Release Date(s)1970 (July 6, 2021)
Studio(s)Joseph E. Levine/AVCO Embassy (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
The Road to Salina (La route de Salina) was the only English Language feature from director Georges Lautner, and it’s not just unlike most of his other films, but most films in general. This dreamlike tale of mistaken identity defies easy categorization or interpretation. The film plays with notions of identity and perspective in ways that can be deeply unsettling, yet it never resorts to any obviously surrealistic tropes to do so. Lautner wrote the screenplay for the film along with Pascal Jardin and Jack Miller, working from a fairly obscure novel by Maurice Cury called Sur la Route de Salina. In their version of the story, a young drifter named Jonas (Robert Walker, Jr.) stops at an isolated service station where the owner Mara (Rita Hayworth) mistakes him for her long-lost son Rocky. He feels sorry for her and willingly takes on the role of Rocky, only to be disturbed when her daughter Billie (Mimsy Farmer) and her friend Warren (Ed Begley, Sr.) seem to accept the charade. Yet he continues to play along, and finds himself further entangled in games which end up beyond his own ability to control.
The majority of the film is structured as a flashback, but it’s easy to forget that everything that Lautner is showing us is being related by a narrator who cannot be reliable as he is losing track of his own identity. Worse, some of what we see are flashbacks within that flashback, and since he wasn’t present for those events, he can only imagine what happened based on what others have told him. If his own perceptions can be called into question, then much more so his perceptions of other people’s perceptions. That becomes very important during a reveal near the end of the film where nothing can be taken at face value. There are many films which play with themes of identity and perception, but few which have done so in quite the same way.
The Road to Salina was one of the final films for both Hayworth and Begley, and it was a worthy sendoff for both of them. Hayworth in particular was beginning to show undiagnosed signs of Alzheimer’s disease and her experiences on her last few films were not necessarily good ones, but she was treated well on this particular set and it ended up being a happy memory for her. But the film arguably belongs to Farmer, whose rather singular allure was perfect for the character of Billie. She makes it easy to understand why Jonas would continue in a situation which could not possibly have a happy ending for him.
Part of the popularity of The Road to Salina has been due to its soundtrack, which has been more readily available than the film itself. Inspired by the Pink Floyd soundtrack to Barbet Schroeder’s More, it uses a combination of a score by Bernard Gerard as well as music by Christophe, Clinic, and Ian Anderson. A couple of those tracks gained notoriety when Quentin Tarantino used them in Kill Bill: Vol. 2. The soundtrack was re-released successfully in 2003, but it would take another eighteen years for the film itself to finally see the light of day in a legitimate North American home video release.
The Road to Salina was shot in 35 mm Panavision by cinematographer Maurice Fellous and it was framed at 2.35:1. This restoration was created from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, and the results are simply gorgeous. With the usual caveat that there’s softness during opticals like the opening titles, the bulk of the film is beautifully sharp and detailed. Textures, such as sand, rocks, and clothing, display plenty of fine detail. Facial textures are also strong, even the subtle details of Mimsy Farmer’s smooth skin beiing readily apparent. There is little damage visible aside from fleeting scratches, yet there’s still a fine sheen of grain throughout. The color balance is good with natural looking flesh tones, and the contrast range is strong with solid black levels and only a bit of crush visible in the darkest areas of the screen. Fans who have had to make do for decades with low quality versions of the film will be stunned at how good this transfer looks. It’s a revelation.
The primary audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with a French 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio track also included. Optional English subtitles are available. It’s worth noting that since this was the only English language film that Lautner ever made, the default English track is the best choice. While the frequency range is limited with little bass extension, everything still sounds clean and the dialogue is clear. The legendary score does shine, even if a bit more bass would have helped.
Extras on the disc include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson
- Trailers from Hell with Larry Karaszewski (HD – 3:29)
- And Hope to Die Trailer (SD – 3:21)
- The Widow Couderc Trailer (HD – 2:47)
- Rider on the Rain Trailer (SD – 3:53)
- The Man Who Haunted Himself Trailer (SD – 3:09)
- Dog Day Trailer (SD – 2:29)
- Le Professionnel Trailer (SD – 2:12)
Film historians Berger, Mitchell, and Thompson admit right up front that having the opportunity to do this commentary was a dream for them, and it’s hard to imagine a better dream team to do it. They talk about how The Road to Salina was Lautner’s only attempt at breaking into English language features, and that this was significant since his French films didn’t always translate well for the international market. They also talk about the fact that the plot may feel like something out of James M. Cain, yet none of the characters are bad people—even Jonas is a nice guy who’s just trying to find himself and ends up doing so by becoming someone else. As a result, the film doesn’t fit into easy genre categories. The style of the film is also different, and they point out how it feels like an existential film from another planet since it was set in Mexico but filmed in the Canary Islands. They also cover how it fits into the filmography of George Lautner, his relationship with his long-time cinematographer Maurice Fellous, and how Lautner was actually an icon in France with popular audiences rather than just arthouse ones. Berger, Mitchell, and Thompson display an infectious enthusiasm for the film, with Berger noting that it was going to be difficult for them to actually discuss the film instead of just saying “Ooh, aah” throughout. It’s a great commentary track for those who wish to learn more about a nearly lost film. In the Trailers from Hell commentary, Karaszewski refers to The Road to Salina appropriately as a “drive-in arthouse movie” and talks about how the film fit into the careers of the lead actors. This segment was shot prior to Kino Lorber acquiring distribution rights to the film as he also bemoans how the film has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. Thankfully, his wishes were fulfilled by this beautiful presentation.
The Road to Salina is a film which had a profound impact on those who saw it when it was first released in 1970, and its inaccessibility on home video has given it almost legendary status in the years since then. Fortunately, the film lives up to its hype, as this lovely Blu-ray from Kino Lorber demonstrates.
- Stephen Bjork
(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)