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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Historical Epic > Large Frame Format > Spain > Comedy > Slapstick > War > British > El Cid (1961/Umbrella Region B Import Blu-ray)/It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963/United Artists/Criterion Blu-ray w/DVD Set)/Khartoum (1966/United Artists/MGM/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray

El Cid (1961/Umbrella Region B Import Blu-ray)/It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963/United Artists/Criterion Blu-ray w/DVD Set)/Khartoum (1966/United Artists/MGM/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Zulu (1963/Embassy/MGM/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)

Picture: B (Mad DVDs: C+) Sound: B-/B & C+/B/B- Extras: D/B/B-/B- Films: B-/B+ (uncut)/C+/B-

PLEASE NOTE: The El Cid Region B Import Blu-ray is only available from Umbrella Entertainment and can only be played on machines that can handle that version of the format, while Khartoum and Zulu are limited edition Blu-ray releases in which 3,000 copies of each will be made by Twilight Time. All can be ordered from the links below.

Here are four epic event films shot in large frame film formats now on Blu-ray, three of which have arrived in celebration of MGM's 90th Anniversary and one that still has not been issued in the U.S. yet, but we have it as an import.

That import is Anthony Mann's El Cid (1961), which we not only covered in a basic DVD from Umbrella a while ago, but in a DVD Collector's Edition set we covered at this link:


Sadly, there are no extras on this Blu-ray, but it is the kind of upgrade the film needed presentation wise and if you can play Region B Blu-rays and you are a fan, you might want to get this copy. More on its performance below. Too bad it has no extras.

Now to the MGM catalog releases. Stanley Kramer's It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) had already been issued in its shorter version on a basic Blu-ray we missed a little while ago, but now, Criterion has issued an amazing Blu-ray w/DVD set that offers that shorter cut and debuts the full length version not seen in decades from the existing, surviving materials on hand. The film is known for its massive assembly of acting talent, but what is also great about it is that before it, no film has ever attempted to do a comedy on the scale it did. This was a few years before the rise of Woody Allen & Mel Brooks, was such a huge hit that it spawned many bandwagon imitators and led to more great comedies like Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up Doc? (1972, reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and re-solidified the genre for motion pictures in the face of highly successful (and at the time, funny) TV situation comedies for decades to come.

With its share of still-amazing stunt work (though we get dated visual effects, they do not date as badly, funny both intentionally and unintentionally) with a screenplay by William & Tania Rose (et al) that shows a real love and respect for comedy as an artform while being funny at every opportunity. Some moments are politically incorrect, but that is not as much a problem here as you might expect. When a few people discover there is a hidden fortune to be found, it turns seemingly normal people into greedy maniacs as they try to outdo each other and solve the mystery of where the cash supposedly is.

Spencer Tracy is the no-nonsense cop who has starts getting abnormal reports of people driving their motor vehicles in ways that seem only suited to a smash-up derby and has to get the force to find out what is going on. As characters in the film, Buddy Hackett is teamed with Mickey Rooney trying to find the loot, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman and a highly uninterested Dorothy Provone get involved, Sid Caesar and Edie Adams get involved, then they are joined by the likes of Phil Silvers, Dick Shawn, Terry-Thomas, Jonathan Winters and others with great cameos turns by some legends (we'll not ruin those for new viewers) and all in the wide, widescreen of Ultra Panavision 70. This could have been an overproduced disaster, but it works, especially in its longer version and was one of the biggest hits made in this format.

Ernest Gold delivers one of his best movie scores and Director of Photography Ernest Laszlo, A.S.C., constantly makes the correct calls on how to compose and shot this for maximum madness, comic effect and narrative impact. This is a big event film that worked and is the biggest hit of the four films here, but like the others, reminds us of how Hollywood and serious filmmakers could pull off big productions that worked when you had people who loved film and knew how to make them. Nothing like ambitions realized.

And finally, two solid limited edition Blu-rays from Twilight Time. Basil Dearden's Khartoum (1966) was the last of the Ultra Panavision 70mm film productions and because of a major lead in Charlton Heston, a following that is just above cult status and some interesting moments is a film people still talk about. It may not always work, but when it does, it delivers some solid moments. United Artists also issued this one with less box office results, but like El Cid, Heston's massive box office and box office clout had him wisely taking on more large frame epics that kept him one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

Here he plays British General Charles Gordon, who must go to the title locale to protect the interests of the crown against an Islamic uprising. The most obviously politically incorrect portion of the film is having the great Laurence Olivier play historical Arab figure Muhammad Ahmad, though he delivers a good accent and voice, black and/or brown face is what it is. Still, the screenplays talking head moments are consistently intelligent and battle sequences not overdone if not always well integrated in the plot. Richard Jordan, Ralph Richardson and Nigel Green are among the solid, convincing supporting cast (Ronald Leigh-Hunt and Jerome Willis turn up uncredited) and a plus for the film is that it is not just another tired biopic, but trying to tell the history (liberties taken notwithstanding) in a way that does try to put the viewer in the thick of things.

Of course, like Lord Jim, it is compared to Lawrence Of Arabia, which has some degree of fairness but there is only one Lawrence and it may not be as good, but it has more going for it than not. It is just a very long 136 minutes at times, so you have to really put the time aside to get into it or you will not get the most out of it. Edward Scaife (The Liquidator, The Kremlin Letter, The Dirty Dozen) is the Director of Photography showing his effective use and grasp of the widescreen frame, while Frank Cordell (Cromwell, Larry Cohen's remarkable thriller Go Told Me To aka Demon) produced a decent music score (here in an isolated track that proves my point) that might get overlooked more than it should. This film is worth a good look for serious film fans.

Last but not least is Cy Endfield's Zulu (1963) starring Stanley Baker, but often best known in the U.S. for its early great performance by Michael Caine. Operating with the syntax of a Western, this well thought out war epic is also based on the historical Battle Of Rorke's Drift and is well thought out enough that this aspect of it becomes the film's core. Sometimes criticizes for being racist, it does have some us-and-them aspects and because the Western approach makes the title opponents a nameless force (we never get to know any Zulu by name or have any scenes that let us into what they are thinking, talking about, planning, etc.), the film is just as concerned with the battles within the British camp that get ugly.

Besides personality clashes, clashes of values and the screenplay by John Prebble subtly offers elements of the inner conflicts of the Crown and British Empire that will eventually led to its decline. It is for those reasons and a rare, landmark combination of talent that the film is still celebrated and discussed. Like Khartoum, Nigel Green shows up here too with James booth, Patrick Magee, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson and other actors the audio commentary rightly notes should have had longer careers. Endfield deserves additional note here.

He was a engineer and from what I am seeing of Quentin Tarantino's abandoned Western The Hateful Eight (the script was leaked online to his own rightful furor), the idea of shooting a large fame format Western in limited locales is definitely partly inspired by this film. Like Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate director Michael Cimino, who was also an engineer, this film like those take us somewhere we have never been before and is a one-of-a-kind film that even 1979's Zulu Dawn (reviewed elsewhere on this site) could not recreate. That is one of the reasons it is an enduring piece of pure cinema.

I am not a fan of the ending, which is a little trite, but it also has other great things going for it including its location, well made fight scenes, an early winning score by the great John Barry and some underrated cinematography by Director of Photography Stephen Dade, who lensed the early widescreen hit Knights Of The Round Table (1953), was a capable journeyman and also delivered some of the best-looking episodes of Man In A Suitcase and some of the most memorable episodes of the Linda Thorson/Tara King episodes of The Avengers. He could handle black and white well, but his knack for color was especially strong.

All four films were originally issued in large frame 70mm film prints as well as 35mm reduction prints struck in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor that are highly collectible today for their quality and endurance. Color in all four cases here are pretty good, but there are various flaws in each presentation that hold back performance to some extent despite all four Blu-rays offering some great demo shot for any serious HDTV or even Ultra HDTV.

El Cid and Zulu were shot in Technicolor's Technirama format and are here in 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers that make the film's look better than they ever have before, but the El Cid frame is a bit different than the DVDm, yet color and definition greatly improve over all previous DVD editions. Still, we can see the age of the materials used at times and some color moments are better than others. Zulu has color, detail and depth as good as anything here, but is it is plagued by very light telecine flicker throughout some may not notice as much as I did, but it is there.

As for Mad World and Khartoum, they were only two of ten films ever shot in the anamorphic Ultra Panavision 70 format, a 70mm format meant to duplicate three-camera Cinerama with one strip of film. It looks great, if not as defined. They join Blu-rays of Ben-Hur (now in a fine box set from Warner Home Video), Mutiny On The Bounty (1962), Battle Of The Bulge and The Greatest Story Ever Told (see all elsewhere on this site) as the 5th & 6th films issued and seeing them in their full width is the only way to really enjoy them.

The 1080p 2.76 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers can show the age of the materials used in both cases too, but Mad World has some rough surviving footage in its longer cut that has color limits and rough definition, so expect some sudden losses of fidelity while viewing. However, the best footage on both cuts sometimes do not look as totally great as they should and as compared to the earlier basic Blu-ray of the shorter cut which had better color, there is a slight range limit on the Criterion cuts. The anamorphically enhanced DVD versions are fuller overall. Khartoum was the last of the ten films made in the format (also known as MGM Camera 65) and budget cuts make this look cheap in ways that hurt the fidelity of the format, so that is just the way the film is. However, some shots look better than others, leading to a slightly uneven presentation.

In defense of all four films, Blu-ray does not have enough definition to pull off all of the detail, depth and color range of these films, so even that can be a factor. In all four cases, I really enjoyed seeing the films in ways I had not in a very long time and are among the best presentations I have seen of them to date.

As for sound, all four films originally issued in 6-track magnetic stereo sound presentations with traveling dialogue and sound effects when shown in 70mm and on Blu-ray here offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes save Zulu, which offers only DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo and 1.0 Mono lossless mixes and Khartoum, which is only here in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo. The 6-track soundmasters seem to be missing for now on those films, but heir stereo presentations have some traveling dialogue and sound effects just the same with Khartoum sounding better than expected and both have isolated lossless DTS-MA music scores that sound really good.

El Cid can show its age via its materials, but this is a nice improvement over the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD mix in warmth. Despite some rough sound in the cut footage, Mad World is he sonic champ here with some sometimes stunning 5.1 mix as its soundmaster survived nicely and is an especially pleasant surprise, but the DVD's lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 is weaker than expected.

El Cid has zero extras as note above, but extras for the other three releases in include illustrated booklets on their respective films including informative text and feature length audio commentary tracks that a rich with excellent and rare information on the films they cover. Mad World features Mark Evander, Paul Scrabo & Mark Schlesinger on the longer cut of the film, while Lem Dobbs and Nick Redmond discuss Khartoum (joined by Julie Kirgo, who does liner notes for booklets in all Twilight Time releases) and on Zulu where they go it alone. Khartoum and Zulu have their great isolated music scores and Original Theatrical Trailers as well.

Mad World adds 4 TV ads in HD, 6 Radio Ads, Road Show & General Release trailers, another Trailer and 3 more Radio Ads for the 1970 reissue, 1963 Interview footage with Kramer, Winters, Caesar, Berle & Rooney, two episodes of the TV series Telescope (not in HD) about the launch of the film, a 1974 reunion interview clip (regular definition) with Kramer, Caesar, Winter and now Hackett, the part of AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs program on the film, Craig Barron & Ben Burtt on the visual and audio work (respectively) on the film, a nice and clearly explained Restoration Demonstration on the film and remarkable taping at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on July 9, 2012 hosted by Billy Crystal from The Last 70MM Film Festival featuring surviving key players in the film including Carl Reiner and in some of their last public appearances anywhere, Jonathan Winters and the underrated Marvin Kaplan that has some amazing moments.

You can order the Khartoum and Zulu Limited Edition Blu-rays while supplies last at this link:


...and to order the Region B Umbrella import Blu-ray of El Cid, go to this link:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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