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TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Henry Fonda [4 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Advise and Consent
The first of Allen Drury's "all names changed to protect the guilty" political novels, Advise and Consent was brought to the screen by producer/director Otto Preminger. The film hinges upon the appointment of Robert Leffingwell (Henry Fonda) to Secretary of State. Leffingwell has been hand-picked by the President (Franchot Tone), meaning that there'll be a battle on the Senate floor between adherents of and opponents to the current administration. Among the participants are veteran Dixiecrat Charles Laughton, freshman Senator Don Murray and powerseeker George Grizzard. Burgess Meredith also shows up as a man who is brought into the Senate to "prove" that Leffingwell is a communist. To neutralize Murray, Grizzard threatens to dredge up a homosexual incident in Murray's past, which results in the latter's suicide. Advise and Consent is a slow and old-fashioned film, coming to life only when Laughton and Grizzard are on screen--and in the climax, in which the fate of Leffingwell's appointment is left in the hands of acting President Lew Ayres. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Wrong Man
Director Alfred Hitchcock lets us know from the outset that The Wrong Man is a painfully true story and not one of his customary fabricated suspense yarns, through the simple expedient of walking before the camera and telling us as much (this introductory appearance replaced his planned cameo role as a nightclub patron). The real-life protagonist, musican Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, is played by Henry Fonda. Happily married and gainfully employed at the Stork Club, Balestrero's life takes a disastrous turn when he goes to an insurance office, hoping to borrow on his wife's (Vera Miles) life insurance policy in order to pay her dental bills. One of the girls in the office spots Balestrero, identifying him as the man who robbed the office a day or so earlier. This, and a few scattered bits of circumstantial evidence, lead to Balestrero's arrest. Though he's absolutely innocent, he can offer no proof of his whereabouts the day of the crime. Lawyer Frank O'Connor (Anthony Quayle) does his best to help his client, but he's up against an indifferent judicial system that isn't set up to benefit the "little man". Meanwhile, Balestrero's wife becomes emotionally unhinged, leading to a complete nervous breakdown. As Balestrero prays in his cell, his image is juxtaposed onto the face of the actual criminal-who looks nothing like the accused man! Utilizing one of his favorite themes-the helplessness of the innocent individual when confronted by the faceless bureaucracy of the Law-Hitchcock weaves a nightmarish tale, all the more frightening because it really happened (the film's best moment: Fonda looking around the nearly empty courtroom during his arraignment, realizing that the rest of the world cares precisely nothing about his inner torment). Hitch enhances the film's versimilitude by shooting in the actual locations where the real story occured. His only concession to Hollywood formula was the half-hearted coda, assuring us that Mrs. Balestrero eventually recovered from her mental collapse (she sure doesn't look any too healthy the last time we see her!) Watch for uncredited appearances by Harry Dean Stanton, Bonnie Franklin, Tuesday Weld and Charles Aidman. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Mister Roberts
Henry Fonda returned to films after an eight-year absence in this masterful adaptation of the actor's Broadway hit Mister Roberts. Written and partially directed by Joshua Logan, the film stars Fonda as Lt. Doug Roberts, chief cargo officer of the supply ship "Reluctant." WW2 is in its last few months, and Roberts is itching for combat duty. But the Reluctant's surly, despotic captain (James Cagney), anxious to use Roberts to expedite his own promotion, refuses to sign any of Roberts' transfer requests. Helping to brighten Mister Roberts' humdrum existence are his best friends, Ensign Frank Pulver (Jack Lemmon, in an Oscar-winning performance) and the ship's philosophical doctor (William Powell, in his final film appearance). Most of the laughs are provided by Pulver, officer "in charge of laundry and morale." When he isn't wheeling and dealing to bring a bevy of beautiful nurses on board the Reluctant, Pulver is concocting elaborate schemes to avenge himself against the Captain -- even though he's spent 14 months on the Reluctant without ever meeting his nemesis. The film's highlights include the efforts by Roberts, Pulver, and Doc to mix a bottle of Scotch from Coca-Cola, Iodine, and other vital ingredients; and Mister Roberts' (and later Ensign Pulver's) assertion of manhood by tossing the Captain's precious palm tree overboard. Halfway through shooting, legendary director John Ford was replaced, ostensibly because of illness, by Mervyn LeRoy. One of the finest service comedies ever made, Mister Roberts spawned a less amusing sequel, Ensign Pulver (1964), as well as a 1965 TV sitcom. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Battle of the Bulge
In December of 1944, the Allied high command is convinced that German forces in Belgium are in a low state of readiness, and perhaps even about to withdraw. Only one officer on the front lines, intelligence specialist Lt. Col. Kiley (Henry Fonda), believes otherwise -- that the Germans are actually planning an attack. His opinion is rejected by his immediate superior (Dana Andrews) and his commanding general (Robert Ryan). Kiley spots several suspicious signs of German activity behind enemy lines on a reconnaissance flight, and he is at the front looking for evidence when the German counter-offensive starts. Taking advantage of Allied unpreparedness and a weather front that grounds all aircraft, their heavy tank units, supported by infantry, roll over the American forces, assaulting the lines at five different points in an attempt to ultimately divide the Allied forces in the west. The German top tank officer, Colonel Hessler (Robert Shaw), has planned his operation perfectly, but he is in a race against time, to take as much territory as possible before the weather front moves out and American aircraft can fly again, and to capture the American fuel supplies so that the offensive can continue right to the port of Antwerp. He has the total dedication of his men, but engenders doubts from his aide, Conrad (Hans-Christian Blech), who is weary of the fighting and wonders what it is all for. Meanwhile, Kiley is trying to uncover the weak spot in the German offensive, and he crosses paths with several other key players in this drama: Charles Bronson as a combat officer charged with the defense of the collapsing American position, James MacArthur as a neophyte lieutenant who becomes a leader, and Telly Savalas as a conniving sergeant in command of a tank who unexpectedly finds a nobler, less mercenary side of himself. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Henry Fonda
    Henry Fonda - Robert Leffingwell
  • Charles Laughton
    Charles Laughton - Sen. Seabright "Seab" Cooley
  • Don Murray
    Don Murray - Sen. Brigham Anderson
  • Walter Pidgeon
    Walter Pidgeon - Sen. Bob Munson
  • Gene Tierney
    Gene Tierney - Dolly Harrison
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