Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sullivan's Travels

Sullivan's Travels technically speaking is kind of a self-indulgent film given that its basically Preston Sturges tooting his own horn "aren't comedy films the best!". The film works, and I think it actually does a portrait of the plight of the common man a bit better than some of Frank Capra's films. Sturges knows how to do this without becoming too heavy handed yet he still manages to keep a lighter touch. Even though it successfully tugs at the heart, it's also pretty hilarious to boot, and is an early example of a Hollywood film actually poking fun at itself a bit.

Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire is just a lot of fun as a comedy. It's professors meets gangsters is a great set up and bolstered by some very enjoyable performances including Gary Cooper giving one of his most comfortable turns. The whole thing is just enjoyable and just is a great example of a screw ball comedy. What I really like is that the gangsters coming in does not make the comedy fade away since both Dana Andrews and Dan Duryea manage to be pretty funny while still being menacing. In addition the whole liar revealed part of the plot does not halt the story like it possibly could. It's just pure entertainment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein actually is quite pared down adaptation but in a good way. It breaks the story down to the pure emotions of the story quite effectively. This film has so many iconic elements its pretty extraordinary. The monster himself of course in terms of the outstanding makeup but also Karloff's performance. Dr. Frankenstein himself as well with Colin Clive's rather lively depiction of a mad scientist. Not to forget Dwight Frye's monstrous lab assistant, even if he's not named Igor. The film though goes beyond that through James Whale's impeccable direction that uses the camera so fluidly when so many directors just kind of pointed it in the most standard fashion possible. The atmosphere of the film is remarkable, and the art direction, particularly the windmill and the lab, is unforgettable. The horror element is always present, but the film actually is a rather poignant examination of tragic story of a creature that should never have been made.

Dracula (1931)

The film begins with a great atmospheric sequence as we follow a man into Dracula's dark castle. This sequence is masterfully handled, and we get the introduction to Bela Lugosi's deservedly iconic portrayal of the character. Then it seems like Tod Browning completely gave up, apparently he did, as the film becomes really stagy for the rest of its run time. The scenes are repetitive, blandly acted for the most part with a few ridiculous attempts at comedy thrown in. There's nothing remarkable about the rest of the film other than Lugosi whose work stays strong, though he actually is not in it all the much. The ending, which features an off screen death for Dracula, is particularly disappointing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Gunfighter

It should be said that this story would later be handled in a more impressive fashion by The Shootist, which was helped by having an additional element through the examination of an aging gunfighter through John Wayne's final performance. This film hits upon somewhat similar themes through the story of a gunfighter (Gregory Peck) who finds he's a target everywhere even while he's trying to become reacquainted with his family. Though it does not hit the heights of that later film it is well told through one of Peck's better performances, as well as creating the right sense of tension as one man is the target of all, not for revenge, but rather only for fame.

My Darling Clementine

My Darling Clementine tells the story of Wyatt Earp against the Clantons and probably takes the most liberties with the story. In this version he and Doc Holliday are not really friends, and the whole set, involving Old man Clanton, is considerably different than other versions. It is a good version though as a fairly straight forward, Sheriff cleaning up that town variation, but with enough of an addition involving Holliday to make something a bit special out it. Holliday in himself is a bit of a surprise altogether as Victor Mature gives a rather lively performance for once. Other than that aspect the story proceeds as you'd expect though in an effective fashion particularly in a rather well directed final shootout by John Ford.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Searchers

The Searchers is a film filled with some odd extremes. It has such a great central character with John Wayne giving an exceptional performance. Anything involving directly around Ethan's obsession, and personal search is outstanding. There are also a few side characters that are terrific when involved directly with Ethan such as Ward Bond's character and Henry Brandon's chief Scar though he only shares one real scene with Wayne. The rest of the supporting cast is not particularly good with some downright bad performances in there. There's too many distractions, particularly the romantic subplot, which takes away so much from the strength of Ethan's personal story. It goes back and forth from masterful to cookie cutter western scenes. I think the film is best summed up by its ending scenes. The final showdown with Chief Scar is underwhelming, as Ethan is not the focus, but you could not ask for a better final shot than the one in this film which is focused directly on him.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Ox-Bow Incident

A particularly modest western but I'd be hard pressed to name a more emotional moving film than this one. It tells its straight forward story in such vivid and engrossing detail, as it realizes so well the mob mentality that can lead men down such a horrible path. Despite its short run time it actually develops its character extremely well from the single minded heads of the lynch part, to the poor men who are accused of murder, to our hero, and even are hero's sidekick are so well realized. It's such a powerful film though as it does not compromise brutally showing the real cost of life when blood lust blinds.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Public Enemy

Though Public Enemy has a few of the problematic tendencies of older films it more than makes up for it's compelling portrait of a thug's descent into the criminal underground. What really makes it so remarkable are two elements. William Wellman's excellent direction that never holds back on depiction the sheer cruelty of the world, and just how unpleasant the life becomes. Wellman's portrayal of the deaths in the film is especially effective in just how uncompromising it all is, with the violence seeming so meaningless and random at times. The other factor being James Cagney who's one of the best actors of the thirties. Cagney's work as usual has this energetic quality that enlivens the film yet he also does not hold back in showing just how low his character really is.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Little Caesar

Little Caesar has one thing going for it, one big thing, played by a shorter man, that being Caesar himself. That's in large part due to Edward G. Robinson's great performance that manages to carry the character past any restrictions of the role and becomes larger than life while still bringing some very real vulnerabilities. The film does suffer a bit from a largely forgettable supporting cast, and the story around the central character never becomes all the compelling. It's most effective in the narrowest view which is that of the character study. It works because of Robinson and Mervyn LeRoy's direction which brings the needed edge to such a tale. 

Scarface (1932)

Scarface goes about trying to tell the story of an over the top gangster through some over the top violence which is only suppose to grander until its explosive finale. Well Howard Hawks's direction actually is a bit too timid at times, though Paul Muni is more than game for a bit of flamboyancy. Moment of it actually work really well when it does find just the right extreme moment or tone, like the ending, or when they go about knocking off Boris Karloff. Many scenes though are just a bit bland. Its uneven to be sure, but what's good is good. What's bad isn't too bad. 

The Untouchables

It's about as inaccurate as film gets, and in this case the true story is a lot more interesting. It has a very weak lead, and in fact none of the acting is particularly great. What it does have though is a great score, by Ennio Morricone, and the action scenes are pretty incredible. Each one has such a visceral sting especially the epic shoot out at the train station. It's really film that gets away with itself mainly by just how good those action scenes are since the story and characters backing it are nothing notable.

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight takes the super hero genre dead seriously not by trying to make high flying super heroes believable, but rather taking Batman even more down to earth by putting him into a crime thriller. As a crime thriller it is superb in not only creating some thrilling action scenes it develops a surprisingly emotional story behind it. The film I feel earns is extra plot line at the end as it is the necessary crux to carry the thematic weight of the story. Oh yeah plus it has one of the great villain turns of all time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity does have a few flaws through the supporting cast mainly Frank Sinatra's very underwhelming performance as Maggio, as well as Donna Reed's performance which I don't think is terrible though doesn't give the character the life you want. I've also never found the romance between the Sergeant and the Captain's wife extraordinary at least in terms of chemistry between Kerr and Lancaster despite both of them giving fine performance. Nevertheless it really does not hinder the film much. Even if there are few performances that underwhelm there are some great ones that make up for it. The rest of  the supporting cast is quite strong even in minor roles like Jack Warden and especially Ernest Borgnine. Than there is Montgomery Clift's great performance that actually manages to make up for Sinatra and Reed even when they seem a bit lacking. Sinatra did not make me care about Maggio, but Clift managed to make me to. In addition Fred Zinnemann's direction is outstanding. He creates such a vivid atmosphere of the base and the whole life of the soldier. He even manages to make certain elements, far more special than they would have been otherwise. That kiss on the beach for example does make the romance kinda unforgettable. It's not a flawless film, but its a great one.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

East of Eden

East of Eden focuses in on only one phase of the novel. Whether or not a book purist would find this to be a good translation of the book does not matter, it makes for a good adaptation, and a compelling film. James Dean and Raymond Massey could not be better in creating the disjointed father/son relationship that's the basis of the film's main conflict as Cal tries to find himself through rejecting his father while trying to approach his prostitute mother. Elia Kazan direction is very strong as he wonderfully creates the atmosphere of America on the verge of the war through his soft rendering of the time, though with darker hues woven into the fabric. He also captures the melodrama of the story beautifully well by keeping a low key tone for most the film allowing for the more emotional moments to have palatable impact without becoming overwrought.


The original theatrical cut is perhaps the greatest film of all time. That's saying quite something given the majority of films about composers were as about as stuff as films get. It managed to modernize the tale, while not relying on any cheap trick to do so. Everything works on all cylinders. The production design, the costumes, the cinematography are all impeccable. The acting is outstanding housing the greatest leading turn ever given, if you ask me. What's so marvelous is how brilliantly it masters its tone. The creative process has never felt more vivid or beautiful. The use of Mozart's music is absolutely masterful, creating what is the greatest film score of all time, as every moment is so perfectly chosen it is astonishing. It is not a film with just one great scene. Every scene is great. It is a genuinely hilarious film, but equally heartbreaking. It never falters in this regard making such a great expression of life, while being a harrowing examination of the loss of it. You won't find a better film, and as for the director's cut, that was unnecessary because as Mozart said in the film you can't improve on something that's already perfect. 

Gentleman's Agreement

Gentleman's Agreement is terrible example, and basically hits the check marks for just how bad a message movie can be. It could not be more self-righteous in its stance as a great deal of the movie's run time is devoted to Gregory Peck giving people indignant looks after they are anti-Semitic. The film itself plays that so thickly that it comes off ridiculous. It even breaks the idea of the whole Gentleman's Agreement, a hidden antisemitism, since they are so clearly so on the surface to begin with. The dialogue is outright atrocious at times as it basically preaches at you, or goes over the basics of the problem in a spoon fed fashion. Then of course there's the love story between two leads with no chemistry, which is horribly juxtaposed with the main plot in a way that falls flat on its face. The film does nothing for its message, because it is nothing as a film. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Black Dakotas

A potentially interesting concept but told in a rather bland fashion. The whole film is excessively standard and bland right down to the acting for the most part. The dark nature of the story had potential but the film shirks that to make an extremely run of the mill western.

Harry and Tonto

Harry and Tonto is best as showcase for Art Carney's great performance which deservedly won his Oscar. The film itself is decent in that it positions Harry in numerous emotional moments basically, honestly it all could have fallen apart but Carney keeps it all together with his honest performance. Every moment feels earned through Carney's work as he makes Harry a real man, despite the fact that he could have easily been a caricature in the wrong hands. The film is dated squarely in the seventies, particularly in some of the stops, especially one involving a prostitute. Even with that it the film works because Carney is so good.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Oh God!

The film story is actually beyond thin, as it really fails to get into any details whatsoever. Basically just has a guy see God then, people try to discredit him, then courtroom with a Heavenly guest then the end. Seems like there was perhaps more originally, what is Donald Pleasence doing there anyway? It's really not helped that John Denver really is a pretty terrible actor, just keeping the same golly gee expression the whole time. Nevertheless George Burns is enjoyable enough to watch that he makes the film more than watchable.

Rio Grande

For a film that was made just so John Ford could make his passion project, The Quiet Man, its not bad, in fact its quite good. It features the duo from that later film, and once again Wayne and O'Hara have strong chemistry as they realize both the conflict and love between their characters so well in each film. Ford himself really thrives with the Calvary pictures that devote time to the individual men. You always really get a sense of the relationships and interplay just within the camps. I have to honestly say the action is often the least interesting parts of these films. It works best just so well realizing the interactions and atmosphere of the military camp.


Warlock is a rather intriguing deconstruction of the standard western story of the professional "hero" coming into town and saving the day. As it proposes the idea of, what really happens if they don't leave, and just how honorable is a man who kills for a living. These are examined in an interesting fashion, bolstered by fine performance from Richard Widmark, Anthony Quinn and Henry Fonda. It seems like there is potential for perhaps an even greater film with the given material, but as it is it remains a good one.

Johnny Tremain

I have to admit I'm a big sucker for any film about the American Revolution possibly because there are so few of them. This one is pretty corny for the most, particularly the Sons of Liberty breaking out into song after the Boston tea party. Nevertheless I'll admit I get caught up into the story with Johnny running into various pivotal moments in the beginnings of the war. None of the performances are particularly good, its very standard Disney Live Action in every way imaginable, but I have to admit I like it.

The Girl Can't Help It

An oddly forgotten screwball comedy. Tom Ewell makes for an endearing lead as an unscrupulous press agent who must promote a mob mistress played Jayne Mansfield. Now where this leads is pretty predictable, and Mansfield isn't exactly Marilyn Monroe. That does not matter much because it is executed well, and does have a few surprises through the very funny supporting turns by Edmond O'Brien as a mob boss, and Henry Jones as his flunky. Not only that where O'Brien's character goes is not where one might expect. It's a fun, rather underrated film.

Snow Trail

Snow Trail is not directed by Akira Kurosawa but his influence can be felt through the screenplay. It's a well told thriller, with as one would expect from Kurosawa, has a strong emotional bent in the journey of three bank robbers attempt to escape the law. Senkichi Taniguchi's work as director should not be undervalued as he keeps the tension and creates the snowy atmosphere of the mountains very effectively. Then you have a strong central performances by Takashi Shimura, as a conflicted robber, and Toshiro Mifune going far beyond the call of his part in one of his earlier roles. It's a hidden gem, and feels like a lost Kurosawa/Shimura/Mifune film.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The film almost wholly relies just on Danny Kaye's comedic timing, for the film that basically throws him into one slapstick sequence after another. Kaye is in good form here and it earns enough laughs from this during its running time for it to be declared a success. Plus it has Boris Karloff as a villain, which is never a bad thing.

Road To Morocco

The first Road picture and possibly the best, I've only seen one other one. This one works though with its rather casual approach to basically being a film, and does have some very funny moments particularly when Hope mentions the reason for retelling the plot was for the people who came in late. I do think a problem lies in Crosby's smug performance. Hope on the other hand is pretty entertaining though his shtick can get old sometimes, it works here. The plot does not matter its all about the fun wacky, sometimes meta, humor, and there's certainly enough of it to be found here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bend Of The River

Although after I watched The Naked Spur, the villain in this film is not up to snuff with Robert Ryan's turn. Luckily there's Stewart once again being a strong lead, and the story itself is quite effective in creating a sense of personal  isolation for Stewart's character as everyone around him becomes more duplicitous than originally thought. It turns into a taught thriller by the end, and again Mann's importantly keeps a rougher edge in his version of the west. 

The Man From Laramie

The weakest Mann/Stewart western I've seen though its still pretty good. Stewart just makes for a compelling lead, and Mann manages to be very good at creating the hard bitten world of his west. The main fault in the film is the way the villain realizes itself as the interactions between the characters are far more interesting, and the conclusion is unfortunately realized by a certain simplification.

The Dam Busters

Damn good. Alright that's a horrible pun. The film must be said is very good. It's first half manages to make coming up with a special rolling bomb actually compelling. Then its transition is fairly smooth and effective into some strong sequences involving the actual dispatching of the dams. It also always importantly keeps the emotional element alive, and the final conversation between Todd and Redgrave is particularly powerful.

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

It's not a bad film. It has some funny moments with Robert Morley being particularly enjoyable in his role. The problem is though is that here's a film that could have used a bit more style as it is oddly matter of fact in its depiction of a serial killer focusing on chefs. It seems like there would probably been room for some interesting visuals regarding food with that premise, but the film is directed in a workmanlike fashion.

The Pumpkin Eater

I found the film not to be particularly engaging as it went about having stream of consciousness like approach to the story of a woman dealing with her husband's infidelities. The scenes are both simply yet ramble on often with some odd, surely stylistic, choices like a long focus on James Mason's mouth. I really don't mind an excess style, I do love me some David Lynch after all, but here I felt it failed to make a captivating film though it certainly tried.


Django is a great example to be used to show just what makes Sergio Leone's westerns so special and honestly what made Clint Eastwood such a good lead. It tackles very similair subject matter, like Fistful of Dollars its also an adaptation of Yojimbo, but just does not do in a nearly as entertaining or artful of a fashion. Nero's better here than when he tries English on for size, but he's still does not make for a great western hero. I don't think the film's bad though, its a good Spaghetti western, not a great one. I do love the song though.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

It seems to be the curse of the musical, non-animated that is, that it will be too long. That's the case here, but not to as much of a degree as many musicals. Not every song is great, but enough of them are good for the film to get by. Plus unlike many musicals it actually works when songs are not being and song as it is actually quite entertaining in just its realization of the path of one man, enjoyably played by Robert Morse, using every trick in a literal book to get to the top.


Kihachi Okamoto proves himself to be quite visually compelling filmmaker with Kill! which is his own adaptation of the same material on which Kurosawa's material was based. It's pretty fascinating to see another take on the material, since its also manages to make a strong film while never really feeling like its following the same beats as Sanjuro. This is helped in part by the change of two protagonists one a hapless farmer desiring to be a samurai, and a samurai not wishing to be one. The samurai being played very charismatic fashion by Tatsuya Nakadai who played the villain in the previous adaptation. It also has a comic tone like Sanjuro, though I'd say a bit darker in tone, than that later film, and wholly makes it work being a very engaging thriller while being quite funny. Kill! is proof that in the right hands there's nothing wrong with a remake. 


Night Of The Iguana

John Huston proves a pretty good fit for Tennessee Williams's material in this case as he keeps the material from becoming to melodramatic while in no way limiting the characters. The cast is more than decent, thanks especially due to Ava Gardner giving perhaps her best performance, though there are few moments where Richard Burton falls upon his usual yelling routine, but thankfully it does not overwhelm his character in this case. In addition Huston actually manages to relieve the film of almost any memory of the stage by realizing a real sense of place for the story.

The Last Hurrah

Interesting to see John Ford to take on a much smaller scale story. Ford acquits himself actually rather well with the more limited scope as does Spencer Tracy in one of his better performances. The film itself I feel though never quite gets into the real grit of the politics, since the stances of Tracy's character never are given that much detail, though it seems as though the film is going for basically a bi-partisan approach. Nevertheless it works in more of the broad strokes as a depiction of a larger than life politician who takes on all comers, with a decent performance to back it up.

Cop Land

It's got a great concept to follow, but it ends up as only being a good film. It never feels like it bothers to fully develop the ideas around the institution of the town, and I don't feel it makes a great use of much of its cast. It actually works best away from that interesting though underused concept and instead just in the emotional journey of Stallone's character who is stuck in a world of indifference.