Flicker Alley’s release of The Golden Head presents this single-strip large format production on Blu-ray and DVD in a smilebox presentation which recreates its original Cinerama exhibition. Although the film itself is little more than a travelogue through Budapest, the scenery is pretty and the cast is pleasant.
The Production: 2.5/5
The Golden Head is an almost forgotten Cinerama curiosity: a single strip travelogue with more of a story than the earlier Cinerama three-strip productions, but which played only briefly in London during its original run. Though the film might have a more limited appeal for a general audience today, it is nonetheless an essential release for fans of the Cinerama format.
Unlike many of the earlier Cinerama productions, The Golden Head was conceived as a more narrative affair, with an actual cast performing scripted roles rather than being a mere sightseeing journey. Of course, this narrative has been designed to give an excuse for the large format camera to wander around Budapest circa 1965, allow the viewer to take in some gorgeous local color. The film’s threadbare plot is set in motion when two mismatched thieves (played by an ever-patient George Sanders and an occasionally exasperating Buddy Hackett) steal a treasure, the titular golden head statue, from the art museum. On the trail of the unlikely duo are three young siblings (played by Jess Conrad, Lorraine Power and Denis Gilmore), who are the children of a British policeman who is taking them to Hungary on holiday. Everything plays out much as expected, with little or no surprises along the way.
The Golden Head offers a template of sorts that the IMAX corporation would use (whether they realized it or not) in their earlier documentary features, using a simple plot centered around younger protagonists to present an all ages journey for the viewer to places they might not have the opportunity to travel to on their own. As a collection of images of Budapest in the mid-60s, it’s a fun look back at a time that no longer exists. But as an actual film, it leaves much to be desired. The direction by Richard Thorpe (who replaced James Hill during production) tends to be lethargic, and the performances from the children are merely adequate. (At one point, the producers had been hoping to cast Hayley Mills, who could have brought some much needed energy to the project.) Sanders and Hackett fare a little better, but the script gives them little to work with.
3D Rating: NA
The Golden Head was restored by David Strohmaier and is presented on disc in a curved smilebox format which simulates the original Cinerama exhibition. As usual, Strohmaier achieves a minor miracle by taking faded older material and bringing it to something remarkably close to what would have been seen by its original audience. As a single-strip production, there are no join lines here, and the image itself is remarkably clean and stable. Color is generally pleasing and strong (with occasional minor inconsistencies), and sharpness and detail is general good, though perhaps short of reference quality. But this is all minor-nitpicking: a quick look at the included restoration demonstration reveals just how much Strohmaier has accomplished in his work, which is to be commended.
The film’s soundtrack is presented in the lossless DTS HD-MA 5.1 format and generally sounds terrific, with good clarity and dialogue well balanced with music. While it’s not as active a soundtrack as some of the previous Cinerama titles, the musical score makes nice use of the soundstage. There are no issues with hiss or any other age-related artifacts.
Special Features: 5/5
Fortress Of Peace (22:01, HD) – Presented in Smilebox with DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, this Swiss Army propaganda film is an unusually impressive piece, with spectacular photography. This short was originally shown before The Golden Head during its original run. The restored presentation here may be worth the price of admission on the whole package in and of itself.
A Tale Of Old Whiff (16:41, HD) Presented in a more conventional flat 2.20:1 aspect ratio but with DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio, this 1960 cartoon short is in rougher shape than the main feature, but nonetheless has historical value for Cinerama fans, as it originally ran before Scent Of Mystery.
Restoration of The Golden Head (4:47, HD) – Dave Strohmaier narrates this demonstration of the restoration process. It may be worth viewing this before the main feature for a better understanding of what Strohmaier has accomplished.
Restoration of the animation A Tale Of Old Whiff (5:55, HD) – Strohmaier narrates a restoration demonstration which explains the history of the short and how the lost short was brought back to life from a recently discovered but badly faded 70mm print.
Image Gallery (3:45, HD) – A series of original stills and promotional materials.
Trailer Gallery – Trailers are presented for a variety of Cinerama features, including The Golden Head.
Booklet – The film’s original program is reproduced in the package’s booklet.
DVD – The set also includes a DVD version of the film and bonus features.
While The Golden Head is a forgettable film in and of itself, that only makes the care and attention shown to it in this Flicker Alley release more impressive. Dave Strohmaier has done his usual heroic work in bringing the film back to life, and the included bonus material allows the viewer to both recreate the original theatrical presentation while also providing a fascinating look at how the film was restored. While the film may have a more limited appeal among casual film goers, this release is highly recommended for Cinerama fans.
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