Death of a Soldier (1986)

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Released 2-Jan-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Scene Selection Animation
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Trailer-Communion; Howling III; Pterydactyl Woman From Beverly Hills
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 92:01
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Philippe Mora
Suata Film Managemnt
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring James Coburn
Lisa Aldenhoven
Randall Berger
Nigel Bradshaw
Reb Brown
Belinda Davey
Terence Donovan
Max Fairchild
Maurie Fields
Bill Hunter
Nell Johnson
Len Kaserman
John McTiernan
Case Alpha
RPI $29.95 Music Allan Zavod

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 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 Yes, minor

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

Plot Synopsis

     It's 1942 and 48,000 U.S Marines land in Melbourne, Victoria where they are to stay prior to being shipped out to join the campaign against Japan. One of the members of this group is Major Patrick Dannenberg (James Coburn), an ex-police detective, and now morale officer with the Military Police contingent sent to ensure that the soldiers behave themselves. Major Dannenberg holds a meeting with the leaders of the Melbourne community to discuss the best ways for the city to accommodate such a large influx of men without things getting out of hand. During this meeting, he is introduced to the two policemen that manage the city area, Detective Sergeant Martin (Maurie Fields) and Detective Sergeant Adams (Bill Hunter).

    The three meet again, under less pleasant circumstances, when the naked body of a women is found strangled in the doorway of a local Hotel. A witness claims that the killer was an American soldier. Both the police and the MPs start an investigation with the military using its influence to obtain copies of autopsy reports and other documents prior to the police. As there is no real evidence of a U.S soldier's involvement, the American commanders put the investigation aside despite the protests of Major Dannenberg.

    Alas for the Americans, this problem doesn't go away as another woman is killed and this time she is the wife of a police officer. Several witnesses testify that she was seen out with an American soldier on the night she was killed. The senior officers of the American contingent are now worried. Their relationship with the locals is about to be severely tainted and their ability to keep morale high amongst their own men will be severely compromised without access to the town and its facilities. The commanding officer of the MPs, Major William Fricks (Max Fairchild) and Major Dannenberg are summoned to the offices of Major General Sutherland (Michael Pate) where they are given a dressing down and assigned full-time to finding the killer.
As feared, the relationship between the locals and the Americans begins to sour as fights start to break out in clubs and pubs around town. Things go from bad to worse when a train of American soldiers arrives at a station containing a large number of diggers and after a number of taunts are exchanged an American soldier is shot and a gunfight results. This incident and the numerous brawls between the civilians and Americans has resulted in a major crisis for the leaders of the U.S military including the head man, General MacArthur (Jon Sidney). Desperate to keep both civil and military morale high, the decision is made to make an example of this killer and a plan is put in place to ensure his capture, trial and punishment by the military. I'm not going to reveal any more of the plot, for to do so will surely spoil the movie for you. I suggest that you find a rental copy of this movie and watch it for yourselves.

    The events depicted by this movie are based on real events that took place in Melbourne in 1942. The court-martial that was held at the time was later the subject of a congressional inquiry. The work of several people including Ira C Rothgerber, on whom the character Dannenberg is based, led to the formation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice which was designed to ensure the legal rights of military personnel.

   I quite enjoyed this movie. This isn't the slickest production going. It is the kind of production that you see during the non-rating periods on television. It has a decidedly B-grade feel to it, although I would give it a B+ as the story is interesting and some of the acting very good. I thought the performances of James Coburn, Reb Brown, Maurie Fields and Bill Hunter were all very solid with a number of other actors making above average contributions as well. In the end, I guess that there wasn't enough time and money to really package it all together which leaves us with this telemovie sort of result.

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Transfer Quality


    This DVD contains a very ordinary 1.78:1 transfer that is not 16x9 enhanced. The IMDB gives the original aspect ratio of this movie as 2.35:1.

    The sharpness of this transfer can only nicely be described as tolerable. This film was apparently made using Panavision equipment and this transfer was "Digitally Remastered from Original Print" according to the packaging, which should  almost guarantee good quality. Alas, this time, something has gone seriously wrong. The image is very soft and while all scenes are in focus, no fine details can be resolved. I've noted one example for you - see 11:06-11:15. During this period there are two examples to look for. One is the sign in the foreground that cannot be read and the other, the number plate of the Jeep. Edge enhancement has been used and is noticeable at times. Check out the shoulder and arm of James Coburn at 04:09-04:11. The black level in this film is average and shadow detail is poor. See 04:42-04:52 and 31:23-32:36 for examples.

    The colour saturation in this transfer is very subdued and not what I'd call accurate. It could be that a deliberate attempt was made to match the look of colour film from that time. The colour of old World War II film has a faded and sometimes slightly yellow appearance which is a bit similar to the look of this film.

    MPEG artefacts are present in this transfer. The Gibb effect appears whenever there is text on the screen. Examples can be found at 02:14-02:24 and during the closing credits. The poor quality of this film made it difficult to clearly distinguish one fault from another. It seemed to me that the large amount of film grain has caused problems during conversion because the grain/noise makes almost geometric patterns on the screen which I have interpreted as pixelization. Film-to-video artefacts are common and take the form of aliasing and telecine wobble. Some of the more obvious examples of aliasing can be found at 02:58-03:14, 04:26-04:38, 11:06-11:13 and 48:48-49:02, whilst examples of wobble can be found at 03:24-03:39, 79:27-79:36 and 88:40-91:49. Film artefacts are common and take the form of black and white flecks of varying sizes and some large scratches. The most obvious scratches can be found at 38:07-38:11. Finally, there appears to be splice marks in many places. They occur when the camera cuts from one actor to another. See 03:39-03:40, 03:42-03:43, 03:59-04:00 and 04:07-04:08 for examples of this artefact.

    Moiré effects are also obvious at times. A good example can be seen at 69:50-70:05.

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


    There is one audio track present on this disc, a 224Kb/s English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack.

    This audio transfer is quite competent and while no stand-out is easily the best part of this disc.

    Dialogue is nearly always clear, although some of the shouted dialogue in pubs and clubs was a little harder to make out. Audio sync was never a problem.

    The score on this film is by Allan Zavod and is well done. Most of the music in this film is swing or big band jazz which is heard during scenes in pubs and at parties. More traditional orchestral music is used for dramatic effect such as at 38:42-39:20. The orchestral sections sound a little recessed but are suitably dramatic while the jazz sections have a fuller sound that helps draw you into the action.

     The surrounds are used throughout the film. Their main use is to open the sound stage a little and draw it away from the front channels. Examples of this can be heard at 05:49-06:59, 07:37-08:23 and 20:02-21:50. They are also used well during the dance club scenes at 04:52-05:46 and 34:05-34:30. The dramatic gun fight at the railway station is another example of good surround use. This can be found at 37:54-39:20. Split channel use does occur but is rare. I noticed it during the aftermath of the train battle which is located at 39:28-41:15.

   The subwoofer is used to support the music particularly the jazz. A good example of this can be found at 04:52-05:46.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There is a small collection of extras on this disc.


   Biographies for James Coburn and director Philippe Mora are available from this section. The biographies for both men are well written and contain quite a lot of information.


    Filmographies for James Coburn and director Philippe Mora are included in this section. As with the Biographies, the filmographies are quite detailed.


    This section lists the main cast and crew members as well as the team that worked on the production of this DVD.

Picture Gallery

     This section includes 12 smallish black and white images taken while the film was in production and one advertising poster which features artwork of the scene in which Ed Leonski walks on the bar on his hands.

Movie Trailers for other Avenue One releases.

     Three short trailers are available for viewing in this section. The trailers are:     Communion runs for 55 seconds and has an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is NOT 16x9 enhanced. The quality is terrible. It is of low resolution, is littered with film artefacts, suffers badly from pixelization and the image is very soft.

    Howling III - The Marsupials runs for 1 minute and 36 seconds. It is NOT 16x9 enhanced and has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. As with the other trailers the quality is terrible.

    The final trailer is for Pterodactyl Women From Beverley Hills. This trailer runs for 1 minutes and 9 seconds and like the previously mentioned trailers is of very low quality. It has an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is NOT 16x9 enhanced.

   The audio for each of these trailers is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono which is of distinctly average quality.

R4 vs R1

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

    I was unable to find any reference to this title in Region 1.


     I enjoyed this film but doubt it will leave any lasting impression.

    The video transfer is terrible.

    The audio transfer is OK.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Richardson (read my bio)
Sunday, February 04, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayGrundig MW82-50/8. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2801
SpeakersMains and Rears: Tannoy Mercury M1. Centre: Tannoy Mercury MC. Subwoofer: Aaton SUB-120.

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