‘Rosebud’ Blu-Ray Review – Late-Era Otto Preminger Kidnapping Thriller Shines Spotlight On Peter O’Toole

There is typically a trajectory for a director that you can follow where their work gradually gets stronger and more assured until it hopefully plateaus at a place of true quality. The question from here is whether or not the filmmaker will be able to sustain that level of quality or if they will reach a stage where each effort sees a diminishing return on effort invested. In the case of acclaimed Austrian-Hungarian director Otto Preminger, the answer unfortunately falls more so towards the latter choice. To deny the man his praise for early classics such as Laura or Anatomy of a Murderer would be a blight on cinematic history. His self-assured directing style and composition brought so many memorable moments to audiences that should never be forgotten. Yet, it would be disingenuous to say that the filmmaker was up to his normal quality in his last few efforts before his death in 1986. One of his final films was 1975’s action-thriller Rosebud based on the novel by Joan Hemingway and Paul Bonnecarrère. The story deals with the always-topical conflict in the middle east, but the way in which it goes about it leaves a lot to be desired. 

Aboard the titular sea-faring vessel “The Rosebud”, five wealthy girls are kidnapped by the anti-Israel terrorist Palestinian Liberation Army as a part of a convoluted larger ploy to further their agenda on a global level. These terrorists believe that the threat of losing these pretty young girls will inspire their wealthy fathers to agree to certain demands. Most of these girls are not given much of a personality, unless you count showing off their naked backsides as a serious character trait. Modern audiences will be amused to see a very young Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) who somewhat makes an impression with her penchant for singing to get through the horrible ordeal. The PLA has agreed to let a girl go every time they have one of their videos broadcast in major cities around the world and their demands met. The head of this terrorist cell is renegade Englishman turned muslim extremist Edward Sloat (Richard Attenborough, Jurassic Park). His desire to eradicate Israel and Communist-leaning Arabs is somewhat one note, but Attenborough does succeed in delivering one of the more interesting performances in the film. 

 

What hope do any of these girls have but the approachably charming Central Intelligence Agency man, Larry Martin (Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia), who is masquerading as a Newsweek correspondent. The one thing to make clear about this film is that it is not a hard-hitting, action-packed adventure with huge set pieces. If anything, it is the least engrossing James Bond tale that you have ever seen, as the film delivers scene after scene of hurried conversation that does not amount to much in the end. There is a believable rescue attempt near the end of the film that the picture goes out of its way to walk you through, but even it feels a bit anticlimactic in the end. All of this might be made more entertaining if O’Toole did not seem totally mismatched for this role. It is said that the great Robert Mitchum was originally set to star in this role, but either disagreements or drunkenness prevented this from coming to fruition – a true shame. Even with the girls in danger, this story never conjures a sense or urgency. 

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The major weak link of this film is without a doubt the script. One would like to believe that a master such as Otto Preminger could overcome a deficient script, but that might be easier said than done when the writer of the script is his son, Erik Lee Preminger. The younger Preminger simply does not have a strong grasp on scene structure and narrative flow. The dialogue throughout can be more than a bit stilted, but it is the sloppy jumping from scene to scene that does the most damage, culminating in a baffling final moment that feels as if the concluding minutes were lost somewhere. There is also a subplot involving one of the young girls, played by a young Isabelle Huppert (Elle), that is completely misguided. The story does not feel fully formed, but it provides passable entertainment for what it is. Amidou provides some dark entertainment as a compassionate killer who has a deadly weapon that will make you squirm. The movie somehow comes off worse knowing that it comes from a skilled filmmaker such as Preminger, but if you are someone who loves semi-mindless, globe-trotting spy dramas, you may find something to enjoy here. 

Video Quality

Rosebud debuts on Blu-Ray courtesy of Kino Classics with a digital AVC encoded 1080p transfer derived from a brand new 2K restoration. Despite any inconsistencies with the narrative, there is no question that this presentation is gorgeous throughout most of the runtime. This transfer maintains the natural film grain of the presentation without becoming intrusive or clumpy. The picture runs slightly on the soft side during certain optical effects, most likely due to limitations of the original source material. Colors are well saturated in a pleasing way, and instances of print damage have all but been eradicated with only the occasional speck and mark visible. Overall clarity and detail is stunning, and skin tones are natural and consistent with subtle facial features easily noticeable in closeup. Black levels hold up well with crush not serving as an overwhelming issue. This new presentation from Kino Classics is very impressive, which should please fans of the film. 

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Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that perfectly preserves the artistic intention of the film. The memorable score from Laurent Petitgirard sounds great throughout the duration of the film, as it creates a sparse, menacing tone for the film. 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 rolling waves of the sea or urban setting of the agency are rendered well alongside everything else. The more thrilling moments are delivered with more of a quiet strike than anything bombastic. There does not seem to be any majorly noticeable instances of age-related wear and tear. Kino Classics has given this film the perfectly preserved, faithful audio presentation it deserves.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Filmmaker and Historian Daniel Kremer gives a pretty entertaining commentary track in which he defends the later era of Preminger and makes many incisive points about the film. Kremer discusses the wonderful Saul Bass credits, the relationship with this picture to real world events, the relative lack of access to late-era Preminger films for a long time and more. This might help your appreciation for the film slightly. 
  • Trailers: A trailer for Rosebud is provided here. Kino Classics also provides trailers for The Lion In Winter, Brannigan, Sudden Terror, Prime Cut and And Soon The Darkness.

 

Final Thoughts

Rosebud is not a total misfire by any stretch of the imagination, but it does serve as somewhat of a disappointment for a director who has made so many films that numerous people would say are classics. The actors are not phoning in their performances, but the script is inconsistent enough that no one feels as if they are delivering their best work. Kino Classics has delivered a really stellar Blu-Ray with a dynamite A/V presentation and a worthwhile commentary track. If you are a Preminger completist or just looking for a decent, globe-trotting spy thriller, Rosebud will somewhat scratch the itch. 

Rosebud 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.

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