The Wheeler Dealers – Blu-ray Review

The Movie (3/5)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It applies to many things in our world, but it most definitely applies to movies. Of all genres too – sci-fi movies, action thrillers, musicals. The tools become fancier, the names changes, but they generally come out the exact same way. This saying applies most of all however, to the romantic comedy. The story is always the same; man accidentally meets woman, man sweeps woman off her feet – this can happen lighten fast or slow as molasses, man screws up and spurns woman, man makes everything right. You can take this formula and play mad libs with the genders, but the ultimate goal is the same, and they’ve pretty much stuck to that formula since the 1930s. The Wheeler Dealers, a 1963 MGM production featuring James Garner and Lee Remick, is one of those pictures.

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The Wheeler Dealers is the story of Henry Tyroon, a down on his luck Texas deal making business man and Molly Thatcher, a stockbroker for a firm run by a sexist boss who’s decided to challenge her with the impossible or face termination. Their paths meet when Henry, desperate to find funding to make up for his latest oil failure, runs into Molly as he attempts to find funding in New York. Realizing he may be the only chance of saving her job from ruin, she entices him into helping her sell the shares of a dead stock that she’s been tasked with, and joins along for the ride as he uses his charm and connections to wheel and deal through a maze of business men, products, and investors while attempting to thwart his multiple romantic advances in order to make sure her job is secure.

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I know my plot summary is a bit basic, but as I said: this movie follows the standard romantic comedy formula. These two leads meet each other unexpectedly, get swept up into each other’s lives; Henry in an attempt to sweep Molly off her feet, and Molly in an attempt to take advantage of Henry’s skills in order to save her own skin. Things are hostile and tense at first as Molly attempts to push away Henry’s not so subtle advances, but over the course of the film she melts, and then Henry gets caught up in something convenient and contrived that pushes her away. It all concludes with a standard happy ending, and everything works out – it’s a pleasant, paint by numbers affair that doesn’t stray too far from the beaten path, but what’s so wrong about that?

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What makes The Wheeler Dealers feel distinct, aside from its delightfully goofy theme song that plays during the film’s opening moments, is its willingness to dabble in the absurd to create comedic moments. At any given moment Henry, played with wonderful faux-southern charm by James Garner, is dealing in art, or drilling for oil in Massachusetts, or playing all sorts of different people against each other in order to make ends meet. And with the way Garner plays the role, with such natural enthusiasm and charisma, it’s easy to get swept up in his character’s playful attitude towards business and capitalism. He makes it look easy, like something a common man could jump into and be successful in. In the other corner, his romantic counterpart Molly, is played with sharp skepticism and confidence by actress Lee Remick. She challenges Henry at every turn, proving to be an even match for Garner’s oozing charm. Their chemistry on screen as their characters fall for each other is natural, and believable, a good quality to bring to the table for romantic comedies. The supporting cast, which is chocked full of character actors such as Phil Harris, Chill Wills, and John Astin play into their roles with energy, bumbling about as they try to ride the coattails of Henry, either to the top or to prison.

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Adapted from a book of the same name by its author George Goodman and screenwriter Ira Wallach, the film is witty, but never inspires much laughter. There are plenty of clever lines, and they’re well-acted by the cast as mentioned above, but it feels like it does the bare-minimum for nearly two hours. The same could be said for Arthur Hiller’s direction, which doesn’t really have any distinguishing qualities. He seems to just sort of steer the ship towards clear waters. The film, which was edited by Tom McAdoo, is well paced, and the Panavision lensed cinematography by Charles Lang is adequate work, but never really inspires any real admiration.

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Overall, I enjoyed watching The Wheeler Dealers, and when the credits rolled I was adequately satisfied with the product laid out before me. It didn’t inspire any sort of deep thought, or had any real staying power, but it was a perfectly good way to waste an afternoon. Don’t go in expecting the wheel to be reinvented, and you will by no means find yourself disappointed.

The Video (4.5/5)

The Wheeler Dealers was shot on 4-perf 35mm film with Panavision anamorphic lenses, which results in a projected image with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Sourced from a new HD master prepared by the team at Warner Archive, the film is presented in 1080p resolution, in the original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio.

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As far as 60s romantic comedies go, The Wheeler Dealers looks rock solid in its 1080p debut. The transfer of the Metrocolor processed image reveals excellent yellows, reds, and browns, as well as cool blues that make for a perfectly natural color scheme for the film. Detail in most wide and mid-shots resolve okay for the most part, as testament to the quality Panavision lenses used on the production. Grain for the most part is even and filmic, ramping up occasionally when titles and optical transitions are used in the movie. As is usual, the folks at Warner Archive have crafted a quality video presentation of an oft-forgotten catalogue title from the MGM vaults.

The Audio (4/5)

The Wheeler Dealers was originally screened in theaters with a mono optical soundtrack on film prints. For home video, Warner Archive has chosen to recreate that experience using a DTS-Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack.

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An average film begets an average soundtrack, and that’s what The Wheeler Dealers has here in playback. As far as mono tracks go, it has an alright balance between sound effects, music, and dialogue, and has excellent clarity in terms of extraneous pops and clicks from the source material. It might not raise the bar, but it does comfortably sit right on it.

Special Features/Packaging (2.5/5)

Released to home video by Warner Archive, The Wheeler Dealers has been packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.  The front artwork features a re-appropriation of one of the film’s original theatrical posters, featuring a drawing of Garner looking out in the distance, a tag line for the film in bright yellow with black text, and a drawing of Remick in a towel on the other side, with supporting cast and the film’s title featured below. The back artwork features a shot from the film in which Garner kisses Remick, along side a tagline for the film, and a paragraph about the film. Below all of this is theatrical credits and technical specs for the release. A decent packaging job for such a borderline obscure movie.

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The only feature included on this release is the film’s original theatrical trailer, as seen before its release in the early 60s. Sounds about right for a film of this renown.

Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)

Video

Region Coding: None

Codec: AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Audio

DTS-Master Audio 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles

English

Runtime: 107 minutes

Overall (3.5/5)

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The Wheeler Dealers, reexamined fifty plus years later, is a perfectly average romantic comedy, starring two solid leads who do a fine job going through the average motions of a by the books rom-com. Had it not starred actors and actresses who were relevant in the 60s, you could shoot it today and it’d feel perfectly at home in 2017. It’s universal; it’s the kind of movie my baby boomer mom would definitely be into, if that tells you anything. Presented with an excellent 1080p visual transfer and decent audio, as well as fine packaging, this release is perfect for fans of the film or those looking to enjoy a pleasant film on a lazy afternoon.

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Chris Haller

Chris is a 2017 graduate of The College at Brockport with a BS in Biological Sciences, and is an initial teacher candidate in the State of New York. When not ripping Blu-rays to shreds, he can be found pining for the days of Sega Saturn, or playing a Laserdisc.

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