WWII Double Feature (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out Flying Tigers and Home of the Brave, from Olive Films...
Flying Tigers (1942)
The 'Flying Tigers' were heroic adventurers and America’s hottest ace pilots. Possessing unmatched skill and bravery, Capt. Jim Gordon (John Wayne), was the Tigers’ leader and top gun. Gordon faces a battle on and off the ground when his good friend, Woody Jason (John Carroll), is suspected of recklessly and selfishly endangering the lives of his fellow pilots. Gordon’s fight to retain his respect for Woody while maintaining the solidarity of his pilots is an explosive battle of courage and heroism that lights up the sky with action. (From Olive’s original synopsis)
David Miller’s Flying Tigers is every inch a propaganda film in the tradition of Frank Capra’s Why We Fight documentaries. Unlike similar, better-known, war-themed pictures released during the WWII period by the likes of Michael Curtiz’s ( Casablanca) or Alfred Hitchcock ( Foreign Correspondent), Miller and his crew aren’t interested in shading the propaganda with intriguing characters or plot points – they were intent on dragging the war-fatigued US/UK publics into a blindly patriotic states. They wanted to hear audiences chanting ‘rah, rah, rah’ at the top of their lungs. This makes Flying Tigers more interesting as an artifact of its era than a ‘good’ film, but it certainly has merit, especially in its technical execution (a fact not lost on the Academy, who nominated it for a number of technical awards). At its best, it is practically a silent film, or at least a dialogue-free one, that tells a motion-based narrative during the special effects-heavy combat sequences. The montage techniques create incredible visual dynamics. Dramatic sequences are less convincing in their single-minded effort to stir up a patriotic vigor, but a few flat performances (I will never understand John Wayne as romantic lead), thin characters (John Carroll’s purpose is to be a heel and occasionally pose the moral questions the audience may have concerning the US’ place defending China), and an awkwardly shoehorned love triangle don’t entirely dull the impact of some surprisingly violent battles (the first of the Tigers to die sprays his control panel with blood). Like the weakest of the modern, effects-heavy action movies, Flying Tigers spends too much time twiddling its thumbs between the action beats.
Flying Tigers originally appeared on DVD by Artisan and, because it stars John Wayne, it was re-released as half of a number of double feature collections. This marks its first 1080p release. Olive’s Blu-ray is presented in black & white and the original 1.33:1 framing. This one of the studio’s more accomplished transfers, but works just fine, considering it wasn’t a full-tilt restoration. Details are about as sharp as can be expected from the material and the gradations are even-handed, including accurate grain levels. There aren’t any notable compression effects, either, despite the use of a single layered disc, but the print damage artefacts are a major issue. The quality of the footage is rather steeply divided between the scenes with actors and the B-roll/second unit special effects and stunt scenes. Images of actors and sets tend to pulse and crackle with only minor flecks, while images of sky combat and actors against rear projection plates are positively swimming in layers of dirt and scratches. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono soundtrack is a bit thin, but very well-maintained and generally cleaner than the scratchy video quality. The dialogue has a twinge of static, as do some of the incidental noises, but the more deliberately mixed dog fights are pretty spectacular. There’s real rumble and impact without the assistance of a discreet LFE channel. Victor Young’s Oscar-nominated score is flattened by the single channel treatment, but never muddy or distorted during higher volume moments.
Home of the Brave (1949)
Crippled by rage and trauma, a young black soldier’s condition was induced by experiences encountered during a reconnaissance mission combined with a lifetime of racial discrimination. He may be able to walk again, but only if he can overcome his anger and frustrations. The film’s theme revolves around a diverse group of men subjected to the horror of war and their individual struggles. (From Olive’s official synopsis)
Mark Robson’s Home of the Brave is a different kind of propaganda movie, one that aims to win the hearts and minds of the status quo. It pushed cultural limits, rather than resting on the laurels of post-war sentimentality like many of its contemporaries. Though it is still bound by the theatrical qualities of its era, its frank look at race in the post-war era is jarring, coming off the casual racism of Flying Tigers. Robson began his career as an assistant editor working as Robert Wise’s assistant on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, but his career is better defined by his work with Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur, first as editor, then as a director on spooky horror classics, like The Seventh Victim and Isle of the Dead. So much of Home of the Brave is grounded by a low budget that most of the action is left to the audience’s imagination, so it’s not the best representation of his technical skills as a director. The use of flashback offers him a few chances to experiment with editing and the deep-dark jungle sequences give cinematographer Robert De Grasse (another Lewton/Tourneur alumni) an excuse to shoot some moody, stylish images. The script was based on a stage play by Arthur Laurents, who found himself blacklisted, thanks in part to Home of the Brave’s perceived subversion – though it should be noted that, in his play, the main character was a Jew and the story explored anti-Semitic, not racist, attitudes during WWII. The affected, expositional dialogue takes some time to get used to, as does the stage play structure, but the social lessons are well-served by a compelling enough plot that doesn’t turn explicitly preachy (the climatic speech is still awfully preachy, though). Laurents would continue to associate himself with controversial projects throughout his career, including writing West Side Story and directing La Cage aux Folles on Broadway.
As far as I can tell, Home of the Brave never found its way onto DVD (at least not in North America), so Olive’s Blu-ray marks its first digital media release. This 1080p, 1.33:1, black & white transfer is somewhat problematic, but is more consistent than the Flying Tigers disc. Outside of the opening titles, which are made up of stock footage, the print damage is minimized, including steady emulsion flecking, a few clumps of grain and vertical scratches. The bigger issue this time is softer contrast. As a result, the black and white levels are somewhat washed out along with some of the finer details (not at the risk of little textural bits, like the growing five o’clock shadows on the soldiers’ faces). The low-lit (usually faux-nighttime) shots fare better in terms of dynamic levels, though they also feature a significant uptake in grain. The gray gradations are also a bit warm to my eyes. Digital compression isn’t really an issue. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack is clean, featuring only minor pops when stock sound effects are employed (an insistently cawing jungle bird and the murmur of an army boat, for example). Dialogue is even in terms of both volume and clarity. Dimitri Tiomkin’s sparingly used musical score is sometimes a tad too TV sitcom for the material (especially when used for establishing shots between scenes) and other times a smidge too Twilight Zone. It’s also so low on the track that I could barely make it out when it overlaps dialogue, but sounds pretty spectacular when given a chance to shine, specifically during the jungle-bound sequences.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th May 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Miller and Mark Robson
Cast: John Wayne, John Carroll, Anna Lee, Jeff Corey, Lloyd Bridges
Genre: Action, Drama and War
Length: 188 minutes
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