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Inside Elia Kazan’s dockyard classic

Columbia Pictures

‘Coulda been a contender”? Marlon Brando was so much more than that in “On the Waterfront” (1954), helping the groundbreaking urban drama dominate the Oscars 58 years ago this awards season. Elia Kazan’s portrait of corruption and blue-collar hardship on the New York docks tallied eight statuettes in all, including best picture, best director, best actor for Brando’s work as conflicted boxer-gone-astray Terry Malloy, and best supporting actress for Eva Marie Saint. (The film also boasted a trio of best supporting actor nominees: Karl Malden as the dock community’s two-fisted priest, Lee J. Cobb as its crooked union boss, and Rod Steiger as the big brother on the receiving end of Brando’s pugilistic lament.) Criterion handsomely remembers this gritty classic with a high-resolution Blu-ray restoration that lavishes nearly as much attention on supplements. Saint is featured in a new 10-minute interview, elegant as ever, reminiscing about Kazan’s way with actors, and the awkwardness of the HUAC backlash directed at him during the Oscars. And no, she says, the famous scene with rough-edged Terry playing with her character’s delicate glove wasn’t some calculated Method showcase, just a happy accident carried over from rehearsals. Another segment features Kazan devotee Martin Scorsese discussing the film’s role in steering Hollywood toward a new urban realism. Other extras include a production retrospective, film scholar commentary, and material on the real-life people and places behind the movie, from the model for Malden’s priest to a background player-turned-career longshoreman. (Criterion, $49.95)

DRAMA

ARGO (2012)

“Remember when Ben Affleck used to be an actor?” It’s refreshing to see this sentiment’s evolution from a “Gigli” dig to a comment on Affleck’s burgeoning directing career. That said, he certainly also does solid work playing Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA agent who ran a rescue operation during the Iran hostage crisis using a fake movie production as cover. A novel subject, political intrigue, suspense, humor — see for yourself what a deserving Oscar nominee this is, and how egregiously Affleck himself was snubbed. Extras: Picture-in-picture interviews with Mendez, Jimmy Carter, and others involved in the saga; commentary by Affleck. (Warner, $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99)

Laurie Sparham

Keira Knightley in “Anna Karenina.”

DRAMA

ANNA KARENINA (2012)

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Director Joe Wright (“Atonement”) takes an aggressively stylized approach to Tolstoy’s classic, intermittently imagining that we’re watching a stage spectacle as 19th-century Russian socialite Anna (Keira Knightley) embarks on her tragic, illicit romance with Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Interesting idea, but it lacks the inviting accessibility of Wright and Knightley’s “Pride & Prejudice,” and Knight and Taylor-Johnson’s insufficiently sympathetic, overly gropey characterizations don’t help. (“Anna Karenina,” presented by GoDaddy?) Jude Law helps ground the drama as Anna’s cuckolded husband. Extras: Commentary by Wright; several production featur-ettes, including one detailing Wright’s work with choreographers to develop his surreal aesthetic. (Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $34.98)

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.
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