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War movies pass muster

May 24, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

With Memorial Day only five days away, Fox and Warner Home Video are releasing special editions of classic war films, as well as debuting several titles.

A new two-disc edition of the multi-Oscar-winning 1970 epic "Patton" (Fox, $20) may be worthwhile even if you own the previously released digital edition of the film starring George C. Scott as Gen. George S. Patton simply to listen to the commentary from Francis Ford Coppola, the Oscar-winning writer-director of "The Godfather" classics.

Coppola was in his mid-20s when he was asked to write a script about the controversial World War II general. As he points out, Burt Lancaster, who was originally going to play Patton, thought Coppola's script was too strange and neither the actor nor the studio liked his idea of opening the film with Patton addressing the audience as if they were troops. Coppola was fired.

Several years later, the project was resurrected and Edmund North was brought in by director Franklin Schaffner to work on the script. Still, a lot of what Coppola originally wrote was left in the shooting script -- including what became the movie's landmark opening -- and Coppola and North won an Oscar for the screenplay.

"The Longest Day" (Fox, $20) is being offered in a two-disc DVD that includes historical commentary by UCLA professor Mary Corey, as well as nostalgic, fact-filled commentary from Ken Annakin -- the only one of the film's three directors who is still alive. Annakin, 91, also is featured in an interview about the making of the lengthy, 1962 all-star epic that chronicled the invasion of Normandy from the eyes of the Americans, British, French and Germans.

"Immortal Sergeant" (Fox, $15) features a lovely performance from Henry Fonda. After his strong-willed sergeant (Thomas Mitchell) is killed during a skirmish with the Germans in the African desert, Fonda's self-doubting corporal must lead his men to safety.

"Decision Before Dawn" (Fox, $15) is an all but forgotten 1951 drama set during the last years of World War II. Nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, it's a captivating drama with a memorable performance from a young Oskar Werner as a German POW who is recruited by the Allies to work as a spy. Shot on location in Europe, the film also stars Richard Basehart and Gary Merrill.

"You're in the Navy Now" (Fox, $15) is a waterlogged service comedy that stars Gary Cooper in the role of a bumbling skipper of a PT boat. Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson are also on hand.

"Guns at Batasi" (Fox, $15) is an underrated 1964 drama starring Richard Attenborough in one of his strongest performances as a dedicated British soldier who gets caught with his men in the middle of a coup in an emerging African country.

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