Is Paris Burning? – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Clément's WWII epic debuts on Blu-ray
Is Paris Burning? Review

Today, Is Paris Burning? By the mid-1960’s, Paramount Pictures was facing grim prospects in terms of their Hollywood future. The end of the Golden Age of Hollywood, coupled with the end of the studio system, an attempt in early pay-tv not panning out and a loss of their own theater chains due to a landmark Supreme Court antitrust decision in 1948 (United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc.) had left damage to the company’s financial picture, not helped by a steady decline in intake from their movies at the box office despite some successes. In 1966 however, the studio received a lifeline in the form of industrialist Charles Bluhdorn of Gulf + Western Industries, whose acquisition of the studio would signal the beginning of the studio’s resurrection of fortunes; the first project greenlit by the studio under new management was an epic retelling of the Liberation of Paris in WWII, Is Paris Burning? Previously released on DVD by Paramount, Kino has licensed the movie for its Blu-ray debut.

Is Paris Burning? (1966)
Released: 26 Oct 1966
Rated: Unrated
Runtime: 173 min
Director: René Clément
Genre: Drama, History, War
Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron
Writer(s): Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre, Gore Vidal
Plot: August 1944. The Allies are approaching Paris and resistance groups within the city start to plan an uprising against the Germans. However, Hitler wants the city destroyed if it looks like the Allies will take it.
IMDB rating: 6.8
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, French 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 53 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/15/2023
MSRP: $29.99

The Production: 4.5/5

“This is not the story of a beautiful city, not as we know it today, but as it was in its most perilous, and also its most glorious hours. Paris in 1944, after four years of bitter occupation, was seething on the verge of revolt against the Nazi oppressors. With the Allies almost at the doorstep, the French Resistance in the city, composed of many divergent groups, struggled bitterly among themselves to find the way to liberation. TIME WAS RUNNING SHORT…” – Opening prologue to the film.

Shortly after the failure of Operation Valkyrie – the plot to assassinate Hitler – in July 1944, Dietrich von Choltitz (Gert Frobe) is appointed by Hitler to be the military governor of Paris with one essential command: destroy the city if the Allies attempt to capture and liberate it. Meanwhile, competing factions in the French Resistance – exemplified by Gaullist Jacques Chaban-Delmas (Alain Delon) and FTP Col. Henri Rol-Tanguy (Bruno Cremer) – decide not to wait and take matters into their own hands in liberating Paris from the Nazis. After initial success in seizing government buildings, the Resistance sends a messenger to reach the Allies – who’ve successfully infiltrated the Nazi-occupied territory following D-Day – with an urgent plea to assist them in stopping the destruction of Paris. Gen. Omar Bradley (Glenn Ford) responds by putting Gen. Philippe Leclerc (Claude Rich) in control of the 2nd Armored Division, setting in motion the plans that will change the course of WWII in Europe.

One of the most underrated super-productions of the 1960’s, Is Paris Burning? represents an epic recreation and dramatization of the events leading up to the liberation of France’s capital city. Adapted from the book by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre – credited to Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola, but 6 additional screenwriters (two of them – Marcel Moussy and Beate von Molo were credited for additional scenes and dialogue) contributed to the final script – director René Clément fashions a vast scale and manages to create tension in the events leading up to the actual liberation; of course, we know that Paris didn’t burn, but Clément effectively manages to convince us that liberation was not a foregone conclusion and that those plans could’ve been effectively derailed by any misstep. Clément also effectively uses the Parisian locales to great effect, bolstered by Marcel Grignon’s beautiful and effective black-and-white cinematography; the film was shot his way due to the French authorities – especially Charles de Gaulle, who had some strict conditions for the filmmakers to be followed to the letter – objecting to Nazi flags being flown in the city unless they were in gray and black (one source claimed the color scheme of the flags were green and black). Though he had some trouble wrangling the different personalities of the cast during production, Clément manages to get some solid performances from his all-star ensemble cast, though a couple appear out of place or underused (more about that in a minute). In the end, Is Paris Burning? is ambitious in its length and scope, yet intimate in its detail that it successfully tells the story of Paris’ liberation with heart yet staying close to the facts as much as possible.

Amongst the international ensemble cast, standouts here playing the real life figures involved in the Liberation include Gert Frobe (Gen. Dietrich von Choltitz), Alain Delon (Jacques Chaban-Delmas), Bruno Cremer (Henri Rol-Tanguy), Claude Rich (Gen Philippe Leclerc and Lt. Pierre de la Fouchardière), Orson Welles (Swedish consul Raoul Nordling), Robert Stack (U.S. Army Brigadier General Edwin Sibert), Kirk Douglas (Lt. Gen. George S. Patton), and Glenn Ford (Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley). Among those playing the fictional characters intermingling in the story that stand out here are Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron, Jean-Pierre Cassel, George Chakiris, E.G. Marshall, Günter Meisner, Yves Montand, Anthony Perkins, Wolfgang Preiss, Simone Signoret (not given much to do here as a café proprietress) and Jean-Louis Trintignant. The film almost had three more cameo appearances from the following players but didn’t happen for different reasons: Yul Brynner (offered a cameo, but turned it down), Roddy McDowall (booked for a cameo, but replaced prior to filming) and Romy Schneider, whose cameo was filmed, but was left on the cutting room floor (stills of it do survive).

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand HD transfer taken from a 4K scan of the OCN by Paramount Pictures, in association with American Zoetrope and Francis Ford Coppola. Film grain, gray scale – and color palette in the film’s final sequence of modern-day Paris in 1966 – and fine details are all presented beautifully with minimal to no cases of scratches, tears and dirt present. This Blu-ray release is Tres magnifique in terms of visual quality and blows the previous Paramount DVD out of the water.

Audio: 5/5

There are three audio options on this release: the original English mono soundtrack (on a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track), the original French mono soundtrack (on a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track as well) and a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio track. All three tracks exhibit a faithful presentation of dialogue, sound mix and Maurice Jarre’s music score with minimal cases of crackling, popping and hissing present; the roadshow overture, intermission and entr’acte is present on this release. Again, this Blu-ray release bests the previous Paramount DVD and is Tres magnifique in terms of audio quality.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Commentary by film historians Daniel Kremer & Howard S. Berger – Recorded for this release, Kremer and Berger engage in a spirited discussion about the film’s production and why they consider it to be an underrated film in terms of the star-studded WWII epics of the era.

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Day and the HourThe Train The Great Escape

Overall: 4/5

Despite being met with indifference from both audiences and critics in the United States, Is Paris Burning? was a success with critics and audiences and Europe, making the film one of the more underrated WWII epics of the 1960’s. Kino has done a fantastic job in bringing the movie to Blu-ray, with a beautiful HD transfer and a highly informative commentary track for a special feature. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from the previous Paramount DVD.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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