Wednesday, November 30, 2022

#2,872. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) - War in the Pacific Triple Feature


A combined U.S. / Japanese production, Tora! Tora! Tora! is the epic retelling of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which compelled the United States to enter World War II. Based on actual events and directed by Richard Fleischer (American sequences), Toshio Masuda, and Kinji Fukasaku (who together handled the Japanese portion of the film), Tora! Tora! Tora! covers all the bases.

Angered by a trade embargo imposed on them by the U.S., Japan enters into an alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in September of 1940, thus becoming one the Axis Powers. With the threat of war looming heavily, Admiral Husband Kimmel (Martin Balsam) of the Navy and the Army’s General Walter Short (Jason Robards), both stationed in Pearl Harbor, issue a number of alerts to keep the troops on their toes.

As Japanese Ambassador Nomura (Shogu Shimada) and the U.S. Secretary of State (George MacReady) work towards a peaceful resolution, Japan’s navy, under the command of Admiral Yamamoto (So Yamamura), is preparing for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, to cripple the American Navy. Assisted by Commander Minoru Genda (Tatsuya Mihashi) and Lt. Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida (Takahiro Tamura), Yamamoto puts his plan into motion, choosing the morning of Sunday, Dec. 7 as the best time to launch the attack.

Striving for an accurate portrayal of events both before and during the bombing on Pearl Harbor, Tora! Tora! Tora! spends its entire first half setting up the attack, from the growing tension between the two countries to their armies and navies preparing for the inevitability of war. Featuring a number of high-level meetings between bureaucrats and military commanders, the first half of Tora! Tora! Tora! has its moments; I especially liked the scenes where U.S. Intelligence was working feverishly to intercept and decode messages sent to the Japanese Ambassador. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these moments, and for a time the movie plods along at a slow pace. I do applaud the filmmakers for their historical accuracy, but there are reasons why most war movies don’t dedicate a lot of screen time to closed-door meetings! That said, the early Japanese segments of Tora! Tora! Tora! are livelier, in part because the military and their preparations are front and center, but I also think Masuda and Fukasaku infuse these sequences with an energy that isn’t present, at least initially, in the American scenes.

It’s during the second half of Tora! Tora! Tora! that the movie really comes alive, from the Japanese planes taking off to the attack itself, which, like the rest of the film, leans towards historical accuracy. Simultaneously exciting and heartbreaking, the bombing of Pearl Harbor is brilliantly brought to life, and stands as one of the best depictions of this tragic day in American history.

While there are no big-name stars in Tora! Tora! Tora!, the cast does a fine enough job, especially Robards as the cantankerous General Short; E.G. Marshall as Lt. Col. Bratton, Chief of Military Intelligence (he’s the first to raise concerns of a possible attack); and So Yamamura as the apprehensive Yamamoto, who fears that, even if the attack is successful, all Japan will have done is “Awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”.

Though not consistently exciting, Tora! Tora! Tora!, by telling the story of Pearl Harbor from both sides of the conflict, has enough going for it to make it worth your time.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

#2,871. The Thin Red Line (1998) - War in the Pacific Triple Feature


It must be twenty years since I last watched Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, and I had forgotten what an incredible motion picture it is. A masterfully shot war film with brilliantly staged battle scenes, The Thin Red Line is, like Malick’s Badlands and Days of Heaven before it, also lyrical in its approach, waxing poetic about life, love, violence, and death, yet doing so in a way that never detracts from the movie’s more intense sequences. If anything, it enhances them.

Based on James Jones’ 1962 novel of the same name, The Thin Red Line centers on the 1942 battle of Guadalcanal, when U.S. marines took on the Imperial Japanese army. With a star-studded cast, the movie takes us from the initial days of the campaign, when the marines, under the leadership of Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte), found themselves outmatched and outnumbered by the Japanese. As Col. Tall, ignoring the odds against them, demanded that his troops press on, his subordinates, including Capt. James Staros (Elias Koteas), Lt. John Gaff (John Cusack), and Sgts. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn), Maynard Storm (John Savage), and Brian Keck (Woody Harrelson) were locked in the fight of their lives, losing troops by the dozens.

The marines would eventually take a vital hill as well as the airfield that was the operation’s ultimate goal, but even then, the battle was far from over.

Along with the actors already mentioned, The Thin Red Line features Jim Caviezel as Pvt. Witt, Ben Chaplin as Pvt. Bell, Adrien Brody as Cpl. Fife, Jared Leto as 2nd Lt. William Whyte, Tim Blake Nelson as Pvt. Tills, John C. Reilly as Sgt. Storm, and Nick Stahl as Pvt. Beade. Also turning up in cameos are John Travolta as Brig. Gen. Quintard and George Clooney as Capt. Bosche, with Mirando Otto appearing in several flashbacks as Pvt. Bell’s wife.

Now, that’s one hell of a cast, and if I’m being honest, it is a bit distracting each time a big star appears on-screen. But Malick balances his actors perfectly, giving each their moment to shine while also moving the story along at a brisk pace.

Some get more screen time than others. As the movie opens, Jim Caviezel’s Pvt. Witt, who has gone AWOL, is living among the Melanesian natives of the South Pacific. He is eventually found and taken into custody, at which point his direct superior, Penn’s Sgt. Welsh, removes him from combat duty and orders him to act as a stretcher bearer during the Guadalcanal campaign. Pvt. Witt and Sgt. Welsh will share several scenes together, with their differing philosophies taking center stage. Pvt. Witt is a firm believer in the afterlife, while Sgt. Welsh, who has seen his share of horrors, cannot fathom a world beyond the one he knows.

Their spiritual debates are but one of the film’s many introspective moments. Time and again, Pvt. Bell, played wonderfully by Ben Chaplin, reflects on the love he has for his wife, and the hope that they will one day be reunited. “Why should I be afraid to die?”, Bell says, narrating his own flashback, “I belong to you. If I go first, I'll wait for you there, on the other side of the dark waters”.

And yet, even with its meditative tone, The Thin Red Line is a highly effective war film, conveying the chaos of warfare and never shying away from the carnage. Several characters are killed over the course of the movie, and there are moments, especially during the initial battles, that are as tense as anything you’d find in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. It is both a nerve-racking World War II movie and a Terence Malick film through and through, and this duality is what makes The Thin Red Line such a rewarding experience. It is not to be missed.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, November 28, 2022

#2,870. Mister Roberts (1955) - The Films of John Ford


I was listening to the DVD commentary that the late Jack Lemmon had recorded for 1955’s Mister Roberts, and right off the bat he talked about the two men credited with directing the movie: John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy. Ford, who was hired at the outset, was rushed to the hospital one evening about halfway through production, and the next day Mervyn LeRoy was on-set to take his place. LeRoy supposedly assembled the cast and crew and told them he would do his best to shoot the rest of the movie as Ford would have. Lemmon then concluded by issuing a challenge, daring anyone to try and figure out which scenes were shot by Ford, and which by LeRoy.

It’s an interesting story, a bit of cinematic lore that adds some color to the film’s production. But as legendary as both Ford and LeRoy were, it wasn’t the directors that made Mister Roberts a classic. It was its cast, which featured four of Hollywood’s best at the top of their game.

World War II is drawing to a close, and Lt. Doug Roberts (Henry Fonda) of the U.S Cargo ship The Reluctant (nicknamed “The Bucket” by its crew) has, for months, been requesting a transfer to another ship, so that he can get a taste of action before the war in the Pacific ends.

But Lt. Commander Morton (James Cagney), the Bucket’s ornery, bad-tempered Captain, has no intention of letting a “college boy” like Roberts get the better of him, and continually disapproves his request.

Roberts and the Captain butt heads on a regular basis, with Roberts doing everything he can to improve the conditions for the bucket’s crew, earning him their respect. Roberts is also good friends with both Ensign Pulver (Lemmon), his bunkmate and the resourceful, though ultimately lazy, laundry and morale officer; as well as Doc (William Powell), the ship’s physician.

When the Captain refuses to give the exhausted crew a liberty, Roberts is forced to make a deal: he will stop requesting a transfer and even quit bickering with the Captain in front of the men in exchange for weekend liberty. But while Roberts may have come up short in this particular skirmish, the war raging on the Bucket is far from over, and not even the Captain’s prize palm tree, a gift for exemplary service, will be safe once the battle kicks up again!

Before it became a movie, Mister Roberts was a hit Broadway play, running for 1,157 performances (the play was based on a book of the same name, written by Thomas Heggen and published in 1946). While some dialogue-heavy scenes do have a stagy quality to them, both Ford and LeRoy made Mister Roberts feel like a “bigger” film, shooting on-location in Hawaii and the Midway Islands, with a few scenes set in the Pacific Ocean. This grander tone is further strengthened by Franz Waxman’s score, which ranges from light and bouncy during the more comedic moments to booming and powerful whenever things take a dramatic turn.

The supporting cast features Ford regulars Ward Bond (as Dowdy, the ship’s chief petty officer) and Harry Carey Jr (as crewman Stefanowski), with Betsy Palmer (of Friday the 13th fame) turning up briefly as Lieutenant Ann Girard, a nurse Pulver tries to romance. Mister Roberts also boasts some memorably funny sequences, chief among them the first night of Liberty, when military police (of several branches of the service) have to escort many of the drunk crewmen back to the ship. Apparently, they had a very good time (I always thought the crew’s antics, which we only hear about after the fact, would have made a good movie on their own).

Still, nothing could upstage the film’s four main stars. Fonda, who played Roberts on Broadway as well, was perfectly cast as the title character, giving him both a warmth (when dealing with the crew) and sternness (his scenes with the Captain) that work equally well. William Powell, appearing in his last movie, also delivers as Doc, Roberts’ closest confidante who isn’t afraid to tell his good friend the harsh truth when necessary (he thinks Roberts is doing more good than he knows on The Reluctant, and shouldn’t be so eager to leave).

Stealing the show, however, are James Cagney and Jack Lemmon. Cagney is deliciously contemptible as the ship’s Captain, a character you dislike the moment you meet him and hate even more as the movie progresses. The actor has played some tough characters over the course of his career (Tom Powers in The Public Enemy, Cody Jarrett in White Heat), but Captain Morton is a real crumb, and we hope to hell that Roberts eventually gets what he wants so he can escape the tyranny.

And then there’s Jack Lemmon, who walked away with that year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the likable but hapless Pulver. Pulver talks a big game, telling Roberts and Doc that he intends to make the Captain’s life miserable, whether it be putting marbles in his overhead light to keep him up all evening or throwing a firecracker under his bed. But in reality, Pulver is scared to death of the Captain, and tries to avoid him at all costs; the scene where the two finally come face-to-face is one of the movie’s funniest. Pulver is an interesting character, a guy we genuinely like, even if we’re not sure he’d be a dependable ally when things go south. Lemmon is remarkable in the role, and has what may be one of the best final scenes in a movie… ever!

In that same DVD commentary I mentioned above, Jack Lemmon talked of the lasting friendships he forged while making Mister Roberts, how he remained close friends with Fonda, Powell, and Cagney for the remainder of their lives. He credits the three with teaching him about screen acting (though a veteran of television dating back to 1949, Mister Roberts was only Lemmon’s fourth big-screen appearance). He couldn’t have had three better instructors, and based on what he would accomplish in the years that followed, they obviously taught him well.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, November 27, 2022

#2,869. The Red House (1947) - Edward G. Robinson Triple Feature


A suspenseful, sometimes spooky film noir, The Red House weaves an intriguing story that, from time to time, will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing at attention.

For years, farmer Pete Morgan (Edward G. Robinson) and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson) have been raising Meg (Allene Roberts), who was orphaned as a child when her parents died under mysterious circumstances. With Pete’s bum leg acting up, Meg recommends they hire Nath Storm (Lon McCallister), a classmate of hers, to help out around the farm.

Reluctant at first, Pete eventually agrees, though he warns Nath to stay out of the surrounding woods. Pete insists both the forest and the red house in the center of it are haunted.

Heading home one night, Nath takes a shortcut through the woods, only to be overcome with fear. Instead of scaring him off, this experience piques Nath’s curiosity, and with Meg’s help he explores the forest, all the while closing in on a terrible secret that, once revealed, could tear Pete’s world apart.

Director Delmer Daves gets our skin crawling early on when Nath, ignoring Pete’s warnings about the forest and its “screams in the night”, cuts through the woods on his way home. It’s a harrowing journey, to say the least. With Pete’s words fresh in his mind, Nath shrinks from every shadow, and is convinced he does, indeed, hear screams on the wind. Punctuated by Miklos Rozsa’s booming score, it’s a creepy sequence, and does its part to build the mystery that will steer the first half of the film.

The Red House also features, in its initial scenes, a love triangle of sorts. Meg clearly has a crush on Nath, though he’s already dating their flirtatious classmate Tibby (Julie London). Complicating matters further is the fact that Teller (Rory Calhoun), who Pete hired to keep trespassers out of the forest, has the hots for Tibby! Both the mystery of the woods and these relationships will sort themselves out well before the final act.

And yet Daves and especially Edward G. Robinson still manage to keep us unnerved throughout the remainder of the film by taking the focus off of the haunted forest and putting it on Pete Walker himself. We sense early on that Pete’s love for Meg borders on obsession, and as the story plays out, we see just how deep his fixation runs, making the film’s final sequences more unsettling than anything that came before them. Pete has even taken to calling Meg “Jeannie”, and looking at her as if she was someone else entirely.

Robinson handles these scenes perfectly, taking Pete from the overprotective caretaker of the film’s first half to its villain without any major shift in his personality, building to a finale that is both dark and, ultimately, satisfying.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, November 25, 2022

#2,868. Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) - Edward G. Robinson Triple Feature


Director John Farrow’s 1948 movie Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a unique film noir in that it blends elements of the supernatural into the mix.

As the story opens, socialite Jean Courtland (Gail Russell) is in a railway yard about to commit suicide when she is saved by her fiancée Elliot Carson (John Lund). The two make their way to a nearby restaurant, where they meet John Triton (Edward G. Robinson), a psychic who inadvertently caused Jean’s suicide attempt by telling her she would be dead within the week.

Triton then gives the young couple a brief history of his life. Twenty years earlier, he and his fiancé Jenny (Virginia Bruce), with the help of their good friend Court (Jerome Cowan), had a stage act in which Triton would pretend to tell people’s fortunes, only to realize he could, at times, actually see into the future. Frightened by this power, Triton left Jenny and cut himself off from the world.

When Triton disappeared, Jenny married Court, and had one child: Jean! In an effort to save the daughter of the two most important people in his life, Triton came out of hiding to help alter the future and prevent Jean’s death. But when a skeptical Elliot drags the police into it, Triton finds his efforts to save Jean may be over before they can begin.

From the word “go”, Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a mesmerizing motion picture. The opening scene in the railway yard is perfectly staged, with Farrow and his director of Photography John F. Seitz utilizing darkness and shadows to get the movie off to an eerie start. From there, it becomes the Edward G. Robinson show, with the actor narrating his character’s flashback scenes, where we witness not only his uncanny ability to see into the future (during his stage show, he tells a young mother her son is in danger, and she should rush home to save him), but the negative impact it has had on his life (Triton is convinced that it was him seeing into the future that ultimately caused the terrible events he predicted; had he not seen them, they may not have happened).

The second half of Night Has a Thousand Eyes, in which Triton, Jean, Elliot, and police lieutenant Shawn (the always entertaining William Demarest) are holed up in Jean’s estate, hoping to avert the catastrophe that Triton predicted, is not quite as engaging as the film’s initial scenes. Still, they are entertaining enough, and by the time it is over Night Has a Thousand Eyes proved a near-perfect blend of fantasy and film noir, and is a movie that fans of classic cinema won’t want to miss.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

#2,867. Scarlet Street (1945) - Edward G. Robinson Triple Feature


The man behind such classics as Metropolis and M, Fritz Lang fled Germany in 1933 when Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels tried to make him the head of the German film studio UFA. After a brief stop in France, Lang settled in Hollywood, where he eventually found his niche in film noir. Along with turning out such noted titles as Hangmen Also Die and The Big Heat, Lang produced and directed Scarlet Street, an edgy, oh-so-dark drama / thriller starring Edward G. Robinson as full-time cashier and wannabe artist Christopher Cross.

As the movie opens, mild-mannered Chris is the guest of honor at a party celebrating his 25th year with the same firm. While walking home that evening, Chris spots a man on a street corner beating up a woman. Chris rushes over and hits the attacker over the head with his umbrella, at which point the man runs off. Chris then offers to walk the woman, whose name is Kitty Marsh (Joan Bennett), home.

Trapped in a loveless marriage to his shrew of a wife Adele (Rosalind Ivan), Chris eventually develops feelings for the much younger Kitty, who claims she is an actress. What Chris doesn’t know is that Kitty is actually a prostitute, and the guy who was hitting her is her pimp / boyfriend Johnny Prince (Dan Duryea).

Believing Chris is a wealthy artist, Johnny convinces Kitty to hit him up for money. Though he himself has very little, Chris doesn’t want to disappoint the new love of his life, so he steals cash from both Adele and his company just to keep Kitty happy.

Johnny even sells some of Chris’s paintings (which he had left with Kitty) to a street vendor, where they eventually catch the eye of a famous art dealer. Impressed, the dealer seeks out the artist, which leads him to Johnny and Kitty. Seeing an opportunity to make a small fortune, Kitty takes credit for the paintings, and soon has everyone in town believing she is a talented artist. But what will happen when Chris finds out?

Lang and his screenwriter Dudley Nichols approach the story at the center of Scarlet Street in an intriguing manner. At the outset, we’re introduced to Chris, who, as played (wonderfully) by Robinson, is kindly but meek. His wife forces him to paint in the bathroom because she can’t stand the smell, and makes Chris do all of the housework. Desperate and lonely, it won’t take much for Chris to fall in love with another woman, and that is exactly what happens when he meets Kitty.

Once their “relationship” is established, the movie shifts its focus, centering a fair portion of its middle act on Kitty and Johnny, and their plans to continue bilking poor Chris out of money he doesn’t have. Dan Duryea has always been a great screen villain, playing the heavy in westerns like Winchester ’73 and Silver Lode, and his portrayal of Johnny in Scarlet Street is no exception. A smooth talker who isn’t above slapping Kitty around, Duryea is positively loathsome as Johnny.

Equal to Duryea every step of the way is Joan Bennett, who, even when she’s pretending to fall in love with Chris, is a little rough around the edges. When playing up to Chris, Bennett’s Kitty is always the stronger of the two, the one in complete control. And the more time we spend with Kitty and Johnny, the more we dislike them, and hope they eventually get their just desserts.

The final half hour of Scarlet Street is chock full of plot twists and revelations, including one about Adele’s first husband that will knock your socks off. But as surprising as its story can be, the last act is also incredibly dark, with moments that, especially at the very end, border on psychological horror.

Bleak, tragic, and very, very engaging, Scarlet Street is one hell of a film noir.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Monday, November 21, 2022

#2,866. Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969) - Peter O'Toole Triple Feature


By the time MGM released Goodbye Mr. Chips in 1969, big-budget musicals were already on their way out. But that didn’t stop the studio from giving this movie their all. With scenes shot on-location in Italy and England, combined with first-time director Herbert Ross’s grand approach to the material (there are sweeping helicopter shots and one or two large-scale song-and-dance numbers), Goodbye Mr. Chips received the “epic” treatment, complete with an entr’acte and Intermission.

It was undoubtedly an expensive film to make. And it’s a shame, too, because most of that expense wasn’t even necessary. When you think back on this movie, you won’t remember the picturesque landscapes of Pompeii, or the oft-tired musical sequences. The heart and soul of Goodbye Mr. Chips lies in the chemistry between stars Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark, and on that level – and that level alone – it is a smashing success.

Opening in 1924 and concluding in the days just after World War II, Goodbye Mr. Chips relates the unlikely romance that blossoms between Brookfield public school’s Latin teacher Arthur Chipping (O’Toole) and showgirl Katherine Bridges (Clark). A novice at romance, Chipping can’t understand why a woman as exuberant and outgoing as Katherine would ever fall in love with him. But she does, and before long the two are married.

Wedded bliss proved hard to come by in the early days. Katherine’s “questionable” past (she was romantically linked to a number of young men during her stage career) caused quite a stir, with Brookfield’s chief financial donor Lord Sutterwick (George Baker) threatening to withdraw his support if Katherine was permitted to reside on school grounds. But Chipping stood by his wife, who, as the years progressed, became quite popular with the boys of Brookfield.

With WWII looming on the horizon, Chipping (now called “Chip”) and Katherine do what they can to maintain the status quo at Brookfield. But the war will prove more costly than either of them could have ever known.

Goodbye Mr. Chips has the look and feel of a “big” film. The Italian sequences are gorgeously shot, and the musical number that first introduces us to Clark’s Katherine, a rousing, patriotic sequence titled “London is London”, is well-staged. In fact, “London is London” is one of only two songs that I actually liked, the other being “When I Am Older”, a humorous montage performed by the boys of Brookfield, imagining a time when they will finally be free of the school’s strict regulations.

Ultimately, Goodbye Mr. Chips is a flashy, large-scale movie that tells a small, intimate story, and its ambitious presentation might have easily overpowered it had it not been for O’Toole and Clark. This movie works because we believe “Chip” and Katherine are truly in love, and watching their relationship develop over time is the film’s single greatest attribute.

O’Toole, who has always been one of my favorite actors, is perfectly believable as both the boring, stiff Mr. Chipping in the film’s opening scenes and the man in love who dominates the second half. The surprise, though, is the marvelous performance delivered by singer Petula Clark, who even manages to steal a few scenes from her more experienced co-star; she owns the entire Italy sequence, and the scene where she breaks into tears after Chipping explains why he loves being a teacher had me tearing up as well.

As a big-screen epic, Goodbye Mr. Chips leaves a lot to be desired. As a screen romance, it’s a winner through and through.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Sunday, November 20, 2022

#2,865. The Ruling Class (1972) - Peter O'Toole Triple Feature


Peter O’Toole was nominated for Best Actor eight times by the Academy. He never won it.

Occasionally, it was just bad timing. O’Toole was brilliant in Lawrence of Arabia, but then so was Gregory Peck, who won the Oscar that year for To Kill a Mockingbird; and his superb turn in 1980’s The Stunt Man saw O'Toole pitted against Robert De Niro, whose Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (the winning performance) is one of that decade’s most remarkable turns.

There were also times when O’Toole was robbed. Rex Harrison, who won the 1965 Oscar for My Fair Lady, was quite good, but not nearly as strong as O’Toole in Becket. An even bigger travesty occurred a few years later, when O’Toole was again nominated for playing King Henry II, this time in The Lion in Winter, only to lose to Cliff Robertson… for Charley!

O’Toole was remarkable in all of these films, as well as 1969’s Goodbye Mr. Chips and 1982’s My Favorite Year, for which he was also nominated.

His greatest screen performance, however, would come in 1972’s The Ruling Class, a biting satire directed by Peter Medak in which O’Toole played one role - aka: Jack, the 14th Earl of Gurney - but what amounted to two separate characters. As the movie opens, Jack, who has spent seven years in a psychiatric clinic, believes he is Jesus Christ, the God of Love. Then, near the film’s halfway point, he is “cured”, and suddenly believes he is a different “Jack” altogether!

Following the bizarre and untimely death of his father (Harry Andrews), Jack, 14th Earl of Gurney, is named sole heir of the Gurney estate. This does not sit well with the rest of the clan - Jack’s uncles Sir Charles (William Mervyn) and Bishop Lampton (Alistair Sim); Sir Charles’ wife Lady Claire (Coral Browne); and their son Dinsdale (James Villiers) - because Jack is stark-raving mad! Convinced he is Jesus Christ, preaching peace and love, Jack could ruin the Gurney family’s proud legacy if his condition is ever made public.

In an effort to secure another male heir, a marriage is arranged between Jack and Grace Shelley (Carolyn Seymour), Sir Charles’ mistress. Once a male child is born, the Gurneys, with the help of Jack’s psychiatrist Dr. Herder (Michael Bryant), will have Jack locked away for good.

But before their plan can come to fruition, a few things happen that might just alter Jack’s fate. For starters, Grace, who initially was in it for the money and title, falls in love with Jack. Second, Dr. Herder, with the help of another patient who calls himself the “High Voltage Messiah” (Nigel Green), manages to convince Jack that he is not the Christ. While on the road to recovery, Jack has an epiphany. He is, indeed, Jack. But not the 14th Earl of Gurney. No, he is Jack the Ripper reborn, and heaven help anyone who gets in his way!

Based on a stage play by Peter Barnes (who also penned the screenplay), The Ruling Class, is, first and foremost, a comedy. O’Toole is hilarious early on as the “God of Love”, looking every bit the savior as he makes us laugh time and again with his witty asides. Lady Claire asks him at one point how he knows he’s God, to which Jack replies “Simple. When I pray to him, I find I am talking to myself”. Also getting his share of laughs is the Gurney’s longtime servant Tucker (Arthur Lowe), who, after inheriting £30,000 in the 13th Earl’s will, no longer gives a damn, and tells the Gurneys time and again exactly what he thinks of them.

Alistair Sim is quite good as the man of God put in a difficult position; the scene in which he officiates at Jack’s and Grace’s wedding ceremony, all the while lamenting Jack’s “sacrilegious” behavior, is hilarious. Taking potshots at the upper class time and again, showing how ridiculous propriety can be under certain circumstances, The Ruling Class will have you in stitches.

In addition, the film is (at least in part) a toe-tapping musical. With numbers that center on such time-honored tunes as “Varsity Drag” and “Dem Bones” (a sequence as unsettling as it is humorous), The Ruling Class never fails to entertain.

O’Toole is marvelous as both the kind, loving “Messiah” and the murderous aristocrat, with these two facets of his personality bringing into focus the film’s very cryptic, yet also hilarious take on the upper class. Preach about peace and love, and you are a fruitcake, while extolling the virtues of capital punishment (which he does as the “Second Jack”) brings one back into the fold with the greatest of ease.

O’Toole was nominated for Best Actor for his dual Jacks in The Ruling Class, but had the misfortune of going up against Marlon Brando, whose Don Corleone in The Godfather has become one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history. He never did capture that top prize (he was given an honorary Oscar in 2003 for his lifetime of work), yet Peter O’Toole remains one of the greatest actors to ever grace the big screen, and The Ruling Class sees him at the very top of his game.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Saturday, November 19, 2022

#2,864. Becket (1964) - Peter O'Toole Triple Feature


In 1968, Peter O’Toole played England’s King Henry II in The Lion in Winter, a movie I adore. In that award-winning film, O’Toole’s Henry was a force of nature, an older but strong and able-bodied king whose sole purpose was to secure the throne for his chosen successor.

Produced four years earlier, in 1964, director Peter Glenville’s Becket takes us to an earlier point in Henry’s reign, when he was younger, more inexperienced. Played, as in that later film, by Peter O’Toole, Becket reveals that it was Henry’s friendship with good friend Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) that shaped him into the king he would eventually become.

Based on a stage play by French dramatist Jean Anouilh, Becket is set in the latter half of the 12th century, when King Henry II (O’Toole) and his close comrade Thomas Becket (Burton) spend their days hunting, drinking, and cavorting with women. When a quarrel with the church over taxation reaches an impasse, Henry appoints the learned Becket as his Chancellor, despite the fact he’s a Saxon (Henry and the other nobles, as well as the bishops and leaders of the church, are all Normans).

While in France fighting the armies of King Louis (John Gielgud), Henry receives a dispatch that the Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer) has died. In an effort to finally bring the church under his control, Henry names Becket the new Archbishop. Though reluctant at first, Becket eventually embraces his new role, and, staying true to the position, sides with the church over Henry.

Though angry, Henry still harbors a deep love for his old friend, and is genuinely heartbroken when Becket (who Henry tried to prosecute on a false charge of embezzlement) flees England for a private meeting with the Pope (Paolo Stoppa). It’s when Becket returns home, however, that a tragedy occurs, a series of events that will forever change King Henry II and, indeed, England itself.

Much as he did in The Lion in Winter, O’Toole’s Henry bellows and huffs through a fair portion of Becket, hurling insults at his mother the Empress (Martita Hunt), his wife Eleanor (Pamela Brown), and even his son and intended successor (Riggs O’Hara). When he’s in Thomas Becket’s company, however, the king seems much happier, enjoying their adventures together. It’s clear that Henry also respects Thomas, despite the fact he is a Saxon, and considered inferior to the Normans. He seeks Becket’s advice on all matters, and takes joy in raising him in rank, much to the annoyance of those around him.

Already familiar with O’Toole’s interpretation of Henry II in The Lion in Winter, it was interesting to see this earlier take on the character, when the king was not only rough around the edges, but also inexperienced. Henry is still strong-willed and prone to fits of rage, but time and again Becket keeps him in line, offering sound advice every step of the way. When the two have a falling out, it’s Henry who suffers, unable to cope with the loss of his dear friend. It drives him to despair. O’Toole masterfully conveys all aspects of Henry’s personality; his strengths, his weaknesses, his joy, anger, and heartbreak.

Alas, Burton doesn’t fare quite as well as O’Toole, though I don’t think his performance is the problem (I get a sense the issue lies either with the original play or Edward Anhalt’s script). From the early scenes, where Becket is the king’s friend and confidant, to later, when, as the archbishop, he finds God and becomes pious (almost insufferably so), the character is just never that interesting. When together, Burton and O’Toole are wonderful; an early scene in which Henry and Becket face off against a delegation of church leaders is well-executed and highly entertaining. But those moments when the film focuses on Becket alone aren’t nearly as appealing, and I found myself longing for O’Toole to once again take center stage.

Stylistically, Becket and The Lion in Winter couldn’t be more different. Becket is a big-budget affair with an epic sensibility, whereas The Lion in Winter is more intimate, a showcase for its performers rather than their surroundings. Still, I would highly recommend a double feature of both films, which together provide an amazing character arc for a man who has gone down in history as one of England’s finest monarchs.

And as far as I’m concerned, Peter O’Toole was born to play Henry II. Watch these two films and you’ll never picture anyone else in the role.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Thursday, November 17, 2022

#2,863. Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) - Burt Reynolds Triple Feature


You go into Smokey and the Bandit II, Hal Needham’s follow-up to his runaway 1977 hit, expecting more of the same.

No, check that; you go into this 1980 movie hoping for more of the same. Smokey and the Bandit was a box office smash because it was a fun little movie, with Burt Reynolds playing what would prove to be his most iconic character. The fact that Needham and company were able to reassemble the cast from the original, and throw in Dom DeLuise as well, gave me hope that this entry would be as entertaining as the first.

And it is… in spurts. Occasionally very, very short spurts.

Some time has passed since the events of Smokey and the Bandit. Frog (Sally Field) has left the Bandit (Reynolds), who, to get over his heartbreak, is drinking large quantities of beer. When Big Enos (Pat McCormick) and Little Enos (Paul Williams) offer a boatload of money for the Bandit to make another run, his longtime friend and traveling partner The Snowman (Jerry Reed) sobers Bandit up, and even convinces Frog to tag along on yet another adventure.

Of course, for Frog to do so, she will once again have to leave Junior (Mike Henry), son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), standing at the altar (she agreed to finally marry him). Sheriff Justice, who is as ornery as ever, hasn’t forgotten how the Bandit humiliated him, and vows to finally apprehend his arch nemesis.

But Bandit, Frog and Snowman will have more on their plate than a Smokey in “hot pursuit”; it turns out the cargo they’ve been hired to drive from Miami to Texas is a 4-ton Elephant named Charlotte! And what’s more, she’s pregnant!

With an Italian gynecologist (DeLuise) looking after the elephant, they load her into Snowman’s truck and head for Texas. But will they make it before Charlotte gives birth?

Getting the original cast back together is one of Smokey and The Bandit II’s strongest points. Reynolds gets to do more than just drive and crack jokes this time out. He plays drunk in the opening scenes (quite well, actually), and even stretches his character a bit, hoping to complete this run not for the money, but to re-establish his standing as a folk hero. In fact, the very reason Frog left him in the first place was that his ego was out of control. Jerry Reed is also solid as Snowman, and occasionally acts as Bandit’s conscience, trying to convince him not to push so hard.

As for Sally Field’s reappearance as Frog, it raises a number of questions. Like, why did she go back to Junior? And if her break-up with Bandit was as hard on her as she says, why did she quickly agree to ride along with him again? Yes, there’s the money… Snowman offered her a piece of the take. But still…. (that said, it’s good to have her back all the same).

Stealing the show, however, is Jackie Gleason, who not only gets more screen time in the sequel, but plays two additional characters as well: Sheriff Justice’s brothers, Reggie and Gaylord, both of whom are also officers of the law. Buford’s steady stream of insults, mostly hurled at his son Junior, are a laugh riot. Also turning up in cameos are real-life NFL legends Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, and Joe Klecko (playing themselves) and some country music stars as well, including the Statler Brothers and Don Williams, all of whom perform during the film. Speaking of music, Jerry Reed’s opening tune this time around, "Texas Bound and Flying", is not as good as the first film’s "Eastbound and Down", but it’s kinda catchy all the same.

Throw in a finale involving dozens of cars and about as many trucks, all smashing into each other in the middle of a desert, and you have a movie that certainly has its moments.

There just aren’t enough of them, unfortunately. Dom DeLuise gets a few laughs as the doctor with the stereotypical accent, but he never cuts loose like we know he can, and his character doesn’t develop beyond said stereotype. In addition, the party atmosphere that worked so well in Smokey and the Bandit (and, later, The Cannonball Run), where it felt as if we the audience were personally invited to what looked like a very good time had by cast and crew, falls flat in this movie, resulting in a number of scenes that either come up short or are far too silly. The recurring storyline of Charlotte the elephant having a crush on the Bandit is more groan-inducing than funny.

In the final round-up, I can’t decide if Smokey and the Bandit II was a fun movie with some major weaknesses, or a failure that occasionally hits the mark. By default, that makes it a middle of the road entry in Needham’s filmography, not as good as the first Smokey and the Bandit or Hooper, but not nearly as bad as Cannonball Run II or Stroker Ace. I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it wholeheartedly, but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid Smokey and the Bandit II either.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

#2,862. The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973) - Burt Reynolds Triple Feature


The production of 1973’s The Man Who loved Cat Dancing was rocked by a major scandal. After spending the evening of February 10th with members of the cast and crew, all of whom had gone out to celebrate star Burt Reynolds’ birthday, co-star Sarah Miles returned to her hotel room, where her personal assistant / lover David Whiting was waiting for her.

Bitter that he wasn’t invited and convinced she was having an affair with Reynolds, Whiting instigated an argument with Miles, and, according to reports, struck her several times. Injured, Miles rushed off to Reynolds’ room, who, seeing the condition she was in, allegedly went to have a “chat” with David Whiting.

The next morning, Whiting’s lifeless body was found lying in a pool of blood. The official cause of death would be listed as a drug overdose, with the consensus being that Whiting fell into a table before dying (thus all the blood). But some investigators on the scene felt that didn’t add up, and the pill bottles strewn across the room may have been planted there after the fact. According to one law enforcement official who was part of the initial investigation, "It appears, from the crime scene, Reynolds arrived at the room and had a brief scuffle with Mr. Whiting, a scuffle that turned deadly. All the signs point to Reynolds being involved."

MGM, the studio financing the film, fought to keep both Miles and Reynolds from testifying at the inquest, claiming it would cost them a small fortune if production was delayed any further. Did MGM initiate a cover-up to protect their star? Was Burt Reynolds responsible for the death of David Whiting? Seeing as nearly 50 years have passed - as has Burt Reynolds - we may never know the truth.

But as tragic as this event was, it’s equally sad that it has tarnished what is an otherwise superb motion picture, a well-paced, beautifully shot western / romance that features strong performances by Reynolds, Miles, and, indeed, the entire supporting cast.

As the movie opens, Jay Grobart (Reynolds), a former army captain, is about to rob a train carrying $100,000 in cash. With the help of his gang: Dawes (Jack Warden), Billy Bowen (Bo Hopkins), and a native American named Charlie Bent (Jay Varela), the hold-up is a success. But there’s one small hitch: socialite Catherine Crocker (Miles), who was running away from her wealthy, domineering husband Willard (George Hamilton), witnessed the entire robbery.

Not willing to take chances, Grobart and the others kidnap Catherine and bring her along as they attempt to outrun railroad detective Harvey Lapchance (Lee J. Cobb) and his posse, who are hot on their trail. Joined by Willard Crocker, who is anxious to retrieve his wife, Lapchance and his team tirelessly pursue the thieves, knowing full well where Grobart is heading, and what he intends to do with his share of the money.

To further complicate matters, Catherine finds herself falling in love with Grobart. She is hoping beyond hope that he will somehow evade capture, and the two of them will live happily ever after.

Despite its story of a gang of train robbers on the run, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing has an almost lyrical quality to it, a somber, even poetic feel that director Richard C. Sarafian maintains through much of the movie. Even when events threaten to turn violent, like when Billy tries to rape Catherine, or Grobart and Dawes face off against one another, the film maintains its solemn tone.

Part of the reason this approach works is the character of Jay Grobart, played so well by Burt Reynolds. Despite being a thief, Grobart has a set of principles he lives by, and when his cohorts get out of line, he is there to “correct” them; he does what he can to keep Catherine safe during their getaway. Matching Reynolds every step of the way is Sarah Miles, whose Catherine is also on the run. Their chemistry is tangible, and the eventual romance that develops between the two seems a foregone conclusion.

Warden is also good as the loathesome Dawes, while Bo Hopkins manages to both piss us off and garner our sympathy as the story unfolds. Toss in the amazing cinematography of Harry Stradling Jr., who makes the most of the film’s picturesque locales (it was shot on-location in Utah and Arizona), and you have a movie that is every bit as beautiful as it is engaging.

Alas, with all the controversy surrounding it, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing has never garnered the praise or attention it deserves. Even Reynolds himself was reluctant to discuss the movie. “There’s nothing to talk about in Cat Dancing except that it brings me pain”, he would tell critic Gene Siskel during a 1976 interview, adding “So I’d rather not talk about it”.

And that’s a damn shame.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, November 13, 2022

#2,861. Fuzz (1972) - Burt Reynolds Triple Feature


Burt Reynolds gets top billing in director Richard A Colla’s Fuzz, but it’s actually an ensemble piece with a number of great actors, all doing their part to make this crime / comedy a rip-roaring good time.

It’s business as usual in Boston’s 87th precinct. Plain-clothes detective Steve Carella (Reynolds) goes undercover to catch the punk (or punks) setting the city’s homeless on fire. Det. Eileen McHenry (Raquel Welch), the newest member of the crew, is on assignment to track down a rapist. And both Meyer Meyer (Jack Weston) and Bert Kling (Tom Skerritt) field calls from a potential assassin, who threatens to kill a city councilman if $5,000 isn’t turned over to him immediately. Tempting fate by making a fake drop and staking out the area, the entire 87th finds themselves in hot water when the councilman is, indeed, shot dead on the streets.

Known only as the “Deaf Man” (Yul Brynner) because he wears a hearing aid, this killer continues to call, demanding more money and threatening higher officials every time. With the entire city on alert, the detectives of the 87th put in extra time to crack the case, but will need more than a little luck if they’re to bring this killer to justice.

Based loosely on the 87th Precinct novels written by Evan Hunter (under the pseudonym Ed McBain), Fuzz is, at times, a very funny movie. As established in its opening scene, the 87th is being painted by two guys from the Department of Public Works (Gino Conforti and Gerald Hiken), who are dropping green paint everywhere, and on everyone. Even funnier is the second stake-out to catch the assassin, where Burt Reynolds and Jack Weston go undercover as a couple of nuns while Welch and Skerritt, posing as lovers in a sleeping bag, almost let a potential suspect slip away when they can’t unzip the damn thing!

What makes the comedy in Fuzz so effective is that it’s always played straight. Director Colla shoots the film as if it was a standard police procedural, using overlapping dialogue and hand-held cameras to give it a realistic vibe. The scenes set inside the precinct especially benefit from this approach, and look as if they might have been lifted from The French Connection or TV’s Hill Street Blues.

While the scenes involving the detectives have a humorous bent, those featuring Brynner’s assassin and his cohorts (Peter Bonerz and Cal Bellini) are deadly serious. In one of the film’s strongest sequences, we tag along with the trio as they plant a bomb in the mayor’s mansion.

In any other movie, these shifts from comedy to drama and back again may have seemed jarring, but in Fuzz they work because the cast and crew approach the story so seriously. And while the grand finale is definitely contrived (in more ways than one), it somehow works, bringing the movie to a satisfying (if hard to swallow) conclusion.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, November 11, 2022

#2,860. Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989) - Kino Lorber Releases


Soft music plays as the film’s opening credits, elegant and ornate, flash against a red velvet backdrop. It feels like the start of a soap opera.

But Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills was written and directed by Paul Bartel, the creative mind behind such irreverent comedies as Eating Raoul and Lust in the Dust. This 1989 movie may look classy out of the gate, but how long will it remain that way?

Not very long!

The setting (obviously) is Beverly Hills, California. Claire (Jacqueline Bisset), a former sitcom star and recent widow, lives in a posh mansion with her teenage daughter Zandra (Rebecca Schaeffer) and her servants, Rosa (Edith Diaz) and Juan (Robert Beltran). Claire’s next-door neighbor and good friend, the newly-divorced Lisabeth (Mary Woronov) is having her mansion fumigated, and she and her entourage, including her terminally ill son Willie (Barret Oliver) and houseboy Frank (Ray Starkey), will be staying at Claire’s until the work is finished.

Joining them are Lisabeth’s playwright brother Peter (Ed Begley Jr.) and Peter’s new wife, To-Bel (Arnetia Walker), who have known each other a week and were hitched two days earlier in Las Vegas. Also popping in from time-to-time are Claire’s nutritionist Dr. Mo (Bartel) and his dog Bojangles; Lisabeth’s sorrowful ex-husband Howard (Wallace Shawn); and the spirit of Claire’s deceased husband Sidney (Paul Mazursky), who, though he ignored her in life, wants another shot at romance now that he’s in the great beyond!

The story kicks off with Juan and Frank making a bet with one another: who will be the first to bed the other’s employer? Frank, a smooth talker who is already sleeping with Zandra, puts the moves on Claire while the more reserved Juan musters up the courage to flirt with Lisabeth. But like any soap opera, there is a lot more to it than that, with secrets, infidelities and deceptions aplenty.

Bartel assembled a dream cast for Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, and all are wonderful in their parts. Beltran is strong as Juan, one of the film’s few likable characters and a role that essentially makes him the lead. He needs $5,000 to pay off his loan shark (Jerry Tondo), and Frank has offered to front him the money if he wins the bet (I’ll leave it for you to discover what Frank gets if he wins). But while Frank has turned seduction into an art form, Juan doesn’t have it in him, and his attempts to woo Lisabeth are, at times, clumsy.

As for the rest of the film’s colorful characters, you’ll need a scorecard to figure out who is sleeping with who, and when. Though married to Peter, To-Bel gets around, and is hiding a couple of secrets from her new husband. But then Peter is no saint, and puts the moves on Claire the minute the two of them are alone.

Written by Bruce Wagner (from a story by he and Bartel), Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills is, at all times, a witty satire of television soap operas, with lines that will have you laughing out loud. Returning home from the funeral for Sidney, who died of auto-erotic asphyxiation while cheating on her, Claire says, matter-of-factly, to Dr. Mo “It’s finally over. Sidney Lipkin Companies have completed their much-awaited merger with Mother Earth, Inc. That should give the sagging maggot industry an instantaneous boost in the arm”.

Yet, as unlikable as just about every character (with one or two exceptions) can be in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, we do eventually develop a sort of affection for them (some of them, anyway), and look forward to discovering which characters will have a happy ending, and which will be left out to dry. And much like the movie itself, the answers will both surprise you and make you laugh.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

#2,859. The Quest (1986) - Kino Lorber Releases


Also released as Frog Dreaming, 1986’s The Quest gets off to an exciting start. A drunken Neville (Peter Cummins) is fishing in a small pond. There is no dialogue whatsoever. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith instead provides a quick montage of the surrounding environment, aka frogs, snakes, even the wind, all building to a tense, frightening moment when bubbles begin to rise from the middle of the pond, sending a nervous Neville scurrying for the shoreline. Once safely ashore, Neville turns around to see what looks like a monster rising from the depths!

The action then switches to young Cody, played by Henry Thomas, as he attempts to break a speed record on his bike. Using a contraption that attaches it to a railway line, Cody pedals as fast as he can, with most of the town there rooting him on. He does manage to beat the record, but his brakes fail. He careens down a hill and comes to a crashing stop.

At this point in The Quest, we haven’t been properly introduced to the characters, and know very little of the story. But Trenchard-Smith and screenwriter Everett De Roche (who also penned Patrick, Long Weekend, and Razorback) have already conjured up plenty of excitement to grab our attention.

And there’s more where that came from!

Born in America but adopted (unofficially) by Gaza (Tony Barry) when his parents died, Cody is a daredevil, a kid who is addicted to adventure. Joined one afternoon by his friend (and love interest) Wendy (Rachel Friend) as well as Wendy’s little sister Jane (Tamsin West), Cody leads the two to a place called Devil’s Knob, where he stumbles upon Neville’s pond from the opening scene. The three also notice the bubbles, and, eventually, even spot the monster. They also discover the decaying remains of poor Neville!

Though warned by the authorities to stay away from the area, and despite the protests of Jane’s parents (Dennis Miller and Katy Manning), Cody and his friends continue to investigate the mysteries of the pond, which the Aborigines believe is haunted by a creature known as a “Donkegin”. Determined to solve this mystery, Cody seeks out an Aborigine known as Charley Pride (Dempsey Knight), who knows more about the area, and the Donkegin, than anyone alive

As he did with 1983’s BMX Bandits, Trenchard-Smith proves with The Quest that he is a natural at turning out family adventures. The story is never dull, and there are plenty of thrills (and even a few scares) to keep the kids entertained.

It dose seem a bit odd that Henry Thomas, a few years removed from his star-making turn in Spielberg’s E.T., played the lead in what is an otherwise very Australian movie, and it didn’t help matters that his performance was a bit flat at times. Cody is a free-spirit, a daredevil who faces every challenge head-on, yet Thomas appears bored in several scenes, and is often overshadowed by Friend and West, who are strong as the sisters that tag along with him. There are moments when Thomas does come alive, especially in the last act (when he needed to), but he is the weak link in an otherwise solid cast.

Shot on-location in Victoria, including scenes set at the Moorooduc Quarry Flora and Fauna Reserve in Mount Eliza, Trenchard-Smith and director of Photography John R. McLean manage to make the film’s setting feel like a character all its own. I especially liked the garage where Cody and Gaza reside, which features a few surprises for anyone who visits unannounced.

The picturesque landscape, along with the film’s solid pacing and an intriguing central mystery (is there really a monster in the pond?), make The Quest a winner, and, despite a scene or two that might frighten very young children, is a film the kids are sure to love!
Rating: 8 out of 10

Monday, November 7, 2022

#2,858. Iceman (1984) - Kino Lorber Releases


The opening scenes of Fred Schepisi’s Iceman feel as if they were lifted from John Carpenter’s The Thing. Something has been found in the ice, and is flown by helicopter back to an arctic base, where a team of wise-ass researchers banter back and forth, trying to determine exactly what it is they’ve uncovered.

According to anthropologist Stanley Shepherd (Timothy Hutton), it’s a neanderthal man, frozen some 40,000 years ago. While running tests to see if any of his cells survived the freezing process, Dr. Diane Brady (Lindsey Crouse) and her team, including Whitman (Josef Sommer), Dr. Vermeil (Philip Akin), Loomis (Danny Glover), and surgeon Singe (David Straithaim), make a startling discovery: this neanderthal (played by John Lone) is not only a perfect specimen, but can actually be revived!

Placed in a habitat so they can study his behavior, the prehistoric man eventually realizes his situation, at which point Shepherd, who nicknamed the neanderthal “Charlie”, attempts to communicate with him. But how long will Shepherd and the others have access to Charlie before medical science gets its hands on him?

There are a number of well-directed, perfectly paced sequences scattered throughout Iceman. The initial thawing, which brings us to the edge of our seats, is immediately followed by another exciting scene, when the amazed researchers actually bring their subject back to life. Another great sequence occurs late in the film, when Charlie, left unsupervised, makes his way out of the habitat and into the research facility. Schepisi expertly directs his entire walk, during which Charlie encounters everything from a mirror to automatic sliding doors.

Filling the gap nicely between these “big” scenes are Shepherd’s efforts to communicate with the very confused Charlie, with Hutton turning in a fine performance as the scientist who takes a personal interest in his subject’s well-being.

Standing above all else, though, is John Lone as Charlie; he is jaw-droppingly amazing! Even when we don’t understand Charlie’s guttural grunts, we can see, in Lone’s eyes, exactly what he is feeling. The actor perfectly conveys his character’s every thought and emotion, even the primitive ones, and it’s watching Lone’s performance that makes Iceman such an engaging motion picture.

The film does stagger a bit when it comes to revealing what will happen to Charlie once he leaves the habitat. Will he be subjected to experiments? Will he be dissected? Will they find him an apartment in Anchorage and help him land a job? It’s never really explained. But in a movie as strong as Iceman, this is a minor quibble, and watching Schepisi and Lone do their thing is alone worth the price of admission.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Saturday, November 5, 2022

#2,857. Crossed Swords (1977) - Kino Lorber Releases


I will set down a tale…
it may be history, it may be only a legend, a tradition.
It may have happened. It may not have happened.
But it could have happened

Producer Alexander Salkind and director Richard Fleischer assemble an all-star cast for 1977’s Crossed Swords, a retelling of Mark Twain’s classic story The Prince and the Pauper.

A chance meeting between peasant Tom Canty (Mark Lester) and Edward, Prince of Wales (also played by Lester) results in the two, who look identical to one another, exchanging clothes. Edward had been looking for a costume for a palace masquerade ball, and feels that Tom’s ragged outfit would be a perfect disguise. But instead, the palace guards mistake Edward for a commoner and have him removed from the castle. Frightened and out of his element, Tom finds himself thrust into the role of heir apparent to the throne of England!

With the help of mercenary Miles Henden (Oliver Reed), Edward tries desperately to convince the world he is, in fact, the prince. His situation becomes even more precarious when Henry VIII (Charlton Heston) dies, and all of England prepares for the upcoming coronation of his successor. If Edward doesn’t figure out a way to prove his true identity, Tom will instead be the one crowned the new King!

Mark Lester is good as both the prince and the pauper, conveying the changes that each character undergoes as they’re forced to live the life of the other. Tom eventually starts acting like a prince, and announces his intention to marry Jane (Felicity Dean), lady-in-waiting of the princess Elizabeth (Lalla Ward). As for Edward, he gets a first-hand look at the poverty that grips most of England, as well as the injustices many are forced to endure. As a result, he vows to rule more humanely than his oft-tyrannical father. That is, if he can somehow convince everyone he’s the rightful heir.

Despite playing the film’s two main characters, however, Lester is upstaged at nearly every turn by the film’s amazing supporting cast. Oliver Reed bellows and huffs as Miles, the professional soldier who takes it upon himself to protect Edward, all the while believing the young man has lost his mind (like everyone else, Miles doesn’t think for a second Edward is the real prince). Even better is Charlton Heston’s turn as the sickly Henry VIII, conveying both the king’s treacherous nature (he orders his old friend the Duke of Norfolk, played wonderfully by Rex Harrison, arrested on a trumped-up charge of treason) as well as his genuine affection for his only son (there’s a sweet scene in which Henry, realizing the end is near, has a heart-to-heart with Tom, who, try as he might, can’t convince the king he’s not his son).

Rounding out the cast are Ernest Borgnine (whose British accent leaves a lot to be desired) as Tom’s abusive father; Raquel Welch as Miles’ beloved, Lady Edith; George C. Scott (a slightly better accent than Borgnine’s, but still nothing to write home about) as Ruffler, leader of a colony of beggars and thieves; and David Hemmings as Miles’ conniving brother Hugh. All are strong, though it’s Reed and Heston who stand head and shoulders above the rest.

Featuring a handful of swordfights (most involving Miles, many of which he loses) and some effective comedy (Tom, mistaken for the prince, is asked to lead a dance during the masquerade ball, and ends up tripping everyone around him), Crossed Swords is an entertaining watch, and is innocent enough in the telling (rated PG, there’s little violence and even less profanity) that the whole family can enjoy it.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Thursday, November 3, 2022

#2,856. Killdozer (1974) - Kino Lorber Releases


We open in outer space. A meteor has drifted from its orbit and plummets towards earth, eventually crashing onto the beach of a remote island.

Now, truth be told, that’s not how I originally thought Killdozer, a 1974 made-for-TV movie about a murderous bulldozer, would begin. But it certainly got my attention!

A team of workers is building an airstrip on the very island where the meteor landed. Under the watchful eye of foreman Lloyd Kelly (Clint Walker), the five-man crew relies on heavy machinery to get the job done. But when the always-reliable Mack (Robert Urich) attempts to move the mysterious meteor out of the way with his trusty D-9 bulldozer, an energy of some sort transfers from the space rock to the dozer, essentially bringing the big machine to life!

As Kelly and his crew, which also includes Dennis (Carl Betz), Chub (Neville Brand), Dutch (James Wainwright), and Beltran (James A. Watson, Jr.), are trying to figure out what has happened, the D-9 is getting down to business, killing everyone that dares to get in its way.

Directed by Jerry London, Killdozer has a lot in common with the sci-fi films of the 1950s, right down to the cheesy effects. Once it hits earth, the meteor looks like something out of 1958’s The Blob. As for the performances, they’re a mixed bag. I’m a fan of Clint Walker’s westerns, and in movies like Yellowstone Kelly and, especially, More Dead Than Alive, he was effective as the straight-laced hero. In Killdozer, he’s wooden. Whether being stern with his crew, getting angry at their lack of progress, or acting concerned for their safety, Walker’s tone remains the same throughout. The supporting players fare a little better, especially Neville Brand, whose Chub, the site’s mechanic, is the voice of reason; and Carl Betz is quite good as the enigmatic Dennis, a guy you’re never quite sure about.

The real star of Killdozer, though, is the rampaging D-9 bulldozer. Having already polished off one crewman, Kelly asks Chub to dismantle the D-9 and determine why it seems to have a mind of its own. Before Chub gets started, though, Beltran hops into the D-9 and takes off. Of course, he is not able to control it, and when the dozer finally comes to a stop, the radio has been destroyed and another person killed. Throughout the movie, the D-9 does everything from stalking the crew to starting avalanches, and despite its size, it moves pretty damn quickly.

It’s a silly premise, but it works because London and his cast play it 100% straight. And in this way, Killdozer is a nice homage to the sci-fi movies of old, when the goofy and unbelievable still managed to keep your eyes glued to the screen.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

#2,855. The Brink's Job (1978) - Kino Lorber Releases


During the first ten minutes of William Friedkin’s 1978 film The Brink’s Job, we tag along with Boston safecracker Tony Pino (Peter Falk) and his crew: Sandy Richardson (Gerald Murphy); Stanley “Gus” Gusciora (Kevin O’Connor); and Tony’s brother-in-law Vinnie (Allen Garfield), as they break into an office and attempt to open a safe.

They aren’t what you would call good criminals. They make a lot of noise and, before they can get the safe open, are surprised by the police. What this opening scene does, and does well, is set the tone, the perfect balance of crime and comedy that is to follow.

More than this, it introduces us to the film’s main characters. And we like them! We don’t even know much about them, except that they’re lousy crooks, but we like them all the same. And by the time The Brink’s Job is over, we’ll absolutely love them!

Tony is the only one pinched by the cops during the above break-in, and is sent away for six years. When he’s released, it’s 1944, and World War II is still raging. He and Vinnie spend their days running a diner, which is doing ok business. But Tony is itching to get back to a life of crime and start making some real money again.

As with before, the heists he lines up are less than successful. Until, one afternoon, while he and Vinnie are out walking, they pass the Brinks Armored Car company, and catch a glimpse of all the cash they move on a daily basis.

With the help of his regular crew as well as newcomers Joe McGinnis (Peter Boyle), Specs O’Keefe (Warren Oates), and Jazz Maffie (Paul Sorvino), Tony plans and executes what would be, to that point, the biggest robbery in U.S. history. But with the cops, the FBI, and J. Edgar Hoover (Sheldon Leonard) breathing down his neck, it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll ever get a chance to spend a dime of the nearly $2 million he stole!

Friedkin and his team do their part to make The Brink’s Job an entertaining picture. Shot on-location in Boston (the Brinks heist is staged in the very building where, 30 years earlier, the real-life robbery that inspired it took place), the film has a realistic vibe, with Friedkin utilizing the same camera techniques and general style that gave The French Connection its almost documentary feel.

The film would also be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, which, in unison with the production design, costumes, even the music, convinces us we’ve gone back in time to the ‘30s, ‘40s and early ‘50s. On top of this, the film is wonderfully paced, and the later scenes, when the story takes a few dark turns, gel nicely with the earlier comedic sequences.

That said, it’s the cast that makes The Brink’s Job so damn endearing. Peter Falk is in top form as the less-than-talented crook who stumbles into a gold mine; the scenes where Tony is scoping out the Brink’s facility had me poised on the edge of my seat. Allen Garfield gets his share of laughs as the hapless Vinnie, the biggest of which comes during a gumball factory robbery. Warren Oates is also good as the slightly unhinged Specs, a former soldier who fought on the beaches of Normandy, and both Peter Boyle and Paul Sorvino make for convincing crooks. Together, each and every one, as well as Murphy, O’Conner and Gina Rowlands (as Tony’s wife, Mary), win us over, and we root like hell for them to not only pull off the crime of the century, but to get away with it!

Friedkin considers The Brink’s Job to be one of his lesser films, commenting that it featured “Little intensity or suspense”, and the comedy was an “acquired taste”. “The film doesn’t shout, it doesn’t sing”, he would write in his autobiography, “it barely whispers”. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that was one hell of a whisper! The Brink’s Job fires on all cylinders, and is flat-out fun.
Rating: 9 out of 10