1953 (8 November 2022)
Parklane Pictures / United Artists (ClassicFlix)
- Film/program category: B-
- Video Note: See below
- Audio quality: See below
- Additional Rank: B+
When Me, the Jury was released in 1953, there hadn’t been many film adaptations of Mickey Spillane’s best-selling pulp novels to match. In fact, it was the first, and at a time when the popularity of the author’s work was greater than ever, expectations were high for him to succeed. The resulting film – which was shot in 3D by legendary cinematographer John Alton (his only 3D film) and released in the golden age of 3D – was not well received. but did good business, based solely on the Mickey Spillane name. Directed by Harry Essex, who previously wrote artificial monster and Kansas City Confidentialthis first foray into the scandalous world of hard-nosed private eye Mike Hammer would be most appreciated in his later years.
During the Christmas season, an insurance investigator – a close friend of Mike Hammer (Biff Elliot) – is shot dead in his home. Mike then makes it his mission to find and kill whoever pulled the trigger, despite warnings from police captain Chambers (Preston Foster) not to cross the line. He meets a beautiful psychiatrist, Charlotte Manning (Peggie Castle), and then falls in love with her, despite her being a potential suspect. But as the criminals pursue him and he fights his way from one lead to the next, he may be closer to his target than he thinks.
Author Max Allan Collins (who provides commentary for this version) argues that this version of Me, the Jury is perhaps the most faithful, despite the changes made to it by the Production Code Office, most of them relating to drugs and prostitution. This had an unfortunate effect on the plot, which would boil down to stolen jewels – small potatoes when you find out how far the writers will go to get them. One of the biggest edits is to the movie’s finale, which it’s impossible to talk about without going into spoilers, but for those familiar with the book, there was little chance it would ever be in a movie produced in the days of the Hays code.
The biggest and most obvious criticism of the movie is Biff Elliot’s performance, which is mostly rough and overworked. It’s not as bad as most claim, but it certainly stands out and takes some getting used to. His Mike Hammer is a bit of a palooka, more than a crack detective, and he’s definitely not the smartest person in the room as most people around him come to conclusions much earlier than he does. It makes for a more interesting take on the private detective, but at the same time, the women who constantly flatter him is an obvious gender trope that doesn’t quite sit well with his performance.
For decades, the most overlooked aspect of Me, the Jury was John Alton’s cinematography. It’s one of the most gorgeous film noir ever made, especially because it was designed with depth in mind for 3D. Dark, gloomy hallways and alleyways, along with long, lingering multi-story shots in the Bradbury Building, give the film a distinct visual quality that works well in 2D and 3D. But because this version of Mike Hammer takes a long time to figure anything out, Me, the Jury is an unnecessary smoldering. Nonetheless, it’s still a film worth enjoying, if only for the top-notch visual quality above all else.
Me, the Jury was shot by cinematographer John Alton on dual strip 3D 35mm black and white film using the Dunning 3D process, photochemically finished and presented in a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. ClassicFlix brings film to home video with three viewing options: 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray 3D and standard Blu-ray. The UCLA Film and Television Archive, in conjunction with PKL Pictures and Romulus Films, restored the film to 4K, presumably from the original camera negatives.
4K Ultra HD is featured in SDR only. It’s a generally outstanding presentation with excellent contrast and deep levels of detail in shadows, as well as a spectrum of gradations. The whites are solid without seeming overdone while the blacks are naturally deep. There are some light stains and scratches left, which aren’t that intrusive. One wonders what a Dolby Vision grade would offer for the finer nuances of this presentation in clothing and on backgrounds, but since it’s with a high bitrate and good compression, it’s still a nice presentation. Blu-ray features many of the same qualities (with obviously fewer pixels to work with), but also offers the same overall level of organic clarity.
The star of the show for many will be the 3D Blu-ray presentation. As this is a film that is more about depth of image with only a few examples of objects thrown at the camera, it soaks up John Alton’s carefully constructed cinematography beautifully. The opening credits have a very narrow focal point (and almost had me cross my eyes when first viewed), and there are some misalignments that cause ghosting, but the effectiveness of 3D imaging is otherwise stellar.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English SDH subtitles. Although limited by its single-channel source, it offers fine support for the various elements. The dialogue exchanges are clear and perceptible, and the score swells properly without deforming. It’s also a clean track, free of any obvious damage or stalls.
4K ULTRA HD (VIDEO/AUDIO): A/B
BLU-RAY (VIDEO/AUDIO: A-/B
BLU-RAY 3D (VIDEO/AUDIO): A-/B
4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D discs for Me, the Jury sit in a clear amaray case with new artwork on the front by Stewart McKissick and a still from the film on the back. The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Max Allan Collins
- Audio commentary with Biff Elliot and Joseph Salek
DISC TWO (BD & BD3D)
- Audio Commentary with Max Allan Collins
- Audio commentary with Biff Elliot and Joseph Salek
- Archival interview with Biff Elliot (SD – 5:20)
- Deep in the Shadows: The 3D World of Me, The Jury (HD – 10:28)
- Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Lost Pilot (HD – 28:57)
- O. Henry Playhouse TV Episode between the rounds (HD – 26:32)
- O. Henry Playhouse TV Episode After twenty years (HD – 26:20)
- Public Defender TV episode starring Biff Elliot (HD scaled – 24:46)
- Michael Shayne Mysteries Trailer (HD – 3:04)
- O. Henry Playhouse Clip: Calliope’s Reform (HD – 3:36)
- Raw Deal Trailer (HD – 2:20)
- T-Men Trailer (HD – 2:16)
In the first audio commentary, author Max Allan Collins, who was a friend and wrote books with Mickey Spillane, has strong opinions about the film, commenting on it as it goes. It covers Spillane’s own feelings about this and other adaptations of his work at the time, story fidelity despite problems with the production code, the stories and backgrounds of cast members and the cast. team, and their opinion on the film. It is a very instructive track. The second comment was recorded in 2004 by Joseph Salek. He shares the track with an older Biff Elliot, who was in his early 80s at the time of recording. They watch the movie together and specifically comment on it as Salek occasionally asks Elliot questions, and Elliot is only happy to oblige. They’re often silent, but it’s a great conversation, and Elliot was still pretty sharp at the time to provide plenty of detail. In the brief archival interview with Elliot (provided by Jeff Joseph), which appears to have been conducted a few years later, he details himself and his career, but mostly highlights how different he is from Mike Hammer. In Deep in the shadows, author Mike Ballew discusses the 3D camera system used for the film and how cinematographer John Alton expertly used it. This was followed by a series of television articles, including the Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Lost Pilot, which features an intro and outing by Max Allan Collins, stars Brian Keith, and was written and directed by Blake Edwards. A pair of O. Henry Theater The TV episodes are next: between the rounds with Preston Foster (and Kathleen Freeman) and After twenty years featuring Peggie Castle. The last is an episode of public defender with Biff Elliot. Also included are a series of trailers for other ClassicFlix releases.
Me, the Jury has languished for many years without a true home video release, and ClassicFlix has given us the definitive movie previews for years to come. Many won’t be able to view the 3D Blu-ray presentation, but rest assured that the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray presentations are not to be missed. Highly recommended.
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1953, 2160p, 3-D, 3D, 4K, 4K UHD, 4K Ultra HD, Alan Reed, Biff Elliot, black and white, black and white, Blake Edwards, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3-D, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray Disc, Bob Cunningham, Brian Keith, Classic Flix, ClassicFlix, crime, Dran Hamilton, Dran Seitz, DTS-HD Master Audio, Elisha Cook Jr, film noir, Frances Osborne, Franz Waxman, Harry Essex, Je le Jury, Joe Besser, John Alton, John Qualen, Joseph Salek, Kathleen Freeman, Limited Edition, Margaret Sheridan, Mary Anderson, Max Allan Collins, MGM, Mickey Spillane, Mike Ballew, Mike Hammer, Native 4K, Parklane Pictures, Peggie Castle, Preston Foster, critic, Robert Swanger, shot on 35mm film, Special Limited Edition, Stewart McKissick, Studio Canal, StudioCanal, Tani Guthrie, Tani Seitz, The Digital Bits, Tim Salmons, Tom Powers, Ultra HD, United Artists, Victor Saville