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Some movies you just like to "live" with, and Howard Hawks made more than his share Air Force, Sergeant York, Red River, Hatari, and Rio Bravo all fit into that category. But the movie of Hawks' that most invites a viewer to move in and stay awhile is The Big Sky (1952), which is set on a canvas even bigger than Red River. This is a deluxe DVD treatment from Editions Montparnasse, in a handsome box that offers fans of Hawks and the movie more of a chance to live with The Big Sky than ever before. Contains two different versions of the movie the 122-minute edition in which it went out to theaters after its opening and the long-lost 136-minute original version that opened in a handful of major cities in 1952.

In its standard (i.e. 122-minute) version, The Big Sky looks and sounds about as good as any Western of its era. The contrasts in the full-screen (1.33:1) transfer are gorgeous and the detail rich in every shot (the fog in the scene along the river 20 minutes into the picture is almost palpable in its presence). The sound has also been transferred very cleanly, so that even the quiet parts of Dimitri Tiomkin's score are presented with beautiful clarity and detail, and Arthur Hunnicutt's narration is similarly sharp and vivid. The transition between the layers is almost (but not quite) seamless at 61 minutes and 55 seconds in, marked by a momentary freeze frame. The movie has been given a generous 18 chapters that mark its plot and action well, and can be viewed with or without the French subtitles, accessible from a compound, multi-layered menu (in French) that must be accessed before the movie can start.

Disc two is an even bigger treat, containing the 136-minute cut of the movie, which has only been seen a handful of times since 1952. The first 15 minutes of the long cut has a lot more development of the Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin characters than audiences ever saw in the 122-minute version of the movie. On the down side, the long version is mastered from what looks like a 16 mm print that has seen a lot of action, and that goes double for some of the missing scenes, which have serious white vertical scratches in certain stretches. The telecine operators have done their best to make the image look presentable and have largely succeeded, though even the best looking stretches of this print haven't got the clarity or rich contrasts of the source for the 122-minute version; on the other hand, the night scenes look realistically dark, and have usable picture information. Parts of the full-frame (1.33:1) transfer recall old laserdisc masters of the late '80s, with some lapses into poor 16 mm; but, at 102 and 103 minutes in astonishingly for a legal, licensed edition of a movie there is definite damage to the video master, and dropouts from what looks like wrinkles in the tape. Yet, at 104 minutes in, a long night sequence section starts that is just short of gorgeous. The movie has been given a paltry six chapters, intended to delineate the areas that are edited differently from the standard short version. This isn't the ideal way for anyone to see the movie, but it is the only way so far as is known to see the complete movie.

The rest of the disc includes Todd McCarthy's 28-minute discussion of Hawks' 1940s career and the run-up to the production of The Big Sky, Hawks' involvement with Howard Hughes, who owned RKO at the time (they basically needed each other), and the themes in The Big Sky that recur in Hawks' other Westerns. This is accompanied by a five-minute interview excerpt of Hawks from 1973 discussing the comparisons between himself and John Ford, and their differences in approach, and their friendly rivalry over the years. The real surprise here, however, is a 2001 audio interview with Kirk Douglas, recalling the shooting of the movie and his work with Hawks; he's candid and upbeat, despite the infirmity of the stroke that he previously suffered. As with the other releases in this series, which includes The Magnificent Ambersons and Bringing Up Baby, there is a booklet (in French) with production information on the movie, but it's the disc supplements and the two versions of the movie the 122-minute edition looking better than any prior home-video incarnation of the picture that make this worth every penny.

Special Features
Includes both the rare original 136-minute version and the standard 122-minute edition
28-minute discussion about Howard Hawks by Todd McCarthy
Five-minute interview excerpt of Hawks from 1973
2001 audio interview with Kirk Douglas
Production booklet

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FR32 Big Sky DVD (1952/Kirk Douglas) ***Region 2 DVD.*** Will only play on computers or multi-region DVD players. Not made for playback on North American DVD players. $29.99