Back in ’77 the film Sorcerer was considered a mega-bomb, both artistically and financially. Coming off the mammoth success of both The French Connection and The Exorcist, it would mark the beginning of an enormous career decline for director William Friedkin. However in retrospect, Sorcerer is one badass action thriller and one of the most underrated films of the '70s.
By the end of the decade many of Friedkin’s peers, that great class of '70s film directors who set a new benchmark with their important and revolutionary films earlier in the decade, seemed to get bitten with the overindulgent bug. After years of hitting it out of the park, a number of these "geniuses" created what were considered duds with would-be epics. Spielberg had the loud 1941, Scorsese made the boring musical New York, New York, Coppola put forth the unwatchable One From The Heart, and Bogdanovich had a string of disasters. And of course Michael Cimino, after the success of The Deer Hunter, would help to sink a whole studio with his artsy Western Heaven’s Gate (which was derided for years, but more recently has found a new wave of critical support). Then it was Friedkin's turn to swing for his home run. For his epic he would do a remake of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot's adventure movie, Le Salaire de la Peur (The Wages Of Fear). Clouzot had of course also done the greatest French mystery thriller of all time, the more Hitchcockian than Hitchcock Les Diaboliques (Diabolique). Friedkin developed the remake for superstar Steve McQueen to head the international cast. Sorcerer was green-lighted with a budget that in its day made it a big, big event movie. But unfortunately McQueen got sick and then died and the film never made back its bucks. But what ended up on the screen is wildly spectacular filmmaking.Continue Reading
A Place In The Sun
The "American dream." Many of the WWII GIs and their wives thought they were living it. It was the goal. A place of respect in society. Materialism. Love. It was all promised…Or so they thought. The flaws in the dream were gradually exposed throughout the '50s and especially into the '60s. One of the first to do so was the great filmmaker, George Stevens, a WWII vet himself (he shot some of the most important war footage ever recorded, the liberation of Paris and the Nazi camp in Dachau). Using Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel, An American Tragedy, as a springboard, Stevens showed the horror of the ambitious dreamer (it was also made into a rarely mentioned film by Josef von Sternberg in 1931).
What is now considered Stevens' so-called American Trilogy begins with A Place In The Sun and then goes on to include his greatest masterpiece, Shane, and then James Dean’s final film, the overlong Giant. He would follow up the cycle with the touching, but stagy, The Diary Of Anne Frank, in ’59. Unfortunately his disastrous biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told, in ’65 would more or less send him into early retirement as a director (he would pop out once more, five years later, for the Warren Beatty snoozer, The Only Game In Town). A Place In The Sun, in retrospect, is the perfect peek into the dark side of America in 1951. George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), a modest, steady young man, accepts a job from his rich uncle at a factory. He gets involved with a mousy co-worker, Alice (Shelley Winters), eventually knocking her up, a major inconvenience when he meets and falls for the boss’s wealthy, fast lane daughter Angela (Elizabeth Taylor at her most stunning). The two have an intense chemistry for each other. George gets a taste of the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but he is stuck with his whiny pregnant girlfriend who is basically blackmailing him into marriage. George will do whatever it takes to get rid of Alice so he can get his share of what he thinks the world owes him.Continue Reading
Guilty pleasures - or in the book world they are often referred to as beach books or popcorn or even junk food - you enjoy eating them or watching them or reading them but they have no nutritional content to them. The late '80s and early '90s were full of serviceable guilty pleasures, usually in the guise of thrillers. The genre hit its critical peak with the overrated Michael Douglas flick Fatal Attraction in '87 (that movie actually got a best picture Oscar nomination and that was back when they had a mere five elite films nominated). Superstar bum-flasher Douglas continued his reign as victim to the ladies lust, hitting his apex in '92 with the sleazy homophobia of Basic Instinct. Of course director Paul Verhoeven had done the same story much more effectively with his Dutch film, The 4th Man, ten years earlier.
Video cassettes and cable helped make the suspense genre a staple of movie watchers' subconscious. You may or may not remember the titles, but the films were popular in some form or another, ingested like a bag of potato chips, enjoyed that evening and forgotten the next day. Blink, Color Of Night, Dream Lover, The Last Seduction, Jennifer Eight, The Final Analysis, Jagged Edge, Suspect, Pacific Heights, blah blah blah, the list of title goes on. But for some reason there is one that I always remember. I guess I enjoyed it more than the others...Malice.Continue Reading
High Plains Drifter
Oh, the seventies, the best decade for movies ever! So often I see a film from that period and think, "they would never allow that to happen in a movie today." Case in point: High Plains Drifter. The year, 1973. This was a big movie for Universal, a big budget film. It was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood, who at that time was the biggest megastar in the world. Clint was playing the "hero" of the picture. Now you won't see this from a megastar in a movie today: in the first ten minutes or so he goes and rapes a woman, brutally in the light of day, while the people of the town ignore her plea for help (in Clint's defense, later in the film she comes back for more).
That's not the only naughty shenanigan Clint gets into. Clint's stranger, the new man in an unusually picturesque seaside Western town, is hired by the town's business class to protect their property from some revenge-seeking tough guys who recently got out of jail (those same business owners once employed them and when they got out of control, framed them and sent them to jail). And now Clint is the town's new protector and he seems to be hell-bent on his own kind of revenge against the town, in the form of humiliation. He takes advantage of his open tab to spend, he appoints the town little person as town sheriff and then, in preparation for the returning outlaws, he makes the town paint itself red (even the church is forced into being covered in paint).Continue Reading
Last Tango In Paris
Film acting can be defined with "before Brando" and "after Brando." Marlon Brando brought a reality and a vulnerability to the screen that had never been fully been realized by a major movie star before his startling run of influential film performances in the early 1950s. The generations of "method actors" (Dean, Newman, Hoffman, De Niro, Pacino, Penn, etc.) all cited Brando as their number-one influence on their own revolutionary work.
No other actor has given a string of film performances like the first half dozen of Brando's performances; they were monumental. The Men (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), The Wild One (1953), and On the Waterfront (1954) (for which he finally won his first Oscar) all contributed to his legend.Continue Reading
Planet Of The Apes (1968)
This is a rant. Make your kids watch Planet Of The Apes. If you have not seen it yet, then you watch it. It is the greatest Science-Fiction film of all time. Some will argue for Blade Runner or 2001 or maybe an old timer would vote for Metropolis, maybe a hipster would call out Solaris (the Russian version from the '70s). But me? I’ll take Apes.
Just check out the crazy all-star pedigree it carries: - Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner who, on his next film, Patton, would win the Oscar. - Written by Michael Wilson (Lawrence Of Arabia) and the legendary Rod Serling, creator and sometime writer of the cult TV series, The Twilight Zone. - Based on a novel by the acclaimed French writer Pierre Boulle, author of The Bridge On The River Kwai. - Starring Moses himself, Charlton Heston, Oscar winner for Ben Hur. This would start his run of action and Sci-Fi flicks that would make him almost a combination of Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger of the early '70s. - An exotic original score by Jerry Goldsmith and make-up by the innovative designer of the Star Trek TV series, John Chambers. Etc. Etc.Continue Reading
Antihero. The character you are suppose to be rooting for but find his actions unheroic. Today it’s commonplace in films and fiction. In 1963, the only antiheroes were usual gritty private eyes in dime store novels or gangsters. Then came Paul Newman as Hud. He represents the end of the old cattle ranchers era. It’s a battle of wills with his aging proud father for the soul of his innocent nephew and for the ethics that the family will use in its business dealings. You want to root for Hud. He’s so cool, its megastar, Paul Newman. He has moments of vulnerability when you can see why his heart is so hard. But by the end his selfishness and amoral nature make him so unlikeable. It also makes for an amazing story.
In Paul Newman’s monster-sized career, perhaps only Bogart, Nicholson and maybe James Stewart have ended up with so many iconic roles. As far as performances go, Newman was always good; the consensus would say that his performance as the broken down, drunken lawyer in The Verdict is his masterpiece. I would nominate Hud for second place on his Hall Of Fame chart. And that is saying a lot, with so many other important roles to chose from: The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, The Color Of Money, Nobody’s Fool and the underrated Hombre to name a few, were all fantastic. Not to mention the crowd pleasers like The Sting and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid which are beloved by many.Continue Reading
You are probably NOT saying to yourself, "You know what the world needs more of? Zombie stories." I know I wasn’t. The idea behind the British Television mini-series (five episodes all together running just over 140 minutes) called Dead Set is this...what if there’s a world wide zombie outbreak, all hell breaks loose, the apocalypse sets in, and no one lets the attention seeking, shallow idiots of TV’s isolated Big Brother house in on the news? That’s the set-up; sounds like a cheap gimmick, right? Sounds even a little shrill. Guess what? It works. It works great. This is a zombie tale that can take its rightful place along with the handful of good zombie tales of the last fifty years (Night, Dawn, Shawn, the Dawn remake, and 28 Days Later).
The zombie mayhem comes fast in this story - no long-winded, Arthur Hailey like, first act of meeting and falling for the folks about to be thrown into disaster. Nope, ten minutes in and it’s on. Luckily for us. most of the Big Brother house morons are only there to be future zombie chum. The story mostly centers on two radically different characters. Kelly, a PA at the network, manages to survive the attack and when she makes her way, blood soaked onto the Big Brother set, to try to warn the cast, they take her as a ploy to shake things up on their show and assume she is an over-acting new castmate. Also managing to survive the initial outbreak is the show's producer, Patrick. The actor, Andy Nyman, is wonderful, making this obnoxious madman a cross between Entourage’s Ari Gold and Saul Rubinek in True Romance. From what I could figure, much of the cast is made up of real life British reality stars. But don’t let that turn you off, most of the acting is surprisingly well done.Continue Reading
The third film in director David Lean’s "How To Make An Epic" Trilogy, Doctor Zhivago followed The Bridge On The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia. It may not carry the same critical cache today - some find it too soapy and less "important" - but it’s just as entertaining and just as impressive as his previous two epics. This period for Lean from ’57 to ’65 followed his rather dated Criterion Collection endorsed British period of the '40s and early '50s. And then his follow up to Zhivago five years later, Ryan’s Daughter, does not quite hold up today. But his follow up to that, his final film, the underrated A Passage To India in ’84, is rather interesting and showed the seventy-something director still working with all his powers, if not quite the scope.
Doctor Zhivago could be used for any class on film symbolism. It‘s constant: the leaves falling from the sunflower, the melted snow, the electricity of the cable cars, the deliberate use of the color red standing out among the drab colors. Robert Bolt’s concise script helps to spell out the character's feelings without the actors ever having to proclaim them. It all works to boil down Boris Pasternak’s epic novel of adultery before, during, and after the Russian Revolution. In terms of history class, along with Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Franklin Schaffner’s Nicholas And Alexandra, Warren Beatty’s Reds, and Woody Allen’s Love And Death, you have everything you could ever want to know about that period in Russia, or at least everything I know about it.Continue Reading
Alfred Hitchcock’s second to last film, the underrated Frenzy, may not rank in his top tier. I would reserve that for The Birds, Vertigo, Notorious, and the first two-thirds of Psycho. But it definitely deserves consideration for that next tier, a still high quality group of classics that may include Rebecca, Strangers On A Train, Rear Window and North By Northwest.
Returning for the first time in decades to his old stomping grounds in England, the then seventy-three year old master was able to fully embrace the sex, violence, and nudity standards that had become looser by the early 1970s. The film is shockingly explicit even when compared with say, Marnie, his sexual thriller he made only eight years earlier.Continue Reading