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New on Disc: 'Fort Apache' and more …

12 Mar, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Fort Apache (Blu-ray)

Warner, Western, $19.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, John Agar, Victor McLaglen, Ward Bond, George O’Brien.
Like “film noir,” the term “John Ford Cavalry Trilogy” took a while to get coined and then become part of general usage, though it didn’t take all that long following the bunched-up release of two outdoor beauties the director filmed at RKO and then a third at Republic, all between 1948 and 1950. Given the instant familiarity sparked by this Western trio’s early release to TV, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande have been pretty well regarded as a unit for more than a half-century. With a hard-case Henry Fonda cast as a thinly disguised George Custer against John Wayne’s warily rank-respectful subordinate pro, Apache is one of my 10 favorite Fords (out of seven decades’ worth) for a few reasons. For one thing, it was the first movie to team the director with Frank Nugent, Ford’s best screenwriter (apologies to Dudley Nichols). For another, it might be the richest single showcase of the director’s famed stock company. And for another, it pretty well launched that later period of Ford’s career when, in addition to having become reflective, he began to indulge in broad comedy relief. 
Extras: Apache was always my favorite of the trilogy, an opinion with which the always enjoyable writer-historian F.X. Feeney (a possible Ford cousin from the old country) seems to agree in his bang-up commentary for this spectacularly sharp black-and-white Blu-ray rendition.
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American Experience: Clinton

PBS, Documentary, two-disc set, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
By my count, “American Experience” has profiled every 20th-century-and-beyond U.S. president from Clinton back to Woodrow Wilson with the exception of Coolidge and Harding (as scintillating a view as a Harding go-round might be). I own and have seen all of them, and director Barak Goodman’s Clinton portrait is right up there — though as any documentarian must, Goodman must go where the material leads him. Among the many heavy hitters interviewed to offer formative detail is writer David Maraniss, whose First in His Class is generally considered to be the best biography ever of a sitting president. The other major theme here (in terms of personal life) is the law school-and-beyond professional link with wife Hillary, whose brains and judgment Clinton respected more than anyone else’s, and how she was forced to submerge her own personality — and did — in those early Arkansas days and beyond before getting the belated opportunity to act upon on her heavy collegiate potential to become a political late bloomer.
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No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos

Cinema Libre, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
There’s a special and very specific tale to tell in this documentary about cinematography that would be foolhardy to shortchange. It is not only one of friendship — though Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs remained inseparable soulmates until the latter’s 2007 death — but of the events that formed it. Endangering your life by photographing the short-lived Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets in 1956 could serve as the climax of a lot of stories, but for the two young students at Budapest’s Academy of Drama and Film, it was just the beginning. Between the two of them, it seems as if Kovacs and Zsigmond eventually shot about half of the interesting films to come out of the almost incomparably rich pre-Star Wars era of the late 1960s and early ’70s.
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