Orson Welles: "If I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man."

A lot of big things happened in 1941, and this picture was one of them. Orson Welles' thinly-veiled bio of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst crystallized old and new elements of filmic storytelling into a real gem of a movie. This pioneering achievement, which has been a part of more top ten lists than David Letterman, was the result of a first-time director given an unprecedented degree of creative control by the old studio system. From our perspective today, it may seem rather old-hat, but there is still fun to be had watching the story of flawed giant Charles Foster Kane, whose rise to the top is equaled only by his tragic decline. In fact, the only thing more interesting than the movie is the story behind it, related in a documentary which points out the parallels between Hearst and Kane- and even more tellingly, between Welles and Kane. This two-disc set also includes audio commentaries and other miscellaneous goodies- and as for the spruced-up sound and picture, to quote the original movie poster: "It's Terrific!"

RKO, 1941, 119 mins.- DVD

Fernando Rey: "You are a good cop- honest, but stupid. But honest."

You could subtitle this one "Popeye Doyle's Heart Of Darkness," as Gene Hackman's character from the original film gains an unwelcome amount of first-hand knowledge on the subject of heroin addiction. While in Marseilles to try and track down wily narco-bigshot Fernando Rey, Hackman winds up being the hunted rather than the hunter, with the consequences mentioned above. And what could be worse than being strung-out on junk? That's right, going cold turkey afterwards, with plenty of expert scenery-chewing under the unflinching eye of director Friedkin.

Some of this material feels gratuitous, and in fact the whole picture is more of a footnote to the original than a full-blooded sequel. Hackman's cop seems diminished rather than illuminated by the fish-out-of-water scenario, although he does come back into his own in time for the flamboyant action scenes that occur later in the picture. In a way, this is more of a Hollywood-style story than the original, with Rey set up as a more conventional villain, ripe for Hackman's revenge- the resolution is satisfying, but unnecessary. The disc is minus a documentary, but has the other expected extras.

Fox, 1975, 119 mins.- DVD

Gene Hackman: "-I'm gonna nail you for picking your feet in Poughkeepsie!"

This picture really launched the careers of Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, and director William Friedkin, winning a handful of Oscars in the bargain. Not bad for a low-budget tale of antiheroic narcotics officers trying to intercept a shipment of heroin headed for the mean streets of New York. And when I say mean, I'm not kidding- some of the locations on this picture look positively hazardous to your health. Hackman and Scheider's cops, and their offbeat approach to law enforcement, fit right into this gritty world, providing a real contrast to suave drug kingpin Fernando Rey- the "French Connection" of the title. This sort of material has been rehashed endlessly in films and tv shows over the past 30 years, but rarely as well as in this classic.

The fact-based story's familiarity is overcome by a pseudo-documentary style, dead-on characterizations, the aforementioned location work, a real humdinger of a car chase, and an ending that isn't quite a home-run for the good guys. The two-disc set includes the usual extras, with audio commentaries and a pair of documentaries which illustrate the connection between the real-life "Supercops" and their movie counterparts.

Fox, 1971, 104 mins.- DVD

© Melt Magazine 2001