A pair of films from the 1960s have come to blu-ray for the first time from those celluloid crate diggers at Warner Archive. From 1964 the very clever World War II period spy thriller “36 Hours” with James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, and the great Rod Taylor. Then, from 1968 one of the last big Hollywood roadshow musicals, “Finian’s Rainbow,” which stars Fred Astaire in his last major role in a musical, and ‘60s pop star Petula Clark.
“36 Hours” is a film I saw years ago one Saturday afternoon on Turner Classic Movies. I hadn’t planned to watch the film that day, I had simply sat down and turned on TCM to see what was coming on. “36 Hours” so impressed me by how well it was made that it’s stuck with me since. I was most pleased when I heard the film was coming out on blu-ray. Truthfully, I hadn’t seen it since that afternoon on TCM, but it was just as good as I remembered it being when I watched it over the weekend.
Set during World War II in the days before the allied invasion at Normandy, James Garner stars as Maj. Jefferson Pike, an officer who knows the ins and outs of the upcoming invasion. Pike is dispatched to Lisbon to help insure the Nazis think the invasion is happening elsewhere. While in Lisbon, Pike is drugged and captured by Nazi agents. Pike is taken to an elaborate setup that is designed to look like an Allied military hospital–a scheme led by a german major and psychiatrist Walter Gerber, played by Rod Taylor, who is great in everything he ever made.
Gerber’s plan is to age Pike by six years, wake him up and tell him it’s 1950 and he’s been suffering from Amnesia. Trying to get details about D-Day from him to check them against the records to see if his mind is improving. The film has a great cast supported by Pike’s nurse, “rescued” from a concentration camp and played wonderfully by Eva Marie Saint. I don’t want to spoil much of the film for you, but “36 Hours” is a very smart, clever thriller. It’s a real gem and one I’m surprised people don’t talk about more. A true treat to have this one come to blu-ray.
Warner Archive has done a wonderful job bringing “36 Hours” into HD. A new 2K scan was made from a flawless looking fine grain master positive–which was struck for this release. The black and white, panavision image is sharp, defined, and perfect. Even more impressive is the sound, the original monaural soundtrack has been scored from its magnetic master and is on the disc as DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. I was simply stunned by how clear and sharp the audio is–the film sounds like it was recorded yesterday, not over 50 years ago.
Garner’s production company produced the film for MGM, so he had a vested interest in film being a success more than just being the star. The film was successful upon release, but most amusing is that if you look at the period poster art for the film, they cast it as more a spy thriller in the James Bond tone and don’t even mention the World War II setting. “36 Hours” is a really fantastic film, and one I recommend most highly. Pick this up and I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
“Finian’s Rainbow” is based upon the 1947 Broadway hit of the same name, with a score by Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg. A charming film that gave Fred Astaire one his last roles in a screen musical, with pop star Petula Clark as his daughter. The film is also the first major studio film directed by future “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola. The story is of an Irishman (Astaire) and his daughter, who comes to a small down in a fictitious southern state, encounter a leprechaun that has followed them all the way from Scotland, and a bigoted Senator played by Keenan Wynn.
“Finian’s Rainbow” is one of the last times Hollywood released a musical in the roadshow format. Roadshow being a style of presentation where a film is presented as an event much like going to see a show on Broadway. Warner Archive’s blu-ray of “Finian’s Rainbow” reproduces the experience by including the film’s overture, intermission, and exit music. The film looks sparking too, the colors really leap off the screen and the studio bound forrest set–which is most impressive and fitting of the story–shines here better than I bet it did on movie screens in ‘68.
The film’s roadshow format meant a number of engagements in 70mm, which came with a six channel-magnetic audio track for those showings. That six-channel track is here as a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, which faithfully reproduces what 70mm audiences heard at the time–it’s a little front heavy, but most six channel tracks from the era tend to be so. Extras include an introduction and commentary by Coppola, the trailer, and a TV feature “The World Premiere of Finian’s Rainbow.”
Critics at the time were split on the film, though Roger Ebert raved about the picture. Many were shocked by how frail astaire looked on screen–he was pushing 70 when the film was made. But today I can only look at it and say how on earth could you be upset Astaire made another musical!? Hell, I wish I could move as good at 70 as Astaire does in this film. He may be not the youthful Astaire of his RKO days, but he’s still Fred Astaire full of energy and charm. This would be a good film to share with the kids if you’re looking for something not quite as played out as “The Sound of Music.”
Again Warner Archive has done their usual top job with a pair of catalog blu-ray releases. These films are both worth adding to your collection, and I hope you do so. See you next week.