Shadow Of Chinatown

Shadow Of Chinatown (1936)
Tartan Video
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Joan Barclay, Herman Brix, Luana Walters

Vintage films are always a tough nut to bust when it comes to refurbishing them and presenting them in a modern medium, such as DVD. Whirlwind Media has taken the 1936 movie serial ’Shadow of Chinatown’ and presents all 15 episodes on a 2-disc set.

Given the age of the film, defects in the print are inevitable, as are other blemishes that come with the aging process of film. Whirlwind tried to salvage these problems by applying a good dose of digital noise reduction to the film – a good dose too much for my taste, because not much of the original image is left. The picture is extremely soft as a result of the digital process and no details are distinguishable. The noise reduction further creates ghosting artifacts, which further blur all movement in the images. At the same time the film show serious registration problem, resulting in an unstable and constantly wavering presentation. The contrast in this black and white presentation is a tad too harsh, creating impenetrable shadows and glaring highlights that often appear overexposed, although much of that may be a result of the age of the film and the film stock it was shot on. The image also appears to be incorrectly framed, as the opening and closing credits are visibly shifted to the left.
Given such a softened image, the compression is a fairly easy process and compression artifacts are held in check despite the fairly low bitrate used on this DVD.

The disc features the original mono audio track that has been cleaned up for this DVD. Hiss and pops have been mostly removed from the track but sadly at a cost. The audio sounds muddy and through the audio noise reduction process, all high ends have been removed with it, making much of the dialogue indistinguishable. When every ’s’-sound is turned into a distorted ’f’ it simply becomes hard to follow the presentation.

Whirlwind’s ’Shadow Of Chinatown’ carries a suggested retail price of ’$24.95, which makes this release a full-price entry in the market. With that in mind, a better restoration would have been expected, but nonetheless, fans of this serial will most likely just cherish the fact that it can now be witnessed in its entirety on DVD.