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  • Chamber of Horrors (1940) Blu-ray Review

    Chamber of Horrors (1940)

    Director: Norman Lee

    Starring: Leslie Banks, Lilli Palmer, Gina Malo & Conny Van Dyke

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Imported by Poverty Row distributor Monogram Pictures shortly after a British band on horror fare was lifted, the adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s The Door with Seven Locks, retitled to the more attention-grabbing Chamber of Horrors for American shores is a convoluted labyrinth of intrigue that thrives on its solid atmosphere.  Following the passing of a wealthy lord who’s entombed with a treasure of jewels requiring seven keys to undo its locks, the unlikely heiress to his fortune, June Lansdowne (Lilli Palmer, The House That Screamed), finds herself and those closest to her entangled in a tortuous web of murder and deceit.  Hamming it up nicely as the suspected Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks, The Most Dangerous Game) whose affection for collecting historical torture devices is far from subtle, Chamber of Horrors plays more directly as a murder mystery than its more garish title suggests although, a prominent chamber where artifacts of death are on display serves as host to some of the film’s more memorable and revealing sequences.  Jaw-droppingly beautiful and injecting a fearless sense of adventure into her role, Lilli Palmer does admirably in her headlining performance contrary to early criticisms at the time of the film’s release.  Occasionally heavy-handed and bewildering in its explanations for the criminal parties seeking to make the riches their own, Chamber of Horrors may not be all that’s expected of it and instead better appreciated as a complex whodunit with effective shades of ghastly set pieces.

    KL Studio Classics presents Chamber of Horrors newly remastered with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  Commonly sporting sporadic instances of scratches and vertical lines, overblown white levels, presumably from overexposed film elements or harsher onset lighting, casts many moments in a bright wash that takes away from the atmospheric setting and corresponding details.  Otherwise, black levels spotted in costumed attire are as deep as one might expect while, facial closeups of the thespians capture respectable intricacies.  Surely the elements are far from pristine but, the upgraded high-definition picture is the best a feature of this ilk will ever look.  Matched with a rather problematic DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that relays inconsistent dialogue levels that range from clear to muffled and echoey, static is also present requiring essential volume increases and a sharp ear to collect all the track has to offer.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Kenneth J. Hall that finds genre enthusiast Del Valle right at home dishing one intriguing anecdote after another with Hall complimenting the conversation nicely.  A horror aficionado like no other, Del Valle’s infectious love for the genre and his well-prepared words are always a treat to listen to for likeminded viewers.  Finally, Trailers for White Zombie (2:46), The Black Sleep (1:36), The Undying Monster (1:04) and Donovan’s Brain (2:02) are also included alongside Reversible Cover Art.  An acceptable investigative thriller that only trips up due to its own narrative complexities, Chamber of Horrors comes cautiously recommend for those knowing more or less what’s in store while, the expert commentary track provided is worth the price alone.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, Chamber of Horrors can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pinocchio (1940) Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Pinocchio (1940)

    Director(s): Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Norman Ferguson, Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson & T. Hee

    Starring: Dickie Jones, Christian Rub, Cliff Edwards, Mel Blanc, Charles Judels & Evelyn Venable

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Walt Disney’s animated masterpiece, Pinocchio finds a magical wooden puppet coming to life and assisted by his conscience, the faithful Jiminy Cricket.  In an adventurous quest that tests the impressionable marionette’s bravery and honesty, the wave crashing events will determine his desire to become a real boy to his loving creator Geppetto.

    Based on, albeit severely deviating, from Carlo Collodi’s enduring tale, Disney’s followup to the spectacle of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs eclipses its predecessor in every way.  With the profits of Disney’s animated feature-length debut handy, technical advancements from blended color effects to animated underwater realism and a profound desire to prove his studio and artists were more than one-trick ponies, Pinocchio stands as the defining work of a creator unrestricted by his limitless imagination, never to be seen or experienced on such a grand scale again.  Yearning for a child of his own, lonely toymaker Geppetto wishes upon a star for his latest puppet to become a real boy.  Given life to his wooden body by the enchanting Blue Fairy, Pinocchio must prove himself honest and brave before the wish can truly come to fruition.  Narrating the film’s proceedings and serving as Pinocchio’s personal conscience, pint-sized Jiminy Cricket promises to guide the now stringless puppet on his journey of self-discovery.  As temptation rears its head and ignoring the advice of Jiminy, Pinocchio finds himself conned by the swindling Honest John and his feline companion Gideon before being sold to the heinous Stromboli as a moneymaker in his puppet sideshow and whisked away to the anarchic Pleasure Island by a devilish Coachman.  While Geppetto, along with his faithful pets Figaro and Cleo, frantically search for his son, Pinocchio is absorbed by the island’s seedy activities and ultimately transformed into a donkey.  Before long, Pinocchio’s family is swallowed whole by the ghastly whale Monstro, inspiring the wooden boy and Jiminy Cricket to risk life and limb to save them from certain doom and rightly earning his place as a real boy.

    A clear advancement over Walt Disney’s game-changing opus just three years earlier, Pinocchio is the fullest embodiment of Disney’s visionary style and also the studio’s bleakest effort produced during its Golden era.  Retaining the cautionary tone of age-old folktales, Pinocchio urges young viewers to mind menacing temptations and remain truthful while, at its core, is a heartfelt story concerning fathers and sons.  From its serene beginnings in Geppetto’s warm workshop to the foreboding downpours and unwholesome characters Pinocchio encounters on his road to righteousness, the film serves as a fabled account of prepubescent maturity.  Through the garishly intriguing sights of Pleasure Island and Pinocchio’s frightening confrontation with Monstro, the unrelenting suspense and drama captured in these sequences are unparalleled in Disney’s vast history.  Juxtaposed with touching yet, not overly sentimental warmth and comical sight gags at the expense of the puppet’s naiveté, Pinocchio runs the emotional gamut with ease and utmost precision.  With his money firmly placed where his mouth was once again, Disney spared no expense from the film’s grandest moments to its more rudimentary details presenting a feature eclipsing anything produced by its makers, earning its place as Disney’s gold standard for all other features to be compared to.

    Recycling the technical specifications of its Platinum Edition release, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Pinocchio with a 1080p transfer, retaining its 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  A mark of high-definition excellence, colors are vast and bold with age-related anomalies nonexistent and black levels appearing deeply rich.  Furthermore, the same DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix strongly relays the film’s dialogue levels and award winning score with only mild exchanges of softness that is less a complaint then an observation.  Newly produced supplements on this release include, the two-part featurette The Pinocchio Project: “When You Wish Upon A Star” with The Project (3:03) focusing on the recoding of the beloved track’s cover with interviews from the musical participants while, The Video (2:49) presents the finished music video of the completed song.  In addition, Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island (7:14) takes transcriptions from 1938-1939 story meetings and presents them with recreated narrations and stills to detail the development of this awe-inspiring sequence.  Also included, In Walt’s Words - Pinocchio (4:48) is an archival recording of Walt Disney from interviews conducted in 1956 and his thoughts on his animated followup.  Lastly, Oswald The Lucky Rabbit in “Poor Papa” (5:19), an animated short featuring Disney’s pre-Mickey star rounds out the release’s new to disc bonus  features.

    Offering the film’s Original Theatrical Edition, DisneyView and Sing-Along with the Movie options, classic bonus features ported over include, No Strings Attached: The Making of Pinocchio (56:09), Deleted Scenes (10:33), The Sweatbox (6:25), Geppetto’s Then and Now (10:57), Live-Action Reference Footage (9:57) and a Publicity section featuring the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (1:52), the 1984 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:25) and the 1992 re-release Theatrical Trailer (1:33).  Furthermore, “When You Wish Upon A Star” Music Video by Meaghan Jette Martin (3:14), A Wish Come True: The Making of Pinocchio (5:06), a Storyboard-To-Film Final Comparison (4:04) and Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Descendants 2 (0:17), Elena of Avalor (0:17), Born in China (1:14), 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37) and Moana (1:37) round out the entirety of the disc’s supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also provided.

    Simply stated, the artistic majesty, adventurous storytelling and iconic characters of Disney’s Pinocchio make the film a direct result of wishing upon a star and witnessing true magic come alive.  Released in a golden era of unequivocal classics, Disney’s daring second feature is unlike anything else with a beauty and emotional core unmatched, soaring above the others as the studio’s towering achievement.  Retaining its Platinum Edition’s already flawless restoration, the Signature Collection’s handful of new and stockpile of vintage supplements make those without this essential slice of animated perfection a no-brainer.  

    RATING: 5/5

    Available January 31st from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Pinocchio can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.