Universal, 1962, B&W, 130 mins.- Universal DVD

Gregory Peck: "There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible."

Principled lawyer Peck, a widower with two young children, takes up the cause of defending a black man accused of raping a white a small Depression-era Southern town. He brilliantly argues his case, chipping away at the prosecution with logic and common sense and appealing to the simple decency of the jury......but it's a small Depression-era Southern town. And logic, common sense and decency might not be enough. Whatever the outcome, though, his example ensures that his kids will grow up to become the sort of people the world needs more of- people like him.

The filmic counterpart to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that launched a thousand school book reports, this story netted Peck an Oscar for a role that was close to his heart. And if his heart- and the film's- is perhaps a little too obviously pinned to his sleeve, it is a flaw which is easily forgiven in the face of such a well-presented and important message. But interestingly enough, the story does not focus entirely on Peck- much of it is filtered through the children's point of view. We see their world, with its little adventures and mysteries and terrors- the latter personified by a mysterious neighborhood bogeyman played by Robert Duvall, whose story eventually intertwines with the main plot in a surprising way. Yes, it feels a little like an "After School Special," but consider this: Peck's character in this film was recently voted the greatest movie hero of all time by the American Film Institute. Extras on the disc include a rather idiosyncratic documentary.

Universal, 1973, Color, 129 mins.- Universal DVD

Paul Newman: "Glad to meet you, kid- you're a real horse's ass."

Not what most people would say upon meeting Robert Redford, but you have to give him points for originality. This classic caper picture, a sort of 1930's version of "Mission:Impossible," re-teamed Newman and Redford after their Butch and Sundance caper, to considerable success. The two con men meet up in gangster-era Chicago to pursue a vengeful scam against nasty racketeer Robert Shaw, who done one of their pals wrong. Recruiting a small army of fellow grifters from the local talent pool, Newman and Redford stage an elaborate "Sting" to get themselves rich and give Shaw the shaft. Of course, there are a number of twists and turns along the way, and you won't be sure until the last minute whether they've succeeded or not- but that, of course, is part of the fun.

Filled with great period details, a terrific bunch of supporting actors, and a witty and twisty script, this is timeless "Movie-movie" style entertainment that fully deserved its seven- count 'em, seven- Oscars. The story immediately throws you into an enjoyably wicked world where scams are everywhere, the jig is in, and everybody's looking out for number one- in other words, it's as American as apple pie. And speaking of irony, this film's got one of the greatest ironic closing lines ever. And more double-crosses than you can shake a stick at. And lots of pinstripe suits and fedoras. So how can you go wrong? The disc is without any significant extras- but it's not a scam.

Warner Bros., 1956, Color, 201 mins.- Warners DVD

Earl Holliman: "You see, sir- well, big stuff is old stuff now."

Apt phrasing, as this expensively- and expansively- produced historical soap opera from directing giant George Stevens is the sort of thing that Hollywood doesn't really tackle anymore. Rock Hudson, the hunky head honcho of a humongous cattle ranch in Texas back in the pre-oil days, travels to Maryland for a prize horse- and winds up with a prize bride in the shapely form of young Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is in for a mighty big adjustment when she reaches her new homestead, and her free-thinking ways clash with the ingrained prejudices of the Texans. But she holds her own against racism, sexism, the enmity of Hudson's comically-laconic sister, and the slightly inappropriate attentions of ranch-hand James Dean. None of them realize it, but change is the form of a gusher of black crude......

For a picturesque melodrama, the characters wrestle with some pretty weighty issues, which adds to their iconic nature- and when you've got Hudson, Taylor, Dean, and Texas, things are pretty iconic to begin with. Taylor is a slightly-flawed pillar of decency, Dean demonstrates that there can be such a thing as having too much money, and Hudson shows that it's possible to transcend racism- most notably in a climactic fistfight that is just one of this picture's Great Movie Moments. If you're in the mood for a few suds (the soapy kind, not the kind you get from beer foam- although that'd be appropriate too, given the subject matter) you'll enjoy this one. And when it's over, you've got an entire second disc full of extras to chew on, with documentaries both vintage and new.

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© Melt Magazine 2003