nowadays in the age of digital restoration, I guess any movie can be digitally color corrected to look like a Technicolor print, or whatever, so what does the original lab work mean, at all?)


    So I'm guessing the problem with Vera Cruz is that not enough work was done to restore back the original colors? Otherwise, why should this movie look any worse than the other titles where Technicolor only did the lab work and get raves on blu-ray disc? Is there some important technicality that I'm missing?


    Thanks,


     
  20. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Javier The point is that while Technicolor was involved in the printing in 1954, that fact is no longer of import. An Eastman neg is just that, and when optically enlarged things get unpleasant. The film was probably shot for 1.37 and cropped after the fact. One can easily screen and see if imagery is too tight at 2:1. Bottom line, Technicolor has nothing to do with how the film is handled today. RAH
     

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