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10 movies for Robinson Island (in no special order):
1. North by Northwest
2. What‘s up Doc?
3. The Sea Hawk
4. Johnny Guitar
5. Some like it hot
6. Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
8. Schindlers List
10. The Empire strikes back
Das Gasthaus an der Themse (1962)
Atmospheric German Wallace adaption
Between 1959 and 1972 a stream of 32 (!) films, based on criminal novels from famous British author Edgar Wallace had been produced by the German Rialto film company. "The Inn on the River" is an early example and surely one of the highlights of the series. The film benefits tremendously from the atmospheric black and white photography shot by cameraman Karl Loeb. There are plenty of impressive night scenes with eerie lights and shadows. Foggy canalization funnels, lonesome harbor quays, subterranean and underwater locations capture the audience from the beginning. Though some side aspects of the script seem to be far fetched and only loosely connected with the entire plot, it doesn't distract from the main story line, which is loosely based on Wallace's novel "The India Rubber Man". The film focuses on the police chasing a mysterious Jewel robber known only as the "Shark". Disguised in a black divers suit, he frequently kills in proper style with his harpoon! "The Inn on the Thames", so the exact translation of the German film title, was a huge success, when released in 1962. Apart from the suspenseful crime story, one of the reasons for this might be, that the thriller elements are complimented here more than usual by a simple but effective fairytale-like romance.
The film's young heroine Leila (Brigitte Grothum: very pretty, though she seems rather limited here as an actress) is captured at the sinister harbor Inn "Mekka" just like a 20th century Cinderella. She is repressed by her evil stepmother (excellent: Elisabeth Flickenschild) and threatened not only by the "Shark", but by numerous gangsters around, some of them lustfully longing for the under aged girl. The prince coming to her rescue is of course Scotland Yard's Inspector Wade (in his usual role, handsome Joachim Fuchsberger): he even calls her "Princess" at their first encounter. Wade suspects that the "Mekka" Inn is a smuggler's nest, somehow connected with the "Shark". Among the many doubtful characters he finds here is the sneaky Russian merchantman Gubanow (great: Klaus Kinski, in one of his typical supporting roles, that became a trademark of the series)
As usual in German Wallace Krimis of that time, the film wasn't shot on location. Hamburg and the Elbe river doubled in for London and the Thames. There is only few (badly fitting) original British stock footage from a rowing boat race. Other minus points are the uneven title music and the comical character of Barnaby (Eddie Arend), an eccentric fan of water sports. Arend, who can be funny at times, is allowed to overact so shamelessly, that his screen presence becomes annoying here. Nonetheless, this is a great little thriller. It's impact on filmmakers can be viewed in Dick Maas Horror action flick "Amsterdamned" (1988), which borrowed more than the idea of a killer in a diving-suit from this one.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Masterful: Where love meets revenge
Do we really need yet another film version of Dumas classic novel of romance, betrayal and revenge? Well, despite the huge number of Monte Cristo movies, there are surprisingly few, that can be called classics (most famous perhaps the 1934 version, featuring Robert Donat) and yes, this one really deserves to be discovered as a hidden classic. I said "discovered", because the film wasn't a box office hit and to me it seems, that it's qualities have been overlooked by most critics. Director Kevin Reynolds gets everything right with this one, recapturing a post Napoleonic France with colorful costumes and settings. But most of all his "Monte Cristo" is rooted so much nearer to Hollywood's Golden Age of costume adventure than to several recent plundering of Dumas like "The Musketeer" (2001).
Script writer Jay Wolpert delivered a shortened and streamlined version of Dumas original tale. Some purists found, that the result should be called loosely based on Dumas Count of Monte Cristo". However, with all it's reshaping of the famous literary revenge story, Dumas central message remains untouched: Betrayed and imprisoned, our honest (and in the beginning slightly naive) hero suffers endlessly (in a brief scene he is on the edge of committing suicide). He finally escapes, becomes the heir of an enormous treasure and makes his second entry into life as an elegant, cold-blooded avenger. The script alters the revenge plot and Dumas figure constellation, but it does so with a more than satisfying result, putting the tragic love story between Edmond and Mercedes into the center of this drama. But how do you capture a novel, that runs a thousand pages within a film time of only 130 minutes? Director Reynolds succeeds surprisingly well. The film always moves at the right pace. It takes it's time to introduce the viewer to the main characters and shows us why the bad guys turn to conspiracy. On the other hand, where Dumas narration seems overhanging, the film speeds up effortlessly. For instance, Dantes rise as the Count of Monte Cristo and his introduction to the upper society of Paris are shown like a musical interlude, in an elegant montage of scenes.
The producers wisely opted for a cast without superstars. James Claviezel is the upright sailor, thrown into martyrdom and Guy Pearce his ruthless opponent Fernand Mondego, who simulates friendship but begrudges his companions fortune. Young polish actress Dagmara Dominczyk is equally believable as Dantes teenage fiancée Mercedes and as the matured woman, who desperately fights for her lost love. The scenes between her and Claviezel are intense and touching, beautifully photographed and further enhanced by Edward Shearmure's fine music score.
9 out of 10, with one point omitted for the final sabre duel, which, though carefully staged, did not live up to my expectations. Also, the film has been overworked here with some unnecessary photographic effect.
Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1998)
Don't count on this Count!
There have been numerous attempts to bring Dumas classic novel of romance, betrayal and revenge to the screen. This big budgeted french TV Mini Series rises high hopes but fails miserably. The producers relied heavily on the stardom of their principal actor Gerard Depardieu (1900, Greencard) and on what they thought was a script, true to the book (that is to the second half of the novel only). Sadly, neither the casting nor the script works for the film. At first, Depardieu, who was a perfect choice for the highly entertaining "Cyrano de Bergerac" years before, is a complete miscast here. His impersonation of Edmond Dantes never comes to life, his overweight is showing to bad effect, especially in the brief Château d'If scenes and whenever Dantes/Depardieu, in the wake of his revenge plan, tries to slip into the role of a priest or an English Lord, the result is ridiculous. Even worse, instead of creating an adequate film adaption of Dumas novel, the scriptwriters either omitted the best parts of the book or they followed the weaker chapters of the tale too closely, simply transferring it's sometimes overhanging twists and plots to the screen. Within six and a half hours of film, there is no introduction to the fate of Edmond Dantes, we never see his enemies build up the conspiracy against him, nor do we get more than a glimpse of his suffering in Château d'If and of his ever growing hatred. It is all left to a few laughable short flashbacks and memorizing dialog! As a result there is no real character build-up and no such thing as drama and suspense to unfold. Besides all, the filmmakers clumsy attempts of staying close to Dumas are finally put to shambles, since they opted for a completely different ending.
To be fair, there are some visual delights: the period costumes look beautiful (so does Ornella Muti as Mercedes), several locations and sets, like those depicting the quays of Marseille or the narrow alleys of Rome, are exquisite as if a painting of Delacroix had come to life. But those moments don't compensate for an otherwise boring and dull movie. Hollywoods 1934 version, featuring Robert Donat or the 2002 version with James Claviezel went for a much looser adaption of Dumas but nonetheless they gave the audience all that is missing here: emotions, drama, action and a hero, we are worried about.
Les aventures de Tom Sawyer (1968)
Capturing the true spirit of Mark Twain
From the mid-Sixties to the end of the Seventies a cooperation of German and french TV producers led to the adaption of several children classics and adventure tales. The mastermind behind these little epics was scriptwriter and supervisor Walter Ulbrich. The charming Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn" is a fine example of Ulrichs achievements. It was an overwhelming success at it's time and still manages to please the audience. One of the main reasons why this mini-series works so well may be it's old-fashioned way of storytelling. During each episode the voice of a narrator introduces us to the world of Tom and Huck, tells us about the background of several side-characters and leads us through the emotional troubles of our young heroes. This way the spirit of Mark Twains Novels is perfectly captured and transfered to the screen. Whereas other adaptations tend to omit the not-so-adventurous parts of the story, here we follow the authors portray of a young boy captured in the ups and downs of puberty. Listening to Twains ironic phrases, we discover Toms hometown being a place where the respected authorities always teach god fearing and Christian moral values while at the same time no one objects slavery.
The film was shot in Romania, with the delta of the Danube doubling in for the Mississippi. Though the film had a fairly large budget at it's time, the adult audience will notice some shortcomings like a hand painted background at aunt Polly's house or night-scenes which are all-to-obvious shot on clear day. On the other hand Wolfgang Liebeneiners direction is well-paced and nearly all the characters are exceptionally well cast, especially Tom (Roland Demongeot), Huck (Marc di Napoli) and the main villain Indian Joe (Jacques Bilodeau).
You thought repetition means boredom? Watch this!
An amazing achievement! Made for TV on a small or at best medium budget, this little Scifi-Comedy-Romantic-Thriller is really worth watching. It has often been compared to the much more famous Groundhog Day", with some critics even going so far, calling it a rip of. The latter is ridiculous, let alone because both films were produced at the same time. The one and only coincidence lies in the idea, that the main character is caught in a time-loop and has to live through one special day over and over again, while everyone else around doesn't. But 12:01 never leaves a doubt, that there is a reason behind all this a scientific experiment, that went terribly wrong. Our hero Barry Thomas (great: Jonathan Silverman) we learn, is a minor employee at a High Tech Laboratory and he's having a really bad, bad day. His misfortunes are fun to watch first, but turn to tragic at the days end, when Lisa Fredericks (Helen Slater), a female scientist, he fell for, is murdered by Unknowns for no apparent reason, it seems. The next morning the unbelievable happens: Barry learns, that he is going to relive his nightmarish yesterday. Fate has offered him a chance to find out, what really is going on in the laboratory and seek for a way to save Lisas life ...
Apart from fine performances by Helen Slater and Martin Landau, there are a number of comedy side-characters such as those played by Robin Bartlett and Jeremy Piven, that add so much to films appeal. While the film moves elegantly between pure comedy, romantic drama and SF-mystery, the lack of production values or big action scenes never comes to the viewers mind. The only drawback to me seemed to be the films running time of only 90 minutes. One more time-loop could have built up even more suspense and in doing so, the script-writer might have saved the life of one of the films more lovable characters.
Oh Jonathan, oh Jonathan! (1973)
Surprisingly well-done romantic comedy
Released in the early Seventies, this is mainly old-fashioned family entertainment and perhaps a little more than that. Basically, it's a remake of the 1941 Hollywood comedy "It started with Eve". The script cleverly focuses on it's main character, a rich, old, grumpy and imperious Ex-Consul, named Jonathan Reynolds, who seems to be on his death bed at the beginning, but soon recovers to everyones surprise. All the dialog and comedic twists, like Jonathan constantly disobeying the House-doctors orders, seem to be tailored to fit Heinz Ruehmann in the title role. Ruehmann, who so often in his career had played average citizens, sympathetic at first sight, really makes fun of the wealthy but lonely old man, whose insufferable manners cover a heart of gold. The story unfolds, as the consuls son (weak: Peter Fricke) presents a poor girl student (lovely: Franziska Oehme) as his bride. Actually she is just a substitute for his real fiancé, who is absent, and he picked her up accidentally and hired her to appear before his father for a brief moment: A fraud, set up to fulfill the last wish of a dying man. But when Jonathan recovers unexpectedly, he demands to see his pretended daughter-in-law again ...
Aside from fine supporting roles like Paul Dahlke, as Jonathans Doctor, who assists desperately in holding up the fraud, the film contains two music interludes, sung and piano-performed by the female lead (though Oehmes voice is clearly overdubbed here). They may sound a bit dated now but they work surprisingly well and add a warm hearted note both to the girls character and the movie.