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Sweet Baby Charlie (1963) - Blu-ray Review

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Sweet Baby Charlie (1963) - Blu-ray Review

5 beersThree adults stare back at the wrong end of a Colt .45 through much of this classic black-and-white exploitation film from 1963.  The sweltering heat of the summer day has done a number on their car as they travel through California's Antelope Valley, but – more than anything else – it is their collective and supremely unlucky fate that has brought them to this convergence of two seeming unrelated paths.

Sweet Baby Charlie is far from being sweet and a baby.  It is; however, a classic of exploitation filmmaking and richly deserves a wider audience.  Perhaps this new blu-ray will give it the audience it so richly deserves.

God, to be alive during the 1960s when so many awesome independent features were hitting the screen must have been something truly unique.  So many voices; so many visions.  Carnival of SoulsFive Miles to MidnightNight Tide.  And whatever William Castle was doing.  Director Joe Dante, who owns the only surviving 35mm print of this film, is absolutely correct when he suggests that there were a lot of interesting things going on in American cinema at the time of Sweet Baby Charlie’s (aka The Sadist) release.

And this film might just be at the very top of that hugely influential list thanks to an utterly matchless performance from Arch Hall, Jr. as the drifting killer who has left a trail of bodies on his way up from Arizona.  Told in as many minutes as these hostages are held against their will, this crime classic is a thriller made perfect by its exemplary execution.   

Five actors.  One junkyard.  $30,000.  A fabulous director of photography in Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter).  And it all begins with a crazed black-and-white shot of a pair of very angry eyes.  Cue the equally psychotic stab of horns and strings that make up the bulk of the score and you have the beginnings of a damn promising b-movie.

That’s what you get with the fantastically realized Sweet Baby Charles, a film as demented and over-the-top as these exploitation flicks come.  Written and directed by James Landis, this low budget thriller may not win you over when it comes to the core performances of its three victims, but that’s okay.  This is a vehicle for actor Arch Hall, Jr., as the villain Charlie Tibbs to shine in a performance that is as unsettling as it is unhinged.

The set-up is quite simple.  Three school teachers on their way to a Dodgers game never make it thanks to their broken down Chevrolet Bel Air and a threatening run-in with a teenage criminal and his girlfriend.  Based on the murders of Charles Starkweather, Sweet Baby Charlie is a disturbing and focused look at a very heinous situation as these three educators doubt they have the knowledge to successfully navigate these two lunatics without getting killed.

Co-starring Marilyn Manning as Tibbs' girlfriend, Richard Alden, Helen Hovey, and Don Russell, Sweet Baby Charlie’s cast does enough to keep up with the peerless talents of its main actor.  Even if Manning doesn’t have a line of dialogue, her presence at Charlie’s side is enough to warrant her appearing in the movie at all.  His targets are equally terrified, too.  But, yes, it is Hall’s fresh routine – sometimes squinty-eyed and sometimes jubilant in his edginess – that makes this flick still work today as effective as it did when it was originally released.

With blood flying off point blank shots to the head, Sweet Baby Charlie is both stark and straight to the point as its harrowing tale of survival in the wake of a psychosis unmatched.  It is now available on 1080p thanks to a fine handling from Code Red.  It is a tale of tension and terror that is more than worthy of this its HD debut.

Sweet Baby Charlie (1963) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime:
92 mins
Director
: James Landis
Writer:
James Landis
Cast:
Arch Hall Jr., Helen Hovey, Richard Alden
Genre
: Thriler
Tagline:
Never before a motion picture Rampacked with... Suspense... Terror... Sudden Shock, as The SADIST.
Memorable Movie Quote: "I have been hurt by others. And I will hurt them. I will make them suffer like I have suffered."
Theatrical Distributor:
Fairway International Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
April, 1963
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
November 17, 2017
Synopsis: Three people driving into Los Angeles for a baseball game have car trouble and pull off into an old wrecking yard where they are held at bay by a bloodthirsty psycho and his girlfriend.

Sweet Baby Charlie (1963) - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Code Red
Available on Blu-ray
- November 17, 2017
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Code Red presents Sweet Baby Charlie on 1080p thanks to a fine 2k transfer.  With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and a solid DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, the film looks and sounds better than ever.  With bold black levels and clear white levels, it is a perfectly balanced picture showcasing a fair amount of detail in the junkyard.  There are a no focus issues due to the new clarity of the print.  Shockingly enough, there are no visible scratches.  The film looks better than previous DVD releases and it should, too.  The film feels fresh – especially enjoying its new aspect ratio – and offers a depth to some of scenes that previously felt claustrophobic.  The soundtrack – an engaging DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track – is free of hiss and other noise but is not as engaging as one could hope for.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  •  The fabulous audio commentary with Vilmos Zsigmond is informative and goes to the very end with information about the filming of this cult classic.

Special Features:

Alongside the blistering perfect new HD transfer and the expert commentary from cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, buyers get a brief 4-minute interview with filmmaker Joe Dante, and a reversible cover.

  • Interview with Joe Dante (4 min)

Sweet Baby Charlie (1963) - Blu-ray Review

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