A+ List: Singin’ in the Rain (also Some Like It Hot)

You will not learn anything by watching Singin’ in the Rain. It will not make you a better person or help you understand the human condition. But for 103 exhilarating minutes, this movie will entertain you like no other.

Singin’ in the Rain contains several of the best dance routines in film history. And when no one is singing or dancing, it’s one of the funniest comedies of the 1950s. The movie’s perfect mixture of dancing and laughs earns Singin’ in the Rain a spot on my A+ list of great films.

But before we do our song and dance, let me direct you to another A+ comedy from the 1950s–and one that share’s Singin’ in the Rain‘s late 1920s setting: Some Like It Hot. You can read my Blu-ray review.

I caught Singin’ in the Rain Saturday afternoon at a Pacific Film Archive
Movie Matinee for All Ages. It was the first time I’d seen it on the big screen in at least 20 years. The audience response, with laughter and applause (and one little kid’s “Yeww!” at a kiss), added to the fun.

Singin’ in the Rain mines laughs from Hollywood’s sudden transition from silent films to talkies. It follows the fortune of a swashbuckling movie star who has to make the painful transition to sound (Gene Kelly, who also co-directed and co-choreographed the movie).

The talkie revolution wrought fear and confusion, which makes it a perfect subject for comedy. Two back-to-back sequences–of shooting an early dialog scene and suffering through a sneak preview–are inspired by actual early talkie disasters, and are all the funnier for it.

Of course, they’re exaggerated. Singin’ in the Rain should not be taken as a history lesson. Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green telescoped changes in the movie industry that happened over four years into less than one. But who cares? This isn’t a documentary; it’s a musical comedy.

The songs, almost all of which had come from previous MGM musicals, get their definitive versions here. No one remembers a group of scared-of-the-microphone stars (including Buster Keaton) belting out Singin’ in the Rain in Hollywood Revue of 1929. But Gene Kelly’s solo performance–a soaking-wet man so happy he’s bursting–is dance-on-film perfection.

And it’s not even the film’s best number. That, in my opinion, goes to Donald O’Connor’s solo, Make ‘Em Laugh. He falls, he jumps, he hits on a dummy and then gets into a fight with it. He runs up walls and backflips off of them. His astonishing acrobatics and comically rubber face puts this number is a league of its own. When you watch the number, you don’t know if you should laugh, enjoy the catchy song, or just be amazed at O’Connor’s physicality. Soon you give in and enjoy all three.

Those are just the solos. Kelly and O’Connor do a great duet, also comic, in Moses Supposes. Ingénue Debbie Reynolds (who had no significant dance training before being casted–although you wouldn’t know it by watching the movie) joins them for the upbeat Good Morning.

And then there’s The
Broadway Ballet. Running almost 14 minutes, it tells its own fable of gaining fame and losing love, completely separate from the film’s Hollywood-set story. There’s no dialog and little singing; the story is told in pantomime and dance. It’s sad, funny, spectacular, and sexy. Kelly is the only performer in the Ballet and the rest of the movie.

Kelly was the type of actor/director who put the overall movie above his own ego. He lets O’Connor steal the show. And when he’s not stealing it, Jean Hagen does as a silent movie star with a voice like fingernails on a chalkboard.

The great dancer Cyd Charisse turns up in The Broadway Ballet. She dances with the litheness of a cat…or a snake. Her dance with Kelly is so sexy I’m not sure how it got passed the censors.

Behind the camera, we can thank Stanley Donen, Kelly’s collaborator in directing and choreographing. Most of the songs were written by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown in the first decade of talking pictures. Freed went on to become the best producer of musicals in Hollywood history, and Singin’ in the Rain was his greatest achievement.

Singin’ in the Rain–originally shot in Technicolor’s three-strip process–was screened at the PFA digitally off of a DCP. The image quality was decent, but nowhere near as impressive as other three-strip-to-digital transfers I’ve seen. The audio was a relatively new 5.1 mix; I would have preferred the original mono, but the surround version is okay.

New haunted series at SFMOMA

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) recently gave its Phyllis Wattis Theater an upgrade. And now they’re combining forces with the San Francisco Film Society for a three-weekend series of Modern Cinema, with an emphasis on films both haunted and haunting.

SFMOMA and SFFS aren’t the only organizations involved. The festival will focus on films preserved and made available by Janus Films and the Criterion Collection. And the Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul joins the mix, with a weekend dedicated to his work and the films that have inspired him.

Although neither organization is using the word festival, I’m counting the series as one because each weekend provides enough cinema to become an intensive experience.

The first section, Haunted by Cinema, runs Friday, October 7 through Sunday the 9th. Despite the name, these are not necessarily scary movies. They’re films that “have haunted the creative world since they were first screened—the works whose influence can be felt in all the films that followed.” They include such well-known classics as Rashomon, The Seventh Seal, and L’Avventura. But they also include lesser but still influential works like Mysterious Object at Noon and Black Girl.

Rashomon

Unfortunately, that first weekend will conflict with the Mill Valley Film Festival. It’s hard to find a film festival-free weekend in the fall.

The second section, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, concentrates on the filmmaker, his films, and the films that inspired him. It starts with An Evening with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, where he’ll talk and screen shorts. In addition to Weerasethakul’s work, the weekend will include The Spirit of the Beehive, Knife in the Water, The River, and Viridiana. This section runs from Thursday, October 13 through Sunday the 16th.

The River

The final section, Haunted Cinema, is the fun one. It runs Friday, October 21 through Sunday the 23rd--as Halloween in approaching. The movies include Picnic at Hanging Rock, Ugetsu and Carnival of Souls.

The newly improved Phyllis Wattis Theater sports two 35mm projectors (for archival prints), a 4K DCP-compatible digital projector, Meyer Sound, and its own entrance separate from the Museum proper.

Carnival of Souls

It also has drink holders. At the press conference I attended, they kept talking about the drink holders. But they also showed us a digital clip from Carnival of Souls; it looked fantastic.

Twelve of the films will be screened in 35mm. The remaining 14 will be digital. They’ll be showing The River on film; I hope it’s the same 1952 dye-transfer print I saw last year.

A+ List: North by Northwest (also Notorious)

A glib advertising man with two ex-wives and a drinking problem becomes the victim of mistaken identity. Foreign spies want to kill him, and the police want to arrest him for the murder of a man killed by the spies. Clever witticisms won’t help him this time.

Alfred Hitchcock made thrillers more frightening and thoughtful than North by Northwest. But he never made one more entertaining. Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman provide almost as many laughs as thrills, and balance them deftly. Sheer entertainment value earns this movie a spot on my A+ list, where I honor the great films that I’ve loved for decades.

But before we dangle Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint off of Abraham Lincoln’s nose, I’d like to bring your attention to one of those more frightening and thoughtful Hitchcock films that belongs on my list: Notorious. You can read my Blu-ray review.

Okay, back to North by Northwest:

Hitchcock made quite a few movies about regular people caught up in the dangerous world of spies. He made even more about innocent people accused of a crime they did not commit. He combined these two plot tropes three times. In North by Northwest, he combined them for the third, the last, and best the time.

We barely get to know advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) before evil foreign spies mistake him for American counterspy George Kaplan–a man that they very much want dead. Then the spies kill a man and Thornhill is blamed for the murder. So Thornhill must now avoid the bad guy and the police while trying to find out the real story and prove his innocence.

Lehman wrote Thornhill, and Grant plays him, as a witty but shallow opportunist with little regard for the truth. “In the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie. There’s only expedient exaggeration.”

As the story marches on, he finds something–or someone–he really cares about: Eve Kendall, played by Eva Marie Saint. An actress associated with serious drama and working-class characters (for instance, On the Waterfront), Saint stepped out of her onscreen image to play one of the best so-called Hitchcock blondes–beautiful, glamorous, poised, and outwardly cold–until she turns up the heat.

I’m a sucker for suave, aristocratic, unfailingly polite villains–the sort who would treat you with every courtesy before killing you. James Mason plays that character to perfection in North by Northwest. As Vandamm, the head of the foreign spies, he’s the sort of man you would like to have at your dinner party–assuming there’s no one there he might need to permanently silence.

Vandamm is as witty as he is ruthless and polite. Much of the film’s humor comes from his banter with Thornhill:

Vandamm: Mr. Kaplan, you are quite the performer. First you’re the outraged Madison Avenue advertising executive who claims that he has been mistaken for someone else. Next, you play the fugitive from justice supposedly trying to clear himself of a crime he knows he didn’t commit. And now, you’re the jealous lover spurned by love and betrayal.

Thornhill: Apparently the only performance that will satisfy you is when I play dead.

Vandamm: Your very next role, and you’ll be quite convincing, I assure you.

Hitchcock and Lehman knew when to be funny, when to be suspenseful, and when to combine the two. There’s no humor in the famous crop-dusting scene, and no suspense (well, not much) in Thornhill’s and Kendall’s comic flirting. Interestingly, the broadest, silliest gag in the whole movie comes just before the nail-biting climactic sequence.

Visually, North by Northwest takes its audience on a journey by train, bus, and plane from New York City to Chicago to South Dakota’s Mt. Rushmore (a more accurate title would have been West by West North). This was Hitchcock’s fifth and last film shot in Paramount’s large-frame VistaVision format. The higher definition helps enhance the scenery, even when that scenery is part of the rear-projection special effect.

VistaVision also helps emphasize the film’s glamour and its uniquely modern architecture. The film was a major influence on the early James Bond movies.

According to Alfred Hitchcock, “Some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake.” North by Northwest is a rich, dark chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream.

Adapting Shakespeare: Ran and Chimes at Midnight

400 years after his death, people still love William Shakespeare. I can think of no other story teller whose works have remained popular so long. His talent, obviously, has a lot to do with it. But so is his adaptability. His plays, written with almost no stage directions, give actors and directors countless interpretations.

Most Shakespeare productions, either on stage or in film, stay loyal to his work. A production of Hamlet may be shortened, and set in a time and place that the Bard of Avon could never imagine. But the dialog would all come from Hamlet.

But some imaginative directors can take a Shakespeare play–or five of them–and create something totally new.

Within a few days of each other at the Pacific Film Archive, I caught two of the most imaginative, and two of the best, Shakespeare adaptations ever recorded on film. Not coincidentally, they were made by two of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers: Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa.

The PFA didn’t screen these films as part of a Shakespeare series. They were just classic films that had recently received beautiful, new digital restorations. Both films were screened off 4K DCPs.

Chimes at Midnight

Orson Welles stuck almost entirely to Shakespeare’s language in his 1966 retelling of the Falstaff story. But he didn’t stick to one particular work. The dialog comes from five separate plays.

Most of Chimes at Midnight comes from the plays Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2, with a smattering of dialog from Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Winsor. From these plays, it tells the tragi-comic story of Sir John Falstaff and his doomed friendship with Prince Hal–the future King Henry V.

Years before I knew that this film existed, I wanted someone would make it. Henry IV, Part 1 is my favorite Shakespeare play. I never cared much for Part 2, except for the brilliant ending that closes the story much better than anything in Part 1. Welles combined the two plays to use the best from each of them.

Quick rundown on the story: King Henry IV (John Gielgud), struggles with a rebellion and his own guilt in the overthrow and murder of Richard II. He also worries about his oldest son, Hal (Keith Baxter), who’s spending his time drinking, carousing, and whoring with a bunch of lowlifes led by a fat, drunken, lying knave named Sir John Falstaff (Welles). Inevitably, Hal will have to set aside his wild ways and take on his royal responsibilities.

It would be tough to find a more perfect actor to play Falstaff than Orson Welles. He was extremely overweight by the 1960s, and yet he still had that star charisma. His Falstaff is rowdy, tricky, mostly joyful, often funny, and inevitably heading for disaster. Like Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, he’s a good man with a tragic flaw. But his flaw is his zest for life.

The cast also includes Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey, Margaret Rutherford, and Ralph Richardson’s voice narrating from Holinshed’s Chronicles.

As is true with so much of Welles’ work, Chimes at Midnight was made with very little money. Shot in Spain in black and white, it’s a remarkably beautiful film for its budget. Welles and his collaborators create a battle with a smattering of extras, shoot the castle scenes in old, crumbling ruins, and re-imagine the ultimate Merry Olde England pub and bawdy house.

But the low budget shows itself in the soundtrack. Almost all of the dialog had to be post-dubbed after the shooting–and not always with the same actor who had played the role onscreen. The lips don’t always match, and the sound is often too clean for the onscreen environment. I found this a big problem early on. Eventually, I got used to it.

I might not have gotten used to it if it wasn’t otherwise such an excellent film.

Ran

William Shakespeare created his saddest, most hopeless tragedy in King Lear. And Akira Kurosawa loosely adapted it in his saddest, most hopeless film, Ran.

Kurosawa altered the story considerably. In the most obvious change, the three daughters become three sons. When your story is set in 16th-century Japan, giving land and castles to daughters would have been unthinkable.

But another alteration takes Ran into a deeper space than Lear. Kurosawa tells us something about the aging warlord’s past. The Lear figure Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) is now a senile old man, but was once a cruel and fearsome warrior. He attacked and destroyed his neighbors without pity, killing his rivals, forcing their daughters into marriage, and blinding children who might one day want revenge.

He’s carrying some very bad karma, and he will pay for that karma before the film ends. So will his sons–two of which are as bad as he used to be. Many innocent people will suffer as well. Kurosawa shows no optimism in Ran. The evil will pay for their sins, but that’s of little comfort to their victims. (The title, Ran, loosely translates into English as chaos.)

While turning Lear’s two evil daughters into evil sons, Kurosawa also created one of cinema’s great villainesses in the oldest brother’s wife (Mieko Harada). Seemingly the proper Japanese high-born wife, she manipulates her husband and, after his death, her brother-in-law in her desire to destroy Hidetora’s family. We understand her reasons; Hidetora killed her family and forced her into marriage, but she doesn’t care how many good people must die for her vengeance.

Kurosawa and his collaborators created a stunningly beautiful film in Ran, but it’s often a strangely ugly beauty. The exceptionally gory battle scenes run with a bright red, and a sense of unnecessary yet inevitable death. A castle siege, with no sound except haunting music, may be the best medieval battle scene ever filmed.

I discussed Ran at greater length in 2010–also after a PFA screening. It was screened then off a new 35mm print which I described at the time as “beautiful.” Was that better than the new DCP? How should I know; that was six years ago. But I’d call the digital version beautiful, as well.

Late Spring at the Pacific Film Archive

As people grow, the way they relate to their family inevitably changes. Some fight the change, and others accept it.

I went to the Pacific Film Archive Wednesday night to see Yasujirô Ozu’s 1949 masterpiece, Late Spring, about a young woman resisting change. She wants to stay with her widowed father, but he senses that it’s time for her to make a life without him.

Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is 27, and seems completely happy living with and taking care of her father (Chishû Ryû). No other actor in the history of cinema could radiate kindness and joy like Hara, and she makes us know with absolutely certainty that she’s contented in her life.

But her father worries about her. Most women her age are married. If things don’t change soon, she will be lonely after he’s gone. So, with the help of friends and family, he searches for a suitable husband and–with far more difficulty–convince her to marry.

Today, a film about a woman being pressured into marriage would carry a strong feminist message: A woman can lead a full and happy life without being chained to a man. I’m not entirely sure if Ozu felt that way when he made Late Spring. Probably not, but the film actually works within that point of view. After all, she doesn’t meet that perfect man. But Ozu never looks down on the father and the others trying to bring Noriko to the alter. They’re clearly acting on what they believe are her best interests.

Besides, Noriko is already chained to a man she loves–her father.

Noriko’s reluctance to change makes her judgmental of change in others–a surprising character trait on someone so warm and friendly. She calls a divorced male friend “dirty” (with a smile) because he remarried.

Late Spring is shot and edited in Ozu’s patented simple, elegant style. Especially in interiors, he kept the camera low–only a few inches from the ground–and rarely moved it. You take in the room and see how everyone reacts to each other.

Ozu’s slow editing pace helps bring you into the world of the characters. He shows us a tea ceremony, trolley rides, Tokyo and rural streets, and a good bit of a Noh play. As an American born in the second half of the 20th century, I found these moments fascinating and enlightening. But I couldn’t help wondering how these scenes may have effected Late Spring‘s intended audience. For them, much of this must have felt like boring old life.

While Ozu’s camera stays on day-to-day life, much of the story is concealed–another common part of Ozu’s style. For instance, we never see the man everyone is pressuring Noriko to marry.

Late Spring has recently benefited from a new 4K restoration, and the PFA screened it off a 4K DCP. I’m getting a little tired of praising the latest 4K restoration; starting with Children of Paradise in 2012, they’ve all been gorgeous. Late Spring’s restoration had a few washed out moments, but other than that, it looked great.

Late Spring will screen again on Sunday, July 17, 5:00.

A+ List: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (also Lone Star & My Darling Clementine)

Has there ever been an ingénue with a more perfectly comical name than Trudy Kockenlocker? Or a code-era Hollywood movie that so deftly outwitted the censors of its time? There are funnier movies than The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, but not many, and none this funny that flew in the face of traditional morality with as much glee.

With its deft mixture of physical and verbal comedy, and its daring break from the conventions of its day, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek earns a spot on my A+
list
, where I honor the great films that I have loved for decades.

But before we get to Trudy Kockenlocker’s dilemma, I’d like to name two other A+ movies that I’ve already written about:

  • Lone Star: John Sayles’ portrait of a small Texas town
    turned 20 last month, and I’ve just added it to this list. I discuss it in this Fandor Keyframe article.
  • My Darling Clementine: You can read my Blu-ray review.

Now, back to The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.

To truly understand the miracle of this movie, you should know a bit about the restrictions Hollywood filmmakers had to contend with in 1944. Amongst many other limitations, you could not show a woman visibly pregnant. You could not even use the word pregnant. And that unmentionable condition could only be the natural result of a marriage license.

Those rules went into effect in 1934. But the reality of World War II added more restrictions. You had to celebrate patriotism, and could not show the American military in anything but a positive light.

Despite these restrictions, writer/director Preston Sturges created a comedy about a small-town teenage girl who goes out partying with a whole platoon, and comes home pregnant. And he did it without breaking any of the rules. For instance, Trudy vaguely remembers that she got married on her night with the boys–even though she can’t remember her husband’s name or face.

Even crazier, the story works as a parody of the Christmas story. Trudy, like Mary, is a virgin who gets impregnated by an unseen entity. She has to leave town. And when she finally gives birth–during the Christmas season, no less–she gives birth to a miracle. Of course, since it’s a Preston Sturges movie, it’s a very funny miracle.

If you’re going to have fun with the Christmas story, you need a Joseph, and Sturges created the perfect comic Joseph in Norval Jones, and found the perfect actor to play him in comedian Eddie Bracken. Rejected by the draft board, Norval is the loser without a uniform that no one wants. Bracken, a homely fellow who could never be a straight leading man, gives him a jittery fear of almost everything, but a sense of gallantry that inevitably wins you over.

Norval is hopelessly in love with Trudy, and she uses him horribly. When she becomes pregnant, he’s the obvious fall guy. And a fall guy is an important thing to have when the girl’s father is the town’s short-tempered constable.

That short-tempered constable is played by William Demarest–the brightest gem in Sturges’ regular repertory company of comic supporting actors. Specializing in playing cranky men with little education, his characters tended to be rough, gruff, and suspicious. His performance as Trudy’s father is one of his best–tough and bossy, but completely unable to control his daughters.

Speaking of those daughters, Betty Hutton rocketed to stardom through her performance as Trudy. She’s impulsive, confused, and terrified. Even after she realizes that she loves Norval (don’t tell me you didn’t see that coming), she’s overwhelmed with fear. And she carries her end of the comic dialog with the perfectly-timed training of the professional she was.

Diana Lynn plays Trudy’s younger but smarter sister with ironic detachment. She has many of the film’s best punchlines, usually at her father’s expense. He’s not always sure that he’s been insulted.

The laughs are nearly constant, and well varied between dialog and slapstick. Rapid-fire comic dialog was one of Sturges’ strengths, and in many scenes you have to listen closely to get all the gags. And the physical comedy is just as impressive. Demarest was in his 50s when he shot The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, yet he takes several impressive and always funny pratfalls that most people wouldn’t do at 30. Bracken could fall almost as well, and in one great moment walks through a screen door.

From 1940 through ’44, Sturges wrote and directed some of the funniest, most daring, and sexy comedies to come out of Hollywood’s factories. I’ve already told you about The Lady EveThe Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is even better. To my mind, it’s his masterpiece.

And Paramount, which owns the film, has made it available for free on its  Paramount Vault Youtube channel.

This article was altered hours after it was posted. I corrected the headline, and added the final paragraph about streaming the movie.

A+ List: The world ends with a bang, a whimper, and a lot of laughs in Criterion’s Blu-ray of Dr. Strangelove

Stanley Kubrick’s only out-and-out comedy, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, manages to terrify the audience, hold them in suspense, and trick them into rooting for people about to cause Armageddon, all the while generating side-splitting laughter.

As the darkest of dark comedies, Dr. Strangelove earns its place on my A+ list, To qualify, a film must be a masterpiece, at least 20 years old, that I personally loved for decades. In the case of Strangelove, I decided to promote it from A to A+ while preparing this review.

Considering the film’s Cold War roots, it’s amazing how well Dr. Strangelove stands up. When it was made in 1963 (it opened early in ’64), the USA and the USSR were in a nuclear game of chicken that could have wiped out humanity in hours. Not only were they competing to make more and bigger bombs; they were creating faster hair triggers for instant retaliation.

Dr. Strangelove rides on this fear. The psychotic General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) decides on his own to start World War III, and thus orders his pilots to attack Russia with nuclear bombs. No one else knows the code that will recall the planes. The military and political leaders–who set up the system that allowed Ripper to destroy the world–are too busy fighting amongst themselves to help much.

And that’s what makes Dr. Strangelove relevant in 2016. We still live in a world run by egotistical incompetents who will quite likely destroy civilization.

It helps that Stanley Kubrick was a brilliant filmmaker, and this story in particular played to his strengths while hiding his weaknesses. Since it’s a broad farce with no room for empathy, Kubrick’s coldness doesn’t hurt the story. And yet Kubrick and his writing collaborators Terry Southern and Peter George (who also wrote the serious novel on which the film was based) manage to create suspense.

Without a likeable protagonist to root for, there’s nothing Hitchcockian about Dr. Strangelove ‘s suspense. You can’t really care what happens to the characters on the screen. But you’re worried for yourself, your friends, and your family. These will be the victims should the dolts onscreen fail to stop a nuclear war.

And yet, at the climax, Kubrick briefly tricks us into rooting for the very people whose success will wipe us out.

None of this would have worked without the humor. (Kubrick started the script as a drama, then decided to make it a farce.) Much of the comedy is so subtle you might miss it, such as the binder labelled World Targets in Megadeaths. Others are broad, such as George C. Scott’s mid-sentence pratfall. (Kubrick filmed a pie fight but left it on the cutting room floor.) As President Merkin Muffley, Peter Sellers gives one of cinema’s great comic monologues. It’s a phone call, and we don’t hear the voice on the other end of the line. But how do you explain an accidental nuclear attack to a drunk Russian Premiere named Kissov?

Dr. Strangelove brims with silly yet appropriate names. There’s General Buck Turgidson (Scott), Colonel Bat Guano (Keenan Wynn), Captain Lionel Mandrake (also Peter Sellers), Dr. Strangelove (again, Peter Sellers), and Major King Kong (originally to be played by Peter Sellers, but replaced at the last minute with a very funny Slim Pickens).

Kubrick appropriately described Dr. Strangelove as a “nightmare comedy.” I wish he’d made more of them.

How It Looks

Gilbert Taylor shot Dr. Strangelove in black and white–in the last years before color became completely ubiquitous. He used the medium boldly, with very deep blacks and shining whites. The images look like a cross between film noir and a really bad acid trip.

Columbia’s 4K restoration, the same one used for theatrical DCP projection, catches that grey scale, and shows plenty of grain. Criterion’s 1080p transfer to Blu-ray looks great.

How It Sounds

Criterion’s disc offers two versions of the soundtrack. The default, and the one I recommend, is the original mono, presented here as a 24-bit, uncompressed LPCM single track. It sounds excellent.

And then there’s the new 5.1 surround mix, presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. As near as I could tell, it still sounded like mono.

And the Extras

Pretty much all Criterion discs come packaged with some sort of pamphlet, poster, or booklet. But for Dr. Strangelove, they really went to town. If you haven’t seen the film, you probably won’t get the jokes in the paper-based extras:

  • The Top Secret Code R envelope contains:
  • A “TOP SECRET” memo, printed to look like a 60’s-style typewriter. The contents of this memo is an essay by David Bromwich about Kubrick, the cold war, and Dr. Strangelove.
  • A teeny, tiny little book titled Holy Bible & Russian Phrases. And yes, it contains some English-to-Russian phrases, but no holy scripture. It also contains credits for the film and the disc, along with About the Restoration. All in absurdly tiny print.
  • A 20-page booklet filled with a 1994 article by screenwriter Terry Southern about the making of the movie. Amongst other things, it gives a thorough and possibly accurate description of the lost pie fight. Also included: cheesecake photos of Tracy Reed (the only woman in the cast) as Miss Foreign Affairs.

“Shoot, a fella’ could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff.”

The disc has 14 supplemental videos, which come to about 3½ hours of additional viewing. Many of them are interesting, but they soon become repetitive.

  • Stanley Kubrick: 1080p, 3 minutes. Excerpts from physicist and author Jeremy Bernstein’s 1966 audio interview with the filmmaker. Illustrated with slides.
  • Mick Broderick: 1080p, 19 minutes. Film scholar Broderick discusses Kubrick’s move from director to producer/director with Dr. Strangelove. New.
  • The Art of Stanley Kubrick: Standard-def material presented in 1080i; 14 minutes. Made in 2000. A documentary on Kubrick’s career up through Strangelove.
  • Joe Dunton and Kelvin Pike: 1080p; 12 minutes. In this new doc, the film’s camera operators talk about working with Kubrick.
  • Inside “Dr. Strangelove”: Standard-def material presented in 1080i; 46 minutes. This 2000 documentary on the making of the film is by far the best of the extras.
  • Richard Daniels: 1080p, 14 minutes. Richard Daniels of the Stanley Kubrick Archive tells us about the letters, memos, drawings, etc. around Dr. Strangelove, and what they tell us about the making of the film. New.
  • David George: 1080p; 11 minutes. David George, son of author Peter George, talks about his father and the writing of Dr. Strangelove. Among other things, he says that the final film follows the plot of his father’s book very closely. New.
  • No Fighting in the War Room: Standard-def material presented in 1080i; 30 minutes. This 2004 documentary examines the Cold War and the dangers, then and now, of nuclear war. Interview subjects include Robert McNamera, Roger Ebert, and Spike Lee. Very good.
  • Best Sellers: Standard-def material presented in 1080i; 18 minutes. From 2004. Roger Ebert, Michael Palin and others talk about Peter Sellers’ genius, with an emphasis on Dr. Strangelove.
  • Rodney Hill: 1080p; 17 minutes. Film scholar Hill tries unsuccessfully to put Dr. Strangelove into a Joseph Campbell/heroes-and-myth context. New.
  • George C: Scott and Peter Sellers: Standard-def material presented in 1080i; 7 minutes. From 1963. As part of the film’s marketing, Scott and Sellers were filmed answering unasked questions. Later, TV newscasters would read the questions to give the illusion of a real interview. Since we have to wait as they pretend to listen to questions, it’s kind of boring.
  • Today: Standard-def material presented in 1080i; 4 minutes. From a 1980 TV interview of Sellers by Gene Shalit. Short and unenlightening.
  • Exhibitor’s Trailer: 1080p; 17 minutes. Simultaneously fascinating and boring. Apparently, the movie was marketed to theaters with unedited takes–and not the takes used in the final cut–while a dull-voiced narrator explains the plot in detail. It’s those alternate takes that make it fascinating.
  • Theatrical Trailer: 1080p; 3 minutes. An utterly bizarre and entertaining trailer.


The Criterion Blu-ray goes on sale Tuesday, June 28.