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Archive for the ‘George Stevens’ Category

Abile Town signed still

First, thanks to everyone who sent in their picks — we had a larger turnout this year. Your responses were very thorough, and they made it clear to me what a good year this was for 50s Westerns on DVD and Blu-ray — you brought up tons of em. Here are the Top 10, ordered by the number of votes they received.

Abilene Town (1946, Blu-ray, Panamint Cinema)
This one topped the list in a big way. I was so stoked to see this fairly obscure Randolph Scott picture rescued from the PD purgatory where it’s been rotting for years — a lot of you seemed to feel the same. Mastered from 35mm fine-grain material, it’s stunning.

Shane (1953, Blu-ray, Eureka)
The Blu-ray release from Paramount made last year’s list, and this UK release was a strong contender this time around. Eureka gives us the opportunity to see what Paramount’s controversial 1.66 cropping looked like.

The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection (1951-54, DVD set, Warner Archive)
I’m pretty biased when it comes to this one, and I was happy to learn that others were as pleased with it as I was. One of the greatest Western stars goes out on a high note, even if it is a low-budget one.

The Quiet Gun (1956, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It’s hard to believe this was a 2015 release, since it was on Olive Films’ coming-soon list for such a long time. These Regalscope movies look great in their original aspect ratio, and for my money, this is the best of the bunch.

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Woman They Almost Lynched (1953, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
It makes me feel good to see Allan Dwan get some attention, and stellar presentations of his work, like this one, should continue to fuel his (re-)discovery.

Man With The Gun (1955, Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)
A solid Robert Mitchum Western, with the added punch of a terrific 1.85 hi-def transfer. This is a lot better movie than you probably remember it being.

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Run Of The Arrow (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
This really knocked me out — I’d somehow missed out on what a great movie this is. It took me a while to get used to Rod Steiger and his affected accent, but this is prime Sam Fuller.

The Hired Gun (1957, DVD, Warner Archive)
Black and white CinemaScope is a big attraction for me, so I’d been waiting for this one for years. It was worth the wait.

Stranger At My Door (1954, Blu-ray, Olive Films)
A really cool little movie from Republic and William Witney. It was Witney’s favorite of his own pictures, and it’s pretty easy to see why he’d be partial to it. His work here is masterful.

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Star In The Dust (1956, Blu-ray, Koch)
Koch out of Germany is treating us (or those of us with a Region B player) to some great Universal 50s Westerns on Blu-ray. This one was released in Universal’s 2.0 ratio of the period. Some found it a bit tight, but it’s a gorgeous presentation of a movie not enough people have seen.

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A blogger friend of mine did a year-end wrap-up of his favorite DVD releases of the year. I think a lot of my friend, and imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I decided to steal his idea. Here’s my Top Five. Comment away!

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5. Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953, Columbia) The work of Fred F. Sears, a prolific director at Columbia, deserves a look, and this is a tough, tight little Western that nobody seems to remember. John Derek’s good and Ray Teal gets a sizable part.

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4. Randolph Scott Western Collection (Various, TCM/Sony) Four Columbia Scotts — Coroner Creek (1948), The Walking Hills (1949), The Doolins Of Oklahoma (1949) and 7th Cavalry (1956, above) — go a long way toward making all his 40s and 50s Westerns available on DVD.

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3. Movies 4 You Western Classics (Various, Shout Factory) Four medium-budget 50s Westerns — Gun Belt (1953), The Lone Gun (1954), Gunsight Ridge (1957) and Ride Out For Revenge (1957) — for an amazing price.  I’d love to have a hundred sets like this.

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2. Shane (1953, Paramount) There was so much controversy about the aspect ratio — the studio-imposed 1.66 vs. the original 1.33 George Stevens shot it in — that we all forgot to talk about what a lovely Blu-ray was ultimately released (in 1.33).

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1. Showdown At Boot Hill (1958, Olive Films) This is probably the worst movie on this list, but my favorite release. The very thought of a Regalscope Western presented widescreen and in high definition makes me very, very happy. Olive Films promises the best of the Regals, The Quiet Gun (1956), in 2014 — which you can expect to see on next year’s list.

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Shane Wide Screen ad

As you may know, George Stevens’ Shane (1953) became a victim of the wide screen war of the early 50s. It was shot in the standard academy ratio (1.37:1) but cropped to 1.66 in theaters. The ad above, for an engagement in Youngstown, Ohio, shows how it was promoted. It was the first film exhibited in 1.66 — on Panoramic Giant-Sized Screens, thanks to a decree from Paramount.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how, and when, this classic Western would turn up on Blu-ray. Well, it’s in the works — and George Stevens, Jr. is prepping it for a 1.66 Blu-ray release this year, its 60th anniversary. You can read all about it here, in a piece that quickly wears out its welcome. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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While Loyal Griggs’ Oscar-winning cinematography is stunning in 1.37, which is how he composed it — and how we see it on DVD today — I’m really curious about the widescreen version. While it isn’t what Stevens (seen above with Alan Ladd and Van Heflin) intended, that’s how audiences saw it back in ’53. Either way, I bet those incredible vistas will be stunning on Blu-ray (even if we’re missing a bit of that blue Montana sky).

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UPDATE (3/29/13): This morning I received an email from David Raynor, who’s come through with some terrific information for this blog, usually about aspect ratios and exhibition. As you’ll see, prints were full frame and theaters would’ve been able to run it as they saw fit.

Hi, Toby,
I ran Shane at the cinema where I was a projectionist over 50 years ago and still have a couple of 35mm clippings from the print that I ran that I have scanned with my film scanner and here send to you as jpeg images. As the film was in Technicolor, the colour hasn’t faded and, as you can see, the film had a variable density optical soundtrack. By the time that I ran it, my cinema had adopted the 1.66:1 aspect ratio for non anamorphic films and this was later upgraded to 1.85:1, while CinemaScope was 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The idea was to get the biggest image possible on both systems, so that there was only a few feet difference on the sides of the screen between a ‘Scope and non ‘Scope picture. Shane was run at 1.66:1 at the cinema where I worked and, to avoid the actors’ heads being cropped off in some scenes due to it being composed for and shot in 1.37:1, the image was kept racked down in the projector gate… although this, of course, meant that a considerable amount of image was cropped off at the bottom of the frame.
Best Wishes from
David
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SHANE 1 cropped
Thanks so much, David. Yet again, I’m humbled by the knowledge and generosity of you folks out there. I also appreciate the extra treat of John Dierkes appearing in these frames!
UPDATE (4/9/13): Greenbriar Pictures Shows, a blog filled with much that is wonderful, weighs in on the Shane 1.66 issue with its usual authority and research.

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