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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 20 September 2012
Watching this film on Blu ray is a new experience for me. I have only seen it on bad 4:3 public domain copies and have never thought of it in the same regard as "Citizen Kane", "Touch of Evil" or even "Othello". All that has change now. This wonderful HD 16:9 version really highlights the wonderful Welles camera angles and tracking shots which have always gone without notice previously. The image is sharp and detailed. For the first time you can actually see the sweat on Anthony Perkins forhead while he deals with the nightmare he finds himself in. It's not as perfect as some blu ray remasters but it's no disappointment by any measure. Some sync issues still remain but not to the point that it ruins the film. This is truly a great film containing the genius of Orson Welles. Images were his strong point, so blu ray really makes him shine.

Special Features:

Welles, Kafka and The Trial (30 minutes)
This is in French with English subtitles which shows Welles previous films, radio productions and an analysis on "The Trial"

Orson Welles, architect of light (24 minutes)
An interview with Edmond Richard, director of photography of "The Trial" in French with english subtitles.

Tempo Profile (30 minutes)
Interview with Orson Welles from circa 1965. What interview with Welles isn't worth watching! Great for fans.

Interview with Steven Berkoff (13 minutes)
Berkoff discusses Kafka and "The Trial"

Deleted Scene (6 minutes)
This scene with Katina Paxinou was cut by Welles in the final editing. It originally came after the scene where Josef K is talking with his cousin, before he enters his office building. No audio exists, the subtitles that are included were taken from Welles own script.

This is really a film for Orson Welles or Kafka fans, or even people who enjoy films that think outside the box. Thank you to Studio Canal for caring enough to present this film in all it's glory. I can't believe it looked this good in 1962.
One of the elements that contributes heavily to the atmosphere and feeling of the film is the score by Jean Ledrut, using both original music and adaptations of Tomaso Albinoni's stunning and iconic "Adagio in G minor."
I wish a commentary was on it, but I suspect they're either dead or don't speak english. There is no dvd version better than this. Trust me, I've bourght them all. Nothing comes close.
The dvd also contains a booklet on the production. Thank you.
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on 15 January 2006
I know this DVD comes cheap, but if you're really interested in this movie, spend the extra money and get the restored version (released on Warner Home Video). The picture quality of the present edition (Elstree Hill) is like that of a much played VHS tape, and the sound is faint and woolly. It seems to me, too, that the aspect ratio must have been changed to fit the TV screen, so you're actually missing a large part of any given scene.
There's no bonus material.
I suppose the low standard price should have warned me, still this came as a dissappointment. "The Trial", with top acting from Anthony Perkins, great direction from Welles, and a visually interesting production, deserves better.
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on 4 September 2013
A great movie - not to be missed. If it helps -
The 2012 50th anniversary DVD from Studio Canal has the 'Before the Law' prologue, but doesn't have the extras that are on the Blu-Ray. Excellent picture quality, 1.66 - 1.
The 2007 Studio Canal DVD doesn't have the 'Before the Law' prologue, but does have some of the extras. Excellent picture quality, 1.66 - 1.
The Elstree Hill DVD from 2005 is dreadful fuzzy picture quality and is 4 x 3 pan and scan. It does have the prologue.
The version without the prologue was prepared for French TV by Orson Welles himself in the 1980s.
I first saw The Trial in the cinema with the prologue, so I was expecting to see the prologue and was initially disappointed when I saw the DVD without it. But when I saw the 2012 DVD I had second thoughts. After all there is no prologue in Kafka's novel - it starts with K waking up. Before the Law is a separate short story altogether ( from Wedding Preparations in the Country ).
Welles' voiceover reading Before the Law is a bit ponderous and preachy, and there are a couple of extra comments that make it seem as if you are in a lecture theatre. I think I may prefer the movie without the prologue after all.
However, the picture quality is stunning ! The photography and lighting will take your breath away ! It is a fantastic adaptation of the novel, and Anthony Perkins is fantastic.
Whether you want the prologue or not - just sit back and enjoy.
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on 18 July 2008
'The Trial' is a wonderful film; however, the film presented here is a re-edited version which omits the eerie (and arguably crucial) opening scene, featuring Kafka's Parable of the Law read by Orson Welles. The picture quality on this disc is excellent, and the documentaries included are interesting, but the film itself is incomplete.

Cheaper versions present the film in full, but with muddy visuals and muffled sound; the 2004 Studio Canal edition has a running time of 113 minutes to this version's 110, so may contain the complete film. I'm going to try that one next...
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on 7 August 2009
Haunting and atmospheric adaptation of Kafka's seminal political satire, Orson Welles described this as his `best film', and while I'm not totally convinced about the truth of that statement, it is still a rich and visually satisfying movie that remains faithful to Kafka's biting satire wrapped up in magic realism that was published to great acclaim in 1926.

Anthony Perkins' neurotic and twitchy style of acting is perfect for the central role of accused Josef K, who is put on trial for no apparent reason but who remains free to live his life in the meantime, whilst being stalked by the sinister police Inspector and plagued by a host of ultimately weak and unhelpful characters, including Jeanne Moreau's cabaret performer neighbour Miss Bursteau, and Welles himself as law advocate Halstead.

Welles decided to modernize certain aspects of the novel, he also changed the ending slightly and rearranged the book's chapters for filming. Filmed in various locations across Europe (all apart from Kafka's home town of Prague where his work was still banned as subversive) the film is visually strong, and the picture quality in this version is superb for a film that is nearly fifty years old. The famous pin-screen animation sequence that opens the film is inspired, and lends a gravitas that is often lost when adapting `serious' classics for the big screen. In some parts the movie comes across as a black comedy, while in others it is more dramatic and occasionally stagey - although the latter could be said for the majority of films made in that era. In many ways Kafka's story works better as a stage play and Welles, in his wisdom, undoubtedly knew this and created his version accordingly.

While the film has been decried in some quarters as dry and dull, it came across to me as a well-crafted and conscientious piece of work, and a worthy adaptation of a novel that deserves its status as a modern classic.
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on 27 April 2012
If ever one could nominate a film-maker who could be characterised as being a colossus with feet of clay, it would probably be Orson Welles. With a talent for getting himself into trouble almost as great as his creative genius, he was the archetypal Nearly Man - a creator of undoubted genius, but always with a flaw somewhere in his work, or in his life; something not quite right which almost always stymied his best efforts somewhere along the line.
"The Trial", based on Kafka's novel of 1925, is a case in point. Like "Touch of Evil", made a few years earlier (in 1958 -"Trial" was made in 1962) it is almost brilliant... but not quite.
Anthony Perkins, the perfect Mr. Twitch, plays Joseph K, a lowly functionary in a faceless, unspecified bureaucracy. For no reason that neither we nor he ever learn, he is fingered for an unspecified crime. He spends the rest of the film trying to find out what the crime is, how he can put things right, and what is going to happen to him when it becomes clear that, like Winston Smith in "Nineteen Eighty-Four", he cannot put it right no matter what he does. His family, friends and acquaintances appear and disappear with perplexing evanescence, and things happen with a reasonless inexorability, as they do in dreams. In the end he is "disappeared", but his exit is accompanied by a hysterical laughter indicating that, perhaps, the victory is his after all. Or not, as the case may be... it's Kafka, after all (though there are, apparently - I haven't read the book yet - considerable differences between book and film).
As usual in a Welles film, the cinematography is breath-taking in its sheer audacity and lustrous beauty. Shot in stark black-and-white, it makes full use of the chiaoscuro afforded by the settings employed. Many of the exterior shots appear to have been done in Zagreb, and we see the cold, blocky architecture of post-war communist architecture in all its sere grandeur - usually at night, which accentuates the severity of the buildings and enhances the cold, alienating weltanschuung that the film projects throughout. Much of the interior, by contrast, is shot in a crumbling mess of rococco ruination, all rotting plaster and decayed cherubs held together by ugly steel stanchions and rusted scaffolding. In his desperate attempts to find a meaning to the nightmare into which he has slid, K is accompanied by a motley crew of erstwhile companions, betrayers and persecutors. Among these are his advocate Hastler (Welles himself), Hastler's mistress (Romy Schneider - once named as the worst actress in the world, though she acquits herself perfectly well here and, as a matter of fact, in everything else I've seen her in), a priest (Michael Lonsdale - probably best known as the French police inspector in "The Day of the Jackal") and, most memorable of all, Bloch, another hapless accusee awaiting a verdict that never comes (played by Akim Tamiroff, a Welles favourite and a cinematic master of sweaty apprehension and terrified servility).
So how is it flawed?
By two small but crucial solecisms, the peas under the mattress of an otherwise marvellous film. Perkins is great at being neurotic, but every now and then he becomes a little too assertive, a litle too 1950's loud-mouthed American, to suit the consistency of his role; for a moment we forget he is K and see something else, something which jarrs the atmosphere of the film and has no place in it.
Then there is Jazz. I am not opposed to Jazz, but here, as in "Touch of Evil", it is used in the soundtrack and, like the raucous American, is out of place, doing irreparable damage to the overall atmosphere, which would have been better served by Bartok, for instance, or even Schoenberg. No more than my opinion, of course, which you may not agree with.

This isn't to say you shouldn't watch it; au contraire, watch it and revell in its undoubted glories. It's a film which has cast a shadow down the years, a shadow which is visible every time you watch "Eraserhead" and "Brazil", or practically any other film which deals with dystopian societies and their irrational inhabitants. But for all that, much of its brilliance undoubtedly derives from happenstance. As usual, Welles was too strapped for cash to finance the film properly, which probably accounts for the night-shoots in Zagreb (and in the then-deserted railway station of Gare d'Orsay in Paris), and for the fact that he does the lip-synching for several of the characters himself, rather than pay the actors to do it. Sometimes necessity really is the mother of invention, and never more so than when you sit down to watch an Orson Welles film. And no bad thing. Try and imagine it in colour...
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on 6 April 2007
This DVD can be picked up extremely cheaply, and that shows in the quality of the restoration, in particular the chopping of the ratio at the edges. At the same time....

All Welles movies around this time suffered from running-out-of-budget, makeshift location work and zero budget dubbing (with a variety of voices performed by Welles himself--see if you can spot them!), so some of this may be intrinsic to the film itself.

That quality does not ruin the film in the way that it almost did his masterpiece Chimes At Midnight (the worst sound quality of any major movie ever?), partly because of the themes of the movie itself--a small man lost in a shifting reality of inconsistencies, shady identities, where no appearances can be trusted.

It's a fascinating, if claustrophobic world. The movie was criticised for its excessive style--severe lighting, mammoth sets, extreme cutting, an array of tracking shots, long-shots, disconcerting angles, etc--but this all works to draw us fully in to the terrifying undefeatable beaurocratic surreal world that the main character tries to stand up against.

The ending seems poor--as if Welles was unsure how to finish it. But the meaning is in the experiencing of the film. The sets and settings are astonishing. This nightmarish beaurocracy is more relevant than ever. And Welles 'mistakes and failures' remain more thought-provoking, visually stimulating and enjoyable than a thousand other 'decent well-crafted' films.

So well-worth buying--until we see that perfect Orson Welles box set that us movie-lovers continue to dream about!
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on 22 September 2015
Nepenthe, Big Sur, California - I am sitting where Orson Wells sat in 1947 with Rita Hayworth before that passionate romance died as quickly as it was born - and I am reading "The Trial" by Kafka. Later in Cambridge, England I watch the movie on my uber-quality cinema system.

Eery. Orson Welles treatment of Kafka's insane novel (I mean insane in the sense that though every individual scene looks and feels sane, put together the film describes insanity, the peculiar insanity of the West or post-modern life), well the treatment is stark, sweaty, nervous and penetrating, a cacophony of sound and life gone wrong. The film alters the rhythm of your breathing and two thoughts can arise: either " I am a victim like K" or "I am the perpetrator of abuse on people like K".

So much news today describe the awful sense of drowning that Welles provokes in the Trial.

Orson Welles, genius of cinema.
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The cinematography composure, the framing is something else, each shot created with the eye of a renaissance painter, as the anti hero, Josef K, is trapped in a noir world of rampant bureaucratic enclosure. Each move he makes is being weighed and graded within a grinding process of invisible forces. Linked to the nascent Communism, anyone trying to contest a decision within the UK will comprehend the full brunt of this film. The perennial signposting, obfuscation, filibustering and making up policy on the spot details how the "professions" work. The film is a torch on the maze which operates the bureaucratic grind

Problems arise for me initially with the hyper performance of Hopkins, it grated and jarred at the beginning, as the room is invaded by Schneider and colleagues. Adjusting to his persecutory style takes some effort. A different type of performance to the wooden inert Mclachlan/Hopkins in the recent(ish) remake. Perkins appears naive to the point of idiocy, surely not the character of someone who climbs a bureaucratic hierarchy within a bank? But leaving that aside, and perhaps he ascended through nepotism, as he adjusts to his reality he becomes ever more testing the bonds of the web which entraps him.

Within these post war times the sense of the surreal, each underplaying their roles led by Welles and Schneider, takes precedence. The effort that went into each scene, composure, framing, the detail in the background, the types of shots, turn this into a masterpiece. Faithful to the book, largely- the film in particular captures the claustrophobia of being constrained within a system. The feelings of being caught stretch on forever, as the case becomes dominant. Everyone around behaves as normal, but "normal" is to be an isolated alienated individual with no concept of attachment.

The ending is slightly changed and I do not know why, because the famous lines should have been proclaimed, highlighting the brutality of the machine grind. When it was originally written it was only a decade and half later Kafka's sisters were swallowed up within the bureaucratic bowels of Auschwitz and ground into dust. The process was not an allegory but prescient as he predicted a social reality.

Greatly restored, the version (I bought) currently being sold by Amazon is pristine, but the opening scenes are however cut and I had to tweak the sound. It is a dialogue heavy film and needs constant concentration, even if you know the book, so much is happening within the speech.

Along with ad libs and pieces that Welles introduced to make it contemporary, the film rests upon the spoken word. It is not a film for the casual viewer, as it builds on the relentless dialogue, all encoded within the book, to bring out the allegory and probably needs watching again and again to gain a full over view.

However Kafka should have been proud of the finesse employed here, a slow grind of a film that takes you throw a maze of stultification. The forerunner of the original "Prisoner." He foreshadowed the petty madness which unfolded within the rest of the century within the minds of officialdom, detailing how power operates without rancour but with deadly effectiveness.
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on 22 January 2003
Truly a great film, but of course it should be. The Trial combines the literary genius of Kafka with the directorial genius of Welles. Perhaps the biggest delight is Anthony Perkins, sometimes a hit and miss actor but in this role he is outstanding. The sense of confusion, fear and outrage felt by the central character is portrayed brilliantly as the seemingly unjustified persecution of the individual by the system continues. The film as with the book leaves you feeling unsettled and disturbed, the message behind the Kafka novel as relevant now as it ever was. A masterpiece of a film that deserves to be seen.
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