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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • 1976 135-minute cut and 1978 108-minute cut
  • New video interviews with star Ben Gazzara and producer Al Ruban
  • Audio interview with Cassavetes by film historians Michel Ciment and Michael Wilson conducted after the film's release
  • Stills gallery featuring rare behind-the-scenes production photos

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: John Cassavetes
Starring: Ben Gazzara, Timothy Agoglia Carey, Seymour Cassel, Robert Phillips, Morgan Woodward
1976 | 135 Minutes | Licensor: Jumer Productions, Inc.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $124.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #254
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: October 22, 2013
Review Date: January 2, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

John Cassavetes engages with film noir in his own inimitable style with The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Ben Gazzara brilliantly portrays a gentleman's club owner, Cosmo Vitelli, desperately committed to maintaining a facade of suave gentility despite the seediness of his environment and his own unhealthy appetites. When he runs afoul of loan sharks, Cosmo must carry out a terrible crime or lose his way of life. Mesmerizing and idiosyncratic, the film is a provocative examination of masculine identity. It is presented here in two versions: Cassavetes's original 1976 edit and his 1978 one, nearly thirty minutes shorter.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

John Cassavetesí The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, the fourth film in Criterionís John Cassavetes: Five Films box set, is presented on Blu-ray in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p/24hz. The dual-layer disc presents both the 1976 and 1978 versions of the film.

In terms of presentations this is easily the most disappointing one in the set. The 1978 version looks fine enough, on par with the other titles in the set. The transfer is pretty crisp, limited mostly by its source. Edges are cleanly defined and fine details pop. Colours deliver excellent saturation levels, and skin tones look excellent. Blacks arenít absolutely pure but shadow delineation is superb, so the shadows in the films look excellent without any crushing. Sharpening may have been applied and pixilation is noticeable in spots but otherwise itís a fairly clean digital presentation.

Whatís disappointing about the release is that the 1976 version (my preferred version of the film) looks nowhere near as good. Definition is lousy and the fine details donít pop like they do in the 1978 version. Everything has a somewhat waxy polished look and edges come off fuzzy. Colours arenít as bold as they are in the í78 version, and blacks can crush out some details. It looks more like a high-def transfer created for a DVD release years ago, and in the end only looks somewhat better than Criterionís previous DVD edition.

I suspect the same high-def transfer used for the DVD was used for the í76 version and the í78 version received a new one. On the DVD release the two versions looked pretty similar but here the í78 version looks significantly better while the í76 cut looks only slightly better than the DVDís transfer, and comes off as the more fuzzier and less detailed of the two.

Damage isnít much of an issue, a few minor blemishes littered about in both versions, with nothing too alarming. What irked me mostly was how it appears the í76 version got the shaft. Very disappointing.

1976: 5/10 | 1978: 7/10 | Overall: 6/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

Screen Capture
1976 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

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1976 version

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1978 version

AUDIO

Audio also greatly differs between both versions. Each one receives a lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono presentation. The 1978 version doesnít offer anything truly special but sounds fine enough. Dialogue is easy enough to hear if occasionally muffled (which I blame on shooting conditions and style) and the music cane be a bit edgy but otherwise has some decent range and fidelity to it.

The 1976 version on the other hand is a mess. Itís hollow, fairly edgy and distorted, and mixed fairly low, making just about anything Timothy Carey says impossible to hear. Like in the video department the original version gets the shaft.

1976: 5/10 | 1978: 7/10 | Overall: 6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion carries all supplements over from the DVD.

The big feature is that the release does contain both the 1976 and 1978 cuts of the film, which is somewhat surprising since Gina Rowlands apparently refused to allow the alternate version of Shadows to be included in the set and my understanding is Cassavetes preferred the í78 cut. As to why there are two cuts to the film: Cassavetes was apparently disappointed in the reception of it when he originally released it in 1976. He shortened it down and re-edited, I think in an attempt to make it more of a conventional gangster film.

Unfortunately I donít think thatís Cassavetesí strong point, which was more in character, so for me the í78 cut doesnít really work. The í76 version is longer by about a half-hour and Cosmo (played by Ben Gazzara) is developed a little better, presented more as the suffering artist who just wants his club to take off. What is so bizarre is that because of this further development the í76 version, despite being longer, actually moves by at a better pace. In trying to make it appeal more to, I assume, general audiences and critics with his recut he loses what held it apart from other gangster films of the time and it really becomes forgettable since its basic story (a man severely in debt with the mob is forced to kill someone to pay it off) is pretty thin and the film comes to rely on that premise more. Honestly, though I hate to simplify it, the í78 version is pretty dull. This is of course my feeling on the different versions of the film, so it will come down to personal preference. At least both versions are here. What would have been better, though, is if the í76 version at least received the same amount of care in its high-def transfer. In comparison to the í78 version the transfer is pretty lousy.

Moving on with the remaining supplements you first get notes about the two versions of the film followed by an 18-minute discussion featuring Ben Gazzara and Al Ruban. Both talk about working with Cassavetes and how they see his films, but concentrate primarily on KillingÖ of course. They talk about making it, their reactions to it and the eventual public reception of it. It's an excellent interview, which I felt might have been too short.

You next get a collection of audio interviews taken with Cassavetes by Michel Ciment and Michael Wilson. They talk about the film and how it fits into Cassavetesí filmography, and also talk about Hollywood and his working in it, amongst a few other details. This stuff is sort of covered in the other DVDs in the Cassavetes box set, so it's not really new, but I enjoy listening to Cassavetes talk about his work and hearing the obvious passion he has for it.

Then closing off the disc is a stills gallery presenting a decent sized collection of shots from the film, publicity photos and behind-the-scenes bits, including what looks like a photo of the crew at the end. The disc then closes with a theatrical trailer that I donít actually think is on the previous DVD edition.

Supplement wise this is sort of a mediocre release, but it adds on nicely to the box set as whole.

6/10

CLOSING

The í78 version comes out receiving a nice upgrade but the í76 version gets the shaft, and I feel it is probably reusing the same transfer that was used for their DVD edition. The most disappointing disc in the Cassavetes set.


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