I’ve said it before, and as long as Warner Brothers keeps putting these classic discs out, I am going to keep on saying it. No studio respects their classic film catalog like Warner’s. They have done marvelous things with their special editions of classic films, such as their fantastic 2-disc tin box release of King Kong. They have the largest collection of classic films on the planet, including the entire RKO Pictures catalog, and they are succeeding in introducing an entirely new generation of film fans to the best that cinema has to offer.
In addition to their wonderful single-title releases, they started releasing “Signature Collection” boxed sets of a couple of years ago. These are sets of films featuring a single actor or director, and they are packaged in beautiful boxes, complete with the original artwork for each film. This time around, they are focusing on five films by Ronald Reagan. Included in this box is the 1942 Best Picture nominee King’s Row, 1949 film The Hasty Heart, the surprising (and way ahead of its time) drama Storm Warning, the inspirational baseball film The Winning Team and the beloved film Knute Rockne All American, which reminded the world to “win one for the Gipper”.
These are all fantastic films. I knew I was going to enjoy spending time with the sports dramas Knute Rockne and The Winning Team, but I was really surprised that I hadn’t previously heard more about the other films in this box. Kings Row is a moving drama that actually had many of the same themes as David Lynch’ Blue Velvet. While the film starts off like a Norman Rockwell painting, the happenings in this sleepy little town are actually much more sinister once viewers start to see what happens behind the white picket fences and manicured lawns of these stately Victorian homes.
The Hasty Heart is a film that focuses on the real cost of war; the human element. Following the end of the Allied conflict in Burma, one Scottish soldier is left behind to recover from his wounds. While he believes that he is being held until his wounds fully heal, there is actually more to the story that he is unaware of. At the risk of ruining the plot for the audience, I will say no more. This is a surprising film that showcases some fantastic performances from Reagan, as well as Best Actor nominee Richard Todd.
Storm Warning, as I said earlier, is a film that was made way ahead of its time. A woman is visiting her sister who lives in the south, when she becomes a witness to the murder of a black man by the Ku Klux Klan. Shaken from the experience, she returns to her sister’s house, where she realizes that her brother in law was in fact one of the men involved in the crime. This revelation obviously puts the woman in a tough spot, and deciding how to react may prove to be more than she can handle. Reagan plays the local District Attorney, on a mission to bring the criminals to justice.
The Winning Team is a much more uplifting film, telling the true story of Grover Cleveland Alexander, a telephone company employee who makes it to the big leagues as a pitcher. He becomes such a sensation that he is later known as “Alex the Great”. Classic baseball fans will be especially pleased by this film as real-life players Bob Lemon, Hank Sauer and more co-star in the film that shows Alexander overcoming incredible odds again and again to become one of the best pitchers of his era.
And finally, the classic Knute Rockne, All-American. There is a reason this film is so well known even today, over 65-years after it was first released. The University of Notre Dame’s football team owes a great debt to Rockne, one of the winningest coaches in the history of college football. He is the reason that Notre Dame has such a mystique even to this day. Reagan, of course, plays running back George Gipp, who famously utters the phrase “win one for the Gipper”.
Five great films; one fantastic collection. Lucky for Warner Brothers, Reagan did the vast majority of his work with this famed studio, so it can be said that this collection truly is made of of the best acting work of his career.
All five of these films are presented in their original mono audio formats. They have also all undergone an extensive re-mastering process. The result is a set of tracks that sound sharp and clear, yet still have the character of the originals. This is a perfect balance between modern technology and the authentic classic film experience. I was afraid that these tracks would have some of the hiss and static that plagues films of this age, but there are absolutely none of those problems here. These are all great audio presentations, and the restorations ave really done the original films justice.
The video restorations that these films have undergone look fantastic. To preserve the historical nature of the pieces, all five movies in this collection are presented in their original full screen formats. It is simply amazing that films from the 40’s and early 50’s can look as great as these do.
The special features vary from disc to disc. The Winning Team and Storm Warning only have trailers to their credit, which is a shame. However, the other films bring more to the table. In addition to trailers for each of these movies as well, they also have classic Warner Brothers cartoon shorts and vintage featurettes. The Hasty Heart also adds a commentary track, while Knute Rockne includes the radio play version of the story. These are great extras, and a great way to supplement these classic films.
This is a great collection of classic films, and Warner Brothers has done a fantastic job of presenting them with the same quality that we have come to expect from them. Each film in this set has undergone an extensive restoration process, resulting in suburb audio and video, while still not altering the experience of watching a classic film. Reagan fans should pick this set up as soon as they can, and with the shockingly low price print these are being sold at, even casual fans might want to consider a purchase. This is how all classic films should be treated.