BATTLEGROUND (WARNER HOME VIDEO )
BACK TO BATAAN ( WARNER HOME VIDEO )
WAKE ISLAND ( UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO )
TO HELL AND BACK ( UNIVERSAL HOME VIDEO )
THE ENEMY BELOW ( 20TH CENT. FOX HOME VIDEO )
CRASH DIVE ( 20TH CENT. FOX HOME VIDEO )
WALT DISNEY ON THE FRONT LINES ( DISNEY HOME VIDEO )
BATTLEGROUND is my favorite WW2 film. The fact that it was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, is not surprising to me, for this true story about the 101st Airborne troops resisting Hitler's fierce counteroffensive is directed with such truthful and gritty force by William A. Wellman that virtually every scene brings home what it must have been like to be involved in one of the deadliest encounters of WW2. It's all here --- the heroism, heartbreak and humor are spelled out in vivid and wrenching detail by Robert Pirosh's Oscar-winning screenplay, and enacted with power and conviction by some of M.G.M.'s best contract players, including Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, and John Hodiak . (Too bad there's never been an Oscar category for Best Ensemble Performances ---- BATTLEGROUND would have been a shoo-in.)
I wish the full screen black-and-white transfer had less grain and surface damage, but it's a serviceable rendition of a film that can, without the slightest hesitation, be called "great".
BACK TO BATAAN is imbued with with a "Let's get those dirty Japs" state of mind that was prevalent in war films that were actually made during the war, and it's a relief to know that films of this type have not (yet!) fallen victim to the "politically correct" zealots who would seek to censor and mutilate films that so accurately convey the sentiments of their respective times. This film, which really is a salute to the heroism of the Philippine resistance forces, while no BATTLEGROUND, has its stirring moments, and John Wayne and Anthony Quinn are effectively restrained in the two leading roles. Indeed, Mr. Wayne eliminates so many Japs with his trademark effortless dispatch that it's tempting to speculate whether the war would have ended sooner if in fact he'd enlisted.
Warner's full screen black-and-white transfer, while not perfect, is superior to that of BATTLEGROUND, exhibiting a more confident grey scale and far less graininess.
WAKE ISLAND was the first major war film to be released after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and recounts with great passion and immediacy the incredible true story of a handful of U.S. Marines holding out against an overwhelming Japenese air, land and sea assault. Director John Farrow coaxes good performances from Paramount contract players MacDonald Carey, Robert Preston, and William Bendix, but it's Brian Donlevy's subtle work as the man in charge that really holds this intense and action-packed film together.
Universal's full screen black-and-white transfer has more than its share of scratches and surface damage, but, even in this shape, WAKE ISLAND is an essential addition to anyone's WW2 film library.
TO HELL AND BACK's most unique feature is the fact that this true story about Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of WW2 is played by none other than Audie Murphy himself, which may account for a screenplay that is extremely reticent to explore the well-known darker aspects of his personality. No matter, there's more than enough here, sanitized and depth-free though it is, to appeal to any WW2 buff, and the plentiful action scenes combine authentic WW2 footage with well staged re-enactments seamlessly.
Universal's anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 transfer is just fine, and while the package labels the sound as 2.0 mono, it's really stereo, a pleasant surprise.
Once you get past a rather slow and static opening, THE ENEMY BELOW, which stars Robert Mitchum, Curt Jurgens, and Biff Elliot, jump-starts into first gear and becomes an uncommonly gripping WW2 drama about an American destroyer and a German U-boat stalking each other at sea. Mitchum, an actor of great hidden depth and complexity, none of which is required here, seems somewhat at sea playing a man with apparently no faults, but Curt Jurgens, as the German submarine commander, compensates with an intensely layered performance so successful that he almost succeeds in perpetrating the myth of the "good" Nazi. Almost.
Fox's anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 color transfer couldn't be more perfect, and the 4.0 surround sound nicely complements this far better than average wartime thriller.
CRASH DIVE, about which esteemed N.Y. Times film critic Bosley Crowther said in his April 29th, 1943 review "---- is romance and thriller of the most fictitious kind. It leaves one wondering blankly whether Hollywood knows we're at war." Truer words were never spoken. What we have here is a standard romantic triangle (Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter, Dana Andrews) inconvenienced occasionally by that pesky war, and photographed in the same gaudy Technicolor that Fox utilized for their lush Betty Grable musicals. It's entertaining in its own wacky way if you accept it for what it is: a hallucinational war fantasy without the slightest basis in reality.
Fox's full screen transfer of this 3-strip Technicolor film is better than average and the mono sound is crisp, clear and preferable to the pseudo-stereo option. (Note to Fox: You still have some excellent and hitherto unreleased war films in your library, namely THE PURPLE HEART, DESTINATION GOBI, THE FROGMEN, and Samuel Fuller's outrageous anticommunist comic book HELL AND HIGH WATER. How about it?)
WALT DISNEY ON THE FRONT LINES ---- Without question the most important WW2-themed dvd release of this or any year thus far is the stupendous collection of WW2 cartoons, shorts, and unseen for decades propaganda features that is contained in one of the four latest "Walt Disney Treasures" 2-disc sets WALT DISNEY ON THE FRONT LINES. Indeed, while there's no denying the immense historical value of the voluminous material on display here, what's most surprising is the high level of entertainment that these beautifully animated features and shorts still supply. (The quality of the animation rivals the very best that Disney has ever produced, a fact that the virtually perfect transfers accentuate.) There's so much to choose from, but my particular favorites are the feature length VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER and the legendary Donald Duck cartoon DER FUEHRER'S FACE.
Two rumors surfaced when this much anticipated release was withdrawn from its original November release date and pushed to May : ( 1 ) That the wartime material was withdrawn in order to censor the anti-Japanese and German material, and ( 2 ) That because of recent inter-company disputes, Roy Disney's name and image would be deleted from the collection. They were just that: rumors.
Anyone with the slightest inclination to purchase this superb collection should do so soon, as it's a limited edition, and unless I miss my guess they'll sell out with incredible speed. What are you reading this for? GO!