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32 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
history's mysteries, 12 September 2003

Wonderful performances, first-rate script and direction (moving musical score in key places, as well), plus a well-structured theme about moral dilemmas of patriotic soldiers who realize they're obeying evil orders, make this a little-known gem.

Did Rommel really participate in the plot to kill Hitler? Hitler sure thought so. He had his favorite general poisoned; about that there is no question.

Did Rommel know Hitler before the war? Not sure when they became acquainted but Rommel ran AH's bodyguard unit for a while, then became one of Hitler's favorite generals when he helped sweep the British to Dunkirk in 1940.

Was Rommel aware of and morally responsible for the Holocaust? A recent award winning Rommel biography cites one scene I wish they could have included in this film: Rommel around 1941 advised Hitler that he was concerned by Allied carping on German anti-semitism. "Why don't we put some Jews into prominent leadership positions and shut them up?" Rommel suggested. Hitler told Rommel to stick to military matters and, after the general exited the room, told associates: "That fellow has absolutely no understanding of what we are trying to accomplish."

The movie does generally succeed in portraying the theme of a soldier so single-mindedly focused on the professional technique of his job that he only slowly awakens to the moral horror and self-destructiveness of the leader he serves.

The Churchill quote used at the film's ending is meant to address (and answer) the questions about whether it is morally proper to make a film that glorifies a Nazi general. If Churchill could say such magnanimous things about him...and it's an accurate quote...then so could Hollywood.

(Interesting historical note: British film audiences in the early 1950s were not in such a generous mood. The studio quickly churned out the much-inferior "Desert Rats" film, featuring Mason as a more-villainous Rommel, to mollify outraged critics.)

Where did the quote come from that is spoken in this film by von Reunstadt: "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan"? Yes, JFK used it, famously, after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Many newsmen of the time mistakenly credited the president with originating it, but JFK didn't claim credit for it. The line has since been traced back to some Italian count in the 1500s. His name was Ciano or something like that. But JFK was a big movie fan and, my guess is, probably learned this aphorism from "The Desert Fox" a decade before using it in his famous post-Bay of Pigs press conference!

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
enjoyable, not fully successful, 12 September 2003

From Cary Grant to Nicholas Cage, it's a longtime Hollywood tradition (or cliche) to portray angels as noble but fun-deprived beings who long to be human and who envy the mortals in the story. This time the role goes to Brad Pitt, and the sole twist is...he's not an ordinary angel, he is The Angel of Death. Pitt enters Anthony Hopkins' life not to bring divine wisdom and help, but to end Hopkins' human existence. This concept has potential, but the theme of "death as a blessing" or "death as transition to another reality" was barely touched on. (More on this below).

Many good elements here -- fine actors, FABULOUS music, top cinematography, solid direction. The basic story idea -- about mortality adding extra spice to life and poignancy to love -- comprises a profound and timeless theme.

3 hour length in and of itself is no problem (nobody complains that Lawrence of Arabia is too long). The real problem is, an even stronger emotional payoff and greater romantic thrill could have been achieved with tighter writing and brisker pacing. Many repetitive scenes and speeches should have been trimmed or cut entirely.

Example: check out the key thematic scene with the father and daughter in the helicopter, where Hopkins tells her to seek "lightning" in her life. Hopkins is made to repeat his 1-minute speech 3 different times with only slight variations! The sibling rivalry subplot could have been axed; nobody would have missed it...etc.

Pitt's role as an otherworldly spirit who is awkwardly learning to be human led him to choose an odd acting style. Some like it, others loathe it. My problem is not Pitt's acting, but the way the role is written: Death is virtually omniscient about some things including minutiae of human experience (this is perfectly believable for an immortal, godlike being), yet at the same time Death is ignorant and wide-eyed innocent as a newborn babe about other very simple and universal human experiences (this is not credible and was mined for very weak humor).

In this movie, as in most others featuring the Hollywood cliche about "angels who long to be human," the filmmakers reveal a certain poverty of imagination...regrettable in a fantasy, where imagination should be given full play. There is a consistent failure in these films to even consider, much less appreciate, the possibility that a transcendent, metaphysical, purely spiritual existence could be MORE satisfying (and more exciting and more full of love) than a physical, human life based on the senses.

Such a premise would not ruin the drama but would heighten it. For example, Meet Joe Black would have worked better if Death were somehow FORCED to be human for a while, hated it, and saw himself as the Great Liberator who was freeing humanity to transition to a higher, better existence. (In this film Death seems to regard himself as a sort of cosmic elevator attendant: his job is necessary but morally neutral.) Death might then progress from mere intellectual omniscience about every aspect of human existence, to an emotional appreciation that even the meager perceptions and intellects of human beings are capable of love and nobility. (Meet Joe Black came about halfway toward achieving this, but didn't quite make it.)

All the humans who meet Death should see him as a fearful, terrifying scourge. As the film was actually produced, only one character had that reaction (the Jamaican lady in the hospital, and she quickly got over her fear). The other characters in MJB who realized his true identity responded as if Death, in performing his basic function, was the school principal announcing that, regrettably, recess time is over.

In sum: portraying the angel character as one who strongly preferred his otherworldly existence would have sharpened conflicts, deepened the characters' motivations, and eliminated many inconsistencies. It would have invested the Death vs. Hopkins conflict with greater stakes, and made the love story even more poignant.

(By the way: if you personally met the Angel of Death, don't you think you would ask even ONE question about the nature of the afterlife? Even if he refused to answer, somebody in this movie should have asked!)

11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
delightful caper comedy, 3 August 2003

**** out of 5...No violence and no special effects, just droll and urbane humor and WIT. More in the spirit of "How To Steal A Million" or "The Thomas Crown Affair" rather than "The Sting," this British comedy has lots to like. Begin with a thoroughly winning, playboy-rogue characterization by James Mason. Mix in a perfect snob played by the inimitable George Sanders (as only he can). Simmer with the last half, which builds into one of those reversal-on-reversal, can-you-top-this endings. I caught it at 3AM on a local station and, fortunately, taped it.

Ben-Hur (1959)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Christian propaganda?, 27 July 2003

The most amazing, and amusing, comments here are those who complain that Ben-Hur is "Christian propaganda." OF COURSE in its basic outlines the story is Christian propaganda, that's why Gen. Lew Wallace wrote the book, you morons!

Actually, Jewish director Wyler and the screenwriters played down the overtly Christian elements, at least as compared to the novel and the 1925 film version. 1959's Ben-Hur does not explicitly convert to Christianity; he is persuaded by Jesus' example to give up violence and to choose love over power. Now, if you choke on that sort of "Christian propaganda," you have probably overdosed on The Godfather and Hannibal the Cannibal.

As for Heston's alleged "hammy over-acting": that's the way it was done in big-screen epics of that era, ladies. Another example, watch Vivian Leigh as Scarlett in "GWTW"...over the top as she could possibly be, and just marvelous. BUT, this acting style plays much better if you see it in a theater with images 60 feet wide and 30 feet high, rather than on a 25" TV monitor.