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THE LAST HURRAH : Ten Greatest Film Noirs of the 20th Century and their best physical releases here in the 21st Century!

I have not put CASABLANCA or THIRD MAN on this list, because although they have noir elements, there is an A picture scope to them in terms of not just budget but aspiration, that transcends the conventions of the noir, they ultimately tell larger tales than the fall or redemption of a single man, which is the heart of the noir aesthetic.

With that caveat aside, onto the list.

  1. MALTESE FALCON (1941)

  2. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

I don’t love the cover art for the Eureka release of Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (I think they should have gone with the art used for DVD and other releases) , but the film itself is magnificent, one of the greatest film noirs of all time. And a very good Blu-ray release. It is currently the must own version of this film.

3. MURDER MY SWEET (1944)

4. KISS ME DEADLY (1955)

5 DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (1995)

Walter Mosley’s DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS remains a watershed book, in many ways improving on the pulp noir and film noir roots laid by writers like Hammett And Chandler. As someone who has read the book, listened to the audio book, and seen the film, Director and Screenwriter Carl Franklin’s take on DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS is just as watershed a film. With a stellar cast, the film is Noir distilled, while being one of the most beautiful color films, and is endlessly watchable and compelling. Indicator Films finally releases this film on Blu-ray, with Booklet and one newer special feature… a charming 2018 Interview– Carl Franklin: DANCING WITH THE DEVIL. That said I do wish they had sprung for new interviews and commentaries to go along with the ported features from the original 20 year old DVD; but that aside this is a must own limited-special edition release, that is  25 years in the making.

6. LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

7. THE BIG HEAT (1953)

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8. THE BIG SLEEP (1946)

9. I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941)

While ostensibly 1941’s MALTESE FALCON is recognized as the first FILM NOIR, this film, I WAKE UP SCREAMING, made at the same time as MALTESE FALCON, actually is the first film to put together all the iconic elements we would later associate with film noir.

In addition to the Femme Fatale, and the morally challenged protagonist, this film adds the heavy use of shadows, the Venetian blinds, the stylish dutch and off-center shooting angles, in essence the visual language of film noir shows up first in this least heralded of films. And with a winding script that keeps you shifting your belief of “who done it” from one character to another, and some strange and compelling performances and laudable direction, you end up with a film that deserves to be better known.

 

10. RAW DEAL (1948)

Being the single best of Anthony Mann’s and John Alton’s magnificent collaborations makes RAW DEAL a must for any top ten list. This special edition, complete with booklet  is a must own release.

Well, that’s it my top 10 list.

2020 saw all ten of these films available on quality, feature rich Blu-Ray releases (eff barebone, questionable quality 4K releases — I despise the “no interior artwork, lacking new artwork” 4k releases. I also blame 4k for the further fragmentation and dwindling of a market, that can not survive anymore fragmentation. If you are going to do UHD releases, release them with the Blu-Ray and/or DVD in multi-packs. You eliminate having to have a DVD market and a Bluray Market and a UHD market, and the associated expenses of trying to package for 3 different formats ) for the first time in the relatively short history of physical media. And arguably by the end of 2021 these ten movies will never again all be available in quality, feature rich, physical media versions.

I hope that will not be the case, but hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

If you want these films in physical media, pick all ten up today, while they are still in stock. Click the images to be taken to the movies in question.

If  you have enjoyed this post, then like, subscribe and come back for more of our coverage of physical media and the… Last Hurrah.

Update to my review on Warner Archives CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN!

A few posts back I recommended the Warner Brothers Archive distributed, Hammer Studios made CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN disc, but did point out an issue with its aspect issue. That the so-called wide screen 1:85 version is ‘fake’ widescreen, that basically just zooms in and crops information on the sides and top of the film, and that the 1:66 version is superior to the 1:85 version.

While that is true as far as it goes, I have just seen the special features on the 2nd disc, and the light bulb goes off. The primary feature on this disc is the movie in 1:37, basically 4:3, tv frame. This film was shot to maintain the 4:3 standard, that was very much still the standard for cinema. The viewers they used to frame their shots, everything was 4 by 3. Widescreen in the 1950s was very much a hail Mary, to try and bring people back to the cinemas by giving them something they could not get in their homes… widescreen.

And where widescreen would be used to real effect, by filmmakers as the years went on, watching the 1:37 print, from frame effing one it is clear, this is how the film was meant to look. From the first frame you can see the castle at the top of the screen that the rider is climbing up the mountain toward. a castle that is not discernible in the 1:8 version and you can just make out the bottom of on the 1:66 version.

In the 1:33 version you can clearly see the destination the rider is heading toward. And the rest of the movie is likewise perfectly framed, you no longer get the horses ears getting cut out of the frame, or the tops of people’s heads touching the top of the screen or being clipped out of the frame.

I knew the moment I saw the 1:8 version that it was missing detail. The 1:66 version gave us some of that detail back, the 1:33 finally gives us all the story… and the scales fall from our eyes.

Not only do you gain data on the top and bottom of the frame, you also gain data on the sides. You gain all that information that had the picture feeling… lacking (to differing degrees) in the other two versions.

And the pictures looks great in this 4 by 3 version. I’m over-joyed they included the 1:33 version but am dismayed they relegated it to the special feature disc (that potentially most will not even know about), and the ‘legitimate’ versions will be touted as these fake wide-screen versions.

It actually makes me mad, that the superior version of the film, the 4 by 3 version, was not the marketable version. “Oh but everyone has a widescreen tv, and people don’t want the picture to not use all that widescreen real estate”, even if it means they are actually being sold an inferior viewing experience, under the guise that it is a superior standard.

Studio speak.

It reminds me of what is happening with 4K, People are sold this idea that 4k is a superior picture to Bluray, that is is 4 times as good picture wise, and as with fake widescreen, that is not true.

1st, the term 4K is a misnomer sold to idiots, it is not 4 times anything compared to Bluray. It can discern smaller pixels, so roughly twice more dots per inch. But that is about screen real estate, and is not picture quality. It is picture real estate that depending what you are looking at and how it is applied… could be a component of better picture quality, or not.

But as I’ve stated before, in real world situation on a 60″ or less tv, at a standard viewing distance you are not going to discern any notable difference in the resolution between HD and UHD (called inaccurately 4K). What you do notice is the bells and whistles they dress up the marginal difference with, ie Dolby Digital and/or HDR. And that is color grading. And that technology could have just as easily veen applied to Bluray, but then they could not have sold the masses on new Tvs and players.

UHD like Widescreen has the ability to be well used, but it also (as in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN) has the ability to be lip-service to quality, rather than a true qualitative improvement.

It depends if the people mastering these discs, are just interested in selling you a buzz word and a fad to get you to part with your money, or if they are actually interested and capable of recognizing a superior picture, and providing you that experience.

As with widescreen, sometimes the UHD/4K is just a buzzword with no value, and you are better off getting the 4:3 or Bluray version.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a great film, and if you have only seen it via the ‘wide-screen’ versions, go to disc 2 and watch the 1:33 version, and see what you have been missing. Highly Recommended!