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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Spaghetti Western > Italy > Spain > Politics > Revolution > Comedy > Adventure > Literature > Acti > A Bullet For The General (1968/aka Quien Sabe?/Blue Underground Blu-ray)/Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Red Tails (2012/LucasFilm/Fox DVD)

A Bullet For The General (1968/aka Quien Sabe?/Blue Underground Blu-ray)/Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition/First Edition Blu-ray)/Red Tails (2012/LucasFilm/Fox DVD)

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

PLEASE NOTE: Included here is the first of two limited editions of the Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959) Blu-ray limited to 3,000 copies (the first one covered here sold out) and the replacement edition is available exclusively at the Screen Archives website while supplies last. The order site can be reached at the link at the end of this review. You can read about the upgraded version at this link:


The idea of a widescreen film opened up narrative possibilities and created a new sense of pure cinema ranging from additional artistic to more commercial possibilities. The following three films show both sides of this.

One of the few really memorable Spaghetti Westerns outside of those made by Sergio Leone, Damiano Damiani's A Bullet For The General (1968) takes place during the Mexican Revolution with a gang led by El Chucho (Gian Maria Volonté, who also appeared in A Fistful Of Dollars on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) with an odd wildman (a scene-stealing Klaus Kinski) and sexy, able-bodied lady (Martine Beswick of the Bond films) in tow, stealing guns for the rebel opposition and joined by an enterprising American gentleman (Lou Castel) who has is own interests that are initially unknown.

Though there are clichéd moments and some moments that feel familiar, acting, energy and some audacity helps keep this from becoming as silly as the hundreds of other Leone imitators. As well, it has a score by no less than Ennio Morricone (who scored all of Leone's films) and screenplay by Franco Solanas, who wrote the political classic The Battle Of Algiers (reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) so this is a rare, formidable other film from the subgenre like Django (also out on Blu-ray from Blue Underground, also reviewed on this site) that all fans should see once.

We get the longer International Version, which runs 3 minutes more than the U.S. version and is better, because those few minutes add to the exposition and do not disrupt the pace and feel of the film as the U.S. version does, but you can compare for yourself. It has been a while since I have seen this and it held up better than I expected.

Extras include a bonus DVD with a nearly two-hour documentary on Volonté called Gian Maria Volonté: Un Attore Contra, meaning he was opposed to everything. This rich, detailed, impressive biography covers his life, his very leftist politics, how it landed up making him a better actor and making more challenging films. Only watch it after seeing this movie and know that optional English captioning is available, though in a few spots, it is not captioned where it should be. The Blu-ray adds theatrical trailers, a Poster & Still Gallery and featurette A Bullet For The Director in which Director Damiani is interviewed.

That film was shot cheaply in Techniscope, but has tendencies good and bad to relish and bask in its widescreen images. Henry Levin's Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1959) was shot about a decade earlier in the more expensive CinemaScope process and tends to do the same thing (Techniscope had not been invented yet) and knows it is one of the first films to do so in the way it does this to show its importance. Shots are held longer, especially on set, but it was showing off for a reason. Films of Jules Verne's books had just been big hits, with Disney and Richard Fleischer hitting it big on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954, also in CinemaScope) with James Mason that is still a definitive version of that book and Around The World In 80 Days (1956) with David Niven in the even more spectacular Todd AO 70mm format.

Fox had a reason to believe their Journey would be a big hit and though it is not as good as those films, it has Mason, was a hit and also made money for them in constant re-release in later years until home video made such reissues useless and it was also on TV often. Twilight Time has issued the film in a Limited Edition Blu-ray and it is very comparable to the 35mm print I have seen, plus Fox fixed the film up the best they could from their archive as Rupert Murdoch has been putting out the money to enhance the studio's catalog, something he has done that is inarguably great. [Fox has since spent more money for a new upgrade for the new limited edition.]

Mason is an archeologist who takes on an assistant (Pat Boone in one of his rare, odd acting roles, that somehow matches the artifice of some of the sets) and with a female companion (Arlene Dahl) and third male hand (Peter Ronson) to the title locale. This can be fun, unintentionally funny and interesting, but it has also dated a good bit since I last saw it, yet there is something pleasant about seeing it no matter how bad it gets since there are no digital effects and you know the studio was backing this project seriously for it was not cheap to mount at the time.

Thanks to the score by Bernard Herrmann, which is here as an isolated music track, the film is a minor classic of the fantasy and adventure literature genre. If you don't have high expectations, you'll enjoy taking a look at this one but it still has aged more than even I thought it would. Diane Baker (The Silence Of The Lambs, who has since participated in the new audio commentary track for the new Blu-ray version), Thayer David and Alan Napier (Alfred on the 1960s Fox hit TV version of Batman) also star. The Original Theatrical Trailer and an illustrated booklet on the film including another informative essay by Julie Kirgo join the Isolated Music Score as the extras.

Showing that a mix of both sensibilities are still very much with us, Red Tails (2012) is a George Lucas/LucasFilm Ltd. Production about the Tuskegee Airmen that Lucas has been trying to get made for many, many years. Directed by Anthony Hemingway, a longtime TV director of note, the film is a more elaborate version of the same story told in the HBO telefilm (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) named after the famous air squadron battling Nazis and the Axis powers in 1944. The question is... what could this film do that that hit did not?

For one thing, outside of the obvious technology Lucas has at his dispose, this is a story that deserves a big screen presentation and for more than just the aerial fighting. Despite being obviously digital, the editing style not only harkens back to the oldest Scope War films from the 1950s, but WWII and even WWI War genre films with airplanes before them and of the first Star Wars films, especially the 1977 classic, particularly in its original edit. In that way, it is long overdue and though this is hard history, the film treats the subject like an action film, whether it be Star Wars or the Indiana Jones films.

In one way, it is nice to see this in a commercial film, something we should be seeing all the time by now, but are not. Lucas rightly complained that all the studios passed on the film, and none wanted to support it, including implying that racism had something to do with it. I agree and Fox finally did because of their relationship with Lucas and being it is a scope film sometimes in the tradition of the first ones for which they were responsible for making and debuting the format that itself was seen as a gimmick at first before becoming an international industry standard.

However, the screenplay is a mix of contradictory sensibilities that do not always gel and that is where it gets into trouble. It is about serious history including racism and genocide, but it is also a feel-good, sometimes carefree action film that may somewhat trivialize unintentionally the seriousness of its subject. It also has its share of formula, clichéd moments, wooden acting and situations that do not always ring true. Still, it is worth taking a look at for what does work and because at its best, it also shows us the other side of George Lucas.

This side is the serious filmmaker who is about progress and innovation that has to do with much more than digital technology and visual effects, but people and a better future where technology does not override people, democracy and better things. We have not seen this from Lucas as director since American Graffiti and parts of the first two Star Wars films, or from him as producer since he backed Francis Coppola's Tucker: The Man & His Dream in 1988. It is also a socially conscious Lucas who has been far too absent since the 1980s and from the opening text of this film (so bold, you will be shocked, but sadder still since few people could get a film made with such a beginning when that should not be the case) to the best parts of this uneven work, that was enough for this to hold up against the HBO version and make for a fine flipside to it, even if it was not as good overall.

The cast of mostly unknown actors work and are supported by performances by Terence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Gerald McRaney and Bryan Cranston but no, it is not everything I had hoped for. However, Red Tails is intended to be a big screen experience and in the face of so many bad blockbusters, it is a better work and worth a good look. A Making Of featurette is the only extra, but see it after watching the film.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Bullet and Earth are about even, both showing their age, some grain, some print flaws and some color limits, but both are also restorations that have gone far enough to have the films look as good as they could without another million spent on each to save them. Both come from the best materials available and look as film like as possible, though Bullet was originally issued in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor film prints (actual prints go for big money now) and the color here does not always look as wide-ranging. The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Tails has its own color range limits since it is a DVD and it is a all-digital video shoot, but it is also on Blu-ray, so if you enjoy that format, get it that way instead.

Sound is also even on the three releases with the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 Mono lossless Italian and English tracks on Bullet sounding as good as the film is likely ever going to, including the fact that it was all dubbed in post-production. Each has different music and sound effects placement at times. Earth was originally a 4-track magnetic sound theatrical film release with traveling dialogue and sound effects, but even though it is here in a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 4.0 Mono lossless mix, the dialogue and sound effects are in the center speaker more than I would have liked because the source is actually a restored Dolby SR (Spectral Recording) analog restoration master from a few years ago saving as much of the soundtrack as survived in the archive. It is still good, but has a weak soundfield despite some interesting surround activity that is somewhat monophonic in nature. The isolated Herrmann score sounds really good and is in stereo.

That leaves the Tails DVD with lossy-but-solid Dolby Digital 5.1 surround that has limits here, but would certainly sound better on the Blu-ray with lossless DTS-MA or Dolby sound of its own, so get that Blu-ray over this DVD if you can for that reason too. This was the first-ever 11.1 theatrical sound film release in the Auro format, now joined in theaters by Dolby Atmos, which has since been offered on select Blu-ray titles. Disney has since bought LucasFilm, so we'll see if Fox or Disney comes up with an 11.1 sound Blu-ray or upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray.

As noted above, Journey To The Center Of The Earth can be ordered while supplies last at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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