Fail Safe (1964)

Fail Safe (1964)

“In a nuclear war, everyone loses.”

Synopsis:
When a group of U.S. bombers are accidentally sent to destroy Moscow, the president (Henry Fonda) enlists help from a translator (Larry Hagman) in reaching the Soviet Prime Minister and attempting to prevent a nuclear disaster.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cold War
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • Nuclear Threat
  • Sidney Lumet Films
  • Walter Matthau Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this “very tense, grim drama, seriously directed by Sidney Lumet” — based on a 1962 novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler — as “Dr. Strangelove without the humor.” This story about “U.S. planes carrying nuclear bombs [who] are accidentally given the go-ahead to fly a bombing mission deep into Russia” “points out that there would be hawks in our government who’d insist that the U.S. should go through with a full-scale nuclear attack if such a mistake occurred rather than wait for the Russian retaliation.” What’s “most interesting is how we end up rooting for our own planes to be shot down, although the innocent men inside believe they’re just following orders.”

I was very pleasantly surprised to see how well this “serious counterpart” to Dr. Strangelove (both produced by Columbia Pictures) has stood up. Fonda effectively embodies the measured president we all wish we had; and Hagman is quietly nuanced in one of his earliest film roles. Meanwhile, Lumet’s direction (with support from George Hirschfeld as DP, Walter Bernstein’s script, and Ralph Rosenblum’s editing) is spot-on in terms of creating and maintaining tension across the various inter-connected spheres of the storyline (primarily the president’s office, the War Room, and the pilots’ cockpit).

This film is a literal nailbiter in terms of what will come next, with nothing less than the fate of our planet in the balance. You have every right to go into a viewing of it with trepidation — and come out feeling even more.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Henry Fonda as the President
  • Larry Hagman as Buck
  • George Hirschfeld’s cinematography
  • Walter Bernstein’s screenplay
  • Ralph Rosenblum’s editing

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful Cold War thriller.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

View From the Bridge, A (1962)

View From the Bridge, A (1962)

“This guy’s looking for his break; that’s all he’s looking for.”

Synopsis:
An over protective Italian-American (Raf Vallone) living in Brooklyn with his wife (Maureen Stapleton) and grown niece (Carol Lawrence) is distressed to learn that Catherine (Lawrence) has fallen for a young immigrant (Jean Sorel) who has come to the country illegally with his cousin (Raymond Pellegrin).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Miller Adaptations
  • Immigrants and Immigration
  • Play Adaptations
  • Sidney Lumet Films
  • Waterfront

Review:
The same year Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962) was released, Sidney Lumet also directed this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play of the same name — though to much lower critical acclaim. (Indeed, as of 2021, this film still hasn’t been released to video.) It’s a unique story in terms of its focus on immigrant status as a leverage point, with Vallone’s obsessive love for his niece getting in the way of doing the right and decent thing for his countrymen.

While Vallone himself is unaware of it, he harbors semi-incestuous feelings for Lawrence — and handsome Sorel bears the brunt of his anger. (In a “daring” scene for the time, he accuses Sorel of being homosexual by kissing him on the lips.)

However, arguably the most impacted by Vallone’s irrational hatred is Pellegrin, who is keeping his kids back at home alive by sending money he’s earned in America, and whose immigration status may be jeopardized by Vallone.

Meanwhile, Vallone’s wife (Stapleton) tries to intervene, but mostly simply watches events unfolding with horror. This tragedy of obsession, loyalty, responsibility, and revenge plays out in a way that hints at heartbreak from the get-go — which turns out to be accurate.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A powerful drama of inter-familial tensions
  • Good use of location shooting in Brooklyn

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you can find a copy. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Dolce Vita, La (1960)

Dolce Vita, La (1960)

“Only love gives me strength.”

Synopsis:
An entertainment journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) fields distressed phone calls from his clingy girlfriend (Yvonne Furneaux) while having a fling with an heiress (Anouk Aimee), accompanying a buxomy actress (Anita Ekberg) on a trip around Rome, covering a rainy media spectacle visitation from the Madonna, and hanging out with his married philosopher-friend (Alain Cuny) at his home.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anita Ekberg Films
  • Anouk Aimee Films
  • Federico Fellini Films
  • Italian Films
  • Journalists
  • Marcello Mastroianni Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “Federico Fellini’s mammoth film about the meaninglessness of Rome’s ‘sweet life’ is one of his most ambitious, fascinating, and popular works” — and also “his most cynical film.” Peary gives away a significant spoiler (occurring in the seventh night sequence out of nine) pretty early in his review, so I’ll bypass that and simply quote him noting that Mastroianni ultimately “realizes he has no escape from his worthless life” and “like all the others who have given up trying to find happiness or make a positive contribution to society, he dives headlong into orgies, cruelty, [and] planned frivolity.”

Peary describes “Fellini’s depiction of the sweet life [la dolce vita]” as one in which “nights are given over to decadence, dawn is a quiet time for reflection and, this being Italy, guilt — but not enough guilt to abandon the ugly yet intoxicating life-style.” He points out that the “film is filled with memorable characters (who move in and out of the story) and classic scenes: a statue of Christ hanging from a helicopter”:

… “Anita Ekberg’s walk through a fountain”:

… “Mastroianni’s argument with Furneaux in their car”:

… “the night at the palace”:

… “the striptease”:

… “Mastroianni slapping and putting feathers on a dazed female partygoer during an orgy”:

… “etc.”

As the film which sparked the phrase “Papparazzi” — after the name of Marcello’s photographer-friend “Papparazzo” (Walter Santesso), who is hovering around the periphery at all times — this film is appropriately filled with frenzy, movement, and multiple jam-packed frames.

Indeed, it’s so easy to get caught up in the relentless energy of the narrative that the film’s more sobering moments — especially those near the end — come as a quietly disturbing shock. Despite its technical brilliance and historical relevance as a turning point in Fellini’s career, this is not a film I can imagine watching very often; it’s far too heartbreaking for that. However, it remains must-see viewing at least once for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello
  • Otello Martelli’s cinematography


  • Numerous memorable scenes

  • Nino Rota’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of Italian cinema.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director

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

Links:

Body Heat (1981)

Body Heat (1981)

“You’re not too smart, are you? I like that in a man.”

Synopsis:
An unhappily married woman (Kathleen Turner) begins a torrid affair with a lawyer (William Hurt) who quickly comes to believe that Turner’s husband (Richard Crenna) is in the way of their happiness.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Femmes Fatales
  • Infidelity
  • Kathleen Turner Films
  • Lawyers
  • Mickey Rourke Films
  • Plot to Murder
  • William Hurt Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
In Peary’s GFTFF review of this neo-noir thriller, he writes that “it’s almost as if director-writer Lawrence Kasdan lucked upon footage from a noir classic that, for some reason, was missing actors — so all he had to do was photograph actors of his own using a script that utilized the sets and look of that old film and then mix the new footage with the old.” He argues that the “film so closely resembles — visually and thematically — classic noir films such as Double Indemnity that many critics complained… Kasdan was playing the copycat,” but he’s “impressed by what [he] thinks is a film lover’s attempt to re-create the noir style so he could thoroughly explore the elements that made it so fascinating.”

He adds that the “picture has a sharply written, almost campily humorous script; exciting, sexually explicit scenes; [and] strong performances by Hurt, Turner…, Crenna, Ted Danson (as Hurt’s DA friend), and Mickey Rourke (who teaches Hurt how to use explosives).”

In Cult Movies 3, Peary expands upon his analysis, noting that the film developed an obsessive fan club, and sharing his thoughts on why the film does more than simply slavishly imitate older noir. He points out that while “Kasdan incorporates a fatalism that is prevalent in noir classics,” he “gives it a twist” since “both adulterers are not doomed the moment they seal their conspiracy with a kiss”; instead, Turner’s Matty “determines her own destiny.”

On the other hand, Hurt’s Ned “pretty much fits the profile for noir ‘heroes'” given “he drinks and smokes constantly, is cynical and bored, thinks any woman would fall for him and that he is better than the man she is with now, tries to impress the femme fatale by devising and carrying out an intricate crime… and assumes Fate is too strong for him” — however, he “differs from most in that he’s not particularly sympathetic” and “doesn’t have any good qualities.”

Meanwhile, “Kasdan also breaks convention with the third major character, Edmund Walker [Cranna]… In film noir, the husband whom the lovers try to kill typically is an absolute victim, unaware that there is a plot against him and too weak to put up a defense if he did know” — but “not so with Richard Crenna’s creepily played Walker,” who is “anything but an unaggressive patsy” and “has reached his position of wealth and power by stepping on weaklings and exhibiting a callous disrespect for the law.”

However, “the biggest difference between Body Heat and the forties’ classics is in the presentation of sex.” Peary writes that “like Bob Rafelson’s Jack Nicholson-Jessica Lange remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), it brings the forefront the sex in James M. Cain’s novels that was only hinted at in the forties’ film adaptations.” He adds that “whereas forties’ femmes fatales used their sex appeal to lure unsuspecting men into their webs and to keep them willing prisoners, Matty uses the sex act to keep Ned in line.”

Peary writes that while he doesn’t think Body Heat is “on the same level as the classics of the genre,” he finds it “a worthy, legitimate, most enjoyable entry to the genre,” and adds that he especially likes “the cinematography — the prowling camera, the interesting light patterns — of [DP] Richard Kline”:

… “and how adeptly John Barry’s bluesy score complements the visuals and helps establish the proper sense of nightmare.” He notes that “best of all is Kathleen Turner,” who “proudly displays her long legs and daringly does nudity”; she “is extremely sexy, not just because of the way she looks… and her uninhibited nature in bed, but equally because of her energy and eagerness…, her confidence, her strength, her ambition, her perseverance, and her intelligence” — to the point that “Ned comes to realize, it was kind of an honor to be duped by such a woman.”

Note: The use of wind chimes in this film is particularly effective.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Kathleen Turner as Matty Walker
  • William Hurt as Ned Racine
  • Richard H. Kline’s atmospheric cinematography
  • John Barry’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a most enjoyable neo-noir.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Good Show
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

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

Links:

Chastity (1969)

Chastity (1969)

“Let’s do it my way; we’ll do it your way some other time.”

Synopsis:
As Chastity (Cher) hitchhikes her way across the country and into Mexico, she encounters a kind college student (Steve Whittaker), a naive young whorehouse visitor (Tom Nolan), and a predatory lesbian madam (Barbara London).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cher Films
  • Road Trip
  • Strong Females

Review:
Sonny Bono and Cher’s follow-up to their debut feature, Good Times (1967), was this self-financed flop which put the couple in debt. They wanted to connect with younger audiences through Cher’s portrayal of a beautiful hippie living life on her own terms — and to her credit, Cher’s Chastity is remarkably self-sufficient.

However, everything else about this turkey — including the script (Chastity talks to herself, a lot) and the acting — simply stinks; the final scene is especially cringe-worthy. Be forewarned.

Note: As DVD Savant posits, the director “Alessio de Paola” was likely Bono himself.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
Not much.

Must See?
No; you can most certainly skip this one unless you happen to be a Cher completist. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Chappaqua (1966)

Chappaqua (1966)

“I’m suffering from addiction to drugs!”

Synopsis:
A drug and alcohol-addicted young man (Conrad Rooks) experiencing flashbacks to hallucinogenic trips checks into a treatment center in France run by Opium Jones (William S. Burroughs), with care provided by Dr. Benoit (Jean-Louis Barrault).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
  • Counterculture
  • Living Nightmare

Review:
Writer-director Conrad Rooks’ semi-autobiographical film debut, about life under the influence and in recovery, features a pulsing soundtrack by Ravi Shankar and cameos by a handful of noted cultural icons, including Allen Ginsburg:

… William S. Burroughs:

… Hervé Villechaize:

… and Shankar himself.

The “narrative” (such as it is) is decidedly non-linear — more lyrical than logical, designed to directly put us into the mind of someone lost in a series of visions and hallucinations that are both pleasant:

… and more menacing (as in a metaphorical sequence showing the literal gamble one takes when doing drugs).

Rooks’ love of cinema is evident throughout, as in expressionist scenes evoking The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920):

… as well as the strategic casting of Barrault as a doctor overseeing a patient (Rooks) who occasionally imagines himself in clown make-up much like Barrault’s character in Children of Paradise (1945).

Meanwhile, the frequent footage taking place in Asian countries brings to mind the ubiquity of white youth searching for enlightenment in the East during this era.

While this is all terribly self-indulgent, it’s unique enough to merit a one-time look by those curious to see what it’s all about.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Robert Frank’s cinematography

  • Ravi Shankar’s score

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Women in Revolt (1971)

Women in Revolt (1971)

“Men – I hate men! You – I hate you!”

Synopsis:
Three New York women — a nymphomaniac (Holly Woodlawn), an aspiring-actress heiress (Candy Darling), and a man-hater (Jackie Curtis) — form an unhappy feminist group called the PIGs (Politically Involved Girls).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Paul Morrissey Films
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Strong Females

Review:
Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey co-directed this tedious spoof about the women’s movement, starring three trans-females who are pretty unlikable: when allowed to improvise, they simply whine and act insufferably. Cult star Jackie Curtis, for instance, mercilessly abuses and ridicules her man-slave hippie:

… while Woodlawn mostly writhes around uncontrollably like an animal in heat, lashing out in lust at just about everyone around her.

Candy Darling is the most relatively appealing and intriguing — though she’s ultimately not interested in much more than breaking through as an actor and impersonating Kim Novak (which she’s reasonably good at).

While I’ll admit to getting weirdly caught up in the shenanigans of the protagonists in Morrissey’s earlier Flesh (1968) and Trash (1970), the appeal of this one eludes me completely.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Candy Darling as Candy

Must See?
Nope; you can skip this one. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Siddhartha (1972)

Siddhartha (1972)

“There’s nothing wrong with the Buddha’s teachings; it’s just that I must go my own way.”

Synopsis:
A spiritually-seeking young Indian named Siddhartha (Shashi Kapoor) goes on a trip of self-discovery with his friend Govinda (Romesh Sharma), eventually falling in love with a beautiful courtesan (Simi Garewal) while learning that spiritual enlightenment can’t be taught.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • India
  • Religious Faith

Review:
This adaptation of Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel of the same name was written and directed by Conrad Rooks, whose only other directorial effort is the GFTFF-listed Chappaqua (1966). Sven Nykvist’s cinematography is exquisite throughout:

… but there’s not enough to this simple storyline to hold our interest. Siddhartha gives up his worldly comforts, follows the Buddha for awhile, tries a life of sensual pleasure:

… and eventually realizes that the only truth in life is what one experiences internally.

This was all very much of its time back in the early 1970s, when so many were on similar paths of spiritual seeking — but it will likely only be of interest to modern-day film fanatics who happen to be curious about how Hesse’s novel was translated to the screen.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Sven Nykvist’s cinematography

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

Links:

Man of Flowers (1983)

Man of Flowers (1983)

“Would God approve of someone who found flowers as sensually arousing, tender, loving beings?”

Synopsis:
An eccentric elderly man (Norman Kaye) with a fixation on flowers and his dead mother pays a young model (Alyson Best) to come to his house and undress for him, and soon finds himself caught up in Best’s troubled relationship with her drug-addicted artist-boyfriend (Chris Haywood).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Australian Films
  • Models
  • Nonconformists
  • Werner Herzog Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is a big fan of this “marvelous, richly-textured, award-winning film about a lovable, rich, middle-aged eccentric (Norman Kaye)” who is “haunted by his sad upbringing” and “spends his time battling the mediocrity that characterizes the modern world,” “seeking out and nurturing its rare forms of beauty.”

He describes Kaye as someone who “writes daily letters to his mother although she is long dead, has regular sessions with an incompetent therapist:

… and mails himself letters so he can engage in meaningful conversations with his mailman.” In addition, “He paints, plays the church organ, listens to classical music, collects art and sculpture, and once a week pays a beautiful artist’s model (Alyson Best) to strip to the love duet from Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor” — though he never touches her “as his intentions are honorable.”

Peary argues that “director Paul Cox smoothly blends wicked, offbeat humor with sad, penetrating looks at nice people who have really been clobbered (in more ways than one) in life.” He asserts that Kaye — “who was terrific in Cox’s Lonely Hearts, is even better here, playing a triumphant character instead of an insecure loser” — a “wonderful, original film character whose unique perspective on life has helped him overcome every roadblock to happiness” and who “is the ideal protector of the much younger Best” given that they “each can provide the other what they need most at this particular time in their lives.”

However, I don’t really agree. While Kaye certainly shows unique agency in the final portion of the film, he is far from a “triumphant character,” but rather a sad, haunted man whose flashbacks to his past (including Werner Herzog playing his disciplinarian father):

… show how deeply wounded he was and remains. Sure, he gets by (he’s inherited plenty of money), but he’s deluded, lonely, misunderstood, and in some cases blatantly taken advantage of. His noble desire to help Best is laudable — though Peary weirdly ignores the fact that Best actually takes up a new lesbian lover (Sarah Walker) who seems equally interested in rescuing (and seducing) her.

Peary does point out that “since this film is about a lover of beauty, it’s only fitting that Cox’s film is beautiful to look at and has a sumptuous classical score to listen to,” and I agree with this; the sets, cinematography, and score are noteworthy.

On a personal note, I recall watching this film years ago in an evening class on Australian Cinema. Our instructor insisted on replaying the final, slow-moving, enigmatic shot — of Kaye on the beach, surrounded by other figures and birds — for a second time:

… and I remember feeling like this was cruel and unusual punishment at the end of a long day.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Atmospheric sets and cinematography

Must See?
No, though anyone interested in Australian cinema will certainly want to give it a watch.

Links:

Last Detail, The (1973)

Last Detail, The (1973)

“This ain’t no farewell party and he ain’t retiring, understand? He’s a prisoner, and we’re takin’ him to the jailhouse.”

Synopsis:
When two lifelong Navy men — Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young) — are asked to accompany a young sailor (Randy Quaid) to a naval prison in Maine, they find themselves trying to give him a few memorable experiences along the way.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Kane Films
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Hal Ashby Films
  • Jack Nicholson Films
  • Michael Moriarty Films
  • Military
  • Nancy Allen Films
  • Prisoners
  • Randy Quaid Films
  • Road Trip
  • Sailors

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this tale about “career sailors” who see that Quaid (a kleptomaniac) is “a nice guy” — and “decide to give him his first sample of life before he’s put away” — represents the “sad, naïve young sailor’s rite of passage” and “results in the return of humanity to the two cynical sailors.”

He notes that “during the entire film you can sense that as the three men learn about life, an explosion is building” — and you definitely find yourself wondering what (if anything) will happen during the final tense moments. Peary points out that this “film is known for its rhythmic, realistic, salty, wryly written dialogue by Robert Towne” and “a great, swaggering, angry, rebel-without-a-cause performance by Nicholson (as ‘Badass’ Buddusky).”

Indeed, Nicholson’s Oscar-nominated performance is among his best. Meanwhile, Peary notes that “Quaid is quite touching”:

… and points out there are “small parts” by Michael Moriarty:

… Carol Kane (“memorable as a prostitute”):

… Nancy Allen:

… and Gilda Radner.

Towne’s Oscar-nominated script — based on a 1970 novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan — is leisurely yet incisive, offering us seemingly realistic glimpses into what such an unconventional road trip might look and feel like. We watch young Quaid as “he drinks, visits a prostitute, is in a brawl, [and] has adventures”:

… and we are confident that his life has been changed for the better by spending time with Nicholson and Young, despite the bleak trajectory of his next few years.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jack Nicholson as Buddusky
  • Randy Quaid as Meadows
  • Michael Chapman’s cinematography
  • Robert Towne’s screenplay

Must See?
Yes, for Nicholson’s performance.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links: