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DVD Review: ‘The Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers’

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My lifelong addiction to movies began sometime in my early teens when I discovered the wonders of video stores and cable television. Since then, I’ve devoured hundreds of films and hope to enjoy hundreds more before I’m done. Along the way, I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so I’m always happy to dive head-first into a good, diverse movie collection. The Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers does that in spades.

WB-20-Thrillers-OneHow do we define a “thriller”? Honestly, the first thing I think of is Michael Jackson’s 1983 video of the same name featuring Vincent Price and dancing zombies, but I’m a child of the 1980s. In Warner Brothers case, we’re dealing with an artistic expression of film that uses suspense, excitement, and tension as storytelling elements to ratchet up the viewer’s emotions. Characters in these movies are often in peril, fighting against the odds in a series of increasingly dangerous situations and we as movie-goers are along for the ride.

I’m addicted to these sorts of films and prefer the ones with gunfire, robots, aliens car chases, and witty repartee. I cut my movie-going teeth on films like Ronin, Alien, and The Terminator. This Thriller collection has many such films including Lethal Weapon, Batman, The Fugitive, Seven, and Heat, but also includes many earlier classics I’d never seen before. Seriously. How did I miss seeing films like The Maltese Falcon, Strangers on a Train, and North by Northwest?

North by Northwest has been on my “want to watch” list for years, but every time I’ve tried to pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray I’ve come up short. I’m happy to say that it not only lived up to the hype, but exceeded it. Hitchcock was one hell of a filmmaker. And the scene in which Cary Grant is attacked by a crop duster holds up today better than I ever expected. I suspect that though it could be remade today it would fall well short of the original.

If you’ve never seen it, the movie is based around a case of mistaken identity. Roger Thornhill (Grant), marketing mogul, gets abducted by two men who think he’s the great spy George Kaplan and taken to their boss. From that point on it’s a game of cat and mouse. He eludes his pursuers briefly only to stumble once again into their sights further down the road. Hitchcock does a masterful job of getting the viewer involved and hooked from the very beginning, sending the audience on a wild ride as suspense builds, you take a breath, and are off and running again to the next thrilling revelation.

And though I’d heard of Strangers on a Train, it was hardly on my radar. Even so, how can you go wrong with a combination of Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler? The plot of Strangers has been done and redone over the years in film and television.

The story seems to come right out of the tabloids. Tennis star Guy (Farley Granger) wants out of a horrible marriage with Miriam (Laura Elliot) so he can marry Senator’s daughter Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). Meanwhile, Bruno (Robert Walker) is having issues with his father and wants him out of the way. What if the two took care of each other’s problems permanently? And what happens when one goes through with the deal and the other one wants to back out? There are double-crosses galore and just as you think it can’t get much worse, it always does.

Sound familiar? It’s been reinvented in film and television ever since, but the original outshines all those pale echoes and once again proves Chandler’s writing prowess and Hitchcock’s gift for pacing.

In both cases I was fascinated by the depth of character and plot. Simple characters are thrust into extraordinary situations and it becomes almost like a scientific experiment: postulate a theory, perform an experiment, and tabulate the results. People and relationships seem to rise to the occasion or fall apart when the pressure rises. Even in black and white, these films hold up strong to the test of time.

For these two films alone this 20-film collection is worth its purchase price to me. But when you throw in Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon AND The Big Sleep (Sam Spade, another Chandler creation), Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, and so much more, this is a treasure trove of fun flicks.

The collection includes all these films:

  1. The Public Enemy (1931)
  2. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  3. The Big Sleep (1946)
  4. Strangers on a Train (1951)
  5. North by Northwest (1959)
  6. Dirty Harry (1971)
  7. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
  8. Lethal Weapon: Director’s Cut (1987)
  9. Batman (1989)
  10. Goodfellas (1990)
  11. The Fugitive (1993)
  12. Natural Born Killers: The Director’s Cut (1994)
  13. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  14. Seven (1995)
  15. Heat (1995)
  16. L.A. Confidential (1997)
  17. American History X (1998)
  18. The Dark Knight (2008)
  19. Inception (2010)
  20. The Town (2010)

This is an absolutely fantastic collection of films. And though I have a few of these titles on my shelf already, they will not be offended by sharing space with such other amazing classics. For North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train alone, this DVD set would have been on my wish list for the year.

WB will be releasing four other collections over the next year as well including Best Pictures (January), Musicals (February), Romance (April), and Comedy (July). I can hardly wait to see what will be in these other collections!

You can find The Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers on store shelves now!

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!