A few months back I took a journey into the raw domestic drama known as Diary of a Mad Housewife from director Frank Perry. Kino Classics rescued this feature from virtual obscurity by providing it with a proper release on physical media. The company once again has stepped up to the plate to rescue another obscure Perry picture from almost a decade earlier, the 1963 psychological drama Ladybug Ladybug. The film marks the sophomore outing from husband and wife duo Frank and Eleanor Perry, who made quite a mark with their first feature David & Lisa a year earlier which earned each of them an Oscar nomination for Directing and Screenplay, respectively. This time out the pair tackle the intense paranoia of a nuclear holocaust brought about by the Cold War. Rather than try to tackle an expansive story, the team used a real-life incident as inspiration for a very intimate drama that you will not soon forget.
Taking place during a single, gorgeous day at a countryside elementary school, Ladybug Ladybug begins like any other typical day. The children are preparing for exams, trouble makers are being sent to the principal’s office – all the normal activities. That is, until the alarm for the nuclear bomb warning system starts blaring throughout the hallways. The staff believe it is likely malfunctioning, as they have just recently run their test drills, but there is the nagging belief that this could actually be the real thing, especially since no one can seem to get the authorities on the phone. Principal Calkins (a strong debut performance from William Daniels, Boy Meets World) feels he has no choice but to send the children home in order to follow protocol. The students break into groups guided by a teacher to the safety of their homes. The seed of dread that is planted is in the minds of the teachers, who are in charge of both protecting the oblivious children and keeping their own anxieties calm in the face of uncertainty.
The best compliment that can be paid to this film is the way it feels very much like a classic Twilight Zone episode. While we get glimpses of those who remain back at the school, such as the pregnant school secretary (Kathryn Hays) and the school dietician (Jane Connell), the largest portion of the film follows Mrs. Andrews (Nancy Marchand) as she leads one of the groups to their home with an ever-increasing sense of dread. The older kids in the group do not have a clear sense of what is actually going on, but that does not stop them from throwing around conjecture that brings distress amongst the children that seeps into Mrs. Andrews. Sure, there are moments of singing and playing as they journey home, but when children peel off to go inside their homes, each is greeted with very different scenarios. Some have parents who refuse to believe anything their child is saying about the potential attack, while some spring into action. Some are greeted to an empty house, which brings out an intense sense of isolation when one most needs guidance.
The film may feel a bit too slow for some tastes, but the deliberate pace is one of the best tools this film employs. The threat of a potential attack looms over the proceedings, so every moment getting to know these characters a little more adds to the emotional stakes of the outcome. The performances are simply incredible all around from the oldest to the youngest performers. The talented youngsters are especially impressive near the end of the film when tensions run high within a bomb shelter. The script and performances are beyond reproach, but Frank Perry once again brings it all together perfectly with his directorial style. Perry does not opt to go overly flashy in his direction, but he does employ some distinct camera techniques to convey the sense of disorientation that certain characters are feeling in the most anxiety-riddled moments. This is a very low budget, sparse affair that feels quite audacious in scope thanks to its technical merits. Ladybug Ladybug is an incredibly effective film that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final memorable shot.
Ladybug Ladybug makes its Blu-Ray debut thanks to Kino Classics with a brand new 1080p master from a 2K scan. Apart from a few minor instances of lesser quality, likely due to the source elements, it is heartening to see this transfer look so spectacular. The new transfer shows off a great amount of depth and enhanced detail within the production design. Black levels are very deep with no trace of black crush or compression artifacts. The contrast is well defined, and there are only occasional nicks and scratches present in a handful of scenes. The gorgeous black-and-white photography sparkles in high definition with natural grain intact. There is a fantastic amount of detail present with nice textures on the clothing and within the set decorations of the bunker and interiors of houses. Kino Classics has done very well with this release.
The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that captures the artistic intention of the film. The memorable music from composer Bob Cobert sounds great when flowing through the room. There is never a moment where it threatens to overwhelm competing sounds, and it maintains a good balance so that dialogue comes through clearly. Environmental sounds such as the idle chatter of children are rendered well alongside everything else. There does not seem to be any majorly noticeable instances of age-related wear and tear. Kino Classics has given this film the impeccably preserved audio presentation it deserves.
- Audio Commentary: Film Historian Richard Harland Smith delivers a very insightful and thoughtful commentary track in which he discusses the real-life circumstances of the story along with the history of the creative figures involved with the film. Not only do you get a well-rounded examination of the film, but the rich historical details help transport you to the state of mind of the country when this film was released. A really good listen if you appreciate the film.
- Trailers: The minute-long theatrical teaser for Ladybug Ladybug is provided here. There are also trailers provided for Diary of a Mad Housewife, Doc and Hello Again.
Ladybug Ladybug is one heck on an impactful slow burn that ratchets up tension steadily until it crescendos to an unforgettable final shot. Frank and Eleanor Perry work to create a narrative that perfectly captures the paranoia of the time – a feat which they achieve quite well. The technical aspects of the film are all top notch, while the performances are really great from the teachers to the students. Kino Classics has graced this feature with a Blu-Ray that sports a terrific A/V presentation and a couple of interesting special features. This underseen tale is one that you should make time for now that it is widely available. Recommended
Ladybug Ladybug is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.