The Red Badge of Courage (NTSC) (1951) (NTSC)

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Released 8-Aug-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Listing-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1951
Running Time 68:55
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4 Directed By John Huston
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Andy Devine
Robert Easton
Douglas Dick
Tim Durant
Arthur Hunnicutt
Royal Dano
John Dierkes
Bill Mauldin
Audie Murphy
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Bronislau Kaper


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Spanish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This film is supposedly based on the novel of the same name by author Stephen Crane, written in 1894 and set 30-odd years earlier in 1862 during the American Civil War. I'd guess, however, that this final product is based very loosely on the novel, unless it was a very short book, since the film barely makes it to 70 minutes. This would confirm the stories of it being heavily edited - especially judging by the gaps that seem to appear in the story. However, having said that, it's certainly not a waste of your 70 minutes!

    Henry Flemming (Audie Murphy) is a young man in the Union army who hasn't yet witnessed any action. As he and his comrades train for the inevitable entry into the war, he wrestles mightily with his fear of fighting and the loneliness he feels since he imagines all his comrades are fearless. We get a narration of what is going through Henry's mind, which apparently is taken from the original novel (so we're told at the start of the movie), and what he voices to his friends Tom (Bill Mauldin) and Jim (John Dierkes) is often not the same as what he's thinking.

    When his unit finally comes up against the Confederate army, Henry ends up deserting his post (along with others), and his subsequent contact with the wounded from the battle makes him wish he too was wounded and free to leave the front. The red badge of the title is that given to soldiers wounded in the war, and hence Henry's longing for one so that he can be free of the fighting.

    Due to a turn of events though, Henry discovers a new fury towards the enemy rising up in him, and he returns to his unit hungry now to expend his new-found anger on the "rebs".

    Directed by the great John Huston you'd expect the large battle set-pieces to be impressive, and they don't disappoint. Despite many poorly acted deaths by the extras and a lack of realism in the gore department (which seems to be what recent directors enjoy forcing upon us), I'd still rather see hundreds of real men running around in huge fields with real explosions/smoke/dust than millions of shiny, colourful pixels moving around on composited backgrounds. We're taken into the heart of the battle with lots of shots taking the perspective of the soldiers, and it really helps to give you a feeling for what it must actually have been like.

    The acting is decent if a little hammed at times. The important thing is that the characters portrayed are believable. We've got the young, cocky men talking up big about how much Reb butt they're going to kick, and the wiser older men who have a bit more of a grasp on reality. Although this is set in 19th century America, almost every character could have been someone I've known at some time in my life (minus the strong Southern accents of course). I think this is one of the things that makes the film timeless despite its very specific setting.

    All in all this was a better film than I expected after reading a little about the way it was ripped apart in the editing room. It still manages to retain a solid heart, and I think that in itself is tribute to Huston. Well worth a look if you're a fan of the director, or if you like "historic" war movies.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    A pleasant surprise I must say - for an older film that I'd never heard of before there has obviously been some TLC in transferring this to DVD. It seems that the movie is considered a bit of a classic in the States (apparently some schools in the US have this film as required viewing), which would explain the care that has been taken with the transfer. I usually make some derisive remark whenever I review a Region 4 DVD that has an NTSC transfer, but I couldn't bring myself to do it this time since this is such a decent restoration.

    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which is very close to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The sharpness is very impressive with only a few exceptions. For the most part the details on men's faces and hands as they sat waiting for the enemy are excellent, for such an old source. There are, however, the occasional scenes that stand out as being soft and almost out of focus. These occur at 55:53 and 61:24, but I imagine they are due to a problem inherent in the source material, rather than a problem with the transfer. Shadow detail is good and there is no obvious low-level noise - always a good thing for a black and white movie.

    The grey scale is more than adequate, with black blacks and no over-contrast in the whites.

    I didn't see any MPEG artefacts, and aliasing and edge enhancement are also pleasantly absent. You'd expect some film artefacts in a movie of this era, but there are certainly a lot fewer than I thought would be present. In the whole film I only noticed two such artefacts that stood out at all (8:18, 51:37), and even these aren't particularly bad ones. They've obviously spent some time cleaning the source up.

    There are 3 subtitle streams on this DVD; English, French and Spanish. I sampled the English stream and found it to be very accurate to the spoken word.

    This is a DVD5 disc and therefore there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is one audio track on this disc; English Dolby Digital 1.0 encoded at 192 kbps.

    Dialogue is a little hard to catch sometimes, but this isn't really a result of any audio quality problems as much as the Southern US accents and copious amounts of their own unique slang. At no time is it ever actually hard to make out the sounds that are emitted from the actors' mouths.

    Audio sync is good for the most part, but occasionally in some of the action scenes it seems a little out (such as 28:17), which I can only assume is due to dodgy ADR, which the sounds of explosions would necessitate.

    The only other problem with the audio is one which is not uncommon in older films, and that was the very occasional slight change in volume, or hiss/pop. One such obvious example is at 25:23 where the sound momentarily goes almost silent and then comes back with a slight pop. It really is getting a little picky here, but just be aware that this isn't a perfect audio restoration.

    The musical score by Bronislau Kaper is your standard dramatic orchestral score common to the era. It occasionally gets a little over-dramatic, trying to create a mood rather than enhance it (such as when Henry is running for his life), but besides that it does its job nicely.

    There is no surround activity due to the nature of the mono soundtrack.

    There is no subwoofer action either, but I should add that the sounds of explosions during the battle scenes have good low-frequency range considering they're coming out of your centre speaker.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menus are static and 16x9 enhanced.

Theatrical Trailer (2:55)

    From the days when trailers could be more than 30 seconds of frantic action and still retain the attention of audiences. I must admit, though, that they did harp on as if this was one of the biggest movies ever made. This is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 as you'd expect.

Cast and Crew

    Don't be fooled - this doesn't give you any info on the cast and crew. It just lists the names of a very select few. It would have been interesting to get more info than this, since I'd have liked to know more about Murphy, who's described as a decorated hero of World War II.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Our version appears to be absolutely identical to the Region 1 disc, right down to the NTSC transfer.

Summary

    A moving film by one of the great directors to have worked in Hollywood. It's not one of Houston's best, but then apparently that's not his fault (due to some politically motivated editing during the MacArthur era). It still stands up as a thought-provoking and interesting look at men's reactions to war which is relevant to any nation or age group.

    The video quality is great for such an old film.

    The audio is presented in its original mono (which the purists will be happy about) and is more than adequate.

    After the novelty value of the trailer wears off (which it will after the first viewing) there's nothing to see here.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© David L (Only my Mum would have any interest in my bio)
Friday, August 29, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDOmni 3600, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252QM CRT Projector, 250cm custom built 16x9 matte screen. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS797- THX Select
SpeakersAccusound ES-55 Speaker set, Welling WS12 Subwoofer

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