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Injun Trouble (1938)
A Comparison between "Injun Trouble" and its remake, "Wagon Heels"...both by Bob Clampett
Though mostly all of the Warner's animators have made cartoons that I like, Bob Clampett, for me, still stands head and shoulders above them all. His cartoons have probably been remade more than any of the others. Take "Porky In Wackyland" for example. It was remade by Clampett to fit a Fats Waller type character in "Tin Pan Alley Cats"...but the actual remake of "Porky In Wackyland" was done in the 1950s, long after Clampett's departure from "Termite Terrace"...it was done by either Chuck Jones or Friz Freleng, both of whom remained with Warner's until the animation unit was shut down. Some historians heap praise upon Tex Avery as the "hail fellow, well met" of Warner animation...and while I must admit his cartoons are uproariously hilarious, Tex appealed to basic instincts of humor. What distinguished Clampett was his overall panache, and his humor made you laugh...but it also made you think, and often what you would think would be funnier than what was going on in the cartoon. His surrealism was Dali based, and some of his cartoons, such as "Porky's Hero Agency" capture the strangeness of dreams and of times gone by in an unforgettable way. Though I should probably castigate Clampett in today's climate of 'political correctness' for his portrayals of Indians in "Injun Trouble" and "Wagon Heels", I have chosen to try to go the high road and look at them as products of their times. It is difficult to do at times, because the racism was so overtly manifest and 'in your face', but these cartoons, like other films, serve as reminders of how far we have come, where we are now, and where it is that we have to go to achieve fairness and balance. With that in mind, I can begin my comparison of "Injun Trouble (1938)" and "Wagon Heels" ,1945. First, "Injun Trouble" was made in glorious black and white, as were all Looney Tunes offerings until 1944. "Wagon Heels" was released in Technicolor. The voices in "Injun Trouble" were Mel Blanc and deep voiced "Billy Bletcher", who was a veteran of cartoon voices long before Blanc...at least as far back as Disney's "Three Little Pigs" ( which also featured Pinto Colvig, another famous but now nearly forgotten voice over artist). The design for Injun Joe was simpler...he is clearly native and musclebound, but more in tune with a Robin Hood type model. Injun Joe in "Wagon Heels" is a no holds barred model, whose very looks are intimidating to the point where his very appearance suggests he is on the war-path...or soon will be. In both instances, he does not walk around trees, but walks through them. The gags with the trap and the bear work OK in "Injun Trouble", but in "Wagon Heels", the humor is lacking by simply having the bear reduced to infancy and claiming he is "only 3 and a half years old". The trap gag in 'Wagon Heels' works better because Mel Blanc used the voice of the injured dog bitten by Injun Joe. The voices in the remake are supplied only by Blanc who, by this time, had been put under contract by Warner's. Billy Bletcher would appear again, but not very often...and was out of the picture before 1950. The gag of Injun Joe jumping off the cliff to detour and ravage the wagon train does not work as well in the first cartoon, because he parachutes safely to the ground. In the remake his presence is made more forceful by landing upright and shaking up the entire terrain...not to mention cutting off "Sloppy Moe" from a branch, declaring him "...a screwball". In the remake, the potential scalping of the wagon master works better dramatically than in the original, though I wish Clampett had kept in the buzz-saw carvings of the Statue of Liberty and the city-scape in the remake. The cornering of Porky on the cliff by Injun Joe does not vary much...but the interaction of Injun Joe and Sloppy Moe is markedly different...the voice of Billy Bletcher was effective in the original and I missed it in the remake. But when Moe reveals the secret at last, he tickles Joe with his hands and his beard in the first cartoon...Joe goes over the cliff and get trapped in a tree trunk with Moe still tickling away...as Moe and Porky shake hands and the picture begins to iris out, Injun Joe stops the action and literally begs for more tickling, which makes him completely hysterical. In the remake, Joe, tickled only by hand, goes over the cliff, and the impact from his dramatic, forceful fall drags the map over and changes the cartography from "Injun Joe's territory" to the "United States of America". Joe disappears into the deep sinkhole his fall has created and is not seen again...the story ends with Porky and Sloppy Moe in a patriotic salute, with Sloppy Moe's beard tickling Porky under the chin...as the picture fades and Looney Tunes credits and the theme take over. Though there is much I like about "Injun Trouble" and am sorry Clampett left some things out, I have to conclude the remake is better...better animators and techniques, Technicolor, and there is considerably more hilarity overall in "Wagon Heels" than in "Injun Trouble". R.I.P., Bob Clampett, and thank you for the gifts of laughter your cartoons have given to us all.
Good...but not Great....
This is a good film...not a great one. Pacino always delivers, but he does not out-do what he gave us in "Godfather II" or "Dog Day Afternoon", or even "Carlito's Way". The violence is graphic, the language unbearable, but the characters are predictable. There are a few terrific performances aside from Pacino...a 'pre-Amadeus' F. Murray Abraham delivers well as the ill-fated Omar Suarez, Miriam Colon steals the scene from Pacino as the Mama filled with pride, and angry as she sees her son's descent into the nether-world of drugs and crime. It's what I wish Beryl Mercer would have said and done with Cagney in The "Public Enemy". This film is a difficult watch because it travels forth in almost real-time, and if you miss a little...you miss a lot. It is not for kids. Also, while the film was dedicated to Hawks and Hecht, I don't think the contribution of Seton I. Miller to the original screen-play should be overlooked. Miller had more screen plays to his credit that showcased hard boiled prison criminals than did Hecht, and no doubt Miller made the 1932 film sizzle as it did.
Viva Las Vegas (1964)
NOT One of the Better Elvis Outings
If not for Ann Margret, this would be a negligible entry in the Presley filmography. Presely's real film acting career ended when he entered the army in 1958. What followed after his discharge was all for the purpose of box-office and making money. No real artistry, none of the pathos of a "King Creole" or "Jail House Rock". "Viva La Vegas" is nothing more than cheesecake...in fact, it's not really about Vegas, but about car racing. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl find each other again...happily ever after...etc. Nothing new here. In fact, some of the songs are so hokey and the plots so predictable, it's a wonder he was able to get away with a schlocky flick such as this one. He probably made another decent flick or two before ending his film career...but this, to me, is NOT one of them.
Around the World in 80 Days (2004)
Better than I expected....."Jules Verne Meets Bruce Lee"
Don't get me wrong...this is not a movie that goes on my must see list, nor is it one that I want to sit through again. I dig Jackie Chan, but he is no Cantinflas, who handles the Chan role in the 1958 film...and Coogan is not David Niven, whose portrayal of Fogg was one of his most reserved performances in the original, though exaggerated here. No Victor Young score, and almost all of the Hollywood folks who did cameos in the original are retired or dead. With Todd-AO and 70mm film being the latest rages when the film was made, we were decades away from CGI and other sophisticated special effects. The 1958 version would be the only film Mike Todd would direct during his lifetime, he being a denizen of the theatre. For Robert Newton Victor Young and a few others, this would be their last film...and the winds of Hollywood were changing as the studio system died an obviously painful death. My initial pre-viewing impression of this film is that is was probably a boat-load of commercialized junk, over-wrought with special effects, and a lot of other objectionable production values that would completely disrespect not only the 1958 version, but which would also give short shrift to the intentions of Jules Verne's visionary 19th century novel. It came close to it...I was appalled at some of the portrayals...there was not a lot of personality to the film of an endearing sort...but, then again, actors of this generation are of a different sort. The objective is more on entertainment or action skills than on acting that presses buttons or strikes emotional chords. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the film was somewhat more engaging and entertaining than I initially expected. It was a foray into a sort of modernity that at least merited a viewing. I would describe it as "Jules Verne meets Bruce Lee"... for lack of a better phrase. The oriental deviation of the story lent itself to a fairly decent sub-plot, justifying Chan's presence there to a marked degree. It's all a bit incredulous, but then again, most people in the 19th century saw Jules Verne as incredulous, though most of his scientific visions became realities in the 20th century..and a couple, such as submarines, materialized in crude forms during the late 19th century. Once again, definitely not a great film, nor am I going to call it a very good film...but at least there's no language issue worth mentioning and the sex angle is not played up beyond what kids and families can handle without major issues. It is entertaining, it is a family film, and I can give it a recommendation for viewing.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
It is a "chick-flick"...but it is well done....
This is a story where, when you stand up for yourself, everything seems to go wrong. Thelma and Louise are two ordinary types...one a housebound wife, the other a worldy-wise restaurant waitress. They decide to make a get-away for the week-end. Thelma, the more timid of the two, does not ask her husband, knowing he has a short fuse. But they head out just the same. At a road stop, Thelma is almost raped in the parking lot by some guy from inside the bar. Louise steps in, with the pistol neither has used..but which they brought along for protection...and stops the rapist. They try to go on their way, but the rapist mouths off with profanities and insults galore. Louise gets ticked, and shoots and kills the would-be rapist...and they make their escape. The rest of the film deals with how they handle themselves in the face of adversity. Their belief is that they can't get any fair treatment or justice, and they were probably right to some extent. But, afterall, the guy would have raped Thelma if Louise had not intervened. But now, Thelma and Louise are wanted criminals on the run, and the action escalates to the point where they no longer resemble the simple people they were at the beginning of this story. In a way, the story takes on an anti-male tone but, to their credit, their actions are taken mostly against those guys who have exhibited some real "cave-man" type of behavior. Soon, Thelma and Louise are committing crimes as a matter of survival...and not just simple solicitation, either. It was an interesting watch, because of the sympathetic portrayal of two ordinary people who just got in over their heads. And after they had passed a certain point, it was simply too late to turn back...to their way of thinking. This is a surprisingly good film, and how Sarandon and Davis both lost out on the Academy Awards to--of all people--Jodie Foster ,is a mystery that stupify Sherlock Holmes. One more thing, Harvey Keitel is woefully miscast as a southern police detective. He cannot shed his Brooklyn accent or New York attitude, and he just does not come off as believable in this vehicle. This may be the worst performance--or the worst casting--for Keitel that I have seen. He is otherwise very good in the roles that he plays. Other than that, this is an OK film and it merits a watch.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
A Predictable waste of Time and Talent
I had heard about this movie, but had never seen it until just a few days ago when I found it in a thrift store. I wish now I had left it where I had found it.
This is a film that might have come off better if it had been filmed in Black and White. It is very suggestive of the "noir" genre atmospherically. Dunaway, who usually renders bravado performances, appears very vulnerable in this vehicle, and it does not come off well or as very convincing. There is no build up to her "psychic" vision, if that's what we can call it, where she is able to see the victims of murder as it happens, but cannot see the perpetrator of these crimes. As a photographer of some very violent scenes and a totally different animal altogether in that world, she has come under the gun from numerous angles, and some of the shots, unbeknownst to her, are exact matches to crime scene shots in the NYPD crime book. She comes under suspicion early, but is somewhat sheltered from the raw reality of it all by her effete agent, in the person of Rene Auberjunois, and a very young looking Tommy Lee Jones. This is 1978...I never knew T.L.J. was ever that young ! More killings ensue, and they are very close to home...her models, her associates. Raul Julia appears as part of the sub-plot to this gore fest as the ex-husband/failed writer, who winds up on the list of suspects in the killings...but who winds up being killed himself. Bad turns to worse as the sordid actions lead up to the trail of the REAL murderer. It's supposed to be a "surprise ending" or an "ending with a twist", and while it may raise some eyebrows, the shock of it seems to have been dulled with the passage of some years, and where this might have been a shocker in its day of sailing relatively ( then) uncharted psychological waters, it comes off as pretty milque-toast today. I read that Barbra Streisand was originally cast for the role...but turned it down. Good judgment on her part. She did sing the theme song to the film, but does not appear. Far from being a classic, this film is little more than a "pot-boiler" and has not stood well the test of time. No doubt it did wonders for the careers of Jones and Auberjunois, but Dunaway didn't need the credits on her resume ( she had just won an Academy Award) and neither did Streisand. But, we would hear more from John Carpenter after this, as this was his initial salvo into the realm of cinema. I did not like the film, would not care to watch it again, and I cannot recommend it because so much could have been better, and so much could have been done differently. It was a very dis-appointing watch from a number of aspects. Close Laura Mars' eyelids.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
A Pre-Beatles British Invasion !
I won't bother to review the film...it's got legs enough of its own to reach clear into immortality. It is one of my favorites, and I really think that no one but Flynn ( like Connery in 007) can actually bring Robin Hood to mind by mere mention of his name. It is a grand swashbuckler, and I looked high-and-low before I found it...but I found it. Just a few trivial nuggets--as opposed to a review--since the film has been reviewed from virtually every angle. Nearly all of the principals in the film are foreigners or foreign born, either of British or Irish ancestry ( Flynn, Raines, Rathbone, De Havilland, etc.). One of the screenwriters, Seton I. Miller, had made his Hollywood rep writing some of the most intense gangster flix of that period, notably "Scarface" and "The Last Mile". Maybe Robin Hood was really a gangster and we just did not know it. The final duel between Flynn and Rathbone is--and has always been--my favorite and most gratifying sword fight on the screen. Korngold's score is, alone, worth the price of admission. It really sets the mood, as well as setting the standard for a lot of film scores yet to come. There are, I am sure, many other things that some others may be able to point out far better than can I, but I will end this little ditty by observing that the only thing I have encountered that comes close to the quality of this performance of Robin Hood is the series of three twelve inch 78 rpm discs made by Basil Rathbone a year or so later, which featured Rathbone in the title role of Robin Hood. He does a splendid job on these recordings, and the screen role could well have gone to him with a measure of believability. Rathbone did a series of spoken word recordings for Columbia Records in the 30s and 40s, and they are all very good, but his version of Robin Hood with himself in the title role is exceptional. He is accompanied by a retinue of radio regulars of the period, including the late, great Marvin Miller. These have become available once again in recent times. The film is worth a watch, and Rathbone's recordings are definitely worth a listen. Arise Lord Baron of Loxley !!
The Score (2001)
Say What You Like..It's a Solid Thriller
Even though Brando had to turn side-ways to get through the door, it was good to see him paired up with Bob De Niro in this, his final film. De Niro, a jewel thief and jazz club owner in Montreal, has just busted his rear end pulling a heist, only to be informed by 'fence' Brando that the connection fell through...dead and buried. To try to make up the loss, he gets a reluctant De Niro to finally agree to one last caper...one that would have a significant yield and put both of them on easy street. De Niro is tired of the game, and just wants to settle down, but he becomes convinced by the take that maybe he should go ahead and do this last job before he marries girlfriend Angela Bassett and settles in. He does not know about Ed Norton, who plays like a guy with Down's Syndrome as a ruse. De Niro sees through the game and gives Brando hell...even sends a hit man after Norton, who turns the game around during the supposed hit. Norton is flashy and undisciplined, De Niro is systematic and meticulous, and the clash begins. They overcome numerous obstacles in the planning and execution...but on the night of the heist, there is a double-cross. This is not, as I have heard some people report, cliché ridden or even predictable, and the ending has a very nice touch to it. I would suggest you give the movie a whirl, even if only to see De Niro and Brando together in Brando's "swan-song" to the silver screen. It is entertaining, and has some very thrilling moments, enough to keep you engaged, especially during the heist. Also there is some nice jazz on the tracks and in the club. I won't mention the cats who got credit on the screen, but I will mention the ones who didn't. Backing the vocalist in her first screen number are well known New York City musicians Lewis Nash on drums, and Lonnie Plaxico on bass. I make it a point to give them mention because in the credits they named everyone...even the guys who swept the movie set...but not these two very fine musicians. I feel it is an injustice, and Hollywood should take better care not to neglect the musicians, especially the seasoned players.
Not the last Epic Spectacular...but one of the better ones.
Of the countless films depicting Antony and Cleopatra, this one ( and the 1934 version with Claudette Colbert) is the one worth seeing. The acting is splendid, the casting is good, the scenics and atmospheres are terrific. That's not to say the film does not have its flaws...indeed it does. But these are overcome by the intensity and passion of the performers as well as the subject matter. Due to its length and its budget, it broke the bank at 20th Century Fox in its day. It also was not a critical success at that time...but the resurgence of the film in this era of re-visitation finds this film to be head and shoulders above nearly any other attempt. Burton had many fine performances, both before and after this, but kudos to Liz Taylor in perhaps her most significant screen role...as well as to Roddy McDowell who, surprisingly, turns in one of his best performances as Octavius. The film should have made stars of Martin Landau and Carroll O'Conner, but fame was still somewhat down the road for them in the medium of television. Hume Cronyn is always a reliable presence...and Rex Harrison...what more needs to be said ? It is a long film, but it is both entertaining and engaging. See the movie.
Misses the mark...
This Hallmark TV version of the Cleopatra tragedy has all of the trappings of Egypt, and the technology to boot. But it falls short in its delivery, and it's just simply not convincing. It is tough to get actors to play "sword and sandal" flicks with credibility. "Gladiator" probably stands out as the best of the fairly recent vintage. Comparing this film to Liz Taylor and Dick Burton is not fair...there simply is NO comparison, and it does not approach the level of the 1963 movie. However, the sets and the cinematography are absolutely fantastic. If you can sit through a dreadful portrayal of Cleopatra, you may become engaged- if not completely entertained. I do not recommend that you watch this film...unless, of course, you are inclined to do so. It would be best to have the 1963 version on hand, so you can make comparisons.