Browsed by
Category: Original Reviews

Responses to Peary’s “must see” movie reviews, as well as my own “must see” movie reviews up to and after 1986 (when Peary’s book was published).

Blue Velvet (1986)

Blue Velvet (1986)

“I don’t know if you’re a detective or a pervert.”

Synopsis:
When a college student (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home after his father (Jack Harvey) suffers a heart attack, he stumbles upon a severed ear in a field and subsequently meets the teenage daughter (Laura Dern) of a detective (George Dickerson) assigned to the case. Sandy (Dern) is eager to tell Jeffrey (MacLachlan) what she knows about a lounge singer named Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) who has been kidnapped by a local mobster (Dennis Hopper), and soon Jeffrey and Sandy are engaged in amateur sleuthing, with Jeffrey finding himself much more deeply involved in Dorothy’s plight than he anticipated.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • David Lynch Films
  • Dennis Hopper Films
  • Gangsters
  • Hope Lange Films
  • Kidnapping
  • Laura Dern Films
  • Living Nightmare
  • Love Triangle
  • Murder Mystery
  • Obsessive Love
  • Peeping Toms
  • Psychopaths
  • S&M
  • Small Town America

Review:
Peary doesn’t review this dark cult classic in his GFTFF, but he covers it in his third Cult Movies book, where he notes that it was “easily the most controversial film of the [1980s],” stirring “heated debates and polariz[ing] critics like no film since A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Last Tango in Paris (1972)” — which were also “works that drew a disturbing correlation between sex, power, and violence.” Peary points out that “screenwriter-director David Lynch was applauded for his astonishing artistry and unflinching determination to get across a bold, unsanitized personal vision in an era of safe assembly-line films… yet was attacked by many viewers who felt his personal vision was so dark and disgusting that it should have been kept to himself.”

He goes on to write that “because Blue Velvet is both so uncompromisingly weird and so well made, it was destined for cult status on the level of Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), the bizarre independent venture he made before going commercial with The Elephant Man (1980) and Dune (1984)” — but “unlike Eraserhead, it became a box-office hit.” After positing that some naive viewers at the time “left in a nauseous daze” after exiting what they thought would simply be a “Hitchcock-like thriller,” he notes he personally doesn’t “find Blue Velvet mean-spirited like many contemporary films” given that he doesn’t “think Lynch gets a kick out of Frank being so vile,” though he concedes “at times it is terribly unpleasant” — and while “the ugliness heightens the film’s impact,” it “also tends to cut down on one’s enjoyment.”

Peary goes on to provide an extensive analysis of this complex and disturbing “coming of age” film, which actually touches on quite a few topics; the extensive list of genres and themes above — amateur sleuthing, gangsters, kidnapping, a living nightmare, a love triangle, a murder mystery, obsessive love, S&M, Peeping Toms, and sociopaths — isn’t even complete, as the film goes in many different directions. He notes that everyone agrees “the picture has a brilliant opening, with Lynch presenting a red (roses), white (picket fence), and blue (skies) America, along the lines of the too-real Americas found in Blood Simple (1984), Gremlins (1984), Trouble in Mind (1985), True Stories (1986), and Little Shop of Horrors (1986).”

Indeed, “everything is so perfect on the surface that you can sense evil brewing underground; you can feel the approaching explosion” given that “the American dream [is] about to burst” — quite literally, as a “hose becomes tangled” and Jeffrey’s dad “has a seizure,” leading to “the neighbor dog prop[ping] himself on his belly and snap[ping] at the water shooting skyward.”

The juxtaposition of this with the crooning, comforting title song playing is an indication of exactly how much cognitive dissonance we’re about to experience, as we view a “perverted Norman Rockwell” existence. In Lynch’s perspective, “If you search beneath the surface of idyllic, tree-lined… America you’ll find a terrifying, violent, soulless world” with criminals running rampant at night just like bugs emerging from the soil. His other primary thematic concern is with the fact that “beneath the surface of ‘normal’ people you’ll find people with ‘abnormal’ desires.” To that end, there is plenty of disturbing S&M here, with Hopper’s sociopathic criminal a particularly loony type who is seemingly straight from a horror flick. As Peary writes, he “resembles an insect” while “dressed in black and with a plastic inhaler over his contorted face”:

… and “is meant to be the human counterpart of those hideous black bugs we saw in the opening,” a completely insensitive brute whose “sexual manner” consists “of groping, clutching, slapping, and mounting — while spewing vulgar threats” (he drops the f-bomb liberally). Meanwhile, at first ‘peeping Tom’ Jeffrey “has done nothing more shocking than James Stewart in Rear Window (1954),” but very quickly “he no longer is just a voyeur” as he gets inextricably caught up in Dorothy’s masochistic games. His relationship with Sandy progresses as well, as both leave the protective shells of adolescence and come to understand the depths of what’s possible, and what’s happened.

Peary ends his essay by noting that “despite all the violence in the film, Blue Velvet will also be remembered for its sensual visuals (i.e., Rossellini lying in Jeffrey’s arms), thematic use of colors, deadpan humor…, Diane Arbus-like background characters”:

… “creative use of sound effects, eclectic background music, and erotic renditions of pop songs.” These include first and foremost Dorothy crooning a soulful version of Bobby Vinton’s ‘Blue Velvet’.”

(If you check out the 2002 “making of” documentary about this film, Mysteries of Love, you’ll hear Rossellini admitting what a challenge this was for her as a non-singer.) But we also see and hear “effeminate Ben (Dean Stockwell will give you chills), queen of the gangster ‘insects’,” “lip-synching Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams'” in what may be “the strangest moment in the film”:

.. “and Jeffrey and Sandy kissing and dancing to ‘Mysteries of Love’.”

The ending is somewhat mysterious and open to interpretation; Peary writes he doesn’t think Lynch “want[s] viewers to completely figure out his film,” but rather hopes to present it as “a puzzle with too few or too many pieces, a dream-nightmare that will be interpreted differently by everyone who sees it.” Personally, it had been long enough since my first (and only) viewing of this film that I’d conveniently forgotten much of the storyline, and remained genuinely in-the-dark about whether the entire narrative would turn out to be a long-con or a dream of some kind, which was both infuriating and helped to hold my interest. After this second viewing, I don’t feel any need to return to this precursor of Lynch’s cult T.V. series “Twin Peaks”, but I think all film fanatics will be curious to check it out at least once.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy
  • Dennis Hopper as Frank
  • Kyle MacLachlan as Jeffrey and Laura Dern as Sandy
  • Dean Stockwell in a bit role as “Ben”
  • Frederick Elmes’ cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, simply for its cult status.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

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

Links:

Liquid Sky (1982)

Liquid Sky (1982)

“Everybody wants euphoria. What’s wrong with that?”

Synopsis:
An androgynous model (Anne Carlisle) with a drug-dealing girlfriend (Paula Sheppard) suddenly realizes that her sexual encounters are resulting in death for her partners — including her former professor Owen (Bob Brady) and a soap star (Stanley Knapp) who rapes her; meanwhile, a German scientist (Otto von Wernherr) joins the shrimp-loving mother (Susan Doukas) of a gay model (also Anne Carlisle) in monitoring a UFO that has landed nearby and may be responsible for the rash of deaths.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
  • Aliens
  • Gender Bending
  • New York City
  • Revenge
  • Science Fiction

Review:
Peary doesn’t review this highly successful indie cult film in his GFTFF, but does discuss it in his Cult Movies 3 book, which I’ll cite from here. He notes that it “premiered in April 1983, exactly 10 years after [director] Slava Tsukerman and his wife and collaborator Nina Kerova left Russia,” where Tsukerman “began directing films… in 1958.” (Since he “studied quantum mechanics, mathematics, and physics, he chose to make science-related documentaries and shorts… because they came under less government scrutiny than features.”) Tsukerman and Kerova emigrated from the Soviet Union to Jerusalem in 1973, and eventually “came to New York to secure financing” for a film Tsukerman was trying to make — then ended up staying. Apparently he “immersed himself in New York’s decadent youth culture” and met Anne Carlisle, an art student, model, and “member of the avant-garde [New Wave] club scene” who stars as both Margaret (the main protagonist) and Jimmy in the film. She helped co-write the new screenplay that turned into Liquid Sky, which was privately funded for $500,000) by a real estate developer.

What an origin story! The resulting film is “a bizarre blend of science fiction, social satire, and the underground-experimental film,” all of which made it “an ideal midnight movie: weird costumes, hair, and makeup”:

… “pulsating music (played on the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument at New York’s Public Access Synthesizer Studio); off-the-wall scenic design (Margaret’s garish penthouse is lit by neon signs on the walls)”:

… “special effects; a story involving sex and drugs; and a nonconformist lead character in the throes of an identity crisis.”

Interestingly, the distribution company CineVista “wisely chose to distribute it as a regular feature” and “it became a modern commercial success in New York, Boston, and L.A. in a second run.” It also “immediately attracted a repeat audience, particularly at the Waverly in New York’s Greenwich Village” — and “ironically, its most devoted fans were from the specific New Wave-punk subculture that is mercilessly ridiculed in the picture.”

Peary asserts that the point Tsukerman “wanted to make is that New Wavers who use hard drugs and have sex without worrying about transmittable diseases are on a death trip.” (On that note, this film was released just before the AIDS pandemic began — and its star, Carlisle, ended up leaving the acting industry to train as an art therapist in response to this crisis.) Peary notes that the hedonist characters in this film “court death” and “so want to achieve sensual euphoria (the film’s title is junkie slang for heroin ecstasy) that they overlook the risks involved;” they “are smart people who have stopped thinking.”

How does an alien spacecraft play a part in all this? Well, the alien (who we never see) “absorbs a heroin-like substance that is created in the brain at the moment of orgasm,” which we view through the alien’s eyes.

Peary writes that ultimately, “the alien serves as an avenging angel for Margaret, killing all those who sexually use and physically abuse her, and finally becomes her deus ex machina, rescuing and liberating her from her trapped, hopeless existence.” (This is “a rare film in which being abducted by an alien seems like a great choice for the protagonist.”) Noting that “we can deduce what happened to Margaret in her past,” Peary postulates that she “rebelled against her traditional upbringing”:

… “and, asserting her independence, came to New York to make it as an actress and model,” mingling “with those on the fringes of respectability” — however, she “was disappointed to discover that “even among these ‘enlightened’ people, she was still expected to act in a certain way.” Once she “ventured into the more extreme New Wave-punk life-style,” she was once again molded to “become like everyone else in the scene — she took drugs, took a lesbian lover, featured an androgynous look, became a ‘mean bitch’… and became the symbol of the life-style,” much like “an Edie Sedgwick figure, bored and drugged out of her mind, surrounded by an uncaring, pretentious art crowd… which she knows will drop her as soon as her star fades.”

However, “what distinguishes Margaret from the vile people she associates with” is that “she realizes… it has all gone wrong.” While “New Wavers may have fled the roles that society set up for them… they have fallen into equally confining, impersonal roles”; and though “they believe their every act is an expression of free will, they have fallen into traps as deep as those in the outside world.” In essence, “Margaret figures out that being fashionable is just as restrictive as being traditional, that being androgynous eradicates one’s identity, that men at all levels of society want to demean and control women, and that women who hate women, as does Adrian [Sheppard], can be just as destructive to her as men who hate women.”

Peary points out that “besides the interesting themes, there is much appealing in the film,” including “superb” performances by Carlisle, impressive cinematography and special effects by Yuri Neyman (particularly “the other-worldly shots of the New York skyline, with the Empire State Building spire looking like a giant syringe”), “imaginative” direction by Tsukerman,” and a script by Tsukerman, Carlisle, and Kerova that “is witty and… poignant.” Meanwhile, “the amusing scenes with Johann [von Wernherr]” — a “completely incompetent hero” — “will delight all fans of sci-fi and horror movies.”

Peary concludes his essay by noting that while he thinks “the film wears out long before the alien departs,” he does “enjoy Liquid Sky.” However, “it’s not that easy to recommend,” for several reasons, including the fact that “everyone who has sex in it is destroyed,” and “despite the abundance of humor, it’s a mean film, with ugly characters, ugly language, and ugly images.” It most definitely “becomes disturbing watching Margaret repeatedly slapped in the face by various men, even if Carlisle’s also playing one of them, Jimmy.”

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s take on this film. I didn’t expect to get as caught up in it as I did, and appreciate that it’s so polished for an experimental film (which makes sense given Tsukerman’s prior decades of experience with filmmaking) — however, it’s filled with many distressing, hard-to-watch scenes. It’s especially unnerving seeing Sheppard — star of Alice, Sweet Alice (1977) — in her second and only other film role playing such an unrepentant bastard. With that said, film fanatics will surely want to check this unique film out once, even if it’s disturbing in many ways.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Anne Carlisle as Margaret and Jimmy
  • Yuri Neyman’s cinematography and special effects
  • Marina Levikova’s production and costume design

Must See?
Yes, as a funky cult favorite.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

Links:

Dark Crystal, The (1982)

Dark Crystal, The (1982)

“Now I’ve got the shard — but what do I do with it?”

Synopsis:
A thousand years ago on the planet Thra, a young Gelfling named Jen (Jim Henson) who’s been raised by the gentle Mystics joins forces with fellow Gelfling Kira (Kathryn Mullen) in helping to retrieve a crystal shard from ornery Aughra (Frank Oz) and bringing it to the Crystal Chamber, all while fighting off the Garthim warriors sent by the vulture-like Skeksis.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Animated Films
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Fantasy
  • Search

Review:
Famed puppeteer Jim Henson based the philosophy of this feature-length fantasy film on the Seth Material, a series of lectures dictated by psychic medium Jane Roberts to her husband between 1963-1984. If this sounds like a woo-woo basis for a flick, it most certainly is — and is likely part of why I struggled to engage with the storyline. According to Wikipedia: “The core teachings of the Seth Material are based on the principle that consciousness creates matter, that each person creates his or her own reality through thoughts, beliefs and expectations, and that the ‘point of power’ through which the individual can affect change is in the present moment.” This would explain lines like the following:

“End, begin, all the same. Big change. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad.”
“Hold her to you, for she is part of you, as we all are part of each other.”
“He taught me the Shapes of Kindness, except there are no more like me.”

There is a crystal shard that needs placing into the existing crystal in order for a prophecy to be fulfilled:

… so that at least gives a bit of material heft to the narrative (along with Jen and Kira trying to rescue captured Podlings from having the life essence drained out of them).

Meanwhile, the animation was groundbreaking for the time, and is certainly impressively done — but as much as Henson, co-director Frank Oz, and conceptual designer Brian Froud strove to craft a brand new world (and the level of detail here is truly impressive), I simply couldn’t get the Muppets out of my head.

I’m clearly a grump about the flick, so I should acknowledge that it has many diehard fans (i.e., a cult following), and is considered formative in many ways. It’s just not a movie I’ll choose to revisit.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Impressive sets and overall design

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious.

Links:

Fedora (1978)

Fedora (1978)

“I guess time catches up with all of us.”

Synopsis:
When an independent producer (William Holden) arrives in Greece hoping to lure a reclusive movie star named Fedora (Marthe Keller) into his latest film, he quickly finds himself caught up in a complicated scenario involving Fedora’s personal youth-giving physician (Jose Ferrer), Fedora’s maid (France Sternhagen), and an elderly woman known simply as “The Countess” (Hildegard Knef).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Flashback Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Michael York Films
  • William Holden Films

Review:
Billy Wilder’s penultimate movie — co-written once again with his longtime collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond — was this gothic Hollywood tale set abroad in Europe and filled with flashbacks, mistaken identities, drug addiction, mother-daughter dynamics, and plenty of dubbing. The film evokes immediate parallels with Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard given the (re)casting of Holden, and the centrality of an aging diva holding reign over her household while her loyal servants wait nearby.

Quickly, however, the movie takes all sorts of unusual twists and turns, with many other movies (and big-name actors) referenced in some way; I’ll quote from DVD Savant’s review since he so succinctly names many of them:

Fedora seems to be taking a tour through all of Wilder’s work, and the work of others as well. It begins with a Hollywood insider who has a flashback at the funeral of a great star (The Barefoot Contessa).

It then journeys to a romantic Mediterranean setting with an amusing hotelier (Avanti!).

The idea of a perhaps-mad star undergoing radical plastic surgery seems a melding of Sunset Blvd. and Les yeux sans visage, with mirrors removed from the house…

The ‘plastic surgery madness’ also evokes images and ideas about disfigurement from A Woman’s Face… Finally, a major make-over/identity transformation seems patterned after scenes in Vertigo and also the “Vertigo” pretender The Legend of Lylah Clare.

The inclusion of cameos by Henry Fonda and Michael York (playing themselves) simply adds to the surreality of what we’re watching: Fedora is a fictional movie star who nonetheless has a very-real crush on Michael York-the-actor:

… and who receives an honorary Oscar from Henry Fonda as “President of the Academy”.

One also can’t help thinking of Mommie Dearest (1981) at certain points (though that film and its influence wouldn’t appear until a few years later).

Indeed, it’s the mother-daughter element of the storyline that most directly turns it into an unexpectedly dark gothic horror flick; Wilder and Diamond don’t shy away from cynically representing the depths of life-altering narcissism at play in Hollywood. While Fedora isn’t a must-see entry in Wilder’s oeuvre, it will certainly be of interest to his fans, and remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A truly bizarre storyline
  • Gerry Fisher’s cinematography
  • Fine use of location shooting in Greece and France

Must See?
No, but surprisingly enough, it’s recommended.

Links:

Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The (1970)

Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The (1970)

“I don’t dislike women — I just mistrust them.”

Synopsis:
Private detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) and his housemate Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely) engage in a couple of misadventures, one involving a Russian ballerina (Tamara Toumanova) eager to have a baby, and one involving both an amnesiac woman (Genevieve Page) looking for her husband and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Christopher Lee Films
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Historical Drama
  • Sherlock Holmes Films

Review:
Billy Wilder originally intended for this gently comedic look at the more mysterious, “less successful” elements of Sherlock Holmes’ life — co-scripted by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond — to be several hours long, covering one main and three additional episodes. Due to a number of circumstances, he eventually decided to cut it down in length and only include two stories. It wasn’t well-received upon release, but has developed a cult following over the years and was purportedly the inspiration for the more recent British miniseries Sherlock (2010-2017), starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Indeed, it remains an imperfect but worthy period-era piece which fans will surely enjoy — that is, as long as they accept the casting of Shakespearean actor Stephens in the title role (I think he’s well-suited).

The first storyline is meant to be an amusing probing into the possibility that Holmes and Watson were romantic partners; unfortunately, the “joke” is stretched too thin and too long, wearing out its welcome.

The second, lengthier story is much more intriguing, involving mistaken identities, beautiful Scottish landscapes, escaped midgets, a brotherhood of friars, secret scientific endeavors, and a sighting of the mysterious Loch Ness monster. We genuinely don’t know where it will all lead — plus we get to see Sherlock interacting with his equally (albeit differently) brilliant brother Mylock (Lee), shown below with Queen Victoria (Mollie Maureen).

This part is a much more satisfying peek into Holmes’ foibles, revealing a side of him Watson didn’t tend to write about. Wilder’s film isn’t must-see viewing, but is one of his better late-life outings, and worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Christopher Challis’s cinematography
  • Fine period detail
  • Miklós Rózsa’s score

Must See?
No, though of course it’s a must-see for Holmes fans. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Fortune Cookie (1966)

Fortune Cookie (1966)

“This guy is so full of angles and gimmicks and twists, he starts to describe a doughnut and it comes out a pretzel.”

Synopsis:
After his brother-in-law (Jack Lemmon) is accidentally hurt by a football player (Ron Rich), a shyster lawyer (Walter Matthau) convinces Lemmon to fake a back injury for insurance purposes — which Lemmon only agrees to in hopes that his ex-wife (Judi West) will return to him once he has money.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Billy Wilder Films
  • Comedy
  • Con-Artists
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Jack Lemmon Films
  • Lawyers
  • Walter Matthau Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Walter Matthau won a Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as a crooked lawyer in this collaborative comedy “with a mean edge to it” by director Billy Wilder and writer I.A.L. Diamond, who made twelve films together, with a couple of gems among them — specifically Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960). Unfortunately, this seventh collaboration falls in the “true clunker” category. The topic of insurance fraud wasn’t new for Wilder, who covered it with noir-ish flare in Double Indemnity (1944), but playing it for laughs was a bad idea all the way around. We’re not meant to like either the insurance agents or Matthau’s Willie Gingrich (and we most definitely don’t):

… but it’s also hard to feel much sympathy for Lemmon’s Harry Hinkle, given that: 1) his only reason for going through with the scam is to earn money for an ex-wife clearly undeserving of his ongoing devotion:

… and 2) his lies cause tremendous distress to poor Rich, whose character is otherwise (mostly) purely sympathetic (admitting to having a fiancee in every town doesn’t help his case, but he’s otherwise selfless to a fault).

Indeed, according to TCM’s Pop Culture 101:

The year The Fortune Cookie appeared, 1966, Stokely Carmichael issued his public appeal for African-Americans to embrace “black power.” In regards to the turbulent Post-Civil Rights climate, some reviewers considered the benign, almost saintly Boom Boom Jackson a throwback to earlier African-American stereotypes.

Exactly; Carmichael was right. While Peary argues that “Matthau’s conniving, coldhearted performance is the reason to watch this otherwise unfunny” comedy, I disagree that he makes it worthwhile; and not that we need more to dislike in this film, but Lemmon’s mother (Lurene Tuttle) won’t stop crying hysterically, either.

Sigh. This one was simply a chore to sit through.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
Not much.

Must See?
No; skip this one.

Links:

Billy Budd (1962)

Billy Budd (1962)

“There are many ways to lie, Mr. Claggert, but there is only one way to tell the truth.”

Synopsis:
When a good-hearted young crewman named Billy Budd (Terence Stamp) begins work aboard a British naval vessel, he is soon targeted by a sadistic master-at-arms (Robert Ryan), and the ship’s captain (Peter Ustinov) faces the hardest decision of his career.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • Falsely Accused
  • Melvyn Douglas Films
  • Niall MacGinnis Films
  • Peter Ustinov Films
  • Robert Ryan Films
  • Ruthless Leaders
  • Terence Stamp Films

Review:
Peter Ustinov produced, directed, and co-starred in this adaptation of Herman Melville’s final (unpublished) novel, about the challenges of leadership in ethically murky waters. Unlike in Mutiny on the Bounty — the remake of which was released the same year as this film — the ultimate authority of the ship here remains steadfast; instead, it’s a subordinate leader who pushes the boundaries of acceptable behavior. As in The Naked Spur (1953), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), and other titles, Ryan once again excels at playing a menacing baddie who makes life untenable for those unwilling to kowtow to his demands:

… and Stamp (in his breakthrough cinematic role) is an appropriately naive foil for his efforts. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough to the overall narrative arc to sustain the nearly two-hour storyline. Melvyn Douglas is on hand to provide wise counsel:

… but neither he nor the other supporting characters (including Ustinov himself) are sufficiently fleshed out to help us relate to their dilemmas. While this seems like a fine adaptation of Melville’s work, the story itself doesn’t quite rise to the ranks of its seafaring peers (including Melville’s own Moby Dick).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Robert Ryan as John Claggart
  • Terence Stamp as Billy Budd

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

Links:

Longest Day, The (1962)

Longest Day, The (1962)

“Sometimes I wonder which side God’s on.”

Synopsis:
On D-Day — June 6, 1944 — various allied troops invade Normandy while German officials try to determine what their next steps should be.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Curt Jurgens Films
  • Eddie Albert Films
  • Edmond O’Brien Films
  • George Segal Films
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • Jeffrey Hunter Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Leo Genn Films
  • Mel Ferrer Films
  • Peter Lawford Films
  • Red Buttons Films
  • Richard Burton Films
  • Robert Mitchum Films
  • Robert Ryan Films
  • Robert Wagner Films
  • Rod Steiger Films
  • Roddy McDowall Films
  • Sal Mineo Films
  • Sean Connery Films
  • World War II

Review:
Darryl Zanuck produced and several directors helmed this three-hour adaptation of a 1959 non-fiction book by Cornelius Ryan about the D-Day landings, based on more than 3,000 interviews with participants from Canada, the United States, England, France, and Germany. The result is an appropriately overwhelming approximation of what that pivotal day in history was like, from multiple perspectives — and it sure involved a lot of violence. Indeed, other than some preliminary planning (taking up the first 50 minutes or so), the entire movie is a series of diverse attacks and maneuvers (eight battle scenes in total), showing the incredible complexity and danger of what went down that day.

We never really get to know any of the characters, though we do pay closer attention to a few — such as Red Buttons’ paratrooper Private Steele, who landed on the pinnacle of a church tower in Sainte-Mère-Église (and ultimately suffered a much better fate than the majority of his compatriots).

For those interested in World War II logistics (i.e., tactics and battles), this film is essential viewing — especially given how accurate it is in many ways. (See either Wikipedia’s entry, IMDb’s Trivia page, or one of several YouTube video reviews — such as the one put out by A Million Movies — for a comprehensive overview.) Of course, there are also some notable gaps and omissions — such as the fact that while 1700 African-American soldiers took place in D-Day, none are shown in this movie.

Cinematically, this film is wonderfully innovative in terms of having native languages spoken by the German and French characters, thus putting the cognitive “lift” on audience-goers to read a few subtitles. (Indeed, English isn’t heard until 10 minutes into the movie.) It’s also, of course, notable for having so many big name stars in the cast, each with varying (and sometimes minimal) degrees of screen time. Perhaps most front-and-center is John Wayne as Lt. Colonel Benjamin Vandervoot, who’s given several memorable grandstanding lines:

“You can’t give the enemy a break — send him to hell!”
“England’s gone through a blitz with a knife at her throat since 1940. I’m quite sure that they, too, are impatient and itching to go — do I make myself clear?”
“We came here to fight, not to swim!”
“One thing I’m sure of: we’re gonna hold this town until the link-up does come, whenever that is — today, tomorrow, till hell freezes over!”

Other big-name actors playing real people include (but are not limited to) Peter Lawford as Brigadier Simon Fraser:

… Robert Mitchum as Brigadier Gen. Norman Cota:

… Henry Fonda as Brigadier Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and Edmond O’Brien as Major Gen. Raymond O. Barton:

… Robert Ryan as Brigadier Gen. James M. Gavin:

… and Curd Jürgens as Infantry General Günther Blumentritt.

Additional well-known actors inhabiting a diverse cross-section of fictional characters include (but once again aren’t limited to) Leo Genn and Mel Ferrer:

… Richard Burton:

… Sal Mineo:

… Sean Connery:

… Eddie Albert:

… Jeffrey Hunter:

… Gert Fröbe:

… Peter van Eyck:

… George Segal, Robert Wagner, Rod Steiger, Richard Beymer, Jean Servais, Jean-Louis Barrault, and Roddy MacDowall (who came over to participate due to being bored on the set of Cleopatra).

Whew! While I’ll admit I quickly got battle-weary watching this epic war flick, it’s easy to see how appealing it would be to those with authentic interest in such matters. Favorite light-hearted moment: a group of nuns walk in and kick ass as field nurses during the heat of battle.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography by Jean Bourgoin and Walter Wottitz
  • Truly impressive battle footage

Must See?
Yes, once, simply for its historical relevance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Young Savages, The (1961)

Young Savages, The (1961)

“You think being blind made that kid an angel or somethin’?”

Synopsis:
When a D.A. (Burt Lancaster) in New York City investigates the fatal stabbing of a blind Puerto Rican gang member by three white gangsters — Danny (Stanley Kristien), Arthur (John Davis Chandler), and ‘Batman’ (Neil Burstyn) — he is quickly reminded how many factors contribute to juvenile delinquency and crime.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Courtroom Drama
  • Gangs
  • John Frankenheimer Films
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Shelley Winters Films
  • Telly Savalas Films

Review:
The same year West Side Story (1961) was released, John Frankenheimer directed this adaptation of a novel by Evan Hunter, which was similarly focused on Anglo/Puerto Rican gang tensions in New York City. The storyline of The Young Savages is complicated by the fact that the central protagonist (Lancaster) grew up in the same neighborhoods as the boys he’s defending, and even dated the mother (Shelley Winters) of one of them (Kristien).

Meanwhile, Lancaster’s wife (Dana Merrill) is openly cynical about his motivations:

… especially given that he’s being pressured by an ambitious local politician (Edward Andrews) to get a conviction. (Evans’ original novel was called A Matter of Conviction.)

Fortunately, there is a refreshing focus on the perspectives of at least a few impacted Puerto Rican family members:

… and the casting of Chandler — who made his cinematic debut as the title gangster in Mad Dog Coll (1961) — effectively showcases the menace on the streets posed by ongoing jockeying for territorial control.

However, the movie ultimately comes across as too much of an earnest “message flick”, making it primarily worth a look simply for Frankenheimer’s direction, aided by DP Lionel Linden.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Creative cinematography by Linden
  • Solid use of location shooting

Must See?
No, though Lancaster fans will surely want to give it a look.

Links:

Last Sunset, The (1961)

Last Sunset, The (1961)

“She loves me in a way she’ll never love any other man.”

Synopsis:
In the Mexican desert, a man (Kirk Douglas) is pursued by a law enforcement agent (Rock Hudson) eager to arrest him for killing his sister’s husband. Meanwhile, Douglas visits an old flame (Dorothy Malone) living with her alcoholic husband (Joseph Cotten) and teenage daughter (Carol Lynley), and soon finds himself accompanying them on a cattle drive, joined by Hudson, who doesn’t want to let Douglas out of his sight.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Lynley Films
  • Dorothy Malone Films
  • Joseph Cotten Films
  • Kirk Douglas Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Neville Brand Films
  • Robert Aldrich Films
  • Rock Hudson Films
  • Westerns

Review:
Kirk Douglas produced and Robert Aldrich directed this seemingly standard genre western which takes a decidedly weird twist at a certain point, thus raising all kinds of challenging questions that aren’t even close to being resolved by the end. Along the way, we’re treated to a brief glimpse of Cotten as an uninhibited drunk whose grizzled performance seems inspired by Orson Welles in his later roles — or maybe I’m just reading that into it.

Meanwhile, sexy Malone emanates her usual world weariness, while Douglas and Hudson project Movie Stardom in their leading roles as cagy adversaries eager to outsmart one another.

In a critical supporting role, Lynley first comes across as tomboyish and naive:

… before suddenly emerging as more womanly and knowing what she wants from life and love. Sadly, Jack Elam and Neville Brand are wasted in minor roles as baddies who come and go too quickly.

Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography is noteworthy as always, but it’s unfortunately in service of an overall less-than-satisfying story.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious.

Links: