Castle Keep Studio: Columbia Tri-Star Year: 1969 Rated: R Film Length: 107 Minutes Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Audio: DD 4.0 Color/B&W: color Languages: English Subtitles: English, Japanese, Korean MSRP: $19.94 Release date: November 2 The Feature 1/2 (all star ratings out of five) One of the oddest World War II films of all time, Castle Keep makes its first OAR appearance on DVD. I wasn’t familiar with this film, though the names involved intrigued me: any film directed by Sydney Pollack, and starring a pre-Colombo Peter Falk and Burt Lancaster has something going for it. A film about World War II with a Vietnam mindset, the film follows a company of American soldiers as they occupy a French castle located in a key strategic position. It’s hard to ignore the Vietnam parallels, as soldiers debate their roles and the plot meanders and examines the meaning of the war and its essential goodness. Non-sequiters and oddly sensitive racial humor keep the film from being ponderous, but the structure is such that none of the scenes in the first two acts seem to have anything to do with one another. Strange things happen – a soldier becomes obsessed with a Volkswagen; another moves in a baker’s wife in a French town and starts…baking – and none seem to have any particular consequence. Though Lancaster, Falk and others turn in fine performances, the whole affair is too disjointed for any of them to become central. The pivotal character, through whose eyes we see the action unfold, is a young writer trying to make sense of the chaos. Meanwhile, Lancaster struts around giving orders and bedding the wife of the castle’s owner, as his top lieutenant, a noted art historian, takes inventory of the many masterpieces therein. Though it’s not completely clear what we’re to make of all this, it’s difficult to shake the suspicion that there’s more here than meets the eye. This is memorable film, and one that’s likely to improve with repeat viewings. Individual scenes stick in the memory, even if characters don’t. The story here isn’t a story, but the void that exists where a traditional, vapid war tale might’ve been spun is certainly worth noting. Video For a release of a 1969 film that is not exactly high-profile, this is a phenomenal transfer. Previously only available in a pan and scan edition, the transfer’s strengths are in detail and color. The early scenes, when the men are driving through the snowy forest and see a man in red on horseback, are absolutely beautiful. Later, in the long climactic battle, the fiery explosions are a brilliant counterpoint to the gray city and olive drab uniforms. There is some grain at times, and there are some film artifacts – scratches and dust – but on balance this is a much better transfer than it probably needed to be. Audio 1/2 The odd 4-channel audio track is up to the challenges of the original source, but lacks in the bass department, particularly during the battle. The surrounds are not overbearing, but are used mostly for atmosphere and create a reasonably good field (the back channels are monaural, with the front three discrete and no LFE). As a result, cannon shots and explosions are a bit tinny and high pitched, but probably as good or better than they sounded at the film’s original release. Minus half a star for the irritating and inappropriate score and some effects being mixed too loud at times. I had to occasionally turn the volume down a few clicks, then turn it back up to hear dialogue. Special Features NA Conclusion This is a worthy release and a great transfer – at least a rental for fans of war films who are unfamiliar with this title. Though it doesn’t quite qualify as obscure, it’s definitely been overlooked, particularly as a precursor to many of the great introspective Vietnam-era war films. Many thanks to Columbia for doing the right thing and releasing this in the format it deserves.