Thursday, 24 April 2014

"High Road To China" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 1983 Brian Hutton Film Now Reissued Onto BLU RAY In 2012

Here is a link to AMAZON UK to get this Region B BLU RAY at the best price:

"…You Dirty Rotten Rat!" – High Road To China on BLU RAY

Before there was George Clooney - there was Tom Selleck - as personable an actor as you could get. Women loved him and guys admired him.

And I can remember seeing "High Road To China" at the cinema on release in 1983 and the audience warming wholeheartedly to its old-fashioned story of daring-do - a ripping yarn set in the 1920's with a handsome/rugged male lead (Tom Selleck) and a ballsy/brainy moll in distress (the lovely Bess Armstrong). All that and a score from John Barry that made the flying sequences feel lush and huge. I vividly recall Brian Hutton's movie being great 'fun' - a sort of poor man's Raiders/Indiana Jones and re-watching it on BLU RAY only confirms that. And remarkably it hasn't really aged a jot either...

Miss Eve Tozer is a pretty society brat (Bess Armstrong) - the headstrong daughter of Bradley Tozer (Wilford Brimley). She spends money like water and her evenings doing the Charleston in the men's clubs with adoring officers waiting to light her cigarette. But then her faithful manservant Charlie Shane advises her that Mister Bentik (Robert Morley) - the partner in her absent fathers company - will be able to get all the assets (and therefore all the money) if he can legally declare her Dad dead in 12 days. But her father is in Afghanistan and Eve will need a plane to get there...possibly even a reliable hand at the throttle...

Enter war-hero and ace fighter pilot Patrick O'Malley who just so happens to own two biplanes (Lorraine and Dorothy) and is both drunk and broke. O'Malley not only needs the hair of the dog to wake him up - but money to keep him and his trusty mechanic Struts (Jack Weston) in the liquid lunches they've become accustomed to. So after much haggling and brat refusal - Eve hires them for $60,000 - and off the motley crew set for Fort Kipling inside Afghanistan to seek her father.

Along the way - they almost get Eve sold into slavery to a Sheik who keeps telling women to shut-up (a very funny Brian Blessed) - pick up a sultry lady passenger who helps them escape a war on the British (the gorgeous Cassandra Gava as Alessa) while the headstrong duo of Eve and O'Malley continue to have shouting matches on the ground and in the air everywhere they go. Until the gang has to finally fly into Xinjiang in China where they find her Dad setting explosives in a small but worthy battle (he's become a General to lowly Chinese peasants defending their hillside town against a merciless warlord)...

The will-they won't-they fighting between Selleck and the pint-sized Armstrong is done well (title above) - and not only do they have chemistry on screen - there's a very genuine likeability about both of them. Jack Weston, Brian Blessed, Robert Morley and Wilford Brimley (as Eve's father) provide a lot of the laughs in-between the set pieces. And there's convincing battle sequences, aerial photography and battle-of-the-sexes jokes galore. Great fun really...

The BLU RAY picture quality is a very mixed bag - from gorgeous to awful and back again almost all of the time. It's defaulted to Full Aspect so it fills the entire scene (no lines top or bottom) and overall - I'd still have to say that it looks great despite its age. There's a slight haze on many scenes to give it that oldie look - and when it gets to the Robert Morley sequences back in his English Mansion as Bentik - the grain and fuzz swells are many (even if the humour is great). But then you're hit with a shot beside the two planes in a field where it looks absolutely gorgeous. Even in the tents at night when Eve is being sold as a slave to Suleman Khan (Brian Blessed) - the picture is very, very clean. But when they finally do get to China - there's a scene where Eve looks over at a sleeping O'Malley - it's awful one moment - uber clean the next - back to middling. The picture quality flits all over the place. But again (and I must stress this) 'overall' the BLU RAY is a very a worthy upgrade if you love the film. It's just that with a bit of a clean up - a bit of digital TLC - it could have been fabulous.

I found the AUDIO to be most disappointing of all - it's rubbish frankly. Right from the clean opening credits - the soundtrack feels like its been tagged on - or recorded in a very small bucket. There's no real oomph of any kind - which is a shame because John Barry's work here is typically beautiful and panoramic too. English is the lone subtitle and there are no extras - slim pickings I'm afraid.

Is "High Road To China" worth buying on BLU RAY - overall - I'd still say yes. It's unlikely that we'll see the film look any better.

Sure it's a shame they didn't get the Lewis Guns out for a full-on restoration - but it's still a cracker of a movie and worth taking a punt on...

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