The Long Gray Line
The Long Gray Line is a Ford military picture with a difference, focusing its attentions away from the battlefield and onto the fifty-year career of an Irish immigrant who rises through the ranks at West Point.
John Ford’s The Long Gray Line, the second film in Indicator’s John Ford at Columbia box set, is presented on a dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 2.55:1 The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration conducted by Sony.
The final presentation is absolutely gorgeous and a nice surprise. The presentation really pulls off that Technicolor look, nicely rendering the colours (especially reds) without any signs of bleeding or separation. Film grain is rendered sharply and cleanly, keeping a natural look, even during moments where it can look a little heavier (it’s possible an alternate source was used for these moments). The hands-off approach in grain management also aids in delivering sharp, crisp details—even finer ones—almost perfectly, with long shots being just as impressive as close-ups. Every detail found in some of the elaborate interiors, or in a deteriorating row of canons, seem to pop off the screen.
The restoration has also wonderfully cleaned up things and again, I never noted a blemish or issue. The whole thing looks absolutely stunning and is by far the best looking presentation in the whole set. Just a knock-out!
Indicator provides two audio tracks: a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack, and a DTS-HD MA 3.0 stereo soundtrack, the latter o f which focuses to the front three speakers. I’ll be honest in that a had a hard time discerning a significant difference between either, but the 3.0 track does seem to present some better panning between the front three, with dialogue primarily focused to the center. That said, both tracks are surprisingly robust with decent range and fidelity. Some dialogue can be flat, but music, various sound effects, and a few louder moments all sound crisp and clean with no distortion. Which track you go with, though, will come down to preference.
Indicator also packs on some great supplements for each title in this box set, and The Long Gray Line starts things off with a wonderfully fun, energetic, and informative audio commentary featuring Glenn Kenny, Farran Smith Nehme, and Diana Drumm, the latter of whom knew Maureen O’Hara, who was a family friend. The three have all been recorded together and they’re determined to explain why the film is horribly underrated in Ford’s filmography, and I have to say they do a fantastic job. There is discussion about this point in Ford’s career, his use of CinemaScope (which he hated) in this film, and explain how the structure of the film, which starts out in a rather slapstick fashion before becoming more serious, works in its favour. Nehme also pipes in many times to talk about Tyrone Power and his career, offering a defense for the actor who she feels hasn’t been given his due, while Drumm chimes in about O’Hara. Kenny makes a lot of references to Tag Gallagher’s book on Ford throughout, quotes various notes and details around the film’s production, and even reads some of the unflattering reviews the film received upon its release. There are some little interesting stories from production, and the three interject some funny little asides, like when they talk about the Irish accents in the film and recall some horrible ones in other films (singling out Sean Connery). It’s a great little track and one I highly recommend listening to.
Indicator also provides another video essay from Tag Gallagher, this one entitled Living and Dead, and running 17-minutes. I didn’t really care for the one he created for the previous title in the set, The Whole Town is Talking, maybe because I felt he was reaching (or I didn’t quite understand what he was getting at), but I was down with this one far more. He recalls a comment made by filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub, who considered The Long Gray Line an experimental film, and here Gallagher aims to back up that claim by looking at how Ford handles the widescreen compositions that were forced on him by the studio, how he links incidents through the film and the memories created, and how the passing of time can be presented. It has a few odd little segues but in the end it seems to all come together.
Indicator also digs up another TCM interview with Leonard Maltin who offers his own impressions of the film for 6-minutes. You get the idea that he didn’t care for the film initially but his view changed when he recently revisited it. It doesn’t add a lot (I thought his interview around The Whole Town is Talking had more meat to it) but that’s made up for with the rather fascinating 10-minute government film The Red, White and Blue Line, which utilizes both used and unused footage from The Long Gray Line for whatever odd reason before having its actors step in to promote government savings bonds and how one should invest in them by filling out a form to have it deducted directly from your payroll. It’s such an odd bit of propaganda and I love that it was dug up for this release. And while it is presented in high-definition it has not been restored, with it looking like the yellows have faded out, and the cyans are starting to.
Indicator then closes the disc off with the film’s lengthy theatrical trailer and a small image gallery presenting some production photos and poster art. Indicator also includes a booklet, starting things off with an essay on the film by Nick Pinkerton. This is then followed by an excerpt from Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography, where she recounts filming The Long Gray Line and how horribly Ford treated her during that production. There’s also a reprint or a pretty great interview with Ford conducted by Jean Mitry in 1955, and as usual with Indicator’s booklets we also get a collection of excerpts from reviews for the film, though only a couple: there’s one from Bosley Crowther, who found the material to be incredibly weak for Ford, and another from Andrew Sarris, who addresses accusations that the film was just a propaganda film, while also offering a defense of Tyrone Power. Anthony Nield then provides some information on The Red, White and Blue Line.
In all it’s another well-rounded edition from Indicator, looking at the film from a number of good perspectives, with the audio commentary being its strongest addition.
By far the best-looking film in the set, it also comes with an engaging set of features, including a fascinating propaganda film and a wonderful audio commentary. Just another strong selling point for Indicator’s rather fascinating box set.