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"The Infidel" relevant today
"The Infidel" should be compulsory viewing today, especially in schools where we need to teach tolerance and respect. George Bush and Tony Blair (who should know better) would no doubt find this episode subversive television if caught it on cable TV today. A Moslem escapes his English kidnappers who brought him back from the Holy Land only to be beset by a bunch of English ruffians. Robin Hood, offended at the gutless behaviour of the gang, rescues the Moslem who explains his plight. There is a wonderful scene where they both speak with reverence of their respective leaders, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. Robin goes on to expose a land-grabbing plot in which the Moslem was a pawn. John Dyson was the pseudonym of blacklisted American writers. According to English film historian Steve Neale's excellent research, Robert Lees was a co-author of this episode. Ring Lardner Jr and Ian McLellan Hunter often used this pseudonym as well. The series had a strong social conscience. The films of Ralph Smart, who was a liberal rather than a socialist, had social justice themes and often questioned authority either gently or through rebellion. He worked with communist Harry Watt on the progressive films "The Overlanders" and "Eureka Stockade" in Australia and "Where No Vultures Fly" in Africa and later worked with blacklisted writer/producer Hannah Weinstein on several famous ITC television series. Ralph can be best judged on "Bush Christmas", "Bitter Springs" and "Never Take No for an Answer". Ralph especially loved the resourcefulness of children, something that shows up in several episodes of "Robin Hood", "William Tell" and "The Invisible Man". His films in Australia were among the first to feature Aboriginal characters and addressed the events on the frontier during white settlement. Smart, Weinstein and the blacklisted writers were a powerful team producing some of the best work ever seen on English television. Shows like "Robin Hood" were made for children. They may have been violent from time to time, but their social messages aimed to foster (Ralph's middle name, by the way) to inculcate fine values in children. Today's shows like "Robin Hood" stack up extremely well as educational and entertaining films. And episodes like "The Infidel" would be political dynamite today. Might teach some people that respect rather than hatred might better help resolve present-day world conflicts. If only Bush, Blair, Howard and Moselem leaders had seen it before a decision was made to go to war.
Errol Flynn a progressive
I recently read Charles Higham's notoriously unreliable biography of Errol Flynn because I picked it up for about $1 at a secondhand bookshop. I had long refused to read it because of Higham's infamous claims that Flynn was a Nazi and because the dust cover displayed a swastika. The copy I picked up didn't have a dust cover. Higham's spurious claims are based on his knowledge of the mysterious Nazi character Erben, a one-time associate of Flynn's, who later recanted his Nazi views. Higham also refers to Flynn's affairs with Nazi women. I'm not sure politics had much influence on Flynn's sex life. Nevertheless, it struck me while reading this drivel that you could just as easily construct a convincing portrait of Flynn as a communist. He secretly joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain and, of course, he made two pro-Castro films about Cuba. "Cuban Rebel Girls" is a bad film whichever way you look at it with an unusually poor performance from Errol (who was simply brilliant only recently in "The Roots of Heaven", "Too Much Too Soon" and, of course, "The Sun Also Rises"). I have watched "Cuban Rebel Girls" several times because I nevertheless find it a fascinating and curious film. Director Mahon directed some right-wing Cold War films so I am not sure why he was involved with this one. In any case, the direction like the script, was poor. The script should have been handed over to producers like Samuel Z. Arkoff or Albert Zugsmith for better results. It's the sort of film Mamie Van Doren would have spiced up wonderfully. "The Cuba Story" is another mess of a film, but like "Cuban Rebel Girls" at least its heart is in the right place. Sad to see Errol Flynn in failing health in both these films. He looks old and weary after a lifetime of living it up. But the point to be made is that no Nazi would be associated with these pro-Castro films. Or if Flynn did have Nazi sympathies or allegiances at some stage(and like Erben, recanted), then it is instructive that he chose to be involved with these Cuba films. And as for those Nazi women Flynn was supposed to have slept with? Maybe he was just pumping them for information.
Showdown at Eagle Gap (1982)
What's the lowdown on "Showdown"?
Until recently, "Showdown at Eagle Gap" (aka Quell and Co.) did not show up in any William Witney filmography, not even the one in his own autobiography. My thanks to Francis M. Nevins for his insights into this film, a German-US co-production which received minimal release. In fact, I completely failed to recognise that Witney, the man himself, has a touching cameo at the very end of the film. He (pseudonymously) plays a sheriff who checks in on Quell and his two friends and he wishes them good luck when he salutes them as if giving them a blessing. Mr Nevins pointed out to me as well that it was fitting that Witney's first and last films centred on western trios, a mainstay of classic B grade westerns. His first feature film as a director was the excellent action-packed Three Mesquiteers entry, "The Trigger Trio". I have previously written that this was "an unusually bland film for Witney, but a lesser Witney film is still pretty good. It is an engrossing yarn rather typical of 1970s American television." I stand by those comments, but Mr Nevins' insights have me enjoying "Showdown at Eagle Gap" in different ways. If you like Witney's pictures or westerns in general, it is worth checking out.
Cold Creek Manor (2003)
Not so bad
Generally speaking I will buy the DVD of any movie starring Juliette Lewis, so I finally caught up with "Cold Creek Manor" when I found it on DVD. I expected it to be pretty bad because of what I've read about it. But it's not so bad a film. I stayed with it anyway. Juliette, as usual, is wasted in a thankless part. It's a shame these days that genuinely fine actors do these trailer trash kind of roles, mostly because big stars and lesser actors won't do them. If Juliette was around in the old days she would have had the roles they gave Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland or Joan Crawford. Today she does roles like this (not to mention her career nadir in an episode of the mind-numbingly awful "My Name is Earl"). Dennis Quaid, Shane Stone and the young actors playing their children are very good. I really liked this family. I suppose the lack of suspense is due to the fact that there was little conflict between them other than the usual family gripes. There was an undeveloped plot point where Stone admits to considering an affair. This could have been interesting. Brad Pittish Stephen Dorff's character was underdeveloped. The gradual revelation of his past was not suspenseful enough to be effective and this is something of a fatal flaw. I am glad Mike Figgis scrapped the alternate ending that was included in the DVD's special features. But I think the pool scene might have worked, though it would have made the film unnecessarily longer. "Cold Creek Manor" reminded me "Straw Dogs" and pales in comparison. But on its own merits, it's nowhere near as bad as the comments on this website indicate. Worth a look.
Catch and Release (2006)
A very nice little feel-good film that is hard to dislike. But it lacks one vital ingredient - conflict. Every time something remotely looking like conflict arises, it is all-too-swiftly resolved. There were plenty of opportunities for character development through conflict - the ring, the mother-in-law-to-be, the other woman, the child's behaviour, the child's paternity, two blokes loving Jennifer Garner etc. Any one of these could have been a strong plot point in its own right. All of the characters are pleasant and easy to take, even Kevin Smith's funny boisterous character. I was disappointed Jennifer Garner's narration tended to signal the film's themes and then spell them out as if we were unable to catch on. The last piece of narration at the memorial garden party was completely unnecessary. But it seems like criticising motherhood to be too harsh on "Catch and Release". I truly liked the characters and I would love to have any of them as my friend, including the dead fiancé's mother. All the lead actors were so superb I forgot they were actors and accepted their characters. Juliette Lewis as always is a stand-out. I guess an important thing I should add is that "Catch and Release" can sustain repeated viewings. I look forward to more work from Susannah Grant.
No Name on the Bullet (1959)
Was Abraham Polonsky involved?
In Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner's biography of blacklisted writer/director Abraham Polonsky, Polonsky tells them he had worked as a writer without credit on many films. But he would not divulge the names of all these films because he honoured agreements not to do so. These titles Polonsky took to his grave. Jack Arnold's excellent philosophical western, "No Name on the Bullet", repeats the classic Polonsky line from "Body and Soul": "Everybody dies!". In fact, this is the overt theme of "No Name on the Bullet" which explores the notion of life and death at great length. The retired judge is old enough to sacrifice himself for the town. His selflessness seems to diminish any high morals his fellow townsmen may have. Audie Murphy as the assassin Jim Gant recognises this, even though he did not kill him as he initially planned, recognises the old man's bravery and defiance when he refuses to accept Dr Charles Drake's offer to treat his arm. There is not a bad performance in this thoughtful and engrossing western and it shows how well Audie Murphy could act with a first-rate director at the helm. Jack Arnold's best film seems to have Polonsky's poetic touch. I wonder if someone out there can confirm if Polonsky was involved with the script of "No Name on the Bullet". Is my theory likely?
The Family Jewels (1965)
Donna Butterworth is delightful
I have been familiar with both The Family Jewels and Paradise Hawaiian Style for many years, but it was only when I coincidentally bought both on DVD recently that I realised Donna Butterworth starred in both. I'm not sure her name even registered with me in the past. However, her performances in both films are winning and funny and I imagine she grew up to be a very lovely person. Her singing is sensational in what is otherwise a lesser Elvis Presley film (directed by Michael Moore (!) but not the Sicko guy). The audio commentary and special features on The Family Jewels provide some interesting information and background about Donna. Jerry claims to have discovered Donna in Hawaii and we see amusing and heartwarming screen tests of them together among the special features. She is now 50 or so years old and I hope she is proud of them. If you're reading this Donna, hi from me.
The Slim Dusty Movie (1984)
Jim Sharman Sr
The Jim Sharman featured in The Slim Dusty Movie is not the Jim Sharman of Rocky Horror Picture Show fame. The latter was the former's son. Jimmy Sharman Sr was a legend in Australia. He took his travelling show and boxing tent around Australia and young blokes all over Australia would try to take on his people. It was a nice touch to include Jim Sr in The Slim Dusty Movie, a film that doesn't just showcase Slim Dusty's travelling shows, but gives an authentic look at country Australia. You will meet singer/songwriter Stan Coaster and cattleman/bush balladeer Lew Williams, late of Bowen, North Queensland, in this interesting road movie. You will meet the Aboriginal people Slim had a special bond with. And if you come from Bowen, Charters Towers and Mount Isa, you will see a lot of people you know in the audiences. I especially like the scene where Ben De Luca of the Summergarden Theatre welcomes Slim to Bowen. Ben was a great friend of Slim's and is a true townsman. You don't have to like Slim's music to appreciate this historic (and historical) record.
On to Tokyo (1945)
According to Frank Capra Jr in his excellent television series comprising famous wartime documentaries by top directors, On to Tokyo was made by his father, though he does not specify whether he served as producer, director or both.
Capra Sr refers to On to Tokyo in his autobiography, The Name Above the Title. Mr Capra Jr advises as well that his father created the character Private Snafu for the cautionary cartoon series. This is the first I heard of this and would be interested in more information.
Filmmakers like Frank Capra, John Huston, John Ford and William Wyler worked on a lot of these war documentaries during their service years. Often they helped each other out and I find it difficult to track down who did what.
The Frank Capra Jr series, Frank Capra: The War Years, not only includes all the major and some minor war documentaries, Mr Capra Jr provides some interesting behind the insights. My only complaint about the program is that it did not screen the full length versions of John Ford's December 7th and This is Korea! But that's a minor complaint because the shortened films are extremely interesting in themselves.
Superman Returns (2006)
Bring back Richard Lester
DC Comics has produced thousands of Superman stories for some 65 years. Why on earth, with all the money used to make "Superman Returns", did the producers deliver such a crashing bore? This is the fifth big-budget Superman film from Warner Brothers since "Superman: The Movie" in 1978. Why would you squander multi-millions of dollars for another tired old storyline about Superman versus Luthor. The world wasn't even in danger.... What's with Lex Luthor anyway? He has now appeared in four of these five films? What about exploring the cinematic and story possibilities of Mr Mxzptlyk or Brainiac? They are as much a part of the Superman legend as Luthor. DC also gave us Lori the mermaid and the City of Kandor writers' imaginations can run riot with these concepts. There's a wealth of material in them thar comic books. In the finest of the Superman films, Richard Lester's brilliant but much-maligned "Superman III" utilised his inventive sense of humour and cinematic vision to broaden the scope of the modern-day film series and inject a sense of action, wonder and fun. Dick Lester knew his material better than Richard Donner (though his cut of "Superman II", unlike his first film, captures the action and fun of the comics). "Superman Returns" is a brooding melancholic film that captures none of the spirit of adventure and fun that Superman fans have enjoyed for more than six decades. Superman is not Batman (though the Batman comics were more colourful and more fun than the movie series). So cut out the boring doom and gloom and put life back into the legend before future generations judge Superman solely on these films and not the serials, the TV show and, of course, the original DC comics. Sidney J. Furie's under-rated fourth entry in the series concentrated on action and gave us a storyline for the times world peace an issue still relevant today. In this respect "The Quest for Peace" resembled "Superman and the Mole-Men". The latter was an excellent programmer with an inspirational "live and let live" theme and a call for tolerance, a striking commentary on the McCarthyite witchhunts of the time. Like Furie's action-packed film, a theme that remains relevant. It is with a heavy heart that I criticise the acting in "Superman Returns", but I suspect the fault lies with the director. The characters barely crack a smile. Brandon Routh's performance nicely dovetails with those of Christopher Reeve (a fine tribute, mate), but don't forget that Reeve's humour is what rounded out the character in a way Reeves and Alyn didn't do). The adorable Kate Bosworth is a fine actor too. And of course Kevin Spacey is one of the great advocates of cinema in the world today. But why act as if you are at a funeral? Superman is a comic-book legend, not a kitchen-sink drama. Let's have some life for goodness sake. I can understand Bosworth wanting to make the character her own, but she really didn't. She was completely unmemorable. (I would have cast Juliette Lewis myself). But I found myself yearning for Margot Kidder and the wisecracks in her peppy performances as Lois. And Noel Neill's appearance in the beginning of "Superman Returns" made me think back to her Lois Lane in the fast-moving action-packed Columbia serials as well as the TV show where the clipped dialogue moved the pace along. Let's get Richard Lester out of retirement. He is one of the most creative filmmakers of the 20th century and he knew how to handle these larger-than-life characters without sacrificing their human qualities. Instead of putting Superman to sleep (as well as the audience), Lester brought Superman to life. If you can't get Lester, learn from him.