Legends of the Silver Screen: Onscreen & Off [10 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

Gung Ho!
Accepted in 1943 as standard wartime propaganda, Gung Ho can be seen today as an outrageous exercise in raging machismo. Randolph Scott plays Thorwald, a marine colonel assigned to assemble a crack squadron of fearless jungle fighters for the all-important raid on Japanese-held Makim Island (which in real life was recaptured only a few weeks before the film's release). Thorwald seems determine to select the dregs of the earth for this mission: most of his squadron is comprised of misfits, barroom brawlers, borderline psychos and outright murderers. It is suggested that these sociopaths are the only men truly qualified for the mission at hand, and by film's end the squadron members-living and dead-are lauded as true-blue patriots. Once one gets past the questionable premise, Gung Ho is a fairly exciting WWII melodrama, with a particularly thrilling climax. The film is currently available in its original form and in a computer-colorized version. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

His Girl Friday
The second screen version of the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play The Front Page, His Girl Friday changed hard-driving newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson from a man to a woman, transforming the story into a scintillating battle of the sexes. Rosalind Russell plays Hildy, about to foresake journalism for marriage to cloddish Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Cary Grant plays Walter Burns, Hildy's editor and ex-husband, who feigns happiness about her impending marriage as a ploy to win her back. The ace up Walter's sleeve is a late-breaking news story concerning the impending execution of anarchist Earl Williams (John Qualen), a blatant example of political chicanery that Hildy can't pass up. The story gets hotter when Williams escapes and is hidden from the cops by Hildy and Walter--right in the prison pressroom. His Girl Friday may well be the fastest comedy of the 1930s, with kaleidoscope action, instantaneous plot twists, and overlapping dialogue. And if you listen closely, you'll hear a couple of "in" jokes, one concerning Cary Grant's real name (Archie Leach), and another poking fun at Ralph Bellamy's patented "poor sap" screen image. Subsequent versions of The Front Page included Billy Wilder's 1974 adaptation, which restored Hildy Johnson's manhood in the form of Jack Lemmon, and 1988's Switching Channels, which cast Burt Reynolds in the Walter Burns role and Kathleen Turner as the Hildy Johnson counterpart. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Charade
Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn star in this stylish comedy-thriller directed by Stanley Donen, very much in a Hitchcock vein. Grant plays Peter Joshua, who meets Reggie Lampert (Hepburn) in Paris and later offers to help her when she discovers that her husband has been murdered. After the funeral, Reggie is summoned to the embassy and warned by agent/friend Bartholemew (Walter Matthau) that her late husband helped steal 250,000 dollars during the war and that the rest of the gang is after the money as well. When three of the men who attended her husband's funeral begin to harass her, Reggie goes to Joshua for help, at which time Joshua confesses that his name is actually Alexander Dyle, the brother of a fourth accomplice in the gold theft. The three men from the funeral are revealed to be the three other accomplices in the crime, and though she knows next to nothing of the heist, Reggie is caught in a ring of suspense as she is followed by the shadowy trio, all after the money. Apparently, the only person she can trust is Joshua/Dyle -- until Bartholomew tells Reggie that the fourth accomplice had no brother, and Joshua/Dyle reveals that he is, in fact, a crook named Adam Canfield. Now Reggie doesn't know where to turn. The musical score by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini was nominated for an Academy Award. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

A Farewell to Arms
Farewell to Arms is the second film version of Ernest Hemingway's World War One novel--and also the last film produced by David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind). Rock Hudson plays an American serving in the Italian Army during the "War to End All Wars". Jennifer Jones is his lover, a Red cross nurse. They have a torrid affair, which results in Jones' pregnancy. As the months pass, Hudson and Jones lose contact with one another, and Jones believes that Hudson has forgotten her. But a battle-weary Hudson finally makes it to Switzerland, where Jones is hospitalized. The baby is stillborn, and Jones dies shortly afterward, murmuring that her death is "a dirty trick." Filmed on a simpler scale in 1932 (with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes starring), A Farewell to Arms was blown all out of proportion to "epic" stature for the 1957 remake--so much so that its original director, John Huston, quit the film in disgust. Still, the basic love story is touchingly enacted by Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Ernest Hemingway could never come to terms with Hollywood's preoccupation with The Happy Ending: he accepted the money for the screen rights to his short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, but he could never bring himself to watch it. Gregory Peck plays a character based, in decidedly unflattering fashion, on Hemingway crony F. Scott Fitzgerald. While hunting in the African mountains in the company of his faithful lady friend Susan Hayward, Peck is seriously wounded; in fact, it doesn't look as though he'll survive the night. In the few hours he has left, Peck reflects upon what he considers a wasted life. Having aspired to be the Great American Novelist, Peck has only turned out money-making drivel. The only time that he truly felt as though he'd made a contribution to the world was when he fought on the Loyalist side in Spain (this element isn't in the short story, but is drawn from Hemingway's own experiences). As for his lost romance with his late wife Ava Gardner, Peck still cannot figure out what went wrong. The Hemingway original ended with the Peck character dying from his wounds; producer Darryl F. Zanuck wouldn't hear of this, preferring that Peck survive with the resolve to write something of lasting value. The Technicolor location photography of Leon Shamroy and the rumbling musical score of Bernard Herrmann are the main attractions of The Snows of Kilimanjaro. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Port of New York
The location-filmed Port of New York might have been forgotten had it not been for one of its leading players. In his first film role, Yul Brynner plays an erudite narcotics smuggler named Paul Vicola. Using a phony yacht club as a front, Vicola conducts a brisk drug trade, making certain that no one will blow the whistle on his operation by casually murdering his couriers. Detectives Walters (Scott Brady) and Flannery (Richard Rober) infiltrate Vicola's gang; one of the cops is killed, but the other manages to see that justice is done. Yul Brynner was so obscure at the time of Port of New York (his only significant credit was Broadway's Lute Song) that one reviewer referred to him as "Yul Brunner." ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Swing High, Swing Low
Swing High Swing Low is a new coat of paint on the old stage play Burlesque, first filmed in 1929 as The Dance of Life. Ex-serviceman Skid Johnson (Fred MacMurray) rises to the uppermost rungs of show business as a bandleader. As his fame swells, so does his head, and he becomes impossibly arrogant, forgetting the friends who helped him get to the top -- not to mention his ever-faithful sweetheart, band vocalist Maggie King (Carole Lombard). Consuming great quantities of booze, Skid hits the skids, ending up a skid-row derelict (there seems to be a pattern here). The ultimate humiliation comes when he isn't even allowed to return to the Army because his insides are shot. In the film's calculatedly teary finale, Skid is rescued emotionally and professionally by Maggie, now a big star in her own right. As indicated by the synopsis, the film is banal and old-hat, but the stars are terrific, especially Carole Lombard, who sings in several scenes (and not all that badly!) Swing High, Swing Low was remade in 1948 as When My Baby Smiles at Me. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery
Based on an actual bank heist (and even using the St. Louis policemen who took part in thwarting the original robbery), this fairly ho-hum caper film stars Steve McQueen as the driver of the getaway car for the four bank robbers. The four men go over their plan several times, including dry runs to cover every possible contingent. These preparations take up most of the film, so that by the time the thieves are ready to do it, the audience has been ready forever. The actual scenario when the thieves walk into the bank is fast-paced, and as might be expected, even the best-laid plans cannot foresee everything. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi

The Last Time I Saw Paris
Loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story Babylon Revisited, MGM's The Last Time I Saw Paris is a star-studded soap opera, luxuriously lensed by director Richard Brooks. In his last film as an MGM contractee, Van Johnson plays reporter Charles Wills, who while covering the VE Day celebrations in Paris, meets and falls in love with the gorgeous Helen Ellsworth (Elizabeth Taylor). Soon afterward, Charles and Helen are married. Charles supports his wife with a low-paying wire service job, devoting his evenings to writing a novel. After numerous rejections, Charles is more than willing to give up writing and live off the revenue of a Texas oil well in which he'd invested. As he squanders his newfound riches on creature comforts, he loses his literary ambitions and, slowly but surely, the love and devotion of his wife. His self-destructive behavior is halted only by a devastating tragedy. Donna Reed costars as Charles sister-in-law Marion, who carries a torch for him throughout the picture, and Eva Gabor contributes a supporting role. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Little Princess
Shirley Temple's first Technicolor feature, The Little Princess was inspired by the oft-filmed novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the film finds Temple being enrolled in a boarding school by her wealthy widowed father (Ian Hunter), who must head off to fight in the Boer War. At first, Temple is treated like royalty; her behavior couldn't be more down to earth, but this preferential treatment foments resentment. When her father is reported killed in the war, circumstances are severely altered. The spiteful headmistress (Mary Nash) relegates Temple to servant status and forces the girl to sleep in a drafty attic. She keeps her spirits up by hoping against hope that her father will return, and to that end she haunts the corridors of a nearby military hospital. Queen Victoria doesn't have to make a guest appearance in the tearfully joyous closing sequence, but it does serve as icing on the cake to this, one of Temple's most enjoyable feature films. Reliable Shirley Temple flick supporting actors Cesar Romero and Arthur Treacher are back in harness in The Little Princess, while adult leading lady Anita Louise figures prominently in a sugary dream sequence. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Home Town Story
Home Town Story was commissioned as a pro-Big Business tract by General Motors. The story revolves around Blake Washburn, a mildly leftist newspaperman, played by Jeffrey Lynn. Returning to his home town, Washburn turns his journalistic vitriol upon the local business interests. Only after his kid sister Katie (Melinda Plowman), trapped in a cave-in, is rescued by locally produced technology, does Washburn realize the value of the capitalistic system. Home Town Story was fitfully distributed by MGM, then lapsed into obscurity. It might have remained there had it not been for the presence of a young Marilyn Monroe in a supporting part. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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