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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Western > War > Gary Cooper – The Signature Collection (Warner Bros.)

Gary Cooper – The Signature Collection (Warner Bros.)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D (C+ York; C Fountainhead)     Films: C+ (Fountainhead: B)



The new Gary Cooper – The Signature Collection DVD box from Warner Bros. features five films from the legendary actors’ career.  The earliest four are from his various days at Warner Bros., then came a big production at MGM as that studio slowly started to decline.  It shows us interesting changes in the star system, the studio system and who Cooper endured so many changes in the process.



Sergeant York (1941) is here in a two-DVD set to offer a slew of extras for this early Warner hit about the reluctant military man who still holds the amazing achievement of single-handedly taking out more of the enemy’s equipment and soldiers than any man ever has during the U.S. involvement in WWI.  In some ways, it is pro-military propaganda, but Howard Hawks’ directed this and it is far from either mere propaganda or melodrama.  Cooper is the title character and is very good in the role of the pacifist who did what many would have never expected him to do.  Extras include another fine audio commentary by Jeanine Basinger, Cooper movie trailer gallery, Cooper documentary, documentary on the making of the film, live action Lions For Sale short and Warner cartoon Porky’s Preview.


The Fountainhead (1948) is a still-enduring film that uses architecture as a metaphor about the individual versus the collective, individuality versus compromise, good taste versus none, distinction versus conformity and civil rights versus Communism for all intents and purposes.  This is the best film on the set, based on the Ayn Rand classic that brought new respect to Cooper and put the great Patricia Neal on the map.  King Vidor directs the film in the style of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane in particular.  Rand wrote the screenplay herself and the film (like the book) is as relevant as ever.  The great supporting cast includes Raymond Massey, Kent Smith, Henry Hull and Ray Collins.  Max Steiner turns in one of his better music scores and the great Robert Burks, A.S.C., did the great black and white cinematography.  The original theatrical trailer and smart 19-minutes-long featurette are included as extras.  This is a major Warner Bros. gem.


Dallas (1950) was released the same year as the Cooper classic High Noon, but is nowhere nearly as good a film.  It is not the film that inspired the nighttime TV soap opera of the same name, an honor that goes to the George Stevens/Warner classic Giant a few years later, but it is a Western in the capable hands of Director Gordon Heisler in a post-Civil War tale about criminals on the loose, holding on to one’s land and revenge.  Not great, but not bad.


Springfield Rifle (1952) is an even more explicit Revenge Western as has the gutsy Andre de Toth directing a script co-written by the creator of the radio hit Gunsmoke except that The Civil War is not over yet.  Cooper plays an Army man infiltrating the Confederacy so he can find out who is stealing horses.  This slowly builds into a battle that might even alter the course of the war.  Like Dallas, it is a smaller scale A-Western that holds up in mixed ways.


The Wreck Of The Mary Deare (1959) is an interesting, ambitious, large and sometimes fascinating big screen vehicle pairing Cooper and Charlton Heston is an action drama about the sinking of the title ship and the chaos that ensues.  A British production for MGM, it was directed by Michael Anderson who was in helming an interesting of widescreen productions (like The Quiller Memorandum and the original Logan’s Run) that look exceptionally good to this day.  They are effective even when the story or visual effects have issues.  Michael Redgrave, Cecil Parker and Virginia McKenna co-star in this Eric Ambler-scripted film.  A very ambitious production worth seeing and Cooper’s next to last feature film.



The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on York and Fountainhead, plus Technicolor image on Dallas and EastmanColor image on Springfield Rifle are all decent for this format.  I will be picky with Dallas since though the color is good, it could be a bit better considering it is a three-strip dye-transfer film.  The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 CinemaScope frame of Mary Deare was processed in MetroColor and could be a bit sharper and clearer in this case, but still looks good and you can see Cinematographer Joseph Ruttenberg’s impressive compositions and depth of field throughout.  Staring in the silent era, he went on to get success in early sound films at Warner Bros. quickly adapting to the widescreen frame in films like Gigi.  Also, all the films are Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with Warner continuing to switch over from the 1.0 Mono they used to use.  Nice improvement for a set worth a good looking at.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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