The DVD Report #690

Brute Force and The Naked City have received long overdue U.S. Blu-ray releases from Criterion. The films were the two biggest hits of American writer-director Jules Dassin’s Hollywood career which lasted from1940 through his blacklisting during the filming of 1950’s Thieves’ Highway.

After his move to France in 1952, Dassin became an international sensation with 1955’s Rififi and an even bigger one with his 1960 Greek film Never on Sunday, for which he received Oscar nominations for both his direction and original screenplay.

Dassin didn’t become a screenwriter until Rififi, but both Brute Force and The Naked City had the kind of taut, diverse screenplays that Dassin himself would later be known for. The screenplay for 1947’s Brute Force was written by writer-director Richard Brooks (Elmer Gantry), the same year Brooks’ novel Crossfire, directed by Edward Dmytryk, was nominated for five Oscars including one for John Paxton’s adapted screenplay.

Brute Force was that old Hollywood staple, the prison film, that dominated gangster films of the 1930s and early 1940s, but one that shocked postwar audiences with its extreme level of violence. In only his second film, Burt Lancaster, who had made his film debut in 1946’s The Killers, became a superstar. His, however, was not the most talked about performance in the film. That was the performance of Hume Cronyn as the sadistic guard dispatched by Lancaster in the film’s most shocking scene. Also outstanding in the film’s exemplary cast are Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, Jeff Corey, John Hoyt, Whit Bissell, Howard Duff, and, in flashbacks, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines, and Anita Colby.

The film’s new 4Kdigital restoration is stunning. The numerous extras are imported from previous DVD releases.

New York City had been a popular film location since the advent of the medium, but with the coming of sound, filmmakers found it too noisy to film there and although many films made in the 1930s and early 1940s were set in the city, aside from a few exterior shots, they were filmed on soundstages in Hollywood. A few later films, most notably 1945’s The House on 92nd Street, filmed whole sequences in the city, but The Naked City, filmed in 1947 and released in 1948, was the first to be filmed entirely in the city.

The police procedural not only filmed in Manhattan and the few Brooklyn locations spotted in previous New York films, but did so throughout the city including locations in Queens and on Staten Island. Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff and Don Taylor were the stars, but the film included a total of 13 credited parts and more than 100 uncredited ones including those of Kathleen Freeman and Molly Picon, both of whom provide hilarious small contributions.

The Naked City received three Oscar nominations and two wins for its cinematography and editing. It was revived as Naked City, a multi-award-winning TV series from 1958-1963 which was itself the first TV series to be filmed in New York City.

Like Brute Force, the film’s new 4Kdigital restoration is stunning while the numerous extras are imported from previous DVD releases.

Paramount, long the most reluctant Hollywood studio to make its product available on Blu-ray, is stepping up production of its back catalogue while also making some of its product available beyond the studio. A new Australian label, Imprint, has begun releasing region-free Paramount Blu-rays in the U.S. market as well as in Australia and other markets. Among their already available releases are Sorry, Wrong Number, A Place in the Sun, When Worlds Collide, The Carpetbaggers, and Night Falls on Manhattan.

George Stevens’ 1951’s film A Place in the Sun is taken from an impressive 4K restoration done by Paramount. The generous extras are all imported from previous DVDs including the commentary by George Stevens Jr. Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters star in this remake of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Nominated for nine Oscars, it won six including one for Stevens for his direction. Clift and Winters had been nominated for their performances but lost to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen and Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. It lost Best Picture to An American Paris.

Nominated for two Oscars and winner for its special effects, Rudolph Maté’s 1951 film When Worlds Collide is also taken from a 4K scan of the groundbreaking science fiction film starring Richard Derr and Barbara Rush. It imports numerous previously released extras but features an exclusive audio commentary by film critics Barry Forshaw and Kim Newman. The film was produced by the legendary George Pal (The War of the Worlds) who was presumably responsible for the Oscar-winning special effects, but they were uncredited.

Anatole Litvak’s 1948 film Sorry, Wrong Number, featuring Barbara Stanwyck’s breathtaking Oscar-nominated performance, also provides numerous previously included extras along with an exclusive audio commentary by film noir expert Film Noir Foundation board member Alan K. Rode. Author Lucille Fletcher was the wife of Hitchcock’s favorite composer, Bernard Herrmann (Psycho).

Edward Dmytryk’s 1964 film The Carpetbaggers, purportedly based on the life of Howard Huges, features an all-star cast headed by George Peppard, Alan Ladd, Carroll Baker, Bob Cummings, Martha Hyer, Elizabeth Ashley, Martin Balsam, and Lew Ayres. This release has no extras but does feature an exclusive audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger.

Sidney Lumet’s 1996 police corruption drama Night Falls on Manahttan imports two commentaries from previous DVD releases, one from Lumet, and one from actors Andy Garcia and Rob Leibman, and producers Josh Kramer and Thom Mount.

This week’s new releases include the Blu-ray releases of Roman Holiday and Barefoot in the Park.

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