Bad Day At Black Rock - Short Review

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Brent Avery, May 5, 2005.

  1. Brent Avery

    Brent Avery Supporting Actor

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    After getting a hold of the Controversial Classics boxset from Warners I settled on watching Bad Day At Black Rock first. Given that it is 51 years old and was also filmed on Eastman film stock it still managed to look pretty good. The opening shots with the credits was in somewhat rougher condition but at the point where they end it improves noticeably. I did find an unfortunate amount of speckling throughout the film but it did not distract enough to cause any real concern. It should be noted that it was viewed with a front projector which tends to magnify any problems so smaller displays will most likely help produce a better looking image - I'm just picky.I have no idea what the condition of the original elements are in but know that Warners did what they could. After watching The Sea Chase and The Train Robbers as examples to compare against - Bad Day was a bit more washed out looking and not quite as sharp but overall still above average. The sound track was also satisfactory with both dialogue and the music score offering no surprises - easy to follow with good detail as well. The OAR was 2:55 from what I could see so no issues there. Along with the audio commentary and Trailer it would have been nice to perhaps have a featurette but overall a good effort by Warners.


    It will be great to finally retire my MGM laserdisc - which reminds me, was there anything substantial to the Criterion release in the way of extra features? I know it had a commentary as well. The colours on my laserdisc seemed more saturated - seemed to lean towards a warmer look - not necessarily accurate of course.

    DVD Beaver has a good review up on the Controversial Classics boxset.
     
  2. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    The Criterion laserdisc had a commentary by director John Sturges, which unfortunately WB was unable to license for the DVD.
     
  3. Conrad_SSS

    Conrad_SSS Second Unit

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    Just as the Criterion laserdisc of THE GREAT ESCAPE had a commentary by Sturges that MGM was unable to license for DVD...
     
  4. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    I've read that this is a really good commentary so it is somewhat dissapointing. Paul Thomas Anderson considers it more informative than going to film school :)

    I wish Criterion would look into selling downloads of their commentaries. I would happily pay $1 to download the commentary, burn it to a couple of CDs and then listen to it while watching the video from another source.
     
  5. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    MGM managed to lincense the Raging Bull commentary from Criterion, recently for their 2-disc SE.

    I love Bad Day at Black Rock. The first burst of violence is one of the greatest moments in American Cinema of the Fifties, no question about it. Amazing film by an MASSIVELY underappreciated filmmaker.

    Sturges was a Master of Cinema in the same mould as Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher: lean, taught, suspenseful, often subtly disturbing films by a filmmaker who disguised his craft beautifully and remained anonymous amid the ranks of many overrated 'auteurs'.
     
  6. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    Yeah, it was great to hear this. But since it is a rarity, it seems Criterion do request significant fees for inclusion of their commentaries. So instead it would be good if Criterion some how were willing to sell the commentaries direct to the public - low bit rate audio files via the internet seems like the most logical distribution system.

    I'd especially be interested in commentaries that they had recorded for LaserDisc releases that they are unlikely to ever get the rights to again. For example the only thing bad about the current Taxi Driver DVD is the fact it doesn't contain the Schrader / Scorsese commentary that is on the Criterion LaserDisc.
     
  7. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I thought this was a fine presentation. Also, I don't think the coloring is washed out.






    Crawdaddy
     
  8. Brent Avery

    Brent Avery Supporting Actor

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    Robert - I actually thought it did look pretty good overall and I don't know if the image was intended to look the way it did when compared to other period films I have been viewing along with Bad Day - perhaps some of the others were more saturated than they should have so it just seemed "washed out" although I admit that might have been too strong a wording in trying to describe how it appeared to me. As I mentioned earlier I am just too picky! On the other hand The Americanization Of Emily definitely looked fanatastic - no complaints there at all. [​IMG]
     
  9. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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  10. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    I couldn't access Gordon's link, because I am not registered on Criterion's forum.

    What I do know from my "industry" friends is that most studios don't want to deal with Criterion. I won't go into the reasons why here, as I don't have factual information, just information from third parties. It is pretty well-known that Criterion may have had the market cornered on special editions on LD in the old days (with the exception of the old MGM), but now, every studio in the industry has released products that are as good as, or in many cases, are better than products that Criterion has released on DVD.

    So, basically the story is that the few commentaries that Criterion has that they know the studios want are being held for "ransom". Outrageous terms that no studio would agree to. This is what I have heard.

    I think the reason why RAGING BULL's commentary managed to get back to MGM is that Scorsese's office probably requested it of Criterion. What are they going to say...
    "Sorry Mr. Scorsese".

    I doubt it.

    They may need him someday themselves.

    In the case of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK or THE GREAT ESCAPE, Mr. Sturges is no longer alive to ask a favor of Criterion, and therefore these commentaries will be lost forever. Criterion can't market them on their own because they are derivative works of properties they no longer have under license.

    A shame.

    However, I'm sure the new Warner DVD of BAD DAY is something to be treasured, because it is one of the great films of its era, and while a commentary is nice to have,
    the film stands on its own two feet as an outright masterpiece.
     
  11. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Too bad about the Sturges track, but I'm definitely looking forward to Dana Polan's commentary on this DVD. His track on the Angels With Dirty Faces DVD is really superb.
     
  12. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    I've only listen to about half of it, but so far it's excellent. Hopefully, I'll finish it tomorrow.

    Also, the dvd presentation of "Advise and Consent" is excellent so I really recommend it to others. Some of the greatest actors of all-time are in this film.






    Crawdaddy
     
  13. Simon Howson

    Simon Howson Screenwriter

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    Are you sure? I understand that the commentary couldn't be presented mixed in with the audio track of the original film. Because the original audio track, music, dialog, and sound effects is of course covered by copyright of the original film.

    But I can't see how someone simply talking into a microphone about a film could falls under the copyright of the original film. Rather it is a separate piece of artistic work with separate copyright. Unless Criterion only saved the commentary track with the soundtrack of the movie mixed in (i.e the commentary master exactly as presented on the original laser disc). But that would've been a rather stupid thing to do...
     
  14. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    I forgot that the Criterion Forum required registration in order to view threads; I thought that it was only for posting, etc.

    Go here for a new thread on Criterion (and other distributors) LD commentaries: http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htfo...hreadid=233163
     
  15. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    Getting back to Sturges himself: I have in front of me, John Wakeman's extraordinary World Film Directors: Volume One, 1890-1945, 1247 pages of pure gold. In the section on Sturges, it says that 443 of the film's 455 shots were done in one take. "I believe in Take One for spontaneity. If I feel it doesn't come off, I move the camera to another viewpoint. Freshness is paramount," proclaimed Sturges.

    I firmly believe that Sturges was a truly great American filmmaker. The problem was, at least in his early career, he didn't get great scripts and he worked his way up slowly. Even though he had many great 'hits' like Bad Day, O.K. Corral, Magnificent Seven, Great Escape, etc, tucked away in the 50s are some fine films, including The Capture (1950), a modern Western with Lew Ayres experiencing guilt over killing an innocent man he believed to be a robber and the riveting, Mystery Street (1950), an underrated Noir, with absorbingly detailed forensic procedures and Ricardo Montalban's finest performance. Jeopardy (1953) is quite interesting, although I feel that Stanwyck is miscast. Escape from Fort Bravo (1954) was Sturges' breakthrough film and was praised on initial release, but is now often overlooked as a Western, but features a tremendous, terrifying charge of Mescalero Indians. Why is this gem not on DVD?

    Bad Day At Black Rock is one of the greatest lessons in filmmaking of the 50s. The violence, which is excruciating in its anticipation is mesmerizing at when it finally comes, cathartic and justified, unlike films today. Sturges was a master of staging violence, a forerunner to Peckinpah.

    The intimate, so-called 'psychological' Western, Backlash (1956) is also very underrated and features a vengeful Richard Widmark in pursuit of Johnny Cool (William Campbell). Fine ending. Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) is an even better, perhaps great Western. Brilliant performances from Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn.

    Leaving aside the big hits that followed, one of Sturges best films is Hour of the Gun (1967). I feel it is much better and tougher than Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which viewed today feel predictable and stagey. James Garner gives the best performance of his long career as Wyatt Earp and Robards, who is always excellent, is, well, excellent as Doc Holliday. It does feel a tad dated with some '60s mannerisms' creeping in, but many Westerns of the period have that problem. Once again the gunfights are expertly handled by Sturges and beautifully shot in Panavision by ace DP, Lucien Ballard. Thankfully, MGM released it on DVD just in time with a hopefully good transfer.

    Oh, and The Satan Bug (1965) is really fun and has wonderful locations. The Italian DVD is now available at Xploited Cinema for a reasonable $17.95. Very good anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, English mono with forced, player-generated Italian subtitles that can be removed on certain players (Pioneer, Sony). Well worth picking up until Columbia (it was a Mirisch/United Artists release) give as a p&s DVD then a widescreen Blu-Ray in 2009.

    In closing, Sturges was a fine craftsman who, in addition to making some of best-loved American films of the last 50 years, also made some now-obscure gems that are ripe for reappraisal.
     
  16. Jaime_Weinman

    Jaime_Weinman Supporting Actor

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    Another impressive thing about Black Rock is how well Sturges used CinemaScope, at a time when most directors were floundering, unable to use the format except by spreading a zillion characters across the screen or putting two characters in the middle with acres of space on either side. Sturges' compositions are just right; this has to be one of the best-looking early 'Scope movies.
     
  17. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

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    The use CinemaScope on Bad Day is indeed amazing. The open spaces between the characters helps create the films electrifying tension. Sturges and ace cinematographer, William C. Mellor excelled themselves over those three weeks. It's probably my favourite color-Scope movie of the 50s.
     
  18. Mario Gauci

    Mario Gauci Cinematographer

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    Gordon,


    I've appreciated your lengthy appreciation of John Sturges' career and I agree with you that he is a very talented but underrated director, certainly in the same class as older Hollywood veterans/craftsmen like Henry Hathaway and Raoul Walsh. For the record, I've watched the following films of his:


    1.KIND LADY (1951)
    2.THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA (1951)
    3.JEOPARDY (1953)
    4.ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953) - as you rightly said, a very good little Western indeed
    5.BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) - arguably one of the greatest films ever to come out of Hollywood
    6.BACKLASH (1956) - another fine example of Sturges' aptitude for Westerns
    7.GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) - not my favorite cinematic rendition of this famous event but a solid effort nonetheless
    8.THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958) - you did not mention this one but, in case you missed it, it gets shown on TCM UK quite often; well worth seeking out
    9.THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1958)
    10.LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959) - one of the earliest Westerns I remember watching and one of the better ones still
    11.NEVER SO FEW (1959) - I have only watched this once but didn't think much of it at the time; still unsure whether I ought to pick it up on DVD as part of the Steve McQueen Box Set or go for the better titles individually
    12.THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) - it seems like I've watched this one constantly during childhood but I look forward to reacquainting myself with it on DVD in the near future
    13.THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) - ditto
    14.THE SATAN BUG (1965) - another one of which I have fond childhood memories; haven't watched it in a while but I recall it being very entertaining and suspensful
    15.THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL (1965)
    16.HOUR OF THE GUN (1967) - I agree with you on this one practically word-for-word[​IMG]; in my view, second only to MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) in the O.K. Corral stakes
    17.ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968)
    18.JOE KIDD (1972)
    19.VALDEZ THE HALF-BREED (1973)
    20.THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1976) - another one you surprisingly failed to mention and which I caught up with very early on; in my opinion, one of the finest and liveliest latterday WWII actioners...I really ought to pick up that 2-Disc SE of it on R2 one of this days


    Incidentally, two more John Sturges films, THE SCARLET COAT (1955) and McQ (1974), get shown a lot on TV in my neck of the woods but I've never managed to actually sit down and watch either of them in their entirety; this discussion ensures that I'll make an extra effort when the next opportunity arises.
     
  19. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    You'll notice that Sturges loves working with very strong male actors like Lancaster, Tracy, Douglas and McQueen. He made more than a few films with all of them. Also, if you listen to the commentary on this dvd, you will notice how Polan describes how Sturges sets up certain scenes by taking advantage of the cinemascope process.






    Crawdaddy
     
  20. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    I just want to jump on the Sturges is underrated bandwagon. As a matter of fact, if you added together the respect that Preston Sturges and John Sturges get around here, you might be close to the respect they deserve as individuals.
     

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