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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Art > Artist > Filmmaking > Counterculture > War > WWII > Drama > Surrealism > Polit > American Dreamer (1971/Etiquette Blu-ray w/DVD)/Battleground (1949/MGM/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/The Exterminating Angel (1962/Criterion Blu-ray)/Macbeth (1948, 1950/Orson Welles/Republic/Olive Blu-ray

American Dreamer (1971/Etiquette Blu-ray w/DVD)/Battleground (1949/MGM/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/The Exterminating Angel (1962/Criterion Blu-ray)/Macbeth (1948, 1950/Orson Welles/Republic/Olive Signature Edition Blu-ray Set)/Salt Of The Earth (1954/Film Detective Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Salt Of The Earth Blu-ray is now available from our friends at Movie Zyng and can be ordered from the right-hand side sidebar or via the order button on this page, while the Battleground Blu-ray is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

The following films are films no one wanted to make, got ignored and/or censored in most cases and all have something special to show or say.

Lawrence Schiller & L.M. Kit Carson's American Dreamer (1971) is a long-unseen documentary on Dennis Hopper following up his huge hit film Easy Rider with a film for Universal entitled The Last Movie. Hopper's debut film was a massive hit erroneously rejected by American International, then picked up by Warner Bros., who knew how to promote it and the result was letting in a wave of new young directors into a Hollywood in transition as all the studios hoped for another low-budget, high profit hit. In most cases, that did not happen (even for Robert Altman, who made all kinds of amazing films after M*A*S*H was such a monster blockbuster), but in Hopper's case, he was a little too distracted by drugs and women in the 'free love' era to always be able to get down to business.

This film shows how Hopper could get down to filming, but not enough or often enough to make the film work out. It becomes a character study of an artist with his hangups and issues, but also a fine time capsule of a special time in filmmaking that was too short. Of course, had the film worked out, who knows how much more often he would have acted with two back-to-back hits from behind the camera. Instead, the film did not do well and this film got him thrown out of town for years. Sad.

The new Etiquette Home Video company is issuing this very interesting work in a new Blu-ray/DVD set worth your time. With Hopper gone, there is a whole new reason to see this film and a side of him that fits his reputation for being wild, blasted on drugs and yet, still loving filmmaking.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film including the essay "The American Dreamer and the Heyday of Campus Programming" by Chris Poggiali, while the Blu-ray adds a Stills Gallery supplied by Schiller and two new Making Of featurettes: "A Long Way Home" shows us the work it takes preserving the film and "Fighting Against The Wind" includes Schiller interviewed along with Hopper's then-agent, Michael Gruskoff, producer Paul Lewis and co-star Julie Adams, the great actress with her own great insights.

William A. Wellman's Battleground (1949) is a hit war film no one wanted to make, but Producer Dory Schary (now at MGM, pulling away from its dependence on Musicals) decided he wanted to make the film when MGM did not, so it got made with an all-star cast including Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, Don Taylor, James Whitmore, Douglas Fowley, Jim Arness and Richard Jaeckel as ''the bastards of Bastogne'' resisting one of Hitler's strongest, deadliest final offensives.

It gives us time to get to know each character enough so we are invested by the time the violent events happen, which may not be as graphic or as shocking or as realistic as you would expect today, but like the acting, is credible enough all these decades later. The script is smart and tight enough, even if some of the scenes go on longer than you might like them too. They are even a bit melodramatic at times, but not so exaggeratedly. If you like war genre films, you need to see this on at least once and the underrated Wellman delivers again.

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer, live-action short Let's Cogitate and Tex Avery MGM animated short Little Rural Riding Hood in HD.

Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel (1962) is, along with Viridiana and Diary Of A Chambermaid as the arrival of the famed director as international auteur who has something to say and show like few others. The film has a strange title at first, it seems, considering it is about the rich and wealthy having a big dinner party at the home of one of their rich friends. You might think a serial killer or some other clever killer (ala Agatha Christie) might be on the loose and the film has the look and feel at first. However, it then starts to veer off into other strange events where they start to all have accidents, bad luck and odd things happening to them that usually don't happen to the privileged. Are they about to find out the house is supernaturally cursed?

Well, no. Instead, they simply cannot seem to leave, victims of their own wealth and status that protects them, suddenly trapping them. There are even wild, violent events that start going on outside where they are, yet they get trapped inside as more and more bad things happen. Its not a Twilight Zone episode either, but is as political like several such shows, though with a totally different take and intellectual point-of-view on life to the extent that it was a big shock at the time and still holds up in its own way 55+ tears and counting.

This new Criterion Blu-ray edition is in amazing shape, restoring and bringing out just what a beautiful and deceptively pretty work this really is. Even if you disagree with Bunuel's politics, you cannot deny how effective the film and its brand of claustrophobia is.

Extras include a nicely illustrated booklet on the film featuring an essay by film scholar Marsha Kinder and an interview with director Luis Bunuel from the 1970s, while the Blu-ray adds an Original Theatrical Trailer, Interviews with actor Silvia Pinal and filmmaker Arturo Ripstein from 2006 and The Last Script: Remembering Luis Bunuel, a 2008 documentary featuring writer Jean-Claude Carriere and filmmaker Juan Luis Bunuel.

Orson Welles' Macbeth (1948, 1950) is the genius filmmakers' remarkable film version of the Shakespeare classic that he got to make at Republic Pictures. The first release in 1948 is the full version, in the visual mode of Sergei Eisenstein's films set in the past, but that version did not do as well as it should of, so Welles (as a thank you to studio founder Herbert J. Yates as well as to get The Bard to a wider audience) cut the film down two years later for a re-release that was not as good, but also very different. It was no bigger a hit, but it tends to be the only version some saw.

Olive has reissued both versions of the film in a new Blu-ray set in fully restored copies that play very clearly and render all previous video versions obsolete. The sets are obvious, simple and yet, creepy. Welles has the title role and the supporting cast including Jeanette Nolan, Roddy McDowell, Dan O'Herlihy and Alan Napier is very effective and this is one of the best films of the oft-filmed classic (see the Criterion Blu-ray version by Roman Polanski, for instance, reviewed elsewhere on this site) in yet another example of Welles' groundbreaking independent filmmaking and the spirit it takes to make films out there on your own as he always did. Nice to see it get the long-overdue respect it deserves.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and essay ''The Two Macbeths'' by film scholar & critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, while the Blu-ray add a feature-length Audio Commentary with Welles biographer Joseph McBride, "Welles and Shakespeare" - an interview with Welles expert, Professor Michael Anderegg, "Adapting Shakespeare on Film" - a conversation with directors Carlo Carlei (Romeo & Juliet) and Billy Morrissette (Scotland, PA), Excerpt from We Work Again, a 1937 WPA documentary containing scenes from Welles' Federal Theatre Project production of Macbeth, "That Was Orson Welles" - an interview with Welles' close friend and co-author, the great filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, "Restoring Macbeth" - an interview with former UCLA Film & Television Archive Preservation Officer Bob Gitt and the "Free Republic: The Story of Herbert J. Yates and Republic Pictures" featurette.

Last but definitely not least is Herbert J. Biberan's Salt Of The Earth (1954) - the only full length feature film ever censored and banned by the U.S. government. Arriving five years after Battleground and one of the earliest 'serious' independent film productions, there were many things certain people did not want other to see, hear or think about, especially as the Hollywood Witch Hunts and Cold War were getting deeper into our society. Film Detective has issued a Blu-ray version of the DVD we reviewed a while ago at this link...


The story about Mexican immigrant workers has now suddenly taken on a deeper, more timely meaning since that last review for many reasons as we post so the arrival of this release cannot be soon enough. If you are a serious film person, this film is a MUST and now, this is the best way to see it outside of a rare quality film print.

A trailer is the only extra.

As far as Blu-ray reviews go, this is one of those rare moments where we get all five releases here at 1080p and in a 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image frame, plus all but Dreamer are in black and white. Well, Dreamer looks good for its age, shot on 16mm film and restored with consistent color and considering the production circumstances has less flaws than you might expect. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image with the 1.33 X 1 image in the middle is passable for the DVD format, but is the poorest performer on the list and lack the nice detail and color range of the Blu-ray.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Battleground show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film thanks to the hard work of Warner Bros. to restore it and it's outdoor footage holds up very well. Those who have not seen the film on film for years or on video before will be impressed what the new transfer reveals.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Angel is the newest of the monochrome productions and though it can also sometimes show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film as the new Criterion transfer comes from a 35mm duplicate negative that holds plenty of detail and depth. It is another film that needed the upgrade and the hard work really pays off.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on both transfers of Macbeth can show the age of the materials used a little more than the other discs, but the longer cut is in fine shape being first-generation versus the recut two years later. In this newest restoration, new details and depth can be seen that is more in line with the way Welles shot his films.

Finally, the 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Salt shows the age of the materials used the most, but this is far superior a transfer to the previous DVD enough to go for this version giving credit to one of the most remarkable shoots in U.S. filmmaking history.

As for sound, all the all five films are theatrical monophonic releases, so we only expect so much from them sonically, but Dreamer, Battleground and Macbeth (both cuts) sound the best in their DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes, thew presentations binging out more than you might expect. The Dreamer DVD is the expected poorest performer here in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound, yet it ties with Angel from an optical mono soundmaster and here in PCM 2.0 and Earth, which repeats the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound from the DVD version. It still sounds slightly better.

To order the Battleground Warner Archive Blu-ray, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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