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Controversial Classics Collection (Advise and Consent / The Americanization of Emily / Bad Day at Black Rock / Blackboard Jungle / A Face in the Crowd / Fury / I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang)

4.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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(May 10, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

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Controversial Classics (DVD) (7-Pack)

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Otto Preminger expanded his vision in the 1960s with a whole series of ambitious, expansive dramas with huge casts and big themes. Advise and Consent (1962), an examination of deal making, party politics, and congressional diplomacy in Washington's legislative halls (based on the novel by Allen Drury), is one of his best. Preminger broke the blacklist with his previous film, Exodus, and it rings through in this drama about a controversial nominee for secretary of state (a confident, stately Henry Fonda) accused of being a Communist. The nomination process becomes the center ring of the political circus, with fidgety accuser Burgess Meredith in the spotlight; devious, silver-tongued Charles Laughton cracking the whip as a southern senator with a grudge against Fonda; and party whip Walter Pidgeon lining up votes behind the scenes. Arm twisting and diplomatic hardball turns to perjury and blackmail, and a melodramatic twist gives this lesson in party politics a salacious soap opera dimension.

With The Americanization of Emily (1964), screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky (Marty) sinks his satirical fangs into a story of an American naval officer (James Garner) selected to be the first victim at the invasion of Normandy. Julie Andrews plays a prim, British war widow who falls for him. Cynical in tone, the story becomes an interesting collision of manipulative interests and renewed life, the same formula that worked so well in Chayefsky's scripts for Network and Hospital.

One of the first Hollywood films to deal openly with white racism toward Japanese Americans during World War II, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) (directed by action maestro John Sturges, The Great Escape) stars Spencer Tracy as a one-armed stranger named MacReedy, who arrives in the tiny town of Black Rock on a hot day in 1945. Seeking a hotel room and the whereabouts of an ethnic Japanese farmer named Komoko, MacReedy runs smack into a wall of hostility that escalates into serious threats. In time it becomes apparent that Komoko has been murdered by a local, racist chieftain, Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), who also plans on dispensing with MacReedy. Tracy's hero is forced to fight his way past Smith's goons (among them Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin) and sundry allies (Anne Francis) to keep alive, setting the stage for memorable suspense crisply orchestrated by Sturges. Casting is the film's principal strength, however: Tracy, the indispensable icon of integrity, and Ryan, the indispensable noir image of spiritual blight, are as creatively unlikely a pairing as Sturges's shotgun marriage of Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven.

Novelist Evan Hunter burst America's postwar bubble when he described an inner-city school terrorized by switchblade-wielding juvenile delinquents. Director-screenwriter Richard Brooks's 1955 adaptation of Blackboard Jungle still packs a tremendous wallop (even if it was shot mostly on the back lot). A forerunner of Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story, this black-and-white classic--set to Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock"--is part exposé, part melodrama, part public-service announcement. Glenn Ford, at his slow-to-rile best, plays Richard Dadier, an incoming English teacher at North Manual High School. An idealist who knows how to handle himself in a dark alley, Dadier stands his ground and earns the begrudging respect of school thugs led by Vic Morrow and Sidney Poitier. Anne Francis plays Ford's especially vulnerable wife; Richard Kiley is the timid math teacher with the priceless jazz-record collection; Louis Calhern and John Hoyt are among the more cynical North Manual High veterans. See if you can ID Jamie Farr and director Paul Mazursky as gang members. The film was nominated for four Oscars.

More timely now, perhaps, than when it was first released in 1957, Elia Kazan's overheated political melodrama Face in the Crowd explores the dangerous manipulative power of pop culture. It exposes the underside of Capra-corn populism, as exemplified in the optimistic fable of grassroots punditry Meet John Doe. In Kazan's account, scripted by Budd Schulberg, the common-man pontificator (Andy Griffith) is no Gary Cooper-style aw-shucks paragon. Promoted to national fame as a folksy TV idol by radio producer Patricia Neal, Griffith's Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes turns out to be a megalomaniacal rat bastard. The film turns apocalyptic as Rhodes exploits his power to sway the masses, helping to elect a reactionary presidential candidate. The parodies of television commercials and opinion polling were cutting edge in their day (Face in the Crowd was the Network of the Eisenhower era), and there are some startling, near-documentary sequences shot on location in Arkansas. An extraordinary supporting cast (led by Walter Matthau and Lee Remick) helps keep the energy level high, even when the satire turns shrill and unpersuasive in the final reel.

Fury is tough stuff from director Fritz Lang (M), making his first American film with this 1936 story of an innocent man (Spencer Tracy) who escapes a lynch mob and then orchestrates his apparent murder at their hands. Tracy is superb, and the film is uncompromising, until studio interference takes some of the wind out of Lang's sails right at the end. But as the portrait of a character who comes to reflect the destiny he is trying to avoid, this is still essential Lang and a pre-noir classic.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) is one of the toughest and most uncompromising movies to ever come out of Hollywood. Paul Muni stars as a regular Joe, just back from World War I, who is unjustly convicted of a crime and sentenced to 10 years of bruisingly unfair treatment on a chain gang. Even a successful escape can't shake the spectre of the chains, nor the amazingly fatalistic twists the screenplay has in store. This picture could only have been made at Warner Bros., where social-justice movies flourished in the 1930s and criticism of judicial systems and prisons was sanctioned. Muni's weird acting style (he was recently off Scarface) somehow fits the film's furious tone, and director Mervyn LeRoy--as in his earlier Little Caesar--was dexterous enough to build the action to an unforgettable ending. It's a film that filters the American Dream through Depression realities and noirish pessimism (with a streak of pre-Code sexual frankness--note the one-night "friend" Muni makes the night of his escape). This one holds up, folks; it's a stunner.


Special Features

  • Blackboard Jungle (1955)
  • Commentary by co-stars Paul Mazursky and Jamie Farr, Glenn Ford's son Peter Ford and Assistant Director Joel Freeman
  • Droopy cartoon: Blackboard Jumble
  • Theatrical trailer
  • A Face in the Crowd (1957)
  • New documentary: Facing the Past
  • Fury (1936)
  • Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich, with interview excerpts of director Fritz Lang
  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
  • Commentary by film historian Dana Polan
  • Advise and Consent (1962)
  • Commentary by film historian Drew Casper
  • The Americanization of Emily (1964)
  • Featurette: Action on the Beach
  • Soundtrack remastered in Dolby Surround Sound
  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
  • Commentary by film historian Richard B. Jewell
  • Vintage musical short: 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang

Product Details

  • Format: Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 7
  • Rated:
    Unrated
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: May 10, 2005
  • Run Time: 518 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0007TKNKQ
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,229 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Controversial Classics Collection (Advise and Consent / The Americanization of Emily / Bad Day at Black Rock / Blackboard Jungle / A Face in the Crowd / Fury / I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven Hellerstedt on July 7, 2005
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932)

Controversy: The oldest movie in the controversial classics set, FUGITIVE also lays claim to the most unwieldy title. Chain gang prison labor is the controversial topic.

Strengths: Paul Muni is absolutely riveting, and his final scene is one of the more memorable in movies.

Weaknesses: The last chain gang prison system was outlawed in the 1940s. The oldest title is also the least relevant.

Bottom Line: Inspiration for other classic movies like Cool Hand Luke and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Although severely dated, FUGITIVE still delivers as top-drawer entertainment.

FURY (1936)

Controversy: German director Fritz Lang's first American film is an exposé of lynching, mob violence, and the corrosive effects of living for revenge.

Strengths: Spencer Tracy's transformation from good-natured innocent to bitter victim is breathtaking. Lang's depiction of the mob is still quite strong

Weaknesses: The first and last act tends to stall out the story. The studio imposed ending is unsatisfying.

Bottom Line: Although not quite as powerful as Lang's German film M, which it resembles, FURY still has a number of memorable moments, and Tracy's Jekyll and Hyde transformation works very well.

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955)

Controversy: Xenophobia during World War II and a small southwestern town with a big, ugly secret.

Strengths: Spencer Tracy always adds value to a movie. Robert Ryan, as Tracy's chief nemesis, turns in a typically fine performance, too.

Weaknesses: Anne Francis isn't anything more than a token female and doesn't really seem to fit in the story.
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Format: DVD
Warner Brothers home video department just keeps topping their previous exceptional achievments.

Here we have SEVEN magnificent, acclaimed feature films from the 1930s to the 1960s that still have the power to reach the "gut" of the viewer and be profound and provocative. Of course, each film is available individually, but the value of buying this boxed set brings the price to around $8 per film. Unreal.

Any serious cinema afficiando owes it to him or herself to buy this.

Pre-release reviews have praised the exceptional transfers (typical of WB), and I cannot imagine anyone not being blown away by this boxed set of incomparable films.
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What a wonderful treat this collection is....at first I was skeptic because I am a big Film Noir fan...and did not think that this collection would suffice...how wrong I was. The commentaries are crisp, clean and full of information...the movies are some of the Best Produced...Bad Day At Black Rock...starring Tracy as in Spencer...and Ryan. Then there is The Americanization of Emily with a script by one of the best writers: Paddy C......and one of my favorite movies starring Julie Andrews fresh from Mary Poppins..thank God...and James Garner...both of them a treat. A face in the Crowd should be one of the 10 BEST Movies Ever Produced...Andy Griffith is just magnificent along with Patricia Neal...Watch This Movie! I am a Fugituve from a Chain Gang...a must see of what happened in the disgrace of the American Judicial System...Advise and Consent I really did not care for but it was worth watching just to listen to the commentary....and finally Blackboard Jungle which still pulls no punches with a very young Glenn Ford...with funny commentary by the teen-agers (I am not going to tell you who) that were in the movie.

Get this collection and give yourself a Treat that is seldom if ever seen in the Movies now days....
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Even in the early days of film, there have always been controversial movies. While the majority of films play it reasonably safe, there is that minority of movies that take risks and generate talk. Nowadays, for better or for worse, the truly controversial movie is a little bit more of a rarity, as there are less taboos that aren't discussed or shown. The Controversial Classics boxed set collects seven older movies that deal with dicey subjects in the Production Code-enforced era that tried to keep everything safe and bland; these films are far from the only ones that could be called controversial or classic, but they are a good sampling.

First (chronologically) is I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, an early talkie with Paul Muni as a man unwittingly implicated in a robbery in the deep South. He is put on a chain gang, and though he eventually escapes and rebuilds his life, his past does catch up with him. This is a powerful but very dark film, with even the last line filled with grimness.

Fury is the first of two starring Spencer Tracy. In the first, Fury, he is a man arrested while driving through a small town. He is suspected of a kidnapping and a lynch mob destroys the jail he is in, apparently killing him. He survives, however, and - now embittered - secretly works to get those responsible tried for his murder. Bad Day at Black Rock has Tracy as a crippled World War II veteran who goes to a small desert community and stirs up memories of an old murder. This one co-stars Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and Anne Francis. Both films are decent but far from great.

Things pick up with Blackboard Jungle, which also has Anne Francis, though Glenn Ford is the star as a novice teacher at a tough school.
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