Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I am painfully aware of, and grimly resigned to, the fact that many of those among my friends and heavily Teutonic extended family are reflexive Francophobes.  But I would urge even those who are, and especially those who are not, if they are any true lovers of the cinema, to tune in to Turner Classic Movies this month for the second installment of their excellent new Friday Night Spotlight series, starting at 8:00 PM ET.  They’re featuring the work of François Truffaut, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic who spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) as the writer-director of The 400 Blows (1959) and the co-writer of the dreaded Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

TCM is showing all but two of the 21 features Truffaut directed, and if you do yourself a favor by dipping liberally into his oeuvre, you may find it more diverse than expected.  That’s the experience I had several years ago when frantically attending as much as I could of the comprehensive “Tout Truffaut” festival at New York’s Film Forum (which now won’t even deign to send me a printed schedule, and thus will no longer receive my longtime financial support, but that’s another rant).  Twenty-one features is a sadly small number for such a giant talent, and bespeaks both his criminally short life—he died at 52—and his productivity, averaging almost a film a year through Confidentially Yours (1983).

By way of encouragement, I’m taking the unusual step of enumerating TCM’s entire Truffaut schedule, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to editorialize on every film, I hope it will at least give you some idea of his impressive range.

They kick off on 7/5 with back-to-back showings of his semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, in which we watch Jean-Pierre Léaud age 20 years as his alter ego.  Succeeding The 400 Blows are Antoine and Colette (a short that represents Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology film Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968, my personal favorite among his work), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979, both a continuation and a recap of the series, inspired by a marathon showing of the prior entries).  These are followed by the lesser-known but fascinating The Green Room (1978, inexplicably retitled The Vanishing Fiancee), a Henry James adaptation and one of several films in which Truffaut also acts, in which capacity he is best known to American audiences for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

On 7/12, they focus on Truffaut’s noir adaptations, most notably those of Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish):  The Bride Wore Black (1968), featuring Jeanne Moreau and a score by Hitchcock mainstay Bernard Herrmann, and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo (feh) and Catherine Deneuve, which—like the steamy Banderas/Jolie remake, Original Sin (2001)—was based on Waltz into Darkness.  In between they’re showing his swan song, Confidentially Yours, a black-and-white homage to Hitchcockian romantic thrillers, based on a book by Charles Williams; it stars Fanny Ardant, who gave birth to Truffaut’s daughter Joséphine about a year before he died, and French legend Jean-Louis Trintignant (’nuff said).  Topping it off are Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), a black comedy from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? author Henry Farrell, and his sophomore feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which has celebrated signer Charles Aznavour in the title role and did double duty during last month’s Friday Night Spotlight segment devoted to noir author David Goodis.

TCM provides a mixed bag on 7/19, starting off with The Soft Skin (1964), a tale of adultery featuring Deneuve’s ill-fated elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, and two adaptations of books by Henri-Pierre Roché, both about romantic triangles:  Jules and Jim (1962), starring Oskar Werner and Moreau, and Two English Girls (1971), also with Léaud.  Next is a real rarity, A Story of Water (1961), a short co-directed with Godard, whose work—excepting Alphaville (1965)—I normally loathe; I have yet to see that or the next offering, The Woman Next Door (1981), with Gérard Depardieu and Ardant as dangerously obsessive lovers.  Finally, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) is one of my least favorite Truffaut films, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the reflected shame of the head-scratching eponymous 1983 Blake Edwards/Burt Reynolds/Julie Andrews/Kim Basinger remake.

Ending on a generally high note, 7/26 opens with Day for Night (1973), Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking itself, in which he really stretches his range by playing a director, joined by Jacqueline Bisset and Léaud.  I’ve been slow to warm up to The Last Metro (1980), a tale of refugees and the Resistance during the Nazi occupation that stars Deneuve and Depardieu, but I loved The Wild Child (1970), the true story of a late-18th-century doctor (Truffaut) who tries to educate a boy raised by wolves.  As a perfect capstone, Isabelle Adjani—so luminous in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)—impressively portrays the mental deterioration of Victor Hugo’s daughter in The Story of Adele H (1975)…which, oddly, is not the only film in which we see Adjani go spectacularly mad, e.g., Possession (1981).

The two films not being shown are, fortuitously, both in the Bradley Video Library:  Fahrenheit 451 (1966), his love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of the late Ray Bradbury’s classic SF novel, featuring Werner, Julie Christie in a dual role, and another Herrmann score, and Small Change (1976), a largely improvised composite character study of the children in a small French town, played by non-actors, which is better than it sounds (at least to me).  Meanwhile, inspired by this outpouring of Truffaut-Amour, I’m doing something long overdue, dusting off some of the tapes I made when TCM devoted a similarly thorough marathon to Akira Kurosawa to honor his centennial back in 2010.  In this, at least, Madame BOF is my eager co-pilot, and we’ve already traveled back to the beginnings of his directorial career with The Most Beautiful (1944) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945); on deck at the moment are my first viewings of Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), plus One Wonderful Sunday (1947).

Addendum:  Film Forum did finally send me a printed schedule.  “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…”

Bradley out.

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Cat Scratch Fever

What I’ve Been Watching: Track of the Cat (1954).

Who’s Responsible: William A. Wellman (director), A.I. Bezzerides (screenplay), Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright, and Diana Lynn (stars).

Why I Watched It: Mitchum.

Seen It Before? No, thank God.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 1.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 2.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 2.

And? I thought I might have seen this one before, but I realize now that I was mixing it up with Mitchum’s later Home from the Hill (1960)—in which he appeared with a young George Hamilton, rather than a young Tab Hunter here—because if I’d seen this before, it would have been burned into my memory. Of course, it does Wellman no favors that Encore Westerns squeezed his CinemaScope opus into a pan-and-scan format, but I still expect more from the director whose credits include the winner of the de facto first Best Picture Oscar for Wings (1927). And while I can’t speak for Walter Van Tilburg Clark, on whose work this was based (ditto Wellman’s 1943 classic The Ox-Bow Incident), I do know Bezzerides as the author and/or a screenwriter of Bogart faves They Drive by Night (1940) and Action in the North Atlantic (1943), plus the immortal Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

How do I hate this film? Let me count the ways. Start with the supremely dysfunctional family at its heart. The patriarch (Philip Tonge), if you want to call him that, serves no useful purpose whatsoever, doing nothing but drink and bloviate, so it’s no surprise that the true head of the family has become son Curt (Mitchum), who lords it over brothers Arthur (William Hopper) and Harold (Hunter) and sister Grace (Wright), abetted by the sanctimonious Ma (Beulah Bondi). Remember what a horrible old bat the “alternate-universe” Bondi was in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)? Now imagine that squinty-eyed performance stretched out over an entire film. Art endures with sarcasm as his shield, while Hal spends most of the movie walking around with an expression on his face that I can only describe as looking like he’s just been sodomized, hoping to achieve manhood.

Hal, you see, wants to strike out on his own, claiming his share of the family fortune and getting hitched to Gwen Williams (Lynn), currently the world’s least comfortable house guest at the Bridges ranch, which is ostensibly located near Aspen c. 1897, but I’ll turn in my BOF credentials if it isn’t firmly planted on a soundstage. The exteriors were shot on Mount Rainier, Washington, and according to Wikipedia, “Mitchum regarded shooting in the deep snow and cold as the worst filming conditions he had ever experienced”; no big surprise to the viewer, since his character is relentlessly obnoxious. Skulking around the edges of this train-wreck clan to complete the eight-person cast is an apparently mystical Indian, Joe Sam, a kind of eminence rouge played by Carl Switzer (yes, Alfalfa, about as far from IAWL as you can get), unrecognizable—so why cast him?—in old-age makeup.

The “cat”-alyst (forgive me) for change in this long-stagnant household is the threat to its cattle by the titular panther, the subject of the worst of the film’s numbingly repetitious dialogue. If you played a drinking game in which everybody took a shot each time they talked about what a nice blanket the pelt would make, or the various scenarios dependent on the color of its fur, the entire audience would be dead of alcohol poisoning before the end of the first reel. Arthur being the most normal offspring, he is of course killed off by the unseen cat in a shockingly amateurish scene, leaving Mitchum (whose own interest in Lynn is implied as subtly as this film ever gets) to emote to himself on his solo quest for revenge, which turns into a poor man’s “To Build a Fire,” and as the rest of the Bridges Bunch frets over his lengthy absence, things take their inevitable course; you do the math.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Three Days of the Condor (1975).

Who’s Responsible: Sydney Pollack (director), Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and David Rayfiel (screenwriters), Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, and Cliff Robertson (stars).

Why I Watched It: I like to revisit it periodically.

Seen It Before? Yes, several times.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 8.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 2.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 7.

And? Joe Turner (Redford) is a mild-mannered CIA analyst who returns from buying lunch for his colleagues at the Manhattan brownstone housing their front, the American Literary Historical Society, only to find that they have been brutally gunned down during his brief absence. For years, I have argued that those who considered Redford too much of a pretty boy to be taken seriously as an actor would do well to study his reactions here, as they escalate from shock and horror to fear for his own life and the grim determination that he is not going to be next. This sequence is a tour de force in many ways, but for me at least, the film falls into the unusual trap of never living up to those first twenty minutes.

Turner’s job is to read omnivorously, sifting through novels and articles and feeding them into a computer in search of security leaks or new ideas, and he has recently run across a mystery novel with a very curious publication history. It’s now clear that his dismissed report struck a nerve somewhere in Langley, having unwittingly uncovered something worth wiping out the ALHS, and Turner—code-named Condor—is instantly suspicious when he speaks with Deputy Director Higgins (Robertson). These suspicions are in no way allayed when his last surviving colleague, who called in sick, is killed in his home, and an attempt to bring Condor in from the cold, via a rendezvous with his section chief and an old friend, goes south in the worst way, with Turner framed for his friend’s death.

A lethal game of cat and mouse ensues as Turner, unable to trust anyone he knows, forces himself into the company of a total stranger, Kathy Hale (Dunaway), first to take refuge in her home and then, as they establish a gradual rapport, to enlist her active assistance. The very fact that Turner is an analyst rather than a field agent gives him an unexpected advantage, both because of the arcane knowledge he has assimilated over the years and because his status as an amateur makes his moves unpredictable. With Kathy’s help, he moves back and forth between New York and Washington, D.C., as he tries to get to the bottom of the mystery and avoid getting killed by Joubert (the great Max Von Sydow), a freelance assassin and sometime Company employee who oversaw the hit on the ALHS.

Although I have qualified admiration for this film, I damn it with faint praise by saying that it’s my favorite among the seven that Redford made with Pollack, ranging from the classic Out of Africa (1985) to the soporific Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and the unbearable The Way We Were (1973). If you said that their joint filmography did not augur well for a spy thriller, you’d be right, and my primary objection to the opening sequence is that the main-title theme by Dave Grusin (a lightweight if ever there was one) is too upbeat for the mayhem to follow. Likewise, by the time he shot Condor, Owen Roizman was already the cinematic poet laureate of ’70s New York for The French Connection (1971) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), yet this Manhattan lacks their edge.

It’s interesting to note that the screenplay tries to amp up the tension by halving the time-frame in James Grady’s 1974 source novel, Six Days of the Condor, and the filmmakers were clearly going for a Hitchcock vibe with that whole “an innocent man running for his life must earn the trust, and the heart, of a random woman” thing. But sadly, my lifelong antipathy for Dunaway—whose films such as The Three and Four Musketeers (1973 and 1974), Chinatown (1974), and Network (1976) I loved in spite of, rather than because of, her—blinds me to any chemistry they might have achieved. By the way, I wrote my very first press release for Grady’s 1985 novel Hard Bargains, and he was very kind to a wet-behind-the-ears publicity assistant at his first real job (at Macmillan) in the big, bad city.

Overall, I found the film a little too slick for its gritty subject matter, which is perhaps not surprising coming from impresario Dino De Laurentiis, but Von Sydow predictably tries to make the most of his limited role, and I suppose that Robertson, who always seemed a little sketchy to me, is well cast as a guy who may or may not be trustworthy, interacting nicely with boss John Houseman. This is certainly one of the better efforts from Semple, whose work oscillated from the height of the superior political thriller The Parallax View (1974) to the depths of Flash Gordon (1980) and Never Say Never Again (1983); Rayfiel worked on the Elmore Leonard adaptation Valdez Is Coming (1971). Someday, I’ll have to compare this with Grady’s book and check out his 1978 sequel, Shadow of the Condor.

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What I’ve Been Watching: Kansas Pacific (1953).

Who’s Responsible: Ray Nazarro (director), Dan Ullman (screenwriter), Sterling Hayden, Eve Miller, and Barton MacLane (stars).

Why I Watched It: Hayden.

Seen It Before? No.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 6.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 4.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 7.

And? If you were going to make a Western in 1953, as Allied Artists did here, you could do a whole lot worse than entrust it to Nazarro and Ullman. The former directed scores of oaters on the large and small screens between 1945 and 1960, while the latter’s rather more diverse output also encompassed such SF offerings as The Maze (1953), BOF fave Mysterious Island (1961), and episodes of such genre series as The Outer Limits (“Cold Hands, Warm Heart”). As often noted, I watch Westerns less omnivorously, so I need a hook like a particular star or filmmaker, but we need look no further than General Jack D. Ripper himself, Sterling Hayden, who would star in Nazarro’s Top Gun two years later.

Just before the Civil War, “Bleeding Kansas” is still torn apart by pro- and anti-slavery factions, while the newly formed Confederacy is keenly aware that the Kansas Pacific Railroad now under construction will form a vital supply line for the Union’s Western outposts. Neither side wants to be responsible for starting a shooting war, so the Union declines to send troops to protect the crews, while the Confederates do everything they can—short of killing, at first—to stop them. Into this powderkeg is thrust Captain John Nelson (Hayden), an Army engineer sent undercover to help boss Cal Bruce (MacLane), his daughter, Barbara (Miller), and his train engineer pal, Smokestack (Harry Shannon).

Since the true nature of Nelson’s mission is on a need-to-know basis, the Bruces are, not surprisingly, under the misimpression that he is there to take Cal’s job, and they almost head back East, but Smokestack persuades them that with war imminent, this is no time to turn quitters. MacLane—whom I first saw as the abrasive cop Dundy in The Maltese Falcon (1941)—played so many pills in his career, and played them so well, that when I saw how prominently he was billed, I assumed he would be the villain, and I was thrilled that he got to be a good guy for a change. In fact, one of this film’s greatest pleasures is seeing him slowly begin to trust Nelson…albeit faster than love-interest Barbara, natch!

In a nice touch, when Nelson first gets to town, he sees Bill Quantrill (Reed Hadley) get attacked by three ruffians who want to run him out of town; gentleman that he is, Nelson steps in to even the odds, unaware that he’s assisting the incognito leader of the very men opposing him. In an economical 73 minutes, Ullman skillfully sketches the escalation of the hostilities between the two sides; the growing camaraderie between Nelson and the railroad crew; and his rapport with the Bruces. Smokestack adds an acceptable level of comic relief, annoying Cal with his omnipresent pipe, and several familiar faces round out the cast, including James Griffith and villains Douglas Fowley and Myron Healey.

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A while back, Daddy BOF invited me to write a guest post for his blog, and though I graciously accepted the challenge, I had an extremely difficult time coming up with a topic. What could I, with half as many years of experience as he has, add to this blog that my movie buff father could not say better and with more nuanced accuracy?  After months (literally) of pondering this issue, I was suddenly struck with inspiration thanks to our outing to see Prometheus a few weeks ago. What better perspective could I bring to a film that my father cannot than that of being a female viewer? With many discussions on this very topic with my father already under my belt, I felt confident that I could bring something to the table. 


So, with all that in mind, here is the first entry of my wild and crazy thoughts about movies through the eyes of a female viewer. In honor of my Prometheus inspiration and because it is probably the easiest genre through which to introduce my point, I have decided to begin the discussion with action films. Take from this what you will, and I welcome any and all productive discussion on the topic.  Just be nice to me; it’s my first time blogging ever!


Hugs and kisses, Alexandra


Part I: Where Alexandra explains the source of the problem


As the years go by and my understanding of the world around me rapidly develops, I am becoming more and more of a feminist.  And for those of you who still think that means that I am using The SCUM Manifesto [immortalized in I Shot Andy Warhol —BOF] as my “bible,” let me clarify that I call myself a feminist because I am an advocate for equality and social change, not a raging lunatic.


Anyway, with this developing mindset, I have had a hard time reconciling my values with my deep affection for horror, sci-fi, and even (the few good) action films to which my excellent father introduced me.  You see, it’s very hard as a woman to watch a classic horror flick and leave feeling your value is any greater than a pair of breasts posed to be torn into by some weirdo’s knife, or to watch an action movie where you’re not seducing somebody (or being seduced by them), or to watch any of these films where you’re the one saving the day and not being saved by the big handsome man. 


Are there exceptions to this problem?  Oh, most certainly yes. As a matter of fact, Daddy BOF and I have had many a conversation about the various kick-ass female characters of recent years, and he was very surprised to learn that his normally “let’s go women!” daughter did not automatically fall in love with any film that featured a female protagonist, even if she was a seemingly rocking chick. The problem is, unfortunately, that most of the exceptions aren’t much better than the rule.


“But why?!?!  Why, oh, why is Tomb Raider not going to be totally up your alley?” he asked, far less dramatically in real life.


Well, the response to that question is surprisingly difficult to put into words.  However, I strongly believe that the root of these differences can be traced back to something as simple as why the character was created to be a female. 


In the Lara Croft/Wonder Woman/Charlie’s Angels/Catwoman category, the characters’ problems lie not in their being written by men, but in their being written for men, and mainly fan-boys at that. Just taking one look at any of these characters (go ahead, look up a picture or two) tells me a lot of what I need to know. Sporting the skimpiest costumes or the tightest bodysuits ever made, these women race around the world fighting crime or whatever they do without so much as a stray hair (a real one, not that very-well-planned one they used for Angelina Jolie) or a smear of their eye liner. Everything about them drips with sexuality, and the fact that they are running around beating up on bad guys is just another way to make their sex appeal bounce up another level. And considering they are not written to be women we can look up to or who do amazing things or who have any kind of true strength to them or even a real personality, you can forget about it if you expect them to look like real women.


Now, don’t get me wrong:  I have nothing against the existence of these movies and characters per se. You gentlemen don’t get a complete monopoly on enjoying fun, frivolous, and/or adrenaline-boosting flicks, nor do you have one on appreciating how sexy fill in female action star’s name here looks in that oh-so-revealing outfit.  My point is merely to explain why I’m not going to herald Angelina Jolie as the next role model for our young girls (or any females, for that matter) to look up to for setting the standards of how to be a strong woman.


“So what is the alternative?” you ask.  Well, I happen to have one very specific example in mind.  You see, there are a few action ladies out there for whom I have an immense amount of respect, and I cannot think of a better example than the character I consider the greatest female badass of all time: Ellen Ripley.


But you’ll have to wait to find out why….


Tune in next time to find out more about why Alien rocks my socks in Part II: Why Ellen Ripley is the cat’s pajamas, and other stories.

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Comme d’habitude, Turner Classic Movies will salute—pun intended—the sacrifice and bravery of our fighting men and women with its annual 48-hour Memorial Day weekend war-movie marathon, but this year, without even consulting me, they have scheduled six of my favorite films ever (not just war movies, mind you, but movies in general, as demonstrated by the fact that together they constitute 6% of the B100), back to back, for more than sixteen hours of World War II wonderment on Monday. Personally, I can think of no better way to spend the day, but I’ll be remembering in my own way with a visit to Alexandra in Washington, D.C., in the company of the two Mrs. Bradleys; luckily, I own all of these movies, and am already half-way through a pre-emptive strike with The Guns of Navarone. For those of you lucky enough to kick back with a big bucket of KFC and some TCM, here’s a handy-dandy viewing guide, with newly expanded versions of my B100 reviews, and as I look over this list, I guess it says something about me that almost none of these is a traditional flag-waver (Navarone probably comes closest)…but isn’t making you stop and think about war what Memorial Day is all about?

  • Where Eagles Dare (11:45 AM): Quite simply The Greatest Movie Ever Made. Okay, I’m kidding, but it is my personal favorite. Only Alistair MacLean could have concocted this complex tale of triple agents, centering on a commando mission ostensibly to rescue an American general, who knows the details of the D-Day invasion plans, from an inaccessible Bavarian chateau! (I’ve always loved my war movies tinged with espionage, and when he was on his game—which wasn’t always—MacLean was unmatched at that.) Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood (in perhaps his only true second-banana role, for which he reportedly requested less dialogue), and the ill-fated Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them! Only Ferdy Mayne (The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Vampire Lovers), Anton Diffring (The Man Who Could Cheat Death), Donald Houston (reunited with Burton from The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains! Only Brian G. Hutton could direct the exciting action scenes, including the famous cable-car fight! Only Ron Goodwin could compose the rousing, unforgettable score; I even have the soundtrack album on both LP and CD! I also have a first edition of the novel (based on MacLean’s script, but published before the film was released, resulting in decades of chicken-vs.-egg confusion), and even the spot-on Mad magazine parody, “Where Vultures Fare.”
  • The Guns of Navarone (2:30 PM): Immortalized by the very youthful Alexandra as Guns Forever Known. Considering the subsequent and steady decline of director/boozer J. Lee Thompson’s career (e.g., the staggeringly inept Messenger of Death), this is astonishingly good, the first of the MacLean adaptations and one of those that holds up the best. It was, I believe, also the first of the big-budget, star-studded WW II films that were as much rousing adventure as searing drama (like, say, The Bridge on the the River Kwai), and I also think of it as a prototype for the specialized-manly-men-on-a-mission tales like Richard Brooks’s Western The Professionals. Stalwart Gregory Peck, formidable Anthony Quinn, and dubious David Niven join Irene Papas and commandos Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, and James Darren on the usual impossible mission on a German-held Greek island during WWII. Not many action films make me mist up, but this one has a beautifully reflective coda, featuring the softer side of Dimitri Tiomkin’s majestic score, that gets me every time. Despite being directed by Guy (Goldfinger) Hamilton, the belated sequel, Force 10 from Navarone (with Robert Shaw and Edward Fox highly unlikely in the Peck and Niven roles, plus Harrison Ford and The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Barbara Bach), is vastly inferior, I’m sorry to say, so stick with the original.
  • The Dirty Dozen (5:15 PM): Robert Aldrich directed this unconventional and influential war movie, based on E.M. Nathanson’s fine novel. Lee Marvin has the unenviable task of trying to forge twelve convicts into a viable fighting unit for a suicide mission in occupied France on the eve of D-Day. The superb cast is full of up-and-coming stars, and includes Donald Sutherland (“Never heard of it”), Charles Bronson (the only member of both The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven), Telly Savalas (unforgettable as the psychotic Maggott), Jim Brown (MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra), John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby), and Clint Walker among the dozen, plus Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly), and Richard Jaeckel. Aldrich’s trademark genre-subverting style is in full force here, especially with the Last Supper homage, as he makes us root for these misanthropic misfits, and yet, as in The Wild Bunch, these criminals have their own sometimes admirable code of honor.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (8:00 PM): No offense to Lawrence of Arabia, but I think this is David Lean’s greatest film. It swept the major Oscars (obviously excepting Best Actress) and deserved all of them. William Holden and Oscar-winner Alec Guinness are at their stellar best as, respectively, an American who leads a demolition team back to the Japanese POW camp from which he’s just escaped, and the British colonel who wages a war of wills with the commandant (Oscar nominee Sessue Hayakawa) and ends up taking too much pride in the bridge his men are building. Originally omitted from the credits in favor of Pierre Boulle (author of Planet of the Apes, oddly enough), who wrote the novel, blacklisted screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman (The Guns of Navarone) received posthumous Oscars in 1984. The ending is somewhat different from Boulle’s but, not surprisingly, more cinematic. Holden has always been one of my favorites, especially here and in The Wild Bunch, and the ferocity with which he delivers his unforgettable speech to Jack Hawkins (“You and Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman—how to die by the rules—when the only important thing is how to live like a human being!”) still gives me a frisson. With James Donald (Quatermass and the Pit, The Great Escape), Hammer mainstay André Morell, and superb music by Malcolm Arnold (who seemed to quote it in every other damn picture he scored!).
  • The Great Escape (11:00 PM): Turafish considers this The Greatest Movie Ever Made. I won’t go that far, but it’s right up there. Director John Sturges, composer Elmer Bernstein, and cast members Steve McQueen (who, typically, demanded that his part be beefed up to include the famous motorcycle chase), Bronson, and James Coburn are reunited from The Magnificent Seven for this true story co-scripted by James Clavell. During World War II, the Germans decide to place all of their rotten eggs in one basket by herding their most troublesome prisoners into a single camp. Naturally, this leads to a legendary, albeit only partly successful, mass breakout led by “Big X” (Richard Attenborough). The theme song is unforgettable and the cast (also including James Garner, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Gordon Jackson) is unparalleled. Not everyone would probably consider this a war movie, since the cast spends most of its time in a POW camp rather than in combat, but the point is made that by forcing the Germans to devote time and manpower to trying to round up the escapees, they’re keeping them away from the front lines. Besides, for many, being a prisoner of war is part of being a soldier, which is something we would do well to remember on this of all days. “Two hundred and fifty? You’re crazy—you, too.”
  • Kelly’s Heroes (2:00 AM): Eastwood was reunited with Where Eagles Dare director Hutton for this humorous caper film with a World War II setting and a Vietnam-era sensibility, filmed in Yugoslavia, where they still had lots of vintage military hardware available (future director John Landis was a young PA on the film). The members of Clint’s platoon have been getting the short end of the stick since they hit the beach at Omaha, so when they learn of a fortune in Nazi gold kept in a bank behind enemy lines in occupied France, they decide to do a little extracurricular activity (a plot borrowed for the Gulf War film Three Kings). With a stellar cast (Savalas, Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor), excellent dialogue courtesy of the late Troy Kennedy Martin, an outstanding score by Lalo Schifrin, and a Leone/Wild Bunch parody. Along with The Dirty Dozen, this is clearly the most cynical of our little sextet, yet the cost of war is not ignored (I’m thinking in particular of the poignant aftermath of the minefield sequence, which always chokes me up), while those who enjoy slam-bang battle scenes will not be disappointed, and overall it makes some keen observations about the regular joes at the sharp end of war. Relax and enjoy.

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Night Moves

What I’ve Been Watching: Into the Night (1985).

Who’s Responsible: John Landis (director), Ron Koslow (screenwriter), Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Richard Farnsworth (stars).

Why I Watched It: Underdog favorite.

Seen It Before? Many times.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 10.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 5.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 8.

And? I periodically revisit Trading Places (1983) and Coming to America (1988) as a reminder that both Landis and Eddie Murphy once made excellent (and successful, which is not the same thing) movies; this was among the mixed bag of projects Landis worked on in between those hits. It was his first feature after the debacle of Twilight Zone—The Movie (1983), which may have contributed to what I believe was its commercial failure. Right from Ira Newborn’s main-title theme—sung by B.B. King, whose spirited rendition of “In the Midnight Hour” over the closing credits brackets the movie—this has a funky, bluesy vibe aptly suited to its offbeat, underused leading man, whom I’ve always loved.

Ed Okin (Goldblum) has a boring job in the aerospace industry and chronic insomnia—even before learning that his wife is cheating on him—which he offsets with late-night visits to the airport. During one such visit, a screaming woman, Diana (Pfeiffer), lands on the hood of his car, fleeing the four Iranian thugs who have just killed her companion, and after she climbs inside, Ed sensibly beats a hasty retreat. This sets in motion a series of chases and confrontations that need not be enumerated in specific detail but display the Hitchcockian devices of an ordinary guy whose life is threatened when he is caught up in extraordinary events and an obligatory MacGuffin: six priceless and smuggled emeralds.

Aptly, Landis gives himself a non-English-speaking role as one of the thugs, but also, in the spirit of ’80s excess, casts an amazing number of fellow filmmakers in parts ranging from cameos to full-fledged supporting roles. These include Jack Arnold, Rick Baker, Paul Bartel, David Cronenberg (who directed Goldblum in The Fly), Jonathan Demme, the dreaded Carl Gottlieb (who, per Richard Matheson, ruined his script for Jaws 3-D), Jim Henson, Lawrence Kasdan (who directed Goldblum in The Big Chill), Paul Mazursky, Daniel Petrie, Waldo Salt, Don Siegel, and Roger Vadim. Ed and Diana also encounter David Bowie, Irene Papas, Carl Perkins (in his only film), and various federal agents, many of whom manage to wipe one another out by the film’s sanguinary climax.

The other vein the story taps into is The Maltese Falcon, because the dialogue repeatedly implies that, like Dashiell Hammett’s Brigid O’Shaugnessy, Diana is a femme fatale who will bed and manipulate any man who can be of use to her, with Ed ready to follow in the fatal footsteps of his predecessor at the airport. But Pfeiffer, in one of her earliest leading roles, is luminous and loopy and endearing enough that we’re relieved, if not surprised, to find out that she’s a bit better than that. She spends much of the movie trying to contact a friend and possible Sugar Daddy with the improbable name of Jack Caper (the ever-great Farnsworth), from whom she is now being blocked by his greedy wife, Joan (Vera Miles).

It’s a mystery to me why this film didn’t do better, and when Madame BOF watched the second half with me the other night after we finished an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (her new favorite viewing ritual), she agreed with me. I hadn’t seen it for a while, after watching it repeatedly as cinematic comfort food back in the day, but it held up as well as ever; Goldblum’s non sequiturs are hilarious, and Pfeiffer is utterly disarming in moments like the stray shot of her apparently inserting her diaphragm (?!). The film also contains one of my all-time favorite lines when Ed asks Fed Clu Gulager, “Are we under arrest, or what?,” and he gruffly responds, “I’d say you fall into the ‘or what’ category.”

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On Saturday, we went to our other favorite city, New York, for dinner with our good friends Dan and Marie Scapperotti (he late of Cinefantastique and Femme Fatales fame) and the Roundabout revival of the seminal “angry young man” play, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. This is the first time I’ve caught any of Osborne’s work onstage, although I’d seen the screen adaptations of both that and The Entertainer made by Woodfall Productions, the company Osborne formed with Liam Neeson’s father-in-law, Tony Richardson, who had directed both plays. The films teamed Richardson and Osborne—who later scripted Tom Jones (1963) for Woodfall—with future Bond producer Harry Saltzman, co-scenarist Nigel Kneale, and crack cinematographer Oswald Morris.

The 1959 film of Anger reunited Richardson with Mary Ure, who had created the role of Alison Porter in London and earned a Tony nomination when she played it on Broadway, also matching Richard Burton with Ure and Claire Bloom, his respective leading ladies in Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). Osborne left his wife for Ure, who then divorced him to marry frequent co-star Robert Shaw, who then cheated on her with his secretary; Ure’s unhappy life ended in 1975, at 42, with an overdose of alcohol and barbiturates. Because the play kicked off British “kitchen sink” realism—e.g., Woodfall’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and A Taste of Honey (1961)—I was hungry for the full impact of seeing it live.

The play relentlessly dramatizes the emotional wounds inflicted upon one another by Alison; her trumpet-playing husband, Jimmy; their flatmate, Cliff, with whom Jimmy runs a candy store; and her actress friend, Helena. It’s grueling (we later learned that a friend from our church choir had walked out of the matinee with his wife that very day!), but the cast—especially Matthew Rhys, who as Jimmy resembled and at times seemed to be channeling fellow Welshman Burton—was electrifying and the staging brilliant. The set was only about four feet deep; as an actor, I’d be in constant terror of falling off, yet it evoked the claustrophobic flat where one could scarcely move without touching another person, visualizing what Cliff calls “a very narrow strip of plain hell.”

Addendum: Remember my repeated threats—er, promises—that my contributions to Marvel University would continue to increase? Well, I’m making good on those by taking the point (i.e., providing the synopses and primary analysis) on one of my all-time favorite strips, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., which at its peak reached unsurpassed brilliance under writer/artist Jim Steranko. So check out today’s post, as the strip debuts alongside the equally classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Dr. Strange in Strange Tales #135, and in the immortal words of Agent Jasper Sitwell, “Don’t Yield—back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”

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Tailor Made

I had a lot of good food when the two Mrs. Bradleys and I visited my daughter in Washington, D.C., over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, where our whirlwind itinerary—with which the senior Mrs. B was hard pressed to keep up!—included the Washington, Lincoln, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and MLK monuments, plus one building of the National Gallery. Some of said food was prepared by Alexandra herself, at the apartment Madame BOF found for her and boyfriend Thomas on Connecticut Avenue, with which they’ve done wonders during their relatively brief time there so far, and where she finally introduced the Moms to one of her favorite films, Moulin Rouge! But the best meal I had was a delicious helping of crow called Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I’ve long called the 1979 miniseries based on John le Carré’s novel one of the best adaptations of anything, anywhere, ever, inspiring me to read the book, one of my Top 10, and most of his other adventures of “incongruous spy” George Smiley. I’ve watched Alec Guinness as Smiley in both the miniseries and its 1982 sequel, Smiley’s People, countless times, and despite running times of more than five hours apiece, I found them utterly riveting, to say nothing of flawlessly capturing le Carré’s characters and plots. So when I heard that this satisfyingly complex Cold War thriller was being boiled down into a two-hour feature—even one starring the formidable Gary Oldman and directed by Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson, of Let the Right One In fame—I was utterly aghast.

But then I heard about some of the other casting (John Hurt as Smiley’s erstwhile boss, Control, and Colin Firth as Bill Haydon), and I got a little encouraged, and then I read some of those rave reviews, and I started to wonder if they could really pull it off. So, is it as good or as rich as the miniseries? No. Does Oldman incarnate Smiley-as-flesh the way Guinness did, so successfully that le Carré said he could no longer write him without seeing Guinness in his mind? No. Did a superb cast and crew—including Oldman—bring to life a script (by a couple of which the wife, sadly, died before its release) that manages to distill the essence of le Carré’s epic of espionage, in the process creating a breathtakingly excellent film that is top-notch on all levels? Hell yeah.

Here’s the set-up: Control sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest to meet a Hungarian defector who will reveal the identity of a mole, or double agent, in the highest echelon of British intelligence (aka the Circus). The suspects are Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Haydon, and Control’s right-hand man, Smiley. When the report comes in that Prideaux has been shot dead, Control and Smiley are tossed out in favor of Alleline’s gang of four, but after Control dies and AWOL Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) resurfaces with a story about a mole, the reluctant Smiley is brought out of retirement by bureaucrat Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), who oversees the Circus, to pick up the trail where Control left off.

Smiley recruits Tarr’s boss, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), a protégé of George’s whom the Alleline regime had shunted off to a backwater division called the Scalphunters, and Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a retired Special Branch man he’d met on an earlier case. He calls upon the memories of similarly disfavored Circus vets Jerry Westerby (Stephen Graham)—an amalgam of the eponymous character and le Carré’s Sam Collins—and research expert Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke) to help him sift through the facts and lies. Among the casualties of the shorter format are George’s serial-adulterer wife, Ann (Katrina Vasilieva), and nemesis, Karla, neither of whom we see in full, although in general, the screenwriters preserve that which is most essential to the tale.

Those in our party who had seen the miniseries felt that the film might actually appeal more to viewers already familiar with the story, who would appreciate the foreshadowings and nuances, but of course it’s impossible for us to see it through virgin eyes. And, aside from the inevitable compression, it was interesting to see the choices they made, with this version depicting or even creating some things the original did not; I only noticed two notable instances of stuff that I don’t remember from either the book or the miniseries, but won’t reveal them here. As with the show, there were many unfamiliar names and/or faces in the cast, though I recognized Jones as the guy who played Arnim Zola in Captain America, mostly because he looks like a Jack Kirby creation!

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Thirty Little Indians

Thinking—as we often do—of our friend Maria Towers, Madame BOF and I recently unwound after a hectic evening with the 1965 version of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, produced by Maria’s late husband, Harry Alan Towers. Next to the Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee, this was Harry’s most durable property, which he remade in 1974, and again in 1989. Variously published as Ten Little Niggers and And Then There Were None, the title under which it was first adapted by René Clair in 1945, this ingeniously constructed 1939 whodunit is essentially bullet-proof, so that if you have a decent script (supplied in this case by Harry, under his Peter Welbeck nom d’écran, and Peter Yeldham), a good cast, and a competent crew, you can hardly go wrong.

That was certainly so here and in Peter Collinson’s ’74 version with Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer, Richard Attenborough, Charles Aznavour, Herbert Lom, former Bond villains Adolfo Celi and Gert Fröbe, and Maria herself. I can’t vouch for the widely panned 1989 version, shot in Africa by Alan Birkinshaw—who made two low-rent Edgar Allan Poe films during the same period—with its limited star power provided by Lom (in a different role this time) and Donald Pleasence. Interestingly, according to the IMDb, the ’89 version was originally supposed to have utilized the ending of the novel, which is downbeat but intellectually satisfying, yet ultimately opted, as did all earlier films, for the happier outcome Christie herself had devised for her 1943 stage version.

’65 director George Pollock was certainly no stranger to this territory, having helmed all four of the films in which Margaret Rutherford played Christie’s Miss Marple. Television vet Yeldham was a frequent collaborator of Harry’s, as was cinematographer Ernest Steward, who worked on the first two Fu Manchu films, as well as the cult favorite The Avengers and innumerable entries in the “Doctor” and “Carry On” comedy series. The jaunty score by Malcolm Lockyer—another Towers regular, who also contributed to Peter Cushing’s Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965), Island of Terror (1966), and Island of the Burning Damned (1967)—takes a very different tack than the tingling 1974 music by Ennio Morricone protégé Bruno Nicolai, keeping things light and breezy.

Soon-to-be love interests Hugh O’Brian and Shirley Eaton arrive at an Austrian house accessible only by cable car—subbing for Christie’s remote island, inaccessibility being essential—with six other guests and married housekeepers Mario Adorf and Marianne Hoppe. We learn that none of them have met their host/employer, “U.N. Owen” (get it?), and most were lured there under false pretenses, also largely strangers to one another. An audiotape in the uncredited but unmistakable voice of Towers mainstay Lee (succeeded by Orson Welles in ’74) accuses each one of causing a death that is beyond the reach of the law, and it soon becomes clear that the elusive “Mr. Owen” has brought them there to administer his own brand of justice by executing them for their crimes.

In each guest’s room is a copy of the titular nursery rhyme (“Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine,” etc.), forming a template for the m.o. of each killing, after which another Indian figurine is removed from the centerpiece on the dining-room table. The cable car is wrecked, taking the fleeing Hoppe with it, which renders escape or rescue impossible for the moment, and forces the guests to fall back on their own devices. When a search of the house proves fruitless, the survivors are obliged to conclude that Mr. Owen is one of them, and various stratagems are attempted to identify him (or her) while the guests weigh the veracity of the accusations against them, and the possibility that ’fessing up may save their lives.

Of the likable leads, O’Brian was television’s Wyatt Earp, later starring in Richard Matheson’s Alfred Hitchcock Hour adaptation of his novel Ride the Nightmare, and the gorgeous Eaton, best known as the iconic “golden girl” from Goldfinger (1964), was reunited with Towers to play Su-Muru (like Fu Manchu a creation of Sax Rohmer). Fabian stretched himself to play a teen idol, while the exotic Daliah Lavi looms large in the BOF universe for Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body (1963), the Matt Helm film The Silencers (1966), and the Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967). Also featured were Stanley Holloway and Wilfrid Hyde-White, both of My Fair Lady (1964); the latter appeared in multiple Towers productions, as did Leo Genn and Dennis Price.

As usual, Christie’s Swiss-watch plotting is as much the star as any member of that name cast, even with the upbeat ending, and I won’t spoil the fun by either enumerating the various deaths or revealing the solution. Although it was not included in the print recently shown by TCM, the film originally included a device similar to the “Fright Break” from William Castle’s Homicidal (1961) or the “Werewolf Break” from The Beast Must Die (1974), in which the story pauses at the climax and a clock appears on the screen, ticking away to give the audience one last chance to guess the killer’s identity. But this well-produced mystery needs no such gimmick to make it work, succeeding on the merits of its premise and ensemble to offer a fine evening’s entertainment.

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