National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

February 3-9, 2008 Issue | Posted 1/29/08 at 2:33 PM


The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) - Pick

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) - Pass

The Aristocats (1970) - Pick

New this week on DVD, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford boasts the best name for a Western of any film in history. It’s the second half of the title that does it — the editorial moralizing, redolent of a 19th-century dime novel. The kind of thing boys like young Bob Ford eagerly devoured as they dreamed of being daring and admired like Jesse James.

Faithfully adapted from the 1983 novel by Catholic author (and deacon) Ron Hansen, the film shares some themes with 2007’s other big-screen Western, 3:10 to Yuma. Both are about a protagonist who is overshadowed by a legendary outlaw, one who inspires adoration in his coterie and hero-worship in young boys who read pulp novels about him.

Yet the two films couldn’t be more different. Where 3:10 fell under the spell of Russell Crowe’s charismatic bad guy, Jesse James sees the legendary outlaw at a respectful distance, as a bright but enigmatic cipher.

Crisp narration lends a documentary-like quality, peeling away the layers of mythology and but also situating James firmly in the now-distant past.

Also new on DVD, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, even more than the original Elizabeth, is mired in a Christopher Hitchens–esque view of history, in which all evil in the world is the bitter fruit of religion, specifically Catholicism. The Golden Age expunges almost all signs of actual religiosity from Elizabeth’s Protestantism. God-talk is troubling Catholic behavior; Protestant religion is little more than a slogan for conscience, religious freedom and heroic resistance to Catholic oppression.

The climax, a weakly staged destruction of the Spanish Armada, is a crescendo of anti-Catholic imagery: rosaries floating amid burning flotsam, inverted crucifixes sinking to the bottom of the ocean, robed clerics slinking away in defeat. Pound for pound, The Golden Age may contain more sustained Church-bashing than any other film I can think of.

Returning this week to DVD, Disney’s The Aristocats is possibly the gentlest and least intimidating of the entire Disney canon for even the most sensitive youngsters. Other cartoons have villains like Cruella de Vil and Captain Hook; The Aristocats has only a comic British butler, about as scary as Peter Pan’s Smee.

The highlight is the film’s one classic song, the swingin’ “Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat,” with “Scat Cat” (jazz musician and actor Scatman Crothers) and his alley cats. Eva Gabor and Phil Harris lead an excellent cast.

Content advisory

The Assassination of Jesse James: Several graphic shooting deaths; fleeting post-mortem nudity; torture of a child; graphic obscenity; an off-screen adulterous encounter; at least one instance of profanity. Mature viewing. Elizabeth: The Golden Age: A sexual encounter (nothing explicit); brief rear female nudity; some crude language; a couple of gory torture/mutilation scenes and non-explicit execution/killings. Aimed at mature audiences. The Aristocats: Mild animated menace and slapstick violence; comic inebriation of a goose. Fine family viewing.