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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > Travelogue > Large Frame Format > Biopic > Jazz > Crime > Gangster > Prohibitio > Cinerama: Search For Paradise (1957) + Cinerama: Seven Wonders Of The World (1956/Flicker Alley Blu-ray/DVD Sets)/Pete Kelly's Blues (1955/Warner Archive Blu-ray)

Cinerama: Search For Paradise (1957) + Cinerama: Seven Wonders Of The World (1956/Flicker Alley Blu-ray/DVD Sets)/Pete Kelly's Blues (1955/Warner Archive Blu-ray)

Picture: B & C+/B & C+/B- Sound: B- (C+ for the Cinerama DVDs) Extras: B/B/C Films: B-/B-/C+

PLEASE NOTE: The Pete Kelly's Blues Blu-ray is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

The early widescreen films from the 1950s are always interesting to watch, even when they do not always work. Here are three fine examples of this that make for compelling viewing thanks to their ambition and maturity, finally on Blu-ray.

As part of Flicker Alley's remarkable restorations and reissues of original three-panel Cinerama film releases (three 35mm cameras with taller frames than regular 35mm making up a single very widescreen image) comes two more gems that have not been seen in good copies for decades. Issued n separate Blu-ray/DVD sets like their amazing previous releases, Cinerama: Seven Wonders Of The World (1956, with multiple directors) and Otto Lang's Cinerama: Search For Paradise (1957) have the format and its specialty film programs hitting their stride in two different, yet still-elaborate films that go a step beyond the previous Hollywood Travelogues by making going there an experience with ultra-wide images that had never been seen before and have rarely been equalled, then add then extremely-rare multi-channel stereo sound with traveling dialogue and sound effects and you can see why these are must-see films for the serious film fan.

Wonders (106 minutes) has no less than co-creator of the Cinerama format Lowell Thomas taking the journey around the world in this one, starting in Greece for the remaining original wonder, then they move on to the new seven and uses a repurposed B-25 to fly the massive Cinerama cameras worldwide to capture the extraordinary footage we get. I liked this very slightly more than Paradise (120 minutes), which also goes way out of its way and all out to capture footage never seen before, here starting in Central Asia in the hidden valley of the Forbidden Kingdom of Hunza, then to the Himalayas (which Mr. Thomas has a different pronunciation for than most), Karakoram, the Shalimar Gardens in the Vale of Kashmir (a must for Led Zeppelin and Shalimar fans), Indus River, Katmandu and more.

The company was running out of places to film, but by going out of their way to find just about all the places they were allowed to film (China and much of The Soviet Union would be examples of off-limits places of the time) not only captured this priceless footage, but showing many of the places before they were lost to permanent change due to environment, politics or other situations specific to said locales. That David Strohmaier and company have yet again painstakingly restored every single frame after going through literally tons and miles of film that had to be cleaned up and restored first (including reels that had been coated with now-sticky shellac in a horrid practice that has destroyed plenty of film prints) added to what in both cases might have been some of toughest work they had to log to date. However, it pays off big time so everyone can enjoy these great landmark films after so long. They are as beautiful as they are fun and hold up very well.

Extras in both sets besides the DVD versions include booklets inside the cases reproduce the original film programs in miniature and add a few more pages of bonus technical information, while both discs offer Restoration Demonstration featurettes to show you how hard it is to save these films, Breakdown Reels when the films had projection issues, Publicity and Behind The Scenes Slideshows. Paradise adds 16mm Behind The Scenes footage from Nepal and the crew setting up the Air Force base shoot, a 1998 interview with Director Otto Lang, a brand new trailer for the film's new rerelease, a black and white announcement teaser trailer from its original release, The Last Days Of Cinerama showing the making of a new short film in the format for the first time in over half a century and that film, In The Picture (2012), here in its home video debut. More on that below and more in the technical section.

Wonders adds newsreel footage from the film's opening night in New York City, the Best In The Biz documentary on the people who composed music for all the Cinerama films, a fun short French film called Cinerama Everywhere showing how the format was trucked around that country and throughout Europe for all to enjoy and a collection of trailers for the film including a TV spot, a brand new trailer for the film's new rerelease and a trailer discovered for an abandoned 1960 version of the film meant to be seen in smaller CinemaScope reduction prints that never happened because too much quality was lost in the process. This is all great extra material that is more must-see items for serious film people.

As soon as CinemaScope arrived, it was no match for Cinerama, but it was a big hit and was comparatively cheaper to do, though not cheap in itself. Even with its flaws, dozens of films were made in it immediately and the early ones were a little wider before the 35mm prints had to sacrifice some of its wideness to accommodate a optical (wavy line) soundtrack going down one side of the image. Stars flocked to the format and Jack Webb directed himself in the lead role of the backstage musical drama Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) with also includes a crime angle, but still made its gritty locales wide, elaborate and good-looking.

You know when the lesser speakeasy has a pizzeria in which the pizza looks like some of the best being made anywhere, it is a Hollywood film. Kelly has a Jazz band that is doing well and just wants to play, make money and grow in popularity circa 1927, but some uninvited gangsters want a piece of their action (and profits) whether the band likes it or not. Circumstances lead to the mobsters going after them in a thinly-plotted script, but the film falls back on its set-pieces, cast and music numbers. Lead actress Janet Leigh sings, but it is the performances by legends Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald as their respective characters that really save this film from being a campy crime musical or just another cross-genre piece, especially in multi-channel stereo!

Webb is a little less serious and more vulnerable than his usual Dragnet persona people would be used to, but it is not too different overall. The film also benefits from solid supporting work by Edmond O'Brien, Lee Marvin, Andy Devine, Martin Milner and a small role with Jayne Mansfield, making it a curio worth going out of your way for.

Extras include the Oscar-nominated live action short Gadgets Galore, Warner animated short The Hole Idea (both at 1.33 X 1) and two Original Theatrical Trailers in CinemaScope for the film.

The 1080p 2.59 X 1 Smilebox digital High Definition image transfers on the two Cinerama films can show the age of the materials used, but the Kodak EastmanColor on the surviving materials was fading badly and the hard-working people who saved these films may have got to them just in time as they have not been stored in the best of conditions. There is still grain and print flaws that could not be fixed, but the extent that they have been fixed with the limited budgets at hand is nothing short of remarkable. They look impressive and though both had dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints made, none have apparently survived.

Such prints were also originally intended for Pete Kelly's Blues, but the 1080p 2.55 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer looks like such a print only in big sections of the print(s) used here, while the rougher, grainier footage looks more like Kodak EastmanColor only. Posters and the opening credits say it is in WarnerColor with prints by Technicolor, but apparently, no technicolor prints were sent to theaters, so if any exist, they would be in the Warner vault or were printed overseas only. WarnerColor usually meant their version of Kodak color film, but two other 2.55 X 1 WarnerColor, CinemaScope films got actual Technicolor theatrical print releases: The Silver Chalice (1954) and East Of Eden (1955). This one just missed being #3. Still, there are some great shots, great composition and even nice demo moments for your HDTV like the Cinerama films above that will surprise and impress you, including the new In The Picture Cinerama film, which is shot on 35mm Fuji movie film stock. This will be the first and last time the format sees the use of Fuji movie film as they discontinued making it soon after. That makes it a special film indeed.

Director of Photography Harold Rosson (The Wizard Of Oz, Singin' In The Rain, Duel In The Sun, On The Town) again proves his mastery of film as a visual art by using the very widescreen frame to its fullest extent, making this film another one of the great earlier uses of the wider CinemaScope frame. Thanks to Blu-ray, you can see the depth intended as well and the superior use of color.

The anamorphically enhanced DVDs of the Cinerama films keep the 2.55 X 1 frame and it is nice to have for convenience, but they are obviously no match for the films on Blu-ray with so much definition information to deliver.

In the sound department, all three films were originally announced as DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix releases from their original multi-channel magnetic stereo presentations, but the Cinerama films only offer lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes like their DVD counterparts, which sound good, but disappoint a bit considering the original films were 7-channel mixes. Still, we get traveling dialogue and sound effects as we have with all the previous Cinerama Blu-rays and these remixes have upgraded and cleaned up any flaws from the surviving soundmasters.

You would think Pete Kelly's Blues would then have at least a slight sonic edge, but its DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix has the problem musicals usually have in which the music sounds much better than the non-music moments, so that can be a bit distracting though this mix is a upgrade from the 4-track magnetic soundmaster that is the sound on the better 35mm presentations of the film theatrically, so the Blu-rays tie for sound. Of course, hearing Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald in particular in lossless sound is enough to drive audiophiles to want this one!

You can order the Pete Kelly's Blues Blu-ray among other Blu-ray and DVD exclusives by going to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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