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Archive for the ‘Robert Aldrich’ Category

Vera Cruz pressbook sized

With Burt Lancaster’s 100th birthday on the horizon, UCLA has put together a terrific program to celebrate one of the greatest stars of them all. Running through June, it offers up a great sampling of Lancaster’s career.

For me, and readers of this blog, the best night of the bunch might be this Friday, with a 35mm screening of both Vera Cruz (1954) and The Professionals (1966). Both are terrific, with Vera Cruz being a highlight of the 50s Western. Like Shane (1953), it’s one of the films that fell victim to the widening of theater screens in the wake of CinemaScope. This time around, Robert Aldrich’s picture was cropped/blown up to SuperScope’s 2:1 ratio (it was probably shot for 1.85).

Another great evening will be the June 7 screening of Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957), a film I find flawed but wonderful. Its VistaVision should be a gorgeous thing on the big screen.

Vera Cruz (1954) and The Professionals (1966)
April 12, 2013 – 7:30 pm

Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957) and I Walk Alone (1948)
June 7, 2013 – 7:30 pm

The Billy Wilder Theater
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 206-8013

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UPDATE: Burt and Coop’s costar in Vera Cruz, Spanish actress Sara Montiel, passed away today at 85. She was once married to Anthony Mann.

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Burton Stephen “Burt” Lancaster
(November 2, 1913 – October 20, 1994)

Here’s a shot from Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz (1954) to mark Burt Lancaster’s birthday. Compared to most of the major stars we celebrate on this blog, Burt made relatively few Westerns — but what Westerns they are: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral (1957), The Professionals (1966) and Ulzana’s Raid (1972), to name just a few.

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Cowboys And Indians magazine has an interview with the late, great Ernest Borgnine in its October issue. Here’s a short piece on Gary Cooper and Vera Cruz (1954).

Ernest Borgnine: “When I got into this business, I’d have to say Gary Cooper was a huge role model. What a gentleman. I remember we were in a car together on the Vera Cruz movie set down in Mexico. I was going to get in the front with the driver to give him his privacy, but he said, ‘No, no, come back here with me.’ So we’re sitting there talking and he says to me, ‘Y’know, I sure wish I could act like you.’ Can you believe that? I said to him, ‘You’re Gary Cooper. You’ve got two Oscars in your house and you wish you could act like me?’ He said, ‘Aw, I just got them for saying ‘yup.’’ What a sweetheart of a man and an incredible talent he was. As unassuming as anything, but I learned a ton just by watching him… Just being honest, y’know? Being natural. Listening — I mean really listening — and responding in kind instead of just reciting lines and forgetting that you’re portraying an actual person. It sounds basic, and maybe it is, but it’s deceivingly hard and I think a lot of actors never really get it.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Image (L-R): Gary Cooper, Jack Elam, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Burt Lancaster in Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz (1954).

 

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Denise Darcel has passed away at 87. The French actress’s film career was a short one, but it included two important 50s Westerns.

Above, she’s seen with Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz (1954). This scene with Denise in a rain barrel does not appear in the film. (Do her shoulder straps look like photo retouching to you?)

She’d previously appeared in Westward The Women (1950, below) along with Robert Taylor and an incredible ensemble female cast. She’s great in this one, handling the demanding physical stuff with ease.

You’ll find obituaries for her here and here.

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Back in July of 2010, I covered 50s Westerns on Blu-ray — which was a paltry two titles (given, they were The Searchers and Rio Bravo).

Not many have been added to that last, but the additions are substantial, pictures that are not only important titles in the genre and the decade, but films that were poorly represented in standard DVD.

We’ve got The Big Country (1958, above). A stunning transfer of the Technirama film started out as a $10 Walmart exclusive and is now available elsewhere.

There was nothing good you could say about The Horse Soldiers (1959) on DVD. The Blu-ray looks so good, however, it invites you to give the maligned John Ford film another chance. And guess what? It holds up well, especially this scene.

Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz (1954) has had problems with its presentation since SuperScope was thrust upon it after it had been shot. The Blu-ray recreates that 2:1 framing, but is careful enough to make it work. Rarely do you notice just how tight some shots are, and the overall transfer is miles ahead of what you’ll replace when you buy this one.

Just think, at this rate, by summer of 2012, we might have, say, eight or nine 50s Westerns to chose from when we want ride into the 1080 sunset.

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Laura has pointed out that Deep Discount’s Summer Sale has rolled around again. It’s a way to save 25% off their already discounted prices through June 19.

A number of codes usually surface as the sale progresses. Here are a few:

SUMMER11

SUMMERSAVINGS

25MORE

It’s a great way to get caught up on some things you missed or take the sting out of your gradual transition to Blu-ray. For starters, I’ll be snagging the new Vera Cruz (1954, above).

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It’s the night before Christmas, 1954, in Youngstown, Ohio. You’ve got your kerchief or cap on, and you’re about to settle down for a long winter’s nap. Winding down, you open the newspaper and you come across the ads above — two ads for the same film! — spread across the gutter. And you think to yourself: After the presents and the turkey and the in-laws, maybe we should head over to the Palace.

Someone commented on the upcoming Blu-Ray of Vera Cruz (1954) and the lack of aesthetic value in its packaging. That spurred me to revisit the film’s posters and ads. These ads were full-page height, so you can imagine how striking it would’ve been.

I’m really getting stoked about this Blu-Ray. Anybody out there know anything about the transfer and source materials?

By the way, opening the same day at the State — George Montgomery in Sam Katzman and William Castle’s Masterson Of Kansas.

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In a post on Vera Cruz (1954) last June, I wrote: “I’d love to see Vera Cruz given a pie-in-the-sky Blu-Ray release, with proper attention given to its framing and night scenes. It’s certainly a film that deserves it.”

Doesn’t sound like it’s gonna be quite the end-all I was hoping for, but it is indeed coming on Blu-Ray — this June. The trailer will be included, and that’s it. I’m really dying to find out more about the new transfer on this one — the first picture released in SuperScope. (This may be the picture that prompts a good friend to make the switch to Blu-Ray.)

Also on its way on Blu-Ray (in May): John Ford’s The Horse Soldiers (1959). Starring John Wayne and William Holden, it’s a better picture than it gets credit for being. After a stuntman was killed on location, Ford lost his enthusiasm for the picture — but even watered-down Ford is better than about anything else. And William H. Clothier’s 1.66 Technicolor cinematography is, as always, top-notch.

This raises the total 50s Westerns Blu-Ray roster to four — The Searchers (1956) and Rio Bravo (1959) are also available.

Moving beyond the boundaries of this blog, The Comancheros (1961) will add another Wayne picture to the Blu-Ray format. Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968) will hit Blu-Ray with restored and theatrical versions in one set. It’ll boast a 5.1 mix and (thankfully) the original mono track. Look for both of these in May.

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With the widescreen craze in full swing, smaller studios like Howard Hughes and his RKO weren’t happy with the licensing fees that came with shooting in CinemaScope. Many were quick to adopt SuperScope, a flexible, budget-friendly, though often grainy widescreen process.

SuperScope offered a number of benefits: it could be shot with regular (better) lenses — requiring less light than anamorphic photography — and maybe more important, it came without a CinemaScope invoice from 20th Century-Fox.

Here’s how it worked. You’d shoot your picture full-frame — as you’d been doing for decades — but allow enough room at the top and bottom for cropping. (This was already happening with the shift from standard 1.33 to 1.85 for non-anamorphic films.) From the full-frame negative, a 2:1 anamorphic image was extracted in the Technicolor laboratory for SuperScope prints — making this more of a printing process than a photographic one.

That may be over-simplified, but you get the idea.

The first SuperScope feature was to be Howard Hughes’ Underwater (1955), starring Jane Russell and Gilbert Roland. But the honor went to Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster in Robert Aldrich’s Vera Cruz (1954). Underwater snagged a different footnote in Hollywood history — the first film to have its world premiere held underwater!

Some say Vera Cruz didn’t go into production as a SuperScope picture, and that its 2:1 cropping was applied later. Watching the film, I’d say that was the case. Shot by the great Ernest Laszlo on location in Mexico, Vera Cruz should look like a million bucks. And while the DVD we see today does an admirable job of presenting the film, the image is slightly off-center, grain is considerable and night scenes are pretty yucky-looking — all common problems with SuperScope transfers.

SuperScope provided an extra benefit, one that nobody probably cared about at the time. For eventual TV showings, the original full-frame negative could be used to avoid pan-and-scan transfers. VHS copies of Vera Cruz were indeed full-frame — free of all that grain, but the dead space at the top and bottom of the screen gives the film a clunky look.

I’d love to see Vera Cruz given a pie-in-the-sky Blu-Ray release, with proper attention given to its framing and night scenes. It’s certainly a film that deserves it.

To wallow in more information on SuperScope and all those other great processes, I highly recommend The WideScreen Museum. (It’s where I got that image of the Vera Cruz anamorphic print.)

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