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New on Disc: 'All Quiet on the Western Front' and more …

27 Feb, 2012 By: Mike Clark

All Quiet on the Western Front (Blu-ray)

Universal, Drama, $39.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo pack, NR.
Stars Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, Slim Summerville.
Universal production chief Carl Laemmle Jr. spent a fortune amid a looming Depression to film Erich Maria Remarque’s anti-war novel, though the early 1930s were interesting years for pacifistic content in Hollywood pictures (see also the Fredric March-Cary Grant-Carole Lombard The Eagle and the Hawk from 1933). With audiences caught between two world wars (though obviously, they didn’t know the horrors that were coming), it was a susceptible time for a movie that is still unflinching in its portrayal of the grunt’s burden at the hands of political opportunists, and even the shoehorned inclusion later at one point of a few frisky females for pacing relief seems in keeping with what could likely happen. The story was, of course, taken from the German point of view during World War I, and in addressing the question of how Americans could be rooting for these guys, it was pretty obvious that “universal” didn’t just refer to the film’s distributor — not that you could see in later years the original release print, which clocks in at about 133 minutes. By the time the picture starting getting TV showings in either the very late ’50s or very early ’60s, re-issues and other tinkering (this always was a controversial masterpiece) had seen it whittled down to about 101. Brilliantly directed by Lewis Milestone and shot by Casablanca’s Arthur Edeson, the extensive combat sequences are second to very, very few and still have tremendous clout. The print here is taken off the original negative — but what surprises is how good that negative must be for its age and/or the degree to which restorer techno-wizards at the Library of Congress knocked it into shape. There are movies that came out a year ago that don’t look anywhere near this great on Blu-ray, proof that when the money is spent, an old movie really can look the way it did on opening night, long before most of us were born.
Extras: The silent version also is included, and I can see why some prefer it: the presentation is more seamless (though the two running times are very close), and the score is effective (the talking version has effects and an occasional vocal utterance here and there but no full score).
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American Experience: Billy the Kid

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
I appreciated this documentary, in which even former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson throws in a couple cents about the degree to which the former William H. Bonney (atop other aliases) has captured the mass imagination for more than a century. There’s a great anecdote here about how immediately the news of Billy’s death at the hands of pursuer Pat Garrett reached the Midwest and beyond in the days of primitive communication.
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The Young Stranger

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars James MacArthur, Kim Hunter, James Daly, James Gregory.
John Frankenheimer made his directorial debut with this 1957 expansion of a TV drama he himself had staged about a year-and-a-half earlier. It ranks among the sturdier juvenile delinquency dramas released in the wake of game-changers Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause, although this more modest endeavor is more in the “mixed-up kid” genre. James MacArthur (with Disney movies and then “Hawaii Five-O” in his future) gives a solid performance as a kid whose only real transgression is to display movie auditorium hooliganism.
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