George Armitage (Grosse Pointe Blank) adapted celebrated noir author Charles Willeford’s novel Miami Blues for the screen with new star Alec Baldwin in the lead role as Frederick J. Frenger, Jr., a sociopathic criminal. Arriving in Miami fresh out of jail he commits one crime after another when he meets young hooker Susie (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Single White Female) who he starts to build a pseudo-married life with, including the home cooking and the white picket fence. As Frederick tries to juggle domesticity with his mounting crimes, dogged cop Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward, Tremors) threatens to put his freedom in jeopardy. Baldwin is brilliant as the unhinged criminal tearing through Miami while Armitage perfectly balances the humour and violence in this singular crime comedy that betrays the quirky influence of producer Jonathan Demme (Something Wild, Married to the Mob).
Radiance Films presents George Armitage’s cult favorite Miami Blues to Blu-ray, presenting the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The disc is locked to Region B, and North American viewers will require a player that can playback Region B content.
As with all of their MGM-licensed titles (so far, at least), Radiance is stuck with an older digital master. They do what they can, leading to a presentation that does better Shout’s out-of-print North American edition, but it’s still pretty far from ideal. Ultimately, it still has a look closer to video than film, with a number of artifacts remaining. Grain is present and looks cleaner than previous presentations, but it still has a digital, buzzy look, something that’s clearly baked into the master. Halos occasionally pop up here and there as well.
They’ve done some further restoration work, cleaning up most of the damage that remained in Shout’s presentation. I also liked how the colors are rendered, especially those Miami pinks, and there is a good amount of detail present (I’m guessing an interpositive was the source for the base scan). Black levels look decent as well, even if shadow delineation leaves a bit to be desired.
Ultimately, the presentation is what it is, and until the film receives a new restoration (which is unlikely to happen anytime soon) this is probably the best one can hope for.
The film’s stereo soundtrack is presented in lossless PCM. It’s not a robust mix, but it gets the job done. Dialogue is sharp and clean with excellent fidelity, and action scenes show a modest amount of range with noticeable splits between the speakers. Everything is clear, and I can’t say I ever noticed any significant damage or excessive filtering.
Radiance puts together a decent little special edition for the film, first porting over Shout’s 26-minute featuring interviews with actors Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh, filmed in 2015. The two actors recount being cast (Leigh thinking she bombed the audition) before getting into how they saw their respective characters, Baldwin going as far as visiting prisons and talking to prisoners to better understand his. They also talk a bit about co-star Fred Ward and director George Armitage. Baldwin does end up talking quite a bit more about the film’s producer, Jonathan Demme, as though he thought of it as more his film than Armitage’s. At any rate, it’s a very in-depth discussion, the two clearly having nothing but fond memories of the film.
Exclusive to this release is a 12-minute discussion with David Jenkins, who briefly discusses the film and its production, from star Fred Ward picking up the rights of the novel to Demme coming in on it and bringing in fellow Corman alumni Armitage to direct. Jenkins treats the film as more Demme’s baby than Armitage’s, though, addressing how it comes off similar in tone to Demme’s Something Wild.
Maxim Jakubowski then pops in for 11 minutes to talk about the source novel, its protagonist Hoke Moseley (played by Ward in the film), and author Charles Willeford. He draws comparisons between the novel and the film, which he states is largely faithful outside of one significant change, and he even brings up how Ward originally intended to play the Baldwin role with Gene Hackman in what would eventually be his. I’m not familiar at all with Willeford’s work, admittedly, so I appreciated the brief intro and look at his other work.
The disc then finishes with a self-playing photo gallery (featuring 18 photos) and the film’s theatrical trailer. The limited edition release also features a 43-page booklet that includes a wonderful examination of the film written by Glenn Kenney, followed by a reprint of a lengthy 2018 interview between Nick Pinkerton and Armitage, the two talking about this film and his earlier work. There’s even mention that they did look at adapting other Hoke Moseley books, though nothing came to fruition. The booklet then features nice write-ups about actors Alec Baldwin and Fred Ward, written respectively by Leila Latif and Robert Seidenberg, and then finally, an overview of the film’s “mixed” critical reactions.
It's still not the stacked edition I would have liked to see for the cult favorite, but it’s a good set of material, the booklet possibly being the strongest addition.
The film is still in need of a new restoration, but Radiance does what they can and deliver the best edition for the film thus far.