• Conrack

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: March 8th, 2014.
    Director: Martin Ritt
    Cast: Jon Voight, Hume Cronyn, Madge Sinclair, Paul Winfield, Tina Andrews, Antonio Fargas
    Year: 1974
    Purchase From Screen Archives Entertainment

    The Movie:

    Directed by Martin Ritt, 1974’s Conrack takes on the true story of a teacher named Pat Conroy (Jon Voight) who takes a position as an educator on a small island off the coast of South Carolina. Though he knows that the area he’ll be working in is far from affluent he’s taken aback upon his arrival to find that the school is basically a shack and that his class of impoverished black students can’t count, let alone read. These kids need help, but the school’s principal, Mrs. Scott (Madge Sinclair), has more or less given up on them opting to allow them to believe in their own failures rather than try to help them to accomplish anything.

    Conroy, being dedicated to his profession, takes issues with this and understandably so. Rather than throw this kids into a curriculum that they’ll never grasp at this point in their education, he takes a more practical approach. Through a series of lessons he teaches the kids, who mispronounce his name as Conrack at first and then stick with it as a nickname throughout the movie, to fend for themselves. He introduces them to film, to literature, to music and to athletics not through text books and lectures but through screenings, readings, a record player and the nearby swimming hole. He teaches them the importance of hygiene and of self-discipline and the kids in his care quickly respond to his unorthodox methods. These same methods draw the attention of the local politicos, many of whom are barely able to conceal both their disdain and their overt racism – the real cause of many of the school’s problems in the first place.

    Heavy handed almost to a fault, the film is nevertheless worth seeing for Jon Voigt’s excellent work. He’s so likeable in the role that even when things border on overly melodramatic ham-fisted messaging it’s hard not to appreciate the efforts that his character goes to in hopes of actually making a difference. Anyone who has ever reached out in an attempt to help a child in a bad situation should be able to at least partially relate to what Conroy tries to accomplish here and Voigt does it with a warmth and depth of character that is nothing if not endearing. Thankfully the supporting cast of young, inexperienced actors used to play his class are quite strong as well, never breaking character and always believable in their respective roles.

    A fairly clever script that manages to successfully build a bit of tension as our lead’s efforts come under fire, Conrack also features an impressive score from John Williams. Few composers can accentuate drama like Williams and his work here is up to his typically excellent standards. Also impressive is the cinematography from John A. Alonzo which does an admirable job of capturing the beauty inherent in the island locations which makes for stark contrast when we witness the abject poverty of so many of its inhabitants. At an hour and forty-six minutes it does occasionally feel about ten minutes too long but for the most part, this is a genuinely uplifting story of one man trying to make a difference (a theme that, when handled right, rarely gets old).


    Conrack looks great on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, framed at 2.39.1 in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc with a pretty strong bit rate. Colors are nice and natural, the greens really impress here, while skin tones remain lifelike and realistic looking. The outdoor scenes show better color and detail than some of the indoor scenes, but that’s got more to do with the photography than the transfer. There doesn’t appear to be any noise reduction or edge enhancement here, so film grain is left alone as it should be but actual print damage is never really an issue. Detail is strong, as is texture – the movie looks really good on this disc.

    The only audio option provided is an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. The levels are properly balanced here and while this is a dialogue heavy track, the music used throughout the movie and the periodic sound effects have good range and presence. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to report and all in all the audio shapes up quite nicely here.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio Commentary with Film Historians Paul Seydor and Nick Redman that makes for an honest evaluation of what works and what doesn’t in this particular film. Seydor’s got a pretty solid understanding of this picture’s history and Redman keeps the conversation on target and moving at a good pace. This is a pretty interesting track, one that is pretty much equal parts critical analysis and historical/biographical facts relating to the cast, crew and locations used in the picture.

    Aside from that, we also get the original theatrical trailer for the feature and John Williams’ isolated score in DTS-HD, menus and chapter selection. Once again Julie Kirgo contributes an essay in the liner notes, accompanied by some choice stills and promotional artwork that offers up a concise evaluation of the picture and some welcome history and context.

    The Final Word:

    Conrack isn’t a perfect movie but it’s quite well made and Jon Voigt turns in some really great work here and it’s pretty much impossible not to like him in the role even when the movie feels more than a little heavy handed. It’s a nicely shot picture, however, and that really comes through on Twilight Time’s excellent looking release.

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

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I saw this as a kid, and remember really liking it. Interesting title for a limited edition release.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      This was my first time seeing it, and I was quite impressed. It's just a genuinely 'good' movie.