Monday, September 15, 2014

1961 - THE QUEEN'S GUARDS, for Michael Powell completeists

I doubt Martin Scorcese who is a big fan of the director Michael Powell will be spending a lot of time preserving this very mediocre picture.  The Queen's Guards is a film that so drips with the English spirit it's a cliche of everything British.

The film focuses on an English army officer who is a member of an elite unit responsible for guarding the homes (!) of the Queen of England.  The film follows this officer, from his time in training, through a British incursion into a North African county and concludes with him presiding over an unending ceremony featuring an unending parade of men dressed up as toy soldiers for some dull as dishwater royal review.

The actor Daniel Massey who played Noel Coward in Star plays the officer in the guards.  He comes off as a real simp running around with his umbrella and bowler hat and affecting that stiff upper lip character that every American thinks the British are born with.

It's hard to believe that a director like Michael Powell, who usually made interesting and unique films about England and English life could get involved in such a cliche ridden mess like this.   Many of Powell's other films examined the British character with a lot more subtlety than this sloppy patriotic crap.  This is an England that probably never existed except in the fantasy world of film.

110 minutes.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

1957 - HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON, World War II drama from John Huston.

This could have been one icky film.  On remote Pacific Ocean island during World War II, a marine meets up with a nun who has been left behind during the Japanese invasion of that island.  Robert Mitchum is the marine in all his manliness.  Deborah Kerr is the nun who looks pretty good even completely covered in her habit.

Even though the film was shot in the 1950's there was still plenty of room for some subtle lascivious moments.  However the director John Huston and his writer John Lee Mahin were a couple of pros who knew how to navigate around any potential tastelessness.

The acting is very good.  Robert Mitchum was an actor with a strong presence who was known to put down the acting profession with such statements as "Look, I have two kinds of acting. One on a horse and one off a horse. That's it." gave a very good performance as the marine.  Deborah Kerr, was an English actor who was usually cast as some kind of upper class Anglo lady.  However Kerr was always game to take on challenging roles.  Mitchum payed her the ultimate complement by stating that she was the only leading lady he worked with that he didn't also sleep with.

The film was directed by old school filmmaker John Huston who kept the whole thing interesting and very entertaining.

106 minutes.

1972 - LA CABINA or The Phone Booth

A man is trapped in a phone booth which is the entire plot for this unique short film from Spain.

La Cabina, reminds of a Luis Bunuel film.  Lots of surreal touches, comedy and some horror.  The film is probably some kind of allegory for Spanish society but since I don't as rule like allegories very much, this can just be enjoyed as a very entertaining short film.

Considering that the viewer has to watch a film that is essentially an actor confined in one space for about 30 minutes this is a well directed little piece of cinema.

La Cabina can be found on youtube  here.

36 minutes.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

1984 - JUMPING , Tezuka Osamu's 13 Experimental Films

1931 - THE SEAS BENEATH - early John Ford Navy film

This early John Ford film doesn't have a lot of his special visual touches, it's mostly a straight up adventure story.  During World War 1 the US Navy deploys "mystery ships," essentially decoy ships used to lure German submarines out into the open so the Navy could engage and sink them. 

Ford and his favorite 1930's writer Dudey Nichols created a story about one of these ships that had a lot of Ford's favorite themes, the profession of arms, cornball navy humor and a stolid hero. The hero in this case is George O'Brien, an early version of the character John Wayne starting playing for Ford somewhat regularly in the 1940's through the 1960's. 

The Informer, Ford's breakthrough sound film is still 4 years away.  This film seems more like a straight up 30's adventure film filmed by a studio director.  However the film is impressive for the amount of on location photography that was incorporated into the story.  There are some exciting action scenes towards the end of the film that were actually filmed at sea with a battle between the "mystery ship" and the German submarine. 

This is a decent 30's action film with the usual somewhat poor film acting.  Directors and actors were still trying to figure out how to modulate their performances in early sound films.  Visually the scenes at sea are staged pretty well, the scenes on shore with the actors are somewhat an ordeal to sit through.  A good early 30's action film.

90 minutes

Friday, September 5, 2014

1987 - THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, an early HBO film

The Quick and the Dead is an early HBO film and by early I mean that no women were required to walk around topless which is the current HBO policy regarding their films.

For a western which was mostly a dead genre at this point this film isn't that bad.  It has a good cast, Tom Conti, Sam Elliott, Matt Clark and Kate Capshaw (Mrs Spielberg).  The action is decent, the story is interesting and the film is short and doesn't push it's luck with a lot of padded out exposition and violence.

Probably the main standout of the film is the photography by Dick Bush who usually worked with wild man director Ken Russell.  The film was shot in Arizona in some scenic locations. 

Nothing special here but the acting is decent and this is a pleasant reminder of the virtues of a good western.

90 minutes.

1952 - THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, is certainly one of the longest.

Clocking in at over 2 hours this Cecil B. DeMille corn fest finally wears out it's welcome towards the last 20 or 30 minutes of the film.  For all the subplots and characters in the film, the story has a "seen it all before" quality and seen it made a lot better by other people.

The cast is certainly unusual.  The insufferable Betty Hutton is the female lead who manages to fall in love with 2 men.  If there was one thing that Betty Hutton could never project as an actor that was sex appeal.  If you needed a loud mouthed overbearing and clueless personality Hutton was the one to cast.  Cornel Wilde is the trapeze artist who is a continental European Lothario in the best tradition of "B" movie screen lovers. His French accent is really terrible.  Charlton Heston is the brooding circus manager.  Heston wants to bring the circus to all the small towns of America but he is so intense and scary in his performance he would make an audience want to run to one of those new fangled outdoor drive in 50's movie theaters instead.  In the supporting cast is one of the 50's hottest actors Gloria Grahame who nobody seems to hit on much.  I guess when you have Betty Hutton around why would you want Gloria Grahame.  Finally there is James Stewart playing "Buttons a clown."

After what seems like hours and hours of circus parades and clown antics the film climaxes in a spectacular train wreck sequence.  The sequence would have been even more spectauloar if the train didn't look like some model train that was fimed in some kid's  hobby corner.  DeMille always made epic films with less than epic special effects.

A big disappointment from Cecil B. DeMille, but the film made a lot of money by 1950's standards.

152 minutes