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Stalag 17 [Blu-ray]
(Billy Wilder, 1953)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: Paramount Pictures
Video: Eureka - Masters of Cinema - Spine #117
Region: 'B'-locked (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)
Disc Size: 44,995,595,179 bytes
Feature Size: 37,623,627,648 bytes
Video Bitrate: 36.16 Mbps
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
Release date: July 27th, 2015
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit
LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
English (SDH), none
•Audio Commentary with actors Richard Erdman, Gil Stratton and co-playwright Donald Brevan
• New video interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard (23:54)
• Stalag 17: From Reality to Screen (22:01)
Real Heroes of Stalag XVII B (24:49)
Description:Billy Wilder followed up his brilliant Ace in the Hole with this darkly comic adaptation of Donald Bevan's and Edmund Trzcinski's stage play about an assortment of American airmen getting through the days in a German POW camp at the twilight of the Second World War.
William Holden stars as the laconic J.J. Sefton, a prisoner whose cynical and mercenary disposition leads his fellow prisoners to conjecture his role as an informant after two men are shot in an attempt to escape the compound. But who exactly is the real spy shuttling inside knowledge to the ever-watchful Oberst von Scherbach (director Otto Preminger in what would become an iconic screen-role)? Only after the film builds towards an explosive crescendo is the answer finally revealed...
A commercial success upon its release in 1953, Stalag 17 retains its reputation as one of the finest World War II films of all-time. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to continue its association with the work of the eminently versatile Billy Wilder with the release of Stalag 17 appearing here for the first time on Blu-ray.
The scene is a German POW camp, sometime during the mid-1940s. Stalag 17, exclusively populated by American sergeants, is overseen by sadistic commandant Oberst Von Schernbach (Otto Preminger) and the deceptively avuncular sergeant Schultz (Sig Ruman). The inmates spend their waking hours circumventing the boredom of prison life; at night, they attempt to arrange escapes. When two of the escapees, Johnson and Manfredi, are shot down like dogs by the Nazi guards, Stalag 17's resident wiseguy Sefton (William Holden) callously collects the bets he'd placed concerning the fugitives' success. No doubt about it: there's a security leak in the barracks, and everybody suspects the enterprising Sefton -- who manages to obtain all the creature comforts he wants -- of being a Nazi infiltrator. Things get particularly dicey when Lt. Dunbar (Don Taylor), temporarily billetted in Stalag 17 before being transferred to an officer's camp, tells his new bunkmates that he was responsible for the destruction of a German ammunition train. Sure enough, this information is leaked to the Commandant, and Dunbar is subjected to a brutal interrogation. Certain by now that Sefton is the "mole", the other inmates beat him to a pulp. But Sefton soon learns who the real spy is, and reveals that information on the night of Dunbar's planned escape. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Stalag 17 is as much comedy as wartime melodrama, with most of the laughs provided by Robert Strauss as the Betty Grable-obsessed "Animal" and Harvey Lembeck as Stosh's best buddy Harry. Other standouts in the all-male cast include Richard Erdman as prisoner spokesman Hoffy, Neville Brand as the scruffy Duke, Peter Graves as blonde-haired, blue-eyed "all American boy" Price, Gil Stratton as Sefton's sidekick Cookie (who also narrates the film) and Robinson Stone as the catatonic, shell-shocked Joey. Writer/producer/director Billy Wilder and coscenarist Edmund Blum remained faithful to the plot and mood the Donald Bevan/Edmund Trzcinski stage play +Stalag 17, while changing virtually every line of dialogue-all to the better, as it turned out (Trzcinski, who like Bevan based the play on his own experiences as a POW, appears in the film as the ingenuous prisoner who "really believes" his wife's story about the baby abandoned on her doorstep). William Holden won an Academy Award for his hard-bitten portrayal of Sefton, which despite a hokey "I'm really a swell guy after all" gesture near the end of the film still retains its bite today.
Wilder's PoW movie is a mass of contradictions, perhaps explained by the fact that it was based on a successful Broadway play which partly resisted his characteristic attempt to have his black squalor and eat his airy comedy. On the one hand, uproariously and buffoonishly funny, it can be seen simply as the natural sire of such TV sitcoms as Hogan's Heroes and Sergeant Bilko. On the other, anticipating King Rat through the character of the cynical PoW capitalist played by Holden, it satirically notes that the free enterprise ethic, extended into PoW circumstances, can no longer command Horatio Alger approval; and goes on from there to ask what price democracy when a traitor is suspected, and the PoWs gang up like Fascists to assign arbitrary blame and punishment. The problem is that the two moods aren't properly cross-fertilised, with the resolute bleakness of the settings and Wilder's direction positing a reality that is constantly undercut by the comic opera crew of Germans headed by Preminger. A fascinating film, nevertheless.
Image : NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
Firstly, Stalag 17 is also available (as of 2013) in a region FREE Paramount Blu-ray release HERE. While I don't have it to compare, this The Masters of Cinema 1080P transfer looks gorgeous on Blu-ray. Cinematographer Ernest Laszlo' visuals are impressive and I could have taken captures all day. The image quality shows a sweet layer of grain and the contrast is impeccably layered exporting frequent depth and rich black levels. This is dual-layered with a max'ed out bitrate. There is no gloss to the image. This Blu-ray offers a very strong HD presentation.
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
The audio is transferred via a linear PCM 2.0 channel track at 2304 kbps. There aren't a preponderance of aggressive effects but the score by Franz Waxman (Rebecca, Bride of Frankenstein, Rear Window, Sunset Boulevard)sounds tight, clean and pleasing via the lossless. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles (sample above) and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'B'-locked.
Masters of Cinema include the audio commentary, found on the
old DVD, with actors Richard Erdman, Gil Stratton and co-playwright
Donald Brevan and all three appear in the
July 20th, 2015
About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 3500 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.
Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who
focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I
find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.
Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD
Gary W. Tooze
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