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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

(aka "Wooden Crosses")

Directed by Raymond Bernard

France, 1932

 

The film that most firmly established the talent of French director Raymond Bernard before his epic adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les misérables, Wooden Crosses [Le croix de bois] was widely hailed at the time of its release in 1932 for its searing depiction of the horrors of the European front during World War I; subsequently, Bernard was named soldier of honour of the 39th Infantry Division.

Adapted from a novel by Roland Dorgelès (a former corporal of the 39th), Wooden Crosses offers a kaleidoscope of cinematographic technique to present a visceral, enveloping recreation of one regiment s experience of battlefield hell. (Its entire cast is comprised of war veterans.) It is an epic tapestry that rivals John Ford's Four Sons and Lewis Milestone's All Quiet on the Western Front in both its poetry of trauma and steadfastness of conviction that war must be held in contempt.

***

Les Croix de Bois (Wooden Crosses) may well be the most powerful anti-war film ever made; certainly it is the grimmest and most uncompromising. Starting with an impressionistic shot of a gloomy hillside studded with white grave markings, the film delineates the hopelessness and horror of war in such explicit terms that at times it's nearly impossible to watch. Set during WWI, the story concentrates on a handful of French draftees, including an idealistic student named Demachy (Pierre Blanchard). Marching off to war with joyful patriotic fervor, the men are quickly disillusioned by the appalling realities of total warfare. When they aren't enduring ten nonstop days of enemy bombardment, the soldiers must sweat out the horrible realization that their trenches are being mined from underground. Nor are they given any relief during those rare lulls in fighting. At one point, the men are yanked away from a much-needed furlough to march in a victory parade for the entertainment of their callous, fat-cat superior officers. One by one, the men are killed off, until only Demachy remains -- but, tragically, not for long. Such was the impact of Les Croix de Bois, that, when it was shown on French television in the 1970s, a WWI survivor who watched the film for the first time was so overwhelmed by despair that he committed suicide. Generous portions of the film's battle sequences were later incorporated in the 1934 John Ford film The World Moves On and the 1936 Howard Hawks production The Road to Glory.

Poster

Theatrical Releases: March 17th, 1932

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Comparison:

 

 Eclipse Series Four from the Criterion Collection (3-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC vs. vs. Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 

1) Criterion (Eclipse) - Region 1 - NTSC  - LEFT

2) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray RIGHT

 

 Box Covers

 

  

 

Distribution Eclipse / Criterion Collection - Region 1 - NTSC Masters of Cinema - Spine # 105
Region 'B' -
Blu-ray
Time:  1:53:32  1:55:13.948
Time: 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.57 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Disc Size: 48,780,328,612 bytes

Feature Size: 33,766,628,736 bytes

Total Bitrate: 35.00 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

Bitrate:

 Wooden Crosses

Bitrate:

MoC Blu-ray

Audio French (original mono) LPCM Audio French 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit
Subtitles English, None English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Eclipse / Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
All Original Aspect Ratios - 1.33 

Edition Details:

  •  one page (for each film) of liner notes in the transparent case


DVD Release Date: July 16th, 2007

2 Transparent Keep Cases inside a Slipcase cardboard box
Chapters: 18, 19, 12 and 13

Release Information:
Studio: Masters of Cinema

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Disc Size: 48,780,328,612 bytes

Feature Size: 33,766,628,736 bytes

Total Bitrate: 35.00 Mbps

Dual-layered Blu-ray MPEG4 - AVC

 

Edition Details:
• Video interview with historian Marc Ferro and film historian Laurent Veray (32:39)
• A short documentary on the new restoration (24:03)
• Wooden Crosses: A Sonic Adventure, documentary exploring early sound design (11:12)
• Archival interview with Roland Dorgelès (4:58)
• Archival interview with Raymond Bernard (10:45)
• Vintage 1914 newsreels (2:32)
• Documentary piece on early 20th century poster artist Adrien Barrère (9:11)
• The Absent Battle, the Omnipresent War, a collection of photography from WWI taken by André Schnellbach who served with Dorgelès in the 39th (14:19)
• Booklet featuring a new and exclusive interview by film critic Emmanuel Burdeau, and rare archival material

DVD included


Blu-ray Release Date: March 30th, 2015
Transparent Blu-ray Case

Chapters 16

 

 

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray (March 2015): As described in the 'Restoration' supplement - there were many version of Wooden Crosses - different negatives re-edited over the years. This 1080P transfer is from Pathé's new restoration - an attempt to recreate its original length, which appears to be almost 2 minutes longer than the Eclipse DVD from 8 years ago. I can only conclude - that since I was unable to make any exact matches between the previously reviewed SD, HERE, and HD that the Masters of Cinema - is because it is from a different source than the 2007 Eclipse Boxset version - we presume to be the 'International version'. MoC used the same source as the November 2014 Pathé Blu-ray - (let's presume that to be the 'French version') available HERE (also with English subs). As with Bernard's Les misérables (compared HERE), I feel the a/v will probably be the same as the Pathé Blu-ray - possibly more robust, and supplements may lean to the UK package - with the inclusion of a DVD and one of their impressive English-language liner notes booklets.

 

Audio, the MoC is lossless using a linear PCM transfer, and while still at the mercy of the source (remember in 1932 'sound' films were a new phenomenon!) - there is some improvement in depth - especially in the many battlefield explosions. Of course there are, predictable, imperfections. It has optional English subtitles and the Blu-ray is region 'B'-locked.

 

The Masters of Cinema add a number of video supplements - all in French with English subtitles. These include a 1/2 hour video interview with historian Marc Ferro and film historian Laurent Veray about Wooden Crosses, a 25-minute documentary on the new restoration, another documentary exploring early sound design entitled Wooden Crosses: A Sonic Adventure, two archival interviews -  5-minutes with Roland Dorgelès and then 11-minutes with Raymond Bernard. There is a vintage 1914 newsreels, a documentary piece on early 20th century poster artist Adrien Barrère as well as The Absent Battle, the Omnipresent War, a collection of photography from WWI taken by André Schnellbach who served with Dorgelès in the 39th running for almost 15-minutes. There is a liner notes booklet featuring a new and exclusive interview by film critic Emmanuel Burdeau, and rare archival material plus the Dual-Format package has a DVD.

 

Another magnificent package from The Masters of Cinema group! A tremendous film and given the royal treatment on Blu-ray from the most recent restoration and stacked with supplements. This would certainly be in a place of honor in any Home Theatre library. Our highest recommendation!

***

ON THE ECLIPSE DVD SET: NOTE: The 2 feature films of this boxset are housed in individual transparent keep cases (slim for Wooden Crosses and a double for Les mis) they are not sold separately at this time. These particular editions can only be obtained in Criterion's Eclipse Series Four - Raymond Bernard package at present.

All three DVDs are dual-layered and, unfortunately for some, pictureboxed transferred (see our full description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review). Each are coded for Region 1 in the NTSC standard. The transfers are progressive and in the original 1.33 aspect ratio. The audio for all is original mono French and there are optional English subtitles. The Pathé logo starts each film so we can assume that is the transfer source.

Wooden Crosses (1932) - Although it is the older of the two films it looks surprisingly strong. There is some contrast flickering and damage marks, but detail and grey scale are excellent. The image is on the dark side. If I have a complaint it would be about the audio which is not as consistent as we have been accustomed to from Criterion - there are many instances of background hiss and I'll assume that it was unavoidable from the source. There are optional English subtitles and the film is a genuine masterpiece. Comparisons to All Quiet on the Western Front are accurate. A fabulous cinema experience that I am so glad to have been able to see.

 

The transfer looks very professional and although the image and audio quality is not perfect by any means - it was adept enough for me to swoon over the film. Criterion's hallmark remains their contrast. I'll assume there was some black level boosting which brings out detail to a higher standard. It has some damage but none extensive enough to impinge upon viewing, and the digital noise is fine enough to resemble grain. I watched it on a plasma television and it appeared quite wonderful considering the films age.

 

As standard for Eclipse there are no digital supplements but some liner notes readable through the keep case cover (for Wooden Crosses) and a 4 page leaflet in the Les mis box.  

For the price I consider this a desirable DVD package. I don't know where you will see these films, looking this good, for the total price of less than $25 (currently 37% off at the time of this writing). Really - it is a ridiculous bargain in my mind. Les Mis fans maybe especially be keen for much more from just a historical viewpoint - this film eclipses (no pun intended) any version, live, musical or other, that I have seen. Highly recommended!

Gary W. Tooze


Menus

 

1) Criterion (Eclipse) - Region 1 - NTSC - LEFT

2) Pathé - Region FREE - Blu-ray - RIGHT

 

 

Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray

 


 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Subtitle Sample

 

1) Criterion (Eclipse) - Region 1 - NTSC  - TOP

2) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

Screen Captures

 

 

1) Criterion (Eclipse) - Region 1 - NTSC  - TOP

2) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Criterion (Eclipse) - Region 1 - NTSC  - TOP

2) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

 

1) Criterion (Eclipse) - Region 1 - NTSC  - TOP

2) Masters of Cinema - Region 'B' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 

More Blu-ray Captures

 


 

 Box Covers

 

   

 

Distribution Eclipse / Criterion Collection - Region 1 - NTSC Masters of Cinema - Spine # 105
Region 'B' -
Blu-ray




 

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