{2jtab: Movie Review}

Wusa - Blu-ray Review


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4 stars

Predicting the right wing's media dominance with an intelligent script and a captivating group of actors of course WUSA – upon on its initial release in 1970 – was a giant flop.  I’ll wager a bet that some of you have never even heard of the film but know of its performers.  Ignored by audiences and disavowed by Paramount (even with this new Blu-ray release), it seems the underlying commentary in WUSA was just too much to swallow.  Even the rising stars of the “new” Hollywood movement paid it little attention.  And so it went to the cinema graveyard.

Lightning did not strike twice for star Paul Newman and director Stuart Rosenberg who, after wowing critics and audiences with Cool Hand Luke, reunited three years later to capitalize on right-wing radio and its emerging stranglehold over American audiences.  Radio?  The “voice” of the conservative movement?  Yeah, right.  I’m sure that was what went through some heads.  But, in the age of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, it doesn’t seem too hard a pill to swallow.

WUSA – otherwise known as Paul Newman’s epic flop – is due for reconsideration.  It’s one of the only films I know that works hard at presenting the battle between idealism and cynicism as flawed from the beginning due to the very idea of self-interest.  And all of this went unnoticed.  WUSA and its message of exploited populist unease was 40 years ahead of its time.

With the tag line “Love It or Leave It”, WUSA powerfully rests on a tense and knowingly of-the-moment screenplay by Robert Stone (based on his own debut novel, A Hall of Mirrors).  Newman plays a drunk rambler who stumbles into New Orleans to pick up a debt from a scam-artist preacher named Farley (Laurence Harvey) and ends up working for a pro-business, anti-immigrant, subliminally racist radio station as a deejay.  He doesn’t exactly believe in the radical lunacy he’s spouting but doesn’t offer apologies for them either.

As the movie progresses, Rheinhardt falls into an aimless relationship with Geraldine (Joanne Woodward) and meets – or should I suggest collides with – an idealistic leftist named Rainey (Anthony Perkins) who's working for the local welfare office. Soon an act of progressive rebellion is both ensured and doomed as the characters gather together and rally for their different causes.  It is, of course, exactly what the management of WUSA wants.

The movie's rich political allegory led Newman, at the time of its release, to claim WUSA as the most important film he has ever completed.  It’s unapologetically cynical and, rather faithfully, depicts where America is now politically.  Unease.  Unease.  Unease.  The film’s message and its players – like today’s politicians - hide themselves behind the flag of patriotism and religion and wraps things up nicely with a riot at a patriotic pep-rally when an assassin on a catwalk – acting just as WUSA expects – opens fire.

While written to be a bit abstract for the 1970’s, WUSA gets its odd strength from being spot-on in describing a situation – between two opposing ideologies - of corrupted characters that end up sold out or destroyed by the modern machinery of hate.  This is, in fact, the modern America we currently live in.  Critics dismissed it back in its original release as being a victim of its own self-importance.  Modern audiences – especially those fueled by politics and outrage and world weariness – will have a movie that echoes the current one.

Sour smiles and hidden agendas are the norm with the call letters of WUSA.  Perfect film?  Hardly.  But – with a supporting cast that includes Pat Hingle, Cloris Leachman, and Wayne Rogers (with music by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band) – there’s a lot more to the film than that of a simple opportunist who is only looking out for himself.

Strangely fascinating and blunt as hell, WUSA is like looking at the present by way of the past.

{2jtab: Film Details}

Wusa - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13.
Runtime: 115 mins.
: Stuart Rosenberg
Writer: Robert Stone
Paul Newman; Joann Woodward; Anthony Perkins; Cloris Leachman
: Drama | Romance
Love it or leave it
Memorable Movie Quote: "I'm a survivor. Ain't that great?"
Paramount Pictures
Blu-ray Distributor:
Olive Films
Official Site:
Release Date:
August 19, 1970
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 23, 2013

Synopsis: A radio station in the Deep South becomes the focal point of a right-wing conspiracy.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

Wusa - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

3 stars

Blu-ray Experience
3.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 23, 2013
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
: None
English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

Olive Films rescues another gem from Paramount’s catalog.  While it hasn’t been restored, WUSA gets new life in High-Definition.  Mastered from a preserved (though not restored) print, the disc is a little noisy with coarse colors and overly grainy image: eminently watchable and in some ways appropriate to the subject matter, but hardly stellar.  There’s an overuse of harsh angles and a red-white-and-blue color scheme but it all glows while still preserving the film grain with this 1080p transfer.  About midway through the film, you get an intimate concert by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and in its DTS-HD Master Audio Mono the sound is pretty clear.  Dialogue – due to the original mix – is a bit lower than normal but nothing a few adjustments can’t fix.



  • None

Special Features:

None.  We should all just be happy the film has been reintroduced to the public for purchase.

{2jtab: Trailer}