Paramount, 1962, 123 mins.- DVD

        Newspaper Editor: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

        This effort from fabled director John Ford has a theme common to many latter-day Westerns- that the trailblazers who made it possible for civilization to take root in the West did not themselves fit into that civilization. This theme is carried forward by the symbolic characters of screen icons John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.

        Stewart is the educated type who finds that his law books aren't too effective against the fists and guns of notorious outlaw Lee Marvin, who plays the titular Valance. Wayne is the cynical but decent "Primitive" who winds up impressed with Stewart's "Civilized" principles despite himself. This was the first time the two stars appeared together, and the interaction between them and the rest of the picture's ensemble of familiar faces is jus' plain fun to watch. But the film has more on its mind than just rehashing the usual Western stuff- yes, the key event is a shootout, but surprises and repercussions follow, and by the end the title has taken on a bitter irony.

        The story points up the price that is paid for "Progress," and shows us that the good guys and the bad guys don't disappear- they just change to fit the new rules of engagement. There aren't any significant extras on the disc- but it don't need 'em, Pilgrim.


Warner Bros., 1956, 115 mins.- DVD

        Quaker: "Thee want to know what whalin' is, then thee'll know by clappin' an eye on Captain Ahab."

        Seeking to lift his sagging spirits, Richard Baseheart heads out to sea on the whaling ship Pequod- bad choice, Richard! For the ship's Captain is the notorious Ahab, played by Gregory Peck with a big scar and a wooden leg and an outfit that could have been borrowed from Abraham Lincoln. Years after being crippled by the legendary White Whale, Peck has an obsessive desire for revenge which has transformed the beast, in his mind, into a symbol of cosmic injustice. He thinks he's going to score one for humanity by doing away with the pale cetacean, and he appeals to the greed and superstition of his crew to get them behind him.

        The scenery-chewing and general craziness that ensues has a result which will be familiar to anyone who ever took a literature class. And like that class, this film is a mixed bag as far as entertainment goes. With a script by Ray Bradbury and direction by John Huston, it's hardly amateur hour, but the theatricality and antique language of the story, together with an overdone musical score and relatively primitive special effects, create a distancing effect that can't be overcome by the realistic ocean locations. In short, it's dated but will appeal to fans of the book. Non-fans and members of Greenpeace should steer clear of this version of the tale, presented on a no-frills disc.


Universal, 1936, 93 mins.- Criterion DVD

        Eugene Pallette: "All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people."

        Prepare to enter the glamorous world of scatterbrained upper-crust society types who get themselves into all sorts of trouble. No, it's not the latest issue of The National Inquirer- it's a classic screwball comedy, given a sparkling new presentation by Criterion. Genre staple Carole Lombard plucks "Forgotten man" William Powell from a shantytown during a charity treasure hunt. Then she shows that charity really does begin at home by offering him a job.

        The down-on-his-luck but urbane Powell accepts a butler's position at Lombard's family home, which bears a distinct resemblance to a loony bin. In time-honored Hollywood tradition, the altogether decent Powell exerts a positive influence on the dysfunctional "Sophisticates." In so doing, he gallantly deflects the romantic attentions of Lombard, who is a veritable whirlwind of ditziness. The plot machinations, involving Powell's interactions with the family and his mysterious past, are unabashedly corny, but the comedic gloss on the story makes it easy to take. The disc includes a number of extras including stills, a radio version of the story, and some outtakes in which the notoriously foul-mouthed Lombard voices her displeasure at blowing some lines.


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© Melt Magazine 2001