Media : Armchair cinephile 

Not quite as cliché as a tie

Do middle-aged men still go for old Westerns and war films? I know my father holds them in no special esteem, and I’m pretty sure my father-in-law is even less interested. Nevertheless, every June the studios unleash crates of the stuff for Father’s Day. It could just be that they have a surplus of these genre titles sitting in the vault; but if they didn’t sell, you can bet they wouldn’t flood the New Release racks.

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Some are pure programmers, but some hold real cinephile appeal. Two new box sets from Warners, the John Ford Film Collection and John Wayne/John Ford Film Collection (dig the manly directness of those names!), highlight one of the cinema’s greatest directors and the actor who inspired some of his finest work. The latter doesn’t, by a long shot, contain everything the pair made, but it offers a new edition of the masterpiece The Searchers, while reaching back to the partnership’s birth with Stagecoach. The latter set fills gaps in Ford’s filmography, with five new-to-DVD titles ranging from the World-War-I-era The Lost Patrol to his last Western, Cheyenne Autumn.

Fox joins the box-’em-up-for-Dad business in a big way, with a slew of four-packs, most of which pair already-available titles with new ones. Some of the collections are kind of schizophrenic, like Heroes of War: Soldiers’ Stories, in which the hauntingly meditative Thin Red Line (by Terrence Malick, whose lush The New World was just released by New Line) meets generic stuff like Men of Honor. Other pairings make more sense, like the Frontline Combat set, with tales of D-Day and Guadalcanal, or the Navy Battles set, with The Enemy Below and Sink the Bismarck. Best of all, these quadruple-features run under 30 bucks apiece.

Fox is also releasing plenty of new guy-geared titles individually, ranging from the Gary Cooper comedy You’re in the Navy Now to obscure films with marquee actors like Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, and Richard Widmark. Movie-nerd standout: Back Door to Hell, a super-low-budget Philippines-set flick starring a young Jack Nicholson and directed by cult filmmaker Monte Hellman. Bizarro pick: 100 Rifles, a Mexican spree with the unlikely cast of Jim Brown, Burt Reynolds, and Raquel Welch.

John Ford aside, the most welcome Western of the month is the re-release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Fox), which boasts commentaries not only from the director and cinematographer, but from star screenwriter William Goldman. Paul Newman has been hinting in recent interviews that he and the Sundance Kid, Robert Redford, are toying with plans for another film together, and seeing their chemistry here, you’ve got to hope it works out.

Taking the “war movie” genre back before bullets and bombers is Kingdom of Heaven (Fox), the recent Ridley Scott film about the Crusades. I was indifferent to this charisma-deficient epic when it was released, but a new four-disc package offers a 194-minute cut that, according to those who saw it in a limited theatrical release late last year, transforms a mediocre effort into an impressive feat.

Finally, a trio of films that are less enthusiastic about war than some of the above: a 20th Anniversary edition of Platoon (MGM) arrives as director Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center approaches its release, this time with previously unseen scenes and documentaries. The early Mel Gibson vehicle Gallipoli (Paramount) is here to pave the way for his ambitious Passion follow-up, Apocalypto. And Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (Parmount) hits stores, if for no other reason than it’s a damn fine movie, and the hard-to-find original disc was issued in the DVD stone age with no extras on it at all.

What to do this month if your Dad isn’t into all this macho stuff? There’s always Brokeback Mountain ...


More by John DeFore

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