The Gary Cooper Collection: (Design for Living / The Lives of a Bengal Lancer / Peter Ibbetson / The General Died at Dawn / Beau Geste)
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The legendary Gary Cooper is synonymous with the image of the strong, silent American hero. In a career that spanned five decades and included over one hundred films, this tall, stoic "everyman" defined quiet courage and strength of character like no leading man before or since. Now five fan favorites from this Hollywood legend's illustrious career are available here for the first time on DVD. Journey with "Coop" from the sophisticated streets of Paris and the brutal backcountry of China, to the sweltering sands of the Sahara, the dangerous battlefields of British India and beyond in this thrilling collection you'll treasure forever.
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Two classics in the set, "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" and "Beau Gest" are excellent period pieces of a time that was still very much in living memory when the films were made, those personal aspects bring something to the storyboard which is simply almost impossible to recreate afterwards.
"Peter Ibbetson" was personally the least preferred of the group, but that was simply down to ba personal taste which will vary.
"The General died at Dawn" and "Designh for Living" fell in the middle of my personally eclectic taste, both are certainly worth watching.
It's a basic set in keeping with the price, but still nicely packaged for all that.
For folk who enjoy an older black and white movie on a sunday afternoon or when nodding off, it's difficult to see how you'll be disappointed.
- "Design for Living" is a pre-code (1933) talk fest directed by Ernst Lubitsch, no less. This is not Lubitsch's finest hour. The film is based on a Noel Coward play which was rewritten for the screen. It stars the adequate Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March forming a "menage a trois" with Cooper who is miscast. There is endless indulgent chatter and a few very amusing moments but the film lacks the lightness of other Lubitsch offerings.
- "Peter Ibbetson" is the other unusual film in the set. This is an ethereal story of Cooper's eternal love for Ann Harding, a love which reached beyond the realms of reality. Superbly photographed and directed by Henry Hathaway, this is a film which will either bore the viewer rigid or magically stay in their memories. A teenage Ida Lupino appears as a cockney flirt. Cooper again is not ideally cast but his physical appearance makes up for his vocal gauchness and Harding is magical.
The 3 remaining films in the set are pure gold, great adventures which are as exciting today as they must have been when first released. Cooper is cast as an Englishman in 2 so he sounds ludicrous at times.
- "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" is also directed by Henry Hathaway and Cooper is perfectly cast as a soldier in colonial India, even if he is once again an improbable Englishman. Franchot Tone stands out in a first rate supporting cast and if the heroics are dated, who cares. The relationships within the barracks are very convincing. The use of stock footage adds a touch of authenticity to the settings.
- "The General Died at Dawn" was a box office smash in 1936. Lewis Milestone directed and one can detect a link to the films of Joseph Von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, particularly "Shanghai Express". The evocative lighting, brilliant camerawork and riveting sets contribute to a moody, slightly ponderous but exciting yarn whereby Cooper plays an adventurer carrying money for the purchase of arms for rebels in China. Madelaine Carroll is the beautiful heroine and Akim Tamiroff has the best role of his career as the General. Some of the dialogue is pretentious as penned by playwright Clifford Odets but it doesn't really matter.
- "Beau Geste", released in 1939, is possibly the best remembered of the set. Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston star as 3 orphan brothers who join the foreign legion, "till death do us part". The sentiments, heroism and attitude to women belong to a different era and Cooper is again a most unlikely Englishman but William Wellman produced and directed this suspenseful adventure in his most exciting style. The film is stolen by a really evil Brian Donlevy who reputedly was as awful on the set as his character - method acting at its best! A very young Susan Hayward appears as the typically colourless heroine.
All the prints are in good enough condition, mostly better than would be indicated by a few of the reviewers here on Amazon. The worst is "Bengal Lancers". "General" is missing the second reel which spoils the continuity.
There is no doubt that Gary Cooper was at his best as a hero, someone for the audience to admire, and 3 of these films are fantastic examples of the adventure genre even if the chauvinism is antique. The other 2 films placed Cooper "out" of his element but they still have their points of interest. The set is really good value not only because it is cheap but because of the sheer range of entertainment on offer.