An interesting collection of films from a very interesting actor.
This set sort of feels thrown together with only a couple of the titles containing Extra Features.
Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection offers 6 films in the cannon of an actor that exemplified a certain masculine and mature nature that came out of the various roles he embodies here. The 5 films that make up this collection are:
- Sergeant York
- The Fountainhead
- Springfield Rifle
- The Wreck of Mary Deare
In the seminal Sergeant York we get the introspective story of Alvin C. York, a pacifist who became a hero for his efforts during World War I. This comes in a two disc set with some enlightening bonus material. Cooper plays Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's classic novel adaptation of The Fountainhead. A different side of the actor is seen in the movie Dallas, as Cooper portrays Blayde Hollister, a man out to settle an old debt. Springfield Rifle sees Cooper in the role of Major Lex Kearney, a deadly man with a deadly weapon. Lastly, in The Wreck of Mary Deare, Cooper teams up with Charlton Heston to try and figure out why a freighter had the wreck that it did.
Overall, I felt that Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection offered up a mix of interesting movies, with the two most popular Sergeant York and The Fountainhead, being the standouts.
Film Historian Jeanine Basinger gives an insightful, if not detached, account of the making of this film. She talks about how this is a war movie but for the first hour there's no combat. She discusses the political aspects of the film, and the devices employed in the movie like music, the framing, and everything else. Overall, Basinger has really done her homework to reference as much as she does in this commentary. I especially liked knowing about the aging process for the Paster Rosier Pile (Walter Brennan) role. It is even more interesting because these two actors were very close in age.
Gary Cooper: American Life, American Legend
Sergeant York: Of God and Country
This featurette examines the making of this film from the ground up. It looks at this country at the time this movie was made, and it basically breaks down how it ended up on the big screen and the effect it had when it was released. What is so interesting about this movie, is that war films from that time didn't tend to focus on subject matter like pacifism that much. While Sergeant York ultimately is about multiple forms of patriotism, I think that this film is almost subversive in how it depicted the subject. Still, it's eventual effect on the War effort truly underscores the power of cinema.
Like the featurette on the Sergeant York DVD, it is apparent that The Fountainhead was very much a product of the time it was made. We get to analyze the U.S. in 1943, the popularity of the Ayn Rand book, and the rigid individualism (embodied by Howard Roark) that the U.S. had as a nation. Apparently, when Gary Cooper made his deal with Warner Bros., a lot of it was predicated on that fact that he was going to star in this movie. Filled with a lot of keen insights, this is the kind of piece that I thought would play very well in a film history class. It's great that a set like Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection is around to remind people in the present of their not too distant past.
All of the films in this set are in their standard version presented in a format preserving the aspect ratio of it's original theatrical exhibition. Sergeant York and The Fountainhead are in black and white, while the rest of the movies are in color. The only widescreen release amongst the films is The Wreck of Mary Deare. On the whole I was pretty impressed with how good these movies looked. I love that these Signature Collections span a specific time period because I think it helps to get a sense of the evolution of film. While I thought the black and white look was extremely crisp on these DVDs, there is nothing like the look of the early color films. It is really interesting how it was bright in one decade, then muted, and then in the 1980s became almost drab.
All 5 if these movies are in Dolby Digital with all the tracks being in some form of mono. I had thought for some reason that The Wreck of Mary Deare might be in stereo but that was not the case. After getting the volume about halfway up for Sergeant York, I found that I was able to keep it leveled there for the remainder of the DVDs. These earlier films are much more simplistic in their audio functions, so it makes watching them a different experience than the films that came later. Technology changed so much, the movies seem to become more fluid, even though I don't think every film in this collection has the rigidness of say, The Fountainhead.
This slipcase features a very serious photo of Gary Cooper with the classic Signature Collection gray and blue tint on him. The back features tiny images of each film, a description, a Bonus features listing, and some minor technical specs on the bottom of this case. All 5 movies are stored in slim cases, again containing onesheet artwork on each of their covers that was probably used when the films were released theatrically. In what could have been a bulkier set, our friends at Warner Bros. have kept things economical and easy to negotiate.
One thing I love about the offerings of "The Signature Collection" is that it reintroduces me to actors that I already think I know. I was familiar with Gary Cooper but that was mainly because I had heard his name before. Being able to go through this assortment of films, I feel that, like Bogart and Jimmy Stewart, these guys don't seem to get into their roles as much as they let their roles get into them. By this I mean, I never doubted for a second that Gary Cooper had embodied Alvin York. Just like I never doubted that he was Major Lex Kearney. On the surface, other than the military connection, there doesn't seem to be that much difference between the characters. When you put a performer like Gary Cooper into that role, I would think the differences would become even less pronounced. However, there is just enough subtlety to a performer like Cooper, that if you watch the performances close enough you'll see that there are multiple layers.
Packed with 5 movies, Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection is a must own for those who are fans of solid acting and classic cinema gems.
The Fountainhead was released June 25, 1949.