Saturday, February 23, 2013
This is a well made adventure film that is also a character study. It's a top of the line production from Robert Wise. The photography by Joe MacDonald is impeccable, the acting with the exception of non actor Candice Bergen is of a high caliber. The screenplay from the playwright Robert Anderson, has been carefully worked out. The Sand Pebbles is also a very long film.
If the film was a Robert Wise production that was usually a sign of quality. Wise had started at RKO as and editor and worked his way up the studio. He had an editing credit on Citizen Kane and had directed some good films like The Set-Up, The Body Snatchers, The Haunting and The Day The Earth Stood Still. Wise was know for preparing and directing his films with careful attention to all aspects of the film's production.
Wise really hit the jackpot in 1965 with The Sound of Music which in someways was kind of his undoing since he never achieved that large commercial success during the remainder of his career. The Sand Pebbles was the film Wise actually wanted to make before The Sound of Music, but the preproduction of this film was so long and difficult that Wise used his downtime to film The Sound of Music instead.
I don't know exactly what to say about The Sand Pebbles. The film is set on an American gunboat patroling the Yangtze river in the 1920's. The purpose of these river patrols were to protect American interests in China. Since the film was made during the Vietnam War and Robert Wise was a good Hollywood liberal, there are some minor criticisms of the United States involvement in Asia that are clearly a reference to Vietnam.
The Sand Pebbles is essentially a film from the well crafted "they don't make them like this" school of film making.
182 minutes (I think) the roadshow version was 196 (whew).
As a large scale remake of The Lone Ranger prepares to rear it's ugly head this summer, it's time to have a look at the first attempt to bring the old radio serial and television show western back to life.
The Legend of the Lone Ranger was directed by a notable cinematographer, William A Fraker and photographed by Laszlo Kovacs another famous cinematographer. It was filmed on location at various western location which included Monument Valley. This film was an attempt to resurrect the famous character and the western film in general. This film is very bad.
The decision to cast unknown actors in the lead roles was not a good idea, they do not deliver. Klinton Spillsbury was so hopeless that his voice was completely redubbed. The female lead Juanin Clay apparently didn't have much of a career either.
Another odd film making choice was Fraker and Kovac's decision to shoot the film with lots of diffusion to give it and old fashioned look. This makes the film look like it's out of focus for most of the running time.
John Ford is a few years off from entering his best period in film making. Dr. Bull is I believe his first collaboration with Will Rogers.
Dr. Bull is a comedy/drama about a doctor up against small town narrow mindedness and capitalism, but this is film is a very minor indictment of those themes. Will Rogers is Dr. Bull and Ford does a pretty good job of keeping his "as shucks Goober persona" under control.
This is a minor but not uninteresting film made on a relatively small budget during the depression. There are not a lot of visual flourishes in the film but for an early sound film it's pretty easy to watch and is short.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic American novel of the Jazz age that a person can actually read and enjoy for a change. The films based on the novel have been a compete mess. The 1974 film was faithful to the novel but really boring. The current adaptation that is being prepared by ADD director Baz Luhrmann was scheduled for release in 2012 but has been pushed out to 2013, not a good sign. Let's take a look at the 1949 version.
Faced with translating Fitzgerald's prose about the lives of the rich and wanna be rich, Paramount proceeded to spell out just about every plot point that Fitzgerald had cleverly and subtly written into the story. At the same time this adaptation kept just enough of the essence of the book to make it kind of an interesting film.
Everything about this production is a little strange. One of the screenwriters was Richard Maibaum (also the producer) who was associated with the James Bond series. The director Elliott Nugent was more of a comedy director who had been worked with James Thurber and Bob Hope.
Odd casting choices run throughout the film. Alan Ladd was a Paramount star who was known for playing tough guy gangsters and private eyes. Paramount proceeded to play up this aspect of the Gatsby character by really emphasizing Gatsby's past as a bootlegger complete with Ladd wearing a trench coat. Ladd even punches a guy out at one point, something Fitzgerald could not have been to happy about. Actually Alan Ladd is pretty good as Jay Gatsby. As Gatsby's lover and object of desire, Betty Field was cast. Field was a fine intelligent actor but hardly the ethereal, beautiful and shallow Daisy Buchanan of the book the woman was just no looker.
You can see the heavy hand of the censors running throughout this film. They want everything spelled out and nice tidy conclusions at the climax. They even ordered up a happy ending for Nick Carraway and his girlfriend Jordan Baker, showing them married at the end of the film which completely contradicts the melancholic ending of the book.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
For a little bit of context, Some Girls Do was filmed at Pinewood studios at the same time as On Her Majesties Secret Service.
Was the first Bulldog Drummond film, Deadlier Than the Male such a success that audiences demanded a sequel?
The plot is about evil Carl Peterson attempting to destroy the first SST. Peterson was played by Nigel Green and killed by Drummond in the first film but apparently brought back to life and recast as a goof ball for this film. The film also brings back the sexy female assassin bit as well with Daliah Lavi and her chest in the Elke Sommer role and Beba Loncar as the ditsy blonde killer previously played by Sylva Koscina.
Some Girls Do is basically a film about girls. How many girls can the director Ralph Thomas get into really short skirts or swimsuits or cleavage enhancing costumes? What actually happened to these young women anyway, do they proudly point to Some Girls Do as a career high point for them when they are babysitting their grandchildren.
What a piece of romantic crap. The director Claude Lelouch had a big hit with A Man and a Woman so going back to the well again he came up with this slop about a crusading French journalist who has an affair with an American model.
To make the film look hip and contemporary for the 1960's Lelouch shot a lot of it with a hand held camera and did he ever shot it with a hand held camera. This thing is so jittery that is guaranteed to make a viewer seasick just sitting though it.
Live for Life was made during the United States involvement in the Vietnam War which the French were highly critical of. This is part of the subtext of the film and is kind of offensive in what is a basically a sloppy cornball love story with absolutely no weight to it.
The black and white photography in The Longest Day looks pretty spectacular in this upgraded Blu Ray disc. The film itself is starting to look pretty ragged.
Overall creative control was in the hands of Daryl F. Zanuck who had left 20th Century Fox and was now an independent producer. Zanuck wanted to emphasize the actual story of the D-Day Invasion however he decided to stick as many known early 1960's actors as he could find into this film. Seen today most people probably wouldn't know who they are. The exception is John Wayne who sticks out like a very sore thumb. It's like he wandered in from the set of The Comancheroes still playing a Texas Ranger.
It's a little unfair to criticize a film like this for it's lack of explicit violence, however the fighting is pretty sanitized and the seasick soldiers coming off of their landing craft were hardly charging up the beaches. Still the film does do a good job laying out the invasion plan and many of the vignettes are true.
The large scale battle sequences with "the cast of thousands" are still impressive and the aerial helicopter shots are particularly outstanding.
Back to the crap. Dolph Lundgren is a tough Houston cop on the trail of a gang of drug dealers. Little does he know that one of these dealers is actually an alien from outer space using people as a source of his illegal alien drug supply. As is typical with these types of films, Dolph is teamed up with a nerdy FBI agent to hunt down the evil alien drug dealer. So what we have here is The Terminator crossed with 48 Hours.
I Come in Peace is a Craig R. Bakley film. Who is Craig R. Bakley? Apparently a veteran stunt coordinator and 2nd unit director so there are lots of explosions and car chases which are fairly well done.
For as stupid as this plot is, I've seen worse.
If the plot of Liliom seems familiar it's because the story of an irredeemable wife beater (based on a play by Molnar) was also the same source material for Rogers and Hammerstein's musical Carousel. Guess which version is better.
The director Fritz Lang who specialized in thrillers about criminal masterminds would have seemed the wrong choice for a film like this but he had experience with fantasy subjects with films like Die Nibelungen and The Weary Death.
Charles Boyer who usually played some sort of continental playboy is the low life carnival barker and he has to make a completely unsympathetic character interesting. Even when he dies and goes to heaven he still doesn't seem much interested in reforming faced with the prospect of eternal damnation.
The film's best sequence, Liliom's ascension to heaven was apparently singled out as a distraction from the plot because of the elaborate special effects that Lang used. Watching it now this seems like an almost ridiculous criticism, the sequence is well done and actually quite restrained.
A good film and not a boring butt busting musical number to be found during the running time.
Monday, February 4, 2013
Darryl F. Zanuck wanted to do for the Pearl Harbor attack what he had done with The Longest Day, dramatize a true life war story on a large scale. This attempt fell short for a number of reasons.
Zanuck had originally hoped to have Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa film the Japanese sequences and integrate them with footage filmed by an American director. For various reasons Kurosawa did not get along with the American producers assigned by Zanuck and 20th Century Fox was unwilling to give Kurosawa the complete artistic control he was used to. In the end Zanuck settled for studio director Richard Fleischer to finish the project. The end result was a film with a lot of talking heads and one large scale battle sequence
Dramatically if you are an American the film is kind of a bummer to watch. The events leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack make the United States military look like a bunch of incompetent boobs considering the intelligence they had before the attack. This hardly makes the film your typical inspirational war epic.
Tora Tora Tora is at times kind of pedestrian and somewhat incompetent film making considering the huge budget the film had. Most notably the white subtitles on white backgrounds make the subtitles for the Japanese sequences impossible to read much less understand.
The large scale battle sequence at the end is impressive since Tora Tora Tora was filmed before the dawn of computer image effects. Obviously the battleships are models but the airplane sequences are the real deal with the actual planes flying low and lots of stuff blowing up.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
One of the many, many, many James Bond spy movie clones from the 1960's. Deadlier Than the Male stars Richard Johnson who was actually considered for the role of James Bond as Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond. Drummond is an insurance investigator up against your typical Goldfinger type criminal mastermind played by Nigel Green who specialized in these kind of roles.
As is expected for this kind of spy film, Green has employed only beautiful women in his organization who he trains as deadly assassins. Two of these killers are 60's babes Elke Sommer and Sylvia Koscina. They play a couple of campy but hot looking bikini clad killers. Green also has a fortress where he has a large scale chess set that he and his opponents move around by remote control this is actually pretty cool.
The first time I saw this film, I thought it was a pretty lame ripoff of a Bond film. Well it's still a pretty lame ripoff of a Bond film, but it is an entertaining ripoff of a Bond film. The film has some good fight sequences and you can see why someone thought Richard Johnson would make a good James Bond.
Frankly all the cheesecake girl stuff is a little silly but now there is a certain charm to it. The whole idea that evil criminal masterminds could even find a small army of beautiful female assassins is kind of ridiculous in itself. But that was what was expected in these spy spoof films.
|I had to post a picture of them.|
Directed by competent British hack Ralph Thomas who apparently would shoot any kind of film. The guy had no shame.
One of the better Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers slapstick films. Peter Sellers plays an Indian actor making a Gunga Din type of film. Sellers is in brown makeup and his character is offensive but he is good at it, he was always a great mimic. Sellers gets invited to a big Hollywood party at a producer's home, and the usual slapstick comedic stuff happens in a Blake Edwards film.
This film was apparently largely improvised with the director of photography Lucien Ballard simultaneously videotaping and shooting The Party on film so they could decide on set what was working and what wasn't.
The Party also starts a French performer named Claudine Longet. Longet was married to Andy Williams and he usually had her on his television show where she would sing some sort of melancholy ballad looking doe eyed and very bummed out. She made a mess out of her life after she divorced Williams The perfect French waif.
Anyway, if you like slapstick The Party isn't too bad, and some of it is actually funny for a Blake Edwards film. Henry Mancini wrote the score.