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The Don Is Dead (1973)
Mixed bag of effective and flat mob play
Like quite a few other of the 70's crime dramas that were not classics, but still of more grit and consequence than many of those churned out in the last two decades, this interestingly plotted mob film is a frustrating mix of a really good scene or two followed by a painfully predictable and badly presented one. Anthony Quinn is top billed but largely wasted as the boss whose romantic liaison triggers a war of wills and weapons with some headstrong younger members (led by Robert Forster, Frederic Forrest and Al Lettieri.) Some good action scenes follow, but, like the rest of the film, some of them are quite impressive while others fall flat. A mixed bag, not often seen but worth watching, with limited expectations.
Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958)
Newman's weakest of '58 still an interesting comic effort
In other of Paul Newman's movie years, this one might have fared better, but alongside the Southern masterpieces Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Long Hot Summer, and the flawed but interesting Billy The Kid take The Left-Handed Gun, this sometimes amusing fluff just can't hold up. Good to see him paired with Woodward and taking a stab at screen comedy for the first time, but he never truly excelled at it until later in his career. Still, some nice bits and decent work survive. It's just impossible to see and compare these days, rarely if ever broadcast and unreleased to video to this day.
The Big Country (1958)
Epic in character, not simply budget or "history"
The Big Country has long been underrated in discussions of some other, rather overblown two-and-a-half-hour plus westerns of the 50's and 60's. Unlike many others, this one is rich in character, not just another lesson in "it's in Cinerama/Super Panavision and historical, so it's gotta be good."
The cast is smaller than some spot-the-star epics and couldn't have been better chosen; what few people remember in amongst the always commanding Gregory Peck lead, the talented female duo of Jean Simmons and Carroll Baker, and the vivid feud-masters Burl Ives, Charles Bickford and Chuck Connors, is that Charlton Heston gave one of his best performances here.
Not to say that the visuals aren't striking here; the technical work stands up to and often surpasses the big Westerns of the era. Good news for fans and never-seens: the movie was recently announced for release in stereo and widescreen on DVD in the next couple of months: an overdue treat of a movie ready for discovery (or rediscovery.)
The Badlanders (1958)
One of Ladd's best later films, with a fine Borgnine match
Vividly filmed in Cinemascope in the best late-50's MGM style, this loose remake of The Asphalt Jungle in a Western setting has some good acting and takes a different road. The relationship of Alan Ladd and Ernest Borgnine is consistently interesting and unpredictable throughout, and Katy Jurado offers a standout performance. Ultimately less grim than its source material, this one has a satisfying resolution, and the action that leads to it holds the interest the entire way. A solid Western that deserves a significant place in both of its stars' filmographies.
The Tall T (1957)
One of the 50's and its star/director team's best Westerns
Boetticher and Scott spent the latter half of the 1950s making some terrific, adult, low-key Westerns, of which this stands as the best. Atmosphere, technical work and acting are all excellent, with interesting villain characterizations and a well-realized flawed hero in Scott.
Brutal and vivid, great-looking, and among Elmore Leonard's earliest writing work in the medium. Check out this classic, as well as the other films of the star and director (also the similar, excellent Gary Cooper/Anthony Mann teaming in the following year's Man of the West.)
Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (1957)
Good minor-key Scott Western of interest for early Garner
One of the more minor-key of Randolph Scott's late 50's Westerns, with frequent era collaborator Budd Boetticher nowhere in sight. The more standard filming style is evident, but Scott offers his traditional dependable portrayal, and the film is of interest for the early big-screen work of James Garner and Angie Dickinson. Has some good action scattered throughout.
Man in the Shadow (1957)
Welles underused in atmospheric but slight thriller
Often mistaken as a Western, this little ranch-set, (then) modern-day murder tale has ambitious themes, but fails to resolve itself with much of an impact. Orson Welles was seen to possibly his best effect onscreen in 1958 with his masterpiece Touch of Evil and his great, scenery chewing Southern patriarch in The Long, Hot Summer. Here he's barely given anything to work with, and Jeff Chandler's solid work doesn't produce a memorable character. Good atmosphere, interesting potential, but a disappointment.
Sirk doesn't strike gold at U-I this time.
Throughout the 50's, Universal-International was home to most of director Douglas Sirk's striking views of life, love and heartache among the American classes. His work with Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone, Barbara Stanwyck and others in superior films like Written on The Wind, The Tarnished Angels and There's Always Tomorrow is not matched here.
June Allyson on occasion was able to break free from her standard persona with the fortuitous help of the right co-star, director, script turn or moment in time. Here the noble suffering and Rossano Brazzi do not provide the right formula. The stars try (probably too hard) and the trappings are predictably pretty, but the whole affair is rather unfortunately empty.
The Garment Jungle (1957)
Among the best and most brutal of 50's Crime Dramas
Certainly among the lesser-known 50's racket-noirs (even many inferior are more discussed and collected), this one hits hard, looks good and has the unmistakable touch of prime-era Aldrich, though it was only partially done by him. Frequent cinematography collaborator Joe Biroc puts the stamp on that ensures a vivid look at a harsh story.
The cast is uniformly good, with Cobb leading in one of his best performances. The blending of two directors' work here unusually doesn't detract from the impact of this one. Look for it on television, or the hard-to-find, out-of-print video, whenever possible.
A classic thriller that more than equals its famous counterpart
When this gem came out in the summer of '86, it was gone and forgotten in the time it took to clean the neighboring theatres still showing Top Gun...too bad, because then and now, it stood high above the competition as one of the best crime thrillers in years.
William Petersen had just distinguished himself less than a year before with his starring debut in To Live and Die in L.A. playing another lawman with different shadings. His work here is notably intense without the hand-wringing histrionics that might have appealed to some of this great movie's detractors.
Speaking of this great movie's detractors: some of the previous comments have complained about the nerve that it took to change Thomas Harris' "great" novel ending. Long before this movie was ever thought of, I read and enjoyed Harris' work, but the ending of the book kind of struck me as a cheap horror movie ending. And after that, with the onslaught of slasher pics that had been on the screens for nearly a decade, perhaps Mann and company realized that on film, that ending would even look MORE like a cheap horror movie than it read years before. Whatever the reason, the ending of the film is well-shot and satisfying in the terms of a crime thriller (which after all is what this movie is...); better a typical crime movie ending than a typical Friday the 13th ending.
The atmosphere and production values are all top-grade, despite the predictable beefs that plague movies on here of every decade except NOW: the usual comments, stuck in present day, that complain: it's "too 80's", "looks too 80's", "terrible soundtrack..sounds too 80's." Guess what, folks, IT WAS MADE IN THE 80's! There is always backlash over what went before; maybe great numbers of people are embarrassed over what they were dressing in, listening to, watching, etc. ten or twenty years ago. But movies naturally exist, bad ones and good ones, as indicators of their era.
I'm not defending the experience of that era, truth is, most of the movies released in the '80s were not great, but then, most movies released in any given year see the mediocre to bad far outweigh the good and definitely overshadow the great. The point is, if you're happier being spoonfed the latest new releases, just because they carry a year-old or less release date, don't even venture back to the masterworks of yesteryear. Might be some fashions or electronic music that frighten you more than the killer!
Not every great movie from the past is going to be remade to capture the look and style of current day. Good thing, too, because they'd probably blow it. And even so, if this movie were remade with the equal brilliance and look of The Matrix, American Beauty, Fight Club (not a knock; I love them all) and other internet faves, chances are that in ten years, the same people would sit and write "it had a decent plot, but looked and sounded so lame and cheesy...SO 90'S."
Manhunter still stands today as a great film, not eclipsed at all by its famous followup The Silence of the Lambs, which was a huge success financially and critically. It's wonderful to remember that such a dark and un-Gandhi/Last Emperor/Driving Miss Daisy film won the Best Picture Oscar. And it was a fine film, though not without just a few faults. (Jodie Foster's wardrobe was so '91......just kidding). The obvious difference was the style in which Lecter was presented and played, but Brian Cox' work here is an admirable portrayal of Lecter at a different point, and it's actually a little more chilling to imagine his depraved crimes as he does not tip his hand at all with any frightening design to his work. [No slight to Hopkins' fantastic work; his more overtly frightening mannerisms depict Lecter in a different set of circumstances.]
The rest of the cast performs very well, with Noonan a frightening and enigmatic killer, Farina a dependable and sardonic Jack Crawford and Joan Allen in one of her earliest roles. Only Kim Griest's role seems undernourished, but not much time is spent on the Graham's domestic life. (Further down in the cast, it's quite interesting to see funnyman Chris Elliott in a straight role behind a law enforcement desk.)
The production design is a nice mix of dark foreboding and crisp brightness. Michael Mann did create Miami Vice (another thing everyone has to say was "cheesy" to be properly entrenched in modern thinking) and this film did come out right in the middle of its successful run. Do they share some common design appearances? Yes, and the movie's look is all the better for it, just as the show was changing the look of TV crime thrillers from Cannon and Barnaby Jones to something a little more striking. With Thief, Manhunter and Heat, Michael Mann created three of the very best crime dramas of the last quarter century. As decent and noble as The Insider was (and Ali will probably be), his fans would certainly agree that it's time for him to take another walk down the dark criminal alley again.