High, Wide and Then Some

With social distancing becoming a temporary mandatory norm for our fragile planet, it’s nice to know that some much-needed respite is available via two movies that were definitely NOT for the small crowd audience (unless you are referring to the kiddie contingent, for whom at least one of these pics was made).  I’m talking about the recent Flicker Alley releases of two 1960s Cinerama extravaganzas, 1962’s FLYING CLIPPER (aka Mediterranean Holiday) and the super-rare 1965 Disney-on-steroids opus THE GOLDEN HEAD, each now available in dazzling Blu-Ray restorations from Flicker Alley, in conjunction with The Busch Media Group (CLIPPER) and Cinerama, Incorporated (GOLDEN).  It should be enthusiastically noted that the former is also in 4K Ultra, an obvious incentive for “big screen”/Cinerama fans.

Since I grew up with a copy of The Four Aspects of Cinema under my pillow (sound, color, 3-D, widescreen), ANY Cinerama-hyped production piqued my interest.  Truth be told, that outside of This is Cinerama, in 1952, and some other feature-length travelogues that followed, most movies brandishing the process were actually 70MM releases (most notably It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World); yet, 70 worked just fine, when projected in the format and in the right venue.  Only TWO narrative pics were ever actually shot in the 3-panel process:  The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and How the West Was Won (both looking spectacular).  The Hallelujah Trail, Custer of the West, Krakatoa – East of Java, Battle of the Bulge, 2001, etc. were all 70MM – and often not even available to enjoy in the giant film versions.  Indeed, by 1962, when FLYING CLIPPER debuted in Europe (we wouldn’t see it in the States until 1964), it, too, was 70MM only in a handful of “selected theatres.”  The charm and awe of the experience was, thus, lost upon many of its viewers who watched it in a standard 35MM hardtop.  This new 4K/Blu-Ray combo offers a compromise that big screen fans won’t be able to (and shouldn’t) pass up: it was mastered from 70MM elements.  So let the mammoth curtains part, hunker down and prepare to keep manually closing your bottom jaw.

 

To my knowledge, THE FLYING CLIPPER is the first High Definition Cinerama home video platter restoration NOT done by David Strohmaier and Cinerama, Inc.  The release comes to Flicker Alley via The Busch Media Group.  There are some notable differences.  While the red velvet curtain Overture (parting to begin the show) is retained, the use of SmileBox (that optically curves the image to assimilate the envelopment of the presentation) isn’t.  To me, that’s a major disappointment.  Of course, the pic IS in extreme widescreen, so, I suspect, most fans won’t complain.  The movie, a 1962 German production (codirected by Hermann Leitner and Rudolf Nussgruber), follows the narrative (written by Gerd Nickstadt, Arthur Elliott, and Hans Dieter Bove) of the earlier 1958 success Windjammer (also available from Flicker Alley): a group of young men are chosen to man a 19th century vessel.  Upgrades in equipment and technology helped make the production less of a burden, although it’s never easy to schlep 70MM cameras around a film shoot, let alone a 158-minute travelogue promising lots of action.  And action there is!  We climb the pyramids, get a driver’s seat to the Grand Prix, participate in various international festivals, and even go skiing in Damascus (who knew!!??).

The movie, released here as Mediterranean Holiday, was re-scripted (by William Lovelock) with a narration by Burl Ives (who also segues into several folk ballads during his on-going commentary).  I never saw it in the original release, but recall friends who had – and they loved it, and raved about the dizzying effects. Both the Ives track and the German audio are accessible; the disc also contains dubbing options in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Slovenian (oy!) and Japanese.

The movie was shot in Eastman Color, a (literal) red flag, that faded quickly (diminishing the work of a sextet of excellent d.p.s, Tony Braun, Siegfried Hold, Heinz Holscher, Heinrich Schafer, Klaus Kong and Bernhard Stebich).  Flicker Alley and Co. certainly must bow to the heroic efforts of the man who probably loves this pic more than anyone else, Herbert Born.  Born, a renowned 70MM fan/expert/collector (and owner of the famed Schauberg cinema in Karlsruhe, home of the annual 70MM Film Festival), personally tracked down the existing elements and initiated and oversaw the new restoration.  For the most part, CLIPPER looks pretty good, never quite achieving a Technicolor effect, but pleasing nonetheless.  The clarity, particularly on the daylight sequences, is just fine; the darker segments are a bit less defined, especially if you’re viewing the show in 4K Ultra.  That’s the 4K curse; yeah, it’s twice the definition of Blu-Ray, BUT, unless you’re really watching on a big screen and in pitch black surroundings, you’re gonna miss out.  The Blu-Ray might be the better way to go for the majority of collectors (as indicated, BOTH are included in the package).   The soundtrack, in whichever option you choose, is a surround delight.  You can play the movie in either 1962 stereo, or in a newly recorded edition in Dolby Atmos (I went with the latter).  A stellar audio booster is the wonderful score by Riz Ortolani (a popular Decca soundtrack LP in ’64).

Flicker Alley and Busch Media have packed the program with enticing, genuinely fascinating supplementary material, including a facsimile roadshow program booklet, several documentaries on the audio and visual restoration, interviews with Herbert Born, and a truly amazing session with Marcus Vetter, a projectionist specializing in 70MM presentations.  Adult Sixties kiddies will relish basking in the nostalgic glow, while contemporary sprouts will should find interest in witnessing exciting, fun global sights in High Definition and “living” stereo sound from a different world, and from a different time.

 

1965’s THE GOLDEN HEAD is yet another title I’d never thought I would see in anything close to its intended presentation.  Thanks to David Strohmaier and the Cinerama Incorporated team, I was once again (happily) proven wrong.

The movie, first and foremost, transcends the mere travelogue aspect of super widescreen fare, and offers a narrative alternative for the kiddie trade.  Yep, it’s a children’s mystery-thriller, much in the line of the live-action stuff Disney was producing at this period (The Moonspinners immediately comes to mind).  Ironically, Buena Vista had recently filmed a version of Emil and the Detectives (1964), which this living large ride resembles in several ways (it was based upon the novel Nepomuk of the River by Roger Pilkington, and features a screenplay by Stanley Goulder and Ivan Boldizsar).

That said, to me, the plot is more like a tiny tot’s version of the 1954 noir Witness to Murder, and even features the same villain, George Sanders.  GOLDEN revolves around the British Stevenson children (Jess Conrad, Lorraine Power, Denis Gilmore), who are excited to join their detective father (Douglas Wilmer) when he is transferred to Budapest. Harold, the youngest of the bunch (Gilmore)) happens across a seemingly kindly fellow countryman, Basil Palmer, who is actually a master criminal, working in cahoots with a bungling sidekick, Lionel (Buddy Hackett, possibly heir to the title of Mr. Cinerama, having already costarred in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World).  When a series of “run through” robberies are committed with the juicy piece de resistance prize to be the golden bust of St. Laszlo, no one believes the urchin’s claims that respected businessman Palmer is the mastermind.  Save, of course, the villain himself, who continuously tries to paint the lad as a boy-who-cried-wolf liar.

Eventually, this all changes and the kids track the crooks across the landmarks and natural beauty of Hungary.  Sure, it’s all played for laughs (and lowbrow ones at that); nevertheless, while I wouldn’t have shown much interest in seeing the pic in a standard 35MM release, I would have eagerly lined up to view it in 70MM Technirama.  Sadly, it rarely played that way in the States (or anywhere else).  Insult to injury, the movie was pulled from playdates in 70MM, and replaced by…wait for it, Mediterranean Holiday (aka THE FLYING CLIPPER), now in a simultaneous home vid release (from a different company) with GOLDEN HEAD.  Small world for big pictures!

It’s certainly a treat to see George Sanders in Cinerama (or in anything), if not gobsmackingly bizarre to watch the consummate actor paired with Buddy Hackett.  While an unlikely duo on-screen, I suspect off-camera, the two got on rather well  (try and check out Hackett’s uncensored Vegas recordings and you’ll get what I mean).  It’s additionally a hoot to see the suave thesp cavorting across the Land of the Gabors, in places he no doubt had often heard about.

The movie was directed by veteran craftsman Richard Thorpe (Ivanhoe, Knights of the Round Table) and James Hill (who replaced Thorpe late in the production), and luxuriously photographed by Istvan Hildebrand.  The boundless vistas and POVs are often overwhelming (in the best definition of that term), and, all in all, THE GOLDEN HEAD is a lot of fun – certainly a diverting afternoon at the movies for the pre-school and elementary school crowd.

Unlike CLIPPER, THE GOLDEN HEAD gets the David Strohmaier SmileBox treatment, an automatic seals-the-deal B-D must!  The restoration of the Technicolor pic (from 65MM elements) is up to par with Strohmaier’s previous efforts, and detailed in a techno-documentary, included as an extra along with a number of cool assorted goodies.  Best of all is the original 22-minute Cinerama short that preceded GOLDEN HEAD, a thrilling Swiss Army propaganda short, Fortress of Peace.  This outstanding supplement alone makes it worth purchasing GOLDEN HEAD for one’s collection.  Furthermore, the gang has sweetened the pot by enclosing A Tale of the Old Whiff, a John Hubley 70MM cartoon that went out with Scent of Mystery (the Cinerama pic in Smell-O-Vision).  Finally, there’s gallery of Cinerama trailers containing other titles the company offers, another entertaining excursion in and of itself.  An appropriate score by Peter Fenyes fills the stereo-surround audio, alongside the “coming-at-you” sound effects.  In addition, there’s “The Golden Head” and “Things I’d Like to Say,” songs (composed by Mitch Murray) sung by adolescent lead Conrad, then being groomed as a pop star.  Conrad is even given a Hungarian girlfriend (Cecilia Esztergalyos) to bait the teen audience.

THE FLYING CLIPPER. Color. Widescreen [2.20:1; 1080p High Definition OR 2100p 4L Ultra]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Dolby Atmos. Flicker Alley/The Busch Media Group. CAT # FA0060. SRP: $39.95.

THE GOLDEN HEAD. Color. SmileBox Widescreen [2.20:1; 1080p High Definition]; 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Flicker Alley/Cinerama, Inc. SRP: $39.95.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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