Forever intent on finding new ways in which to package old DVDs into something new and swanky, the folks over at Sony Home Entertainment decided to release two separate "WWII 60th Anniversary Collection" box sets. This particular set offers a pair of films from reliable moviemaker Edward Dmytryk, The Caine Mutiny (1954) and Anzio (1968), as well as Wolfgang Petersen's big breakout film from 1981, the fantastic submarine epic Das Boot. Both sets also come with a fourth disc on which you'll find a History Channel documentary, as well as a nifty little booklet full of information on the movies, the soldiers, the weapons, and the machinery or WWII.
(The companion set to this release features the impressive triple feature of From Here to Eternity (1943), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and The Guns of Navarone (1961).)
Basically, these sets are fantastic for those of us who might not already own some of the wartime classics, but I'll say it loud and clear right here: If you already have the three movies included within this set somewhere in your collection, there's no real reason to upgrade to the box set release. Unless, of course, you have a real soft spot for History Channel documentaries and nifty little promotional booklets.
The Caine Mutiny is a classic wartime drama / courtroom gripper that I'm ashamed to admit I'd never seen before last week. It was just one of a thousand old movies I want to see, but never really got around to it. And now that I have ... I'm a big fan. Humphrey Bogart stars as the new-arriving captain of a U.S. minesweeper during WWII. At first the crewmen and officers dismiss Captain Queeg's stern attitude as simple discipline, but it soon become fairly obvious that the new skipper has a few stray screws loose.
Based on the award-winning novel by Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny is a film that was over a year in production, and was highly anticipated when it finally arrived. And, of course, it was a pretty big hit. Nominated for seven Oscars (and winner of none, darnit), the film features a fantastic performance by Humphrey Bogart, and stellar support from guys like Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, and Robert Francis. Oh, and the always awesome Jose Ferrer drops in around Act III and promptly steals away with the whole satisfying film. Darn good movie, and well worthy of its vaunted status; I only wish I'd seen it earlier.
Anzio comes from a team of screenwriters and ultra-producer Dino De Laurentis, and it's your standard "lovable lugs on a suicide mission" war movie, full of familiar faces and memorable cliches, but at least Dino was wise enough to hire Dmytryk for the gig. Robert Mitchum stars as war reporter Dick Ennis, a semi-soldier able to simply walk into Rome's back-door and beat the Germans to the prize. But Dick's report goes unheeded by the powers-that-be, which gives the German army time to mobilize, resulting in a bloodbath that, by all accounts, probably shouldn't have happened.
Although Anzio has all the requsite "good stuff" found in all the coolest war films (tons of battles and graphic demises, exotic and fascinating locales, colorful characters doing dangerously dramatic things, etc.), the movie as a whole has an air of "been there, done that, several times" -- which is not to say that it's a bad film. It's definitely not a bad film, but it is a stock-standard and fairly familiar one, but those who enjoy the work of Mr. Mitchum, and actors like Peter Falk, Robert Ryan, Giancarlo Giannini, and Reni Santoni. Anzio's not exactly considered a "classic" in the war-story genre, but it'll absolutely do for a rainy Saturday matinee.
Das Boot (aka The Boat) is THE submarine movie. No other sub-flick even comes close, and yes, I've seen The Hunt for Red October, The Enemy Below, and Run Silent, Run Deep. One of the standard weapons of the "submarine thriller" is that of sheer, sweaty, intense, and inescapable claustrophobia -- and Petersen has captured that clammy essence and wedged it into a bottle called Das Boot. Seriously, if you get uptight in confined spaces, this is probably the one movie you'll never want to see. (Those who know the difference should note that this is the 3.5-hour "director's cut" version of the film, and not the theatrical cut -or- the "uncut" mini-series version.)
Over three grueling hours in length (and I do mean "grueling" in a good way), Das Boot takes you (deep) inside a German submarine circa 1942. Although the submersible German warships were long considered the crown jewel of the Nazi war machine, it's at about this point that the German U-boat torpedo-flingers have fallen on hard times. Victims of cracked communication codes, faulty machinery, and outright wartime mayhem, the crew of the "Das Boot" must contend with a gauntlet of near-death experiences before they can think of making it home. Plus it gave a lot of American moviegoers their first taste of German soldiers as seen as normal human beings, because that's what armies are: a bunch of scared young men pressed into doing terrible and terrifying things.
You're not going to get any upgrades or downslides on these double-dipper-discs. Although repackaged into their own slick little slim-cases, the contents of the platters remain the same.
Video: All three film are presented in an anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. (Caine and Boot are 1.85:1. Anzio is 2.35:1.) The picture quality on each film is quite fine, considering that the youngest of the trio is 25 years old.
Audio: The Caine Mutiny offers Dolby Digital 2.0 in English, French, and Spanish (with optional subtitles in the same three languages), Anzio is Mono (English or French) with subtitles offered in English, Spanish, French, Thai, Portuguese, Chinese, or Korean, and Das Boot is presented in its original German (DD 5.1) or dubbed English (Surround) with the same subtitle options as found on Anzio. (For Das Boot, stick with the German track and the subtitles, trust me. Not just to see the film in its original form, but the sound effects are so much more effective with the 5.1 track!)
Flip through the Anzio and Caine discs and you'll find some trailers for Anzio, The Caine Mutiny, Dead Reckoning, The Guns of Navarone, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia. On the Das Boot DVD you'll be treated to a 6-minute featurette called The Making of Das Boot, which offers interview segments and a few behind-the-scenes peeks, with special attention paid to the remastered "director's cut" experience. (On the previous release of Das Boot, a director's audio commentary was among the special features; that track has not been included within this 4-disc set.)
The icing on the double-dip cake are a pair of war-oriented extras: On a separate disc you'll find a rock-solid 45-minute documentary from The History Channel called Dead Men's Secrets: The Secrets of the Sea Wolves, which focuses on the ups and downs of Hitler's vaunted U-boat fleet, and their journey from devilish predator to nearly extinct. Also slipped into the box set is a 26-page scrapbook that delivers production notes, filmmaker quotes, cast filmographies, poster galleries, and lots of slick photos. A nice little touch, to be sure.
Here we have three war movies, two of which are extremely excellent and one of which is certainly quite watchable. If you're a war-movie buff who already owns these three films, then you might not need to make the upgrade just to get a little booklet and a History Channel special ... but, then again, if you're a hardcore war-movie buff, those two extra goodies might just be enough to earn the double-dip, anyway!
Either way, three solid war films, a few cool toys, and a damn fine price point. That's how this box set (and its companion piece) earns our Highly Recommended rating.