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Invitation to the Dance (1956)
Amazing Dance with Animation
The first two segments of this film may or may not impress you, but do watch the third: "Sinbad the Sailor". Kelly plays an American sailor in an exotic Oriental market. He rubs an old lamp and a genie appears, played by an amazingly talented kid. After a bit of messing around,the genie gets a sailor suit, too. Then they open a book to a picture of a wonderous land. The genie transports them inside and all the rest features the two dancers (mostly Kelly alone) dancing with animation.This segment is much longer than any other live-plus-animation sequence until Mary Poppins excepting, possibly Song of the South whose sequences were nowhere near so complex as this. Kelly dances with an animated dragon (that wraps around him), into a harem, is chased by the Sultan's guards, has a long sequence with one harem girl, and then a very long sequence with the guards. This is amazing work for 1952, especially when you remember that every bit of the animation is hand-painted on cels. Hanna-Barbera (then with MGM doing Tom and Jerry directed the animation. (Kelly also did a famous dance number with Jerry in Anchors Aweigh eight years earlier.) Walt Disney advised. This is swell stuff and any fan of animation should give it a look.
Good movie with a hidden message
The movie's premise is easy to grasp: A man is asked to donate his kidney in order to save the life of his father. The catch: The father has never acknowledged this son who is the issue of a brief affair while the father was on a hunting trip in Canada. Complication: The mother is Native; the father, of course, is White. The man lied to the woman, said he was single. He was married and one of his children by his wife (who is not a donor match) has suddenly arrived on our hero's doorstep asking for the favor of a kidney. Pretty much all the action is between the main character and his half-brother, except for flashbacks to the affair between the Native mother and the White father. The suspense lies in seeing whether or not the guy will donate the kidney but the interest lies in the sub-text: Whites exploit Natives. Whites leave. Natives are ignored for a long time. Whites suddenly reappear, asking for a body part. Natives are told: "You will be a good person if you do this. You will be less than that if you don't." I think all kinds of people can relate to this sudden imposition on them of moral philosophy by amoral non-philosophers.
The Deadly Affair (1966)
Good, but flawed spy film
First of all, I liked this movie. I could watch it several more times but there are some irritating things about it. Anyway, this is one of the essential LeCarre spy movies. It is unfortunate that the studio renamed Smiley as Dobbs, but James Mason plays George Smiley, and does so very well. Smiley/Dobbs is a cuckold because his wife just can't help it. This is not very well played out in this film which hints at, oh, impotence and nymphomania (does that still mean anything?). The point, for LeCarre, was that Smiley's betrayed love is a metaphor for the political betrayal that is his stock in trade. Who better to discover a traitor than the betrayed man? The plot is genius: a cabinet minister dies, possibly a suicide, after Smiley/Dobbs interrogates him about possible Communist connections. Smiley/Dobbs thinks there is something more to this; he thinks it might be murder. Assisted by a superannuated cop, he seeks the truth, and finds it. All this is well-done: a good story, good acting, good photography, etc. But! The soundtrack is often terribly inappropriate. Lumet must have known this and at one point the soundtrack ends with a phono needle being scratched across vinyl -- the one truly cool moment in the use of the music. And sometimes the editing is wretched: choppy, major speeches interrupted with meaningless shots -- I don't know who to blame for this except Lumet. Still, with all its flaws, a movie worth watching, especially if you are interested in Cold War spy thrillers.
The Last Hunt (1956)
Good, but could have been Great
I saw this movie (at a drive-in with my family) about the time, or not long after, it came out. I was eleven or twelve. I remembered scenes from this flick for fifty years until seeing it again on TCM. These scenes (a frozen buffalo hide, a guy sharpening a skinning knife, the white buffalo and its hide, and the final unforgettable scene) stayed with me for years. The movie still has power, though not as much as the mental rewrite I gave it over a half century ago threading together the scenes I recalled (nothing about the sex in my pre-adolescent memory). I found the editing and cinematography pretty poor when I looked at it a second time but the story was still good. I recall my father saying after the movie, "I thought Robert Taylor said he wasn't going to do that kind of role any more." I don't know what he meant. This is perhaps Taylor's best movie. He plays a very nasty villain. And maybe that's what my father was talking about. Anyway, a curious and interesting western, exploring themes that western writers had opened up long before but were new to Hollywood. It's too bad that the lead native roles were given to Russ Tamblyn and Debra Paget, but that was 50's Hollywood. Worth watching, but mentally re-edit this film and see if you can't come up with a classic must-see.
People who complain about the ensemble cast and disparate story lines are missing the point. This is a movie about ordinary people caught up in the great drama of history. All the people have their own lives to live (as is pointed up in a Kennedy speech clip during the credits) but all are affected by the event that is to take place. War movies frequently have this concept. This is a peace movie about people whose lives will be changed by an outside event. (Disclaimer: I remember in June 1968 my wife, an early riser, sitting on the edge of the bed saying, "Robert Kennedy was shot." I knew right away what that meant: Nixon would be president, four more years of war... Yes, I was one of those ordinary people who was affected by this historic event.)
Bad Company (1972)
A very fine western
People who put down westerns have probably never seen Barbarosa, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, One-eyed Jacks, or this fine film. Released in 1972, Bad Company reflects some of the values of its day (thus proving the value of the western genre). Our heroes begin by dodging the draft in the Civil War, then proceed across the plains in a manner true to history if not to romance. But the basic theme is that of parentless youths set adrift to discover their own values. Superb acting throughout -- veteran Jim Davis, for instance -- and excellent production on a small budget. My favorite quote: an outlaw about to be hanged demonstrates some fancy gun-work with an unloaded revolver. He wows the audience, hands the gun back to Jim Davis, and mutters,"Hell, I'm the oldest whore on the block."
A Great Western and an Examination of Myth
Barbarosa is one of the best westerns ever made. The subject here is myth and the people who become mythic heroes. Barbarosa is, on the one hand, a legendary bandit and, on the other, an ordinary Texan who steals for a living: "Cattle, horses...Anything except sheep. You couldn't give me one of those wooly bastards." A young man on the run becomes Barbarosa's companion, then his acolyte. Both men are looking for a place in the world and the role they find is that of outlaw hero, players in a mythic drama that gives them meaning. The myth is that of the Outlaw Lover ( as in Hughes' The Outlaw or Brando's One-Eyed Jacks ) and both Nelson and Busey play their roles to perfection. The directing is excellent and the dialogue nigh perfect -- a great western! A swell movie!