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Month: August 2022

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:

Magnificent Seven, The (1960)

Magnificent Seven, The (1960)

“Nowadays, men are cheaper than guns.”

Synopsis:
A black-hatted gunman-for-hire (Yul Brynner) finds six more men — Vin (Steve McQueen), Harry (Brad Dexter), Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Britt (James Coburn), Lee (Robert Vaughn), and young Chico (Horst Buchholz) — to help him defend a group of Mexican peasants from a ruthless bandit (Eli Wallach) who routinely steals their crops.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Charles Bronson Films
  • Eli Wallach Films
  • Hit Men
  • James Coburn Films
  • John Sturges Film
  • Robert Vaughn Films
  • Steve McQueen Films
  • Westerns
  • Yul Brynner Films

Review:
John Sturges directed this remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samurai (1954), transplanting it to the American Western setting it seemed ideal for. The resulting film isn’t a cinematic classic like Samurai, but has gone down in history for its own successes, including Elmer Bernstein’s instantly recognizable score (listed as number 8 on the AFI’s top 25 film scores of all time), its legacy as the second-most-shown movie on television (after The Wizard of Oz), and its all-star cast (many early in their careers at the time).

It’s notable for highlighting the lonely, seemingly purposeless existence of gunmen-for-hire, who are always seeking their next job, risking their lives, and denying themselves (or avoiding) the stability of a family and home. To that end, Bronson’s character is given one of the film’s most poignant speeches, as he informs a trio of three hero-worshipping peasant boys that their fathers are the real heroes; in response to one saying, “We’re ashamed to live here. Our fathers are cowards.” he retorts:

Don’t you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there’s nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That’s why I never even started anything like that… that’s why I never will.

However, there’s an inherent sense of nobility and/or pathos lurking beneath the surface of many of these men, who are willing to take the job for just $20. (Only Dexter’s character — played for laughs — insists on believing there must be a bigger stash in store for them.)

Of special note among the cast are Wallach as the sociopathic bandit Calvera (he gets a great last line):

… and Coburn as the laconic knife-thrower Britt. (Coburn was apparently thrilled to get this role given that it mirrored that of the master swordsman in Kurosawa’s film.)

Brynner and McQueen were notoriously at odds during filming, with McQueen eager to upstage his colleague at every turn (he fiddled with his hat a LOT) — though this animosity doesn’t show up on screen.

Note: This film inspired three sequels (none listed in GFTFF), a television series of the same name, and a remake in 2016.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Charles Lang’s cinematography
  • Fine location shooting in Mexico (with locals)
  • The masterfully edited final shootout
  • Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical value and for Bernstein’s score. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

Dragonslayer (1981)

Dragonslayer (1981)

“I think you’re nothing but a boy — an apprentice!”

Synopsis:
When an aging sorcerer (Ralph Richardson) is killed, his apprentice (Peter MacNicol) — accompanied by a young woman (Caitlin Clarke) who has been living as a boy — sets out to slay a vicious dragon known as Vermithrax Pejorative.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Fantasy
  • Medieval Times
  • Ralph Richardson Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Witches and Wizards

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that given “this exceptional fantasy by Disney Studios was dismissed by critics and did poorly at the box office,” it “will be a pleasant surprise, especially for adults.” He notes that it’s “set in an age when magic and superstition are on the downswing, and Christianity is making inroads among the scared, ignorant people” who live in a “small hamlet, where virgins are sacrificed to the hungry [dragon] to keep it peaceful.”

He points out that the “film presents a magical world — the countryside, the medieval hamlet, the castle and its dungeon, the dragon’s lair — in credible fashion,” and notes that “the enormous fire-breathing dragon is one of the great monsters of the cinema,” “like a Ray Harryhausen masterpiece” but “with remarkably precise movements.”

He adds that “the confrontations with the dragon are absolutely spectacular” (the “special effects were provided by George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic”):

… and notes that while “there are a couple of time when the brutality is too strong for young viewers”:

… it’s “otherwise… everything a fantasy film should be,” including “imaginative, intelligent direction by Matthew Robbins” and “fine performances by MacNicol (after you get used to him), Clarke, [and] Richardson.”

This film certainly divides viewers, with some (like Peary and other online viewers) extolling its virtues, and others, like DVD Savant, referring to it as “not at all bad, but lack[ing] the spark to fully capture the imagination.” Savant does highlight the truly “marvelous” special effects, describing the Go-Motion animated dragon thus:

Basically a variation on the classic dragon, it flies like a dive-bomber, breathes fire and crawls on its folded wings like a bat. Seen only in small doses until his confrontation with the outclassed Galen [MacNicol], the monster looks lean, mean and fueled by hellfire. [Animator Phil] Tippett manages some great shots with moving cameras; the creature crawling out of the cave-haze, rearing up and vomiting yellow flame at the cavern ceiling. It looks reptilian and is given just enough personality to be loathsome.

Also of note are the highly effective sets and cinematography, with much of the movie shot on location in Scotland and Wales. Fantasy film buffs will surely want to check this one out, though it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Atmospheric sets and cinematography
  • Impressive special effects
  • Excellent use of location shooting

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for the visuals.

Links:

Baby Maker, The (1970)

Baby Maker, The (1970)

“If we do decide to go ahead, there are certain things we’d insist upon.”

Synopsis:
A free-spirited young woman (Barbara Hershey) offers to serve as a surrogate for an infertile woman (Collin Wilcox Paxton) and her husband (Sam Groom), but soon finds that her boyfriend (Scott Glenn) isn’t happy with all the changes this brings to their lives.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Hershey Films
  • Counterculture
  • James Bridges Films
  • Pregnancy
  • Scott Glenn Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “James Bridges’s directorial debut features a fine, heartfelt performance by Barbara Hershey as a hippie who is hired by a straight-laced, well-to-do couple… to be a surrogate mother.” He notes that the “story emphasizes the awkward relationship between the three characters, beginning with the day Groom first has sex with Hershey, through her pregnancy, to after the birth of the child.”

He argues that while the “dialogue, as well as the look of the film, is dated,” the “premise is still timely,” and points out that Hershey “gives a believable, sensitive characterization playing a young woman who very much fit her own early free-spirit image.”

What Peary doesn’t mention is the equally important emphasis on how Hershey’s decision impacts her relationship with Glenn. At first he’s fine with the idea of his girlfriend making money in this way (and it’s her choice, anyway) — but he soon realizes what a (legitimate) imposition it is on their lives, and thankfully, he isn’t villainized for making a tough call at a certain point.

Indeed, to the film’s credit, it doesn’t shy away from any of the many challenging dilemmas this type of arrangement evokes — starting with the negotiated logistics, handled under-the-radar by a mysterious woman (Lili Valenty) whose house in the hills of Malibu is only accessible through a funicular.

A contract is drawn up and signed, but that doesn’t prevent emotions from running high all around — as they would. While it’s far from perfect, I’m recommending this film as must-see viewing simply for its bold willingness to handle such a sticky topic.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Barbara Hershey as Tish
  • Fine supporting performances
  • A bold exploration of a challenging social dilemma

Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance as the first (American) film to deal with this topic — and for Hershey’s performance.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

Professionals, The (1966)

Professionals, The (1966)

“Maybe there’s only one revolution since the beginning: the good guys against the bad guys. The question is, who are the good guys?”

Synopsis:
A wealthy rancher (Ralph Bellamy) hires an explosives expert (Burt Lancaster), a weapons specialist (Lee Marvin), a horse wrangler (Robert Ryan), and an Apache scout (Woody Strode) to find and return his wife (Claudia Cardinale), who has been kidnapped by the leader (Jack Palance) of a group of Mexican Revolutionaries — but the men soon find their job more complicated when they learn details about Cardinale’s situation.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Claudia Cardinale Films
  • Jack Palance Films
  • Kidnapping
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Ralph Bellamy Films
  • Revolutionaries
  • Richard Brooks Films
  • Robert Ryan Films
  • Westerns
  • Woody Strode Films

Review:
Richard Brooks directed this action-packed western about a complicated kidnap-recovery effort featuring a significant plot twist midway through. The cast is rock-solid, with Marvin and Lancaster believable as former revolutionary buddies:

… Ryan and Strode quietly convincing as crucial backup support:

… Bellamy appropriately slimy and determined as a not-entirely-truthful older husband:

… and sexy Cardinale ready to fight at all costs for what she believes in.

Palance doesn’t play much of a role, but he’s effective enough as the revolutionary “baddie.”

This film is primarily about the action, though — and there’s plenty of it, from beginning to end, beautifully shot on location in California and Nevada. We’re kept in suspense from one scene to the next in terms of how or whether the various protagonists will survive — and are not entirely sure what we hope for, anyway.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Conrad Hall’s cinematography
  • Maurice Jarre’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a fine western.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Stardust (1974)

Stardust (1974)

“I’m an artist, not a bloody jukebox!”

Synopsis:
An aspiring rock musician (David Essex) and his band receive support from their manager (Adam Faith) and a wealthy funder (Larry Hagman) in rocketing to fame — but will success lead to happiness or isolation for Essex?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Michael Apted Films
  • Musicians
  • Rise and Fall
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “cult film is an ambitious sequel to That’ll Be the Day, with Michael Apted replacing Claude Watham as director” and Adam Faith playing the role of carnie “Mike” (previously inhabited by Ringo Starr).

The film is primarily concerned with showing what happens when an obsessive following develops around a single star; in this case, “as his fame increases, Essex begins to feel increasingly that he’s a product” and “he learns not to trust anyone but the band members,” who in turn become increasingly resentful of their more peripheral roles. Meanwhile, as “Essex goes on to superstardom,” “he is alone, confused, [and] corrupted,” and “there is isolation, drugs, [and] tragedy.”

Peary points out that this film offers “a vivid, cynical look at the rock business and a Beatles-like group” — and while “there are few surprises in the film,” “it is extremely well done, compelling, and has credibility because real rock stars Essex (who does a solid job), Faith, Dave Edmunds, and Keith Moon play major roles.”

Peary adds that “everything has a nostalgic ring,” and he “particularly likes the early scenes when the group is playing other people’s music and is zipping around, feeling excited about having waxed its first record;” however, the “innocence of the era” is “shattered in America.”

I’m in agreement with Peary’s review. This movie is depressing but well-filmed, and features “a good score.” Watching Essex’s tragic trajectory here makes one grateful for all the talented superstars who have managed to find a way out of the trap of fame, and to craft a reasonable existence for themselves outside of the industry.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • David Essex as Jim MacLaine
  • Fine production design

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look.

Links: