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DVD - The Gary Cooper Signature Collection
12-Dec-2006 -

I liked the role because I was portraying a good, sound American character. (On Sergeant York (1941))

Five classics of a rugged individualist.
Springfield Rifle, one of five films included in this set, may miss the bullseye as a true Gary Cooper classic, but there's a line that speaks to his enduring status as a screen icon and "American Legend." In this 1952 Western, his follow-up film to High Noon, Cooper's character has been drummed out of the army and branded a coward. Suffice to say that all is not what it seems, and an observer is asked how Coop will handle the pressure. The response: "He'll stand up." That is quintessential Cooper. He's a stand-up guy, and the "dang swangest hero," as he is hailed in Sergeant York, this collection's calling card. Directed by Howard Hawks and co-written by John Huston, Sergeant York earned Cooper an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Alvin York, a Tennessee mountain hellraiser who finds religion after surviving a lightning strike. His newfound pacifist beliefs are put to the supreme test when he is forced to enlist in WWI.
Cooper also displays the (Frank Lloyd) Wright stuff as architect Harold Roark in The Fountainhead (1949), adapted for the screen by Ayn Rand from her towering and controversial bestselling novel about a "fool visionary" who refuses to compromise his principles or conform his work to popular taste. The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), his penultimate film, finds Cooper desperately trying to clear his name before an inquiry determines what really happened aboard the mysteriously abandoned eponymous ship. Costar Charlton Heston gives him a run for Most Piercing Blue Eyes honors. 

Last, and least, but still entertaining, is Dallas (1950), in which Cooper stars as a Confederate outlaw who impersonates a sheriff to settle an old score. Cooper is not the most chameleon-esque of actors, but in these representative films, he displays intriguing shadings to his heroic persona. Roark in The Fountainhead has a definite dark side, while his "Reb" Hollister in Dallas is something of a rascal.

Of the DVD presentations, Sergeant York gets the two-disc "Special Edition" treatment, with dry, but informative commentary by film historian Jeanne Basinger, a made-for-cable TV special about Cooper hosted by Clint Eastwood, and a welcome Warner Bros. cartoon, Tex Avery's "Porky's Preview" and short subject, "Lions for Sale," that replicate an old fashioned night out at the movies.

The Fountainhead DVD includes a featurette about the making of the film. Cooper stands alone among Hollywood's leading men, but beyond his formidable presence, classic film buffs will bask in the nostalgic pleasures of Max Steiner's music in four of the five films, and appearances by great character actors (Walter Brennan and George Tobias in Sergeant York, a young Richard Harris in Mary Deare).

The music.
The music for four of the five movies has been written by another Hollywood legend, Max Steiner, born in 1888 in Vienna, Austria as Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner. From the 1930s to the 1960s, he was one of the most respected, innovative, and brilliant composers of American film music, creating a truly staggering number of exceptional scores for films of all types. He was one of the first to fully integrate the musical score with the images on-screen and to score individual scenes for their content and create leitmotifs for individual characters, as opposed to simply providing vaguely appropriate mood music, as evidenced in King Kong (1933), which set the standard for American film music for years to come. Max Steiner was nominated for Academy Awards for his scores eighteen times and won three times, for The Informer (1935),  for Now, Voyager (1942) and for Since You Went Away (1944). Years after his death in 1971, he remains one of the giants of motion picture history, and his music still thrives. 

Responsible for the music of the last movie, The Wreck Of The Mary Deare, is George Duning, who was born on 25 February 1908 in Richmond, Indiana, USA. George Duning was educated in Cincinnati, Ohio, and during his early twenties played trumpet and piano for the Kay Kyser band, later arranging most of the music for Kyser's popular "Kollege of Musical Knowledge" radio program. It was during the Kyser band's appearance in "Carolina Moon" (1944) that Duning's work was noticed, leading to a Columbia contract.

Unfortunately there is not much music released of these five movies. Only the music for The Fountainhead (1949) has been digitally remastered by Ray Faiola of Chelsea Rialto Studios and released on CD by Brigham Young University in 2004. The Overture of Sergeant York can be found on a compilation album, Hollywood Goes To War, played by the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. And of the score for Dallas only one track appeared in 1979 on the compilation LP, Max Steiner: Music for Westerns. No music at all has been released of Springfield Rifle and The Wreck Of The Mary Deare.

Gary Cooper - The Signature Collection has been released on November 7, 2006 by Warner Home Video.

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