The 400 Blows appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While I’m sure the folks at Criterion did their best with the material, the movie still came with a mix of concerns.
Sharpness seemed erratic. Though much of the film demonstrated good definition, more than a few examples of softness occurred.
Some of these came from poor source photography, but others were less logical. In any case, overall clarity was fine, and I noticed no issues with jaggies, shimmering or edge haloes.
The movie tended toward a grainy feel, but print flaws remained minor. I saw a few specks and some stray gate hairs but nothing substantial.
Blacks varied. Some of the movie showed deep tones and good contrast, but others displayed mushy blacks and a sense of excessive brightness. One of Criterion’s earliest Blu-rays, this one looked generally good but it might benefit from a new transfer.
I also felt the PCM monaural audio of Blows seemed lackluster but acceptable given the movie’s age and origins. Speech varied, so some lines appeared fairly natural and concise, but others could be rough and edgy.
I couldn’t easily judge intelligibility since I don’t speak French. I’d estimate that the work remained intelligible but lacked strengths.
Music was generally decent. The score could sound somewhat shrill at times, but it usually appeared acceptably full.
The same went for effects. While these occasionally came across as distorted, they still provided acceptable clarity. Nothing here was memorable, but the mix was decent for its period.
As we head to extras, we find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from cinema professor Brian Stonehill. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that also occasionally includes excerpts from interviews with screenwriter Marcel Moussy, director/writer François Truffaut, and friend/assistant unit manager Robert Lachenay.
The commentary looks at story/characters, inspirations and influences, sets and locations, cast and crew, elements of the French New Wave and related domains. The track touches on these subjects well and becomes both informative and engaging.
For the second commentary, we hear from assistant unit manager Robert Lachenay. In this running, screen-specific piece, we learn about aspects of the production as well as reflections of the childhood Truffaut and Lachenay shared.
Truffaut’s lifelong friend, Lachenay inspired the movie’s René character, so Lachenay relates the ways the movie compares to real life. He also lets us know a bit about the movie’s creation, though his memories of fact vs. fiction dominate. Although we get more dead air than I’d like, Lachenay’s intimate connection to the material helps make this an insightful discussion.
Under Auditions, we get six minutes, 24 seconds of screen tests. We see casting interview with actors Jean-Pierre Léaud and Richard Kanayan as well as an improvised chat between Léaud and Patrick Auffay. This 16mm footage adds value.
A newsreel, Cannes 1959 runs five minutes, 51 seconds and shows a chat with Léaud – who looks like he went through a big growth spurt since the shoot - along with a little footage from the Cannes festival. The interview with the actor makes this worth a look.
Two TV excerpts follow, as we find segments from a 1965 episode of Cineastes de notre temps (22:27) and from a 1960 episode of Cinepanorama (6:52). In the first, we hear from Truffaut as well as Leaud, actor Albert Remy and collaborator Claude de Givray. The second segment features only Truffaut.
“Cineastes” looks at Truffaut’s early interest in film and his career to date at that time, while “Cinepanorama” examines Truffaut’s visit to America and some aspects of Blows. Both become engaging programs.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we finish with a booklet. It presents credits, art and an essay from film scholar Annette Insdorf. The booklet completes the set on a satisfactory note.
Groundbreaking in its day, The 400 Blows seems less impactful now, but it nonetheless offers a fairly compelling movie. Though I admit I’d likely it more if it delivered a stronger plot, I appreciate its cinematic choices and find it to become an interesting character study. The Blu-ray comes with erratic picture and audio as well as a useful selection of supplements. Blows stands as a movie with historic importance.