PictureIf things were tight in terms of the central acting performance, then they are equally so with regards the picture, presented here in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Given the age of this feature I'm surprised to see how well it holds up today. To start with, the transfer is generally clean and those few moments where it falters do not distract from the film. Anyone who enjoys vintage black and white films, particularly when you are used to watching Blu-rays, will know the feeling of having to almost mentally filter out the dirt and hairs that sporadically raise their heads. Here though I noticed no great instances of such things. Even when viewing it through a projector with a decent sized screen, the image seemed to stand a good degree of scrutiny.
When you consider that this disc has both age of source material and definition against it, it was delightful to see how well it performed. Bear in mind that, like the film as a whole, it isn't perfect, but it certainly ranks as a fine example of how to put across an era monochrome film onto a home format. Contrast was strong, shadow detail good and most importantly it was free from any great inconsistencies that seem to blight such period fare with regards flickering, dirt etc. Overall a very strong offering that has no blatant flaws which compares very favourably to other similar DVDs in my collection.
SoundBeing of a certain age, I'm afraid the only sound offering is that of two channel Dolby Digital. There are also no other language options other than English. As one would expect, dialogue is given the utmost importance and I'm glad to be able to say that it is never less than perfectly clear. I've become accustomed to filtering out the loud hiss of a vintage film and listening that little bit harder due to slightly muffled speech, but on this disc I never found it a struggle.
Obviously the soundstage is flat and there is little to alleviate this other than a few swirls of a whimsical score that desperately tries to reach into the room. I can't put this down as a system tester but as far as films from this era go, this performs as a sterling effort to heighten the enjoyment of the on screen drama. There's no real bass or surround effects but what little there is has clearly been well cared for on this disc. I feel the key to reviewing the sound on these era films lies more in looking for what is bad as opposed to finding the good. If it doesn't distract you from what's going on in the story and has no painstakingly obvious flaws then it has to be considered a triumph of sorts.
VerdictI'm unsure as to how much replay value this film holds for me. I don't care for the biopic genre and melodramas also find themselves on my least wanted list. However, the main draw for many (myself included) will no doubt be the revelation of Cagney's stellar performance in the role of Chaney. If, like me, you had previously thought that the height of his acting and most evocative scenes were those such as his final moments in Angels with Dirty Faces or you are a fan of cinema or the craft of acting in general then this has to be considered compulsory viewing. The film has flaws and will no doubt not be to everyone's taste, but the power behind some of the key moments portrayed here of Chaney's life simply demand to be watched. The script contains the usual simplicities of its kin from the era but the characterisation is generally far from plain. There are levels of grey to the key protagonists that would be worthy of an essay, let alone this meagre review.
The disc does just about all it can to facilitate an enjoyable experience of this film. It has a decent picture and functional sound, though the lack of any extras will probably put some off. For a work such as this, a small retrospective is usually the least one could ask for. However, the DVD remains bare in this department and thus can be considered to lose a point or so from its total, but for most the film itself will be the paramount feature on this disc and here it is definitely worthy of a purchase.
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