mossgrymk

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Reviews

Thunder Road
(1958)

thunder road
Classic case of a great performance wrapped around an, at best, decent film. Just ask yourself, if you can, where this thing would be with, say, Steve Cochran or Ralph Meeker in the lead instead of Robert Mitchum who so thoroughly inhabits the doomed, obsessive, tormented character of Lucas Doolin that about five minutes into the proceedings I ceased to think of the bad boy Hollywood actor and was watching a proud, stubborn, somewhat foolish and extremely hard bitten North Carolina moonshine runner speed his way to self destruction. Great stuff and, as usual with Mitchum, the critics at the time failed to notice just how great. Public noticed, though, especially in the South, and as a result the film made a lot of money. And became a cult classic, according to Eddie Muller, who should know. If it had featured better acting from some of the subsidiary characters, especially Mitchum's son Jim, Keely Smith and Sandra Knight, and had the screenplay been less repetitive (I counted FOUR scenes where Lucas is trying to get his kid brother not to be a moonshine runner and two scenes where Keely Smith's character wishes she could spend more time with Lucas) and done more with Gene Berry's stolid T man and villains Jacques Aubuchon and Peter Breck it would have been not only a cult classic but a classic period. B minus.

Emporte-moi
(1999)

set me free
The first third of this film does a good job of establishing the setting and the mood, namely lower middle class, French Canadian Montreal in 1963 and a teenage girl, Hanna, stuck in a very bad family situation, what with an abusive, ne'r do well father and a beaten down, depressive mother. But then the film slows down, stalls out and kind of circles around itself as we are treated to a basic misery stew composed of dad's mental and physical assaults against his family, mom's suicide attempt, a nasty, anti Semitic landlady, a pervy baker who exchanges bread for sexual favors from Hanna and a general air of poverty and gloom as winter sets in and money goes out. Lighter ingredients include Hanna's loving older brother with whom she has an incestuous relationship (sigh), a female friend to whom Hanna is physically attracted and a wise, supportive high school teacher (not too much of a cliche there, right?)

Then, following Hanna's less than credible descent into prostitution, for which we are asked to blame her obsession with "Vivre Se Vie", perhaps sensing the audience going "Give me a freakin break!", director Lea Pool does a rather unconvincing 180 and ends on a false, cloying note of reconciliation and sweetness which left both Roger Ebert and this viewer less than enthralled.

Bottom line: Despite this film's flaws, if for no other reason than her ability to elicit a fine performance from teen actor Karine Vanasse as Hanna I would be interested in seeing more of Ms. Pool's work. C plus.

The Florodora Girl
(1930)

the florodora girl
I agree with reviewer Michael Elliot below that Marion Davies steals this film. Problem is that she doesn't get away with much of a haul. In other words this pre code comedy is pleasant, sweet, innocent and charming as all hell but it's just not very funny. And since Ms. Davies' strong suit is comedy it doesn't give her much to work with. I counted, at most, three or four lines of dialogue that she delivers that caused even a slightly upturned corner of the mouth and the few attempts at physical humor essayed by director Harry Beaumont, like the broken swing and the ripped dress, are stuff that would be quickly rejected if handed to Blondell or Farrell, let alone Lombard. So here's hoping TCM's next offering this month (of which Davies is the star) is better or I'm afraid we're looking at a January that may be metereologically rainy but is comedically arid. Solid C.

Amator
(1979)

camera buff
Liked the first half a lot. Director Kryztof Kieslowski takes a good idea...basically, Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Polish Factory Guy...and executes it nicely, with the proper jaunty, comic tone along with more serious undercurrents. And Jerzy Stuhr's performance, with its mixture of bemusement, wonder, trepidation, and excitement over the new world that has opened to him through purchase of a camera to record his daughter's birth, is powerful in its understated simplicity. Not a lot of actors can convincingly portray an Everyman. James Stewart. Tom Hanks. Jean Gabin. Spencer Tracy. Alec Guinness. Well, to that list you can append Stuhr.

Second half is not as good, in my opinion. Kieslowski's tone takes a sharp turn to the dark, gloomy side, not usually a good sign in movies (with a few exceptions, like "Something Wild"). And by film's end the message has gone from one of hope to one of despair as to the ability of art to transform one's life from the mundane to the interesting. It is almost as if Kieslowski is warning young Poles discovering the magic of movies to be careful for what they wish. And, coming from a great Polish film maker, that is kind of dispiriting, in my opinion. B minus.

Blizna
(1976)

the scar
I cannot think of another film that so violates the founding principal of Cinema 101...show, do not tell...as consistently and completely as does this dull, bleak Polish offering from Kryztof Kieslowski. Just one long, uninvolving scene after another of Communist Party apartachik Stefan Bednarz wrestling with his conscience while being told of worker discontent at the nitrate factory he runs. At no point do we actually see the bad work place conditions that are causing the problems with which Bednarz, to mention nothing of the workers, who remain largely faceless, nameless and voiceless, is struggling. What we do see, repetitively and wearyingly, are shots of Bednarz grimacing, sighing, and looking bereft and forlorn as he smokes (did I mention this is a Polish film?) and drinks and gazes inward which may work in a novel or a play but is not gonna cut it on film. Unless you cut it. C plus.

Elvis on Tour
(1972)

elvis on tour
TCM's Ben Mankiewicz, in his afterward, said that at the time this film was being made Elvis was in bad physical and emotional shape and beginning the long, slow slide that would result in his death five years later. I'll take Ben at his word because you get absolutely no sense, from this very dull documentary, of someone falling apart. Instead, what we are offered are a series of well performed songs interspersed with limo rides, airplane rides, and backstage gatherings in which The King behaves like a plebian with banal comment after banal comment and zero insight into any demons other than habitual stage fright. So if you're a die hard Elvis fan or a devotee of early 70s split screen you'll be as happy as a Republican at an NRA convention (appropriate imagery considering the crowds look like kinder, gentler MAGA rallies). For the rest of us, though, it's the last train to dullsville. Solid C.

PS...Wonder how the trio of black lady singers behind Elvis felt while he crooned "Dixie" to an all white Virginia crowd? A decent documentary, as opposed to this hagiographical piece of crap, would have let you see.

Don't Bother to Knock
(1952)

don't bother to knock
You can quibble about whether or not it is a noir (I'm inclined toward the negative view) but there is no denying that this combination of "Hand That Rocks The Cradle" and "After Hours" is a most effective suspense flic. Very unusual for a film this tense and disturbing to have no dead bodies (though two come awfully close) and for that unique outcome you can thank a taut, crisp screenplay by Daniel Taradash (from Charlotte Armstrong's novel), taut, crisp direction from Roy Ward Baker and fine performances from everyone in the cast, especially Widmark, Monroe, Bancroft (in her debut) and Cooke. And Lucien Ballard's camera perfectly captures the expensively sleazy atmosphere of the McKinley Hotel (Wonder if Armstrong named it after an assassinated president as a bit of black humor?).

Dragging this film down from the heights, in my opinion, is Marilyn which is ironic when you consider that it is Marilyn who pulls it up. Problem is she's so over the top at times with the nutso bit...breathy, somnambulant voice, mouth open, eyes bugging out...that it hits the viewer right smack in the ol suspension of disbelief department as in "No person as eminently sane as Widmark's character would stick around for one moment after he sees that little kid". But then the skilled Marilyn takes over and you find that you cannot take your eyes off her so you figure that Widmark can't, either. Give it a B.

The Safecracker
(1958)

the safecracker
I am considerably more enthusiastic about this film than the majority of my fellow IMDBers below. Indeed, had the action scenes, especially the night time parachute drop and the climactic burglary, been better handled I would have assigned it a nine or a ten. I was especially taken with Milland's crisp, fast paced directorial style, unusual for an actor who decides to move behind the camera, where the scenes tend to favor the dramatic players rather than the drama. I also liked that this cheerfully cynical tale stayed true to itself and did not "redeem" Milland's title character in the name of English patriotism. Give it a B plus.

Alex in Wonderland
(1970)

alex in wonderland
As a general rule it is inadvisable for a merely good film maker to borrow too heavily from a film maker of genius. The result is apt to be what is on the screen here, namely a very, very pale imitation of "Eight And A Half" with small islands of interesting family conflict floating in an ocean of cliche Hollywood boredom, (although I suppose we should be thankful that it leaves out the biggest cliche of all, the self destructive beautiful actress). As for the fantasy sequences, they are so bad that for the climactic one I had to use the ol fast forward. Suffice it to say that Mazursky has done better work and leave it at that. Same with Ms. Burstyn and Mr. Sutherland. Solid C.

Ava Gardner, la gitane d'Hollywood: les années espagnoles de la Comtesse aux Pieds Nus
(2018)

ava the gypsy
There is no condescension quite like the left wing European kind toward America, huh? Certainly that is my main take away from this annoyingly dismissive and reductive documentary on Ava Gardner's long residence in Francoist Spain that manages to cast its subject as both victim and victimizer. This allows its director, Sergio Mondelo, to blame Hollywood for Ava's alcoholism and unhappiness while casting her as second only to Ike and Sam Bronston as Yankee enablers of the generalissimo/dictator. And so we have both the Ugly American Film Industry alongside The Ugly (if paradoxically gorgeous) American. I guess what I'm saying is that while Ava should be criticized for palling around with a fascist thug who disappeared and jailed people, for the film maker to see this as the defining moment of her life, as Mondelo does, is kind of silly, in my opinion. Ms. Gardner, like most of us, had many defining moments, several of which (like her relationship with Howard Hughes and her support for Civil Rights and Adlai Stevenson) go unaddressed in this documentary.

It also would have been nice if this hour long look at a Hollywood icon had featured at least one Hollywood talking head rather than the dull parade of French and Spanish film studies nerds we're presented with. Solid C.

PS...Top 5 Ava performances:

5) Mogambo 4) The Hucksters 3) East Side, West Side 2) Sun Also Rises 1) Iguana.

Word Is Out
(1977)

word is out
Commendable documentary that makes the very cogent (and, for 1977, revolutionary) point that the only meaningful difference between a gay person and a straight person is that the former is sexually attracted to members of his or her own sex and persecuted for it while the later is physically turned on to members of the opposite sex and is pretty much left alone. Apart from that a random homosexual is likely to be every bit as quirky, neurotic, boring, gifted, physically strong and mentally weak as your average hetero.

If this doc had gotten the above point across at half the length with half the interviewees it would have been more hard hitting and interesting. As it is, with twenty six people talking at me for nearly two and a half hours, I began to suffer from Talking Head Syndrome somewhere in the middle. Give it a B.

PS...Has America progressed very far on this issue? Depends on whether you think Andy Cohen is a greater or lesser force in American life than Tucker. And of course trans is the new 70s gay. So color me pessimistic.

Gold Is Where You Find It
(1938)

gold is where you find it
I generally agree with the majority of my fellow IMDBers that in their understandable zeal to tell a late Depression era, populist story where the villain is Big Mining (as personified by Barton MacLane and Sidney Toler) scenarists Robert Buckner and Warren Duff forgot to make their characters interesting. The result is fairly long stretches of boredom involving a really dull love story between George Brent and Olivia DeHavilland and a tepid father/son conflict between Claude Raines and eternal spoiled brat Tim Holt. The movie does come alive at certain points. Michael Curtiz is too good an action director for it not to. I love the denouement with the evil hydraulic miners drowning in their own watery muck. Truly an ending that would have pleased Frank Norris. But in general this is pretty much low grade schlock. And can we please lose the gratuitous racism, please? Solid C.

The Liberation of L.B. Jones
(1970)

liberation of l b jones
It is appropriate that the title character is an undertaker for this final film from William Wyler feels like a mass funeral for all hopes of racial reconciliation in the America of 1970. The last shot of the two white liberals and the lone black radical sitting on opposite sides of the train as it flees the benighted region of bigotry and violence says it all. You certainly do not expect that these thee will come together once the train passes from Kentucky to Ohio! A powerful, somber image to end a powerful, somber film. Somber but not dull. Sure the proceedings can get lurid at times, even semi trashy. But I prefer this to the heavy handed, messagey treatment Hollywood has often employed when dealing with black/white conflict. (See the ouevre of Stanley Kramer and his students). Indeed, had the screenplay, by Stirling Silliphant (revisiting racial bleakness after "In The Heat Of The Night") and Jesse Hill Ford (the novelist upon whose work the film is based and himself a tragic figure), been better, with a fuller examination of the white liberals' characters and their relationship with the white patrician lawyer, wonderfully played by Lee J Cobb, then this film would have approached greatness, in my opinion. As it is let us give it a B for a solid end to one of Hollywood's most distinguished directorial runs, as well as the performances of Cobb, Anthony Zerbe and Arch Johnson, playing two of the more despicable redneck cops you'll ever see, a young and intense Yaphet Kotto and, above all, Roscoe Lee Browne as defiant, unbending LB Jones. Haven't seen enough of this fine actor's work to say whether it's his best but it has to rank fairly high, one would think.

PS...I regularly excoriate TCM on its programming choices (like devoting an entire day to the work of Arlene Dahl or repeatedly showing "Wait Until Dark") but I have to congratulate whoever came up with last month's spotlight on last films from great directors. A total blast. At the very least, (as in "Ambush"), interesting and at best, (as in "Madadayo"), eye opening.

Mâdadayo
(1993)

madadayo
Maybe it's my MAGA aroused, anti fascist antennae at work here or maybe I'm just naturally skeptical of benign old men being worshiped by youth but I don't buy all the heart warming, sweet, gentle perfume my IMDB colleagues have sprayed all over this obviously anti Imperial Japan allegory. I mean, you've got an emeritus Japanese professor of GERMAN, during and immediately after WW2, who holds birthday parties wherein democracy is excoriated as corrupt while not allowing visitors other than his acolytes to the "temple" where he lives and naming one of his pet cats Kurz (the cannibalistic, humanity hating German in "Heart Of Darkness"). Don't know about you but I suspect more than a bit of authoritarian vinegar in the delightful geezer's makeup.

7 Women
(1965)

7 women
Put me somewhere between masterpiece and decent, (with predilections toward the former), on this one. I will say it is fascinating to watch one of the greatest of American directors, in his final film, finally addressing his main flaw, namely the placing of his female characters upon pedestals. Here he removes them and puts them back on the ground, so to speak, as he examines their imperfections and virtues, much as he did with his classic male antiheroes like Owen Thursday, Rance Stoddard.and, of course, Ethan (no last name needed).

Unfortunately, along with ambiguity of character ironically comes over acting and melodramatics from some of the eponymous gals, especially Betty Field who literally screeches and yells her way through the entire picture, Margaret Leighton who is good in the first half but starts chawin on the ol scenery in the second, and Sue Lyon whose "Now I know what evil is" may just be the single worst line reading from a male or female in Ford's entire ouevre.

Can't leave this revue, however, without mentioning Anne Bancroft whose hard bitten, cynical but caring Dr. Cartwright is the last and, in my opinion, the best in a long line of this director's profane physicians going all the way back to Will Rogers in "Dr. Bull" and including Thomas Mitchell in "Stagecoach", William Holden in "Horse Soldiers", William Powell in "Mr. Roberts" and Jack Warden in "Donovan's Reef". They say Bancroft and Ford did not get along but, if so, it certainly did not affect this fine actor's fine performance. Also good are Flora Robson and Mildred Dunnock in supporting roles as doleful, kindly missionaries. And it sure was nice in this director's swan song to see Woody Strode and Ana Lee one last time.

Bottom line: Maybe sentimentality (I'm a HUGE Ford fan) wins out over sense, but I'm gonna give this one a B plus.

A Distant Trumpet
(1964)

a distant trumpet
This last Raoul Walsh film has to be assigned the status of a hot mess but since it is a Walshian mess there are, of course, some nuggets to be found within the detritus. Chief among these is one of the finest cavalry/Indian battle scenes you are likely to see, a nearly fifteen minute affair complete with well orchestrated charges, strategic retreats, feints and ambuscades. Nice to see this finest of action directors go out with at least one great action sequence under his belt. Also notable are good performances from Suzanne Pleshette and James Gregory. Plus, the Arizona location shooting is awesome (thinking especially of those extensive, terraced rapids next to War Eagle's camp). And Max Steiner's half stirring, half mocking musical score, one of HIS very last, rises to the occasion, as well.

Because I am a huge Walsh fan I will deal with the two main flaws as quickly as I can and assign them to others. One is a florid, clunky screenplay with a too hasty and historically inaccurate denouement and stiff, melodramatic dialogue from messers John Twist (known mostly for gal weepies and it shows), Richard Fielder and Albert Beicht. The other is Troy Donahue's performance in the lead. Put simply, it sucks. When he's with good thesps like Pleshette and Gregory you don't notice as much but when he's paired with a similarly crappy actor like Diane McBain it's like watching rejected scenes from "Surfside 6".

Bottom line: If you're a Walsh fan you'll like it, if you're a Pleshette fan you'll put up with it and if you're a Donahue fan, may I suggest therapy? Give it a C plus.

Ambush
(1950)

ambush
For those who may have wondered what "Fort Apache" and, to a lesser extent, "The Searchers" might have looked like had they been directed by someone with roughly half the talent of John Ford, you now have your answer. In other words, "Ambush" is a too slow paced western with occasional flashes of interest that you cease to think about almost as soon as it is done. Its good points can be rather quickly summarized: sardonically intelligent dialogue by Marguerite Roberts, one of the better western scribes and one of the only women doing it, well executed battle scenes from director Sam Wood, whose last film this is (guy had a fatal coronary less than a year later, obviously worn out by decades of red baiting and commie hunting), and a good, hard bitten, low key performance from Rat Fink Bob. Its flaws, centered around an under developed love triangle between Robert Taylor, Arlene Dahl and John Hodiak, as well as the standard racist depiction of Apaches, are too many to mention, although I feel I must single out the really dull sub plot involving a lieutenant played by Don Taylor, one of late 40s Hollywood's duller young actors, and an enlisted man's wife, played by the usually good, but not here, Jean Hagen. Oh and the cinematography is so dark that you feel you're watching an exercise in how not to shoot western noir. C plus.

Meet John Doe
(1941)

meet john doe
This is Frank Capra's half hearted attempt to excoriate fascism following his half ass embrace of it in "Mr. Deeds". The other big difference in the two films is that "Deeds" is funnier. Robert Riskin, who wrote both, allowed his preachiness to overcome his wit somewhere in the middle of this very long movie. The result is that the second half becomes a series of protracted speeches to which only one, James Gleason's drunken ode to democracy, is worth listening. And as usual one wearies of Gary Cooper's "aw shucks-ism" way before one tires of Riskin's soap box dialogue (which is really a monologue). Saving the picture are the supporting performances of Gleason, Irving Bacon as the ultimate yes man, Walter Brennan's eternal cynic, whose "heelots" diatribe is the film's other decent soliloquy, and Edward Arnold, one of the great dead voiced villains of 1930s/40s Hollywood. Give it a B minus.

The Shop Around the Corner
(1940)

the shop around the corner
Ernst Lubitsch's Hollywood Budapest of the mind where, despite economic hard times, consumers spend happily at Christmas while true love wins out and there is not a Nazi in sight definitely appealed to 1940 isolationist America. That it still appeals to 2023 semi isolationist America is, of course, due to its director's as well as its screenwriter, Samson Raphaelson's, ability to keep the light (i.e. James Stewart/Margaret Sullivan) and the dark (i.e. Frank Morgan's lonely cuckold) in perfect, comic balance so that the schmaltz does not overwhelm the realism or vice versa. That I ultimately prefer the dark side is not due to any fault of Lubitsch but rather to my indifference toward Sullivan as a comedic actress. Give it an A minus.

PS...As for the two remakes, I would definitely choose "You've Got Mail", even though it jettisons Morgan's character, over the insufferably cute "Good Old Summertime", even though it's got Garland.

The Rocking Horse Winner
(1949)

the rocking horse winner
My answer to Turfseer's headline question below would be: hell yeah! And thank god this dark parable about the dangers of greed and entitlement was made in England in 1949 and not Hollywood where it would have been "cleaned up", "lightened up" and "uplifted" until it resembled "Mrs. Miniver" on a bad day. Basically, the attitude of producer ( and lead actor) John Mills and writer/director Anthony Pelisier, with whose work I am not familiar but soon hope to be, seems to be, "Code? Code? I don't got to show you no stinkin code!"

And the fact that this gloriously downbeat film takes place around Yuletide only adds to its charm! Give it an A minus.

The Swimmer
(1968)

the swimmer
John Cheever's classic story of 1950s/60s, east coast, WASP, suburban angst is given near classic treatment by the writing and directing team of Eleanor and Frank Perry as well as through one of Burt Lancaster's top five performances (the other four being, in my opinion, "The Leopard", "Elmer Gantry", "Sweet Smell Of Success" and "Atlantic City"). His Don Draper-ish Neddy Merrill is in virtually every scene, wearing nothing but bathing trunks and a profound sadness, and that the viewer not only does not weary of him but is instead moved to pity by his loss of family and innocence, along with his pathological self delusion, is testament to his greatness as an actor. I'm as big a fan of Cliff Robertson as the next person but Lancaster really shoulda gotten his Oscar given for the monumentally sappy "Charlie" or, at the very least, the nomination that went to hammy Ron Moody for the awful "Oliver".

Frank Perry's pacing skills, so much a part of what made "Mommie Dearest" a trashy masterpiece, are very much in evidence here. It is always tough to take a short story, especially one under ten pages as is Cheever's tale, and expand it into an hour and forty minute movie without the risk of there being some sag. That this film largely avoids that trap is due to Mr. Perry's instinct of how long or short a scene must be before it starts to wear on the viewer and then, before that occurs, cut to, say, a vulgar pool party or a pair of elderly, rich, radical nudists or a lonely kid left alone by his parents, to keep the feel of the thing fresh.

Also aiding immeasurably in the task of warding off boredom is Ms. Perry's screenplay which, a la Hemingway/Siodmak's "The Killers", inherits immortal dialogue from one of America's great writers and is asked to add to it without there being a loud thud, so to speak. With a couple exceptions (ie the crudely classist scene at the public pool and the scene with Neddy's mistress that channels mid 60s feminist rage a bit too much) the transition from Cheever to Perry is seamless.

Are there drawbacks? Sure. Marvin Hamlisch's score won't shut up and that palm tree in Shirley Adams' back yard (ie certain scenes were awkwardly and noticeably shot in Socal) should have been spotted by someone behind the camera. Oh, and Janet Landgard cannot act.

Bottom line: What "Revolutionary Road" should have been. Give it an A minus.

Out of the Blue
(1947)

out of the blue
Of all the comedy genres screwball is the one most dependent on rapidity. This is because, unlike its siblings rom com, black com or com of manners, screwball is not trying to comment mordantly, satirically or wittily on reality but is rather trying to transcend it. A somnolent screwball comedy allows the viewer too much time to think of extraneous stuff that will plunge him, her or them back into the mundane rather than keep them in the airy, wacky, nutso atmosphere they wish to inhabit. Stuff like how George Brent should not be allowed within a thousand feet of the madcap, with or without glasses, and how Vera Caspary should stick to what she knows best, which is the antithesis of the wild and the zany, and how, speaking of antitheses, Virginia Mayo, one of the better 1940s screen commediennes, is given nothing even remotely funny to say or do while all the (few) good lines go to Ann Dvorak, who is the polar opposite of Mayo, and how the person who scored this thing should be forced to spend eternity listening to perky sit com music, and what Hitchcock could have done with two nosey biddies in the apartment across the court, as opposed to what Leigh Jason did not do with them, or what a dull dog the dog in this dull dog of a movie is.

In other words, this is one, slow screwball comedy. Give it a C (as in creep).

A Night of Adventure
(1944)

a night of adventure
The film's title is obviously ill chosen since the word "adventure" implies excitement, suspense, and fun and there is none of the three in evidence in this half hearted effort to yet again reproduce the magic of "The Thin Man". Indeed, everything about this movie is third hand. Tom Conway is a poor man's George Sanders (appropriate, since they're sibs) who is a poor man's William Powell while Audrey Long is at least two removes from Myrna Loy. As for Crane Wilbur's screenplay, let's just say that it improves by the movie's being over scored so that a lot of it is drowned out. I could go on but I have exceeded the dreaded 600 character minimum which is 597 more than this dog deserves. (I'd have just written "ugh"). C minus.

A Dandy in Aspic
(1968)

a dandy in aspic
When you consider that its original director, Anthony Mann, died about a third of the way into production and that it was completed by its leading man, someone with very little experience behind the camera, it is a wonder that this film is not a complete mess. It is, however, considerably disheveled. Gone are the crispness, pacing, and tension of Mann's classic westerns and noirs, like "The Naked Spur" and "T-Men". In their place we have this overly complicated, slogging affair where the characters and their relationships are like flowers being strangled in the crabgrass of a typically over plotted, 1960s espionage story. Had Mann survived you have to think he would have brought in another writer to clean up scenarist Derek Marlowe's muddle, adapted from his novel. And then there is Laurence Harvey's stiff, lifeless performance in the lead. You want to cut the guy some slack since he had to take over from Mann and had the character not to usurp or share credit with his great predecessor. Not all actors would have resisted that temptation. But oh ye gods is Harvey bad! Trying to get more than a wry upturned corner of the mouth or occasional furious snarl out of the guy is like praying for rain in Phoenix in May. I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's always shocking to see bad British acting.

There are some good moments. The cast has too many good people like Tom Courtenay (criminally under utilized), Peter Cook, Harry Andrews, Lionel Stander and Per Oscarson (turning in by far the best acting job as a junkie Russian spy) for there not to be. Even Mia Farrow manages a decent Brit accent (certainly better than Harvey's various American turns). But all in all this is a most dispiriting end to one of Hollywood's great directorial careers. C plus.

Blue Sky
(1994)

blue sky
Just as Shohei Ohtani cannot, by himself, take the Anaheim Angels to baseball greatness neither can Jessica Lange lift this film into the realm of goodness. Tony Richardson's last movie remains, after twenty nine years and despite Ms. Lange's powerful performance, a decent but flawed work.

The flaws, of course, can mostly be laid at the word processors of scenarists Rama Laurie Stagner, Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichting. Not content to tell a simple but moving story of a troubled marriage between a too extroverted, aging Southern belle and a too introverted intellectual, set on an oppressive army base (are there any other kind?) in the South in the early sixties...think "Reflections In A Golden Eye" meets "Woman Under The Influence"...they concoct a truly ludicrous, 1970s, anti government paranoia tale complete with underground nuke tests, fallout, psychiatric incarceration and a kindly, bearded AEC official coming to the rescue (unfortunately, way too late to save the film). And so, by act three, we have left the relatable realm of relationships and recognizable emotions for Hollywood liberalism at its most amok. Or, to put it another way, we've gone from a good, gritty Tony Richardson film to Alan Pakula or Martin Ritt on a bad day.

Bottom line: Richardson shoulda gone out with the kitchen sink, not the paper shredder. Give it a generous B minus for his previous work and Jessica L.

PS...Almost as depressing as Richardson's too early demise is seeing the star of "The Last Picture Show", twenty one years after that masterpiece, reduced to a non credited cameo as a cowboy with radiation poisoning.

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