When you think of classic Hollywood leading men, Burt Lancaster usually isn’t among the first five names spoken, and might not even be among the first ten. It’s a shame because of Burt’s talent and very manly looks, but not surprising given the roles he took as he got older.
He’s starred in classic films like From Here To Eternity, Judgment At Nuremburg, and Birdman Of Alcatraz, and Warner Bros. has given the hunky Lancaster its Signature Collection status.
In a movie that preceded Oliver Stone’s JFK by eighteen years, David Miller’s Executive Action is a fictional but very plausible conspiracy account of John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
There are literally hundreds of different theories as to the identity of the masterminds behind JFK’s death. Burt Lancaster (Farrington) and Robert Ryan (Foster) star in this thriller as the cold and calculating lead conspirators. They are part of a group of businessmen and political figures who are unhappy with the JFK administration, most notably on JFK’s stance on equal rights.
Executive Action is told purely through the eyes of the conspirators, and surprisingly doesn’t include any outside “world views” on the general national sentiment and mood. Including the latter would almost certainly have given sympathy to the conspirators. But to be fair, there men didn’t think much about what Americans cared for. They only cared for themselves and served only their own interests.
The film does include many scenes of actual news footage to help create authenticity and continuity between the backstage scenes of Lancaster and Ryan plotting their thorough scheme and historical record.
While this film is the work of fiction, it does give creative and reasonable answers to the many unanswered questions surrounding the assassination. The one aspect of the film that will always cause doubt in audiences is the fact that even with the small number of people involved in the film’s conspiracy, there still were more than enough people to make mistakes and provide leaks that would have unraveled the plot.
Included on the DVD are trailers for a few Burt Lancaster films, and a ten-minute documentary titled “November 22, 1963: In Search Of An Answer” that shows (with many interviews of the cast and crew) how passionate the filmmakers were toward trying to put some perspective on the non-complete Warren Report on JFK’s assassination and the credibility of some conspiracy theories.
Jim Thorpe – All American
Considered one of the greatest American athletes of the 20th century, Jim Thorpe (Burt Lancaster) was a Native American Indian who faced a huge uphill battle trying to adjust at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. He struggled, but found his release in athletics.
Jim excelled in every sport he tried (track and field, football, baseball, basketball), and his success put Carlisle on the collegiate map. Headlines about Carlisle’s victories and Jim’s dominating performances filled newspapers. Disappointment hit Jim, but he always tried that much harder.
When he was turned down for a coaching position, he sought to compete in the 1912 Olympics as the way to get the recognition he deserved. He won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon events, but was stripped of them. Jim’s life started to spiral downward from there, especially with the death of his son Jim, Jr. and with his battle with alcoholism. After hitting rock bottom, he finds himself again by coaching kids.
The film is more a tale of Jim’s struggles and victories in life. Unfortunately the theme of racism wasn’t addressed as much. There are hints of it throughout the film, including the mention of Jim not getting his first coaching job was because he was Native American. Likewise, Native American culture isn’t highlighted as much either. With many exciting sports scenes, the movie could have been much more.
The DVD includes an unfunny Joe McDoakes short (“So You Want To Be A Paper Hanger”) and a Bugs Bunny short (“Here We Go”) about Bugs and his influence on Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America.
His Majesty O’Keefe
It really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone how long man has lusted for oil. In the old seafaring days, whale blubber was sought for it. And watching His Majesty O’Keefe, I now know that coconut held its secret too, with copra that was as valuable as gold.
Captain David Dion O’Keefe (Burt Lancaster) lost his ship to mutiny with his ambitions to find copra. He miraculously washes up on Yap, an island paradise full of coconuts and muscle-bound natives able but not willing to harvest the copra.
O’Keefe leaves the island with the intent of coming back for copra. His biggest obstacle is trying to find a dent in the area’s monopoly by a German trading company. During his quest, he finds his fair share of friendlies and enemies, but more importantly he finds the path to his fortune.
Shot on location on the gorgeous Fiji Islands, His Majesty O’Keefe isn’t your average straightforward sea adventure, but a tale of the historical harm that cultural interference/invasion (there's probably a scientific word for it) and modernization had on non-Western/non-industrial societies.
Included on the DVD are a theatrical trailer and two more shorts, including another Joe McDoakes comedy “So You Want To Know Your Relatives” (which again isn’t that funny) and another cartoon “I Gopher You” about two gophers trapped in a food processing plant.
The Flame And The Arrow
Despite the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, pirate tales and swashbuckling movies have not been able to stage a comeback. It’s a shame because the old lighthearted tales were always a breath of fresh air.
Burt Lancaster plays Dardo the Arrow with the kind of charisma that would make any father betroth their daughters to him. Dardo’s wife left him for Count Ulrich (The Hawk). Dardo refused to take action despite the insistence of the town of Lombardy. It isn’t until The Hawk takes Dardo’s son that Dardo leads a revolt over the German conquerors.
Of course, a tale like this isn’t complete without a love story, with Dardo falling for Anne de Hesse (Virginia Mayo). And of course, it wouldn’t be the same without Anne falling for Dardo as well.
In the classic days of '50s filmmaking, it’s again refreshing to see so many of the actors perform their own stunts. His sidekick Piccolo (Nick Cravat) doing a front flip from a second story onto Dardo and onto his feet makes your heart skip a beat when thinking about how easily Lancaster could have gotten hurt.
The flip side to this style of filmmaking is the fact that these films sugarcoat medieval times. Were warlords really oppressive? Definitely. Were those times dire enough to provoke citizen revolts? Of course. Did brave souls sneak into castles, insult the count, fight guards, and actually get away? Probably not.
But there are other films that deal more in historical accuracy. Films like these are for pure entertainment with their outrageous stunts and wild fights.
Included on the DVD are a couple of theatrical trailers and a couple of vintage shorts. One of the shorts is titled “So You’re Going To Have An Operation” from comedian Joe McDoakes. It’s surprisingly unfunny. The other short is the cartoon “Strife With Father” about a bird couple trying to take care of a stork.
South Sea Woman
Burt Lancaster stars as Marine Sgt. James O’Hearn who is being court martialed for a laundry list of charges, the most notably being desertion, which possibly carries the penalty of death. The circumstances were even more serious considering O’Hearn and his friend Private Davey White (Chuck Conners) went AWOL before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Sgt. O’Hearn is the only one on trial, and he refuses to pronounce his guilt or innocence. The only person to come to his defense is Ginger Martin (Virginia Mayo) who also happens to be Pvt. White’s fiancé. Despite Sgt. O’Hearn’s refusal to plea, the trial starts as if he had pled not guilty.
Witnesses testify, and through flashbacks the real story unravels. The flashbacks balance between drama and comedy, from the love triangle between Sgt. O’Hearn, Pvt. White, and Ms. Martin to the freeing of French prisoners to O’Hearn’s never-ending firm patriotism.
Lancaster unleashes his charismatic, macho star power as a brave commanding officer always trying to serve his country, while Conners is the young, brash, and also brave soldier willing to do whatever it takes for his country. And Mayo is her cute self.
Special features include a theatrical trailer, yet another unfunny Joe McDoakes short titled “So You Want To Be An Heir” and another cartoon “Much Ado About Nutting,” about a squirrel and his nuts.
It’s unfortunate that WB decided to include four films that Lancaster made between 1950 and 1954, with Executive Action being the only film made after Birdman in 1963. It would have been nice to have a collection with some of his lesser known works, but of course, there’s always a volume two.