Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seven Days in May

This great thriller is on TCM on tonight at 11:30 PM Eastern. Don't miss it! Or, you can download it via the link on the left.

This is a political thriller starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Lancaster portrays an Air Force General who is organizing a military coup against the U.S. Government. Douglas portrays his aide who discovers the plot. Can he stop the plot before the takeover by the military? Who can he trust?

Seven Days in May was directed by John Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer is best known for his disturbing masterpiece 'The Manchurian Candidate'. Seven Days in May is taut and compelling. The story builds to a very satisfying finish. The script was written by Rod Serling, based upon the excellent book by Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey. I remember, as a teen, reading this book and not wanting to put it down. I wondered if it was possible, in our great democracy, for the military to take over? That question has been repeated, in novels and the media, for the almost 40 years since this film debuted. The Serling script treats the viewer as intelligent and worthy of respect. No cheap tricks, just a well-honed plot and tension that builds throughout.

While this movie was being filmed the production staff asked for governmental assistance with locations and background information. The Kennedy White House was most helpful. The Kennedy brothers had both read and enjoyed the book and were looking forward to the movie. Not so with the Pentagon. The military demanded "approval" of the script before they would help. Frankenheimer felt that this was "covert censorship" and refused to provide them with a script.

The cast is loaded. Besides Douglas and Lancaster, Fredric March plays the President of the United States. He is superb. Just snooty enough to be a President while still seeming somewhat human. Edmund O'Brien portrays a U.S. Senator helping to stop the plot. He won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for this film. Ava Gardner, Richard Anderson, Martin Balsam and John Houseman, in his screen debut, all add depth to this fine suspense film.

This is an intelligent political drama. Seven Days in May has a deep cast, fine direction and an intriguing script. Enjoy! One interesting note:This film was banned in Brazil upon its release. The military coup that had just taken place there was too similar to the one portrayed in the movie.

Filmed in 1964, directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Rod Serling, starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Edmund O'Brien, Fredric March and Ava Gardner.

Note: I reviewed another John Frankenheimer film, 'Seconds', in my first blog. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Paths of Glory

This film is the reason I began this blog. A fantastic film that has been under-appreciated and under-viewed since its debut. It is on TCM tonight or you can download it with the link to the left.

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.

Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful, detailed look at the imagery in Paths of Glory. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Forbidden Planet

This Sci-Fi classic is on TCM today. Enjoy!

This film is just plain fun! It has everything one could ask for in a 50s science fiction film. The greatest robot ever, a cool monster, psycho-babble (for relevance), lasers, flying saucers, a hot blonde and Shakespeare in space. The only thing missing is more. More robots, more lasers, more blondes!

Seriously, Forbidden Planet is a major sci-fi film. The first successful science fiction film that did not feature a previously known lead (like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers). The audience had to be convinced to come to the theatre based upon their desire to experience a new kind of movie. Science fiction with intelligence and story not just monsters that eat people and destroy cities. I mention Shakespeare because this movie is 'The Tempest'. Take the story of 'The Tempest', move it to outer space and add some references to modern psychology (like "the superego"). Read the play and then watch this movie. Most of the major developments are lifted from the Bard.

Forbidden Planet is also important for 'Robby the Robot'. Far and away the most famous movie robot until the droids of 'Star Wars'. The robot became one of the biggest draws of people at theaters and businesses after the release of this film. Kids loved him! Women wanted him! Men wanted to be him! Okay, that may be a little strong, but Robby was popular (and still is). After the debut of Forbidden Planet, the robot would draw a large and vocal crowd any time he/it was scheduled to appear. A duplicate was later featured on the t.v. show 'Lost in Space', in part to draw in his fans. Robby is listed in the credits as "Robby the Robot as himself".

The movie deserves kudos for being intelligent. It is not just a western in space. Difficult subjects like runaway egos, interpersonal relationships and humanity's impact upon its own future are tackled. One of my favorite things about science fiction is its ability to handle strong ideas and questions and still be entertaining and popular. Films about the ego could turn viewers away, but make it the runaway ego of a space explorer playing God and the audience eats it up.

The plot is simple. A governmental ship makes a routine inspection visit at "Altair IV". Leslie Nielsen, back in the days when he made serious movies, is the space ship's Captain. They are checking on the status of a group of scientists that landed there years ago. They find that only one scientist remains. Walter Pidgeon plays Dr. Mobius. His daughter, played by the lovely and short-skirted Anne Francis, is the only other person alive. They have built Robby the Robot to help with their lives. Mobius warns the ship to leave immediately. He can't be held responsible for the safety of the ship nor its crew. Why is he so afraid? How did they, and no one else, survive? Each of the crew want to know how to get a date with Anne Francis. When the ship refuses to leave a monster attacks. An invisible, unstoppable monster. Who, if any one, will survive and how will they attempt it?

One other important note:the soundtrack and score for this movie are revolutionary. The composers Louis Barron and Bebe Barron changed movie music forever. This is the first film to feature a score that is entirely electronic. It is so different and unique that the musician's union refused them credit as "composers". Instead the score is called "electronic tonalities". This electronic score would blaze the trail for science fiction films to come.

An intelligent script (thanks Shakespeare), a story filled with surprises, an invisible monster and the best robot ever make Forbidden Planet science fiction fun for one and all!

Filmed in 1956, directed by Fred Wilcox, written by Cyril Hume, starring Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Richard Anderson, Jack Kelly,Warren Stevens and Robby the Robot.