In a Paris prison cell, five inmates use every ounce of their tenacity and ingenuity in an elaborate attempt to tunnel to freedom. Based on the novel by José Giovanni, Jacques Becker’s Le trou (The Hole) balances lyrical humanism with a tense, unshakable air of imminent danger.
The Criterion Collection presents Le Trou in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual-layered DVD. The picture has been enhanced for widescreen televisions. The film is just over two hours and there are no supplements to speak of on the disc itself so I was shocked originally to see Criterion went for a dual-layer disc (while it’s more common now for them to use dual-layer discs it they still frequently used single-layer discs at the time of this release.) But it didn’t go to waste as the image presented here certainly benefits from the extra storage space.
Sharpness is incredible. Every detail in the black and white photography, from the details in the cement chips from the floor, to the beads of sweat on the prisoner's faces, is crisp and clean. The film grain also comes off rather natural. There can be a slight haze from time to time, more related to the elements I’m sure, but not at all distracting. The black and white presentation is also clean. Blacks are black and whites are white. Contrast is excellent and grey levels are perfect. Dark scenes also come off pretty clear.
The print has also been cleaned up and has only a few minor issues including a few small marks, vertical scratches, and a few burns also remain. Other than that it’s been cleaned up beautifully and at the time this was easily the most impressive black-and-white transfer I had seen from Criterion.
The film presents a Dolby Digital 1.0 French mono track. Dialogue is crisp and clear and distortion is pretty much non-existent. The track also presents excellent range, especially during the heavier moments of the escape sequence (hammering away, ambient noises in the tunnels, and then of course the finale) are pretty loud, but not excessive. It can sound a little tinny at times I guess but overall the quality, for an older mono track, is exceptional.
After praising every other aspect of this disc this is where the release falls short: There is nothing on here in terms of disc supplements, not even a trailer.
There is an insert, though, that contains some decent material, including press materials on director Jacques Becker and then an essay on the film by Chris Fujiwara. In all it’s a decent read but doesn’t make up for the lack of anything else.
The lack of supplements is a huge miss I feel, but the transfer is stellar and one of the more pleasing black-and-white ones I’ve come across on DVD from, well, anyone. What sells this disc, though, is the film itself, which is my favourite prison escape film. Le trou is a great film, easily one of my most rewatched films in my collection. Sadly the disc is going out of print by the end of March 2010, so if you haven’t picked it up yet, do it.