BluRay/DVD Reviews

CEASE FIRE

By • Dec 11th, 2017 •

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Kino Lorber is proving itself invaluable to the preservation of interesting motion pictures which one assumes would be otherwise lost and the film’s producer, Hal Wallis, producer of Casablanca, had good instincts all around on this original concept.

Cease Fire, made in 1953, while in no way an actual documentary, is basically a cinema verite Korean war story using real soldiers on real locations during a real war and playing their action scenes with REAL AMMO. This leads one to assume that the alarming near-bullet-hits were real, too. The explosions, much more vast and powerful than any Hollywood staging, are plainly the real thing, and in 3D make for quite a sight.

The initial sense of importance of this film is intensified by two on-screen titles right off the bat: First, Paramount shows its logo not once but twice, the standard opening and then again as large words state “Proudly Presents”. That took this viewer by surprise and led me to understand that at least Paramount thought something special was afoot, as well as being respectful to the armed forces. The second was an on-screen announcement that the movie was using real soldiers and, at the time of release, had either been brought home, were still in active service or had BEEN KILLED. So right away the viewer is left with the question of “Who made it to opening night?” which adds considerably to the seriousness of the proceedings.

Turns out that at least one of the cast had indeed been killed when, concerned for his comrades, he wanted to return to his unit which was under heavy fire. The Production filmed  his character’s death scene quickly and he left to re-join his unit. Then they re-shot that character’s death scene later with another soldier to avoid distress for his family when the original soldier had actually been killed after he rejoined his unit.

THE NEGATIVES

Research of this picture turned up information that I suspected when watching and takes some of the air out of the line about “using real soldiers”; they dubbed some of the soldiers with actors. Research implies that all the soldiers were dubbed but this is plainly not the case. Local ambient noise, well-disguised by cutting in “room tone” and the like, still comes in and vanishes, as does the close-miking for some actors. My initial clue to that was that while the mouths were in-sync, the facial expressions and lack of body movement suggested a “line reading” delivery while the inflections had spunk, which makes it a bit surreal at times, with close-ups of bored-looking or blank-faced soldiers reciting snappy lines with crisp and charming inflection. Other times, it is plain that no dubbing was used and the delivery is decidedly flat, which is to be forgiven; these were army grunts living and breathing life and death who were ordered to cooperate with movie makers from Hollywood. They apparently also had no idea that they were making a Hollywood movie, and it seems most assumed it to be a training film. Big surprise for them when the survivors made it to opening night in Hollywood.

CEASE FIRE AD CRITERION PLUS REMARKS

All that said, I thought it was extremely well-paced for a 90-minute film until I realized at the end it had only run for 75 minutes. Yes, it drags a bit here and there.

Those are mostly the negatives.

NOW THE POSITIVES

The “You are there” hype is absolutely realized in this motion picture. While a few moments are decidedly shot back in Hollywood, with decidedly corny actors portraying war correspondents, the approach of using actual soldiers in an actual theater of war pays off handsomely in terms of realism. There is a real sense of anxiety because these guys were running around in an actual theater of war, and while they were certainly not on the front lines, very loud ammo and explosions giving positions away to the enemy is always on the mind of the viewer.

In many ways the film resembles a dusty version of another realistic war movie, Battleground, only more realistic still, if obviously not as well-acted.

There are some surprisingly good moments of suspense, and the soldiers’ careful search for mines in a minefield using nothing more than the tips of army knives is quite riveting; it’s a terrifically suspenseful scene, well timed, well-shot, well-directed and well- played.

The brilliant composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who had just won two Oscars for HIGH NOON (1952), gives the movie the required polish, though for my taste, the music is occasionally too upbeat for the action on the screen. One imagines that he felt a need to pay tribute to the actual men risking their lives, and if so, the well-meaning approach is occasionally flawed. However, when Tiomkin is on his game in Cease Fire, the results are terrific, counterpointing documentary enactments with Hollywood pizzazz to very good effect.

Generally, a somewhat ambitious attempt is made to engage the cinematic arts against all odds on location, and while the results are clumsy here and there, good and interesting compositions often abound. That is quite an accomplishment with a huge camera under real constraints in that era.

DUEL CAMERA RIG ON CEASEFIRE IN KOREA 2

THE 3D

Here is where the film shines and Kino is to be applauded very loudly, because the 3D in this film actually does EXACTLY what it is meant to do; it makes you feel like you are there in a dangerous theater of war. Distances are emphasized for suspense effect in which expert marksmanship at long distances is needed to save lives. 3D, conversely, conveys the intimacy as the soldiers sweat it out. A few 3D novelty shots, silly in the overall scheme of things, work at least partially; shots of tanks rolling up with the barrels coming off the screen and into your face at least make you glad you’re not the enemy.

In a few opening shots, the 3D more or less vanishes, and while the right and left are indeed offset, there is no difference in foreground and background perspective – this I double-checked carefully. Additionally, It appears likely that at least half a reel of the right eye material halfway through the film was lost to posterity, because for several minutes the film is simply offset 2-D, when suddenly the magic of fully-realized 3D appears once again. This is distracting but not terrible considering the age of the film.

While the 3D unit itself was an obvious two-camera/prism system, it was apparently not easy to move around.  A certain Captain Brooks wrote at the time, “…. one look at the size and the bulk of the 3-D camera told us this would be a project of some extra proportions. … we found the best way to move the camera was to carry it on an M-39 armored personnel carrier, which is built like a tank but has a flat back and an area for carrying personnel.  This vehicle was found to be best because it could carry the camera smoothly and carefully…  The heavy steel-plated vehicle is a convenient moving ‘foxhole,’ in the event artillery rounds are encountered, and also offers fair protection against anti-personnel mines…”

Yikes!

For 3D geeks, yes, as you are likely anticipating from all of the above, the 3D falls into the illegal zones in the foreground occasionally and there is some noticeable crosstalk here and there. If you have a problem with those things considering the age of the film, then you have no appreciation for history. In many ways, I found that the 3D flaws continued to enhance the realism, like harsh lighting and grainy film has always enhanced the gritty realism of conventional low-budget motion pictures.

The movie got rave reviews at the time for its realism and deserved kudos for using 3D effectively. While this reviewer only somewhat agrees with the overall rave reviews of the time,  this reviewer agrees completely with the kudos regarding the use of the 3D in Cease Fire. It really is a “you are there” 3D motion picture as described.

I was looking forward to this Blue Ray but for the wrong reasons; only for 3D historical personal interest and expected to dislike the actual movie, itself. Very happily, Cease Fire turns out to be unexpectedly recommended as an original experience. If what is described here sounds like your cup of tea, from interest in documentaries to war films, in 3D, 2D or just a unique movie experience, get it from Kino Lorber before it’s gone. For better or worse, in my opinion, there isn’t another motion picture from that era quite like it.

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