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Chris Hicks: Fan favorite ‘Guy Named Joe’ arrives on DVD at last

Spencer Tracy, as a heavenly messenger, tries to prompt World War II pilot Van Johnson in the 1943 fan favorite "A Guy Named Joe," which is on DVD this week for the first time.
Spencer Tracy, as a heavenly messenger, tries to prompt World War II pilot Van Johnson in the 1943 fan favorite "A Guy Named Joe," which is on DVD this week for the first time.
Warner Archive

Another of those oft-requested movies makes its DVD debut this week, the World War II fantasy “A Guy Named Joe.” All of the titles below are available at Warner Archive (

“A Guy Named Joe” (Warner Archive, 1943, b/w, $18.95, trailer). Steven Spielberg once cited this as one of his favorite movies, which is why he remade it as “Always” in 1989. In the original, a sentimental wartime propaganda piece — made when Word War II was still raging — Spencer Tracy stars as a hotshot military pilot in love with civilian pilot Irene Dunne, who fears that his number is up. She’s right and he’s killed during his next mission.

Then the film takes a left turn as Tracy finds that he crossed over and receives heavenly direction to finish a mission on Earth by encouraging young pilot Van Johnson. But when Johnson falls in love with Dunne, Tracy is none too happy about it.

This one gets a major boost from slick MGM treatment and a great cast, including veteran character actors Ward Bond, James Gleason and Lionel Barrymore, along with Barry Nelson and, in her second film, 22-year-old Esther Williams.

“A Big Hand For the Little Lady” (Warner Archive, 1966, $18.95). Excellent comic western has a big-stakes poker game attracting a variety of colorful characters, led by Joanne Woodward, Henry Fonda and Jason Robards, also featuring Charles Bickford, Burgess Meredith, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ford. Witty handling of material and a surprise twist at the end make one this a real winner.

“The Power and the Prize” (Warner Archive, 1956, b/w, $18.95, trailer). Gorgeous black-and-white cinematography in CinemaScope is a plus in this tough look at boardroom politics. Robert Taylor is supposed to marry the niece of gruff boss Burl Ives and inherit the company, but when he’s sent to England for a merger, he uncovers Ives’ dirty tricks, reveals the truth and falls for a refugee. Ives, to say the least, isn’t happy. Mary Astor, Cedric Hardwicke and Charles Coburn co-star.

“Stand Up and Fight” (Warner Archive, 1939, b/w, $18.95, trailer). A much younger Taylor stars in this western as a Southern plantation owner forced to sell his possessions, which includes his slaves. Later, he becomes embroiled in a mystery about freed slaves being captured and resold, which drives him to become an abolitionist. Wallace Beery is typically over the top as his nemesis, and a subplot about trains running stagecoach lines out of business is engaging. But the most compelling reason to see it today is the film’s civil rights subtext, especially given that this was 1939, the same year “Gone With the Wind” was released by the same studio, MGM.

“Let Freedom Ring” (Warner Archive, 1939, b/w, $18.95, trailer). Ultra-patriotic western has a serious story/message as singing lawyer Nelson Eddy returns to his home town and butts heads with land-grabbing railroad tycoon Edward Arnold. But the film is surprisingly entertaining thanks to comic relief, Eddy’s great voice and a terrific roster of character players, including Victor McLaglen, Lionel Barrymore and many others.

“The Silver Chalice” (Warner Archive, 1954, $18.95). Paul Newman’s inauspicious film debut is a biblical melodrama in which he looks very uncomfortable as a Roman sculptor crafting the cup of Christ and having a run-in with a sorcerer (hammy Jack Palance), who claims to be the messiah. Pier Angeli plays Newman’s wife and miscast Virginia Mayo is a vixen (played as a child by a blonde Natalie Wood). Poorly structured with uneven performances but interesting as a bizarre curio. Lorne Greene (in his first film) and E.G. Marshall co-star.