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Josh's Blind Buys: Watching The Unseen Collection (1 Viewer)

Josh Steinberg

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Over the years, I've built up a pretty decent sized collections of blind buys. Going back to the days of VHS, I was a pretty opportunistic buyer. If something came along that sounded interesting, was reasonably priced, and wasn't easily available for rental, I'd buy it. When I started collecting DVD, I told myself that I'd only get movies that I knew and liked, but of course, that didn't last long. The same thing has happened with my Blu-ray collection. Sometimes a disc gets such praise that I want to see it with my own eyes. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy a set of titles than the one or two that I'm specifically looking for. Sometimes there's a great sale that I can't pass up. Sometimes I'm given discs for gifts. At the beginning of the year, curious of how many of my movies I hadn't actually gotten around to yet, I started counting, and realized that I probably had about fifty Blu-rays for movies I had never seen, and probably as many DVDs I hadn't seen either. Last year, I had a great deal of fun and good conversation on HTF watching Cary Grant's filmography. This year, the challenge I'm setting for myself is making it through all of these movies I haven't yet watched.

There's a lot of variety here, from silent films to the newest 3D blockbusters, and everything in between. There's Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart, westerns, musicals, dramas, comedies, epics and b-movies. There's stuff from the major labels and boutiques like Criterion, Twilight Time, Kino and Olive, with some Warner Archive releases and Disney Movie Club exclusives too. And I'm sure as I'm watching these, I'll probably still be adding to the pile when there's a good reason.

As I watch these movies, my intention is to keep a running list of what I've seen on this first post, and then add individual posts with notes from each of the movies. I'll try to let you know a little bit about the movie (keeping spoilers to a minimum - if I haven't seen these yet, I can't assume everyone else has either) along with how I enjoyed it and how I thought the disc looked. I'll also try to note how it ended up in my collection. (Most of my moviewatching is done on an Epson 5030 projector on a 100" screen, and I have a 5.1 surround setup.) I'm not trying to give the definitive word on each movie or disc, but I'm hoping I'll like more of these than not, and looking forward to maybe actually getting to the bottom of the pile.

(movies in bold are Blu-rays)

1. The Enemy Below - 1/1/17
2. I Confess - 1/1/17
3. The Secret Life Of Pets 3D - 1/3/17
4. Pillow Talk - 1/4/17
5. Lover Come Back - 1/9/17
6. Send Me No Flowers - 1/10/17
7. Broken Lance - 1/17/17
8. The Big Trail (70mm "Fox Grandeur" Version) - 1/23/17
9. The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years - 1/23/17
10. Pony Soldier - 1/24/17
11. The Front Page (1931) - 1/25/17
12. The Front Page (1974) - 1/28/17
13. The Cowboys - 1/29/17
14. The Searchers - 1/30/17
15. Hombre - 1/31/17
16. Big Hero 6 3D - 2/2/17
17. Wagon Tracks - 2/2/17
18. September Storm 3D - 2/5/17
19. Rio Bravo - 2/6/17
20. The Hindenburg - 2/8/17
21. Love Happy - 2/9/17
22. The Green Berets - 2/12/17
23. McLintock! - 2/13/17
24. Lonesome Dove - 2/17/17
25. North To Alaska - 2/17/17
26. Kubo And The Two Strings 3D - 2/24/17
27. The Jazz Singer (1927) - 2/27/17
28. Around The World In 80 Days (1956) - 2/28/17
29. The Shootist - 2/28/17
30. Ape 3D - 3/3/17
31. Nineteen Eighty-Four - 3/5/17
32. The Comancheros - 3/5/17
33. Brannigan - 3/6/17
34. The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959) - 3/6/17
35. 3:10 To Yuma (1957) - 3/7/17
36. My Darling Clementine - 3/7/17
37. Three Days Of The Condor - 3/9/17
38. The Train Robbers - 3/10/17
39. The Before Trilogy - 3/12/17
40. The Kremlin Letter - 3/12/17
41. Pretty Maids All In A Row - 3/12/17
42. The Best Of Cinerama - 3/13/17
43. Ghosts Of The Abyss 3D - 3/13/17
44. Things To Come - 3/13/17
45. Jubal - 3/14/17
46. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back - 3/14/17
47. Passengers 3D - 3/16/17
48. The Quiet Man - 3/17/17
49. Darby O'Gill And The Little People - 3/17/17
50. Wake Of The Red Witch - 3/18/17
51. Big Jake - 3/20/17
52. Red River - 3/20/17
53. Love 3D - 3/21/17
54. Overland Stage Raiders - 3/22/17
55. Libeled Lady - 3/25/17
56. To Be Or Not To Be (1942) - 3/26/17
57. American Buffalo - 3/26/17
58. Fort Apache - 3/26/17
59. Rio Grande - 3/27/17
60. World Without End - 3/28/17
61. Dinner At Eight - 4/2/17
62. To Have And Have Not - 4/2/17
63. Pals Of The Saddle - 4/2/17
64. The Castle - 4/3/17
65. Santa Fe Stampede - 4/3/17
66. Kid Galahad - 4/4/17
67. Red River Range - 4/7/17
68. Born Yesterday - 4/9/17
69. The Night Riders - 4/9/17
70. Exodus: Gods And Kings 3D - 4/10/17
71. Three Texas Steers - 4/10/17
72. Wyoming Outlaw - 4/11/17
73. New Frontier - 4/13/17
74. Dreams - 4/14/17
75. Ben-Hur (1959) - 4/15/17
76. City Lights - 4/16/17
77. Bite The Bullet - 4/17/17
78. The Rounders - 4/18/17
79. Sunset In The West - 4/19/17
80. Mulan - 4/20/17
81. International House - 4/21/17
82. Spencer's Mountain - 4/22/17
83. If I Had A Million - 4/24/17
84. Six Of A Kind - 4/25/17
85. The Big Broadcast Of 1938 - 4/27/17
86. Seven Days In May - 5/7/17
87. Mrs. Wiggs Of The Cabbage Patch - 5/7/17
88. Moana 3D - 5/8/17
89. Monkeys, Go Home! - 5/11/17
90. Blackbeard's Ghost - 5/14/17
91. The BFG 3D - 5/15/17
92. Thank Your Lucky Stars - 5/15/17
93. The Barefoot Contessa - 5/17/17
94. Those Redheads From Seattle 3D - 5/23/17
95. Dark Country 3D - 5/25/17
96. The Dish - 5/26/17
97. That Darn Cat! (1965) - 5/28/17
98. They Were Expendable - 5/29/17
99. The Paradine Case - 5/30/17
100. Foreign Correspondent - 6/4/17
101. Son Of Frankenstein - 6/4/17
102. The Ghost Of Frankenstein - 6/5/17
103. The Mummy's Hand - 6/6/17
104. Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man - 6/7/17
105. The Mummy's Tomb - 6/8/17
106. House Of Frankenstein - 6/9/17
107. Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders - 6/11/17
108. The Longest Day - 6/12/17
109. ffolkes - 6/13/17
110. The Mummy's Ghost - 6/13/17
111. House Of Dracula - 6/14/17
112. The Mummy's Curse - 6/16/17
113. Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein - 6/16/17
114. Werewolf Of London - 6/22/17
115. The Day Of The Jackal - 7/8/17
116. She-Wolf Of London - 7/10/17
117. Kingdom Of The Spiders - 7/11/17
118. Dracula's Daughter - 7/11/17
119. Son Of Dracula - 7/12/17
120. Phantom Of The Opera (1943) - 7/13/17
121. Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy - 7/14/17
122. The Great Wall 3D - 7/15/17
123. Ace In The Hole - 7/17/17
124. Deluge - 7/17/17
125. Back Page (1934) - 7/17/17
126. The Hurricane (1937) - 7/18/17
127. The Lodger - 7/18/17
128. Magic Town - 7/24/17
129. 36 Hours - 7/25/17
130. Ride The High Country - 7/26/17
131. Twixt 3D - 7/29/17
132. Pina 3D - 8/1/17
133. The Yakuza - 8/7/17
134. The Bitter Tea Of General Yen - 8/7/17
135. The Wheeler Dealers - 8/15/17
136. Edge Of Eternity - 8/19/17
137. David Lynch: The Art Life - 9/28/17
138. The Old Dark House - 10/24/17
139. The Big Heat - 10/30/17
140. Son Of Paleface - 10/30/17
141. Once Upon A Time In The West - 11/5/17
142. All The King's Men (1949) - 11/6/17
143. Need For Speed 3D - 11/12/17
144. Jane Eyre (1943) - 11/12/17
145. Canadian Pacific - 11/13/17
146. The Cariboo Trail - 11/17/17
147. Dakota - 11/20/17
148. Cover Girl - 11/21/17
149. Cease Fire 3D - 11/21/17
150. When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth - 11/25/17
151. College Humor - 11/26/17
152. Holiday Inn - 11/27/17
153. SpaceCamp - 11/27/17
154. Meet Me In St. Louis - 11/28/17
155. Stage Door - 11/29/17
156. Dear Brigitte - 12/3/17
157. Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets 3D - 12/4/17
158. Christmas In Connecticut - 12/16/17
159. White Christmas - 12/17/17
160. Holiday Affair - 12/21/17
161. It Happened On 5th Avenue - 12/22/17
162. Scrooge (1935) - 12/23/17
 
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Josh Steinberg

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#1 - The Enemy Below (1957)
Viewed on: January 1st, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Kino)

The Enemy Below is a World War II submarine movie that I've wanted to see for a long time. I grew up a big Star Trek fan, and one of my favorite episodes of the original series is "Balance Of Terror". Over the years, I had learned that this movie was an inspiration for that episode, and wanted to see it. In the past year, I watched a bunch of different war movies and sea movies, and when Kino announced they'd be releasing this on Blu-ray, it seemed like the right time to finally see it. I almost bought it for myself, until my father asked if there was anything I wanted for Christmas (I suspect "Christmas present" will be a common theme for my January movie viewing), and since he was the guy who introduced me to Star Trek in the first place, it seemed kinda fitting that if someone was going to get this for me, that it should be him. After the holidays, when I finally had a chance to sit down and watch a movie on my own, this was my first choice for the year.

The movie itself was really good. I loved Robert Mitchum as the American ship captain, and Curt Jurgens was equally fantastic as the U-boat commander. Theodore Bikel was great as the U-boat's second in command. Though the plotting was at least vaguely familiar from that Star Trek episode, the movie was still very suspenseful, and the ending took me completely by surprise.

Unfortunately, the transfer (provided by Fox) wasn't nearly as good as the movie; it was actually one of the more unimpressive transfers I've seen lately. Riddled with lots of dirt, speckles, scratches and other damage, it's always watchable but it never shines. If I had to guess, it looks like an older master made in the DVD era, taken from a worn element. This may be the best we ever get, and it's by no means terrible, but it's not reference material.

I'm very happy to add The Enemy Below to my collection, though I wish the disc was as good as the movie.
 

Josh Steinberg

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#2 - I Confess (1953)
Viewed on: January 1st, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

Starring Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden and O. E. Hasse, I Confess isn't prime Alfred Hitchcock, but it's not bad either. Clift is a priest who hears a confession of murder from Hasse. It turns out that Hasse has cleverly framed Clift for the murder, and Clift's devotion to the priesthood won't allow him to break his vows to tell the police who the real murderer is. Malden is the detective tasked with figuring the whole thing out, and Baxter is Clift's former flame from before he entered the priesthood and who is desperate to clear his name. There are several suspenseful sequences early on, but I found the investigation and trial to be more frustrating than cinematically thrilling. I just wanted the guy to tell the truth. As a technical exercise in filmmaking, it's fantastic, but on the whole, its a little less than the sum of its parts.

The disc from Warner Archive is fantastic. The transfer is amazing, just beautiful. The audio is clear and easy to understand, and the disc also provides English subtitles. The bonus features included a featurette, but I didn't get a chance to watch it.

On the whole, I'm glad to have this to add to my collection, but I'm not likely to revisit it as often as some of the other Hitchcock movies in my collection. The disc was a Christmas present from my mother, who has always encouraged my movie habits and has been getting me Hitchcock movies for years as a gifts when they release new ones. I had to resist the urge to buy it for myself knowing that I was likely to get it as a gift, which is not a bad problem to have.
 

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#3 - The Secret Life Of Pets 3D (2016)
Viewed on: January 3rd, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray 3D (Universal)

I'm perhaps stretching the definition of "blind buy" a little bit here, because I bought this one blindly for my wife; but hey, if I ordered it and I watched it and its on our shelf, I can write about it, right? I saw the trailer for this movie before it opened up in theaters, and it seemed like a really great idea for a movie - as a former cat owner, I often wondered what my pet was doing while I was out at work. The trailer looked like this movie would finally answer that question. Throw in some Louis CK and a bunch of other talented comedians and voice actors, add a little 3D, and this seemed like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, I just didn't really like the movie. (My wife did, so it was a good gift and that's what really matters.) The trailer was indeed hilarious, but it turns out that it wasn't really representative of what the movie was about. I was expecting a movie like the trailer, about the silly stuff that pets do to fill their day while the humans are away. And the movie did start out that way, and I enjoyed that part of it. But soon into it, the main character's owner adopts a new pet, and very quickly the movie turns into a series of cliches that have been done countless times before, and better than here. The old pet of course wants to get rid of the new pet, but the new pet fights back, and then they both get lost, and all of a sudden there's a secret underworld of gangster animals, and this cute little idea for a movie has suddenly gone so far off the rails that the whole thing felt like a bait and switch. There have been so many movies made about pets getting lost and trying to find their way home, both live action and animated. Heck, that's essentially the plot for the Toy Story movies as well. I walked into this movie thinking I was about to get a breath of fresh air, and instead felt the air sucking out of the room as it turned into a pretty generic movie. Such wasted potential.

That said, the presentation on Universal's Blu-ray 3D release was very high quality. The quality of the 3D in and of itself was about average for a CGI animated film, some good depth and separation of objects, nothing truly inspired but not a waste either. Frankly, the movie lost my interest so early on that the 3D was about the only thing keeping me entertained. But it's not a good enough 3D experience in and of itself for me to recommend it independently of the movie. The disc was loaded with a short and other bonus features but since I didn't enjoy the movie, I didn't browse the disc's bonus offerings.

The Secret Life Of Pets wasn't for me, but I imagine I'm in the minority there. It was competently made, with good voice talent and good visuals, and if the subject matter does appeal to you, you'll probably like it a lot more than I did.
 
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JoelA

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Josh, pleased to see you've started this project. It'll be interesting to read what you discover in your stash of unseen films.

You've started off with two very good titles. I've never seen The Enemy Below, but have heard very positive things about the film itself over the years. Your comments regarding the transfer match others I've read. Still, I'll add it to my "must see" list.

I think I enjoy I Confess more than you, but we're in total agreement regarding this transfer. It looks amazing! Another stellar job by the Archive.

Looking forward to the next installment.
 

Josh Steinberg

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Thanks guys and welcome! Very glad to have you here!

I'm a little backed up on writing vs. watching - I've got a few more of these to clear out, but hopefully I'll be caught up by the end of the month. I even cleared out a row on my shelf to move the blind buys to, it certainly makes it easier to pick my next movie.
 

Josh Steinberg

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#4 - Pillow Talk (1959)
Viewed on: January 4th, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Universal)

Adding Pillow Talk to my collection was a direct result of the Cary Grant marathon. One of my favorites ended up being That Touch Of Mink, where Grant paired off with Doris Day. I liked that movie's effortless charm and amusingly innocent shenanigans, and I had long heard about the Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies, and was already a big fan of "Down With Love" which pays homage to them. So it seemed time to go back to the source, and I picked up the three disc Day-Hudson set from Universal, and I'm very glad that I did.

I'm glad I knew what a party line was before starting the movie; one of my high school teachers still had one and explained how they worked to me about twenty years ago, so I had that in my head as the movie started. Doris Day is an interior decorator whose clients aren't able to reach her because the other person sharing her party line, Rock Hudson, won't stop seducing women long enough for her to get a call through. They spar on the phone, but when a chance encounter puts them both in the same place at the same time, Hudson puts on a phony Texas accent and dials up the charm. What starts as an practical joke turns into something more, but how can Hudson reveal who he really is.. and yet, how long can he keep it a secret? With an excellent supporting turn from Tony Randall, fantastic comedic timing, a great script, quick and witty direction, and a fun use of split-screens, Pillow Talk is a nearly perfect romantic comedy.

The transfer from Universal seemed inconsistent to me. Parts of it looked very good, while other parts looked a little less so (I'm excluding the numerous opticals from this criticism). The mono audio was fine. There's a commentary and a couple of featurettes on the disc which I haven't gotten to yet. Strangely, Universal has opted against using even a static menu, so when the disc is inserted, the movie simply plays, and then immediately restarts once the movie ends. If the disc won't quite knock your socks off, it's more than good enough to allow the movie to shine through.

Assuming I'm not the last person left in the world to see it, Pillow Talk is highly recommended.
 

Rob_Ray

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If you liked PILLOW TALK, I think you'll really enjoy LOVER, COME BACK, my favorite of the three. But don't watch it right away. Watching the Day-Hudson comedies all together is like watching Marx Bros. movies one right after the other. They are too similar to one another to stand out individually. You have to savor them one at a time.
 

Josh Steinberg

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If you liked PILLOW TALK, I think you'll really enjoy LOVER, COME BACK, my favorite of the three. But don't watch it right away. Watching the Day-Hudson comedies all together is like watching Marx Bros. movies one right after the other. They are too similar to one another to stand out individually. You have to savor them one at a time.

That'll actually be the next review - I got the set, and my wife and I watched them all the same week. I'm glad we didn't do them all in one night for the reason you said, but we enjoyed the first one so much that we had to keep on going!
 

Doug Wallen

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Thanks for providing your insight into these movies. You might lead me to some new films to experience.

I have always enjoyed The Enemy Below and try to watch it if I see it coming up on TCM. Great movie and wonderful cat-and-mouse pacing. So very like Balance of Terror, which I saw first and then looked this up to view.

Nice thread.
 

Matt Hough

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Pillow Talk has always been my favorite of their three together. Besides the fantastic lines and comic set-ups (the script won the film's only Oscar), Doris sings one of my favorite songs of hers: "Possess Me" while the two are on their way to the country house.

It's their only film in Cinemascope, too, and the director makes nice use of the widescreen.
 

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#5 - Lover Come Back (1961)
Viewed on: January 9th, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Universal)

Lover Come Back reunites Doris Day and Rock Hudson for another set of romantic misadventures. This time around, they're rival advertising agents, competing over accounts. Day is squeaky clean and by the book, while Hudson gets ahead by charming potential clients with a steady supply of inappropriate gifts. Day reports Hudson to the advertising board, setting up a series of conflicts including mistaken identity, made up products, and many other shenanigans familiar from Pillow Talk. Indeed, it's impossible to discuss Lover Come Back without mentioning Pillow Talk, since they're cut from the same cloth. Everything here is still fun, but not quite as fresh as it was the first time around. Still, context is important, and I think about what it must have been like living in an era where you couldn't easily see your favorite films again after they left the theater. If you couldn't watch Pillow Talk for the two years in between films, Lover Come Back would be a welcome reprise of some of your favorite laughs. I liked it a lot. Just not as much as Pillow Talk.

Seen as part of Universal's Doris Day-Rock Hudson Romantic Comedy Collection, the Lover Comes Back disc was the least of the three. The transfer was disappointing: unsteady, lacking fine detail and with lousy color. There were a couple times early into the movie where my wife and I turned to each other to ask, "is it just me, or is that shaky?" That got better as the movie progressed, but it never looked as good as Pillow Talk. Like Pillow Talk, the disc has no menu and just plays the feature on a loop. There are no bonus features.

I'm happy to add Lover Come Back to my collection, but probably won't revisit it as often as Pillow Talk.
 
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Matt Hough

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I wanted to comment on I, Confess. I got to review it on DVD in a TCM/Hitchcock set,and like you, Josh, it's a very good film without being one I feel the need to revisit that often. The WA Blu-ray was superb.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I'm sorry for the backlog of reviews making it harder to comment on individual titles. I'm hoping to catch up with them soon so that each movie gets a little more space to breathe. But please, feel free to go back to anything at anytime :) And I appreciated your own reviews of that and some of the other titles I've watched this year; they've been great to look at after watching each of the movies.

Glad I'm not alone on I Confess.

P.S. I'm very curious for Mike Frezon's comments on Secret Life Of Pets if he stops by, I remember him saying he was disappointed by the movie but I don't recall his reasons why.
 

Josh Steinberg

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#6 - Send Me No Flowers (1964)
Viewed on: January 10th, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Universal)

This time around, in Send Me No Flowers, Rock Hudson and Doris Day start the movie off as a married couple, immediately signalling that this movie will be different than its predecessors. Unfortunately, the marriage isn't perfectly happy, because Hudson is a major hypochondriac. (It's amusing to see Hudson doing schtick that wouldn't be out of place for one of Tony Randall's characters.) When eavesdropping on his doctor's phone call, he finds out that a patient is dying and immediately assumes it must be him. Not wanting to leave his wife to fend for herself after his imagined imminent doom, Hudson and Randall scramble to find a suitable replacement husband. They eventually settle on Clint Walker, but of course there's plenty of confusion and mistaken conclusions and comedic mishaps.

Also part of the Day-Hudson collection, the transfer here is somewhere between Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. The image is more stable, and the colors and detail are a little better, but it's not as good as Pillow Talk. Like Lover Come Back, there is no menu, and no bonus features.

I appreciated that Send Me No Flowers told a different story with Hudson and Day rather than retreading the old ideas. I loved the description of the movie when I read it, but found that it wasn't as inspired or hilarious as I had hoped. Though the chemistry is still there, the movie on the whole felt a little stale. I liked the overall concept but I wish the script had been better.

While I'm happy to have all three movies in the set, and they were certainly worth the price at about $18, Pillow Talk is the clear winner here.
 
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Josh Steinberg

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#7 - Broken Lance (1954)
Viewed on: January 17th, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Twilight Time)

Broken Lance, a 1954 CinemaScope western originally released by Fox, is a nice example of how blind buys are supposed to work in one of my ideal scenario. The disc is from Twilight Time. I love the quality work that TT does, but sometimes the pricing leaves me waiting for sales to pick up many of the titles. If there's something I want to have that I already know and love (like The Mad Magician), I won't hesitate to pre-order it, but some of the other things I'll wait for a sale, or at least until there are a few so I can save on shipping. With Broken Lance, I had started to get on a western kick last year, and was seeking out some titles I hadn't seen. This came recommended (thanks, Robert Crawford!), and TT had a sale, so I grabbed this and a few other titles. I didn't immediately have time to watch it, and then had moved on for a little while from the western theme, but when I started feeling like it again early this year, I was very happy to have it waiting. I have access to streaming services like iTunes and Vudu, and for a new release I'd probably just rent it (like Hell Or High Water, which is great by the way). But for a lot of these older titles, the transfers that are coming out from labels like Twilight Time or Warner Archive are newer and better looking than what's available streaming. I'm a sucker for presentations of films that actually look like film, so when I can get a quality CinemaScope release like this on a disc from a label with a great reputation like Twilight Time, I'm happy to do it.

Spencer Tracy stars as a tough rancher with four grown sons, his eldest three (led by Richard Widmark) by his late white wife, and his youngest (Robert Wagner) by his Native American wife. While Tracy was cold and harsh with his first three sons, he was more open and loving with Wagner, which leads to resentment between the brothers. When a local copper mine begins poisoning the water on Tracy's ranch, leading to an explosive confrontation, Tracy finds himself in trouble with the law, and the three older brothers ganging up against the youngest. Filled with fine performances, Broken Lance is more family drama than western epic, using its setting well to amplify the emotions of the characters.

As you might expect from a Twilight Time release of a Fox transfer, the disc looks and sounds fantastic. I listened to the DTS-HD 5.0 soundtrack, but a 2.0 soundtrack was also provided. The disc included a commentary, a newsreel and a trailer, none of which I've gotten to yet. English subtitles were also available.

Featuring a strong leading performance by Spencer Tracy and fantastic work by the rest of the cast, Broken Lance is a compelling family drama with a western twist. I'm very happy to add it to my collection; I'm sure I'll revisit it when going through a Spencer Tracy phase and while going through westerns. It's satisfying on both scores.
 

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#8 - The Big Trail (1930 - 70mm "Fox Grandeur" Version)
Viewed on: January 23rd, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Fox)

If you want to know how a blind buy can sit on the shelf for two years before being watched, The Big Trail is a pretty good example of how that can happen for me. In early 2015, American Cinematographer did a big article on the film, recounting in great detail how the Fox Grandeur process came to be used for the film, and how the movie was an early example of widescreen filmmaking. I was intrigued and immediately set about ordering a copy. Amazon had it for around $20, but a third party seller had a new copy that was something like $7, including shipping. For a movie I had never seen before, it seemed like a no-brainer. If I had ordered direct from Amazon, I would have had it two days later and watched it then. The seller still shipped pretty quickly, but when it arrived a week or so later, I ended up being busy with some other stuff, and when I finally had some time to watch movies, I was in the mood for something else. And so it sat on the shelf until recently, when I thought it made perfect sense to watch it with the other westerns I've been looking at. So, two years later, I've finally watched it. Sad to say, that's not the longest I've had a blind buy on the shelf, not even close.

The Big Trail is a somewhat episodic tale of a caravan of settlers attempting to cross the Oregon Trail. A very young John Wayne leads the cast as a trapper along for the journey, and the film also has supporting performances by Marguerite Churchill, Tyrone Power Sr., Charles Stevens, Ian Keith and El Brendel. Wayne is rough around the edges but he clearly has that special something. The scope of the production is amazing. It feels more authentic and real than anything else I've seen on the subject. There are long shots where you see hundreds of people and dozens of wagons and it's just astonishing to think that all of those people and wagons and horses were all there being choreographed for the camera. The movie itself isn't as good as its production values, but still has some entertainment value. But that's almost beside the point. Just looking at the cinematic achievement, my jaw was on the ground more often than not.

The transfer from Fox looks pretty good. The original 70mm film elements were restored the old fashioned way years ago, and it doesn't appear that much, if any, digital restoration has been used to enhance that. There are plenty of age related artifacts, but nothing that takes away from the presentation. The thing is, any minor imperfections are beside the point. This is an absolutely astonishing achievement in the history of film, and deserves to be seen, and this Blu-ray is more than capable of suggesting the majesty of the original version. The audio is pretty good for a film of its time, and English subtitles are provided. The disc offers a number of bonus features I haven't gotten to yet, not least of which is the 35mm Academy Ratio version of the film, which was shot simultaneously but not always with both cameras running at the same time. That version runs about fifteen minutes shorter, with different editing rhythms and shorter takes accommodating for most of the difference. I sampled some of that version, and while the dialogue scenes were a little less clunky, it lost a lot of the epic scope. Simply put, the 70mm instantly gripped me, while the 35mm version didn't have the same effect in the portions I viewed.

This was a great addition to my collection. I knew a lot about film history, but until I had discovered this film, I had no idea that 70mm widescreen experimentation had been going on this early for commercial releases. To get such an astonishing representation of the process for such a low price was a great bargain. This is worth having, and doubly so if you can find it for under $10.
 

Josh Steinberg

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#9 - The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years (2016)
Viewed on: January 23rd, 2017
Viewing Format: Blu-ray (Capitol/Universal)

A great Christmas present and a wonderful addition to my collection, Eight Days A Week is a new documentary directed by Ron Howard about the early years of the Beatles, specifically focusing on their live performances. The movie is pretty much exactly what you would want and expect from the title. Featuring new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, plus carefully selected clips of John Lennon and George Harrison, the movie manages to capture both the epic stardom that the Beatles achieved along with the intimacy of what the four men in the center of it all felt like. Though I wish the movie included more complete performances rather than excerpts, what is included is phenomenal, tracing the Beatles back from their earliest club performances to their final stadium shows, and concluding with their last live performance on the rooftop at Apple. Though there's not much here that I didn't already know, to see everything assembled so neatly with the interviews mixed in made it feel like a more immersive telling of the story than I had ever seen before. The archival film material is expertly integrated, and the stills chosen to fill in the gaps are wonderfully expressive. This is a must have for any serious Beatles fan.

The technical presentation is fantastic, as one would expect from a recent film. The archival material ranges in quality from "Holy crap, where did they find that?!" to "Well, that looks as ugly as it ever did". At no point does the varying quality take away from the impact of the movie as a whole. I listened to the 5.1 surround mix, but a stereo mix was also offered. The packaging notes that the film's aspect ratio is 2.35:1, but it's actually 1.78:1. The movie begins letterboxed to 2.35:1, and then opens up to fill the full 16x9 frame. I have the two disc special edition, but I haven't looked at the second disc yet; the packaging indicates that it contains a wealth of bonus performances and other archival footage.

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week is a great snapshot at an important moment in music and pop culture history, and a pretty fun movie to watch too. The bonus disc makes it something I'll be glad to have to explore at a later time.
 

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