With the original Controversial Classics Collection from Warner Brothers, the studio pulled seven films from their classic film archive that were controversial in their day. Topics included government corruption, racism, troubled youth and the wrongfully accused. Instead of following that set with more classic films based on the same themes, Warner Brothers has done something interesting and varied the focus of their theme. The films this time around, as the title suggests, deal with the role of the news media…in modern society. Instead of including seven different films, they have focused on newly re-mastered, double disc versions of three films from the 70’s; Network, All the President’s Men and Dog Day Afternoon. Each film is available individually, or as part of this box set.
Network is a film that rates at number 66 on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films of All Time list. As fate would have it, it is also my least favorite film of the three. Each film in this set takes a different approach to examining the nature of the news media. This film is probably the most on point with the nature of modern news. In Network, the role of the news media is to make money for the broadcast networks. The story, justice and reporting the truth behind the events are all seen as tools to be manipulated to obtain ratings, and ultimately money. This is one of those films that probably seemed like sensationalism at the time, but it is certainly right on point in the new millennium.
For me, the story of Network is not the plot, but the acting. This is one of only two films in history to win three Academy Awards for acting. Beatrice Straight won for Best Supporting Actress, and Faye Dunaway won for her fascinating and scrupulous turn as corporate snake Diana Christensen. The most amazing performance, however, comes from William Holden’s brilliant work as on-air talent Max Schumacher. Somehow, Holden managed to take the most bizarrely deranged character in the film and make him seem like the most grounded personality in the entire film. This is acting at its finest.
Like Network, All the President’s Men was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976 (an award that eventually went to Rocky). The film tells the story of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who broke the Watergate story and brought down President Nixon. As with all the films in this set, this is a story that is masterfully told. I would never guess that a movie about how a reporter unveils a story could be both factual and compelling, but this is most certainly both. About 15 minutes in, there is a scene that shows Woodward (Robert Redford) making telephone inquiries to various ancillary personalities about the break in. Watching him make the calls draws the viewer in at a level that lesser films are unable to accomplish with much more compelling material. This is just one of many amazing scenes that makes this one of the best detective films of all time.
Dog Day Afternoon was nominated for its Best Picture Oscar in 1975, eventually losing to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While Cuckoo certainly deserved the Best Picture Oscar, Dog Day Afternoon is still an excellent film. Heist films are all the rage today, but there were a bit more difficult to come by in the 70’s… especially heist films like this one, where the gig goes sour so early in. By the 15-minute mark of this film, everything possible has already gone from bad to worse for the criminals.
Of course, the focus of this boxed set is on the media, not criminals. Pacino does literally everything bad from the start, until he discovers one crucial fact… he who controls the media controls public perception. Once he gets the media on his side, the power of the police is severely diminished, and a full media circus ensues. Of course, for the rest of the story, you’re going to have to watch this one yourself.
Three great films, one fantastic set. Even if the extras and the technical aspects aren’t up to snuff, this would still be a great collection. Lucky for the consumer, the good news has just begun.
As would most certainly be expected, the quality of the audio varies from film to film in this set. Since these are all 70’s-era films presented in the original mono, I wasn’t expecting too much. Fortunately, these discs have wildly surpassed my expectations. Never before have I heard mono tracks that are so nuanced and delicate. All the President’s Men is especially well-presented, with each click of the typewriter and each hushed whisper presented in such a way as to draw the listener in toward the screen, thus making the viewer feel as though he or she is in on the secret. Well done.
Of course, with tracks of this age, some problems are expected. Unfortunately, some excessive level distortion shows up in the classic “mad as hell” scene in Network. It’s not enough to detract from the film, but it is most certainly noticeable. Also, Dog Day Afternoon may actually feature a track that is too ambitious. Whispers are very quiet, while the bullhorn is ear piercing. Authentic? Yes. Pleasant? Not so much. When examined from an overall perspective, however, the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to these mono audio tracks.
All the President’s Men is the clear standout when it comes to the video quality as well. All of the films look great, but President’s gets the added benefit of having that fantastic newsroom set that is conducive to quality visuals. The stark contrast of the white walls and ceilings to the bright reds and blues of the desks makes these images go from throw-away shots to quite compelling scenes, actually adding to the tension built up by the quality script.
Network starts off dark and grainy, but gradually gets cleaner as the film moves along. Dog Day Afternoon falls somewhere in the middle; not as sharp as President’s, but cleaner than Network. All three films are mastered in 2.35:1, which makes them a perfect fit for a widescreen display. These are films that are presented the way they were meant to be seen.
I can’t even remember how many times I have sat down with a special edition of a classic film and been greeted with a lame collection of accompanying special features. It’s understandable; how in the world can the newly-produced extras live up to the standard set by a classic Hollywood film? They simply cannot. However, this is one of those rare collections that comes amazingly close. Each film here comes with a bonus disc that is packed with well-produced, thought provoking extra features. Sure, there are some making-of segments, but the majority of the featurettes in this collection deal with the philosophies and ideas behind the films instead of mere technical information. Each film has a first-rate commentary track, as well as a multiple-part documentary. Each documentary features some true A-list subjects, including Walter Cronkite and Oliver Stone, just to name a very few. There may not be a lot of quantity on these bonus discs, but the length and quality of each extra is really top shelf.
While the previous volume in this series dealt with a wide range of classic films, this set hits straight at some of the best films made in the mid-70’s. The bottom line is this: this is an excellent set of films that has been treated extremely well by the fine folks over at Warner Brothers. Not only are the films first class, but the newly-produced extra features are first class as well. Even if you only like two of the three films in this set, the relatively low purchase price makes this set a clear “must purchase” for cinema fans.
Special Features List
- Commentary by Robert RedfordTelling the Truth About Lies: The Making of All the President
- Out of the Shadows: The Man Who Was Deep Throat
- Woodward and Bernstein: Lighting the Fire
- Vintage featurette: Pressure and the Press: The Making of All the President
- Vintage Jason Robards interview excerpt from Dinah!, hosted by Dinah Shore
- Alan J. Pakula thrillers trailer gallery
- Commentary by Director Sidney Lumet
- The Making of Network: A 6-Part Anniversary Documentary
- Vintage Interview excerpt from Dinah!, Hosted by Dinah Shore
- Turner Classic Movies
- Theatrical Trailers
- Commentary by director Sidney Lumet