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How I Won the War (1967)
An officer and a gentle idiot
War is the noblest of games, specially for the Queen's musketeers. Lt. Ernest Goodbody with his ready learned and endless banalities about duty, heroism and just about anything that comes to his mind is in his clumsy foolishness in a league of his own.
Jokes come in such rapid fire that this war comedy has to be viewed several times in order to all of them be taken fully in. The pace of cutting, scenes and clever dialog is really fast. Dick Lester directs the story from mad screwball comedy to short moments of even madder reality -combat, wounding, deaths- and back again without losing any of the films evident power. The continuous use of different film techniques may strike some as tiring or pretentious. I liked the rich variation, because it just somehow fits so well and Lester is never in danger of loosing the scarlet thread of irony. Some of the best moments are sprung by satiric takes on war movies and documentaries. A mission for the crew involves them to build a cricket field in the desert to impress their officers. So, under burning sun the convoy duly drags along a field roller across the dunes while the soundtrack is blaring unmistakeably recognizable music from 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Some of the training sequences brought to mind bits from Laurel and Hardy comedies.
At times situations begin to reach a point of surrealism. The soldiers already fallen in battle follow along the crew as ghosts of different colors. The oldest and most experienced man in the crew starts to dress and act like a circus clown. The changes and surprises just keep coming.
Watching the scene where John Lennon as soldier Gripweed gets killed in a German field has now an enormous effect for reasons easy to understand. As he sits there bleeding, faces the camera and says something like "You know this would happen", it really makes an extra strong comment on violence now. Stronger than the writer, director or any other ever had in mind. For a thirty years old black comedy this movie still has an awful lot to say.
Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)
Things most foul to do while in foggy old London
The stiff upper lip and jaw of Ralph Bates finally come into their own in this nice variation of Jekyll and Hyde, which also mixes in good quantities of Jack the Ripper myth and the famous 17th century grave robbers Burke and Hare. Considerably less stiff is Martine Beswick as the doctor's female alter ego. She is absolutely too loose in her ways, but I am certainly not complaining! Both are just the right persons for their clashing roles and superbly so. The actual physical change between the two supreme parts in one person is shown in subtle manners and without great special effects, which not only was cheaper to do, but also leaves a lot for a viewer to imagine and so makes it in a way easier to accept. A wise decision from the makers.
The plot idea of unifying the two main story lines of such classic origins is nothing short of brilliant. The invention of elixir of human life using female hormones and how to get it by "uncanny goings in late hours" really does the trick. So does the fascinating and at the same time foul results of the experiment, the mixing of selves and struggle for dominance. Of course much more could have been built in and deepened in the script making the story more intriguing and disturbing. Some needed romantic and freshening humor aspect comes from the continuously snooping neighbors with their funnily pretentious "it doesn't concern us" attitude.
In all, this is once again a fun and stylish horror movie from Hammer studios. The bolder style of company's early seventies film is very much present with some slight gore and nudity added in the proceedings. So, now everyone hurry up and see it.
Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)
Certainly the most voluptuous mummy ever
It never crossed my mind that archeology could get so sexy. The findings usually tend to have a much drier and dustier appearance. Valerie Leon has really showed new aspects to Egyptology here. In her double role as remarkably well ministered mummy of Queen Tera and Margharet Fuchs she is widely let use the two most expressive features of her physique and to steal the scenes totally without really doing anything. Her lovely eyes.
After countless variations of Count Dracula it was nice to see Hammer studios make good use of another story from Bram Stoker for a change. Mind you, the original novel 'Jewel of the Seven Stars', which this film is based on, does seem to use many of the same kind of story elements; a living dead with a curse and otherworldly powers, bringing the evil to London to be unleashed, a lunatic asylum patient closely connected to proceedings, a beauty with meaningful nightmares and so on. But it doesn't really matter, nobody here gets bitten too badly, anyway.
The film is occasionally rather slow moving and maybe a little too carelessly scripted, but it looks fantastic with the sets and props of Egyptian theme. And the loose hand of the mummy saying hi here and there brings joy every time. For the general mood the whole film seems to have a certain peculiar halo with heavily bright lighting, specially those scenes taking place towards the end. The shine of the curse coming true perhaps. Or good natured fun of silliness.
The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)
Witches in the wild wood
Real English countryside locations that breath ancient history. Old stone built houses, wild forests and mysterious ruins. Folk beliefs and practice of witchcraft and mysticism of nature. Now here's an evil fairy tale that both looks and feels right. One of the best films in British horror genre with only a few others on the same line, like 'The Witchfinder General' and 'The Vicker Man'. This is no way an ordinary horror flick, but bears its claws deeply into historical core of the witchcraft in Britain and uses its influences most efficiently.
Piers Haggard's direction is not overwhelming, neither is it using loads of usual heavy horror gimmicks. It simply lets the story evolve more naturally with only a few necessary effects cleverly executed. The young actors are good and mostly unknown for me, except Linda Hayden disturbing the local priest and the whole farming community with her ways of black magic. She was also appearing in 'Taste the Blood of Dracula' as the figure of innocence corrupted by evil. A certain sense of innocence is present here too in nearly all the people, even when cruelty takes place. It's like simple minded children playing with something new and dangerous and not quite understanding the real state of madness until it's too late. The young are constantly pushed and ordered by their elders, which makes the seek for rebellion and trying the forbidden more tempting. And still they end up even more possessed and ordered by Angel (Hayden), who clearly enjoys her new found form of twisted strength. Patrick Wymark's firm judge, who tries to bring back the order through his stronger set of rules and valued formulas, may show up as the only savior. But in the end, is he really just the lesser of two evils? So a certain metaphoric message can be seen here if one so wishes. In a way by this kind of surroundings and people the whole story comes out as a bit more believable tale. All this doesn't mean that the film isn't enjoyably fun to watch too.
Duel at Diablo (1966)
Soap and shooting in the desert
"Welcome to gory bed or victory." Some gripping action and battle scenes filmed on magnificent locations in southern Utah desert. The guilt or revenge driven and money hungry citizens are accompanying a cavalry unit through Indian lands and trying to get a load of weapons and horses for those who need them at the other end of the journey. Some matrimonial and parental questions involving a halfbreed baby also need to be settled from the side of the white as well as the Apaches. The movie respectfully tries to make some good-hearted points at racism and greediness, but much of it is left open somewhere half way or gets left under the feet of the roaming action. Or maybe there simply isn't any real answers.
At the beginning I got the feeling like I was watching a western TV-series instead of a movie. That's probably because of the rather heavy use of period sound music. You get Apaches and whites dangling in the desert and the soundtrack is alive with the sounds of surf guitars and bongo drums. Not the best choice to my mind and I wandered if the makers had wanted to lure in young viewers or just had a bad taste. Don't get me wrong. I love the music and sounds from the sixties, but there are right as well as wrong places for it. Fortunately the soundtrack picks up tremendously along with the pace and action once we're on the way and far in the desert.
Good actors are able to bring some greatly needed life and interest into routinely scripted characters and situations. Sidney Poitier and Dennis Weaver have the biggest tasks of using their admirable skills and so make the most admired impressions. A kind of friendly nod to John Ford's cavalry westerns can be sensed from Bill Travers' Irish lieutenant. The biggest failure is that the few meaningful Indian roles have mostly been left in the traditional state of the wooden ones, the nonchalantly stiff enemy. For a dedicated friend of westerns this is a pretty decent entry in the genre. But others might well find it a lot less meaningful or worth a watch.
Sinbad, the Sailor (1947)
Man of adventure meets the rose of Bagdad
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., like father like son. Or at least trying to be, as he dances the action almost in a way of ballet like his more legendary father used to do in many classic adventure films. Great sets and glorious colors give this adventure much the same charm as Alexander Korda's 1940 production of 'The Thief of Bagdad' has. The director has wisely used all advantage of them and created some truly fantastic pictures, that are delightfully beautiful and symmetric to look at. They seem like Edmund Dulac's illustrations from old fantasy books suddenly coming alive.
Much in the same vein of 'The Thief' most of the acting is done with due exaggeration and tongue in cheek. Acting wise the hero is merely left to play the second fiddle to the villain, the stoical but creepy Anthony Quinn. But the real main attraction and a scene stealer for me is Maureen O'Hara as "the rose of Bagdad". Jane Greer also pops up as a servant to O'Haras princess, but unfortunately her role here is just too small. This is a great, fun fantasy from the golden age of Hollywood showing a specifically good example of its values for powerful production design and the film would probably deserve a little more recognition.
Not quite deep enough!
This was the first film seen in theaters as a widescreen presentation in Finland in the fifties. So much for the film history, because the video version I saw was in 1.33:1 format leaving a lot of the visual underwater spectaculars out of the picture. Not that it might have helped much the otherwise lackluster presentation. The underwater photography of scavenging a sunken treasure does look great and very well done for its time. But above the surface there are the all too static scenes made in a studio with painted skies and wind machines. The dialog and acting are stiff and more like posing instead of running smoothly along the story. Not that the plot is much of a help either. A bit more care for the script would have been needed for a working balance next to the well executed underwater scenes and such ambitious plans for marketing tricks like underwater screenings with aqualungs for the press. The whole story is very slow moving and largely without excitement until the final fifteen minutes. Only then is the movie finally able to fill some of the expectations that have been promised all along with claustrophobic mood, shark danger and Jane Russell stuck in a favorable position in open red swimming suit. John Sturges was usually a very capable director, but this time his skills have probably been too tied under the command of the producer Howard Hughes. I'm sure they didn't really mean the whole movie to sink like that.
Murder at the Gallop (1963)
Joyfully galloping Marple mystery
The wonderful Margaret Rutherford is at it again as Miss Marple. And if that is not enough for you, there is also Robert Morley in his familiarly pompous screen persona hamming it up. These two strong personalities among the fine cast administrate the slightly humorous murder story taking place in and around Hotel Gallop. Although maybe not quite as fresh as the first entry in the series, 'Murder She Said', this film clearly delivers what every Agatha Christie loving citizen expects from a movie version of one of her many books. In my opinion Rutherford was able to bring more pep into Miss Marple than any other actress since or how I have seen her in my mind while reading the stories. In general the four Marple films made in the 1960's with Rutherford have clearly a more entertaining mood in them, which is not always so with many other adaptations.
The scriptwriter has even jokingly made Marple to specifically mention how great and useful Agatha Christie's books are when you are trying to solve a puzzling murder case by yourself. And what is she doing in the first shots during the title sequence? She goes around around collecting money for a reforming criminals assistance fund. A fine way to set the mood and the tongue in the right place for the rest of the movie. Later on she does twist on the dancing ball in order to fake a heart attack. Warmly recommended with a big smile to everyone.
Modesty Blaise (1966)
The burlesque dramatization of Modesty
Surprisingly light work coming from a director like Joseph Losey. I guess he just wanted to make fun of the numerous agent movies of the sixties and maybe insert a little comment on the values of storytelling in them. If he does, he luckily makes it in a most entertaining way and with technical ability, that certain slackening is easy to forget. Everything is made up into ultra-light eye candy and silly fun to be enjoyed in the right frame of mind. There is not even much of a plot to be mentioned about. Stolen diamonds, secret agents, dangerous missions and nice locations all in a fine mess, like the films this kind usually have. For fans of the original Modesty Blaise comic strip this naturally is a pity, because almost nothing of its real characteristics appear here. The characters are drawn very far from how they appear as originals and everything else is just about all changed too. The Modesty Blaise most of us readers know would deserve a more appropriate movie treatment. And I'm still waiting for it.
So, to enjoy this version more one should maybe forget the original Modesty Blaise completely. This is a child's play, a very cruel child's, and a play for adult children. A movie like a box of crayons, really. Scenes seem to change for the sake of sets, clothes and props. And for hair color, as it is with Modesty and Willie Garvin, his male sidekick. Monika Vitti and Terence Stamp look right for their roles, but doesn't seem to have much to act and both handle the job perfectly. Dirk Bogarde, familiar from a few other Losey's films a bit deeper than this, almost steals the show as Gabriel, the bored, neurotic, gay arch criminal. A movie best recommended for a rainless brainless day.
Island of Terror (1966)
Something to get soft about
A lovable piece of British sci-fi horror. Well directed by Terence Fisher and well acted by Cushing and the rest of the cast. Some of the more slimier special effects have been executed very well. Some others, like the creatures, have a got a bit more clumsier treatment, but are still memorable and most of all, so funny I can't help enjoying them all.
Once again a monstrous menace to human and animal life is terrorizing a group of inhabitants in a remote place, thanks to a secret laboratory experiment involving radioactivity gone awry. Any living creature confronting this menace mysteriously and quite literally tends to get soft about it. So did I about the whole movie. These films have that certain charm that is hard to resist, no matter how silly they are.
The story leans heavily to H.G. Wells' and John Wyndham's kind of style. You know, the messing with science and the dearly cost of it. Behind all the excitement and adventure clear metaphoric lines can again be drawn to the then active times of cold war and the threat of using atomic energy the wrong way. Just see the final scene and you get the clearest example of that. In the sci-fi or horror genre this film is most likely a real minor work, but most entertaining one.
100 Rifles (1969)
Judging by the plot this movie shows up as a pretty typical action western of the late sixties with revolution stuff leaning strongly on the messages of counterculture and the Vietnam era. Mostly it seems to ride somewhere between 'The Professionals' and 'The Wild Bunch' for its mood and action. A strong link through the story can also be made to Damiano Damiani's 'A Bullet for the General', an excellent spaghetti western with some political overtones. In '100 Rifles' one can forget the politics and concentrate on action. This is a very violent western but still surprisingly low on gore. A bit like in those older westerns, a lot of shooting and stabbing and whatever without gushing copious amounts of fake blood. Maybe that suits better here. We have seen enough Peckinpah imitations already.
The film takes full advantage of Raquel Welch's well working sex appeal. The hot love scene between her and Jim Brown was considered controversial at the time the movie came out. Now it's just two people making love and Welch really enjoying her work or being corny, judge yourself. Brown makes a highly likable hero and Reynolds in his before super-stardom state of career is also good as a halfbreed bandit with the familiar glint in the eye. At times I got the feeling he was lightly making fun of Marlon Brando's Zapata. That may be, because I recently saw on DVD an old episode of Sonny and Cher Show in which he was successfully aping Brando's Kowalski from 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and was so funny. So, an okay action western but nothing revolutionary in spite of the story subject.
Across 110th Street (1972)
Boiling under and boiling over
Urban crime drama doesn't get much better and tighter than this. This is absolutely one of the best, if not the best crime movie from the seventies I have seen. And I have not seen too many of them done after that, which can pass the test of time quite as strongly. After having seen this one now several times it still hits hard every time and probably keeps doing it. The tension and drama is such, it does not let go easily.
It is also a crime movie with some social commentary. Some of the characters and situations are a little exaggerated of course, but that does not take anything away from the otherwise realistic mood and style. Presenting things from the view of the world of crime allows them to be seen culminated and be observed from the relationships of different people and groups starting to clash and finally boiling over to a state of war. Here it is 300.000 dollars of stolen mob money that gets everyone on their toes and against each other. It is a cynical view on who uses who, who gets the biggest part of the cake and survives at the end. The ways of the world squeezed into a metropolis underworld.
The director has used a lot of close low angle shots, hand-held camera and a minimum of lighting, which creates a very realistic look and an almost claustrophobic feeling of things and the whole city closing in on people. The viewer is either closed in too in the middle of the happening or variably blocked out to stay further by spectators, traffic etc. and both ways are adding heavily to drama and tension. Strong role works, specially from Quinn and Kotto add even more. Excellent!
Heavy Traffic (1973)
Crazy pinball life
Ralph Bakshi's Heavy Traffic almost manages to beat his earlier 'Fritz the Cat' with its downbeat, very dark urban look and outrageous humor about different sides of life. It combines animation of different techniques and real-life footage with snippets of pop art, comics, advertisements and classic old movies. The result is simply a firework of a film. The main character Michael gets to know some hard facts of life while pin-balling between crazy home life and even crazier city life. The takes on sex, religion, race issues etc. may partly be a little dated in their early 70's ways but some deeper points and especially the humor still works in a timeless way. Bakshi's handling of the rather short but winding story and his technical ability to create memorable adult animation deserves repeated viewings in my eyes.
La decima vittima (1965)
An enemy a day keeps the doctor away
A small masterpiece of the 60's pop art and science-fiction. The plot taken from a book by Robert Sheckley introduces a lethal reality show, simply kill or be killed. Caroline (Andress) and Marcello (Mastroianni) are both on the top of the game and the last survivors to face each other. But games can be played in many ways, even the killing ones. Before the last battle everything is possible, including romancing your worst enemy.
The cool game of cat and mouse takes us to a near future, where everything is set to satisfy the eye more than mind. Easy and fast. Sounds familiar? Pet toys, shopping and pop art designs to make one feel good. Relaxing service stations, stimulating injections and a semi-religious cult reaching for emotional experiences for those who need something more and can afford it. A very near future indeed. The playful movie is observing culture rather pessimistically under its light surface and kinky humor. The jokes are quite cynical on the other side and mostly hit the target. In this world and time comics are the classic literature and art. Marcello models himself through Stan Lee's classic comic hero Phantom and wears big dark glasses, which also cover some of his frustration and boredom. Caroline in her masks and disguises is tempting and dangerous like some fantasy heroin. Her inventive use of the shooting brassiere was successfully lifted to the first Austin Powers movie.
The film is visually great in a surprisingly minimal way. No overblown futuristic sets but real locations in wide angles and some very sixties fashion and set of objects. Equally great is the plot with funny twists and jokes. Andress and Mastroianni shine without having to try too much.
The Hanging Tree (1959)
Breathtaking western drama
The Gold Trail, Montana 1873. A tall man in black rides through a magnificent landscape and a wonderful mood sets in. In this film Cooper is a good doctor who helps a thief and a blinded girl. But he seems to carry a terrible burden that also makes him secretive and quick to use his physical power and burst into acts of violence. Gossip travels fast and makes people suspicious and easily judging, which soon erupts to trouble. Karl Malden as a scoundrel gold miner and George C. Scott in his small, but haunting film debut role as a fake religious "healer" try to make most of the tedious situation.
This is an amazing western with the most handsome natural scenery I've seen in any western from the fifties. The people are almost constantly set against the sky, mountains, woods and rivers making the movie an incredibly beautiful watching experience. The powerful photography of the nature and the settlers among it should really be seen on a big screen, but makes quite an impression on TV screen too. This landscape is "the America people came to look for", the place to hold and take advantage of but never fully won over. The doctor calls the town "an anthill that wind can blow away" and from his hut high on the hill above the town the people and the place are really seen like that. But what happens when a little success can lead to abuse and total madness? The film seems to say: Look what we have got here and what we are doing with it. A strong ecological message seems to hang behind all the feelings and deeds of the human drama. And those feelings and deeds aren't too tame either, but tend to charge the story with strong emotional power.
The film is loaded with intense acting and direction. The scenes are set on perfect locations for this kind of production. The film just seems to get better by every new viewing. This western speaks volumes about acts of civilization and use of freedom by setting somewhat civilized but still restless human nature in the middle of the earth's nature and occasionally against it . Definitely forth to see!
The Asphyx (1972)
Sir Hugo's little experiment
Stylishly filmed in TODD-AO-35 system this clever little horror film once again tells about certain dangers of an over-ambitious attempt to play God. A nineteenth century nobleman discovers by an accident the secret of human soul and immortality. Of course he can't help meddling with the subject and try to take full advantage of it. But when everything is not going according to plan the immortality can become quite a long time.
Somewhat over-acted in very theatrical style the film does have enough charm, good look and a decent story to overcome this. The plot borrows from the Frankenstein myth and several others but not so much it would bother me. Thanks to the great photography a smooth dreamlike feeling prevails covering the certain clumsiness in acting and special effects. Otherwise, those few things aside this is a good watchable movie and an entertaining morality play on ambition, love and guilt.
Premature Burial (1962)
Of all the great Roger Corman's movies based on Edgar Allan Poe's stories this one has maybe left in the shadow of those starring Vincent Price. In a way this one stays a little closer to the spirit of Poe, thanks to Ray Milland's well crafted and more serious acting style. He isn't as grand and hammy as Price and adds a bit more heavier drama in his portrayal of a perfect gentleman and a manically paranoid mind. And if you want to see Milland go for one better in a Corman film, see 'X -The Man with the X-Ray Eyes'.
Once again Corman has succeeded to make his film seem fancier and more expensive than it really was. I've always admired the production values in these films. In spite of repeating many of the same themes and tricks over again they always deliver fun and good value. The tight and atmospheric sets nicely express and support the sense of paranoia, madness and give a feeling of altered state of consciousness. Although, a kind of a comic book version of Poe it is, it does give me the same joy and occasional light creeps than the original stories. The theme of getting buried alive and the following madness is of course repeated many times during these films and stories. But as it is here the actual main theme and motive for the character, the treatment it gets is to my mind the most dramatic and probably the best.
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971)
Red dreams, axes and acid
A little different kind of a horror movie based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe and interestingly so. Much have been altered from the original short story, though. To be exact, not only is it based on Poe, but there is also a great deal of Gaston Leroux's 'Phantom of the Opera' mixed in as well. And to emphasize that matter Herbert Lom, who brilliantly did the phantom role in 1962 British Hammer version, handles a part here with a mask hiding his injured face. Jason Robards is also nice to see in this kind of film for a change after having enjoyed his work before in westerns and dramas.
The plot is set in nineteenth century Paris around a theater troop resembling the historic Grand Guignol theater and is similarly specialized on cruel natured horror plays. The certain theatricality follows everywhere the story takes us and stays in the actors even when they are not on stage. The streets are crowded with a carnival and merry-go-rounds. There is a puppet theater, tricks and hypnotism. Even the real murders are executed in most showy ways. The atmosphere has a dreamy, almost surrealistic quality. And the actual dream sequences (What's a Poe film without them?) are beautifully shot and tinted in red tones. Very beautiful and creepy all at the same.
For an American horror production the film has a surprisingly bright European art film look and feel. Instead of using wholly dramatic studio sets we are treated with daylight locations, streets and parks, which allows the movie breath a bit between the expected horrors. This production was a pleasant surprise from Gordon Hessler and American International and a refreshing addition to their line of earlier Poe films directed by Roger Corman.
The Enforcer (1951)
District attorney blues
In this tight and well made crime drama Bogart plays a district attorney with the same grip and conviction as he did earlier in numerous roles at the wrong side of the law. He duly demonstrates his usual witty tough guy image, but there is also much grace and warmth brought with age in his performance. This guy does not fool around. Everybody get just what their deserve and the job gets done, no matter what it takes. What makes these roles of Bogart so compelling is the way they project a certain strong image of the man without having to use much physical power over other people. Here he becomes once again an embodiment of a thinking man's tough guy. Notice in the final scene how he gives his orders and announcements from a music store, surrounded by saxophones, guitars and other instruments. It symbolically but clearly points to the ways he is capable of playing with people and circumstances and conduct the whole case towards the solution.
There is no monkey business in the movie either. The crime is presented as a well organized and business-likely lead incorporation for paid murders with even own undertakers on the gang's payroll. It's like a Dick Tracy story made as realistically as possible. An interesting group of criminals is created by a great cast, a pack of believable personalities. The plot moves swiftly through the showing of clear methods of the law enforcement with parts of the case getting unraveled by several flashbacks during the interrogations.
The style of photography successfully blends together almost documentary-like sharpness and traditional film noir aspects of heavy contrast and shadows. The darkness seems to hang above and around the criminals as well as the law men, the business being mutual in spite of the opposite sides. Moody and hard-boiled as ever the movie has no humor or romance and it generally avoids using the most obvious clichés of the classic crime movie genre.
Distant Drums (1951)
Mighty adventure booms
Great looking locations and color photography with daredevil action reigns over this boy's own adventure, the style Warner Brothers has always been very good at. The characters are mostly left undeveloped, except Cooper's group leader Zachary. His past is well documented by his friend, played by Arthur Hunnicut in his usual relaxed manner, and it's mostly his destiny we are to care about. It's notable how larger than life Cooper appears to be even on television screen. His characterization, which is a combination of a western hero and Tarzan, doesn't offer very much range in acting but makes it interesting enough for this kind of adventure flick. Mari Aldon gets dragged through all the dangerous and beautiful scenery without having her make-up smeared and sometimes completely steals my attention from what is going on around her. Her role doesn't have much else to offer either. But I guess, by what I just said, her role work serves its purpose the way it was intended.
Almost everything you expect from a jungle adventure set in Florida is here including alligators, snakes and wild cardboard Indians. A great plus are the beautifully shot underwater scenes, short but crystal clear, crowned by a final duel under surface. This isn't one of the best movies from the director Raoul Walsh, but as a classic adventure and action for a more empty-headed moment it works truly well.
The Trip (1967)
A Lovely Sort of Debris
Someone might have asked if this trip was really necessary, but the makers of the movie seem to have thought so. It would be fun to know what Jack Nicholson thinks now about writing the script for this. It would be even more fun to watch this movie now if Jack Nicholson had acted in it. From what I have read about the man's life, his own experiences with the named chemical had been some what ill fated prior to this. Voice of experience? Perhaps, with a hint of fun also.
And a fun movie it is, outdated gracefully. For once, a Roger Corman picture does look cheap unlike his other small budgeted ventures, where inventiveness usually covered the small amounts of money used in production. Still, enough interesting visuals are delivered. It was particularly nice to see a little more footage of the psychedelic mansion, that I had earlier seen featured in some promotional clips of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Just like the times, that house apparently doesn't exist anymore either.
Through the soundtrack of the movie a small but peculiar link to 'Easy Rider' popped up. The music in the scenes where Fonda is tripping about being chased by the mysterious riders etc. is also used shortly in 'Easy Rider' right after the graveyard acid trip scene, where Fonda and Hopper leave New Orleans. To my memory it's the only moment in 'Easy Rider' of ordinary background type of music being used. Now, this has probably been just a coincidence or an expense wise decision from the makers. But still I couldn't help thinking, could this in a way be the same guy who will later get killed on another trip with his dealer friend? Ah, go figure.
If The Trip was remade today, the chemical subject matter would no doubt be something more dangerous, the old lovely kaleidoscopic effects would be made with computer graphics. And in the end maybe a heavier penalty would be passed on the main character. Here the treatment is surprisingly mellow and even objectively contemplating. No heavy fear and loathing in San Francisco, not yet anyway. Viewed today, the cracking of the image on the final frame demanded by the censors only adds some more objectivity on the character. He's already hinted to cracking a bit from a crisis before he took the drug and the debris from it still remain. And there is nothing really obscene in the film. Not if the psychedelic love-making does not strike you as such. Oh, did I wake up your interest? Try this at home, kids. The movie, I mean.
Too Late the Hero (1970)
Ragged glory, if any
In this war movie two years after 'The Dirty Dozen' Robert Aldrich interferes in heroism a notch better than before. 'Too Late the Hero' has been left maybe too much in the shadow of 'The Dozen' and it is a pity, because it does seem much more cohesive and stronger picture. Filmed in the jungles of the Philippines it brings forward the harsh realities of warfare towards ordinary soldiers so heavily that it might have been Coppola's 'Apocalypse. Now.' and Oliver Stone's 'Platoon' which next time showed such madness as convincingly.
The restless and quarreling group of soldiers appear at first like an odd sports team in their military camp near the Japanese enemy. Returning patrols are forced to cross a large open field between the jungle and their camp and to become running targets for the enemy fire. Watching this seems like some twisted game or a mad sports event. The next mission to the jungle almost instantly turns into hell for a group of British and a yank. Thanks to the strong cast, Aldrich's direction and an astounding soundtrack one fully feels the heat, the jungle and the tension of the men caused by fear and fatigue. We are shown intensely what war can bring out in soldiers. The weariness of the reluctant group is increased even more by their pompous leader who disobeys original orders for his blind ambition and stupidity. And the continuing general pickering between the men instead of belonging doesn't help either. The final solution for any significant succession or benefit from the mission is set on two soldiers; Michael Caine as a jokey but sensible cockney and Cliff Robertson as the yank. While the enemy is closing in, their final run through the jungle and the field becomes a sort of "touchdown of a lifetime", literally.
Made during the era of Vietnam war this is one of the strongest films and statements about war in general that I have encountered for a long time. As the the Japanese officer states in the movie about "having to take desperate measures in war", we are not only made to see this but also very much to feel it. Take it as a film with a strong message or just a piece of merciless action, it delivers in every way.
The Desperate Hours (1955)
Terror comes to suburbia. Never a dull moment.
Humphrey Bogart's final take on a crook's role is his finest as such and in a way closes the circle that opened almost twenty years earlier as Duke Mantee in 'The Petrified Forest'. A rare opportunity for an actor to show his gathered experience and professionalism so vividly and a treat for viewers. Some doubts have always been made about him to be maybe too old for the role but I don't think so. All I see is great acting and a believable bad guy. He is smart and ruthless in his wheeling and dealing. He provokes and observes, loves to control the situations and the family. While trying to fix himself money to resume the escape his time of hiding starts to seem like a twisted analysis of what makes an ordinary family tick. A kind of family he has obviously never had and feels betrayed and angered about it. He does have a younger brother and a half-witted partner with him, but they do not connect except on the means of escaping the law. In the end I got a feeling that during the time spent in the house in his own way he has already got a small portion of the sort of freedom he always wished for. With that point of view the final fast close shot of his face is thought provoking. A flashing example on effects of Bogart's expressive face and little gestures of his that were able to make grand suggestions to the scenes.
March is almost equally impressive in his ways as a man running his family gently but firmly, a total opposite to Bogart's Griffin. He can also be equally menacing in defending his home specially in the last scenes. But his urge to use violence and brutality are strictly controlled by his care for his family. That love becomes his power as well as his weakness at handling the desperate incident. During the growing tension his role becomes something like a family man version of Jekyll and Hyde, of him being forced to adapt himself some aspects of his worst enemy to overcome the situation. Just watch March's and Bogart's expressions changing to and fro as they exchange threats. One can sense signs that in other circumstances the places could in fact change rather easily in their battle of wills.
Although it's the acting that most impresses me in this movie, the director's work must also be very much appreciated. Wyler has used the house and its two floors with setups, camera angles and lighting effectively to stage and express the power play and threat. The tension keeps growing up by building situation upon situation and it never lets go, even when we're elsewhere out of the house or seeing what the law enforcement is up to at the same time.
An excellent crime and hostage drama that hasn't lost none of its power in 52 years. A family unit as a representative of normal society colliding with outside terror is, after all, still a very active and contemporary subject.
Farewell, My Lovely (1975)
Iconic farewell seen through a private eye
If I can remember right, this was the first Chandler adaption I ever saw and not a bad film to start with. It must have been the look and mood of the film that first fancied me. The pictures of 1940's night time Los Angeles and Marlowe in his cheap hotel room look amazingly like those old pulp cover pictures suddenly coming to life. The colors look just right thanks to the skilled cinematographer John A. Alonzo.
Another thing which I appreciate now even more is how faithful the film stays to Raymond Chandler's book. The 1945 version, 'Murder, My Sweet' had to leave most of the seedier details out due to the censorship of the time, although it is still my favorite Marlowe picture. 'Farewell' has all the racial, drug or other issues along the way Chandler wrote them including a bit juicier dialog. That makes the story more realistic and gives a better view on the forties Los Angeles. So, what this adaption might loose to the older version in style, it certainly takes back in other ways.
Some see Robert Mitchum fit to the role of Marlowe mostly because of his status as an icon of classic crime movies. That may partly be, but there's no doubt that he is also just the right actor for the role, simple as that. A certain world weariness and frankness transmits through his portrayal of Marlowe in more relaxed tones than before by other actors. He may be a bit of a legendary detective but he is very much an ordinary human being too. I think Mitchum could deliver just the right amount of both sides. A certain offhand manner marks the whole production, which can make it seem flat and dragging to some, but does not bother me. The constant dry laconic humor underlines refreshingly much of the happenings. That is very much in good use during Marlowes continuing voice over. I just have a feeling we are seeing here things more clearly through Philip Marlowes tired but still sharp mind, through a private eye.
Across the Pacific (1942)
The ship is loaded with suspense, romance and propaganda
John Huston's farewell movie to Hollywood just before going to war is a happy example of a well made propaganda film. The propaganda does not overpower the story but let good entertainment handle its job. The plot is not necessarily one of the most original, but the excellent director and cast make most of it lifting it to a whole other level. We are talking about star power here that really works without waning with the passing of time. I guess they saw it as a some sort of a sequel to 'Maltese Falcon' with mostly the same cast, although the characters are totally different here. Well, Greenstreet is still the large bad man. But now it's Bogart who is doing most of the scheming and leading others to serve his purpose. Mary Astor is left to be a lovely sidekick to Bogart's secret agent Leland, and worry about his father. Huston had recruited Peter Lorre to appear shortly as a waitress in one scene only without telling the other actors. If his presence did end up in the final film, it must have totally escaped my attention.
The story is very much divided, the boat trip concentrating more on the romantic interlude of Bogart and Astor with very little suspense spicing things up. After that the spy business and action take a more significant part. Besides keeping the propaganda thankfully less preaching than many other films of this kind, it also doesn't try to take itself seriously at all. It shows that the group had a fun time doing their job and some of it transmits easily to the viewer. That is why the movie still works so well.