Criterion’s just-released Bluray of Howard Hawks‘ His Girl Friday (’40) is a slight disappointment, I’m afraid. It looks reasonably decent — strong blacks, nice detail here and there, good monaural sound — but I didn’t get a satisfying Bluray “bump” feeling, which is what Hollywood Elsewhere always requires from Blurays of classic films.
An HE “bump” is a significant improvement from the last upgrade in whatever format, and for me the last time the resolution of His Girl Friday really popped my eyeballs was when I watched a “Columbia Classics” DVD from 16 years ago. (Released on 11.21.00, it contained a superb commentary track from Hawks biographer Todd McCarthy.) I had watched Friday on laser disc, VHS, broadcast TV and once or twice in a Manhattan repertory cinema, but this Columbia DVD made it look richer, crisper and cleaner than ever before.
I’m sorry but the Criterion Bluray really doesn’t look that much better than the way the DVD did 16 years ago on my old 480p Sony flatscreen. Yes, it’s a higher-quality transfer (if you project it on a big screen it’ll look much better than the DVD) but it’s completely smothered in digital grain mosquitos. I kept thinking to myself “poor Ralph Bellamy, playing that poor dope from Albany and having to sit there and suffer as those billions of mosquitoes crawl all over his head and neck and hair, not to mention Cary Grant and Rosaland Russell and all the rest besieged by the same swarm.”
For comparison’s sake I rented an Amazon high-def streaming version, and the main difference is that it looks a bit brighter than the Criterion, which has a saturated inky look. The sound and the image sharpness seemed relatively similar.