Bogart Classics on Blu-ray disc

Humphrey Bogart may be long gone, but his shadow looms over the movies as if he were still here. It isn’t hard to see why; his work includes such masterpieces as Casablanca, The Caine Mutiny, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and many more.

Warner Home Video is releasing Bogie titles onto Blu-ray in dribbles and drabs - a good way to keep fans salivating for more. Their release of Casablanca a couple of years ago made for a spectacular collector's edition, and though not all the releases are that substantial, the ones we've seen so far all stand up as easily the best video versions yet.

Maltese FalconThe Maltese Falcon on Blu-ray

They say that film noir kicked off with this Bogart/John Huston classic about “the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Bogart is Sam Spade, hard boiled detective, yet a guy who obviously enjoys his life. It’s the role that made Bogie a star as he unraveled the threads of deceit and adventure surrounding a fabled, lost statuette of (you guessed it) a jewel-encrusted bird of prey from the Mediterranean.

It all kicks off when a woman shows up at his and his partner’s office to hire them for what appears to be a straightforward shadowing job. But if that were all there was to it, we wouldn’t have much of a movie, and when you get right down to it this is one terrific piece of cinematic history so we're glad there was more to it.

So Spade embarks on a quest to find out who’s who and what’s what and why everyone seems to want everyone else dead. It’s a tale full of twists and turns and betrayals, with memorable performances and featuring a terrific screenplay and direction by Huston. If you have yet to see The Maltese Falcon, you’re in for a marvelous roller coaster ride.

And what a supporting cast! Mary Astor is at one moment sexy and vulnerable and the next a conniving wench you want to pick up and shake. Sidney Greenstreet kicks off his movie career with a marvelous portrayal of the honestly unscrupulous villain of the piece, with Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr. both at their best as mousey weasels.

The BLu-ray is excellent, and with enough extras to choke a horse - or even a falcon. The 1080p black and white full screen picture (4:3 aspect ratio) is really good, with excellent sharpness and great contrast. It's a great example of just how good a black and white movie can look.

Audio is dts HD Master Audio mono and, not surprisingly, it’s only about as good as one would expect from 1940’s-vintage mono analog recording.

And unlike the last DVD version we reviewed, which really could have used some extra oomph so far as supplements are concerned, this one's full of stuff, including “Becoming Attractions,” a look at Bogie’s Warner Brothers career through his movie trailers.

As has been Warners' bent periodically, the film is offered as a "night at the movies", where you can experience it like you would have in a theater when the film was new. You can watch the movie preceded by a newreel, trailer, musical short, a couple of cartoons, etc. It's a delicious way to experience this disc.

And that ins't all. Warners also includes an audio commentary track, by Bogart biographer Eric Lax, the featurette "The Maltese Falcon: One Magnificent Bird", an entertaining blooper reel from 1941 movies where you'll hear some big classic Hollywood stars utter words you never heard them blurt out before.

There's also a feature on the makeup tests, and even some audio-only features, in this case three audio adaptations of the story.

It's a terrific package!

The Maltese Falcon, from Warner Home Video
100 min. 1080p black and white (1.33:1), dts HD Master Audio mono
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet
Written and directed by John Huston

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Then there's John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, another masterpiece from the legendary director.

Not surprisingly, this film stars Humphrey Bogart once again - though you won’t like him much. He’s small time loser Fred C. Dobbs, down on his luck in Mexico, wandering from low paying job to begging, to low paying job.

He hooks up with fellow down and outer Bob Curtin (Tim Holt) and they hitch their wandering star to an old gold prospector (Walter Huston) who’s up for one more kick at the can.

It starts out as a grand adventure, with the two wet behind the ears prospectors being hard pressed to keep up with the crusty old veteran, but it’s also an excellent character study of what makes a man a man - and how the lust for gold can drive some people around the bend.

They do strike a vein of gold, and their futures are set, but at that point the movie turns more from an adventure to the abovementioned human study, and becomes much darker. You want to reach into the screen and slap Bogart as his character grows increasingly paranoid and violent, afraid his partners want to steal his gold. He really is a hateful dude!

Huston's character has seen it all before, so he isn't surpised at the turn of events, but Holt unhappily gets caught in the middle.

In the end, it turns out that there is a type of justice - or perhaps karma or God is at work.

Oscars went to John and Walter Huston, both of whom deserved them. This is, indeed, an American classic that’s still powerful today.

The Blu-ray looks great. The 1080p black and white picture is in full frame, of course, and it’s sharp and clean and crisp, a real treat for the eyes. The audio, which is dts HD Master Audio mono, is merely okay.

Extras include the terrific “Night at the Movies” feature we also saw on the Maltese Falcon, except this one's introduced lovingly by Leonard Maltin. The feature tries to recreate the movie theater experience from when the film was new, bringing together a trailer, newsreel, comedy short, cartoon and the main feature into a complete show.

There's also a running commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax a documentary profile of director John Huston and "Discovering Treasure: The Story of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", an interesting feature. And you get an audio-only bonus as wello, a radio show featuring the film's original stars.

This is another excellent presentation of a classic that belongs in every movie lover's library.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, from Warner Home Entertainment
126 min. 1080p full frame (1.33:1), dts HD Master Audio mono
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett
Produced by Henry Blanke
Written and directed by John Huston 

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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