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  • Carrie Specht

The Criterion Collection New Releases May 2020


The 2020 May additions to the bluechip standard of all DVD collections includes a John Sturges's World War II adventure, five newly restored Scorsese Shorts, a subversive backstage melodrama, a fearlessly honest portrait of American manhood, Paul Dano's acclaimed directorial debut, and Eric Rohmer's influential series of morality tales. The highly respected Criterion Collection devotes itself to restoring culturally relevant films that have a unique significance to the advancement of the art of cinema. To be selected for Criterion is the greatest compliment a film can have second only to being included in the National Film Registry.


So, every month you should take a close look at the newest offerings. It's most likely you'll see a familiar title or filmmaker. I always do, and this month is no exception. If you're a fan of Martin Scorsese, you'll love the collection of short films with the intimate documentaries Italianamerican and American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince, as well as three of his student films that illuminate the artistic development of one of our greatest directors. Then there's the work of feminist icon, Dorothy Arzner. As the only woman of her time to work as a director in the Hollywood studio system, her powerful feminist touch adds gravitas to Dance, Girl, Dance starring Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball. Arzner was truly an auteur decades ahead of her time. And if your heart leans toward the spirit of independent cinema, John Cassavetes' production of Husbands is a superb example of an auteur at his best.


For me the highlight of the month is The Great Escape. I have a great fondness for this WWII escape thriller. I can't remember when I first saw it, but I believe it must have been in childhood on a local TV station. I suppose what captivated me most about the film must have been the excitement of the Allied Forces scheming and plotting to break out of their German prison camp, and the fun loving camaraderie amongst the incredibly handsome cast. James Garner and Steve McQueen are ridiculously charming in their portrayals of only two (of three) Americans in a camp surrounded by subjects of the United Kingdom. Their dry, sardonic line deliveries provide comic relief while never undermining moments of genuine drama. Based on a true story, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Donald Pleasence are also among the 250 men who attempt to tunnel their way to freedom. One of the highlights of the escape is when McQueen rides a motorcycle in an attempt to clear a barbed-wire fence. You've more than likely seen a clip of the scene. It encapsulates a uniquely American bravado that helped win the war. And just like our fighting men at the time, no set back would deter the American spirit - it's just as scrappy and undaunted as Steve McQueen. The daredevil stunt cemented his superstar status, and crowned him the king of American cool of his era. As heartbreaking as it is fun, The Great Escape is highly entertaining from beginning to end. And don't be surprised if the theme songs gets stuck in your head. The Elmer Bernstein soundtrack perfectly supports the sensibilities of the upbeat determination of this classic piece of cinema history.


Special edition features include: a 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray, Two audio commentaries, one from 1991, featuring director John Sturges and composer Elmer Bernstein; the other, from 2004, featuring actors James Coburn, James Garner, and Donald Pleasence, New interview with critic Michael Sragow, "The Great Escape": Heroes Underground, a four-part 2001 documentary about the real-life escape from the Stalag Luft III prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, including interviews with POWs held there, The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones, a 2001 program on the United States Army Air Forces pilot David Jones, the inspiration for Steve McQueen's character in the film, Return to "The Great Escape," a 1993 program featuring interviews with Coburn, Garner, actors David McCallum and Jud Taylor, stuntman Bud Ekins, and McQueen's son, Chad McQueen.