HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Gregory Peck Centennial Collection (Cape Fear/To Kill a Mockingbird)
HTS Overall Score:80
WARNING: THE SCORES ABOVE ARE A COMBINED SCORE FROM BOTH FILMS, THE INDIVIDUAL SCORES ARE CONTAINED BELOW IN THE INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS OF THE REVIEW
There are few actors as decorated in his film career or celebrated for his authenticity in a variety of different roles as Gregory Peck. I personally would rank him up there with the greats such as Charlton Heston, Carey Grant, and Clark Gable. His films range from biblical epics, to dramas, to comedies to romantic comedies and even a few thrillers and horror films. He would have turned 100 years old this year (sadly having died in 2003 at 87 year old) and Universal wanted to celebrate his life by repackaging two of his greatest films available on Blu-ray and giving them a nice new packaging face lift. I hate to speak ill of a set like this, but this is more of a repackaging of two films already available and re-doing the packaging. When I saw the original press release I was hoping for a couple of his films NOT on Blu-ray already to be released, or at the very least a set of new special features or the like with a small facelift to the encodes. Instead these are the same VC-1 encoded discs from about 2012 and put into a 2 disc Blu-ray case and topped off with a nice slipbox and a pack of six collectible postcards (which are actually really nice quality). That’s not a knock against the films or the set at all, but just a mild disappointment over a lost opportunity in my opinion.
To Kill A Mockingbird :5stars:
Just months after “Cape Fear” was released Gregory Peck was well on his way to starting a film that would almost define his career. Based off of the one and ONLY book by female author Harper Lee (although it was only one or two years ago that she announced that she would be writing a sequel, making it her second book ever written) “To Kill a Mockingbird” would be a film that defined a nations desire for another way to deal with race relations. Amidst a country that was still struggling under the clutches of overt and blatant racism, “To Kill a Mockingbird” put a complete and utter hush over the proverbial crowd. It’s one of the few times that I will say that we have a perfect film, perfectly directed and perfectly acted. I’ve given 5/5 scores before, and many times that is weighted in the genre it’s filmed in, or the amount of enjoyment I received from watching. However, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the few times I have to say that a film is TRULY perfect, drop the mic, and just walk away.
Harper Lee was an unknown when she published her novel back in 1960, and it wasn’t something that she was expecting either. Her one and only book (well at least for 50+ years) was not something she expected to shoot her to stardom, but it soon became an instant classic as it chronicled a trial where an innocent black man is accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town in the heat of 1930’s, when Black people didn’t enjoy the same benefits that they today. Told through the eyes of children (which is one of the most incredibly novel and fascinating aspect of the film), we see Scout and his wise and passionate lawyer father, Atticus Finch (Peck) defend this man against a town who has already made up their mind before the trial even started.
Court room dramas and quiet films like “To Kill a Mockingbird” are REALLY tough to do properly. Harper Lee’s novel was a revelation in the early 60s and to do it right takes delicacy and a passion for honesty and integrity. Something that Gregory Peck exudes with every fiber of his being. Robert Mulligan was very much an unknown back in that time like Harper Lee was, but they couldn’t have chosen a better man for the job. Together with Gregory Peck they did something that is almost never done in book to film adaptations. They kept the original integrity of the book intact and didn’t demean the source material. In fact the movie is just as exquisite and honestly done as the book was. Something I can’t say I’ve seen every often. Both of them are excellent representations of their respective media formats and neither one is inferior to the other (although I have a mother who refuses to believe ANY movie can be as good as the book).
The first rate cast for the film is truly the heart and soul of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The innocence of the children and their little endeavors and adventures to dig up facts for the trial is one of the most fascinating and sweet things you’ll ever see. Not to mention Gregory Peck defining the character of Atticus Finch as one of the best lawyer representations of all time that you DON’T want to murder (sorry, coming from a cop family I don’t exactly have a high opinion of most lawyers). The only one I think comes close is Matthew McConnaughey in “Amistad”. There is a slice of life realism in the story that just blends symbiotically with the incredible court room drama that plays out in the adult world. I hate to say anymore for people who haven’t seen the legendary film, as this is a film that is meant to be EXPEREINCED, and not just read about or watched on a whim.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=83777[/img]Cape Fear :4stars:
While “To Kill a Mockingbird” was the most FAMOUS movies for Gregory Peck to star in where he plays a lawyer, it was not the only one. In fact just months prior to the release of “To Kill a Mockingbird” he starred and produced a little old movie called “Cape Fear”. One which would be hailed as one of the most terrifying of his career. We in the modern world of 80s slashers, 90s gorefests and the torture era of the 2000’s may laugh at the idea of “Cape Fear’ being terrifying, but this was back in the 1960s when suburbia was the happiest and safest place on earth. So when an unhinged man comes back for revenge on the man who put him away and literally stalks his wife into complete and utter maniacal terror, it was seen as something deeply disturbing (and still is if you think about it). It was even popular enough to fuel interest for a reboot in the early nineties, this time starring Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro as the unhinged ex-con come back for revenge. I personally grew up with that iteration of the film as my first introduction to “Cape Fear”, but have to say that you still can’t beat a classic. The Mitchum and Peck collaboration has a sort of intensity that is haunting and disturbing, without delving into the obvious leering and over the top craziness of the De Niro outing (which is not to take anything away from the remake, as it is still quite a fun movie in its own right).
The film starts out by explaining that Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) was sent away to prison based primarily off of the testimony of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck). Now he’s been released from prison and is back in town, but he’s not exactly rehabilitated. After being sent away for rape some 8 years ago he’s been doing nothing but plot revenge against the man who saw him assault a woman and got him incarcerated. When he gets back to town he decides to be a bit more insidious about his terror. Instead of going out and assaulting someone he strikes fear into the hearts of Bowden by letting his presence known and then slowly and methodically stalking his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and Bowden’s teenage daughter. Enlisting the help of the police and private detective, Charles Sievers (Telly Savalas), Bowden fights back with everything he has at his disposal until it becomes blatantly clear that the law is not the only way to protect ones family in a classic man vs. man showdown that is one of the best in old classic 60’s filmic history.
“Cape Fear” adopts a much grittier and more realistic tone compared to many highly romanticized thrillers of the day, and was seen as one of the more disturbing films of the generation. Back then rape and the lascivious stalking of someone in happy suburban American life wasn’t talked about nor was it really even thought of in the general public’s mind. Thus when “Cape Fear” hit theaters it shocked the nation and was truly seen as one of the most disturbing mainstream films of its time. Sure there were much more disturbing films created in other countries, but back then Hollywood was sugar and roses, so something like this was seen as very subversive and a guilty pleasure due to the subject matter.
Ironically Sam Bowden’s character displays similarities and unique tones that would remind people of Atticus Finch, but that was most likely because scant months after creating “Cape Fear” Peck would move on to filming the iconic “To Kill A Mockingbird” so elements of the character is going to shine through, despite the wildly different subject matter. Elements of Hitchcock shine through, and that’s not just because Director J. Lee Thompson would use Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann to score the film. It’s tight, clean and a very minimalistic shoot that uses the element of suspense and “what if” to create the sense of fear rather than overt depiction of Cady’s crimes and his overbearing lasciviousness. It’s not a perfect film, but still one of my favorite films to watch Robert Mitchum creep you out as one of his legendary villains.
Not Rated by the MPAA/Not Rated by the MPAA
To Kill a Mockingbird :4.5stars:
The 1.85:1 VC-1 encoded Blu-ray is back from a time when Universal wasn’t nearly as fastidious in their catalog releases and hadn’t completely moved over to AVC as the more efficient encoding system, but that in no way detracts from the AMAZING restoration job and work they did with “To Kill A Mockingbird”. The film has never, EVER looked better and the obvious tlc and use of a more modern master really is a benefit for the classic film. The film was released in 2012 when Universal was really trying to turn their image around pushing their 100th Anniversary, so there was a bit more effort put into this release than several others released in the same time period. The black and white film just looks amazing from beginning to end with sharp clarity for the lightly grainy film and wonderfully nuanced black levels. Contrast is spot on perfect and the differing shades of grey have a unique feel to them, making them almost warm and inviting. Something that is usually a hard thing to pull off in a black and white film. The DVD always looked CRAZY grainy, but I’ve noticed that there is a much more subdued and natural looking grain structure to the discs, something which is talked about more in depth in the special features if you care to dig in. Instead of using the very nasty use of DNR they used some optical zooming “push” to average the grain out over the disc and keep it looking pristine without looking smeary and waxy. Something this particular reviewer is VERY sensitive to.
Cape Fear :3.5stars:
“Cape Fear” also sports the older VC-1 codec, but suffers from being sourced from (apparently) an older master that still has a few flaws baked into it for the DVD days. At this time Universal was really trying to turn themselves around from being known as the studio of DNR, so “Cape Fear” looks a lot better than many other catalog titles from the same era, but there is some definite DNR being used in the picture. The grain structure of the film looks decidedly smooth and hovers just under the edge of being waxy at times. Blacks are usually very impressive and while there is some mild crush and flatness due to the DNR, it is a fairly vivid looking image on screen. Intimate details look solid enough (although a bit smooth) and the wide angle shots of the town actually look quite pleasing to the eye. It’s not the best of the best, but it is a solid looking transfer that carries over a few flaws from the bygone days of DVD where hi-def displays were not nearly so common, nor so revealing.
To Kill A Mockingbird :4stars:
“To Kill a Mockingbird” comes with not only a 5.1 DTS-HD MA remix of the original film, but also a 2.0 DTS track (sadly not lossless DTS-HD MA) for the purists of the group. While I like the 2.0 track, I see nothing at all wrong with the superior (in my opinion) 5.1 DTS-HD MA track as the main listening choice. The track appears to have been kept in a fairly neutral manner in terms of the remixing, and doesn’t suffer from trying to make it some wild modern action track. The main increase in the fidelity and immersion factor is Elmer Bernstein’s score, which feels richer and fuller with the added use of surrounds. Still, the film is still a very quiet and very “talky” movie, which means the heaviest emphasis is up front in the center channel for the dialog, and some added support in the mains for the court room and a few other instances. The surrounds get some mild ambient noises that are discretely blended in, but the majority of their work comes from Bernstein’s aforementioned score.
Cape Fear :4stars:
“Cape Fear” is more of a minimalist feeling to the 2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono mix, scored by long time Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann. Shot and directed almost LIKE a Hitchcock movie, “Cape Fear” enjoys a sort of creepy and ominous vibe thanks to Mermann’s impeccable use of intensity and soft fear in the way he directs the score. Vocals are clean and clearly audible, while the mains enjoy a decent amount of activity in them, while also knowing when to remain quiet and allow the viewer to just watch what was happening on screen. It’s not a wildly active track, but very effective and does everything asked of it without question.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=83801[/img]To Kill A Mockingbird
• Feature commentary with director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula
• Fearful Symmetry feature-length documentary
• A Conversation with Gregory Peck feature-length documentary
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics featurette on the film's restoration process
• Gregory Peck's 1963 Academy Award acceptance speech and his remarks upon receiving the AFI Life Achievement Award
• Excerpt from Cecilia Peck's Tribute To Gregory Peck
• Scout Remembers featurette with actress Mary Badham
• Theatrical trailer
• Theatrical Trailer
• The Making of Cape Fear
• Production Photgraphs
Both “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Cape Fear” are fantastic movies, especially for the price of this double feature, but my only disappointment comes with the presentation. For a centennial collection I found it a bit strange that Universal just packaged two films that had already been released into a double disc Blu-ray case and just call it that. No new extras, no new films, just a double pack of two of his better movies that have been out on Blu-ray for 3-4 years. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not ragging on the set as Universal did a good job with these discs to begin with. It’s just that for those who have already purchased the films then there really isn’t any incentive to upgrade to this set. HOWEVER if you’re missing one or the other of the films than this makes for a very price attractive way to snag both sets AND get two working digital copies (the ones that came in the original “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Cape Fear” single disc releases are already long expired). It’s an amazing set and one well worth getting, but it does require you to not have the previous Blu-rays to make that buy worth the coin. Still highly recommended.
Starring: Gregory Peck, Frank Overton, Robert Mitchum
Directed by: Robert Mulligan: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Harper Lee (Novel), Horton Fonte (Screenplay) : John D. MacDonald (Novel), James R. Webb (Screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 VC-1 / 1.85:1 VC-1
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, French, English DTS 2.0 / English DTS-HD MA Mono, French DTS Mono
Runtime: 130 minutes : 106 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: October 11th, 2016
Buy Gregory Peck Centennial Collection Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Fantastic Buy
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