The Tarnished Angels (Directors Suite) (1958)

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Released 22-Apr-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Dr Adrian Martin : Informed and informative (87 mins)
Booklet-12 pages : 7 pages of text plus 4 photos. Excellent.
Notes-Slick reverse has bio notes on Sirk + Hollywood filmography
Theatrical Trailer-(02:39) Typical sexsational trailer (2.00:1 - not enhanced)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1958
Running Time 87:04 (Case: 91)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (46:01) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Douglas Sirk

Madman Entertainment
Starring Rock Hudson
Robert Stack
Dorothy Malone
Jack Carson
Robert Middleton
Alan Reed
Alexander Lockwood
Christopher Olsen
Robert J. Wilke
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Frank Skinner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (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, Moderate
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Characters established within credits.

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

Plot Synopsis

"The camera is the main thing here, because there is emotion in the moving pictures.
Motion is emotion, in a way it can never be in the theatre."
Douglas Sirk

Perhaps the greatest gift of the DVD has been that movie lovers have been given the opportunity to discover, or revisit, films from the past that are not available to see elsewhere. It is a double gift when a film from the past resurfaces and to discover that personal memories of that film are not just nostalgia.I have loved The Tarnished Angels since first seeing it in my teens, and "loved" is an apt word, as this film provokes an emotional response, not merely to the characters and their story, but to the texture of the images on the screen. Director Douglas Sirk's 1957 melodrama was a much abused film at the time of its release, abused by critics who denigrated its commercially stellar cast and the producing studio, Universal, that normally excelled in popular entertainment for the masses.As late as 1983, in the comprehensive tome The Universal Story, Clive Hirschhorn describes the film as a "tarnished melodrama", with an "appalling screenplay", a "totally defeated cast", and "dim-witted direction" of an "absurdly silly story".Thanks to Madman you can now make up your own mind, as The Tarnished Angels is just one of the works being issued as part of their Douglas Sirk : Directors Suite.

The screenplay, by George Zuckerman, is based on William Faulkner's 1930 novel, Pylon. Set in the Depression of the 1930s the story covers three days in the life of an itinerant flying circus set up in New Orleans at the time of Mardi Gras. Headlining the circus is former World War I fighter pilot, Roger Shumann (Robert Stack), his glory days now long past, who now thrills audiences in races around the three pylons which mark out the flight course. An added attrraction are the figure revealing parachute drops made by Schumann's glamorous blonde wife, LaVerne (Dorothy Malone).The Shumann's travel with their son, Jack (Chris Olsen) and mechanic, Jiggs (Jack Carson), who has been with them since their marriage twelve years earlier.Arriving on the circus lot looking for a story is local reporter Burke Devlin (Rock Hudson), who sees the Schmann's son being taunted by a group of boys. "Who's your old man today, kid?" Burke befriends the boy, acknowledging the father's wartime heroics in shooting down fourteen planes. "Sixteen," the boy corrects him, asserting that the books "didn't get it right". Burke meets the Shumanns and Roger asks if there are any all night movie theatres in town - cheap depression accommodation for the travelling flyers. Burke gives them the key to his apartment, where they all bed down for the night.So we have our major quartet, or quintet including the boy. Added to the mix is businessman Matt Ord (Robert Middleton) who challenges Roger in the air race, the Ord plane flown by Frank Burnham (Troy Donahue).What plays out on screen is an everchanging dynamic of these characters locked in their unchanging fight pattern - like the boy on the fairground ride. They lust, they yearn - but nothing happens. No infidelity occurs, despite all the possibilities and sexual tension. Reminding us of the magnificent They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, these characters are caught in some dreadful dance, with death as the outcome. Jiggs - is he the boy's father? - idolises Roger and loves LaVerne but his love has been unreturned for twelve years. Roger has never declared his love for LaVerne, and she will not be the first to declare her love for him.Ord lusts openly after LaVerne but can only satisfy his passion by challenging Roger in the race, until Roger initiates a possible coupling of LaVerne and Ord. The boy is transfixed watching his father's air race, but ignores his mother's death-defying parachute drop, his attentiuon focussed on an icecream cone. The outsider, Burke, seems incapable of any real involvement, reduced to external assistance - the key or an ice-cream cone - using his knowledge of these gypsy characters as material for a good story.

The outstanding qualities of this film are not in the characters or the plot, but in the manner in which Sirk puts it all on the screen. Despite a personal dislike for the process, Sirk chose CinemaScope to make his move, evidently because he could more easily frame the aerial races in the anamorphic image. This may be so, but it is the interior, intimate scenes that display Sirk's total mastery of the wide frame, aided by superb photography by Irving Glassberg. It is fascinating to turn the sound down and just watch the movement of the characters within the frame, and, in fact, the movement of the frame itself. The deathlike dance of the characters becomes choreography for the actors and the camera. Other directors in the 50s would present the CinemaScope image ratrher like an unmoving theatre proscenium, static with aqctors positioned around the frame, and making moves as if they were on a stage. Sirk's composition is remarkable , with outstanding examples in almost every scene. (Two excellent early instances are at 10:30 and 14:36.) Added to this is the expressionistic lighting, casting marvellous shadows and highlighting profiles against deep, black backgrounds. Don't look for realism here. Sirk creates great beauty with his camera and lighting, a beauty which has to effect the way in which we view these characters. Their lives may have become pointless, empty, futile and tarnished, but Sirk imbues his "angels" with a sad beauty.

Universal producer Albert Zugsmith assembled a stellar cast for the project. The four principals are worth looking at closely, as I feel that Sirk has capiatlsed on the cache of each one, either playing up their previously established on-screen personas, or playing against what audiences would expect of them. In the previous year, 1956, three of the stars had been Academy Award nominees, Rock Hudson for Giant, and both Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone for Written on the Wind, with Miss Malone having actually received the golden Oscar for that film. Hudson had been Universal's resident beefcake six-footer, baring his chest as Indian brave or action hero in film after film, until "maturing" in Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955) and then peaking in the 1956 loan-out, to Warners, Giant. Robert Stack had been discovered after a massive search to find a new face to give Deanna Durbin her first screen kiss in First Love (1939). (Interestingly Stack was also to likewise initiate Jane Powell in MGM's A Date with Judy in 1948). By 1957 Stack's career was languishing with a spate of mediocre action pics, distinguised somewhat by his starring in the first 3D feature Bwana Devil (1953). Written on the Wind, and his Oscar nomination for that movie followed by The Tarnished Angels, revitalised his career, and in 1959 he was cast to play TV's Eliot Ness in The Untouchables. The third male star was Jack Carson, ex vaudevillian and former Warners contract player, seeming to be in the cast of half of the Warners movies of the 40s. In 1940 alone he appeared in no less than twelve Warners features. Carson invariably played the large-framed, decent, funny guy who lost the girl before the final fadeout. By 1949 he had graduated to actually winning Doris Day in her first two movies, and then excelled dramatically in Judy Garland's A Star is Born (1954) and was devastating as Paul Newman's brother in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958).

The (I believe) solitary female speaking role went to Dorothy Malone. In films since 1943, when she was eighteen, Miss Malone had been under contract to Warners where she had worked with Jack Carson.The then brunette actress made her first big impression with a small role in Bogart's The Big Sleep (1946), but it was not really until 1955's Battle Cry that she became firmly established as a sultry temptress, thanks to some steamy, and highly publicised, on-screen fore-play with Tab Hunter. In the years after her Oscar win and The Tarnished Angels there were some better roles for the beautiful and glamorous star in some memorable films, Tip on a Dead Jockey (with Robert Taylor), Too Much Too Soon (as Diana Barrymore, opposite Errol Flynn), Warlock ( with Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda), The Last Voyage (third time with Robert Stack) and The Last Sunset (Rock again, plus Kirk Douglas). Nothing wrong with her leading men! The most recent screen appearance by the still beautiful Miss Malone was in 1992's Basic Instinct.

I admit to being perplexed by Sirk's attitude towards costume in this film. Set in the early 30s there is very little attempt at a "period" look, the crowd scenes at the circus looking straight out of the 50s.Of the male principals, Rock Hudson probably has the most authentic 30s look, with Carson and Stack mostly in overalls or, in Stack's case, singlets. Dorothy Malone, however, is totally 50s. She is every inch the seductive blonde bombshell of the Marilyn Monroe era, from the flowing peroxide blonde hair to the black patent leather stilettos. Did Sirk want this aspect of the actress's persona to add further texture to his film, or did he just not care? It was not uncommon in the 50s for films to ignore period fashion, so maybe it is as simple as that.

This is a film that strongly divides people. Initially dismissed as trash, then in the 80s beginning to build a reputation as a classic, many still hold to the initial assessment. But Sirk's film presents characters that the world had decided were "trash" themselves, only good for providing a cheap thrill, a thrill that could possibly result in death? The climactic death is indeed directly caused by "the world" running onto the airfield, forcing a crash dive into the water. Ironic, then, to dismiss as "trash" a movie that presents these trashed, tarnished mortals with a compassionate artist's eye.Whatever, anyone interested can finally see the film in its CinemaScope black and white glory and decide for him or herself.

Bess Flowers watch! The Queen of the Hollywood extras appears as a behatted reporter - no doubt gossip columnist - in two of the scenes set in the newspaper office. She gets a brief close-up in one panning shot (75:50), but no dialogue.

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

Transfer Quality


The video transfer of this movie is excellent.

The transfer of the original anamorphic CinemaScope image is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.
It is a true pleasure to see the full image, instead of the lopped offering seen on subscription TV.
The transfer is extremely sharp and clear throughout. Detail is excellent, with the exterior shots and aerial photography looking fine, but the interior scenes glistening in brilliant black and white.There is no low level noise.
This is a magnificent black and white image, with extensive grey scale. The blacks are deep and soilid, and there is no trace of flaring on the whites. The high contrast, expressionist lighting is superbly reproduced.
The only film to video artefact was some slight aliasing on grandstands (03:05 and 85:17) and venetians (20:25).

There is some negative damage for about twelve frames (53:56) - scratches and emulsion or water damage - but there is no disruption to the flow of the image.

There are no subtitles.
The layer change occurs at 46:01 and is barely noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


The audio is unremarkable, but it is in quite good shape.
There are two audio tracks, English and the commentary track. Both are in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 224 Kbps.
The extensive dialogue was clear and easy to understand.
There is a minute amount of background crackle or pop, and there are no dropouts.
There was no problem with audio sync with the transfer, despite the fact that a great deal of the dialogue was looped or post-recorded. There is one instance where the total absence of any sound at all between the lines of Rock Hudson and Jack Carson is a little distracting.
Frank Skinner's musical score is a dramatic asset to the film and is nicely reproduced, despite the limitations of mono sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



The Main Menu is presented quite attractively 2.35:1 and 16x9 enhanced, featuring a montage of clips from the film and audio of the music behind the final cast list.
The options presented are : Play Feature
Select Scenes : Three screens, each with four 2.35:1 thumbnails. No audio.
Extras : Commentary
Original Theatrical Trailer
Set-Up: Audio Options : Monaural 2.0 or Audio Commentary
The options screens are all 1.85:1 and 16x9 enhanced, with only one still each and no audio.

Audio Commentary :
This commentary runs for the full length of the movie and is made by Dr Adrian Martin, Senior Research Fellow, Film and Television Studies, Monash University and co-editor of Rouge Magazine. It is informed, informative and for the most part engrossing. I would have preferred a little more specifically on The Tarnished Angels and its individual creators, with less on Sirk in general, but it is definitely a superior, intelligent commentary. Most interesting are the sections when Dr Martin is discussing the images we are actually watching on the screen.

Theatrical Trailer : (02:39)

This is the rather sensational original theatrical trailer, presented 2.00:1, but unfortunately a 4x3 transfer.

Booklet : (12 page / 4 photographs)

This very nicely produced booklet contains an essay on The Tarnisheds Angels by Dr Geoff Mayer Reader and Research Professor at La Trobe University. Great general information on Sirk - repeating some information already in the commentary - but very specific to The Tarnished Angels. Excellent stuff.

Inside of Slick :
Congratulations again to Madman on not wasting this space. Here we get approximately another five hundred words on Sirk, plus a Hollywood Filmography listing Sirk's twenty-nine Hollywood films, from Hitler's Madman (1942) through to Imitation of Life (1958).

R4 vs R1

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

There is no current Region 1 release of this title.
The title is available in Region 2, either individually or as part of the Douglas Sirk box set, which also includes Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, All I Desire, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life. This set sound most desirable, although there have been many complaints about the insensitive widescreen transfer of Magnificent Obsession, with assertions that Sirk's key composition of images has been severely harmed.
Madman's transfer is excellent, and the commentary truly distinguished.


The Tarnished Angels is a movie in which the true believer will be totally immersed. The non-believer will be left cold. I'm glad I'm a believer, because this is a particularly indulgent pleasure. From the four charismatic stars to the superlative photography, this is a rich film experience that emerges fifty years on as a formidable work of art. That art is largely obscured unless we can see the full CinemaScope image, so to finally have an anamorphic widescreen transfer is reason for rejoicing. This DVD deserves a prominent place on any library shelf of great movies.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Friday, June 20, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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Comments (Add)
Aussie DVD a little overpriced - Byron Kolln (HELLO FOOLS! Read my Bio!)