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Month: May 2008

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

“You’re the one who told me I was gonna get a boyfriend at the mall.”

Synopsis:
Teenagers at Ridgemont High School — including Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Linda (Phoebe Cates), Brad (Judge Reinhold), “Rat” (Brian Backer), and Damone (Robert Romanus) — navigate the tricky terrains of jobs, sex, relationships, and teachers.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • High School
  • Nicolas Cage Films
  • Sexuality
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Along with several other mainstream critics at the time of its release (see, for instance, Roger Ebert’s scathing one-star review), Peary is inexplicably dismissive of this comedic high school “expose” — based on Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical novel — which he claims “shows as much special insight as one would have from hanging out at the mall for about an hour.” In truth, Fast Times — which has since become a certified cult classic, and is listed in Barron’s 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die — offers a humorous yet realistic look at naive teenagers (such as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Stacy) who are eager for sexual experience, yet utterly confused about how to protect themselves, both physically and emotionally. Peary dismisses the idea that a pretty girl like Leigh would be interested in “short, nerdy Brian Backer” (“that’ll be the day!” he notes parenthetically) while failing to recognize that Backer is actually Leigh’s best bet by far: he’s sweet, sincere, and ultimately interested in more than just sex. Meanwhile, Leigh’s dismal sexual exploits with an older man (D.W. Brown) and Backer’s conflicted buddy Damone (Robert Romanus) may not be pleasant to watch, but are certainly 100% realistic: anyone who fails to recognize the enormous pressure many teenage girls feel to lose their virginity and become “sexually experienced” is living in a protective bubble.

The other supporting performances in this episodic film (nobody’s really the primary protagonist, though Leigh comes close) are all fine as well — many of the young actors (most notably Leigh and Penn) went on to create big names for themselves. Indeed, Penn is in some ways the truly memorable “star” of this ensemble show: his turn as Jeff Spicoli — a perpetually stoned-out, bleary-eyed, happy-go-lucky surfer — is one of the most iconic performances in recent cinematic history; his “verbal duels” with his “sarcastic, rule-conscious” history teacher, Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), are both “hilarious” and perhaps (as Peary argues) “the major reason to see this film”. Meanwhile, one of the most sympathetic characters in the film, surprisingly enough, turns out to be Judge Reinhold as Stacy’s older brother, Brad, who’s experiencing work and love troubles of his own; his caring response when he discovers his sister needs some help is likely my favorite scene in the film, and offers proof that Fast Times — while far from perfect — is much more honest about the multi-faceted lives of teens than Peary, Ebert, and others would have you believe.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Sean Penn as Spicoli
  • Jennifer Jason Leigh as Stacy
  • Phoebe Cates as Stacy’s best friend, Linda
  • Judge Reinhold as Brad
  • Brian Backer as “Rat”
  • Robert Romanus as Damone
  • Spicoli’s hilarious dream sequence

Must See?
Yes, for its status as a cult favorite, and for Sean Penn’s memorable performance.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

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

Links:

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

“Nothing shocks me: I’m a scientist.”

Synopsis:
A year before his adventures battling the Nazis for the Ark of the Covenant, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) finds himself helping an Indian village recover its “magic stone” — and its kidnapped children — from a cult of bloodthirsty Shiva worshipers.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cults
  • India
  • Scientists
  • Steven Spielberg Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is overly generous in his assessment of this disappointing follow-up (actually a prequel) to Steven Spielberg’s rollicking Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The first and most egregious problem with Temple of Doom is the casting of Kate Capshaw (instead of Karen Allen) as the female lead: Capshaw is annoying from the moment she opens her mouth, and never manages to redeem herself. Unlike Allen, she’s utterly hopeless and put-upon when faced with the slightest deviation from her pampered singer’s lifestyle, and screams more often than she talks. Meanwhile, Ford — though always enjoyable to watch — is overly subdued throughout most of the film, perhaps because he’s so busy trying to drown out Capshaw’s shrill whines. The freshest performance comes from young Ke Huy Quan as Indy’s Chinese sidekick, who plays an essential role in the film’s bloody denouement.

As many have pointed out, Temple of Doom — which is high on action, low on character development — is actually more like the old-time serials it’s based on than Raiders; to that end Capshaw’s blonde floozy singer — a “heroine of a type that hasn’t been around since feminism hit Hollywood” — may be more authentic to the time period as well. Arguing in Capshaw’s defense, Peary notes that “if someone like Willie [Capshaw], who worries about broken nails, can become brave and tough in a crisis, then all women have the potential” — but I would argue right back that she never really exhibits either bravery or toughness. And while it’s true that the film has “great sets” and “exciting adventures”, each enjoyable moment is counterbalanced by one that it’s either unduly gross (such as the infamous “banquet scene” in the Maharajah’s palace) or falls flat (such as Indy and Willie’s aborted attempt to bed each other). Film fanatics should see Temple of Doom simply to be familiar with the franchise, but all things considered, it’s a major disappointment.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The opening barter scene between Indy and a trio of Shanghai gangsters
  • Impressive set designs in the Temple of Doom
  • Ke Huy Quan as Indy’s fast-thinking sidekick, Short Round
  • The final “bridge sequence”

Must See?
Yes, but only for its historical importance as part of the Indiana Jones series, and as one of the key films (along with Gremlins) which prompted the MPAA to create a special PG-13 rating.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

“Inside the Ark are treasures beyond your wildest aspirations — you want to see it opened as well as I.”

Synopsis:
A bespectacled archaeologist named Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is hired by the United States government to locate a priceless religious artifact — the Ark of the Covenant — before the Nazis get their hands on it.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Harrison Ford Films
  • Nazis
  • Romance
  • Scientists
  • Steven Spielberg Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “this marvelous adventure movie” — directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by George Lucas — is “much better than the old-time Saturday serials it pays tribute to” yet effectively “recaptures the feeling of excitement and awe they originally held for kids.” The first and best of the [original] “Indiana Jones” trilogy, Raiders features “non-stop nail biting action” as well as “tremendous wit, romance that even young boys will enjoy, nasty villains, amazing stunts, a lovely, brave, capable heroine, and an unbeatable action hero.” Ford and Karen Allen (who plays his unwitting sidekick, Marion) are truly believable as a couple, with Allen serving as the perfect female lead for an action movie: she’s both pretty and tough, ready to take on any adventures and/or men that come her way. Meanwhile, Harrison Ford’s dry wit and good looks make him the ideal real-life folk hero — he’s Clark Kent, but without superhero powers, and all the more refreshingly human for it. Excellent use is made of “exotic” locales across the globe, and the supporting characters — both good and bad — are well-played by a host of fine performers; my particular favorite is Paul Freeman as a French archaeologist collaborating with the Nazis who exhibits the tiniest bit of heart (and lust) towards Allen. John Williams’ instantly memorable score (“dum-da DUM DUM… dum-da DUM”) adds the perfect finishing touch to this most enjoyable adventure flick.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
  • Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood
  • Paul Freeman as Dr. Belloq
  • Excellent use of “exotic” locales around the world
  • The exciting opening sequence
  • The infamous “snake pit” scene
  • A satisfying romance between adventurous equals
  • John Williams’ instantly hummable score

Must See?
Yes. This modern-day classic should be seen and enjoyed by all film fanatics.

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

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

Links:

King of Kings (1961)

King of Kings (1961)

“For I say unto you, love your enemies; bless them who curse you; and pray for those who despise and persecute you! For if you love only those who love you, what reward shall you have?”

Synopsis:
Shortly after the Romans invade Judea, Jesus of Nazareth (Jeffrey Hunter) becomes a preacher and encourages his followers to rely on faith and peace for their salvation.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Biblical Stories
  • Biopics
  • Historical Dramas
  • Nicholas Ray Films
  • Rip Torn Films
  • Robert Ryan Films

Review:
At the time of its release, this Biblical biopic by director Nicholas Ray was snidely referred to by many as I Was a Teenage Jesus, in reference to both Ray’s previous youth-oriented films (most notably Rebel Without a Cause), and the casting of blue-eyed matinee idol Jeffrey Hunter (actually 35 years old) in the title role. In truth, Hunter is reasonably effective as Jesus, and King of Kings as a whole remains a surprisingly tame and “respectful” historical drama. Screenwriter Philip Yordan wisely frames Jesus’s life squarely within the political context of his day (Roman occupation), and establishes a convenient — albeit historically suspect — “rivalry” between the peace-loving Jesus and rabble-rousing Barabbas (actually just an anonymous thief who was set free on the day of Jesus’s crucifixion). This fictionalized subplot allows for Jesus’s emphasis on faith and pacifism in the face of foreign occupation to ring out loud and clear, and places his overall message to mankind within a refreshingly timely and realistic context.

Ray and Yordan are at their best when humanizing iconic biblical events, such as the justly praised Sermon on the Mount sequence, and their intimate recreation of the Last Supper; less interesting are the massive battle scenes, which perhaps are expected fare in an epic drama but distract from the very real human story being told. Some have argued that too much time is spent showing the Romans’ reactions to Jesus’s growing popularity, but the actors in the key Roman roles — including Viveca Lindfors, Frank Thring, and Hurd Hatfield — are all enjoyable to watch, and their decadent lifestyle ultimately provides a nice contrast with that of the hard-working Jews. My favorite “Roman scene” shows the infamous Salome (played by Brigid Bazlen as a sexy teenage hussy) tempting her stepfather, King Harrod (Thring), into decapitating John the Baptist (a shaggy-headed Robert Ryan) and bringing her his head on a platter; while this vignette may not be substantiated by biblical scholars, it plays well on the screen! Ultimately, King of Kings will be of most interest either to Christians (who likely will be pleasantly surprised by how events are depicted) or fans of mid-century historical epics; for all-purpose film fanatics, it’s worth a look simply for its historical notoriety.

Note: In 1980, Hunter was (perhaps unfairly) nominated by the Medved brothers as one of the worst actors to play Jesus Christ in a film — though he lost out on winning the Golden Turkey Award in this category to Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Brigid Bazlen as psychopathic Salome, who requests John the Baptist’s head on a platter
  • Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount
  • Nice humanization of many iconic Biblical events — such as the Last Supper
  • Miklos Rozsa’s Score

Must See?
Yes, simply for its importance in film history. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

“There’s much to be said for a woman — even an imperfect one — who lives, breathes, and exists only for the man she loves.”

Synopsis:
A middle-aged man (William Powell) on vacation in the Caribbean falls in love with a mermaid (Ann Blyth), and finds his marriage (to Irene Hervey) threatened.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ann Blyth Films
  • Fantasy
  • Flashback Films
  • Infidelity
  • Mid-Life Crisis
  • Mermaids
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Vacation
  • William Powell Films

Review:
As indicated in the quote cited above, this tepid romantic comedy by director Irving Pichel — based on Guy and Constance Jones’ novel Peabody’s Mermaid — unabashedly explores sex and relationships from a male point of view, specifically that of a 50-year-old married man rapidly embarking upon a mid-life crisis. Structured as a flashback story told to a psychiatrist (Art Smith), Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is clearly meant to satirize the age-old trope of middle-aged men falling for naive girls half their age; indeed, Peabody makes no excuses for himself when describing — through voiceover — what he’s looking for in an ideal woman (“What I like is a woman who can’t do anything very much”), or telling the nubile, conveniently mute Lenore that in her eyes there exists both eternal wisdom and “the beauty of a child, too: simple, direct, uncomplicated.”

Unfortunately, while it’s clear that Peabody’s lust for Lenore is merely a symptom of his own male insecurity, his growing infatuation remains uncomfortable to watch — yet we’re stuck with nobody else to root for. While Ann Blyth does a nice job playing a character who must communicate exclusively through facial expressions and body language, she never emerges as a three-dimensional character, and Peabody’s wife (Irene Hervey) comes across as little more than a close-minded shrew. Meanwhile, an ongoing comedic riff about a morose investigator (Clinton Sundberg) who has recently given up both alcohol and cigarettes — and must deal with temptation everywhere he goes — is decidedly unfunny:

and Peabody’s biggest crisis — being double-crossed by Sundberg and eventually accused of murder — holds little interest. Ultimately, while Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid maintains a small coterie of devoted fans (click here to read a LOT more about this film’s inception — including the task of outfitting Blyth in her mermaid tail), it’s not must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • William Powell as Mr. Peabody
  • Ann Blyth as Lenore the Mermaid
  • Powell’s humorous attempt to buy sweaters — then simply bikini tops — for Lenore

Must See?
No; while beloved by some, this dated comedy hasn’t aged all that well.

Links:

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962)

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962)

“There is no poison in a green snake’s mouth as in a woman’s heart.”

Synopsis:
An adventurer (Vincent Price) in 19th century San Francisco stumbles upon a female slavery ring run by a Chinese warlord, and tries to help a captive (June Kim) escape.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Escape
  • Historical Drama
  • Slavery
  • Vincent Price Films

Review:
This once-difficult-to-find exploitation flick by producer/director Albert Zugsmith is beloved by nearly every mainstream critic, with Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader claiming it’s “not to be missed”, and Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine referring to it as a “beautiful and often bizarre little gem.” While I’m not quite sure it deserves such explicit praise, Confessions is certainly an unusual and atmospheric B-flick, one which merits a second look simply to understand what’s happening throughout its convoluted script. Based in-name-only — think AIP’s Poe “adaptations” — on Thomas De Quincey’s 1821 memoir, it follows the adventures of a mysterious mercenary (a descendant of De Quincey) who discovers a labyrinthine underworld of human slave trafficking in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and decides (we’re never sure why) to try to rescue a desperate young woman from her salacious fate. Meanwhile, he’s seduced by the allure of an opium den — he insists he “doesn’t like the pipe”, but continues puffing away anyway — which prompts the film’s most celebrated sequence: a truly surreal nightmare montage which segues into a slow-mo chase scene.

Vincent Price’s unusual turn here as an “action hero” is less flamboyant than what fans are used to, but he’s perfectly suited for intoning the stilted lines in Robert Hill’s pulpy script (many of which sound like fortune cookie quips):

“Maybe you’re the one who should find out if you’re a side of beef or a side of man.”
“Man’s view of good and evil is like water boiling in a box: open the package to the east and we flow east; open the package to the west and we flow west.”

The campiest sequence by far, however, is voiced by Linda Ho as the film’s wily femme fatale, Ruby Low: while seducing Price, she alludes to sex as “swimming in the forbidden waters”, and tries to convince him that they are meant to be with each other by insisting:

“It is not many times in one life a man and a woman found [sic] the other half of themselves. When I see you for first time, I felt it — as if, long ago, we… whispered to the wind… together… and the moon… shone on us… and you… and me…”

Equally enjoyable is feisty Yvonne Moray (best known for her poorly acted role in The Terror of Tiny Town) as an aging “Chinese midget” who has given up hope of finding happiness outside the confines of her dungeon, but remains remarkably cheerful nonetheless; the decades seem to have mellowed Moray, and turned her into a more confident performer. The best aspect of Confessions, however, is its overall atmospheric ambiance: we really believe we’ve been submerged into the bowels of a unique form of hell, and wonder how — or if — Price’s character will be able to escape.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vincent Price as Gilbert De Quincey
  • Yvonne Moray as “the Chinese midget”
  • The infamous “opium trip” slo-mo sequence
  • Atmospheric sets and cinematography

Must See?
Yes, simply for its cult-like status.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

Links:

Hellstrom Chronicle, The (1971)

Hellstrom Chronicle, The (1971)

“In fighting the insect we have killed ourselves, polluted our water, poisoned our wildlife, permeated our own flesh with deadly toxins. The insect becomes immune, and we are poisoned. In fighting with superior intellect, we have out-smarted ourselves.”

Synopsis:
Dr. Nils Hellstrom (Lawrence Pressman) explains how insects’ tenacity, adaptability, and efficiency will allow them to take over the world one day.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Documentary
  • Insects
  • Scientists

Review:
This Oscar-winning “quasi”-documentary offers a unique blend of fascinating insect footage (as one contributor to IMDb writes, it represents “the dark side of Microcosmos“) with a bizarrely campy “voice of doom” narration, one which frames the tenacious lives of insects in counterpart with humans’ ultimate frailty, and posits that insects will inevitably take over the Earth one day. At the time of the film’s release, marketers exploited this doomsday perspective so heavily that many viewers expected to see either a science fiction or horror flick; these days, viewers may see it as simply a cleverly disguised satire. Yet much like Jim Brown and Gary Burns’ recent pseudo-documentary about suburban sprawl (Radiant City, 2006), The Hellstrom Chronicle manages to span the fiction-documentary divide without ever clearly crossing over into mockumentary territory.

With that said, Dr. Hellstrom’s narration is undeniably full of what Vincent Canby of the New York Times refers to as “asinine statements”; it’s impossible to take Hellstrom seriously when he begins by gravely informing us that “the world was created not with the sweetness of love, but with the violence of rape,” and later describes a black widow spider as “throbbing with obese sexuality”. Indeed, Hellstrom’s anthropomorphization of the insect world borders on sheer lunacy at times — did audience members at the time really buy his rhetoric? Would audiences today? While several legitimate research institutions (including Cal Tech and the Entomological Society of America) are cited in the film’s credits as having “provided assistance”, Hellstrom’s analysis (a synthesis of “contemporary opinions”) is — frustratingly — often simply wrong and/or dated.

During the sequence in which he compares the mating rituals of humans with insects, for instance, he laments how “inefficient” our methods are, shaking his head in dismay: “For man, unless the setting is right, the perfume is right, the music is sweet, and at least one partner is loved by another, the reproductive act might never occur.” Yet it’s widely acknowledged by scientists today that humans’ strategic mating patterns perfectly suit our need to establish dedicated caretakers, given how long newborns and children require adult assistance to survive. Later, he bashes humans’ need for philosophical inquiry by noting:

Confronted with this incredible resourcefulness — this desperate desire to survive — we must wonder, why? What is the value, even for oneself, to sustain an existence that must ultimately end in death? The insect has the answer, because he never posed the question.

According to Hellstrom, then, insects will ultimately outlive humans because they never stop to reflect — yet as Roger Ebert puts it in his review, “I don’t care how well the bees have got things organized, I wouldn’t want to be a bee. And not a May fly, either.” With that said, if one can ignore the blatant inaccuracies in Hellstrom’s narration — and simply laugh along with the faux gravity of his “dire warning” about insect domination — viewers are guaranteed a fascinating glimpse at a world we’re rarely able to view in such detail.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Truly impressive cinematography

  • The cool sequence in which a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis
  • Many disturbing “real life” images of insects brutally doing what it takes to survive
  • Pressman’s campy performance as Hellstrom

Must See?
Yes, for its status as an Oscar winner.

Categories

  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

Links:

Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

Rhapsody in Blue (1945)

“I don’t want to be just a concert pianist… I want to use the piano as a stepping stone!”

Synopsis:
George Gershwin (Robert Alda) rises quickly to fame, but his drive to compose leaves him little time for his two potential lovers: a socialite (Alexis Smith) and a singer (Joan Leslie).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Al Jolson Films
  • Alexis Smith Films
  • Biopics
  • Charles Coburn Films
  • Composers
  • Irving Rapper Films
  • Joan Leslie Films
  • Musicals
  • Oscar Levant Films

Review:
Despite being an enormous hit with audiences at the time (and earning two Oscar nominations), this biopic about American musical prodigy George Gershwin — made just seven years after his untimely death at the age of 39 from a brain tumor — received lackluster reviews from the New York Times, with Bosley Crowther lamenting that “there is never any true clarification of what makes the gentleman run, no interior grasp of his nature, no dramatic continuity to his life.” In truth, Rhapsody in Blue (directed by Irving Rapper) suffers from the same plight as most well-meaning mid-century Hollywood biopics: an inability to dig deeply enough into the true inner workings of its protagonist, and the frustrating use of fictional subplots (both romantic female leads here are fabricated, despite the fact that Gershwin actually wined and dined a number of famous real-life women, including Fay Wray.)

With that said, those willing to forego historical accuracy in favor of a fabulous aural tour through Gershwin’s brief but luminous career won’t be disappointed. Rhapsody in Blue is jam-packed with Gershwin tunes, including a nearly full-length rendition of the title song itself (a fabulous sequence), and cameos by several well-known performers, including Hazel Scott, Anne Brown, and Al Jolson. The acting performances are all fine as well: Robert Alda (Alan’s dad) effectively portrays Gershwin’s drive to achieve at an early age (eerily foreshadowing his premature death), and it’s great fun to see Oscar Levant playing an extended cameo as himself — in one particularly amusing shot, he’s seen anxiously watching Alda-as-Gershwin “performing” “Rhapsody in Blue”, when it’s actually his playing we’re hearing dubbed. Rhapsody in Blue may not reveal much about who Gershwin really was as a person, but it does a stellar job evoking the magic and beauty of his inimitable musical style; for this reason alone, it’s worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Alda as George Gershwin
  • Oscar Levant in a supporting role (as his inimitable himself): “I’ve got a date with my insomnia…”
  • The extended “Rhapsody in Blue” concert sequence
  • Sol Polito’s cinematography
  • A fabulous, Gershwin-saturated score

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for fans of Gershwin’s music.

Links:

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

“You’re tearing me apart! You say one thing, he says another, and everybody changes back again!”

Synopsis:
Disaffected teen Jim Stark (James Dean) moves to a new town and hopes to befriend his pretty neighbor, Judy (Natalie Wood), who hangs out with a group of toughs (led by Corey Allen). When a “chicky run” contest between Jim and Buzz (Allen) results in Buzz’s tragic death, Dean runs away with Judy and a troubled boy named Plato (Sal Mineo), who looks up to him as a father figure.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dennis Hopper Films
  • Family Problems
  • Generation Gap
  • James Dean Films
  • Juvenile Deliquents
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Nicholas Ray Films
  • Sal Mineo Films
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “great, emotionally charged youth film” (directed by Nicholas Ray) remains an enduring cult favorite, in large part because “generations of young men [and women] have identified with the misunderstood Jim Stark.” Method actor James Dean — who made only three films before his tragic death in a car accident at the age of 24 — plays a “vulnerable, self-destructive character [who] fits his off-screen image”; indeed, he perfectly captures the edginess of alienated teens everywhere who long for acceptance and love. Equally impressive are both Natalie Wood (a former child star who “aged” beautifully into teenagehood) as a guarded young “hood” who gradually reveals her vulnerability to Dean, and Sal Mineo as Jim’s tragic young protege “Plato”, whose intense desire for a father figure (and latent homosexual longings) cause him to latch onto Jim with unwise desperation. Other supporting actors throughout the film are fine as well; I’m particularly fond of Jim Backus (Thurston Howell on “Gilligan’s Island”) as Dean’s “emasculated” father, who clearly wants the best for his son but simply doesn’t understand what Jim needs (surely many parents of teens can relate to this dilemma!).

Several critics (see DVD Savant’s review, for instance) have pointed out that Rebel‘s screenplay is undeniably dated, with its abundant Freudian overtones — all troubles ultimately rest on the follies of inadequate parental figures — coming across as terribly heavy-handed. With that said, I believe the film’s melodramatic structure and tone ultimately work in its favor: the spiraling series of events depicted in the film (Jim’s “arrest”, his first day at a new high school, the fatal chicky run, and the climactic shoot-out) all take place within one 24-hour period, and are meant to demonstrate the fact that teenage angst not only feels all-consuming, but can quickly lead to unexpectedly grave consequences. While Rebel Without a Cause is undeniably a downer (those final scenes are tough to watch), its status as a culturally iconic movie makes it must-see viewing for all film fanatics; and — thanks to Dean’s charismatic presence — it will likely continue to endure as a cult favorite.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • James Dean as Jim Stark
  • Natalie Wood as Judy
  • Sal Mineo as Plato
  • Jim Backus as Jim’s well-meaning but “emasculated” father
  • The infamous “chicky run” scene
  • Good use of Los Angeles locales, such as the Griffith Observatory
  • Effective use of symbolic colors (particularly red)

Must See?
Yes. This undisputed classic of ’50s cinema should be seen at least once by every film fanatic. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies (1981).

Categories

  • Cult Movie
  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

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

Links:

Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The (1974)

Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The (1974)

“A train is down, its radio’s dead, the power’s off, and it’s dumped its load — aside from that, everything is ginger peachy.”

Synopsis:
When a group of armed men, led by “Mr. Blue” (Robert Shaw), hijack a New York City subway car in exchange for a million dollars in ransom, it’s up to Lieutenant Garber (Walter Matthau) to save the day — if he can.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Hostages
  • New York City
  • Robert Shaw Films
  • Trains and Subways
  • Walter Matthau Films

Review:
This darkly comedic heist flick has garnered renewed attention recently due to Tony Scott’s upcoming remake, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta, and scheduled for release in 2009. Yet the original remains a worthy, well-acted flick, with Matthau and Shaw — star of The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1964) — perfectly cast as cat-and-mouse foils: both are immensely clever, and both are equally determined to succeed. Leavening the undeniably dark timbre of the script (numerous deaths occur) are several humorous subplots concerning the day-to-day workings of the New York City Transit Authority; the hostage situation is not only dangerous, but an inconvenience as well. Unfortunately, several plot holes mar what is otherwise a tightly scripted flick: Mr. Blue and his associates, for instance, never bother to check their passengers for hidden weapons, and their get-away plan is shaky at best. Regardless, The Taking of Pelham is guaranteed to appeal to fans of the genre, and will be especially enjoyable for anyone who’s ever taken a ride on the NYC Metro.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Walter Matthau as Lt. Garber
  • Robert Shaw as “Mr. Blue”
  • Effective use of New York subways

Must See?
Yes, as an all around “good show” and popular favorite.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links: