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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s The Crusades (KL Studio Classics) 

The Crusades

The Crusades is Cecil B DeMille at his most overheated and overwrought in this Romantic War Epic.  New Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.  

The Film 

For a film that was made in the 1930s, this has a more progressive outlook on the Muslim faith and People than films made 80 years later.  That being said, The Crusades is still a film in that you have to take a huge breath and understand the era, time, and place it was made.  If one can indulge that principle, DeMille’s epic romance/war film is on par with the best of the genre.  In fact, DeMille’s film is a forgotten minor classic (yes, lowercase “C”) that many will delight in its many charms. 

Part of what makes the film so revelatory is the knowing that DeMille and Company created scenes where thousands of extras fill the screen.  No computer assistance.  No paintings.  Just real for reel painstaking work to create the look and feel of an Epic.  There’s a heft to everything that DeMille’s camera catches.  One may find themselves marveling and wondering how they did this (cruelty was a word that was often associated with DeMille during the filming of these Epics, so one can imagine).  The result is staggering in a way that films are never – with few exceptions – in our current era.  

For all of its visual complexity, the film is a straight-ahead story.  Think the prequel to a Robin Hood film where Richard “The Lionheart” himself goes to war before Robin of Locksley was a wee lad.  Richard himself finds love and a lesson or three from his wife Berengaria (Loretta Young) who suffers indignity at every turn by her scheming father and her husband and King.  The kind of trouble includes Richard sending his sword in his stead to be married or pairing her with her rival who did not know Richard was married.  

Though it’s all fodder for the two lovers who eventually love instead of clash but not before the War part of this Romantic War Epic begins. Begin it does with Richard clashing with Saladin (Ian Keith), who makes it all the more personal when he kidnaps Berengaria.  It all comes to a head with Richard and Saladin bargaining over not only the Queen but the Holy Land itself.  

It all ends happily enough with everyone getting not what they wanted but want they needed – as the Rolling Stones said – making The Crusades a bit of fan fiction.  So much so that one would expect The Crusades 2: The Robin Hood Years to have been a sequel if this film was a success.  

The Transfer

The transfer provided by Universal is a prime example of just how great Blu-Ray and high definition remains to be.  The handsome image is sharp, bold, and always perfectly timed with regards to contrast and black levels.  The transfer has nary a scratch, blemish, or speck of dust during the entire run time.  The Crusades is designed to stun with its beautiful black-and-white images, KL has done it justice.  

The Extras

They include the following;

  • Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Allan Arkush and Film Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer
  • Theatrical Trailer

The all-new Audio Commentary by Filmmaker Allan Arkush and Film Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer begins with their bonafides and discussing of the first household name director Cecil B. DeMille.  Some of the details include Arkush’s seeing his first DeMille Picture – and his feelings about that film; the DeMille theatrical and film style and approach to entertainment; the film being made in the Code era – and the various constrains; a comparison to his Pre-Code film Sign of the Cross; Gram Greene’s critique of DeMille and his films; what Scorsese thought of DeMille – and a comp to Spielberg; the film’s success at the box office and critically; a discussion of Joe Dante’s favorite DeMille’s films; a great discussion about the beginning of Hollywood and the great migration to the West Coast – including some great anecdotes about DeMille, Samuel Goldwyn, and many other; the work, life and times of Henry Wilcox; the technological advances DeMille made with his films – specifically this film; the work, life and times of Loretta Young; the lack of historical accuracy in a lot of the film; DeMille’s methodology in directing these type of epics; the work of cinematographer Victor Milner; and much more.  Arkush and Kremer give a great, informative commentary on not just DeMille but the entire era in which this film was made, and those that helped the director bring this film to screen.  

Rounding out the special features are trailers for The Crusades (2:01); The Sign of the Cross (1:35); Four Frightened People (2:04); The Plainsman (2:21); Union Pacific (1:28); Reap the Wild Wind (2:17); Unconquered (2:41); China(2:09); The Stranger (1:18); The Farmer’s Daughter (1:49); The Accused (2:27); Because of You (2:20)

The Final Thought 

The Crusades is truly an epic film shot on a scale Hollywood doesn’t do anymore (without the aid of CGI).  Kino Lorber has given it a truly beautiful Blu-ray disc.  Recommended.  

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of The Crusades is out now

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