Based on Pietro di Donato's best-selling 1939 novel which drew from the author's childhood memories, personal experiences, and family history, “Christ In Concrete” was produced by England's Rank Organization with three key Blacklisted Americans: director Edward Dmytryk, screenwriter Ben Barzman, and actor Sam Wanamaker.
Somewhat naively used as a ploy to break, if not shame, the Blacklist which ruined the careers and lives of many Americans, “Christ In Concrete” pretty much disappeared from circulation, and the few available prints were gradually worn down into shorter, and more beat up versions. (Our interview with All Day's owner/producer chronicles the discovery, and unique production, of this stellar release.)
Transferred from original nitrate elements and digitally cleansed using astute restraint, “Christ In Concrete” showcases some extraordinary black & white cinematography and remarkably realistic sets; the film's finale is a triumph of the crew's ingenuity, and director Dmytryk's desire to capture the potency of di Donato's unforgettable prose. Black levels in the transfer are quite good, and though the film's length and audio extras are close to the compression and storage limits of the single layer, viewers will continue to be haunted by the extraordinary visuals.
The audio track has been cleaned up, and both the original mono mix and the isolated score are well-balanced, with steady dialogue levels. Composer Benjamin Frankel's innovative score is isolated on a separate track, and the occasional gaps between cues are used by archival recordings of the late Pietro di Donato, primarily discussing family heritage, and life as an immigrant family in massive New York City.
Di Donato's life is also glimpsed in a series of brief home movie clips – some on video, and the last on Super 8mm film – and examined by son Peter, and historian Bill Wasserzieher, in the highly informative Q&A session called “Memories in Concrete.” Both men cover a lot of ground, and film buffs will get a kick from several unique anecdotes, and the amazing journey that the film has taken to what's probably its widest commercial release since 1949. (That journey can also be examined using surviving memos, letters, and reviews, which are archived in a DVD-ROM section on Side B)
Perhaps the rarest treasure on the disc is a mono-drama/LP recording of Harold Seletsky's innovative opera, set to potent text extracts read by Eli Wallach. (Wallach's great at donning several character hats in the recording, but fans of Sergio Leone's "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" will giggle a bit, as his accent's a kissing cousin to the vocal characterization of bad-boy Tuco.)
In spite of the above supplements, there's not as much overlap as one would expect in the commentary track. The recording's of archival quality, but the four participants provide a really lively mix of film facts, family history, and a major series of reflections – often very colourful – of the Blacklist period.
Norma Barzman describes many absurdities of the Blacklist, but there's some good background material on the British studio and exterior locations that make for a near-flawless NYC. Most amazing is Italian actress Lea Padovani, who spoke no English when originally cast, but delivered an excellent portrayal of the unshakable matriarch who never loses her dignity. William Sylvester (better known as Floyd, from ( "2001: A Space Odyssey" ) also made his film debut among the largely British cast.
In many ways this DVD exists because the di Donato family, who actually own the film, due to a rather revolutionary agreement contained in Pietro di Donato's original contract with the film's producers. All Day's assembly and organization of relevant historical materials really beefs up the film's legendary profile, and this rich, utterly uncompromising depiction of the Italian-American experience from the 1920s will knock your socks off.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan