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Month: May 2022

Elusive Corporal, The (1962)

Elusive Corporal, The (1962)

“I’m going home.”

Synopsis:
During World War II, a French corporal (Jean-Pierre Cassel) repeatedly attempts to escape from German prison camps, taking various compatriots with him each time.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Escape
  • French Films
  • Jean Renoir Films
  • Prisoners of War
  • World War II

Review:
Jean Renoir’s second-to-last feature film was this wartime flick — based on a memoir by Jacques Perret — with thematic similarities to his earlier classic, Grand Illusion (1937) given that both films center on French men’s attempts to escape German POW camps. According to Wikipedia, “Renoir’s friend and assistant director Guy Lefranc had also been a World War II prisoner of war and had developed the project for seven years;” apparently 10 percent of all Frenchmen during World War II were captured as POWs by the Germans, meaning this story had the potential to represent an underexplored facet of France’s wartime experiences.

Curiously, however, Renoir adds comedy into the mix — and while there’s nothing wrong with approaching serious topics like war through comedy, one wonders exactly what it achieves here, other than opportunities for slapstick:

… or perhaps highlighting the absurdity of the entire situation.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

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

Links:

Accattone (1961)

Accattone (1961)

“Damn all women. They take you up to heaven, and then they drop you.”

Synopsis:
After the sole prostitute (Silvana Corsini) of a low-rent gigolo (Franco Citti) is sent to prison, “Accattone” (Citti) falls for a poor but beautiful young woman (Franca Pasut) who he ends up caring for.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Italian Films
  • Pier Paolo Pasolini Films
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos

Review:
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s debut film as a director was this relentlessly bleak look at life on the periphery of society, starting with the senseless assault of Corsini by Accattone’s group of thuggish friends:

… and leading into more details of their collectively aimless existence, which consists of a resistance to work, an inability to care for offspring, and an overall air of pugnacious rebellion. (“Give me a gun and there’d be nobody left standing.”)

When Accattone falls for Pasut, we vacillate between believing he’ll instantly exploit her, and wondering if she may be the woman who finally turns him “straight”.

Regardless, there’s very little here to give one much hope about the state of post-war Italy and its poverty-stricken inhabitants.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine direction by Pasoloni

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look as Pasolini’s confident debut film.

Links:

Outlaws Is Coming, The (1965)

Outlaws Is Coming, The (1965)

“It’s against our religion; we’re devout cowards!”

Synopsis:
The editor (Adam West) of a wildlife preservation magazine is sent out west with Larry (Larry Fine), Moe (Moe Howard), and Curly Joe (Joe DeRita) to stop the slaughter of buffalo being perpetrated by a villain (Don Lamond) whose goal is to promote an Indian uprising; meanwhile, Annie Oakley (Nancy Kovack) helps West earn a job as sheriff, and is secretly at work behind the scenes at all times, especially when a host of notorious outlaws arrive in town.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Outlaws
  • Westerns

Review:
The Three Stooges’ final of six films together — made after a brief late-career resurgence in their popularity — was this western spoof directed by Moe Howard’s son-in law (Norman Maurer), and featuring Adam West in a decidedly unheroic role a year before he would go down in history as TV’s best-known Batman.

Everything about this silly flick is predicated on one’s appreciation of the Stooges’ humor:

… and one’s enjoyment at seeing them in an anachronistic western environment.

The biggest highlight of the film is Nancy Kovacks as sharp-shooting Annie Oakley, who comes to the rescue with a grin of delight time and again.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Nancy Kovack’s fun turn as powerhouse Annie Oakley

Must See?
No; skip this one unless you’re a diehard Three Stooges fan.

Links:

Once Before I Die (1966)

Once Before I Die (1966)

“We should be able to do everything — to see everything in this beautiful world — at least once, shouldn’t we? That’s right, isn’t it?”

Synopsis:
When a beautiful young Swiss woman (Ursula Andress) flees through the jungles of the Philippines with her lover (John Derek) after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she watches a sadistic lieutenant (Richard Jaeckel) become increasingly invested in killing the Japanese, and befriends a young virgin (Ron Ely) hoping for a sexual experience before he dies.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Refugees
  • Ursula Andress Films
  • World War II

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “John Derek directed and starred with his onetime wife Ursula Andress in this peculiar WWII action drama,” a “bleak and brutal” film in which it’s “hard to tell what’s going on at times.” He points out that at least “Andress (more sensitive and vulnerable than usual) is always watchable”:

… “Richard Jaeckel is perfectly cast as a bald, psychopathic soldier”:

… “and, surprisingly, Derek’s direction (so awful in his films with Bo) is often interesting, particularly when using superimposures and freeze frames.”

Indeed, in his debut film, Derek seems to be having plenty of creative fun with all sorts of cinematic tricks, making this a visually intriguing outing above all else.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Creative direction

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

Links:

Subject Was Roses, The (1968)

Subject Was Roses, The (1968)

“Tell her the roses were your idea.”

Synopsis:
When a young soldier (Martin Sheen) comes home from fighting in WWII, he soon finds himself caught between the squabbling marriage of his mother (Patricia Neal) and father (Jack Albertson).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Grown Children
  • Marital Problems
  • Martin Sheen Films
  • Patricia Neal Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • Veterans

Review:
Belgian director Ulu Grosbard helmed this adaptation of Frank Gilroy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play (which he also directed on stage). Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen reprised their original roles, while Patricia Neal — having spent the previous few years recovering from a series of aneurysms — took over the lead female role, using this as an opportunity to prove to herself that she could still perform (she very much could). The tale itself is harsh and challenging; however, the truths it unearths about a troubled marriage — as well as the direct impact this can have on kids well into their adulthood — is timeless, and well played.

Unfamiliar viewers should note that the film takes place just after WWII, not the Vietnam War, as one might think from Judy Collins’ folksy music playing across the credits.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Patricia Neal as Nettie
  • Jack Albertson as John
  • Martin Sheen as Timmy

Must See?
Yes, as a fine adaptation of Gilroy’s play, and especially for Neal’s performance.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

L-Shaped Room, The (1962)

L-Shaped Room, The (1962)

“I can’t be brave all the time; only in small doses.”

Synopsis:
A pregnant unwed French woman (Leslie Caron) finds lodging in an l-shaped room in a boarding house run by a stingy woman (Avis Bunnage), where she quickly befriends a trumpeter (Brock Peters) and a former music hall performer (Cicely Courtneidge), and falls for an aspiring writer (Tom Bell) who doesn’t know about her unborn baby.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bryan Forbes Films
  • Leslie Caron Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Strong Females

Review:
Peary doesn’t review this “kitchen sink drama” by director Bryan Forbes in his GFTFF, but does name Caron Best Actress of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, where he notes she “broke out of her Hollywood shackles with a bold performance.” He provides some context for this seemingly “pro-life” (actually pro-choice) film, noting that “in its day” it “was quite daring because it broke away from the tradition of having the pregnant woman either suffer a miscarriage, give birth to a stillborn baby, or die herself” as “a payback for having ‘sinned.'”

POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT

He points out that “Caron’s Jane doesn’t have the baby because she is against abortions per se (at one time she takes pills to cause a miscarriage) but because her baby’s birth will be a means of injecting ‘life’ – figuratively and literally – into her dreary existence.” While she “loves the people in her boardinghouse,” they “are all lonely, unfulfilled, and unhappy” — what you might call “deadbeats.”

Peary writes that in this non-MGM film, Caron “revealed a sexual maturity that her fans were unprepared for,” looking “like a real woman for a change” and “more appealing than ever.” Moreover, “there was something enticing as well as admirable about this woman who refuses to marry the man who impregnated her, or let a quack male doctor give her an abortion so he can pay his bills, or get an abortion though it would guarantee the love of Toby [Bell], the man she loves.”

Indeed, Caron’s nuanced, highly empathetic performance grounds this film, reassuring us that Jane herself will be okay no matter how others around her treat her (which is often quite shabbily). It’s a harsh film but a daringly frank one, and well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Leslie Caron as Jane
  • Fine supporting performances
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, primarily for Caron’s performance but also as an overall good show. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Good Show
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

Hot Box, The (1972)

Hot Box, The (1972)

“Teach us public health, so we can teach the villages we liberate!”

Synopsis:
Four beautiful American nurses (Margaret Markov, Andrea Cagan, Ricky Richardson and Laurie Rose) working in a Latin American hospital are kidnapped by the leader (Carmen Argenziano) of a revolutionary group and forced to help them as medics.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Jonathan Demme Films
  • Prisoners
  • Revolutionaries

Review:
This jungle exploitation flick was made explicitly to show off girls, guns, sex, and violence — and that’s exactly what it provides in spades:



The film’s production history says most of what one needs to know about how it emerged, and why; as noted on Wikipedia:

The film came about because Roger Corman had a production deal in the Philippines with a young producer there, Cirio Santiago. Corman wanted to give Santiago a story outline and [director Joe] Viola did up a treatment in an afternoon, which became the film. Jonathan Demme shot some second unit footage, which impressed Roger Corman enough to support Demme’s debut as director, Caged Heat (1974).

There you go. The dialogue and delivery are at least occasionally laughably bad, for those who enjoy that sort of thing:

“Do you know what I hope? I hope someday you’re on a date, and then some maniacs come along and shoot your date, and drag you into the jungle, and then attack you, and then not even tell you why!”

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Effective use of location shooting

Must See?
Nope, unless this genre is your cup of tea.

Links:

Hail, Hero! (1969)

Hail, Hero! (1969)

“Long hair on boys is one of the things wrong with this country, if you ask me.”

Synopsis:
When a college dropout (Michael Douglas) returns home to share he’s enlisted in the army, his kind mother (Teresa Wright) is glad to see him, but his no-nonsense father (Arthur Kennedy) remains convinced that Douglas’s disabled brother (Peter Strauss) is the only brave child in the family.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Counterculture
  • Generation Gap
  • Michael Douglas Films
  • Teresa Wright Films

Review:
Michael Douglas made his cinematic debut in this low-key film about an artistic young man clashing with his ultra-patriotic father, who is fond of reminiscing about the “good old days” of his service in World War II.

There’s not much to this simple story other than Douglas interacting with various people in his hometown, including a couple of girls he meets while swimming out at the lake:

…. and a pot-smoking old woman (Amy Stuart) who for some reason gifts Douglas with a creepy mummified baby.

Wright doesn’t have much to do except look and act like the reasonable parent in the family (albeit with a secret of her own):

… and Virginia Christie (in her final role) comes and goes quickly as the wife of a senator.

Douglas does bring some needed energy to the film, but his enthusiasm is not enough to save this one from obscurity.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Michael Douglas as Carl

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

Links:

Soldier in the Rain (1963)

Soldier in the Rain (1963)

“Good boy, Eustis!”

Synopsis:
A country bumpkin (Steve McQueen) eager to finish his peacetime service tries to convince his enlisted friend (Jackie Gleason) to leave with him — including enticing Gleason with a beautiful but bubble-headed teen (Tuesday Weld).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Friendship
  • Military
  • Steve McQueen Films
  • Tuesday Weld Films

Review:
Shortly on the heels of his notable performances in The Hustler (1961) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), Jackie Gleason was given another somber role in this military comedy based on a novel by William Goldman, co-written by Blake Edwards, and with a score by Henry Mancini. Unfortunately, the nearly non-existent storyline has nowhere to go: McQueen’s pathetic Sergeant Eustis Clay (a caricature of a dumb hick) for some reason spends the first half-an-hour of the film trying to hustle a fan:

… and the rest either getting into hijinks with his moronic friend Jerry (Tony Bill):

… or for some reason trying to get Gleason to hook up with Weld.

None of these characters or relationships make much sense — and they’re certainly not compelling. While this film is purportedly about Gleason and McQueen’s enduring friendship, it’s challenging to see why we should care about them.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jackie Gleason as Master Sergeant Maxwell Slaughter

Must See?
No; you can skip this one.

Links:

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

“I’m sick and tired of the kind of life I lead.”

Synopsis:
When a department store clerk (Natalie Wood) seeks out the musician (Steve McQueen) who got her pregnant, she’s disappointed to learn he doesn’t even remember her. Soon Angie (Wood) is considering marriage with an earnest restauranteur (Tom Bosley) who her mother (Penny Santon) and overprotective brothers (Herschel Bernardi, Harvey Lembeck, and E. Nick Alexander) want her to be with — but do Wood and McQueen actually have a chance at romance after all?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • Musicians
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Robert Mulligan Films
  • Romantic Comedy
  • Steve McQueen Films

Review:
Director Robert Mulligan’s follow-up film after To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) was this romantic “dramedy” about a young Italian woman (Wood) who uses her unexpected pregnancy as a catalyst for moving away from her dominating family and living life on her own terms.

Indeed, both Wood and McQueen undergo significant character arcs in this film, with time and space given in the pacing of the screenplay to show the inner shifts occurring for each of them. McQueen is at first presented as a self-absorbed hustler living with an equally narcissistic showgirl (Edie Adams) whose apartment is littered with evidence of her love for herself (and her dogs):

… while Wood is literally smothered on all sides by her domineering Italian family, who want to monitor her every move.

It makes sense that both Wood and McQueen would gravitate towards a less extreme, more balanced existence of some kind — but meanwhile, Wood’s pregnancy needs taking care of, and we’re shown the extreme challenges of this situation in a pre-Roe v. Wade world. While the movie’s tone is a bit uneven — veering from more serious drama to slapstick (i.e., how clumsy both Bosley and Wood are during dinners with their respective families) — this remains overall a well-filmed drama with good use of authentic New York location shooting. It’s worth a one-time look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Natalie Wood as Angie
  • Steve McQueen as Rocky
  • Tom Bosley as Anthony
  • Edie Adams as Barbie
  • The daring abortion “clinic” sequence
  • Good use of NYC locales
  • Milton Krasner’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for Wood’s performance and as an overall good show. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.

Links: