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Universal's Barbara Stanwyck

Some big surprises in the Barbara Stanwyck box set out from Universal this week, reviewed here in the New York Times.

One of them is happy: a glistening transfer of Alfred Santell’s 1937 “Internes Can’t Take Money,” an unexpected burst of visual invention from a filmmaker whose career began in silent comedy with Lloyd Hamilton and Hal Roach.

And the other is a crusher: a very poor, full-frame version of Douglas Sirk’s 1956 masterpiece “There’s Always Tomorrow” — a gaffe all the more inexplicable because excellent, widescreen versions are available in the UK (from Masters of Cinema), France (from Carlotta) and reportedly several other markets as well.

Here’s the correctly framed version of the film’s signature shot — Rex the Walkie-Talkie Robot marching toward oblivion — as lifted from the Masters of Cinema edition:

And here’s Universal’s muddy, full-frame equivalent, with enough air in the image to pump up the Hindenburg:

Still, your $49.98 suggested retail gets you four other films, including Sirk’s excellent “All I Desire” (1953), William Wellman’s kitschy “The Great Man’s Lady” (a 1942 Western with “Citizen Kane” flashbacks), a middling screwball comedy (“The Bride Wore Boots,” 1946) from the ever-middling Irving Pichel, and Michael Gordon’s earnest melodrama of addiction, “The Lady Gambles” (1949). Not such a bad deal, but jeez — can’t Universal give its customers a little more credit?

183 comments to Universal’s Barbara Stanwyck Collection

  • Alex Hicks

    YEAH, the brilliant color in Cobra Woman, and The Crimson Pirate is nice, and nothing too special for early technicolor. However, the B&W is typically sublime.

    Indeed, is Crimson Pirate three strip Technicolor? When did that go out?

    Looking “for (auteurist) links between Siodmak’s color films and noirs is an interestimg search. Aren’t the two color films rather playful, even campy, where the noirs are very sober?

    Anyone have any gems to report, or distinctive traits to note, for Siodmak’s post-Hollywood films?

  • Rick K.

    RE: William Bendix, recently saw him again when viewing THE GLASS KEY ‘42, where he was unquestionably the highlight of that rather overrated noir (its rank probably boosted by the Hammett association, but actually rather tepid in its treatment, I thought). Bendix was indeed another reason to see Siodmak’s THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, a character actor who I seem to unfairly take for granted, but thinking about it, he’s so often been a beacon in a cast lineup. One has only to think of LIFEBOAT, with its extremely competitive cast vying for our attention, yet Bendix really stands out!

    There’s another late Siodmak available on DVD worth noting, THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT, a 1957 German noir (marginal noir in this case) about a wartime serial killer, a role which would have been ideal for Bendix, though I’ve only been able to find it on DVD at Movies Unlimited … a good subtitled transfer of one of his more important films from that period, which even picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film (Fellini got it that year). The feeble-minded murderer in this film is a character which generates unease similar to other serial killers in Siodmak’s backlog, albeit lacking the twisted logic and motivation we find in PHANTOM LADY and SPIRAL STAIRCASE.  When originally released, the character drew comparisons with Lorre’s tormented child killer in M, probably because of the German background and the character’s uncontrollable behavior, though Siodmak’s murderer (whose mental infirmity and brute strength make him a sad, belligerent and frightening adversary) doesn’t really have the depth of Lorre’s. Likewise based on a true story, Siodmak’s film focuses not only on the crimes and predatory nature of its murderer, but also the investigation and the unexpected political consequences of its outcome.  He obviously found much interest in exposing the ironies and treacheries of the Nazi regime committed to tracking down the killer which is itself guilty of far more heinous crimes.

    I think there are a few other obscure Siodmaks available for import from Germany, albeit without subtitles. PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (1929) is also supposed to be on the Criterion worklist.

  • david hare

    Rick – yes the high point of Glass Key for me is Bendix getting more and more drunk and playing with/beating up Alan Ladd trappped in the room as his “victim” in a tensely erotic Homo/SM game. As subtexts go it’s as out there as the still astonishing steam room pickup scene in Siegel’s Line Up. Bendix seems to relish every moment of this nonsense. So does Ladd for that matter!

    I think the Siodmak – Nachts, wenn der Teufel kamm – you mention is the best of his post Hollywood pictures I’ve seen at least. There’s a very good German DVD out there, plus English fansubs. I actually prefer his pre Hollywqood period to the post Hollyood. Pieges from 39 is a knockout piece of work which in some ways I prefer to the Sirk which rejigs the plot (Lured). The only off note in Pieges is an uncharcteristically poor choice of music (bizarre for a director with such a fine grasp of musical style and detail), but it also contains one of the very best of the half dozen or more bits from Eich von Stroheim in 1939 French cinema as a fetishistic collector of women’s clothes and shoes. It’s really one of Siodmak’s half dozen best pictures!

  • My name is Paul Mavis — I write for DVDTalk, and I recently reviewed The Barbara Stanwyck Collection. The reason I’m posting here is someone quoted Dave Kehr in a rebuttal to my posting screen caps that show There’s Always Tomorrow was not “made,” as Dave writes in The New York Times, in a widescreen format. The open matte may have been projected that way, but to call Universal’s correct 1.33 transfer a travesty is not only technically incorrect, but frankly bias, based on incorrect information. My review is here:

    and the discussion with screen caps is here:

  • nicolas saada

    Siodmak made one of the best French films of the thirties : MOLLENARD. It equals Duvivier in terms of staging, dialogue, and story telling. It’s a must see film, one of the lost masterpieces of French cinema.

  • Adam H.

    I don’t mean to be offensive in making this comment, but I just want to offer a strong, long-held impression. After reading any of Mike’s many “auteurist” inventories, I’m always left wondering, if this is what auteurism is all about, what good is auteurism? Surely there must be more to it than the mere listing of common, often banal elements that appear in multiple films of a single director. I think perhaps that by focusing on such minutia, Mike, you may be missing some bigger, more substantial picture. Or maybe your data can indeed potentially be applied in some more useful, meaningful way, but it just hasn’t yet; instead, it’s waiting to be sifted through and its significance to be expounded upon … But hey, it could just be that meaningfulness itself resides in the eye of the beholder.

    On a separate note, I just want to say that I miss Kent Jones’s comments and am hoping for his return.

  • david hare

    Nicolas, yes, Mollenard is wonderful! It also has Harry Baur and Spaak of course. And it has had absolutely no English language friendy release.

    (not even in the maleficent back passages…)

  • Johan Andreasson

    William Bendix, that’s one of those character actors whose presence in a movie is reason enough to watch it. A couple of more for me: Walter Brennan and Eugene Pallette. (Won’t even mention Dan Duryea.)

  • Adam H. – Personally, I find Mike Grost’s lists useful precisely because he provides them without making a leap to something bigger. My tendency is to make that leap to the big picture without laying the necessary groundwork, so it’s nice to be reminded that film criticism should be rooted in what we’re actually seeing on screen.

  • Paul Mavis —

    Thanks for the screen shots — but I think these offer yet more proof for Dave’s contention that the film was indeed composed (primarily) with the intention of wide-screen projection.

  • Thanks for your contribution, Paul, but I think you need to read up a little on how non-anamorphic widescreen images were shot and projected.

    David Hare has forwarded a few more screen caps from MoC’s “There’s Always Tomorrow” that strongly suggest Sirk was composing for a widescreen format:

    And Mike, I quite agree with Jon Hastings about the value of your lists. Facts first, fancy phrases later.

  • Michael Kerpan –

    Well, that’s a subjective call, and a valid one if you personally prefer that look. I was only responding to Dave’s statement that Universal’s transfer is somehow technically flawed, and not worthy of a collector’s time, when just the opposite is true. With today’s televisions, it’s easy to crop an open matte transfer to any ratio you want (was There’s Always Tomorrow projected at 1.66, or 1.85…and how about all those little theaters all over the country that hadn’t yet installed wide screens in ’56? They probably showed it Academy). So Universal’s transfer is actually a bonus to fans, because you can see the entire visual field; a “cropped” transfer automatically limits you. To say that Universal’s transfer is somehow harming the image is just incorrect — particularly when you can crop it yourself, depending on your particular tastes. It’s a great collection, and I hate to see potential buyers turned off by incorrect technical information.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Not sure if I should get into the American subconscious as an outsider, but rather than quoting DRAGNET directly (which I’ve learned is tricky, like claiming Marie Antoinette actually said “Let them eat cake”), I’ll resort to what I believe is Stan Freberg:

    Little Blue Riding Hood: Why Grandma, what big ears you’ve got!

    Sgt. Wednesday: All the better to get the facts. I just want the facts, ma’am.

    So I’ll just chime in with the above posters in recommending us to bring on the facts, and interpret them as best as we can afterwards.

  • Dave K –

    Thanks for the tip on reading up on how movies are shot, but I’m already quite familiar with that process.

    The fact that you slam the transfer without even mentioning it’s an open matte, without telling any potential buyer that they can crop the movie according to how Sirk may or may not have intended the image to be, seems a disservice to your readers (we don’t usually mention that at DVDTalk, because it’s such a widely-known fact). Universal is giving the viewer the entire visual field — how is that a technical drawback, when a viewer can compose the shot on their TV?

    As for your contention that Sirk was composing for widescreen, that’s most probably true, as I wrote. But I also think there’s a bias among reviewers (and I’ve done this before, too) towards maintaining absolute fidelity to what we perceive to be the intended aspect ratio for a film from that period, when we’re really not sure what it was in the first place (as I’m sure you know, widescreen films in that period were all over the place in terms of aspect ratios, depending on the equipment and theaters in which they were shown). Did Sirk intend There’s Always Tomorrow to be 1.66, or 1.85? I hope a Sirk expert out there would post definitely on that subject; that might help us all in setting our monitors. It’s my own subjective opinion, but I prefer the Academy ratio for the film. And again, it’s subjective, but I’d like to assume (and it is an assumption) that Sirk, who did most of his films at that ratio, was keeping an eye on Academy aspect, too. No proof for that, of course, but the film looks “right” at that ratio to me. I don’t think the film suffers in the slightest watching it Academy — I prefer the framing and the dynamics at that shape. If you don’t, that’s cool. But there’s nothing tecnically “flawed” about Universal’s transfer.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘After reading any of Mike’s many “auteurist” inventories, I’m always left wondering, if this is what auteurism is all about, what good is auteurism?’

    Adam, Mike has used lists as starting point for discussion if you read his criticism at his website. It is useful to see common things in different movies by same director. He is not writing that auteurism is only these things. Posting here is showing list only, then we can look for these things in the movies and make interpertation.

  • Vivian

    I agree with Jon Hastings, Dave K, and Junko Y about the glory and the utility of Mike G’s lists. Not only can they serve as great jumping off points for inquiry into a director’s themes and methods, but they’re often kind of beautiful in their own right.

  • Paul —

    Alas, my DVD and Blu-Ray players dont provide the kind of fine-grained zooming capacity that allows graceful do-it-yourself masking.

    It would be great if the same disc could display (at full resolution) both open-matted full-frame and masked wide-screen versions (at least when both were authorized version when released) — but this doesn’t seem to an option yet.

  • Thank you to everybody, especially our host Dave Kehr, for the kind comments. They are really appreciated!

    Jon Hastings: “film criticism should be rooted in what we’re actually seeing on screen.” Hear Hear! Thank you.

    You raise important issues.
    First, some things that seem banal in a list relate to subjects that have more importance, such as visual style. It’s not that interesting, at first, to learn that Joseph H. Lewis films are full of peaked roofs, and fences with short posts with wires stretched between.
    But once you SEE a spectacular Lewis composition, with numerous triangles formed by gables and roof peaks, you realize you are in the presence of Film Art. It is hard to talk about such compositions in words. But noting that Lewis regularly makes them up out of roof peaks – or geometric patterns of fence posts and wires – gives us words to start with.

    Unlike Susan Sontag, I’m not “against interpretation”. If people can find interpretations of all the maps in Raoul Walsh, or the signs in Joseph H. Lewis, it would please me greatly. I don’t have such interpretations, yet – or maybe never. But if one points out the maps and signs now, maybe later someone else can build on this to find meanings or interpretations.

    Psychologists never tire of pointing out, that we “see with our brains, not just our eyes”. If we know maps are common in Walsh, we start SEEING the maps in the Walsh movies we watch. If we don’t know this, the maps tend to be almost invisible. “You see Watson, but you do not observe,” as Sherlock Holmes put it.

    I put in interpretations where I can. Rooms with checkerboard floors in Minnelli tend to be female-controlled spaces; walls with diamond lozenge shapes are locales of male power. Why? Don’t know. Artists in Minnelli tend to wear black-and-white clothes, and live in rooms with tilted walls. Why?

    The lists also track what Claude Chabrol famously dismissed as Big Subjects: politics, economics, treatment of racial minorities, women, gay subtexts. Plus lots about science and technology. If you agree with Chabrol that Big Subjects are stupid, you can ignore this. If you agree with Jonathan Rosenbaum that politics in film is an important part of film art, you have some lists with information. (I agree with Rosenbaum.)

    I wish we had such lists for many obscure-in-the-USA directors like Masumura or Costa. It would help everybody, myself especially, to understand these directors better.

    P.S. I miss Kent Jones’ posts too. And Tony Williams.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Since this is a Sirk related thread, and we’re talking about visual motives, I don’t think it’s overreaching to notice how Sirk in THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW uses bars whenever he can (like in the staircase) to point out that the middle class family is a prison. I’ll not even get into how he in so many of his films uses mirrors, shiny surfaces, windows, window frames, doorways – anything that will do, to give us different/opposite looks at the same human face – but it’s not a coincidence.

    And what’s this about Claude Chabrol? I’ve been watching some of his very good late 60s/early 70s films like LES BICHES lately, and if women and gay subtexts doesn’t come in here you could have fooled me.

  • Brian Dauth

    I like Mike’s lists too and have found them helpful. He made me a better equipped spectator with regard to the films of Raoul Walsh, for instance. Also, Mike has always been upfront about his not always jumping to interpretation. But he certainly contributes to creating fertile ground for interpretation for a person like myself.

  • Sorry to have underestimated you, Paul, but when you cite “no widescreen process screen credit” as proof that the film was designed for Academy, I can only assume you aren’t very familiar with the procedures involved. Films were shot in Academy ratio and then soft-matted to 1.85 or 1.66 when projected. Of course a full frame print of “There’s Always Tomorrow” exists — that’s the way it was photographed. That doesn’t mean it was made to be shown that way.

    You’re constructing quite a tortured argument out of this “setting your monitor” notion of yours, but of course there is something “technically flawed” about Universal’s release — compared to the MoC and Carlotta editions, they’re offering a lower resolution transfer, with a much darker image, that will look only that much worse electronically enlarged to fill a widescreen TV.

    But as you say on your blog, “Dude, seriously, what the hell do I care what ‘The New York Times’ says?” I suspect I am wasting my pixels here.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Indeed the whole reason this is a murky area that requires knowledgeable experts like Dave to weigh in is because there has never been a listing on prints for aspect ratio.

    When films were made in Cinemascope or Vistavision or some other copyrighted process, then that is listed. But even this gets confusing – by the 1980s (possibly earlier), the credit “filmed with Panavision equipment” started being added – the anamorphic process became confused with the company name, and many films intended to be shown in conventional wide-screen (1.85-1) have mistakenly been listed as anamorphic (I find this from time to time in IMDb).

    It takes someone with an expert eye willing to do research to weigh in with a reasoned opinion. Having a blog and a smartass attitude, Paul, is no substitute for that.

  • James Steffen

    I think Dave K. is correct about the problematic aspect ratio of the U.S. DVD of THERE’s ALWAYS TOMORROW. The best way to answer this would be to access the studio’s files directly, but barring that it’s helpful to think more broadly in terms of production and exhibition practices during that period.

    He’s also correct on the issue on soft-matting from what I understand.

    Like the other studios, Universal switched over to widescreen around 1953. The first film Universal instructed to be *projected* in widescreen was THUNDER BAY, although from what I’ve read that film was originally composed for the Academy ratio and cropped in projection. Other early Universal widescreen films such as Sirk’s MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION were apparently framed in camera for 2:1. Some have argued that 2:1 is problematic; personally, I think the 2:1 framing on the Criterion DVD of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION looks correct. What I’m not clear about is whether initally *all* Universal “flat” widescreen films were supposed to be composed at 2:1, or only some of them, and when 1.85:1 became the studio’s standard, as it apparently did. But regardless of whether the aspect ratio was supposed to be 2:1 or 1.85:1, Universal films after 1953 were intended for widescreen.

    My understanding, based on an issue of American Cinematographer from the period, is that non-scope widescreen films were commonly shot open matte, but the cinematographer *composed* the film for widescreen using lines marked in the viewfinder. At the same time, films were “protected” for 1.33:1–i.e., ensuring that undesirable things such as lighting equipment didn’t show up within the “safety” area, so that the film would look good in future television showings. This means you can still show a film open matte, but that’s not what the cinematographer composed for. As mentioned elsewhere in the comments, sometimes you can still see boom mics or the edges of a set in open matte projection. Certainly, how the film would look in its theatrical release was the primary concern at that time.

    At any rate, by the time of THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW Russell Metty, the film’s cinematographer, had already shot several films in widescreen and would have been accustomed to composing for it. As for the complaint that there isn’t enough headroom in the Masters of Cinema widescreen DVD frame grabs–to my eyes, the tighter compositions are fairly typical of widescreen films during that era. Cinematographers were trying to think about the widescreen frame differently from the Academy frame.

  • Dave K —

    I cited the no widescreen credit in the response forum to my review only as one piece of the puzzle, for a reader who obviously didn’t know anything about open mattes (of which I’m aware — thanks for the history lesson. Pity you didn’t put it in your review). It wasn’t included as any proof that the film was specifically designed for Academy, as I said numerous times. If you read that forum, you’d see that I mentioned several times that it was very probable that Sirk intended the film to be projected wide. The simple fact is: had Universal cropped the image to 1.66, some Sirk loyalists would bitch that it should have been 1.85, and vice versa. I’ve yet to hear anyone specifically state it was intended one way or the other. So why bitch about Universal’s transfer? You believe it should be 1.85? There would be “experts” out there who would say you’re wrong — it should be 1.66. It’s all the same.

    But’s that’s cool — you can pick and choose what I write. I’m used to it. And we’re not going to agree here, so…. And you’re not wasting your time with me. I’ve enjoyed reading some of your stuff (too bad it’s associated with the Times, that’s all). Good luck to you, and no hard feelings on my part, certainly.

  • Peter Henne

    Dave, I always respect your opinion too. But to answer Paul with a string of 1.78 captures is, well, hiding the evidence for the opposing viewpoints. Please note that there are several: 1) 1.33 is the only proper ratio, 2) 1.33 is preferable to all others, 3a) at least two from 1.33, 1.85 and possibly 1.66 (but in no way 1.78, which is made-up after the fact) have different but about equally good points, 3b) all of 3a) do, 4) 1.33 is inferior but nonetheless valid. On any one of these, a 1.33 release is useful.

    The screen caps at the discussion forum he cited do, I think, throw some additional support for 1.33. I’ve already talked about the greater human physicality of 1.33 for this film, which helps express its emotions of romantic longing. The screen caps at the forum support this entirely, in my view: next to the Academys, the widescreens give me the desexed version of the film, bosomless, skirtless, pantless. They insinuate a disembodied take on a film about sexual desire. Nothing wrong with that actually… that can be interesting in its own right. That’s why I hold the 1.85 version is artistically valid too, but not the one I prefer. When you look at the 1.78 images, I hope you are keeping in mind that they should be horizontally cropped down by about 4 per cent, to make a 1.85 ratio.

    Finally, let’s all remember that some audiences would be presented the 1.85 version, and other audiences at home the 1.33. It’s possible that some theatrical audiences were shown 1.66 and 1.33. It seems impossible to get around all of that open-endedness and that 1.33 most certainly was designed in case the film reached television viewers, and it probably did in the ’50s; I can tell you it did on AMC in the ’90s. The film had to be composed for both. And screen caps can go only so far in settling an argument. You have to look at all of the images and how they interact with each other to talk about the film’s visual style.

  • david hare

    Paul, it feels extremely odd for me to be defending the widescreen rather than the Academy or 1.66 argument in these proceedings given that I put up a fight for what seems like several wasted years of my life over the 2.00 masking of Magnificent Obsession and the total absence ofany open matte unmasked version of Touch of Eveil in any of the three version from the Universal SE. But you probably dont know about any of that, nor should you. I am extremely sympathetic to anyone putting up the good fight over original projection ratios.

    But stick to this one I will, simnply because the evidence is distinctively there in the film.

    I would heartily endorse your call for a full frame open matte DVD from Uuniversal if indeed this WAS open matte but it is not. As can be clearly seen the sides are substantially cropped and masked in vertically. So the Stanwyck boxset disc doesn meet that criterion. If it did I dont think we would be arguing about this, given the proliferation of unifrom 1.85 versions available in PAL territories for those who wanted both formats.

  • Barry Putterman

    30s Siodmak is one of those frustrating holes for me. All that I’ve managed to see is QUICK, and William K. Everson’s unsubtitled print of LA CRISE EST FINIE. I don’t suppose that there are any plans for that mouth watering series which Nicolas linked for us to come to New York (he asked wistfully).

    Johan, I suppose we can let Dan Duryea go unmentioned this time since, like “77 Sunset Strip,” he’s “glorified in song and fable.”

    I hate to bring the tone of today’s debate down to the level of mudslinging, but if the print of THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW in this box set is dull and muddy and the two non American releases are much sharper, what difference does the aspect ratio make? One would definately rather have one of those others, assuming that a multi region player is not an issue. Then, this box set is either worthwhile to you sans THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW or it isn’t.

  • Peter Henne

    David Hare, Clearly, the defenders are holding onto the Universal because it’s the best they’ve got for maintaining Academy, not because the release is optimal. I really think your rebuttal to Paul borders on disingenuous, and at the least it isn’t charitable.

    Respectfully, there is some pontificating from the other side. “Believe me because I say so.” On the other hand, it seems like the people defending 1.33, admittedly with various arguments amongst themselves, are writing out their reasons, discussing both details from the film and overall aesthetic positions that are not simply stated by fiat but worked out to some degree. It’s interesting to me that the 1.33 defenders have talked even-handedly about the pluses for 1.85 and have shown that they are open-minded in considering whatever evidence can be brought forth, not just hand-picked selections. My feeling is that I’ve written a good deal of content about seeing THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW in Academy. Especially with my time constricted this week, I can’t think of too much to add.

  • david hare

    Peter Im sorry if I seem disingenuous, but that was not my intention. Sarcasm doesnt come that easily to me.

    I am trying to make the sole point that the Universal R1 transfer of TAT is NOT the full 1.37 exposed aperture. It is obviously cropped on the sides, in fact it is a 1.33 “re-mask” which – I would hazard an educated guess – is a made for TV print (the weak image quality also belies its provenance on the vault shelf.) There are undoubtedly full aperture open matte prints available and it would have been absolutely great by me to get THAT version on the Uni set – I would have bought it for completion certainly , just as it was worthwhile for anyone who was interetsed enough to buy the Carlotta 1.33 full open matte Magnificent Obsession to “balance” (or whatever verb you want to use) the otherwise universal releases (pardon pun) of the 2.00 mask on the Criterion and the Madman and UK versions.

    Peter, how often have we all ended up agreeing that in the best possible scenario dual sided/dual versions of these titles is the best way to go on DVD.

  • Peter Henne

    David, Then we’re almost on the same page, and I’m really glad for that. Blake Lucas has also suggested double-sided discs as the answer. I’m all for it.

    The screen captures have been helpful in exposing the vertical cropping on the Universal. Taking a guess, it looks like around 5 per cent is lopped off or masked out. I’m not trying to engage the debate further, David, but that’s why I’ll take my 95 per cent or so of the top and bottom of the frame. I think you can sympathize that I see my glass almost completely full where image size is concerned… but especially since, from my point of view, any of the PALs supplement this deficiency, within the middle range on view.

    I agree, too, the image looks somewhat dark and fuzzy on the Universal captures (I don’t have this set yet), while the Carlotta (which I have) is remarkably sharp. I believe Dave K.’s hypothesis the Universal’s source is a television broadcast print is correct. Could they have done better? That’s out of my expertise.

    Taking a cue from what you just said, though departing from your conviction in the superiority of 1.85, I would recommend people with the means get both, one of the 16×9 imports (Masters of Cinema is another one) and the Universal. I say that because, with trending going toward filling up widescreen televisions, I have my doubts we’ll see a vault print with the full 1.33 ratio sourced and come to DVD. And one of the ways the film should be seen is in widescreen. I’ve never said otherwise.

    David, I think we just shook hands on our differences. I sincerely hope so.

  • James Steffen

    I’m not sure that Universal could be convinced to do new transfers of (true) open-matte versions of some of the Sirk films or TOUCH OF EVIL, but I agree that it would be fascinating to have them for comparison’s sake. They would make great tools for studying image composition and the filmmaking process.

    Considering the radical difference in transfer quality between the European PAL DVDs of THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW and the U.S. full-frame DVD, I almost would have preferred Universal to convert the existing PAL widescreen transfer to NTSC, despite the inevitable artifacts that would have resulted.

    And I agree, based on the screen grabs the U.S. DVD looks like a TV print or an older transfer done for cable. When will Universal realize the value of their Sirk library?

  • david hare

    So am I Peter.

    Pete, one last TAT thing, unrelated to ARs. Nick at MoC looked hard for an HD (2k or higher) master for BluRay which is now their preferred delivery format, but Universal’s vault master 1.85 matte telecine for TAT is not quite up to standard for 1080p, good as it is – this becomes more apparent the larger you blow the image. So there may or may not be an Archival master print from which this could be derived. That damn “fire” again.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Off subject, but we’ve had Henry King discussions here:

    His 1935 remake of Way Down East is on Fox Movie Channel tomorrow (4:30 AM PDT, assuming they time shift 7:30 EDT). In my 10 years of getting the channel, this is the first time they’ve shown this.

  • Steve Elworth

    Tom, let us know what the King WAY DOWN EAST is like.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘I’m not sure that Universal could be convinced to do new transfers of (true) open-matte versions of some of the Sirk films or TOUCH OF EVIL, but I agree that it would be fascinating to have them for comparison’s sake. They would make great tools for studying image composition and the filmmaking process.’

    James, there is open-matte version of TOUCH OF EVIL 1998 version in VHS format. There is previous versions in VHS format, also open-matte.

    Why Universal making open-matte VHS 1998 version I do not know, but it exists.

  • James Steffen

    Junko, I didn’t know about the open-matte VHS of the 1998 Schmidlin version, thanks! I have the older version on laserdisc.

    The Sirk 50s films have been available for some time in older, open-matte transfers for TV/cable and were shown regularly on AMC years ago. However, they also had various degrees of cropping like what we see on the open-matte DVD of THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW. Thus, if someone is interested to experiment with framing the films in different aspect ratios to see what looks best those videos can’t really serve as a reference.

  • nicolas saada

    These discussions on aspect ratio prove how difficult it is to now watch a film in its proper format. We talked about this on the TOUCH OF EVIL thread, with some pretty harsh discussions between the posters.
    My feeling-as always-is to try and let the directors pf photography have their eyes on these releases. They should know better . I has asked Cinematographer Willy Kurant (AN IMMORTAL STORY and unfinished projects by Wells) what he thought of the 1:85 masking of TOUCH OF EVIL. Willy was positive that it was far too tight and agreed that 1:66 was as tight as it could get on this film. It also is logical in regard of the 1:66 aspect ratio of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT and THE TRIAL.
    The Hitchcock films here like MARNIE, THE BIRDS and TORN CURTAIN have been released on dvd in 1:33, to many reviewers ‘ dismay. I even read articles about those releases stating that the films had been “pan and scanned” which they were not. I still remember the “pan and scan” laments of the VHS ages. We now entered the “widescreen” age of 16X9 televisions. And the French release of Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER is 1/85 in France.
    here is another reason to lose one’s mind on this issue : comparisons between the 1.85 and the 1/33 releases of THE BIRDS and TORN CURTAIN


    I have an answer for this : 1/66

    And here are 1:66 caps of SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and KISS ME DEADLY

    It seems perfect : not too tight and not too wide either. (compare with Welles TOE)

    The thing is that 1:66 is not 16X9 friendly, it does not correspond to the crazy 1:78 aspect ration of most of widescreen televisions, which have become the reference of most aspect ratios of the DVD we buy today.

    Interesting too: the Anthony Mann western THE FAR COUNTRY made at Universal was released “full frame” by Universal then rereleased in 1:85.. Is 1:66 another answer, again ?

    Endless, endless….

  • Rick K.

    KISS ME DEADLY was released on laserdisc in 1.33:1, later remastered at 1.66:1, which was also used for the DVD (without anamorphic enhancement). Still later, when Martin Scorsese used clips from it in his PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES, they were at 1.33:1. When Scorsese was questioned about this, he defended the 1.33:1 aspect ratio as the correct choice. Which doesn’t really solve or add anything to the arguments about THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW, TOUCH OF EVIL etc, but heck, it was Martin Scorsese talking about aspect ratios, so there you have the qualified opinion of a world renowned master filmmaker with a comment on the subject!

  • I haven’t much time, as usual these days, but somebody mentioned PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (or MENSCHEN AM SONNTAG). It’s a very fine film, and available on DVD in the UK, released by BFI.

    I need to have another Siodmak retro soon. I’m not convinced yet that he is great, only that he is good. And it’s the same with Sirk. With Barbara Stanwyck though I need no further proof. She’s greatness embodied.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Per earlier request –

    Henry King’s rarely shown Way Down East (1935) – one of the last Fox films before the merger with 20th Century, and, released shortly after the famous Variety Sticks Nix Hick Pix headline – is an uneven affair. The mixture of Griffith Victorian drama and King’s less rigorous morality and more sympathetic outlook on small-town life doesn’t gel well.

    The standout element though is Ernest Palmer’s camera work – several outstanding scenes, including shots capturing two sides of a window, and several fine tracking shots in crowd (social situations – dance, dinner and so on).

    The ice floe climax is recreated, although with Rochelle Hudson (in the Gish role) only being shot in rear projection. There is some real stunt work, although not sure if it wasn’t lifted from elsewhere

    This was Henry Fonda’s second film (after the similar The Farmer Takes a Wife. He could have been pidgeonholed in such roles, but his ease in a leading role in a film for one of Fox’ top directors clearly benefited him (King used him a few years later in Jesse James).

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, as a committed Hawkesian, I’ve always felt that if you were good enough, the question of greatness was all but superfluous.

    I know that I saw saw the Henry King version of WAY DOWN EAST because I have it checked off in his filmography, but I can’t seem to recall anything specific about it. About all I could say for certain is that it is better than his version of SEVENTH HEAVEN, which, unfortunately, I do remember.

    I suppose you could say that King was to Fox what Curtiz was to Warners. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art did a massive King series way back when seemingly in lieu of doing a studio series. I’m not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but I’ve never much cared for Fox or King. Once you get past the inexplicable brilliance of MARGIE and some pretty good pre-merger items such as ONE MORE SPRING and OVER THE HILL, I really don’t see much of interest there. I’d be very interested in hearing from King supporters about what they feel I am missing in him.

  • King’s “Way Down East” seems particularly disappointing because he was coming off one of his very best films, the lovely “One More Spring” with its near-Borzagian blend of sexuality and spirituality. It may have been a troubled production: the AFI Catalog indicates that Janet Gaynor (brilliant in “One More Spring”) had been cast in the Gish part but dropped out after she suffered a minor concussion from bumping foreheads with Fonda (which does sound dangerous). The AFI also notes “According to news items, Henry King filmed ice-jam and breakup scenes on the Kennebec and Death rivers near Watersville, Maine in March 1935 with unit manager A. F. Erickson and Ed Hammeras, whose job was unspecified. “

  • Dave, thank you for singling out the exceptional INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY (what a terrible title!) in your piece. The film’s (essentially) opening take is quite noteworthy – Santell’s camera moves through the open hospital interior, selecting a series of doctor-patient subjects for just over 2:15 – particularly since this film wasn’t released five years earlier, when it seems such mobile incipient passages were more in vogue. There certainly is a whiff of the earlier sound experimental phase to the film. Also, as I believe someone noted on the previous comments page, the sets are really quite wonderful; the bar is especially robust with its intricate woodwork and frosted glass.

    The fact that INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY is so unexpectedly rewarding makes the presentation of THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW, for my money one of the director’s two supreme masterpieces with WRITTEN ON THE WIND, all the more disappointing. I really am not one to buy many DVDs, but would have certainly considered doing so on this occasion to own both that film and ALL I DESIRE… with INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY being a very surprising bonus in that case. But to me the quality of the image in particular is inexcusable, and a real deal-breaker; I have seen one of the foreign box sets and can further attest to its superiority. I’m sure there aren’t so many people that would make this same consumer choice, but then again, I can’t imagine anyone passing on it because of its crisper image and original theatrical ratio.

    Oh well, I have no real inclination to join in the aspect ratio debate… I am ill-equipped, and not so overly interested. Really I just wanted to vent and chime in on another great Dave Kehr recommendation. OTHER MEN’S WOMEN and HOT SATURDAY among others definitely made my film viewing in 2009 that much more rewarding, as have the many films I have watched (and critically pillaged) from your top ten lists over the past few years. I would be far worse for not spending the time viewing and reviewing many of your favorites, really on that basis, whether it is Eastwood, A. Brooks, Demme or Zemeckis. I’m not sure if my similar conclusions entail a conscious emulation or not, but either way thanks, and if it does, my slightly embarrassed apologies.

  • On that title INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY:
    The original short story appeared in a “slick magazine”, Cosmopolitan (no relation to today’s woman’s mag). Reading the slicks was virtually a secular religion in that era. One out of every ten Americans read the best known slick, the Saturday Evening Post. Their writers were as famous as best selling authors today – maybe more so. Hollywood studios frequently adapted works from the slicks. And perhaps they felt the story had name recognition.

    Slicks were named after the glazed paper on which they were printed. This allowed elaborate color illustrations, both of the text and in ads. Most magazines today are now on similar glazed paper, such as Time, Newsweek, etc. Exceptions: puzzle mags with crosswords or Sudoko, and mystery and science fiction mags: these are all on unglazed newsprint.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well I always thought that INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY was one of the great truisms of secular life. You know, sort of like IT’S A BIKINI WORLD.

  • Thank you for those kind words, Michael Anderson. Let me also recommend Michael’s excellent blog — it’s much more than that, really — for those who don’t know it already. You can find it here.

    Coincidentally, I’ve just learned that, for those of you in the New York area, “Internes Can’t Take Money” will be screened in a new 35-millimeter print at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village on May 21, 22 and 23 as part of an unlikely but well programmed series titled “Good Meds, Bad Med: American Health Care on Screen.” The program, which includes Minnelli’s hard-to-see “The Cobweb,” is here.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Dave – I neglected to look up the AFI entry, but almost mentioned in my note on Way Down East like the role seemed like a natural for Janet Gaynor.

    Interesting that they did film in Maine – the sequence is very sloppily presented (as opposed to the Griffith of course); they likely felt they couldn’t get away without doing it (although other than critics would much of the audience have been aware of it, the Griffith film being a distant memory if even known by many moviegoers?)

  • dm494

    Nicolas wrote: “The thing is that 1:66 is not 16X9 friendly, it does not correspond to the crazy 1:78 aspect ratio of most of widescreen televisions…”

    Is there a way to get a pillarboxed 1:66 image on a widescreen TV? I can’t bear to watch a 1:66 image in 1:78, but nothing I’ve tried with my TV or DVD player gives me either a 1:66 pillarbox or a 1:66 letterbox inside a pillarboxed 1:33 frame.