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Castle, The (1968)

Castle, The (1968)

“There’s been a mistake; they say you’re here as a guest.”

Synopsis:
When a man (Maximillian Schell) shows up ready to work as a land surveyor for a local castle, he is met with obstacles and hedging by local villagers.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • German Films
  • Living Nightmare
  • Maximillian Schell Films

Review:
Maximillian Schell produced and starred in this West German adaptation of Franz Kafka’s unfinished final novel. It’s a decidedly non-linear, nightmarish depiction of a man (“K.”) attempting to simply make his way into a job he’s been called for, but being foiled at every turn by bureaucracy, denial, and idiocy.


To K.’s credit (?), he never blows up at anybody despite his understandable frustration; instead, he simply moves from one spot in the village to another, continuously hoping that the next person he interacts with will provide him access. The snowy landscapes are beautifully desolate, and the interior sets appropriately surreal — however, your tolerance for this one will depend entirely on your interest in entering into Kafka’s bleak worldview.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Hertha Hareiter’s sets
  • Wolfgang Treu’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No; only check this one out if you’re curious. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Carpetbaggers, The (1964)

Carpetbaggers, The (1964)

“Oh — you dirty, filthy, perverted monster!”

Synopsis:
When a playboy (George Peppard) inherits his father’s fortune, he turns his young widowed stepmother (Carroll Baker) into a movie star; marries and mistreats his business rival’s daughter (Elizabeth Ashley); begins an aviation company; gives a company stockholder (Alan Ladd) work as an actor; tries to buy a movie studio from a producer (Martin Balsam); enlists help from a slimy agent (Robert Cummings); and eventually turns a prostitute (Martha Hyer) into a star — all while ruthlessly accumulating millions and alienating everyone around him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Ladd Films
  • Carroll Baker Films
  • Edward Dmytryk Films
  • George Peppard Films
  • Hollywood
  • Inheritance
  • Martin Balsam Films
  • Millionaires
  • Robert Cummings Films
  • Ruthless Leaders

Review:
Edward Dmytryk directed this big-budget Technicolor adaptation of Harold Robbins’ 1961 novel, loosely inspired by real life celebrities Howard Hawks and Jean Harlow, and well-described by DVD Savant in his capsule overview as a “very entertaining soap ‘n success saga of the kind still celebrated in endless television miniseries about sin and glamour” — a film which “slips in an amusing undercurrent of double entendres and almost-sensational scenes” and “walks a risky tightrope over the pit of censorship.”

Indeed, the material is just salacious and outrageous enough to be mildly amusing — starting with Peppard’s “let’s get busy making money” response to the unexpected death of his father (Leif Erickson):

… and moving quickly to his first sultry encounter with Baker’s beautiful young widow (once Peppard’s girlfriend), then his courtship with Ashley — who is somewhat inexplicably loyal to him (though in the film’s final twisty-turvey ten minutes, we — sort of — learn why).

Alan Ladd was given his last film role as an alcoholic western star and former family business partner, who perhaps serves as Peppard’s voice of conscience:

… though trying to get anything through to Peppard’s seriously hard-headed Jonas Cord is a feat; he ranks among cinema’s ultimate ruthless bastards.

Other than Baker, the most notable performance is given by Cummings, who seems to be having a field day playing a self-serving studio employee who flits throughout the entire screenplay.

Watch for Audrey Totter in a tiny role as the prostitute Peppard turns to after a tragedy.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Joseph MacDonald’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth the ride if you’re up for it.

Links:

Bedford Incident, The (1965)

Bedford Incident, The (1965)

“I’m proud to be an old-fashioned patriot — and I’d destroy any enemy if it meant saving my country! Now what in the hell is wrong with that?”

Synopsis:
A photojournalist (Sidney Poitier) chronicles the travails of an American destroyer ship helmed by a no-nonsense captain (Richard Widmark) determined to track down a Soviet submarine armed with nukes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • Cold War
  • Journalists
  • Martin Balsam Films
  • Nuclear Threat
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Ruthless Leaders
  • Sidney Poitier Films
  • Submarines

Review:
Made shortly after Fail Safe (1964) and Dr. Strangelove (1964), this Cold War-era nuclear thriller — based on a novel of the same name by Mark Rascovich — is perhaps most akin to Moby Dick in its depiction of a captain determined to snag his “prey” at any cost; however in this case, allowing a potentially deranged leader to maintain control could result in global annihilation. Poitier is on to Widmark’s profile, wondering why he wasn’t promoted after stellar previous leadership; could it be due to Widmark’s hawk-ish stance during the Cuban Missle Crisis?

Meanwhile, the other men on board the boat (there are no women in this film) all exist in varying states of confusion and/or trepidation; a German NATO attache and former U-Boat commander (Eric Portman) mostly looks on in quiet resignation:

… while the ship’s new doctor (Martin Balsam) is frustrated by lack of meaningful work to do:

… an eager young ensign (James MacArthur) awaits whatever orders he’s given:

… and a sonar man (Wally Cox) slowly cracks up.

It’s nice to see Widmark and Poitier (cast in a role without mention of his race) teamed together again 15 years after their differently tense pairing in No Way Out (1950); they and the supporting cast all give solid performances.

Note: The final minute of this film is unbearably tense and depressing.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Richard Widmark as Captain Finlander
  • Sidney Poitier as Ben Munceford
  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links:

Alamo, The (1960)

Alamo, The (1960)

“I hope they’re remembered; I hope Texas remembers.”

Synopsis:
Shortly after General Sam Houston (Richard Boone) tells Lt. Col. William Travis (Laurence Harvey) he needs time to build an army to oppose an impending raid by Mexican forces, Travis enlists support from Davy Crockett (John Wayne), Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark), and others in defending the Alamo.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • John Wayne Films
  • Laurence Harvey Films
  • Military
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Westerns

Review:
John Wayne directed this Oscar-nominated historical epic about the Battle of the Alamo, agreeing to cast himself as Davy Crockett in exchange for creative control, and spending much of his own money to fund it. The result is an overly long and overly earnest — albeit beautifully filmed — saga, with ample opportunities for Wayne’s Crockett and/or other characters to reflect Wayne’s conservative political views — including love of freedom and individualism. As Crockett says:

“Republic. I like the sound of the word. Means that people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat.”

The historical accuracy of this film’s storyline is apparently less than stellar, with the padded plot simply an excuse to get to the battle scenes. As Bosley Crowther put it in his review for The New York Times:

… [the] representation of the last battle for the Alamo comes after two hours of slogging through some rather sticky Western clichĂ©s. The old mission must be defended against the Mexican army coming north. Something to do with freedom. Gen. Sam Houston gives the word. Col. William Travis, the commander, is a tough, snobbish martinet. Jim Bowie hates and distrusts him. Davy Crockett is not quite sure. There are other complicating factors—women, children and such. But, in the end, the fort must be defended, and that’s what everybody does.

Harvey is arguably miscast as Lt. Col. Travis (though apparently he was a professional delight to work with):

… and Wayne and Widmark really should have shifted roles, though this was beyond their control.

Watch for Frankie Avalon in a supporting role as “Smitty”, one of Davy Crockett’s “Tennesseans”:

… and bullfighter Carlos Arruza as a member of General Santa Anna’s army.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though Oscar completists will likely want to check it out.

Links:

Fanny (1961)

Fanny (1961)

“You’re dense, or hopeless — or both!”

Synopsis:
In 1920s Marseilles, the daughter (Leslie Caron) of a fishmonger (Georgette Anys) is courted by an elderly widow (Maurice Chevalier), but longs for romance with the sea-loving son (Horst Buchholz) of a barkeeper (Charles Boyer).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Charles Boyer Films
  • Joshua Logan Films
  • Leslie Caron Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Maurice Chevalier Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Star-Crossed Lovers

Review:
Joshua Logan directed this Technicolor romantic drama based on a number of adaptations: Marcel Pagnol originally wrote two plays (Fanny and Marius) in 1929 and 1931, and turned them into films in 1931 and 1932, along with directing a third entry in the series, Cesar. A stage musical was created from all three in 1954 (with music and lyrics by Harold Rome), upon which this non-musical cinematic adaptation is based. (Whew!). The resulting film is lengthy, lush, and suitably melodramatic.

Critical reception was mixed: Bosley Crowther of the New York Times raved:

Whether fan of the Pagnol films or stage show, whether partial to music or no, you can’t help but derive joy from this picture if you have a sense of humor and a heart. For Mr. Logan, with the aid of expert craftsmen and a cast of principals that we do not believe an act of divine cooperation could have greatly improved upon, has given the charming Marseilles folk play a stunning pictorial sweep, a deliciously atmospheric flavor and a flesh-touching intimacy.

… but others were less happy, either complaining about how this film fared in comparison with Pagnol’s original trilogy, and/or lamenting the lack of songs. The film remains notable for Jack Cardiff’s beautiful cinematography:

… and for featuring movie veterans Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier together on screen for the first time.

While it’s not must-see viewing, fans of Logan or any of the stars — particularly Caron — will likely be curious to check it out.

Note: According to TCM’s Trivia page:

The running times of the original films in the trilogy are Marius, 121 minutes; Fanny, 125 minutes; and CĂ©sar, 124 minutes. By contrast, the remake runs 133 minutes, with less than an hour spent on the plots of the first two films and less than half an hour on the third.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Leslie Caron as Fanny
  • Jack Cardiff’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s a must for Caron fans.

Links:

Raven’s End (1963)

Raven’s End (1963)

“It wasn’t good enough.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring writer (Thommy Berggren) navigates life in a small Swedish town with his alcoholic dad (Keve Hjelm), his hard-working mom (Emy Storm), and his girlfriend (Christina Framback), all while dreaming of success in the big city.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming of Age
  • Scandinavian Films
  • Writers

Review:
This Academy Award-nominated foreign film by Swedish writer-director Bo Widerberg — perhaps best known for helming Elvira Madigan (1967) — showcases Widerberg’s more naturalistic, less scripted style in contrast with the biggest name in Swedish cinema at the time (Ingmar Bergman, who nonetheless apparently loved this film). We’re introduced to the main character, Anders (Berggren), through both panning shots of the town he lives in (Widerberk employed plenty of local extras), and views of his troubled homelife, where his alcoholic father fails to provide even minimally for his family.

Meanwhile, Anders’ mom tries her best to get her husband to work, but seems to know she’s defeated and will always have to provide.

A significant turning point in the narrative comes when Anders, an aspiring writer, receives a letter from a publisher indicating interest in a book he’s submitted:

… which leads to the second portion of the film, and a series of challenging choices. This lyrical tale is beautifully filmed — and while it’s not must-see viewing, it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Thommy Berggren as Anders
  • Jan Lindeström’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though anyone with an interest in Scandinavian cinema will certainly want to check it out.

Links:

Raisin in the Sun, A (1961)

Raisin in the Sun, A (1961)

“I’m lookin’ in the mirror this morning and I’m thinkin’, I’m 35 years old, I’m married 11 years, and I got a boy who’s got to sleep
in the living room because I got nothin’ — nothin’ to give him but stories like on how rich white people live.”

Synopsis:
A Black matriarch (Claudia McNeil) in 1940s Chicago is torn between wanting to help her daughter (Diana Sands) go to medical school, buy a house for her family, and/or support her son (Sidney Poitier) and his pregnant wife (Ruby Dee) and child (Steven Perry) in her son’s dream to own a liquor store.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African-Americans
  • Grown Children
  • Play Adaptations
  • Ruby Dee Films
  • Race Relations and Racism
  • Sidney Poitier Films

Review:
All of the leading stars of Lorraine Hansberry’s original 1959 Broadway play production were cast in this cinematic adaptation, written by Hansberry and directed by Daniel Petrie. The story and performances remain powerful, with Petrie and DP Charles Lawton, Jr. effectively opening up the sets to show both the claustrophobia of the family’s cramped apartment, and the space and freedom they long to move to.

It’s heartbreaking to watch each of these characters grappling with challenging constraints, and see the pressures that inevitably arise within a landscape of limited funds and diverse ideas of how to achieve success and happiness. The toxicity of societal racism comes through loud and clear, with John Fiedler’s representative from the “Clybourne Park Improvement Association” (in the family’s intended new neighborhood) embodying the sniveling “new” format through which racial intolerance is communicated.

Authentic tension abounds through each of the interwoven narrative sub-strands, ranging from Poitier’s desperate desire to finally break free from his job as a chauffeur and work for himself, to Dee’s angst over bringing a new child into their family, to McNeil’s determination to provide a home for her family, to Sands’ indecision around who to date: her well-to-do suitor George (Louis Gossett Jr.) or a Nigerian classmate (Ivan Dixon) who entices her with visions of exploring her cultural heritage.

This engrossing, finely-acted film — which was selected by the Library of Congress in 2005 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” — remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ruby Dee as Ruth
  • Sidney Poitier as Walter Lee
  • Claudia McNeil as Lena
  • Diana Sands as Beneatha
  • Charles Lawton, Jr.’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a still-powerful screen adaptation of an enduring American play.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Morgan the Pirate (1961)

Morgan the Pirate (1961)

“Captain Morgan – we will follow you anywhere and be proud to serve you!”

Synopsis:
Shortly after enslaved Englishman Henry Morgan (Steve Reeves) falls in love with his mistress (Valérie Lagrange), he and his fellow slaves commit mutiny, become pirates, and accidentally kidnap Doña Inez (Lagrange), whose angry father (Ivo Garrani) offers a huge reward to anyone able to capture and kill Morgan.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • Italian Films
  • Pirates

Review:
André de Toth co-directed this historical adventure flick loosely based on the life of Sir Henry Morgan, a Welsh pirate who was also the inspiration for the novel upon which Captain Blood (1935) was based. This iteration is pure Italian costume spectacle, primarily notable for featuring Hercules (1958) star and former Mr. Universe Steve Reeves in another bare-chested adventure.

Indeed, the film’s most amusing moment comes when Morgan faces his nemesis, a rival pirate (Armand Mestral) who reconsiders taking his own shirt off after seeing who he’s contending with.

There really isn’t much more to this swashbuckler than what meets the eye — but fans of swordplay, action-at-sea, and/or Steve Reeves will likely enjoy passing time with this one.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography and historical sets

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must-see unless you happen to be a Steve Reeves fanatic.

Links:

Signal 7 (1984)

Signal 7 (1984)

“Driving a hack now is just like it was in ’35 – I mean, we have the same problems.”

Synopsis:
A pair of middle-aged taxi drivers in San Francisco — Marty (Dan Leegant) and Speed (Bill Ackridge) — take fares, hang out with their buddies, and navigate existential dilemmas.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Masculinity
  • Workplace Drama

Review:
Director Rob Nilsson — whose debut feature, Northern Lights (1978), is also listed in GFTFF — dedicated this cinĂ©ma vĂ©ritĂ© indie film (“Story by Ron Nilsson, written by the cast”) to John Cassavetes, which makes sense given his clear influence on the style. Signal 7 (the title refers to a radio distress call) unfolds in a leisurely, seemingly improvised fashion which nonetheless coheres thematically; we watch as these working class men navigate their world by sharing stories:

… dreaming of more for themselves (one extended sequence shows them unsuccessfully auditioning for parts in a play):

discussing formation of a union, dealing with the murder of one of their colleagues, and interacting with their fares.

This low-budget movie received glowing notices by the New York Times upon its release, with reviewer Nina Darnton describing it as an “unusual, touching, intelligent film” about “pride, loneliness, friendship, ambition, failure, fear and hope,” with a story that “slowly draws the audience in, building with a cumulative power.” I would essentially agree: while it’s not must-see viewing, I became surprisingly caught up in this well-crafted tale about 24 hours in the lives of men who don’t usually get to shine on-screen.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinĂ©ma vĂ©ritĂ© directing and cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look if you happen to catch it.

Links:

Electra (1962)

Electra (1962)

“The oracle has spoken; I must avenge my father.”

Synopsis:
In ancient Greece, the grown daughter (Irene Pappas) and son (Yannis Fertis) of Queen Clytemnestra (Aleka Catselli) seek revenge when she kills their father and marries her lover (Fivos Razi).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Greek Films
  • Grown Children
  • Play Adaptations
  • Revenge
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Siblings

Review:
This Oscar-nominated foreign language film by Greek director Michael Cacoyannis — probably best known for helming Zorba the Greek (1964) — takes Euripides’ classic tragedy into a primarily outdoor setting, showcasing the rocky landscape of Mycenae and Argos.

Most notable of all is the lead performance by Papas, whose soulful eyes dominate the screen:

… though she’s nearly out-staged whenever evil Catselli comes glowering around.

This film is very slow-moving, with rapid activity only seeming to occur during book-ended death sequences, so viewers should be forewarned; but it’s a fine example of a film made during the Golden Age of Greek cinema.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Irene Papas as Electra
  • Aleka Catselli as Clytemnestra
  • Walter Lassaly’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one time viewing.

Links: