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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Set in 1913 Texas, an aging gang of outlaws lead by a man named Pike (William Holden) escape to Mexico after a disastrous bank robbery that turned into a massacre. Meanwhile, he's being pursued by an ex-member (Robrt Ryan) of his gang now working for the law in an attempt to stave off a prison sentence. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, there's never any doubt that we're in the hands of a master director. Aided by Lucien Ballard's superb cinematography, Louis Lombardo's impeccable editing and an excellent score by Jerry Fielding, Peckinpah's revisionist western examines a group of men of another time that no longer fit in the changing West. But as brilliant as it is, it's also a film that I'm very ambivalent about. Peckinpah bestows an almost mythological heroic status on these outlaws that they don't deserve. They're killers, simple as that. There's talk of the poetry of violence in the film and while I'm as admiring of his orgy of bloodletting as the next film buff, it seems like Peckinpah abandons realism in the finale as four surviving outlaws massacre an entire garrison of Mexican soldiers all by themselves in a bloody shootout. Surely not all of the Mexican soldiers were such lousy shots! With Ernest Borgnine, Edmond O'Brien (channeling Walter Huston), Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez and Emilio Fernandez. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Orpheus (1950)

A famous popular poet (Jean Marais) witnesses the injury of a fellow poet (Edouard Dermit) when he is hit by two motorcycle riders outside of a cafe. A mysterious woman (Maria Casares) takes his wounded body in her limousine, ostensibly to take him to the hospital and she asks the poet to accompany her as a witness. Written and directed by Jean Cocteau, this reimagining of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice reflects Cocteau's unique vision of art, death and immortality in a surrealistic dream like allegory. He eschews the conventional romanticism of the myth itself and instead brings his own inky tragic romanticism. While Marais' Orpheus may love Eurydice (Marie Dea), his obsession/love for Death (in the form of a woman) has a stronger pull. It's a complex and unique film, a one of a kind that should excite anyone who loves cinema. I suspect many may not have the patience for it but if you stick with it, you will be amply rewarded. There's a marvelous underscore by Georges Auric. With Francois Perier and Juliette Greco.  

Sunday, July 25, 2021

An American In Paris (2018)

After the end of WWII, an American G.I. (Robert Fairchild) decides to remain in Paris and become a painter. He becomes friends with another American expatriate (David Seadon Young) and an aspiring French singer (Haydn Oakley) and they all fall in love with the same girl (Leanne Cope). A revised stage version of the Oscar winning film musical directed by Christopher Wheeldon (who also did the choreography) and Ross MacGibbon. The 1951 Vincente Minnelli film is one of the landmarks of the American film musical so it's near impossible to put it out of your mind while watching this production. It suffers in the comparison in so many ways. The joie de vivre is gone and replaced with a darker vision. As the title character, Fairchild is a cipher. He's a good dancer but he lacks presence and more importantly, the sex appeal which Gene Kelly had (it's what set him apart from Astaire). The dancing is good but the choreography isn't fresh, it seems recycled (and not from the 1951 movie). The songs are still by George & Ira Gershwin but some of the new additions seem arbitrary like Fidgety Feet which comes out of nowhere. What's stunning about this production is the Tony winning set design by Bob Crowley which is truly awesome and creative but ultimately (to borrow from another musical), it's just "razzle dazzle" (thank you, Kander & Ebb) to hide the mediocrity of the production. With Jane Asher as Oakley's mother giving the best performance in the show and Zoe Rainey.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Georgetown (2020)

Set in the political and social circles of Washington D.C., an eccentric and smooth talking social climber (Christoph Waltz) is married to a much older woman (Vanessa Redgrave), who is wealthy and has social connections. But when his wife is found dead in her home in the early hours of the morning, her daughter (Annette Bening) suspects he might be complicit in her death and a police investigation uncovers a larger deception. Based on the New York Times article THE WORST MARRIAGE IN GEORGETOWN by Franklin Foer and directed by Christoph Waltz. Foer's article documented the murder of Washington socialite, Viola Herms Drath and the movie fictionalizes the events so rather than "this is a true story" at the film's beginning, we get "inspired by a true story". First shown in 2019 at the Tribeca film festival, the film was picked up by Paramount which gave it a limited release theatrically this year before heading to video on demand. It's a pity it seemed to get lost in the shuffle because it's a very good film. For anyone interested in murder mysteries or true crime stories, this is manna. I was riveted right from the beginning and what a joy to see Vanessa Redgrave in a leading role (though she's killed off in the beginning, she's prominent in the flashbacks) after playing so many small supporting roles in recent years. Naturally, she's excellent and Waltz is marvelous oozing graciousness while hiding his real self. In a smaller part, Annette Bening is quite good as the suspicious daughter. With Corey Hawkins and Laura De Carteret.

Mackenna's Gold (1969)

An old legend about a fortune in gold in a hidden canyon guarded by Apache spirits stirs gold fever in a group of people including a Mexican outlaw (Omar Sharif) and a sheriff (Gregory Peck) who has a map memorized in his head after he burned the original map he took from a dying Apache (Eduardo Ciannelli). Based on the novel by Heck Allen and adapted for the screen by Carl Foreman (HIGH NOON) and directed by J. Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE). There isn't much love for this film, not when it was first released and not now but I'm quite fond of it myself despite its shortcomings. Shot in Super Panavision 70 millimeter, it was intended to be a prestigious roadshow production (including overture and intermission) running around three hours. But it ended up cut by almost an hour and released in standard 35 millimeter. A flop in the U.S., it did terrific business overseas including Russia and India, where it out grossed JAWS and STAR WARS. The cinematography by Joseph MacDonald (SAND PEBBLES) of the Utah and Oregon locations is quite impressive despite some appalling rear projection work. The rousing score is by Quincy Jones. The huge cast includes Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach, Telly Savalas, Keenan Wynn, Raymond Massey, Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar, Lee J. Cobb, Camilla Sparv and Anthony Quayle.

Friday, July 23, 2021

O'Hara's Wife (1982)

A workaholic attorney (Edward Asner) is finally persuaded by his wife (Mariette Hartley) to take some time off for a vacation to Europe. But the evening before their trip, the wife has a cerebral hemorrhage that leaves her brain dead and eventually she is taken off of life support. But shortly after her funeral, she appears to her husband as a ghost (or hallucination) though no one else can see or hear her. Directed by William Bartman whose only directorial film credit this is. Although this was a theatrical film, it cries out TV movie. Not only Asner and Hartley but Tom Bosley and Ray Walston are in it too. Only Jodie Foster as Asner's daughter suggests otherwise. After its grim beginning, it turns comedic and while the presence of a being no one else can see or hear is usually foolproof material for laughs, this film can't even get that right. There are zero special effects, they won't even let Hartley walk through a wall or door. The film's score by Artie Butler reeks 1980s right down to the mawkish power ballad sung by Billy Preston that closes the movie. With Kelly Bishop and Perry Lang.

Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)

When King Richard (Ian Hunter) is away on the Crusades in the Holy Land, his brother Prince John (Claude Rains) usurps his throne and begins a tyranny of terror against the Saxon citizens. A Saxon nobleman (Errol Flynn) takes it upon himself to fight against the Norman oppressors until the return of the King. Directed by Michael Curtiz who replaced the original director William Keighley (apparently Hal Wallis didn't care for his direction) though both men received directorial credit. The direction is seamless, you can't detect any change in tone by the switch in directors. What can one say about the most beloved and enduring adventure film of its era other than sheer perfection? The stunning three strip Technicolor images of Tony Gaudio and Sol Polito (shockingly not even Oscar nominated), the glorious score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the Oscar winning art direction of Carl Jules Weyl, the vivid costumes by Milo Anderson and Ralph Dawson's razor sharp editing are all flawless! And what a cast! Though not the first actor to play the character, Errol Flynn is the definitive Robin Hood and every actor who came after suffered in comparison. No lovelier Maid Marian than Olivia De Havilland, superb villainy in Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone and the supporting cast of character actors are the best! Am I gushing too much? Sorry but I can't find anything to nitpick! With Patric Knowles, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale, Una O'Connor, Montagu Love, Herbert Mundin and Melville Cooper.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Yearling (1946)

Set in 1878 Florida, an ex-confederate soldier (Gregory Peck) and his wife (Jane Wyman) live in the backwoods and struggle to support themselves with their meager crops. Their 11 year old son (Claude Jarman Jr.) has a passion for animals and when his father is forced to kill a doe, the boy adopts the doe's orphaned fawn. Based on the Pulitzer prize winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and directed by Clarence Brown (THE RAINS CAME). I love this movie! It's a beautifully crafted family film in the best sense of the word. This isn't a Disneyfied look at pioneer life but a hard look at the struggles of surviving in the wilderness while also sharing an emotional observation of children and their love of animals. The underrated Brown had already shown his uncanny ability of looking at the bond of children and animals in NATIONAL VELVET two years earlier, so he seemed an obvious choice. Cast against type, Peck and Wyman (in Oscar nominated performances) are surprisingly effective, shedding their movie star auras as the rustic parents. In young Jarman, Brown brings out a natural performance without the usual forced acting in so many child actors of the era and not just Jarman but a lovely performance by Donn Gifft as his tragic friend. The haunting score is by Herbert Stothart (borrowing from Delius). Be sure you have plenty of Kleenex on hand. With Forrest Tucker, Margaret Wycherly, Chill Wills, June Lockhart, Henry Travers and Jeff York.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Lo Sceicco Bianco (aka The White Sheik) (1952)

A provincial couple arrive in Rome for their honeymoon. While the groom (Leopoldo Trieste) plans a big day including a papal visit with his relatives, his wife (Brunella Bovo) sneaks off to find the dashing soap opera hero (Alberto Sordi) of her fantasies. Directed by Federico Fellini in his solo directorial debut (he co-directed VARIETY LIGHTS). This charming romantic comedy is a rare foray into the genre by Fellini. His later work would never again display such a whimsical light touch. He is able to satirize (but with affection, not condescendingly) the romantic fantasies of the bourgeois young girls and housewives who devoured the then popular photo strip magazines (a forerunner of the graphic novel?). In a small role, Giulietta Masina plays the prostitute Cabiria who Fellini would later expand into a full length film as NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. The plot was "borrowed" by Woody Allen for TO ROME WITH LOVE. With Lilia Landi, Ernesto Almirante and Ugo Attanasio. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Der Hund Von Baskerville (1914)

After murdering his uncle, his nephew (Friedrich Kuhne) plots to kill the heir (Erwin Fichter) to the Baskerville fortune so that he, as the last surviving heir, will inherit the Baskerville castle and lands. Loosely based on the classic novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and directed by Rudolf Meinert. Conan Doyle's novel has seen countless adaptations for the stage, film and television. This one is one of the weakest. There's no mystery because at the very beginning of the movie, we see the nephew using a dog to perpetuate the myth of the Baskerville curse so he can inherit the fortune. As for the "ferocious" hound, he's rather a playful sweetie. So it's rather disappointing when Sherlock Holmes (Alwin Neub) enters the story because we know more than he does. The film benefits from the expressionistic cinematography of Werner Brandes and Karl Freund which gives the film a visual style like the human eyes staring out of a statue or when Holmes slides down a long curved tube like waste being discharged by the human body. The character of Doctor Watson is a mere walk on, so much so that the actor playing him doesn't even get a film credit. Of archival interest to Sherlock Holmes completists. With Hanni Weisse and Andres Von Horn.