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Category:    Home > Reviews > Film Noir > Crime > Drama > The Prowler (1951/VCI DVD) + The Stranger (1946/Film Chest/HD Cinema Classics/Virgil Films Blu-ray)

The Prowler (1951/VCI DVD) + The Stranger (1946/Film Chest/HD Cinema Classics/Virgil Films Blu-ray)


Picture: C+/B- & C     Sound: C+     Extras: B/C-     Films: B-/B



No type of film needs more restoration attention than the original Film Noir releases from 1941 – 1958.  Often badly imitated and rarely equaled, many were independently made films and that includes many orphan films, as well as those that have fallen into public domain.  What follows are two restorations of two great films from the period.


First is Joseph Losey’s The Prowler (1951), with Van Heflin as a police officer who is up to no good, will kill to get what he wants and with a screenplay by the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, is a very dark work in the middle of the period.  Restored nicely by UCLA, it looks and sounds fine for its age and can really be enjoyed like nothing since its original 35mm release.


Heflin sets his sites on Evelyn Keyes as an actress who wants to have a better life, but gets caught up involved with him, not knowing at first that he is psychotic.  She calls the police thinking she is being watched and Heflin is one of the two cops who answer her call.  Then he starts to get closer and closer to her.


Though it has some conventions that Noir was developing at this point, there are dark, subtle and bold moments and details many may have missed before throughout and it is one of Losey’s best films.  Also amusing is Madge Blake (Aunt Harriett later on the 1960s Batman series) as Keyes’ mother.  Anyone serious about Noir will want to go out of their way for it.


The 1.33 X 1 black and white image is very clean, has great contrast, grey scale and decent Video Black for the format.  I just wish it were also available as a Blu-ray.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono has cleaned up the film as much as possible and the combination is engaging.



Then we have the latest edition of Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946), available for the first time on Blu-ray and in a DVD edition unique from all others.  We have covered the film twice in what is considered two of the best DVD editions as follows:





Roan Group DVD




This time, I enjoyed the film ore than I ever have before and after endless editions, this one offers two unique ways to see the film.  Unlike the 1.33 X 1 image on all past DVDs (plus VHS, Beta and 12” LaserDisc editions), the DVD here centers that frame in an anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 frame, but it is weak and pale being no match for the MGM or Roan DVDs.  Then there is the 1.33 X 1 1080p digital High Definition Blu-ray version that has already been getting criticized, but is better than you might think.


It is true that the cleanup may lack detail and have overdone it on eliminating the grain on the print.  However, I thought the Video Black, Video White and other aspects of depth and fullness were so good that it was not much different than the also-problematic Blu-ray Fox just issued of All About Eve I just reviewed.  Film Chest used 35mm elements and fixed them up about the best they could, but MGM actually is supposed to have the original camera negative (or like materials) and you can see some detail in their DVD not here.  However, unless MGM goes bonkers and lets Criterion do a deluxe edition of the film, I cannot imagine an MGM-only Blu-ray looking too much better, especially considering how some of those monochrome films of theirs in electronic chain exclusive Blu-rays have turned out.  Yes, this could look better, but it is as enjoyable as any edition until a better Blu-ray surfaces and I do not expect that for quite sometime.


Sound is another issue.  Instead of doing PCM 2.0 Mono, Film Chest has decided to go for Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Stereo mixes in both formats.  Of all the editions of the film ever issued, only a set called Citizen Welles (unreviewed, but interesting) tried this with the film before with mixed results.  The results here are much better because Film Chest has better audio materials and technology has improved to do this since that DVD set, but it is also better than the Dolby 2.0 because it has more bits of audio information.  It may not be perfect, but I like it because the sound from the film has never sounded so good.  Too bad they did not go for lossless sound, though.


Extras in both Noir releases include restoration pieces, though Stranger just shows a demo, while Prowler has a whole featurette devoted to it.  Stranger also has a new trailer, the bonus DVD and postcard with poster art inside the Blu-ray case, while Prowler adds a Photo Gallery, feature length audio commentary with Noir expert Eddie Muller and two more featurettes: The Cost Of Living: Creating The Prowler and Masterpiece In The Margins with director Bertrand Tavernier (Coup de torchon, ‘Round Midnight) talking about how great he thinks the film is.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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