A PEEK AT JACK THE RIPPER

3 Stars

Several months ago, Severin announced a Black Friday release of the 1959 Jack the Ripper, a film I saw on its original release here in LA at the Wiltern Theater – opening day to be exact, and then several other days during its run. I really enjoyed it (I was eleven at the time) and especially enjoyed the color insert of the blood coming up through the elevator floorboards – what eleven-year-old wouldn’t love THAT? Severin’s release was limited to 1500 copies and it sold out instantly for reasons that still baffle me, and one wonders if something fishy went on or is going on because labels that release classic films can’t sell 1500 of them, and it’s not like this Jack the Ripper is that well known or beloved even by horror aficionados. Anyway, thanks to a nice HTF member I was able to get a copy, which arrived this morning and which I have now watched – all of the US cut, some of the UK cut, and a bit of the DVD with the French cut. Here’s all you need to know.

Not that long ago I’d purchased and watched Jack the Ripper on a UK DVD. The UK version seemed to be the American cut with the UK score by Stanley Black. The transfer was disappointingly full frame and not very good, so I was excited about the Blu-ray from Severin, especially because on their website they trumpeted “newly restored from vault elements,” which, by the way, for me is truly one of the most meaningless pieces of press agentry ever. And when I tell you about this transfer you will know just how deceptive their blather was and I think one would have a good class action lawsuit for advertising something with complete lies. To be clear, what you get here is three different versions of the film: the UK cut with the Stanley Black score, the US cut with the Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo score, and some French version on DVD with some gratuitous nudity.

First I checked out the “newly restored from vault elements” UK transfer. The film is preceded with a title card informing us that no elements exist on this film, or not any that they could find. What we’re about to see is an open matte (zoomed in) transfer that was done on a telecine in 2005 (probably the basis of the DVD I watched). I ran the first twenty minutes – I would be surprised to find out that it wasn’t 16mm, which is exactly what it looks like. It’s no better than the DVD and that wasn’t good. Strike one and so much for “restored from vault elements.” Then I switched to the US cut, which is what I wanted to watch. That, too, was preceded by a title card informing us that no elements exist on the film and that the US cut is presented in a 2K transfer of a 35mm print held by, I believe, the Library of Congress. So, I thought, this is where the “restored from vault elements” comes in, great. The film began with the Paramount logo, which was wonderful, and Paul Frees’ Orson Welles-like opening narration over the logo – really fun and something I remember from all those years ago.

Now, here’s what I don’t expect to see from a “newly restored from vault elements transfer” – a print that looked like someone had run it about 3,000 times then put it in a washing machine. Splicy, huge scratches, blobs of dirt everywhere, and once past the logo all of that continued unabated for almost the entirety of the film. There were a few sequences that were a bit less battered, but someone needs to sit down with the people at Severin and tell them what the word “restored” means. A 2K transfer is meaningless and a waste of money if the element is in this kind of shape. But as long as you’re saying “restored” at least take the time to clean it up – this has had virtually nothing done to it, not a single attempt to remove scratches, filth, or cue marks or fix the contrast or any damn thing. The color insert of the blood coming up through the elevator floor is completely faded, rendering the effect almost sepia and therefore diluting the impact of suddenly seeing vivid red come up through a floor that had just been black-and-white. It would have taken ten minutes to fix the color – ten MINUTES. It is in something resembling its original ratio – I think it’s 1.66 on this disc, although it showed here at 1.85 naturally. Severin has a lot of gall putting out this crap at full price. And crap it is. I don’t know this label at all, but they are clearly not above lying about their product and not owning up to the truth on their website. There are extras that I don’t care about, and the French version isn’t even on the Blu-ray, it’s on a separate DVD so you know what you’re in for there – a completely unwatchable transfer. This is, in fact, the most shockingly bad Blu-ray I’ve ever seen – the worst of the worst doesn’t even come close to this travesty, and shame on everyone involved. Highly NOT recommended by the likes of me, although you can’t find it anyway, except at inflated prices. Which brings me full circle back to my original point – the quick sellout of this title is very fishy.

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Kevin Collins

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16 Comments

  1. haineshisway

    Several months ago, Severin announced a Black Friday release of the 1959 Jack the Ripper, a film I saw on its original release here in LA at the Wiltern Theater – opening day to be exact, and then several other days during its run. I really enjoyed it (I was eleven at the time) and especially enjoyed the color insert of the blood coming up through the elevator floorboards – what eleven-year-old wouldn't love THAT? Severin's release was limited to 1500 copies and it sold out instantly for reasons that still baffle me, and one wonders if something fishy went on or is going on because labels that release classic films can't sell 1500 of them, and it's not like this Jack the Ripper is that well known or beloved even by horror aficionados. Anyway, thanks to a nice HTF member I was able to get a copy, which arrived this morning and which I have now watched – all of the US cut, some of the UK cut, and a bit of the DVD with the French cut. Here's all you need to know.

    Not that long ago I'd purchased and watched Jack the Ripper on a UK DVD. The UK version seemed to be the American cut with the UK score by Stanley Black. The transfer was disappointingly full frame and not very good, so I was excited about the Blu-ray from Severin, especially because on their website they trumpeted "newly restored from vault elements," which, by the way, for me is truly one of the most meaningless pieces of press agentry ever. And when I tell you about this transfer you will know just how deceptive their blather was and I think one would have a good class action lawsuit for advertising something with complete lies. To be clear, what you get here is three different versions of the film: the UK cut with the Stanley Black score, the US cut with the Jimmy McHugh and Pete Rugolo score, and some French version on DVD with some gratuitous nudity.

    First I checked out the "newly restored from vault elements" UK transfer. The film is preceded with a title card informing us that no elements exist on this film, or not any that they could find. What we’re about to see is an open matte (zoomed in) transfer that was done on a telecine in 2005 (probably the basis of the DVD I watched). I ran the first twenty minutes – I would be surprised to find out that it wasn’t 16mm, which is exactly what it looks like. It’s no better than the DVD and that wasn’t good. Strike one and so much for “restored from vault elements." Then I switched to the US cut, which is what I wanted to watch. That, too, was preceded by a title card informing us that no elements exist on the film and that the US cut is presented in a 2K transfer of a 35mm print held by, I believe, the Library of Congress. So, I thought, this is where the "restored from vault elements" comes in, great. The film began with the Paramount logo, which was wonderful, and Paul Frees' Orson Welles-like opening narration over the logo – really fun and something I remember from all those years ago.

    Now, here’s what I don’t expect to see from a "newly restored from vault elements transfer" – a print that looked like someone had run it about 3,000 times then put it in a washing machine. Splicy, huge scratches, blobs of dirt everywhere, and once past the logo all of that continued unabated for almost the entirety of the film. There were a few sequences that were a bit less battered, but someone needs to sit down with the people at Severin and tell them what the word “restored” means. A 2K transfer is meaningless and a waste of money if the element is in this kind of shape. But as long as you’re saying “restored” at least take the time to clean it up – this has had virtually nothing done to it, not a single attempt to remove scratches, filth, or cue marks or fix the contrast or any damn thing. The color insert of the blood coming up through the elevator floor is completely faded, rendering the effect almost sepia and therefore diluting the impact of suddenly seeing vivid red come up through a floor that had just been black-and-white. It would have taken ten minutes to fix the color – ten MINUTES. It is in something resembling its original ratio – I think it's 1.66 on this disc, although it showed here at 1.85 naturally. Severin has a lot of gall putting out this crap at full price. And crap it is. I don't know this label at all, but they are clearly not above lying about their product and not owning up to the truth on their website. There are extras that I don’t care about, and the French version isn’t even on the Blu-ray, it’s on a separate DVD so you know what you’re in for there – a completely unwatchable transfer. This is, in fact, the most shockingly bad Blu-ray I’ve ever seen – the worst of the worst doesn’t even come close to this travesty, and shame on everyone involved. Highly NOT recommended by the likes of me, although you can’t find it anyway, except at inflated prices. Which brings me full circle back to my original point – the quick sellout of this title is very fishy.

    Did you know that when you parked your car in the basement during the early years, that you drove your car straight in and parked in one of the spaces. When you were ready to leave, you drove your car forward onto a turnstile, which was spun around in the opposite direction, and you drove out.

    I found that out when I inspected that building. (ret. LAFD)

  2. I almost bought it for nostalgia's sake…glad I didn't. As for Severin, I have their Blu of the Barbara Steele opus, NIGHTMARE CASTLE, which seems fine to me. Anyway, Bruce, thanks for the heads up.

  3. haineshisway

    This is, in fact, the most shockingly bad Blu-ray I’ve ever seen – the worst of the worst doesn’t even come close to this travesty, and shame on everyone involved. Highly NOT recommended by the likes of me, although you can’t find it anyway, except at inflated prices. Which brings me full circle back to my original point – the quick sellout of this title is very fishy.

    Sorry about that, Bruce — hope your buyer's remorse isn't too severe. But you pretty much nailed it in your very detailed review. I worry about the fact that the very-y-y long-awaited THE CHANGELING (1980) Severin has said is coming won't look as it should, but thankfully it is a newer film by almost two decades and shouldn't suffer all the same issues.

    Incidentally, have you seen the 1988 Thames TV production with Michael Caine? Infinitely better, and newly out on Blu-ray:

    http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Jack-the-Ripper-Blu-ray/172386/#Review

  4. No worries, Dick, and I appreciated being able to get it. I'll hang onto it awhile, but I suspect that Severin being the kind of company they are, will eventually put it out again or admit they didn't press all 1500 copies and magically 1000 will appear. 🙂

  5. It saddens me to read to read Bruce's review as I agree with bujaki's opinion that the review is 'spot on'.
    When I read several months ago that Severin were to do a blu ray of "Jack the Ripper", I immediately contacted them with the hope that they could benefit somehow from the research I had done to provide a quality release.
    About ten years ago or more I had been involved in standard def transfers for dvd of two other Berman/Baker transfer, done in London for Image Entertainment, "TROLLENBERG TERROR" and "FLESH AND THE FIENDS".
    I wanted to do a similar edition on my own of '"JACK". I found out that Rainbow Media had the rights. Unfortunately I couldn't afford the licensing rights that Rainbow were asking. The title was at the time in a package with another film 'MAGIC", which was later released on its own. Prior to this I had delved in to research to find out if and where the original 35mm material was located. I was fortunate to get in contact with the producer/director Robert S.Baker and he told me that film material was held at the Denham Laboratories, which were part of the legendary Denham Studios just outside London. The lab had then recently been acquired by Deluxe. I contacted them and they acknowledged that they held a 35mm composite fine-grain master of the UK version, with the Stanley Black score. They also held a small separate roll of the color sequence and alternate reels for the continental version. They held no material for the US version of which I had no knowledge apart from the alternate score.
    I alerted Rainbow media of my findings, and I can only assume that at some point they had the material shipped to the US. I had no proof of this and since that time Denham Labs closed and all the material they held was moved to other locations.
    During this time I stayed in touch with Baker who had told me he had no dvd copies of the films that he had produced with his partner, Monty Berman. So I immediately sent him a package of three films, the two I had supervised, plus "BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE". When I was staying in London I was fortunate to be able visit with him. He was exceptionally nice and provided 'tea and biscuits' to show clear appreciation of the dvd's I had sent him.
    When I told Severin about the material in London, they informed me that Deluxe New York had no record of any "RIPPER" material held there and was consequently considered lost. Recently, on a trip to London, I located the offices of Deluxe and explained the situation to a very helpful employee who, up to then, could not provide any evidence that material was held at the Lab or where it might have been shipped. I remain hopeful that I may hear from him that, at least, the material survives and of its present location.

  6. Stephen PI

    It saddens me to read to read Bruce's review as I agree with bujaki's opinion that the review is 'spot on'…

    Great post, Stephen. You sound exactly like my kind of people. When folk as passionate, knowledgeable and assiduous as you are on the job, things get done properly. Sadly, all too often that's not the case. I'll be passing on Severin's BD.

  7. I concur with the review too. I had never seen it but being a big Hammer and Amicus fan it was right up my alley. I found the film a little dull and the awful transfer didn't help. They might have actually sold 1500 because it was promoted on their sight, facebook and several horror sites as a black Friday exclusive and everything horror

  8. Randy Korstick

    I concur with the review too. I had never seen it but being a big Hammer and Amicus fan it was right up my alley. I found the film a little dull and the awful transfer didn't help. They might have actually sold 1500 because it was promoted on their sight, facebook and several horror sites as a black Friday exclusive and everything horror

    If so, that would make 1500 very pissed off customers with much emptier wallets. That's a lot of bad will to reconcile, and another reason while I'm probably going with the UK Blu of THE CHANGELING, although the transfers are probably the same. But I think we need to get in touch with Severin about our reactions to JACK. I went back and forth with them by email from their web site regarding CHANGELING and they were great about answering.

  9. I wasn’t pissed off at Severin over this. Disappointed in the main transfer, yeah. But I’m familiar with their releases, got plenty of their dvds and bds. They range from being excellent to a bit problematic. It’s always been best to have low expectations, that way you end up being happy when they turn out really well.

  10. I’ve had few problems with Severin’s releases and look forward to The Changeling. My biggest beef with Jack, besides the transfer, is that the movie is a stiff in any version, but so it goes.

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