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DVD Reviews

23 Paces to Baker Street DVD Review



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#1 of 24 Matt Hough

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Posted March 09 2013 - 01:33 PM

Henry Hathaway’s 23 Paces to Baker Street is one of those little gems that has been mainly overlooked since its release in 1956. While not the most baffling mystery nor an expert thriller, it’s a reliable entertainment with excellent performances, some intriguing suspense, and London locations to switch things up just a bit.







23 Paces to Baker Street (MOD)
Directed by Henry Hathaway

Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 1956
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 pan and scan
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Subtitles: none


Region: none indicated
MSRP: $ 19.98



Release Date: available now

Review Date: March 9, 2013




The Film

3.5/5


When blind playwright Phillip Hannon (Van Johnson) overhears in a London pub some sketchy, veiled conversation which sounds suspiciously criminal in intent, he transcribes it word for word and tries to get the police interested in investigating. But Inspector Grovening (Maurice Denham) doesn’t hear anything particularly amiss about the conversation, so Hannon decides to investigate himself along with his valet Bob (Cecil Parker) and his ex-fiancée Jean Lennox (Vera Miles) who has followed Phillip to London in an attempt to reconcile with him. Before long, the criminals begin to get jittery that perhaps Hannon knows more than is safe for their plans, so they must begin their own attempts to put an end to his snooping.


The script by Nigel Balchin based on a crime novel by Philip MacDonald offers a decent enough mystery since we don’t know the identities of the mysterious Mr. Evans who was doing much of the talking the night in the pub or the skittish Janet Murch who seems to be a key player in the crime that is to be committed. Little by little, bits of information are presented to the viewer making the crime come into clearer focus, and careful attention will lead to the identity of Mr. Evans making for a satisfying conclusion to the mystery. What’s more, Balchin has installed two major suspense set pieces in the story which director Henry Hathaway directs with firm control: the first attempt on Phillip’s life by a man claiming to be the father of Janet Murch and the climactic cat and mouse encounter between playwright and criminal. The latter scene must have given playwright Frederick Knott ideas when he was fashioning his own climax to his thriller Wait Until Dark as both utilize a blind person gaining the upper hand in a showdown by dousing the lights in an enclosed space to put the perpetrator at a distinct disadvantage. Wait Until Dark on stage and in its superb film version handles it a bit more stylishly, but it’s more than effective here, too, to lead to the unmasking of the mastermind.


Van Johnson plays the leading character with quite a bit of brusque, abrasive directness seemingly uncaring about his former screen image as a generally sunny, positive charm boy (though that persona reappears at film’s end). Vera Miles takes quite a bit of verbal abuse through the movie as she valiantly tries to mend their broken relationship. Cecil Parker is lots of fun and a really good sport as the game-for-anything valet Bob, and Maurice Denham is solid if unremarkable as the doubting inspector. Estelle Winwood as a helpful barmaid and Isobel Elsom as Lady Syrett who knows Janet Murch make most welcome appearances. Liam Redmond and Martin Benson make for dastardly oily villains.



Video Quality

2/5


Fox says it right up front that the picture has been modified to fit this screen, only with widescreen televisions de rigueur now, it doesn’t fit the screen at all. Pan and scan monstrosities of Cinemascope/Panavision originals should be outlawed in the 21st century, and no studio should be resorting to them, not even in a made-on-demand program. After all, the people who would want a fifty-seven year old film on DVD are fans of the movie who want to see the entire image, not an image missing almost half of the original picture. For the record, the opening and closing credits are letterboxed non-anamorphically.


That said, the 1.37:1 image looks as many pan and scan images do, never quite sharp due to the blown-up nature of the technology, and the framing is now all wrong with two people sharing a scene often each being cut in half. Color is rather dated looking (long shots of London are very soft and rather drably ugly) though flesh tones can on occasion look natural but sometimes look a bit on the brown side. Blacks are never more than charcoal gray, and there are errant bits of dust here and there. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes, so this film has 11 chapters.



Audio Quality

3/5


The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The volume level is overloud perhaps to obscure some muffled crackle and other noise on the soundtrack particularly early in the movie. Later on things smooth out a bit and fidelity is decent with the Leigh Harline music and sound effects never drowning out the dialogue.



Special Features

0/5


This made-on-demand disc contains no bonus material, not even a theatrical trailer.



In Conclusion

2.5/5 (not an average)


23 Paces to Baker Street is an interesting and clever little mystery, but this made-on-demand disc from Fox treats it with no respect at all. (There is a widescreen transfer of this film available in other regions.) It’s probably best to wait for hopefully a better, more accurate transfer of this little gem. This release does no one any favors.




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#2 of 24 bgart13

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Posted March 09 2013 - 01:40 PM

It's available in widescreen in the rest of the world...but not for a new US disc?? Fox needs to wake the hell up.

#3 of 24 stevenHa

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Posted March 09 2013 - 02:35 PM

Can you give us any vendors' links for an excellent pq widescreen dvd that will play in ther USA ? Thanks.

#4 of 24 Mark-P

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Posted March 09 2013 - 03:30 PM

Fox sent you a screener of this? Seriously? And what did they expect, that you might actually give it a good review and generate some good publicity for them? I'm flabbergasted.

#5 of 24 bgart13

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Posted March 09 2013 - 04:53 PM

Can you give us any vendors' links for an excellent pq widescreen dvd that will play in ther USA ? Thanks.

http://mondo-digital.com/23paces.html If you mean NTSC, then no, of course not. If you're region free or use a computer to watch discs, then there ya go.

#6 of 24 Douglas R

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Posted March 09 2013 - 07:36 PM

To add insult to injury Fox add a big CinemaScope logo on the front cover!

#7 of 24 JoHud

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Posted March 09 2013 - 08:17 PM

Thanks for the review. I'll be keeping at least 23 paces away from this disaster and check out the R2 Odeon disc.

To add insult to injury Fox add a big CinemaScope logo on the front cover!

There are also some P&S releases that actually state "shot in gorgeous CinemaScope" or something of similar effect on the product descriptions. Talk about a bait-and-switch!

#8 of 24 Keith Cobby

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Posted March 09 2013 - 10:12 PM

I have always liked this film which is shown regularly on television (Film4) in the UK in its proper cinemascope format, although it could be sharper. The Odeon DVD is currently in my amazon basket waiting for the price to fall!

#9 of 24 Matt Hough

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Posted March 10 2013 - 12:25 AM

Originally Posted by Mark-P 

Fox sent you a screener of this? Seriously? And what did they expect, that you might actually give it a good review and generate some good publicity for them? I'm flabbergasted.


Yes, along with some others, and other reviewers will also weigh in on some of them. Next up for me will be Coney Island.



#10 of 24 Billy Batson

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Posted March 10 2013 - 01:06 AM

I have always liked this film which is shown regularly on television (Film4) in the UK in its proper cinemascope format, although it could be sharper. The Odeon DVD is currently in my amazon basket waiting for the price to fall!

Yep, Channel 4 show this about six times a year, 'scope & good stereo! I'm at a loss as to why Fox would release this in pan & scan & mono, unbelievable really.

#11 of 24 Charles Smith

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Posted March 10 2013 - 02:26 AM

FAIL.



#12 of 24 Lromero1396

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Posted March 10 2013 - 02:28 AM

Fox does need to wake up. But at this point, I don't know if they ever will. This program is almost a year old and they still haven't addressed these problems. P&S mono, the very thought makes me wretch. It's obvious that a HD image harvest has been done and that the 4-track stereo audio has been digitized, so Fox has no excuse to release this in such an abominable edition.

#13 of 24 John Morgan

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Posted March 10 2013 - 03:55 AM

Even FMC shows this film in stereo.

#14 of 24 Lromero1396

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Posted March 10 2013 - 04:00 AM

Even FMC shows this film in stereo.

*exasperated sigh* That shows the incompetence of the quality control on this program. :f :td:

#15 of 24 ahollis

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Posted March 10 2013 - 04:40 AM

To add insult to injury Fox add a big CinemaScope logo on the front cover!

They did that on THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, SAY ONE FOR ME, THE BIG SHOW and several other titles. And I agree it is very insulting to the buyer and idioticly embarrassing for Fox, but they don't care.
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#16 of 24 Ken Volok

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Posted March 10 2013 - 08:23 PM

It is truly astounding Fox could muck this up so bad, somebody should lose their job. bet they just used an old TV print because it was somehow cheaper than shipping a real print to the scanning facility.

#17 of 24 Charles Smith

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Posted March 11 2013 - 12:59 AM

I think that if it gets to be 1997 again for Fox, then it should be 1997 again for the rest of us.  There are certain things I need to do over while the evolution of DVDs takes place again.  Really now, it's only fair.



#18 of 24 Everett Stallings

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Posted March 11 2013 - 05:46 AM

Who's ever incharge there either don't know or don't care, or thinks they won't have anything to offer us in a year or two for an upgreed buy from us.
Former projectionist @ all downtown theatres in Balto. City.Which are all closed. frown.gif

#19 of 24 Lromero1396

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Posted March 11 2013 - 07:13 AM

It is truly astounding Fox could muck this up so bad, somebody should lose their job. bet they just used an old TV print because it was somehow cheaper than shipping a real print to the scanning facility.

An image harvest is not necessary unless no HD OAR masters have been created. HD remastered 'Scope transfers of 23 Paces and most other titles in the Fox MOD program exist, but the Fox MOD program just doesn't care. They grab whatever master they can first get their hands on and don't bother to check for quality control. Most of the issues in this program would be solved with the MOD program just checking for widescreen HD masters and paying attention to what the OAR is for each title. It would require little effort and no additional cost to the studio, while increasing sales and thus generating more profit for them.

#20 of 24 Mark-P

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Posted March 11 2013 - 08:57 AM

RAH stated in another thread, and he's absolutely right, that this has nothing to do this Fox's restoration team which does good work, but rather with the process of selecting the masters to be used for the MOD releases. We all know that there are widescreen stereo video masters that have been done for 23 Paces and Warlock, but the team responsible for the MOD releases doesn't have a clue what they are doing. It really is sad because it makes the whole company look bad.





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