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  • Writer's pictureAndy Ross

Dogfight



Are you familiar with the 1991 movie “Dogfight?” The film, directed by Nancy Savoca, was off my radar until a few years ago when TCM ran it during their “TCM Film Festival at Home” programming in April of 2021, if I remember correctly. Film friends on Twitter were excited about the film’s airing, so I tuned in to catch it knowing nothing about it. The film very much surprised me, and I was astonished I hadn’t heard about a movie this good before. 


Set in the early 1960s, “Dogfight” is a story of a young marine, Eddie Birdlace, played by River Phoenix, who is on a one-night layover in San Francisco before being shipped off to Vietnam. The Marines all plan a party the for night they’re there, a competition called a dogfight. The idea is that each marine puts in $50, then they all try to bring the ugliest date they can find to the party that evening, and whoever can bring the ugliest woman wins. 


It’s a cruel and misogynistic idea, and one based on reality. This is a real thing that happened. The writer of the film, Bob Comfort, was a former marine who participated in a dogfight and later regretted it. As Eddie looks for his date, he sees Rose, played by Lili Taylor, working in her mother’s cafe. Rose is an aspiring folk singer, in love with the music of the era, pictures of her heroes tacked up above her bed. 


Eddie convinces Rose to be his date to the “dance.” Rose is beaming, but during the evening she learns from one of the other “dates” the truth of what is going on. Eddie shows remorse over it, and the two then spend the evening together genuinely enjoying one another’s company. “Dogfight”is a great film. The film is funny, sweet, sad, and moving. Director Savoca deftly mixes tones and feelings to create a truly beautiful movie. 


One reason why you may have never heard of the film before is that it was neutered in its original theatrical release by Warner Brothers. Supposedly only playing in two movie theaters before being quietly shepherded onto home video and cable TV, where it eventually found an audience. Now the film makes its debut on blu-ray thanks to The Criterion Collection, this is a wonderful edition of the film made with the full participation of Nancy Savoca. 


Criterion presents “Dogfight”on blu-ray in a new 2K digital restoration made from a 35mm interpositive. Sometimes scanning in HD from an interpositive is more desirable than the original camera negative, as it’s been color-timed and ready to make prints from. This process was supervised by Savoca. The image looks fantastic, the colors are well defined and it’s a vast improvement over the previous master of the film.


Audio on the disc comes in two options. First, we have the original theatrical Dolby Stereo/Dolby Surround track. This was remastered from the 35mm magnetic tracks and is presented as a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. Accessing the surround sound can be done by activating the Dolby Pro Logic mode on your receiver. Like some Dolby Stereo tracks from this era, the surround speakers are used sparingly mostly for the atmosphere. But the front three speakers create a fantastic, wide soundscape. The audio sounds clear and sharp. 


The second audio option, which also kicks off the bonus material, is an audio commentary with director Savoca and the film’s producer, Richard Guay. This track was originally recorded for the 2003 DVD release by Warner Brothers, it’s nice to see it ported over here. New material exclusive to this release begins with a fantastic half-hour interview with Savoca and star Taylor, conducted by director Mary Harmon. New interviews with the film’s crew are also included, in addition to a trailer and an essay by critic Christina Newland. 


When it was announced Criterion was releasing “Dogfight” there was much celebrating online. The film is a gem, a little bit of an overlooked one, it deserves to be seen by a wider audience and to have it out in a wonderful edition by The Criterion Collection is the perfect chance to see it for the first time. This new disc is well worth your time, and I’m happy to have it a part of my home film library. See you next week. 


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