The Witches Blu-ray Review

A Mixed Italian Anthology With Clint Eastwood

This ambitious anthology was an Italian/French co-production that happened to include a rising Hollywood star and a huge movie star already in Italy thanks to his westerns: Clint Eastwood. It features five unrelated episodes starring Silvana Mangano in each one. The Witches is a slap-dash concoction from the 1960s of mixed genres and uneven quality.

Legendary movie producer Dino De Laurentiis brought together five notable Italian directors for the anthology film. Their mission was to direct an episode in which Silvana Mangano (Bitter Rice, Ludwig) plays a witch. Each director plays fast and loose with that dictate, including everything from tragicomedy to surreal physical humor in the style of Italian comedies. This is not a horror anthology by any means, giving each director free rein to dabble in whatever their heart desired. In fact, each director interpreted Mangano being a witch in different forms. She plays a famous actress, a robotic housewife, and other characters.

Luchino Visconti (Ossessione, Death in Venice) and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves) open the film with The Witch Burned Alive, the strongest entry of the five episodes. A famous actress named Gloria deals with the weight of her fame and beauty as a drunken evening leads to unpleasant revelations at a mountain resort. Civic Duty is a mere interlude from Mauro Bolognini (The Lady of the Camelias). A pedestrian is hit by a car and gets offered a ride by a mischievous woman. More a brief sketch than anything else, it’s not much more than a short but funny comedy bit that ends badly for the pedestrian.

The Earth as Seen from the Moon sees Italian comedy legend Totò team up with director Pier Paolo Pasolini (Theorem) for a weird tale of marriage concerning a widowed father and son seeking a new wife and mother. It has surreal comedy that pays homage to the silent films of Charlie Chaplin and others. It’s a strange comedic piece with playful physical humor that will come across as dated to many viewers.

This is a mere curiosity for everyone but die-hard Eastwood fans

Franco Rosso (The Woman in the Painting) concocts a story of revenge in The Sicilian Belle. Director Vittorio De Sica (Shoeshine) casts Clint Eastwood as Mangano’s estranged husband in An Evening Like the Others. It’s another darkly comedic episode about the loss of romance in a marriage, though the ruggedly handsome Eastwood is badly cast as the uninteresting husband.

The Witches is a strange amalgam of different genres and themes. There are some funny parts, including a few great moments when Eastwood appears as a hapless husband that doesn’t inspire his wife’s passions anymore. He was paid a small fortune to appear in the film since he was so popular in Italy, right before he would break out in Hollywood as a major star. Visconti’s episode The Witch Burned Alive is an interesting rumination on stardom and the pressures of being a famous Hollywood actress, including its effect on a star’s marriage.

Despite some decent moments and interesting parts, the anthology is disjointed. It feels exactly like what it is – five different directors telling their own story in their own style. Anthologies were popular in European cinema back in the 1960s but they only rarely worked as great filmmaking. Usually they were slapped together from projects that weren’t strong enough to carry their own feature-length production. This is a mere curiosity for everyone but die-hard Eastwood fans and fans of retro Italian comedy.

Video

A brand-new 2K restoration from the original film elements made by Arrow Films exclusively for this release produces a satisfactory, film-like effort. The actual picture quality is a bit erratic between each episode, as five different directors did their own thing for the anthology film. Some are more colorful than others. The Witches (1967) is presented at its intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Encoded in a transparent AVC presentation on a BD-50, this is occasionally soft Italian filmmaking from the 1960s.

The film elements are in respectable condition with little obvious wear and unfaded colors. The transfer has been minimally processed with little evidence of sharpening or filtering. Detail is adequate, reflecting the cheaper stock often used in Italian cinema. The video has a stable contrast and serviceable black levels. Shadow delineation is impacted in a couple of the episodes within the anthology.

Arrow Films has shown they understand bringing vintage Italian cinema to Blu-ray and this release is no exception. The Witches gets a solid film transfer with authentic grain and visible improvement.

Audio

The original mono Italian soundtrack is heard in solid 1.0 DTS-HD MA quality. The dialogue is intelligible. It has a powerful, fairly punchy monaural mix with a familiar sound to its Italian score. Some minor hiss is noticeable when the mix is pushed to its limits. Optional English subtitles for the Italian dialogue are presented in a white font.

The English dub for what it’s worth sounds decent. The 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is roughly similar in fidelity to the Italian soundtrack. Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.

Extras

The main bonus for this Arrow Academy release is the inclusion here of the English-language dub in full HD. It has Clint Eastwood’s own voice for his role in Vittorio De Sica’s segment in the anthology, An Evening Like the Others. First pressings include an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Pasquale Iannone and Kat Ellinger.

The reversible sleeve includes original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys. You’ll know his work if you have sampled some of Arrow’s prior releases.

Audio Commentary – Film critic and novelist Tim Lucas from Video Watchdog gives this somewhat rote commentary. His command of the Italian film scene is impressive, filling in important cast and crew details. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all his opinions of the film but it’s a technically prepared discussion that does provide helpful context for lost viewers unfamiliar with Italian cinema.

English Dub Cut of The Witches (104:14 in 1080P; 1.0 English DTS-HD MA) – Slightly shorter than the Italian version, the A/V quality is on par with the main feature. The attraction here is hearing Eastwood voice his own character, though the Italian soundtrack does work better outside that lone exception.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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