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Case Number 20823

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Ronald Reagan Centennial Collection

Dark Victory
1939 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Knute Rockne, All-American
1940 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Desperate Journey
1942 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
King's Row
1942 // 127 Minutes // Not Rated
This Is The Army
1943 // 121 Minutes // Not Rated
The Hasty Heart
1949 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Storm Warning
1951 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
The Winning Team
1952 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // March 3rd, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Bill Gibron believes the former President was a better political advocate than actor...mostly.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of The Bette Davis Collection (published June 20th, 2005), Humphrey Bogart: The Essential Collection (published November 15th, 2010), Ronald Reagan: The Signature Collection (published October 17th, 2006), Storm Warning (published February 8th, 2008), TCM Greatest Classic Film Legends: Bette Davis (published April 21st, 2011), TCM Spotlight: Errol Flynn Adventures (published August 25th, 2010), and Warner Bros. And The Homefront Collection (published November 24th, 2008) are also available.

The Charge

Hit & Miss—Just Like His Presidency.

Opening Statement

Last month, Ronald Reagan turned 100. Actually, the former leader of the free world was not alive to celebrate such a milestone (he died back in 2004), but that didn't stop every political pundit and Hollywood historian from extolling the virtues—or lack thereof—of his ever-changing mythos. In between battles with Communism and Conservatism, his wayward philosophy and plain spoken ease, any negative attributes have been swept away to continue a pro-perfect track record for what was, arguably, a rather controversial presidency. Still, the one bit of the past that can't be rewritten is Reagan's work in film. Whether you find him a borderline B-lister or a true star, his creative canon is interesting at best. Now, in honor of his karmic century among our memories, Warner Brothers has released an eight disc collection of his films. While many have been available before, this new presentation argues for a player slightly better than average, but once again being clearly portrayed in a positive, non-chimp sitting light.

Facts of the Case

The set has eight films of varying involvement from the future father of the greed decade's "Morning in America," including a number where our acclaimed commander in chief plays a limited, if almost inconsequential role. In keeping with the varying nature of the titles, we will discuss the plots individually and briefly, beginning with:

Dark Victory
A spoiled socialite (Bette Davis, Now Voyager) discovers that she has a brain tumor and is destined to die. She falls for her doctor (George Brent, Jezebel) as he tries to treat her.

Knute Rockne: All American
This one shows the rise of the famed football coach (Pat O'Brien, The Front Page), including his tenure with Notre Dame and the assembly of the fabled Four Horsemen.

King's Row
A group of friends in the 1890s, including a would-be doctor (Robert Cummings, Saboteur), a wealthy orphan (Reagan) and a timid tomboy (Ann Sheridan, Angels with Dirty Faces), find love and loss amidst a gossipy, melodramatic small town.

Desperate Journey
Two members of an RAF bomber crew (Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Reagan), find themselves down deep in Poland, and must make their way across Nazi occupied territories while avoiding the pursuing enemy.

Irving Berlin's This is the Army
Jerry Jones (George Murphy, For Me and My Gal) and his song and dance pals from World War I stage a musical to boost morale. Decades later, with World War II raging, his son Johnny (Reagan) tries to do the same.

The Hasty Heart
A group of wounded Allied soldiers, including an American nicknamed 'Yank' (Reagan), try to support a cantankerous Scotsman (Richard Todd, House of Long Shadows) who is dying.

Storm Warning
When Marsha (Ginger Rogers, Top Hat) goes to a small Southern town to visit her sister (Doris Day, Please Don't Eat the Daises), she witnesses a brutal KKK killing. With the help of a dedicated District Attorney (Reagan), she hopes to bring the bigots to justice.

The Winning Team
This is the story of baseball player Grover Cleveland Alexander (Reagan), his battles with alcoholism and epilepsy, and relationship with his wife Aimee (Doris Day, Pillow Talk).

The Evidence

What—no Bedtime for Bonzo???

Honestly, what right-minded collection of Reagan films would leave out that landmark of monkey business buffoonery. Karl Pilkington must be livid. But seriously, it seems odd that an overview of Reagan titles would include at least two films where he plays an insignificant, almost unimportant, role in the plots, and then skip over selections where, while wildly uneven in their entertainment elements, the beloved President was the key component. Still, six of the octet operate as nice portraits of the developing leading man, including a couple that completely blow us away with their Golden Age of Hollywood chutzpah. Instead of trying to decipher each film and its place among the others, we will go with an mini-review for each movie. This way, we can not only gauge their individual value, but their part in Reagan's re-evaluation as an actor.

Dark Victory
This is an odd choice, considering that Reagan, at the very most, is a supporting player and at the very least is an unnecessary component is the Bette Davis melodrama. He's a fancy playboy, looking suave and acting shallow as Alex Hamm. Overall, the film is a fine blueprint for the next 70 years of five-handkerchief weepers. Reagan's involvement here is negligible at best.

Knute Rockne: All American
As George Gipp, our future President leaves quite an indelible mark. Again, he's hardly the focus of the film—the rise of Rockne to epic iconic Notre Dame demagoguery makes up the majority of the movie—but with its mythos creating conceits and rah-rah spirit, you can't help but get caught up in the cornpone.

King's Row
Finally: a film worthy of inclusion here, though it is available in different DVD configurations. The Peyton-Place-like potboiler, simmering with scandal and secrets, is addictive in its wicked, wicked ways. The entire madman medico angle, including healers who hack off the limbs of those they don't like, is simply stunning. So are the various subplots involving class, insanity, and fiscal misfortune. Like the best of the old school cinematic handwringers, this is brilliant soap opera cheese.

Desperate Journey
If there is a single flaw to this otherwise intriguing example of WWII propaganda, it's that Reagan and his fellow crewmembers take their time behind enemy lines a bit too lightly. They are constantly cutting up, treating the enemy territory as one big joke. They don't seem worried that the Nazis are looking to kill them on sight, nor do we really fret over their safety. While Raymond Massey is less than effective as the villain, the supporting players—including Arthur Kennedy and Alan Hale Sr.—are sensational.

Irving Berlin's This is the Army
Yes, the controversial minstrel show is included here (prefaced by a preachy, pro-PC explanation) and it's weird to think of Reagan as part of a sprawling musical production, but for the most part, Army is a likeable, lightweight romp. Filmed in brilliant Technicolor and containing a slew of memorable Berlin tunes, this wartime morale booster definitely does the job. Perhaps most shockingly, the war footage is spellbinding in its scope.

The Hasty Heart
A slight piffle, propelled by a then-current commentary on how war destroys even the most bitter and hardened men. Since it was based on a stage play, it does tend to come across as dialogue driven and far too direct, but Reagan is fine and the rest of the cast complement each other well.

Storm Warning
With its hard hitting subject matter and dark, disturbed approach, this solid thriller boasts great performances and some eye opening ideas, especially for the time. Granted, we are not really witnessing the Klan's corrupt ideas about racial intolerance (minorities are almost nowhere to be seen here) and, as usual, things are never resolved in the courtroom, but in the contrivances of an otherwise complicated script. While strong stuff, it still suffers from being a bit weak and—dare it be said—whitewashed?

The Winning Team
Biopics often glean through the life of thier subjects, cherrypicking the dramatic bits while leaving out those of legitimate interest. Such is the case here, especially when you consider the studios desire to delete the word "epilepsy" from the film. Thus, Reagan's version of the famed baseball player suffers from unnamed episodes of a nameless disease. Not quite the dramatic fodder one wants out of a complex character study. Indeed, almost everything about Alexander's life is whittled down to a series of cinematic cliches. Besides, Reagan is just not that good here.

Since these films where made before the advent of widescreen technology, each is presented in 1.33:1 full screen transfer. All look good, with King's Row being the very best (it's black and white world crackles with contrasts) while The Hasty Heart has significant softness issues. As the only color offering here, This is the Army stands out, though the print does suffer from some optically off-kilter fade ins and edits. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Mono is clean and crisp, though the older the film is, the more thin and tinny the aural elements can be. As for added content, Dark Victory, This is the Army, and The Hasty Heart have audio commentaries. Along with these three, Knute Rockne, King's Row, and Desperate Journey all offer short subjects, radio adaptations, behind the scenes featurettes, and other goodies. Storm Warning and The Winning Team only contain trailers.

Closing Statement

No one will ever confuse Ronald Reagan for Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, or Cary Grant. He wasn't a Hollywood superstar, and had to wait for politics to turn him into an icon. Still, it's interesting to go back and look at his film career, if only to draw parallels to his rise to political power. Everything he learned in films he filtered into his Governorship of California and two terms as the leader of the United States. As the "Great Communicator," Reagan was capable of playing against type to tell a needy nation exactly what it wanted to hear. As his fascinatingly flawed film work indicates, it was a lesson he learned early and often—sometimes to no avail, at other instance, to the benefit of all who love cinema. As a collection, this package is pretty hit or miss. Sounds like someone's remaining Presidential mantle, when you think about it.

The Verdict

Not guilty…and perhaps not necessary.

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Genres

• Action
• Adventure
• Biographical
• Classic
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Drama
• Film Noir
• Mystery
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies
• Sports
• War

Scales of Justice, Dark Victory

Video: 92
Audio: 82
Extras: 80
Acting: 89
Story: 82
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile, Dark Victory

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Dark Victory

• Commentary
• Featurette
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Knute Rockne, All-American

Video: 93
Audio: 85
Extras: 80
Acting: 88
Story: 76
Judgment: 84

Perp Profile, Knute Rockne, All-American

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Knute Rockne, All-American

• Short Films
• Radio Broadcast
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Desperate Journey

Video: 88
Audio: 86
Extras: 80
Acting: 84
Story: 74
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Desperate Journey

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Desperate Journey

• Newsreel
• Short Films
• Trailers

Scales of Justice, King's Row

Video: 92
Audio: 91
Extras: 80
Acting: 90
Story: 88
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile, King's Row

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, King's Row

• Documentary
• Short Films
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, This Is The Army

Video: 92
Audio: 89
Extras: 85
Acting: 85
Story: 80
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile, This Is The Army

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1943
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, This Is The Army

• Commentary
• Documentary
• Short Films
• Trailers

Scales of Justice, The Hasty Heart

Video: 82
Audio: 80
Extras: 80
Acting: 82
Story: 70
Judgment: 78

Perp Profile, The Hasty Heart

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1949
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Hasty Heart

• Commentary
• Short Films
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Storm Warning

Video: 93
Audio: 86
Extras: 80
Acting: 88
Story: 82
Judgment: 84

Perp Profile, Storm Warning

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Storm Warning

• Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Winning Team

Video: 84
Audio: 81
Extras: 80
Acting: 80
Story: 65
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile, The Winning Team

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1952
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Winning Team

• Trailer








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