A Realistic and Engrossing Film Reviving Costume Drama
In assessing "Robin Hood" (2010) as a project, one must first, I suggest, view it as a film that its creators intended as a tool for reviving the genre, purposes and intentions of "historical drama". Writers Brian Helgeland (screenplay and story) and story writers Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris recast the Robin Hood legend in three vital ways at least. They made Robin Longstride a commoner, one only impersonating Robert Loxley, hereditary nobleman,at the request of his father to save their property from royal tax collectors. Secondly, they set the film after the death of Richard the Lionhearted, not during his lifetime. And then they laid the groundwork for a period of outlawry for Robin and his forces that would culminate as a "legend" in the writing of the Magna Charta forced upon Richard's successor King John by England's barons --nder the leadership of "Robin of the Hood" son of a father, a stonemason, who had died for trying to engineer this visionary charter of "rights" years before. Russell Crowe and his executive production team working with veteran director Ridley Scott deserve credit for many successes, I claim, not the least of which are the sets, major reimagnings of the Tower of London and entire castles, towns and villages, a Medieval siege, battles, troop landings from the Channel, court ceremonials, towns and forests. So many parts of this alternative history and reconstruction seem to me to work so realistically that there is much praise to distribute to the technical creators. First, there is the stirring but subtle music provided by Marc Streitenfeld, which I found by turns to be subtle and then noteworthy where majesty was implied. Then there was the clean color cinematography achieved by John Mathieson. More than a dozen art directors working together captured a Medieval English look that I suggest has never been surpassed on film, understating much but being as "colorful" as necessary as in the final meeting of barons with King John as the savvy could desire. Production Designer Arthur Max achieved an imitable yet original balance of light, nature, landscape and man- made buildings, as a setting for costumes, human forms, animals, etc. throughout. Set decorations by Sonja Klaus and the costumes created by Margarethe Schmoll and Sharon Long contributed mightily to the effect desired by the authors of transporting the viewer to the late 12th Century, but in making it a world where ideas, loyalties and the need for justice are not much different than our own 22nd Century needs for the same human en; this, I assert, was the formula by which Hollywood's filmmakers once circumvented the anti-conceptual bias, totalitarian bigotries and pseudo-puritanism of corporate studio moguls in the past to project an American--not U.S.--constitutional narrative onto past eras. Even more: the makeup, hairstyling, second-unit direction, lighting, sound and rerecording tasks met within the film were in most cases handled with distinction, seconding the believability of the main narrative's effect. Among the actors who helped to bring the story to enacted life on the screen, one must begin with Russell Crowe's sometimes understated commoner Robin played coolly against Cate Blanchett's worldly but noble Marian. Max Von Sydow seemed both noble and from a different, better era as Walter Loxley as did Eileen Atkins as Eleanor of Quitaine. Notable in the cast for their effectiveness were also Mark Strong as Godfrey, Matthew Macfadyen as the Sheriff of Nottingham, Kevin Durand as Little John, Danny Huston as Richard the Lionhearted, Mark Addy as Friar Tuck and Lea Seydoux as Isabella of Angouleme. As the cunning weakling John, Oscar Osaac is occasionally effective, and William Hurt underplays William Marshall with more than customary skill. No one else is given very much to do in this long attempt, but many smaller parts are by my standards well-done. In sum, I wrote at the time I first saw the film that its makers had single-handedly revived the color adventure genre, perhaps a most-welcome leaven to the bad concepts, neocon and altruist ideas, and fantasy-parody bent of film for over the past three decades as a demonstrably viable film choice. What was here expensively produced and used for dramatic effect can elsewhere be used as an antidote to brooding antiselfhoodism and postmodernistic reality- bashing on many occasions, hopefully in the form of westerns, adventures set in the human past and perhaps even idea-level films extending human hopes into a brighter, better future.
Delightful and Alternately Brassy and Touching; All Sanders and Merman
"Call Me Madam" (1953) possesses perhaps the most complete list of attributes that most other musicals made since the early 1970s have completely lacked of any film ever made. Its protagonist is past 40 and not particularly attractive, female. gruff, tough-minded and smart. Her romantic opposite number in the film is foreign, classically-trained as a singer, anti-United States, honest, unpopular in his own country and a nobleman. The second leads are a comic dancer and a short, skinny blonde playing a member of a foreign royal family. Veteran Walter Lang used this material to fashion a well-directed film set in a Graustarkian nation all of whose leaders want U.S. aid from the new ambassador--except for one man, the man the heroine, the new U.S. ambassador, falls for. Arthus Sheekman deserves the credit for making of Russel Crouse's and Howard Lindsay's book of the stage hit of the same name, with music by Irving Berlin, the best of his musicals and a filmic delight. Solid Sol Siegel produced and Leon Shamroy supplied vivid cinematography for this ambitious work that goes indoors, outdoors, presents at night and by day and does all with seemingly effortless ease, by my standards. With art direction by Lyle Wheeler and John De Cuir, set decorations by dependable Walter Scott and a range of colorful costumes by Irene Sharaff the movie had to be beautiful, and it is. Add in musical work by Ken Darby with the singers, Earle Hagen as orchestrator and Robert Alton as choreographer, and interesting results should have been expected. Songs such as "You're Not Sick You're Just in Love", "It's a Lovely Day Today" a folkloric showstopper, "The Hostess With the Mostess" and a dance number that rivals Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at their best for staging and the possibilities improve even more. But the film is also one that moves well, is pleasant, intriguing, and features a large number of locales, moods and scenes, tied to a running gag about the then new female ambassador's boss, Harry Truman, who appointed her and to whom she reports by phone. Something special with these elements mixed well was bound to happen. It happened I say because of Ethel merman's very professional approach and the great singing and acting of her award-level co-star, George Sanders as the honest official who woos her. Billy de Wolfe is Merman's insufferable underling, Donal O'Connor her protégé and Vera Ellen the royal with whom O'Connor falls in love. Helmut Dantine is powerful as O'Connor's rival, Walter Slezak and Steven Geray two bumbling comic ministers. Others in the large and talented cast includes Ludwig Stossel, Lilia Skala as his wife, capable Emory Parnell, Percy Helton and Charles Dingle as well as Oscar Beregi, Olan Soule and Nestor Paiva. For an adult viewer, one willing to forego Hollywood's usual musical clichés, this amiable and memorable entertainment--based loosely on the life of real-life hostess Perle Mesta--should work satisfactorily from brassy opening to intelligent conclusion. Not to be missed, if only for Sanders' musical numbers.
A Nearly Great Fictionalized biography; James Mason is Oscarworthy
"The Desert Fox" (1951) I judge to be a dignified, highly-intelligent and thoroughly absorbing account of the last days of Erwin Rommell . He was of the officer class of Germany who with extreme care divorced themselves from "politics". Their job, as Rommell, in the person of James Mason in the film states, they considered to be to fight for their country. The film is in fact as much about his battle with his own perception of the Hitler gang and their interferences in his conscience, his command and his freedom to do his assigned tasks as it is about his soldiership. Producer Nunnally Johnson's brilliant dramatic script, based upon Desmond Young's investigation of Rommel's death performed only a few years after WWII, is narrated by Michael Rennie, as Young. For a recent critic to quibble at celebrating Rommel's humanity after the recent attempts by politicians to sell the idea of "executive infallibility" would have to rank as a treasonable opinion or worse. As this mostly-accurate film proceeds, we become aware that Rommel should have done more and done it sooner to try to save the wartime situation for his soldiers and for all Germans; but that is hindsight. What we are given is the rare opportunity to live this bright man's gradual disillusionment with the old maxims of warfare and political leadership, as we learn the truth along with a man who eventually dies for his errors both of omission and of brave commission. Solid veteran director Henry Hathaway keeps events moving with vigor and extreme clarity from the riveting opening raid scene on Rommel's headquarters (it should have happened that way) to the unforgettable final scene as the General is taken away by Hitler's emissaries. The brilliant music for the film by Daniele Amfitheatrof and the cinematography by Norbert Brodine in B/W are both far-above-average. Set decorations supplied by Thomas Little and Stuart Reiss add a great deal to the story's atmosphere as well. Art directors Lyle Wheeler and Maurice Ransford and editor James B. Clark are to be commended for matching WWII footage with original shots with uncommon skill. But this is an actors' movie, I claim; and it is the cast who brings this sobering and powerful tale to life. The center of the film is James Mason as Rommel; here this sensitive actor delivers one of his best early performances, certainly Oscar caliber. As Von Runstedt, his enemy and later his friend, Leo G. Carroll is unquestionable and riveting, as always. Richard Boone as Mason's subaltern, Jessica Tandy as his wife, and stalwarts such as George Macready, Paul Cavanagh, John Hoyt, Everett Sloane, Luther Adler (playing Hitler), Eduard Franz, Cedric Hardwicke and Michael Rennie are all more-than-adequate or better by my exacting standards. Several scenes may be true standouts--Hardwicke and Mason's second scene arguing the case for removing the Fuhrer, Carroll's two scenes with Mason enlarging on the enormous cost of the mistakes being made by Berlin's amateurs that has already lost the Reich two armies, and the early scene in the Desert when Rommel refuses to lose his entire army to a "victory or death--no retreat" order are among the best by my lights. The movie humanizes Rommel, but also gives evidence of his hesitation, his overly- loyal service to a monstrous regime and the web of danger he finally sees being spun about him. This is a moving, and I find, an extraordinarily-memorable film; the action scenes under director Hathaway and assistant director Gerd Oswald are brilliantly done. In any era, a literate and compelling script that shows the cost to a great man of adherence to the cult of the infallible leader--explicitly religious or clandestinely so as here--carries forward a message of eternal importance in the unending struggle between the advocates of the individual and the advocates of the collective. This is by my lights as writer, actor and philosopher, a great film. It stands head and shoulders in my estimation above almost every other film of its fictionalized biography genre relating to war.
Powerful Fictionalized B/W Biography of Edward R.Murrow vs. McCarthyism
"Good Night and Good Luck" (2005) is what movie makers should call a fictionalized biography; but its form is that of a documentary biography. Within this film of ideas, written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the opponent of honest news professional Edward R. Murrow and his team, Senator Joseph McCarthy, is seen within and quoted only from video news sources and documented speeches and utterances. The choice of black-and-white photography was made here, owing no doubt to a desire to incorporate period 1950s footage, but I argue this also works dramatically as do the period makeup, hairstyles, clothing, sets and properties to help establish an historical era, its communications, power sources, lighting and restrictions. But this is a film is about responsibility in non-fiction, the honor and regulations that men establish and earn or transgress. The storyline of the film can, I assert, be briefly stated; but it is a more complex achievement than at first it appears to be. The junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, a neocon of the 1950s,era, is conducting a campaign under the aegis of anti-Communism. His witch hunt, founded on the false premise of a massive infiltration of the U.S. government by pro-Communist pr-Russian sympathizers, makes it dangerous for anyone to assail the man and his anti- concept; anyone opposing him is also then smeared by the Senator as being pro-communist , not anti-McCarthy nor anti McCarthyist tactics. Against the desires of public television monopoly 'tsar' William Paley, but with his reluctant consent, leading reporter Edward R. Murrow begins to reveal McCarthy through honest reporting of his falsehoods, lies, fraud, smears, invented data and fear-mongering. In the end, a major clash of the two is seen to be inevitable. The film I found to be impressive in its seriousness, its picture of the fear sown among men in the news business mirroring that in the minds of nation's populace at large. Listening to fine jazz singer Diana Reeves, smoking cigarettes, drinking after work., the newsmen of CBS TV at work are made a microcosm of the nation as a whole; they, the supposed guardians of independent-minded information reporting, are as endangered by McCarthyist tactics, disinformation and abuses as are the citizens of U.S. then--or in any other era. It is the universality of the threat in this film posed by non-objective nonfiction purveying that gives the film its unusual condensed force; false advertising of cigarettes, limited interviews such as one with then closet-gay pianist Liberace, deleterious effects on hiring and promotion decisions, works of fictions and news, voting and business conduct and lives are used by the authors to zero in on cost of unrealism to a nation of the endangered. Waldo Sanchez's departments of hair and makeup, costume head Louise Frogley, set decorator Jan Pascale Art Director Christa Munro and Production Designer Jim Bissell and cinematographer Robert Elswit all contribute to a surprisingly powerful and unified look and feel of an eariier era, one many other directors and production teams have not captured I believe half so well. Director and co-star George Clooney had tried black-and-white productions before; his success here seems to be based on those strong experiments. He acquits himself well as Fred Friendly; David Strathaim lacks some emotional impact, but is beautifully-trained and suitably serious as the great Murrow. As William Paley, 'tsar' of CBS, Frank Langella is able to be by turns courageous and himself frightened; no one else in the cast is given a lengthy part but the roles are adequately played or better in every case by my standards. A telling story point is that two members of the CBS team are secretly married, against corporate policy; and this is used against them in time, presumably in the name of objectivity in news, even as the network's head sells out not only Murrrow but American journalism to the forces that since the 1950s have filtered what U.S.ers are permitted to see and hear through "postmodernist" anti-realist ideas, attitudes and practices. No critic worth listening to can report on this film I assert without recognizing that Murrow's final speech in the film, a strong warning against allowing pragmatic pretensions to replace individual ethics, applies even more to minds in our deregulated and anti-rights era than it did to those in Murrow's earlier period. This is a film, for the reasons cited, perhaps to be watched over and over. The movie deserved best picture and best adapted screenplay awards. Mr. Clooney deserves our deep thanks I assert for having the courage and vision to have made such a film, especially during the neocon regime of George W. Bush.
Powerful, inspiring satirical comedic film; Wendy Hiller is magnificent
Long before "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day", the creators of the movie "I Know Where I'm Going", Directors-scenarists Michael Powell and Emmerich Pressburger had mined the same vein. The character of the heroine here is supportable only because she is young; she has grown up during the Depression, lived in an empire, Great Britain, and now she has endured the privations and dangers of WWII as well. The year is early 1945 and she surprises her father, a bank supervisor but not a rich man, by saying she has agreed to marry an older man--one who is immensely wealthy. She has always been strong-willed, intelligent, not versed in people and "proper'--in her case moral toward the real, ethical toward others but lacking in experience of many things--friendship, a societal order of normatives--and love. She finds herself on the far edge of Scotland staring through storm-roiled skies and across dangerous waters at the island rented by her fiancée from one Torquil MacNeil. And by chance it is MacNeil, striving to get home for a leave from the War, who is there to help her when she cannot get to his isle to marry her fiancée, his tenant. Against her inclinations, the heroine, Joan Webster, then has to interact with a wide spectrum of persons, animals and situations as she grows more and more frantic in her attempts to complete her original plan. In fact, she fights an epic battle for the major portion of the film against the idea that she has made an error in her thinking. The film's makers cunningly pit her commoner status against the stuck- up and silly upper-crust ways of the rich; we see her being kind to dogs, walking about outdoors, showing interest in an old curse and in old tales, and being charmed more than she will admit by the poor but proud Scottish folk who are kind and considerate to her. The key point in the film, for me as a writer, comes when Torquil explains to her that the people thereabouts aren't poor--"they just don't have much money". After she compels Toquil to risk his life so she and a young man bribed by her 20 pounds to try to get her to the Isle through hazardous seas can be saved, and he barely saves them all, everyone is angry with her--but he still says, "She's just young, she doesn't understand". At the last, as the adverse wind that has blown for days finally drops and she can sail to the island to be married, and because she has been running from him for days, Joan asks Torquil to kiss her. He does so, then goes into his ruined castle to read the curse on his line, which he's told her he would never do for fear of incurring it; and she marches off to the dock. The ending if the film is then fleshed out appropriately; I find the characters fascinating then and throughout, and the directing flawless by my judgment. A loch, waterfalls, eagles, whirlpools, roads, shorelines, skies and seas, interiors and the characters all contribute to the overall power and beauty of this exceptionally-memorable production. George Busby is credited as producer along with the writers, and there is clever music and sometimes authentic Scottish music also by Allan Gray and award-level cinematography by Erwin Hiller. The very fine production design and art direction are by Alfred Junge. Few of the large supporting cast have more than a single scene, but they are all uncommonly sincere in the parts they are asked to play. Murdo Morrison and Margot Fitzsimmons play a young affianced pair, Bridie and Kenny, he being bribed by Joan's money; his father is veteran character actor Finlay Currie. As the excitable falconer, Colonel Barnstaple does well, as do George Carney as Joan's father., Norman Shelley, only heard as her fiancée's voice over the radio, the Postmistress who operates the radio to the island, Jean Cadell; and Nancy Price is especially effective as Mrs. Crozier, while Valentine Dyall and Catherine Lacy are properly upper class as the Robinsons. Catriona, in whose house Joan learns so much, is skillfully played by Pamela Brown. But the two young people at the center of the film are Wendy Hiller as Joan Webster and Roger Livesey as Torquil MacNeil, Laird of Killorren. The script requires Joan to be a magnificent, since she is given little chance to be anything at all during the first half of the script except surprised, disappointed, stubborn or resentful. Wendy Hiller as Joan is at least as good in this work as she was in "Pygmalion" and "Separate Tables". So we see what MacNeil sees in her mostly through Hiller's stellar qualities, and so we fall in love with her even as he does. As MacNeil, Roger Livesey is a bit too old but otherwise a consummate professional as always. His rather breathy tenor voice is used beautifully here; we owe to the war his being allowed to play splendid leads in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and "I Know Where I'm Going", very accurately and with memorable effect. The famous whirlpool effect is splendidly done, especially for 1945; the sound recording is good. But the air of Scotland and the seriousness with which social satire is used to reveal to Joan, and to the audience, the shallowness of those who hunt for sport rather than in order to eat and build swimming pools when they have a grand bay are strong indeed. They help to make this one of the great films of all time; and, I suggest, a proof why great actors like Hiller deserve to play all parts requiring classical accent training, unusual professional capabilities and idea-level- motivated characterizations in dramatic and satirical roles--and not the merely attractive whose charm palls after a few minutes. A true classic.
A Beautifully-Photographed Near-Classic with One Developmental Flaw
"The Illusionist" (2006) is a very beautiful film I suggest with a splendidly attractive surface that founders on only one vital point, the impossibility of the illusions created and being used by its central character to bring down a tyrant. Neil Burger has directed this film in classical and intelligent style, never striving for sensational effect and getting the very most out of his cast. The story altogether too-obviously I assert was developed from a 'short story' from Steven Millhauser "Eisenheim the Illusionist", by the director. As is the case with too many films of recent vintage, including "You've Got Mail", "Devil With a Blue Dress" and dozens of others, the fundamental key to the film's full-realism was never discovered. This leaves the viewer with a very rich-looking modest-budget fantasy about the Hapsburg Empire's leadership class and its tendency toward totalitarianism and emotional instability. The subplot concerns the Crown Prince Leopold's bad character, that leads him to a desire to overthrow the Emperor. But the piece's main plot concerns the love of a man, now an Asian-trained world-class illusionist, for the Duchess who was his first love and is also the marital key to the Crown Prince's nefarious plan. This effort's dozen producers have achieved a surprisingly effective and sustained "look", in my judgment, through the use of horse-drawn vehicles and major buildings of the late 1800s--two theaters, a palace, a large house, a railway station and several streets, as well as attractive outdoor settings. For this unity of design, Cinematographer Dick Pope, Production Designer Ondrej Nekvasil, Art Directora Stefan Kovacik and Vlasta Svoboda, Set Decorator Petra Habova and Costume Designer Ngila Dickson all deserve high credit. Philip Glass's music never makes a complete point but it is lush and unobtrusively applied to the gorgeous tapestry of this period romance cum mystery, in my opinion. In the realm of acting, which for any costume film is so central to successful believability's being achieved by any filmmaker, the curious lack of development of characters at once makes the casting of vocally-competent players easier but also hamstrings their best efforts. They are, in effect, too-often reduced by this failing to two or three lines, in one scene or two. This lack I suggest is partly due to the failure of the adapter to develop the original story beyond its two lovers and two opponents; but it is also a result of the secretive nature of all three characters, none of whom is able to confine in anyone. Among the supporting cast, Robert Russel as a Spiritualist leader and young Elias Bauer as a messenger are given noticeable one-scene roles. Others having meaningful parts included Aaron Johnson and Eleanor Tomlinson as the youthful friends destined to be lovers, Karl Johnson as the Doctor, and others who are given two or three lines here or there, which seem surprisingly performed well in all cases. There are even theatrical, crowd and street scenes of impressive attractiveness and utility. As the Crown Prince, the mad Leopold, Rufus Sewell, works hard but is sometimes out of his depth in a part demanding a classical training. The same must be said for Edward Norton. His intelligence and theatrical competence allow him to execute the more-demanding speeches adequately or better; but much of the time he appears to be a merely thin and somewhat gangling character actor unable to find an approach to playing a charismatic leader of men; he is not helped by having no confidant to play off throughout most of the film, which leaves him often standing alone in large rooms and being questioned by others. Jessica Biel is sincere and lovely as the Duchess Sophie; all she lacks is a stage-trained voice to be added to all her other impressive credentials. So, I claim, it falls to narrator and Police Inspector Paul Giamatti to carry the film. This, I argue, he does in splendid Oscarworthy fashion from beginning to end. He alone in the cast is given a variety of moods as well as scenes to play; and the strength of the film's logic and his own success at achieving the effect the director desires are perhaps the project's greatest strengths. It should be noted that the narrative is not swift-paced but is nevertheless very satisfying throughout, even in theater-site scenes that in lesser hands might have slowed up the progress of the work. With a great leading man, such as the story deserved, and a solution to the believability of the illusions being depicted, which are so powerful they mystify an empire's best minds, the film might have achieved much more even than it did. What results, I argue, is an unusually handsome and very-well-told cinematic story, a near-classic well worth the seeing more than once, if only for its economy of means and unusual physical beauty.
A memorable thriller with good acting, a great fluid direction and some flaws.
"Absolute Power" (1997) is for me a prime example of what a director skilled with both actors and fluid camera can do to make a riveting film from a second-rate book. The David Baldacci novel in question, whatever its merits, gave brief but telling opportunities for individuals to interact with one another; these intelligent moments, director/producer/star Clint Eastwood had to string like bright beads onto a continuous and unbroken thread of dark meaning. In my opinion, he did this with Hitchcockian or Vidorian skill. The plot of this film can be told in two sentences. "A brilliant, aging career thief is interrupted during a very big score by the arrival of a man and a woman, then witnesses her murder by two secret service agents as she gains the upper hand in a struggle in the bedroom. He escapes but they get his license number, and thereafter he decides to leave the country but then gets angry when the D.C. highly-placed perpetrators, the bad guys and their agents, misuse the victim's husband and then nearly kill his daughter--and exposes the crime.". Leaving aside details of how he does it, he and the police officer on the case manage to bring about a very satisfying conclusion. This efficient thriller is directed in award-level style by Eastwood, from a screenplay by William Goldman. Understated music by Lennie Niehaus, intelligently- matched cinematography by Jack N. Green, director of photography, a lovely production design by Henry Bumstead and solid art direction by Jack G. Taylor, Jr. advance the proceedings far above ordinary films. Stellar set decoration by Richard C. Goddard and Anne D, McCulley, above-average costumes, lighting, sound and special effects add to the film's considerable power. In key roles, Gene Hackman as the central figure in the disaster and Laura Linney as Eastwood's daughter come off best. Ed Harris as the head detective is folksy but adequate; Judy Davis is fine as the bad guy's chief, and E.G, Marshall lend dignity to the role of the aged husband. The secret service men are Scott Glenn and Dennis Haysbert, and they are good and well-used. As a telling fact, every small part in the piece is made memorable by the director's skill, from start to finish. Eastwood unarguably does one of his best acting jobs in a role that suits his strengths and limitations very well. The film is not as strong as "Space Cowboys", a bravura project; but it adds to the director's credentials; the closet sequence with its p.o.v. shots, shot changes is extremely memorable. There flaws-- notably the protagonist's failure to recognize the murderer sooner; but the film is miles above most of the special-effects with loud brainwashing music that constitutes postmodernist film that's being produced. A swell-acted, generally superior thriller this is, and one worth seeing more than once.
Great Satire; Haunting Tour de Force About One Honest Human Being's Power
"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" (2008) I suggest is a 'classic' narrative in the best sense of that word. It is not an overstatement perhaps to say that it owes more to the satirical and often to "screwball" type comedies of the 1930s and 1940s than it does to more recent blatant screen humor. Its true sub-genre is that of the "intruder"--the outsider who enters a situation, one wherein several forces, suitors, parties etc. are living in uneasy limbo between opposition and resolution, and proceeds to change everything by means of some power--skill with a weapon, superior knowledge, a tipping of the balance of powers, or simply honesty where this had been lacking...The story of this film can be stated in one sentence: "Desperately needing work, a woman applies for a nanny's position only to find herself engaged as the social secretary to a madcap U.S. actress trying to juggle three ardent suitors and make a career in the London of the pre-WWII period, who then by her own honesty begins to affect all the parties concerned very strongly." Like the TV series "Barney Miller", and "My Man Godfrey", Winifred Watson's novel, adapted for the screen by David Magee and Simon Beaufoy, presents us during most of the film with a single normative character, everyone else we meet being in some way behaving badly, unreasonably, or worse. As Miss Pettigrew notes, "Love is not a game"; she, however, seems to be the only who who judges the case that way. The presentation I find to be modern, and fluidly directed by Bharat Nalluri; it also benefits from period and original music by Paul Englishby, the well- maintained cinematography of John de Borman, Michael O'Connor's costumes, Katie Spencer's intelligent set decorations. I found the Production Design by Sarah Greenwood and the Art Direction by Nick Gottschalk to be powerful attributes of the film, as much a part of its atmosphere as were the difficult lighting and deliberate but never-flagging pace of the events unfolded. From believable couturiers' shops to a nightclub, an office, outdoor locales, soup kitchens, alleyways and posh bedrooms, the film presents us with a glittering era from its top to its bottom. As the ambitious actress struggling up from humble beginnings, Amy Adams is attractive, smart and never strident no matter how badly she is behaving. The three suitors vary in tone and intensity, but all come across well without any opportunity to do more than to contribute to several interesting scenes apiece; Lee Pace as Michael has the most to do. Stephanie Colt as Miss Holt and Ciaran Hinds as Joe also score impressively, with less to work with. Niall Mulroney as supervising art director also deserves special thanks, as do the hairstyle and makeup experts for their contributions here. This is a well-paced film, whose central star, Frances McDormand, as Miss Pettigrew deserves award consideration as does the film itself. It is memorable, only occasionally bitter, a brilliant indictment of the inter-war generation's heedlessness, a quality the film's makers also comment upon in the similar behaviors of post-1994 youth and others who also should know better. The film I found to be beautiful, satisfying and a little disturbing all at once; I claim (as is "American President"), it is a great satire.
Keith Andes is Brilliant in This Very Inexpensive Fictionalized Biography
To write intelligently about an inexpensive cheaply-made or "B"-picture war docudrama whose subject is a soldier of WWII I suggest is difficult. One must separate the shortcomings of production from the efforts of the writers, directors and actors. Thus, "Surrender Hell" (1959) undoubtedly has more in common with other "B" pictures of the period 1939--1973 than it does with most studio-produced war films in this regard. Its hero is Don Blackburn, veteran United States' army lieutenant, who refuses to surrender when the Philippines fall under Japanese dictatorship during the War. Instead, he heads up into the hills, hoping to enlist guerrilla patriots whose mission will be to make life difficult for the conquerors until Gen. MacArthur's promise to return to liberate the islands from domination can be fulfilled. This he does by organizing and leading elements first of Filipino then of Filipino and headhunter tribesmen as well as a late-arriving small U.S. force, in courageous, dangerous and ultimately successful actions. Lack of funds forced the film's director, John Barnwell, who worked up the script from real-life Donald Blackburn's memoirs, Philip Harkin's "Blackburn's Headhunters", and Charles Martin's intelligent narratives in the script to employ static scenes, marching scenes and incorporated footage; his budget in other words only allowed him latitude to recreate some claustrophobic dramatic scenes and limited combat stagings. The argument of the film, which happens to be true, is that this one trained solider, an American, was the major creator behind strategic plannings, training of troops to use weapons and to be effective wartime raiders, and only toward the end the leading force behind two successful major confrontations with Japanese regular troops. The story resulting from these creative efforts I say is episodic, effective in its dramatic scenes and undoubtedly less successful in its depiction of the entire narrative of the guerrillas' growth and operations, despite (by then Colonel) Blackburn's having acted as the film's technical adviser. In fact, all the hero of the story had to do was get his men to keep quiet on command, instruct them in use of modern weapons and issue orders for attacks whenever the opportunity could be seized; and this he apparently did, in reality, with great success for several years. Francisco Buencamino Jr. provided unobtrusive music, with Filipino experts providing the film's other cinematographic and art direction contributions, which are I claim above average for their minuscule budget. Only several actors are credited in the film, Susan Cabot for a brief early role, Paraluman as Pilar in an extended and satisfying tragic performance, and Nestor de Villa as Major Bulao. But the body of the film revolves about the towering , brilliantly nuanced and legendary performance given by Keith Andes as future Colonel Donald Blackburn. His classically-trained speech, his ability to handle all acting situations and challenges and his astonishing success in keeping a continuity of his characterization secure across weeks of filming in demanding and varied locations I find to be remarkable in itself. That he was able to do this with a cast of ESL speakers and low- grade actors and technicians is all-the--more-admirable as an achievement. His honest work here I say eclipses even the very good performance in the same year by Gregory Peck in the high-budget "Guns of Navarone", a noted leading performance; his role therefore must go down as one of the least appreciated and most successful in film history. That one of the finest leading men of his generation was relegated to "Damn Citizen", "Model For Murder" and "Surrender Hell" is an indictment of movie moguls' artistic absurdity. That he was able to extract as much as he did from the material he was given to work with in these films as well as "Back From Eternity", "Split Second" and other films borders upon the miraculous. I recommend this film to those who enjoy fictionalized biography and WWII films; it has effective moments, good work by the Japanese leader in several scenes, and a good deal of memorable footage, thanks largely to Keith Andes professional superiority throughout the filming. He is unarguably more-than-memorable here in every respect.
Amy Adams and a Charming Fantasy; Clever Mix of Animation and Realism
Since the later 1970s, any film made for adults has had to be a personal project, so its creators can avoid de facto censorship by corporate tsars bent instead on supplying graphic emotional and special effects cinematic graphic drugs to their target mentally teenage addicts. "Enchanted" is such a vision, and less surprisingly so than it is satisfying. This I say is true because of what its makers tried to do even more than how well its creators performed that intended task. The use of animation plus filmed action in the film was not unprecedented; how seamlessly the combination works therein for many viewers may be so. This sprightly tale begins in a fantasy realm, Andalasia. We are introduced to a lovely commoner destined to marry a brave and handsome prince--despite the opposition of his mother, a true witch in several degrees, and her helper. After an animated series of songs and adventures during which we learn the young woman, Giselle, can charm animals into helping her--leading to a classic Disney historical-looking sequence--she and her prince, who has rescued her from an ogre, arrive at the royal palace to be wed; but, instead, she is sent as an exile to another realm--and emerges from a manhole in New York City. There she meets a wary, bemused but honest fellow named Robert, his daughter and his mismatched fiancée, But the brave prince soon follows her to save her, accompanied by a talkative chipmunk and followed by the Queen's besmitten aide, Nathaniel, whom we are told will try to stop the royal wedding. What succeeds this engrossing beginning I say is a gradual denouement to a satisfying ending, during which Giselle learns the limits of magic and the power of realism, and Robert learns the power of magic and the limits of doubt. This charming, fast-paced delight was directed by Kevin Lima, with script credited to Bill Kelly. Seven credited producers hired Alan Menken to
supply clever music, and Don Burgess to supply innovative cinematography and to incorporate the animated portions. Production Designer Stuart Wurtzel and Art Director John Kasarda dealt professionally with a variety of locales, ranging from an apartment to New York offices, stores and street features to a grand ballroom and Central Park. Set Decorator George DeTitta Jr. and Costume Designer Mona May deserved plaudits for their stellar work as well. The able cast includes likable Patrick Dempsey as Robert, James Marsden as the bravura Prince, Idina Menzel as the fiancée, Timothy Spall outstanding as Nathaniel, Susan Sarandon as the wonderfully witch evil Queen, Rachel Covey as Robert's cute daughter, Elizabeth Mathis as Robert's secretary, and talented Tonya Pinkins and Isiah Whitlock Jr. as battling divorce partners. But the core of the film I suggest is Amy Adams' award-level, lovely and memorable Giselle. Watch for a remarkable action-character development crisis, and a memorable ending during which all loose ends are neatly tied up so that all concerned can live on, mostly happily ever after.
Fictionalized Bio of Cole Porter with a Fine Cast and Good Production Numbers
There are perhaps two things that set "Night and Day" apart from most musicals for me. One is the realistic way in which characters talk to and relate with one another; the writers have made their motivations very clear at all points. Then there is Michael Curtiz's sensitive and innovative camera-work. In my opinion, he brings out the story very strongly in appropriate and elaborate settings. Writing credit goes to Charles Hoffman, Leo Townsend, and William Bowers, who used material from the life of Cole Porter adapted by Jack Moffitt; the result is perhaps very poor biography but a very good thinking man's musical about an uncompromising composer. Jack Warner and line producer Arthur Schwarz deserve credit seeing the potential in this for this intelligent film. Difficult cinematography by Peverell Marley and William V. Skall, award level Art Direction by John Hughes, extraordinarily successful set decorations by Armor Marlowe and costume designs by Travilla and wardrobe by Milo Anderson only increase the believability and effectiveness of the film's colorful scenes. A comparison of this more realistic film to a similar "An American in Paris" is deserved and perhaps enlightening. "Boy strives for art career; boy avoids temptation of woman trying too hard to help; boy wins girl after professional success and some troubles"- -there's nothing new in this, perhaps, but the large and talented cast I say plays the story as if it had just been invented. Familiar faces such as Alan Hale, Tom D'Andrea, Selena Royle, Eve Arden, Henry Stephenson, Sig Ruman, Victor France, Paul Cavanagh, Herman Bing and Nick Stewart appear and disappear, but every one adds a jewel to the film's rich design in the form of a scene well-acted. Only Donald Woods and Dorothy Malone among the supporting players continue throughout the film. Monty Wooley has one of his best Hollywood parts here as himself; while Alexis Smith makes a marvel out of her part as the long suffering fiancée. Cary Grant tries hard and brings an earnestness to his Cole Porter that is finally surprisingly effective. Jane Wyman is very attractive and well-cast; Ginny Simms has four numbers, all inimitably sung, and shows talent as a romantic, comedic and character actress--none of capabilities which moguls ever let her do much of anywhere else. Mary Martin has single number, "My Heart Belongs to Daddy", and does well as both actress and singer. Other highlights of this long well-paced dramatic musical include Monty Wolley's "Miss Otis Regrets", "Begin the Beguine" presented as a tropical extravaganza, several fine versions of "Night and Day", and a dozen other songs that are familiar and given intelligent staging. Leroy Prinz's choreography is spot on as period work for the 1930s, featuring many arm movements, intricate turns. A scene in a New York music shop is for me one of the best scenes in the film, for dialogue, camera angles, acting and Ginny Simms' rendition of "What is This Thing Called Love". Other songs featured in the film include "In the Still of the Night", "Let's Do It", "You're the Top", "You Do Something to me', "I've Got You Under My Sin", "Don't Fence Me In", "Rosalie", "Anything Goes", "Just One of Those Things" and "I Get a Kick Out of You". This is a fine winter movie, one of the best musicals of all. "
Charming, Most Unusual and Gentle Put Down of U.S. Statists and Snobs
"Harvey" (1950) Of all the films ever produced in Hollywood, only a very few can be labeled as charming, eccentric and well-scripted at the same time. I suggest Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Harvey", adapted for the screen by herself, Oscar Brodney and Myles Connolly, can be considered one such work. The main story of the film can be summed in a single sentence: "Bright Elwood P. Dowd, Yale graduate, is driving his two female relatives to distraction because of his unfeigned friendship for and keeping company with a very tall white rabbit named Harvey, a pooka or Celtic animal familiar". The viewers are told that Dowd has inherited a house and money from his Mother, that his elder sister and her daughter are living in his house; and we see that what he does with his days is be pleasant to everyone, which includes having a drink every day at his favorite bar, iniviting all sorts of persons to dinner--and introducing citizens to his best friend. During the narrative, we do not at any time see Harvey, but we are given visual evidence of his real existence. The thrust of this charming, continually interesting and unusual story therefore is not whether Harvey is real but instead whether each person to whom Dowd introduces him approves of Harvey enough to respond to Dowd's interest, kindness and suggestions about how to stop being conventionally judgmental and start being more accepting of others--so they can learn to be happy. This is the same muted but definite anti-United States and pro-American message that one finds in a hundreds of other plays, serious and comedic--"The Philadelphia Story" and many others. This is the message of all films that scorn the century-long totalitarianizing of U.S. institutions under infallibility-preaching so-called leaders; of every film made about people of intelligence, sympathy and ability being forced to accept that they nowadays cannot succeed in becoming happy by use of their talents. That frustration, I suggest, led Chase to write the mid-century "Harvey", long before others put forth the same message about a "loss of humanity". Harvey is the same height as Abraham Lincoln, and his purpose, only half-explicitly stated, is the same as Lincoln's: a house divided against itself cannot stand, and he is quietly trying to free the half of those in the United States who are spoiling their lives and those of others by acting against fairness. Harvey can "stop time" and allow a person to live our his fantasies--or else improve his/her life by convincing him to ignore the artificial barriers and class-distinctions that have been allowed to spoil the justice and happiness of millions. During the film, we see the shocking effect that the honesty of Dowd, who has given up boss-over-others games, has on those who are still buying into this unAmerican nonsense--all the while pretending they are doing ethically what they should. Veteran Henry Koster directed very solidly, with William Daniels' remarkable consistent cinematography, sets by Julia Heron and Bernard Herzbrun, understated music by Frank Skinner, skilled Art Direction by Herzbrun and Nathan Juran and Orry-Kelly's costumes as ornaments of his well-mounted expansion of a successful theatrical play. Among the large cast appearing in John Beck's production, supporting players such as Almira Sessions, Dick Wessel, Pat Flaherty, Nana Bryant, Minerva Urecal, Maudie Prickett, Graycie Mills, Clem Bevans, Aileen Carlyle and Wallace Ford all gain notice. Major parts are played by Jesse White, Peggy Dow, William H. Lynn, Victoria Horne and the great Cecil Kellaway. Charles Drake plays Dow's love interest, Josephine Hull his long-suffering sister, and James Stewart portrays Dowd as an amiable eccentric whose methods may be questioned but whose motives are depicted as unfailingly admirable. Unusual and funny.
Unusual, Very realistic and Well-Acted B Psychological Noir
"Impact" (1949) is a narrative film that relies on psychology to drive its characters actions, purposes and values. It is a moody noir piece not badly acted and adequately directed or better at every moment. Arthur Lubin directed the twists and turns of this intelligent film, from a story by Jay Dratler and script by Dratler and Dorothy Reid. Its story can be told in a single sentence: Walter Williams is a man who rose out of nothing against the usual U.S. disdain for individual ability to become the key man at a major corporation; then he loses both his adored wife and his position in life for a time, and has to decide whether to let the wife who tried to have him killed be punished for his murder or to risk going back to take up his life again. Music is by Michel Michelet, with strong cinematography by Ernest Laszlo. The Art Direction was supplied by Rudi Feld, with challenging set decoration by Jacques Mapes and very good costumes by Maria Donovan. The producers were veterans Joseph H. Nadel and Harry M. Popkin and Leo C. Popkin. Brian Donleavy stars in this understated film, and his usual vocal strength and calm demeanor make a lot of his varying situations and moods. As the two women in his life, Helen Walker and Ella Rains bring intelligence and liveliness to taxing parts. Charles Coburn, Mae Marsh and Robert Warwick all do well with unusual roles. Others in the cast worthy of note include Clarence Kolb, Art Baker, Anna May Wong, Philip Ahn, Jason Robards Sr., William Wright, Tony Barrett, Glen Vernon, Thomas Browne Henry, Erskine Sanford and Harry Cheshire. I find this to be an ambitious and generally successful; film, which will stay in the memory a long while. It presents a strong circumstantial murder mystery, but concentrates on the characters, their motivations and reactions. It is, I suggest, unusually realistic and worth seeing more than once.
A Great Drama About Men of Vision Using Jet Research as a Vehicle
By many standards, David Lean's production of the film he directed in 1952, "The Sound Barrier" is both unusual and I suggest rewarding. The screenplay by Terence Rattigan I found to be riveting throughout. This I judge stems from the fact that its subject is men of vision, and what they do to about their greed for something unnameable, necessary and sometimes deadly. The author in the film is at pains not to paint such men as glory hunters, nor seekers after excitement alone; in one scene, the central character talks about the fliers of the past, and then suggests the men of the future will need vision even more than flying skills to conquer what awaits us--and the answer to what that is is given as "the stars"--called the final frontier in this film in all but name. There are three fliers we meet in the film at a fictitious industrial empire called Ridgefield. The boss's son who hasn't got what a flier needs, Tony, who marries his daughter and reaches his limit because he lacks the necessary genius, and Philip, who has "the right stuff". What I find extraordinary about this very well-directed cinematic tale is that it is always about the people and the joy and danger of flight at the same time, without the focus ever losing sight of the people. The music for this film was supplied by Malcolm Arnold, and it is extraordinary almost everywhere but I find never intrusive. One sequence involves one of the three pilots taking his new wife for a swift flight to Cairo from England; the scene accomplishes many things at once. She learns because of her journey, what some men see in the serenity of the sky, and even its danger; it introduces us to the third pilot and his wife; and we are given a sense of the camaraderie of the men who flew in those days; another such moment occurs when the French ace Geoffrey de Havilland is killed trying to break the sound barrier ahead of all others. Jack Hildyard and several others supplied the cinematography and aerial scenes; Elizabeth Hemminges did a fine subdued job on the costumes; Vincent Korda is credited with the Art Department's superb work while Muir Matheson is acknowledged as music director. Among the smallish cast, the pilots are all beautifully played. bright Nigel Patrick is likable ace Tony, young Denholm Elliot stands out as the boss's son, and John Justin is just right as the third of the trio, Philip. Joseph Tomelty is admirable as Will Sparks, the designer tormented by his own part in causing test pilots to risk their lives; Ann Todd is good as the tormented Susan, wife to Tony and daughter of the boss of Ridgefield. Dinah Sheridan is also lovely as Philip's brave wife; but it is Ralph Richardson's powerful realization of John Ridgefield, former pilot, towering presence and inspiring and dangerous leader of men who along with Justin gives the film its unusual dimension of mind and purpose. One may quarrel with the motivations attributed to Richardson in the last scenes; but he has been so alone in his vision and at such a cost, he may be forgiven for asking at last to be understood. The ending I find to be most satisfying, the film's climax tremendously moving. This is a great film, which has never been appreciated as it should have been. It is B/W film-making at its dramatic best for my money. Its science may not be perfect, but its depiction of human merit and what happens when that quality is lacking in a man is powerful indeed. Not to be missed.
Dark, Memorable Musical with Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Barbara Ruick
"Carousel" (1956) I say belongs to a curious and large group of US films that imply attacks on a neocon or neo-fascist society. The category includes "Ocean's Eleven", "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers", Man's Favorite Sport", "Picnic", "American President:, "The Fountainhead" and hundreds of others. Their storyline is always the same--the central character is being treated unjustly. He/she is under pressure to submit, conform, recant, give up, surrender, suffer-and A. Either does so and then renounces his surrender or 2. Fights and is harmed/killed or decides to conform, only for now. Consider the plight of Billy Bigelow, hero of "Carousel". His crime is getting girls to go to bed with him--a crime only to puritans. Losing his job for refusing to be a slave to Mrs. Mullins, his amorous boss and owner of the carousel he is barker for, he then can't find work--except low paying herring catching, with no guarantee he could ever earn enough doing that job, odious to him, ever to support his wife and expected child. He turns to crime, and dies in a foolish robbery attempt. Reprieved from heaven, he is allowed to return for one day to help his daughter, also an artistic type who is being equally tormented by the narrow-minded Establishment wage slaves to tyrannical bosses in the same puritanic town. From this unpromising material, Ferenc Molnar's play "Liliom", adapted by translator Benjamin F. Glazer with 'book' by Oscar Hammerstein II and screen play by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (also the producer), a film was fashioned fro, a Broadway success featuring Richard Rodgers' glorious music and his partner's clever lyrics. "When I Marry Mister Snow", "June is Bustin' Out All Over", "You'll Never Walk Alone", "The Carousel Waltz" and "If I Loved You" have all become standards, and the other songs are also serviceable. In this production, Henry King provided solid direction,. Rod Alexander the main Seven-Brides-like choreography, Mary Wills the costumes, Charles G. Clarke the difficult cinematography, Jack Martin Smith and Lyle R. Wheeler the successful Art Direction and Chester Bayhi and Walter M. Scott the varied and vivid set decorations. Within the cast, Barbara Ruick comes across most powerfully. The others are uniformly fine, with outstanding work by Audrey Christie as Mrs. Mullins and memorable work by Gene Lockhart as the Starkeeper and Dr. Selden, Claramae Turner as Cousin Nettie, tenor Robert Rounseville as Enoch Snow, Cameron Mitchell as Jigger, John Dehner as a factory owner, William LeMassena as an angel, and Jacques D'Amboise as a dancer featured in Agnes De Mille's "Louises's Starlight Carnival". Susan Luckey scores well as young Lousie; and Richard Deacon as a policeman. In the nominal leads, Shirley Jones sings well but has too little to do in an underwritten part; her big number, "That's All There Is to That" is a weak song. But Gordon MacRae is stellar in all regards as Billy, carrying the entire film by his more-than- expected singing and his on-target handling of an unsympathetic role. His versions of "Soliloquy" and "If I loved You" are the film's great highlights. This is a moving and engrossing film for most, one that lacks only a bit of clarity in the motivations of Billy to set it among the greatest musicals.
Nearly-Great Adventure Dignfied by James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Production
"Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959) is one of the best and most often copied of sci-fi films. Much of its undeniable power comes from the literate and logical script, and the strong and sympathetic persona radiated by James mason and Arlene Dahl in the primary roles. There is clarity of his value purpose and an equal clarity of why he does what he does about a fantastic scientific opportunity. The film's classic plot can be summed in a single sentence-- "A scientist finds evidence of an underworld discovered by a scientist of a bygone era and mounts an expedition at great risk to discover what can be found." Director Henry Levin does a very fine job of keeping the action moving at every moment. The story improves on the Jules Verne novel by fleshing out characters and staging it as a Scottish expedition complete with locations, bagpipes and passable accents. Producer Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch earn credit for their seamless story and its patient but exciting development. The music composed by Bernard Herrmann is stunning and not overdone; the cinematography by Leo Tover is surprisingly well-matched despite the great variety of scenes ranging from hotel lobbies to university areas to wild and fantastic locales. in the technical disciplines, mention needs to be made of the great Art Direction by Franz Bachelin, Herman A. Blumenthal and Lyle R. Wheeler. The very elaborate set decorations by Joseph Kish and Walter M. Scott are extraordinary; and David Ffolkes costume designs accomplish everything they were supposed to and then some. Assistant Director Hal Herman and Art Department illustrator Harold Michelson as well as the Helen Turpin's hair styling, Ben Nye's makeup and the special effects department's contributions should be noted. In the smallish cast, Edith Evanson, Mollie Glessing and Alan Napier deserve mention. Among the principals, Pat Boone and Diane Baker are acceptable and occasionally touching as the young man whose purchase precipitates the expedition and the Professor's daughter; Thayer David is his usual powerful self as Saknussem, and Peter Ronson is adequate as the very tall Hans Belker. But the film belongs to the charming mature sexual antagonists played with power and ability by Arlene Dahl and the Oscar worthy James Mason. It is their many moods, reactions, thoughtful moments and interactions with others that give this simple adventure film its unusual power to move audiences. From the flood, the boulder, the undersea ocean, the rockfalls and landslides, the breaking bridges and dangerous ascents and descents to the personal antagonisms, realized with humor and skill, this is one of the best and most copied of popular sci-fi adventures, in the genre of "The Time Machine", "Forbidden Planet" and "Battle Beyond the Stars", as well as "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", this film without achieving greatness deserves I suggest the accolade of being called a classic.
Moving, Visually Fine and Well-Acted Sci-Fi Love Story and Adventure
This is a thoughtful adventure that I found to be part sci-fi, part thriller, part love story and an unusually riveting filmgoing experience. Unsurprisingly, it has few well-developed characters; but uncharacteristically for the genre, almost all the piece's characters, however brief their appearance may be, become memorable. There is a special effects disaster in the film, a rousing car chase and many other interesting technical achievements; but I suggest that in this unusual achievement, these adult devices help to move the story along rather than detracting from it as is more usual. "Deja Vu" I find to be unusual in its structure also. Boy Loses Girl, Boy Pursues Girl is not the typical scenario for many films--least of all for a sci-fi narrative; but that's what one encounters here. The fun in the film is I suggest mostly provided by just how the boy loses the girl and exactly how he pursues her to the end of this one. Tony Scott directed this action masterwork for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, from a script by Bill Marsilli and co-producer Terry Rossio. Production Designer Chris Seagers makes use of understated but consistent lighting of and New Orleans streets and backgrounds just enough to give the real flavor of the Crescent City, which I have visited and experienced more than once. Paul Cameron's cinematography, the controlled art direction supplied by Drew Boughton, and the award level and very complex set decoration by Rosemary Brandenburg all in my opinion add greatly to the film's unusual believability. The makeup task was enormous in this movie; and the costumes well-handled; but these elements mostly provide a background to the main storyline's progress. Among the exceedingly large cast, standouts include Val Kilmer, James Caviezel as a terrorist, and a number of good actors in small roles as FBI and ATF officials. It is difficult to do justice to the pace, intelligence and gradual unfolding of so interesting a story. Most reviewers cannot understand sci-fi, especially time-travel stories. So, the success of this modest but "A" production effort is worth noting as a milestone in cinematic history. Add in a strong folksy performance by Denzel Washington as the lead agent and attractive Paula Patton as his love interest; throw in good or better music by Harry Gregson- Williams, and you have a first-rate film that deserves even more attention that its many nominations would attest. Very highly recommended.
Intelligent Version of Dumas's Classic Adventure starring Heflin, Price & Kelly
"The Three Musketeers" is unarguably an adventure film of great physical beauty and quite a bit of narrative power. It stands just after "The Best Years of Our lives" as one of the first Technicolor "A" films that broadened the palette used by filmmakers to include richness as well as, say, western or Arabian settings in adventure movies. To director George Sidney goes much of the credit for the film's swiftness of pace and attractive visual elements. With cinematography by Robert Planck, art direction by Malcolm Brown and the great Cedric Gibbons, elaborate set decorations by Edwin B, Willis and Henry Grace, and costumes by legendary Walter Plunkett, the film moves from rustic scenes to sumptuous interiors via scenes of swordplay that are often stunning. Add makeup by Jack Dawn, hair designs by Larry Germain and Sydney Guilaroff, sound by Douglas Shearer and Herbert Stothart's original music and use of Tschaikovsy themes--and the result I suggest is a quite satisfying viewing experience. But the plot has something more, perhaps, as well. The original Alexandre Dumas's (the father) storyline as treated by Robert Ardrey's screenplay comes out as an intelligent but somewhat satirical-cynical look at life in the France of the time of Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII. In adopting an objective, light-hearted tone, similar to that in "North By Northwest', the producer Pandro S. Berman and the writers gain for the film the ability to do memorable comedy as well as occasionally far-more-serious scenes. What is lost in concentrated dramatic power is made up fin such an adventure if the actors are able to invest its goings on with the seriousness of their taking it seriously, bringing it to life professionally. I suggest that in the lavish production, this level of artistry was almost everywhere achieved. The large cast features such attractive artists as Angela Lansbury as the Queen, John Sutton as Buckingham, June Allyson very-well-used as Constance, Robert Warwick as D'Artagnan's father, Keenan Wynn as Planchet the servant, Reginald Owen and Ian Keith, Patricia Medina and Richard Wyler. In featured roles, one can enjoy stellar work by Robert Coote as Aramis, Gig Young as Porthos, Frank Morgan as the King and Gene Kelly as an athletic and often lyrical D'Artagnan. But the acting honors in the film belong to actor worthies Van Helfin, who dominates in the role of the hard-drinking Athos and Vincent Price, who makes immense amounts out of what he is allowed to do as an understated Richelieu. The curious casting is that of attractive Lana Turner as Lady De Winter; she is not capable yet of classical work, but she suggests some of her part's potential depths. This famous story of the young Gascon joining the three best swordsmen in France and learning more about life than he had bargained for is here given as much power perhaps as it can handle; and rich scenes of sword battles, interpersonal misunderstandings and a sense of controlled importance makes, I suggest, the story's dark moments memorable and the fun more important than it might have been. I find this to be a masterly understatement of a truly classic adventure.
Good Early Hitchcock Directing; Robert Donat; an Enjoyable Noir Thriller
I have always considered this estimable earl film to be overrated. But this is not to say that the film does not have values that have, in fact, stood the test of time rather well. Alfred Hitchcock directed this fluid-looking film with writing credit given to John Buchan for his novel of that name, Charles Bennett for the rather free adaptation (no doubt with Hitchcock's participation also) and Ian Hay for the above-average dialog. The film is ambitious for its time, I suggest, taking the viewer from London to Scotland via train and back to London once more with stops in a crofter's cottage, a manorial-looking house, a London flat, several theaters, a police station or two and a county inn in addition to several outdoor scenes. Michael Balcon and Ivor Montagu were the uncredited producers; the understated music is also uncredited. The cinematography by Bernard Knowles is frequently atmospheric and well-matched, despite the script's great variation in locales and lighting; and the art direction by Albert Jullion and Oscar Werndorff generally holds up well despite the film's age. What I find surprising about the production is that while it depends on the very good cast's work for its major values, much of the piece's swiftness, convincing realism and dramatic action is supplied by Hitchcock even this early via camera virtuosity. Among the cast, Madeleine Carroll is more-than-adequate as the young woman literally dragged into a dangerous situation, and Godfrey Tearle and Helen Haye are powerful as the villains. Lucie Mannheim has a small voice but is quite effective in her early enigmatic scenes, as are Peggy Ashcroft and Hilda Trevelyan in particular. John Laurie, Frank Cellier, Wylie Watson, Peggy Simpson, Gus McNaughton, Jerry Verno and Pat Hagate make the most of what they are allowed to do. Robert Donat, the pursued central; character, has to carry much of the film alone. I found him to be above average in intelligence, humor, timing and his ability to enact the difficult physical actions of this adventure. He makes a somewhat underdeveloped character interesting, praiseworthy and nearly important. The viewer who has seen the director's later "Saboteur", "North By Northwest" and the early "Man Who Knew Too much" should find familiar approaches, scenes and ideas in this seminal and much-admired work of cinema noir. Escape from a public place, the death of someone by knife to whom the hero is speaking, the cool blonde who refuses to believe a wild story, urbane villains glimpsed at a party, unsympathetic police, enforced automobile rides, a crisis in a theater, the mysterious object whose pursuit sets events into motion--all these elements are put to even stronger uses in the later works, I suggest; nevertheless, they are present here, and memorably well- used. This is not for me a riveting work; but it is very-much-copied storyline, nicely- directed for the most part and certainly worth more than one viewing.
Sophisticated Musical with Gene Kelly, Kay Kendall and George Cukor's Skills
The musical "Les Girls" (1957) is curious, I suggest for many reasons. It has three leading ladies, only a few very good musical numbers and a plot that is heavy on satirical comedy, with four distinct sections. It is also embedded within a trial about libel and takes part very largely indoors; yet it is arguably filled with clear 'action' from start to finish. John Patrick's screenplay I find clever and the dialog perhaps very good. Vera Casparay's story gave us three different versions of mostly the same events, with a subtle shift forward in time each time. Director George Cukor used shots from heights and clever low angles to give an extra dimension to what otherwise might have been boring indoor shots (in less-capable hands). The film produced by Saul Chaplin and Sol Siegel looks lovely in Technicolor and seems sumptuous as well as convincing throughout, I suggest. The cinematography by Robert Surtees, acting as director of photography, the vivid art direction by Gene Allen and William A. Horning and the set decorations by Richard Pefferle and the great Edwin Willis complement the well-matched art direction very well indeed, in my opinion. Among the film's musical numbers, "Ca C'est L'Amour", "You're Too Too" and the rope ballet seemed the most memorable moments to me. Orry-Kelly's wardrobe and costumes and the musical department's contributions stand out; Jack Cole and Alex Romero are credited with the choreography, no doubt with ideas from the star Gene Kelly. In featured roles, Jacques Bergerac, Henry Daniell as the judge, and Leslie Phillips and Patrick MacNee all make very strong impressions with little to work with. The three ladies in the act "Barry Nichols and Les Girls", are Kay Kendall, Taina Elg and Mitzi Gaynor. Kendall deserves an Oscar for her range of comedy and dramatic moments in the film, by my standards; Mitzi Gaynor is a good dancer and delivers both a decent characterization and some fine one-liners without being vocally strong. Taina Elg is the surprise--by turns charming, mischievous and intelligent; her accent perhaps harmed her opportunity to play more comedies within a shrinking 50's movie industry. Kelly is believable throughout and perhaps has never danced better. This film that retails the interplay among four interesting people on "the road" in Europe in the 1950s is undoubtedly both beautifully directed and professionally mounted. It has, I say as a writer, discreet charm, some nice comedic and emotional moments and a pace that director Cukor and the cast never allow to falter. It deserves more credit than it has ever been given, and I believe awards for some of its finest achievers' work exhibited herein.
unusual fun, an intelligent and satisfying thriller; visually fine
"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" to me seemed to be everything "The Raiders of the Lost Ark" had not been; I found it to be fun, a convincing action film, absorbing, well-acted and nicely photographed. John Wilims' majestic music was a great asset, while the screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and the storyline by George Lucas and Mennno Meyjes based on Lucas's and Philp Kaufmann's original characters was well-constructed and psychologically interesting. Steven Spielberg directed with a good eye for style and lighting as well as action sequences. Douglas Slocombe deserves credit for lucid cinematography, as do Fred Hole and Stphen Scott for their art direction, Peter Howitt for his set decorations and all the designers involved for bringing a lost era to vivid life. Among the actors, Julian Glover as the villain, John Rhys Davies and Denholm Elliott as the hero's friends, and Sean Connery stood out from a good cast of minor villains and lesser characters. As the troubled heroine, Alison Doody was adequate and occasionally more. Harrison Ford's intelligent lead as Indiana Jones carried the film much of the time; he has a lot to do inn the busy film and did it very well both physically and vocally, in my opinion. In a less coherent presentation, the dangers, pursuers and contrived special-effects sequences could easily have become tedious; here they never were, I assert. And the ending is very satisfying, the last shot extremely memorable. Not to be missed, I suggest, both for the fun and the visuals.
Intelligent, Sincere Dance-Rich Version of a Truly Classic Stage Fantasy
"Brigadoon" is a fantasy. Author and scenarist Alan Jay Lerner hints that it is a "fairy tale"; but it is more. It uses the impossibility of a Scottish town as a plot device, one that reappears out of the highland mists for one day in a century, to examine any number of attitudes, urgencies, values and human questions--seriousness, trust, disbelief, belief, haste, reluctance, hate and love among others. To this unlikely town on the day of its second (1954) reappearance come two outsides, Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas--hunters from America. The folk they encounter greet them incredulously, but after Tommy meets Fiona Campbell and is welcomed by groom to be Charlie Dalrymple, they begin to explore the strange place. Tommy is oddly relieved to learn that the Campbell Charlie is to marry is Fiona's sister, Jean and not she. The day wears on, with odd hints being dropped about "miracles" and a Mr. Forsythe. Jeff goes off with Meg Brockie, who immediately want him to marry her; Tommy spends hours with Fiona picking white heather for a bridal bouquet for Jean--and falling in love; something he had never done with his fiancée back home. At Tommy's insistence, Fiona takes him and Jeff to meet the Dominie, Mr. Lundy, who explains Brigadoon's magical situation. Pastor Mr. Forsyth had asked his god in 1754 for a miracle, to save the villagers he loved from nearby witches and other evil influences; but the bargain of near immortality and peace came with a price. Forsyth could not come along; and if any man leaves the village's narrow boundaries, all those in Brigadoon will melt away to nothing. That night at the wedding, Charlie's rival for Jean, the disappointed Harry Beaton, tries to stab him. and then runs away threatening to end Brigadoon's existence. The village men hunt him down but it is a drunken Jeff firing at a grouse who hits Harry instead. Tommy is so relieved to have helped save Fiona's life, he vows to stay forever. Then Jeff talks him out of it. It has been like a dream to him, wherein nothing counts. Tommy doubts and Fiona understands that he must go--but tells him she'll love him forever. Once back in New York, Jeff drinks more than ever, and Tommy keeps finding himself dreaming of Brigadoon and of Fiona. Finally, in a crowded bar, he breaks off his engagement and tells Jeff he has to go back to Scotland again. Jeff goes with him. And there the fairy tale is provided with a miraculous ending. Vincente Minnelli directed admirably. Gene Kelly as Tommy also choreographed this dance-heavy film very beautifully. L. Preston Ames and Cedric Gibbons provided the Art Direction; Joseph Ruttenberg the luminous cinematography. Arthur Freed produced, with sets by F. Keogh Gleason and Edwin Willis. Irene Sharaff provided colorful costumes. Johnny Green did the musical direction, Conrad Salinger the orchestrations and Robert Tucker the music arrangements for the many choral numbers. The production was staged indoors instead of outdoors, losing some power along the way; but it is a technical tour de force nevertheless. Cyd Charisse is lovely and believable as Fiona, Van Johnson very powerful as the hard-drinking cynical friend, and the cast from lovable Barry Jones as Mr. Lundy to Dody Heath as Meg all manage their accents and parts with skill. Among the standouts are Tudor Owen, Elaine Stewart as the fiancée, Albert Sharpe as the Campbell girls' father, and Jimmy Thompson as Charlie. Others in the cast include Hugh Laing as tragic Harry Beaton, Virginia Bosler as Jean, Owen Mcgiveney, and other familiar and unfamiliar faces in the background. Among the great songs that made it into the film, the best I suggest may be, "Waitin' For Ma Dearie", "The Heather On the Hill", "Harry Beaton" and "Brigadoon--the title song." Others include "It's Almost Like Being in Love", "Down at McConnaughty Square", and "I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean". Look for the entry of the clans number before the wedding, led by torchbearers and with bagpipes skirling. This is to me a magical and often beautiful film, well-sustained by its skilled director; as a dance vehicle, it has few peers. And its unusual power has lasted half a century now, making it a fairy tale of unusual memorability. One may question the film's distrust and praise both of the modern world and of the Scottish village's simplicity; but I find it oddly compelling and believable due to the producers' intelligent and sincere attention to details.
Intelligent dialog and a fine supporting cast aid this "class war" comedy
"Sabrina Fair" was a very successful Broadway play, written by Samuel A. Taylor, before Taylor and Ernest Lehman turned it into a well-remembered (1954) screenplay for Billy Wilder who also produced the movie. Under Wilder's direction, the project turned into a vehicle film for Audrey Hepburn, William Holden and Humphrey Bogart, instead of Betsy Drake, Van Helflin and Charles Drake,m who could have played the parts believably opposite John Williams as Fairchild (the butler whose daughter Sabrina happens to be). The film retails the story of a girl lost between two worlds who has always been in love with one of the Long Island Larrabee brothers, the oft-married non-working David, but then has to choose between him and his dour, homburg wearing, umbrella toting nose-to-the-grindstone brother Linus as well. Frederick Hollander wrote a breezy score and Charles Lang Jr, provided fine B/W cinematography for the resulting romp. Edith Head provided the high-fashion costumes with uncredited assistance from Hubert de Givenchy. Hal Pereria's and Walter Tyler's Art Direction succeeded throughout, while Sam Comer's and Ray Moyer's set decorations played a subtle but powerful role in bringing the world of the Larrabees to cinematic life. Eugene Loring's choreography enlivened several scenes as well. Among the fine supporting cast, one can notice Emory Parnell, Nancy Kulp, Marjorie Bennett, Marcel Hilaire as the chef, Marcel Dalio as the Baron, Martha Hyer, Joan Vohs, Francis X. Bushman and Nella Walker, Kay Riehl, Walter Hampden as the family patriarch, a miscast Ellen Corby, Raymond Bailey and more familiar favorites, all else well-employed. This is a play with unusually intelligent dialog, whose sub-theme is the degeneration of the U.S. under public-interest lawmaking into what it was to become--an elitism of corporation CEOs, bureaucrats and unworthy gatekeeper 'bosses'. The film's best line may well be the one that suggests that no one ever called a chauffeur's daughter enlightened for marrying a millionaire. The problem with the main actors I suggest is that they are all somewhat miscast. Of the three, Humphrey Bogart gives the best line readings, but he cannot play a successful upper-class professional of any sort. Audrey Hepburn is pretty, fey and surprisingly adept at reading comedy lines for her age, but she never quite seems like an intelligent person who happens to be a chauffeur's daughter who can belong as a grownup to a world of any elite. And William Holden is simply too everything for his part--a bit too old, too polished and too charismatic, as well as trying too hard; his fine steps forward as an actor, however, moving toward "Picnic" and his noteworthy later work need to be commended here as well. The film is more thoughtful than one might expect and quite clever in its characterization of human beings stuck in class types within a country that was supposed to have none. Recommended.
A Genial, Fast-Moving and Thoroughly Likable Western Send-up
It would be difficult, I suggest, to say enough in praise of the genial and narrative positives of "HAWMPS". Its writers and director managed somehow to make the film engaging, easy to follow, ethical, and logical at the same time in my opinion, not always the expected qualities of a western "send up" . The writers, William Bickley, director Joe Camp and Michael Warren kept the dialog rather swift and on target, without engaging in too many long digressions, extraneous stories, etc. Director Camp also gave the film plenty of well-staged "slapstick" physical moments; but a study of these will reveals that virtually none were wasted--instead they all contributed to the fundamental storyline...The War Department's dispatching of James Hampton, about the only man who would accept the job, to assess the practicality of replacing horses in some jobs in the American West, with camels was. This attempt, which happened in history, is then staged for the audience step-by-hilarious-step. The veteran cavalry troop assigned to this experiment expected fine Arabian mounts; and their new Eastern leader, Hampton, couldn't bring himself to tell them that they were not getting new horses until it was too late. From this point in the story on, everything that happened, I suggest, revealed the Army's leaders' mental shortcomings. Hampton's seriousness about becoming the leader of men he really wanted to be and everyone else's inability to understand their own motives in regards to the camels complete the picture of the picture. The film's makers, I suggest, wasted almost no opportunity where they might reveal character and changing emotions by means of speech as well as action--no small asset to an action film. The cinematography by Don Reddy is always above average, and the original music by Euel Box sustains the moods evoked very well. Production designer Harlan Wright and Art Director Ned Parsons gave the film a dusty, western and believable look everywhere, in my judgment. In the cast, outstanding work was turned in by Jack Elam as Bad Jack Cutter, Slim Pickens as the leader of a rival cavalry troop, James Hampton and Chris Connelly as the leaders of the experiment, Denver Pyle as an artillery-happy commanding officer, Gino Conforti as the camels' imported caretaker and riding instructor, and everyone else concerned. One reason the characters are so memorable, I suggest, is that their motives are rendered so clear throughout the proceedings. I recommend the film for a number of scenes, including the original decision in Washington, the arrival of the camels, the first and second transits of a nearby town, the learning-to-ride sequence, the saloon fight refereed by veteran actor Herb Vigran, and the protracted contest that constitutes the final third of the film. I add my approval also to the way in which all details at the end are wrapped up logically, neatly and amusingly. This film is almost unique, I suggest, in its good-hearted approach to finding comedy in a realistic situation in the American West without demeaning the western genre. I found it to be unexpectedly likable, occasionally touching and enjoyable throughout. Recommended.
Ground-breaking and appealing musical of ideas with great songs
The Pajama Game began as a book by Richard Bissell called "7 1/2 cents". It was the turned into an innovative and hugely successful Broadway musical as "The Pajama Game" by George Abbot and author Bissell, with choreography by Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, and words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. Most of the cast utilized in this film of the famous musical, for once, are talents from the Broadway play, with Doris Day as "Babe" Williams joining John Raitt as Sid Sorokin the ill-matched labor and management couple about whom the story centers. The storyline I find to be a very straightforward and appealing narrative. An Iowa pajama factory's chief is having a dispute with his workforce over a demand for a badly-needed 7 1/2 cents-an- hour pay increase that all his competitors have granted already. The new superintendent falls in love with one of the Grievance Committee's members, despite her hesitation because he is management and she labor. When, after the liberating annual company picnic, the demands are again refused, Day stops the machinery after a slowdown is stopped by Raitt, and he has to fire her. The aftermath is that sabotage by the workers is slowly wrecking sales. When the boss still stubbornly refuses to give in, Raitt invites his secretary (Carol Haney) our for a drink and she all-but-gives him the key she wears around her neck that unlocks the Boss's books; after her insanely jealous boyfriend (Eddie Foy Jr.) has been dealt with, Raitt appears at the workers' meeting after forcing the boss (Ralph Dunn) to "compromise"--he will grant the raise immediately if the retroactive pay the workers should have had all along is ignored--the pay he'd been pretending could not be paid. As the lead, John Raitt is energetic, sings in a fine Irish tenor and handles every aspect of his assignment very well. Doris Day is quite believable as Babe Williams but lacks a Broadway caliber voice. Carol Haney makes a fine comedy debut as the secretary. Eddie Foy plays Hinesie Heinz, her boy friend, a caricature of a role, with vaudevillian grace and intelligence. His number with Reta Shaw as Raitt's assistant "I Would Trust Her" is a highlight for many, charming and unusually stylish. Others in the cast include powerful Ralph Dunn as the tough boss, Thelma Pelish as Mae, accomplished Jack Straw as Prez and Ralph Chambers as Charlie. Memorable musical numbers include, "Hurry Up", "Hey There", "I'm Not at All in Love", "Steam Heat", "The Pajama Game", "Once A Year Day", "There Once Was a Man" and "Hernando's Hideaway". Among production artists, Harry Stradling's difficult cinematography achievement, seamless art direction by Malcom C. Bert, set decoration by William Kuehl and costume design by Jean Eckart and William Eckart and Frak Thomas all deserve mention. Pros such as Buddy Bregman, Nelson Riddle, Charles Henderson and Ray Heidorf contributed to the vocal and musical success the film achieves. The characters may be presented a bit surrealistically, but this is actually a ground-breaking Warner Brothers attempt, like "the Fountainhead", whose target is the totalitarian "bossism" that was even then destroying American values and requiring real leaders to stand up for individuals' rights against unrealistic gatekeeper 'tsars'. This is a very-well -realized musical about people fighting against a most corrupt system; and musically one of the best offerings ever to come out of Hollywood.