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Review older films here: 1979 and earlier - Page 27

post #781 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Cry Wolf (1947), directed by Peter Godfrey.

After the death of a young heir, his surprise widow shows up and wants what's coming to her. It was a marriage of convenience: she was just helping a friend get his inheritance, but it's hers now. The mysterious uncle resists. What's going on in his locked laboratory, and what are those screams in the night?

A spooky house and eccentric family suspense mystery. It's a weak, implausible story but I enjoyed it more than I expected. My wife liked it and I recommend it to fans of the stars. All others: it's probably of low interest.

It is darker and more serious toned than a lot of 1940s Warner product. The photography is rather nice and shows a Hitchcockian interest in stairways and high angles.

Sometimes, in the declining phase of his career, Errol Flynn got the sort of non-swashbuckler, non-romance roles he always wanted. See That Forsyte Woman (1949) for another such from this period. He is subtly charming, quietly sinister, a thinking villain. Might we expect a twist at the end?

Barbara Stanwyck has her trademark steely glint and does more riding, climbing and hiding than is usual for her, but she was always a very tough lady. I note that she nicely fills out a pair of riding breeches. As an old Lucky Strike ad put it: "So round, so firm, so fully packed".

The young actress in panes 2, 4 and 5 below is sometimes a dead ringer for Natalie Portman. Her name is Geraldine Brooks, this is her first film, and although I don't remember seeing her, she did quite a lot of television work.

Lush Franz Waxman score. Edith Head wardrobe for Stanwyck.

A Warner Archive title available for rent from ClassicFlix.

cry-wolf.jpg

-Bill
post #782 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Seven Samurai (1954), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Farming villagers hire masterless samurai to defend them against a gang of marauding bandits.

I won't go on and on about how this is a masterpiece of world cinema, or it's influence and innovations, or the director's skills in storytelling, composition and editing. You can find that on the net and the two commentary tracks on the Blu-ray are a good start. Kurosawa's debt to John Ford's westerns is well known, as is the impact this film had on later American and world action pictures.

My fear is that people who haven't see it will presume, because of all the critical acclaim, that it is a foreign Art Film meant for scholarly analysis rather than enjoyment by the common viewer. Not true! It is an action/adventure story for any popcorn-eating audience. The structures and techniques are there to reward repeat viewers.

Stealing from a earlier review: "There is something exciting about a siege, probably due to childhood nightmares: they're out there, trying to break in and get us." This is more than a simple siege: master Kambei will entrap the enemy one by one and destroy their force piecemeal.

It's also a Japanese variant on the Tough Guy film: see my review of The Professionals (1966) for notes on the genre. The difference this time is the mix of both individual and communitarian elements: the samurai strive to be perfect knights, partly by refinement of their craft, partly by spiritual quest. But they know that good soldiering is disciplined teamwork and they pound on the villagers to make them understand that survival requires the needs of the many to outweigh those of the few.

I first saw a shorter cut of this in a theater. I no longer remember the edits, but now find myself restless during the early scenes where the peasants are miserable at the inn in town. But it soon picks up. I get the most curious sensation of being inside a storybook when watching this: probably due to the black and white imagery suggesting old wood cuts or engravings. Or maybe the mythical settings: big forest trees, mill wheel, bandits hideout.

Notes:

  • Of those of the seven who die, all are killed by gunfire, a sign that the heroic age is passing.
  • The farmers get really good at chasing horsemen with bamboo spears.
  • We have closeups of only three women, analogous to Robert Graves' Triple Goddess: the peasant Maiden who loves a samurai, Rikichi's Wife, captured and kept by the bandits, and the miserable Crone who hacks at a bound bandit with a hoe.
  • The villagers are afraid the hired samurai will rape or seduce their daughters, but in the single liason it's a farmer's daughter who seduces the young apprentice. Both were virgins.
  • I can't think of an earlier example in film where this is stated: the night before the big battle when death is likely, both men and women want sex. It happens in villages, it happens in castles.
  • One of the commentary tracks points out there is more history here than I would have supposed: villagers and samurai really did team up.
  • If you admire the director, try to find his Something Like an Autobiography, not only a great biography of a 20th century life, but a wonderful reflection of an artist on his craft. Published in 1981, it stops around 1951, before this film. He said he was still trying to make movies in Japan, and telling stories from after that date would offend the wrong people. In fact, I think financing for his later films came from America anyway.

Criterion Blu-ray. It will never win an eye-candy award but is an upgrade over their previous DVD editions, some scenes more than others. Some print damage and fluctuating black levels.

seven-samurai.jpg

-Bill
post #783 of 1259
Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Cry Wolf (1947), directed by Peter Godfrey.
After the death of a young heir, his surprise widow shows up and wants what's coming to her. It was a marriage of convenience: she was just helping a friend get his inheritance, but it's hers now. The mysterious uncle resists. What's going on in his locked laboratory, and what are those screams in the night?
A spooky house and eccentric family suspense mystery. It's a weak, implausible story but I enjoyed it more than I expected. My wife liked it and I recommend it to fans of the stars. All others: it's probably of low interest.
It is darker and more serious toned than a lot of 1940s Warner product. The photography is rather nice and shows a Hitchcockian interest in stairways and high angles.
Sometimes, in the declining phase of his career, Errol Flynn got the sort of non-swashbuckler, non-romance roles he always wanted. See That Forsyte Woman (1949) for another such from this period. He is subtly charming, quietly sinister, a thinking villain. Might we expect a twist at the end?
Barbara Stanwyck has her trademark steely glint and does more riding, climbing and hiding than is usual for her, but she was always a very tough lady. I note that she nicely fills out a pair of riding breeches. As an old Lucky Strike ad put it: "So round, so firm, so fully packed".
The young actress in panes 2, 4 and 5 below is sometimes a dead ringer for Natalie Portman. Her name is Geraldine Brooks, this is her first film, and although I don't remember seeing her, she did quite a lot of television work.
Lush Franz Waxman score. Edith Head wardrobe for Stanwyck.
A Warner Archive title available for rent from ClassicFlix.
-Bill

Thanks, Bill. I'm not familiar w/ this one, but I always enjoy Stanwyck's work. I'll check it out.

Geraldine Brooks has been in many things over the decades. She does look amazingly like Portman in this one (or vice versa). She was in two of the original Outer Limits episodes.

Doug
post #784 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Putney Swope (1969), written and directed by Robert Downey Sr.

Another satirical 60s oddity, clumsy and hard to watch, but I couldn't turn it off. Class it with Candy (1968), although that was a higher gloss film.

Through misadventure the sole black director of an ad agency becomes the boss. He replaces everyone apart from a few token whites with soul brothers and sisters, renames the company "Truth and Soul" and promises no compromise with evil: no ads for tobacco, alcohol or war toys.

The film is b&w but the commercials are in color, all bizarre and some pretty funny. The rest is skit-based with some segments that look like improv comedy routines. The setups don't deliver and the "cool" vs "jive" distinction sometimes escapes me.

Still, it's all manically absurd and genuinely funny in spots. Some nudity and more sex jokes than usual for the time. As far as satire, it's subtle as a hammer. It's never quite clear what Putney is trying to accomplish.

The title character's gravelly voice was dubbed by the director, who provides a commentary track on the DVD. It was a shoestring budget, sort of spontaneous and ad-libbed. Many of the actors were theater people but some were just found on the street or were friends of friends.

putney-swope.jpg

-Bill
Edited by wmcclain - 7/26/12 at 7:22am
post #785 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Singin' in the Rain (1951), directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

Some people don't like musicals. I understand, they can be excruciating. But this is one of my desert island films.

It has a plot! It's bright and unapologetic with the dumb jokes and sheer silliness and features impressive physicality and muscular dance performances.

It has two iconic numbers: Donald O'Connor's maniacal "Make 'Em Laugh" where he runs up the wall (and was hospitalized after) and Gene Kelly's amazing title song. He had a high fever at the time. (And just to complete the medical report: Debbie Reynold's feet were bleeding after "Good Morning").

How can anyone not love screechy voiced Jean Hagen ("I make more money than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!") She didn't really talk like that; see The Asphalt Jungle.

The mobster's girlfriend is lovely-legged Cyd Charisse, one of the few dancers to star with both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. She'd just had a baby. I'll have to see Brigadoon again, although that was mainly running around in the heather. Maybe The Harvey Girls.

The dubbing element of the plot is more complicated than it seems. According to the wikipedia article:
Quote:
Although the film revolves around the idea that Kathy has to dub over for Lina's voice, in the talking scenes it was actually Jean Hagen's normal voice. Reynolds herself was dubbed in "Would You?" and "You are My Lucky Star" by an uncredited Betty Noyes. Also, when Kathy is supposedly dubbing Lina's voice in the live performance of "Singing in the Rain" at the end of the film, Jean Hagen is actually dubbing Reynolds' singing voice.

So sometimes Jean is dubbing Debbie who is pretending to dub Jean.

Notes:

  • Gene Kelly's cheek scar is really prominent in high-def. Carole Lombard had one in the same place.
  • He had a relaxed, velvety singing voice.
  • Weakest number: I'd say "You Were Meant for Me" with the soundstage ladder.
  • My favorite: "Moses Supposes".
  • In the long "Broadway Melody" segment there is a series of quick routines which become ever more refined, but with less dancing, until finally Kelly is wearing top hat and tails and just posing. Is that a dig at Fred Astaire?

Available on Blu-ray with a fine image and gorgeous color. The commentary track is a team effort patched together with no one actually watching the movie.

singin-in-the-rain.jpg

-Bill
Edited by wmcclain - 7/27/12 at 4:23am
post #786 of 1259
Bill, interesting that you juxtaposed this great review of Singin' in the Rain so closely to your other great review of The Seven Samurai, particularly with your important point about Samurai with, "My fear is that people who haven't see it will presume, because of all the critical acclaim, that it is a foreign Art Film meant for scholarly analysis rather than enjoyment by the common viewer. Not true! It is an action/adventure story for any popcorn-eating audience. The structures and techniques are there to reward repeat viewers."

Strange as it may seem, I often think of Singin' whenever Samurai is mentioned. lol. The reason is for years movie fan sources would ask for their readers' choices for the most entertaining movies of the 1950s and, sure enough, it was not uncommon for The Seven Samurai to fall within a choice or two of Singin' in the Rain. That's how right you are about The Seven Samurai being about rousing entertainment, and not some stuffy "Art Film".

Anyway, back to what is also by any measure a great work of Art and one of the most entertaining movies of all time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Singin' in the Rain (1951), directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly.

...[*]Weakest number: I'd say "You Were Meant for Me" with the soundstage ladder.

...[*]In the long "Broadway Melody" segment there is a series of quick routines which become ever more refined, but with less dancing, until finally Kelly is wearing top hat and tails and just posing. Is that a dig at Fred Astaire?

-Bill
I've always seen Singin' in the Rain as, among so many other things, a kind of sly tribute film to the impact of the musical genre and its most important influences up to that time in making the transition from silents to sound so successful (The Jazz Singer being the first and most significant hit on that road to success).

That being the case, for me at least, it's fun to tick off the tributes to the conventional elements of musical film history up to 1952 as they occur in Singin':

There are certainly the Busby Berkeley tribute numbers, the overall "musical bio" element of the film, and I believe we can look for the tributes to at least four or five musical star influences; the incredibly serviceable Rooney/Garland "We can turn this into a MUSICAL!" gimmick, the Nelson Eddy-Jeannette MacDonald costume operetta parodies, the Astaire-Rogers romantic setting engineered by the male (which I believe is the "You Were Meant for Me" number), the Judy Garland signature emotional soliloquy framed within a statement from "nature"...oddly enough, that tribute is delivered in the Singin' in the Rain number itself, although as Kelly is delivering it it must necessarily become more dance than song, and, of course, the final tribute to another major musical film star's signature influence on the genre, the extended Broadway Melody story-within-a-story told in dance that had by then become so associated with Gene Kelly himself.

What is so interesting about what you mentioned in the Broadway Melody segment where the routines move from frenetic, even "low" music hall dance to more "sophisticated" dance to virtually no dancing at all, that mirrors what would eventually become of the "evolution", if you can call it that, for the MGM musical film output. By the time Gigi was released in 1958, there are certainly plenty of top hats, tails, posing, beautiful music, singing and song, but very little if any dancing at all.

Did Kelly and the writers already see this coming by 1952? Was he already being pressured by the forces that be to cut down on all those complicated, long rehearsed, and expensive dance numbers and focus on what could be pitched and sold on Your Hit Parade? I wonder.
Edited by hitchfan - 7/27/12 at 12:12pm
post #787 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by hitchfan View Post

I've always seen Singin' in the Rain as, among so many other things, a kind of sly tribute film to the impact of the musical genre and its most important influences up to that time in making the transition from silents to sound so successful

That reminds me of another point (I always remember the important things after the review is posted).

Silent film recedes into ancient history for us, but in 1952 the sound era was just about 25 years old. A lot of the staff on Singin' in the Rain remembered and no doubt worked during the sound transition, lampooning a time from their own recent history.

It would be like an epic comedy of 1987 for us: Iran Contra? The making of Lethal Weapon? Introduction of Prozac?

-Bill
post #788 of 1259
Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

That reminds me of another point (I always remember the important things after the review is posted).
Silent film recedes into ancient history for us, but in 1952 the sound era was just about 25 years old. A lot of the staff on Singin' in the Rain remembered and no doubt worked during the sound transition, lampooning a time from their own recent history.
It would be like an epic comedy of 1987 for us: Iran Contra? The making of Lethal Weapon? Introduction of Prozac?
-Bill
Oh, I agree absolutely. And, since it can be argued now and could be argued then that it was silent comedy films that survived the test of time into the sound era best, I also found the entire first section of Singin' in the Rain, right up to the pie-in-the-face for Lina Lamont, to be an inspired tribute and homage to the physical comedy so inherent to that era and genre. Really, from the Chinese Theater crowd opening shots, every "phony" gesture by Big Star Gene Kelly, the bits with him and O'Connor as kids and younger guys getting started, the stunt double calamities, the street car jump, all of it, is right up there with some of the fastest and funniest silent film comedy sequences of that group's earlier careers.
Edited by hitchfan - 7/27/12 at 4:32pm
post #789 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Devils (1971), directed by Ken Russell.

In 1634 France, the nuns of a convent are seized with sexual hysteria and perform orgiastic public displays. The town priest is charged with devil worship, tortured and burned alive.

This enormously controversial film has a complicated editing and censorship history. See the wikipedia article for details. For more on the historical events see Urbain Grandier and the Loudun Possessions.

Although not as explicit as later horror films, it is wrenching enough as is. The plague, the cures, the frenzied naked nuns, the examinations, exorcisms and execution: all are claimed to be historically accurate and are nasty stuff. (It's hard to know: fiction either glorifies the past or makes it seem extra grotty to contrast with a present day enlightened and uplifted by our presence). My thumbnails below are carefully selected to show just the nice parts.

In this interpretation the "mad nuns" are a setup, a political ploy to get at a troublesome priest. Most of the women are not devout, they've been parked at the convent by families who have no other place for them. When threatened in a convincing fashion by the evil and the insane, they do what's expected and probably have a bit of fun as well.

The Devils of the title are the politicians: a malicious and foppish King, calculating Richelieu, a dapper and cynical Baron, and the insane Exorcist. Russell said this is his only political film. He can't help inserting sly humor, mainly in the characters of the villains.

Of course, Richelieu is just trying govern the State according to his wisdom. If everyone else would just get out of his way we would not have any of this unpleasantness.

Oliver Reed is Father Grandier, a weak and vain man with not much concern for chastity in the priesthood. He knows he is a bad man, but knows the others are more evil by comparison. He is zealous in the defense of his town and becomes a better man and a better priest as his persecution increases.

Vanessa Redgrave is hunchbacked Sister Jeanne, mother superior of the convent. She is mentally cracked and sexually frustrated, lusting after Grandier. In her visions she is straight and beautiful. Grandier takes the place of Christ: he comes off the cross and she kisses and licks his wounds. In the real world, enraged with jealously she denounces him for witchcraft, starting the whole disaster. Later during her exorcism (motivated by one of the tools, a monster enema plunger used at both ends of the body) she tries to recant, but that is not allowed and she turns deeper into madness.

Is it pornographic? Mostly no but a little yes. Images are not erotic unless they are appealing and there is very little of that here. However, it is the magic of movies that whenever we see unclothed women they must have shapely figures and Russell obeys that rule for the most part. On the other hand some of the nuns have shaved heads, eliminating their maiden splendor and reducing concupiscent appeal.

Is it blasphemous? No, God is not mocked. Sacrilegious? A profanation that misuses things commonly held to be sacred? That is a more difficult question because it involves the eye of the beholder. Sister Jean is really insane and others are shamming; in either case does their abuse of sacred symbols harm the faithful? It might hurt; no one likes to see the objects of their faith in a bad context.

The DVD extras include defenses of the film by several priests, some of whom teach the film in college courses.

Derek Jarman's town square design is notably clean, white and almost modern looking. People living in that era did not see themselves as surrounded by ruins and antiquities, which is how costume films are often done.

My DVD is a 2-disc PAL region 2 set released by BFI in the UK earlier this year. This is the original UK "X"-rated theatrical cut, unavailable for a long time. Russell, his editor and two others provide a commentary track. The set includes a 42-page booklet and several good extras. They show bits of footage that were cut before the theatrical release. Warner will not allow a complete restoration or a Blu-ray edition.

devils.jpg

-Bill
Edited by wmcclain - 7/30/12 at 5:49am
post #790 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), directed by Burt Kennedy.

A light and silly western comedy with the always personable James Garner. Many familiar faces, including Bruce Dern and Jack Elam. They do a bunch of recognizable scenes from other films such as Winchester '73 and My Darling Clementine (1946). Walter Brennan repeats his Old Man Clanton character from the latter film 23 years later. Same hat?

It was probably wackier at the time than now. Some of the musical bits are just terrible, like children's circus clown themes. It hurts the humor, which doesn't need the assist.

Waterhole #3 (1967) is still my favorite western comedy.

support-your-local-sheriff.jpg

-Bill
post #791 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Last Man on Earth (1964), directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow.

This low-budget Italian horror film may be the first zombie apocalypse movie. It is the first film version of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, followed by Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston, I Am Legend with Will Smith, and the direct to video I Am Omega, not seen by me.

In the future of 1968 a plague has wiped out most of humanity, with a few shambling remnants resembling classic vampires: they dislike sunlight, mirrors and garlic. Their blood clots quickly, hence the need for a stake in the heart to prevent the wound from closing.

Scientist Vincent Price is the sole uninfected survivor. He is depressed, lives like a slob and drags himself around to his daily duties: collecting supplies, maintaining his generators and defenses. He does radio broadcasts but no longer expects an answer. Mostly he systematically hunts down vampires during the day and kills them. "Why" is never clear: he can't kill them all, can he? Maybe he is just trying to eliminate the local threat. He hauls the bodies to a huge pit and burns them.

This is a dark, despairing, world-as-death-camp vision. In a long flashback we see the initial progress of the plague, collapse of society, and the illness and death of his little girl and wife, all very sad. The wife comes back and says "Let me in."

We don't think of Price as an action hero, but that strangely enhances his character, emphasizing the tragedy. Horror means not being able to cope. He's the wrong man for this apocalyptic survival situation, he knows it and we know it. Do not expect a happy ending.

On the down side: it's cheap. That's not necessarily bad; I've seen shoestring budget films that produce more chills and dread that big budget efforts, but when you become aware of the budget it's distracting. The living dead are ineffectual, just lumbering around his house and banging on the windows. The final act is rushed and it's not clear what Price intends to do.

This is the only version I've seen that retains an important plot point from the original story: not all of the infected are vampyric, but our hero has been staking them all indiscriminately. He didn't know. That explains the original title, "I Am Legend": he has become a boogeyman to the children of the new race, the demon who kills them in their sleep.

The film is in the public domain and cruddy quality copies are easy to find, For example I have it in the "Mill Creek Chilling 20 Movie Pack": it's cropped to about half the proper width, blurry, and has constant film damage.

My thumbnails are from a much nicer MGM flipper disc with Panic in Year Zero! (1962) on the reverse. MGM owns the American International catalog and must have access to better quality sources. Both films have the correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio and subtitles.

last-man-on-earth.jpg

-Bill
Edited by wmcclain - 8/2/12 at 5:10pm
post #792 of 1259
Bill, I've always been a fan of The Last Man on Earth since seeing it as a kid. I notice some prints list Sidney Salkow as either the director or co-director. I know he was an American writer-director of several television shows and other lower budget movies, including Twice-Told Tales, also starring Price the year before. Last Man was an Italian production, but I haven't read what hand Salkow had in directing the final version we've seen. Did he direct Price through the English dialogue scenes? Did he direct some additional scenes or altered scenes for U.S. distribution? Do you have any information on that?
post #793 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by hitchfan View Post

Bill, I've always been a fan of The Last Man on Earth since seeing it as a kid. I notice some prints list Sidney Salkow as either the director or co-director. I know he was an American writer-director of several television shows and other lower budget movies, including Twice-Told Tales, also starring Price the year before. Last Man was an Italian production, but I haven't read what hand Salkow had in directing the final version we've seen. Did he direct Price through the English dialogue scenes? Did he direct some additional scenes or altered scenes for U.S. distribution? Do you have any information on that?

No. I don't know the details. He is listed as co-director in the IMDB and wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Man_on_Earth_%281964_film%29

-Bill
post #794 of 1259
Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

No. I don't know the details. He is listed as co-director in the IMDB and wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Man_on_Earth_%281964_film%29
-Bill

And he is the sole director listed on the Netflix stream of it. Very strange. I met him when he was teaching in the television and film department of a California State University. But this was pre-Internet and I didn't realize he had the Last Man credit (in some instances) until much later, after he'd died, or I would have asked him about it. Thanks.
post #795 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Panic in Year Zero! (1962), directed by Ray Milland.

On the first morning of their vacation a family notices strange flashes of light and then a mushroom cloud in the direction of Los Angeles. Yes, it's the Big One, world wide.

Dad (Ray Milland) soon shifts into rather ruthless survival mode, clearing out a grocery before the townspeople know what's up, robbing a hardware store at gunpoint and slugging a gas station attendant. He's not a savage, but family comes first and he's doing what everyone has to when civil society fails.

He spends a lot of time arguing with his wife (Jean Hagen) but the son (Frankie Avalon) is having a good time: carrying and using guns, crashing through road blocks. It's all matter-of-fact and realistic, the things you have to do at the end of the world as we know it: get supplies and guns, find a place away from other people, don't trust anyone. Perform executions as necessary.

The state of nature is particularly hard on the women: the daughter is raped and they later rescue a young woman kept as a sex slave after her family was murdered. Dad showed mercy to some thugs earlier and that turns out to have been a mistake.

The low budget production values don't hurt this at all, but there are problems:

  • Ray Milland's is the only vivid character. The rest of the family is bland.
  • The dutiful family is a bit TV-myth squeaky clean.
  • The main villains are hot-rodding juvenile delinquents, stock characters of the period.
  • In the second half much of the outdoors is actually soundstage, damaging the illusion of realism.
  • The jazz score would suit an urban police drama but is all wrong here.

On the same two-sided disc with The Last Man on Earth (1964).

panic-in-year-zero.jpg

-Bill
post #796 of 1259
I didn't realize that Ray Milland ever worked behind the camera. Checking IMDb I see he did so quite a few times, mostly for TV. His career spanned 56 years!
post #797 of 1259
Support Your Local Sheriff & Support Your LocalGunfighter are a couple of my favorite westerns along with Waterhole #3 ...
post #798 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Funny Face (1957), directed by Stanley Donen.

Amiable, whimsical Gershwin musical with rather fine Paris locations, better than the average travelog. It's about fashion photography, which is a big "who cares?" for most people, but they also satirize the fashion world and we like them better for that. You see it for the stars, not the story.

I always feel an unexpected electric shock when Audrey Hepburn smiles and turns up the wattage: such amazing star power in that pixie frame. She does her own singing here and that girl can dance.

She has relaxed chemistry with Fred Astaire, 30 years her senior. More than with Bogart in Sabrina but not as much as with Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. She's prettier before they transform her into a supermodel.

Would you call that a funny face?

Tending toward the painful: the satires on the intellectualoids of New York and Paris, and the "Clap Yo' Hands" number, which sounds like a reject from Porgy and Bess.

And I have it on good authority that redheads should not wear pink.

funny-face.jpg

-Bill
post #799 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), produced and directed by Robert Aldrich.

When their plane crashes in the Arabian desert, the survivors find they have little water and no hope of rescue or trekking out. Can a lunatic plan work: build a new plane from pieces of the old and fly it out?

It's a pure survival and endurance story, no women (apart from the odd hallucination) or kids. The sole bit of cuteness is a pet monkey. They do a fair amount of psycho-drama with conflict between the men, but they are all cracking up and facing imminent death.

At 25 minutes remaining there is a shocking plot twist I will not reveal even in a spoiler. The tense scene of trying to start an engine with seven (only!) explosive cartridges is fine filmmaking.

Strong cast headed by James Stewart, playing his age as a tough old flyer somewhat addled by guilt. Hardy Kruger is an unlikeable teutonically cool and efficient engineer. Also with Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Dan Duryea, and George Kennedy.

Made in California and Arizona. There was one death during filming, a stunt pilot.

Remade in 2004.

flight-of-the-phoenix.jpg

-Bill
post #800 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Pillow Talk (1959), directed by Michael Gordon.

A studly bachelor develops a cunning plan to seduce his best friend's girl by pretending to be two people: his nasty self and a nice Texan. Good thing this is a comedy or that would be very bad. Everyone has opulent apartments, clothes and offices. It's kind of a return to the screwball comedies of the 1930s; people wanted to see rich and fashionable settings then, too.

Doris Day has grit, shows a gift for comic mugging and wears her clothes well. She does not project any sexual heat, which is a problem in romantic comedy. That's not exactly true: she warms up just slightly when challenged to prove Rock Hudson's manhood, and when agreeing to go with him to a cabin in the country (one of those great luxury cabins so beloved by screwball comedies).

Rock just does his Rock thing, magnetic to women without even trying. In a startling ploy he hints at being gay (loves his mother, interested in interior decorating and collecting recipes) to provoke Doris into making sure he's not. The old double-bluff. Another minor subplot has an obstetrician and his nurse thinking Rock may be the world's first pregnant man.

Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter supply welcome additional comedy.

When I was a kid I hated the dating game, bedroom farce, seduction genre. It seemed smarmy wanting to be smutty. Now that I'm on the other side of the hill it seems harmless.

The party line was an early form of social networking now superceded by other technology. It was becoming antiquated even when this film was released, although we had one into the early 1960s.

Available on Blu-ray with a chatty, wide-ranging commentary by three film scholars, two men and a woman. They get back to the movie from time to time.

This was Hudson's first comedy and he said Day taught him how to do it.

pillow-talk.jpg

-Bill
post #801 of 1259
Thread Starter 
My Fair Lady (1964), directed by George Cukor.

Lavish stage sets and costumes and Audrey Hepburn is always adorable, but she is essentially elegant and could never be dirty enough to be Eliza Dolittle, who has never had a proper bath. I don't suppose Julie Andrews could, either.

None of the performances are as good as in Pygmalion (1938), but that's really not fair because this is a musical: we see it for an extra layer of fantasy, not dramatization.

The biggest problems are the length (nearly 3hrs) and the music. Lerner and Loewe have some strong tunes ("I Could Have Danced All Night" and "On the Street Where You Live") but too much of the running time is padded with inconsequential and tuneless elaborations of trivial dialog. How long do you want to hum along with "Poor Professor Higgins"? Strange fact: the Shaw estate insisted that as much of the original text be sung as possible.

Much to her disappointment, Hepburn's singing was dubbed. Jack Warner could have had Julie Andrews from the stage version but wanted a big name. Ironically, Andrews won Best Actress for Mary Poppins that year and became a big name because of it.

Jeremy Brett's (later Sherlock Holmes!) singing is obviously dubbed. Rex Harrison barely sings a note and talks his way through the songs with his own voice.

Andre Previn arrangements.

It won eight oscars including Best Picture, Director and Actor. You never know what the Academy is going to do.

I'll save analysis of the story for a review of Pygmalion someday. Is it nature, nurture, or just a new coat of paint? As Eliza says: you speak differently and people treat you differently, making you feel differently, making you a different person.

Available on Blu-ray with a lovely image. The commentary track is from the DVD years: technical details on the original production and 1990s restoration by Gene Allen, Robert Harris and James Katz. Marni Nixon, who dubbed Hepburn's singing, is spliced in from time to time.

  • Although Hepburn could sing, they agree this material was out of her range and she struggled when trying to do it.
  • Nixon says the music auditions were in New York and she was initially snubbed: they didn't want California talent, only real singers.
  • There was no fixed budget for the sets.
  • Cukor liked to shoot in sequence and there were a lot of movable walls so he could film in the right order.
  • Harrison wore an early wireless mic for his "singing" and they would sometimes pick up taxi cab calls.
  • Rogers and Hammerstein were originally supposed to do the musical.
  • Harry Stradling Sr. was cinematographer for both this and Pygmalion (1938).
  • Henry Daniell died the night after his ballroom scene.

my-fair-lady.jpg

-Bill
post #802 of 1259
Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

My Fair Lady (1964), directed by George Cukor.

Much to her disappointment, Hepburn's singing was dubbed. Jack Warner could have had Julie Andrews from the stage version but wanted a big name. Ironically, Andrews won Best Actress for Mary Poppins that year and became a big name because of it.

As I recall, Audrey Hepburn got generally polite but mixed reviews for her work in MFL (so-so for the dirty Eliza, fine after the transformation), wasn't nominated for her performance and was chosen to present the Best Actress Award at the Oscar ceremony, which, as you said, went to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins. I often wondered what they'd hoped she would do when she opened that envelope and saw Julie Andrews' name on it (curse under her breath but loud enough to be heard on mic?). Or if it hadn't been Andrews but another nominee instead (giggle uncontrollably and have to be escorted off stage by Rex Harrison?).

Quote:
It won eight oscars including Best Picture, Director and Actor. You never know what the Academy is going to do.

-Bill

I have to say the times I saw My Fair Lady in theaters it got a rousing audience response all around and more than fulfilled the Grand Entertainment expectations of that kind of money-no-object blockbuster of the day. And, of course, it was the runaway biggest box office hit of the year, raking in about 40% more at the box office than Disney's Crown Jewel to that date, Mary Poppins, a notable accomplishment in that regard I'd say.

I can't imagine any of the other 5 nominees in any of those categories winning over MFL, though. Again, comparing it to the other nominees of that year. Dr. Strangelove is probably the one many would say should have won this or that award. But, seriously, it was not going to be the big Oscar winner in the year of MFL and Poppins. Too soon in the decade for such an unconventional Oscar pick. Maybe Becket. But I'd almost wager that even among movie buffs you'd be hard pressed to find 1 out of 10 people who have actually sat for a screening of it from beginning to end. And I honestly think Harrison was better, more memorably on target as the character, than either Burton or O'Toole in that one.

Usually there is some blatant oversight or two among movies released during a given year that not only deserved an Oscar nomination over half of those nominated but actually deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar over the one that won. However, I'm not even sure that happened in 1964, unless I've overlooked something very special. Now, I'll always have a special place in my heart for Goldfinger and Marnie, but the idea of ether pushing out MFL for the Best Picture Oscar is a little out there.

1964 in film
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1964_in_film

So I'll definitely go on record as agreeing with the Academy in awarding its top honor to My Fair Lady, George Cukor, and Rex Harrison that year. smile.gif
Edited by hitchfan - 8/10/12 at 11:25pm
post #803 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Paris When It Sizzles (1964), directed by Richard Quine.

One more and I'll take a break from the Audrey Hepburn film festival...

Hard drinking screenwriter William Holden has two days to write his movie, a terrible romance thriller called The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower. Audrey Hepburn is his hired typist, living in for the Bastille Day weekend. Imagine the zany madcap escapades as they put themselves in various funny and stupid movie scenarios, all the while falling in love.

Well, keep imagining. They try and we have the germ of a good movie here but it never takes off, feeling strained and overwrought the whole time. It's too bad because it has some witty repartee and sly, self-referential digs at actors and writers. He explains to her that My Fair Lady has the same plot as Frankenstein; one has a happy ending and the other doesn't.

Frank Sinatra sings a few bars of the title song to the imaginary film. Marlene Dietrich has a cameo and Tony Curtis and Noel Coward have small parts.

Nelson Riddle score.

The gossip background to this one is that the stars had an affair during Sabrina. Holden was still in love but this was ten years later and Hepburn was married and a mother. He still worked on her, without success. He was drinking heavily, a serious problem for him. It killed him in the end (and another man years earlier in a drunk driving accident).

paris-when-it-sizzles.jpg

-Bill
post #804 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The Dirty Dozen (1967), directed by Robert Aldrich.

A maverick Major takes twelve scruffy military convicts, some with minds focused by imminent hanging, on a suicide mission just before D-Day. Only one of the prisoners survives.

As an action fantasy the plot is ludicrous but very satisfying. Much comedy and a great concentration of talent. Lee Marvin had a cool, cynical intensity I don't think anyone else could do. John Wayne turned down the role.

The actual mission is only the last 45 minutes. Most of the time is spent selecting and training the prisoners, with a comic war-game sequence to show they now have the right stuff. I didn't quite follow their intricate plan for storming the chateau, nor how it all fell apart. A problem is that half of the dozen (including Donald Sutherland) are the more anonymous "Back Six" and it's hard to keep track of what happens to who.

Aldrich said this was meant to be a more skeptical 1950s perspective on 1940s events. That revolution, disaffection and disobedience to authority were on the rise in the 1960s just amped that up and made a natural fit for what he was trying to do. Major Reisman and his men hate their own superiors as much as the nazis. We get the feeling he took the mission because he couldn't stand duty in the regular Army.

Looking at the wikipedia article I am struck by how hostile the critics were, objecting to the violence. This after decades of mowing down hecatombs of Germans in uncounted films. Perhaps it was the casual, almost flippant nature of the killing. Or the fact that some of the dozen were psychos, or that the ultimate success of the mission required dumping gasoline on the German officers and their women in their bunker and burning them alive.

Score by Frank De Vol, to whom I haven't paid much attention, but have been hearing often recently: The Flight of the Phoenix, Pillow Talk, Attack.

Available on Blu-ray. It's not pretty, although some of that may be due to the film itself. They don't call it olive drab for nothing.

The commentary track is of that patched together type. It has some good bits: the director's letters to his producer are vivid passages. The actors provide some stories.

My favorite segments are by Marine Captain Dale Dye, who runs a training camp for actors who need to be soldiers. He gives a hilarious un-Hollywood perspective and I wish he'd been allowed a whole track. He adores Lee Marvin (USMC) and always points out the other actors who had WW2 service and knew how to wear the uniforms and hold their weapons: Richard Jaeckel, Robert Webber, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson, Ernest Borgnine, Clint Walker.

dirty-dozen.jpg

-Bill
post #805 of 1259
Bill - sorry I couldn't resist. biggrin.gif
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post #806 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Star Wars (1977), written, produced and directed by George Lucas.

Aka Episode IV: Dullest Title in History.

Galactic imperial consolidation plans are temporarily halted by the tattered remnants of the old aristocracy, led by a mystical whiney boy hero. Dratted droids driven to desperate denouement.

One upon a time in a galaxy far far away, science fiction films were relatively rare. It was with considerable pleasure that we opening night fans saw the arrival of this ambitious epic tale that would grow in the telling. We were further gratified that its stupendous success opened the Hollywood floodgates for even more SF movies in a tide that has not yet receded.

Our appreciation was mixed with considerable chagrin. Of all the diverse shelves in the SF library, George Lucas picked the space opera, a form that flourished in the 1930s. That became the meaning of SF for generations after and practically all Hollywood could ever envision: spaceships, rayguns, evil empires, princesses and plucky boy heroes. SF movies did not become much like written SF, at least of the sort I had been reading. "It's not about the special effects!" we would tell everyone. "It's about the ideas and a sense of wonder." Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't.

The key to the Star Wars success: America had been through a rough patch and movies were serious, sober and critical of anything a viewer might want to feel good about. The one-two punch of this film and Raiders of the Lost Ark changed everything. Both were retro-adventures hearkening back to a more guilt-free time where you could just shoot the bad guys without worrying about their history of colonial exploitation or national aspirations. Fun was back.

For me the pleasure of this one comes from memories of when I enjoyed it more. It's still fun, although the dialogue, originally meant to be antiquely humorous and exciting, is becoming painful. I note how the energy kicks up to a new level when Leia is rescued and we have the gang all together. It's also when the movie gets sillier, with Han chasing stormtroopers down the hall. Lucas's revisions are still jarring but I've stopped caring.

John Williams score; you may remember it.

We opening-nighters outlined a sequel where Darth Vader would be Luke's father.

Available on Blu-ray.

star-wars.jpg

-Bill
post #807 of 1259
Thread Starter 
The 39 Steps (1935), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Richard Hannay, hero of several John Buchan adventures, picks up a nervous woman at the music hall and takes her back to his place. She tells of a spy ring and stolen military secrets. The next morning she's dead with a knife in her back (why is he still alive?) and Hannay is on the run, chased by the police while he chases spies in Scotland.

It's a cat-and-mouse thriller until he's handcuffed to a young woman who doesn't believe his tale. We move into a different type of story then, a romantic comedy thriller where we care more about the couple than the spies.

In a melancholy episode in the middle of the film we have a sad, lonely farmer's wife, the only person to believe Hannay and help him. This is young Peggy Ashcroft, last seen in A Passage to India (1984) 50 years later.

It begins and ends in a theater, just like the movie-goer. The show is part of the mystery, and the mystery is our show. Robert Donat is twice an actor: once as Hannay who is acting while pursuing his story, and again in playing Hannay for us. We have several instances of switching between the story and acting within the story, as when Hannay puts on another music hall performance at a candidates forum, and at the inn where the handcuffed couple pretend to be runaway lovers before becoming them in fact.

Hitchcock was often critical of his early films, but in the Truffaut interviews both men like this one. This is where the director says: "I'm not concerned with plausibility; that's the easiest part, so why bother? [...] A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow." Many good thoughts about relations with critics and audiences and the dangers of virtuosity for its own sake.

I don't remember much about the book. As usual, Hitchcock, a Buchan fan, picked out something that tickled him -- the double chase -- and wrote his own story around it. In the text the title refers to a physical location, and Hannay enjoys being on the run: he has a lively sense of adventure. In a later story he's a WW1 general.

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion, at best a modest upgrade over their DVD. The film is not in as good a shape as The Lady Vanishes (1938).

The commentary track has a film scholar analyzing composition and explaining why it's important. Also a bit of sexual politics.

thirty-nine-steps-1935.jpg

-Bill
post #808 of 1259
Quote:
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965), produced and directed by Robert Aldrich.
When their plane crashes in the Arabian desert, the survivors find they have little water and no hope of rescue or trekking out. Can a lunatic plan work: build a new plane from pieces of the old and fly it out?
It's a pure survival and endurance story, no women (apart from the odd hallucination) or kids. The sole bit of cuteness is a pet monkey. They do a fair amount of psycho-drama with conflict between the men, but they are all cracking up and facing imminent death.
At 25 minutes remaining there is a shocking plot twist I will not reveal even in a spoiler. The tense scene of trying to start an engine with seven (only!) explosive cartridges is fine filmmaking.
Strong cast headed by James Stewart, playing his age as a tough old flyer somewhat addled by guilt. Hardy Kruger is an unlikeable teutonically cool and efficient engineer. Also with Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Dan Duryea, and George Kennedy.
Made in California and Arizona. There was one death during filming, a stunt pilot.
Remade in 2004.
flight-of-the-phoenix.jpg
-Bill

Thanks Bill - Can't believe I missed this one for so many years. Way the hell better than the remake in so many ways. Hardy Kruger is amazing in this. The fantastic The Wild Geese 1978 is another film that showcases his amazing talent and a great script we don't experience these days.
post #809 of 1259
Thread Starter 
No Blade of Grass (1970), produced and directed by Cornel Wilde.

Midway between Panic in Year Zero! in 1962 and Mad Max in 1979 we find this bleak eco-catastrophe and violent survival film.

When pollution causes a world-wide plague that kills crops and poisons farm animals, civilization rapidly collapses and it is the war of all against all. In England a family (quite plausibly) watches the progress of the disaster on television until it reaches them, then try to escape the city and get to a fortified farm up north.

Riots, murder, scrambling for guns and food. At first they fight gangs of thugs, but eventually the decent people are killing each other. As you must expect from the genre, the wife and daughter are both raped by a motorcycle gang, a more brutal and explicit scene than in the earlier film. Darwinian behavior emerges as the daughter changes boyfriends, switching to a tougher character better able to protect her.

It's definitely an eco-message movie, with constant visual hectoring about pollution and dead animals. The acting: well, I've always liked Nigel Davenport, distinguished in an eyepatch.

The editing style uses a confusing mix of flash-backs and flash-forwards with sudden color bursts. Sometimes this actually contributes to the story, as when two childbirth scenes are contrasted. Both show the suffering of the mothers, but in the "past" it is in a clean hospital with helpful staff, resulting in a healthy baby girl. In the "present" it is a shabby shack where no one knows what do, result: stillborn baby.

As I said: bleak. The only encouraging thing I can extract is that it shows people who don't give up, who will fight to survive and even show loyalty in building a new community. But they are savage along the way. It's something of an anti-adventure film. Descendents of the survivors will have to build the exciting myths of the passage through the dark times.

Warner Archive DVD-R.

no-blade-of-grass.jpg

-Bill
post #810 of 1259
Thread Starter 
Jaws (1975), directed by Steven Spielberg.

Miscellaneous notes after an umpteenth viewing of Jaws:

  • The story gets right to business without seeming rushed.
  • Roy Scheider was a favorite from that period and seems very natural here as the big city cop on a small resort island. He has to accommodate the town council and businesses and do much of his own fetching and carrying.
  • You can see his dread of the ocean very early, the way he looks at it after finding the girl's body on the beach.
  • Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss both seem a bit "too much" when they first appear, but the movie actually grows toward their characters. We enter their world. They're in their element out on the boat chasing the shark, which is the center of the film.
  • Shaw's character makes perfect sense after we hear his tale of the USS Indianapolis. Dreyfuss is at his best when scared spitless.
  • This is not the sort of action thriller where the extras stand around watching the the main characters do all the work. A vast mob is always in the way, crowding them and having to be handled.
  • It's great that ordinary people occupy the beach, not just Hollywood hardbodies and pneumatic young women.
  • Priceless: the shared expression on the faces of the councilman and his wife when the mayor suggests they get in the water.
  • The sound design is excellent, a vivid recreation of the surf and sounds of a fishing port.
  • The John Williams score: he has exhilarating chase music when out on the ocean pursuing the shark, the men in charge, masters of the sea. Then the shark hunts them and we switch to the ominous fright theme. In an inspired construction he combines both themes during the life-and-death battle, which I think contributes enormously to its excitement.
  • The shark begins to generate supernatural dread. No one has seen this behavior before. It seems to have a malign intellect. Quint, disbelieving: "He can't stay down with three barrels! Not with three!" It must be what Ahab felt about Moby Dick. It's one thing for Brody to be afraid, but quite another when the professional shark-killer and scientist are up against the unknown.
  • Are there complaints about the mechanical shark effects? Doesn't bother me at all, in that it doesn't take me out of the movie.
  • Did you see those shooting stars?

Available on Blu-ray with a fine, sometimes exceptional image. The early scene of the beach party seems more vivid than I recall, but my memory is unreliable here.

jaws.jpg

-Bill
Edited by wmcclain - 8/20/12 at 7:22am
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