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Month: July 2022

That’ll Be the Day (1973)

That’ll Be the Day (1973)

“It’s no good telling me he’s changed; he’ll never change!”

Synopsis:
A young man (David Essex) whose single mother (Rosemary Leach) runs a small grocery store runs away to work at a carnival, where he meets an orphan (Ringo Starr) who introduces him to a world of petty crime and sex — but when Essex eventually reconnects with his old schoolmate (Robert Lindsay) and starts dating Lindsay’s sister (Rosalind Ayres), he seems to be heading towards a more stable lifestyle.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Coming of Age
  • Ringo Starr Films
  • Womanizers

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “somber drama” about a “working class youth in 1959-60” who “feels little attachment to anyone… and avoids commitment” is “the type of kitchen-sink drama Alan Sillitoe or John Osborne might have come up with if they’d been writing for the younger 1974 British audience.”

Peary points out that real-life rock star David “Essex doesn’t sing, as he [would] in the better, more flamboyant sequel, Stardust,” but “there’s a great rock sound track” and he personally relates to a scene in which Essex “has a friend bringing over a Ritchie Valens album that Essex has been dying to hear.”

He notes that Starr (in one of his best film roles) “does a good job as Essex’s pal” (not to mention having “an interesting haircut”):

… and adds that “Essex turns in a strong performance, playing someone audiences will feel ambivalent about” given that “he looks for one-night stands” and “he won’t put himself on the line for a friend [Starr] who’s getting beaten up.”

Indeed, Essex’s character — someone who “girls flock around” given “he’s cute and shy” — is surprisingly complex: the opening scenes show him as a young child running to meet his long-gone dad (James Booth), and spending only a short time with him before he disappears once again (for good).

This abandonment inevitably influences Essex himself once he comes of age — and while we sympathize with his beleaguered mother, who assumes her bright son will go to college and find security:

… it’s also entirely believable that he would rebel and seek out new adventures (including losing his virginity).

The problem is how badly Essex acts during key decision-making moments of his life, such as whether to force himself on a teenage girl at the carnival; whether to help Starr during a potentially fatal fight; whether to pursue a “final fling” before his marriage night; etc. His worst decision comes near the very end — and given that this film ends on a freeze-frame, it inevitably leaves one feeling like the story is unfinished (which it is); I’ll return with my assessment of Stardust shortly.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • David Essex as Jim
  • Ringo Starr as Mike
  • Rosemary Leach as Mrs. MacLaine
  • Fine use of location shooting

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

Links:

Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

Rust Never Sleeps (1979)

“About 9 or 10 years ago Neil raised the question: has your band begun to rust? Well, after 9 years of research and rust development, we — Dr. Decibel and his grandfather here — we’ve discovered that ALL bands rust!”

Synopsis:
Neil Young performs with the band Crazy Horse at the Cow Palace in 1978.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Concert Films
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Review:
Neil Young — using his usual pseudonym “Bernard Shakey” — helmed this documentary of his own concept album tour in the late 1970s, featuring Jawa-esque stage hands called Road Eyes who (along with scientists in lab coats and cone-headed religious figures) run around behind and on stage for no apparent reason other than sheer quirkiness, and presumably to bank on the success and popularity of Star Wars (1977) (?).

The musical set is structured to start with Young playing some of his earlier acoustical songs, accompanying himself on harmonica:

… and then gradually shifts towards a much stronger electrical sound with his bandmates; indeed, the film opens and closes on similar tunes — “My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)” — played in radically different styles.

We don’t see much (anything, really) of the audience, so this really is a straight-up, relatively non-experimentally-filmed rendering of a concert rather than any type of insightful documentary. To that end, your enjoyment of it will rest exclusively on how much you enjoy Young’s music.

NB: The weirdest song here has got to be “Welfare Mothers” (?!).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Several enjoyable musical acts

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

Links:

Richard Pryor… Here and Now (1983)

Richard Pryor… Here and Now (1983)

“It’s a great gift, being alive.”

Synopsis:
In his final live performance film, Richard Pryor directs himself in New Orleans as he reflects on his new life of sobriety.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Richard Pryor Films
  • Stand-Up Comedy

Review:
Richard Pryor starred in four performance films: Richard Pryor: Live and Smokin’ (1971/1985) (non-GFTFF; skip it); Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1979) (must-see); Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982); and this intimate, semi-improvised glimpse into his perspectives on life while 7 months clean and sober (for the first time since he was 14). Pryor is impressively relaxed on stage, interacting with audience members, dealing with hecklers, and improvising numerous times — such as when he’s given a live “pet” crab (right after completing a bit on genital crabs).

We also see him inhabiting his fictional elderly character of “Mudbone”, and, in a sad extended bit, simulating a junkie (i.e., himself) hitting up.

Fans won’t want to miss this one, though it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Many humorous, memorable moments

Must See?
No, but of course it’s must-see for Pryor fans.

Links:

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

“You know somethin’ I found out? When you on fire and runnin’ down the street, people will get out of your way.”

Synopsis:
Richard Pryor performs in front of a live audience in Hollywood, sharing how he nearly burned to death in 1980.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Richard Pryor Films
  • Stand-Up Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while Richard “Pryor’s return to the concert scene after nearly being burned to death while freebasing cocaine” includes much “sidesplitting” humor, it is “overall… not as sharp-edged, wild, ’embarrassing,’ or sustained as in 1979’s Richard Pryor Live in Concert.” He adds that Pryor “doesn’t rely on mobility or his mime talents as much,” and “most irritating is that director Joe Layton keeps cutting to audience members cracking up.” (This didn’t bother me at all.)

Peary writes that “a highlight has Pryor showing his painful reaction to being bathed for the first time following his accident,” and that other stand-out moments include Pryor’s “recollections of a night with a Playboy bunny who gets turned on when he uses a little-boy voice, and his meetings with black murderers at an Arizona penitentiary.”

It’s been enough years since I watched any of Pryor’s routines that I found it enjoyable to spend time with him again — and it was especially poignant hearing him address his near-fatal addiction with humor and humility. However, if film fanatics choose just one filmed Pryor show to watch, it should probably be his earlier “Live in Concert”, thus making this recommended rather than must-see.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Haskell Wexler’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s must-see for Pryor fans, and well worth a look.

Links:

D.O.A. (1980)

D.O.A. (1980)

“I’m not shocked by punk — I’m shamed by it.”

Synopsis:
The Sex Pistols and other punk bands perform and are interviewed by documentarian Lech Kowalski in the late 1970s.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Documentary
  • Rock ‘N Roll

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “haphazardly constructed” documentary of the “seminal English punk group, The Sex Pistols, with extensive footage of their 1978 U.S. tour” is “nevertheless an arresting, upsetting social document about the punk scene at its peak.”

He notes that “the young fans who show up for Sex Pistols concerts are society’s and mothers’ worst nightmare” — and while “their make-up and wild clothing won’t bother anyone who has been to The Rocky Horror Picture Show… it’s disturbing to witness the pins through their cheeks, their mindless f**k-the-world hostility and rudeness (especially toward the cameraman), and their violence.”

He adds that the “music by the Sex Pistols (Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Paul Cook) and other famous punk groups should please fans and, for those like [him – i.e., non-fans], satisfy curiosity,” and he concludes his review by noting that “surely the film’s most famous, most depraved scene is an interview with catatonic Vicious (wearing a swastika T-shirt) and spaced-out girlfriend Nancy Spungen” before they both died shortly thereafter.

This film also offers some drolly amusing commentary from various folks who are, shall we say, not especially pleased about the impact of punk music on society.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A time capsule glimpse at a unique period in music history

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

Links:

Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The (1973)

“There is a third part still to be found; it must be found!”

Synopsis:
Shortly after finding a mysterious gold amulet, Sinbad (John Phillip Law) encounters an evil magician (Tom Baker) desperate for the amulet, and is launched on an adventure involving a beautiful slave girl (Caroline Munro), a disfigured Vizier (Douglas Wilmer), and several magical creatures.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fantasy
  • Ray Harryhausen Films
  • Search
  • Witches and Wizards

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “tenth collaboration of Charles H. Schneer and model-animation genius Ray Harryhausen” — “the second of three Sinbad movies” — was made “17 years after The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” and while it’s “not as enjoyable as that classic, it still is quite entertaining.” He points out that although the “picture is a bit slow,” “it contains five excellent Harryhausen creations: a six-armed, dancing, sword-wielding statue”:

… “the Siren figurehead on Sinbad’s ship that Koura [the magician] brings to life”:

… “a tiny, ugly, winged Homunculus that serves as Koura’s spy”:

… “and a centaur and griffin, whose battle is a highlight.”

The final sword battle between Sinbad and his nemesis Koura — involving a “shield of darkness” — is also nicely handled.

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s assessment. This escapist fantasy is a little slow at times, but it’s creatively filmed, and Harryhausen’s unique creations are always worth watching. Meanwhile, Munro is gorgeous eye candy:

… and Baker is effectively evil as a magician whose very life is predicated upon locating the mythical fountain of youth.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the cast
  • Ray Harryhausen’s creature effects
  • Magical sets
  • Ted Moore’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Harryhausen’s effects, and as an overall good show.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Purple Noon (1960)

Purple Noon (1960)

“All is vanity; nothing exists.”

Synopsis:
When conman Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) is hired to bring his acquaintance (Maurice Ronet) back home to his father in America, Ripley finds himself caught up in a sticky triangle with Ronet’s dissatisfied girlfriend (Marie Laforet), and soon moves into even more dangerous territory involving murder and identity theft.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • French Films
  • Mistaken or Hidden Identities
  • Psychopaths
  • Rene Clement Films

Review:
Nearly 40 years before Anthony Minghella gave us The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), French director Rene Clement helmed this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel of the same name, albeit with a new title. (It was released as Plein Soleil — or Full Sun — in French, which seems to make a bit more sense than the inscrutable English translation; what is a “purple noon”?) Regardless of what it’s called, this early version remains a top-notch thriller in every way, with the cast, sets (in Italy), cinematography, and storyline all coming together to provide the type of classy suspense entertainment one expects from Highsmith (author of the novel upon which Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train was based).

It was interesting watching this movie shortly after revisiting Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), given that they were released the same year, and both begin by showing privileged individuals out on a recreational boating trip in Italy that turns tragic — though the two storylines take completely different trajectories from there. Unlike L’Avventura, Purple Noon is heavily plot-driven, showing us the various steps Tom Ripley — one of literature’s best-known sociopaths — takes to try to secure his own fortunes at the ruthless expense of others.

Ripley (Delon is perfectly cast) may think he has a full-proof plan, but naturally, there are hiccups — including the inconvenient re-emergence of an American friend (Bill Kearns) first introduced to us in opening scenes.


Saying more about the details of this film may take away from the enjoyment of simply watching it, so I’ll leave my analysis somewhat succinct. Suffice it to say that this film remains gripping from beginning to end — and be prepared for a final surprise once you think all has resolved.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Alain Delon as Tom Ripley
  • Marie Laforet as Marge
  • Maurice Ronet as Philippe Greenleaf
  • Henri Decaë’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a foreign gem.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem
  • Important Director

Links:

Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

“White women only spell trouble for any of us.”

Synopsis:
A Black Cavalry soldier (Woody Strode) falsely accused of raping and murdering a young White woman (Toby Michaels) is defended in court by a White lieutenant (Jeffrey Hunter) and his love interest (Constance Towers), who both believe in Strode’s innocence.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African-Americans
  • Cavalry
  • Courtroom Drama
  • Falsely Accused
  • Jeffrey Hunter Films
  • John Ford Films
  • Juano Hernandez Films
  • Westerns
  • Woody Strode Films

Review:
John Ford attempted to atone for his previously demeaning depictions of African-Americans on screen — see Judge Priest (1934) and The Sun Shines Bright (1954) — in this earnest, historically groundbreaking western featuring a humanized Black protagonist, and portraying “Buffalo Soldiers” (Black Cavalry members) for the first (?) time.

The movie is told as a courtroom drama, in which we’re first led to believe Towers will portray a stereotypical White damsel-in-distress at the mercy of a “dangerous” Black man.

Soon, however, we learn that Strode has saved her life from an Apache raid, and Towers is actually a reasonable, non-bigoted female protagonist who is justifiably indignant about the claims made against Strode. The rest of the storyline — who did rape and kill “Miss Lucy”, and who shot wounded Strode? — is effectively handled, as we’re kept in suspense about various potential culprits for each crime until the very end.

Meanwhile, we’re shown non-stereotyped Black soldiers interacting and carrying out their duties in a way that should have been much better represented in cinema of the era, but — of course — wasn’t. (Watch for Juano Hernandez in a key supporting role.)

Ford’s film remains a critical step in the direction towards more authentic racial representation on screen, and is thus must-see viewing for its historical significance in cinema.

Note: Strode and Ford remained real-life friends until his death.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Woody Strode as Sgt. Rutledge
  • Jeffrey Hunter as Lt. Cantrell
  • Bert Glennon’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for its historical significance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director

Links:

Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

“Did you ever hear of bread? I butter yours.”

Synopsis:
After hitching a ride with a teenage runaway (Jane Fonda), a Texas farmer (Laurence Harvey) lands in New Orleans and receives support from a widowed cafe owner (Anne Baxter) before searching for his former lover (Capucine), who is now a prostitute working for a lesbian madam (Barbara Stanwyck).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anne Baxter Films
  • Barbara Stanwyck Films
  • Capucine Films
  • Edward Dmytryk Films
  • Jane Fonda Films
  • Laurence Harvey Films
  • Prostitutes and Gigolos

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “brooding, once shocking adaptation of Nelson Algren’s novel” is “very watchable” but he argues that “the actors, though good, are extremely stiff, as if they feared moving about and not being able to find the floor markers on the dark sets.” (Peary exaggerates; not that many scenes are darkly lit.) He notes that “only hip-swinging Jane Fonda, as a wildcat tamed by Stanwyck’s threats, projects any energy,” but “it’s difficult to tell if her performance is correct or completely wrong since her style is so much more expressive than that of the other stars.” (Is “correct” really the right term to use for a performance?)

Peary adds that while “it’s unusual to see a film with four solid female parts,” “so many of their feelings — those that explain who they are — are kept bottled inside, as if the many scriptwriters (including Clifford Odets and Ben Hecht) were either afraid or incapable of expressing them or unable to because of censorship problems.” Indeed, this movie is often cited as a classic example of everything wrong with studio filmmaking before the Production Code was finally loosened; it was lambasted thusly by Bosley Crowther in The New York Times:

Everything in this sluggish picture… smacks of sentimentality and social naïveté. It is incredible that anything as foolish would be made in this day and age.

Meanwhile, the film’s production was infamously challenging and heated as well; as described in TCM’s article:

Needless to say, the shoot was something of a pitched battle. Feldman had promised Dmytryk that he would leave the country during filming so that he wouldn’t interfere. Then he hung around anyway, sending in his unwanted script revisions and insisting that Capucine be dressed in the latest Pierre Cardin designs, even though the film was set and costumed in the ’30s. Harvey quarreled with Dmytryk incessantly. When the actor stalked off the set and held up production for over an hour, Stanwyck tore into him so vehemently, he was never late again. At least they both could agree on their dislike of Capucine. When the former model complained that Harvey’s kisses weren’t manly enough for her, he countered, “Perhaps if you were more of a woman, I would be more of a man. Honey, kissing you is like kissing the side of a beer bottle.”

Ouch! Speaking of Stanwyck, her character’s thinly veiled “interest” in Capucine at least keeps things a little intriguing, even if her role is underdeveloped.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jane Fonda’s enthusiastic performance as Kitty Twist
  • Barbara Stanwyck as Jo
  • Anne Baxter as Teresina
  • Joseph MacDonald’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though fans of the stars will likely be curious to check it out.

Links:

Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus (1960)

“When just one man says, ‘No, I won’t,’ Rome begins to fear.”

Synopsis:
After watching a fellow gladiator (Woody Strode) being killed by an arrogant Roman senator (Laurence Olivier), a slave named Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) helps spark a rebellion and is soon leader of a growing army of former slaves fighting back against their Roman captors.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Charles Laughton Films
  • Folk Heroes
  • Historical Drama
  • Jean Simmons Films
  • John Dall Films
  • John Ireland Films
  • Kirk Douglas Films
  • Laurence Olivier Films
  • Peter Ustinov Films
  • Rebellion
  • Slavery
  • Stanley Kubrick Films
  • Tony Curtis Films
  • Woody Strode Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “director Stanley Kubrick was disappointed in this epic about the legendary hero… who led a slave revolt against Rome in 71 B.C.,” feeling like “he didn’t have the freedom to develop the story as he wanted.” However, as Peary points out, “it has come to be regarded as [among the] best of the historical epics,” given that “it contains a spirited, emotionally charged performance by Douglas (who also produced)”:

… “a superlative supporting cast headed by Jean Simmons as the slave girl Varinia (Spartacus’s lover)”:

… “andLaurence Olivier as the Roman Crassus (Spartacus’s mortal enemy), [and] an outstanding battle sequence.” He notes that “this is one of the few epics in which we’re not bored when characters are talking,” adding that “the palace-bath chats between Olivier, John Gavin (as Julius Caesar), Charles Laughton, and the other shrewd Romans are amusing not only because they reveal political motives for wanting Spartacus and his memory destroyed but also because there are strong intimations of homosexuality.”

However, “the film’s major distinction is that its script, adapted from Howard Fast’s novel by Dalton Trumbo” (in his first credited post-blacklist film) “has a genuine revolutionary spirit, reflected in Douglas’s speeches to his followers” — and “Trumbo also establishes, through Crassus, the nature of a fascist.”

Peary notes numerous highlights from the film, including “Douglas being forced by his Roman captors to fight to the death with fellow slave Woody Strode”:

… “Laughton and slave dealer Peter Ustinov having a gluttonous meal together”:

… “Simmons’s nude swim”:

… “the fireballs being shot at the beginning of the great battle”:

… “and the fictional final scene in which the Romans try to determine which of the captured revels is Spartacus (they all claim to be).”

I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s review, though the film feels a bit long at 3+ hours, and one definitely misses (or at least wonders about) the lack of Kubrick’s distinctive touch. However, the battle sequences are truly impressive, and the storyline effectively portrays Ancient Rome from multiple perspectives — not just those in power.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Laurence Olivier as Crassus
  • Peter Ustinov as Batiatus
  • Charles Laughton as Gracchus
  • Russell Metty’s cinematography (aided significantly by Kubrick)
  • The impressively crafted battle sequences

Must See?
Yes, for its historical significance. Nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Alternate Oscars.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

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

Links: