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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Murder > Mystery > Noir > Drama > Theater > Biography > Outer Space > Cold War > Western > Revenge > Black Widow (1954/*)/First Man (2018/Universal 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray + Blu/DVD Sets)/Return Of Frank James (1940/*/**)/Notorious (1946/Hitchcock/Criterion Blu-ray)/Untamed (1955/*all Fox/Twili

Black Widow (1954/*)/First Man (2018/Universal 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray + Blu/DVD Sets)/Return Of Frank James (1940/*/**)/Notorious (1946/Hitchcock/Criterion Blu-ray)/Untamed (1955/*all Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)

4K Ultra HD Picture: A- Picture: B-/B & C+/B/B/B Sound: B-/A- & C+/C+/B-/B- Extras: B-/B-/C/B/C+ Films: B-/B-/B-/B/C+

PLEASE NOTE: The Black Widow, Return Of Frank James and Untamed Blu-rays are now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, are limited to only 3,000 copies and can be ordered while supplies last and can be ordered from the links below.

The following films include a classic thriller, one of 2018's best films and three very ambitious big studio productions from Fox's Golden Age...

We start with a film that would have been an outright Film Noir a few years before its release, but Fox decided to make it a crime drama more so and star showcase, despite its title. Nunnally Johnson's Black Widow (1954) was full color and CinemaScope, which would be the look of thrillers to come, if not as restricted by soundstages and hard-to-move cameras like this was. Along with police procedural 'voice of God' dramas, Noir was soon to come to an end, but there is still some interesting, dark moments here.

Set in the high society of theater in New York City, Van Heflin is a decent guy dealing with the egos and cattiness of others when someone turns up dead and he is suddenly a top suspect! We know he highly likely was not the killer, but George Raft as a tough cop (his roughness here helps cut back the sheen and glamour of the production in a good way) is going to find out who the killer is no matter what it takes. Ginger Rogers has a fun turn as a stab-you-in-the-back-openly-at-any-moment older society maven who cannot complement anyone, Peggy Ann Garner is up and coming in this close-knit group and the supporting cast is also decent, including Virginia Leith, Reginald Gardner, Gene Tierney, Otto Kruger, Skip Homeier, Cathleen Nesbit and Hilda Simms.

That's a strong cast for the time with faces and names that would have been more recognized at the time then now, so they help the film hold up more than it does otherwise, but even at 95 minutes, it tends to feel longer because it is more melodrama and glamour than suspenseful mystery thriller. It is still worth a good look to see Fox going all out for a big A-level production and the actors get to wear some great clothes that still impress today. Serious movie fans will have to see it in particular.

Damian Chazelle's First Man (2018) is based on James R. Hansen's biography of Neil Armstrong, covering the territory we've seen of films on the early days of NASA and the Space Race during The Cold War like Philip Kaufmann's The Right Stuff, but giving us a more personal portrait of Neil Armstrong (handled well by Ryan Gosling) and parts of his private life not known until later years or not made too public.

The Soviet Union keeps getting firsts in arriving in outer space with vehicles, than people in a way that is not sitting well with anyone in the U.S., including the government and others. Big money has been put aside for NASA, yet the public still cannot see the need or reason to get behind the program as much as they should. NASA and the funders have not done the best job of selling what they can do despite the high stakes going on before the eyes of the world, so what can NASa do to turn that around?

The race is on and NASA decides to top the USSR by just going to the moon and beating them to it, but this is extremely uncharted territory and they haver to start taking the same dangerous risks the USSR's own space program has been taking and worse. Hurting Armstrong profoundly is the loss of his baby daughter that has devastated him quietly, affecting him at work, but having two great sons and a wife (Claire Foy) as his great family going though it with him, he is still alone on some level and accepts the Space Program opportunity when it arrives.

I like the film, but it has some parts that do not work and others that do not break new ground. A stupid American Flag controversy was a joke (you see it plenty here) and I liked this better than the likes of Howard's Apollo 13, but there is fudging on some of the technology (read readouts) that do not look like their era, so that is an issue. It also cannot escape the shadow of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, something it even tries to emulate at times. That hurts the film, which shows it trying to hard in those moments. Otherwise, this is one of the better films of 2018 and deserves a wider audience than it got.

Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Ciaran Hinds help make up a very strong supporting cast in this smart, top rate production and Universal has issued it in both 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray + Blu-ray/DVD sets. It is worth going out of your way for and I can't wait for audiences to catch up with it.

Fritz Lang's Return Of Frank James (1940) may be in Technicolor, but it is one of the darkest Westerns visually of the time, maybe even more so than Lang's later Rancho Notorious. Though many more realistic and graphically violent Westerns have been made since and the subject of The James Brothers and Ford Brothers continues to fascinate, this film is an early Revenge Western where Jesse James is shot in the back (considered cowardly bad form then and now) with Frank (Henry Fonda) living in hiding with his son (Jackie Cooper) to the point that they've changed their name and gone into ranching. When Jesse is killed, Frank plots to get the brothers (played well by Charles Tannen and undeniable John Carradine) designed to make you root for Frank and his son in this sequel to Henry King's 1939 success Jesse James.

There are some intentionally and unintentionally funny moments here and there, but it I not bad and better than most of the cycle of mostly forgettable new Westerns we've suffered through over the last decade or two. Gene Tierney steals some of the film as the daughter of a newspaper owner who wants to be a reporter and looks like a million dollars in every single scene she turns up in and Fonda extends his hold on being one of the most Americana-affiliated actors of all time. His performance here is one of the least dated and its great this little gem is finally on Blu-ray.

Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) remains one of his early, popular, sound, black and white hits and is always in print on home video one way or another. Criterion has upgraded their solid DVD edition from years ago (reviewed elsewhere on this site) with this new Blu-ray that adds a set of new extras with older ones and has a new transfer that even outdoes the older Blu-ray we liked and covered at this link...


They do not share the same extras, so die hard serious movie and Hitchcock fans will want to grab both. Cary Grant is a U.S. agent who has to convince young Ingrid Bergman to help them spy on potential Nazi agents up to no good and building a deadly new secret weapon at the hight of WWII madness. She's friends with several people who also knew her father, is asked to seduce an industrialist suspect (Claude Rains, who more than holds his own here) in a race against time to figure out what deadly secrets can be revealed.

Despite some fake matte work, Grant and especially Bergman look incredible and Hitchcock plays the star system angle to the hilt with both of them, solidifying the commercial side of things, no matter how predictable the romance side may be. That melodrama is soon dwarfed by the mystery which makes for the best part of the film. The dark look works better here because it is clearer, yet denser in the amazing new transfer and this is easily the best I have ever seen the film since I saw it in an excellent 35mm print a long time ago.

Criterion has again delivered the definitive edition and all serious fans should catch it ASAP.

Henry King's Untamed (1955) is another Fox CinemaScope event film with Tyrone Power (one of their biggest box office stars) as a military man in South Africa facing danger, stereotypical natives, a passionate romance with Susan Hayward who is more than his equal and the unexpected in the country soon to be associated with a severe form of Apartheid. The latter is never discussed, so this could well be an upscale Tarzan film with a war narrative replacing said hero. Agnes Moorehead (not here enough) and Richard Egan lead the supporting cast, but they can only do so much in what tends to be predictable and formulaic in a long 111 minutes.

Dubbed 'Africolossal!' on the poster, the one other big surprise outside of the action sequences holding up better than expected and the Power/Hayward chemistry is an early, barely credited Rita Moreno in a supporting role where she not only steals every scene, but breaks up any boredom or down moments. She is also not here enough and the result is a hoot. The visual effects are often very dated looking, especially matte work, so you'll have to have patience if you are interested, but hurry, because Fox made this one of Twilight Time's Limited Edition Blu-rays.

The 2160p HEVC/H.265, Dolby Vision/HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced 2.35 X 1 Ultra High Definition image on the 4K disc of First Man is the most impressive presentation here, and not just because it is the only 4K disc, as it is expertly filmed on real Kodak Vision 3 color negative film stocks, some of the best ever made and still produced today. The formats range from 65mm IMAX to Super 16 to 35mm (VistaVision, Techniscope and Super 35), so it is very ambitious, yet is able to meld into the final film very well. The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is not bad, but cannot compete against the Dolby Vision and much higher definition of the 4K version, though it can look good. The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image DVD is passable at best, but because it uses various film formats, is not as bad as many of its contemporaries.

The 1080p 2.55 X 1 digital High Definition image on Black Widow and Untamed both have some flaws, but Widow is just a little more flawed throughout, yet they both demonstrate age issues with the film stock and are good, late examples of the wider, earlier CinemaScope format no matter it limits. By this time, Fox had just about totally abandoned Technicolor for their own Color by DeLuxe, so we get that here and it looks as good as it can in both instances. I cannot imagine either looking better in the format.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on James can also show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and it was produced and issued inn 35mm dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor, but Lang and Director of Photography George Barnes, A.S.C., make this a darker film visually than the format was used to being in at the time and it is amazing the company allowed this because they were still pushing the format to be for bright, happy, uplifting film moments only. Guess Gone With The Wind changed that a bit.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Notorious is a brand new transfer even beyond what Criterion did on DVD many years ago or MGM did on Blu-ray themselves later. This time, we get a 4K scan of three different archival copies of the film that add up and really pay off. The MGM Blu-ray was slightly stretched, but that has been corrected here. Now, you can also see more detail, naturalism, depth and warmth in each scene. That really pays off when you can see the actors better and camerawork more vividly. I was very surprised how nice this was and this is the second-best performer visually on the list.

As for sound, First Man is the sonic winner being the newest film here by many decades, with a smarty, well-edited Dolby Atmos 11.1 (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 for older systems) lossless mix on both the 4K and regular Blu-ray discs. Like The Right Stuff, the sound is simple when it makes sense and complex when key moments kick in. I would even say a few parts offer sonic demo moments. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD version is fair, but a real comedown for the Atmos.

Black Widow and Untamed follow with decent DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes based on their 4-track magnetic sound with traveling dialogue and sound effects soundmasters. I like the 5.1 lossless mixes on both more, though Untamed has clearer music in its 2.0 stereo version outside of its isolated music score, while Widow offer a DTS-MA 4.0 mix that approximates the 4-track original magnetic sound purists will appreciate. I still think its 5.1 is a little better still. Frank James offers DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo and Mono lossless mixes with the stereo just a bit clearer, while Notorious has a new PCM 2.0 Mono mix that just edges out its older Blu-ray edition.

Extras on all releases except First Man include illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and Original Theatrical Trailers, while Notorious has more Trailers, plus Teasers. First Man adds more, including Digital Copy, Deleted Scenes and featurettes: Shooting for the Moon, Preparing to Launch, Giant Leap in One Small Step, Mission Gone Wrong, Putting You In the Seat, Recreating the Moon Landing, Shooting at NASA and Astronaut Training, plus Feature-Length Audio Commentary with Director Damien Chazelle, Screenwriter Josh Singer and Editor Tom Cross.

Notorious brings over older extras from its old DVD release and adds new ones, so we also get Feature-Length Audio Commentaries from 1990 and 2001 featuring Alfred Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane and film historian Rudy Behlmer, a NEW interview with Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, a NEW program about the film's visuals with cinematographer John Bailey, a NEW scene analysis by film scholar David Bordwell, Once Upon a Time . . . "Notorious" (a 2009 documentary about the film featuring actor Isabella Rossellini; filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich, Claude Chabrol, and Stephen Frears; and others), a NEW program about Hitchcock's storyboarding and previsualization process by filmmaker Daniel Raim, 1948 newsreel footage of actor Ingrid Bergman and Hitchcock, 1948 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Notorious, starring Bergman and Joseph Cotten and the foldout booklet has an essay by critic Angelica Jade Bastien

The booklets in all three Twilight Time releases have more great, underrated essay by the great film scholar Julie Kirgo, Black Widow and Untamed both have some Isolated Music Score with select Sound Effects, plus Black Widow also has an older feature length audio commentary track by film scholar Alan K. Rode (he really has it out for actor George Raft, bashing him more than necessary) and the original A&E Biography episodes that covered the lives of Ginger Rogers and Gene Tierney.

To order the Black Widow, Return Of Frank James and/or Untamed limited edition Blu-rays, buy them while supplies last at these links:




- Nicholas Sheffo


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