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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Horror > Murder > Mystery > Secret Plot > Film Noir > Literature > Crime > Murder > Assassination > Dead Ringer (1964)/The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946/Warner Blu-rays)/Suddenly (1954/Image Blu-ray)/Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962/Warner Blu-ray DigiBook edition)

Dead Ringer (1964)/The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946/Warner Blu-rays)/Suddenly (1954/Image Blu-ray)/Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962/Warner Blu-ray DigiBook edition)


Picture: B     Sound: B- (Suddenly: C+)     Extras: B     Films: B (Suddenly: B-)



If you like thrillers, three must-see gems and a second Blu-ray of a near classic have all arrived in the high definition format you should strongly consider getting your hands on.



First we have the most underrated film on the list, Paul Henreid’s Dead Ringer (1964) featuring Bette Davis in an amazing performance as twin sisters, one rich and the other poor, who come into conflict after many years and that leads to something bad giving.  One of the creepiest of all films either Davis or Joan Crawford did after Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962, see below), Edith is the poor one who lives in a small place above a bar with the only good thing going for her, a relationship with a good guy (Karl Malden) who happens to be a police officer.  But Edith cannot take her life anymore and decides she ought to have a talk with rich, wealthy Margaret; one that will change the lives of all around for good.


Davis is remarkable as both characters managing to create two very separate personas with some of the most underrated work ever.  Henreid, the great longtime character actor and friend of Davis, does an amazing job of directing this as even darker and more disturbing than the already disturbing script would have it and performances are strong all around including supporting work from Peter Lawford, Estelle Winwood, Philip Carey and Kent Smith.


The film also asks many questions about wealth, happiness and identity throughout in a real intelligent winner.  With this solid new Blu-ray, I hope it is seriously rediscovered.  Extras include the Original Theatrical Trailer, terrific feature length audio commentary track by Charles Busch & Bette Davis Speaks author Boze Hadleigh and the vintage featurette Behind The Scenes At The Doheny Mansion.



Next is our oldest entry produced by MGM in 1946, Tay Garnett’s hit adaptation of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice may not be the most graphic version of the all-time classic (the 1981 Bob Rafelson/Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange version could claim that, as well as Luchino Visconti’s Obsessione (his debut film!) from 1943 made a few years earlier that may be closer to the book) or the most accurate, but it is the one that continues to be as remembered as any of them.  Why?


It was a commercial and critical hit, it was the biggest studio in Hollywood (MGM) making a Film Noir that was very shocking for its time, it was & still is great filmmaking, it was from a compelling classic novel and it had two great leads in John Garfield and especially Lana Turner, who suddenly became competition for sex symbol of the moment against Rita Hayworth.  He plays a man lured by the need for money… and other needs when he meets a beautiful blonde (Turner) who oozes sex without trying, is actually married, he is instantly hooked and thanks to her, cannot stay out of trouble.  Too bad for him he doesn’t know what he has just gotten into!


It is a marvel of narrative economy, censorship dodging and suspense throughout as event he biggest studio succumbs to making a film in the greatest genre Hollywood never invented as audiences continued to look for more realism thanks to the events of WWII.  We also have a great supporting cast including Hume Cronyn and Cecil Kellaway, the film starts simply, then slowly builds and from the beginning, once you start watching, you cannot stop.  Garfield is convincing and Turner so stunning it made her a permanent Hollywood legend.


One of the most imitated and referenced Film Noirs of all time, Warner has given the film a top rate Blu-ray release with extras that include an Introduction by Richard Jewell, Original Theatrical Trailer, Phantoms Inc. live-action short, classic MGM animated short Red Hot Riding Hood, Screen Guild Theater Broadcast and two featurettes: Lana Turner… A Daughter’s Memoir and The John Garfield Story.  66 years later and counting, this Postman continues to haunt world cinema and remains a high watermark that everyone trying to make any kind of Noir is aspiring too, even when they don’t know it.  Nice to see it again!


Now for a look at a second Blu-ray edition of Lewis Allen’s thriller Suddenly (1954) with Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden in this presidential assassination thriller.  We just looked at a restored version on Blu-ray from Film Chest at this link:




Now we have a new version that claims to be “transferred from original 35mm studio fine grain master print” materials and the result is a better looking and sounding version of the film, but with a few catches, but more on that in the technical section below.


I actually enjoyed Tom Santopietro’s feature length audio commentary track on the first edition, but Image Entertainment has added two feature length audio commentary tracks to drive and purchase this version.  One is from no less that Frank Sinatra Jr. himself, while the other is from the great film scholar Drew Casper, both are also excellent listens and it is too bad we could not have all three commentaries on one disc.  We also get an Image Gallery and short film N.Y., N.Y.: A Day In New York (1957) directed by Francis Thompson that makes for a nice additional extra.



Last but not least, we have Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962), his huge hit thriller with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as former showbiz child stars who now live alone in their slowly decaying mansion and how Jane (Davis) constantly torments Blanche (Crawford) while dreaming of a comeback and hell bent on doing so at any cost.


Originally turned down by every studio in town, Warner eventually picked it up as distributor only and it was a big critical and commercial hit that landed up being imitated for years, revived the careers of both actresses and was the first film to be able to cash in on the blockbuster success of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).  Also shot in stylized black and white by Director of Photography Ernest Heller, A.S.C. (who also lensed Dead Ringer above), Frank De Vol comes up with one of his darkest scores and the atmosphere is uniquely palpable.


Davis and Crawford turn out top notch going for Tina Turner-broke and the film quickly becomes a stunning suspense classic unto itself, including reflecting the decline of old Hollywood like nothing since Sunset Blvd. (1950), though it is not a Film Noir either.  Davis’ performance influences many that followed including Anthony Hopkins in The Silence Of The Lambs (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the supporting cast including Victor Buono as a creepy opportunist who promises to help Jane have a new hit record & comeback, Anna Lee, Wesley Addy and Bert Freed all bring together an ever-disturbing portrait of ego, delusion, loss and pain that hit a nerve.  It holds up very well and is too often ignored by the current Horror community in one of their many mistakes of late.  They and many others are missing a true classic.


Walter Hill is planning to do a big screen remake of the film but has not cast it as of the posting.  He’ll try to do something different we guess, but if we could make suggestions, Sigourney Weaver and Debra Winger would be at the top of our lists.  Yet another reason to see the original is to see it before the remake is made.


Extras in this DigiBook edition includes a nicely illustrated built-in booklet on the film including an essay, stills, poster art, a quiz and other high quality illustrations, while the Blu-ray adds the Original Theatrical Trailer, a Dan-O-Rama movie mix of the film, 1962 Davis appearance clip to promote the film on The Andy Williams Show, feature length audio commentary track by Charles Busch & John Epperson and three documentary profiles: Bette & Joan: Blind Ambition, the Jodie Foster hosted All About Bette and Film Profile: Joan Crawford.



The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Ringer and Jane, plus 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Postman are from great black and white prints with real silver content all looking good and even great for their age.  We even get demo material in some shots and it reminds us how great black and white can look in high definition, even finally showing audiences how great monochrome film always was.  You cannot shoot films this way any more and no HD camera can imitate this or ever will.  Postman takes the MGM gloss and darkens it, while Ringer and Jane are late examples of the Warner grit that was also upscale.  Any serious home theater or HD playback needs and deserves such excellent material and much work has been done to clean and upgrade all of them without ruining their original look.


The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Suddenly is better than the previous, similar Blu-ray transfer from Film Chest, except in one way.  Though we get better detail, depth, smoothness and overall clarity, Video Black can be lacking in some shots, but this is now the best presentation of the film (especially as compared to its many awful DVD versions, being a public domain film and all) to date so it is the best performer and the rounded edges might bother some but it was not a problem for this viewer.


All four Blu-rays happen to have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 lossless tracks and in the case of the three warner releases, it is a big step up from the lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono on the older DVD editions, especially on Jane, which was one of the studio’s first back catalog DVDs.  The result is that all three films sound warmer and better than they ever have before.  As for Suddenly, this is an improvement in clarity and detail from the Film Chest Blu-ray, but still sounds a little restricted, dated, limited in dynamic range and shows its age.

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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