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Raging Bull is a Jewel; Other Titles a Mixed Bag
on February 10, 2005
It is hard to argue with any box set of films created by the now legendary Martin Scorsese, but although this set will no doubt draw a host of purchasers through its inclusion of RAGING BULL, it will really be of most interest to hardcore Scorsese fans curious to explore some of the director's lesser-known works of the 1970s.
The "Jewel in the Crown" of the set is the aforementioned RAGING BULL (1979), which many consider the single best boxing film ever made--and which many consider Scorsese's single finest film to date. Based on the scandal-plagued career and private life of boxer Jake LaMotta and featuring powerhouse performances by Robert De Niro and Cathy Moriarty, it is indeed a film that is difficult to overpraise--a remarkable balance of passion and violence against the sheer beauty of the film itself. The DVD edition, which includes two disks, is remarkably fine here, featuring a remarkably large number of commentary guests and a host bonuses that are never less than interesting and often remarkably insightful as well.
The remaining titles, however, are somewhat problematic--with Scorsese's first major film BOXCAR BERTHA (1972) easily the weakest link in the set. Starring David Carradine and a frequently nude Barbara Hershey, the film concerns the exploits of a pseudo-Bonnie and Clyde as they pillage and lust across Depression era America; suffice to say that the film was produced by the notorious Roger Corman and is best recalled for Hershey's physical charms. Although it receives a respectable transfer the DVD does not offer bonus material of any kind.
If BOXCAR BERTHA is a near-turkey, NEW YORK NEW YORK (1977, now available on DVD for the first time) might best be described as a near-miss--and the only musical Scorsese has thus far attempted. Presumably suggested by the stormy backstage lives of such "girl singers" as Doris Day, the film paints a broad picture of the rough and tumble post-WWII dance band era through its depiction of ill-fated romance between vocalist Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) and band leader Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro.) Including a dazzling array of musical talent and quite a few memorable musical numbers, the film is often quite fine but ultimately less than the sum of its often brilliant parts. Although slight in comparison to RAGING BULL, the bonus material here is quite interesting, including several alternate and deleted scenes and a very interesting commentary on which Scorsese is joined by critic Carrie Rickey.
The final title is THE LAST WALTZ (1978), a documentary that combines concert footage of 1970s rock group The Band's "last" concert with a healthy dose of backstage material to create what is easily one of the better rock-concert-documentaries available. Trouble is, if you don't like The Band you aren't likely to enjoy the film. As in the case of NEW YORK NEW YORK, the bonuses do not compare to RAGING BULL, but they are quite good in and of themselves, including a few out-takes and an enjoyable commentary by Scorsese and former band member Robbie Robertson.
If you are a Scorsese completist you'll doubtlessly find this a convenient way to pick up these four titles--and certainly the price is right. But it is worth noting that each of these films are available for independent purchase, and while RAGING BULL is a must-have and NEW YORK NEW YORK is more than worth the effort, you may prefer to purchase them individually rather than in tandem with the lame BOXCAR BERTHA and the well-done but niche-interest THE LAST WALTZ. Generally recommended nonetheless.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer