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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Melodrama > WWI > Epic > Silent Film > Drama > Child Death > Disease > Africa > Deforestation > Love T > The Big Parade (1925/MGM/Warner Blu-ray)/Morning (2013/Anchor Bay DVD)/Oka! (2011/Well Go USA Blu-ray)/William Powell At Warner Bros. (1931 - 1934/Warner Archive DVD Set)

The Big Parade (1925/MGM/Warner Blu-ray)/Morning (2013/Anchor Bay DVD)/Oka! (2011/Well Go USA Blu-ray)/William Powell At Warner Bros. (1931 - 1934/Warner Archive DVD Set)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The William Powell DVD set is only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Here are a nice group of new dramas old and new...

King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925) is an epic intended to show the futility of war by being an epic tale about WWI (running 151 minutes) is the story of a wealthy man (John Gilbert in one of his most important roles) who goes to fight in The Great War because he believes it is the right thing to do and eventually finds more shock and horror than expected. It takes a while for the silent film screenplay to even get tot he battlefield because this is about the characters and in its time, was considered a major achievement, helping to put (along with Ben-Hur) the newly-formed MGM on the map. It worked and they became the #1 studio of the entire Classical Hollywood period.

It is a sprawling, ambitious film, even by today's standards, but it has dated in odd ways. It has some then-impressively well conceived battle sequences, but they pal in comparison to other WWI films made later, could only be so realistic for filmmaking of the time and in either case simply could not show all the horrors of what really happened. IN this, I give it latitude that this was about as realistic as they could show.

However, that brings me to what the film says. Vidor was trying to make an anti-war film, but the film is too safe and (by Vidor's own admission later) not explicit enough about this point, so by default, the film becomes a slightly right-of-center endorsement and inoculation of war that the makers did not necessarily intend. Despite this, it is one of the great silent films and showed Hollywood could make epic silent films like the other cinemas of the world, so it is very important in that context. Despite its flaws and length, everyone who loves film should see this one once and in a restored edition this impressive, that will be more pleasant than you'd think. Also, expect more song-based moments than you'd consider for the genre.

Extras include the 64-page booklet inside the covers of this DigiPak including an essay by Kevin Brownlow, while the Blu-ray adds a theatrical trailer, vintage 1925 short film tour of MGM and a feature length audio commentary track by film historian Jeffrey Vance with interview excerpts by Vidor himself.

Leland Orser's Morning (2013) has the longtime character actor directing an co-starring in this drama about a married couple (Orser and Jeannie Tripplehorn) not able to quite hold it together about their lives when their baby is suddenly dead. Done with some stretches of silence and with fine supporting appearances by Laura Linney, Eliott Gould, Jason Ritter and Kyle Chandler, the results are not bad, but it does not have the impact or conclusion you would expect for a film that seems to have something big to say and somehow does not quiet manage to say it.

Still, I liked the approach and though we have seen dramas on the subject, this is not bad. Sadly, there are no extras.

Lavina Currier's Oka! (2011) is roughly based on the true story of Louis Sarno (Kris Marshall) who is an extra on Africa and has visited there to do extensive studies for much of his life. Now diagnosed with an irreversible illness, he is going to join the Bayaka Pygmies and sadly, just in time to take on corporate raiding of their lands. The script has humor, intelligence and some good moments, but some of it is also more than a few moments we have seen before, yet it has to go where it goes to tell what it has to show and say.

The acting and directing is not bad and the look is decent, but it never totally adds up though it takes us some places we really have not been before. If you are curious, I don't think you'll be disappointed and it runs a tight 105 minutes.

A trailer is the only extra.

William Powell At Warner Bros. (1931 - 1934) features four of the nine films he made at the studio as he was a rising star at the time. These four films are a good sampling of Powell's early appeal, especially before Hollywood self-censorship set in. Powell was one of the sound era's first big stars. Not only did the camera like him,but his combination of carrying himself in a way that fit both a wealthy man and tough, streetwise man was perfect for Depression-era audiences and

this made him a fine fit for the films Warner put out. The films in this set include...

Alfred E. Greene's The Road To Singapore (1931) is a melodrama set in the then-exotic locale about betrayal, power and a possible love triangle between a couple (Doris Kenyon, Louis Calhern) and Powell in classy mode.

Mervyn LeRoy's High Pressure (1932) is a comedy about Powell taking over a fake rubber business in a send-up of business big and small Hollywood would be much less likely to make today.

Michael Curtiz's Private Detective 62 (1933) has Powell as the title character involved in shady legal shenanigans until he gets too involved with one of his female targets. Margaret Lindsey and Ruth Donnelly co-star.

Michael Curtiz's The Key (1934) is another love triangle, this time in 1920 Dublin where Powell is an officer getting involved with a woman (Edna best) he may have a past with, but her life is not with another man (Colin Clive from the Universal Frankenstein).

All are good films running no more than 73 minutes, yet they are not B-movies and all are not bad. They are all worth a look for serious film fans and to see the rise of one of the great early sound film stars.

Trailers for each film are the only extras.

Despite being 88 years old, the 1080p 1.33 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer on Parade is in remarkable shape, clean, clear, well-preserved and highly restored throughout with solid Video Black and must have been stunning in its time. Yes, you can see grain, but it is not as excessive as you might expect for a silent film. Some scenes are tinted and one sequence with a Red Cross van used two-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor to make their Cross logo red. Looks good.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Oka! is not bad, but has some detail issues ands color can be inconsistent, so don't expect Walkabout, but it is still consistent in the look chosen, though I wonder if some of this was styled down in a way it should not have been

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Morning should be the better of the two DVD releases here, but the HD shoot is a little softer throughout than it ought to be, though maybe the tradedown and making this look as soft as morning might be factors. It too I at least consistent, though.

That leaves the 1.33 X 1 black and white image on the four films on the Powell collection are only six to nine years older than Parade, showing how stocks were slowly becoming faster to develop and show more detail, though some of the footage is rough and other shots look second generation. We get some sharp shots, but overall, it averages out with the newer films not necessarily looking better than the older ones. The format also limits detail, of course, but all four need some work, but this is the best they have looked outside of actual film prints.

As for sound, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo lossless mix on Parade has some good Pro Logic surrounds if you choose to decode the music, as this is a silent film, but even in stereo it is warm, full and recently recorded so it is fine and it could not sound much better. It is tied by the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Oka! which has some good recording and editing, but is a little more towards the front speakers than I would have liked.

The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Morning is on the quiet side and is sometimes vaguely stereo, so only expect so much and therefore, the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the four Powell films can more than complete, holding up much better for their age than expected despite some flaws and distortion.

To order the William Powell DVD set, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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