DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Paul Newman Collection

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ken_McAlinden, Jan 23, 2007.

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

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    The Paul Newman Collection
    Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)/The Left-Handed Gun (1958)/The Young Philadelphians(1959)/Harper(1966)/Pocket Money(1972)/The MacKintosh Man(1973)/The Drowning Pool(1975)

    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 1956-1975

    Rated: Unrated-PG

    Film Length: Various

    Aspect Ratio: Various

    Subtitles: Various

    Release Date: November 14, 2006
    I was always a character actor. I just looked like Little Red Riding Hood.
    -Paul Newman
    Warner's release of "The Paul Newman Collection" offers up seven previously unreleased films on DVD spanning his breakthrough performance in 1956's "Somebody Up There Likes Me" to his 1975 detective sequel 'The Drowning Pool". Over this period, Newman went from being a contract player dismissed as a blue-eyed Brando "knock-off" to one of the biggest movie stars in the world with enough clout to help launch "First Artists" an actors-oriented production company.

    The Films

    Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956 - MGM - 113 minutes)

    Directed By: Robert Wise

    Starring: Paul Newman, Pier Angeli, Everett Sloane

    Paul Newman's cinematic breakthrough performance was playing Rocky Graziano in this boxing biopic from 1956. He had previously appeared in the ill-conceived "The Silver Chalice", but did not seem well suited to stuffy toga and sandals roles. James Dean was originally slated to play Graziano, but his tragic death forced the producers to re-cast the film, giving Newman his big break.

    The film, adapted by Ernest Lehman from Graziano's autobiography, tells the story of his rise from juvenile delinquency to become a champion middleweight boxer in the post WW2 years. The film begins with a brief childhood sequence showing Rocky, born Thomas Rocco Barbella in New York City, being bullied by his father, a failed boxer. It quickly cuts to his teen years showing his various skirmishes with authority and involvement in petty crime, eventually resulting in his incarceration. When released from prison, he is immediately drafted, and his thuggish instincts quickly get him in trouble with his superiors, resulting in his going AWOL. During his AWOL period, he experiments with boxing and proves to have quite a knack for it, fighting under the alias of "Rocky Graziano" in hopes of avoiding a court martial. This does not work, though, and he finds himself arrested, dishonorably discharged, and incarcerated for a year at Leavenworth penitentiary. The rest of the film tracks his efforts to channel his anger and make something decent out of the shambles of his personal and professional life.

    The film, directed by Robert Wise, avoids most of the lulls and pitfalls found in other biopics that cover such long periods of a well-known personality's life. It touches all of the bases one expects from such a film, but does so at a blistering pace that is reflected not just in the editing, but in the mile-a-minute dialog as well. In this way, it is reminiscent of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in construction if not in personality.

    The cast is terrific, with Newman inhabiting the character in a performance that is a hair on the mannered/gimmicky side, but works perfectly in the context of the film. Eileen Heckart and Pier Angeli also turn in solid performances, transcending the archetypal/stereotypical mother and wife roles in a manner that is key to the film's success. By creating convincing characters who believe that Rocky is worth caring for, they keep the audience in his corner while he is behaving as a seemingly irredeemable thug.

    On the technical side, the black and white location photography on the streets of New York as well as inside Stillman's Gym in Manhattan by legendary MGM cameraman Joseph Ruttenberg adds a sense of authenticity that more studio-bound productions could not achieve. The boxing sequences, particularly the climactic bout between Graziano and Tony Zale, are expertly shot, which is not surprising since Wise had demonstrated his chops at putting together exhilarating boxing sequences years before when he made "The Set-Up".

    The film features the cinematic debuts of two prominent actors. Early on, Steve McQueen has a small role as a member of young Rocky's gang. The first shot of him with super curly hair in a pool hall holding a knife somewhat unconvincingly made him look like a precursor to Russ Tamblyn in "West Side Story", not exactly the persona that he would cultivate in later years. In a larger, but still uncredited, supporting role, Robert Loggia plays Frankie Peppo, a convict who directs Rocky towards boxing in an early scene, but then re-appears to coerce him into throwing fights later in the picture.

    The Left Handed Gun (1958 - Warner Brothers - 102 minutes)

    Directed By: Arthur Penn

    Starring: Paul Newman, Lita Milan, John Dehner, Hurd Hatfield

    The film is set against the Lincoln County Cattle Wars in late 19th century New Mexico. William "Billy the Kid" Bonney (Newman), a young gunman with a mysterious and violent past, is befriended and given work by John Tunstall a benevolent rancher who becomes something of a father figure. When Tunstall is ambushed and killed by four representatives of a competing cattle interest, including a local Sheriff, the hot-headed Billy swears revenge. His single minded determination to dispatch violent justice regardless of consequences results in an escalation of the cattle wars, eventually even bringing him into conflict with Pat Garrett, a saloon owner who befriended him and tried to steer him away from trouble.

    Billy is portrayed by Newman as a troubled outcast adolescent loner with parental issues. It is interesting to compare Newman's take on Billy the Kid to that of Rocky Graziano. Graziano was played as a man with almost no internal life, with everything he felt physically manifesting itself as soon as he feels it. In contrast, Newman plays Billy the Kid as man-child with all kinds of internal turmoils eating away at him and manifesting themselves in occasionally unusual and eccentric behavior, punctuated by cathartic explosions of violence.

    The psychological elements being so front and center make "The Left Handed Gun" fairly unique for a 50s western. That was the most interesting element for me. The movie is well cast, with Newman giving an effective performance that is perhaps dialed a bit too high in a couple of scenes, drawing attention to the fact that he is a grown man trying to act like a child. The always reliable John Dehner does a particularly fine job as a likable Pat Garrett. The film falls short of greatness by not taking the time to sufficiently develop its complex themes. The relationship with Tunstall is sketched in very quickly in broad strokes, and all we know of Billy's past parental issues are covered by a couple of lines of dialog. Also, we do not get to see much of the four men who ambushed Tunstall before Billy is busy dispatching them. This keeps the plot humming along, which was probably what the studio was looking for, but the action scenes have less impact when the underlying motivations are not strongly established.

    Arthur Penn, in his film directorial debut, shows an early affinity for societal outcasts that would serve him well for the rest of his career, especially when it intersected with the emerging counterculture in the 60s. The film, while not perfect, is certainly interesting and influential. The character of Moultrie (Hatfield), a sycophant who sells embellished stories of Billy to the eastern newspapers is a clear antecedent to Saul Rubinek's Beauchamp character from Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven".

    The Young Philadelphians (1959 - Warner Brothers - 136 minutes)

    Directed By: Vincent Sherman

    Starring: Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Alexis Smith, Brian Keith, Robert Vaughn

    After four 1958 films and an Oscar nomination, Paul Newman was established as a known bankable commodity. For his last film under contract with Warner Brothers, they found a role that was ideally suited to his image as a smart, classy regular guy.

    "The Young Philadelphians", adapted by James Gunn from a novel by Richard Powell is a story set in the elite society of post World War II Philadelphia. Newman plays Anthony Lawrence, a man with a distinguished family name, but little wealth, due to complicated circumstances detailed in the film's prologue. He is intelligent and hard-working, and is about to graduate from Princeton with the intent of continuing on to law school. Over the span of the story, he finds himself torn between his essential good nature and the demands of the conservative upper-crust society in which his name and his mother's aspirations have placed him. The plot, at its core, is a complex tabloid melodrama filled to the brim with sophisticated back-stabbing and suppressed family secrets. It culminates in Anthony, now a successful, ethically flexible, attorney, having to navigate the mounting of a successful defense for a friend in a sensationalistic criminal trial while under the threat of having his own family secrets exposed if he airs too much of the dirty laundry of the victim's prominent family.

    The film is a near-masterpiece of tight construction and skillful editing. The twelve minute prologue feels like you have been given another whole movie's worth of information before we are transported forward twenty years and the main story starts. The multitude of supporting characters are well drawn and easy to remember as they weave in and out of the complex plot. Director Vincent Sherman's knack for giving his characters memorable introductions serves the film well in that respect. The film only really stumbles during the trial scenes of its final act, which feel somewhat rushed. The payoff is satisfying, but falls short of what the rest of the film was promising, ignoring the high-stakes fallout that seemed to be looming over Anthony's head.

    The film is well cast. Barbara Rush is effective as a spoiled debutante with an idealistic streak. Brian Keith, John Williams, and Billie Burke are especially memorable in supporting roles. The film also includes very early screen appearances for Robert Vaughn and Adam West. Vaughn earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Anthony's troubled alcoholic friend who is being systematically crushed by his vindictive blueblood family. Fans of West from the 60s Batman series will enjoy seeing him in the prologue. On his wedding night, he tells his new bride in his signature overacting style, "I can't love you, Kate. I can't love anyone". Translated from the language of the Hollywood Production Code into modern English, this roughly works out to "I am gayer than the first jay of spring". His over the top performance clashes with most of the rest of the cast's approach, but his part is very brief.

    Overall, the film is an entertaining and fast moving melodrama of high-society political intrigue marred only slightly by a tepid climax.

    Harper (1966 - Warner Brothers - 121 minutes)

    Directed By: Jack Smight

    Starring: Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill, Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner, Pamela Tiffin, Shelley Winters, Strother Martin

    During the 60s, spy vs. spy espionage films such as the James Bond series were all the rage. By the end of the decade, gritty cop films such as "Dirty Harry" and "Bullitt" were in vogue. Somewhere in the middle of these trends, arrived 1966's "Harper", a throwback to the private detective films that had seemingly run their course through the end of the noir era more than a decade earlier.

    "Harper" is based on Ross MacDonald's "The Moving Target", the first in a series of novels about a detective named Lew Archer. Archer's name has been changed to "Harper" for the film. Reportedly, since the studio were only licensing the rights to one novel rather than the series, MacDonald wanted them to change the character's name, and Newman had a recent string of luck with "H" titles such as "Hud" and "The Hustler".

    The mechanics of the story involve Harper (Newman), at the recommendation of an old friend (Hill) being hired by a wealthy woman (Bacall) to find her husband. As he begins his investigation, Harper becomes increasingly convinced that foul play is involved, which is confirmed when a ransom demand is delivered. As the complex plot unweaves, Harper crosses paths with the missing man's daughter (Tiffin), a pool-boy/gigolo/pilot who is game for assistant detective work (Wagner), a washed-up actress (Winters), a junkie jazz singer (Harris), a spiritual guru (Martin), and his own divorce-seeking wife (Leigh), as well as a number of other colorful characters.

    The film is a tremendous amount of fun for fans of the genre. While it can be a bit disorienting seeing a noir-ish detective story play out in an "Austin Powers" world (Exhibit A - Pamela Tiffin's go-go dancing poolside introduction), the literate and amusing script by William Goldman delivered by a strong cast led by Newman works from beginning to end. Newman really inhabits the character and delivers a well-rounded performance that hits all of the right comedic and dramatic notes with great style.

    Pocket Money (1972 - First Artists - 102 minutes)

    Directed By: Stuart Rosenberg

    Starring: Paul Newman, Lee Marvin, Strother Martin, Wayne Rogers

    "Pocket Money" is an oddball, lightly comic, modern western featuring two huge stars that doesn't really work. Paul Newman, cast 180 degrees against type, plays Jim Kane, a naive, but fundamentally decent Arizona cowboy with no head for business who is financially strapped to the point of asking for relief from both his bank and his ex-spouse. An acquaintance, Stretch Russell (Rogers) connects him with a sleazy cattle broker, Bill Garrett (Martin), and offers him a job rounding up rodeo cattle in Mexico and driving them to a border town. Kane accepts the job even though all indications are that he is going to be fleeced on the deal. Kane enlists the help of a friend Leonard (Marvin), an American living in Mexico. We then proceed to watch Kane, assisted by Leonard, be overwhelmed and outmatched in nearly every aspect of his business dealings for 80 minutes.

    While the premise has the makings of an amusing film (the pairing of two dumb guys, one who is nice and honest to a fault, and the other who thinks that he is actually smart, is a time-tested formula) the execution is greatly lacking. The film is fragmented, lengthy stretches feel weakly improvised, and the characters' behavior seems arbitrary and motivated simply to create opportunities for dialog exchanges that are more obtuse than comic. As such, no chemistry is really developed between Jim and Leonard, whose relationship is ostensibly at the center of the film. It feels like an actors workshop exercise more than a coherent film. Newman and Marvin both appear game, with scenes that would be amusing on their own, but somehow seem less entertaining as part of the disconnected tissue of the actual movie (see the included theatrical trailer for proof of this). The film is an early screenwriting credit for Terence Malick, who in later years would go on to write and direct a number of highly regarded films that were not funny on purpose.

    Strother Martin steals every scene in which he appears, and Wayne Rogers has some funny bits in the film's last act, but it never really gels or adds up to much. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize a young Hector Elizondo and stuntman turned actor Richard Farnsworth in supporting roles.

    My lasting impression of the film is that Lee Marvin should have done more comedies, but not like this one. We'll always have "Cat Ballou", I suppose.

    The MacKintosh Man (1973 - Warner Brothers- 99 minutes)

    Directed By: John Huston

    Starring: Paul Newman, James Mason, Dominique Sanda, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen

    "The MacKintosh Man" stars Paul Newman as Joseph Rearden, which we learn right off the bat is an alias which he has assumed along with an Australian accent. As the film begins, he meets with his employer, Mr. MacKintosh (Andrews) and his assistant, Mrs. Smith (Sanda) to discuss a plan involving the theft of jewels being sent through the mail. He executes the theft, passes the jewels off to Mrs. Smith, but is then arrested, tried, and sentenced to 20 years in prison due to an anonymous phone call.

    While incarcerated at a maximum security facility, he is offered a chance to escape for the exorbitant cost of half of what he stole. His escape is handled simultaneously with that of a Communist agent (Bannen), which brings him as a fugitive into a circle of espionage involving British Intelligence, a patriotic conservative British Lord, Sir George Wheeler (Mason), his associates in the diamond theft, a small town in the Irish countryside, and the Maltese authorities.

    The film is a minor entry in the film resumes of Paul Newman and John Huston as well as in the general hierarchy of the espionage/international intrigue film. Its marketing and contemporaneous reviews did it the tremendous disservice of spoiling an important plot twist in a film that does not have many of them to spare. The film also does itself a disservice by delivering an ending that resolves a tense standoff in an unconvincing manner. It plays like an attempt to graft a 70s antihero ending onto a narrative that was not designed to support it.

    It also plays things a bit too coolly, possibly to set it apart from more sensationalistic films in the genre. Even in that respect, it was outdone by "The Day of the Jackal", which had been released only two months before. From an action standpoint, there is an entertaining broad-daylight prison escape sequence and a well-staged car chase through the Irish countryside, but nothing that has not been done better in other films.

    John Huston and Oswald Morris' arty photography keeps the various European locations visually interesting. In terms of the cast, Paul Newman is effectively ruthless and resourceful, although the screenplay lets his character down a bit by not "earning" some key dramatic moments. James Mason particularly stands out as a jingoistic British Lord.

    In summary, if you are a fan of cold war espionage films, this one has some easy pleasures, but a few annoying flaws.

    The Drowning Pool (1975 - Warner Brothers/First Artists- 108 minutes)

    Directed By: Stuart Rosenberg

    Starring: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Murray Hamilton, Gail Strickland, Melanie Griffith, Anthony Franciosa, Richard Jaeckel, Andrew Robinson

    Nine years after the original film, Paul Newman reprised his role of Lew Harper in "The Drowning Pool". That may seem like a long time between movies, but it is a New York minute by Newman standards. The only other sequel he ever made was "The Color of Money" 25 years after "The Hustler".

    For this outing, Harper travels to Lousiana at the request of Iris Deveraux (Woodward), a former girlfriend who has married into a wealthy family with a disinterested husband and a stern matriarch. She believes she is being blackmailed by her family's recently fired chauffer. As Harper investigates, he runs into the expected group of colorful characters including Iris's horny and nosey daughter Schuyler (Griffith), Jay Hue Kilbourne (Hamilton) a sleazy oil man who wants the Devereaux property, Kilbourne's wife, Mavis (Strickland), the aforementioned former chauffer (Robinson), local police chief Broussard (Franciosa) who seems to have an unusually keen interest in the Devereaux family, and his hot-headed Lieutenant Franks (Jaeckel). As Harper begins to stubbornly unravel the truth while taking a generous helping of beatings and attempts on his life, things turn out badly for nearly everyone involved.

    The obvious question is whether "The Drowning Pool" is as good as its predecessor, "Harper", and the answer is "not quite". The dialog falls a bit short of William Goldman's clever, quotable, original, but there is still a lot of fun to be had, and Paul Newman still fits the Harper character to a "T".

    The supporting cast is strong with the exception of an 18 year old Melanie Griffith who sometimes sounds like she is just reading her lines off of a teleprompter. The story, based on the Ross MacDonald novel of the same name, is pleasingly complex with a satisfying resolution. The filmmakers show that they like loose ends even less than the Harper character when they gratuitously reintroduce an unlikable character who has completely served his dramatic purpose just so he can be mauled by a pair of vicious guard dogs. Particularly effective is the suspenseful climactic set-piece set in an abandoned hydro-therapy room. Director Stuart Rosenberg makes great use of Louisiana locations which create a unique kudzu-soaked southern gothic atmosphere in which the wise-cracking LA detective operates.

    Bottom line - While not as fun as the star-packed original, this sequel has a uniquely amusing main character, a great atmospheric location, and a suspenseful climax.

    The Video

    The transfer for "Somebody Up There Likes Me" fills up the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. The Oscar-winning black and white cinematography is well represented on this DVD with excellent contrast and shadow detail. A modest amount of film grain is present and there are occasional small signs of film element nicks and scratches throughout. I did not notice any significant edge ringing.

    The transfer for "The Left Handed Gun" fills up the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. It is not quite as sharp as "Somebody Up There Likes Me". The film uses several optical fades to transition between scenes. Unfortunately, it appears that the dupe film stock that was used to achieve these effects has deteriorated over the years, creating a jarring decrease in image quality prior to, during, and sometimes after these frequent transitions.

    The transfer for "The Young Philadelphians" fills up the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. It is normally very sharp with a pleasing range of greyscale, but it does have certain "dupey" sections and some image deterioration during optical fades (much less severe than those on "The Left Handed Gun"). The film element shows occasional nicks and scratches, and there are "cigarette burn" reel change markers on the source element every 20 minutes or so. Grain is persistent, but not distracting, with sufficient video bitrate to keep up with it most of the time. There is thin yet persistent haloing along high-contrast vertical edges that is noticeable when watching on large displays.

    The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 color transfer of "Harper" looks very much of its era. Shadow detail is not very deep, but everything reads well, even during the important nighttime sequences. Colors are solid and the print looks very clean. Conrad Hall's strong compositions are rendered with great clarity, although ringing on vertical edges does detract from a key scene that takes place in bright sunlight in and around a mountaintop temple.

    The transfer for "Pocket Money" fills up the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. This is easily the worst looking film in the collection. It has heavy grain and poor detail. Saturated colors and bright whites bloom throughout. Skin-tones have an unnatural orange tint. A lot of this appears to be inherent to the source element, as the encoding seems fine with little pixelization and slight if any edge ringing. There are some nicely composed shots taking equal advantage of both Mexican landscapes and cheesy 70s hotel decor, but whether because of deterioration in the film stock or choices by the director and cinematographer, it is overall hard to look at for 100 minutes.

    "The MacKintosh Man" has a very 70s look to it as well, but is easier on the eyes than "Pocket Money". The image is grainy, occasionally soft, and high in contrast with shadows going very quickly to black. Colors are sometimes very unnatural looking, but this is typical of frequent collaborators John Huston and Oswald Morris, who were fond of distinctive, if unnatural, color schemes. There is occasional, but not persistent, ringing on high contrast vertical edges.

    The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer of "The Drowning Pool" is another fine transfer of a somewhat grainy film element. There are a number of very dark sequences that nevertheless read very well with few video artifacts. Mild element wear and tear is noticeable but infrequent. Viewers with large displays may notice some edge ringing from time to time, but it is not a pervasive issue. The filmmakers play with pushing the exposure and do not use a lot deep focus shots, so some of the ringing effect could be due to slight blurring of background elements relative to foreground.

    The Audio

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio for "Somebody up There Likes Me" is very good. Dialog, music, and effects all sound clear, and low frequency content is delivered with impressive depth during a few sequences. A French mono track is included as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio for "The Left Handed Gun" is acceptable. There is not a lot of high frequency information on the track, but there is very little hiss. A French mono track is included as well as subtitles in English, French, or Spanish.

    "The Young Philadelphians" sports a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. It is a little bit dynamically compressed, and not quite as high in fidelity as "Somebody Up There Likes Me", but is a solid presentation with very little hiss or distortion. No alternate language tracks are available, and there are subtitles in English, French, or Spanish.

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio for "Harper" is solid. Frequency response is somewhat limited, but there are no major flaws, and the dialog, effects, and pop-jazzy score are conveyed effectively. A French mono track is included as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track for "Pocket Money" is poor, although, as with the video, the problems likely harken to the master recording. Speaker intelligibility is often an issue, which is serious for a dialog driven slice of life comedy. There are no foreign language tracks. English, French, or Spanish subtitles are available.

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track for "The MacKintosh Man" is serviceable. It is not very dynamic and open, but clarity is fine with little hiss or distortion. The sound is typical for a master prepared for an early 70s release on an optical mono track. Maurice Jarre's European flavored score, somewhat evocative of Anton Karas' score for "The Third Man" is fairly well served. The disc contains a French language track with a choice of English, French, or Spanish subtitles.

    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio for "The Drowning Pool" is the best of the three 70s films in the collection. Dynamic compression is evident during some of the louder passages, but it is not severe, and the Michael Small score sounds very "hi-fi". A French mono track is included as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese.

    The Extras

    The primary extra on "Somebody up There Likes Me" is an audio commentary. The first hour of the commentary track is carried primarily by Robert Wise. There are two very brief interjections early on by Martin Scorsese talking about how the neighborhood and family situation of Graziano reminded him of people he knew growing up. Near the 65 minute mark, Wise connects with Paul Newman via a telephone call and interviews him for about 3-5 minutes. After this, Wise is only heard from twice briefly during the latter part of the film pointing out Angela Cartwright as Rocky Graziano's daughter and thanking us for listening. Next to Wise, critic Richard Schickel has the most to say on the commentary, he pops up throughout the track to offer critical comments about the film and spends most of the climactic fight sequence talking about Robert Wise's relative standing in the critical firmament and why he may be underrated by the auteurists. The recording quality of Schickel's comments is poor, with a distracting low frequency hum making them occasionally hard to understand. Robert Loggia also contributes brief comments throughout the track.

    "Somebody up There Likes Me" also comes with the film's theatrical trailer, which is "hosted" by Jinx Falkenberg in unique footage created just for the trailer.

    "The Left Handed Gun" contains a commentary by director Arthur Penn. He spends a lot of time covering somewhat straightforward plot and thematic material, even lapsing into narration at a few points, but interjects interesting information about how he came to the project, his background in live television, his history with some of the actors, how they shot the film entirely on Warner-owned property, even reusing dilapidated sets from 1939's "Juarez", the film's commercial and critical failure in the USA, and its positive reception in Europe by the new wave critics. My favorite bit was when he talks about his surprise at having to hand his film over to the studio editor when he was done shooting and being locked out of the post production process. As a result, he decided to focus on directing plays, and had considerable success on Broadway. He would not make another film until four years later when he had enough clout to control casting and final cut for the film adaptation of "The Miracle Worker".

    A 16:9 enhanced trailer for "The Left Handed Gun" is also included. It is pretty standard stuff, with titles layed over scenes from the film, reflective of the relatively light promotion the film received upon its initial release.

    "The Young Philadelphians" features a commentary from director Vincent Sherman along with author/film scholar Drew Casper. Casper does most of the heavy lifting, offering up a critical assessment of the film and where it fits in the context of postwar Hollywood. His information is well-researched, and his analysis is well supported whether you completely agree with him or not. Sherman's presence is welcome, with anecdotes about how he came to be involved with the film, his long Hollywood career, the cast, and his relationship with Jack Warner. He occasionally gets some of the specific details wrong, suggesting, for instance that after being Oscar nominated for this film, Robert Vaughn went on directly to series TV success (it actually took him about five years before that really happened with "The Man from UNCLE"), but I am very glad that Warner was able to get his input on this and many of his other films before he passed away last summer. It also includes the film's theatrical trailer in a 4:3 fullscreen format. The trailer has no narration, but uses titles over film clips to carry the promotional message.

    The primary extra on "Harper" is an audio commentary by Willliam Goldman. He starts off strong, discussing the importance of the amusing title sequence, his memories of how "Harper", his first Hollywood screenwriting credit, came to be, differences between the film and the book, and several positive personal and professional observations about Paul Newman. He does not have many anecdotes to share about the film's production since he only visited the set once or twice (out of choice). He does run out of steam about halfway through the track, at which point his comments become less frequent, and his topics less specific to the film and more about differences between Hollywood 40 years ago and today. He rebounds slightly towards the end as his memory is piqued by one of the few scenes he did see being shot between Newman and Wagner.

    "Harper" also comes with a brief introduction from TCM host Robert Osborne, and the film's theatrical trailer (16:9 enhanced) which contains unique footage of many of the actors on-set shot specifically for the trailer. It gives the false impression that Harper has a James Bond-like affinity for the ladies, but I bet it sold some tickets!

    The only extra on "Pocket Money" is the film's theatrical trailer, presented in a 16:9 enhanced format. Someone in marketing did a good job because the trailer makes the film look way more amusing than it actually is.

    "The Mackintosh Man" comes with both a theatrical trailer and a 10 minute featurette entitled "John Huston: The Man, the Myth, the Moviemaker". The trailer has some slightly dated graphics of a turning gun intercut with the voiceover and film clips. It also manages not to spoil too much of the film's plot, which is a refreshingly old-fashioned concept. Despite the title of the featurette, it is really just an extended promotional piece for the film. Presented in a 4:3 full screen format with available Spanish subtitles, it include some behind the scenes footage underneath the hyperbolic promotional narration. A good chunk of the featurette highlights the English, Irish, and Maltese locations where the film was shot. Do not watch the featurette before the film, though, as it is filled with spoilers.

    "The Drowning Pool" comes with a 16:9 enhanced theatrical trailer and a vintage 4:3 fullscreen promotional featurette called "Harper Days are Here Again". The trailer is pretty standard 70s fare although somewhat unique for having a female voiceover. The featurette is presented in 4:3 full screen video with optional Spanish or Portuguese subtitles. It runs just under 11 minutes and includes behind the scenes footage intercut with scenes from the movie and talking head segments with author Ross MacDonald discussing Newman's appropriateness for the role, his satisfaction with the filmmakers' decision to transplant his story to Louisiana, and the importance of Joanne Woodward's character.

    Packaging

    The DVDs come in a cardboard box in seven individual hard plastic slimcases. In a classy touch, vintage movie poster and promotional art is used for the cover graphics. There is a printing error on the back of the cases for "Somebody Up There Likes Me" and "The Left Handed Gun" indicating that the films are in color. Do not panic. They are as monochromatic as they are supposed to be. Of the seven films in "The Paul Newman Collection", only "Harper" is available separately in a conventional keepcase.

    Summary

    While this collection does not necessarily contain Newman's best known work, or even his best known work controlled by Warner Brothers, it has seven new-to-DVD titles with no double dips, only one stinker in the bunch (sorry, "Pocket Money"), excellent audio and video quality, and a handful of interesting commentaries. It would be nice if Warner could someday collect the previously released titles such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "Sweet Bird of Youth", "Cool Hand Luke", and "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" into a box set, but I'm glad they went with this set first, which I highly recommend to fans of the actor who has been the benchmark for on-screen "cool" for five decades.

    Regards,
     
  2. Ric Easton

    Ric Easton Cinematographer

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    Excellent review, Ken. You've turned this set into a "must have" for me. Can't wait to discover these gems for the first time!
     
  3. Douglas Monce

    Douglas Monce Producer

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    The writer of and the commentary on HARPER is not by Robert Towne but rather by William Goldman who also wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride.
     
  4. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Thanks. The error has been corrected above. I watched "Chinatown" in the middle of reviewing this set and a few synapses got crossed. I promise never to confuse the writer of my favorite 60s neo-noir detective film with the writer of my favorite 70s neo-noir detective film again.

    Regards,
     
  5. Jacqui

    Jacqui Stunt Coordinator

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    Great review Ken - this is the box set I was waiting soooo eagerly for. Harper is one of my favourite movies. I must say that I am still disappointed The Prize wasn't included. Definiately one of my favourite Newman films.
     
  6. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Thanks, Jacqui. Speaking of ordering the set internationally, I'm sure you already knew this, but the R1 NTSC version seems to be the way to go. For some reason the R2 PAL version omits "The Young Philadelphians" and "Pocket Money".

    Regards,
     
  7. ted:r

    ted:r Second Unit

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    I must say I quite liked "The Mackintosh Man" more than I expected to. I really liked its low-keyness and found myself entranced throughout. This may be because on of my ten favorite movies of all time is "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" and this very much in the same vein. BTW, I love "Jackal" but feel it is a very different type of movie than "Mackintosh".

    I do agree that the advertising was absurd. What were they thinking?

    It should be noted that William Goldman did not adapt "The Drowning Pool" It was adapted by Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr. and Walter Hill.
     
  8. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Correct. I don't think I suggested that Goldman wrote it, just that the screenplay for "The Drowning Pool" was not as good as Goldman's script for "Harper". Walter Hill had a screenplay credit for "The MacKintosh Man" as well.

    Regards,
     
  9. Jacqui

    Jacqui Stunt Coordinator

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    I did order the R1 boxset Ken. The Young Philadelphians is one of my favourite Newman movies. IIRC, Young Philadelphians was the last film Paul Newman made under his contract with Warner Bros. These matinee roles were the type of films that Warners envisioned for him when they signed him to a contract. You can see why - his beauty makes him perfect as a romantic lead.

    Newman was perhaps a little too handsome to play Rocky Graziano, which is another of my favourites from the set.

    As I mentioned, I am still very curious as to why The Prize was omitted from the set. I would put it in my top ten Newman films. It was very successful at the box office for MGM, and has an exceptional cast. Perhaps I can find out at during Warner Bros next chat evening [​IMG]
     

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