• Passage, The

    Released by: Kino Lorber/Scorpion Releasing
    Released on: February 9th, 2016.
    Director: J. Lee Thompson
    Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Anthony Quinn, James Mason, Christopher Lee
    Year: 1979
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    The Movie:

    Directed by J. Lee Thompson and written by Bruce Nicolaysen, who adapted his own novel entitled The Dangerous Passage, this 1979 World War II film takes place in Europe where as Basque peasant simply referred to throughout the movie as The Basque (Anthony Quinn) is hired by some French Resistance fighters to help get a high ranking scientist named Professor John Bergson (James Mason) and his family (Patricia Neal, Kay Lenz and Paul Clemens) out of Nazi occupied France and through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. While the hazardous terrain would make this job difficult enough, there’s the added thread of a pursuant SS Officer named Captain Von Berkow (Malcolm McDowell), a sadistic and twisted man who gets a kick out of burning a harmless local gypsy man (Christopher Lee).

    Basically a chase film throughout the mountains of the area in which the film is set, The Passage isn’t a particularly deep film nor is it all that original – the plot is pretty thin and while the mountainous locations are certainly as beautiful to look at as they are perilous for our characters to pass through, on a certain level as you watch this movie you’ll start to feel like you’ve been here before. Thankfully, we get some interesting performances here to help set this one apart. It doesn’t wind up an unsung classic, but Thompson’s direction is stalwart and dependable if not all that flashy and the movie is plenty entertaining.

    Anthony Quinn does a fine job as the man of few words, the tough and honest shepherd paid for a job and then forced to fight for his life. His interactions with Mason’s scientist and his respective family aren’t necessarily the most successful moments in the history of dramatic motion pictures but they get the job done. Christopher Lee isn’t given all that much to do but it’s nice to see him play a good guy here, given that he’s so frequently been associated with bad guys throughout his long and storied career. McDowell, however, is obviously having a blast playing the SS Officer. He seems to relish the role and he really gives it his all. If he overdoes it in spots and comes across as hammy, well his character is supposed to be pretty unhinged so it doesn’t really feel out of place.

    Thompson’s film earns its R-rating thanks to a rather dark rape scene on the part of McDowell’s character and some rather nasty violence, with poor Kay Lenz on the receiving end of that. It’s McDowell who makes this one, however – no one else in this movie even comes close to his performance here and he chews through so much scenery and powerhouses his way through the movie so relentlessly that it almost seems a moot point discussing anything else. The film went on to be a bit of a notorious flop for United Artists when it bombed in theaters but it’s not as bad as its reputation would have you believe. Watch it for McDowell’s nutty work and you’ll walk away happy.


    The Passage looks quite nice in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen as it is presented on this Blu-ray release. There’s some minor print damage here and there in the form of the occasional speck but nothing too serious. Grain is present, as it should be, but never distractingly so and colors look nice and natural. Detail is a little erratic in that some shots look very crisp and sharp while others look a little soft, but it’s pretty much a sure thing that this stems back to the original photography as the previous release (an MOD/DVD-R from the MGM Limited Edition Collection) also had this going on. The image is free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement and color reproduction is pretty solid here. All in all, you get a pretty nice upgrade in quality here over what we’ve had before, the movie looks quite good on Blu-ray.

    The DTS-HD 2.0 mix on the disc is also quite good. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to report and the levels are well balanced. Dialogue is clear and easy to follow and this is problem free, and the score from Michael J. Lewis generally sounds quite good with strong range and decent depth to it.

    The previous DVD-R release from the MGM Limited Edition Collection had only the trailer as the film’s lone supplement, but thankfully this Blu-ray reissue makes up for that. First up is an interview with Malcolm McDowell himself that runs almost a half an hour in length. Here he talks about the political climate of the time, how the film industry of London at the time was more or less dead, and how he really appreciated working with Mason and Quinn on the picture. From there he talks about playing a Nazi in the movie, what it was like working alongside a ‘great chewer of scenery’ like Quinn, his thoughts on his character, what inspired him to perform the way he performed in the movie and loads more. This is a GREAT interview, a lot of fun and very interesting and it finds McDowell in very fine form indeed.

    Paul Clemens is also interviewed here for just over thirty-three minutes, where he talks about taking the part here after doing some work in television. He also shares some fun stories about the different cast and crew members he worked alongside, particularly Quinn who he seems to have gotten along with quite well, and his thoughts on McDowell’s take on playing the nasty Nazi (a role Clemens notes, McDowell saw as basically regurgitating Alex from A Clockwork Orange) and how it seems to exist in a different universe from everyone else in the movie. Clemens looks back on this one with a sharp memory and a good sense of humor, making this interview a genuine treat.

    Outside of that, we get an alternate ending for the feature, a few theatrical trailers, static menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Not the most original movie but McDowell’s performance makes it one worth watching. Throw in a few other interesting cast members, some sporadic violence and some great locations and The Passage winds up a decent watch. This Blu-ray reissue not only offers up a nice upgrade in the audio and video departments, but it’s got some great extras as well. If you’re a fan of this picture, this is worth the double dip!

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