Overall | Double Indemnity (Directors Suite) (1944) | Five Graves to Cairo (Directors Suite) (1943) | The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942) | The Front Page (Directors Suite) (1974)

Billy Wilder: Collectors Boxset (Directors Suite) (1942)

Billy Wilder: Collectors Boxset (Directors Suite) (1942)

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Released 8-Nov-2007

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Overall Package

    This box set includes four previously released Billy Wilder films from across his career which don't easily fall into one genre.Regardless these are all quality films and have been nicely repackaged into a solid and high quality slipcase. If you have not previously bought any of the films included this is certainly worth a look. The actual films retain their original packaging.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Thursday, January 17, 2008
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Overall | Double Indemnity (Directors Suite) (1944) | Five Graves to Cairo (Directors Suite) (1943) | The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942) | The Front Page (Directors Suite) (1974)

Double Indemnity (Directors Suite) (1944)

Double Indemnity (Directors Suite) (1944)

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Released 8-Nov-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Mystery Menu Audio
Introduction-By Robert Osborne, Film Historian
Audio Commentary-Geoff Mayer, Reader & Ass. Prof. Cinema Studies La Trobe Uni
Featurette-The Best Of Film Noir: A Documentary
Featurette-Hollywood Remembers: Barbara Stanwyck
Featurette-Hollywood Remembers: Fred MacMurray
Featurette-Hollywood Remembers: Edward G Robinson
Booklet-Essay By Dr Wendy Haslem, Lect. In Cinema Studies Uni. Melb
Audio Commentary-Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1944
Running Time 103:15
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Billy Wilder
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Fred MacMurray
Barbara Stanwyck
Edward G. Robinson
Porter Hall
Jean Heather
Tom Powers
Byron Barr
Richard Gaines
Fortunio Bonanova
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $29.95 Music Miklós Rózsa
Victor Schertzinger


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.44:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

   

You want to know who killed Dietrichson? Hold tight to that cheap cigar of yours, Keyes.
I killed Dietrichson - me, Walter Neff, insurance salesman, 35 years old, unmarried, no visible scars... (He glances down at his shoulder wound.) - until a while ago, that is.
Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman.
I didn't get the money and I didn't get the woman. Pretty, isn't it?'

Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity

    In 1944 Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity was released to an unsuspecting public. It represented something of a paradigm shift in cinema. Prior to that time Hollywood films about crime were either gangster stories (Little Caesar), showing the rise and fall of a crime lord, or detective stories (The Maltese Falcon) where the focus is on the gumshoe trying to solve the crime. In Double Indemnity the criminals are at front and centre of the story. We follow them as they meticulously plan and execute a murder, then watch as the investigation tears them apart.

    Not everyone was happy with this shift in focus. The New York Times review said:

    "Such folks as delight in murder stories for their academic elegance alone should find this one steadily diverting, despite its monotonous pace and length. Indeed, the fans of James M. Cain's tough fiction might gloat over it with gleaming joy."

    In any event films were never the same and a new type of cinema, later dubbed film noir, was born or at least brought into the mainstream. Double Indemnity is justly regarded as a cornerstone of film noir. It has all the hallmarks of that genre; dangerous dames, tough but ultimately malleable men, expressionistic lighting and mood and a sharp and darkly witty script.

    The plot for Double Indemnity is pure noir. Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, a hard-talking insurance salesman. He is confident, brash and probably an enthusiastic womaniser. As the film begins he stumbles into his office at the insurance company with a gunshot wound and begins a long confession. So as soon as the film begins we know there has been lust, murder and betrayal. Double Indemnity is not a whodunit it's a whydunit. It's a technique Wilder would follow again in Sunset Boulevard six years later.

    Whilst doing the rounds of his clients Neff meets the new Mrs Dietrichson, played by Barbara Stanwyck. Standing at the top of a staircase wrapping a cloak around herself to cover up after sunbathing, she is a vision to behold and Neff is taken in. He is there to sell insurance to her husband but gradually over the course of a few meetings Phyllis explains that her married life to the wealthy Dietrichson is unhappy. She wants out, but she has no money. Plus, Dietrichson has various types of property insurance but no life cover.

    Neff thinks he is in control but the wily Phyllis is leading him by the nose. The two form a plan to get Dietrichson to sign a form for life cover and then bump him off in such a way that the double indemnity provisions of the policy come into effect. The plan works perfectly.

    Well, almost. For Neff's boss and mentor is Barton Keyes, played by Edward G Robinson, a cigar chomping tough claims investigator who has a little man inside him that tells him when a claim stinks. Right now his little man is screaming loudly. Neff is in the strange position of having the claims investigation play out before his very eyes.

    With Keyes on the trail the killers are under constant pressure and paranoia and tension builds as we wonder who will live and who will die as the stakes get higher and higher.

    The script for Double Indemnity came from a novella by pulp novelist James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice). Although he personally disputed the connection, most students of the film attribute the story to the real-life case of Ruth Snyder, who conspired with her lover to bump off her husband for money only to wind up in 'old sparky'. Billy Wilder turned it into a screenplay with the help of another hard-boiled crime novelist, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely) .

    Apparently Wilder was shocked by the drunken Chandler and the co-writing process almost ground to a halt. As it happened the teaming was perfect. Wilder gave the story structure and drive and Chandler provided the witty, gritty dialogue.

    Chandler was no story teller but he knew his words. MacMurray and the cast spat them out with gleeful abandon. Some may remember the famous story that Howard Hawks wrote to Chandler whilst working on the film adaptation of The Big Sleep to find out who killed one of the minor characters. Chandler's response was "I don't know!".

    It can take a while for modern ears to become accustomed to the poetry of noir dialogue which has been much parodied over the years. Once you do the effect is intoxicating. This is a world of dames and saps, treachery and sex. As the commentaries point out, the novella was seen as daring if not crude and Wilder had to tread carefully to avoid censorship. As it is, Neff's pre-occupation with Phyllis' anklet gives the film a fetishistic quality and the atmosphere is always somewhat sordid.

    Wilder directs the film with an awareness of every nuance. With his cinematographer he creates the perfect noir look. Lots of light and dark, shadows and bars of light coming through Venetian blinds. According to the commentary, he even had aluminium filings put in the air to give a dusty look to the Dietrichson house - a House of the Dead as Cain called it. The cast is superlative. MacMurray, who for some will always be the dad in TV's My Three Sons, gives the best performance of his career. He played way against type and rarely returned to the cad role. Surprisingly he was not nominated for an Oscar. Stanwyck, as the cold-hearted Phyllis, put into effect everything she had to create a watchable yet rotten character. She, like MacMurray, was unwilling at first to do the part as it could have been career suicide for them both, but Wilder apparently convinced her by challenging her with "Are you an actress?". Last but definitely not least, Edward G. Robinson as the tough Keyes gives another performance which ranks as a career best. He too was apparently unwilling to do the part, having only ever had top billing in the last ten years. Wilder got him in and the rest is history. He provides the film with its moral centre.

    Double Indemnity was a great success upon it's release, as audiences revelled in the shocking story. That shock value has dissipated for the modern audience, particularly when films like Hannibal create a debonair, romantic lead out of a serial-killing cannibal! Still it is a joy to watch for the dialogue and the look of the film alone.

    Double Indemnity was nominated for 7 Oscars including Best Film. It won none as the Bing Crosby comedy Going My Way swept the field.

    A great film, Double Indemnity deserves your investment.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Double Indemnity is presented in a 1.44:1 transfer that is consistent with its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio.

    The cover boasts that this is a fully restored print. This raises the perennial question of what those words precisely mean. I tend to use the Casablanca restoration (using the Lowry process) as a benchmark for the restoration of old black and white movies. That is a frame by frame digital restoration which sees the final product cleaned of all print damage, excessive grain and artefacts of all types.

    Double Indemnity is not a restoration which meets the lofty standards of Casablanca, but by any other standard it is pretty good. There is evidence of minor artefacts throughout and noticeable variation in the level of grain at various points. Still, it probably looks better than it has for twenty years or more and I feel somewhat churlish demanding more from a film which is not only 60 years old, but has previously struggled to get any Region 4 release.

    There are several good features of the transfer. The black levels are of a depth required for a noir thriller and the black and white camerawork is permitted to shine through. The level of light in the film is generally consistent although some scenes display some flickering.

    Despite the artefacts there is no evidence of print damage.

    There are no subtitles, which proves a bit of an annoyance when listening to the commentaries.

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

Audio

    The sound for Double Indemnity is English Dolby 2.0 running at 224Kb/s. The soundtrack is a little tired and worn and there is noticeable hiss.

    The music of Miklos Rosza is a strong companion to the film. Apparently, it was seen as lacking melodramatic themes at the time and being too discordant and harsh. Heard today it is just right - loud and brash with a main theme that to me echoes a long walk to the gas chamber.

    Audio sync is fine. Most importantly, dialogue is clear and apart from the hiss there are no physical defects with the soundtrack.

    All in all, this is a good sound transfer without being exceptional.

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

Extras

Menu Audio

    A screen in silhouette of Stanwyck looking menacing, accompanied by the Rosza theme.

Introduction

    Film historian Robert Osborne provides an introduction to the film. Though nice to see once, it doesn't really add to the film. Most would agree it needs no introduction at all. This is to be contrasted with the introduction to La regle du jou by director Jean Renoir on the Umbrella release of last year which had the ring of authenticity about it.

Audio Commentary-Geoff Mayer

    There are two audio commentaries on the DVD. They tend to complement each other as one approaches the film from more of a technical viewpoint and the other from a personal viewpoint.

    Geoff Mayer is a Reader and Associate Professor at Latrobe University. He tells us that he has written an Encyclopaedia of Film Noir which is due to be published in 2007. If his book is as detailed and informative as his commentary then it should be a quality read. Mayer covers just about every aspect of the film and film noir in his commentary. He has a detailed knowledge of Noir and also a real acquaintance with the book upon which the film is based. He is able to point out the numerous differences between the two and also give a nice back-story to the actors in the film, leading up to and after their experience in this film. Most importantly he draws out the ways in which Wilder, a clever but not radical film maker, emphasises the power struggle that lies at the core of the tale. Double Indemnity didn't really invent Film Noir, he says, but it was the first perfect distillation of the genre. Worthy of a listen.

Audio Commentary-Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman

    The other commentary is by Lem Dobbs, a scriptwriter and film historian, and Nick Redman , also a film historian. Dobbs co-wrote a number of modern noir films including The Limey and Dark City. This commentary is a breezier affair. Dobbs is a Hollywood veteran and is able to speak about his meetings with Wilder and other directors. They talk a lot about the horrible wig Stanwyck wore in the film. Apparently it was Wilder's idea to have her wear a cheap blonde wig. Part of the way through shooting he decided he didn't like it, but by that time too much footage had been shot. He then went into damage control mode saying that it looked bad on purpose.

    This is an enjoyable commentary, if a little lightweight when it comes to the actual film.

    Double Indemnity features a second DVD of extras. This includes a documentary and three features about the leads in the film. It is a personal choice, but to my mind the value of these extras is questionable. As it is they are only of passing interest.

    The problem only starts to dawn on you after a while when you start to notice how many film excerpts seem to have come from trailers. Then it is apparent. In a bid to save money the makers of these extras have used trailers as the source of film clips possibly because they reside in the public domain rather than splashing out the cash to pay for the rights to use real film footage. As a result, the featurettes do not really get deep into the actor's performances and only occasionally is there extra footage. One good example is the Edward G. Robinson featurette, which contains some brief footage of a party on set after making his 101st film appearance.

    An example of the problem with the featurettes can be found in the one on Barbara Stanwyck. The narrator talks about a forgettable film from her career, then a shot from a trailer is used where she and a co-star are walking down a road talking. Trouble is, Stanwyck is just nodding for the whole scene! In essence I don't think the featurettes actually do any more than give a film by film summary of the actor's career, without even showing us some of their best performances.

    The narration by Greg O'Niel belongs in the cheesy category, in fact all four featurettes are performed by him.

    In short, the extra DVD is worth watching once but at times is so frustrating that I had to turn it off.

Featurette- The Best of Film Noir (49:02)

    A film by film guide to noir, although lacking a strong central idea and focus.

Featurette- Hollywood Remembers Fred MacMurray (22:57)

    A film by film guide to MacMurray.

Featurette- Hollywood Remembers Barbara Stanwyck (23:56)

    A film by film guide to Stanwyck.

Featurette- Hollywood Remembers Edward G. Robinson (23:58)

    A film by film guide to Robinson.

Booklet

    This 14 page essay on Double Indemnity is by Wendy Haslem, a Lecturer in Cinema Studies at the University of Melbourne. It gives a good introduction to the film and it's place in cinema, with considerable erudition but without speaking down to the reader. In other words, you don't need a film degree to appreciate the essay. It is a good read and not only explains the film but also the origins of noir.

Easter Egg

    Click on the gun for a selection of original and very raw trailers from some noir films including Double Indemnity.

R4 vs R1

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

    Double Indemnity hasn't had a happy history on DVD. Originally released unrestored, it has only now come out in Region 1 as a special edition. That SE features the same Dobbs commentary and an additional one from Film Historian Richard Schickel. It also has a documentary called Shadows of Suspense (37:53) and the same introduction. A second DVD features a 1973 version of Double Indemnity but reviews I have read suggest this is barely worth watching.

    I haven't seen the documentary but otherwise the Region 4 would seem to be just as good.

Summary

    Double Indemnity is a classic film, hip and fun enough to be watched by any modern cinema lover.

    The DVD features a good, if not excellent transfer of the film.

    The wealth of features on this DVD turns out to be a bit illusory as the majority are only of passing interest. Still these don't hamper the overall product and the commentaries and booklet are excellent additions.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

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the greatest of film noirs - REPLY POSTED
Mildred Pierce - Phillip Sametz

Overall | Double Indemnity (Directors Suite) (1944) | Five Graves to Cairo (Directors Suite) (1943) | The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942) | The Front Page (Directors Suite) (1974)

Five Graves to Cairo (Directors Suite) (1943)

Five Graves to Cairo (Directors Suite) (1943)

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Released 11-Apr-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Featurette-Hollywood Remembers : Anne Baxter
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1943
Running Time 92:00
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Billy Wilder
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Franchot Tone
Anne Baxter
Akim Tamiroff
Erich von Stroheim
Peter van Eyck
Fortunio Bonanova
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Miklós Rózsa


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Five Graves To Cairo is a film from 1943 that has lain forgotten in some Hollywood vault just as if the sands of the Egyptian desert had blown over it. Whilst no masterpiece it is a fun and often thrilling drama laced with some comedy that deserves a wider audience. Madman Entertainment merits serious praise not only for bringing it to DVD but for doing so in such an accomplished fashion with a nice essay and a stellar transfer.

There is actually only one reason why the film, which is part of the Madman Directors Series, has surfaced on DVD. . It lives solely because it was only the second U.S. film directed by the great Billy Wilder.

Wilder is arguably the greatest director of the golden age of Hollywood creating great works over three decades including Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend in the 40's, Sunset Boulevard and The Seven Year Itch in the 50's and The Apartment in the 60's.

Wilder had come to Hollywood in 1933 and fell into the familiar role of scriptwriting, earning himself an Oscar nomination for Ninotchka in 1940. Not bad for a man who had to teach himself English! After making his directorial debut with The Major and The Minor in 1942 he was given this minor film. Wilder wrote the script with regular collaborator Charles Brackett which was based on a play by Lajos Biro. The play was originally set in the First World War and had been filmed before in the troubled production which became Hotel Imperial Swapping the lead from female to male the talented screenwriting team managed to update it into a contemporary context and add in some of the zippy dialogue for which Wilder is justly revered.

It is 1942 in North Africa. The Desert Fox, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, has the Brits on the run. Corporal John J. Bramble (Franchot Tone) is a British tank commander in a world of trouble. Routed by Rommel's tank divisions he stumbles through the desert with heat stroke and is near death when he discovers a bombed hotel, humorously named the Empress of Britain. The hotel is run by Amir (Akim Tamiroff) and a French maid named Mouche (Anne Baxter). All the rest of the staff have abandoned the hotel except for the unfortunate Davros who lies dead in a bombed out cellar.

Before Bramble has a chance to recover the all conquering Germans arrive. Not only will they be taking over the Hotel but Rommel himself will be staying there for a few days to plan his next move!

Amir wants to protect the Britisher but Mouche is not so sure. Her reasons are personal. When the British retreated from Dunkirk they abandoned the local French, including her brother, who was taken away to a concentration camp. Why stick their neck out for him? After he tells her about his (non-existent) wife and children she reluctantly agrees to help him.

Bramble dresses in the clothes left by Davros, including his shoes adapted for a club foot, and assumes his identity. As luck would have it the Germans know Davros very well (but not by sight), for he was a German spy!

Over the next 24 hours drama and tension bubble to the surface with all characters living on the edge. The five graves of the title are the entirely mythical hidden locations of supplies placed under the ground by Rommel prior to the war in preparation for the tank campaign.

Once the action gets going it barely lets up and the resourceful Bramble and Mouche have some decisions to make. Should Bramble assassinate Rommel and perhaps change the war in Africa even if it means certain death for the whole staff? Can he spy on Rommel and pick up enough information to assist the war effort without endangering anybody? Will he and the initially hostile Mouche form a lasting attraction? Will she be able to convince a German Lieutenant to intervene on her brothers behalf just by being "nice" to him? Will Bramble be found out by the Nazis and put up against the wall? These questions and more are answered in the tight final act of the film.

Five Graves to Cairo was, at the time of its release, an amazingly contemporary film. By the release date in Mid 1943 Rommel had been defeated at El Alamein and the war in Africa was over. But the story must have been extremely vivid to an audience kept up to date by newsreels and dispatches. It is not revered now perhaps because it is seen as an also-ran amongst a swathe of patriotic war movies. This is misplaced as there is actually very little war in it.

The movie is surprisingly taut particularly in the second act where the plot goes up another gear. Tone, playing against his usual wealthy gadabout role, puts in an energetic performance as the plucky Brit even if his accent wanders across the Pacific on more than a few occasions. The idea of quintessentially American Baxter playing the role of a French maid with a slightly risible (or should I say wizable) French accent must have seemed like career suicide at the time. However, once you get past the initial giggles she gives quite an engaging performance as the conflicted woman torn between Tone and her brother. For his part Bramble is never really conflicted - like all great heroes he rarely stops to consider the consequences of his actions.

Von Stroheim is magical as the autocratic battlefield technician Rommel, despite the fact that he bears no physical resemblance to the Field Marshall himself. He chews up the scenery with his riding crop flicking about whilst spitting out some crafty lines. In fact, in a review published in The New York Times the great Bosley Crowther said:

It's a good thing the German armies and Field Marshal Rommel in particular had been chased all the way out of Africa before "Five Graves to Cairo"
opened at the Paramount yesterday, else the performance by Erich von Stroheim of the much-touted field marshal in it might have been just
a bit too aggressive for the comfort of most of us.
As a matter of fact, it is still a shade on the terrifying side.

Finally, the cast is rounded out with two actors who carry the humour in the piece. Tamiroff gives a funny turn as the hotel owner who is never sure from one day to the next who is ordering him about. Then there is opera singer/actor Fortunio Bonanova playing an Italian General. The part is a token funny enemy character and may offend any Italian fans who hate their nation constantly depicted as surrender monkeys.

The film isn't perfect. The performances, as said above, are occasionally wayward and for all its ingenuity the script can't hide its potboiler origins. The scene in which a gloating Rommel explains his secrets to some captured British brass, whilst Davros quietly pours drinks in the background, must have served as a template for every Bond movie where the master villain rashly details the source of his evil powers. The ending seems tacked on after some really good tension leading up to the finish and it is difficult to buy some of the plot turns.

For all that it is a lot of Sunday afternoon fun and a glimpse of the Wilder to come.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    Five Graves to Cairo is presented on DVD in a Full Frame version at 1.33:1 , close to its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio.

The transfer provided by Madman is superlative. It is described on the case as fully restored and for once the result meets the hype. In fact, it looks better than the Madman Double Indemnity released last year, despite the fact that one would have expected more love to have been lavished on that critically revered film. Still, most of the problems of restoration are associated with overuse of the available print hence the successful films are often more tricky to fix up than the ones that have sat in their case undisturbed for years.

Billy Wilder liked working with the same crew hence the lovely black and white photography provided in this film by John F. Seitz who received the second of his seven Oscar nominations (he never won) for the film. The movie also received Oscar nominations for Editing and Art Direction.

There is a wonderful crispness to the image and the contrast is handled perfectly. The level of film grain is appropriate to the period.

In the early scenes there seems to be rampant aliasing in the sand dunes however Adrian Danks, writing in the essay booklet which comes with the film, say that the cinematographer worked hard to get a shimmering effect on the sand to suggest the disorded mind of the soldier as he stumbled through the desert.

The transfer is not perfect but nearly so. There are some minor problems at the reel changes and some scratches and occasional markings. None of these detract from the image and enjoyment of the film.

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

Audio

  The sound for Five Graves to Cairo is Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono running at 224 Kb/s consistent with the original sound.

There are a few scenes where a bit of subwoofer action would have been nice such as the bombing scene towards the end of the movie. But otherwise the surround sound is not missed. The dialogue is well produced although the viewer does need to listen closely as there are a variety of accents on board. The sound suffers from occasional dry patches and problems at the reel changes but otherwise it is in pretty good shape.

The audio sync appeared fine.

The score is by the legendary Miklós Rózsa and whilst it didn't earn him one of his 17 Oscar nominations it is a fine accompaniment to the film, full of drama and intrigue.

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

Extras

There are three extras on the DVD.

Theatrical Trailer 2.15

The original theatrical trailer is worth a watch but it is really just a collection of moments strung together with screaming titles.

Featurette Hollywood Remembers: Anne Baxter 25.03

When reviewing the Double Indemnity release from Madman I was critical of the Hollywood Remembers series featured on that disc. Unfortunately my views are unchanged with this release. Whilst it is worthwhile exercise reviewing the career of Anne Baxter (why not Franchot Tone too?) the result is very ordinary. As with the previous Hollywood Remembers features this is composed entirely of excerpts from trailers, presumably in an attempt to avoid paying for the rights to the actual films. Therefore we only see what the trailer makers want us to see. Frankly, the comment from the cheesy narrator that Baxter "gives an inspiring speech in (a certain) film" isn't worth much if we don't get to see the speech. Surprisingly, Five Graves to Cairo doesn't even get a mention in the feature.

We did learn a few interesting things about her life via a snippet from an interview she gave on TV in the seventies, including her life as a cattle station owner's wife in Australia, but the overall impression is one of disappointment.

Booklet Essay - Adrian Danks

The essay by Adrian Danks, Head of Cinema Studies at RMIT University, is an enjoyable take on Wilder and the film. Whilst suitably scholarly it is fairly breezy to read and will enrich the film for buffs as well as the casual reader. He looks beyond the film examining the career of Stroheim. He hits it right on the head when he says that this is " a film that one can watch almost without registering its ultimate absurdity and strange mixture of tones, genres and performance styles as it rattles along with extraordinary pace and wit..."

An entertaining read and a continuing bonus in many Madman releases.

R4 vs R1

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

   Five Graves to Cairo has not had a Region 1 release on DVD. There is mention of a Region 2 Europe release but details of it are sketchy. Buy this version.

Summary

    Five Graves to Cairo is a real popcorn movie that strives for thrills rather than greatness and often achieves those aims.

Given its age and obscurity it is a minor miracle that it has received such loving treatment in restoration.

The essay is a welcome read but the other extras are at best forgettable.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE
Overall | Double Indemnity (Directors Suite) (1944) | Five Graves to Cairo (Directors Suite) (1943) | The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942) | The Front Page (Directors Suite) (1974)

The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942)

The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 4-Apr-2007

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Featurette-Hollwood Remembers: Ray Milland
Featurette-Hollwood Remembers: Ginger Rogers
Theatrical Trailer
Booklet-Essay by Karli Lucas
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1942
Running Time 96
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Billy Wilder
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Ginger Rogers
Ray Milland
Rita Johnson
Robert Benchley
Diana Lynn
Edward Fielding
Frankie Thomas
Raymond Roe
Charles Smith
Larry Nunn
Billy Dawson
Lela E. Rogers
Aldrich Bowker
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Robert Emmett Dolan


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

   The great Billy Wilder came to Hollywood from his native Poland in 1933. A poor immigrant Wilder taught himself English and slaved away as a scriptwriter before getting his first chance to direct with The Major and the Minor.

The film had been kicking around for a while. It was based on an unsuccessful Broadway play which was itself based on a short story. Wilder worked with regular co-writer Charles Brackett and turned out the film on budget and on time. It earned a tidy profit at the box office cementing Wilders reputation as an efficient and reliable filmmaker.

Madman have produced this DVD as part of its Directors Suite. Five Graves to Cairo was recently released and Double Indemnity (his second and third films respectively) came out last year. I certainly hope that the series continues as it gives film fans the chance to not only relive their favourite Wilder films but also to look at some of the interesting but less famous films.

The Major and the Minor is a film that has all but disappeared from the radar today. Susan Applegate ( Ginger Rogers ) is a small town girl who has had enough of the big city. Unable to find regular work, she finally snaps when propositioned by a customer (comic Robert Benchley) whilst doing her 25th job - scalp masseuse. She makes the momentous decision to leave the big city and return home to her small town, her ageing mother and an old boyfriend who can't stop proposing to her. Lucky for her that she has kept the return train fare to her home town. Unlucky for her the train fare has gone up!

Forced to improvise, Susan decides to dress as a schoolkid and becomes "Su Su" - a 12 year old girl! Although she gets a ticket the conductors don't believe that she is so young despite her claims that she is from Swedish Stock and has gland problems. She is about to get caught when she rushes into the cabin of a kindly army major Phillip Kirby (Ray Milland). He has been to Washington to try to convince the powers that be to let him into active service. His chances are slim. He has a bung eye and a fiancé, Pamela, who has powerful girlfriends in Washington who can pull a few strings to make sure he stays where he is.

Fate conspires to keep the pair together and Su Su travels with the Major to the military academy where she is the subject of the hormonal interest of the young cadets. She bunks up with Pamela's sister, who springs her right away, and joins the sister in a scheme to get the major back into active service. What follows is a strange farce as Susan falls for the major, the major develops his own feelings for her and she struggles to keep her identity under wraps.

The film is little remembered today although at the time it represented something important for each of the key players. As I said Billy Wilder got his first assignment behind the camera and never looked back, creating a winning streak through the 40's that was unparalleled. The Major and the Minor represented another step away from musicals for Ginger Rogers. Since 1939 she had decided to branch out and even won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in 1940's Kitty Foyle. Though a success at the box office this film did not lead to a hugely successful mainstream career for Ginger and it is widely accepted that her stardom began a gradual decline after the war. This is probably not surprising. Rogers makes a chipper lead in this film but one of the high points is when she does a few impromptu dance steps. The fact is that Ginger was such an electrifying dancer that to see her doing anything else is interesting but not as satisfying.

For Ray Milland this film was another solid effort at playing the Jimmy Stewart role of the slightly confused but ever so handsome leading man. His own star rose throughout the 40's with a number of great roles, including the Oscar he scored for Billy Wilders The Lost Weekend.

The film is a sprightly comedy with no great aspirations. For the modern audience, however, it does hit a giant brick wall. Whichever way you cut it, it is difficult to imagine a modern studio green lighting a film about a love growing between a man and a 12 year old girl. If it was made today it would be a drama and the man would be in prison by the end! It was no doubt an issue at the time too as there are no scenes of Su Su in a tender embrace with the major. In a sleight of hand, however, there are scenes where Su Su has to beat off the amorous charms of teenage boys at the Academy. It was fascinating to see how Wilder would develop the romantic aspect of the film. He does so with a few expressions of "love trouble" on Milland's face.

The film is funny in parts and the leads have some real fun with their roles. There is even the sole film appearance by Rogers real mother playing, what else, her stage mother. There are also some charming moments between Ginger and the sister although I found a troubling streak of misogyny running through the cadet boys.

Anyone watching the film today will have to watch it as a document of the past to get past the subject matter and appreciate the humour. In one key scene everyone is horrified that the major had a woman in his train cabin. All is resolved in laughter when the "woman" is revealed to be Su Su. Nowadays the horror would have doubled!

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Transfer Quality

Video

   The Major and the Minor had an original aspect ratio of the Academy flat standard of 1.37:1. This DVD presents the film at 1.33:1 in a Full Frame transfer.

Like Five Graves to Cairo ,which I recently reviewed, this film has been the subject of a restoration. Surprisingly, it has not fared as well as that picture despite the fact that it was only one year earlier. There are no problems with artefacts, the print is remarkably clear of blobs and scratches. However, the level of film grain is pretty high and is noticeable throughout giving the film a somewhat darker look than Wilder probably intended. If I was to make an uneducated guess I would suggest that the restoration team were faced with the choice of having significant grain or softening the picture. It is not a huge problem but it effects the skin tones of the actors. The picture itself is reasonably sharp.

Aside from the grain, the transfer is highly commendable and there are no problems with damage although a slight flickering can be discerned at times. The contrast looks about right (leaving aside the grain issue).

There are no subtitles.

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

Audio

  The Major and The Minor is presented in a Dolby Digital Dual Track Mono running at 224Kb/s.

The sound is pretty good. The dialogue is clear and the soundtrack is clean and with very little background noise. The dialogue can be heard and understood. The few moments where I did have trouble I put down to the accents of the actors. Milland is Shakespearian clear.

I did not discern any audio sync problems.

The music is by 40's legend (8 times Oscar nominated - never won) Robert Emmett Dolan. As might be expected the score is jaunty and comedic. The recording is a little old and tired but acceptable.

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

Extras

The DVD contains four extras.

Featurette Hollywood Remembers Ray Milland (25.05)

I have always been unimpressed by the Hollywood Remembers series and each new one I watch cements my dislike. For the uninitiated they are a chronological guide to the career of the actor, cheesily narrated and composed almost entirely of excerpts from film trailers, presumably in an attempt to avoid paying the studios for the excerpts. As a result we learn very little about the actor concerned.

Ray Milland is an interesting subject for a documentary short. Always at the edge of success he was never at the top of the heap, even when he won his Oscar for The Lost Weekend. His career was sad in some ways as he passed from leading man status fairly quickly through to fathers and old man roles, ending up in a series of truly dire horror flicks. The trailers on show here are very average quality (both picture and content), particularly the one for The Frogs which looks like the horror frogs have been chomping on it!

The only interesting moment was the footage of Milland getting his Oscar.

Featurette Hollywood Remembers Ginger Rogers (25.03)

The feature on Ginger Rogers fares a little bit better but only because, as it happens, so many of her amazing dance routines were featured in the trailers. But, again, there is not enough substance and it is sad to see nothing from Kitty Foyle. The Major and the Minor is overlooked in both documentaries. So whilst Hollywood Remembers the actors it sure has forgotten this film!

Theatrical Trailer

The trailer is a fun scramble through the film that emphasises that Ginger is not 12.

Booklet

The booklet essay by Karli Lucas , writer and filmmaker, is a suitably light affair concentrating on the sparkle and pure joy of the film. She sees other reasons , as well as it's subject matter, for the low reputation of the film including the short shrift given to romantic comedies and the view prevalent many year ago, that Wilder was too much of a populist director to be taken seriously as an artist.

The essay is a good read and a worthy extra.

R4 vs R1

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

  As far as I can tell this film is available in Region 1 only as part of the Ginger Rogers Collection. Region 2 does have a version coupled with another Rogers film but I can't comment on the quality. Region 4 has a coup on its hands with this release.

Summary

    The Major and the Minor is a film that should not have worked due to its subject matter. The fact that it does is a testament to the skill of Billy Wilder.

No one could really complain about the standard of the transfer. It is only seen to be lacking when compared to other Madman titles.

Apart from the booklet the extras are a little on the fluff side.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

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Overall | Double Indemnity (Directors Suite) (1944) | Five Graves to Cairo (Directors Suite) (1943) | The Major and the Minor (Directors Suite) (1942) | The Front Page (Directors Suite) (1974)

The Front Page (Directors Suite) (1974)

The Front Page (Directors Suite) (1974)

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Released 18-Jul-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Hollywood Remembers - Walter Matthau
Featurette-Hollywood Remembers - Jack Lemmon
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1974
Running Time 100:22 (Case: 105)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (80:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Billy Wilder
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jack Lemmon
Walter Matthau
Susan Sarandon
Vincent Gardenia
David Wayne
Allen Garfield
Austin Pendleton
Charles Durning
Herb Edelman
Martin Gabel
Harold Gould
Cliff Osmond
Dick O'Neill
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    In 1974, Billy Wilder was coming towards the end of a long and illustrious career as a movie director, writer and producer. He was nominated for a staggering 21 Oscars during his career, winning 6. This film, The Front Page was his third last film as a director and is the most recent film in the Madman Billy Wilder Collection. Despite not being nominated for any Oscars itself, it was nominated for three Golden Globes, including Best Picture, Comedy or Musical and Best Actor noms for co-stars Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. On the other hand, if the Razzies had been invented in 1974 I feel sure that Carol Burnett would have been given a nod for her portrayal here. This is a quality film and one which I certainly enjoyed watching, although modern audiences would probably find it dated and the very play-like screenplay hard to contend with. It is, of course, based on a play by Ben Hecht & Charles Macarthur which has actually been made into a film a number of times. The most famous other versions are probably, His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and directed by Howard Hawks from 1940 and the 1980's comedy Switching Channels starring Kathleen Turner and Burt Reynolds.

    The Front Page (which is also the name of the stage play) follows a day in the life of Hildy Johnston (Jack Lemmon) an ace newspaper reporter for the Chicago Examiner and his amoral boss, Walter Burns (Walter Matthau), the editor. Hildy has decided to resign from his job and get married to his sweetheart, Peggy Grant (a young Susan Sarandon). The plan is also to move with her to Philadelphia and work for her father. Walter, naturally, does not want his ace reporter to leave and tries a number of ways to get him to stay. He especially does not want Hildy to leave on this particular day as a major story is breaking. A convicted cop killer, Earl Williams, is due to be hung the following morning and all the best reporters in Chicago are gathering at the press room located above the scaffold, which is being erected in the jail courtyard. Hildy only turns up to wish his newspaper colleagues goodbye but the details of the case start to draw him in, especially as it becomes obvious that more is going on than just the proposed hanging. Carol Burnett appears as Earl's friend, Molly Malloy, a prostitute with heart. He performance is very ordinary and jars badly with the rest of the film. In fact, the whole character is hard to believe and quite superfluous.

    If you can get past the very stagey production there is much to enjoy in this film with excellent performances from the leads, snappy dialogue and some very funny moments. There is also some quality political satire in amongst the other humour. There is some obvious use of 'comedy' fast forward which also dates the film. Recommended, certainly for fans of the director or stars.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality is good but not overwhelmingly so.

    The feature is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio 16x9 enhanced which is the original aspect ratio.

    The picture was reasonably clear and sharp throughout although some scenes were softer than others. There was no evidence of low level noise. There is some light grain to be seen throughout especially noticeable at 2:53 and 16:51.The shadow detail was reasonable.

    The colour was good generally (despite being a little pale) although there was some bleeding from light colours which affected the sharpness.

     Aliasing was quite noticeable throughout. Examples can be seen at 2:45, 3:09 & 3:40. There were also some jagged edges.

    There are no subtitles which is annoyingly common on Madman releases.

    The layer change occurs at 80:52 causing quite a bad pause.
    

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

Audio

    The audio quality is good.

    This DVD contains an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack encoded at 224 Kb/s.

    Dialogue was very clear and easy to understand and there was no problem with audio sync.

    The score of this film consists mostly of trad jazz which adds to the dated feeling of proceedings, although obviously suits the late 1920s/early 1930s.

    The surround speakers were not used.

    The subwoofer gets some minor use on my set-up kicking in for music in the credits and an scene involving an organ..

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

Extras

   

Menu

    The menu design is simple to operate and includes some music from the soundtrack.

Hollywood Remembers - Walter Matthau - A Profile (25:04)

    A very light look at the career of Walter Matthau which very briefly covers his childhood and war service but mostly consists of scenes from movie trailers with a voiceover. No real insights.

Hollywood Remembers - Jack Lemmon - A Profile (25:02)

    Very similar to the Matthau one, mostly movie trailers with a voiceover.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:35)

    A pan & scanned trailer for the film which is in much worse condition than the main feature.

 

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    On this basis Region 4 wins unless you need subtitles.

Summary

    An amusing a well acted remake of the 1942 film, His Girl Friday.

    The video quality is good but no overwhelmingly so.

    The audio quality is good.

    The set has a few extras but nothing of any great quality.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersMonitor Audio Bronze 2 (Front), Bronze Centre & Bronze FX (Rears) + Sony SAW2500M Subwoofer

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