Archive for the ‘Robert Aldrich’ Category

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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