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Naked City: A Very Cautious Boy (1961)
'"A Very Cautious Boy' is one of the best of the hour-long 'Naked City' episodes. Tremendously powerful acting from Ruth White.
But the IMDb mystery of this mystery episode is that the lovely young woman who plays pianist-chanteuse Gaby Duclos is, in the episode's own closing credits, listed as Macha Magarin, yet from IMDb's episode cast list Miss Magarin is absent.
In her IMDb name page there's no data whatsoever - not a birth date, not a single line item as movie/TV cast member or of show biz employment. Just her name.
More substance about this episode I would type here. Instead I'm typing this filler you're reading because IMDb commenting rules require a minimum of ten lines of text. So: TAG! You're IT!
Footage From Oskar Werner film
The monorail, red Jaguar police loudspeaker car, and the quartet of flying policemen footage was ripped off from the (quite good) Oskar Werner & Julie Christie film 'Fahrenheit 451.'
I never cared for the 'Night Gallery' series, as I consider it to have been poorly written and crudely filmed in comparison to Serling's far superior 'The Twilight Zone' series.
'Night Gallery' also included a lot of occult/horror episodes, a genre rarely seen in 'The Twilight Zone' program, and occult/horror has never appealed to me.
Have fun, Folks!
The Numbers Always Add Up
Sure, the mob took a 40% profit on however much it paid out on the one winning number, but the mob kept ALL of the profit from the money wagered on the other 999 losing numbers. The numbers game was very lucrative, which is why it's no longer in business as a criminal enterprise, but is very much in business in the form of state lotteries' Pick-3 and Pick-4 wagering games and, of course, in the form of state 5 and 6-number lotteries and in the form of the multi-state PowerBall and MegaMillions games.
Prohibition of the numbers racket didn't need to be ended by law enforcement, but merely by the state itself taking over the numbers game - and then adding assorted other lucrative forms of state and multi-state lotteries. You might be excused for thinking, then, that the state could end illegal drug trafficking (and all of the blood shed by criminals over its profits and by police in the course of their duty of enforcing drug laws) by legalizing marijuana and taxing it. But then that would put a lot of unionized local, state, and federal police and DEA agents out of a job - and out of a generous government pension and lifetime health and dental benefits.
Alcohol prohibition didn't work - it just turned a lot of people, even lots of ordinary mugs, into criminals (during Prohibition my grandfather, who worked a factory day job, made bathtub hooch that he sold or just gave away to his cronies on his city block). Which, if you think about it, is what the numbers game did to a lot of ordinary people who were numbers runners and bagmen - turned them into criminals until the state started running its numbers games and lotteries, and is what marijuana prohibition is still doing to a lot of small-time dealers and puffers.
Eliot Ness was still a Treasury agent when Repeal of the Volstead Act came along - and so will a lot of present day agents and police still be carrying their badges when, one fine day, marijuana prohibition comes to its logical, humane end when the state finally grasps the eternal fact that people like to sin - and that it's better for government than it is for murderous criminals to profit from people's wont to sin.
One Good Thing
In 'Birdsong,' which is overall dismal, self-indulgent, plodding, and almost lethally dull, there is one good thing, just one: Marie-Josée Croze, whose acting in this miniseries made her character, Jeanne, stand out to convince the audience that, among the series' other bloodless uninteresting characters, Jeanne alone is flesh and blood, heart and soul - a genuine, fully-dimensioned human being jam-packed with sense and emotion. Ten stars, then, for Ms. Croze's performance.
To my wits and sense the rest of the characters appeared to be cardboard cutouts - yes, even Jack Firebrace, who struck me as inhabiting the BBC's stock role of the working class stand-in who delivers the BBC's notional ration of the homely wisdom of the Great Unwashed whom the bien pensant of the BBC unfailingly show themselves to hold in contempt, except when it suits the British political class's worship and imposition of dead dull Marxist tropes.
Great, memorable filmmaking succeeds at showing that less is more. 'Birdsong' lavishes an immense surfeit of less, bereft even of the pretense to have even lethargically hinted at more.
The Twilight Zone: Static (1961)
'Static' is one of my favorite 'Twilight Zone' episodes because it's tantalizing, because it waltzes graciously with the sense that the body ages inexorably but the heart lives outside the bounds of time.
Dean Jagger's line that "radio has to be believed to be seen" is itself a minor gem. Perhaps Rod Serling devoted his television offerings to trying to put into "seen to be believed" video images what in earlier times of radio he'd "believed to be seen."
The IMDb site software informed me that the foregoing two paragraph review could not by itself be made to appear on the IMDb site, because it did not consist of the minimum number of ten lines of text. Be that as it may, I hope that if you happen to see 'Static,' you'll now appreciate that radio alone does not generate it.
A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
Sweetheart Of The Rodeo
A sweet, light, spritely-paced romance launched by a decently-done meet-cute, 'A Lady Takes Chance' earned my 8-stars simply because the more I see of Jean Arthur's work, the more I admire her absolute mastery of acting, and not just in in comic roles. John Wayne here has his part well in hand, but it's Arthur's luminous feminine presence that juices this one a few watts higher than most of the light-romantic A-B comedies of its day.
And I'll bet that if 1943's 'A Lady Takes A Chance' was screened for our boys overseas, those boys ate it right up - especially (Spoiler Alert!) its home-cooked lamb chops motor lodge room supper sequence.
Third Man on the Mountain (1959)
Hidden Classic Scales Disney Adventure Heights
Until I rented it on disc I'd never heard of 'Third Man On The Mountain' - and what a lovely surprise it was.
What's not to like? The alpine location photography, abetted by select matte paintings which, for a 1959 film, hold their own against all such in Cameron's 'Titanic,' is simply gorgeous. The solid cast gives rock-solid performances, making 'Third Man On The Mountain' a splendid Disney coming-of-age adventure animated with believable, earnest characters. Through the story's onward and upward progress Ken Annakin's gives sure-handed and sure-footed direction: he has a story to tell, and he orchestrates his actors and camera to tell it.
And, oh, I second what my Canadian cousin, "oldyale6," from up there in BC, said in his IMDb review about this film's rock-solid values (we used to call them ideals): this is most definitely a film children ought to enjoy and profit from. 'Third Man On The Mountain' is timeless worthy fare for all.
Brideshead Revisited (2008)
Not Sacred And Profane, But Merely Profane
Saucer-shallow and squalid 2008 production, misdirected by Julian Jarrold, of 'Brideshead Revisited.' It's shallow and squalid because Waugh subtitled his book 'The Sacred And Profane Memories Of Captain Charles Ryder,' but this movie gives us only the Profane ones, yet it descends further as it misapprehends and profanes even Ryder's Profane recollections, while giving what its makers probably liked to imagine was a fitting rude digital gesture towards Catholicism and Catholics. This misbegotten, twisted movie utterly lacks depth, sensibility, and believable characterizations; it desecrates Waugh's book and its profound theme. Its cast are not to be blamed for their having been given such thin gruel to have to try to chew on.
Finally, this execrable production comes nowhere near to the superlative 1981 TV miniseries which is arguably the finest film adaptation not just of Waugh's novel, but of any book.
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Focus on the Supporting Players
It's remarkable that for 'Young Mr. Lincoln's' supporting players Ford cast lesser known, other-than-star actors. This not only heightens his film's focus on the central character of Lincoln, but it also affords the audience a refreshing insight into Lincoln as a man of his place and time, a man embroiled, as each one of us inexorably is, in the issues and sentiments of his time and seeking his way to resolving them. It's not so much through Fonda's Lincoln's words and actions but in the faces, the reactions of the supporting players that Ford tells the story of the formation of the young Lincoln's worldview, sense of place in society and polity, and of how the people responded to Mr. Lincoln's words and deeds and placed their trust in this man whom they deemed to have earned their respect and heeding.
Give this a try: instead of focusing on Henry Fonda, next time you view 'Young Mr. Lincoln' shift your focus to the supporting characters - you will, I expect, be handsomely rewarded with a more profound appreciation of both Lincoln and Ford. I like to suspect that Ford's storytelling through the supporting characters' reactions to Fonda's Lincoln may have appealed to David Lean when he directed Omar Sharif in 'Doctor Zhivago', in which it's the supporting characters' reactions to Zhivago that actually tell about Zhivago.
Cor, Blimey! (2000)
Fond Look Back to A Cast That Gave Hearty Laughs to Many
In the U.S. in the 60's and into the early 70's the 'Carry On' films were telecast as Late - or more usually, as Late, Late Shows: in the age before wall-to-wall content/media these films were, in the States, filler fare - almost throwaways, because it's likely that U.S. distributors didn't, or couldn't, demand or get great sums for the 'Carry On' films from broadcasters who used them to flesh-out (pun definitely and cheekily intended!) their late-night schedules. But whenever a 'Carry On' film aired I did my best to see and enjoy it - there's just something so utterly and unselfconsciously charming about them that made them irresistible to me. (My favorite, by the way, is 'Carry On, Sergeant,' because it features the brilliant, and under-appreciated - at least on this side of the Pond, William Hartnell.) The 'Carry On' films are from a time when good, clean fun could be and was enjoyed, a time before the soul-corroding rubbish of political correctness and the supercilious hypersensitivity with which it burdened life in all of its dimensions except for the realm of the individual's soul, hadn't yet begun to darken everyone's doorway and to dumb-down and dull to death what now passes for education, newspapers, and television and theatre; it was also a time before we let our children be soaked in the properly adult matters of sex and sexuality - and yet even children could and did enjoy the 'Carry On' series. It was a time in which harmless titillation and suggestiveness allowed viewers' imaginations to do their own good and joyous work; it was nothing like nowadays when the Beeb, and much of Hollywood, vomits monotonously nothing but dull Orwellian multi-culti preachiness and strictures - which are far worse than "liberal" and "progressive" critics of the foregoing vibrant and delectable "monoculture" have had the imagination to have yet grasped (heaven forfend that anyone should scandalize a Mohammedan or offend another nunnish radical feminist to anguished despond and spitefulness). It was the existence of the now dead and late lamented, at least by me, monoculture's healthful customs and manners that made the Carry On films the widely enjoyed success that they were; nowadays, with the so-called barriers to everything and anything (except, obviously, to genuineness and to the decency which it begets and widespreads) having been demolished, and all babies having been thrown out with the bath water of the monoculture's supposedly unique and malicious "Eurocentric" hypocrisy, the consequent lack of spontaneity and decency have yielded nothing but Orwellian dullness and monotony which the monoculture's detractors had supposed themselves to be gloriously relieving us of. It was the existence of sound rules and healthful customs that made funny business funny; now that all those old rules have gone, the lack of rules and "barriers" (except, of course, those prescribed for us by our self-vaunted "correct" elites who have replaced the people we once knew to be our betters) has rendered nothing funny and everything grim and seedy and contentious - 'Much Ado About Nothing' indeed.
U.S. 'Carry On' film fans saw very little of the UK publicity for, or British gossip sheets' focus on, the 'Carry On' cast members, so I ought to take 'Cor, Blimey!'s' account of the James-Windsor affair with a large grain of salt; and comments made by Britons here on IMDb, having pointed out the film's taken licenses and liberties, I feel that grain of salt is a proper one to take. It was filmed on a very low budget as its resort to extant, ready-to-hand cinema sets, props, and costumes testifies amply; and yet, like the 'Carry On' films themselves, 'Cor, Blimey!' has its own irresistible charms because it's well-cast, well-played and, almost throughout, astutely written from an ear finely attuned to the sensibilities of its period and the milieu in which James and Windsor carried on their affair. Despite its lackluster editing and somewhat muddy soundtrack, I enjoyed it immensely, and so with great enthusiasm I recommend 'Cor, Blimey!' to everyone who's ever enjoyed - even secretly lest they dread to suffer accusation of deserving to belong to the vulgar mass or, perhaps worse, to one or another of the so-called "Oppressor classes" - a good old, pull-the-bung-out (but only halfway, because it's always far funnier when your imagination does the really funny work) hilarious 'Carry On' film.
Now, since "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity," let men go out and stare unselfconsciously at greater and lesser bosoms and let women giggle gleefully at the men making fools of themselves. Carry On, All!
Zero Hour! (1957)
Reviewing 'Zero Hour!' On Its Own Terms
Since every other reviewer here has commented on the relation between 'Zero Hour!' and its latter-day spoof 'Airplane!', let me be the first to contribute a review of 'Zero Hour!' on its own terms.
First, 'Zero Hour!' was obviously shot on a low budget. It uses a lot of stock footage - much of which is badly varied, mismatched as, for example, the airliner in the film is a four-engined DC-4 which, in the film's cuts to stock footage not only appears as a DC-4 in three different airline paint/livery schemes, but it's also represented in still other stock shots by footage of a twin-engined DC-3 and a twin-engined Convair. At the crash landing ending the model used is of a four-engined airliner which is not a DC-4 (it looks like a post-WWII British airliner whose maker/name/identification escapes me at present). Another key to the low budget is the film's inexpensive (I'm trying to be charitable) sets; and at one point a close-up of the plane's instruments are not airplane instruments at all, but a cheaply mocked-up row of three generic panel lamps above which is hand-painted LEFT-NOSE-RIGHT to represent the cockpit's landing gear lock-down indicators. One of the aerial shots of the DC-4, which appears in the film as the aircraft is on final approach, also presents a gaffe: in this stock shot the airliner's Number 4 engine's propeller is feathered - stopped! - which is absurd because in the plot the DC-4 suffers no engine failures.
Worse, though, than 'Zero Hour!'s' jumble of airliner stock footage are the obvious models used for the film's introductory combat sequence. The credits open over fine stock footage of early WWII Spitfire Mk I's in formation. But this footage gives way to models-on-wires "bathtub" shots, and I believe most, if not all, of these shots of model Spitfires and Messerschmitts were simply lifted from an earlier film (which may have been 1956's 'Reach For The Sky'). Worse still, some of the close-ups of what are supposed to be the Canadian squadron's Spitfires actually show actors (who are unrecognizable in their face-covering goggles and oxygen masks) seated in the cockpits of full-size Messerschmitt models! In one egregiously inaccurate (and thus confusion-making) small-model shot a Messerschmitt in Nazi insignia actually represents the crash of a Canadian Spitfire. But this sequence gets even worse than that: at one point it cuts to a model shot - of static-suspended models wobbled by off-screen fans - of a radial-engined Curtiss Hawk 75 painted in French Air Force camouflage and insignia (which, we are supposed to believe, is one of the in-line engined Canadian Spitfires!) "pursuing" a Messerschmitt model! The acting here is not bad - some of it is actually quite good, especially from the splendid, but chronically under-appreciated and underrated, Dana Andrews. It's the cheesy Arthur Hailey dialogue that's the real culprit that robs 'Zero Hour!' of enduring appeal (and which, I'd argue, together with the unintentionally comical plane-switching stock footage, most inspired the later spoof movie); but the cheesy dialogue's not helped, at a few points, by rapid, hectic, less than first-class editing that also betrays the low-budget on which 'Zero Hour' was produced.
The score isn't great, yet it's actually rather good - especially for a suspense film of its time. Some of the makeup is overdone - especially the excessive perspiration on the faces of the ill and the panicking aircrew and passengers and on the anxious ground controllers, which was apparently applied with a surfeit of zeal. Women's hairstyles here are reserved, but expertly done; and the costuming is quite good for a low-budget effort. Also, one of the airline office men begins the film, before he's been through any of the suspenseful trials that ensue, already wearing much more than a five o'clock shadow of whiskers: in 1957 this was most definitely not a tonsorial custom, especially for airline/technical employees - in those days a man's boss could and would call him on the carpet for having had the bad manners to have come to work so direly unshaven.
Former pro football star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch is a trifle stiff as the captain of the airliner; but then a lot of athletes-turned-actors of that day were also rather wooden in their acting (Chuck Connors comes foremost to mind, especially in his earliest, bit parts). The rest of the supporting cast is comprised chiefly of Canadian talent who do a solid job (notwithstanding that they too labored under the often cheesy lines they were given to read) of moving the story forward and fleshing it out as well as can be expected in a low-budget film.
On its own terms, then, on the IMDb house scale of ten, I believe I have to give 'Zero Hour' 6 stars.
They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)
Fine cast, crackling dialogue, sure-handed direction, and some lovely camera work make 'They Made Me A Fugitive' a splendid viewing experience, but the film's ripping, breathless pacing most impressed me. From the outset I just felt immersed into a cesspool of criminality, through which the pacing just dunked me again and again, deeper and deeper into the depravity of the characters. The police seem to exist in another England - the one of "bright, sunlit uplands" - while the film shoves you and binds you amid hoodlums, spivs, black marketeers, and sadistic enforcers who inhabit a claustrophobic, treacherous underworld in which violence to body and soul lurks in every shadow.
At the remove of six decades some of the dialogue and action seems clichéd (although - spoiler coming here - the sequence of the fall-from-power fate of the gang leader, Narcy, socked me in my gut: it's a clever, artful, uncompromising bit of camera work); but on the whole the film still punches and lands hard blows. And, oh boy, the one character, Narcy's chief muscle-enforcer, still chills me to the bone whenever, in deliberate or unbidden recall, he lurks in and lunges from the chiaroscuro brandishing his menacing, meaty bulk, punishment-keen fists, charmless, cold, piggish face, vicious, predatory eyes, and glinting knife blade. Gives me the creeps! See 'They Made Me A Fugitive' and be swept, panting, through ninety-six minutes that seem to be counted in thunderous heartbeats that, in the underworld of this tale, may - or may not - get to go on pounding behind the thin, warm, vulnerable flesh of your chest. This one's as good as noir ever got to be.
49 Up (2005)
Unprecedented, Brilliant, Enduring Effort by All Participants
It seems to me that director Apted's brilliant 'Up' film series appeals deeply because they're the first in-depth film biographies of ordinary people. After all, each of us has seen innumerable film biographies of the rich, the famous, and the notorious (as well, in recent years, we've seen phony "reality" programs about supposedly "ordinary" people posed into artificial situations). It's purely fascinating to see, to follow every seven years, your contemporaries, to feel a curious kinship with some and a distance from others of them, and to compare your own life's fortunes and the choices you've made in it with theirs.
It's not difficult to appreciate the resentment or dissatisfaction of some of the 'Up' series' participants with their having been chosen in the first place, and with being asked to participate serially every seven years, in the films. Yet I suggest that the participants might ponder this: before the advent of film, especially of home video, diary-keeping was widespread - especially among the educated and upper classes, and diary-keeping demands a lot more daily thought and toil from a diarist than being filmed every seven years requires from the 'Up' series' participants. The only advantage that viewers of the 'Up' series have over reading the journals of deceased diarists is in the immediacy, unique to motion pictures, of the Up films: these are, in their cinematic way, quite like diaries only more timely than diaries in that the 'Up' series' participants are living contemporaneously with the sharing of their motion picture diary with a vast public. It's doubtful that today's busy individuals would take the time to daily compose diary entries, and so in the 'Up' series the film medium enters, it substitutes for and improves in some ways upon, the ancient art of diary-keeping. Granted that diarists carefully chose - edited on the fly, if you will - the words of their writings, but so too have the 'Up' series' participants always had a measure of editorial control over what director Apted will or will not include in each of the series' installments.
Have any of the participants grasped that all of them will be watched, studied, analyzed, enjoyed, and vicariously bonded with by viewers for decades, centuries, and perhaps even for millennia? - that they're the first ordinary people to have the significant events and their own experience of their lives recorded for posterity? This series, whether Apted or its participants, and whether we viewers or film critics have yet grasped this fact, is not yet the anthropological gold mine it will in the near and distant future surely become: in viewing these films we're not archaeologists looking for clues to be construed - or misconstrued! - from cave paintings, potsherds, art works, and common artifacts, we're seeing actual ordinary people of our time speaking and acting (i.e., behaving) in their actual lives. Do any of the participants perhaps find it a bit eerie to know in advance that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years on utter strangers (as well as their own ever-reproducing descendents) will be viewing, hearing, studying their twentieth to twenty-first century lives?
All that said, the 'Up' films, as they've evolved to be to date, spur me to moot the notion, based on the knowledge that 'Up' series' participants' relatives and co-workers, friends and acquaintances, children and grandchildren have all been affected by the films, that a much larger film series of monumental proportions - gaining in size and scope as the original participants' children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren reproduce - could, theoretically, be produced and filmed. Such would be a vast opus, requiring increasingly many more film crews, interviewers to film ever-burgeoning numbers of participants. It could spawn among viewers factions of fans who might like and support one branch of the growing families and dislike and detract its other branches, and thus perhaps teach us much about the whole of the human condition - about the development among disparate groups of respect, disrespect, suspicion, envy, competition, enmity, etc. Such a vast series would amount to the Story Of Our Species, begun albeit, much later than the latter-in-our-species-evolution debut of motion picture technology allowed for having begun the series with Adam and Eve. No, it was impracticable then - with Adam and Eve - as it is now...but then as camcorders and webcams have only just come on the scene, there will one day exist gazillions of miles - or digits! - of footage of the lives of ordinary people: and who would ever, say, even ten years from now, endeavor to try to sort through all of these film records to try to discern, let alone to try to tell, the story of our species members?! - especially since camcorders have inspired legions of amateur filmmakers who are already producing gazillions of miles and digits of amateur motion picture fiction. (One can get really carried away with imagining endless extrapolation from the 'Up' series, can't one? I just did!)
It can only be dimly anticipated how future viewers of the 'Up' series - viewers who will see it long after Apted, the series' participants, and its contemporary viewers will have long been dead - will relate to the 'Up' films, and especially how they will relate, or not, to their participants (no doubt it will be easier, because of the immediacy of motion pictures, for future viewers to relate to the 'Up' participants than it is for us early third millennium people to relate to, say, pre-Norman Conquest Britons, or to the people who constructed Stonehenge). But it would be lovely to know how those future viewers will feel about the 'Up' films - perhaps lovelier than it would be for me to know how I'll feel about it if I should live long enough to enjoy '56-Up'!
The Stratton Story (1949)
Timely Topic for This Film
Made in 1949 - at about the time that WWII veteran amputees were emerging from their VA hospital prosthetics rehab program and thus beginning to appear among the general population - 'The Stratton Story' topic of a man working hard to overcome the wound he suffered was timely, and it helps to explain the film's resonance with the audiences of its day.
Well crafted in all respects 'The Stratton Story,' though certainly a rather fictionalized Hollywood treatment, gives a straightforward, honest look at a man, a farmer, a baseball player, a husband, a father facing his amputation squarely and making the best of himself despite his handicap - and the real Monty Stratton accomplished this feat in the days before every mosquito bite or knee-scrape prompted the callout of armies of professional counsellors. The pairing of June Allyson with James Stewart proved to yield attractive screen power as the two thespians work together very well here in their first effort as a movie couple. The supporting cast give solid performances, though I give special mention to Agnes Moorehead for her restrained, dignified portrayal of Stratton's mother which in the hands of a lesser actress could have been turned into a cliché of the farm-earth-mother.
There's fraught drama here as well as lighthearted and inspiring moments, and none are overindulged or wrung out beyond their intrinsic value. 'The Stratton Story' is a nicely balanced example of forthright cinematic storytelling of a self-reliant man supported unflinchingly by his clear-eyed, plain-spoken family and his baseball fraternity. Over time the film stands up well and it needs no third millennium explication or embellishment; it's fine fare for adults and children alike.
United 93 (2006)
First, my prayers go up for the passengers and the crew and their families who survived them - and for their hijackers. It's the hijackers for whom I feel the sorriest because people who are so twisted by hate need the sorrow more than do the innocents they mass-murdered. The hijackers came from their world of so little love and kindness to mass-murder innocents who came from their worlds of genuine love and kindness. The telling difference between the hate-twisted, nihilist hijackers and the heroic passengers and crew is that in their attempt to save themselves the passengers and crew succeeded in sparing the lives of God knows how many more innocents whom the hijackers, had they flown into their target, would have also mass-murdered.
'United 93' is the most harrowing film I've seen. Its makers relied as far as they possibly could on the documentary record of the event it depicts - on the facts, not on the paranoid, twisted, cynical, bigoted prejudices and predilections - and not on the cheap thrills and frisson of phony righteousness - of conspiracy theorists. Those facts include all that the makers could draw and glean from the tapes of the passengers' and crewmembers' in-flight telephone conversations and the background sounds they included.
Cinematically this is a seamlessly tight, masterly treatment of real-time docu-drama. Top notch in my book.
'United 93' ought to be shown, it ought to be required to be shown, in every American senior high school class. Now and forever.
'Looking For Comedy In The Muslim' world is not insightful, not satirical, not sardonic, and most of all it is not funny. What it is is a huge waste of time and money - the producers and mine. When I was in grade school the boys had an apt word for something so inept, such a feeble "DUH" as this film is: a boner. At least I can still smile mildly, nostalgically at the memory of that word usage, because while watching 'Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World' my lips never budged from their grim set.
Perhaps a better film could have been made (by someone OTHER than once-somewhat-amusing-but-only-briefly-in-the-70's Albert Brooks, please!)if its title were 'Looking For Moslems In The Comedy World' - there would be the world's shortest movie for ya! In sum: don't waste your time or your money on this boner.
A Canterbury Tale (1944)
Charm (Scarecrow Staked Here: spoilers herein)
Although I've heard that Michael Powell chose, over a skirt-slashing Colpeper, to instead have him be The Glueman, his choice is, I think, serendipitous. The Glueman is not just the (superficially, as most post-modern critics mistake about him and about so many other characters in earlier films - about which more later) repressed sexual pervert Glueman, but he's also the Clueman. Yes, he's vaguely sinister, but he provides the glue that diverts the film's younger, war-preoccupied characters from their immediate concerns, and he suggests the clues that connect them to the heritage (some of us Yanks know the words of 'Land Of Hope And Glory' because England/Britain is undeniably, in many respects, our Mother Country) that has shaped them and made them who they are - and to the Civilization for which they're fighting.
Too many of today's critics obsess about the "Lesbian" farm woman whose character, in the 1940's, would have been ordinary and been regarded as being ordinary: a woman raised under the sterner discipline and mores of her day, with no-nonsense, no-b.s. values of virtue, obligation and hard work - and of getting to the point. It's postmodernists' affectation to automatically suspect doughty, matter-of-fact women characters - any eccentric women characters whom their postmodernist Miss Jean Brodie nonsense has bent them to suspect of fitting their screwy postmodernist (i.e., most often Marxisant, but often also Romantic) worldview - in earlier films of being "Lesbians." This woman is, consummately, a farmer who has to consider pragmatically what all farmers have always had to consider: how to smartly, efficiently work their land to its top yield against time and weather, pests and parasites, poachers and market conditions; there's nothing "Lesbian" about any of her singleminded agrarian pragmatism, or about her unremarkable - for her day - country ladies' sartorial choice, or even about her puffing a cigarette.
'A Canterbury Tale' isn't among the best of Powell & Pressburger's efforts; but it doesn't fall far short of their best. In a spot or two the plot plods, but then plodding was the pace of the Kentish countryside, so I think that it's only to our early third millennium sensibilities that it seems to plod. Seldom has black & white cinematography managed, as it manages here, to communicate through chiaroscuro the pilgrims' unease, and through the blessed splendor of sunlit, cloud-garlanded vistas of the Weald of Kent their respite.
As the Glueman strives to communicate the pace, sensibilities, and sensations of Chaucer's pilgrim's time, so too must we latter-day viewers accommodate our viewing of this film to the pace, sensibilities, and sensations of its period and setting: once we've done that - which demands of us no extraordinary effort - the legendary, enduring Powell & Pressburger magic works its spell.
From the outset I found Sergeant Sweet's unaffected acting well-suited to the storytelling. The Yanks whom Wartime Britons recall were probably more like Mike Roczinsky, yet among those "overpaid, overfed, oversexed, and over here" American "invaders," among all those "brown jobs," were young men quite like Sweet's Bob Johnson. Dennis Price's manner is a bit too aristocratic for his portrayal of a sergeant, but on the whole Price's thespian gifts help him to carry off his role very well. Sheila Sim gives a perfectly iconic portrayal of a young woman of her time: bereaved but not crushed; proud yet considerate; tender yet not mawkish; vulnerable yet capable. Eric Portman's Glueman is appropriately mysterious and mildly menacing and yet, in the ending we discover that he's all along been a benign agent of illumination, the neutral but never indifferent catalyst, the benevolent spur to the young people's sleuthing to know their present through their coming to touch their collective past; the Glueman is, if you think about his role in the narrative, rather God-like - or, if your prefer, rather Nature-like.
What's lovely about the dénouement here is that it enchants without indulging in sodden kitschiness, and indeed that it enchants in spite of of its scant kitschy elements. In the end the Glueman vanishes from the pilgrim's and our ken because he's accomplished his task of cluing and gluing the pilgrims to their past, to the mystical dimension of Being in their Own Time as that Being can only have come about by dint of their having touched their Past in their Present, which is the predicate of their harboring good hope for their Future. This message, to people whom wartime exigencies shifted brusquely about en masse as people had hitherto never shifted about, may have rung in 'A Canterbury Tale's' contemporary audiences a chord of sentimental longing and welcome reassurance.
This is a thoroughly English film best appreciated when one knows that Powell grew up in rural Kent and that he loved his home county's loveliness as only a native can and does love eternally his childhood home - and the verities it imparts early to him. In our present age of rapidly successive, plug-in and plug-out residential and professional transience - the first age of nigh-universal human rootlessness - 'A Canterbury Tale's' blessing is its acquainting us with our 1940's forebears' more permanent, more grounded sense of themselves and their place in the world and in time, a sense which they felt the war had put under threat and had hurled them and their world, willy-nilly, into unsettling uncertainty. It seems unlikely that we - our species - shall ever again know the quiet certainties, tranquility, and satisfaction of lifelong residence in, or near, our birthplaces. Until our time urgency meant for people something quite different from what urgency means for us. If people before our hyper-active, attention-deficited, more artificial time were not more "authentic," then they were certainly far less remote than we've become from Nature's cycles and temper.
'A Canterbury Tale's' charm is quiet, subtle, and in the end it's sensual, mystical, illuminating, and eternally dear. Pity that few have nowadays the time or the temper for such charm.
The Red Beret (1953)
Somehow One of My Favorites
Somehow 'The Red Beret,' by no measure a fine film, remains one of my sentimental favorites, perhaps because in my teens it aired often on late night TV, under its U.S. title 'Paratrooper.' Alan Ladd, even when he wasn't acting, appeared as the sexy strong stoical silent type, and here he again fills that bill. I also love this film because it's one of the many that carved out for Harry Andrews his reputation for playing tough-tender sergeants and sergeant majors; in 'The Red Beret' his last-words line, "Pity the man who hears the pipes and was na born in Scotland," has stuck pleasantly with me into my sixth decade; he also gives a lovely little take when the red berets are issued to him and his men and his character must part with his beloved regimental headgear. Also very sexy here, in his own astute, urbane way - quite different from Ladd's, is Leo Genn (who, in my experience, never gave a poor screen performance, and who was very good as the psychiatrist in 'The Snake Pit' and as Mr. Starbuck in John Huston's adaptation of 'Moby Dick'). Pert, pretty Susan Stephen - in a curls-and-frizz hairdo that was fifteen years ahead of its time! - doesn't act very well here, but I still find her effort affecting as Ladd's character's love interest.
I suppose my affection for 'The Red Beret' is one more proof that "There's no accounting for taste." Which helps to explain, if not to excuse, most of the rubbish studios churn out nowadays for uncritical mass consumption. I wish 'The Red Beret' would release on disc so that once, and many times over, in the wee hours I could snuggle down on the sofa and enjoy it as I did when I was a teenager.
The Loved One (1965)
Sophomoric Trashing of Waugh's Profound Satire
Tony Richardson took Evelyn Waugh's brilliant, tight, astonishingly multi-layered and profound - and yet side-splittingly funny - last novel and turned it into a series of sophomoric "anti-establishment" gags which, by the end of the 60's, had already become threadbare Lefty-liberal tropes and ho-hum clichés. The film is fun for those who haven't grown out of their badly dated 60's attitude-cum-chic. But for those who can and have plumbed and savored the profound genius of Waugh's novel, the film is nothing more than third-rate sensationalism, thus unintentionally shouting an unmistakable hint to why Waugh loathed cinema - which he sent-up brilliantly in a few of his still-biting, deeply insightful satirical novels.
For those who marvel at "how this was made, or gotten away with, when this was made": wake up! - it was the 60's, the decade that did more to water down, dumb-down, and tear down Western Civilization than any other number of years could or did pull the plug on that once-leading achievement born of centuries of Rational and Enlightenment progress. Richardson's gutting and mauling certainly dumbs-down Waugh's erudite, complex, and yet completely accessible satire.
Atop all that, Rober Morse is dismally miscast in the role of Englishman Dennis Barlow. Yet, as far as the film's sophomorics go, it works on that adolescent, shallow, Vaudeville redux level with fine gag, and some longer, turns by many a familiar face. This is a kind of 'Cannonball Run' except that instead of mocking a car race it fleeces the American funeral industry for its rather much less-than sophisticated laughs; it is, of course, better than 'Cannonball Run' - which I give a 1; 'The Loved One' importuned me persistently enough for me to give it a 4.
You're in the Navy Now (1951)
Never intended to be side-splittingly hilarious, 'You're In The Navy Now' is an earnest effort at showing the lighter side of naval service, broadly in the manner of the 'Readers' Digest' feature "Humor In Uniform," and as such it works though modern audiences often think it dated and unamusing. Poor modern audiences, indeed.
Solid cast here, with Gary Cooper shipshape as the green but earnest new skipper of a submarine chaser in which an experimental propulsion plant has been installed for testing; Jack Webb, Eddie Albert, Harry Von Zell, Jane Greer, Harvey Lembeck, Jack Warden, Charles Buchinski - later to become Charles Bronson, and Lee Marvin all working, and sometimes conniving, together to make their oddly-engined ship a proud one.
The actual PC1168 used in the film can be seen here: http://www.navsource.org/archives/12/011168.htm 'You're In The Navy Now' is a pleasant way to voyage through an evening.
Bonjour tristesse (1958)
Teen Fantasy Soap Opera
Jean Seberg had not one iota of acting talent. Like all her films, 'Bonjour tristesse' suffers not at all from her looks (though she is perhaps the first of those modern women whom Tom Wolfe gleefully, accurately describes as "boys with breasts": publicists, of course, use the word "gamine") but suffers grievously from Seberg's dull, monotonous, killing voice. In all her films when had to play anger, Seberg played it with grossly audible, distracting, gasping panting between her monotonously droned verbalizations. Oy.
Preminger's adaptation of Françoise Sagan's breathlessly juvenile, fantasy soap opera plot is noteworthy only for his lush cinematography - but then that's difficult to funk on the photogenic French Riviera, and perhaps for his apt, but certainly not groundbreaking, employment of black & white for the present day scenes from which Seberg's monotone narration delivers us to the flashed-back-to color past.
Juliette Gréco has a brief moment, as a nightclub chanteuse in the black & white spotlight, delivering in smoky Dietrichesque voice the bleak existentialist lyric of the title song. This moment is nowadays, in retrospect, more than a wee bit drôle. Except, of course, if you're French - particularly if you're a French "68-er" longing for the glorious days of the barricades roundabout the Sorbonne - and your kids riot to retain the lifelong sinecures which have blighted and emasculated France's economy: then you still believe in Sartre and Foucault and all such arcane, irrelevant theorists.
David Niven has the hardest role, having to play with sufficient gusto an aging hedonist who's yet to grasp that life isn't all about Sagan's teenybopper notions of a hip, cool, swingin', "mon copain!" Papa. Deborah Kerr delivers her usual, consummately professional presence, convincingly playing the woman who suffers undeservedly Seberg's spiteful teenaged snot-nose jealousy (fulfilling Sagan's shallow teen fantasy of the Classical theme of "there can be only one Queen Bee in the hive"); in fact, to Kerr belongs this film's sole great and memorable on-screen moment.
The dialogue is unnatural - I agree with an earlier reviewer who said that it sounds to be "badly translated" from French; combine the unnatural scripting with Seberg's incomparably dull, unendurable monotone and you can save that Valium for another night. Atop all that the ineptly synched post-production voice dubbing is, almost throughout, obvious and thus much more than irksome: this is especially true of the dubbing for Mylène Demongeot because it spoils her otherwise very pleasing dumb blonde performance.
Hunky Geoffrey Horne gets the short end of the stick here - a very good looking young man who also suffered from a less-than-lovely, uncinematic voice which, when paired with Seberg's drone, yields unconvincing scenes of puppy love. (Horne was, shall we say, merely adequate in 'Bridge On the River Kwai,' perhaps because his end was held up by those great cinema pros William Holden and Jack Hawkins instead of being unsupported by the regrettably ungifted Seberg).
In sum 'Bonjour tristesse' is pretty to look at but it's shallow, immature soap: thin gruel with suds.
The Return of the Soldier (1982)
Dull, Dull, Dull
The cliché of the shell-shocked soldier home from the war is here given dull treatment. Pity a splendid cast, acting to the limits of their high talents, can't redeem 'The Return of the Soldier' from its stiff-collared inability to move the viewer to emotional involvement. Best moments, as another reviewer noted, come when Glenda Jackson is on screen; but even Jackson's crackling good cinematic power can't pull this film's chestnuts from its cold, never warmed hearth. Ann-Margret, she of sex-kitten repute and too often accused of lacking acting ability, finds her actual and rather profound abilities wasted here - despite her speaking with a nigh-flawless Middlesex accent. The hackneyed score, redolent of many lackluster TV miniseries' slathered-on saccharine emotionalism, is at irritating odds with the emotional remoteness of the script, blocking, and overbaked formalism of the direction; except for its score and corseted script and direction, 'The Return of the Soldier' has all the right bits but it fails to make them work together.
Guns at Batasi (1964)
Minor Classic Shines Timelessly
I first saw 'Guns At Batasi' several times in its butchered for television version shown mostly on late-night TV, a pan-&-scan version which also deprived the film of its Cinemascope format. But I just saw the DVD which reproduces the original Cinemascope (and which includes an entertaining commentary track by John Leyton who plays Pte. Wilkes in the film) which let's us see 'Guns At Batasi' to its deserved advantage.
It's a splendid character study of a British Army Regimental Sergeant Major set in an absorbing - and rather accurately prophetic - plot of a post-colonial African revolution.
After Richard Attenborough, properly dominant as the thoroughly professional, no-nonsense Regimental Sergeant Major, the almost uniformly solid casting gives us nice turns by the four sergeants, Leyton as Pte. Wilkes, Flora Robson as the gullible MP keen to believe her ilk's pie-in-the-sky Marxisant p.c. propaganda, Errol John as the African rebel officer, and the always splendid Jack Hawkins as Lt. Col. Deal (an apt name considering the part his character fulfils in the story). Teenaged Mia Farrow has a small role (her first in cinema, I think) as a events-stranded UN secretary who shares a mutual lust interest with Leyton's Pte. Wilkes (Farrow's scenes were re-shoots owing to the originally-cast Britt Ekland's desertion from the filming to fly to her then-paramour Peter Sellers' side while he was working in the U.S.). The writing is very good and, as I said, prescient in view of the continuing undeserved credibility placed in chiefly venal Third World leaders by Western politicians, media, and p.c. types; Guillermin's direction is sure-handed; and production design and cinematography - some very good B&W work here aided by capable lighting - are a cut or two above workmanlike.
Though shot entirely at England's Pinewood Studios on a rather low budget, the strong script and fine acting raise 'Guns At Batasi' to the level of a minor classic well worth appreciating.
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Brilliant, Haunting, Enduring Classic
Twenty years hence no one will remember - let alone remember fondly - the juvenile tantrum of 'Crash'; but twenty years hence people will remember, and still more people will for the first time see and hear and be profoundly moved by, 'Brokeback Mountain.' In every way 'Brokeback' is a superior film; in every way it dwarfs all the other films of 2005; it's a brilliant achievement in timeless, enduring cinematic storytelling possessed of all the classical complexity and power of love tragically denied and self-denied and, ultimately, it ends with the beginning, the hope, of love redeemed.
Ennis Del Mar - Ennis of the Sea - evolves, he changes for the better, he emerges, he moves from the inchoate, turgid soup of the sea to plant his feet on terra firma whence his love finds its roots and begins to branch out, to embrace his daughter's love for him and for her betrothed, and his love for them. Ennis holds onto, and the rest of his life's heartbeats depend from, the tragic talisman of his bloodied shirt, because it is his passport - and this enduring film's timeless, classical metaphor for tragedy - to the sublime which, in Jack's and his life, was not to be theirs.
In twenty years time people will still be moved by, and they will continue to ache from and to love, 'Brokeback Mountain.'
The Ragman's Daughter (1972)
Post-Kitchen Sink Kitchen Sink
Filmed nine years after the last of the authentic kitchen sink films ('This Sporting Life' and 'Billy Liar'), 'The Ragman's Daughter' seems to me to be director Harold Becker's wistful homage to the original genre. The period kitchen sink films were shot in black & white, and here Becker shot in Technicolor, though the cinematography here is quite good, and yet in its frequent atmospheric moments supportive of my sense that this film is an homage by an American director who had earlier been smitten with the early crop of kitchen sink and "angry young man" pictures.
'The Ragman's Daughter' was the first feature film for all of its acting and crew principals, including Becker. Perhaps their having been collectively fond of and in awe of the original kitchen sink films lends this latter-day hearkening-back to the genre a haunting subtext or mystique that's quite appealing.
The screenwriter is Alan Sillitoe - from whose novels the period kitchen sink films 'Saturday Night And Sunday Morning' and 'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner' were adapted - whose native Nottingham is the location for 'The Ragman's Daughter,' and the setting is captured in frame here with charm and warmth bordering on the fondly nostalgic which that Midlands industrial city perhaps never really afforded its working class inhabitants; there's little of the chill one catches from the early, period, black & white kitchen sinkers. Also, the conflict here isn't played out, as it is classically in the originals of the genre, among working class or even between working class and establishment characters; instead 'The Ragman's Daughter's' conflict is between the protagonist couple's working class male lead, Tony (Simon Rouse) and its second generation nouveau riche, but entrée-lacking, female lead, Doris (Victoria Tennant).
With captivating, absorbing inter-cutting Becker gave, in the form of the older male protagonist recalling the story of his lost youth, the film much of its haunting, "nature of regret" appeal. The pacing is quite slow, which suits the plot and characters and it contributes considerable gravitas to the storytelling's empathic profundity.
While not a opus major, 'The Ragman's Daughter' works its soft magic on several levels, not the least of which is nowadays its time capsule value - but I shan't spoil it for anyone by parsing the other levels here: see it for yourself and let this little gem's gleam catch and please your eye, mind, and heart.