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20th Century Fox presents

For The Boys (1991)

Eddie: Two hours alone with you? The boy deserves a purple heart!
Dixie: Well, it was purple alright, but I don't think it was his heart....- James Caan, Bette Midler

Stars: Bette Midler, James Caan
Other Stars: George Segal
Director: Mark Rydell

MPAA Rating: R for (language; government-perpetrated violence)
Run Time: 02h:24m:45s
Release Date: 2001-04-17
Genre: drama

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


DVD Review

Small-time singer Dixie Leonard meets the famous Eddie Sparks when her uncle lands her a gig with a USO tour during the second world war. When their first performance is delayed by a series of mishaps, Dixie steals the show with her bawdy humor and effecting vocals. Following this successful debut, Eddie fires her, then begs her to stay on. This will describe their relationship for the next 50 years: they split up the act, make up and split again, always coming back together For the Boys.

This could have been a stunning film, but there's just more story than even its long running time can contain. It begins with a contrived flashback set up and closes with a clichéd finale. But in between, there are bits and pieces of a powerful, complex and intimate story, played out on the stages of three wars.

I have never been impressed with James Caan, but he is somewhat believable here as showbiz maven Eddie Sparks. It is interesting, however, that the talents of this supposedly world famous "entertainer" seem limited to introducing the other members of his act. George Segal, in one of his best screen performances, plays Art, Eddie's long time comedy writer, who first introduces his boss to his talented niece. Art's sentiments during the Korean war cause him to be blacklisted and eventually fired—his story might just be the most interesting of the three, but it is never really developed.

Bette Midler may well be the most versatile entertainer on the planet—she's just got it all. Showcasing her bathhouse humor and her trademark boogie-woogie style, the role of Dixie Leonard could be the centerpiece of her film career to date. But it is the flip side of her talents that attracts me: the first time I heard her do the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett tune, Superstar, she ripped my heart out. And it's the soulful ballads like P.S. I Love You that mark the highlights in this film.

Sadly, all the talent in the world can't save For the Boys from its runaway script. There are many characters introduced that just fade away, and those who remain are a struggle to follow over such a broad expanse of time. And just when we begin to grasp the complexities, we are shuffled back to the present or off to another location, so that nothing sticks to the ribs of this film's meaty potential. The writers don't seem to know if it's a tragic drama or a musical comedy: when Eddie and Dixie entertain the troops, we are entertained; when they're not, it's impossible to decide whether to care about this bitter old broad or her shallow, hustling partner. The most powerful scene comes late, when the duo take on a new generation, travelling deep into the jungles of Viet Nam to entertain Dixie's son's unit; it is as sudden and terrifying a war sequence as I have seen on film. But its horror is soon buried when we flip again through time toward a weary end.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox has given this film an excellent transfer that shows such detail that the makeup is obvious on the stars, even in the daylit scenes. The contrast is rich and colors natural. There is a bit of movement on the elaborate backdrop of the final set, but otherwise the image is praiseworthy.

(On my disc at 02h:01m:17s, the image pixelates out and freezes. I was forced to return to the menu, skip ahead a chapter and rewind back to a point about 2 minutes after the freeze and all was well again. After sitting through the first 2 hours, if I had not been able to see the end I would have shot someone...likely myself.)

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Here is the true star of this showbiz saga. The 4.1 track goes absolutely wild in the performance scenes; it puts you right in the audience with the whistles, cheers and applause. Every sweet, crackly nuance of Midler's wispy ballads is as if she's singing just for you, and the brief action scenes fill the space with tense realism. If only the story was as good as this....

Needless to say, the 4.1 is preferable to the 2.0 English and French tracks, which are merely serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English (CC), Spanish
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Nine Months, Norma Rae, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Working Girl
4 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Come on boys, what about song access or the isolated tracks? I can understand why the writers and director might not want to record a commentary, but there are plenty of other enhancements that could have been included here. But really, thanks for providing the theatrical trailers and TV spots (all in excellent condition) to convince me to love this film. However, viewing them after the feature, it seemed more apparent to me how the story went awry; these brief montages illustrate how there is just too much information for a single film to bear.

The menus are fun and cleverly devised, but 18 chapter stops is hardly adequate for a two-and-a-half hour film. For some reason, Fox chose to omit the deleted scenes they had originally included on the laserdisc version.

Fox Flicks trailers for Nine Months, Norma Rae, The Truth About Cats and Dogs and Working Girl are available.

Extras Grade: D+

Final Comments

"Well.... Alone in the dark with thousands of men...there is a god after all!"
- Dixie Leonard (Bette Midler)

A film with so many good parts I wish it were as many films. But there is something worth watching, and that is Ms. Midler, who was nominated for an Oscar® and won the Golden Globe® for her performance. If you are a fan, this disc is essential; Bette is never "Better" than when she does it For The Boys.

debi lee mandel 2001-05-09