2017 is getting off to a robust start for blu-ray releases, for as much goodness that Warner Archive brought to HD last year, this year gets started with four titles. “Battleground,” “Wait Until Dark,” “Bells are Ringing,” and “Bad Day at Black Rock” all get Blu-Ray debuts this month, I’ll be talking about the former two this week. One is a film I hadn’t seen before, and the other is one of a handful of films that I find truly terrifying (standing in such great company as “Baby’s Day Out”).
Released in 1949 MGM’s “Battleground” was the first major film about World War Two produced after the war had ended. MGM head Louis B. Mayer initially had hesitation about producing the film--which went on to be MGM’s largest grossing film in five years--feeling that audiences wouldn’t want a war movie so close to World War Two having ended. Where “Battleground” differs from most war films is that it’s more of a human story than a war story. A film with very little action sequences. Focusing more on the psyches and morale of men in a situation that most might not prefer to be in.
I liked “Battleground” a whole lot. I had never seen the film before, but I had caught tiny snippets of it intermittently while checking in to see what was on Turner Classic Movies during my day. I’m not actually a big fan of war films, but “Battleground,” with its human look at war, I enjoyed tremendously. “Battleground” has a rich cast headed by MGM’s “boy next door” Van Johnson, with John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban (KAAAAHHHNNN!!!!), George Murphy, and others.
On blu-ray “Battleground” looks absolutely amazing. The film is so crisp and rich, that I was surprised to learn the image was produced from a 35mm fine grain positive, not the original camera negative--which was lost in the infamous George Eastman House Fire. Bonus features include the film’s trailer, Tex Avery’s cartoon “Little Rural Riding Hood,” and a short by Pete Smith “Let’s Cogitate” all in HD. Seeing the Pete Smith short on here was a real delight, I’m a fan of Smith’s MGM shorts--which are all a sort of proto version of some of the snarkier humor we find today.
1967’s “Wait Until Dark” is one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen. A true suspense thriller in every sense of the word. Based on a stage play of the same name “Wait Until Dark” stars Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman, who finds herself being terrorized by a group of vicious criminals, headed by a sadistic monster played by Alan Arkin, that have invaded her apartment looking for a doll filled with heroin. Directed by Terence Young, who directed a number of Sean Connery’s Bond films, this is a truly fantastic film that amps up tension after tension after tension as it builds to the climax.
First time I watched “Wait Until Dark” was on a December afternoon a few years ago, it was bright, but cloudy day, and I had been lazy on the couch watching TCM. Despite knowing darn well I was perfectly safe with plenty of light coming into the room, “Wait Until Dark” grabbed me in such a way that by the end of the film, I yelled out the words “behind you!” at my TV. Stephen King once called it “one of the scariest films ever made” and honestly this is more a straight horror film due to how much of a sense of terror one takes on by the end of the film.
The film looks particularly great in HD, the scan made last year from a new interpositive print. Two trailers, and a short featurette from the original DVD release have been ported over. “Wait Until Dark” is a truly scary film, without any monsters, boogeymen, or supernatural elements, or absurd sequels to walk through. Audrey Hepburn is fantastic in the film, it’s an absolute must if you’ve never seen it.
Each of these films would be a welcome addition to your home library, it still amazes this wordsmith all the work Warner Archive puts into their blu-ray releases, and it looks like we’re going to be in for much more delights in 2017.