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Four Ghostly Vignettes
Watched this one on Hulu's Criterion Collection...It was interesting enough, but seemed uneven, to me...
Black Hair, the lead vignette, as others had mentioned, bogged down, IMO, with the Samurai horse archery scene, before reeling to its Gothic ending...
Woman of the Snow was both interesting and beautifully filmed, with its watercolor panoramas, separating the outdoor scenes, SPOILER ALERT, its ending was not quite what I expected, with Yuki's mother instinct, apparently, not wanting to orphan her children.
Hoichi the Earless, kicks off with a genuine, and reasonably accurate depiction (even down to the blackened teeth of the Heike!) of the Battle of Dan-no-ura, a pivotal sea battle (in the Samurai style, where ships were just platforms for infantry and archers) of the Genpei War of 1180-1185, that ushered in the first Shogunate, as the Genji (Minamoto) clan defeated the Heike (Tiara)Clan. Emperor Antoku, a 6 year old descendant of the Heike was drowned by his grandmother, who jumped into the Shimonoseki Strait with the child Emperor in her arms, rather than allow him to be captured by the Genji, following the mass suicide, by drowning, of many of the Heike clan, when defeat seemed inevitable...a brief cut that shows the Heike crabs, whose shells seem to have a warrior's face, significance is often lost on western audiences, unfamiliar with Japanese history and beliefs...After the battle, superstition held that the faces on the crabs reflected the spirits of the drowned Heike warriors, the "ghosts" that call Hoichi to play at Emperor Ankotu's court...my feeling is that the long setup, and brief epilogue, makes the "payoff" of this tale a little disappointing, but reading other accounts, there seems to be an extended version of this section, that highlights the Biwa playing, and ties ends up better, but, on the Hulu version, that I watched, the ending seems a bit abrupt...Also, IMO, Hoichi lacks the cinematic flair and beauty of the "Black Hair" and "Woman of the Snow"
Finally, In a Cup of Tea, a story about telling an unfinished story, examining the consequences of drinking another's soul, that for reasons inexplicable (or incomprehensible to me), seems to reside in a cup of tea. As I speak none of the language, and had to depend on subtitles, I didn't completely understand this tale. It appeared, to me, more of a tale of madness and delusion, rather than a "supernatural" event as it wound down to its , shockingly, ironic conclusion, SPOILER ALERT! involving the author of the story...also, the visuals, lacked the boldness and beauty of the first two vignettes...
This is the third film by Kobayashi I have seen, and would place it behind Seppuku (Harakiri) and Samurai Rebellion, as far as story telling, perhaps simply because they are more focused tales, rather than a collection of short stories, although, the Gothic horror of Black Hair, and the stunning outdoor scenes of Woman of the Snow, are superior to the other films mentioned, visually.
In summary, Kaidan seems more an interesting experiment, that reminded this viewer of Twilight Zone or Night Gallery quality stories, with more attention to visuals than the aforementioned TV shows.
Partizanska eskadrila (1979)
Half Dubbed Version on Mill Creek DVD-50 Combat Classics
I bought "50 Combat Classics" for 10 bucks at Walmart, not expecting much, and the version of Partizanska Escadrila, called "Battle of the Eagles" on Disc 8 lived down to expectations. This is not to say my 10 bucks were wasted, there have been some pleasant surprises in the 50 films, but this was not one of them. The film included on this DVD set, is the chopped up, and dubbed version, as described by other reviewers.
As is clear from the IMDb summary for Partizanska Escadrila, this is a Yugoslavian production from 1979. Why somebody felt compelled to produce a pure propaganda piece 34 years after the War, WWII, is a mystery to this reviewer.
It is hard, for me, to judge acting or actor ability with a dubbed film, but, while there are an abundance of stereotypical, war movie characters, there are no obvious instances of histrionics or blatant overacting. On the checklist of characters, there is the cool, firm, competent leader (the Major). The free-spirited, skilled, and reckless pilot. The sullen, sulky, reluctant, volunteer (the non-communist that steals a plane from the Germans, to serve the homeland). His doomed sidekick, who has to earn his trust. The goofy kid, that rises from incompetence to hero. The quiet woman of compassion, who loves the leader (the radio operator). The goofy kid's, every-woman, love interest, who sacrifices all to be near him. All the stock characters seem covered.
The action in this film requires a major suspension of belief, as the hopelessly outnumbered heroes, in hopelessly outdated planes, take on a supposedly modern Air Force AND Army on equal terms. By equal terms, I mean that there are losses on both sides, and there are mission successes on both sides. (The Luftwaffe, when fighting planes of the quality depicted in this film, swept away the entire organized Air Forces of THREE countries (Poland, Holland, Belgium) in less than a week, cumulatively.) The climactic air duel, pits the Major, leader of the partisans, against the evil, I guess (more on this later), German Gestapo officer. What a policeman, which is what the Gestapo was, is doing in a Luftwaffe fighter, is, yet another, mystery to me.
About the Gestapo guy...I guess he is evil, but, as I speak nearly no German, at all, I cannot be sure. That is because on the dubbed version provided in this film collection, ONLY THE YUGOSLAV DIALOGUE IS DUBBED IN English! The DAMN Germans SPEAK ONLY UNTRANSLATED German! The only German word I could even correctly translate myself was the "Scheiß" (shit), as the sullen guy stole the German plane. So, nearly a third of this film was incomprehensible to this viewer!
In summary, a somewhat predictable Yugoslavian flag waver of limited entertainment value to this monolingual English speaking viewer. Not the worst film I've seen in the aforementioned DVD collection, but not nearly good enough to warrant a repeat viewing.
The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
More Socially Advanced than Radio of the Time
Nobody is going to award this screenplay awards for being anything more of a satire of the music industry, with scenery chewing main characters playing it big and obvious...no subtlety here, Jayne Mansfield, a stunning beauty, has the most restrained performance of all of the main characters. The '50s broad stroke comedy hasn't aged as well as other films, but, that is to be expected as the beloved popular music of the generation that produced this film gave way to the genre that was actually being satirized, Rock and Roll.
That being said, the film was AHEAD of it's time in showing artists doing their originals for a mass appeal production. AT THE TIME, segregation existed in both CONCERTS and RADIO. Some radio stations would only play Pennimen (Little Richard), Domino and other black artist's songs that white artists had covered...The inclusion of the the original artists was a bold and interesting move, as, even in film history, there had been films targeted for audiences by race in much the same way as was the radio practice of the time.
The influence of those assembled artists, even the ones that the dialog was mocking, for instance, Eddie Cochran, can still be heard over 40 years after his untimely death...Summertime Blues is STILL a rock standard, and classic rock stations still play Little Richard, Fats Domino, and the Platters...Even the faded ghost of the music that was passing (literally and figuratively in the movie), Julie London, has gotten re-issues of re-mastered material on CD recently.
An entertainment on many levels, this film still exudes an exuberance, and quite unintentionally, preserves a visual record musical legacy of artists from Jazz to Rockibilly to R&B to Early Rock...and the joy of those performances is still infectious in the 21st century.
Dark Command (1940)
The Actors - Their Characters
"Dark Command", is a film I can recommend as a good example of the Western genre, and stars some of film Western's icons plus Walter Pidgeon, a solid professional actor, but not one usually associated with Westerns...As others have commented on the strengths/weaknesses/history, I'd like to confine my comments to some of the actors and their portrayals.
In order of Billing:
Claire Trevor as Miss Mary McCloud. Ms. Trevor was a fine actress and a beautiful lady, and here, Ms. Trevor gives a solid and respectable effort as a haughty lady brought down by the circumstances of her seeing the folly of her rejection of the suit of principled, Bob Seton (John Wayne), for the superficially charming, but fatally ambitious and unprincipled William Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon). Ms. Trevor speaks with her normal New York accent.
John Wayne as Bob Seton. Mr. Wayne has the role of hayseed drifter/hero here. Mr. Wayne does as well as he can with this role. By nature, Heroes are almost always more bland and limited than are Villains. Here, Mr. Wayne projects solidness, forthrightness, honesty, social clumsiness, and an intellectual awkwardness, that is countered by a native shrewdness. What color he adds to his portrayal, much like Jimmy Stewart's in "Destry Rides Again", are the homespun anecdotes he tells of life in Texas. Wayne uses his normal manner of speaking with a touch of western drawl.
Walter Pidgeon as William Cantrell. Mr. Pidgeon was on loan from MGM for this film. Pidgeon is the villain of the piece, beginning as merely a romantic rival, and escalating to full-blown vindictive monster. Pidgeon textures his role by starting as a charming, decent, even good natured, fellow with dreams of improving his station in life. He even offers to educate Wayne's Seton, to level the field for their suit for Ms. McCloud's hand. But with his defeat in the election for Sheriff, to that same uneducated "cowboy", his shattered dreams turn bitter and vindictive, as he starts down the road to his destruction, although it is his plan to take as many as he can along that same road. IMO, Pidgeon is pitch perfect in his characterization. He speaks with his normal, rich, voice.
Roy Rogers as Fletcher "Fletch" McCloud. Mr. Rogers plays Mary McCloud's good natured (almost goofy) cowboy wannabe brother. After the truly out of character gunning down of a man with differing political outlook, the Fletch McCloud character forces a crisis of conscience for John Wayne's Bob Seton, as Trevor's Mary McCloud pleads with Wayne to abandon his principles and allow the clearly guilty Fletch McCloud to escape punishment. Later, as second in command of Cantrell's raiders, Fletch has an unexplained change of heart about the "low-down bushwhacker's" he has fallen in with. Basically, I felt that this character and his motivations were too arbitrary and underdeveloped...basically Roger's McCloud was a Deus ex Machina when the screenwriters had no clear path to continue the narrative. In the role, Mr. Rogers seems "lightweight" when compared to the other leads. Ultimately, unsatisfyingly (and I don't know how this got by the Board of Film Review), McCloud, never has to pay for his crimes. (note: this is not to always agree with the heavy handed Review Board, just a comment that it was unusual for a period film to allow a character to "get away with murder"...however, I was so annoyed by Rogers in this performance, having him self-sacrifice to allow Bob/Mary's escape would not have been unwelcome.) Throughout this film Rogers speaks with a "Hey Howdy!" affected Texas accent...Incongruent with his sister's Northern accent or his father's Scot's accent.
George "Gabby" Hayes as "Doc" Gunch, practitioner of Arts both Dental and Medical. Plays his archetype as an irascible, shrewd, slightly clumsy, comic-relief sidekick. He has the sidekick camaraderie thing down with Wayne, as they had played friends and sidekicks from long before George became "Gabby". For instance, see the Lone Star film, "Blue Steel", to see Hayes playing a role as sidekick "pre-Gabby", others have mentioned Tall in the Saddle for classic Wayne/Gabby. Here Hayes is a little more grounded as a reasonable, intelligent Gabby type. Hayes routinely was a scenery chewer, but, here he is second place to...
Another SPOILER WARNING!
Porter Hall as Angus McCloud, banker, and father to the hero's love interest. I can see where Alan Young and the Disney Cartoon studio got the idea for "Scrooge McDuck". Hall's grasping banker with a tremendous Scot's accent was completely over the top...including a death scene that Burton or Olivier would have a hard time outdoing. Hall demands attention when he is on screen, and this, IMO, to the movie's detriment. I mentioned before my observations on the accents that the actors chose to use, perhaps it is just me, but the scenes with the three McCloud family members together are marred by Hall's and Roger's battling accents next to Trevor's completely unmatching manner of speech.
LAST SPOILER WARNING!
Marjorie Main as Mrs. Adams, William Cantrell's Housekeeper. Others have noted that this character plays William Cantrell's missing conscience, as his mother that he presents as his Housekeeper for reasons of pride and vanity that are only briefly touched upon early in the film. Main plays it somber and sober as a disappointed mother, who sees her last child, who she had hopes would rise above unnamed sibling's disappointments, choose his ultimately destructive path. Main is the also screenwriter's answer to the final climax with an unexpected solution to the final Cliffhanger where the now completely evil and unbalanced Cantrell has the drop on Seton and Mary McCloud Cantrell, with no apparent way to escape. Dark and brooding, Main makes the most of her small, vital, part.
In summary ,a film that is worth viewing, yet, does contain some flaws in plot and characterization.
Not Impressed At All!
A Rodgers and Hammerstein musical with a thinner than average plot. Aside from the ravishing Shirley Jones, this film has little to recommend it.
Mostly forgettable songs in an alleged tale of love and redemption...
Billy Bigelow is a drifter, carnival barker, and ladies' man...Julie Jordan, pretty, prim, and demure, is the target of his flirtations as the movie begins. These two people make the most mismatched "romantic couple" this side of the fatal Henry Higgins/Eliza Dolittle pairing...and despite their differences they end up married to each other, if for no other reason than spite and stubbornness (the song "If I Loved You" basically catalogs the reasons that the pairing forebodes imminent disaster). So, of course, in the spirit of soft-headed 50's romanticism, these completely incompatible people end up married, EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE REFUSED TO EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE LOVE FOR EACH OTHER!
The now bored, unemployed, and out of circulation Billy takes his frustrations at no longer being the "Cock of the Walk" out by slapping the wife around occasionally, and belittling her in front of her friends. (How frigging heartwarming!) When encouraged by her friends to dump this dead weight, Julie replies with a "stand by your man" kind of song! Will true Love save the day here? (Gee, I wish there was a sarcasm font!) Next, Billy discovers that Julie is pregnant with his child, so, does Billy settle down to find reasonable employment? Of Course Not! Billy Bigelow's poor character and poorer decision making lead him into an attempted crime that was so ineptly executed that it had NO chance at success and leads directly to his death.
In the name of "Love" and "Responsibility", he has condemned both his widow and his child to a life of misery and ridicule as the spouse and child of a felon who met with justice! At the gates of Heaven (yeah, right, this guy rates a glimpse of heaven!), Billy is informed that he must undo the damage he has done to gain admittance.
In the 15 years since his death, his daughter has become a hellion as a form of defense against the life long ostracism she has faced as a consequence of Billy's actions...She plans to run away from home to become a carny and a tramp (a chip off the ol' block!).
Billy, returned to earth, and pretending to be a friend of her father's, tries to reason with the girl, but, damaged and resentful, she refuses any gift from him...His response is to smack her! (truly touching!) His daughter reports the incident to her mother, adding that the slap felt like a kiss! (Who writes this stuff? I guess it makes Julie pine for the good old days when she had a husband around to beat her too!) Anyway...we move on to the Daughter's High School Graduation...where the shame he has brought upon his family is demonstrated by townspeople's shunning his daughter (honestly...there is not ONE redeeming character in this whole mess!) with a refusal to even applaud her graduation.
Finally, the graduation speech is delivered by one of the heavenly characters (God, or for the purposes of this play, the "Starkeeper") in disguise. The speech is a moral dissertation that the graduates truly are neither helped or hindered by their parents successes or failures...Billy's big redemptive moment? Whispering to the daughter to "believe" this moralistic claptrap! Oh...and he finally whispers to his widow that he ALWAYS loved her! (shoot me now!...How Damn Heartwarming!) The show is brought to a close with a reprise of the entire cast singing the inspirational "Climb Every..." no wait!...Same song different words!..."You'll Never Walk Alone." The now "redeemed" Billy heads off for heavenly eternity! (What a HAPPY ENDING!)
Dark...depressing...misguided...romantic drivel...I can barely contain my contempt for the libretto on which this film is based.
R & H...churned out some clunkers...and somehow put a happy face on them...King and I, for instance, celebrates a brutal despot...South Pacific...racism lives!...Flower Drum Song...Illegal immigration and Loveless Arranged Marriages! (although they softened the ending of the source novel by omitting a character's suicide)...Pipe Dream...Love and Brothels! ...Carousel easily rivals the worst of the worst, and any redeeming qualities of film-making, music, singing, or choreography are completely sabotaged by the dreadful story with which they are mounted.
My Fair Lady or Music Man may have their flaws, but in this writer's opinion, are more entertaining than ANY play in the R&H catalog! But, as I said earlier, at least, Shirley Jones is still lovely to look at, and has a beautiful singing voice!
Pathetically Weak Man
The Patrick Dewaere character is so spineless, shallow and pathetic, that it hard to engage much sympathy for the awkwardness of his position.
His wife, Martine, was clearly the dominant member of the original relationship, and Remy seemed no more than a parasite as far as contributing to support the family.
Spoiler Warning! After Martine's death, it seemed clear that Remy lacked the strength of character to step up to the responsibilities thrust upon him to provide for and nurture the step-daughter in a positive manner.
His allowing himself to be seduced by the step daughter was so predictable because he was portrayed as such a weak cipher of man. In every way, Ariel Besse's Marion is portrayed as both the stronger willed, and more mature character.
Remy even gives up his career in a cowardly way when he latches on to a newer lover, who also is a superior talent as a pianist.
The way his character, Remy, is portrayed, one feels relieved when Marion discards him...it would be impossible for her not to be able to be able to improve on the spineless clod. And one feels sorry for his "new" lover, to whom the coward isn't even able to inform that he is also a musician. So she invites the parasite into her life, much to this viewer's horror, and the cycle begins again, as a new step-daughter eavesdrops on the sound of her mother's "passion" for this unworthy man.
No Name on the Bullet (1959)
Audie The Catalyst
OK...nobody is going to be able to compare Audie Murphy's acting with Olivier, but he effectively underplays this role, and seems to relish being the "villain" of the piece. His gamut of emotions, here, range from a sneer to a smirk, and that is all he needs for this film. The rest of the "B" list cast does an adequate job in framing this tale of morality. Similar films include Bad Day at Black Rock, High Plains Drifter, and High Noon, where the moral character of the Townfolk are called into question. I feel that No Name On the Bullet is more effective that the "A"-listers mentioned, because any damage done to the town and it's people are, essentially, completely self inflicted due to guilt or suspicion. Audie initiates none of the action, and while he philosophizes about the townsfolk's foibles, he is above even judging them. His mere presence starts the chains of events, as one's conscience might move a guilty one to action.
This story was done as a "B" western, by people who did "B" westerns, but, could work in many other settings, and is interesting from start until the final credits roll.
The Fighting Seabees (1944)
Ham Handed Propaganda
This movie is one of my favorite John Wayne movies for all the wrong reasons. The Duke here is portrayed as a dull witted hothead until he bends to the will of the Navy, which, of course, in 1944, could do no wrong on the silver screen. The caricatures of the Japanese soldiers as grinning psychopaths who lived to take American lives seems ridiculous even when compared to other period movies. The film shows a medium close up of each Japanese sniper and tanker who then proceeds to grin for a full second before taking aim to kill yet another American, often unarmed civilian Americans at that! (Spoiler Warning!) The climactic scene has the Great American Hero so hacked off at the Japanese Army that he hops into a bulldozer and destroys an entire Japanese assault column and it's tanks as if pushing so much rubbish off the road! This one will never go into archives as the greatest war film of all time, but, is amusing in it's way as propaganda that approaches ridiculous in its depictions.
Animal House (1978)
I Walked Out On This One When I First Saw It
I attended this film first in 1978 when I was a College sophomore, and immediately recognized the plot and incidents portrayed as an eight page comic strip which I read in a late '60s issue of National Lampoon Magazine. I wondered how the film-makers would elaborate on a short comic book entry to make a feature length film? The answer was that they would expand the satiric brevity of the original written piece into an overblown gross-fest of unrestrained gags that gagged, and unrestrained actors (Belushi in particular) whose mannerisms and actions totally disconnected with what I would find humorous. It may be that I have a problem with my sense of humor, but, found myself embarrassed by the activities on-screen, and insulted by the film-makers that they would think that this was entertaining. When the boys left the (under-aged, drunk, and date-raped) girl in the grocery cart, framed exactly as I remember the comic strip drawn, I had had enough and left the theater. My teenage sons rented this one recently, and I tried again to watch it, but found that I could tolerate it even less now than I could when I was a sophomore with a sophomoric sense of humor. 0 out 10...my most hated film of all time.