Browsed by
Month: May 2006

Storm Warning (1951)

Storm Warning (1951)

“Without us, a girl like you wouldn’t be safe on the street at night.”

Synopsis:
A woman (Ginger Rogers) witnesses her brother-in-law (Steve Cochran) participating in a killing by the Ku Klux Klan, and must decide whether to stay quiet or talk.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Courtroom Drama
  • Doris Day Films
  • Ginger Rogers Films
  • Ronald Reagan Films
  • Small Town America

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this tragic social drama — the “first Hollywood picture since 1936’s Black Legion to take a persuasive stand against the Ku Klux Klan” — does indeed “keep you on the edge of your seat”. However, it’s deeply disappointing that once again, nothing at all is mentioned about the Klan’s racist ideology; instead, the Klansmen are simply presented as a white-hooded version of small-town mob mentality. Fortunately, the genuine tension between the primary protagonists carries the film, and Rogers’ dilemma — whether to tell what she saw, or keep quiet for the sake of her sister’s happiness — is authentically compelling. As an added note, the dynamic between Marsha (Rogers), her sister Lucy (Doris Day), and Lucy’s husband Hank (Cochran) reminded me of the claustrophobic tension between Blanche, Stella and Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire — though Cochran’s hunky Hank is infinitely more idiotic than Stanley, and Marsha far less fragile than Blanche.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ginger Rogers’ “gutsy” performance
  • Doris Day in a sympathetic early screen role (Peary notes that her “dramatic portrayal… is what earned her the lead in The Man Who Knew Too Much“)
  • Ronald Reagan as a local journalist determined to expose the Klan
  • An effective tale of loyalty versus justice
  • Atmospheric cinematography
  • A rare mid-twentieth-century American film to address the Klan

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely worth watching.

Links:

Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe, The (1972)

Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe, The (1972)

“Pick out anyone you like, someone out of a crowd: the more anonymous the better.”

Synopsis:
A bumbling musician (Pierre Richard) is mistakenly identified as an undercover agent, and shadowed by a rival spy ring who interpret his every move as important.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • French Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Musicians
  • Spies

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “harmless French farce about a dizzy musician… who a group of spies mistakenly believe works for a rival spy gang” starts off slowly, but quickly begins to generate laughs once Pierre Richard’s hapless violinist enters the screen and is pursued by “a beautiful woman” (Mireille Darc).

Peary notes that “clumsy Richard keeps acting like a fool, but the spies think it’s just a clever cover.” I agree with Peary that it “contains some funny sight gags”, with the “biggest laugh com[ing] when Richard first sees [the] low, low, low-cut, backless gown Darc wears in the seduction scene.”

Many reviewers seem to find this comedy overly “academic”, but contributors on IMDb are in agreement with me that it’s a genuinely amusing physical comedy. Check it out for yourself.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many amusing sight gags — for instance, Richard fighting a losing battle with his own bagpipes
  • Colorful sets and cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s a gentle little farce worth seeking out. Remade with Tom Hanks as The Man with One Red Shoe (1985).

Links:

Napoleon / Napoleon Vu Par Abel Gance (1927)

Napoleon / Napoleon Vu Par Abel Gance (1927)

“The destiny of an entire empire often hangs upon a single man.”

Synopsis:
Napoleon Buonaparte (Albert Dieudonne) rises from humble obscurity to emerge as France’s greatest military leader.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Biopic
  • French Films
  • French Revolution
  • Historical Drama
  • Military
  • Silent Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary asserts that no other silent films are as “visually spectacular” as those of director Abel Gance, pointing out his prodigious experimental techniques — including “split-screen photography, hand-held cameras, super-impositions, rapid-fire editing, color tinting, and a mobile camera” — all in a movie made decades before The New Wave movement of the 1960s. Throughout the lengthy narrative (consisting of “six major episodes, each a film unto itself”), Gance manages to effectively humanize this larger-than-life historical icon, who is depicted as “always in the right place at the right time to help his troubled country”: in one of the film’s most celebrated sequences, we first see a willful young Napoleon (Vladimir Roudenko) as he engages in a snowball fight with his peers, while the seeds of this infamous leader’s insecurity, fury, and diligence are clearly laid out before us; later, we see surprising vulnerability as Napoleon nervously woos divorcee Josephine de Beauharnais (Gina Manes) and her two children.

Apparently Gance was stymied in his original desire to depict the entire arc of Napoleon’s life, so the resulting “truncated” film simply shows one man’s rise to power without the inevitable balance of his fall. Nonetheless, this is actually oddly effective as a rhetorical technique; by the end of the film, as split-screen cinematography shows a close-up of Napoleon’s face surrounded on either side by triumphant battle scenes, we understand that this was a man who was all too human, but simultaneously larger than life.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vladimir Roudenko as young Napoleon
  • The justifiably famous “snowball scene”
  • Prodigious use of clever camera techniques, including split-screen images
  • Effective rapidfire editing

Must See?
Yes. This massive French epic will take some time to get through, but is worth watching at least once.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

It’s Always Fair Weather (1955)

“Can these be the guys I once thought I could never live without?”

Synopsis:
Three wartime buddies (Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd) pledge to meet up ten years later, only to find that they no longer have much in common with each other.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cyd Charisse Films
  • Dan Dailey Films
  • Friendship
  • Gene Kelly Films
  • Get-Together
  • Musicals
  • Stanley Donen Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Most reviewers now concede that this delightful Stanley Donen musical has been highly underrated over the years — and they’re right! While Peary feels that the film is “surprisingly downbeat”, I was never in doubt that things would work out just fine for these three veterans, or that the ending would be anything but uplifting. Peary argues that the film “doesn’t always work”, but admits that “it contains many bright ideas” — including the central storyline, which rings all too true: how often have we discovered that old-time friends are no longer people we’d choose to have in our lives?

Meanwhile, though Peary disses the “songs by Adolph Green and Betty Comden” as “Broadway rejects”, he does call out several “musical highlights”, including “the three vets dancing with trash-can lids”:

and “Kelly tapping on roller skates”.

Peary ends his review by questioning why we’re never given a chance to see “Kelly and Charisse dance together”; point well-taken. He also notes that viewers, if possible, should “see [the film] in the theater because the directors made special use of Cinemascope, at times dividing the screen into thirds.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gene Kelly as Ted Riley
  • Many wonderful dance sequences
  • Impressive use of split-scene cinematography

Must See?
No, but if you enjoy classic Hollywood musicals and/or Gene Kelly, definitely don’t miss this one.

Links:

Day the Earth Caught Fire, The (1961)

Day the Earth Caught Fire, The (1961)

“They’ve shifted the tilt of the earth. The stupid, crazy, irresponsible bastards — they’ve finally done it!”

Synopsis:
A pair of British newsmen (Edward Judd and Leo McKern) — with help from an inside source (Janet Munro) — try to discover the truth behind the mysterious climate changes and natural disasters occurring on Earth.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Journalists
  • Nuclear Holocaust
  • Science Fiction

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “provocative, first-rate” sci-fi film — directed by Val Guest — is a title that “adults will like at least as much as children”. We are truly caught up in the curiosity, panic, and delirium that ensue as society gradually realizes it’s on a doomed, sweaty orbit towards the sun, with the “only possible way to reverse course… to explode more bombs”. He points out that the “picture deals with how people react to impending doom. In the oppressive heat, there is panic; violence; somber resignation to death; [and] deliriously happy Doomsday partying.” Other than its slightly misleading title, my only complaint with the film is the rapid-fire delivery of the newsroom dialogue — I’ve always had this problem with movies about journalists, who are among the smartest characters ever written, but who rarely slow down enough to let us savor their words.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Leo McKern, who solidly anchors the film
  • Janet Munro as the sexy young “deep throat” and romantic interest
  • Excellent use of both original and stock-footage special effects
  • Smart dialogue:

    “[There’ll be] a delightful smell in the universe of charcoaled mankind.”

Must See?
Yes, as one of a handful of early first-rate “nuclear holocaust” films.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) (1980)

Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) (1980)

“It is not easy to suppress yourself to become another.”

Synopsis:
Based on a true episode from Japanese feudal history, this film tells the story of a lowly thief (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is hired to impersonate clan leader Shingen (also played by Nakadai) upon his death.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Japanese Films
  • Kurosawa Films
  • Military
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this sumptuous epic film by master director Akira Kurosawa is long and “slow but not boring; however, it’s not all that engrossing because Kurosawa doesn’t really explore what’s going through the thief’s mind as he discovers he has noble qualities worthy of a great leader.” As Peary points out, “Kurosawa is more interested in pageantry, and his shots of mammoth armies… on the attack are astonishing”, making “marvelous” use of color. However, “Kurosawa is not interested in glorifying the battle”; indeed, a “major theme of the movie is that great leaders… defend their domains, while weak leaders… cross borders to wage war and annex territory.” While I’m not a fan of the film’s over-long battle scenes, there are some truly impressive shots of enormous armies — “with weapons, horses, [and] banners” — crowding the colorful landscape, and Kagemusha remains visually engaging throughout.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nakadai’s masterful performances as both Shingen and the thief
  • Kagemusha Shingen interacting with “his” playful grandson
  • Stunning cinematography and colors
  • Impressive, geometric scenes of wartime pageantry
  • Colorful sets and costumes
  • The comic relief provided by three bumbling spies, who are continually unsure whether Shingen is alive or dead

Must See?
Yes. While I don’t believe it’s one of his most compelling tales, Kagemusha still belongs squarely in the realm of “must see” films by Kurosawa.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director

Links:

Sorcerers, The (1967)

Sorcerers, The (1967)

“It’s like half the time I don’t know why I’m doing things.”

Synopsis:
After years spent perfecting their mind-control machine, elderly hypnotists Marcus and Estelle (Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey) are able to control the thoughts and actions of a young man (Ian Ogilvy) Marcus meets on the street. Things quickly turn sour, however, as Estelle reveals her desire to commit increasingly heinous crimes through their unconscious subject.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Boris Karloff Films
  • Elderly People
  • Horror
  • Mad Doctors and Scientists
  • Michael Reeves Films
  • Mind Control and Hypnosis

Response to Peary’s Review:
Known primarily as the second of three films helmed solely by prodigy director Michael Reeves (who died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 25), The Sorcerers stands on its own as an intriguing black comedy with an unusual premise; indeed, as Peary writes, it’s Reeves’ “oddest film and… just as bleak and fascinating as his other works.”

While parts of the script are heavy-handed (for instance, Marcus and Estelle “remind” each other of their history with mind control while talking out loud — surely unnecessary for a couple living and working together for decades), I nonetheless got completely caught up in this story of “an elderly couple’s obsession for youth and excitement” and was reminded of Homebodies (1972) — another sleeper film about elderly folks who discover their darker nature when push comes to shove. As Peary writes, the “low budget hurts” but this “film has excitement, strong black humor, and strong and interesting directorial touches”; it “should be seen” — but not by “those out for a happy time”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Catherine Lacey as the increasingly “diabolical and greedy” Estelle
  • Boris Karloff playing against type as a man who must stop his wife “before she goes too far”
  • Elizabeth Ercy and Victor Henry as Ogilvy’s confused and worried friends
  • Strong direction and editing

Must See?
Yes, as one of Michael Reeves’ tragically few films.

Categories

  • Important Director

Links:

Infra-Man (1976)

Infra-Man (1976)

“No matter how potent your weapons are, you’ll be defeated — because Infra-Man is invincible against them!”

Synopsis:
Chaos ensues when a power-hungry alien princess (Terry Liu) arrives on earth with a crew of two-legged mutant monsters; it’s up to a scientist (Wang Shieh) and Infra-Man (Li Hsia-Hsien) to save the day!

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aliens
  • Martial Arts
  • Science Fiction
  • Superheroes
  • World Domination

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary recommends watching this ultra campy flick in a theater, noting that it’s “dull” on T.V. — which I have to admit was the case for me. Despite an intriguing first ten minutes (the opening titles are clever), a mercifully fast pace, and amusing monster-costumes (which reminded me of the 1970s T.V. series “H.R. Pufnstuf” and “Land of the Lost”), I was often distracted. This one is only a must-see film for kung fu/silly monster fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fun, colorful costumes

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you’re curious about its cult appeal.

Links:

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Flesh Gordon (1974)

“I’ve got the power pasties, and I know how to use ’em!”

Synopsis:
Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams) and Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields) join Dr. Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins) in an attempt to save the earth from Sex Rays sent by Planet Porno’s insane emperor, Wang the Perverted (William Hunt).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Adult Films
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Science Fiction

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this “X-rated parody of Flash Gordon” as “too dreadful, too boring to be consider true comedy or camp”. He argues that the “acting is terrible” and the direction “inept”, but he does acknowledge that the “special effects (inspired by Ray Harryhausen) are pretty good, certainly suitable for the comic-book material”. I’m not quite in agreement with Peary’s negative assessment here: I was surprisingly entertained by both the silliness of the story and the ineptitude of the acting, and enjoyed the cleverly conceived “creatures”. Not for all tastes, but not as bad as Peary would lead you to believe.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fun, “Harryhausen-esque” special-effects
  • Candy Samples as the Dyke Queen, leader of the Secret Lesbian Underground

Must See?
No, but I think it’s worth a look.

Links:

Destination Moon (1950)

Destination Moon (1950)

“The race is on — and we’d better win it!”

Synopsis:
A group of astronauts (Warner Anderson, Tom Powers, John Archer, and Dick Wesson) defy the American government by flying their rocketship to the moon.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Science Fiction
  • Space Exploration

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this 1950s classic is a “slow, dated, but influential science-fiction film”. The filmmakers focus primarily on portraying space travel (as-of-yet unachieved) in a realistic manner — in addition to providing a healthy dose of red-baiting, which is the weakest element of the plot by far. Nonetheless, once the astronauts actually get out in space, you’ll be enchanted by their amazement as they experience zero-gravity for the first time. Especially exciting — if a bit contrived — is the finale of the film, in which the four astronauts must figure out how to make their ship light enough for a successful return. It’s a trip watching this movie so many years after it was released, when travelling to the moon — and beyond — is accepted as commonplace; this would make a great double bill with The Right Stuff (1983) — with Destination Moon shown first, of course.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Excellent early special effects
  • Good focus on the science behind space travel
  • A humorous Woody Woodpecker cartoon which explains to laypeople how rocket science works

Must See?
Yes, simply for its place in film history.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links: