Judge Steve Power don't flash no pictures of his sweetheart on the battlefield; he knows what happens to those guys.
Our reviews of Battle Of The Bulge (published August 12th, 2005), Battle Of The Bulge (HD DVD) (published May 23rd, 2007), The Dawn Patrol (1930) (published April 19th, 2013), and Gunga Din (published February 1st, 2005) are also available.
Turner Classic Movies delivers a four-pack of action, but are these titles films you want in your foxhole?
Battle of the Bulge—One of the first true war "epics" attempts to recreate the Ardennes offensive, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of World War II. With the Allies at Germany's doorstep, Hitler would launch one last blitzkrieg, a desperate push against a perceived weakness in the Allied lines. Director Ken Annakin (The Longest Day) leads an all-star cast that includes Henry Fonda (Once Upon A Time In The West, Robert Shaw (Jaws), Robert Ryan (The Wild Bunch) and Charles Bronson (The Magnificent Seven).
When I was a younger man, The Battle of The Bulge was a staple for me. Many a lazy weekend afternoon was spent slowly wearing down an old Beta cassette that was probably recorded on a lazy weekend afternoon. It's the kind of crackling, finely detailed war epic that eventually led to films like A Bridge Too Far and The Big Red One. When you're a young man closing in on his teenage years you don't give a damn about things like historical accuracy. Yes, this film is littered with little factoids and sequences that are entirely made up, fudged, or faked to such a degree that Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower called for a press conference just to slam the film.
In spite of the glaring omissions and alterations, the film works. The cast is pretty awesome for the most part, and the action sequences are directed with an eye to detail and realism (relatively speaking of course). You armchair Generals may get ruffled feathers at American tanks posing as Panzers, or Korean War-era US tanks getting to portray Shermans on screen, but the rest of us can enjoy a great war drama, warts 'n' all.
The Dawn Patrol—David Niven (Casino Royale) and Errol Flynn (The Adventures of Robin Hood) star as two young flyboys in World War I. Both men learn the true price of the War through conflict after conflict and the death that surrounds them. This is the film that created the "flying ace" cliche, right down to the white scarves and derring-do gallantry.
I've always decried the relative lack of solid features relating to the First World War. In recent years we've gotten the bloated The Red Baron and the totally out to lunch Flyboys, but what's depressing is that this is all we can come up with in this advanced age with 100 plus years of cinema behind us, and a film from 1938 can completely blow modern efforts clear off the screen. Sure, much of the aerial footage was recycled from the 1930 version of the same story, but the action is great, with a classic feel that supplements the subject matter perfectly. Errol Flynn was born to play this kind of role, and he does as good a job here as he does anywhere else. I hadn't seen this film up to now, but it's definitely an action adventure flick I'll be revisiting. It's got the action, the drama, and the character to endure.
Gunga Din—Director George Stevens (Giant) brings us one of the first great adventure tales. Three roguish British soldiers and their native Hindu water-boy trek through the land of the dangerous Thugee cult; adventure, action, and comedy follow in a near perfect film.
If you've seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, then you have a pretty clear indication of what to expect from Gunga Din. I love this movie, from the moment our three heroes—played by the always awesome Cary Grant (Mogambo), Victor McLaglen (Rio Grande), and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (The Prisoner of Zenda)—are introduced beating on some barflies, to the final battle between Her Majesty's Army and the Thugee Cult. The action remains tight, entertaining, and just flat out fun to watch. The inclusion in this particular collection is a little suspect, as Gunga Din is really your classic action adventure yarn rather than a real "war" film. At any rate, it's a fantastic film, one of those timeless classics that plays every bit as well now as it did over 70 years ago. There's no need to adjust to any classic mindset with this one, it never feels dated or antiquated (ok, well there is some blackface involved), it just pulls out all the stops in attempting to entertain, and never fails in that mission. If you have a soul, you like Indiana Jones, and if Spielberg and Lucas' globe-trotting archaeologist does indeed tickle your fancy, you'll definitely find something to like about Gunga Din.
Operation Pacific—John Wayne (True Grit) leads a group of American submariners into battle in the Pacific campaign of World War II. Join the crew of the USS Thunderfish as they venture forth on a daring mission deep in enemy territory.
I've never been much of a John Wayne fan. I'm not one of these guys who feels that 'The Duke' lacks the skills, or falls into caricature, but I could never really get into his style of acting. Operation Pacific doesn't do much to change my mind, as it's pretty much a John Wayne vehicle through and through. It's a competent effort to be certain, with an eye to technical details and a believable enough plot for the post-war propaganda flicks that came spewing out of Hollywood with alarming frequency. The problem is that Operation Pacific doesn't really do anything to differentiate itself either. It's not particularly memorable, but neither is it a waste of time. Fans of Wayne will definitely have a good time at any rate. I'd call it the lesser film in this collection, but that doesn't mean it sucks.
It has to be said, I'm really enjoying these Warner Bros./Turner Classic Movies bundles. What's in the package is essentially four separate releases housed on two dual-sided discs. The price makes this one heck of an attractive offer for those who don't own these features. Each disc is an identical recreation of the individual retail releases, and as such, all of the bonus features are included. The level of depth varies from film to film, but each of the four offerings gets some love in the supplements department. The Battle of the Bulge gets the most, with two vintage featurettes, and Gunga Din and The Dawn Patrol both get a featurette and classic Looney Tunes cartoons. The Dawn Patrol also gets some musical numbers.
The transfers are up to Warner's typically excellent standards. If there's another studio out there that shows their classic features the same amount of TLC, I haven't seen it. Sure, the older films do show more print damage and defects, but it's to be expected considering their age. Audio is also mostly a front loaded, monaural affair, but again, everything sounds as good as one could expect, with little in the way of distortion or glitches. This is a great slate of movies that looks great, sounds great, and actually packs in some supplemental material that's worth a look-see.
The "Greatest Classic Films" moniker may be a little suspect, but this set is Not Guilty, soldier! Now let's go take that hill!
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, The Dawn Patrol
Perp Profile, The Dawn Patrol
Studio: Warner Bros.
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Scales of Justice, Gunga Din
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Scales of Justice, Operation Pacific
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Scales of Justice, Battle Of The Bulge
Perp Profile, Battle Of The Bulge
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