In the mid-sixties, famed producer Dino De Laurentiis brought together the talents of five celebrated Italian directors for an anthology film. Their brief was simple: to direct an episode in which Silvana Mangano (Bitter Rice, Ludwig) plays a witch. Luchino Visconti (Ossessione, Death in Venice) and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves) open the film with The Witch Burned Alive, about a famous actress and a drunken evening that leads to unpleasant revelations. Civic Sense is a lightly comic interlude from Mauro Bolognini (The Lady of the Camelias) with a dark conclusion, and The Earth as Seen from the Moon sees Italian comedy legend TotÃ² team up with Pier Paolo Pasolini (Theorem) for the first time for a tale of matrimony and a red-headed father and son. Franco Rosso (The Woman in the Painting) concocts a story of revenge in The Sicilian's Wife, while Vittorio De Sica (Shoeshine) casts Clint Eastwood as Mangano's estranged husband in An Evening Like the Others, concluding The Witches with a stunning homage to Italian comic books.
Arrow Academy releases Dino De Laurentiis’ anthology film The Witches on Blu-ray, presenting it on this dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 2K restoration performed by Arrow, sourced from a 35mm interpositive. The film was put together by De Laurentiis as a project for his wife, actress and “reluctant diva” Silvana Mangano, in an effort to make her a bigger international star. He hired five directors to each come up with a short segment: Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, and Vittorio De Sica. Using seamless branching Arrow also provides two versions of the film: the 111-minute Italian language version and a 104-minute English language version.
Each segment has a fairly different look but Arrow’s final presentation handles each well. Some of the darker ones, like the first and fourth segments, have some crushing blacks, with the fourth segment being particularly bad. Outside of this, though, the rest of the digital presentation is pretty strong. Film grain is nicely rendered and the film’s details are, for the most part, quite sharp (a bit more on that later). It is also very clean, just some minor noise in some of those darker moments. The rest of the picture delivers a nice filmic texture.
Colours look good, but it’s the Passolini segment, the third one, that really delivers in this regard with its more playful colour scheme that piles on oranges, pinks, purples, yellows, and more. They’re bright and vibrant with superb saturation. The last segment has some dream sequences that are also colourful with some strong white backgrounds, and they look quite clean with coming off too ibrant.
Restoration efforts have been very vigorous and other than a stray hair here and there, some mild flickering in places, and some issues present in some optical effects, damage is rarely an issue. Unfortunately there are a few moments that can take on a dupey, blurry quality, and this depends on which version you ultimately go with in most instances. The title cards for each segment look very different between the two versions of the film: the English language titles card are sharp and crisp while the Italian language cards a very blurry, looking to come from a far later generation print. The last sequence presents a dream sequence involving superheroes with a fight sequence that makes use of those Batman “POW,” “BANG,” and “POP” text overlays, and the image becomes substantially blurrier with more of a flicker and coarser grain. This looks the same in both versions.
Still, for a film that has really fallen by the wayside (United Artists originally didn’t release it in the UK and US out of fear it might hurt rising star Clint Eastwood’s career) a lot of effort has gone into this and the final result is surprisingly good.
Both versions of the film present 1.0 monaural audio in DTS-HD MA. Neither are spectacular and both versions have that detached, dubbed feel to them, though the final Eastwood segment in the English version doesn’t come off as bad. Both tracks also have a flatness to them but the Italian track also has a slight tinny effect to the dialogue. It of course all comes down to the version you watch, and the films do differ, at least during the Pasolini segment, but the English language track may be the better sounding of the two.
There isn’t a lot here but Arrow has still put in some surprising effort. Most interesting is the fact they have included both the Italian and English versions of the film. The Italian version is presented as the main feature where the English version is presented under the supplements menu. The two do differ in length, the English version being shorter by 7-minutes, but thanks to seamless branching this means the same restoration is being used (mostly) between the two versions.
One of the differences between the two are the title cards and some of the text that appears in the film, which is all presented in their respective languages. Four of the segments present basic titles cards (though the English version of the last segment doesn’t) while Passolini’s presents very bright colour text cards throughout his segment, and they’re presented in Italian and English respectively. Passolini’s segment also has some tombstone gags and the text on those stones are also presented in Italian or English in each version.
The films also differ in length, the English version being shorter, and the differences I could clearly see are a bit odd. Episodes one, two, four, and five don’t look significantly different in regards to their edits but episode three makes some really bizarre cuts: two tourists that show up in the Italian version have been cut out of the English version, which actually omits an important (I guess) plot point involving a banana peel. The English version also severely alters the ending of the segment and it makes absolutely zero sense. Why these alterations were made, though, I can’t say. At the very least it makes for an interesting comparison.
Arrow also includes a new audio commentary by Tim Lucas, which only accompanies the Italian version. It’s an okay track, though not one of Lucas’ better ones and I sometimes got the feeling he wasn’t fully invested in it. He explains the background behind the film’s production, how the directors came on board, and how De Laurentiis was able to get Clint Eastwood to appear in the film (this actually influenced Fellini when he was making Toby Dammit, his segment for another anthology film, Spirits of the Dead). He also talks about the actors as they pop up (like Helmut Berger in his first role) and talks a little about the individual segments themselves, but he’s rarely all that in-depth. It’s hard to get a grasp on his feelings towards the film, as he doesn’t share them one way or the other. The closest he probably gets to criticism is when he states he feels the first and last segments should have been switched in order (though he points out that the reason the producer didn’t do that was more than likely because he knew audiences would leave after seeing the segment with the actor they came to see, Eastwood). Not a bad track but also not a terribly engaging one.
The included booklet proves to be a bit more beneficial. The first essay by Pasquale Iannone offers a great analysis of the film and each of its segments, while Kat Ellinger’s essay looks at the commedia all’italiana from a more feminine perspective and how this film and its segments fit that mold. The booklet will be exclusive to first printings only.
A feature listed on the original announcement, an interview with Ninetto Davoli, is not here. But the original announcement also only listed the Eastwood segment as being the only one available in English so getting the full English version does make up for it a bit.
Not a lot admittedly but again I have to admire that Arrow at least put in an obvious effort with their features where I’m sure others wouldn’t have even bothered.
Not a loaded edition but Arrow puts in a fairly impressive effort where I’m sure most other home video producers would have just dumped the film on disc with whatever master they could get their hands on and feature-free. Arrow goes all out with an impressive new restoration utilized for both versions of the film.