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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > WWI > Aerial Battles > British > Comedy > Murder > Journalism > Media > Ethics > WWII > Spies > Tech Ind > Aces High (1976/Umbrella Region Free PAL Import DVD)/Famous Ferguson Case (1932/First National)/Hotel Berlin (1945/both Warner Archive DVDs)/The One That Got Away (1957/Rank/VCI DVD)/The Valley (2016/

Aces High (1976/Umbrella Region Free PAL Import DVD)/Famous Ferguson Case (1932/First National)/Hotel Berlin (1945/both Warner Archive DVDs)/The One That Got Away (1957/Rank/VCI DVD)/The Valley (2016/Wavefront Blu-ray)



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



PLEASE NOTE: The Aces High Import DVD is now only available from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment in Australia, can only play on DVD, Blu-ray & 4K Blu-ray players that can handle the PAL DVD format, while The Famous Ferguson Case and Hotel Berlin are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series. All can be ordered from the links below.



Here's a new group of dramas, with the older films set in the past and the new one dealing with issues openly older films rarely did...



Jack Gold's Aces High (1976) is a somewhat underrated WWI drama with Malcolm Mcdowell as an ace British airplane fighter who is always taking on new flyers and is paired with a man (Peter Firth) who was only a few years behind him in school. It makes for mixed moments as the younger man finds his new boss drinks more than he should and does a few other things he finds questionable. However, the real politik of the German flyers killing as many of them as possible interrupts such issues with some big fights ahead.


Christopher Plummer, Sir John Gielgud, Simon Ward, Trevor Howard and Ray Milland make up a really all-star cast, so how this got list in the shuffle is a shame. It may not be a perfect film, but it is serious enough, takes its audience seriously enough, is smartly done and is worthy of rediscovery. That is why it is a very welcome thing that Umbrella has issued it on DVD, albeit an Region Free PAL Import. Definitely worth a look.


There are no extras.



Lloyd Bacon's The Famous Ferguson Case (1932) is a film that looks like it might be a semi-comic film about a murder, even a courtroom drama, maybe even a mystery. Though it has some of those features, it is actually a drama that asks about integrity of the press, reporting, what it takes to make it, how one can go too far and how it affects the news.... long before 'fake news' was tolerated.


The presence of Joan Blondell signals comedy to some extent, but her gritty street side kicks in when this becomes more challenging and dramatic, trying to help a young, up and coming reporter (Tom Brown) get a leg up and exclusive when the death happens. Too bad a bunch of veteran reporters (read men) descend on the scene. Of course, tabloid/society writers are in the mix too, making this a a tight, interesting 74 minutes.


An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.



Peter Godfrey's Hotel Berlin (1945) is a WWII anti-Nazi propaganda film about the title locale where the Nazis are in practice to destroy the world, entertain friends, hunt down enemies (including spies) and are even being watched in this somewhat melodramatic entry from the Vicki Baum book. Sometimes less sensational than it sounds, Franz Waxman did the music score and some of the more familiar actors include Peter Lorre, Raymond Massey, George Coulouris and Alan Hale, but the other main characters are actually cast by actors who seem their ethnicity enough versus things being 'Hollywoodized' as it were.


They include Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Andrea King and others how are good here and sadly were not seen much after. Warner was ahead of the other studios going after the Nazis, et al, with this film yet more evidence of how hard they hit 'em.


There are no extras.



Roy Ward Baker's The One That Got Away (1957) is a fine small production produced by Julian Wintle (later of TV's The Avengers), edited by Sidney Hayers, shot on solid black & white film and starring the under appreciated Hardy Kruger as the title character: Frank Von Werra, the only German soldier ever to escape the Brits.


Some may say it makes Kruger's Nazi (thus all Nazis) look good or be too sympathetic, but the late, great Baker is too busy telling the story and events to best effect, so whatever liberties may have been taken with the real story (if any) as it happened, this is realistic, can be suspenseful and the performances all around are honest and work. Among the other familiar names in the cast include Michael Goodliffe, Alec McCowen and Frederick Jaeger, making this a solid piece of British cinema all around.


An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.



We conclude with Saila Kariat's The Valley (2016), another drama that goes out of its way to be realistic, about a family doing well in Silicon Valley when a personal tragedy strikes the family unexpectedly. Neal heads the family and this shakes up his successful life to the core as much as it does anyone around him. It is not that they were not supportive of each other, but possibly that they missed signs of bad things ahead.


The deep secrets that lead to the drama here have to do with unrecognized depression, though the script is more interested in characters than to dwell on or wallow in theories on clinical depression, but it still runs into unevenness and some mixed results despite the ambition of the piece. I give the makers points for setting a mood that works and the cast including Alvy Khan, Suchitra Pillai, Jake T. Austin, Christa B. Allen and Barry Corbin (among some formidable unknowns) meld well. I just wonder if it could have all gone further and got more results in what it is all trying to deal with. Interesting no matter what you land up thinking, anyone in the mood for a serious drama about something might want to try it out.


The alternate version of the film is the only extra.



The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Valley is an HD shoot that has consistent composition, but also motion blur and some detail issues, yet it is the best performer here and is the only Blu-ray on the list. Both versions of the film look the same in quality and nothing stands out, but there is a sense of mood at times that helps the narrative.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Aces and anamorphically enhanced 1.66 X 1 black & white transfer on Away come from fresh video masters ands easily tie for second place in playback quality. Both films manage to look good for war films and impress despite the limits of the old format.


The 1.33 X 1 black & white transfers on Ferguson and Berlin are well-shot films that get transfers here whose source materials are uneven, aged and need some work. Hope they get the restorations they need.


As for sound, Valley is listed as 'DTS 5.1' of some sort on the back of the Blu-ray case, but what we really get is lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the long version of the film and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the alternate cut that is not as clear. That makes it easy for Away to compete with it in its own lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 upgrade, though the film was theatrical mono like thew other DVDs, all here in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. The only one that has sonic issues is Berlin, down a few generations and needing more work.



To order the Aces High Umbrella import DVD, go to this link for it and other hard-to-get-and-find releases:


http://www.umbrellaent.com.au/


...and to order either of the Warner Archive DVDs, The Famous Ferguson Case and Hotel Berlin, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


http://www.wbshop.com/



- Nicholas Sheffo


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