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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Romance > Wealth > Biopic > WWI > Literature > Return To Dust (2022/Film Movement DVD)/The Scarlet Letter (1934/Film Masters Blu-ray)

Christopher Strong (1933/RKO*)/In Love And War (1996/New Line*)/The Last Picture Show 4K (1971/Sony/Columbia/Criterion 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)/Rapa Nui (1994/*all Warner Archive Blu-rays)/Return To Dust (2022/Film Movement DVD)/The Scarlet Letter (1934/Film Masters Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Christopher Strong, In Love And War and Rapa Nui Blu-rays are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

As another awards season begins for all of us, with all the Hollywood strikes now apparently over, here comes a group of mostly older dramas save, restored and to reconsider...

Dorothy Arzner's Christopher Strong (1933) is a remarkable early sound film with an amazing early performance by Katharine Hepburn as a socialite who also happens to be a really skilled airplane pilot and flies bi-planes (et, al) all the time. Colin Clive (Dr. Frankenstein in the hit landmark Frankenstein from Universal in the same time period) is the title character, a well-to-do society guy she meets by accident (he is racing his motorcycle while she races her Bugatti (!) and they sort of wreck) getting involved in a silly scavenger hunt from a bet at a high society party.

They land up falling hard for each other, we get several connected subpliots and RKO really puts the dog on with some amazing sets and one of the best wardrobes of any film at the time. Director Arzner was the only major female director the time (soon to be followed by Ida Lupino, also at RKO) and the result is an involving drama with great, likable characters who are accessible (not easy, as this was released during The Great Depression) with a really smart screenplay backed by a great supporting cast in what was Hepburn's first of many lead roles.

I had not seen the film for a good while and even forgot how impressive it was, very little of it aging badly or poorly, which says something for a film being issued in this restored edition on its 90th Anniversary. It is also a special portrait of a rising U.S. pre-WWII and can go a few rounds with any similar classy production from any other studio in the world at the time. David O. Selznick produced and I highly recommend this one to all serious film fans.

Extras include two live action shorts (Plane Nuts and Tomalio) and the cartoon Buddy's Beer Garden.

Sir Richard Attenborough's In Love And War (1996) is the late, great actor/director's attempt to pull off another biopic as he had with Gandhi and Chaplin, focusing on the early war years of a young Ernest Hemingway (Chris O'Donnell, better here than he got credit for) gets injured during his time serving in WWI when he meets a nurse (Sandra Bullock, who get top billing over him) whom he stars to fall for.

The film is trying to show the events that inspired Hemingway's masterpiece novel A Farewell To Arms and that part makes sense, but this sometimes becomes too sentimental, though we also get some epic battles, so it is not a confined melodrama that runs on and on in that direction. New Line, when they were still independent, had Oscar awards hope for this film despite it not going through their Fine Line division.

The leads are convincing enough and the rest of the cast are fine, as is the production design, costumes and the line. It is successful in feeling and looking like the period it is in and has a decent budget, all the more convincing in the pre-digital era, making it one of the latter and last of such films. It is for that reason it was overdue for a reissue and this disc is not bad.

An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra, but maybe it could have used a few more extras?

Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show 4K (1971) is seeing its second release in 4K, so important a film it is, but this time, it is Criterion issuing it, even if it is only the longer Director's Cut that I thought worked even better than the already remarkable theatrical edition. Criterion has been giving this classic the deluxe treatment since their 12-LaserDisc box set of the film back in the analog home video era. Now, we get what is is pretty much the best edition of it or any film in 4K or otherwise out there, making it one of the biggest and best releases of the year.

It includes their older Blu-ray version that they included in the outstanding America Lost & Found: The BBS Story box set we covered at this link:


Looking at the film yet again, as I do every few years, I get and see new things out of it all the time, like any true classic and especially now glutted by mostly sloppy, digital video shoots, its monochromatic cinematography is as beautiful and stunning as ever, so clean, clear and crisp, yet with its own rare, special one-of-a-kind style, it remains one of the best-looking films ever made and offers its own private world, character study and privileged look into the private lives of all of its extremely well developed and realized characters. That Bogdanovich pulled this off so early in his career, you can see why he became such a big deal at the time, and even with issues later in his career, he never stopped trying to make another great film (The Cat's Meow is the closest he came to it) and remains one of the great filmmakers to this day.

Then you have the often young cast, who just turn out remarkable performance after remarkable performance and seeing Cybill Shepherd, Jeff Bridges and Randy Quaid has a bittersweet quality that speaks to the greatness of acting, star power and pure cinema in this one of so many brilliant works that re-remind us of the Hollywood period of 1965 to 1982 being the last serious Golden Age of cinema. Now that Sony/Columbia has further taken grade-A care of the film, it can more than speak for itself with its greatness starting at frame one and never quitting until the very end.

If you have somehow never seen this film, it is a must see and definitely see it NOW!!!

Extras exceed all previous editions and include yet another high quality, nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text, an excellent essay by film critic Graham Fuller and excerpts from an interview with Bogdanovich about Texasville, with a new introduction by Bogdanovich biographer Peter Tonguette, while the discs add Texasville (1990), the sequel to The Last Picture Show, presented in both the original theatrical version and a black-and-white version [with mixed results] of Peter Bogdanovich's director's cut, produced in collaboration with cinematographer Nicholas von Sternberg

Two audio commentaries, featuring Bogdanovich and actors Cybill Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Cloris Leachman, and Frank Marshall

Three documentaries about the making of the film

Q&A with Bogdanovich from 2009

Screen tests and location footage

Introduction to Texasville featuring Bogdanovich, Shepherd, and actor Jeff Bridges

Excerpts from a 1972 television interview with filmmaker Francois Truffaut about the New Hollywood

and Trailers.

Kevin Reynolds' Rapa Nui (1994) is an ambitious, Kevin Costner-produced film that has the actor/producer trying to add on and recapture what made his blockbuster Dances With Wolves a success, with Jason Scott Lee and Esai Morales as best friends, whose friendship goes sour when they fall for the same woman (Sandrine Holt) as what we now also know as easter island is being built.

Things get worse when a civil war starts to develop there and they continue to track on opposite sides. With a large supporting cast, this pre-digital production has appreciated well enough, though it is also bogged down a bit with some melodrama and predictability that never helped it, but the leads are very good here and it is well shot. Ultimately, it is worth a look for those interested and reminds me yet again how underrated Scott, Morales and Holt are. Had this been a bigger hit, they would have really benefitted. Reynolds, whose worked with Costner a few times, handles this as well as possible.

An Original Theatrical Trailer is the only extra.

Li Ruijun's Return To Dust (2022) has a couple (Wu Renlin, Hai Qing) pushed unwillingly into being married and live on a farm owned by Ma (Renlin) that has only been so successful if that. When they start working it again, they luck out and the crops succeed wildly, then they start to get along and have a relationship that is unexpectedly decent. However, just when they think it is all maybe going to work out, new instances and occurrences start to chip away at it all.

This is not bad, but a long 134 minutes and the film is slow-moving, as you might expect for the location and themes, but it does pull off some character development and character study to its credit. Unfortunately, it can also have more than a few off, flat moments and be a bit predictable in parts, so the results are often mixed. Still, this is very ambitious and those interested with patience might want to give it a look.

Extras include Trailers and a short film, Luo Runxiao's Hair Tie, Ego Homework Books (15 minutes long, from China) about a young woman who has to give a speech, but has misgivings already when she runs into someone from her past.

Robert G. Vagnola's The Scarlet Letter (1934) is an early sound film and one of the better adaptions of the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic novel about a woman publicly scorned and humiliated for just being a woman under circumstances that are absolutely no ones business, but the tale has its political and moral arguments to make and does that all well. Coleen Moore plays poor Esther Prynne, trapped in a world of ignorance and pain, one that helped inspire aspects of Margaret Atwood's modern classic A Handmaid's Tale.

I was impressed with how dense and convincing the atmosphere and situations were, a real triumph for any film of the period, playing 17th Century Massachusetts as nightmarish and sad, with no way out and where any progress seems to come with plenty or regress. This is, of course, as intended, but we are sadly also reminded of how times have not changed, especially in the last few years. Moore carries the film well and the supporting cast is very convincing, including Alan Hale, William Farnum, Hardie Albright, Cora Sue Collins and Virginia Howell. At only 71 minutes, this does an amazing job at adapting the book and its spirit. Glad it got saved!

Extras include a quality, nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and an essay by Professor and author Jason A. Ney, who (per the press release) joins us for an in-depth look at this historic film, joined by special guest, Cora Sue Collins; written essay by Ney; Ballyhoo Motion Pictures presents "A Sin of Passion: Hawthorne in Film," featuring a new interview with author, Justin Humphreys; original production, "Salem and the Scarlet Letter," with archival footage provided by producer Sam Sherman of Salem, Mass., narrated by John Carradine; and a new interview with Sherman, "Revealing the Scarlet Letter."

Now for playback performance. The 2160p HEVC/H.265, 1.85 X 1, Dolby Vision/HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced Ultra High Definition image on Last Picture Show 4K is scanned from the original camera negative and is absolutely stunning, has tons of great demo shots and is one of the best black and white transfers on any disc in home video history. Some shots might not be as stunning as others, but like Hitchcock's Psycho 4K, it is practically like watching an actual film print. This outdoes the then-impressive Criterion Blu-ray included and repeated here that was from a 35mm master positive print. That was a revelation in its time, but had some slight flaws and many of them have been corrected, fixed and smoothed over without you being able to see the difference. Sony issued the film in 4K in a 4K Classics set before, but we do not have that version to compare. With that said, it might have looked about the same, but I doubt it looked better than this!

The PCM 1.0 Mono is just a little better on the 4K edition than the regular Blu-ray, but this is a quiet film, yet the use of music and dialogue meld so well with the ideas of silence and ambient sound that it is smarter and more complex than it might first seem, especially in an era of overly loud films with 12-tracks, endless digital tricks and all kinds of subwoofer sound.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers on Christopher Strong and Scarlet Letter can show the age of the materials used, but Strong looks better after some great work, turning out to be one of the better survivors of the extensive work all the RKO feature films have needed. Rear projection is obvious, but so much of this looks so good and being the characters are rich and of means, the film looks it from the sets to the clothes, cars, situations and much more. Both also offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless sound off of the best surviving monophonic sound elements and the results and sound as good as they likely ever will.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on both In Love And War and Rapa Nui were both shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision and take advantage of the format, but are both a little softer than they should be. This suggests older but still decent HD masters, though War has some of its softness coming from its style choices at times. Color is good in both cases, but could be a bit better and daylight could look slightly better in both cases in many shots. Both also offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes that fare better and pretty well for their age and early digital sound releases. Whether they could benefit from DTS: X and/or Dolby Atmos upgrades could work for either film, but they sound about as good as they can otherwise.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.55 X 1 image on Return To Dust has an unusual aspect ratio, but it is softer than I would have liked and could have looked better, while the two soundtracks, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, are a little better with each having their strengths and weaknesses. Wonder if this could benefit from an HD presentation.

To order the Christopher Strong, In Love And War and/or Rapa Nui Warner Archive Blu-rays, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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