Universal // 1977 // 113 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // July 31st, 2008
Finding the one you love...is finding yourself.
In 1974, America was introduced to the one and only Henry Winkler. Although he started out in movies (Crazy Joe and The Lords Of Flatbush), it was the role of The Fonz on Happy Days that made him a poster-cum-magazine cover phenomenon. Seriously, nobody really cared if he could act; they just worshipped him in a leather jacket, as he represented the new form of boob tube cool.
Three years into Happy Days fever, Winkler made his starring debut in a seriocomic drama about a screwed up Vietnam veteran. The role must have been a real challenge for him, as he no doubt wanted to prove to his harshest critics he can be taken seriously as an actor. The choice paid off handsomely, with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. Over 30 years later, Universal gives the little film Heroes a long-awaited DVD release.
Vietnam is over, and the country is still healing. Jack Dunne (Winkler), like many of his Army brothers, is now a ghost, wandering the streets of New York with nothing to do and no place to go. After causing a protest/ruckus at a military recruiting station, he's thrown back in a VA hospital, diagnosed as being clinically insane. Jack knows he's not crazy; he's simply disgruntled and disillusioned, hankering for some kind of happiness left in the world.
Within a few days, Jack is able to make a daring escape. After contemplation, he decides to go out West and visit some of his old platoon pals, hoping to start a worm farm with them. Along the way, he strikes up a conversation with Carol Bell (Sally Field, Norma Rae), who's about to get married but needs to get away for awhile. What follows is a cross-country journey full of fun, melancholy, life-affirming realizations...as well as love.
Before 1978's The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, few films were about Vietnam or even dared allude to it. A rare exception was the Oscar-winning documentary Hearts and Minds, which emphasized how much the U.S. was "the wrong side." With the country deeply and emotionally divided, it wasn't exactly the right subject to drive a feature film; most people wanted to be entertained, not reminded of the outside world. In the summer of 1977, Star Wars would be the perfect cinematic antidote for the post-Vietnam depression. On the other hand, it also opened the door -- somewhat sneakily -- for films about Vietnam to be accepted, if not yet embraced.
Screenwriter James Carabatsos is a veteran of Vietnam. While he's more well known for writing two '80s war epics, Heartbreak Ridge and Hamburger Hill, he started out with 1977's Heroes, in which he wanted to emphasize some of the problems many of his fellow veterans were going through after the war had ended. To be sure, Heroes is no The Best Years Of Our Lives, as it seems more like a clone of It Happened One Night with Winkler as Gable and Field as Colbert. Not quite, but the ride is smooth, entertaining, agreeably acted, and hard to dislike. Jeremy Paul Kagan's direction is appropriately low-key, maintaining focus on Carabatsos' characters from beginning to end.
As a character, Dunne is like many veterans who became outcasts in the American landscape. He's a Nixon kid who's been nuked of all his self-worth, now seeking harmony and hoping to harvest worms for a living. Consequently, his buddy Ken (Harrison Ford) hasn't exactly found his niche or direction either, expecting his eureka to come not from discovery but from luck. They're heroes, and they are lost, lacking the respect and honor they deserve. Carol, who is not ready for marriage, actually views Jack and Ken as human beings, no matter how eccentric they may be.
Henry Winkler gets Jack's eccentricity down to a tee, though his performance remains frustratingly average. He never really rises above adequate, making one wonder if the role could have benefited from another, more established actor. Still, Winkler is believable enough as this traumatized vet, and his boyish charm will no doubt keep female viewers occupied; nevertheless, he's easily outshone by his co-stars. Field is both adorable and adroit in a female lead not dissimilar to the one she had in the same year's Smokey and the Bandit. And Ford, fresh off his Star Wars success, exhibits both brawn and bravado in his mere 20 minutes of screen time.
Being a minor catalogue title, it's unsurprising that Universal is releasing Heroes as a bare-bones disc. However, this is a sorry bare-bones disc, seeing how it doesn't even have scene selections; the only choices on the menu are "play movie" or "languages." Visually, the 1.85:1 anamorphic print is better than expected, with colors well saturated and sharpness to spare. The studio supplies two audio tracks (English and French), both in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, not stereo (which is really cheap). Subtitles are provided in English only.
In addition, Universal has some 'splainin' to do regarding the soundtrack. When Heroes made its theatrical run, it included a Kansas song ("Carry on Wayward Son") accompanying the end credits. On VHS, that song was removed and replaced by a less-substantial tune that alluded to the film's title more. Fans who've been hoping the DVD would correct this error will be rightfully disappointed, as the Kansas song is nowhere to be found...despite the fact it's still mentioned in the end credits! Not having any extras is one thing, but this mistake borders on incompetence.
When it originally came out, Heroes largely served as a vehicle for Henry Winkler, who ruled the 1970s. Field and Ford were just beginning to make their marks and would essentially rule the 1980s, with her winning two Oscars and him owning the box office as Indiana Jones. In that sense, despite its low profile, Heroes remains a confident curio, an appealing amalgam of road movie, drama, and character study which somehow works thirty years later. Recommended!
The film is free to go, with Winkler and Co. found not guilty. Universal,
however, is fined for not only a lazy DVD, but also its ignorance regarding the
soundtrack. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated PG