San Quentin appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Warner Bros. usually treats their transfers of older films well, and San Quentin indeed looked quite good.
Throughout the film, sharpness seemed solid. Very little softness was evident. Instead, the flick came across as nicely accurate and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement could be seen.
Source flaws were quite modest for a nearly 70-year-old film. Sporadic examples of specks, blotches and marks occurred, but these were surprisingly minor. Grain was the biggest distraction, as it seemed somewhat heavy at times. Blacks came across with nice depth and clarity, while shadows showed good detail. This was a strong presentation.
Similar thoughts greeted the monaural soundtrack of San Quentin. Once I factored in the flick’s age, I noticed no significant issues. Speech showed a little edginess at times, but I didn’t think the lines were problematic. Dialogue seemed easily intelligible and without concerns.
Music appeared clear, though it lacked heft. Effects were clean and concise. They also failed to demonstrate much range, but they were acceptably accurate and lacked distortion. No problems with source flaws marred the presentation. Again, the track wasn’t special, but it was pretty solid for a product of its era.
As we move to the DVD’s extras, we start with an audio commentary from film historian Patricia King Hanson. She provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Hanson covers sets and locations, elements of the prison film genre, cast and crew notes, themes, characters, and changes made to the original script.
If pursued to the appropriate extent, those topics could add up to a good commentary. Unfortunately, Hanson mostly narrates the movie. She occasionally touches on the subjects I cited, but she fails to do this with adequate sufficiency. Since she usually just describes what we see on screen, this becomes a dull, often pointless commentary.
Once again Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1937. This feature starts with a preview for Kid Galahad. We also get a period newsreel, an animated short called Porky’s Double Trouble and a live-action short entitled The Man Without a Country. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of San Quentin, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. This is a cool presentation.
Next comes a new featurette called Welcome to the Big House. This 18-minute and 25-second piece includes movie clips and interviews. We get remarks from Hanson, film historians Haden Guest, Anthony Slide, Eric Lax, Lincoln D. Hurst, Rick Jewell, Drew Casper, and Vivian Sobchack, producer Robert Evans, and actors Theresa Russell, Talia Shire, and Michael Madsen. We get a look at issues related to prison films of the Thirties. We find notes about genre conventions along with specifics about certain movies and the actors who appeared in them. On the way we learn comparisons between prison flicks and gangster films. These bring out some nice information about the genre. The show sums up the movies pretty well and offers a clear depiction of the prison flicks.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find Breakdowns of 1937. This blooper reel lasts six minutes, 38 seconds and isn’t as interesting as some of its counterparts. Though Bogart appears, it lacks the same star power and it shows too many similar goofs.
While not exactly a logical piece of storytelling, San Quentin makes up for its problems with involving action. The movie keeps us interested with its brisk pacing and lively events. The DVD offers very good picture along with positive audio and a mixed collection of extras. This is a more than adequate DVD for an interesting film.
Note that you can buy San Quentin alone or as part of a six-movie “Tough Guys Collection”. The latter packages San Quentin with Bullets or Ballots, Each Dawn I Die, A Slight Case of Murder, ”G” Men, and City for Conquest. This set is a steal for folks who want to own the various movies. It retails for about $60, which equals the list price of three of the DVDs separately. It’s like a “buy three, get three free” deal and is a serious bargain.