Posted Thu Jan 12, 2023 at 10:00 AM PST by David Krauss
If you love classic movies and have been waiting - and waiting - to enjoy them in the splendor of 4K UHD, 2022 was your year. After tantalizing fans with a few isolated releases over the past few years (Universal led the way with its superior Alfred Hitchcock and Classic Monsters Icons of Horror collections, while Warner’s eye-popping edition of The Wizard of Oz, Paramount’s sumptuous My Fair Lady, and Sony's Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume 1 and Volume 2 earned well-deserved plaudits), many studios - big and small - at last fully embraced the idea of presenting classics in 4K in 2022. All I can say is, it’s about time!
And while I know it takes time to get these cinematic gems restored and remastered so they'll hold up under the unforgiving 4K microscope, I also believe studios don't prioritize even the most renowned films of the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s when a new format debuts. Classics took forever to arrive on DVD, Blu-ray, and 3D, and 4K UHD was no exception. In fact, the Ultra High-Def wait was so interminable, many rabid fans like myself began to wonder if any classics ever would be released in the format at all. Would the high cost of remastering, painstaking restoration process, and smaller market share prevent studios from adding classics to their 4K catalogues, especially when so many classic titles had yet to even enjoy a Blu-ray release?
Thankfully, no. After Criterion finally waded into the 4K classic waters with Citizen Kane and The Red Shoes late last year, Kino Lorber grabbed the baton and ran with it. Their Studio Classics line unveiled a plethora of excellent 4K UHD releases in 2022, and though major studios like Warner, Sony, Paramount, and Universal couldn’t match Kino’s output, the quality of their releases remained stellar. While Criterion continues to produce 4K UHD discs, its slate of Golden Age classics in the format has lagged well behind Kino, much to the disappointment of classics aficionados. That said, fans of Ultra HD and Hollywood classics had a lot to smile about in 2022.
THE APARTMENT (1960) - Kino Lorber Studio Classics
What's most notable about this 4K UHD presentation of writer-director Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning comedy-drama that skewers office and sexual politics is its lack of High Dynamic Range. The Apartment is the only title in this list that isn't enhanced by either HDR or Dolby Vision, and - much to my amazement - it doesn't matter a damn. The crisp, vibrant transfer immerses us in New York's concrete corporate jungle and makes the pitch-perfect performances of Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray resonate more strongly. The Apartment won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Editing, and was nominated for five more, and this terrific disc showcases every aspect of this funny, moving, and searing film like never before.
CASABLANCA (1942) - Warner Home Video
We waited a loooong time for this one. From the moment 4K UHD came on the scene, classic movie fans salivated at the prospect of seeing one of the all-time great movies in the format. Well, just in time for Casablanca's 80th birthday, Warner Home Video finally delivered, and the disc was worth the wait. Incredibly film-like, razor sharp, and packed with fine detail, the HDR transfer struck from a 4K 16-bit scan of the best-surviving nitrate elements outshines every other home video release of this Best Picture Oscar winner that tells arguably the most captivating World War II story in Hollywood history. Iconic images abound - Bogie in his trench coat, Bergman's watery eyes, Paul Henreid passionately singing "La Marseillaise," the sardonic Claude Rains smirking in his military finery, tubby Sydney Greenstreet cackling in his fez hat, an oily Peter Lorre squealing "Reeeeck! Reeeeck!", Dooley Wilson crooning "As Time Goes By" while tinkling the ivories... None of them have looked or sounded any better than they do here. If you have a 4K setup, you need Casablanca in Ultra High-Def in your collection.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) - The Criterion Collection
"From the moment they met, it was murder." Double Indemnity is the granddaddy of all film noir thrillers and the gold standard by which countless copycats and wannabes are judged. Writer-director Billy Wilder's blistering adaptation of James M. Cain's novel about an adulterous couple who plot to bump off the woman's sour husband and collect the sizable insurance spoils never fails to cut like a knife, no matter how many times we've seen it, and it fits 4K UHD like a glove. Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Edward G. Robinson ignite the screen, and the inky blacks and crisp whites in Criterion's lush yet film-like Dolby Vision HDR transfer create a seductive noir mood that intensifies the sexual tension and ruthless nastiness of this irresistibly nefarious tale. Nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actress, Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound, and Music Score, Double Indemnity remains the pinnacle of film noir, and this delectable 4K UHD rendering from Criterion allows us to savor every ferocious bite.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) - Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume 3
Don't get me wrong, director Fred Zinnemann's stark, stirring adaptation of James Jones' bestselling novel about a U.S. Army outfit in Hawaii in the months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor looks fantastic in 4K UHD, but it's the Dolby Atmos soundtrack that really earns this Best Picture Oscar winner a spot on this list. A 70-year-old movie with a Dolby Atmos track??!! I couldn't believe it either, but it makes this timeless film almost feel like a contemporary release. As my colleague Matthew Hartman astutely noted in his review, don't "staple this against something like Top Gun: Maverick, that wouldn’t be a contest, but for a film of this vintage, Sony is proving with some care and attention that a massive multi-channel track can work wonders for a classic." He continues, "From grunts clacking pool cues in the officer’s club to drilling in the courtyard to the climactic surprise attack sequence, this mix is quite something. Channel spacing is pitch-perfect allowing enough activity to occupy the front, side, and rear channels and bleeding into the overheads without sounding forced, cheap, or inorganic. One could swear it was always presented in Atmos." Dolby Vision HDR also heightens the intensity of the climactic aerial attack and enhances the power of the nuanced performances of Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Reed, all of which were nominated for Oscars. (Yes, that famous beach scene with the waves crashing over Lancaster and Kerr as they passionately embrace looks stunning, too.) For now, From Here to Eternity, which won a whopping eight Oscars and was nominated for five more, is only available as part of Sony's Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume 3, but hopefully a stand-alone release is planned.
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) - Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume 3
One of the oldest films yet to receive the 4K UHD treatment, It Happened One Night, the first of only a handful of movies to win Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, is a revelation in the format. It's also Hollywood's first bona fide romantic comedy and the blueprint from which almost all subsequent romcoms have been constructed. Director Frank Capra's rollicking battle of the sexes depicts the incessant fireworks between a sassy runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) and cocky newspaperman (Clark Gable) as they bumble and stumble their way up the East Coast, bickering and sparring before they inevitably fall in love. Though the Dolby Vision HDR transfer occasionally emphasizes the heavier grain structure of vintage films, the picture looks remarkably vivid and silky most of the time without appearing artificially enhanced. Much of It Happened One Night takes places at night, but the dense blacks don't shroud fine details and the increased clarity and contrast heighten depth. This impeccable transfer proves early films can indeed benefit from 4K UHD upgrades, and we can only hope it will inspire the release of more 1930s movies in the format. Like From Here to Eternity, It Happened One Night is only available as part of the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection, Volume 3 for now, but it would behoove Sony to release it separately later this year.
PATHS OF GLORY (1957) - Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Stanley Kubrick fans hit the jackpot in 2022, thanks to Kino releasing three of the legendary director's early films in Ultra High-Def. Both Killer's Kiss and especially The Killing, which just missed making this list, look terrific in 4K UHD, but the crown jewel of the trio is without question Paths of Glory. One of the most realistic and devastating war movies of all time tells the true-life tale of an innocent group of World War I German soldiers who become scapegoats after a disastrous mission threatens the standing of their pompous, egomaniacal commanding officer. The dazzling Dolby Vision HDR transfer, which was struck from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, puts us in the filthy, putrid trenches and on the muddy battlefield strewn with casualties. The smoke, grit, gore, debris, exploding shells, and deafening noise are all brilliantly rendered, as are the close-ups of Kirk Douglas, who files one of his most intense and magnetic portrayals, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, and Ralph Meeker. Paths of Glory wields immense power and Kino's 4K UHD disc provides an immersive cinematic experience that heightens the film's impact and celebrates the young Kubrick's artistry and innovation.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) - Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Gregory Peck won a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his thoughtful, measured portrayal of Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer who defends a black man against a scurrilous charge made by a white woman in director Richard Mulligan's classic adaptation of Harper Lee's immortal novel. The top-notch HDR transfer brings out all the details in the dusty, sleepy town of Maycomb, Mississippi and enhances the intimate moments that make the movie resonate. To Kill a Mockingbird is about honor, integrity, prejudice, and acceptance, and though those ideas and principles don't instantly scream 4K, they become strangely more impactful when we feel like we're in the same room and breathing the same air as the film's characters. Ultra High-Def isn't just for big-budget action blockbusters, sci-fi odysseys, and effects-laden superhero movies, and To Kill a Mockingbird, with the same quiet dignity that defines the film, proves that.
TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) - Kino Lorber Studio Classics
One of 2022's most eagerly anticipated classic releases was Kino's 4K UHD presentation of director Orson Welles' masterful film noir Touch of Evil. The gripping tale of a corrupt and vindictive cop who locks horns with a narcotics agent over a mob murder in a sleazy Mexican border town brims with Wellesian style and nail-biting tension and is buoyed by riveting performances from Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff, Marlene Dietrich, and Welles himself. Universal mangled the movie prior to its release, prompting an irate response from Welles and two re-edited versions (one of which was created decades later) that more fully reflect his original vision. All three cuts of Touch of Evil are included in Kino's three-disc special edition, and all three boast stunning Dolby Vision HDR transfers that belie the film's difficult history. The two alternate versions look remarkably cohesive, despite the use of multiple sources, with rich blacks, palpable depth, and sublime close-ups combining to create an image that's "so immersive, so sharp, so filmic, so balanced, so impressive, and such a pleasure to watch, I can't imagine anyone with the capability to play 4K UHD discs not wanting to add this set to their collection."
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) - Warner Home Video
Along with Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain sat atop scads of upgrade wish lists when Ultra High-Def debuted. It took a while, but in honor of the movie's 70th anniversary, Warner at last released in 4K UHD what many rightfully call the greatest musical ever made. And to quote the title song, what a glorious feeling it was! This uproarious, exhilarating, and nostalgic look at Hollywood's rocky transition from silent to sound pictures contains an array of breathtaking numbers that showcase the peerless terpsichorean talent of Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Cyd Charisse. The film's yummy Technicolor palette and sumptuous sets and costumes look fantastic in 4K, and the splendiferous HDR transfer boosts appreciation for not only the illustrious cast, but also MGM's entire Arthur Freed Unit, which elevated the humble musical to a lofty, sophisticated art form. As I wrote in my review, "Warner has always done Technicolor proud in its Blu-ray transfers, but the hues in this 4K UHD transfer with HDR take the cake...and make us want to eat it, too...To say [the film's] Blu-ray transfer is kind of like Kansas and the 4K UHD transfer is like Dorothy opening the door and entering Oz is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. Once you see Singin' in the Rain in the splendor of 4K UHD with HDR...you will never, ever watch the Blu-ray again."
SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) - Kino Lorber Studio Classics
"You had me at Marilyn Monroe in Dolby Vision." That's how I opened my review of Kino's 4K UHD upgrade of Billy Wilder's classic cross-dressing, gender-bending screwball comedy about a couple of manic musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) who join an all-girls band to evade the vengeful grasp of a vindictive mobster (George Raft). Monroe sparkles in this side-splitting farce, and Kino's terrific Dolby Vision HDR transfer allows us to drink in her inimitable vivacity, vulnerability, and doe-eyed allure. (It also inspires longing for Marilyn's color movies to be released in the format. C'mon Fox, get on the ball!) As I wrote in my review, "Everything that's good about [Criterion's] 2018 restoration is that much better here - heightened clarity and contrast, greater depth, denser black levels, brighter whites, and sharper fine details all enhance the incredibly film-like picture...What's so exhilarating about Kino's transfer is the way it captures, reflects, and transmits the kinetic energy that permeates almost every frame of Some Like It Hot." Few comedies are as laugh-out-loud funny, and Kino's excellent presentation ensures we'll be howling for years to come.
A few other classic titles released in 4K UHD in 2022 merit mention. Kino's Ultra High-Def upgrades of The Killing (1956), director Stanley Kubrick's gritty, mesmerizing heist flick with Sterling Hayden and Elisha Cook Jr., and In the Heat of the Night (1967), director Norman Jewison's explosive murder mystery with racial overtones with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, made significant splashes, as did Warner's impressive UHD presentation of Giant (1956), director George Stevens' mammoth adaptation of novelist Edna Ferber's ode to Texas starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean. Even without HDR, Kino delivered an exceptional release of the iconic World War II POW epic The Great Escape to 4K Ultra HD along with the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. With so many great releases, it's nearly impossible to catalog and rank them all, but the 10 titles above are the essentials of any growing 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray collection.
2022 was a banner year for classics in 4K UHD. And as I raise a glass to these glorious discs, here’s hoping 2023 yields an even greater bounty of classics in Ultra High-Def. We've waited long enough.
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