DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: MEN IN WAR(Olive Films)
Filmmaker Anthony Mann took a break from Westerns (Winchester 73, The Naked Spur) to make this intense yet thoughtful 1957 Korean War drama adapted from Van Van Praag’s novel Day Without End.Robert Ryan plays Lt. Benson, the weary leader of a small platoon stranded behind enemy lines. During the perilous trek through the countryside to reunite with their unit, the soldiers encounter Sgt. Montana (Aldo Ray), who is escorting a shell-shocked colonel (Robert Keith) away from the front.A clash of wills develops between the wary Benson and the impulsive Montana, who tends to shoot first and (occasionally) ask questions later. Even more galling to Benson is that Montana has an unerring ability to correctly and immediately size up a combat situation, and act without hesitation.This is not the standard flag-waving, true-blue ode to heroism – although the characters are undeniably heroic – but a serious, somber depiction of those who wage war. It’s also very much an anti-war movie, conveying the fatigue, stress and sheer panic endured by soldiers.The superb (and largely, unaccountably forgotten) Ryan is in top form, and Montana may well be Ray’s finest hour. An excellent supporting cast includes several notables in early screen roles, including Vic Morrow, Nehemiah Persoff, L.Q. Jones, Phillip Pine and James Edwards.The DVD retails for $19.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95.
BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD!
(Olive Films): Tony Randall is “Our Man in Marrakesh” (the film’s alternate title), an American architect mixed up in international espionage in this light 1966 spy spoof that’s more Hitchcockian than Bondian, with Senta Berger, Herbert Lom, Wilfrid Hyde-White, John LeMesurier, Klaus Kinski and Terry-Thomas in support.
“CIVIL WAR 360”
(Smithsonian Channel/Inception Media Group): This three-part documentary ($19.98 retail) offers three different perspectives of the title conflict, hosted by celebrities who have traced their own family histories that far back: Ashley Judd (“The Union”), Trace Adkins (“The Confederacy”) and Dennis Haysbert (“Fight for Freedom”).
“COMBAT!”: THE COMPLETE SERIES
(RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment): A self-explanatory DVD collection ($229.98 retail) of all 152 episodes from the entire five-season run (1962-’67) of the acclaimed ABC World War II series, widely considered one of the most credible and realistic ever shown on television. Vic Morrow (who earned an Emmy nomination in 1963) and Rick Jason headed the regular cast, and a star-studded line-up of guest stars included Robert Duvall, James Caan, Eddie Albert, Mickey Rooney, Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper, Claude Akins, Telly Savalas, James Coburn, Lee Marvin, Leonard Nimoy and many more.
(Olive Films): John Wayne defends China by leading a team of fearless fliers against the Japanese in the days before Pearl Harbor in this rousing, fact-based 1942 flag-waver that became Republic Pictures’ biggest box-office hit to that time and earned Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Sound Recording and Best Special Effects, the latter dated but still impressive. The film opens with a quote from Chiang Kai-shek praising the actual Flying Tigers (!). John Carroll stands out as a hotshot flyboy who proves his mettle when it counts most.
HOME OF THE BRAVE
(Olive Films):Stanley Kramer produced, Mark Robson directed, and Carl Foreman adapted Arthur Laurents’ acclaimed play as an award-winning 1949 World War II drama focusing on a young black veteran (James Edwards) suffering from psychosomatic paralysis after a dangerous mission. One of the first American films to examine racism in the military – in the play it was anti-Semitism – and still relevant, with solid performances by all concerned, including Steve Brodie (excellent as a racist soldier), Lloyd Bridges, Frank Lovejoy, Douglas Dick and Jeff Corey. Foreman and Corey were later blacklisted during one of Hollywood’s darkest, most shameful periods.
THE LAST CHANCE
(Alpha Home Entertainment): Director Leopold Lindtberg’s excellent 1945 World War II drama follows two escaped Allied POWs (John Hoy and Ray Reagan) as they attempt to reach Switzerland through the war-torn Italian countryside, where they encounter refugees and dispirited villagers. This award-winning, neo-realist saga – one of the first to allude to the Holocaust — was acquired for US distribution by MGM but is largely, undeservedly forgotten now. The only screen credit for either Hoy or Reagan, and only the second for E.G. Morrison, cast as a escaped Allied officer.
(Warner Home Video): The Blu-ray bow ($19.98 retail) of the rousing, award-winning 1990 World War II drama about the crew members of the titular B-17 bomber, with a topnotch ensemble cast including Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Billy Zane, Tate Donovan, Harry Connick Jr., D.B. Sweeney, Sean Astin, David Strathairn (terrific as the base commander) and John Lithgow (memorable as an overzealous Army public-relations officer). This deserved to be a bigger hit than it was. George Fenton’s soaring score is a standout. Rated PG-13.
“REPUBLIC OF DOYLE”: SEASON 1
(RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): A three-DVD collection ($39.99 retail) of all 12 episodes (plus bonus features) from the premiere 2010 season of the award-winning Canadian comedy/mystery series starring Allan Hawco as a private investigator who runs a Newfoundland detective agency with his ex-cop father (Sean McGinley). Guest stars include Victor Garber, Nicholas Campbell, Ian Tracey and Gordon Pinsent.
(Alpha Home Entertainment): Pretty good feature version of the pretty good 1941 Universal serial, focusing on the high-flying adventures of the titular air squadron, with Donald Woods (in a dual role), Robert Armstrong, Billy Halop, Reed Hadley and suave Edward (Eduardo) Ciannelli as the villain.
STRANGER ON THE PROWL
(Olive Films): Paul Muni (in his second-tolast film) plays a nameless vagrant in post-war Italy, on the lam for accidental murder and abetted by a wide-eyed street urchin (Vittorio Manuta) in this neo-realist 1952 melodrama (originally titled Imbarco a mezzanotte) scripted by Ben Barzman and directed by Joseph Losey, who adopted the joint pseudonym “Andrea Forzano” because both were blacklisted – and the film’s paranoid tone is likely a reflection. Excellent use of locations, but narrative gaps are due to almost 20 minutes being cut for the US release. Still, Muni and Manuta’s performances compensate nicely.
UP THE JUNCTION
(Olive Films): Director Peter Collinson’s 1968 adaptation of Nell Dunn’s stories stars Susan Hampshire as a wealthy girl who tries to fit in as a working girl in blue-collar Battersea. An atmospheric, grown-up portrait of the swinging ‘60s, punctuated by Manfred Mann’s songs, but tends toward overlength. Dennis Waterman plays Kendall’s love interest, Susan George a co-worker, and scene-stealer Aubrey Morris an eccentric realtor. Rated R (which it wouldn’t receive today).
WAR OF THE WORLDS GOLIATH
(Anderson Digital/Barking Cow Media Group): Taking a page (or two) from H.G. Wells’ classic story, this PG-13-rated, animated science-fiction thriller is set on Earth in a parallel universe, where resistance fighters await a second wave of invaders from the planet Mars. The voice-over cast includes Adrian Paul, Adam Baldwin, Elizabeth Gracen and Peter Wingfield. The DVD retails for $14.99, the 3-D Blu-ray for $20.99. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2014, Mark Burger.