Stars: Burt Lancaster, Will Geer, Robert Ryan
Genre: Crime, Drama, History
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Runtime: 91 minutes
Burt Lancaster had bounced around, literally, before entering movies. A former circus acrobat, the strapping Mr. Lancaster became a heartthrob with his 1946 debut, The Killers, but insisted on being an actor as well as a movie star. With his athletic physique and restless curiosity, he succeeded on both counts. Burt Lancaster--The Signature Collection is a hodgepodge of titles that show off the grinning appeal of this thinking man's hunk. It really doesn't include any signature classics, and the emphasis here is on Lancaster the bounding romantic; all but one of the films are from the early 1950s. The best of the lot is the earliest in the collection, The Flame and the Arrow, a Robin Hoodian tale of 12th-century Lombardy, with Burt fighting an evil lord and wooing fair lady Virginia Mayo. Even director Jacques Tourneur doesn't seem to have taken this too seriously, but it's a colorful, buoyant piece of nonsense with some stunning acrobatic work by Lancaster and his old circus partner, Nick Cravat. Jim Thorpe--All-American is an earnest bio of the great Native American athlete, who won gold medals at the 1912 Olympic Games only to have them taken away on a technicality. See this movie in childhood, and you'll never forget it: the tale of Thorpe's inspirational journey into greatness, and subsequent struggle with alcoholism and poverty, is hard to shake. Lancaster brings the full tragic dimension to the role, and of course fits the athletic shoes. South Sea Woman is a WWII yarn in which a mouth Marine (Lancaster) finds himself court-martialed for some colorful activities on a Pacific island. Chuck Connors and Virginia Mayo are also in on the lightweight plot, which doesn't add up to much. His Majesty O'Keefe emphasizes Lancaster with his shirt off, a useful tactic in an otherwise humdrum account of a 19th-century adventurer in the South Seas. You might see the outline of a political parable if you squint hard, but mostly this is a slice of Technicolor exoticism. Jumping ahead considerably, Executive Action is a grim 1973 film that lays out an argument in favor of conspiracy in the JFK assassination. Lancaster and Robert Ryan lend their formidable authority to this low-budget film, which is much quieter in approach than Oliver Stone's JFK (and yet eerier because of that). It also shows how gracefully Lancaster had aged. Vintage cartoons, some Joe McDoakes shorts, and trailers fill out the usual Warners extras. --Robert Horton
In the three years after the murders of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald eighteen material witnesses died, 6 by gunfire, 3 by motor accidents, 2 by suicide, 1 by a cut throat, 1 by a karate chop to the neck, 3 by heart attacks, 2 from natural causes. An actuary engaged by the London Sunday Times concluded: On November 22, 1963, the odds of these witnesses being dead by Feb. 1967 are one hundered thousand trillion to one.