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THE FLYING DEUCES (1939) RKO Radio Pictures Release
A Boris Morros Production – Directed by: A. Edward Sutherland
Story and Screenplay: Ralph Spence, Charles Rogers, Alfred Schiller, Harry Langdon
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jean Parker, Charles Middleton, Reginald Gardiner,
Jean Del Val, James Finlayson, Richard Cramer, Sam Lufkin, Arthur Housman, Eddie Borden
Network Blu-ray – Release Date: June 15, 2015 – Disc Region: A, B, C – 68 minutes
Reviewed by: Jim Harwood
As we are all fans of the boys, I will forgo a plot synopsis or give a critical review of the film itself, apart from saying that I think it’s their best film away from Roach, and will instead concentrate on the quality of this new British Blu-ray release. After years of languishing in public domain purgatory, The Flying Deuces has received an excellent digital restoration, thanks to Jonathan Wood and the team at BBC Digital Media Services.
The new Network disc is the best Blu-ray release of the film to date. It has superior picture quality to the recent VCI domestic release and the Edel Germany Blu-ray from 2012. As far as standard DVD’s go, the new Blu-ray also bests the very nice Kino edition from 2004.
When doing a restoration, it’s always ideal to work with the original 35mm camera negative. Unfortunately the whereabouts of the original negative for The Flying Deuces is unknown. The film’s producer, Boris Morros, would have maintained control of the negative and probably turned it over to Astor Pictures when they reissued the film after RKO’s distribution contract ended. Astor hacked off the original logo and main titles in the process. It was sometime after this that the camera negative went missing, the copyright for the film lapsed and everyone and their brother duped the film, resulting in a multitude of poor quality prints and video releases. Having in the past worked at the Library of Congress’ nitrate film vaults (where the bulk of the nitrate RKO negatives are stored) and for Turner Entertainment (who bought the RKO library) I can tell you that the original negative for The Flying Deuces was nowhere to be found. If it still exists, it’s in a film lab or archive somewhere, or in private hands.
The new Blu-ray appears to be sourced from different elements, though importantly, most of them are 35mm. Finally, contrast levels and image densities are where they should be. There’s detail in the faces and in the shadows. Bright areas in the frame are no longer blown out and the nighttime sequences are not swallowed up into the darkness. There are some light negative scratches and some image flutter here and there and some duped in wear is still present in the stock footage shots and opticals that pepper the film. Image stabilization has been used in some scenes and almost all instances of dirt and debris have been removed. Fortunately film grain is intact. The disc has a good bit rate, which hovers in the low to mid-20’s with occasional higher peaks. Projected onto a large screen, the disc looks very film-like. Art Lloyd’s photography can now be appreciated.
Which isn’t to say that everything’s perfect. The main title sequence is still a little rough, though it is the best I’ve seen of all the video editions. We fade into the RKO logo and it looks quite nice and is correct for the era. Then we fade into the original title cards, which appear to have had some digital manipulation. Freeze frames and video dissolves are utilized, though they are well done. The Paris stock footage that opens the film, as well as the stock shots of the legionnaire marching band later on, all still have a third or fourth generation quality about them. But they would have never looked all that great, even when the film was new. The insert shot of the newspaper clipping, alerting Parisians about the escaped shark, looks like it was lifted from an older video source and lastly, the shot of the note that is tossed to the boys while they’re in the jail cell, is a bit dupey looking. All of this leads me to believe that the 35mm element used here was likely for foreign distribution and the sequences with written English (the credits and various inserts) had to be lifted from elsewhere. I’m only guessing this, but that would explain the drop-off in quality of the inserts. The original end title card and cast listing are also present.
Extras are a bit on the weak side. The film is offered in the original German version, with a dubbed soundtrack and what appear to be the original German title cards. The dubbing is actually quite good and the voice talent does well at capturing some of the nuances of the boys’ voices. Lastly there is a detailed image gallery which presents movie posters and lobby cards from over the years, as well as production stills. That’s it. So buy the VCI disc for the extras and the Network disc for the movie.
I’ve been a film collector most of my life, buying 8mm and 16mm prints for the past 40 years. I’ve also been an avid collector of VHS, Laserdisc, DVD’s and Blu-rays. Seeking the best existing versions of favorite films is a passion. Prints made directly off of the camera negative are a revelation. Watching this new Blu-ray of The Flying Deuces provides a similar experience. This is not only a must-have, for Laurel and Hardy fans it is a necessity of life.
The new British Blu-ray will work in region A, B and C players and can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk for $25-$30, including shipping. Run, don’t walk!
Based on a 1-10 rating scale: Image – 8 Sound – 7 Extras – 3