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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s Sergeant Ryker (KL Studio Classics) 

Sergeant Ryker

Before A Few Good Men, there was Sergeant Ryker starring Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, and Bradford Dillman.  New to Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.  

The Film 

Who doesn’t like a good courtroom drama? 

Sergeant Ryker is the kind of overheated melodramatic potboiler they haven’t made since the late 1990s (Primal Fear the truly last great one comes to mind – which also happens to be the most bonkers). Noted TV Movie Director Buzz Kulik keeps this from soaring cinematically, keeping this one humbly low-key.  

The film concerns the court martial of Sergeant Ryker (Lee Marvin) as a traitor for being in league with the Chinese and Korean during the final days of the Korean War.  Capt. David Young (Bradford Dillman) has already successfully prosecuted the Sergeant in what’s an easy slam dunk.  It’s the Sergeant’s wife Ann (Vera Miles) that convinces the Captain that this may be all wrong.  Going to bat for the Sergeant, partly because he’s in love with Ann, with the JAG Corp – getting the Sergeant a second trial with him as Ryker’s defense.  Quickly the Captain finds there may be much more to this case. 

The hardest part for anyone that’s seen a healthy number of classic films and the film Airplane! will be the compartmentalizing of certain ticks that have been stolen from that classic comedy and film in general.  One will understand when they see the court-martial scenes and flashbacks how much ZAZ stole from this film.  Adding someone like Peter Graves – also in Airplane! – or Mayor of Amenity Murray Hamilton.  

Though the casting of Lee Marvin as the title character is the biggest stroke of genius the film makes.  An adroit move that saves the film entirely from sinking under the weight of what’s come after it.  Though he is the sole magnetic compelling piece of the film, so much so the film slips into what feels like parody when Marvin isn’t chewing every piece of acting and scenery, he can during his screen time. 

If one can get over these hurdles, one will find Sergeant Ryker to be an entertaining courtroom melodrama complete with a shocking ending. In fact, at 85 minutes the film feels like the outline version of A Few Good Men complete with the third-act speech indicting the military code of conduct.  

The Transfer

The all-new HD Master – From a 2K Scan of the 35mm Interpositive is a good healthy transfer.  There are some minor scratches and defects other than that the sharp image is a healthy example of the Universal style.  The Color reproduction, grain structure, and contrast levels are all emblematic of that late ’60s – early ‘70s standard studio-bound photography that Universal was known for.  

The Extras

They include the following; 

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer 
  • Theatrical Trailer (Newly Mastered in 2K) 

The all-new Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer opens with a discussion of the music by John Williams, credited as Johnny Williams.  Some of the details include the origins of the movie as a two-part TV Playhouse that was converted into a feature length film, the film was released theatrically to capitalize on Lee Marvin’s newfound success via The Dirty Dozen and Point Blank, a larger discussion of TV Movies being released theatrically – including examples like Duel – Spielberg’s debut feature film, Tribes – Joseph Sergeant’s film, and Brian’s Song – another film by Kulik, and others, which all leads to a side conversation about Michael O’Donoughe’s Mr. Mikes Mondo Video and its amazing cast, the repackaged Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie made out of TV Episodes, and the final movie of this ilk called The Man – from Paramount and the account of how this resulted in SAG issues that ended up in court, a side conversation about Lagrishe Go Down – which was released in Britain BBC but theatrically in the US, this leads to a larger discussion of US TV movies being released in Europe as theatrical films, how this film would have been paired with Counterpoint, a discussion of Courtroom Dramas – The RackThe Execution of Private SlovakThe Cain MutinyThe Court martial of Billy MitchellSergeant Rutledge, and how they lined up with Sergeant Ryker, and much more.  Kremmer delivers a truly fascinating commentary track on the history of TV Movies released as Theatrical Films.  

Rounding out the special features are trailers for Sergeant Ryker (2:05) [Newly Mastered in 2K], Prime Cut (2:34), Gorky Park (2:24), To Hell and Back (2:53), Attack! (2:31), Paths of Glory (3:03), Time Limit (3:16), The Great Escape(2:45), Shamus (3:04)

The Final Thought 

Sergeant Ryker is an undiscovered gem of a courtroom potboiler.  Recommended.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of Sergeant Ryker is out now 

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