THE WILL ROGERS COLLECTION VOLUME 1 CINEMA CLASSICS COLLECTION Studio: 20th Century Fox Film Year/Length: 293 minutes Genre: Comedy Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Colour/B&W: Black & White Audio: English 2.0 mono English 2.0 stereo Subtitles: Spanish Film Rating: Release Date: July 25, 2006. Set Rating: / Following the successful box set of The Charlie Chan Collection, Volume 1, The Will Rogers Collection is also the first volume released under the Cinema Classics Collection. Like Chan, this collection has the four films spread over four DVDs with each in their full-sized keep case. Fox is continuing this design with the Mr. Moto Collection, Volume 1 as well as The Jayne Mansfield Collection (the Mansfield collection has all sides completely sealed.). Below is a quick synopsis of each film. I can’t say I’m a fan of Will Rogers but he was an icon for his time before he died tragically in a plane crash north of the Arctic Circle. While these films will appeal to some I didn’t find them as entertaining as I thought they would be. In Doubting Thomas, Will Rogers is Thomas Brown who finds out his wife’s craving for a life as a theatrical performer is going over the top. She’ll leave her family for stage life so Thomas does what he can to keep her at home: if convincing her that she’ll never make it to the top is not enough, he’ll have to be sneaky and find more ways to make sure her hopes are dashed. Get ready for one of the biggest family feuds In Old Kentucky! Rogers plays horse trainer Steve Tarpley who gets caught in the mess between the Martingales and the Shattucks. He joins the Martingale camp because those Shattucks are playing dirty to get their hands on the Martingale race horse, Greyboy. The film is set up for the final race between the families’ horses. Life Begins at Forty features Rogers as Kenesaw H. Clark, owner of a local newspaper. He hires a young ex-con who the mayor, Colonel Abercrombie, dislikes with a passion. He shuts Clark down, so Clark starts a new paper that is against Abercrombie and gets a local town bum to run against him for office. What is the big deal about this ex-con anyways? How could Abercrombie dislike him so much? To discover the mystery Clark will have to do some good detective work. Steamboat Round the Bend is about the freedom of a riverboat captain’s nephew after he killed a man. While he’s urged to turn himself in, there is a critical witness to the event who can help the nephew’s case – a half-crazed New Moses who’s already disappeared upstream. Rogers, as the captain, is running out of time to find this guy and at the same time tries to win a race with his steamboat in this adventure. DOUBTING THOMAS: VIDEO QUALITY / IN OLD KENTUCKY: VIDEO QUALITY / LIFE BEGINS AT FORTY: VIDEO QUALITY / STEAMBOAT ROUND THE BEND: VIDEO QUALITY / I’m rating the video quality of this collection the same way I rated Chan. I assign a score by evaluating each film against each other. The best looking title gets the highest score and the least appealing title gets the lowest score. I decided against giving the best looking title a score of five stars because that will also imply that the image quality of that title is reference quality – and it isn’t. I have decided to rate the quality of the best looking title to other films close to its age and belonging to Fox’s Cinema Classics Collection and Film Noir titles. I think it’s best to keep the ratings consistent with these other titles for you to best understand the score given. I know the ratings appear low but you must remember these are old films and life probably hasn’t been kind to them until recently. When viewing the restoration comparison of the unprocessed HD tape verses the final product, one can easily conclude that a lot of work has gone into these titles. In fact, over 300 hours have been put into the restoration of this collection and it shows. The result is a cleaner and much more stable image, but the end result won’t blow you out of the water. Do I blame the restoration process? Absolutely not! Some damage and artefacts just can’t be cleaned up because of the age of the source material and the wear and tear accumulated over the years. Before I viewed the collection, I made sure to set my projector at the D5400 preset I calibrated for black and white films. This will give a bit more of an accurate representation of the image; it looks slightly warmer than D6500. Each film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. All menus are anamorphic widescreen. So how did they look when I watched them? Beginning with Doubting Thomas, first title in this collection, I was truly in for an ‘old film experience’ since it was the most damaged of the bunch. Despite the mega clean-up job on this film (with Fox spending the most time on this one – 110hrs) the image is still marked up considerably. Many rows of scratches move vertically down the screen. This can’t be cleaned up by compositing good frames over bad ones because all of the frames are affected. At least the image doesn’t bounce around as much as it used to; Fox had it stabilized significantly. I’d rate the overall image as fair. In Old Kentucky, Life Begins at Forty and Steamboat Round the Bend look very similar in quality, with Kentucky edging out slightly more. To avoid sounding repetitious with these three titles, the finished product is mediocre in appearance if comparing them to the best looking classics available. Film grain still stands out especially in the darker scenes where it stands out the most, but according to the restoration comparison it was minimized significantly. The clarity of scenes is different in each film and even between scenes in the film. I’m not going to go on and on about specific scenes because with films such as these I expect them to have a bit of inconsistency in clarity. Details are sometimes lost in the darkest blacks or the brightest whites and I can’t say for sure if something like this is preventable by the time it gets to home video. Life Begins at Forty also seems to be missing a few frames here or there causing the film to jump forward (or oddly) slightly back. Its opening titles are windowboxed too. My only complaint is the seemingly sloppy job with compression on these past few Cinema Classics Collections that Fox has been pumping out as of late. Compression artefacts can be clearly seen on a large screen; I’m not talking major artefacts like macro blocking and such, but how it’s interpreting and playing back film grain is not as solid as other titles I’ve seen…thus the image can look slightly digitized rather than analogue and in Life Begins at Forty I can clearly see instances of image drag…a smearing of images in motion. I don’t find this acceptable and I’ve been seeing it and noting it in a lot of these reviews. AUDIO QUALITY / Again, for the lack of repetition, all four films have similar audio quality. Hiss is minimal and all sounds lack detail because of the limitations of the recoding in the day. The only film that differs is In Old Kentucky; the audio sounds a bit more muffled than the rest. SPECIAL FEATURES / Over these four discs, you will find an audio commentary by film historian Anthony Slide who discusses as much about these films as he knows. I found it more interesting to listen to him than watching these movies without the commentary track. The A&E Biography – Will Rogers: An American Original is included on the first disc with a Movietone News feature including the Will Rogers Memorial Fund and a stage dedication in Hollywood. Exclusive features on disc 2 include Movietone News of Fox executives visiting the Will Rogers Memorial (1m01s) and Will Rogers and Wiley Post’s visit to the Arctic Circle (0.46s). The theatrical trailer for Steamboat Round the Bend as well as a restoration comparison is the same on all discs. IN THE END… Will Rogers fans rejoice! Volume 1 has been released and there are more to come. I commend Fox for providing a wealth of cinema classics for the public’s enjoyment rather than letting them rot in the vaults. Keep up the great work. Mike Osadciw August 01, 2006.