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Category:    Home > Reviews > Film Noir > Crime > Drama > Literature > Western > Civil War > Kiss Me Deadly (1955/MGM/Criterion Collection Blu-ray) + Vera Cruz (1954/MGM Blu-ray)

Kiss Me Deadly (1955/MGM/Criterion Collection Blu-ray) + Vera Cruz (1954/MGM Blu-ray)


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



In the 1950s, Robert Aldrich had established himself as one of the top director’s in Hollywood and in a great sign of the health of the town, he was a gritty, cutting edge filmmaker whose work was challenging, mature and important.  Of course, recognition was not always there and not all of his films were hits, but he was consistent and one of the best filmmakers of the time.  He made two of his best films for United Artists in a row in the mid-1950s and now, they are arriving on Blu-ray at the same time in restored editions.


Vera Cruz (1954) co-stars Burt Lancaster (whose company co-produced the film and all on location in Mexico) as a cold, heartless, calculating cowboy Joe Erin who is out for himself and in the middle of what is shaping up to a Civil War between rich elites and a leftist uprising when he meets an older cowboy named Benjamin Trane (Gary Cooper) who has just barely survived the U.S. Civil War and was on the losing end as a Confederate Solider.  Trane meets Erin under odd circumstances and one of the sides of the brewing war over possession of a horse and its gets more interesting from there.


Before the Sergio Leone Westerns brought a raw new realism to the genre as it started to fall into decline, this was as raw and gritty as it got, putting up there with other key Westerns of the time including Broken Arrow, Johnny Guitar and Cooper’s classic High Noon.  Lancaster wanted a new kind of Western and between choosing a fledgling widescreen format (SuperScope, one of only 11 films shot that way and the most commercially successful of them all) and Cooper; he landed a film that has more going for it than it may at first seem to have going on in it.


It also has great locations, acting, action and a really good supporting cast that includes Cesar Romero, Ernest Borgnine, Denise Darcel, Sarita Montiel, George Macready, Jack Elam and a young Charles Bronson with few words of dialogue.  I would argue that this is a minor classic of the genre and more influential than it may first seem.  Cooper holds his own, Lancaster is in top form and the film has a flow lacking in so many films in the genre at that point as widescreen reverted Westerns back to B-movie fodder in some ways.


The following year, Aldrich would make what is his best film, my favorite (form someone who made many great ones) and a Film Noir that turned out to be the peak of the original cycle of Noirs (1941 – 1958) and it is also the best film that will ever be made of Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer material.  Kiss Me Deadly (1955) has the great Ralph Meeker as the toughest Hammer ever, determined to follow his case no matter what the cost, but even he cannot imagine what he is getting himself into as soon as he picks up a woman (Cloris Leachman in her film debut) who is actually a runaway escapee from a mental institute.  Someone is after her and to get to her, they also nab Mike.


Knocked out, he wakes up lucky to be alive in a hospital bed visited by his secretary Velda (Maxine Cooper) and that his hitchhiker was not so lucky.  However, this is just the very beginning as he intends to find out what the escapee knew that was so valuable to kill for and even with warnings, presses on.  This is a brilliant, influential all-time classic coming to Criterion from the happy surprise of MGM working with them again.  You know nothing about Noir until you see and understand this film.  Aldrich created a profound classic that has rarely been equaled, helped by an ever-stunning screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides, original plot and a great cast that also includes Albert Dekker, Wesley Addy, Paul Stewart, Juano Hernandez, Jack Elam, Gabby Rogers, Marion Carr and Nick Dennis.


Like all great classics, it just gets better with age.  See it to find out what “the great whatsit” is all about.



The 1080p 2.00 X 1 AVC @ 36 MBPS digital High Definition image on Cruz and 1080p 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image on Deadly are looking really good and far surpass all previous home video editions.  A good while ago, I was lucky to see a rare film screening of films MGM was restoring and these two films were among them.  These look like those restored prints, though I want to get specific about each.


Cruz was originally issued in three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor film prints (now serious collector’s items) and bad transfers have hurt this film over the years, but the restored clip I saw years ago looked great and many shots here are up to that quality.  Yes, there is optical printing that could not be cleaned up and a few rough shots, but when the print is at its best (which is often enough), it approximates real Technicolor, even if it is not always to the extent such a print would.  In the best shots, this shines and even stuns thanks to Director of Photography Ernest Laszlo, A.S.C., taking the initiative in using widescreen and Technicolor so artistically.


Deadly was shot in vivid Black & White with Director of Photography Ernest Laszlo, A.S.C. (back again), in the deep focus photography style that makes everything sharp, deep and clear, like 3D without the glasses.  Transferred from a 35mm fine grain master positive, there are some shots that might seem softer than they should be (which I have to hold it to, but it is not extensive), but this is also one of those Criterion Blu-rays that just gets better the larger the screen you play it back on.  Video Black is rich, Video White ivory-like and the detail at its best betrays the age of the film.  There are demo shots on both Blu-rays as well.


The PCM 1.0 Mono on Deadly is as clean as it has ever been and can show its age, but this was a well-recorded film for its time with advanced sound design at times for its time which comes through very well.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 2.0 Mono on Cruz can be a little rougher, but it is a year older and has location audio from Mexico that might hold it back.  Still, it too is cleaner than it has ever been before.


Extras on both include their Original Theatrical Trailer, while Deadly adds the usual high quality Criterion booklet (cleverly styled like a pulp novel) dedicated to the film with tech details, a classic article by Aldrich and new essay by J. Hoberman, plus the disc also adds a fine feature length audio commentary by film scholars Alain Silver & James Ursini worth hearing after seeing the film, new video introduction by Alex Cox, Video Pieces on the film’s locations, the ever-controversial alternate ending, an excerpt from the 2005 documentary The Long Haul Of A.I. Bezzerides and 1998 documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.


Hope this means more Aldrich will hit Blu-ray soon.  Get both of these in the meantime!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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