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Category:    Home > Reviews > Crime > Gangster > Western > Drama > Heist > Robbery > Murder > Thriller > French > War > Korea > Adventure > Surv > The Great Jesse James Raid (1953/Lippert/VCI DVD)/The Lady In The Car With Glasses & A Gun (2015/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Take The High Ground (1953/MGM)/The Wild North (1952/MGM/Warner Archive DVDs)

The Great Jesse James Raid (1953/Lippert/VCI DVD)/The Lady In The Car With Glasses & A Gun (2015/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Take The High Ground (1953/MGM)/The Wild North (1952/MGM/Warner Archive DVDs)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Take The High Ground and Wild North DVDs are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Hollywood has always had gritty filmmaking even before the 1960s hit and not just from independent productions, as even the majors tried to do something different (while spending less money or spending it differently) resulting in films that would have a one-of-a-kind look, something that continued through the last Golden Age to the early 1980s before the majors made a blockbuster-driven comeback and home video led to a standardized look. What I wanted to do in this review was contrast a new production, even one that happens to be French but remakes a Hollywood-released crime drama, comparing it two three older genre films that have one interesting thing in common....

The three older films were all shot on a film stock that you cannot get anymore: Ansco Color aka Anscochrome. Before getting to the actual films, a background on Ansco because it is an underrated film stock with a great history that made a significant contribution to filmmaking and still camera use in a way that is far too forgotten. Back in 1896 (!), the company began making photo paper to print stills, then another photo company was merged with it in 1905 and that began what was Ansco, which won a court case against rival Kodak in 1913 for patent infringement. By 1928, the competition with Kodak got wilder when German giant Agfa merged with Ansco in the U.S., but that all-out photo was would be killed by WWII, as the U.S. Government interrupted it all in 1941 when it seized Ansco it its battle with the Axis Powers.

The company remained in U.S. Government hands well after WWII when the Allies won, including GAF, who bought the company in 1939. After WWII, with the Agfa name long abolished (the Allies gave away all the patents to Agfa color in Germany to the countries that won WWII, causing a color film boom worldwide that never ended), Ansco/GAF reentered the consumer market and started piling on the awards as it came up with technical film breakthroughs that made it a serious competitor to every other film company in the world, including Kodak, newly-free Agfa, Pathe, Ilford, Ferrania, Gevaert and DuPont among others.

Anscochrome was introduced in 1956 to the consumer market, but before then, it became a hot alternative to all the color formats that major Hollywood studios and other production companies who wanted to find ways to save money and still have color. Technicolor was the best process and Kodak had some of the best camera negative, but Fox had founded their Deluxe labs to save costs and MGM decided to work with Ansco to make a series of films developed in the studio's in house labs. This only lasted a few years before the lab was renamed MetroColor and used all kinds of color stocks, but some very interesting, memorable and good-looking film resulted and we have three of them here.

Lippert was a small producer when they moved into color filmmaking with releases like Sins Of Jezebel (1953), Massacre (1956, both reviewed on VCI DVD elsewhere on this site) and Reginald Le Borg's The Great Jesse James Raid (1953), telling the story of how James (Willard Parker of Kiss Me Kate and Sangaree) gets reacquainted with Robert Ford (Jim Bannon of I Love A Mystery and was Red Ryder for a time), the man who eventually turns on him. Those expecting a showdown will be disappointed, as this involves a big robbery before that famous betrayal. In that, it's not bad and we reviewed this before a while ago in one of VCI's collections, but The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007) has become a cult item. That makes this film a curio, one I give credit to for being more graphic than expected.

Barbara Payton and Arch Clemens (who were having a notorious affair at the time) offer support from a decent supporting cast and it I snot a great film, but a good one worth a look, especially with how well it is shot. More on that below.

There are sadly no extras.

A remake of the Anatole Litvak thriller from 1970 with Samantha Eggar, Joann Sfar's The Lady In The Car With Glasses & A Gun (2015) with Freya Mavor in the title role of a secretary who takes her bosses car for an unplanned ride and lands up in all kinds of disturbing situations that she maybe should not be in to begin with. It follows some of the 1970 film (there are 3 film versions so far, all based on the Sebastien Japrisot novel) well and wants to have some of the style of that film, including using an older car and shooting with a look that can evoke the older film shoot (in EastmanColor) by way of Tarantino, but really tries to have that look. It is not bad at time, but never fooled me and overuse of split screen with some very video-like shots means they do not pull off what was intended.

She is also more of a woman in jeopardy than you might think, so it would be fair to call it a bit regressive, thus the film never really adds up and turns into the surprise I had hoped for. The rest of the cast is not bad, but when it was all done, I was reminded of how much better and more original the 1970 film was. Acting like it was only following the book is an angle I would never buy either.

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer and two featurettes with Director Sfar, including one that shows how he likes to paint.

An now for two MGM films that tried for their own unique look by turning to Ansco Color. Richard Brooks' Korean War drama Take The High Ground (1953) is a rare film on the subject of Korea, was lensed by no less that cinematography legend John Alton and holds up well enough as after a flashback to the war, Richard Widmark is the Army Sergeant who is taking on the next set of recruits upon arrival. He is tough, but his counterpart (Karl Malden) tries to make it a little easier for them, but war is hell and the new group of guys (including Russ Tamblyn and Steve Forest) are about to find out how much.

Widmark starts getting involved with a a widow (Elaine Stewart) in a way that helps no one, no matter any good intents, but the film holds up well in both how solid it looks (a great Ansco Color demo) and that it is more closer in realism to the likes of a Full Metal Jacket than dozens of its counterparts, so it makes for a key war genre film. It may not be a classic, but it impresses in its ambition, effort and mature tone. The density is a plus.

There are no extras.

Finally we have Andrew Marton's The Wild North (1952) with Stewart Granger and Wendell Corey as a possible criminal (he is accused of a murder he did not commit) and a Canadian Mountie (should we call this film a Northern and not a Western?) when the law comes to capture him, only for both of them to have to deal with storms, tons of snow and a few opportunists along the way. It has a good sense of humor that is not overdone, but the political incorrectness of native Americans as 'Hollywood Indians' led by Cyd Charisse as 'Indian Girl' (we kid you not) makes this easily the most dated, problematic entry on the list.

Thus, it is what does work, the performances, some of the plotting and the superior use of color that makes it worth seeing through, even during some cringe-inducing moments. The outdoors look good too where applicable, but there are more than a few fake sets yo see here, of course.

An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Gun is the best performer here being the only Blu-ray and newer than anything else on the list by 65+ years, yet it is the most color-poor having limited-to-basic color throughout by design. You also get some phony shots that do not help and though watchable enough, nothing here is too memorable.

The 1.33 X 1 Ansco Color/Anscochrome color image transfers on the Jesse and North DVDs can show the age of the materials used, but Jesse looks very slightly better than the plugged-up DVD we covered years ago (benefitting from a new pressing by default?) and even when the print is damaged and not great, you can still see how good the intended color is, what they did with sets and costumes to show it all off and how smart Lippert was being to make a showing with the Ansco Color at hand to make this look grade-A. North has a better transfer and print, but it still has its share of some damage and fading, yet color reproduction can be amazing.

That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Road just edging out the others for the best color on the list, Alton was a genius and that shows on this often solid print. We even get a few demo shots. Needless to say all the Ansco Color/Anscochrome films need and deserve to be restored for 4K HD presentation because their color is so unique, amazing and special that they are amazing to see in action. Serious film fans need to catch all these films and not just big productions MGM shot with Ansco Color/Anscochrome film like Gigi, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Lust For Life.

Even after the studios and independents moved away from Ansco Color and Anscochrome, it was occasionally used for feature film releases. As the GAF name started to become more well-known than Ansco, some great ad campaigns offered the film as an inexpensive alternative to Kodak as did 3M/Ferrania, Dynachrome (which 3M also owned), K-Mart (which used Ferrania), Sears/Tower, Sakura and Agfa Moviechrome film. Many did not hold up years later.

GAF/Ansco had even become the exclusive film of Disney, whose tie-ins included camera and film packages with their iconic characters, plus success with their 3D View Master toy viewer they had acquired from the Sawyers Company (now made by Fisher Price) that was a big hit. Henry Fonda even became a company spokesman in the 1970s pitching many of their products. Even when GAF shut down Ansco/GAF film in 1977, they made View Masters for many years after. GAF sued Kodak soon after and won in court for anti-competitive practices, but Kodak landed up with all of their film patents, folding the film division after 79 years. GAF got out of the toy business later as well, now making some of the best building construction materials around like their former film competitor, DuPont who left film production around the same time (1974) for different reasons. All in all, it is a little-discussed part of film history everyone should know and these film gave us the opportunity to share it all.

That leaves the sound, with the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) French 5.1 lossless mix on Gun is the best presentation by default, well mixed and presented for what it is, but too quiet and refined at times to take total advantage of the multi-channel possibilities. All 3 DVDs only offer lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mixes, all sounding as good as they could for their age in the older codec, but Jesse sounds more worn and brittle matching its image limits. They all deserve the best restoration possible, but these copies will do for now.

To order either of the Warner Archive DVDs, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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