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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The War Lover (1962)

"It's almost as if they like fighting more than what they're fighting for."
- Daphne Caldwell (Shirley Anne Field)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: May 18, 2003

Stars: Steve McQueen, Robert Wagner, Shirley Anne Field
Other Stars: Robert Easton, Gary Cockrell, Bill Edwards, Michael Crawford, Tom Busby, George Sperdakos, Al Waxman
Director: Philip Leacock

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (war violence, rape, sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:45m:33s
Release Date: May 13, 2003
UPC: 043396100527
Genre: war

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B-B D+

DVD Review

It has been observed frequently that wartime tends to bring out the worst in certain men. Perhaps lifting the ordinary taboos against killing provides an appeal to certain types of men, or perhaps the military training with its focus on killing brings such traits to the surface. The War Lover takes a look at such a personality, walking the thin line between heroism and sociopathy.

Steve McQueen stars as hotshot American bomber pilot Lt. Buzz Rickson in 1943 Britain. Gifted without doubt, he also chafes at subordination and following orders. His copilot, Lt. Ed "Bo" Bolland (Robert Wagner) is more by the book, but recognizes Rickson's genius in aerial combat. Rickson's suspicions and heedlessness lead to his navigator, Max Lynch (Gary Cockrell) getting reassigned and, indirectly, killed. When Bo meets young scientist Daphne Caldwell (Shirley Anne Field) and falls in love with her, Rickson's relentless competitiveness, even in love, threatens to push a terminal wedge between the two men as they prepare to make a vital bombing run against the oil refineries of Leipzig.

McQueen, with his cold hard edge, perfectly fits the character of Rickson. Hotheaded and insubordinate, he also gives Rickson an edge of lonesomeness in his silent reaction to being left out of mail call; the result makes the viewer wonder whether in combat the man really has nerves of steel, or just a death wish. Even the base doctor recognizes that he's somewhere in the no-man's-land just short of psychopathy, but his contributions are deemed too vital to ground him. While all of the men count their missions, the rest of them are counting down until they can go home after running 20 missions; Rickson instead is counting up to maximize his total of destruction, enjoying his work beyond comfort levels. Wagner makes for an appealing and affable hero, and Field is a satisfactory romantic interest, particularly when she hints (but doesn't go into great detail) about a past with a man much like Rickson. The various ties and parallels among the characters work well, with the script only occasionally hitting a false note.

The picture is at its best in the air, though, and the attention to technical detail is thorough. I have no way of assessing its accuracy, but much of the time in the air is like a textbook procedural of the routines that are followed and the leaps of intuition that Rickson makes. The editing is almost impatient with the love story, cutting immediately from a smooch between Wagner and Field to another bombing run in flight.

Between the action and the suspenseful climax, and the complex psychological relationships, this makes for enthralling viewing and is well worth consideration. This doesn't deserve to be the moderately obscure picture that it is. Even better, the film avoids a pat Hollywood ending to give it an even more devastating impact.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks acceptable. It tends to be rather grainy, and the speckling on the source print ranges from minor to heavy, with occasional spots of serious scratching. While black levels are good and shadow detail is decent, there is also a fair amount of ringing in high contrast sequences, and the picture is a bit on the soft side. Textures are good for the most part. On the second layer, Columbia provides an open-matte transfer that provides more room at both the top and bottom without cropping anything of note from the sides. Frankly, I'd rather they used both layers for the anamorphic transfer and boosted the bitrate to avoid the ringing artifacts.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sole audio track featured is a 2.0 English mono. This tends to be rather lacking in low bass presence, which lends the bombing and the aerial combat sequences an air of being unconvincing. Dialogue is clear, however, and hiss and noise are minimal. I expect that Columbia has made this audio track sound about as good as it's likely to ever get.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Bridge on the River Kwai, From Here to Eternity
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The sole extras are an anamorphic trailer for the feature, as well as trailers for two other Columbia war pictures. Chaptering is adequate with the usual 28 chapter stops used by Columbia.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Steve McQueen gives a richly shaded portrayal of a man who likes flying, killing and war in general a shade too much. The transfer is good although the source print is a bit spotty.


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