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Month: February 2019

Concert for Bangladesh (1972)

Concert for Bangladesh (1972)

“It just happens to be Pakistan now, as far as I can see — it happens to be that which we’re doing the benefit for. It’s a particularly bad situation there, but it does happen all the time — this is happening everywhere.”

Synopsis:
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison host a concert at Madison Square Garden on behalf of refugees from Bangladesh, with appearances by Bob Dylan, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, and others.

Genres:

  • Concert Films
  • Refugees

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “fine rock-concert film which many people forget exists” — likely because it’s so hard to find these days! — “documents the twin benefit concerts held on August 1, 1971, for the the United Nations Children’s Fund for the Relief to the Refugee Children of Bangladesh”, which was the idea of “the Beatles’ George Harrison and Indian musician Ravi Shankar”. Peary asserts that “watching it on home video is quite suitable”, especially since “that way you can fast-forward through Shankar’s opening set” (!!!) — a sentiment I’m in complete disagreement with; Shankar’s perforance is my favorite portion of the concert. Peary argues that Harrison, who “sings several Beatles songs and his biggest solo hits”, “has charisma as a solo performer”, and that “certainly the highlight is the appearance of Bob Dylan, who does several solos and an exciting chorus with Harrison and [Leon] Russell”. Again, I’m not in agreement with Peary’s assessment of Dylan, though it’s fun regardless to see so many big-name musicians of the era up on stage performing together. This remains a fairly straightforward concert film, without much fanfare or post-production work; its primary claim to fame is being the first such large-scale concert held to raise money for, and awareness of, global human rights issues.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ravi Shankar’s opening raga
  • George Harrison’s quietly charismatic presence
  • A fine example of diverse artists coming together to make music for a worthy cause

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look for historical purposes if you can find a copy.

Links:

Big Heat, The (1953)

Big Heat, The (1953)

“This is my home, and I don’t like dirt tracked into it.”

Synopsis:
When a policeman commits suicide, his wife (Jeanette Nolan) immediately calls local crime lord Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) and shares that his suicide note contains damning evidence of political collusion. Meanwhile, a detective (Glenn Ford) with a loving wife (Jocelyn Brando) and young daughter (Linda Bennett) talks with a bargirl (Dorothy Green) who claims the dead policeman was her lover and had no intention of killing himself. Bennett is found murdered later that evening — but when Ford is told by his superior (Willis Bouchey) to lay low on the case, he becomes increasingly suspicious and confronts Lagana in his house, duking it out with Lagana’s bodyguard (Chris Alcaide). Tragedy soon strikes Ford’s own home and he turns into a haunted man, determined to solve the case and becoming ever-more-entwined with the life of a moll (Gloria Grahame) whose thuggish boyfriend (Lee Marvin) works for Lagana.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “terrific Fritz Lang film” — “briskly paced, moodily photographed by Charles B. Lang, [and] brilliantly scripted by Sydney Boehm from William P. McGivern’s novel” — is “a truly exciting, political film, brimming with clever twists, sparkling touches, offbeat characters, and even scenes of genuine tenderness.” He notes that it “links hard-hitting expose films of the fifties with forties film noir,” adding that “while it coolly surveys the all-inclusive political/police corruption, it is equally concerned with the corruption of a decent man’s soul.” He writes that “among other noir elements are pervading pessimism, ferocious violence, a hero who makes one vital mistake from which there is little chance of recovery — he underestimates his opposition as much as they do him — and the intertwining traits of fatalism and paranoia”. Peary adds that “Lang sets up his usual bottomless pit over which his men must walk a tightrope”, noting that “Ford finds his allies are the least likely people in town: other people who have nothing to lose, including Gloria Grahame, who was the girlfriend of Scourby’s righthand man, Lee Marvin, until he became angry because she spoke to Ford and he disfigured her pretty face with hot coffee”. (Indeed, this shockingly brutal scene is the film’s most infamous one — though many may forget it’s “revisited” later to satisfying effect.)

To that end, as Peary writes, Grahame “does the dirty work before Ford gets a chance”, and “her charitable act purges Ford of his consuming hatred and reestablishes his faith in people.” Peary goes into greater detail about Grahame’s performance in Alternate Oscars, where he names her Best Actress of the Year and refers to her as “a great, underrated actress who was at her peak”: she had recently made a moderate impression in both A Woman’s Secret (1949) and In a Lovely Place (1950), and won a Best Supporting Actress the year before for her work in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) in addition to co-starring in Macao (1952), Sudden Fear (1952), and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). Peary writes that her character in The Big Heat “is one of her many sensuous, flirtatious women who are unhappy with their lives, and feel they are unworthy of the men they fall for” (i.e., James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life). While “she’s too good to be stuck with the brutal Vince [Marvin]”, “until she meets Bannion [Ford] she believes that he is typical of all men”, not realizing until later that “she deserves better”.

In GFTFF, Peary adds that The Big Heat is “much about territorial imperative. Notice how all the characters regard their homes or work establishments as their power bases; how the richer the home, the more corrupt its owner…; how when one person enters or merely telephones the home of an enemy, it is tantamount to an act of aggression…” He notes that “this is a vigilante film with a difference — the hero learns that going outside the law is not only wrong but the first step to becoming as bad as the enemy”. Indeed, Ford’s determined yet foolhearty actions during the film’s first half hour leave a decidedly bitter taste in one’s mouth, given the domestic tranquility we know he’s putting at risk; how can he be so dumb? It’s easier for me to contextualize this film (as noted in Peary’s Cult Movies 2 essay) within German-born Lang’s broader oeuvre of movies about characters who “have the misfortune to live in a preordained world” where “if they make the wrong decision, take the wrong fork in the road, or end up at the wrong place at the wrong time, they risk falling into a bottomless pit, a nightmare world where they have no control over their futures” — as is the case for Spencer Tracy in Fury (1936) and Henry Fonda in You Only Live Once (1937), both also starring a man “who seems to be constantly looking over his shoulder”. As Peary writes, “Dave Bannion [Ford] is a prime candidate for falling into fate’s trap”, given that “he also acts impulsively… rather than considering the possible consequences for himself and his family. It pays to be cautious in Lang’s world.”

Note: Little to no mention is made by critics of the opening scene, when Lagana’s male employee emerges on screen in a white terry-cloth robe to hand the phone to his sleeping boss — this, combined with lack of physical evidence of a wife, and the presence of numerous hunky young bodyguards, implies Lagano’s sexual preferences without highlighting them.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gloria Grahame as Debby
  • Glenn Ford as Dave Bannion
  • Excellent supporting performances throughout
  • Fine direction and cinematography
  • Sydney Boehm’s hard-hitting script (with much credit to William P. McGivern’s source novel)

Must See?
Yes, most definitely. Nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Alternate Oscars.

Categories

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

Links:

China Syndrome, The (1979)

China Syndrome, The (1979)

“There is no conspiracy, there is no cover-up.”

Synopsis:
A TV journalist (Jane Fonda) and her cameraman (Michael Douglas) discover that all is not well at a local nuclear power plant. While it’s clear the plant supervisor (Jack Lemmon) is alarmed by an accident that’s taken place, he’s hesitant to speak out given warnings by his boss (Scott Brady) — but Fonda and Douglas are determined to unearth and expose the truth.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “cautionary film about the possibilities of a meltdown at a nuclear plant” — featuring “sharp direction by James Bridges” — “achieved tremendous box office success not only because of its quality and the integrity of the filmmakera and stars, but also because the accident at Three Mile Island happened just when the picture was released”. Peary argues that “Lemmon’s performance is too mannered, and [the] film’s ending (outside the plant) doesn’t have Fonda or anyone else making the necessary strong statements (it’s as if the filmmakers backed off)” — both opinions I disagree with. Lemmon’s performance is as strong as ever, fully grounding his “side” of the story, and I find the ending eerily opaque. Peary does write that “otherwise this is a sold film, proof you can make an exciting movie that has political relevance” — though he once again quibbles that “it would have made a stronger antinuclear statement if the plant were unsafe despite meeting NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] standards”. He adds that “Fonda has one of her best roles, another of her smart but naive women who break out of a secure world and risk looking foolish to learn what’s going on.” I also appreciate Douglas’s small but vital role as a determined videographer who secretly films the nuclear plant accident despite being told not to (his actions remind one of modern-day phone-cam users recording pivotal interactions on the sly), and who will stop at nothing to make the evidence available.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jane Fonda as Kimberly Wells
  • Michael Douglas as Richard Adams
  • Jack Lemmon as Jack Godell

Must See?
Yes, as a still-compelling story and for the fine performances.

Categories

Links:

Rio Grande (1950)

Rio Grande (1950)

“To my only rival — the United States Cavalry.”

Synopsis:
A cavalry officer (John Wayne) placed on the Texas frontier to defend the state against Apache attack is distressed to see his son (Claude Jarman, Jr.) — recently denied entry to West Point — showing up as a recruit. Trooper Jeff (Jarman, Jr.) is followed by Wayne’s estranged wife (Maureen O’Hara), who has come to bring her son back home — but events quickly lead to both her brave men being needed on the front.

Genres:

Review:
This third entry in John Ford’s unintentionally conceived “cavalry trio” — after Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) — features John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in the first of their five on-screen pairings, followed most memorably by their rocky romance in The Quiet Man (1952). Things are already pretty contentious in this earlier film, however, with the craggy environment mirroring Wayne and O’Hara’s strained marriage — apparently caused by Wayne’s extreme commitment to his career, as well as the fact that a sergeant (Victor McLaglen) under Wayne’s command set torch to O’Hara’s property in Shenandoah during the Civil War (!?). None of this quite makes sense as a reason for the couple’s long-standing challenges, especially when it’s so obvious they really love each other; indeed, the entire storyline feels like simply an excuse to show off some cool horsemanship moves and to regress into once again presenting Indians as faceless, alcoholic warriors ready to be killed off en masse. The cinematography is gorgeous, though, especially in Blu-Ray.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Maureen O’Hara as Kathleen (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • John Wayne as Lieutenant Colonel Yorke
  • Bert Glennon’s cinematography



  • Fun footage of Cavalry horsemanship

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Ford completists.

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

Links: