Sunday, November 29, 2009

Anatomy of a Murder

This is one of the most realistic courtroom dramas on film. No crazy speeches, no lawyers gone wild, no "you're out of order!", just serious drama based on an actual murder case. Anatomy of a Murder follows the true case of an army officer that kills a bar owner in Northern Michigan. He hires a down-on-his-luck attorney, played by Jimmy Stewart, to defend him. Since the killer was seen by many witnesses, his guilt is never in doubt. But how will the trial play out? Can Stewart work some legal magic and get an acquittal or will the State's Attorney, played by George C. Scott, obtain justice?

The film is based on a Robert Traver novel. Traver is the pen name of John D. Voelker. Voelker was a Michigan Supreme Court Justice who worked on the case. This personal involvement leads to a gritty realism in the film. Adding to the realism, the judge in the film was played by Joseph Welch. Welch was the lawyer who represented the U.S. Army in the Army/McCarthy hearings during the fifties. Having such established legal officials involved definitely adds to this film. Director Otto Preminger chose to film on location in Northern Michigan and used many locals as extras and to fill small speaking parts for further realism.

The film has a fine Duke Ellington score. He wrote and performed the music and makes a cameo appearance playing alongside Stewart. The jazz further contributes to the depth of story and character achieved by Preminger and the fine cast. Stewart as the defense lawyer, Ben Gazzara as the defendant, George C. Scott as the State's attorney, Arthur O'Connell as Stewart's partner and Lee Remick as Gazzara's wife are all excellent. Stewart, Scott and O'Connell each received an acting academy award nomination for this film. Anatomy of a Murder was also nominated for Best Picture in 1960, losing out to 'Ben Hur'.

Outstanding courtroom drama without the usual cinema histrionics. Accurate and believable, Anatomy of a Murder is a "must-see" for movie fans.

Filmed in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger, written by Wendell Mayes, starring Jimmy Stewart, Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick and George C. Scott.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Barefoot in the Park

I must admit to a personal bias towards this piece. I have seen the film about a dozen times plus 3 times on stage. The writing, by famed playwright Neil Simon, is top-notch. Barefoot in the Park tells the tale of young love. Robert Redford and Jane Fonda are newlyweds moving into their first apartment together. Fonda plays Corrie, a wild and free young woman, who falls for stuffy lawyer Paul Bratter (Robert Redford). They quickly marry and honeymoon. Upon their return to New York she has rented them a fifth-floor walk-up apartment. Barefoot in the Park covers their tumultuous first week together.

Redford played the part on Broadway before coming to the silver screen. He does an excellent job. Great timing and delivery are evidence of his hundreds of performances. Fonda was cast to bring more "star and box-office appeal". She replaced Elizabeth Ashley who played Corrie on Broadway. The chemistry between Fonda and Redford works throughout the film. Mildred Natwick, reprising her role as Fonda's mother, steals the show. She gets, and deserves, all the attention while she is on screen. Natwick was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Charles Boyer, as the unique neighbor, is also a delight. Director Gene Saks does a wonderful job of allowing cast and script to carry the film. His light touch is most appreciated.

Neil Simon is one of America's great playwrights. From 'The Odd Couple' to 'Sunshine Boys' to 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' his scripts are excellent. He has delighted audiences from Broadway to Hollywood for over 30 years. I make it a personal mission to see everything he has written.

Sit back and allow the dialogue, characters and actors to fill you with joy and laughter. After viewing Barefoot in the Park see if you think, as I do, that tv's 'Dharma and Greg' is a total revisiting of the concept and characters.

Filmed in 1967, directed by Gene Saks, written by Neil Simon, starring Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Colossus: The Forbin Project

Before Skynet in 'The Terminator'. Before Whopper in 'Wargames'. There was Colossus:The Forbin Project. This is the first computer designed to protect humans that decides to rule instead. This film is done on a small special effects budget. No digital effects, no CGI, no cybernetic organisms. Just a bone-chilling story designed to instill both worry and thought.

The United States builds a supercomputer to take the personal/emotional (i.e. human) decision makers out of the nuclear loop. Only a purely logical, non-emotional computer can be trusted with Armageddon. Of course, once the computer becomes self-aware it decides that it is better than humans and decides to take over the world. Colossus' inventor, Dr. Forbin, must figure out some way to stop this machine.

Eric Braeden portrays Dr. Forbin. He is best known for his 20+ years on 'The Young and the Restless', but at the time he was a bit of a sci-fi star. He was also featured in 'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' and 'Six Million Dollar Man'. He does a very nice job here. He comes across as smug, superior, non-emotional and demanding. Just like the computer he invents. The script, written by James Bridges, is tight and intellectual. The story moves along quickly to a very surprising ending.

Colossus: The Forbin Project is intense and believable. A thriller that relies on intelligence, not monsters and explosions, to create suspense. It was also well ahead of its time. Themes featured in Colossus are still in vogue today. This film deserved better at the box office, but we can enjoy it today.

Filmed in 1970, directed by Joseph Sargent, written by James Bridges, starring Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Georg Stanford Brown and Gordon Pinsent.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath

Truly magnificent film. Touching, sad and inspirational. The Grapes of Wrath is almost 70 years old, but the emotions and message are as true today as when this film debuted. Based on the classic novel by John Steinbeck, this is the story of the Joad family during the Great Depression. They have lost the family farm in the dust bowl. This story follows the Joads as they move to California in an effort to find work. Upon arriving they find conditions to be little better then where they left. Prejudice, hunger and unbearable conditions pressure the Joads at every stop.

Henry Fonda, as Tom Joad, gives one of the performances of his life. He gives us a window into the soul of someone who has been kicked around by life. He represents all those Americans who lost so much during the Great Depression. Masterfully directed by John Ford. He deserved the Oscar that he won for Best Director. Wonderful touch in what could have been a maudlin story. He got the very best out of the cast, script and crew.

While Fonda was terrific, I feel the best portrayal in the film goes to Jane Darwell. She plays Ma Joad. While Tom Joad can go off and fight the good fight, Ma Joad must stay and care for her large, ragtag family. Darwell is outstanding and received the academy award for Best Supporting Actress. Her character holds the family together and her acting holds this picture together. First-rate!

Compelling, moving and as important today as in 1940. One of the greatest ever.

Filmed in 1940, directed by John Ford, written by Nunnally Johnson, starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine and Russell Simpson.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Three Days of the Condor

Robert Redford stars as "Condor", a C.I.A. book reader. He reads mysteries and spy stories for the C.I.A. Not too bad a job, eh? But when his entire office is murdered he becomes a man on the run. What starts as a simple spy story becomes a detailed and sophisticated mystery. Who is after Condor? Why were a bunch of people who read books killed? How can he escape his pursuers? Condor is constantly underestimated. He reads books, he is not a field agent. Perhaps he has turned to the other side? Three Days of the Condor is a solid and intelligent suspense yarn.

Director Sydney Pollack does a fine job of building suspense while keeping a detailed story moving forward. Pollack is one of the finest directors of the last 30 years. Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg get the attention, but Pollack belongs in that conversation. He shows his skills here. The film features excellent pace, strong characters and twists that are surprises, but believable ones. Solid script was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel. Based on the novel 'Six Days of the Condor' by James Grady. Why the movie is only 3 days while the book is 6 days is a mystery for the ages.

Faye Dunaway gives an attention-grabbing performance as an innocent bystander that Redford uses to escape capture. Redford, Cliff Robertson, John Houseman and Max von Sydow all give fine performances as well.

Suspenseful, intelligent and well written. Enjoy!

Filmed in 1975, directed by Sydney Pollack, written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel, starring Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson and Max von Sydow.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Silent Running

I like this movie. I don't know why. It is fairly cheesy, somewhat preachy, the Joan Baez theme is dated and the story very simple. And yet, I really like Silent Running. Somehow, despite its shortcomings, it strikes a cord with me. I care how the story unfolds and what happens to the characters. If you can look past some minor defects I think you might enjoy Silent Running too. The film has quite a cult following. I guess I belong to that cult.

Bruce Dern portrays an astronaut on a special spaceship that contains the last remnants of plant life on Earth. He has cared for these forests for 8 years as people on Earth have "improved" life back home. There is no poverty, no disease, everyone gets along, it is always 75 degrees and most consider it to be paradise. Not Bruce Dern. He likes trees and flowers and squirrels and real fruit. His fellow astronauts think he is nuts. And he is, at least a little. But when Dern receives an order to destroy the ships, and with it all remaining plant life, he can not proceed. Can he save the forests?

Obviously, this is a metaphor for human destruction of our environment. Worries over the fate of humanity and Earth have run strong for a long time. This is a simple look at one man's desperation to do what he can to save the forests.

The writers include some who went on to fame and fortune. Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino and Stephen Bochco co-wrote the script. Bochco is one of television's biggest producers. His credits include 'LA Law', 'Hill Street Blues', 'NYPD Blue' and many more. Washburn and Cimino wrote 'The Deer Hunter' (a truly great and overpowering film) while Cimino directed 'The Deer Hunter' and the ill-fated 'Heaven's Gate'. That's a lot of chops for one cult sci-fi film. Douglas Trumbull debuts as a director with Silent Running. Best known for his special effects he worked on lots of movies including 'Close Encounters' and '2001'.

Silent Running is not a great film, but I find it to be interesting and appealing. I hope you do as well.

Filmed in 1971, directed by Douglas Trumbull, written by Deric Washburn, Michael Cimino & Stephen Bochco, starring Bruce Dern and 3 cute robots.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Red River

This is the film that turned John Wayne from an actor into John Wayne the on-screen force. Before Red River, John Wayne was already a movie-star. Stagecoach had seen to that. And he was an academy award nominee. Sands of Iwo Jima had seen to that. But the persona that we know as John Wayne had yet to develop on screen. Red River changed everything. Wayne portrays Tom Dunson, a hardworking, no b.s. rancher who decides to lead his massive cattle herd on a long cattle drive. His ward Matt Garth (played in his first film by Montgomery Clift) is his lead assistant. When Clift feels Wayne is being dictatorial and oppressive he takes the herd away from Wayne and leads the drive himself. Wayne vows vengeance and pursues Clift and his herd along the Chisum trail.

This film is often called 'The Mutiny on the Bounty' set in the American West. The comparison is accurate, but incomplete. Except for the climactic ending the stories are very similar. But I find Red River to be about opposites. Older & grizzled John Wayne vs. young & attractive Montgomery Clift. Take no prisoners employee management vs. an inclusive management style. Follow orders vs. question authority. Risk vs. reward. Questions that still intrigue us today.

Director Howard Hawks does a fantastic job. The characters are deep and real, the photography is spellbinding and the acting he gets from Wayne and the cast are first-rate. Few critics consider John Wayne to be much of an actor, but he sure does a fantastic job in Red River. Clift, in his debut, is compelling as the heir apparent that rebels against the very man who saved him. Walter Brennan, Noah Berry, Jr. and John Ireland are also featured. The score, by Dimitri Tiomkin, adds a wonderful, western feel.

Even if you are not a fan of John Wayne you should enjoy this film. Red River is a classic American western!

Filmed in 1948, Directed by Howard Hawks, written by Borden Chase and Charles Schnee, starring John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, Walter Brennan and John Ireland.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


It is amazing how much suspense you can build with almost no dialogue or sets, just a car and a very menacing truck. This is the film that turned Steven Speilberg from a tv director into a wanted filmmaker. Dennis Weaver stars as a mild-mannered traveling salesman. Driving along a small, California two-lane highway he decides to pass a large truck. No big deal. Happens a million times a day, right? This time the trucker does not appreciate the action. The trucker decides to chase down Weaver. The ultimate in road rage!

Spielberg's storytelling mastery shows. In a stroke of genius we never see the truck driver. It is just a beat-up truck chasing down poor Dennis Weaver. Spielberg later uses this same technique, to great effect, with the shark in Jaws. Of course, with Jaws, the shark didn't work correctly, but why quibble? In Duel Spielberg tells the story with a minimum of effects, dialogue or explanation. Just a rogue truck chasing down our unsuspecting lead. Suspense builds until a satisfying final scene.

Duel was written by Richard Matheson. He is now best known as the author of 'I Am Legend'. He also wrote one of the scariest things I remember from my youth. 'The Trilogy of Terror'. Pick that one up too if you can find it!

Simple, straightforward and powerfully suspenseful. I find Duel to be quite satisfying as well!

Filmed for TV in 1971, directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Richard Matheson, starring Dennis Weaver, Eddie Firestone, and a very menacing truck.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wages of Fear/Sorcerer

This is a special day. Everyone gets two great movies for the price of one! Wages of Fear and Sorcerer. They are both the story of 4 men, on the run from their past, trying to escape their current desperation. They each decide to take a high-paying, life-threatening job driving nitroglycerin across an unnamed South American country. An oil company is paying huge bonuses to anyone who can get the nitro through to put out an oil well fire. Of course, nitroglycerin is very dangerous and will explode when bumped, jostled or warmed. Who will survive the trip and what perils will they face along the way?

Both of these movies are intense! The pressure builds as our drivers face numerous obstacles on the road to fortune and personal salvation. Jungles, mountains, rivers, guerrillas, each other and their own demons must be vanquished if they are to survive.

Wages of Fear was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Filmed in 3 languages so the best prints are subtitled. Stay away from the dubbed version. Clouzot's film is raw, gritty and superb. Yves Montand is fabulous as Mario. We don't know how he got into his personal hell, but he wants out. Clouzot allows the suspense to build until you almost want to scream. At one point I even covered my eyes and looked between my fingers. It's safer that way.

Sorcerer is William Friedkin's remake. He was fresh off The French Connection and The Exorcist so the studios gave him anything he wanted. It shows. Roy Scheider does a nice job reprising the Yves Montand role. Friedkin goes a little overboard in the first half, but the remainder of the film is just as intense as Wages of Fear. The shot of the trucks driving over rope bridges in a pouring rain is worth the price of admission. The Tangerine Dream soundtrack is quite wild.

Intensity builds to a big finish in both films. Similar in their story, each is a unique experience. Wages of Fear is more respected by critics, but both films deserve a viewing.

Wages of Fear was filmed in 1952, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, written by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi, starring Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli and Peter Van Eyck.

Sorcerer was filmed in 1977, directed by William Friedkin, written by Walon Green, starring Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou. Both are based on the novel by Georges Arnaud.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Music by The Who. Acting debut of Sting. Mods vs. Rockers. Music by The Who. Scooters everywhere. The end of innocence. This is a coming of age tale set against the backdrop of early 60's mods/rockers riots in Brighton. Did I mention the music by The Who?

In case you hadn't noticed, I love The Who. The soundtrack and performance footage alone make this film worth seeing. But add to the tunes a wonderful story of a young man trying to find his place in the world. Jobs, girls, drugs, music, scooters. All the choices that, in our own way, we all faced during our turbulent adolescent years.

Director Franc Roddam does a terrific job with this "angry young man" story that is inspired by the Pete Townsend rock opera of the same name. Phil Daniels as Jimmy carries the angst in every scene. I root for him to succeed, find love, mature and enjoy life. For him, as for most young adults, it is a difficult journey. But well worth sharing. For me it was the Punks vs. Rockers in the 70's, but the film's transcendent storyline really strikes home.

Quadrophenia is also the acting debut of Sting. The lead singer of The Police does a terrific job as Ace, the idol of all the mods. He lives and works in Brighton and is a central figure in the second half. I remain impressed with Sting's screen presence. All the actors do fine work. They give this film a very authentic mood.

This is a hidden treasure. The story, the scenery, the scooters and the soundtrack make Quadrophenia a film worth treasuring.

Filmed in 1979, directed by Franc Roddam, written by Roddam, Dave Humphries and Martin Stellman, starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Mark Wingett and Sting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Hustler

I invited a few friends over to watch this film. None had ever seen it. They were all quite impressed by this hidden gem. Nominated for 4 acting Oscars, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and more. The Hustler tells the story of Fast Eddie Felson, pool-hustler extraordinaire. He travels the small-time circuit looking for people to hustle in a game of pool. He is, of course, better than anyone he ever meets. He allows them to win, ups the stakes and takes them for everything they've got. Many of his opponents don't appreciate the treatment. Later he challenges Minnesota Fats to a big-money game. The action between Fast Eddie and Fats is intense and furious.

The atmosphere of pool halls can be felt by the viewer. I can smell the smoke, taste the beer, feel the desperation while I watch. The cinematographer Eugen Shuftan won an academy award. The Hustler also won for art/set direction. Both are well-deserved. However, it is the actors that carry the movie. Paul Newman is stunning. He is Fast Eddie Felson. Both he and fellow nominee Jackie Gleason did all their own pool shots for the film. Piper Laurie, as Fast Eddie's on-off love interest is amazing. I truly feel for her as I watch. George C. Scott, who refused his nomination for best supporting actor, is fantastic as Newman's big backer.

The Hustler is also credited with saving pool in America. The game was being outlawed and run out of many American cities and towns. Pool was thought to be decadent. According to R.A. Dyer's book 'Hustler Days' pool was on its death bed. Then this movie came out and brought pool back into the mainstream. Millions started playing, pool halls opened across the land and the game was saved. Not bad for a movie.

Filmed in 1961, directed by Robert Rossen, written by Rossen and Sydney Carroll, starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, Michael Constantine and George C. Scott.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

His Girl Friday

Hilarious. The dialogue is as witty as has ever been filmed. The pace is breakneck speed. I find myself trying to stop laughing at one line because I have another laugh or two lined up. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are fantastic. They have terrific timing, great chemistry and some of the best dialogue imaginable. You have to pay attention to the dialogue. Often there are two conversations going on simultaneously. You can follow one or both, but do follow along. Don't miss anything.

Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Charles Lederer adapted the screenplay with wonderful results. Director Howard Hawks insisted the part of Hildy (Russell) be rewritten for a woman. This allows for a romance subplot underneath the newspaper main storyline. Cary Grant owns a newspaper and is divorced from Rosalind Russell. She returns to the paper to inform her ex that she is remarrying. He constructs a plot to regain her affections and to get her back as his ace reporter. Ralph Bellamy does a nice job as the kind, but slow, husband to be. Of course, he has no chance when put up against Cary Grant. But then who does?

His Girl Friday is a classic comedy done at light speed. Don't go for popcorn because you will miss out.

Filmed in 1940, directed by Howard Hawks, written by Charles Lederer, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paths of Glory

I consider this to be the best film that remains unseen by many. Voted to almost every "greatest" movies poll it is must viewing for anyone who enjoys movies! This film is about World War I, but Paths of Glory is the most anti-war movie ever released. Leonard Maltin says "shattering story of the insanity of war" and "stunningly acted and directed". The New York Times says "its message growing only more pertinent and potent with each passing year". I say it is one of the most powerful films that I have ever seen. Just writing this blog refreshes the emotions I experienced viewing Paths of Glory. Anger, frustration, disgust, I want to yell at the participants about their actions. Any film that can do that should be seen by all.

Director Stanley Kubrick's best work. I love Dr. Strangelove. I have seen Spartacus about a dozen times. A Clockwork Orange still intrigues me. But Paths of Glory is his crowning glory. This film is superbly acted, written and directed. Kirk Douglas is powerful. Adolphe Menjou and George Macready are terrific as Douglas's commanding officers. The script, written by Kubrick, Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson is top-notch. Based on the novel by Humphrey Cobb which is based on the actual trial during World War I.

One important fact. The film is about French officers and soldiers during World War I. After this film was released it was banned in France!

Paths of Glory tells the tale of an ill-advised, almost suicidal, French attack upon a German position. Douglas, portraying the field commander, does not want to proceed. He is pressured into making the attack with disastrous results. 3 of his men are chosen to be tried for cowardice after the failed action. Douglas defends these men at their trial. I find that I run out of adjectives as I write this entry. Stunning, superb, powerful, emotional and must-see are just a few.

Filmed in 1957, directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by Kubrick, Willingham and Thompson, starring Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready and Ralph Meeker.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hearts of Darkness

Excellent documentary on the making of Francis Ford Coppola's epic Apocalypse Now. Unprecedented access into the making of a major motion picture with hours of footage provided by Coppola's wife Eleanor. Documentary also includes interviews, filmed a decade later, with Francis and Eleanor Coppola, Martin Sheen, Vittorio Storaro, Laurence Fishburne and others.

The filming and production of Apocalypse Now is as much an epic as the final film. A typhoon destroyed all the sets, Martin Sheen has a major heart attack in the middle of filming, Harvey Keitel is replaced as the lead, Marlon Brando refuses to cooperate, the Philippine Army yanks all the helicopters, and Coppola has to put up his own money to see the film finished. A 100 day schedule balloons into 238 days of intense filming.

Most intriguing is the parallel between the script and Coppola's experiences filming. His own self-doubt and the constant strain as writer/director push him into a kind of madness that is reflected in the main character Willard (Martin Sheen). It is only through force of will that the film is finished. And it is only through that same force that Willard can complete the mission onscreen. Coppola and Willard share an obsession that sees them through unbearable pressures.

One warning. The documentary is rated R primarily due to the footage of a native animal sacrifice scene. While the footage lasts less than a minute it is accurate and somewhat disturbing. You may wish to fast forward through the scene.

Filmed in 1976-77 with additional footage shot in the late 80's, directed and written by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Overwhelming tension builds throughout this intense tale of the Cold War during the 60's. Henry Fonda portrays the President of the United States. He is faced with the very real possibility of the end of life on Earth. Through a series of mistakes, a group of American bombers are sent on a mission to nuke Moscow. Fonda must make immediate decisions on how to save humanity, speaking with the Russian Premier on the "hotline" while the minutes to nuclear annihilation speed by.

The final decisions and actions are monumental. You must watch Fail-Safe to its last gripping minute!

Based on the bestselling novel by Eugene Burdick and Henry Wheeler. Walter Bernstein does a terrific job of transferring the tension from the pages to the big screen. Director Sydney Lumet has the difficult task of creating drama with dialogue. He conquers this task admirably. Lumet also uses lighting and camera work to aid in creating drama.

Henry Fonda does his usual fine job as the President. All the pressure that comes with the job is apparent. Fonda uses not only his voice, but body language and facial expressions for maximum effect. Larry Hagman, of 'I Dream of Jeannie' and 'Dallas' fame, does a wonderful job as the translator. Walter Matthau is featured as a "hawk" pushing the President to "finish the job".

Fail-Safe is a dynamic metaphor for the Cold War. Two nations each intensely afraid of the other. Two sides within each nation arguing over peace vs. war. Most of humanity having no idea how close we came to a nuclear end. Perhaps we don't know how close we are today.

Filmed in 1964, directed by Sydney Lumet, written by Walter Bernstein, starring Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman, Fritz Weaver and Dan O'Herlihy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Charley Varrick

This is a great guy movie. Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) and his friends decide to rob a small town bank. After the robbery they discover that instead of splitting small proceeds the bank was full of cash. His partners are thrilled with the big score, but Varrick knows that it must be Mob money. And he doesn't want the mob after him. Soon both the Mob and the Cops are busy trying to locate Varrick and his partners. The Cops want them in prison and the Mob wants them dead. Varrick has to try to find a way out of the mess.

I love the build-up to the big-climax ending. Extremely satisfying as pressure builds. You don't know how, or if, Varrick and friends can extracate themselves from this mess. Matthau is fantastic as a classic anti-hero. I never thought of Walter Matthau as a guy's leading man, but his everyman quality really brings the tension home. Joe Don Baker, as the mob hitman sent to find him, does the acting of his career. Creepy and relentless he provides the pathos for Charley Varrick.

Director Don Siegel moves this film along crisply. That is a trait that I appreciate in directors. He provides an excellent pace and quite the finish. Howard Rodman's script from the John Reese novel is tight. Again, just the way I like it. I root for the "bad guys" all the while wondering how on earth they can make it. That is the essence of an anti-hero movie. Charley Varrick fits the bill.

Important Warning: The DVD of this film is a "cropped version". You only get about 70% of the picture. The company that released it cut off the sides to make it fit a tv screen. They should have letterboxed it, but did not.

Filmed in 1973, directed by Don Siegel, written by Howard Rodman, starring Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, John Vernon and Felicia Farr.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Man Who Would be King

This is an adventure movie as they were meant to be experienced. Sweeping in scale, featuring megastars Sean Connery and Michael Caine, directed by all-time great John Huston and filmed across Asia. Gods, war, friendship, unique cultures, Kafiristan, a quest for a Crown, Alexander the Great, and tons of adventure. What more could any film buff want?

Based on the Kipling short story, this adventure finds two British soldiers (Connery and Caine) in search of riches. Their travels bring them to Kafiristan. They form their own army and proceed to conquer the natives. After a near-death experience the Kafiris believe Connery to be a God. Our two heroes decide that being a God could be better than being Kings. But heavy is the head that wears the crown. Ego and greed separates these pals and brings darkness and devastation upon them.

The wonderful script by director Huston and Gladys Hill borrows loosely from Rudyard Kipling. Christopher Plummer does a terrific job portraying Mr. Kipling who has become a character within this film. Both Connery and Caine are fantastic and the scenery, pomp and ceremony are wonderful. The Man Who Would be King is a true adventure film for you to enjoy.

Filmed in 1975, directed by John Huston, written by John Huston and Gladys Hill, starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some Like it Hot

Voted the "funniest American movie" by the AFI on its "100 Years...100 Laughs". Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two 30's era musicians that accidentally witness a gangland slaying. They go "on the lam" and pose as members of an all-girl band. Since they are both very much not girls this requires a great deal of make-up, voice changing and wardrobe enhancements. Marilyn Monroe shows off her comic talents, and her great bod, as Sugar Kane, the band's singer.

Actor Joe E. Brown does a terrific job as an international playboy who develops quite the attraction to the very confused Jack Lemmon (in his female persona). Tony Curtis becomes enamored with Ms. Monroe, but, of course, can not tell her his true gender because of the mobsters on their tail. Madcap and zany fun is had by all!

Writer/Director Billy Wilder has done many of my favorite films. Most of them are dramas, but he shows off his true comedic talents with Some Like it Hot. The script is outlandish, the actors over-the-top and the pace frenetic. Most enjoyable! This won an academy award for the costumes. Putting Curtis and Lemmon in drag was no small feat. Both were attractive leading men used to getting the ladies, not being one. But I, audiences and the AFI loved the transformation. And this movie.

Filmed in 1959, Directed by Billy Wilder, Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Joe E. Brown and George Raft.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Americanization of Emily

One of my 20 favorite films of all-time. James Garner plays a self-proclaimed "coward" who takes excellent care of a U.S. Admiral in 1944 London. Julie Andrews plays his driver who has been widowed by the war. Their cynical romance is the centerpiece of the story. Garner then becomes the focus of his Admiral's plan to make a movie about the "unknown sailor". The first person to die during the D-Day invasion is to be a sailor and Garner, the coward, is to film the event. Needless to say he is unhappy about this turn of events.

Paddy Chayefsky writes a biting script. While a few moments sound just a little preachy, his anti-war message comes through with passion. The comedy portions of this dramatic comedy are dark and filled with sarcasm. Just how I like it! The dramatic portions are a loud statement on the devastation of war.

Disclaimer: I must admit to a "man-crush" on James Garner. From TV's Maverick, to the Great Escape and on to Murphy's Romance I find him to be one of the most compelling actors. Julie Andrews does a top-notch job as the priggish motor pool driver. Their love story is intriguing while their role change ending is must-see. James Coburn does a superb job in a supporting role as a naval officer as does Melvyn Douglas as the Admiral.

Director Arthur Hiller shows a light hand in dealing with Chayefsky's script. It takes a lot of courage to allow the story to unfold and Hiller shows that courage. A wonderful film that is on almost every greatest films lists that you can find. Add this to the top of your netflix queue or buy it today!

Filmed in 1964, Directed by Arthur Hiller, Written by Paddy Chayefsky, Starring James Garner, Julie Andrews, James Coburn, Melvyn Douglas and Keenan Wynn.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Set during the Great Depression, this story of a dance marathon provides an existential reflection of life under immense pressure. The dancers represent all the difficulties and hopes of this dark period in American history. Jane Fonda plays a self-loathing woman bent on her own destruction. She somehow attracts the interest of Michael Sarazin with shocking results.

The despair of people during the Depression is ever present in the collection of dancers. The "contest" is a destructive attack on the physical and emotional endurance of all the participants. How each of them handle this pressure is the true tale told here.

Gig Young plays the caring and sleazy promoter of the dance marathon. He received an academy award for his attention-demanding performance. But it is the story of the dancers, led by Fonda and Sarazin, upon which the movie rests. The cast does a fabulous job. Desperate for the prizes the contestants battle for weeks against all odds. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? requires your attention through the last moment.

Director Sydney Pollack handles the adaptation of the Horace McCoy novel with a deft touch. The subject matter requires respect, but Pollack keeps the film from falling into the maudlin. The adaption of the script by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson is bravely done. The novel is hardcore and so is the film.

Filmed in 1969, Directed by Sydney Pollack, Written by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson, Starring Jane Fonda, Michael Sarazin, Gig Young, Red Buttons, Susannah York and Bruce Dern.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Little Romance

This is one of the greatest date movies ever made. A Little Romance is the story of first love as it should be told. Set in Paris and Venice, Diane Lane (in her debut film) plays a bright, precocious girl who falls for a Parisian boy (Thelonious Bernard in his only film). When her mom explodes over their romance an experienced conman (Laurence Olivier) takes them on a roadtrip of love and romance.

A Little Romance is an engaging film from director George Roy Hill. It is sweet without being sugary, tender without being ridiculous and a wonderful story of first love and coming of age without being cliched or obvious. Director Hill gets the most from the young actors and Laurence Olivier plays a role without being over the top. The performances are touching and the story grabs at your heart.

Georges Delerue won a well-deserved academy award for the score. The music is an important part of the film. It amplifies mood and storytelling while being subtle and poignant. The scenery around Europe is a visual treat. Is there a tandem of more romantic places than Paris and Venice?

Sally Kellerman does a very nice job as the mom and Broderick Crawford's cameo, as himself, is a blast. But it is the two young lovers that grab your attention as you root for their success!

Filmed in 1979, Directed by George Roy Hill, Written by George Roy Hill, Allan Burns and Claude Klotz, Starring Diane Lane, Thelonious Bernard, Laurence Olivier, Arthur Hill and Sally Kellerman.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Tora, Tora, Tora

An intense look at the buildup and attack at Pearl Harbor told from both the U.S. and Japan perspectives. Tora! Tora! Tora! is the best film showing the intensity, hardship and action of World War Two. The American story was performed and directed by an American crew, while the Japanese side of the story was done by a Japanese crew. This includes the actors speaking in Japanese. This provides an authentic feel that is missing from many war films.

The sequence that dramatizes the actual attack upon Pearl Harbor is technically awe-inspiring. It is quite dramatic and intense. I am amazed that, even though I know the history, how nervously I view this film. Telling both sides of the story makes this film much more intriguing than the over-the-top treatment given by Michael Bay in his Pearl Harbor.

A very deep cast includes veteran actors Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, Soh Yamamura, Eijiro Tono, Jason Robards, James Whitmore and Tatsuya Mihashi. They performed well, but are slightly overshadowed by the technically amazing production values. With an excellent script written, in English, by Larry Forester and, in Japanese, by Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kikushima this is the film to see about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the best film about World War Two.

Filmed in 1970, Directed by Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasuka, starring Martin Balsam, Soh Yamamura, Joseph Cotton, Tatsuya Mihashi, E.G. Marshall, Takahiro Tamura, James Whitmore, Eijiro Tono and James Whitmore.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Just finished a seldom seen movie from the 60's, John Frankenheimer's Seconds. Starring Rock Hudson this is like a feature-length episode of the Twilight Zone. If you can move past the relatively slow opening pace the film provides some intriguing twists as well as lots of unique camera work and music.

A banker (played by veteran character actor John Randolph) gets the opportunity to transform his life into "what every man wants:complete freedom!" He takes this chance and becomes a swinging bachelor (played by Rock Hudson). The twists are sure to make Rod Serling's heart proud. Make sure you stay through the finish!

Rock Hudson's performance is unlike anything else I have seen. This film may not be up with Frankenheimer's masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate, but it is well worth seeing.

Filmed in 1966, Directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Salome Jens and Will Geer