Top Hughes and Wyler films make their way onto 4K disc
By Jim Bray
Paramount has released another round of popular titles to their growing library of 4K discs and, while they may not be the most spectacular examples of the 4K disc medium, they both shine on the ultra high-definition discs and are well worth seeing and/or owning.
Ferris Bueller's Day off was a bit of a change of pace for writer/director John Hughes. He spent a lot of the 1980's making teen flicks from "The Breakfast Club" to "Sixteen Candles," but "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is bit of an anomaly, in that rather than featuring an ensemble cast telling their own stories, it concentrates on one fellow – Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) – a smart and popular kid who goes through life as if it's set to music.
One particularly beautiful Spring day he decides that life, whether set to musical accompaniment or not, is too short to spend slaving over books at school. He decides to cut class, dreaming up and putting into motion a well-planned "sickness" alibi – his ninth, apparently, of that particular school semester.
Ferris is very smart and quite inventive, and he has planned this day off down to the last potential fly in the ointment, or so he thinks. But he's also a good friend, so he drags his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and his best friend (Alan Ruck) into the adventure with him. He's so good he gets away with brazenly springing his love right out of the classroom, under the nose of a nasty school official (Jeffrey Jones) who swears to catch Ferris in the act and spends the rest of the movie chasing him with about as much success as Wile E. Coyote has in his eternal battles with the Roadrunner.
Armed with (well, stolen) Ruck's Dad's classic 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, one of the most beautiful sports cars ever built, the trio heads to the heart of Chicago for their day of adventure. They go to a baseball game, an art museum, they (well, Ferris…) take over a downtown parade and generally have a really, really good time.
The movie uses the rare strategy of having Broderick spend a good deal of its running time breaking the fourth wall, talking to the audience, and the tactic works really well. My favourite use of it is after the closing credits, when Broderick comes out of his bedroom, looks into the audience and tells them to go home because the picture is over. This has been used before, for example at the end of the Muppet Movie, but it's still a hoot.
The casting is inspired; Broderick's take on Ferris puts just the right twinkle in his eye, while Ruck is fine as the put upon but loyal friend who blossoms at the end. Sara is warm and pretty and brings just the right tone to her role, while Jones plays the "villain," who knows a rat when he smells one, with just the right amount of menace blended with incompetence. You know he's going to get his comeuppance, and you're all for it, and when it comes, you're glad.
It's a very likable movie, lighthearted and free spirited, and though I don't remember being a huge Hughes fan (and hadn't seen this movie for years) I still got some good laughs out of its silly situations. It'll probably not be remembered in Hollywood's history as a true classic such as Ben-Hur, but it's an enjoyable romp anyway.
The 4K disc (there's no Blu-ray or digital code in the package) is pretty good. The picture is sharp and clean, though the reds seemed a tad hot (perhaps an editorial decision by Hughes and his cinematographer?). Overall, however, even though this won't go down in 4K history as a reference quality disc, it's very watchable.
The audio is Dolby Atmos, but it's basically front-loaded to the stereo speakers (and the centre channel, though it may be the ghost image caused by mono signals coming from stereo speakers). But the sound quality is just fine.
The 4K disc also contains a bunch of extras that are worth seeing/hearing, though none of them are new.
"Who is Ferris Bueller" looks at – Surprise, Surprise! – the protagonist, and on Broderick's portrayal of him. "The World According to Ben Stein" – Surprise, Surprise! – is about Mr. Stein, and features him talking not only about the film, but his other accomplishments in the real world, as a political operative and economist. I believe it was recorded before "Win Ben Stein's Money" was on the air.
"The Lost Tapes" is a bunch of even older interviews, etc. It's an entertaining montage that includes clips of the cast goofing around, as well as Broderick and Ruck reminiscing about their friendship on and off screen.
Roman Holiday, meanwhile, is yet another great film from the great William Wyler, who had already made a number of classics, from Wuthering Heights to The Best Years of Our Lives, and would go on to make even more, including the 1959 masterpiece Ben-Hur. Roman Holiday is a 1953 romantic comedy starring Gregory Peck and a young up and comer named Audrey Hepburn, whose performance ended up winning her an Oscar, one of three such statuettes the classic "fish out of water/star-crossed lovers" tale took home that year.
Roman Holiday may not be quite the stature of those above-named films, but that does not by any means indicate that it's a slouch. No, indeed, it's a great movie as well.
Hepburn is Ann, a European princess from an always-unnamed country (the way they avoid naming it is quite humorous). She's on an official tour of Europe and, once in Rome, the frustrations of a young girl – who only wants to be an ordinary person – get the best of her and she sneaks out of her cocoon of coaches and handlers. She doesn't mean to stay away long, we think, but thanks to a dose of sleepy drugs she was given before she sneaked out, she falls asleep on a Roman bench and is rescued by reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) who just happens upon her. He can't wake her up, so he takes her back to his little apartment rather than leave her at the mercy of the outside world, one (though he doesn't know it at the time) she has never really experienced and isn't competent to cope with.
Joe discovers who she really is and decides to use his "role" as "her saviour" to get an exclusive story that'll make him a bundle of much-needed cash. It's a sneaky and unethical way to get the story, but he is with the news media so it's probably standard operating procedure.
To help in his scheme, he enlists photographer friend Irving Radovich (Eddie Albert) and they convince Ann to spend a day "holidaying" in the Eternal City while Irving surreptitiously snaps shots of her to enhance Joe's story.
Naturally, since this is a romantic comedy, Joe manages to fall in love with "Anya", and discovers that it's mutual. This is where he shuffles off the media mindset, deciding not to plaster her face all over the pages, under his byline, despite his promise (and wager) with his editor. It wouldn't be fair to the girl, he realizes at last because, despite being a public figure, she's also a very real and likeable person.
Ah, but they both have lives and duties to take care of regardless of their personal desires. I'd tell you if they sneak off and get married the way Anakin and Padme did, but it might be a bit much of a spoiler.
Roman Holiday is delightful and charming, one of the best "rom-coms" I've seen. It does start a tad slowly, but before long you'll be hooked and reeled in. I'm sure that part of the reason is the smart and sweet screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, who won an Oscar for his work.
Peck was apparently not Wyler's first choice for the role (Cary Grant supposedly was), but he does a very good job here and is probably better – or at least more believable – than the overrated Grant would have been.
The black and white, 1.33:1 cinematography is also splendid, and the Rome locations add a beautiful sense of reality to the fantasy. Just the sort of thing for the 4K disc to showcase.
And it does! Paramount said the Blu-ray version from a few years ago was mastered freshly from a 4K film transfer, so what we get here is undoubtedly the same restoration, but at the native 4K resolution.
It isn't the greatest 4K example I've seen. In fact, I thought it not much better than the Blu-ray, until I fired up the 1080p disc afterward to compare. It's a huge difference!
Paramount, when the Blu-ray was released, said the original film was in such a state that they had to reassemble and restore and remaster it virtually from scratch, which could help explain why – as good as it is – it isn't up to the 4K standards of other black and white Paramount films such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
The audio is monaural Dolby TrueHD and is about as good as you could expect from a movie this old.
Paramount has a conventional Blu-ray in the package and wisely decided to leave the extras on the 1080P disc. So, all you get on the 4K disc is the movie itself, and that's okay with me.
Those extras aren't new, but they're worth seeing. The newest is 'Filmmaker Focus' with film guru Leonard Maltin, a critic/fan/historian whose takes are generally very interesting. Other stuff includes a look at Audrey Hepburn, Edith Head's costumes, and a puff piece about the formerly blacklisted Trumbo. You can also partake of a short feature on Paramount Pictures during that decade, and there's a set of photo galleries and theatrical trailers.
Roman Holiday is an excellent movie, done justice with his new 4K treatment supposedly honouring the film's 70th anniversary.
Both it, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are well worth seeing, and if you're a collector who doesn't own either or both of these films, these are definitely the best versions to get.
Copyright 2023 Jim Bray