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  • The Scar (1948) Blu-ray Review

    The Scar (1948)

    Director: Steve Sekely

    Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett, Eduard Franz, Leslie Brooks, John Qualen, Mabel Paige & Herbert Rudely

    Released by: KL Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    After a casino hit gone wrong, The Scar finds on-the-run gambler John Muller (Paul Henreid, Casablanca) evading mobsters that want him dead.  Bearing a striking resemblance to psychiatrist Dr. Batrok, Muller decides to take control of the good doctor’s life in the perfect scheme to stay alive.  While Bartok’s secretary (Joan Bennett, Dark Shadows) grows suspicious of her employer, Muller slowly begins to inherit Bartok’s own personal troubles.  Steve Sekely (The Day of the Triffids) directs.

    Soaked in juicy thrills and the threat of danger constantly looming, The Scar, initially released as Hollow Triumph, may be the spawn of respected Poverty Row distributor Eagle-Lion Films but, rises above its inherent B-picture DNA to deliver a tense noir unafraid of remaining in the gloomy shadows.  Based on Murray Forbes’ novel, recently released prisoner John Muller seeks to get rich quick and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the process.  A brilliant mind who ditched out on medical school, Muller gathers his old cronies together for a hit on feared mob boss Rocky Stansyck’s casino only for the plot to crumble, leaving some dead and Muller wanted the same way by the mobsters.  Relocating, Muller is mistaken for a local psychologist who, with the exception of a glaring scar upon his cheek, could pass as the doctor’s twin.  Running low on options and using his education to his advantage, Muller, simultaneously wooing Bartok’s beautiful secretary Evelyn Hahn as himself, sets out to impersonate the psychoanalyst.  Fudging up which cheek to scar after disposing of the actual Bartok, Muller’s act surprisingly fools patients and friends alike only to have Evelyn, Bartok’s former mistress, not fully convinced.  Paranoid after several close calls with Stansyck’s henchmen and emotionally conflicted with Evelyn, Muller’s new life may not be quite as innocent as he once assumed.  A crafty potboiler that invites viewers into the mind of a calculated crook, The Scar may not be a game changer but, greatly impresses with its gorgeous monochrome photography and a surprisingly bleak conclusion that outshines any of its more contrived, albeit still entertaining, moments.

    Newly remastered, KL Studio Classics welcomes The Scar to Blu-ray with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.  While bouts of scratches and reel change pronunciations are spotted, overall clarity is strong while, black levels, seen in the film’s many suits and coat jackets, are deeply inky.  In addition, facial details are best observed in medium shots with tighter angles, although still pleasing, appear noticeably softer.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is relayed audibly with gunshots and suspenseful music cues registering as defiantly as expected for a film of its age.  A mild layer of static is also present but thankfully never overly intrusive.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Film Historian Imogen Sara and Trailers for 99 River Street (2:13), Cry of the City (2:33), Shield for Murder (1:45), Boomerang (2:30) and He Ran All the Way (2:13).

    A well-oiled noir that engages and never bores, The Scar arrives with clichés to spare but, the combined performances of Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett mixed with the film’s striking appearance and daringly somber finale make it a solid getaway car for noir enthusiasts.  Meanwhile, KL Studio Classics’ new remastering of the picture is a welcome upgrade that preserves the thriller for years to come.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from KL Studio Classics, The Scar can be purchased via KinoLorber.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Victor/Victoria (1982) Blu-ray Review

    Victor/Victoria (1982)

    Director: Blake Edwards

    Starring: Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Lesley Ann Warren, Alex Karras & John Rhys-Davies

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in Paris 1934, Victor/Victoria stars Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) as the literally starving artist Victoria Grant whose luck turns around after befriending the flamboyantly friendly cabaret performer Carroll “Toddy” Todd (Robert Preston, The Music Man).  Devising an act where Victoria will pretend to be a man performing as a woman, audiences rave while, the rising star’s crush on a dreamy mobster (James Garner, The Great Escape) who slowly suspects the performer is not who “he” claims to be results in a feature of hilarious situations and musical magic.  Lesley Ann Warren (A Night in Heaven), Alex Karras (Webster) and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) co-star.

    A remake of the 1933 German effort Viktor und Viktoria, Writer/Director Blake Edwards’ (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) modern take remains true to its originators time period while, injecting lavish colors and even livelier musical numbers courtesy of the great Henry Mancini (Days of Wine and Roses).  In a tour de force, Julie Andrews brings her lovable charm to a performance that requires both male and female tendencies while, pushing the skillful boundaries of her singing and dancing chops in several show-stopping sequences.  Hilariously supporting Andrews, Robert Preston is magnificent as her self-professed queen best friend who recognizes Victoria’s talent and plants the seed for the show biz scheme of a lifetime.  Taking Paris by storm, Victoria/Victor are an instant smash allowing the gender-bending starlet and her manager to lead the good life until the arrival of suave-looking mobster King Marchand (Preston) lead both King and Victoria to fancy one another.  Convinced the publicized male singer is in fact a woman, King’s tough guy front dissipates before he’s truly sure and passionately plants one on the beauty in one of the film’s most romantic moments.  Further complimented by memorable turns from Lesley Ann Warren as a ditzy Chicago floozy, John Rhys-Davies as a prominent booking agent and Alex Karras as King’s closeted, teddy bear-like bodyguard, Victor/Victoria never suffers a casting flaw while, sillier sequences involving Victoria and Toddy planting cockroaches in a restaurant to avoid paying the check welcome heavy doses of comedy.  Admittedly running slightly longer than necessary, Victor/Victoria never seizes to impress with its well choreographed dance routines, Academy Award-winning score and a pitch perfect cast that gives life to its rhythmic tale of hilarity and love that doesn’t require labels.

    Warner Archive presents Victor/Victoria with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  From its hot pink opening titles to its colorful staged performances, the revered musical makes its high-definition debut with stunning clarity.  Boasting exquisite levels of detail in the more theatrical costume choices and its mid 1930s environments, skin tones are steadily natural while, black levels never disappoint with an overall healthy layer of grain retaining its filmic beauty.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, dialogue is nicely handled with no qualms to be had.  Meanwhile, the film’s mix truly comes alive during its many music-filled sequences that take full advantage of Andrews’ high-reaching singing notes and the many brass and horn sections that accompany each song.  Carrying over all previously available supplements, the limited bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with Star Julie Andrews & Writer/Director Blake Edwards, a DVD Easter Egg (0:36), which although not so secretly hidden, the brief interview snippet features Edwards offering compliments for Andrews’ impressive work on the film.  Lastly, the Theatrical Trailer (2:23) is also included.

    From a decade that exuded a surprising amount of musicals, Victor/Victoria ranks as one of the finest, serving as a career milestone for Andrews.  Strengthened by its theatrical energy and snappy humor, this showbiz tale with a charming love story at its core is a diva of a picture worthy of its reputation.  Warner Archive’s splendid high-definition release is a noticeable upgrade that enhances the film’s many visual charms while retaining its filmic integrity.  Although special features are few and reduced to vintage material, Victor/Victoria’s Blu-ray release remains heartily recommended.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, Victor/Victoria can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Massacre Gun (1967) Blu-ray Review

    Massacre Gun (1967)

    Director: Yasuharu Hasebe

    Starring: Jô Shishido, Tatsuya Fuji, Jirô Okazaki, Hidekai Nitani & Takashi Kanda

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Starring genre icon Jô Shishido (Branded to Kill), Massacre Gun focuses on Kuroda (Shishido), a mob hitman who gives up his profession following orders to execute his lover.  Joined by his devoted brothers, hotheaded Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji, In the Realm of the Sense) and aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter), the trio embark on a deadly retaliation war against the mob that won’t end until one side is defeated.  

    Soaked in monochrome and reminiscent of the moody American film noirs of the 1930s and 40s, Massacre Gun is the embodiment of the “Nikkatsu Noir”, produced by the studio during a booming decade of popularity.  Noticeably more savage and unforgiving than its stateside predecessors, Director Yasuharu Hasebe’s (Retaliation) blood thicker than water tale grooms the viewer with a familiar narrative of turf wars and revenge before shocking the senses with brutal shootouts uncommon for its era.  Jô Shishido stars as the reserved Kuroda, a mobster at odds with his employer after being forced to execute his lover.  Unable to continue his duties, Kuroda respectfully quits his profession only to incense gang boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda) who won’t take no for an answer.  Simultaneously angered by Akazawa’s overpowering grip, youngest brother and boxing prodigy Saburô (Jirô Okazaki) confronts the crime boss only to have his hands shattered, ending his professional career.  In addition, fellow brother Eiji’s (Tatsuya Fuji) Club Rainbow hotspot and base of their operations is destroyed by Akazawa’s men leaving the brothers shattered and filled with rage.  Determined to take their revenge, the Kuroda brothers slowly begin reclaiming turf from Akazawa as a full on gang war is initiated.  Masterfully directed by Hasebe, Massacre Gun oozes with style as smoke infested bars and back room gambling parties become commonplace in a world where respect is demanded by those most dangerous.  

    With his bed firmly made and pursued by mobsters, Kuroda’s friend and active employee of Akazawa, Shirasaka (Hidekai Nitani), pleads with Kuroda to reconsider his actions to no avail.  With no choices remaining, the two former friends become deadliest of enemies as attempted hits are consistently made on one another’s sides.  With the exception of Kuroda’s lovers murder, Massacre Gun almost fails to live up to its name as the brothers resist the urge to use gun power until a casket housing a dead body and explosives arrives at Club Rainbow.  As the stakes are raised, so is the film’s violence with a firing squad of mobsters going up against a one man army in Kuroda and his rifle.  Over-the-top shootouts and an intense finale on a dormant highway road leave little time to breathe and endless rounds of ammunition and bloodshed on the screen.  Exchanging samurai swords for pistols and honor being substituted for bloodthirsty revenge, Massacre Gun is technically sound with exquisite camerawork from Cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (Youth of the Beast) and Shishido’s focused yet, deadly manner making his performance a standout.  Stylistic and wildly violent, Massacre Gun stands as a shining example of the bygone “Nikkatsu Noir” subgenre.

    Marking its Blu-ray debut, Arrow Video presents Massacre Gun with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  Nicely detailed and capturing noirish shadows with clarity, Massacre Gun has minor instances of speckling with black levels generally pleasing in the characters’ dark suits.  Some exterior daytime sequences exhibit overblown whites while, each cut in the film demonstrates an occasionally bothersome framing line at the top of the screen.  Anomalies aside, the transfer greatly succeeds where it counts making the viewing experience a pleasure.  Accompanied with an LPCM 1.0 mix and optional English subtitles, the film’s Japanese dialogue is delivered with excellent clarity, free of any distortion.  Exhibiting a fitting jazz score, Massacre Gun delivers with a blaring horn section and a strong sense of depth.  In addition, gunshots rattle the mix with impressive authority, heightening the onscreen violence.  Special features include, an Interview with Jô Shishido (17:38).  Newly produced for this release and accompanied with subtitles, 80 year-old Shishido discusses his impressive career highlights and involvement in the film.  Furthermore, an Interview with Tony Rayns (36:26) is included as Film Historian and Critic Rayns discusses Nikkatsu’s lengthy and diverse filmmaking history.  In addition, a Trailer (2:25), Promotional Gallery (14 still in total), 22-page booklet comprised of various stills and a newly prepared essay by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, reversible cover art and DVD edition of the release round out the supplemental offerings.

    Excellently capturing a noirish atmosphere and injecting increased levels of violence, Massacre Gun feels strikingly American in its style but, notably original in its delivery.  Sealed with terrific performances and detailed direction, Massacre Gun tells its tale of revenge with the utmost seriousness and the bullets to back it up.  Limited to 3,000 units, Arrow Video debuts Massacre Gun on Blu-ray for the first time with admirable technical merits and scholarly special features that educate the viewer on the film and Nikkatsu’s enduring legacy.  Fans of stylish film noirs yearning for an adrenaline shot will be impressively blown away by Massacre Gun.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow VideoMassacre Gun can be purchased via ArrowFilms.com.ukAmazon.com and other fine retailers.