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Month: October 2023

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

“How can he be so sick, and play so well?”

Synopsis:
A terminally ill baseball player (Robert De Niro) is supported in staying on his team by his unwaveringly loyal friend, Henry (Michael Moriarty).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Baseball
  • Friendship
  • Illness
  • Michael Moriarty Films
  • Robert De Niro Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
When discussing what he refers to as his “favorite baseball film,” Peary notes that screenwriter Mark Harris’s story (based on his 1956 novel) is “sensitively directed by John Hancock” and centers on “how people come through for those in trouble (the same theme as Terms of Endearment).” He writes that the “picture makes you feel good about people but, at the same time, sad that we so rarely show our altruistic side.” He argues “it has wit, creates nostalgia for a more innocent baseball era,” and “also tugs at your emotions [and] breaks your heart.” He concludes by noting that “the two leads, then relatively unknown, give exciting performances” — though “at the time [he] thought Moriarty would be the one to go on to superstardom” rather than De Niro.

Unfortunately, I can’t agree with Peary’s praise of this film; I’m more in alignment with Andrew Sarris, who in his review for The Village Voice noted that it’s highly effective at bringing on emotions (the closing baseball game is a tear-jerker) but otherwise too simplistic in its presentation. I’m guessing this one may mean a lot more to those who enjoyed the novel. Nominated as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Michael Moriarty as Henry
  • The lump-inducing final baseball sequence

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing if you’re curious.

Links:

Winter Kills (1979)

Winter Kills (1979)

“Listen, kid: we find the killers of your brother, you’ll be a hero — a fucking legend.”

Synopsis:
With support from his father (John Huston) and girlfriend (Belinda Bauer), the brother (Jeff Bridges) of an assassinated president tries to follow an increasingly bizarre maze of clues leading to identifying the killer.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anthony Perkins Films
  • Black Comedy
  • Dorothy Malone Films
  • Eli Wallach Films
  • Elizabeth Taylor Films
  • Father and Child
  • Jeff Bridges Films
  • John Huston Films
  • Murder Mystery
  • Political Conspiracy
  • Ralph Meeker Films
  • Sterling Hayden Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, “Comic fantasist William Richert wrote and directed this cult film adapted from a novel by Richard Condon” (who had written The Manchurian Candidate 15 years earlier). He points out that the “picture has off-the-wall humor, bizarre characters, innumerable plot twists, [and] strange moments” — including “girlfriend Belinda Bauer talking to Bridges while sitting on the toilet:”

… “Huston walking around in red bikini shorts:”

… “Bridges riding out of Dad’s earshot to yell back, ‘You stink!'”:

… “loco spy-network wizard Anthony Perkins carrying on a calm conversation with Bridges although Bridges has just broken his arms:”

… and “a doorman in a temper tantrum,” among others.

However, he points out that “there are too many loose ends and overly eccentric characters” (no kidding!), noting in particular that “we could do without Sterling Hayden’s war-games fanatic.”

He adds that “it seems as if none of the star actors read the whole script,” given that “scenes have little connection to one another.” Perhaps worst — though this is meant to be a darkly comedic paranoia thriller — is that “the tongue-in-cheek approach makes what could have been a provocative vision of the corrupt American power elite into something quite trivial.”

I agree. This seems like a film that may have once felt more relevant given its proximity to JFK’s assassination, but now merely seems too purposefully disjointed and quirky for its own good. With that said, among the many cameos or supporting performances to watch out for are Richard Boone:

… unbilled Elizabeth Taylor:

… Eli Wallach:

… Ralph Meeker:

… and Dorothy Malone.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jeff Bridges as Nick Kegan
  • Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography

Must See?
No; while this film clearly has its fans, I’m not among them.

Links:

Young Törless (1966)

Young Törless (1966)

“You agree to everything. You are a coward!”

Synopsis:
At an early 20th century boarding school in Austria, new arrival Thomas Törless (Mathieu Carrière) is distressed to find two classmates — Reiting (Fred Dietz) and Beineberg (Bernd Tischer) — bullying a fellow student named Basini (Marian Seidowsky), who has been caught stealing.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Steele Films
  • Boarding School
  • Bullies
  • Coming of Age
  • German Films
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “compelling adaptation of Robert Musil’s 1906 novel, written and directed by [27-year-old] Volker Schlöndorff,” “presents military academies as breeding grounds for fascists, and draws parallels between what happens in the school and the rise of Nazism in Germany in the early 1930s, [including] victimization of Jews.” He adds that even “more interestingly, it’s about how similar people can, through circumstances, go in opposite directions,” with one becoming “an oppressor and the other an outcast victim.”

Ironically, while Carrière’s Thomas detests the way Beineberg and Reiting “intellectualize that what they’re doing to Basini is an experiment in human nature (to see how much he will take),” Thomas himself could be seen as the ultimate passive intellectualizer, given his lack of willingness to step in and help Basini; which is worse?

Meanwhile, Thomas’s frustration with Basini’s “masochistic [sic] acceptance of his degradation and victimization” also seems off-base, since Basini is simply and pragmatically trying to survive. Shedding additional light on this topic, film scholar Timothy Corrigan — in an essay for Criterion on the film’s historical relevance — writes:

“Although critics of the film sometimes misread Törless’s passive and intellectual response to brutality as the message of the film, there is too much dark historical irony in this drama to be denied. Seen from Schlöndorff’s perspective in postwar Germany, this prewar tale of the Austrian upper class becomes a chilling anticipation of a culture stifled by authoritarian regimes and attitudes and secreted in the violent obsessions and weaknesses of individuals supporting those regimes.”

He continues:

“Like other films with similar boarding-school plots, such as Jean Vigo’s ZĂ©ro de Conduite (1933) and Lindsay Anderson’s If…. (1968), Young Törless investigates the social rituals that shape and repress adolescents in a rite-of-passage drama. But unlike those other two films, there is no rebellion against the institution in this German drama but instead a frighteningly stoic withdrawal.”

Striking Bernd Tischer (this is his only listed film role on IMDb) makes quite an impression as the school’s dominant bully; and in a surprising bit of casting, Barbara Steele plays a prostitute who piques Törless’s curiosity more than his lust.

On a side note, I was particularly interested in revisiting this film after learning more about Carrière through his daughter Alice’s recently released memoir, Everything Nothing Someone (2023), in which she very openly discusses the impact of his eccentric, philosophy-driven parenting style on her own fragile sense of self; one can see traces of the father she describes in this much earlier role for Carrière (his breakthrough film).

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Mathieu Carrière as Törless
  • Bernd Tischer as Beineberg
  • Franz Rath’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful early entry in New German cinema.

Categories

  • Foreign Gem

Links:

Color Purple, The (1985)

Color Purple, The (1985)

“I don’t know how to fight; all I know how to do is stay alive.”

Synopsis:
After being sexually abused by her father (Leonard Jackson) and giving birth to two kids who are adopted away from her, a young Black woman (Desreta Jackson) growing up with her beloved sister Nettie (Akosua Busia) in early 20th century Georgia becomes the wife (Whoopi Goldberg) of an abusive widower (Danny Glover) whose singer-lover, Shug (Margaret Avery), turns out to be an unexpected light in her life.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African-Americans
  • Child Abuse
  • Deep South
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Steven Spielberg Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s probably unfilmable Pulitzer Prize-winning [1982] novel” — which is nonetheless about to be released in a new rendition — “is a shrewdly directed, impressively acted movie,” but “it intentionally alters Walker in objectionable ways.” He asserts that “Spielberg and [white male] writer Menno Meyjes trade in Walker’s hellish, male-controlled, black world where Celie grows from an unappreciated, exploited, sexually abused, unloved daughter (Desreta Jackson)”:

… “to unappreciated, exploited, sexually and physically abused wife (Whoopi Goldberg).”

He argues that Spielberg and Meyjes “substitute [in] a fairytale world that is shot through rose-colored lenses, where Celie’s problems with [her] husband… are no worse and no more realistic than Cinderella’s when living with wicked stepsisters” while also choosing “to downplay such controversial themes as rape, incest, racism, and most significantly, lesbianism.”

He writes that “the book’s feminist theme — [that] Celie’s personal growth, self-respect, and rare moments of happiness are the result of being with strong women like Shug and her foolish stepson’s battling wife, Sofia ([Oscar-nominated] Oprah Winfrey) and reading the letters from her sister in Africa — is almost completely diluted.”

Peary points out that while the “picture has many big scenes from the book,” “they’ve been taken out of context so that we can’t see their thematic relevance.” For instance, “we don’t see that Sofia is gotten out of jail by her former romantic rival, Squeak (Rae Dawn Chong), so we are deprived of the significant black-female-bond theme that makes the whole sequence involving Sofia important.”

It’s been so long since I read The Color Purple that I can’t recall details of all these subplots — meaning I must judge the film on its own merits. To that end, I agree with DVD Savant’s assertion that:

The film has no appreciation of what destitute misery can be — even Harpo’s broken-down shacks look like something wonderful from Tom Sawyer’s Island. There’s never a day in Georgia that isn’t drop-dead gorgeous, even when it’s raining or a storm is brewing; everybody looks well fed, if not downright prosperous. The movie is designed within an inch of its life, and cinematographer Allen Daviau drowns the screen with pretty pictures that warp the world of poverty the film aims to depict.

Indeed, this is an overly pretty, glowing film about some of life’s most challenging topics — but to its credit, it ultimately shows that women can (and will) prevail even in the face of seemingly unbearable insults. Goldberg’s fine breakthrough performance makes this film worth a look, though I ultimately don’t consider it must-see viewing — and I’m not particularly looking forward to the remake, either; I’d rather re-read the book one day.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Whoopi Goldberg as Celie
  • Allen Daviau’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look for Goldberg’s performance, and for its historical significance as an Oscar nominee.

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

Links:

Zulu (1964)

Zulu (1964)

“The sentries report Zulus to the southwest — thousands of them.”

Synopsis:
In 1879, Lieutenant John Chard (Stanley Baker) — with support from Lieutenant Bromhead (Michael Caine) — assumes command of a missionary station at Rorke’s Drift in Natal, South Africa, where they prepare for advancement of 4,000 Zulu warriors.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Historical Drama
  • Jack Hawkins Films
  • Michael Caine Films
  • Military

Review:
Stanley Baker produced — and formerly blacklisted director Cy Endfield helmed — this colorful historical epic, based on a real-life battle and featuring a cast of 700+ Zulu extras (most of whom were descendants of the warriors). Although the subject matter is inherently problematic — we are asked to watch and sympathize with White settlers defending land they recently stole — the film itself does a masterful job showing events in a reasonably respectful way; while the Zulu warriors are primarily an indistinguishable mass (we never get to know any of them as humanistic individuals), they are at least portrayed as worthy, skilled, reasonable, and insanely brave combatants.

With that enormous caveat aside, the movie is exciting and almost impossibly tension-filled, as we wonder how in the world a tiny group of men will manage to hold off forces 26 times their size, circling in from all directions.

The script — by Endfield and John Prebble, whose original story the screenplay is based on — does a nice job setting us up to understand the complexity of the colonists’ situation. As the film opens, we see missionary Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins) and his daughter (Ulla Jacobsson) observing a mass Zulu marriage ceremony.

From there, after hearing about the crushing defeat of British soldiers at Isandlwana, they are taken to the hospital at their mission station, where we’re quickly introduced to a group of men who are either hurt, malingering, doctoring (Patrick Magee), or keeping camp — and none of whom have any idea what they’re about to be in for.

Hawkins (secretly alcoholic) and Jacobsson are firmly against asking the hospital’s inhabitants to stay and fight — and eventually they’re taken away to safely; but violence for those staying is inevitable, and the majority of the film shows how the entire company (well and sick) manages to hold out (though of course not without plenty of death on both sides).

Note:Jacobsson is the only listed female in the cast of this film, which most definitely does not pass the Bechdel Test.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Michael Caine (in his breakthrough role) as Lt. Bromhead
  • Fine supporting performances


  • Truly impressive battle sequences
  • Stephen Dade’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, but with caution (as noted above).

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

French Connection, The (1971)

French Connection, The (1971)

“Your hunches have backfired before, Doyle — or have you forgotten about that already?”

Synopsis:
In New York City, a pair of undercover narcs — Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) — begin tracking a local shop owner (Tony Lo Bianco) who is planning a major heroin trade with a French millionaire (Fernando Rey).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Drug Dealers
  • Gene Hackman Films
  • New York City
  • Police
  • Rod Steiger Films
  • William Friedkin Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “William Friedkin directed this Best Picture winner, a police thriller showing how a [pair] of brutal, vulgar, nattily dressed New York street cops outfox the civil, rich, well-educated international criminals who are trying to smuggle in an enormous shipment of heroin.”

He notes that “Friedkin makes great use of sight and sounds of New York, wisely chosen locations, hand-held cameras, and natural light to give authenticity to this true story” — and that the “scenes shot in France, using French subtitles, give the film class, rather than coming across as pretentious.”

He points out while the “cops are brave,” “those like Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle… are too obsessive and sadistic to be considered heroes:”

… “and thus “make unique protagonists in the American cinema. We’re glad they’re tough enough for the dangerous job of narcotics investigators, but we wouldn’t want to cross the paths of these thugs.”

Peary adds that the “film has ironic humor, strong violence, [and] many exciting sequences,” with the most famous showing “Popeye racing his car after a bad guy on a subway” — which plays “like a terrific short film.”

So much has been written and produced about this award-winning picture — followed by John Frankenheimer’s non-GFTFF listed French Connection II (1975) (which I haven’t seen) — that I’ll just highlight a few more of my thoughts. While the film is a bit challenging to follow at first, this makes perfect sense given the context of undercover cops attempting to sniff out a lead without being seen; we get a strong sense of how many tedious hours they must wait while observing their suspects, without any guarantee of success.


The cat-and-mouse tensions between Hackman and Rey are especially enjoyable; their interactions on a subway car are classic.

… and the scene in which the cops look for a very-well-hidden stash of drugs is genuinely suspenseful. This one remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle
  • Roy Scheider as Buddy Russo
  • Excellent use of location shooting throughout the film
  • Owen Roizman’s cinematography
  • Jerry Greenberg’s editing
  • Don Ellis’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a classic thriller.

Categories

  • Genuine Classic
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

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

Links:

Edvard Munch (1974)

Edvard Munch (1974)

“How can a young man who looks so nice create things like this?”

Synopsis:
Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch (Geir Westby) creates paintings and other works of art inspired by his traumatic childhood and various romances, including a formative one with married Fru Heiberg (Gro Fraas).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Biopics
  • Peter Watkins Films
  • Scandinavian Films

Review:
Peary only lists three of iconoclastic writer-director Peter Watkins’ films in GFTFFThe War Game (1965), Privilege (1967), and this — but they’re each must-see in their own way. This unusual biopic was made in collaboration with the Norwegian (NRK) and Swedish (SVT) state television networks, and was originally aired on TV in addition to being screened at Cannes — though for unknown reasons, it remained challenging to see for many years, and Watkins was unable to pursue similar projects on other artists.

Utilizing a unique docudrama approach (including Watkins himself in voiceover), the film features primarily non-professional Norwegians in its cast — including Westby (who looks eerily like him; this is his only credit) as grown Munch.

I’ll cite next from DVD Savant’s review, which emphasizes the ingenuity of the film’s style:

“This biography of the great painter is assembled in a consistently brilliant free-association style that resembles a cinematic version of what the late 19th century painters were doing — tearing down conventions and exploring new ways of looking at the world. Edvard Munch is a long film but a fascinating one, an honest work of conceptual art that follows no rules but its own. There was nothing like it in 1974.”

Savant, an editor himself, adds that “Edvard Munch cuts all over the temporal map and communicates its intentions with pinpoint accuracy. A dozen formative memories and traumatic incidents are ever present in Munch’s work, and they recur time and again.” Indeed, it’s easy to see how (understandably) influential it was to Munch to live a childhood of illness and death (his mother and favorite sister both died):


… and to wonder if or when heritable mental illness would land upon him. (It did, eventually, though we don’t really see that depicted here.) We do see the strong influence of living amongst free-loving, philosophizing bohemians:

… in particular nihilist Hans Jæger, who apparently enjoined him to “paint what he felt” — eventually leading to his unique style of “soul painting,” which we learn was rejected by many if not most critics around him.

I was intrigued to learn a little more about one of his most famous paintings, “Madonna,” which more likely was meant to depict a partner’s view of a woman during love-making.

His model and lover, Dagny Juel (Iselin von Hanno Bast), is shown in the film (she had a horrific ending in her real life).

Munch’s existence was an undeniably challenging one — though it’s fortunate he managed to live his later years in relative peace (other than Nazis occupying Norway and calling his work degenerate; oh well). Neither Munch nor any of his siblings ever had kids — which I mention because I happen to be related to him (though obviously not directly). My maternal grandmother, Nanna nĂ©e Munch, was his second-cousin once removed: she was the child of two Munchs (Jens Lauritz Munch and Nanna Munch), both of whom were children of Munchs as well (Jonah Storm Munch and Peter Christian Munch, respectively). (A little inbreeding, anybody?) Jonah and Peter’s grandfather, Peder Munch, was father to an older Edvard Munch, who gave birth to Kristian Munch, father of “the Edvard” of painterly fame.

All to say, I grew up knowing about my Munch heritage, seeing copies or cheap prints of his paintings all over the house, and visiting the same Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo that inspired Watkins to make this film. I can attest to their vibrancy, and also the strong theme of expressionist angst that literally pervades his work; it’s fortunate that he left all his estate to the city of Oslo, so viewers can continue to appreciate and learn from them.

Note: Munch was featured on a 1,000 kroner banknote (removed from circulation in 2019), which leads me to share one more personal tidbit: from my father’s side of the family, Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland was on the 200 Kroner note until 2017, when he was replaced by an image of cod. Birkeland, like Munch, was consumed by his work (he was nominated for a Nobel Prize 7 times), never had kids, and died a very mysterious death in a hotel in Tokyo; he’s related to my paternal great-grandmother Birkeland. Norway is a small country. And no, I don’t think I’m related to either Edvard Grieg or Henrik Ibsen, darn it.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Odd Geir Saether’s cinematography
  • Fine period sets
  • A fascinating glimpse into the artistic process (both creation and recreation)

  • Truly impressive editing

Must See?
Yes, as a powerful and unusual biopic. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Natural, The (1984)

Natural, The (1984)

“You’ve got a gift, Roy — but it’s not enough; you’ve got to develop yourself.”

Synopsis:
After being shot as a young man by a mysterious woman (Barbara Hershey) in a hotel, baseball rookie Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) — now in his 30s — joins a minor league team run by cantankerous Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) and the more even-tempered Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth), both of whom are concerned about ongoing corruption by the team’s majority owner (Robert Prosky). Meanwhile, Hobbs is seduced by Brimley’s sexy niece (Kim Basinger) and visited by his small-town sweetheart (Glenn Close).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Hershey Films
  • Barry Levinson Films
  • Baseball Films
  • Corruption
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Glenn Close Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Robert Duvall Films
  • Robert Redford Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Robert Redford returned to screen acting after a four-year vacation for this pet project, an adaptation of Bernard Malamud’s superb baseball novel” (which I haven’t read). He implies that “looking fit as an athlete, displaying a convincing left-handed swing, and sporting boyish good looks:”

… Redford is well-suited to play “Roy Hobbs, an innocent country boy who has… pitching talent” but is seduced “into taking the wayward path” by a “mysterious woman in black (Barbara Hershey)” (based on the bizarre real-life star-stalking of Eddie Waitkus by Ruth Ann Steinhagen).

[POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT]

Peary argues that “in the early scenes this Barry Levinson-directed film brilliantly captures myth aspects of baseball prior to WWII, but then Levinson and Redford turn [the] picture into a schmaltzy fairytale.” He adds, “If you would have been happy if David O. Selznick decided to forget Margaret Mitchell and have Rhett stick it out with Scarlett, then you’ll accept these guys’ changing Malamud’s pessimistic ending” into a cheer-worthy one.

He points out that “Redford had early screen success playing men who sold out their convictions (i.e., The Candidate, The Way We Were) and it seemed Hobbs’ character as Malamud wrote it was ready-made for him” — but apparently “everyone wants to be a hero, especially one who seems to be more than human.”

Peary calls out the impressive atmosphere and “camera work by Caleb Deschanel” — and also notes the random distinction that Close’s character is viewed “as a symbol of purity even though she is an unwed mother.”

While I’m not a diehard baseball fan like Peary — and also not invested in how closely this film hews to its source material — I can see how viewers at the time may have been disappointed by the significant shift in the ending. Personally, I was more puzzled by the ultimate intent of the storyline, which mixes random elements of mysticism and nostalgia like nobody’s business. The shooting early on is indeed confusing (it’s apparently not explained in the book, either); what’s most clear is that we’re meant to see what happens when an older-than-typical athlete with star potential decides to finally pursue some version of his original dream. Other than that, corruption is a massive theme throughout (villainous Prosky is literally filmed in the dark):

… and the women in Hobbs’s life are either femme fatales (Hershey, Basinger) or earthly saints (Close). The biggest star of all, however, is Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography, which illuminates the period sets and actors with a gorgeous glow at all times.

Note: Robert Duvall is essentially wasted in a bit role as a sports journalist who first watches Hobbs strike out “The Whammer” (Joe Don Baker, playing a Babe Ruth-like star), then pursues him for his story throughout the rest of the film.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Joe Don Baker as “The Whammer”
  • Fine period sets
  • Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look as a well-crafted piece of nostalgia.

Links:

Lost in America (1985)

Lost in America (1985)

“It’s a very sacred thing, the nest egg.”

Synopsis:
When an overly confident ad man (Albert Brooks) is denied a promotion he believes he deserves, he convinces his wife (Julie Hagerty) to quit her job and join him on a life-altering RV road trip akin to Easy Rider — but will life on the road be as liberating as they believe, especially given Haggerty’s unknown gambling issues?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Albert Brooks Films
  • Comedy
  • Gambling
  • Living Nightmare
  • Marital Problems
  • Midlife Crisis
  • Road Trip
  • Unemployment

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “In his third comedy as director-star” — after Real Life (1979) and Modern Romance (1981) — “Albert Brooks again plays his familiar semi-obnoxious, semi-forgivable, self-absorbed young American” (a character-type I’ll fully admit to disliking). He adds that while Brooks’s David Howard is “not abrasive as we’ve seen him” in previous iterations, “he becomes just as aggravated when his schemes for the easy life go awry and his world crumbles around him.”

Meanwhile, “he still thinks himself clever enough to talk himself out of every difficulty — only to find out that no one goes along with what he says so convincingly.” (To that end, Garry Marshall is perfectly cast “as the humorless Vegas casino operator whom Brooks tries to convince to return Haggerty’s [gambling] losses in order to get good publicity for the hotel.”)

Peary argues that while “this is not the masterpiece that Brooks is capable of,” “it has several extremely funny scenes (particularly Brooks’s one-on-one dialogues with people in authority positions) and again Brooks reveals his unique perception of American characters.” However, he takes issue with the fact that “Brooks eventually forgives Haggerty for her gambling stupidity” given that “our opinion of her never becomes high again”:

… though I would point out that Brooks is far from admirable, and my opinion of him was never high. These boomers may be realistic in their self-absorbed foibles, but are not necessarily individuals we want to watch for an hour-and-a-half. You can skip this one.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A few drolly amusing sequences

Must See?
No, though Brooks fans will of course want to see it — and I’m fully aware I’m in the minority on how I feel about his movies.

Links:

Mad Dog Morgan (1976)

Mad Dog Morgan (1976)

“I want his spleen on my desk by sundown.”

Synopsis:
In mid-19th-century Australia, bushranger Daniel Morgan (Dennis Hopper) partners with an Aboriginal man (David Gulpilil) while attempting to evade capture by Superintendent Cobham (Frank Thring), Detective Manwaring (Jack Thompson), and Sgt. Smith (Bill Hunter).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Australian Films
  • Biopics
  • Dennis Hopper Films
  • Folk Heroes
  • Historical Drama
  • Outlaws

Review:
Dennis Hopper played one of Australia’s best-known “bushrangers” (i.e., outlaws) in this semi-fictionalized biopic of Irish-Australian Daniel Morgan, referred to here as “Mad Dog”. Writer-director Philippe Mora — working from a book by Margaret Carnegie — effectively tells the arc of Morgan’s life, from an opium-loving gold-seeker hanging out with Chinese workers:

… to a prisoner enduring inhumane treatment:

… to life on the run from various lawmen who are determined to capture him at any cost. Along the way, his life is saved by Aboriginal Billy (Gulpilil), who teaches him how to make roasted snake:

… and he decides to “go Lincoln” in his appearance after seeing a picture of the American president.

Hopper’s performance is appropriately unhinged, showing precisely how a man like this — originally peaceful, pushed into crime by trauma — could survive for as long as he did while developing somewhat of a folk-hero following. Working with production designer/art director Bob Hilditch, Mora presents a credible view of mid-1800s Australia, in which survival is harsh and class/racial differences are stark. This so-called “Ozploitation” film remains worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Dennis Hopper as “Mad Dog” Morgan
  • Strong supporting performances across the cast

  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Hopper’s performance and as a powerful early Australian flick.

Categories

  • Good Show
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links: