Thursday, 31 May 2018

"Bad Day At Black Rock" – the 1955 Film by JOHN STURGES (May 2018 Warners/HMV UK 'Premium Collection' BLU RAY, DVD and Download Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...The Body Of A Hippo And The Brains Of A Rabbit..."

At times it’s hard not to think that Spencer Tracy was in fact the greatest actor who ever lived. His brooding slow-build performance in John Sturges’ "Bad Day At Black Rock" gave him a fifth Oscar Nomination for Leading Role in 1955 (when he passed in 1967 Tracy had been nominated nine times and had won twice for Captain Courageous in 1937 and Boys Town in 1938 – the first actor to win two years running).

But first a few notes about this new 2018 British-Issued BLU RAY, DVD and DOWNLOAD version...

In June 2018 – the UK Premium Collection Series for Warner Brothers (in conjunction with HMV UK – purchasable in store or online) will reach title No. 65 (I've compiled the full list below with Barcodes so you can locate the right issue). But please note – there is also a Warners 'Premium Collection' out of Europe (Germany I think) where titles come in 'Digibook' form. Most releases in that film series are different to their UK counterparts ("Excalibur" appears to be the only duplicate). Examples of European 'Premium Collection' releases include Troy, A.I., The Matrix, The Butterfly Effect, 10,000 BC, The Golden Compass, John Rambo, The Hurt Locker, Body Of Lies, Shoot 'Em Up and many more. Back to this latest 'UK' reissue...

Numbered on the card spine as 63 in the series - the glossy card slipcase once again lends this 2-disc release a very classy feel and the banded four artcards clipped inside are a very nice touch indeed - even if they are only the pencil drawings of Robert Ryan, Anne Francis and the same one of Spencer standing by the railway track that was used on the cover art (the fourth is the film’s poster art). Beneath the see-through trays that hold the two discs is another poster spread across both sides in Black and White that advertises the 1955 MGM Film in Colour! It’s a 2-Disc Set (BLU RAY and DVD) with no Region Code listing on either disc. From previous issues I’ve found that the BLU RAY is All Regions but the DVD is Region 2 (UK and Europe only) and therefore USA/Sub-Continent buyers will require a multi-region player to play the DVD if they buy this issue. There is no booklet (mores the pity – only a few titles in this series have one) - but there is a digital download code sheet to watch the movie on the go and an advert sheet with the first 60 titles listed (basic details only). Let’s get to the print and extras...

It's a 1080p High Definition Transfer, 16 x 9 – 2:4:1 Screen Ratio, a DTS Master-Audio with English in 2.0 – Subtitle is English for the Hard Of Hearing only. The Special Features are a Theatrical Trailer and a feature-length Commentary on the Film by Movie Historian Dana Polan – a University Professor in Southern California. The commentary may be extremely dry – but it's hugely informative and insightful as to what's happening on screen and why - I enjoyed it a great deal. It is of course crushing that there's no onscreen or off interviews with the stellar cast or Sturges - but the commentary as I say is a genuinely superb extra worth having. To the movie...

Sturges was and became famous for Westerns – "Escape From Fort Bravo" in 1953, "Gunfight At The OK Corral" would follow 1955's "Bad Day..." in 1957, "The Magnificent Seven" in 1960 and later of course a Western of another sort - "The Great Escape" in 1963. So its no surprise that his deliberate choice of Widescreen gives the film an aggressive Western look – dust blowing – used up ramshackle buildings in a town that’s been left behind while the rest of the country ploughs on into a Space Age future. The MGM colour is gorgeous and very clean throughout. There is a natural grain on almost every shot so it’s not pinprick perfect – but (and I can't state this enough) – restoration has been done here and the print has a fabulous vibrancy because of it. You also notice things more. While most of the men wear nondescript hats or none at all - Tracy wears a Black Trilby while Robert Ryan wears a Red Baseball Cap – the two colours stand out – marking them out as opposing forces. When the modern-looking Fifties Southern Pacific train speeds through desert and track in the opening title sequence – again its red-coloured siding is blazing – like a stained bullet hurtling towards its target. As it pulls into the crossroads and stops – we see men all along the porches watch eagle-eyed to see if anyone gets off – and when Spencer does – they grimace - sensing danger or even a reckoning.

Returning to this dark Fifties small-town murder-hunt in 2018 and I'm still marvelling at the extraordinary layering ST gives his John MacCreedy character – a one-armed World War II veteran who faces verbal and physical violence on returning to a modern day town that clearly wishes he’d stayed away or better still lost his life entirely in battle. It’s a clenched-fist place filled with broken men who either drink, skulk on porches or glare from outside the town's one hotel with malevolent intent - themselves under the heel of an even bigger bully - Robert Ryan’s character – Reno Smith – a man who seems to have a grip so tight on them that one look will silence all dissenters mid-sentence. There's only one woman on show – a young but dainty-looking grease monkey in the town's tires 'n' gas garage (Anne Francis) – there are no children anywhere – there's nothing to do but sweat in the unrelenting desert sun. Although it’s supposed to be Modern Day America – Black Rock feels like a declining frontier town you really should have avoided even if you're thirsty and in need of rest.

Thugs come in the shape of Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin – but its Reno Smith who quickly works out that MacCreedy’s unfazed yet determined way will dig out and expose their dirty little secret – a Japanese farmer called Komoko who went missing four years back post Pearl Harbour and all that nationalistic heated blood. Spence checks out his last known address – Adobe Flats – but finds a burnt down house and on the way back into town – Ernest Borgnine tries to run him off the road. This is a place where another hard man drives into town with a dead steer on his bonnet – its once-proud antlers dangling over his dirty radiator grill. If it isn’t implied macho violence – it’s actual cowardice as the local lawman (Dean Jagger) lies drunk in the bed of his own prison cell. In one scene the sheriff is being grilled on what the stranger asked about and is then soundly put in another box by the overbearing Robert Ryan - "...you've the body of a hippo and the brains of a rabbit..." he snarls at the sheriff and sadly the drunk meekly agrees. The only tiny semblance of decency comes in the local Doctor played by Western Movies veteran Walter Brennan who warns MacCreedy to get out of town. Andre Previn's music also amps up the tension as mob rule goes after lone decency.

“Bad Day At Black Rock” is a great film anchored by the mighty Spencer Tracy abled assisted by a troupe of hugely capable acting sidekicks who you suspect knew they were doing good work in a good movie helmed by a Directing great. Dig up the new dirt on this one and enjoy...

PS: Some details about the Warner Brothers 'Premium Collection' BLU RAY Reissue Series In Conjunction With HMV UK (releases 2016 to 2018):

Each 2-Disc Set Contains a BLU RAY, a DVD, a Digital Download Code (with Ultraviolet), an Exclusive Outer Glossy Slipcase and 4 Art Cards (usually one is the movie poster and others are stills from the movie). None of the 56 releases to date have booklets except where noted (11, 27, 31, 40 and 53) and “Casablanca” (No. 48) is the only issue in the Series with Three-Discs. The Entire Series is numbered on the silver spine with the year of the film's release above that number (as per the list below). Begun in October 2016 - releases are ongoing into 2018 and while some have been available in the USA many titles are first time on BLU RAY in the UK and Europe...

2016 RELEASES:
1. Them (1955) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202770
2. Forbidden Planet (1956) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202985
3. The Omega Man (1971) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202763
4. Soylent Green (1973) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202756
5. All The President's Men (1976) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202626
6. Logan's Run (1976) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202718
7. The Shining - Extended Cut (1980) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202206
8. Diner (1982) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202664
9. Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202749
10. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202848

2017 RELEASES (except No. 48):
11. King Kong (1933) - released 27 February 2017 - Barcode 5051892206600 (with 32-Page Booklet)
12. The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – released 27 February 2017 - Barcode 5051892206921
13. Excalibur (1981) – released 13 March 2017 - Barcode 5051892206280
14. The Mission (1986) - released 13 March 2017 - Barcode 5051892206877
15. Jason & The Argonauts (1963) - released 13 March 2017 - Barcode 5050349003724
16. The Hunger (1983) - released 17 Apr 2017 - Barcode 5051892207638
17. Performance (1970) - released 17 Apr 2017 - Barcode 5051892207621
18. The Time Machine (1960) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208291
19. Outland (1981) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208215
20. A Scanner Darkly (2006) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208857
21. Gattaca (1997) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5050349523925
22. Donnie Brasco (1997) - released 29 May 2017 - Barcode 5050349609926
23. Blow (2001) - released 29 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208277
24. Battle Of The Bulge (1965) - released 5 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208260
25. The Dirty Dozen (1967) - released 5 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208284
26. Casualties Of War (1989) - released 5 June 2017 - Barcode 5050349145820
27. Gettysburg: Director's Cut (1993) - released 12 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208321
28. Jeremiah Johnson (1972) - released 12 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208307
29. Legends Of The Fall (1994) - released 12 June 2017 - Barcode 5050629158823
30. Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5050349292623
31. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5051892209236
32. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5051892209274
33. Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5051892209328
34. White Heat (1949) - released 14 August 2017 - Barcode 5051892209687
35. The Public Enemy (1931) - released 14 August 2017 - Barcode 5051892209656
36. Little Caesar (1931) - released 14 August 2017 - Barcode 5051892209618
37. Point Blank (1967) - released 18 September 2017 – Barcode 5051892209632
38. The Yakuza (1974) - released 18 September 2017 - Barcode 5051892209663
39. Body Heat (1981) - released 18 September 2017 - Barcode 5051892209557
40. Chinatown (1974) - released 18 September 2017 - Barcode 5053083131807
41. Shaft (1971) - released 2 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892209649
42. New Jack City (1991) - released 2 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892209625
43. Pet Sematary (1986) - released 16 October 2017 - Barcode 5053083131814
44. House Of Wax 3D (1953) - released 16 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892209984
45. The Haunting (1963) – released 16 October 2017 – Barcode 5051892209915
46. A Clockwork Orange (1971) - released 16 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892210867
47. The Maltese Falcon (1941) - released 6 November 2017 - Barcode 5051892209922
48. Casablanca (1942) - released 5 February 2018 (delayed release) - Barcode 5051892209816 (Three Disc Special Edition with Booklet)
49. The Big Sleep (1946) - released 6 November 2017 - Barcode 50501892209892
50. Lost Horizon (1937) - released 6 November 2017 - Barcode 5050629028638 (80th Anniversary Reissue/4K Restoration with Booklet)

2018 RELEASES:
51. Amistad (1997) - released 15 January 2018 - Barcode 5053083134747
52. Munich (2005) - released 15 January 2018 - Barcode 5053083134754
53. Badlands (1973) – released 19 March 2018 – Barcode 5051892212724
54. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) – released 26 February 2018 – Barcode 5051892212618
55. Valley Of The Gwangi (1969) – released 26 February 2018 – Barcode 5051892212625
56. Clash Of The Titans (1981) – released 26 February 2018 – Barcode 5050189221263
57. (Frank Capra's) Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1946) – released 5 February 2018 – Barcode 5050629038132
58. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) – released 19 March 2018 – Barcode 5051892213189
59. My Own Private Idaho (1991) – released 9 April 2018 (Barcode 5051892212731)
60. The Last Picture Show (1971) – released 9 April 2018 (Barcode 50500629745030)
61. Dark Passage (1947) – released 30 April 2018 (Barcode 5051892215091)
62. The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948) – released 30 April 2018 (Barcode 5051892214889)
63. Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) – released 21 May 2018 (Barcode 5051892215015)
64. I Confess (1953) – released 11 June 2018 (Barcode 5051892215022)
65. The Wrong Man (1952) – released 11 June 2018 (Barcode 5051892215084)

PPS: The HMV Mail-Order Website usually offers this series at 2 for £25 (P&P inclusive) - even including the latest titles...

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Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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