What Makes Sammy Run? 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. A 50-year-old, long-lost kinescope, I didn’t expect much from the transfer. It showed a mix of inevitable problems.
Focus often seemed rather soft and vague; at times it looked adequately defined, but usually it appeared fuzzy and indistinct. Quite a few examples of jagged edges appeared, many of which stemmed from scan lines. Black levels seemed somewhat mushy and muddy, and contrast was poor; the film often took on a murky look. Shadows were similarly flat and blah.
Not surprisingly, print flaws caused a lot of concerns. I saw a mix of speckles, grit, grain, hairs, nicks, blotches, and general debris throughout the show. These never seemed terribly heavy, but they did crop up consistently and frequently. Video interference was also a considerable problem, and the picture often became distorted.
Objectively, this was a pretty terrible presentation. Subjectively, I had no problem with it. As we learn in the package’s extras, Run went missing for decades, so it’s fairly remarkable that we get to see it at all. Nonetheless, objectively it offered a terrible picture that deserved no better than a “D“, and a lower grade might be more accurate.
Don’t expect anything better from the show’s monaural audio. Dialogue appeared consistently intelligible, but speech could sound thin and brittle. Similar tones affected music and effects, which showed mild distortion and also lacked much depth or distinction.
In addition, a number of source flaws entered the mix. I heard a variety of clicks and pops, and some hiss also appeared. The overall presentation seemed a little crackly and rough at times. Again, I can’t complain about the audio because I understand the limitations of the source material. The quality remained lousy, though, so I objectively can’t give the track anything better than a “D”.
An ad for Studio One Anthology opens the DVD. In terms of extras, the main attraction comes from an audio commentary with actors Barbara Rush and Dina Merrill. Both sit together – via remote hookup – and offer a running, screen-specific look at the film. They discuss their interactions with various members of the cast and crew, working in live TV, finding the lost footage, and other aspects of their careers.
Expect Rush to dominate, as her lively, bubbly presence fills most of the commentary. Merrill seems more subdued, and she also remembers much less about her experiences. Rush doesn’t have airtight memories of the production, but she provides the majority of the information.
The moderate amount of information we receive, that is. At no point does the commentary ever become better than “pretty good”, and it often suffers from dull spots. Much of the time the actresses just talk about how young they looked back in 1959, and the track turns even spottier during the second half. I didn’t mind the time I spent with these two lovely ladies, but I can’t say that I learned a ton about Run.
We also find a 28-minute and 32-second Interview with Budd Schulberg. Conducted in October 2008, the author/screenwriter chats about the inspiration for the novel, writing the book and aspects of its characters/story, adapting the tale for TV, how his experiences with the Communist Party affected the book, and the novel’s impact. Schulberg offers a good collection of notes about Run in this featurette. He throws out mix of tales and thoughts that allow us to learn a lot about his work.
The package concludes with a 16-page booklet. This very nice piece includes essays from archivist Jane Klain. The text discusses the source novel, adaptations and attempts to bring it to the movie screen, cast and crew, and specifics about this production. Archive of American Television director Karen L. Herman also adds an introduction. We get quite a lot of good information here.
Adapted from a novel that offered a very early Hollywood exposé, this 1959 TV version of What Makes Sammy Run? provides erratic charms. For the most part, I think it succeeds, and it remains a consistently entertaining piece. Nonetheless, don’t expect real greatness from the movie. Though the DVD presents weak picture and quality, I think both seem acceptable given the fact that the footage had been lost for years. The set’s extras offer a reasonable amount of information about the project as well. No one will cite this as a demonstration disc, but it’s an interesting piece of TV history.