Blu-ray Shopping Bag: World War I Centennial Commemorative Collection -

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Blu-ray Shopping Bag: World War I Centennial Commemorative Collection

The Great War

By Robert T. Trate     July 29, 2014

Gary Cooper in Sergeant York (1941)
© Warner Bros.
On July 28th, one hundred years ago, the first World War began. The Great War, as it was later called, brought the world together like no other event at the time. Its impact can still be felt to this day. Hollywood was effected by the war and it marked a great turning point for the motion picture industry, as well. Now there are numerous films that I could recommend that would haunt you with both their images and stories. My personal favorite is Johnny Got His Gun (1971).  The film was written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, who also wrote Spartacus and Roman Holiday, and is a nightmare that must been seen to be believed. It is not a pro-war film, but an anti one, which just happened to surface during the Vietnam War. 

The sad irony of many films based on World War I is that they became propaganda films for World War 2. The films had hard lessons to be sure, but many featured heroic acts and left the audience feeling that everything would be alright in the end. Neither Johnny Got His Gun, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) nor Joyeux Noel (2005) leave you with that feeling. Warner Brothers has assembled a DVD box set to commemorate the centennial of The Great War. The films included here are The Big Parade (1925), Wings (1927), The Dawn Patrol (1938), and Sergeant York (1941). 

These films have been available before. It is just Warner Brothers’ great sense of timing and historical accuracy that they are releasing them for the first time together on this anniversary. I wanted to go back and watch Gary Cooper in Sergeant York again. It sounds strange, but the film is really a perfect piece of apple pie. Cooper plays Alvin York, a real person who was known to be a conscientious objector to the war, but turned into one of its greatest heroes. The world has seriously changed since the last time I saw it and I wondered what effect it would have on me now. I have also seen a few other WWI movies that were a tad more realistic than something that was shot on the Warner Brothers backlot. 

This film really holds up. The simplicity of the characters and York’s passage from town drunk to hero are still captivating. This, of course, is due to Gary Cooper’s incredible performance. The disc is packed with tons of special features and even a “Warner Brothers Night at the Movies” playlist. What really stood out for me this time was the mention of this war happening again. America was clearly not in World War 2 at the time, but was on the precipice of joining. Don’t believe me? Watch the Porky Pig cartoon included with this film. You will never see the likes of that again, trust me. 

To keep this brief, I’ll only dive into one other film. Wings is hands down a silent era classic, but it was the chance to see Errol Flynn, David Niven, and Basil Rathbone in The Dawn Patrol that made it the obvious choice. Flynn and Niven are two ace flyers in World War I who are quickly becoming the old men in their squadron. As each of the younger, less experienced flyers (some with as little as 7 hours of flight time) fail to return home, Flynn begins to question their orders. His commander is played by Basil Rathbone and we quickly see that rivalry that we have loved watching in films like Captain Blood re-ignite. Only here swords and fisticuffs are not used. It is a battle of wills and one that Flynn must succumb to. 

The film takes different turns and doesn’t follow the typical Hollywood war plotline. In fact, when you think it will, the film changes direction. Flynn and Niven’s crazy act of defiance actually lands Flynn Rathbone’s position. The irony is that he must now send Niven and the young boys out there to get the job done. He quickly learns that Rathbone wasn’t so hard after all. He was just doing a hard job that had to get done. 

This is great collection for the film aficionados that need some of these classics on DVD. These films may not pack the realistic punch of Johnny Got His Gun, but their acts of heroism are still inspiring. 

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monkeyfoot 7/29/2014 7:00:19 AM

I've enjoyed Sergeant York since I was a kid. I think I saw it again running on TCM several months ago. It's like you said: it's good old-fashioned heartwarming American hero stuff. I'm not sure if all the facts are accurate about the man's life story but it doesn't matter. It's just good. Some of the characters are kind of cliche sterotypes like his best army buddy Pusher but that's part of its charm.

VTGamehendge 7/29/2014 9:26:52 PM

I'm a huge war buff.  Might have to look into this.  My mom just got me a bunch of books from my grandpa who's a Korea and Vietnam vet.



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