Chris Hicks: Two collections of WWII movies, documentaries new on Blu-ray

Published: Saturday, May 24 2014 2:00 p.m. MDT

Charles Bronson, left, and Lee Marvin disguise themselves as SS officers to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold in "The Dirty Dozen," part of a new Blu-ray set of World War II movies.

Warner Home Video

Two new Blu-ray box sets have pulled together some classic World War II dramas and documentaries for film buffs, and a number of other newly released or reissued older films are also available this week.

“World War II Collections: True Stories of WWII” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1965-2008, PG-13/R for violence, four discs).

“World War II Collections: Invasion Europe” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1967-2005, PG/R for violence, four discs).

Each of these sets includes Blu-ray upgrades of three Hollywood features on various aspects of World War II, plus documentaries about the war and the involvement of Hollywood talent in bringing flag-waving propaganda to U.S. theaters during the 1940s.

“True Stories” has the fine features “Memphis Belle” (1990, PG-13), starring Matthew Modine; “Battle of the Bulge” (1965, unrated) with Henry Fonda leading an all-star cast in a Cinerama epic, and “Defiance” (2008, R), with Daniel Craig. Also here are the original 1944 “Memphis Belle” documentary and a new documentary, “The First Motion Picture Unit: When Hollywood Went to War,” plus six shorter documentaries.

“Invasion Europe’s” excellent features are “The Big Red One” (1980, two versions, PG original, R restored), starring Lee Marvin; “The Dirty Dozen” (1967, unrated), with Marvin and an all-star cast, and “Where Eagles Dare” (1968, PG), with Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. There is also the 45-minute documentary “George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin” (2005), which relates the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s experiences in the U.S. Army Signal Corps documenting (in color) D-Day, the liberation of Paris and the Dachau concentration camp, among other significant events.

“Arthur Hailey’s The Moneychangers” (CBS/Paramount/DVD, 1976, two discs, four episodes). Kirk Douglas is an ethical Manhattan bank vice president trying to keep a low-income housing project afloat when another vice president (Christopher Plummer, who won an Emmy) blocks it by currying favor with the board of directors in favor of a dicey investment with shady Lorne Greene. Douglas and Plummer are also up for the top spot after the death of the bank’s president. A weaker secondary story about credit card counterfeiting has Timothy Bottoms going undercover for the bank.

Hailey was the author of “Airport” and “Hotel,” among other best-sellers, and several of his works were adapted for theatrical and TV movies. This one is a miniseries that aired over four nights on NBC and was strong enough to lure Douglas to the small screen. It’s longer than it needs to be and feels padded in places, but it also remains entertaining, if not quite gripping.

“Lady L” (Warner Archive/DVD, 1965, TV ad). Oscar-winning character actor Peter Ustinov wrote and directed (and has a cameo in) this gentle dark comedy filmed on location in Europe and set at the turn of the 20th century. Sophia Loren is the title character, a laundress in a bordello who marries an aristocrat (David Niven) but continues a dalliance with an anarchist (Paul Newman). This one has star power to spare and is occasionally amusing but surprisingly flat. (DVD debut, available at warnerarchive.com)

“Weekend of a Champion” (aka “Afternoon of a Champion,” MPI/DVD, 1972, trailer). Cinéma vérité documentary produced by Roman Polanski, who followed racing champ Jackie Stewart around for three days during the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. After a brief European release the film was “lost” for 40 years until it was restored for a revival at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. There is a new, present-day coda with Polanski and Stewart reminiscing in Monaco.

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