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HTF REVIEW: The Controversial Classics (VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).



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#1 of 22 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

Herb Kane

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Posted May 08 2005 - 07:02 AM

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The Controversial Classics
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang / Fury / Blackboard Jungle / Bad Day at Black Rock / A Face in the Crowd / Advise and Consent / The Americanization of Emily




Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1932, 1936, 1955, 1955, 1957, 1962 and 1964
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 744 Minutes total
Aspect Ratio: Various – See video portion
Audio: Various – See audio portion
Color/B&W: B&W & Color
Languages: English & French
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.97 each or $79.92 for the Collection
Package: Seven discs in individual Keepcases in cardboard box.





The Feature:
In what might be the most anticipated announced boxed set of the year, Warner Bros. is poised to release seven films spanning more than thirty years. Each of the groundbreaking films deals with socially charged issues, the significance of each, were topics not easily discussed during those times. A number of themes and genres are represented including gangster films to dramas – political dissent to film noir. Even comedy is represented. The Collection includes: I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932), Fury (1936), Blackboard Jungle (1955), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), A Face in the Crowd (1957), Advise and Consent (1962), The Americanization of Emily (1964). Each of the films is available separately and lists for $19.97 or the entire Collection lists for $79.92.


I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
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With the war in Europe finally over, James Allen (played by Paul Muni) is both a sergeant and a war hero. Penniless and starving, Jim and his new roomie, Pete (played by Preston Foster), a questionable looking individual who believes that he can scrounge up a pair of hamburgers by shaking down a nearby diner. The plan works, with the owner wearily tossing a couple of burgers onto the grill for his unwelcome guests. This isn't enough for Pete though, so he draws a gun (much to Allen's surprise) and robs the good natured clerk. However, everything goes wrong when Pete rushes out of the door and gets shot dead by police. Allen panics and makes a run for it, firmly establishing his guilt in the mind's of the those assembled at his trial. Allen is sentenced to 10 years hard labor to be served on a chain gang.

Nearly a beaten man due to the long and hard days of stone-breaking, wretched working conditions and constant beatings, there is virtually no hope. This is too much for Allen so, with the help of his buddy, Bomber Wells (played by Edward Ellis), he makes a break for it and dashes into the swamp. With a nationwide manhunt on his trail, Allen lands work in Chicago working for an engineering company building roads and bridges and eventually works his way up to the top of the business. Looking for an apartment, Allen not only finds shelter, but finds love at the same time. However, when his new flame, Marie Woods (played by Glenda Farrell) discovers the truth about his past, she realizes he's far too valuable to let go and eventually blackmails Allen into marriage. Pushed to the limit with news of affairs and extravagant spending, Allen ends it, but the scorned Marie has other plans which results in catastrophic consequences for Allen.

A haunting and realistic recreation of a bygone era, I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang makes a stand against injustice. The film is a gritty and uncompromising testament of the unjust and barbaric treatment of criminals in a southern state's prison system following the first World War. The harsh film was one of the first of Warner Bros.' films of social conscience, reform and protest during the early 30’s. Muni turns out an excellent performance as an everyman, an innocent caught up in events and forced to rely on his wits to survive. Which reminds me Warner, where is Juarez (1939)...? I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is a WB film based on the writings by Robert Burns; “I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang”. The film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy who was responsible for another great early gangster film, Little Caesar (1930). The film earned three Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Muni) and Best Sound but failed in all three categories.


Fury
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Fury is a realistic study of injustice and revenge. The all-American Joe Wheeler (played by Spencer Tracy) is on his way to finally meet up with his fiancée Katharine Grant (played by Sylvia Sidney) when he is stopped by police and wrongly accused of a kidnapping that he didn't commit. An angry and hysterical lynch mob wrongly suspects that he is guilty, and sets the jail where he is being held on fire. It is believed he died in the inferno and, subsequently, twenty one people are indicted on charges of murder. However, an embittered and vengeful Wheeler has survived the fire and is willing to throw away what he believes in to see these persecutors pay for their actions.

In what was the unlikeliest of studios to tackle such a film, Fury was an MGM production and was Fritz Lang’s first American picture. Fritz Lang, who, when the dust settled some forty years later, was perhaps the greatest creator of films that we would now refer to as film noir. Responsible for some of the greatest masterpieces with such films as Metropolis (1927), M (1931) and his Dr Mabuse films, he would go on to produce many of the greatest American noirs – ever, over the next three decades; You Only Live Once (1937), Ministry of Fear (1944), The Woman in the Window (1945), Scarlet Street (1945), The Big Heat (1953) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) among many others. Lang’s filmography reads like a mandatory paper from film-noir 101. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Writing and Original Story but was not successful in either category.


Bad Day at Black Rock
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A streamliner pulls into a sleepy Arizona desert town known as Black Rock. A well dressed man, John J. Macreedy (played by Spencer Tracy), with an apparent disability, disembarks asking a number of questions about a man named Komoko and soon, the town and its people are on the defensive. Over the next twenty-four hour period, he finds himself an unwelcome visitor who winds up in a number of skirmishes with several menacing characters who are clearly, but unofficially in charge of the town. The film builds suspense by withholding information about the visitor's mysterious mission, and by creating an air of mystery as to the hostile town's secret. Eventually, he learns the dark secret, and fulfills the promise he made to present a posthumous war medal for heroism to the father of his Japanese wartime buddy who had saved his life in Italy.

The film was directed by John Sturges – The Great Escape (1963) and The Magnificent Seven (1960), whose taut and influential film can be interpreted on several different levels. It’s a film that teeters within numerous genres, clearly displaying signs of a dramatic suspense picture, but also displays many parallels to some of the greatest westerns ever made - or a modern day western, if you will. One can’t help wonder had the film been shot B&W and in an academy ratio, how film noir fans would have embraced it. This MGM film is mesmerizing, with several exceptional performances from its leads. Look for other great performances from the town leader, Reno Smith (played by Robert Ryan) and his loyal thugs Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin as well as the “Doc” who befriends the enigmatic stranger, played by Walter Brennan.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards; Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Best Director (John Sturges) and Best Writing – Screenplay (Millard Kaufman). Ironically, Tracy’s co-star Ernest Borgnine won the award for his role in Marty.


Blackboard Jungle
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The Blackboard Jungle is groundbreaking and innovative portrait of juvenile delinquency in the 1950s. The film revolves around an idealistic teacher Richard Dadier (played by Glenn Ford), on his first job in a tough urban all male high school in New York. The school is located in one of the poorest ethnic districts with a population full of delinquent and troubled students. Dadier performs the role almost too passively. He is surrounded by apathetic teachers and a principal Mr. Warneke (played by John Hoyt) who has trouble admitting that the school has discipline problems. Artie West (played by Vic Morrow) is a gloomy and morose gang leader who has uncanny control over other members of the class who look up to him and fear him. His dislike for Mr. Dadier is immediate and passionate, brought on by an incident in the school library where Mr. Dadier prevents the sexual assault of a new female teacher by members of Artie West's inner circle. Gregory Miller (played by Sidney Poitier) plays the less bitter and more intelligent class leader. He, too, initially dislikes Mr. Dadier but their respect for one another grows throughout the film.

Miller is a student who initially tried to get the most out of his education but soon realizes that no one really cared so he succumbs to the frustrations and decides to bide his time until he can legally drop out of school. He, like the others, realized that causing trouble that would get him expelled from school would probably be enough trouble to get him sent to reform school. Joshua Edwards (played by Richard Kiley) is another new teacher in the school who is so naive and passive that he becomes a favorite target of the hoodlums. The final straw happens when he brings his prized record collection to play for one of his math classes and the records are destroyed by the delinquents.

Other notable names in the MGM film include Anne Francis as Anne Dadier, Paul Mazursky as Emmanual Stoker, and Jamie Farr (who is credited as Jameel Farah) as Santini. The Blackboard Jungle was a shocking film for its time and several cities banned the movie which only served to contribute to its success. Some cities banned it because of its multi-racial content while others did it because of fear that it would spark violence. The film was directed by Richard Brooks, based on the best-selling novel "The Blackboard Jungle" by Evan Hunter. It also marks another first as Bill Haley and the Comets', "Rock Around the Clock" is featured during the opening credits, said to be the first use of Rock 'n' roll music for a mainstream film. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Art Direction Set Decoration - Black-and-White, Best Cinematography - B&W, Best Film Editing, Best Writing - Screenplay, but didn’t win in any category.


A Face in the Crowd
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During an assignment, Marcia Jeffries (played by Patricia Neal) is looking for local folks for her new radio program entitled, “A Face in the Crowd”. In a small Arkansas jail, a cantankerous young man, Lonesome Rhodes (played by Andy Griffith) has been picked up for drunk & disorderly, and she persuades him to sing on her new show. Rhodes is a philosophical young man who apparently touches the hearts of many listeners. He is empathetic to the hardworking and impoverished and soon, the radio station becomes the talk of the town. It isn’t long before national television realizes the likeable qualities of Rhodes and after he agrees to do some television spots, he becomes an overnight sensation.

Rhodes becomes enormously famous and attracts fans and various product endorsements. Now the most influential man on television, and adored by his faithful viewers, Rhodes reveals himself to his associates as a scheming and manipulating megalomaniac and uses everyone around him, to aid in his climb to the top. However, after being dumped by Rhodes, Marcia is now the scorned fiancée and is deeply hurt by Rhodes’ decision to leave her for beautiful 17 year old Betty Lou Fleckum (played by Lee Remick). It doesn’t take long however to fall from grace when Marcia is able to expose Rhodes to millions of his followers, about how he truly feels about them. While in a sound booth during the end of one of his shows, Marcia switches on the audio during the end credits allowing the whole nation to hear the grinning Rhodes who describes them as "suckers" and "idiots."

The film was directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg (also known as “The Arkansas Traveler”). A fantastic movie to be sure, and one that is unique to watch after years of seeing the all-American good natured Andy Griffith in the many roles commonly played by him.


Advise and Consent
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Advise and Consent might very well be the most realistic portrayal of American politics ever committed to film. The picture centers around a Senate investigation hearing for Robert Leffingwell (played by Henry Fonda) who has been hand picked by the ailing President (played by Franchot Tone) for Secretary of State. While Leffingwell exudes confidence and respectability, he is surprised by an unexpected witness who is called by the colorful and vengeful Senator "Seab" Cooley from South Carolina, (played terrifically by Charles Laughton). Herbert Gelman (played by Burgess Meredith) claims that he once worked for Leffingwell and can confirm that he had Communist ties. After Leffingwell confers with a co-worker, soon he is able to debunk Gelman's claim and proves that he was committed to a mental institution due to his illness. What eventually comes to light is the fact Leffingwell lied under oath and did in fact, have a Communist affiliation during his younger years.

Leffingwell approaches the President to advise him of his deceitful testimony but the President insists he is still the right man for the job. The curmudgeon from South Carolina however, feels there is more to the testimony than Leffingwell has admitted and digs into Gelman's past employment records and discovers his transfer was sanctioned by Leffingwell raising obvious questions as to the credibility of the candidate's testimony. The principled and idealistic young Senator Brig Anderson (played by Don Murray) from Utah who chairs the committee, starts receiving threats of extortion when it becomes clear that he is not prepared to let Leffingwell's past go. Senator Anderson himself, is concealing a homosexual relationship he had with an army buddy years earlier and is incredibly tormented with the decision he has been faced with. The President's long time friend and confidant, Senate Majority Leader Robert Munson from Michigan (played by Walter Pidgeon) rallies behind his trusted friend in attempt to get Leffingwell confirmed but has a number of hurdles to climb, many of which are now out of his control.

The film was directed by one of my favorites, Otto Preminger. As was typical with most of his films, Advise and Consent also pushes the political envelope dealing with issues of morality and themes of controversy. While the film was not a financial success, it was masterfully crafted and is certainly equal to many of his films that were box-office hits. It also marks the final film for Charles Laughton as well as a comeback film for Gene Tierney after a seven year hiatus. The title sequence, with its animated Capitol Building with the dome that hinges open as well as the montage of a waving American flag, was designed by Saul Bass. One of my favorites from the collection.


The Americanization of Emily
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The Americanization of Emily is the great anti-war film which takes place in London during the month before D-Day in the spring of 1944. Lieutenant Commander Charlie Madison (played by James Garner) is a charismatic "Dog Robber" for Navy Rear Admiral William Jessup (played by Melvyn Douglas). A "Dog Robber" is a personal assistant whose chief duty is keeping his admiral or general "well-clothed, well-fed and well-loved during the battle”.

Madison, however, is a naval officer who happens to be a spineless coward. While his comrades sail off into battle, Garner makes himself scarce. He falls in love with an honorable war widow, Emily Barham (played by Julie Andrews), whose not only lost her husband to war but her brother and father as well. Fearing lack of navy recognition, Admiral Jessup decides that he needs a “navy” hero to be the first man to die on Omaha Beach during the D-Day Invasion. After being assigned to film the invasion by his “buddy” Lt. Cmdr. 'Bus' Cummings (played by James Coburn), to Madison’s chagrin, he winds up on a U-boat and soon finds himself gracing the front pages of the nations’ newspapers. Ultimately, he survives to become a hero in spite of himself but eventually wins over Emily in the process.

The MGM film was directed by Arthur Hiller and written by Paddy Chayefsky based on the novel by William Bradford Huie. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Art Direction - Set Decoration - Black-and-White, Best Cinematography Black-and-White.


The Features:
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang: 4.5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Fury: 4.5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Blackboard Jungle: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Bad Day at Black Rock: 5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
A Face in the Crowd: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Advise and Consent: 5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
The Americanization of Emily: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image



Video:
Going through the set chronologically, I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang shows off its age more than the other titles in the collection, but still looks incredible. Remember, the film is 73 years old. There is a significant amount of medium density film grain present throughout much of the film and the image is quite pleasing. As we might expect, image definition is not razor sharp but certainly is more than acceptable and typical with the period, female close-ups are soft. Beside age related issues, the print shows some dirt and dust but is surprisingly cleaner than we could ever hope for. There was an adequate amount of grayscale while contrast and shadow levels were good. Shimmer and jitter was noticeable but never did it become bothersome.

It should come as no surprise that Fury, one of the oldest films, looks a little more, worse for wear – but to be clear, it looks very good. As is evidenced by the various reels (and the markers are still visible), each one looks considerably different. But for the most part, the grayscale was very good, blacks were reasonably deep and whites were fine. Detail was also quite good for a film of its age. There was a healthy amount of grain present throughout which is to be expected, resulting in a nice film-like picture. Contrast and shadow levels were fine. There were signs of dust and dirt as well as scratches and occasional light speckle, but these points were never overbearing.

The Blackboard Jungle is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio enhanced for widescreen and is also a winner in the collection. The film has a striking and varying degree of grayscale, certainly the highlight of this presentation. Image definition was sharp and crisp. Blacks were inky deep while whites were perfect. Contrast and shadow detail were picture perfect. There was only a moderate amount of film grain present and the picture was nicely textured. The print was mostly clean and free of dust and dirt and only a few minor scratches were noticeable.

Bad Day At Black Rock is presented in a 2.55:1 aspect ratio enhanced for widescreens and looks outstanding - it's also the only color film in the lot. Colors were vibrant but never bleeding. Considering much of this CinemaScope film was shot in the Californian desert, the overall look of the film has a rather golden look to it. Blacks were very good while whites were clean. Skin tones appeared real and accurate. The level of image definition was outstanding and in many cases detail was a sharp as a tack. There was only a slight amount of grain and the image was textured and film-like. Some dust and dirt was evident as well as some light speckle but this never became bothersome. Edge enhancement was noticeable during a couple of outdoor scenes (late in the film when Tracy and Ryan have their chat at the gas station), particularly around Tracy’s black suit in a couple of scenes but this was short lived and wasn’t bothersome.

The video presentations for A Face in the Crowd and The Americanization of Emily are absolutely gorgeous. They remind me an awful lot (in terms of their look and texture) to last year’s release of The Days Of Wine And Roses, so if you’re familiar with that disc, you’ll know where I coming from. Both of these films are presented in a 1.85:1 AR and are enhanced for widescreen. There was very little grain noticeable but the look was very pleasing and very film-like with plenty of depth. Black levels couldn’t be any deeper without entering murky territory – and they don’t. Whites were crisp and clean. Grayscale was vast and the levels of contrast and shadow detail were excellent. Image detail was exceptional, not only on close-ups (and there are plenty here – both cases) but on longer and wider shots too. A few dust particles were noticeable here and there as were occasional light specks, but these are fine looking transfers.

Not many things get me more excited (we're talkin' films here) than a beautiful black & white film shot in 2.35:1. That's exactly what Advise and Consent is - and is it a beauty! The entire film had a rich velvety smooth look to it with a vast amount grayscale. Blacks were terrifically deep and whites were always crisp. There was very little grain but the film had plenty of depth and dimension. Image detail was fantastic and extremely sharp. The print appeared mostly clean and was rock solid and free of any shimmer or jitter. Very impressive indeed.

Video:
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Fury: 3.5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Blackboard Jungle: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Bad Day at Black Rock: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
A Face in the Crowd: 4.5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Advise and Consent: 4.5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
The Americanization of Emily: 4.5/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image



Audio:
Like the video presentation, I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is the weakest of the collection due to its age but is by no means weak. In fact, given the film is 73 years old, the presentation is fabulous. There is a fair amount of hiss present and occasional blips and hiccups are noticeable infrequently but that never becomes bothersome. Dialogue was usually clear but did have a tendency to become thin and slightly edgy. There's not much to discuss here in terms of dynamics given the age of the film but the track serves the film quite handily.

Fury comes with an encoded mono track which, for the most part does what needs to be done. Varying levels of hiss are present depending on the reel source that was used (see my video portion) – some were clearer than others. There was also a couple audio glitches – almost dropout like glitches which lasted for only a second or so, but these were noticeable. Dialogue was always clear and bold and becomes only slightly edgy occasionally. All in all, this track was better than average.

Bad Day at Black Rock is listed as a Dolby Surround Stereo track but clearly the track is basically up front. While the front soundstage is quite wide showing a fair amount of separation, dialogue is anchored front and center and was always exceptionally clear and bold. Nor was it ever competing with the pervasive and eliciting André Previn score that accompanies the film. The track is crystal clear and free of any hiss or other noisy distractions. A very nice job.

My observations and comments are rather similar for the following three films; The Blackboard Jungle, A Face in the Crowd and Advise and Consent. All three discs are encoded DD mono and are all very capable. The tracks were crystal clear and dialogue was exceptionally clear and bold never becoming strained. The tracks never became thin or harsh. Everything here is crystal clear and free of any hiss with high frequencies intact. The music, particularly the opening credits theme during AaC sounds robust and full.

The Americanization of Emily is a Surround Stereo track and does an admirable job. The original theatrical mono track is also included. For the surround track, the front soundstage was satisfactorily wide with a decent sense of separation and dialogue was exceptionally bold and clear and anchored in the center. The track had natural tonality that never became even became remotely harsh or edgy. Surrounds were limited to slight – very slight music ambiance filler. Enveloping, but subtle. The track was absolutely clean and free of any hiss.

Audio:
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Fury: 3/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Blackboard Jungle: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Bad Day at Black Rock: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
A Face in the Crowd: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
Advise and Consent: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image
The Americanization of Emily: 4/5 Posted ImagePosted ImagePosted ImagePosted Image



Special Features:

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
[*] The Commentary by Richard B. Jewell spends a great deal of time focusing on Robert Burns who wrote, “I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Gang” and describes in detail throughout the course of the feature as to what changes were made during the adaptation – including the removal of the state of Georgia from the title. He also spends time describing how the chain gangs weren’t exaggerated by Warner during the film’s production but were in fact, played down in terms of the conditions the convicts faced. Mr. Jewell does a great job at keeping this commentary specific to each scene and offers up a terrific amount of information relating to the film as well as its cast and crew.
[*] 20,000 Cheers For The Chain Gang is a 1933 Vitaphone short. After convicts escape from a chain gang, changes are made at the prison due to a blue ribbon commission investigating conditions there. The changes include breakfast in bed and stage shows for entertainment. The black and white striped uniforms now appear in the form of tuxedos. The short is in amazingly good condition. Duration: 19:49 minutes.
[*] The Theatrical Trailer is in terrific condition. Duration: 2:33 minutes.


Fury
[*] The features on this disc start with a Commentary with Peter Bogdanovich which includes audio recordings of Fritz Lang. Well, I won’t start up on Mr. Bogdanovich this time, since this time ‘round he is forgiven due to the uniqueness of this feature. This time, Mr. Bogdanovich injects the commentary with a number of snippets from personal recordings he made with Fritz Lang in Lang’s home back in 1965. In it, Mr. Lang offers up a number of tidbits relating to the film as well as personal information with respect to his fleeing Germany. Obviously and understandably the feature isn’t quite scene specific, but given Lang’s own actual comments, make this feature a worthwhile endeavor..
[*] The other feature is the Theatrical Trailer which is in very good condition. Duration: 2:11 minutes.


The Blackboard Jungle
[*] First up is a Commentary By Peter Ford, Paul Mazursky, Jamie Farr and Joel Freeman. This is an interesting collection of comments and reflections. Mazursky and Farr take the lead here and keep things tight and interesting. A number of entertaining stories are told such as how each of them were selected for the film. It’s also interesting to hear Peter recounting how his father was eventually chosen over the initial pick, Mickey Rooney – which is difficult to imagine. They keep the atmosphere light but there are a ton of tidbits offered up here.
[*] The Blackboard Jumble is an MGM Technicolor short which parodies similar problems in the classroom. The short is in very nice condition. Duration: 6:26 minutes.
[*] The Theatrical Trailer is included which is in very good condition. Duration: 2:51 minutes.


Bad Day at Black Rock
[*] Commentary by film historian, Dana Polan. Mr. Polan does a good job starting the commentary by offering up a number of historical tidbits that relate to the film and it’s production as well as offering comparisons to other films including a number of symbolisms that appear throughout. He also includes background information on many of the cast members. While he speaks on the dry side, this complements the film nicely.
[*] The Theatrical Trailer is also included which is in reasonably good shape. Duration: 3:25 minutes.


A Face in the Crowd
[*] Facing The Past includes a number of interesting participants who show up here including Elia Kazan biographer, Jeff Young, writer Budd Schulberg, Professor Leo Braudy - author of On The Waterfront BFI Film Classics, Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal and Anthony Franciosa. A number of issues are discussed, and obviously much of the focus deals with Kazan and his testimony during the HUAC debacle. The next portion deals with the collaboration of Kazan and Schulberg and the creation of the production. Mr. Griffith expresses his praise and appreciation for Kazan’s ability to direct. He tells a fabulous and humorous little story about Kazan’s motivation in eliciting a certain look for Rhodes as he stares at the beautiful Lee Remick during the drum-major contest – great stuff. One of the best features in the set – not to be missed. Duration: 29:08 minutes.
[*] The Theatrical Trailer is here and is in fine condition. Duration: 2:19 minutes.


Advise and Consent
[*] A Commentary by Dr. Drew Casper is the first feature on this disc. While Dr. Casper unleashes an avalanche of information relating to the film, much of it isn't screen specific. However, there is no doubt he has done his homework and his background information relating to Otto Preminger is impressive, to say the least. As I have found in the past with other Casper commentaries, he is not easy to listen to, but he reveals an enormous amount of worthwhile information. This is indeed a commentary I'll return to.
[*] The Theatrical Trailer is also included which is in very nice condition. Duration: 4:44 minutes.


The Americanization of Emily
[*] Commentary By Arthur Hiller. Although the box states the commentary is by film historian Drew Casper, it indeed features Arthur Hiller. The director starts by declaring how much of a favorite this film seems to be to virtually everyone who worked on it. Mr. Hiller offers up some interesting tidbits but has a tendency to meander and rarely what he recalls is screen specific. Not sure I could justify two hours listening to this one in its entirety.
[*] Action On The Beach is a short MGM production feature which shows off the California beach that was converted to the Normandy Beach for the invasion shots of the film. Many behind-the-scenes shots and footage is included here. An interesting little feature which is in nice shape. Duration: 6:03 minutes.
[*] Theatrical Trailer is included which is in great condition. Duration: 2:39 minutes.

In an attempt to get this review up and posted prior to the street date, I was forced to skim through the commentaries, so take that into consideration with respect to my comments relating to them.

Special Features Overall: 4.5/5
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**Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



Final Thoughts:
Where do I begin? In what must have been difficult films to produce and to promote - all of which possess contentious themes, The Controversial Classics is a compendium of some of the greatest and perhaps most important films ever made. The difficult themes and topics that now seem commonplace, were virtually proscribed just several decades ago. While any number of other in-your-face message films could have been chosen, the Collection wisely represents a number of films and styles spanning four decades, none of which are sanctimonious or holier-than-thou in nature. All of these films should be viewed and appreciated in the context and the time period in which they were produced.

Something I started doing last year was making a list of outstanding discs or sets released in each calendar year as I view them. My purpose? An attempt to capture the top ten releases of the year. While the year is relatively young, I simply cannot imagine this set not being among that group. If you’re on the fence, don’t be. This set deserves a spot in your DVD library and easily earns my highest recommendation in what has to be one of the best sets of 2005.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 (not an average)
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Very Highly Recommended...!!!





Release Date: May 10th, 2005
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 22 OFFLINE   george kaplan

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Posted May 08 2005 - 07:36 AM

Thanks for the review. Glad to see these are all well-done. I'll only be getting Bad Day at Black Rock (man, I've been waiting a long time for this to make it to dvd). I haven't seen Advise & Consent, so that might also be a purchase down the road.
"Movies should be like amusement parks. People should go to them to have fun." - Billy Wilder

"Subtitles good. Hollywood bad." - Tarzan, Sight & Sound 2012 voter.

"My films are not slices of life, they are pieces of cake." - Alfred Hitchcock"My great humility is just one of the many reasons that I...

#3 of 22 OFFLINE   Roger Rollins

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Posted May 08 2005 - 07:55 AM

Another outstanding review from Mr. Herb Kane. Kudos.

Not all of these films are "famous", but indeed they should be, and Herb's review underscores this.

Amazon has this set for $56...That's $8.00 a movie. Unreal!

I cannot understand how any true cinephile could pass on this magnificent collection of exceptional films at such a great price, unless is was a choice between these DVDs or the rent! Posted Image

#4 of 22 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted May 08 2005 - 08:27 AM

I've made it through three of the seven dvds so far, but I'm getting slowed down because of the need to watch the films again with the commentary. Without doubt, this review captures the essence of this very fine boxset from Warner.






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#5 of 22 OFFLINE   Adam_S

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Posted May 08 2005 - 09:21 AM

Quote:
[Casper] is not easy to listen to, but he reveals an enormous amount of worthwhile information.

Try taking notes in his lectures! An average Casper class day will consume about 4 (front and back) notebook pages of dense material (I tend to take as literal as possible notes). Just reading over your notes for one class can take a half hour. He certainly delivers a ton of information, say for his Star Wars Phenomenon class you'll get about three hours of lecture dedicated to the history of special effects along with about an hour of clips illustrating the lecture. Or another two hours on Arthurian legend (and eventually how it relates to modern fantasy such as Star Wars, Tolkien, Lewis etc). I think I went through about 50 pages of a 70page notebook for his Hitchcock class, for just 13 weeks of lecture (missed the Thanksgiving class lecture before the birds and no lecture with Pat's visit for a QandA about her fathers work). I look forward to his commentary on the upcoming Lifeboat DVD.

Rick Jewell, on the other hand, is one of the best lecturers I've had at SC. His lectures are just as information dense as Casper's but he doesn't go at that 900mile a minute pace. Posted Image

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#6 of 22 OFFLINE   Steve Christou

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Posted May 08 2005 - 09:38 AM

Nice reviews Herb. I liked I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, but not enough to buy it.
Bad Day at Black Rock is the only one I'm buying from that lot, great film.

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#7 of 22 OFFLINE   Lars Vermundsberget

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Posted May 08 2005 - 10:42 AM

This seems like such a good deal that I'll probably buy the whole set pretty soon. The only one I know I've seen before is Bad Day At Black Rock - a very special film that made quite an impression on me.

#8 of 22 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx

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Posted May 08 2005 - 11:09 AM

I have seen none of them, and based on the reviews, I will buy this set

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#9 of 22 OFFLINE   Charles H

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Posted May 08 2005 - 11:19 AM

I'm surprised how many have never heard of ADVISE AND CONSENT or are unfamiliar with it. I think that it is the best of a very distinguished group of films. I wonder if Bogdanavich mentions that Preminger solicited Martin Luther King to appear in the film as a Senator?
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#10 of 22 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted May 08 2005 - 01:41 PM

Awesome films. Awesome transfers, extras, packaging. And an awesome review.

Top stuff!


#11 of 22 OFFLINE   HaigH

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Posted May 08 2005 - 01:48 PM

Quote:
Try taking notes in his lectures! An average Casper class day will consume about 4 (front and back) notebook pages of dense material (I tend to take as literal as possible notes). Just reading over your notes for one class can take a half hour. He certainly delivers a ton of information, say for his Star Wars Phenomenon class you'll get about three hours of lecture dedicated to the history of special effects along with about an hour of clips illustrating the lecture. Or another two hours on Arthurian legend (and eventually how it relates to modern fantasy such as Star Wars, Tolkien, Lewis etc). I think I went through about 50 pages of a 70page notebook for his Hitchcock class, for just 13 weeks of lecture (missed the Thanksgiving class lecture before the birds and no lecture with Pat's visit for a QandA about her fathers work). I look forward to his commentary on the upcoming Lifeboat DVD.

Rick Jewell, on the other hand, is one of the best lecturers I've had at SC. His lectures are just as information dense as Casper's but he doesn't go at that 900mile a minute pace.

Adam

I agree, I have taken three Casper classes and my notes in his classes have been really heavy. On average, my notes span 6 pages per Casper lecture. This man really knows his stuff and is quite the character.

With respect to commentaries, Casper sees them as being a purely academic tool. So only the most ardent film enthusiasts and/or film students will appreciate his commentaries, otherwise difficult to digest for the common viewer.

I am also looking forward to his commentary for LIFEBOAT, I believe that is the only Hitchcock commentary he has ever done. Hard to imagine as he IS the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock professor of American film. And he recorded that commentary back in October, so here's hoping LIFEBOAT gets released soon.

Dana Polan is also a USC film professor, but I am not familiar with his style nor have I taken a class with him.


Otherwise, another excellent review.
This set just shipped from Amazon for me! I Can't wait!

#12 of 22 OFFLINE   Mike Frezon

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Posted May 08 2005 - 02:33 PM

Herb: Posted Image Excellent job critiquing this unique set. I don't automatically pull the trigger on Warner box sets like many other HTF'ers...but for this set, I believe I'll make an exception.

I saw Paul Muni's performance in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang on my public broadcasting station when I was a teenager. The film has haunted me ever since. I am soooo looking forward to getting a chance to re-visit it. The other films in the set have such interesting places in film and societal history that I am anxious to see them as well--especially Bad Day at Black Rock, Advise and Consent, and A Face in the Crowd.

And, kudos to WB for giving these films this sort of treatment.

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#13 of 22 OFFLINE   Simon Howson

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Posted May 08 2005 - 02:51 PM

Quote:
With respect to commentaries, Casper sees them as being a purely academic tool. So only the most ardent film enthusiasts and/or film students will appreciate his commentaries, otherwise difficult to digest for the common viewer.

I agree, I really like his commentaries because he tries to situate the film within the Hollywood industrial context of the time. So he isn't just talking about what the film may or may not be about, but also the sort of industrial pressures that influenced the production of such a film in the first place.

#14 of 22 OFFLINE   TonyD

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Posted May 09 2005 - 02:21 PM

nice job on this review herb.
one nit though.
in your synopsis of a couple of the movies you give up a little too much of the ending, especially the little sneaky way lonesome rhodes gets "caught".
i have seen the film before but it seems a bit too much info if you havent.

anyway hope to be able to pick up the box, at least face in the crown anyway.
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#15 of 22 OFFLINE   Garysb

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Posted May 10 2005 - 04:22 AM

I received this set yesterday and have watched the Americanization of Emily. What a great film. Looking foward to watching a different film each evening. Thank you for great reviews

#16 of 22 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted May 10 2005 - 06:37 AM

I'm deleting this post, as it was out of line. Herb, please accept my sincere apology.
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#17 of 22 OFFLINE   Jeff_HR

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Posted May 10 2005 - 02:22 PM

My box is on the way, I can't wait! Of the lot, "Advise and Consent" is the one I'm most interested in.
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#18 of 22 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted May 14 2005 - 03:19 AM

It's been more than a few years since I've seen "The Americanization of Emily" and I must say that I won't allow that to happen again. What a wonderful film with some of Paddy's best written dialogue. There are few writers that could measure up to Paddy Chayefsky. Also, I always thought Julie Andrews was a beautiful woman and believed that some of her roles in other films kind of hid that beauty. I haven't heard the commentary by Arthur Hiller yet except him saying that this was his favorite film he directed along with it being the favorite for Andrews, James Garner, James Coburn and Paddy.






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#19 of 22 OFFLINE   Shawn Cornwell

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Posted May 14 2005 - 12:33 PM

Regarding the otherwise excellent "Crowd" documentary, I was suprised no mention was made of Lee Remick's remarkable film debut, specifically because Ms. Remick's brief but vivid appearance in the film serves as the perfect validation of Kazan's most famous quote: "There are no small parts, only small actors."

Andy Griffith recalls a story concerning Kazan's direction to him during Ms. Remick's key "Baton" scene (to me, possibly the highlight of the film), but no one brings up Ms. Remick's wonderful performance, or even her name; considering the strong impression she made in the movie and her subsequent, fine career in films and television, I assumed recollections on Ms. Remick's excellent work would be included.

However, the "Face" documentary and the overall box set are terrific- I already watched "Bad Day" and I'm currently working on "Americanization of Emily." Keep those box sets coming, Warners!
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#20 of 22 OFFLINE   MarcoBiscotti

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Posted May 14 2005 - 10:38 PM

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is now officially on my list of favorite films ever; What an amazing set! I've gotten through that and Bad Day At Black Rock so far which I'd caught earlier this year on TCM and liked a lot. Hadn't had a chance to screen any of the others yet, though I had to pop Blackboard Jungle in as soon as I opened the package just to check out the bonus Michael Lah directed Droopy short which I surprisingly hadn't seen and found to be really funny, quick-paced and well made. I'm considering which to throw on tonight when my girlfriend comes over (she thinks she's bringing Meet The Fockers to watch... yeah right!)





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