Pork Chop Hill (1959)

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Released 18-Aug-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1959
Running Time 94:00 (Case: 123)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (51:21) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Lewis Milestone
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Gregory Peck
Harry Guardino
Rip Torn
George Peppard
Carl Benton Reid
James Edwards
Bob Steele
Woody Strode
George Shibata
Norman Fell
Lew Gallo
Robert Blake
Cliff Ketchum
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Leonard Rosenman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Greek
Romanian
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    The Korean war lasted from 1950 to 1953 and resulted in the partition of the Korean peninsula into a Communist north and a US-backed "democracy" in the south. There have been surprisingly few films about the conflict and many, like The Manchurian Candidate, only have the war as a background to the plot. The best known film about the actual fighting would be The Bridges of Toko-Ri, while M*A*S*H dealt with life behind the lines in a field hospital. In my opinion the best film dealing with the war is Samuel Fuller's The Steel Helmet, made in 1951 while the conflict was still raging. Pork Chop Hill too would also rank amongst the best of this select group.

    During the dying days of the war, as the Americans and Chinese conducted peace talks, the Chinese managed to take a hill known by the codename Pork Chop Hill, due to its shape. To provide themselves with a better bargaining position at the negotiation table, the US High Command ordered King-Company of the 7th Infantry to retake the hill. This they accomplished with heavy casualties, as depicted in this brutal film.

    This film was designed as a vehicle for Gregory Peck, whose own production company made the film. Peck plays Lt. Clemons, commander of King-Company, who led his troops into a bloodbath. Rather than play the hero, Peck wisely used a script that downplays individual heroics and treats the battle as a grim fight which no-one really wins. Great pains were taken to make the film realistic, even to the extent of using the real-life Clemons as an advisor on the film. The battle scenes are very realistic (not that I have ever seen a real one) and the whole tone of the film carefully depicts the horrors and futility of war without ever once overstating the case.

    Director Lewis Milestone was a veteran of films with military themes. He commenced his directorial career in 1918 as a 23-year-old and directed his last film, the ill-advised remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, in 1962. In 1928 he won the only Academy Award given for Comedy Direction, for the recently rediscovered military comedy Two Arabian Knights. Two years later he directed the WWI classic All Quiet on the Western Front. Later he directed two of the best WWII films, Edge of Darkness and A Walk in the Sun. He also directed 1950's Halls of Montezuma, a film which focused on the horrors of war and the effect it had on the men who fight them. His direction here is accomplished, never drawing attention to itself with needless camera tricks while driving the narrative along at a steady pace.

    This is one of Peck's best performances as the quiet but forceful Clemons, ably conveying his frustrations at the failure to get his requests for reinforcements through to his command. He is supported by a remarkable cast of actors, many of whom were little known at the time. These include George Peppard, Harry Guardino, Rip Torn, Norman Fell, Martin Landau, Robert Blake, (Harry) Dean Stanton, Gavin McLeod, Bert Remsen, Woody Strode, Bob Steele and Carl Benton Reid amongst others.

    Pork Chop Hill is a harrowing presentation of a real-life piece of military madness, well made and worth watching.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented letterboxed in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, unfortunately not 16x9 enhanced.

    The black and white transfer is very sharp and clear. Detail levels are excellent, even allowing for the lack of 16x9 enhancement. Shadow detail is satisfactory, and contrast levels are very good, with very dark blacks and equally bright whites. However, any movement reveals minor comet trails and the blacks tend to take on a white sheen.

    Problems however have resulted from the nature of the source material and the failure to use an anamorphic transfer. There is a small amount of aliasing present, not to distracting levels, and there also seems to be some minor instances of excessive noise reduction at times. These are exacerbated when the image is zoomed to fill a 16x9 television, which also reveals some telecine wobble and an occasional shakiness.

    This transfer is from an unrestored projection print, with a number of minor artefacts such as scratches (9:27 and 26:00), reel change markings (20:29, 40:32) and numerous blemishes. There are disappointing numbers of small white flecks, often a shower of them. These are so small that they might not be noticeable on a smaller display, and they are only barely visible when the film is watched in normal (that is, not zoomed) mode. Viewers with projectors or large displays should be warned.

    Optional subtitles are provided in a variety of languages. The English subtitles are as usual quite clear and timely in white lettering, very readable and accurate to the dialogue.

    The film is presented on an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change position at 51:21. It occurs at the end of a scene but just prior to the cut to the next shot, and has the effect of a soldier being frozen in a doorway for a fraction of a second. I would not class this as particularly disruptive.

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

Audio

    The default audio track is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, reflecting the original audio mix of the film. There are several alternative languages available.

    This is a pretty clean and clear audio transfer, with no obvious blemishes. The dialogue is clear and distinct, but I did feel that the sound was slightly constricted at times. There is good presence to the effects, with lots of gunfire and explosions sounding realistic within the overall mix. This film has never had a high-fidelity soundtrack, so the usual allowances for works of this vintage need to be made.

    The film has a nice score by Leonard Rosenman, which uses some militaristic and elegiac themes without ever going over the top, except for once, where he uses some stereotypical Chinese music to depict the enemy.

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

Extras

Theatrical Trailer (2:45)

    The trailer is basically highlights from the filmed framed by a speech to camera by Peck in which he urges people to see it. Like the main feature, this is in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. There are many more film artefacts on the trailer than in the feature.

R4 vs R1

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

    The film was released some years ago in the US, and this Region 1 release differs only by including a full frame transfer on the other side of the two-sided disc. The UK Region 2 seems to be identical to the Region 4. No reason to prefer one over the other that I can see.

Summary

    A fine war film that stands up well after 45 years.

    The video quality is good but could have been a lot better.

    The audio quality is good for a film of this era.

    The sole extra is a trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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