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The Cruel Sea (1953)
Beautiful, thoughtful British film-making from the past.
26 October 1999
If my ship were going down, and I had that one last moment to grab a treasured something, my copy of the book, THE CRUEL SEA by Nicholas Monsarrat might well be what I choose. (That is supposing I already had my life vest on.) This book has affected my life deeply since I first came across it as a teenager. It is why I joined the US Navy. (where I ironically ended up in the submarine service.) It formed an invaluable step in teaching me what `duty' meant, and `honor.' It is therefore a bit more difficult for me to judge this motion picture than most. Were it horrid, I should still love it, I suppose. Fortunately it is not horrid. `The Cruel Sea is in fact first rate.

It is difficult to translate any full-length novel to the screen. There are too many `moments in time' to get them all in. So the adaptation of a novel by a screenwriter becomes a process of selection. Eric Ambler did his usual excellent job in writing this script, and if he left out some of the better bits, he also got the best bits in. Charles Frend directs it well within the style of the early 1950's. The special effects are above average for the time and not unacceptable by today's standards, although they are not spectacular. The film editing is clean and crisp with little to complain about. The musical score is not intrusive, but not up to the rest of the effort. It would be ten years before the art of Movie Music caught up to the rest, and here the score is no worse any other film of 1953. It is however the acting that gives this movie the push to get it far above the rest.

Jack Hawkins is marvelous in his understated competence as Captain Ericson, and the actors who play his officers (including a very young and very British Denholm Elliot) all turn in workman-like performances. It is however the overall excellence of the entire cast that is impressive. One of the major strengths of British films from the end of the Second World War through the 1970's was the incredibly fine ensemble casting that provided first-rate acting even in the smallest parts. Walter Fitzgerald in his 30 second role as the air raid warden shows true compassion when he says, `Yes, Mister Tallow, that was your house, wasn't it?'

All of the vivid, bloody color that made `Platoon' and `Saving Private Ryan' the two best combat films ever made are absent here. This was a different type of warfare, the blood, all of the color washed away by the cruel sea. The Battle of the North Atlantic was a very British battle. A five and a half year long stoic battle of endurance, of perseverance, of honor and duty. This is the side of the Second Word War that most lived, but few have ever been able to put into words. `The Cruel Sea' is much more than just a history lesson though. It is a very good movie, and it is a beautiful example of what British film could be in 1953. I highly recommend it.
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Cleopatra (1963)
Less for your money than you can imagine!
21 October 1999
In 1963 two of the most important productions in the history of movie making were released. The first was: "Tom Jones" with Albert Finney and Susannah York.. Produced for a few hundred thousand dollars and shot with rented equipment and costumes on the streets of London and in the English country side with a supporting cast of brilliant British ensemble players and extras who stood-in just to get in a film. Tom Jones is simply one of the best motion pictures of all time. The second was: "Cleopatra" with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, a cast as long as the Manhattan telephone directory and a budget bigger than the combined egos of the stars. "Cleopatra" was a total disaster. It has no redeeming quality that I know of. It is therefore important for embodying in one film, nearly everything that you can do wrong in making a movie. It is a movie that you must see if you are ever to understand what a truly good film really is.

Everything about this film is disappointing from the modernized, vastly overdone costumes to the immense crowd scenes and battle scenes where everybody simply mills about until time to collect their checks and go home. There is on life or animation to this film, just a lot of big name stars of the day posing in improbably ornate costumes. I realize that it is nearly impossible to film historical spectacles without having some moments that seem posed and stilted, and without having dialogue and situations that are hopelessly predictable or trivial. I am not asking for perfection, but too many films of spectacular proportion have been made too successfully for me to be willing to accept `Cleopatra' as anything but ego-gratification and self indulgence. Of course Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner are pompous and stylized and predictable in `The Ten Commandments,' but the movie works. It is exciting. It is spectacular. `Cleopatra is merely bloated! At least we get to see Roddy McDowall in a skirt, the mind boggles.

Rent this puppy on some rainy fall evening when your sense of the absurd is up and running and your willingness to suspend disbelief is on vacation.
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The Hustler (1961)
Winning the hard way.
7 October 1999
When you are comparing first rate movies and trying to pick the very best of the very best, `The Hustler' must be in the running, and when you make comparisons you should remember Fast Eddie Felson's challenge, `That's right, it's my turn to shoot. When I miss, then you can shoot.' And this movie never does miss. It is one of those cosmic events where everything was in the right place at the right time on the right day. Casting, acting, direction, camera work, sets, editing, flavor and smell: all perfect.

Paul Newman is absolute perfection in the role of Fast Eddie Felson as he shows how ego and naiveté can work against each other to first destroy and rebuild character. When viewed against Jackie Gleason's Minnesota Fats he is almost touchingly vulnerable. `Pay him. I can't beat him.' is Fats' exit line. Just another hard days work for him, the consummate professional. Eddie has destroyed everything for his one moment at the top, and he knows it, and Newman makes sure that we know it, too. All of which would be just a little too heavy handed and metaphoric if it weren't for George C Scott's, Bert Gordon. Bert is the ultimate utilitarian cynic. He is pulling the strings, or thinks he is. His only flaw ends up being his inability to truly judge the inner being of someone as elusive as Fast Eddie.

My only complaint with this movie is that they should have given `Star Billing' to the poolroom. It is like no other place on earth. Not because it is physically unique. It isn't, but it is where the best come. It is not a mighty arena where great pageants are staged and tremendous throngs cheer the victors. `This is Ames', Mister.' This is where you win, not to please the crowd, but just to win. Winning has a high price for Fast Eddie, far higher than the price Minnesota Fats pays for loosing or Burt Gordon pays for backing him.

We know how the movie ends, but we don't know how the story ends, and we wonder what becomes of the characters. What is most surprising about watching this movie is realizing that we care about the characters in the end. That is a great compliment to any movie, one of the highest. This is of course the parable of an art form corrupted into a status symbol and a quest for glory, but don't let that stop you from watching it. It is also a marvelous evenings entertainment.
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Tom Jones (1963)
Lyric beauty, bawdy humor and adventure set to celluloid and music.
30 August 1999
In 1963 two of the most important productions in the history of movie making were released. The first was: "Cleopatra" with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, a cast as long as the Manhattan telephone directory and a budget bigger than the combined egos of the stars. "Cleopatra" was a total disaster. It has no redeeming quality that I know of. It is therefore important for embodying in one film, nearly everything that you can do wrong in making a movie. It is a movie that you must see if you are ever to understand what a truly good film really is. The second was: "Tom Jones" with Albert Finney and Susannah York, shot with rented equipment and costumes on the streets of London with a supporting cast of brilliant British ensemble players and extras who stood-in just to get in a film. Tom Jones is simply one of the best motion pictures of all time, for my money, The Best from Literature.

John Osborne who wrote the screen play produced a marvelous vehicle, but the genius of "Tom Jones" is Tony Richardson. He moves the actors and the story about the screen with a bawdy grace and earthy gentility that paints action and raucous laughter and beauty across one another with an even hand. It is a glimpse of antiquity so close and real that we can nearly touch it, and it makes us want to. (Though to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure we'd care for the smell of it.)

"Tom Jones" is a low budget, low tech, high quality film that must win the award for the "Most with the Least." The photography is beautiful, not because it used a dozen half million dollar cameras, it is beautiful because it is good photography. The acting wins out, and casts of thousands would only serve to clutter the stage. See this film whenever, wherever and as often as you possibly can.
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Not at all what I expected, and still better than most.
27 August 1999
I went to see "The boys in the Band" the weekend before it opened in Chicago in 1970 by accident. I took a new girl friend, fresh from a farm town in Wisconsin on her 20th birthday to see "Endless Summer." It was the movie that she most wanted to see, and since I mostly wanted to be around for breakfast the day after her 20th birthday, we went. As a "Surprise Sneak Preview" we also got "The Boys in the Band." The next morning, after a Wisconsin style hearty breakfast in bed, I found that I could not remember a single scene or line from "Endless Summer," but to this day I remember nearly all of "The Boys in the Band." Caroll and I were not an item for too long, but several years later when I bumped into her strolling on Michigan Ave. with her new husband, she mentioned "The Boys in the Band" and how glad she was that we'd seen it.

The reason that I liked it so much then, and even went to the trouble to hunt down a very hard to find copy for a weekend mini-film-festival that some friends and I held two years ago, is that it is a brilliant play about people. You could substitute a group of straight folks, set it in downtown Shanghai or Moscow or Rome and nearly every line would still ring true. Good art must be universal or it is just advertising! "The Boys in the Band" is very good art. It portrays the everyday, not particularly larger than life, not particularly unique everyday flaws and quirks of people. The message of this film is "What the hell, were all the same under these cheesy facades we polish so brightly and value so highly and couldn't justify for two seconds in the light of any true intelligence and logic."

I don't mean to hurt anyone's sensibilities or detract from the real ground breaking value of this film. This was a big first. Gay guys right up there on the silver screen just like Rock Hudson and Doris Day, BUT admitting it. In a sense, being a "Period Piece" is the highest compliment that you can pay to a production based on "social commentary." Of course it looks like 1970, Folks, it was 1970. Now if you want a period piece, I just saw "Endless Summer" on AMC the other weekend. Talk about dated!

As far as filmed stage plays go, the production effort on "The Boys in the Band" is not really fabulous, but it isn't bad enough to detract from the story or it's impact. As literature I rate this film a solid 10. As a movie I rate it as a 7.5. Compared with other similar efforts of the time, "Butterflys are Free" or Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" for instance it stands up.

If you can find it (which ain't easy), rent it. It is well worth an evening.
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Hombre (1967)
A simple, straight forward story with complex characters. The best there is.
26 August 1999
Beginning in the late 1960's Hollywood produced a series of movies that revolved around the concept of the encroachment of the coming 20th century on the "Old West." Hombre was one of first, and was followed by several other excellent films including "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" with Warren Betty and Julie Christie, and "Butch Casidy and the Sun Dance Kid" with Paul Newman and Robert Redford and the short-lived James Garner TV Series "Nichols." "Hombre" is arguably the best by far.

In most listings, Paul Newman would doubtless be given star billing, but this is an ensamble effort with no one much more important that the others. The acting is even and honest and nearly flawless. These are real persons presented to us as themselves.

This is Newman's second best film acting with only his portrayal of Eddy Fellson in "The Hustler" outcalssing it, and that not by much. It is Richard Boone's best acting job ever by a long mile. Barbara Rush is so insidiously selfish as the driving force behind Fredric March's complete amorality that only Shakespeare could have written it better in Macbeth.

This is not as it first appears to be on the surface the parable of Good triumphant over evil. It becomes in the end the parable of one man being true to himself. Paul Newman has one of the best exit lines in the history of movies when asked for his knife so that the hostage tied out in the blazing desert sun can be cut free. Jessie says "All I want is your knife." Paul Newman says, "You want a lot more than that from me, Lady." He is actually speaking to God, I suppose, and he gives far more than that.

We do not know how the play ends. We hope well, but where desperate people and huge amounts of money collide, who can predict the result for sure. But what we do now is what a truly good western movie is. This plays well on the small screen as well as in a movie house. See it at your next opportunity
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The danger of being ahead of you time is that time catches up.
24 August 1999
Perhaps due to the global discontent brought on by the Viet Nam War and then the Russian-Afgan War, the early 1970' saw the end of a period of idealism and the dawn of an age of realism, far too real in many instances. Movies were no exception to this general social trend in American and European society.

When "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was released in 1971, it was a major jolt to the "film world." There, in all its wide screen splendor and glory was a major production with a major league cast and state of the are writing, direction, and production that flaunted as comonplace the unspoken trio of adult sexual taboo: Homosexuality, Bisexuality and Insest. And this was all presented in an apparently normal setting with apparently normal persons who could be, God forbid, us.

This was no British working class low budget avant guard "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" about the people who we had too often become and through familiarity learned to despised. This was the Upper middle class world where we all imagined ourselves eventually destined to live. And the real shock of it was that we weren't repulsed or appalled. We were if anything, drawn to it. The characters are intelligent, educated, sympathetic, honest to a reasonable degree, at least with each other and very pretty to look at. The situations are all too real. The problem is that "Sunday Bloody Sunday is "life as you find it" and not "life as you'd wish it to be."

Today the shock is gone. It is a beautifully smooth and taught production to be sure, but no longer anything new. Still, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is one of the movies that changed the movies, as well as American and European Society in the middle of the second half of the Twentieth century. Don't miss a chance to see it.
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Movie making at it's best. Marvelous Burt Lancaster. Marvelous Movie fun.
18 August 1999
In the summer of 1977 they closed the drive-in movie theater where I had done a great deal of "growing-up" in the late 50's and early 60's. On the last bill were "The Crimson Pirate", "Born Free" and "Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy" along with a bunch of cartoons and old Movie Tone News Reels. It was a trip down memory lane for me, and a last chance to see what real Swash and Buckle really look like on a 40 foot high screen in Cinemascope and Technicolor on a hot summer evening. It was truly movie entertainment at it's best, though not, I suspect, a place for the serious "student of the film."

Of course you have to take this movie with a grain of salt. (To be used later on the popcorn.) Burt Lancaster is the absolute king of tongue-in-cheek farce. There is no doubt that he believes himself to be The Crimson Pirate, but in any movie with lines like, "Do 'em the dirty, Cap'in!" and all the marvelous acrobatics, nothing can possibly be as it seems. And why should it? This is, after all A MOVIE. And if "The Crimson Pirate" is the obvious progeny of Fairbanks in "Robin Hood" it is also the obvious progenitor of "Star Wars", "Indiana Jones".

Well, drive-ins are pretty much gone now, but if you are lucky enough to live in a town with an old, restored movie house that plays "Classic Movies" you might try to get "The Crimson Pirate" on their list. If not: Haul the big-screen TV out onto the back porch, invite the neighbors to bring their lawn chairs and insect repellent, butter up a bushel of popcorn and Enjoy.
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Sydney Pollick and Burt Lancaster together. Overlooked gold!
3 August 1999
In the late 1960's and the early 1970's the United States was deeply embroiled in Viet Nam with all it's ramifications. It was so far from "the best of times" that it was difficult to laugh at much. Also this was the period where the Western film fell out of style. It was unfortunate timing for several excellent movies, "The Scalphunters" among them. If this movie were released tomorrow it would become an unqualified hit.

Burt Lancaster is at his cynical best, poking fun at everything the Hollywood Western and Burt Lancaster ever imagined themselves to be. Ossie Davis performs the nearly impossible task of playing a highly intelligent black slave on the lam without loosing perspective on the comic genius of the script. Tully Savallas plays the odious (And we suspect odorous) oaf with style and dignity (if that's possible) and Shelley Winters does the same for his female counterpart. And the Indians, the long-suffering, patient, bemused Indians dutifully dying and then returning to fight again just as often as the miraculous movie 6-shooters can get off 20 rounds or so.

In command of all this chaos is the unmistakably sure and steady hand of Sidny Pollick with his comic genius to rely on and a smart, literate script to form the framework. Perhaps this movie should be titled "'The Crimson Pirate' meets 'Toostie'".

If you've got a sense of humor and are able to suspend you disbelief for a couple of hours or so, "The Scalphunters" will give you a good evenings entertainment. If you enjoy it, try "There was a Crooked Man" with Henry Fonda and Kurt Douglas.
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A really good movie with a really good message for everyone.
30 July 1999
"Shirley Valentine" is a marvelous movie. It is far more that a screen adaptation of Pauline Collins' one woman hit from the London stage. It is well produced (by the folks who brought us "Educating Rita" 6 years earlier), beautifully filmed, smoothly directed and brilliantly acted. It is sensuous and bawdy and honest and may well be the first film to actually have a Greek Island setting as one of its leading characters. The supporting cast, in typical British ensemble fashion is a group of first rate actors who back-up Collins to the hilt...and then there's Tom Conti.

If they ever decide to give an award for the category of "Ridiculous unto the Sublime" they must surely make the first award retroactive for Tom Conti's creation of Costas. He is at once Pablo Picasso living out his last years in Bikini bathing trunks on the beach in the south of France and a slightly befuddled boy who's found that the key to the cookie jar is merely and honest smile for the nearest warm hearted woman. His only vice is living life merely for today. His only virtue is having absolutely no expectation. And he has the best line in the whole show, "Dreams, they are never in the place where you expect to find them."

This is the fable of human liberation. It's only message is to learn to like yourself. Take you intended to see this film. If it makes them nervous, find out why before you go another step together.
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Gunn (1967)
8/10
Totally forgotten but excellent detective/mystery film.
30 July 1999
This movie is based on the very popular 1960's TV show "Peter Gunn." It was an early Blake Edwards effort that was unfortunately made three or four years too late. The film industry was already following the mood of the viewing public into the era of "relevance." Up against films like "The I.P.C.R.I.S. File" and "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" it seemed lightweight and trivial. Too bad, because this film is clever, witty, well cast, well acted, well directed, well paced, well filmed, well edited and has a superb Henry Mancini score that is as good as movie music gets.

"Gunn" is also a very good detective movie with a plot that is far above the average, as good as any Dashal Hammit story.

"Gunn" is also Blake Edwards dress rehearsal for the "Pink Pnather." Using "TV Actors" and in-your-face Mid-60's Los Angelas waterfront locations, Edwards created a low budget film with a high budget look and feel. If it were released today it would easily rival "Pulp Fiction" and "Get Shorty" for box office and critical honors.

If you want to see where "The Pink Panther" came from, or if you want to see what the early 60's in L.A. really looked like, or if you just want to see one of the best detective movies ever made, then take a look at "Gunn."
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Sharp, witty, honest and very good.
29 July 1999
"Educating Rita" is not a huge motion picture. It portrays no earth shattering events. It teaches no overpowering moral lessons. It does not look into the depths of the human soul. This is a little motion picture, but like many little things, it is wonderful.

Educating Rita is really a filmed stage play. Julie Walters played the part of Rita on the stage. Michael Caine joins her as Frank in the film version and really puts his heart into the performance. The author shows you surprisingly little about the two characters and yet tells you a very great deal, and most importantly, he lets them grow as they must, not necessarily as we'd wish them to.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Watch it with somebody you like.
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The War Lover (1962)
An excellent novel that translated into a so-so motion picture.
29 July 1999
War is a wrenching experience. Whether experienced in far off foreign lands on the battlefield or at home in the living room gathered around the radio to hear the latest news, those who experience it are often moved to put their physical and emotional experiences down on paper. Later, others are moved to attempt to turn those writings into motion pictures. The process just doesn't always work perfectly. More often than not the emotions that can be expressed beautifully in words by an excellent writer like John Hersey just cannot be caught on screen.

It is really hard to define exactly what kept "The War Lover" from becoming a first rate film. The production effort was definitely first rate, and the casting was excellent. The framework of this move is all there. It is well filmed, well acted, well directed and well produced. Even the use of the black and white format works. It not only allowed the use of actual combat air footage, but also provided a gritty quality that fits the material nicely. The adaptation of the dialog is good. It may just be that the emotions which Mr. Hersey put into his novel just can't be translated onto the screen, no matter who tries to do it.

I like this movie despite its shortcomings. I occasionally watch it when a nostalgia for the "bad old, good old days" of WW II gets hold of me, usually on a dreary winter evening when it gets dark around 4:30 in the afternoon, and I enjoy it. Watch this one for the realism of its depiction of the air war over Europe from 1942 to 1945.
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10/10
Blake Edwards first masterpiece, fallen on hard times.
28 July 1999
Blake Edwards and Henry Mancini teamed up in 1963 to produce a truly unique motion picture. It is an unabashed spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller of a decade earlier, "To Catch A Thief." filled with adept comic characterization and subtle wit, "The Pink Panther" has suffered in recent years by comparison with the eight or so sequels that Edwards and Sellers have made to capitalize on the slap-stick market. It is a shame. "The Pink Panther" is in a different class from what has followed. If you are after a quick laugh, tune out now.

"The Pink Panther" may be the best genra spoof ever made. It gives the concept of "perfect production" a whole new meaning. It is what "Murder by Death" and "The Cheap Detective" couldn't quite manage. It is sophisticated and smooth and absolutely charming. The story line is fanciful, but tight and complete. The charactors are well rounded and full, albeit somewhat bizaar. The music is marvelous Mancini, and the production is Edwards at his best. Not until "Victor, Victoria" does Blake Edwards even come close to this levea again.

If you love classic films: If you love the sophisticated "caper movie": If you want to know how to be funny without being foolish: then watch "The Pink Panther," but remember, this one's for when you grown up.
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A true "B" Movie, but with some class.
7 July 1999
Some movies in the 40's starred Humphuy Bogart and some didn't. This one didn't. The Raymond Chandler story is however a very good, tight detective tale with a nice twist to the plot. If only the acting and directing were up to the task. But if you like 1940's detective stories with great location and some half way decent camera work, give "The Brasher Doubloon" a try. Perhaps it won't thrill you, but it won't put you to sleep either.
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