Meet John Doe/A Farewell to Arms/Beat the Devil/Call It Murder (DVD)

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Overview

Synopsis

A Farewell to Arms
This first film version of Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms stars Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Cooper plays Lt. Frederick Henry, a World War I officer who falls in love with English Red Cross nurse Catherine Barkley (Hayes)-after first mistaking her for a woman of ill repute. Henry's friend, Major Rinaldi, is envious of the romance, and pulls strings to have Catherine transferred to Milan. When Henry is wounded in battle, he ends up in the very hospital where Catherine works. They resume the affair, which reaches an ecstatic peak just before Henry is returned to the front. The now-pregnant Catherine remains in Switzerland, sending letters by the bushelfull to Henry. But the jealous Rinaldi sees to it that Henry never receives those letters, leading Catherine to conclude sorrowfully that Henry has forgotten her. As the Armistice approaches, Henry makes his way to Switzerland, hoping to find Catherine. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi

Call It Murder
The old "If it were your own daughter" plot device forms the basis of the independently-produced crime melodrama Midnight. O.P. Heggie plays jury foreman Edward Weldon, who has no qualms about sentencing a woman to death for a crime of passion. His unpopular decision makes Weldon persona non grata even in his own home, but he sticks to his firm belief that all murderers must pay the supreme penalty, no matter what the provocation. He soon has cause to regret his intractability when his own daughter Stella (Sidney Fox) kills a former lover who betrayed her. In addition to Humphrey Bogart, who plays the small but memorable role of one of the murder victims, this New York-filmed oddity also features such Broadway-bred talent as Margaret Wycherly, Henry Hull, Granville Bates, Helen Flint, and, in their film debuts, Lynne Overman and Richard Whorf. Midnight was later reissued by Astor Films as Call it Murder to cash in on Bogart's latter-day popularity (Bogie was also "promoted" to top billing in the refilmed opening credits). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi

Meet John Doe
The first of director Frank Capra's independent productions (in partnership with Robert Riskin), Meet John Doe begins with the end of reporter Ann Mitchell's (Barbara Stanwyck) job. Fired as part of a downsizing move, she ends her last column with an imaginary letter written by "John Doe." Angered at the ill treatment of America's little people, the fabricated Doe announces that he's going to jump off City Hall on Christmas Eve. When the phony letter goes to press, it causes a public sensation. Seeking to secure her job, Mitchell talks her managing editor (James Gleason) into playing up the John Doe letter for all it's worth; but to ward off accusations from rival papers that the letter was bogus, they decide to hire someone to pose as John Doe: a ballplayer-turned-hobo (Gary Cooper), who'll do anything for three squares and a place to sleep. "John Doe" and his traveling companion The Colonel (Walter Brennan) are ensconced in a luxury hotel while Mitchell continues churning out chunks of John Doe philosophy. When newspaper publisher D.B. Norton (Edward Arnold), a fascistic type with presidential aspirations, decides to use Doe as his ticket to the White House, he puts Doe on the radio to deliver inspirational speeches to the masses -- ghost-written by Mitchell, who, it is implied, has become the publisher's mistress. The central message of the Doe speeches is "Love Thy Neighbor," though, conceived in cynicism, the speeches strike so responsive a chord with the public that John Doe clubs pop up all over the country. Believing he is working for the good of America, Cooper agrees to front the National John Doe Movement -- until he discovers that Norton plans to exploit Doe in order to create a third political party and impose a virtual dictatorship on the country. The last of Capra's "social statement" films, Meet John Doe posted a profit, although Capra and Riskin were forced to dissolve their corporation due to excessive taxes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi

Beat the Devil
Humphrey Bogart stars as one of five disreputable adventurers who are trying to get uranium out of East Africa. Bogart's associates include pompous fraud Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre as the German-accented "O'Hara", whose wartime record is forever a source of speculation and suspicion. Becoming involved in Bogart's machinations are a prim British married couple (Edward Underdown and blonde-wigged Jennifer Jones). As a climax to their many misadventures and double-crosses, the uranium seekers end up facing extermination by an Arab firing squad. The satirical nature of Beat the Devil eluded many moviegoers in 1953, and the film was a failure. The fact that the picture attained cult status in lesser years failed to impress its star Humphrey Bogart, who could only remember that he lost a considerable chunk of his own money when he became involved in the project. Peter Viernick worked on the script on an uncredited basis. Beat the Devil eventually fell into public domain, leading to numerous inferior editions by second and third-tiered labels. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi

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