Blu-ray has quickly become the fastest and bestselling format in home entertainment history. I am quite obsessed with it as is obvious from this site. Among the incredible release slate in the past year and indeed plans for releases in 2012, one thing is certain. Classic films have become somewhat of a priority for studios. The sheer amount of classic catalog titles being released is impressive and most welcome. So I am here today to let you in on some of the best so far.
The first place to go when discussing classic film has to be Hitchcock. Last year we saw a couple of stellar initial releases with Psycho from Universal and North by Northwest by Warner Home Video. Both films had phenomenal transfers and a wealth of great special features. This year it is not even March yet and we have seen four more Hitchcock’s find their way to Blu-ray.
First up is MGM’s triple threat of Notorious, Spellbound and Rebecca. All three are spectacular examples of classic style Hitchcock with Notorious and Spellbound being great thrillers and Rebecca being a great gothic horror. The transfers on all three are stellar and well done, although they don’t measure up to the meticulous restorations done by Universal and Warner. But these films are also older, so it has to be taken in stride. Still, the Blu-ray presentations are by far the best the films have ever looked. Spellbound is the least impressive of the bunch with an overall softness that takes away some of the details, but Notorious and Rebecca are gorgeous. Fantastic detail, really nice black levels and great clarity abound, especially for films that are, as in Rebecca’s case, over 70 years old. It constantly floors me that a film that old can look this good. Storywise I tend to favor Spellbound, it is a great amnesia/identity crisis story that is carried with style by Gregory Peck in a fantastic performance and with the leading lady being the great Ingrid Bergman and you can’t lose. It has tons of twists and turns, great locations and a nice pace. Great thriller overall.
Notorious is more of a spy thriller and a great one at that. We again get Bergman at her glowing best, this time with Cary Grant as the leading man. The story revolves around Bergman’s character supposed connection to Nazi secrets through her father who was accused of being a Nazi spy. Grant is a spy out to use Bergman for his own means and infiltrate a Nazi group in Rio. The chemistry is fantastic between the two leads and the espionage story is fast paced and intriguing. A solid thriller. The Blu-ray is very nice and a few notches above Spellbound in terms of overall picture quality. Nice detail is throughout and the picture is fairly clean and bright.
Rebecca is perhaps the best known of the three titles and a fantastic gothic horror film. Joan Fontaine plays a woman who married a wealthy man while working in Monte Carlo. After the marriage, her new husband Max takes her to his home, a sprawling gothic estate known as Manderley. Once at the spooky mansion, she encounters a strange housekeeper named Mrs. Danvers and finds out Max’s first wife, Rebecca, died in a boating accident the year before. Everyone in the house seems to be obsessed with the memory of Rebecca, with her ghost possibly even haunting Manderley. The one drawback to Rebecca is that it is very slow paced throughout, but that aside, it is a wonderful looking film with tons of gothic atmosphere and a slow building mysterious story. Laurence Olivier is wonderfully offsetting as Max and Joan Fontaine is suitably distressed as the new Mrs. de Winter. But the Oscar winning performance in this Oscar winning Best Picture is Judith Anderson as the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. From the start you think she knows more than she lets on. Her performance is the highlight of the film for sure. The picture quality is the best of the bunch with excellent detail, deep black levels and crisp lines. At 72 years old, it is stunning to watch.
As far as classics go, there is more to the Blu-ray releases than just Hitchcock. One of the other great standouts for me isn’t even a movie but a television series. If you are a fan of the original Twilight Zone series from Rod Serling, time to rejoice. All five seasons are now available from Image Entertainment and you simply will not believe your eyes. I watched Twilight Zone throughout my childhood and the year after and I don’t remember them every looking like this. I was especially surprised since this is coming from a broadcast source and not a motion picture studio. The results are staggering. In viewing the most recent season, season 5, I was blown away episode after episode. Season 5 contains such classics as Nightmare at 20,000 Feet with William Shatner, Steel with Lee Marvin, based on the Richard Matheson which has recently been adapted into the movie Real Steel and Living Doll with Telly Savalas, a great evil talking doll story with Savalas playing a total bastard of a stepfather. Each episode I watched looked better than the last with unbelievable clarity, astounding detail and beautiful blacks and greys for a picture that goes beyond impressive. These sets are the some of the best classic restorations I have ever seen and are well worth the money for fans of the show. As you pop in each new disc it is literally like discovering the show for the first time. You really won’t believe your eyes.
There have been scores of other classic releases as well that have stunned in the quality department. Among the ones to make sure you check out are the 1925 Phantom of the Opera (87 years old and looks AMAZING!), Citizen Kane, An American in Paris, any classic Disney films, Night of the Hunter, The Ten Commandments, The Killing, 12 Angry Men, the list goes on and on. The point is don’t limit yourself to the new releases, there are fantastic timeless classics out there that look as good if not better today than they did when they were originally released and they are not to be missed. Restoring these films on Blu-ray is an important step in preserving these films for generations to come, ensuring that they are not forgotten and can be appreciated by film fans forever. Check out some of these recommended titles for yourself, you will be shocked how good a classic film can look. Have a movie night of classics and introduce them to friends that may not be familiar with them, that’s why they are here and why so much work was put into restoring and preserving them. They’re not called classics for nothing.