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Month: June 2022

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

“Good god — they’re armed!”

Synopsis:
In 1991, after a virus has wiped out all cats and dogs on Earth, apes have become non-speaking slaves to humans, with the lone speaking ape (Roddy McDowell) secretly cared for by a kind circus owner (Ricardo Montalban) who hides his skills. However, when “Caesar” (McDowall) is adopted by a local governor (Don Murray), his English fluency is discovered and Montalban is lethally tortured, leading Caesar to start a secret rebellion against the humans with his fellow apes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Don Murray Films
  • Primates
  • Rebellion
  • Ricardo Montalban Films
  • Roddy McDowall Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Slavery

Review:
Peary only lists the first and fourth entry in the Planet of the Apes (1968) series in his GFTFF, skipping the two middle movies — Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971) — and moving straight towards the scenario on display here. (He also omits the fifth and final title — Battle for the Planet of the Apes [1973] — from GFTFF.) It’s possible Peary chose to include this particular follow-up in his book given its strong parallels with the Civil Rights movement in America at the time; to cite the late Graeme Clark in his review for The Spinning Image:

There is a definite sense of class war, and more pertinently, race war in Conquest. The apes are seen to be taking menial jobs like cleaning up, shining shoes and being waiters, all in the service of mankind, much in the way that African American characters would in the earlier movies out of Hollywood. They are second class citizens, and the film deliberately draws parallels with slavery, which… makes for a considerably edgier drama.

Indeed, the persistently abysmal treatment of apes in this film is deeply disturbing:

… and we’re grateful for kind Montalban’s support.

Murray is given most of the film’s laughably if memorably melodramatic lines:

“My god – there’s more!”
“Shoot them – shoot them all!”
“This will be the end of human civilization – and the world will belong to a planet of apes!”
“Man was born of the ape. And there’s still an ape curled up inside of every man – the beast that must be whipped into submission, the savage that has to be shackled in chains. You are that beast, Caesar. You taint us. You poison our guts!”

He effectively depicts a bigoted man terrified of the takeover of his planet.

As it turns out, of course, he’s right to be afraid.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Roddy McDowall as Caesar
  • Effective use of location shooting at UC Irvine

Must See?
No, though of course fans of the series will want to check it out. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Farewell to Graeme Clark

Farewell to Graeme Clark

I just received notice from a family member that a fellow film reviewer – Graeme Clark of The Spinning Image — has passed away.

I never met Graeme, but we did exchange several emails over the past year as he graciously pointed out a few minor errors in my reviews, and gave his kind appreciation for the work I’ve been doing.

I tried to calculate how many times I’ve cited Graeme’s reviews on my GFTFF site, but don’t have an easy algorithm to do that, so can’t say for sure; suffice it to say that it’s well into the hundreds. I could always count on enjoying Graeme’s honest take on a range of titles, and knowing his review would be worthy of inclusion as a link in my own overview (an “honor” I don’t give lightly).

From looking at the “About Our Team” page on Spinning Image, Graeme wrote:

Like Graeme, I also love Casablanca (1942), but I still need to revisit Brazil (1985) and Blue Velvet (1986) to gauge my current reaction to those. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I checked back on my own review of A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and found myself grateful that he listed this among its faves, given what a beautiful vision it offers of life after death.

RIP Graeme. I will continue to cite your reviews!

55 Days at Peking (1963)

55 Days at Peking (1963)

“You must not conclude that all Boxers are bandits; most of them are harmless vagabonds.”

Synopsis:
During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 — under the rule of Chinese Dowager Empress Cixi (Flora Robson) — an American major (Charlton Heston) falls for a widowed Russian aristocrat (Ava Gardner) while supporting a British ambassador (David Niven) in keeping foreign legion members safe throughout a deadly siege.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ava Gardner Films
  • Charlton Heston Films
  • China
  • David Niven Films
  • Flora Robson Films
  • Harry Andrews Films
  • Historical Drama
  • John Ireland Films
  • Nicholas Ray Films
  • Paul Lukas Films
  • Revolutionaries

Review:
Nicholas Ray’s final major film — after directing the Biblical epic King of Kings (1961) — was this large-scale historical drama (produced by Samuel Bronston) taking place in turn-of-the-century China and depicting a highly consequential if under-discussed moment in East Asian global politics. Unfortunately, while the film does an excellent job in its earliest scenes at showing us the impact of western imperialism on China:

… the Chinese themselves quickly become merely supporting characters in a drama focused on the well-being of the colonizers.

To that end, Niven is well cast as an unflappable British ambassador whose decision to stay, fight back, and wait for reinforcements from the Eight Nation Alliance not only puts his own young family at risk, but goes against the sentiment of most others on the compound, who simply want to flee.

Among these are Gardner’s Baroness Natasha Ivanova, whose earlier role in the suicide of her husband has left her ostracized by her social circle:

… and who undergoes an unrealistic change of heart over the course of the film, particularly when joining forces with an over-worked doctor (Paul Lukas). Meanwhile, Flora Robson is nearly unrecognizable playing yet another regal character on-screen:

… and odd character-actor Robert Helpmann plays yet another odd character (check out those fingernails!).

While this movie centers on an intriguing moment in world history, it’s ultimately too Euro-focused (and too battle-heavy) to remain of interest for its lengthy running time — and speaking of battles, there’s enough diverse weaponry on display and in use here to merit this film a spot on the IMFDb (the “F” stands for “firearms”).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine historical sets
  • Beautiful cinematography

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

Links:

Cat Ballou (1965)

Cat Ballou (1965)

“Stay here with us; there’s somebody trying to kill my father.”

Synopsis:
When a schoolteacher (Jane Fonda) returns to Wyoming to visit her father (John Marley), she is shocked to find his life and property under threat by a ruthless developer (Reginald Denny). After joining forces with a local Indian (Tom Nardini) and a pair of outlaws (Michael Callan and Dwayne Hickman), “Cat” (Fonda) hires a drunken gunslinger known as Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin) to fight back against hired killer Tim Strawn (also Lee Marvin).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Flashback Films
  • Jane Fonda Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Outlaws
  • Revenge
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Westerns

Review:
Lee Marvin won an Oscar for his dual performances in this comedic western, directed by Elliot Silverstein and starring Jane Fonda in the title role as a young woman who shifts from prim to feisty during the course of the screenplay.


The supporting cast members provide a solid “second family” of sorts for Cat:

… and Nat King Cole and Stubby Kate show up every now and then to provide a Greek-chorus-style commentary.

Marvin doesn’t appear until about half-an-hour into the film, and is more of a supporting character than a primary one, thus leading Peary not to give him the Best Actor award in Alternate Oscars. While Marvin’s work here is definitely amusing and memorable:

… I think I prefer him in his more typical stone-cold-villainous roles.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Lee Marvin as Kid Shelleen and Tim Strawn
  • Fine cinematography

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

Links:

Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

“The White man remembers nothing.”

Synopsis:
During the Northern Cheyenne Exodus, a cavalry captain (Richard Widmark) is required to try to stop the tribe — led by Little Wolf (Ricardo Montalban) and Dull Knife (Gilbert Roland) — from returning to its stolen lands; meanwhile, a Quaker teacher (Carroll Baker) accompanies orphaned children on the trek, and a young Cheyenne warrior named Red Shirt (Sal Mineo) is eager to fight on behalf of his people.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Carroll Baker Films
  • Cavalry
  • Dolores Del Rio Films
  • Edward G. Robinson Films
  • Jimmy Stewart Films
  • John Carradine Films
  • John Ford Films
  • Karl Malden Films
  • Native Americans
  • Richard Widmark Films
  • Ricardo Montalban Films
  • Sal Mineo Films
  • Westerns

Review:
John Ford’s final western was also his attempt to finally humanize the Native Americans who had simply served as the Enemy in so many of his earlier films. He’s somewhat (though not entirely) successful, given that we see the lethal treatment the tribe is subjected to:

… and get to know a few of them (albeit minimally) as protagonists. (For Marlon Brando’s decidedly different take on the subject, see here.) Front and central to the storyline, however, are Whites — specifically Widmark and Baker as sympathetic allies of the Cheyenne, and would-be lovers kept apart due to Baker’s rock-solid dedication to her students.

The film’s most notorious misstep — actually cut out of some viewings — was a section Ford purportedly added as an informal intermission (!!), in which Wyatt Earp (Jimmy Stewart) and Doc Holliday (Arthur Kennedy) suddenly emerge as comedic figures in Dodge City.

Setting that sequence aside (as one must do; it simply doesn’t “belong”), the remainder of the storyline gives us Edward G. Robinson as Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz:

… and Karl Malden as a sadistic concentration camp commander with a German accent.

Mineo’s role is pretty thankless, as is that of his mother (played by Dolores Del Rio).

Most notable is the beautiful cinematography by William Clothier, with good use made of location settings in Monument Valley and elsewhere.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • An honorable attempt to more authentically portray history from a Native perspective
  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though Ford fans will likely want to check it out. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Gypsy (1962)

Gypsy (1962)

“They’re real dreams — and I’m gonna make ’em come real for my kids!”

Synopsis:
A domineering stage mother (Rosalind Russell) does whatever it takes to ensure her daughters June (Ann Jillian) and Louise (Natalie Wood) achieve success in vaudeville, including stretching the long-lasting patience of her loyal suitor (Karl Malden).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Aspiring Stars
  • Biopics
  • Karl Malden Films
  • Mervyn LeRoy Films
  • Musicals
  • Natalie Wood Films
  • Rosalind Russell Films
  • Strippers
  • Strong Females
  • Vaudeville and Burlesque

Review:
Mervyn LeRoy directed this adaptation of the hit 1959 Broadway musical of the same name, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The original stage star, Tony-nominated Ethel Merman, was notoriously passed over in favor of a more bankable (and well-connected) Hollywood star, Rosalind Russell, who effectively comes across as a royal bitch of an overbearing mother.

While there’s no accounting for tastes, I find it challenging watching Malden allowing himself to be strung along by her for so many years. Meanwhile, Russell’s treatment of her children as pawns of her own dreams for glory is, of course, beyond atrocious.

As DVD Savant writes in his review:

Arthur Laurents’ play subverts the standard showbiz biography to show the ugly side underneath. Stage mother Mama Rose has enough energy and will to keep poor Herbie [Malden] on a string. She relentlessly pushes one of her daughters into the limelight, only to have the shy one [Wood] blossom into a sensational career as a stripper, as the famed Gypsy Rose Lee.

Indeed, the turn of events that leads to Wood’s character suddenly having a chance to shine as the title character — whether she wants it or not (which is debatable) — is a unique spin on the storyline:

… though it should be said that the view on display here of strippers is decidedly sanitized, and primarily milked for laughs.

While this movie has its fans (see Tired Old Queen’s video review, for instance), LeRoy’s direction is uninspired; it’s primarily worth a one-time look simply to hear some of the musical’s most famous tunes — including “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Let Me Entertain You”.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Harry Stradling’s cinematography
  • Several fine musical numbers

Must See?
No; only fans of Russell, Wood, or the musical itself need to check this one out.

Links:

Exodus (1960)

Exodus (1960)

“I don’t know much about the mandate, but I do know the Jews were promised a home in Palestine!”

Synopsis:
After World War II, a widowed American nurse (Eva Marie Saint) volunteers to help at an internment camp in Cyprus holding thousands of Jews who are eager to travel to Palestine. Soon she meets a former captain (Paul Newman) of the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, who is leading a movement to smuggle Jews on a ship called The Exodus, and she befriends a teenage girl (Jill Haworth) hoping to find her missing father.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Eva Marie Saint Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Jews
  • Lee J. Cobb Films
  • Otto Preminger Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Peter Lawford Films
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Refugees
  • Resistance Fighters
  • Sal Mineo Films

Review:
The synopsis above only begins to hint at the complexity of the storyline in this 3 1/2 hour adaptation of Leon Uris’s best-selling novel of the same name, about the founding of the modern state of Israel. While the burgeoning romance between Newman (as Ari Ben Canaan) and Saint (as Kitty Fremont) takes center stage:

… we also learn quite a bit about socio-political tensions and movements leading up to this point in history. Kitty’s initial impetus to help at the camp — after being asked by a friend (Ralph Richardson) of her deceased husband — stems from her frustration at the overt antisemitism expressed by a casually bigoted major (Peter Lawford).

From there, she gradually learns about the enormity of the efforts of refugees wanting to make it to Palestine at any cost — including those like Dov Landau (Sal Mineo), who joins a radical Zionist group called the Irgun to fight and kill for the cause:

… and teenage Karen (Jill Haworth), who turns down Kitty’s offer to bring her to America rather than to Palestine.

Kitty also meets Newman’s father, Barak Ben Canaan (Lee J. Cobb), who is pushing for a diplomatic solution to statehood for Israel:

… rather than the violent pathway of the Irgun taken by his brother Akiva (David Opatoshu), Newman’s uncle. We’re also briefly introduced to a token Arab Palestinian (John Derek) whose role is underdeveloped enough to highlight that this tale really is told from the perspective of Jews seeking nationhood in Palestine, not the Arabs being displaced.

To that end, director Otto Preminger — who optioned the book as soon as possible — actually wasn’t happy with what he (and many others) perceived to be Uris’s anti-British and Anti-Arab stance, thus leading to (non-Jewish) blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo being hired; unfortunately, Trumbo’s script — while admirable as a compression of such a sprawling story — still lasts far too long and is only compelling in spots. Meanwhile, Preminger’s notoriously hands-off direction of his actors resulted in mostly uninspired performances (with Mineo a notable exception). On the plus side are Sam Leavitt’s cinematography and excellent use made of authentic shooting locales and extras.


Note: Watching this film made me realize how little I actually knew about the decades-long formation of Israel, leading me to do some additional research and explore how impactful Uris’s book — which became the biggest bestseller since Gone With the Wind (1936) — was, serving as a cultural touchstone and inspiration for thousands.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Sal Mineo as Dov Landau
  • Sam Leavitt’s cinematography

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

Links:

Fall of the Roman Empire, The (1964)

Fall of the Roman Empire, The (1964)

“The fall of Rome — like her rise — had not one cause, but many.”

Synopsis:
Near the end of his life, ailing Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guinness) shares his wish that General Livius (Stephen Boyd) should become the new leader of a more egalitarian Rome rather than his son Commodus (Christopher Plummer), and asks his daughter (Sophia Loren) — who is in love with Livius — to marry an Armenian leader (Omar Sharif) to build alliances with the East.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alec Guinness Films
  • Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Anthony Quayle Films
  • Christopher Plummer Films
  • Historical Drama
  • James Mason Films
  • John Ireland Films
  • Mel Ferrer Films
  • Omar Sharif Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Sophia Loren Films
  • Stephen Boyd Films

Review:
Following the success of El Cid (1961), Anthony Mann helmed and Samuel Bronston once again produced this similarly big-budgeted historical epic inspired by English historian Edward Gibbons’ six-volume series The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, with a prologue written by Will Durant. It focuses on a specific moment during the Roman Empire — 106 AD — when imperial succession from Marcus Aurelius to Commodus led to the start of more overt corruption and decadence. Much like Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd) in Ben-Hur (1959), Plummer and Boyd play lifelong friends-turned-rivals:

… who even engage in a chariot race at one point (the parallels between the two films are stark). In addition to featuring Sophia Loren as gorgeous Lucilla:

… there are plenty of big-name actors in the cast, beginning with Alec Guinness during the first hour:

… and including other, somewhat poorly defined characters, such as Mel Ferrer’s blind seer Cleander:

… James Mason’s virtuous Greek Timonides:

… John Ireland as Northern tribal leader Ballomar:

… and Omar Sharif (showing up just a few brief times) as Loren’s Armenian spouse Sohamus. Plummer’s role as Commodus is by far the juiciest, and he’s compelling throughout, playing a man convinced that he truly is beloved by the gods.

Plummer’s performance — as well as the gorgeous cinematography and sets — make this worth a one-time look, though it’s not must-see viewing.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Christopher Plummer as Commodus
  • Fine cinematography and sets
  • Dimitry Tiomkin’s score

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look for its historical relevance and Plummer’s performance.

Links:

You’re a Big Boy Now (1966)

You’re a Big Boy Now (1966)

“I’m always lonely — especially when I’m with people.”

Synopsis:
After his overbearing mother (Geraldine Page) and father (Rip Torn) find him an apartment in a complex run by a neurotic spinster (Julie Harris), a virginal young man (Peter Kastner) working at the New York Public Library falls hard for a beautiful, elusive go-go dancer (Elizabeth Hartman); meanwhile, his friend Raef (Tony Bill) attempts to help hook him up with an eager co-worker (Karen Black).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming of Age
  • Francis Ford Coppola Films
  • Geraldine Page Films
  • Julie Harris Films
  • Karen Black Films
  • New York City
  • Obsessive Love
  • Rip Torn Films

Review:
Following his directorial debut of Dementia 13 (1963), Francis Ford Coppola’s thesis assignment for UCLA Film School was this madcap coming-of-age comedy, based on a novel by David Benedictus and filled to the brim with cinematic enthusiasm. It was inevitably compared with similarly themed films released both just before and after it — including The Knack… And How to Get It (1965) and The Graduate (1967) — but became a cult favorite in its own right. Unfortunately, the storyline overflows with forced quirkiness: Kastner doesn’t just work at the NY Public Library (where his father is a rare books specialist), but roller skates through its aisles (and through the streets of New York).

Meanwhile, his arrogant mega-crush, “Barbara Darling” (Hartman), is buddies with a dwarf (Michael Dunn) who transcribes her stories about — what else? — an aggressive albino hypnotherapist with one wooden leg:

… high-strung Harris is only allowed to manage the apartment given to her by her late brother if she lets his pet rooster roam around on the fifth floor; Oscar-nominated Page is simply a caricature of an overbearing mother:

… and Torn is a lech (though this does lead to an amusing scene between him and Harris involving a secret vault of erotica).

In her breakthrough debut role, Black is effectively earnest — though it’s challenging to understand why in the world she has such an intense crush on nebbishy, ungrateful Kastner.

It’s Hartman’s character — a royal bitch with a truly crazy-making personality — who emerges as most memorable, and Hartman (apparently shy and troubled in real life) plays nicely against type.

Your tolerance for this film will depend entirely on how easily you get caught up in its fast-paced editing, cinema verite shooting style, and defiant whimsicality — and also how curious you are to see Coppola’s earliest efforts.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Elizabeth Hartman as Barbara Darling
  • An effective time capsule glimpse at New York in the ’60s

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

Links:

Donovan’s Reef (1963)

Donovan’s Reef (1963)

“Here we are, the three of us, on one of the most beautiful islands on Earth.”

Synopsis:
In French Polynesia, shortly after Navy veteran “Boats” Donovan (John Wayne) has an annual birthday brawl with his buddy “Guns” Gilhooley (Lee Marvin), Donovan learns that the wealthy grown daughter (Elizabeth Allen) of their mutual buddy “Doc” Dedham (Jack Warren) is coming into town, and decides to pretend Doc’s three half-Polynesian children — Leilani (Jacqueline Malouf), Sally (Cherylene Lee), and Luke (Jeffrey Byron) — are his.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cesar Romero Films
  • Dorothy Lamour Films
  • Heiresses
  • John Ford Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • South Seas
  • Veterans

Review:
After 25 years and 13 films together — all listed in GFTFF — John Ford and John Wayne partnered for the final (14th) time in this South Seas comedy (shot on Kauai) about a stuffy Boston heiress (Allen) who gradually loosens up during her time on the island, with all misunderstandings and concerns neatly resolved by the storybook ending. Indeed, many have pointed out what a pure fantasy this film is on numerous dimensions, with DVD Savant describing it as “the ultimate Navy fantasy, where grown men get to live in a state of frozen adolescence”:

… “the dark floozy [Dorothy Lamour] gets to marry her hunk instead of dying off in the last reel”:

… “and the Clementine Carter character [Allen] stops being such a priss and gets down to basic chemistry with the hero.”

Unfortunately, there’s also plenty of cultural stereotyping, with the worst aimed at local Asians.

Meanwhile, Ford once again shows his fascination with “half breed” children and the challenges they encounter — though in this case the kids’ royal lineage ultimately uplifts them far beyond the insults they endure.

Interestingly, this is also a “Christmas story”, complete with singing carols, a moving Nativity sermon, a homecoming, and a tree.

Indeed, Donovan’s Reef could truly be considered a “kitchen sink” Ford film, given how many of his favorite tropes are thrown in and baked into a fantastical concoction: a “stern” but beautiful (and conveniently wealthy) woman is tamed (including receiving a spanking); guy friends get to continue their playful barroom brawling without serious injury; racial tensions dissipate (though not without leaving plenty of individuals behind to be ridiculed); a generation of fatherly neglect melts away; kids are charmingly adorable; an understanding female partner is waiting loyally for even the most juvenile of men; and beauty, singing, and tropical dancing abound. Welcome to Ford’s version of Paradise.

Note: Cesar Romero’s role as a local marquis hoping to snag Allen is pretty much wasted.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Ford fans.

Links: