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Month: May 2021

Broken Arrow (1950)

Broken Arrow (1950)

“There can be no peace if there is no good will to try it.”

Synopsis:
Civil War veteran Tom Jeffords (Jimmy Stewart) befriends Apache Chief Cochise (Jeff Chandler) and falls in love with a beautiful young Indian woman (Debra Paget). Can Stewart help broker broader peace between whites and the Apaches, starting with securing safe passage for mail carriers?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Debra Paget Films
  • Delmer Daves Films
  • Jeff Chandler Films
  • Jimmy Stewart Films
  • Native Americans
  • Westerns

Review:
Broken Arrow — scripted by blacklisted writer Albert Maltz, using Michael Blankfort as a front — is notable as one of the first Hollywood westerns to attempt to portray Native Americans in a more balanced and sympathetic light. Despite starring whites (Chandler and Paget) in the lead Apache roles, hundreds of Apaches played extras; much of the action was filmed reasonably close to where the historical events originally took place (in Arizona); and an opening voiceover by Stewart informs us that we will hear the Apaches speaking English simply for the sake of convenience (rather than using the alternative du jour of “broken English”). Indeed, Broken Arrow remains impressive as an early attempt to humanize Indians and show the appeal of their culture to whites like Stewart (at least in his choice of an Indian bride and willingness to live with the tribe). Meanwhile, the storyline is a fairly compelling one — can peace realistically be be brokered when so much ill-will and bloodshed have taken place? — and Ernest Palmer’s Technicolor cinematography is gorgeous.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jeff Chandler as Cochise
  • Jimmy Stewart as Tom Jeffords
  • Fine location shooting in Arizona
  • A refreshingly nuanced (if inevitably still somewhat inaccurate) portrayal of Apache culture

  • Ernest Palmer’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a compelling and unique western for its era.

Categories

  • Good Show
  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Rush to Judgment (1967)

Rush to Judgment (1967)

“I figure there’s somethin’ else been goin’ on besides what should be.”

Synopsis:
Documentarian Emile De Antonio films lawyer-author Mark Lane speaking with various individuals regarding the veracity of the Warren Commission‘s inquiry into the murder of JFK.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Assassination
  • Documentary
  • Emile De Antonio Films

Review:
Counterculture documentarian Emile de Antonio made a handful of must-see films covering various controversial topics in American history — including Point of Order (1964) about the McCarthy hearings, In the Year of the Pig (1968) about the Vietnam War, and this “alternative view” of the JFK assassination, featuring numerous witnesses whose testimony wasn’t necessarily taken into account when the government crafted its notorious report on the crime. The result is a disturbing insight into how and why conspiracy theories immediately began to circulate, given what seems like clear and ample evidence that complicates the Warren Commission’s findings. Many individuals here seem justifiably distraught — including a man hit by gunfire debris while watching the Dallas motorcycle, a man who witnessed the assassination from a close distance with his five-year-old son next to him, and Abraham Zapruder (who shot the 26.6-second assassination footage seen world-wide), among others. All Americans should make a point of watching this film as part of their overall understanding of what may have happened on the infamous day of November 22, 1963.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Invaluable historical footage




Must See?
Yes, at least for American film fanatics, for its historical relevance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Four Feathers, The (1939)

Four Feathers, The (1939)

“There’s no place in England for a coward.”

Synopsis:
When young British officer Harry Faversham (John Clements) resigns his post shortly before his regiment is due to deploy to Sudan, he alienates his three close officer-friends (Ralph Richardson, Jack Allen, and Donald Gray) and his fiancee (June Duprez), whose blustery veteran-father (C. Aubrey Smith) is especially disappointed — but when Faversham receives four white feathers in the mail signaling his cowardice, he quickly decides to go undercover as a mute Arab in the Middle East to save his friends from harm and regain his honor.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Deserts
  • June Duprez Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Soldiers
  • Zoltan Korda Films

Review:
The Hungarian-born Korda brothers — including director Zoltan, producer Alexander, and art director Vincent — were the creative force behind this fourth cinematic adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about courage, cowardice, redemption, and British colonial might in Africa. It’s notable as one of the biggest budget Technicolor films made in cinema’s glory year of 1939, and remains an impressive adventure flick in terms of on-location shooting in Sudan, plenty of locals as extras, and fidelity to historical detail. Unfortunately, the storyline itself leaves much to be desired. We’re shown young Faversham (Clive Baxter) being shamed for preferring poetry to war:

… and then soundly rejected by all those closest to him when he makes the brave choice to break with tradition — as he explains here to Duprez:

We’ve discussed it so often — the futility of this idiotic Egyptian adventure; the madness of it all; the ghastly waste of time that we can never have again… I believe in our happiness. I believe in the work to be done here to save an estate that’s near to ruin. To save all those people who’ve been neglected by my family because they preferred glory in India, glory in China, glory in Africa.

Unfortunately, this perspective is glossed over completely once he receives three white feathers of shame and Duprez rejects his logic as well (he eventually adds another feather for her):

So much for wanting to stay local and non-interventionist. I know it’s petty to view a movie like this from strictly a 21st century anti-colonialist perspective, but this lost (potential) narrative thread is frustrating. At any rate, audiences at the time must have been simply thrilled to see so much action taking place in “exotic” places, with plenty of action and fighting — and Faversham’s dedication to saving his three friends is truly impressive.



Meanwhile, Richardson turns in a fine performance as a rival for Duprez’s affections who becomes blinded due to heat stroke.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine location shooting and period detail
  • Beautiful Technicolor cinematography


Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious.

Links:

49th Parallel (1941)

49th Parallel (1941)

“It’s not the Canadian people we’re against; it’s your filthy government.”

Synopsis:
When their U-Boat sinks in Northern Canada, a Nazi naval lieutenant (Eric Portman) and five of his men (including Raymond Lovell and Niall MacGinnis) attempt to make their way across the border to neutral America. During their undercover journey they meet a lusty French-Canadian trapper (Laurence Olivier), a peace-loving Hutterite leader (Anton Walbrook), an art-loving writer (Leslie Howard) living among Indians, and an AWOL Canadian soldier (Raymond Massey).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anton Wolbrook Films
  • Fugitives
  • Glynis Johns Films
  • Laurence Olivier Films
  • Leslie Howard Films
  • Michael Powell Films
  • Nazis
  • Raymond Massey Films
  • World War II

Review:
Just prior to forming their production company The Archers, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made this propaganda film specifically to persuade neutral United States to enter the war against Germany (though by the time it was released, they were already involved). Powell and Pressburger’s unique stance is one of making Nazi fugitives the protagonists, meaning we can’t help but somewhat relate to their plight while simultaneously detesting their beliefs and actions. A host of big-name actors lend their heft to snippets of the storyline, beginning with Laurence Olivier sporting a heavy French-Canadian accent as a trapper recently returned from his trade and shocked to find that Canada is at war, and ending with Massey in a heroic turn as an AWOL soldier who does the right thing for his country. Most affecting is the sequence taking place among Hutterites, where MacGinnis is reintroduced to his craft as a baker — and thus remembers what a “good life” really consists of — and Walbrook plays a calm and composed leader. While it’s not must-see viewing, this film remains worth viewing once for its historical interest.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anton Walbrook as Peter
  • Niall MacGinniss as Vogel
  • Freddie Young’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Jet Pilot (1957)

Jet Pilot (1957)

“General Black, I’m a jet man — not a gigolo!”

Synopsis:
An Air Force colonel (John Wayne) falls in love with a beautiful Soviet pilot (Janet Leigh) who claims she wants to defect, but is actually a spy.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Cold War
  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Hans Conried Films
  • Janet Leigh Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Josef von Sternberg Films
  • Spies
  • Strong Females

Review:
The origin story of this lackluster Cold War romantic “comedy” — Josef von Sternberg’s final directorial outing — is that Howard Hughes wanted to make a jet-age update to his 1930 film Hell’s Angels, but was so obsessed with getting every detail right that it took seven years from initial filming to release, at which point the jets featured in the film were already outdated.

It’s a fairly ridiculous male fantasy featuring a busty female lead who is Russian but speaks English without any accent at all, and is sexy in all the “right” ways — including loving juicy steaks, beautiful lingerie, and fast planes.

Bosley Crowther was merciless in his review for The New York Times, referring to it as a “dud” that’s “silly and sorry,” and noting that “if it lacks for dramatic vitality, which it most certainly does, you can blame that on a weak script, poor direction and indifferent performances by all.” The one redeeming quality is beautiful cinematography by Winston Hoch, with Leigh looking simply dreamy in all shots.

Peary likely includes this title in his book for its one-time historical notoriety, but it no longer holds that status, and certainly isn’t must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography (primarily of Janet Leigh)

Must See?
No; you can definitely skip this one.

Links:

Tin Star, The (1957)

Tin Star, The (1957)

“You’d better take off that tin star and stay alive.”

Synopsis:
A former-sheriff-turned-bounty-hunter (Henry Fonda) rides into a town where the current sheriff (Anthony Perkins) is afraid to face the local bully (Neville Brand). Fonda soon falls for a widow (Betsy Palmer) with a young half-Native son (Michel Ray), and Perkins gradually learns the tricks of his trade — perhaps enough to convince his girlfriend (Mary Webster) to marry him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Mann Films
  • Anthony Perkins Films
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • Mentors
  • Sheriffs and Marshals
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary opens his review of this Anthony Mann-directed western by noting that “the typical leads” in such films “are men who were once solid citizens in the increasingly tame West, but had something terrible happen to wreck their settled lives — usually the deaths of everyone they loved, caused by people they had trusted — that sent them on crazed, savage paths of revenge throughout the West,” thus leading Mann to show “how these men finally rid themselves of their inner demons, allowing the prodigal sons to be welcomed back into civilization.” Such is the case here, with Fonda playing a ‘hero’ who “became a ruthless bounty hunter after his wife and child died,” who “rides into a struggling town where a young deputy (Anthony Perkins) is in over his head trying to bring about law and order.” Peary notes that perhaps Fonda sees “himself in Perkins, who had been a youth with hopes, dreams, and ideals,” and thus he “teaches him the ropes so that he can handle any situation.”

Meanwhile, he “becomes attached to” a widow and her son — a “ready-made new family” — and once “again has something to live for.”

Interestingly, The Tin Star has a “pacifist theme, unusual for a western,” and “Mann succeeds in getting us to want a peaceful resolution, without hero-vs.-bad-guy confrontation scenes.” Meanwhile, “Fonda gives a very controlled, sensible performance” — not “nearly as neurotic as Jimmy Stewart in his Mann films.”

I’m in overall agreement with Peary’s review of this well-made western, nicely filmed by cinematographer Loyal Griggs and featuring a relatively uncomplicated tale of mentoring and redemption in the Old West. Film fanatics will surely enjoy seeing Betsy Palmer (of Friday the 13th notoriety) as a sympathetic young single mother:

… Neville brand as (naturally) a baddie:

… and John McIntire giving a quiet but powerful performance as the beloved town doctor.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Loyal Griggs’ cinematography


  • Elmer Bernstein’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you like westerns.

Links:

Dawn Patrol, The (1938)

Dawn Patrol, The (1938)

“You know what this place is? It’s a slaughterhouse – and I’m a butcher.”

Synopsis:
The commanding officer (Basil Rathbone) of an RFC squadron in WWI-era France is replaced by one of his ace pilots (Errol Flynn), who quickly learns how challenging it is to send young men into the air without sufficient training. When Flynn’s best buddy (David Niven) loses his younger brother (Morton Lowry) in a flight, Flynn feels especially responsible, and vows to make things right.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Barry Fitzgerald Films
  • Basil Rathbone Films
  • David Niven Films
  • Edmund Goulding Films
  • Errol Flynn Films
  • World War I

Review:
Edmund Goulding directed this closely aligned remake of Howard Hawks’ 1930 film of the same name, using stock aerial footage from the previous movie. Thankfully, all the selling points of Hawks’ version are here as well, including powerful performances by the male leads (there were once again no women in the cast) and almost unbearable tension built through cyclical repetition of key themes and motifs — including counting the number of airplane motors heard returning after a mission (to determine how many have died); young replacement recruits arriving just in time to head into the air towards their near-certain death; and alcohol-fueled carousing by the men in order to numb the insanity of their existence. While this film isn’t must-see viewing (I give that status to the original), it remains highly recommended if you can stomach it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Errol Flynn as Courtney
  • David Niven as Scott
  • Basil Rathbone as Major Brand
  • Tony Gaudio’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely recommended.

Links:

Desperate Journey (1942)

Desperate Journey (1942)

“We must all do our work before we can go back to doing what we love.”

Synopsis:
A group of downed Allied airmen (Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, Arthur Kennedy, and Ronald Sinclair) fight against the Nazis while being pursued by a relentless major (Raymond Massey), eventually receiving support from a beautiful young Resistance fighter (Nancy Coleman).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Hale Films
  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Errol Flynn Films
  • Nazis
  • Raoul Walsh Films
  • Raymond Massey Films
  • Ronald Reagan Films
  • World War II

Review:
Raoul Walsh’s second of seven collaborations with Errol Flynn — after They Died With Their Boots On (1941), and before Gentleman Jim (1942) and Objective, Burma! (1945), among others — was this quickly produced comedic wartime drama clearly designed to get young American men excited at the prospect of heading out to war. DVD Savant accurately describes it as “a preposterous tale of Allied derring-do behind enemy lines, with Flynn and his gung-ho buddies (including his Robin Hood sidekick Alan Hale) making fools of the Nazis in their own back yard” — meaning, none of it should be taken too seriously despite the gravity of the subject matter. While several of the airmen do (nobly) die, we know at least some will survive — and to the film’s credit, their final moments are truly a satisfying fantasy.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bert Glennon’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though Flynn fans will likely want to check it out.

Links:

Hustler, The (1961)

Hustler, The (1961)

“Eddie, you’re a born loser.”

Synopsis:
A young pool hustler (Paul Newman) and his manager (Myron McCormick) arrive in New York so Eddie (Newman) can finally play against a legend in the field, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Eddie’s refusal to quit while ahead leads him to lose all his money, and he soon falls for an alcoholic aspiring writer (Piper Laurie) he meets at the bus station, then eventually agrees to work for a manipulative financier (George C. Scott).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • George C. Scott Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Piper Laurie Films
  • Robert Rossen Films
  • Romance

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “powerful adaptation of Walter Tevis’s short story and novel about embittered pool hustler ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson… whose obsession with winning at all costs makes him the ultimate loser” features Paul Newman giving “one of his most emotional performances.” As Peary notes, all four stars — Newman, Laurie, Scott, and Gleason — “give masterful, unforgettable performances, and the dialogue is tough and believable,” but the film ultimately “stands out because of its vivid depiction of the sleazy poolroom milieu,” presented as “a male battleground where one doesn’t win just by pocketing the most balls but by beating an opponent into humiliating submission.” Peary adds that “Rossen shows the importance of body language, of smiling confidently, of talking smoothly, of holding back the sweat — and how important to a player’s style are the various props: pool sticks, liquor, cigarettes, jackets, flowers in the lapel, hats, shades.”

In Alternate Oscars, Peary gives Newman the Best Actor award he was expecting (and deserved). He writes that “as the brash, smart-ass hustler — a combination of a cocky gunslinger and a boxer willing to sell out friends in order to get a title shot — Newman has surprising authority on the screen, using not only a strong voice and that devil’s grin to hold our attention but also a confident pool player’s dramatic and imposing body language.” Thankfully, while “his character is a bundle of energy and anger,” Newman “wisely doesn’t try to overpower the role by acting hyper or using too many mannerisms.” Equally impressive is Laurie, who Peary nominates as one of the Best Actresses of the Year; her troubled, needy, yet distant character seems exactly like someone Eddie might fall for, and her trajectory is tragic indeed. Meanwhile, Scott (in just his third movie role) dominates whenever he’s on screen, perfectly embodying “a rich bastard who likes ‘action'” and “thinks Eddie is a loser… but knows he has talent”; and Gleason is perfectly cast as the “fat man” with impeccable pool skills. Also of note are Eugene Shuftan’s b&w cinematography, Kenyon Hopkins’ jazzy score, Dede Allen’s editing, Harry Horner’s production design, and a smart screenplay. While it’s hard to watch at times, this dark classic remains must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Newman as Eddie Felson
  • Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard
  • George C. Scott as Bert Gordon
  • Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats
  • The intense opening pool sequence between Eddie and Fats
  • Harry Horner’s production design
  • Eugene Shuftan’s cinematography

  • Sydney Carroll and Robert Rossen’s screenplay
  • Dede Allen’s editing
  • Kenyon Hopkins’ jazzy score

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful if undeniably bleak classic.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

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

Links:

Man of the West (1958)

Man of the West (1958)

“There’s a point where you either grow up and become a human being, or you rot like that bunch.”

Synopsis:
A reformed outlaw (Gary Cooper) travelling on a hijacked train along with a petty swindler (Arthur O’Connell) and a saloon singer (Julie London) seeks refuge in a cabin inhabited by his former gang mates (Jack Lord, John Dehner, Royal Dano, and Robert Wilke), who are rightfully suspicious about his claim that he’s come back to join them — but their sociopathic leader (Lee J. Cobb) loves Link (Cooper) enough to give him a second chance.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Mann Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Gary Cooper Films
  • Lee J. Cobb Films
  • Outlaws
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary asserts that this “adult western” about “psychotic killers… who are the total opposites of the romanticized badmen of countless westerns” remains “one of the harshest portraits of the West.” It centers on “a morally ambiguous hero (Gary Cooper) who yields to his long-held-in-check violent nature in order to do in his brutal kin” and contains “a liberal dose of sex, the ingredient that most distinguished it from the spate of television westerns” being made at the time.

He adds that the “shootouts are inevitable and exciting,” and points out that “Cooper is not happy to fight [John] Dehner because he is the man Cooper would have been if he hadn’t deserted Cobb years before.”

He writes that “as in most Mann films, there are two men with similar backgrounds, one who chose to put away his guns as the West became civilized and one who chose to keep being an outlaw, which, in Mann’s films, made his demise inevitable.”

Peary goes on to write that “this picture is also similar to other Mann films because the rugged outdoor landscapes provide the characters with the appropriate environment for uncivilized behavior.”

He points out that “the film’s most notorious, most publicized scene has [Jack] Lord forcing [Julie] London to strip to her underwear” — and, as “an enlightened hero, Cooper realizes London’s humiliation… and gets revenge on Lord later by making him strip while she watches.”

Peary concludes his GFTFF review by noting that this remains “a solid, smart western” with “impressive CinemaScope photography” by Ernest Haller, but he argues that “Cooper shouldn’t be a ‘hick’ in the opening scene.”

Peary elaborates on his thoughts about this film in his first Cult Movies book, where he describes it as a “beautifully filmed, bloody, unsparing western, replete with interesting, complex characters and exciting situations,” and notes that “if it has a major flaw it comes at the beginning,” given that Cooper plays these scenes “as if he were Longfellow Deeds once again.” He adds, “Having [Cooper] come across as being so gullible and innocent that Sam [O’Connell)] and Billie [London] would attempt to wheedle him out of [his] money… is completely deceptive on Mann’s part.”

“If this naive-chump bit were an act by Link to cover up his identity” (which is how I ended up interpreting it) “it would make sense, but it’s for real” (how does Peary know?), and “when we discover that Link used to be a hardened criminal, these early scenes come across as ridiculous.” While “Mann might have been trying to get us to believe Link a weakling so we would be pleasantly surprised later in the film when we see him do heroic deeds,” he asserts that the “change here is too drastic.” I would ultimately agree; regardless of Mann’s motivation, the character shift for Cooper isn’t seamless — though it’s easy enough to forget about the earlier scenes once we enter the “tense melodrama” of “the cabin scenes,” which Mann likened to “those in Key Largo (1948).” Unfortunately, less easy to forgive is Cobb’s overly theatrical performance as the psychotic head honcho of the Tobin gang. Not helping matters any is the fact that 57-year-old Cooper was 10 years older than 47-year-old Cobb in real life, despite playing his adopted son.

However, there’s enough to recommend in this dark western by master-director Mann to make it worthy as once-must viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gary Cooper as Link Jones
  • Julie London as Billie Ellis
  • Excellent use of outdoor locales
  • Ernest Haller’s cinematography


Must See?
Yes, as a fine western by a master director.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

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

Links: