TCM Greatest Classic Legends: Henry Fonda
Just in time for Spring cleaning, TCM is dusting off several vintage films for inclusion in its new DVD sets. The mega-studio's prior releases either paid homage to a screen legend, or contained movies that were thematically linked. Among its upcoming offerings is a compilation entitled "Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection: Henry Fonda."
As Fonda's screen characters were often mild-mannered and quietly stoic, audiences tended to overlook his great range. True, he is at most memorable portraying sympathetic heroes or loveable oafs. Yet, to display the actor's versatility, TCM has bundled four diverse Fonda films from a variety of genres.
The set begins inauspiciously with the 1965 big-budget "Battle of the Bulge." As a WWII officer, Fonda leads a stellar cast, yet the lot is wasted in this "epic" failure. Talky, oddly stilted, and often poorly acted, this film's dramatic sequences are interspersed with noisy, battle scenes. Some of the dialogue is unintentionally laughable. Filmed in "Ultra-Panavision," the photography is occasionally striking. However, all you will battle during this three-hour trudge is boredom.
The Fonda set improves markedly with Otto Preminger's 1962 "Advise and Consent," a superior political drama featuring a host of former Hollywood stars. The film documents the ruthless machinations of senators who oppose or support the nomination of Fonda as Secretary of State. Fonda excels, although Charles Laughton steals the show as a shady Southern politician. Watch for Betty White in a rare film appearance as a Kansas senator. For Gay historical interest, the film features a rare excursion into a hilariously stereotyped Gay bar.
"The Wrong Man" is one of Hitchcock's lesser known masterworks. The theme is classic Hitchcock: A man jailed for a crime he did not commit. However the style is atypical of the virtuoso director, veering closer to Realism and Film Noir than any of his other films. As the wrongly accused Italian-American musician, Fonda is terrific, as is Vera Miles playing the wife whose life is destroyed by her husband's incarceration.
The final entry is the WWII naval comedy "Mister Roberts." Fonda is the title naval officer who serves on a cargo boat but longs for active duty. The shipload of characters range from curmudgeonly Captain James Cagney, to the irrepressible Ensign Pulver (Jack Lemmon). Looking spiffy in Cinemascope and Warnercolor, the film offers pleasant comic relief to the other tense dramas in the collection.
The special features are minimal, and include the very few issued with the original commercial releases. Though not among Henry Fonda's absolute greatest films, the entries in the new TCM set all offer highly convincing performances by this American legend.
TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection: Henry Fonda