Blu-ray Review: Che! - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Che! is a strange historical drama from 1969, directed by the late Richard Fleischer (soon to make a bigger splash another historical drama, Tora! Tora! Tora!). As suggested by the title, it tells the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who was Fidel Castro’s right-hand man during the Cuban Revolution (1953-1959) that ousted then-President of Cuba Fulgencio Batista. Nearly 40 years later, Steven Soderbergh directed a similarly titled, two-part biopic about Guevara, Che (2008), that is available from The Criterion Collection. Boutique label Twilight Time has issued the 1969 film as part of their Limited Edition Blu-ray series (3,000 copies released).

So what’s strange about Che!? The casting, for one thing. Egyptian-born star Omar Sharif plays Guevara, a rather bizarre bit of casting topped only by the fact that none other than Jack Palance plays Castro. Ethnically inauthentic casting aside, both actors deliver acceptable performances but these were unusual choices. The plot structure is odd as well, with many minor characters directly addressing the camera, documentary-style, to offer their wildly varying opinions of Guevara.

che cover (214x280).jpgRather than a balanced history lesson, Che! is something of a curiosity piece. Its 96-minute running time makes it easy to digest, but it hardly seems the type of film to inspire repeat viewing. The thrust of the plot follows a general outline of Guevara’s rise as he assists Castro during the overthrow of Batista, his subsequent questioning of Castro’s leadership, and his eventual downfall after trying to instigate a revolution in Bolivia. Producer and co-screenwriter Sy Bartlett’s Che! has the look and overall feel of a quickie exploitation flick and, while it might inspire some to look further into the facts of Guevara’s life, isn’t an especially well-crafted biopic.

There’s nothing to take issue with in Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation, which offers a very solid transfer. Che!’s Cuban scenes were shot in Puerto Rico while the Bolivian scenes were shot at Malibu Creek State Park. Charles F. Wheeler’s cinematography is pretty standard issue, but the 1080p transfer is clean and richly detailed. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix is perfectly fine; basic but free of any problematic issues.

Limited special features accompany Che!, including a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that isolates Lalo Schifrin’s score. There’s also a neat little vintage “making of” featurette that runs about six minutes. The film’s theatrical trailer and TV spot round out the supplements. Film historian Julie Kirgo penned the booklet essay.

For Che! ordering information, while supplies last, visit Twilight Time’s distributor Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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