The DVD Report #697

Criterion capped off a stellar month of Blu-ray releases with a director-approved two-Blu-ray special edition of Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite from a new 4K digital master.

The first disc is the original theatrical release of the film with commentary by Bong and British critic Tony Rayns. The second disc is Bong’s black-and-white remaster of the original release which was itself given a limited theatrical release earlier this year. Both versions look absolutely stunning in this upgrade from the film’s earlier Blu-ray release.

The world-wide phenomenon capped off its incredible array of international awards at the 2019 Academy Awards earlier this year, winning four Oscars, three of them going to Bong himself. He won for Best Picture, Directing, and Original Screenplay. The fourth win was for Best International Film, which went to its country of origin, South Korea, rather than to the filmmaker himself. It was the first time a foreign language film had won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the first time that Best Picture and International Film (previously known as Foreign Language Film) were won by the same film.

The commentary track is basically an interview by Rayns in which the director responds to his questions with detailed explanations as to how things were done and why. It is one of the more entertaining, as well as informative, commentaries out there.

Also new to Blu-ray from Criterion are The Gunfighter, Claudine, and The Hit.

1950’s The Gunfighter was Henry King and Gregory Peck’s follow-up to the multi-award-winning 1949 film Twelve O’Clock High.

King was long one of Hollywood’s busiest directors. He was the man who introduced Ronald Colman to American audiences in 1923’s The White Sister and discovered both Gary Cooper and Tyrone Power among many others. Seven of his films earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture: State Fair, In Old Chicago, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, The Song of Bernadette, Wilson, the aforementioned Twelve O’Clock High, and Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. He himself was nominated for two Oscars, for The Song of Bernadette and Wilson.

Peck, at this time, was a veteran of four Oscar races for The Keys of the Kingdom, The Yearling, Gentleman’s Agreement, and Twelve O’Clock High, which would be his last until To Kill a Mockingbird would yield him a win at the 1962 awards.

The Gunfighter was given a gorgeous 4K digital restoration. Although classified as a western, it is more of a film noir than a typical western with Peck playing a man tired of his reputation and coming to a small town to reunite with his true love (Helen Westcott) who doesn’t want to see him. With strong support from Millard Mitchell, Jean Parker, Karl Malden, Skip Homeier, and Richard Jaeckel, the film also features blink-and-you’ll-miss-them appearances by Verna Felton and Ellen Corby.

Extras include video essays on King and editor Barbara McLean along with archival audio interviews from both.

A new 4K digital restoration was also given to John Berry’s 1974 film Claudine about a single mother of six on welfare.

Although he had directed films in France after his blacklisting, Claudine was Berry’s first Hollywood film since 1950’s He Ran All the Way. It was intended as a vehicle for Diana Sands (A Raisin in the Sun, The Landlord) who worked for three weeks rehearsing with co-star James Earl Jones and the six kids playing her children, but was taken ill during the first day of filming and had to be taken to the hospital where she died of cancer shortly thereafter. On her deathbed, she suggested her friend Diahann Carroll, with whom she worked on TV’s Julia, be given the part. When Carroll reported for work as filming resumed, first up was a scene with the six kids who couldn’t understand why she was there instead of Sands. No one had told them she had died.

Sands was an actress who excelled at tragic roles. Carroll was at her best in more glamorous, and comedic, roles. Although the film is a mix of comedy and drama, it ends with Carroll’s family arrested on her wedding day to garbage collector Jones. With the eternally optimistic Carroll in the role, it seems a given that the family will be in and out of jail in no time. With the perpetually sad Sands in the role, the outcome would have been more in doubt, giving an edge to the film that is missing. Nevertheless, Carroll acquits herself quite well in a difficult role that led to the film’s, and her, only Oscar nomination.

Extras include a conversation between filmmaker Robert Townsend and programmer Ashley Clark about the film and an archival audio interview with Carroll.

1984’s The Hit, given a 2K digital restoration by Criterion, was the first in a string of quirky successes for Stephen Frears, which continued with My Beautiful Laundrette, Prick Up Your Ears, The Grifters, Dirty Pretty Things, and The Queen.

Terence Stamp, in one of his many enigmatic roles, plays an informer relocated to Spain with a new identity after testifying against an English mob boss. Ten Years later, he is captured by hit men John Hurt and Tim Roth who take him on a road trip through Spain and into France on the way back to England. Both Hurt and Roth are disarmed by Stamp’s seemingly carefree acceptance of his fate. As tensions escalate, the lives of all three men are changed forever. Fernando Rey co-stars as the head detective on their tail.

Extras include a previously recorded audio commentary by Frears, Hurt, and Roth, and a 1988 video interview with Stamp who reflects on Billy Budd and other early successes.

Warner Archive ended a busy month with the Blu-ray releases of Mervyn LeRoy’s sublime 1940 version of Waterloo Bridge and David Miller’s tedious 1956 musical The Opposite Sex, a misbegotten remake of George Cukor’s 1939 masterpiece The Women.

Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor star in the former. June Allyson, Joan Collins, Dolores Gray, and Ann Miller star in the latter in roles that were perfected by Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Paulette Goddard in The Women, an earlier and better Blu-ray release form the archive.

This week’s new releases include the Blu-ray releases of Shepherd of the Hills and The Mortal Storm.

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