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WWII Box SetWWII Box Set on DVD

Sony’s Columbia Pictures has put together a couple of great boxed sets of WWII movies, packaged to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the conflict that shaped the world for the next half century.

We got to review one of the sets, which includes such classics as The Caine Mutiny and Das Boot, and which also throws in Anzio along with a commemorative booklet and a fourth disc that features a History Channel documentary on the German U Boat threat during WWII.

Of the three films here, Anzio is easily the weakest. Unfortunately, it also has the best picture quality!

According to the package it’s “a vivid portrait of one of the bloodies World War II battles ever fought.” Since we weren’t there, we can’t comment on the vivid portrait aspect, but it came across to us as yet another Hollywood anti-war flick where soldiers are portrayed as immature and ruthless killers. The script does touch on the Big Question of why people fight, but the answer appears to be “because they get off on killing people.”

If this was the producers’ intent (and not just our reading of it), this does a disservice to the millions of military people throughout history who have taken up arms not because they enjoy killing but because they truly believe in their cause.

The cast is good, though these aren’t their best performances. Robert Mitchum stars as a war correspondent and Peter Falk is his buddy. Earl Holliman, Mark Damon, Reni Santoni, Arthur Kennedy and Robert Ryan also show up to collect paychecks.

The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and while it definitely isn’t spectacular, it’s the most grain-free of these three titles. Colors and detail are good. Audio is Dolby Digital mono.

Anzio, from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
117 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Robert Mitchum, Peter Falk, Earl Holliman, Mark Damon, Reni Santoni, Arthur Kennedy, Robert Ryan
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis,
Written by Harry A. L. Craig, directed by Edward Dmytryk

The Caine Mutiny, Stanley Kramer's powerful film version of Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is the story of a wet behind the ears Naval officer assigned to a beaten up old Minesweeper. During his voyages, the ship comes under the command of a paranoid regular forces captain who ends up being relieved from duty by a subordinate during extraordinary circumstances at sea.

It's a powerful film full of great performances from its all-star cast. Humphrey Bogart was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Lt. Commander Queeg, the object of the mutiny, but the supporting cast led by Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, and Jose Ferrer also deliver first rate characterizations.

Through the course of the film you grow to view Queeg with disdain, but the real disgust is for MacMurray - as pointed out by Ferrer's character (defense lawyer Barney Greenwald) "the real architect of the Caine Mutiny."

Filmed with the participation of the US Navy, the film seems to offer good insight into life at sea, life in the Navy, and life during wartime. The situations faced by those aboard the Caine test the mettle of them all. The typhoon sequence that's the final straw for the bridge officers and becomes the catalyst for the mutiny is spectacular and makes you glad you weren't there.

As the audience, we know in our hearts that the mutiny was warranted, but the Navy doesn't look at it that way – and, to be fair, it can’t. It has to protect its commanders and its method of operations from such actions, so the mutineers are brought up on charges in what appears to be a hopeless case in which the odds are stacked against them. What ensues is a gripping courtroom drama in which what the audience clearly witnessed happen at sea is refuted in the court of law - and it looks as if our heroes are going to sink quicker than the Caine could have if they hadn't taken their extraordinary action during the typhoon.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and despite plenty of grain it manages to look pretty good. Audio, Dolby Digital, is okay.

The film was nominated for seven 1954 Academy Awards including Best Picture, and is an exciting and emotional film experience. Sony’s DVD release does it justice though we’d love to see it restored properly.

The Caine Mutiny, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
125 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1) , Dolby Digital
Starring Humphrey Bogart Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Robert Frances, Jose Ferrer
Produced by Stanley Kramer,
Written by Stanley Roberts, Directed by Edward Dmytryk

Das Boot:

This was the movie that really put director Wolfgang Petersen on the map, and it’s easy to see why. The original version was a sensation, and deservedly so, and now we get to see Petersen’s original vision of this claustrophobic epic.

The box claims that this three hour-plus is digitally redesigned and remixed, and while the sound is fine, the digitally restored picture is full of grain. On the other hand, that lends a sense of realism to the film, almost as if it were a documentary.

This extended version gives the audience more time to meet the crew before they board their U-boat and head off on their adventures.

Petersen does a great job of putting you inside the sub, letting you see “first hand” the life of a German submariner with frightening realism. It gets so tense you might be tempted to put the movie on pause and go outside to get some fresh air!

The movie is presented in German, with English subtitles, and that usually makes it harder to follow because your attention is split between the text and the pictures. But while you continue to read them, the action takes over your attention after a short while and you almost forget the subtitles are there.

This is a must see.

Das Boot: the Director’s Cut, from Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
293 min, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Jurgen Prochnow, Herbert Gr Nem Eyer, Klaus Wennemann,
Produced by Gunter Rohrbach
Written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen

The commemorative booklet you get with this boxed offers brief but interesting looks at the movies, including cast/crew bios, some posters and other info. It’s a nice touch.

The documentary “Dead Men’s Secrets: The Secrets of the Sea Wolves” runs about 45 minutes and while it apparently uses Hollywood footage to augment the narrative it works well toward the goal of presenting what appears to be an accurate portrayal of the Nazi sub threat during World War II. It’s very interesting.

The DVD is a tad weird. There is no menu, and there are no chapter stops, so when you fire up the disc you have to sit through it or scan through it in one fell swoop. Still, this isn’t a big deal.

The picture is presented in full frame, 1.33:1 and isn’t 16x9 TV compatible, but that isn’t surprising considering the source material.



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