• Fear And Desire

    Released by: Kino
    Released on: October 23, 2012.
    Director: Stanley Kubrick
    Cast: Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp
    Year: 1953
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    The Movie:

    The first official home video release of Stanley Kubrick’s rarely seen (outside of bootlegs at least) first feature film effort, Fear And Desire was made in 1953 on a very low budget. It was considered important enough though that the Library Of Congress restored the 35mm elements available at their disposal, and it’s through that restoration that Kino have opted to finally give the movie its proper debut on any video format.

    Much maligned by the director himself, who was quite open about his dislike of the picture, the film was written by Howard Sackler and tells the story of four American G.I.’s toiling away in a war that is never named. Lead by Lieutenant Corby (Kenneth Harp), the group also consists of the rough and tumble Sergeant Mac (Frank Silvera), the obedient Private Fletcher (Steve Coit) and a young upstart named Private Sidney (Paul Mazursky). When we meet up with the group they’re in trouble – they’ve landed in enemy territory and have to make it through six miles of dangerous terrain to try and get back to safety. When spotted by a native girl (Virginia Leith), they wind up taking her hostage with Sidney left to keep watch over her while the other three explore the area.

    When the four learn that a ranking general in the enemy forces is stationed with some troops in the area, they decide to try and assassinate him before getting back to their base – but of course, violence ensues and the merits of war are called into question.

    Kubrick not only directed this film but also worked as cinematographer, camera man, editor and producer – he handled pretty much everything that needed to be handled behind the camera and even here, early on in his career, he shows much promise. Yes, the script is very heavy handed (with Coit and Harp playing both the Americans and the enemy officers – obviously a metaphorical choice but one that is much too obvious to really work) and frequently bogged down with the narration employed to tell the story but more often than not the movie works. The camerawork is usually solid (though not always perfect), the pacing isn’t bad at all, and the storytelling is effective. Strong performances help things out here, with the narration occasionally taking away from them. Some interesting imagery used throughout the movie also helps, highlighted by a well edited fight scene that takes place in a cabin in the latter half of the movie.

    If the movie lacks the polish and professionalism of some of the director’s later works, it’s safe to assume that a lot of this is due to the rushed production schedule and meager budget that the filmmaker had at his disposal.


    Kino’s AVC encoded 1080p high definition fullframe transfer presents the black and white film in its original aspect ratio from elements that were restored by the United States Library Of Congress. While it seems obvious that more cleanup work could have been done to eliminate some of the specks and scratches that appear on the picture, this is a very film-like image showing no evidence of noise reduction, edge enhancement or digital tinkering. Detail is probably as strong as the aging source elements would allow for and generally speaking the image does look excellent here. Texture is nice and consistently impressive and aside from a few fluctuations here and there that would appear to be source related, contrast and brightness look dead on. There’s seriously nothing too drastic to complain about here – just a bit of minor print damage, really. Otherwise, things shape up quite nicely.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language LPCM 2.0 Mono track, there are no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind provided. Given that this was shot without live sound and then dubbed in post, things sound a little hollow here and there but there aren’t any major problems with the mix at all. This was quite a low budget picture so the sound mix is a bit on the basic side but dialogue is clean and clear and if some of the effects do occasionally sound a bit thin compared to other films made with bigger budgets, so be it. This would seem to be a pretty accurate representation of the source material.

    Aside from a menu and chapter selection, Kino have also included a short film entitled The Seafarers. Directed by Kubrick in 1953, this is basically an industrial film/documentary made as a work for hire job for the Seafarers International Union. Kubrick’s first color film, it’s more or less a propaganda piece extolling the virtues of the union and discussing all of the positive aspects of membership in said union. It’s an interesting piece to see and its inclusion here is a very welcome one, given its obscurity but it’s not something more than a handful of diehards will probably want to watch more than once. Including it as an extra piggybacked on a more interesting movie like Fear And Desire was definitely the right thing to do.

    The Final Word:

    Fear And Desire isn’t ever going to be lauded as Kubrick’s shining moment and it’s quite well known that the director himself was not particularly keen on the finished product but it is a historically important picture and one that his fans will appreciate finally being able to see. Kino’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great and offers up the interesting first color short from Kubrick as a bonus. Quite a nice package overall, one that’s easy to recommend to Kubrick fans.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!