View from the Couch: The Guns of Navarone, High Sierra, Respect, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
The heroes and heroines of The Guns of Navarone (Photo: Columbia)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
FURY (1936). As noted by the district attorney (Walter Abel) in Fritz Lang’s Fury (and as reiterated on the Blu-ray box copy), in the 49 years before this film’s release, there had been 6,000 people killed by lynch mobs in the U.S. Countless victims were innocent of any crime, which is the gist of this powerful drama. Spencer Tracy stars as Joe Wheeler, a good guy whose planned rendezvous with his fiancée (Sylvia Sidney) is interrupted when he’s hauled off to a small-town slammer by officers who think he might be part of a kidnapping outfit. Convinced that a hardened criminal is sitting in their town’s jail — and equally convinced that the law will go easy on him — the citizens decide to storm the prison and mete out their own brand of justice. And that’s just the first half of the movie. Fury was Lang’s first American film, and it’s a fine companion piece to his earlier German effort M: Whereas that 1931 classic was more ambiguous in its depiction of mob justice (what viewer wasn’t pleased when the criminal underground captured Peter Lorre’s child killer?), this one clearly shows the dangers of vigilantism. And given the January 6 terrorist attack by ignorant and ill-informed rednecks — behaving just like the right-wing rubes in this picture — Fury remains as timely as ever. Norman Krasna, who came up with the idea for the film (the screenplay was written by Lang and Bartlett Cormack), earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Story. Incidentally, if Joe’s dog looks familiar, that’s because he’s the same mutt who played Toto in The Wizard of Oz.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by filmmaker and film historian Peter Bogdanovich, with audio interview excerpts of Lang, and the theatrical trailer.
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961). Second only to West Side Story as the top moneymaking film of its year, The Guns of Navarone also ranks as one of the best of all World War II dramas. Based on Alistair MacLean’s smash bestseller, it centers on a team of Allied operatives tasked with destroying a pair of enormous German guns housed in a fortress overlooking the Aegean Sea. Among the members are Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck), forced to take over when the mission leader (Anthony Quayle) is severely injured; Corporal Miller (David Niven), the sardonic explosives expert; and Colonel Stavros (Anthony Quinn), the pragmatic Greek patriot. Beautifully paced by director J. Lee Thompson and producer-writer Carl Foreman, this 156-minute classic allows enough time for character development, plot complications (including the requisite double-cross by a member of the outfit), and several exciting set-pieces. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, this won the Oscar for Best Special Effects. A lesser (yet still entertaining) sequel appeared 17 years later in the form of Force 10 from Navarone (reviewed here), starring Robert Shaw and Harrison Ford.
Sony has just released The Guns of Navarone in a stunning 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital set. The film on 4K can be viewed either with or without the original roadshow intermission card; extras consist of a main title progression reel and the theatrical trailer. Extras on the Blu-ray include audio commentary by Thompson; an introduction by Foreman; several behind-the-scenes pieces; and the interactive feature The Resistance Dossier of Navarone.
HACKSAW RIDGE (2016). Like Howard Hawks’ superb Sergeant York (reviewed here) — a 1941 smash for which Gary Cooper won the first of his two Oscars — here’s another true-life tale about a pacifist who must reconcile his own faith with his nation’s need for him to serve. Andrew Garfield, previously best known as the Amazing Spider-Hipster in Marc Webb’s underwhelming pair of superhero pics, came into his own in 2016 with a pair of fine performances in both this and Martin Scorsese’s Silence. In Hacksaw Ridge, he’s cast as Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who refuses to pick up a weapon yet still manages to save dozens of his fellow soldiers during the fierce Battle of Okinawa in the waning months of World War II. Mel Gibson’s direction can hardly be deemed inspired — his Oscar nomination for Best Director should have gone elsewhere, but the Academy sadly wanted to forgive him for his racist and misogynistic ways — but because he’s less ham-fisted in his jingoistic zeal than Peter Berg, his workmanlike efficiency at least rarely gets in the way of a worthy storyline. The thoroughly modern Vince Vaughn is out of place as a barking sergeant, but generally colorless actors Sam Worthington and Luke Bracey fare well as, respectively, a questioning captain and a combative private. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and the aforementioned Best Director, this won for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
Hacksaw Ridge has been released on 4K as a Best Buy exclusive steelbook. Extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
HIGH SIERRA (1941). Although he was a big star at the time, George Raft was average as an actor and bland as a personality. He was notorious for turning down roles (and thus being constantly suspended by studios), which means it was a blessing that two of the approximately 12 movies that he refused to do were instead handed to Humphrey Bogart, a supporting actor struggling to become a leading man. Those two films, both released in 1941, did the trick: High Sierra made Bogart a star and The Maltese Falcon made him a superstar. Directed by Raoul Walsh from a script by W.R. Burnett (adapting his own novel) and John Huston (who would make his own directorial debut with The Maltese Falcon), High Sierra is a terrific drama featuring a phenomenal performance by Bogart and solid support from top-billed Ida Lupino. Bogie plays Roy Earle, a parolee who upon release immediately jumps into a plot to rob a swanky hotel. A moll named Marie (Lupino) finds herself attracted to Roy, who in turn falls for a sweet girl (Joan Leslie) with a club foot. Roy Earle proves to be one of the most sympathetic criminals in film history — adhering to his own code of honor, kind to women and animals, engaging in charitable deeds — which means his inevitable downfall takes on a tragic dimension not usually found in crime flicks. Rich in both its characterizations and its themes, this is among the best of the Warner Bros. output of the 1930s and ‘40s.
The two-disc Blu-ray edition from Criterion also contains 1949’s Colorado Territory, a Western remake also directed by Walsh and starring Joel McCrea. Extras include a 2003 making-of featurette; a 1997 episode of The South Bank Show focusing on Bogart; and the 2014 documentary The True Adventures of Raoul Walsh.
THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973). It’s a match made in … well, I don’t know where, but it’s amusing to note that this clever murder-mystery was co-written by, of all people, legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim and Psycho star Anthony Perkins. Directed with a light touch by Herbert Ross, this pretzel of a picture begins with the hit-and-run death of its title character (Yvonne Romain), a gossip columnist married to a powerful Hollywood producer (James Coburn). A year later, the producer invites a half-dozen of his friends — all suspects — to spend a week on his yacht playing an elaborate game that sends all participants off in search of clues. But once the festivities get underway, the guests — a director (James Mason), a movie star (Raquel Welch) and her manager-husband (Ian McShane), a screenwriter (Richard Benjamin) and his wife (Joan Hackett), and an agent (Dyan Cannon) — begin to suspect that something’s amiss, leading to a couple more deaths and the unraveling of the real mystery. The Last of Sheila is so intricately scripted that Sondheim and Perkins drop clues throughout the film that can be picked up by extremely attentive viewers — heck, even the title plays into the big reveal. Benjamin and Mason are especially good, while Cannon is a hoot as the verbally unfiltered agent.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Benjamin, Cannon and Welch, and the theatrical trailer.
THE OLD-FASHIONED WAY (1934) / IT’S A GIFT (1934) / THE BANK DICK (1940). The Kino label has just released three more W.C. Fields films on Blu-ray (each sold separately), with two of the titles bona fide classics.
The Old-Fashioned Way casts Fields as the Great McGonigle, a shyster who operates a traveling theatrical troupe. There’s too much emphasis on the play-within-the-film, although watching Fields spar with Baby LeRoy is a treat. It’s a Gift is essential Fields, with the actor cast as a hapless grocery store owner who dreams of purchasing an orange grove in California. The sequence featuring the destructive blind man (Charles Sellon) is the film’s most famous, although the lengthy set piece in which Fields tries to get some sleep is its funniest.
The Bank Dick arguably stands as Fields’ finest achievement, a series of wonderful gags credited to screenwriter “Mahatma Kane Jeeves” (Fields operating under a pseudonym, of course). The comedian stars as Egbert Souse (pronounced “Soo-say,” though nobody else bothers to say it that way), a hard-drinking layabout who’s mistakenly credited with the apprehension of a bank robber and thereupon finds employment as a security guard. Fields is at the top of his game in this riotous gem, and, yes, that’s Shemp Howard (of Three Stooges fame) as the bartender who keeps Souse suitably soused.
Blu-ray extras on all three films consist of film historian audio commentary and theatrical trailers.
The Old-Fashioned Way: ★★★
It’s a Gift: ★★★★
The Bank Dick: ★★★★
OLD HENRY (2021). Seasoned character actor Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) lands a rare lead role in this low-key, low-budget Western that feels as if it could have been made by Sam Peckinpah some 50 years earlier. Nelson stars as the title character, a seemingly unexceptional farmer working the land alongside his moody teenage son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). When Henry comes across an injured cowboy (Scott Haze) carrying a bag full of money, he helps the stranger while remaining wary of him; when three men (Stephen Dorff, Max Arciniega and Richard Speight Jr.) claiming to be the law show up in pursuit, he realizes he must use his wits and his skills to protect himself and his son from any potential trouble. Written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli, Old Henry manages to couple a revisionist take on the Western with a more conventional oater. The clean delineations between good and evil get uprooted in the final stretch, particularly with a climactic plot twist that will impress some as clever while striking others as too clever. Yet any narrative failings or familiarities get papered over by Nelson’s keen turn as a shrewd man whose past doesn’t come back to haunt him as much as it’s summoned to protect the homestead.
The only Blu-ray extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette.
REMINISCENCE (2021). In this disappointing sci-fi / neo-noir hybrid from writer-director Lisa Joy (co-creator of HBO’s Westworld and sister-in-law of Christopher Nolan), the future Miami is glimpsed as being largely underwater (thanks, climate change and Ron DeSantis!), with the days so hot that most people only come out at night. One of its denizens is Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), who, alongside his friend Watts (Thandiwe Newton), operates a machine that allows clients to revisit treasured memories, which are “broadcast” live in the facility and captured on tape. Into the joint walks Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), and Nick is immediately smitten. What he doesn’t realize until after she’s disappeared with another client’s tape is that she’s a femme fatale, and his discovery draws him further into an underworld crawling with criminal vermin. Reminiscence will obviously leave people seeing Blade Runner, Minority Report and Nolan’s Inception in its molecular structure, but adjust that microscope even more and flashes of From Hell and Strange Days also come into focus. Such liberal overlapping (intentional or otherwise) is nothing new, of course, and it’s fine when the results shine on their own — unfortunately, Reminiscence never establishes its own reason for being, choosing instead to sell a swampy mystery, a soggy action film, and a waterlogged love story. Even with the POV of the machine’s retrieved memories not making sense — wouldn’t they be through the client’s eyes rather than off to the side like a sitcom filmed live before a studio audience? — the film could have benefited from more science fiction and less noir friction.
Blu-ray extras consist of four making-of featurettes and the music video for “Save My Love” by Lonr and Amber Mark.
RESPECT (2021). Not many biopics — especially those centered around famous musicians — are willing to venture too far off the path of conventional storytelling, as evidenced by the repetitive structure of a humble upbringing, a sudden burst of success, pampered superstardom, damaged relationships with friends and family, a drug-or-booze-induced plunge into darkness, a spiritual reckoning, and, finally, a triumphant return to the top (often with the actor being replaced in the finale or the closing credits by footage of the actual subject). Respect, a look at the life and times of Aretha Franklin, follows suit: It’s an entertaining film with plenty of great music, but it unfolds in an expected and unsurprising manner. Its greatest asset is Jennifer Hudson — while she doesn’t disappear into the role like, say, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, she handles all the character beats solidly and all the musical numbers sensationally. Much of the film is devoted to her conflicts with two men in her life: her controlling father (Forest Whitaker) and her abusive first husband, Ted White (Marlon Wayans). As in most biopics, the more interesting material involves the artist immersed in the creative process — in this case, watching Aretha working alongside the Muscle Shoals musicians. Marc Maron offers strong support as producer Jerry Wexler, as does Mary J. Blige as Dinah Washington.
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette and four additional behind-the-scenes pieces examining Hudson’s performance, Liesl Tommy’s direction, the production and costume designs, and more.
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